Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Port Vila, Vanuatu's Capitol City

First – there are some new pictures finally up as we have access to some internet - so keep checking over the next week as we try to catch up on picture uploading.

We are back in a city with traffic jams, lots of shops and our packages of parts. That means no more "zero dollar days!" We've enjoyed a few months with very little spending so that has been good. We did arrive in the big city in time for the 34th Independence Day celebration. It seems we've had the opportunity to attend many local Independence celebrations in various countries and it is always a pleasure to see the local pride in the country. Prior to arriving in Vila, we did get an early start to the celebrations by heading into a nearby village from where we were anchored and enjoyed some local street food and sports activities. We walked most of the way until a nice local picked us up (there were four of us as we conned Ian and Eva from "Gannet" into joining us on the adventure) and then we walked back. It's always a good way to see the country and meet interesting folks.

Today, Wednesday, July 30, is the actual Independence Day and we attended the big ceremony this morning in a large park. There was a great military style marching band in bright red uniform jackets, dark trousers and green caps (those are the colors of the Vanuatu flag) that did the traditional marching and playing then broke out in a very entertaining dance and music routine. It had the very large crowd cheering and clapping. There were lots of speeches by the Prime Minister and President of the country (they have both) and a flag raising ceremony, some rifle shooting and lots and lots of food booths. It seems "cake" is the big thing here on holidays as every booth had lots of cake varieties.

The town of Port Vila is a bit touristy – it is a hot spot for Australians and New Zealanders to come for holidays. There are lots of small resorts around and many shops selling handicrafts and t-shirts. There is a wonderful fresh market here with lots of booths with vibrantly dressed women selling every type of fresh fruit and vegetable from the surrounding farms. It's raspberry season here and there are also plenty of watermelons around along with the regular selection of greens, tomatoes, eggplants, pineapples, papaya and many more wonderful things.
Several large French grocery stores are here and they are well stocked with baked goods and a good selection of cheeses and meats. Unfortunately it is not a cheap town though we have hunted out a few less expensive places. Had lunch at a great hilltop Thai restaurant the other day – great food with a great view at a decent price. We look for places that have free internet so while we eat we can download stuff or upload pictures. The internet here is very slow and very expensive. They charge either by the megabyte or the time you use. Because it is so slow, it is more efficient to buy megabytes. But it costs about $50 for 1 gigabyte. But it's the first time we've had decent internet for some time so we can at least try to make some skype calls as well.

It's kind of nice to be in a city and we are walking everywhere. We had to clear into this port with customs as well – and that put some miles on our shoes. It's a great way to see the city and discover interesting little places.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Re-anchoring, Repairing and Reviewing

The anchor suddenly was making a bunch of noises and not good ones. So we knew in the wind shift, we probably wrapped around a rock. So we decided as the anchorage emptied out a bit, we would pull the anchor up and re-drop it nearer the southeast shore for better protection from the predicted winds. It was quite a chore and thanks to Bill on "Lady Nada" who stuck his head in the water with a dive mask, we unwound from our hostage holding rock and moved to a new spot.

The last few days also had us doing some repair work for the local villagers. First, Jerry came rowing out to our boat and asked us to give him some medical help. He had cut his leg badly with his machete working in his garden. It was a pretty deep cut and after warning him that we were NOT medical professionals, we cleaned it well and put some ointment and butterfly bandages on it. We told him to not to get it wet and come back the next day and we would re-dress the wound. Haven't seen him back yet. Hope he's okay. He was a really nice man and very grateful, inviting us to come to see his garden one day. Later, another canoe came by with Richard and his son Michael, asking if Michael could fix his generator on shore. Michael said he'd come by the next morning to see what he could do. After several hours ashore repairing cords to solar panels, regulators, battery connections and the like, he came back loaded with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and lemons. The people are so grateful for what you do and they simply don't have the tools or supplies to fix things.

In between people and part repairs, we also got a nice snorkel in along one reef. The coral was pretty healthy and quite varied. There weren't a lot of fish, but we did see a few new things which is always exciting. We saw a few schools of razorfish. These are strange elongated fish that swim head down. They look like feathers or seaweed as they swim by in schools. They were not very shy as they swam around us for quite awhile letting us get a good look. We also saw several pretty good sized pipefish and some interesting gobies and wrasses. The water is pretty cold here though, so even with wetsuits we can't stay in very long.

It is now holiday time in Vanuatu. "Independence Day" is next week – but the celebrations and closing of businesses and public offices have already started. On Saturday, we may head down the road a way to see what is happening at a nearby village where they were building some booths for food. There is supposed to be some sporting events there as well and we love street food! Another boat that is in this anchorage that we just met will probably join us as well so that will be fun.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Road Trip

We managed to sit out the waves in Havannah Harbor when the winds shifted and came from the southwest.. Luckily they were relatively light winds and the fetch wasn't too bad. It was a pitch not a roll – so it was a tad more comfortable aboard. The holding is good here so we didn't worry too much about dragging at anchor. After two days of westerly breezes, we are back to the normal southeast trade winds and settled back pointing the right way and in a nice flat anchorage.

On Monday, together with our friends on "Lady Nada" we decided to take a local bus trip into Port Vila. We had one empty tank of cooking propane and they needed to desperately get some internet coverage. Plus we all wanted to check out the Port Vila mooring situation to see if there would be space for us. Anchoring in Port Vila is not recommended as the holding is not good and it is very deep.
We walked up to the road (about a half mile) to the main road and bus stop at about 8 am. We met two local school teachers at the bus stop and they filled us in on the routine. It was 400 Vatu per person each way. Better to have the right change because sometimes the bus driver will just take your money and not give you change. We were told where to catch the bus to get back and to ask for a bus to Moso Landing. After a 15 minute wait, a pickup came by and we all loaded into the back. It was a nice group of folks back there – we met a police officer, two pleasant women, and two other guys who had lots of info. Everyone exchanged names and as always, we learned a lot about upcoming events (Independence Day is July 30) and got a great guided sightseeing tour while on route.

We got off at the marina where we checked on mooring availability and learned about the facilities there. Not cheap – but they have garbage disposal, showers and water included in the price. It is also conveniently located. Then we took our propane tank to the fill station (taking a wrong turn only once AFTER asking someone). Unfortunately it was a steep hill wrong turn – but good exercise. We got the tank filled and then went to check on the parts that were to be delivered. We got an e-mail saying they were "there." But "there" meant in Vanuatu not necessarily at the "Fr8" (clever name) company. We checked out the local veggie market (though we had plenty aboard) and got some eggs. Had lunch out at a place that offered 45 minutes of free internet if you ate there. We took advantage but the internet was slow and kept cutting off so we didn't get as much done as we had hoped. No skype opportunity.
We then headed back to where we had to catch the bus for the long ride back to Moso Landing (it was about an 45minutes or so). There is a grocery at the bus stop so we picked up a few items and got in a van for the trip back. We were all loaded down with propane tanks, some groceries and our packs with computers. We were back on board at 4:30 pm and tired. Luckily there was an ice cream cone involved while in town!

We will take Astarte to Port Vila early next week. There is some big wind coming in a few days and it is in the same direction we have to head – so we'll wait until that passes. This is also a good place to sit out 20-25 knot winds from the southeast.

Today is snorkeling – before the winds pick up. Lots of huge turtles here – hopefully we'll see some while snorkeling. There are a few nice reefs around this anchorage – so plenty of spots to explore. But the water is quite chilly – so we'll need to get into wetsuits!

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Havannah Harbor on Efate Island

Latitude: S 17 degrees 32.97 minutes
Longitude: E168 degrees 17.04 minutes

Our adventure through Vanuatu continues and we have made it to Efate Island, the most populated of the Vanuatu chain and the center of government in Port Vila. The island is twenty five miles by eighteen miles in size and has a few good harbors.

We left Epi Island at 0930 for the 75 mile trip to Efate's Havannah Harbor (spelled with or without an "H" at the end depending on which chart or guide book you use!). We would be heading south-southeast and knew about the north flowing current. It would take several tacks to get here so we gave ourselves plenty of time to make the distance so we would arrive hopefully at first light the next day. We ran into lots of "crazy water" along the way – current, winds and tides creating mysterious eddys and waves. We did sail and it was relatively comfortable and pleasant – though not speedy. But that was okay except for fish catching!

Along the way we saw several pyramid shaped islands in a row. You can really tell this is volcano country! Arriving at Efate you could see the highest point, Mount MacDonald and the green hills with the sun rising behind them. We chose to enter the harbor through he larger of the two entrances and then backtrack to Esoma Bay where we would anchor. This is a very protected anchorage, way up the harbor with good holding in about ten meters of water.
Our friends on the catamaran, "Lady Nada" left Epi after us (by about fourteen hours!) and arrived ahead of us and were at anchor when we arrived. They motored when they went below seven knots and entered into the narrow cut saving about eighteen miles. But it was funny to see them already anchored! We saved the fossil fuel and were happy to have sailed 90% of the distance only motoring in and out of the harbors.

After the considerably rolling anchorage of Lamen Bay on Epi, it was nice to spend the first night in a very flat anchorage with hardly a wavelet to disturb our sleep. The wind did shift the last few days to more westerly – so we are getting a bit of a pitch through the anchorage now – but feel like the holding is good and the wind is under 15 knots.

After arrival, we met some of the local villagers (Frank and Linda) who would sell you fresh vegetables. Sue had already bought a lot and we split some of her cache loading up on a stock of bananas, some green tomatoes, "white bone" (bok choy), corn on the cob and a cucumber. We also got asked if we wanted to come in for a Melanesian Feast the following day. We agreed (for 1000 Vatu each – about $10) and planned for a Saturday afternoon event. There would be five us. Saturday came and we all went in only to find out it was canceled. All dressed up and no feast to be had – bummer.

We hope to get to Port Vila over the next week or so where we will have good internet (hopefully), fuel, propane and some city-time. The moorings however aren't that cheap, so we won't stay there long – just long enough to get our stuff done and pick up a few packages we had shipped in with some boat parts. We'll wait here until we know the packages have arrived and then we'll head into the big city!

Can't believe we've been in Vanuatu just about two months already!

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Exploring Epi Island

Latitude: S 16 degrees 35.78 minutes
Longitude: E 168 degrees 09.77 minutes

It was hard to leave Awei in the Maskelynes, but before we did, we took a long Sunday stroll. We circumambulated Awei Island. The walk didn't start out that way – it just ended up as the best option! We went ashore to give the Chief a bit of fuel and take a walk to see the flying foxes in the trees along the ridge. There were six of us – Bill and Sue from "Lady Nada" and Sandy and Tim from "1 Giant Leap." Chief Savron met us onshore and then decided to show us the way to the bat trees. It was a bit of a steep hill and a little slippery thanks to the mud and leaves, but we made it to the trees and the bats weren't too happy with their afternoon nap intrusion. They took to flying around and making a lot of noise. Then as we went down, the chief suggested that we walk back along the reef, but unfortunately a few folks had on good walking shoes (not water shoes) so thought that wasn't a great idea. We went with option B which was to walk around the entire island to the village and then along the village path. It was a great walk – though a bit like an obstacle course – over rocks, under trees, over tree stumps – a good adventure and the six of us really enjoyed it. A good finish to Awei Island.

The next morning (Monday), we headed off early to make our way to Epi Island and Lamen Bay. It was about 28 miles away to the southeast. But the winds were more southerly so we were able to sail the entire way. There was lots of "crazy water." This is the southerly flowing sub-tropical current meeting upflows, tidal conditions and wind waves creating strange eddys and whirlpools and waves. One minute you'll be steering your course and then suddenly you'll be heading in an all new direction with the autopilot trying its hardest to compensate.
We made it to Lamen Bay and anchored off a reef in about seven meters of sand. This looked like it would be a rolling anchorage though and lots of our friends who had been here warned us about that possibility. The good news is that there are lots of turtles and dugongs in this bay. The turtles greeted us immediately – several very large ones seemed oblivious to our presence and would stay on the surface for along time checking us out.

We went ashore with the "Lady Nada" crew (they were kind enough to put their dinghy in and play chauffeur. We did a good walk on shore and found the baker (Joseph) so we could order our breads. He (actually his wife) bakes them in 50 gallon oil drums turned ovens. He has about five drums in a hut and heats them with wood. It is quite an operation. The breads are large sandwich loaves for only 100 vatu each. Joseph made the bread tins himself. We could also buy some fresh eggs from him.

We walked around the tidy village and to the airport. We stopped by the Paradise Bunglaows and Sue asked if we could come in for dinner that night. Tasso, the owner, said yes so we made arrangements for dinner at 6 pm. We had to bring our own beverages as he was out of beer!

We continued our walk – we had to walk long enough to wait for the bread to be done. We went back to the beakers and sat with Joseph to chat as we waited. He's 72 and a very interesting man. We got our bread and eggs and went back to the boats. It was a very rolly anchorage – so the walks ashore were quite welcome.

Our dinner out was quite wonderful – not many restaurants on these islands – and the price was right. For 1000 Vatu each (about $10 US), we got steak, fish, rice, a sweet potato salad that was magnificent and a banana thin pancake. Dessert was a piece of lemon meringue pie AND a piece of banana cake/pie. It was really a lot of food and very nicely prepared with spices, marinades and local foods. Two Chinese women came in while we were dining – they got off a boat that came to the Bay from Port Villa. They were headed to Santo – but they were so seasick they had to get off the boat at the first stop. So they came in to stay in the Paradise Bungalows and we chatted with them for a bit. It is always so interesting – you meet so many different people.

We stayed two nights in Lamen Bay, but it was very uncomfortable sleeping due to the constant roll. Plus, the weather was right to head further south and some unsettled weather was predicted for the upcoming weekend. So we headed out at 0930 to make the trip to Havannah Harbor on the island Efate. More later on that sail and the new anchorage.

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

In Search of Magic and Lobsters

Awei Island is beautiful. It is a calm anchorage with a nice breeze. The folks who travel by us in their canoes are friendly and offer fresh fruit or veggies. You just sit here and the market comes to you. We've already traded for some drinking coconuts, kumara (sweet potatoes), pawpaws (papayas), "local" cabbage (a leafy thing) and our friends on "Lady Nada" brought us some "white bone" (bok choy) and peppers from a farmer in Port Sandwich. So we can simply sit here at anchor and get supplied.

We have enjoyed several walks in the area. We have trekked along the pretty beaches in search of "magic sea rocks." We walked along the flats at low tide looking into tide pools and through the sea grasses. We hiked into the small and pretty village where Chief Savron lives. And, we've crossed a trail to the windward side to see a magnificent long sandy beach. During these treks we've found many a treasure.

Our first hunt was for the island's "magic sea rocks." These are a quartz rock with mystical powers – or so the legend goes. Sorcerers would have these special rocks and when they hit them together they would create a blue flash. This flash would signal the spirits and create a bad storm. This would enable the sorcerer to use his magic against enemies who were at sea in their canoes. It would also allow the sorcerer to have much power over the islanders because he could control the weather. Our search for these rocks was quite successful. We found many on the beaches below large rock cliffs. You could actually see veins of quartz in the rock on the cliffs. Our goal is to keep these magic rocks from crashing into each other and therefore maintain good weather! They may make good Christmas presents!

On another walk, we found our first nautilus shell. These are very beautiful and though this one is far from a perfect one, it is our first. We have hunted for years to find one and now the goal will be to find a more perfect one to replace this cracked one. But it was fun to at least find our first.

On Friday night, Michael along with Bill from "Lady Nada" and Tim and Sandy from aboard "1 Giant Leap" went hunting lobsters on the reef at low tide at 2200 (10 pm). They looked like aliens out there on the reef with their headlamps on and flashlights. The moon was almost full so they thought it would be happy hunting. They walked along for almost 90 minutes in their search and came back with empty bags. Tim and Sandy saw a cuttlefish, Michael found a beautiful cowrie shell and they all came back with a few scrapes – but lobster-less. It was a fun adventure nonetheless.

The Chief of Awei was supposed to join them for this reef adventure and he would probably know exactly where to look for the tasty critters. We would provide shoes and lights for him and arranged to meet him on the beach at 2100 (9pm)...but unfortunately he couldn't come. The next morning he canoed out to the boat to let us know why. There was a tragedy on the island of Efate. A boat from this area had tipped over and 37 people had to be rescued from the sea and four people died. These were some of his relatives. The other tragedy is, that was the only vessel to make the trip from Malakula to the main island of Efete regularly – so now these folks will also be without that transportation. Island living can be very difficult.

Yesterday was Saturday and it seemed every kid from the surrounding islands was out in a dugout canoe fishing or "playing." Many stopped by our boat and would chat. These are incredibly happy kids – always laughing, smiling or singing. On our walk to the long sandy beach on the other side, we had a crew of them hanging around and asking a hundred questions. They speak some English – but the questions were quite funny. "What do you eat?" "What is the name of your village?" "Who is your chief?" "How old are you?" "Do you have any pickininni (that is their Bislama word for children)?" Their hair is quite coarse, dark and short. They thought Barbara's hair was unusual and wouldn't take their hands off of it. This was followed by the question, "Do you have louse (meaning lice)?" That made Barbara quickly put her hat back on!!!

This is really a great place but we'll have to tear ourselves away from it and start moving on to the next island – Epi. It looks like tomorrow may be a good day to do that because the winds will be more south and our course is east southeast. It's about 25 miles away. But today, more bottom cleaning, perhaps a snorkel if the wind settles a bit and we're certain to have more canoe visitors as the day progresses.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Maskelyne Islands

Latitude: South 16 degrees 32.07 minutes
Longitude: East 167 degrees 46.18 minutes

We tore ourselves away from the tranquility of Port Sandwich to continue our exploration of Vanuatu. Port Sandwich was just too easy to drop the hook and stay. With fresh bread available, fresh water showers at the Rainbow Store and laundry water – along with the calm anchorage and friendly people – it is a place you can get too comfortable!
Our week there kept us out of a nasty storm that put one boat up on the rocks in a nearby anchorage and had everyone worried about the 30 plus knots of wind. We saw a lot of lightning and experienced winds in the low 20s, but the anchorage remained calm. We managed to collect a lot of water. We also were glad we took our long trek on the island the day before the storm hit as the paths would have been impossible in the mud following the heavy rains. We took a long walk with our friends from "Lady Nada." We hiked up to the ridge and walked across it – rewarded with incredible views. We trekked to Lamap village (stopping for an ice cream!) and then back to Port Sandwich. We were all quite tuckered out – but felt good about the hike.

Today, Wednesday, we finally pulled up the well stuck anchor and headed around the bend to a group of islands called the Maskelyne Islands. They are just off the southern side of Malakula – bordered on one side by that island. Making our way through the chain of small islands and islets was very pretty – with smaller islands within a surrounding reef. The reef gives the island group a lot of protection from any big seas. Like almost everything around here, Captain James Cook named these islands the Meskalines and there is a Cook Bay located here as well. The slight change in spelling came later.

We settled into an anchorage near Awei Island on one side and Malakula on the other. Just in front of us is the open sea with a large reef protecting us from the swells. The good news is we get a great breeze (good for the wind generator, comfort and no mossies!). There is no village here – so we feel like we are in our own little bit of paradise. The trees on Awei (and a fw on Malakula) are filled with "warm-blooded fruit." Those would be the flying foxes – the large fruit bats that are in the area. We expect a magnificent show at sunset tonight as they all take off from their branches – especially as the moon is getting full and should provide an additional eerie element!

The water is also very clear, so this will be a good place to clean the bottom after Port Sandwich and just get in the water to enjoy the nearby snorkeling. Plus, when we go ashore – we'll look for "magic sea rocks." If we find any – you'll hear the story about Vanuatu Magic Rocks.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Port Sandwich: Calm Anchorage and Friendly Folks

We like this spot! Though you can't get into the water due to sharks – it is a nice spot. The anchorage is very, very calm – no matter which direction the wind may prevail. The holding is good in 13 meters (44 feet) of water. There are some nice walks along a relatively easy road. Fresh bread is baked daily available in the village of Lamap about 2 miles away. But the best part is that the islanders here are incredibly warm and friendly. Everyone stops you on the road to chat and introduce themselves with handshakes and warm smiles.

We heard a story about how it got named from Capt. Edmund, off one of the copra collection boats. He had called us for weather info that morning so we went and visited the boat later that day. He said that Captain Cook named it Port Sandwich because it was so rough outside the protected bay he couldn't eat for days – but finally in here, he could have a sandwich. The other story we read was that it was named for the Earl of Sandwich. But we like the Captain Cook story better!

One day while returning from Lamap with our fresh out of the oven bread, we were looking for some oranges and tangerines (or mandarins as they call them). We stopped and asked a lady if she knew where we could get some and she told us to co me back tomorrow morning and she would have some for us. We returned the next morning as planned and she invited us into her home where we sat and visited for awhile and met her brothers, sister and some of her children. There she had lots of oranges, tangerines, lemons, grapefruit and a large unusual fruit that she had just picked for us. Then her older brother Raphael came in with more tangerines and a giant white grapefruit. It was HUGE. We paid the equivalent of about $4.25 for all that. We were loaded down – plus some of the fruit came in a lovely homemade palm-frond basket. After visiting with the family and trying to remember our high school French as best as we could (we keep slipping into Spanish after so many years in Panama/Colombia/Honduras) they offered to take us to a waterfall the next day.

So today (Wednesday), we hiked back to their home and we again were treated with great hospitality. Otelia, our hostess, had baked some sweet coconut/caramel treats and had fresh bread and fruit out for us. Then her Auntie came in with freshly roasted breadfruit for us as well. Unfortunately, it was a drizzly day and then it started to rain a bit harder and we could tell they didn't really want to walk up to the waterfall. However, if we did they would take us. We said we'd do it another day. So off we went with a large bunch of gifted bananas and some coconut jam (that we actually bought). We also arranged for them to visit us on the boat on Saturday. They really are a lovely family.
Yesterday, we also enjoyed the hospitality of "Rock" who owns one of the little stores nearby the anchorage area. He offers cruisers free fresh water showers and water for the laundry. Or you can even bring your laundry in to his yard to wash and hang out on his lines. He and his wife Noella are very lovely and they are always happy to sit and chat with lots of stories and information. He speaks excellent English so the conversation is easy. We took advantage of the free showers yesterday!

There is some weather coming in over the next few days and this is a perfect place to sit out anything – so we'll stick around a bit longer. If they only had internet here – it would be perfect! Lots of delivery boats have also come in and out of the wharf to collect bags and bags and bags of copra. So there is plenty of entertainment watching the copra get delivered to the boats and loaded. Looks like another is expected today as copra is getting loaded on the dock. Last night at midnight, a large boat, "Big Sista" came in and it was amazing to watch so many people on shore come to meet it to get their packages off of it. It was funny to see all these flashlights in the darkness – like a swarm of fireflies – late at night coming down to the dock. The boat was here and gone within an hour.

We still want to explore at least one of the three rivers on the other side of the bay! Lots to do in between the never-ending boat projects.

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