Thursday, December 31, 2015

HAPPY 2016

It is already 2016 in New Zealand and it is starting out on a wet and stormy day. Luckily the big rain didn't start until after 1 am when we made our way back to Astarte. Yup, we were actually still awake for bringing in the New Year and even managed to experience an hour of it before caving in to sleep. That was all thanks to our good friends Sandy and Rankin on "GypseaHeart" who had us over for a tasty dinner and a new game "Settlers of Catan." It is a board game and once set-up and learned, it was good fun. That, along with good food, interesting conversation, lots of laughs and the toasting with several bottles of bubbly and red wine, kept us awake passed the witching hour. There were a few fireworks (set off a tad too close to the boats with all that canvas!) but otherwise it was a relatively quiet night in the Whangarei harbor.

We made it back to Astarte in our dinghy just as the drizzle started and the wind picked up. The rain started in earnest soon after and the boat was quite noisy with the rain and wind. The wind was in just the right direction that being tied to a pile mooring (and not floating at anchor) our stern was facing in the waves hitting against the hull. Then big streams of rain would roll off the solar panel above our heads sounding like a gutter spout next to our heads.

The holidays were quiet with lots of errands and walking around in very nice weather. We still wait on our engine mechanic to come and give us his expert opinion. We have managed to get other projects done – the new side windows were installed (and not leaking yet on this rainy day). Our new cockpit cushions arrived before Christmas and Michael made new covers for them. We've been replacing pillows (finally sewing the Molas from Kuna Yala on them) and pans on the big sales around Christmas. Michael is also burning all our music CDs (and we have plenty) to MP3 format because our CDs were starting to disintegrate (and they said they would last forever!). We've also been cleaning out lockers and reorganizing some weight on the boat. We continue to try to get rid of stuff – but aren't so good at that. We've met some new folks – thanks to the Christmas cookie delivery tradition on Astarte – which meant that lots of cookie baking was being done.

Now we're in another year...we wish each of you a very healthy year...filled with happy times, some fun adventures and lots of love.
At 12/25/2015 5:11 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 35°43.54'S 174°19.74'E

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Thank you all for the many Christmas wishes. It is always great to get updates from our old "Class of 2012" passage friends and our newly made ones! Thanks. There are some new pictures (New Zealand 1) on the page – so take a look if your bored with all the Christmas activities that are around!

We thought we'd have some fun sharing a few of the differences between our traditional Christmas and the one we celebrate in NZ.

It is summer here – so the days are exceptionally long – sun up 0600 and its light until 2100 (9pm). That means the Christmas lights don't get to be enjoyed until late, so it's tough to enjoy them.

It's summer – so it's warm and the kiwis are all in tank tops and shorts (still chilly enough for us to don long pants and sometimes even sweatshirts!). No snow in sight unless they truck it in for a festival. The other day a truckload of chipped ice was brought to a parking lot for the kids to play in - of course the kids were barefoot and in sundresses!

We are in Whangarei and perhaps in Auckland it's different – but there is less Christmas commercialism and hype here. There are some decorations including a nice big tree in the Town Basin Marina and many boats (including Astarte) are decked out. But they tend to be the foreign flagged vessels.

If you want a turkey for Christmas be prepared to sell the gold jewelry to get one! They are NOT cheap! Thank goodness we do the British traditional feast aboard Astarte and get the large roast beef (beef is better priced in NZ). In fact, most people here prefer chicken to turkey and you can get a "festive roasting chicken" (that would be a large one) at a decent price.

Because it is summer, there are lovely fresh strawberries in the market along with many other fresh fruits and vegetables.

Santa is around – but here he is much thinner (these kiwis are avid sportsmen and hikers so much fitter). He also wears a much lighter (material wise) outfit...and still sweats a lot! Instead of candy canes - he gives out "lollies" (lollipops).

There are still the sales – and the after Christmas day sale (called Boxing Day) happens a day earlier than in the northern hemisphere. So we'll get the sales earlier!

Because we are on the other side of the dateline – today is already Christmas Eve day and tomorrow is Christmas. That means Santa starts here!

Merry Christmas all...from New Zealand.
At 12/13/2015 7:48 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 35°43.54'S 174°19.74'E

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

to all our family, friends and “unknown” blog readers

It is the time of year when our annual Christmas letter gets written...though it seems like yesterday that we just did it for 2014! That means it's time to reflect on what we accomplished in 2015. “Accomplished” may be a bit of an exaggeration of terms. In our life on a cruising sailboat we set our goals and destinations with the changing tides.

2015 started in Whangarei, New Zealand where we spent much of our southern hemisphere “cyclone season.” We celebrated the New Year aboard “Gypsea Heart” with some good friends toasting in the year with the bubbly. Then off to Auckland (with a few stops along the way) where we picked up our guests Kathryn and Mark who made their third trip to “Astarte.” We had a great time celebrating Kathryn's doctorate with sailing, hiking, microbrews, a winery stop and a magnum of champagne. They went off to the south island for more New Zealand adventures and we sailed back to Whangarei and a boat yard! There was plenty of boat work to be done on the good ship “Astarte.” Six years of full time cruising had taken the toll on some systems and it was simply time to do some major work and upgrades. The mast got pulled off, the bottom got scrubbed and painted, the hull got polished, a new cockpit floor was installed, new bilge pumps, new head stays, new water heater and many more big and small projects., “Air Mary” got retired and “Pukupuku” our new dinghy joined the crew. We met some new friends in the boat yard as well, so that made the time pass more quickly.

Post boat yard work, we tested the new stuff with a fabulous trip to Great Barrier Island. The boating part was great fun, the hiking was satisfying and the “land” car trip was more of an adventure than we bargained for – but has provided great stories.

In May, we waited for a weather window for the 1000 mile sail to Vanuatu. Vanuatu was devastated with Cyclone Pam (a Category five) in March – but we were encouraged to still go there and help with our tourist dollars as well as supplies and help we might be able to offer. We found the southern islands in the chain quite damaged by the cyclone yet the people remained positive and hard-working. Many cruising sailboats were doing lots of good work in the islands delivering aid in terms of supplies, doctoring or manpower. The fruit and vegetable gardens were devastated – yet the people remained generous with what they had. We provided what help and supplies we could. As we headed north in the island chain, the islands were less damaged. We made it to several of our favorite places from the previous year but also found many new places to visit. The highlight of the year was the Gaua traditional festival called the Lakona Bay Kastom Festival. This was three magical days of seeing the traditional dances, singing and customs of the country. The people of three villages put on this festival and it was very memorable.

Besides the Banks Island of Gaua, we managed to visit a few new islands and places. We anchored in the middle of an old crater in Lolowai on the island of Ambae. Then we made our way to Maewo, where we were only the fifth boat of the year at “Big Waters” waterfall bay and villages. Lonely Planet described this as “the eighth wonder of the world.” There we hiked up the “Big Waters” and Michael dove off a 12 plus meter portion of the waterfall. He lived to talk about it! (though his shoulder still remembers the death defying jump) We went further down Maewo Island to another bay called Asanvari where we saw another festival with amazing dancing and took some lovely hikes in this area.

We left Vanuatu after nearly four months and had a great passage to New Caledonia. We sorted an issue with the engine there (luckily an easier fix than we had thought) and cruised around some of the islands for a month. Our highlights were a long hike in the Bay of Prony area to Prony Village (once we found the trail) and the other was the stop at Mato Island – a beautiful reef rich anchorage with good snorkeling and a hill view that was outstanding.

We left New Caledonia and made the passage to New Zealand. This is a passage that always makes us nervous. The length is just long enough to get hit by at least one bad front/storm/ridge/squash zone or something ugly weather wise. You wait and wait and hope for a good weather window. We lucked out and waited long enough that we got what was said to be the best window the entire season. That meant we had a fast trip and sailed most of the way. We saw whales and a green flash sunset. We arrived a day earlier than we anticipated.

This season, like the ones in our past, was filled with special moments with old boating friends and the great fun of meeting many new folks. In Vanuatu and New Caledonia, we met many New Zealand, Australian and South African boaters with whom we enjoyed spending time and adventures. They taught us so many things from tying crown knots to “how to fish.” They pointed out great french bakeries and good hikes. We shared many a good evening meal and got some good recipes. Our hopes are that we will meet again at another group of islands or on land!

We did manage to get quite a few articles and photos published this year so that was fun and rewarding. We continue to enjoy that effort.

Now we celebrate the holiday season in Whangarei on a pile mooring in the Town Basin Marina. We are having to make a decision on our santa if you read our log...all we want for Christmas is a new 60 hp Yanmar or Beta Marine engine. We have “Astarte” all decked out with Christmas lights (for which we won a bottle a champagne). We'll enjoy our time with old friends and new ones and look forward to another year.

Merry Christmas to all and our very best wishes for a happy holiday season!

Peace on earth.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

More on the Passage to New Zealand

A few more highlights from the passage to NZ from New Caledonia. We did see some whales – less than two boat lengths away traveling in the opposite direction. There were at least two – and they were BIG. They stayed on the surface for a long time and then one displayed a nice fluke as he (or she) went deep. We still have to look more closely at the photos Michael got to try to identify what type they were.

We were also buzzed by the New Zealand Air Force "Orion" as we entered New Zealand waters. They flew very low – and it looked almost like a kamikaze attack. They got close enough to be able to read the boat name and then they called us on the radio by name. They asked a few questions and then flew off and buzzed the boat near us. They couldn't quite read that boat name so kept calling the "yellow hulled boat that we've just flown over." That made for some fun entertainment during the passage.

Now that we have been here, we are getting some boat projects completed and some keep getting put on hold. Unfortunately the mechanic we had all booked in advance had a death in his family the day before our appointment so we haven't seen him yet. That is holding up many of the other projects. After moving three times in the Town Basin Marina, we now think we are in our home spot for the rest of the month. We started in a slip for a few days, then moved to one pile mooring, then had to move to a different pile mooring. The boat is all dressed up in Christmas lights and looks quite festive. The lights are solar Christmas lights so when the sun is out all day – the lights stay on most of the night. Unfortunately, not many people can see our boat from the town basin because of where we are located. But we are enjoying the lights anyway.

There is also lots and lots of Christmas cookies being baked aboard – so the boat smells festive. It is a holiday tradition aboard and fun to share the goodies.

We like Whangarei quite a bit and we're doing lots of walking to the various shops as well as stops to see old friends. Its good exercise and we are helping the NZ economy buying lots of things. Hope everyone's enjoying the good parts of the holiday season and keeping the stress levels down.
At 11/30/2015 3:33 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 35°43.41'S 174°19.53'E

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Sunday, November 29, 2015

An “Astarte” Record Breaking Trip

On Saturday, November 28 at 1340 local NZ time, we safely moored to the Customs/ Quarantine dock in Marsden Cove, Whangarie, New Zealand. The 945 mile trip only took us seven days and three hours. That's was the single best long passage we've had since we started cruising in 2009! Surprisingly, it was on the dreaded passage from the islands to NZ – which is usually a very tough trip. We were not alone out there to enjoy the passage as many boats took this particular weather window from either Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu or Tonga. It was just in time as well, because a storm is brewing just north of Fiji and Tonga and at last look, was heading for Samoa. So it was good to be gone before the official cyclone season starts on December 1. This particular weather window has been rated by "David and Patricia" of Gulf Harbour Radio – the weather gurus, the best window of the season – and many boats beat their own records. Some didn't have as much nice wind as we did – but we were lucky enough to have really nice and relatively comfortable sailing for almost the entire passage. The entire week was sunny with clear skies and even a full moon to light our way through the nights. Just as we were nearing our final destination, did we get our first rain and it was a doozy! But as we moored to the dock – the skies cleared enough and the wind settled so tying up wasn't too traumatic. MPI (Ministries of Primary Industries) – the biosecurity folks were first aboard and our agent was a pleasant women from Auckland who was very thorough but fair. Then the customs guy came aboard and it was like having an old friend on the boat. He cleared us out of NZ last May, as well as into the country this time. He is firm and fair with a good personality if you do everything right. We were pretty well prepared with the paperwork completed prior to his arrival so we didn't waste too much of his Saturday. He had already cleared in nine other boats!

So now we are back in NZ, all legally cleared in with the officials and received our TIE (Temporary Import Exemption) which allows us to buy bits and parts for the boat GST (tax) free. That helps! It is also a reason to keep returning to NZ with a boat! That, plus this really is a lovely country with some of the friendliest "first world" country folks around.

Monday morning, we will head up the Hatea River to the Town Basin Marina where we will settle for a bit to re-provision and get the engine really checked out by an expert. Then we hope to have the opportunity to so some cruising around the area and maybe even make it further afield than in the past years. We also hope at some point, we can make it for a trip to the South Island – though not by boat. We still have to figure that out. The six months will fly by and we know we'll have at least one visitor this coming February and perhaps even two this season.

We always fear this one passage – but this one was all you can wish for. Well that and perhaps a fish on board. We didn't fish the first four days - and we did hook five fish – but two came off the hook and we released the other three as we thought they were too small tuna (should have kept one!).

Special thanks to David and Patricia from Gulf Harbour Radio for all the great weather forecasts and lesson during the whole season as well as for their YIT (yachts in transit) site. Also thanks to the men manning the radios on Tony's Maritime net for keeping track of our passage and being "on watch."

Now its time for a sausage sizzle and a meat pie!
At 11/28/2015 8:36 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 35°50.22'S 174°28.12'E

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Friday, November 20, 2015


It is Saturday, November 21 and we will be untying from the dock in Noumea, New Caledonia and heading to Whangarei, New Zealand. The passage should take around 8 days. We hope this often ugly passage will be uneventful and fast. The only excitement we want is the yelling of "fish on" and the reeling in of a beautiful mahi! The weather forecast looks good for the passage – but we know that can change daily. So we'll leave all fueled up and ready to motor some of it if we must. The boat is well stocked with snacks and the decks are cleared and the dinghy "pukupuku" is secured on deck. So we are off. Our Thanksgiving will be underway so an early Happy Thanksgiving to all.

You can check our progress on the website where we will post our daily position.
At 11/20/2015 8:35 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 22°16.63'S 166°26.41'E

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mato – what a view!

We spent two nice days in Baei de Tortue (seeing the turtle many times or perhaps it was many turtles)...we took a nice walk and had a good dinghy exploration. The walk was like being put in the middle of an animated movie. We were surrounded by hundreds of lovely butterflies...they were everywhere. It must have been mating season for this particular variety – we never saw so many butterflies in one spot (except perhaps in the Testigos in Venezuela way back). Our walk amongst the butterflies took us to some lovely, well maintained gardens and then to the shoreline. Walking along the rocks around a point, we saw many sea snakes skins, a few dead sea snakes and finally a live one! He rushed away under a rock.

After a few days, the weather had really calmed so we moved to a reefy island area called Mato. This was a magical place with water of every color blue. The island actually has a pretty good hill on it with a trail to the top (if you can call it a trail). We climbed up and were rewarded with the most incredible view. We were above some working osprey so we could look down on them as they cruised the skies in search of fish below. The water was so clear, you could actually see schools of sharks along the reefs. As we came down we also spotted what we think were a school of pilot whales....wish we were still at the top for a better view. When Michael went exploring earlier in the day on the beaches in search of nautilus shells, he almost accidentally grabbed a sea snake on the shore. Luckily the snake ran into some does seem there are quite a few in this area. After our hike we went on a snorkel to a nearby reef (swimming distance from the boat). It had a very colorful variety of corals with different structures. There were plenty of fish – including a few of the more friendly shark species. A good sized nurse shark was cruising around where Michael was exploring and a smaller black tip made a pass by Barbara. It was a very nice snorkel though the water was chilly and full wet suits were mandatory.

We enjoyed two very lovely nights in this anchorage but decided we needed to make our way back to Noumea – the big city – to get better weather info and start to think about a departure time for New Zealand. So we sailed until the wind died and had to motor to the big city. Upon arrival we dropped the hook in the bay as we waited to see of the marina would have a space. We lucked out and it was probably the end of zero dollar days (probably for months!)

We have had a little fun in town thanks to the "Inti" folks Connie and Graham also being in the marina. We did a pizza night and that was followed by a bumper car frenzy! There is a small traveling amusement park set up in a nearby parking lot. We joked about playing on the bumper cars and sure enough, we talked the attendant into giving the four of us a deal. It was a blast – with only a little whiplash to claim the next day.

Today (Sunday), we went to the Kanak (the indigenous people of New Caledonia) cultural center called Tjibou. It is a beautiful building and park area. The paths that lead to the exhibition area are filled with descriptions of the various trees and plants as well as rock and wood sculptures. The story of the Kanak and their legends was well told through these items. The exhibit itself was more about the building and contemporary Kanak art. There is a nice display outside of Kanak homes and they were different in many ways from the traditional homes we've seen in other island nations. These are very conical and tall and use stone as well as the wood and thatch from indigenous trees. He thatch is not the palm frond roofing we've seen more often. It was very interesting. The bus ride was uneventful.

Now we play the waiting game and get the boat ready for the tough passage to NZ (though we hope it won't be tough).

Watch this space for when we leave....then you can track our progress on the YIT site.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Trekking around Prony

We settled into life at anchor again and remember what a pleasure it is to be safely on the hook in a beautiful bay. Our first stop was way back in what they call the Carenage de Prony. It is way back and protected from winds from any direction. The water isn't that pretty – though clear – because it is a muddy bottom. But it has lots of places to go for some beautiful walks – and we did our share of them. Day one took us up the hill for a glorious view of the anchorage and the other side of the island into the lagoon. The next hike was up beside a very long river with several waterfalls. One day we went up the nearby waterfall for "showers." Then we went to look for the long trek to the village of Prony on a nearby island. The first day we couldn't find the path so we came back to the boat after a bit of a dinghy exploration. After re-looking at the maps, we tried again the next day and lucked out with a pair of local Frenchmen who knew the way and led us to the start of the path.

This was a LONG hike but very beautiful and along a very nice trail that was well marked (once you got on it!) The village is an old historic site. There you could see the remnants of a penal colony and of course the prisoners were put to work in the mines or the lumber operations. The Prony area is pretty scarred with past lumbering and mining – and there still remains a large nickel mine in operation. This village housed many of the managers of the operations as well as one of the prisons. Now it seems that the old buildings are used as weekend retreats for "Noumeans." We were joined in the anchorage by some new friends for a few days, "Inti" with Connie and Graham and enjoyed some social time with them. We finally left the Carenage and went to Ilot Casy also in Prony. This is a popular weekend spot where lots of people come to camp for the weekend. We arrived on a Thursday and grabbed a mooring ball. There was a large catamaran nearby on another mooring with two Swiss families(five kids aboard between 3 and 8). They left that day and we took a nice walk around the island. There is a resident dog on the island that is very friendly and lives off the kindness of visitors and his own fishing skills! You should see this dog fish! But after he enjoyed a treat from us, he paid off his meal by guiding us around the island. He was pleasant company.

We enjoyed watching all the locals offload from water taxis and small boats with immense amounts of beer and supplies.

We took off from there and made our way through a narrow passage known as Woodin Pass. You want to hit this with the correct tide and in our case we wanted an incoming tide so we could ride it through the cut. We had a lovely sail through the cut and are now anchored off Ouen Island in the Baie de Tortue and as the name suggests, we were greeted by a turtle. It is really quite windy though – blowing about 20 knots, but we are protected from any seas in this bay anchored in about 5 meters of water.

We will slowly make our way back towards Noumea with a few more stops along the way and then we'll start the stressful wait for weather to get to NZ. We don't want to leave for NZ until at least the 15th – or at least that's the target.

For now we enjoy being away from the city and having zero dollar days!
At 11/7/2015 10:35 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 22°21.43'S 166°50.55'E

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

In and out of Noumea

The formalities of coming into a new country are completed – and in Noumea, New Caledonia it is quite an easy process. We went to Port Moselle marina on Monday and though we had to wait for a slip for several hours, we made our way into our slot with our yellow flag flying. Then Michael completed the many forms that were sent to customs by the marina office. Bio-security came aboard very quickly and it was Tatiana, the same woman we had last year. She was very efficient and took the last of our fresh goods. We had done a good job of not having any meat aboard so we didn't lose much. By the time we were at the marina, immigration was closed for the day. After a few hours of waiting, we took our yellow flag down – as is their system. That evening we had a very enjoyable time with friends Angelika and Harald – enjoying some champagne, wine and pizza with lots of laughs.

Also on Monday afternoon, Michael tried to sort the overheating/water leak engine issue. We motored for ten hours into New Caledonia – no water needed. We motored six hours up from Prony towards Noumea and needed to add water every half hour! So the problem was still unsolved. We got the name of a service nearby the marina from a few folks including our friend Eric of "Sirena of Aore." The guy asked if he could come down and take a quick look – he did, and within five minutes found the problem! It was the hose that ran to the water heater. Michael had checked it multiple times at the connections – but it was the center of the hose (under floor on the way back to the aft cabin) that was mushy. So we ordered new hose from the guy hoping it would be the end of the problem.

On Tuesday, after a breakfast of freshly bought French croissants and pan de chocolat, we headed for immigration to complete the check in process. We had written an article for Ocean Navigator's annual "Ocean Voyager" 2015 edition on the clearing in process. In that piece they used one of Michael's photos of the immigration office in New Caledonia with Rankin from "Gypsea Heart" clearing out. We brought a copy of the article and photo to the office with us – and the officer shown in the picture was the man on duty to check us in. So Michael gave him the piece. Then, another officer (a superior officer it seemed) came in the office and was shown the piece by "our" guy. Then it got a bit weird...the new guy asked who gave permission for the photo. Michael said the guy in the photo gave the permission than in French a conversation took place that didn't sound too friendly. Uh oh! But in the end, it all was good once the senior officer looked at the piece more carefully and saw other country officials in it and that piece was a positive and informative description of the proper way to clear into countries. So it all ended well – but it was a bit scary for a moment. New Caledonia after all, was a place for prisoners for many a year!

After the clear in was completed and we think we may have solved the engine problem, we did some provisioning. New Caledonia is definitely not a cheap place – except for the wine! But it is still cheaper to eat aboard than dining out. We have enjoyed meeting some new people here as well and catching up with some old acquaintances. The docks are always fun places to gather.

On Thursday though, we were ready to move out of the marina and head for some of the lovely anchorages this country has to offer. Plus we wanted to test out the engine to see if by-passing the water heater hose would solve the problem. So we motored for an hour and no water was needed. We sailed the next five hours down to the Baie de Prony – having a great sail (thanks also to the current on our favor). We then motored another hour upon arrival and no water needed. So we hope that this problem is behind us...and the cost was only $180 to find it and solve it! We were sure it would cost closer to $1000 so we were celebratory. Michael did all the work himself once Laurent found the problem. The cost was only the hose.

Now we are in Prony and back in the corner near the river, warm springs and waterfalls. We will do a fair amount of walking around the many trails here. We'll head back towards Noumea again when we are getting closer to departing the country in a few weeks or so. For now, we'll enjoy cruising around New Cal!

We probably won't get any trick or treaters here – but you never know! Happy Halloween everyone.
At 10/29/2015 8:02 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 22°18.15'S 166°51.41'E

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Bonjour from New Caledonia

We escaped from Vanuatu. It almost felt as if we earned our residency there. But it was a great four months and we enjoyed it again this season. We left in what looked to be a good weather window that opened up over the weekend. We did our outbound clearances with customs, immigration and the port authorities on Monday. It was a bit more expensive than we anticipated...Vanuatu needs to look at the fees they charge visiting yachts. But we love the country and especially the people.

We fueled and watered up over the weekend and the boat was pretty well organized. After paying our marina bill, picking up last supplies, we left on Tuesday morning at 0820. We motored out of the narrow channel, put up the sails and we were underway for the 300 mile trip to Noumea, New Caledonia.

We had to time our arrival for an incoming tide at the Havannah Pass which can get tricky with wind and a strong current. The wind was predicted to be relatively light and started south-easterly (not ideal) but was projected to become easterly and possibly even northeasterly. Those would be ideal, as we would be heading on a course of about 170 for most of the trip. We made a good deal of south-south westing for the first day – getting the captain, who loves his rhumb line, nervous. We were 31 miles right(NW) of the rhumb line before the winds gave us a slight change to the good. That only lasted a few hours. Though we were able to make it under sail almost the entire way. It was a pretty comfortable passage with slight to moderate seas and only a few light squalls. We were hard on the wind most of the trip and had to keep the speed down a bit to keep Astarte from pounding into the waves. But with the dodgey engine (or maybe its not!!) we were glad we could sail. We had to motor the last ten hours because the wind totally died and the current kept pushing us north and west. That was the interesting thing – over those ten hours, Michael didn't have to add water to the engine it was obviously not leaking water nor overheating. Hmmm.....this marine mystery continues to baffle. But it was good that the engine ran like a champ.

We made it to the pass a little early and because there was less than five knots of wind, we tackled the entrance. It was slow going fighting the outgoing tide – but once inside the tide changed and slowly gave us the advantage. It was Friday and customs and immigration are not opened over the weekend (and close midday on Friday) so we pulled into the Bay of Prony and "Anse Majic" to get a mooring for the night. We'll move up to Noumea on either Sunday or Monday.

Now we have to clean up the offshore boat and make it an inshore vessel again. We should be in New Caledonia for at east a month or so before looking for a good weather window to New Zealand. We can't get to NZ too early because of the six month immigration limitation.

So we get to enjoy croissants, baguettes and french wine. Cheers.
At 10/22/2015 6:56 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 22°09.22'S 167°07.98'E

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Where is Astarte?

Port Vila! Still. We wait and wait for weather to get to New Caledonia. Right now we are awaiting a depression that should pass over us on Saturday night – but earlier in the week we thought we could leave! It seems we look at weather and there is a good window to leave – but it is always a week away. As it approaches, the window closes. This time it slammed shut with a major storm heading this way. So we wait some more. Perhaps next week (though we've been saying that now since we arrived.)

New photos on the photo page – a little out of order – they are mostly from Losolava on the island of Gaua.

While we are waiting here in Port Vila, we have been getting some projects done aboard and been enjoying some social time with some new folks we've met. Michael's got the transmission oil changed, the engine oil changed, bilges emptied and cleaned and lots of littler things done. We've done lots of baking, cleaning and entertaining as well. Here is the "crew" that are stuck in Port Vila that we've been enjoying spending some time with at coffees, dinners, sundowners, Happy Hours, and now card and game playing. Some are heading to NZ, some to Oz and some to New Cal. There is Matt (our new sailing expert) and Sally aboard "Alchemy 2" from Tasmania; Laura and Bruce aboard "Pacific Highway" from the Virgin Islands; Kathryn and Anthony, New Zealanders we actually met in Asanvari aboard "Cobalt," Fran and Tom on a beautiful classic boat "Dagon" from New Zealand, "Exit Strategy" with Canadians Kim and Tom... plus our old (not age) British friends Bob and Sue on "Mawari" and Barry aboard "Blue Note" from Oz. There are plenty of folks here so we've enjoyed getting to know many quite well as we all wait for weather to go our separate ways.

So we wait...and wait....and wait.
At 9/18/2015 8:28 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°44.75'S 168°18.73'E

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Friday, September 25, 2015

From Asanvari to Port Vila

After the uncomfortable 22 mile sail down the coast of Maewo we enjoyed several days in Asanvari and hiked another waterfall. Michael chose not to dive off this one – though if he had seen the right spot he might have!

We went to a small festival - the first for Asanvari and included both the north and southern villages of Maewo. The fun part was that several of the friends we had made at "Big Waters", the northern part of Maewo, came down for the festival and the following days soccer matches. We saw a few kastam dances and a weaving and cooking demonstration. But the festival was very "island time!" It was supposed to start at 8, then 9, then 10, then 11....and it actually got under way around 1 pm! They were waiting for some people from one of the tourist ministries to see the festival so they could get on the official calendar list for the following year. The dances at each of these places are quite interesting as they are all very distinct. That makes it so interesting. The dances we saw here were a male warrior dance which had people coming out of the bush on opposite sides two at a time – and doing a dance then ended with a "sword" battle amongst all the dancers – this was with wooden swords and was fascinating to watch – very choreographed. The dance ended with "peacemaking" and all the warriors facing one way and threw their swords into the hills. The next dance, which was by our friends from the northern part, had elaborate costumes. The dancers came out in a large group with very tall branches so it almost look like a forest coming out to dance. The "trees" then did a very interesting dance. The fun part of some of these dances is that the audience often jumps up and joins in the dance. That happened here. The final dance was not really a kastam dance – but a more modern routine by some young women and bamboo sticks that they banged together and with each other. It was quite well done.

There are pictures of this festival up already.

After an enjoyable time in Asanvari with fresh warm bread delivered by canoe – we took off at daybreak and headed south in what we hoped would be a better trip. It was a 160 mile trip and we presumed we'd have to do some tacks. We had a great sail down the coast of Pentecost, holding our course pretty well and hitting good speeds. It was pretty comfortable even though we were hard on the wind because we had some protection from any big seas thanks to the long and narrow Pentecost Island. As we neared the end of Pentecost we had to fall off a bit to clear Ambrym Island (which is right in the way to get to Efate!) We did have to turn the motor on for an hour through here because it seemed the wind was wrapping around the Ambrym point. Luckily it was still daylight because we made such good time. We then continued on the other side in more open seas once past Epi Island and over the night we got on and off our course line because of wind changes. But in the end, we had a great sail the entire way – only motoring when the wind died because we got in the lee of Efate.

We made our way into Port Vila around lunch time and got a mooring. It was a very good trip south which in Vanuatu can be a challenge. We are enjoying city time as we wait for a weather window to New Caledonia. They seem to open and close with regularity. We only need about three days – but we need a more easterly wind than southeast which is the prevailing trades. Because the engine still is losing fresh cooling water we want to sail and not motor. There was a light motoring window this week – but we passed on it. Michael also had to fix the water pump on the main engine which he got repaired because he had spare parts!

So we now wait – but we still have several weeks on our immigration – so hopefully in that time we'll get a three day window.
At 9/18/2015 8:28 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°44.75'S 168°18.73'E

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Heading South in Southerlies

Lots of new pictures up on the site...check them out! Even some in the water photos for you Sandra C.

The last night at "Big Waters" waterfall anchorage was not a pleasant one. The roll picked up at about midnight and Michael (who's arm was sore from his leap of faith), had to find a new place to slumber. At daybreak we pulled up the anchor in a pretty good sea and headed 22 miles south to another anchorage on Maewo – Asanvari Bay. That 22 miles took us nine hours (and we motored the last 9 miles). The winds were hooting from the south/southeast – right on the nose. Even though we were on the leeward side of the long island of Maewo – even close to shore – the wind was gusting to 28 knots. The seas were also right on the nose and Astarte would come to a near dead stop after three in a row. We tacked until we were about two miles off the rhumb line and then would head back towards the slightly calmer seas nearer shore. Our 22 miles probably ended up being 40 miles.

Upon arrival in Asanvari, it became calm in this very pretty anchorage. There were three other boats here – one was our Swiss friends Esti, Mario and Laura aboard Mares. We hadn't seen then since we all left on the same day from New Zealand. They went on to Fiji. The other was our newer New Zealand friends Lance and Michelle aboard "Sweet Waters." We hunted for a spot which we found very challenging. The bay goes from very deep to shallow with lots and lots and lots of scattered bommies. We dropped our anchor where Lance suggested but it didn't feel good so we pulled it up and sure enough we had found something to wrap around. It took a few tries to get it up. We then moved closer to Mares and again it wasn't perfect. We waited until the morning and better light to move.

The anchorage was beautifully calm and we slept peacefully after a tough night and long day. The next morning Michael went to check the anchor (where's anchor boy when we need him???) and it wasn't pretty. We worked at getting the anchor up while Michael was in the water directing the proceedings. Barbara had to run from windlass to steering. We searched and searched for a better spot and ended up (after a few tries) and with the help of Mario from Mares now in the water to direct anchor placement dropping the hook in 55 feet of water. That's deep! We enjoyed an evening aboard Mares and met the folks from the other Swiss boat, Momo. We had known the previous owners of this boat who were part of the class of 2012 Pacific Passage group.

We can see why Asanvari is a favored anchorage for cruisers in Vanuatu. It is a beautiful spot with a white sand beach on one side and a waterfall on another side. We had fresh hot bread delivered to the boat this morning at 6:45 by Columbus and his daughter (or granddaughter) and it was tasty. Later a young boy came by with three eggs to trade. There is a small "yacht club" at the bottom of the waterfall run by Alex and his son Carl (though we understand you can get a meal but they are out of beer so it's BYO.)

Its been a bit gusty and rainy – then blue sky and sun – and back to cloudy. So a mixed bag. We are going to sit here until we can find a better weather window to head back south towards Port Vila. We need a bit more easterly component to make the trek south – or at least lighter winds than the 20 plus knots predicted over the next few days. The seas and gusts between islands can get fierce – so we'll wait for some moderation.

Not a bad place to wait when hot bread gets delivered every other day!
At 9/11/2015 8:27 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 15°22.60'S 168°07.99'E

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Michael: Suicidal or Certifiable?

After anchoring in the crater of Lolowai on Ambae Island, we moved out at a high tide and anchored overnight in a nearby spot that was quite lovely. Again, we were the only boat there and there was no village – so we had the place to ourselves. We would run early the next morning to Maewo (pronounced My-Woe but hopefully it wouldn't be!) - 19 miles away. That was a truly great sail – hard on the wind, but moving at more than six knots with reefed sails (sometimes hitting 7.3).

We went to Lakrere Bay, which is in the northeast corner of Maewo and home of "Big Waters" - a giant waterfall. We anchored in about 10 meters of what we hoped was a sandy bottom. There was a slight roll – but nothing horrible. Most of these anchorages are open roadsteads – just a slight indentation on the leeward side of the island. This was one of those – but we could hear the waterfall from the boat and hear lots of laughter from kids. That is one of the great sounds of Vanuatu – people laugh all the time here!

Once anchored and settled with a good a lunch, we launched the dinghy and went ashore. You go into this small cut that the waterfall runoff has obviously created over the centuries. We were met ashore by many villagers who helped us tie up. As is our style, we first asked to go see the chief to get permission to anchor outside the Naone village and to walk around. We met Chief Patrick, got our approval and then met Paul who we asked to guide us up the waterfall the next day. We sat for awhile by the waterfall and road which crossed it. It is a concrete "ford" which simply crosses over the river. This is the favorite playground for the local kids who ski here. The road gets slimy from the water – and the kids get a running start and then slide on the slick stuff. Some are quite flamboyant. They can do this for hours. They also dive off the waterfall over the road or from the nearby trees. They seem fearless. We had several canoes come out to the boat later in the day to visit.

The next morning, we went to shore at 0900 for our waterfall hike. Paul, our guide spoke decent English and was a good guide. Along with Paul, we had a parade of other villagers that joined in the walk. Paul carefully showed us where to step and helped me across many of the falls. These falls are called, in our Lonely Planet Guide, the eighth wonder of the world. They are terraced so around every corner, there is another waterfall to see. Some split off and create more waterfalls. They also have terraced gardens here where they grow water taro. This was fascinating to see and they are quite beautiful with the large leafed taro against the water.

We climbed up and up … over streams and falls and tracks. I (Barbara) decided at one point that it was too steep and slippery to continue going up. Michael did, along with the "parade" of guys that went along. Three girls stayed behind with me.

Now to today's headline. Is Michael suicidal or certifiable? He decided to jump off the waterfall at one point. It was about a 10 meter (33 feet) drop and off a slippery rock smack in the center of one part of the falls. None of the locals decided to do it – just Michael. I was against it (thinking of how I would get the boat back to NZ myself) – but he's an adult (sometimes). So Paul took him out to the center of the falls and after a few moments of near chickening out – he took the leap. He was glad to have his shoes on because when his feet hit the water – it was quite a shock. He survived and swam to shore – suffering a bit of a sore arm and proud as a peacock.
We made our way down and back to the boat with three women with whom we had arranged to trade some vegetables and fruit. They brought us two papaya, some bananas (orange inside and very tasty), drinking coconuts, and a big bag of tomatoes. They left loaded with pots and pans, some clothes, vegetable seeds and towels.

We had also invited a few of the guys who walked the trail with us in the morning out to the boat. That is a question many locals ask – "Can we come see your boat?" These three guys were full of questions and made a movie and took many pictures of their visit to Astarte. We gave them a few magazines and book on sailing and they couldn't put them down – even when we went ashore later – they were still looking at the magazine and book.

That afternoon, we went to shore with a frisbee and two floating "noodles." We went for a swim in one of the pools and then started to play frisbee with the kids. It was a blast. If the frisbee went flying into the water, without a second's hesitation, a small boy would run, then leap off the side and into the water to retrieve it. It was so fun to watch and listen to them laugh. Some kids were doing their "skiing" on the slime, others were riding down the hill on bits of old surf boards and boogie boards. They are polite and honest here – and when we were leaving, we had every intention on leaving the "toys" behind – but they tried to return them to us.

This was a very special place for its beauty – the waterfall was incredible and the people. Lots of great images are left in our minds.

Plus, Michael had his "e-ticket" ride and lived to tell the tale.
At 9/11/2015 8:27 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 15°22.60'S 168°07.99'E

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Monday, September 7, 2015

Anchored in a Crater

We left Losalava Bay on Gaua after a week filled with walks and interesting exploring. We made a slow sail back to Santo with a bit of motoring when the wind just died. We arrived late afternoon with an incoming tide back into our "home port in Vanuatu" Peterson Bay. We settled in for another great week in the flat anchorage with several trips up the river for fresh water showers and laundry!

On Sunday we left Peterson Bay to get out of the narrow channel during high tide and anchored just outside the bay for the night so we could get an early start the next morning. We left at sunrise, (after a bit of a hassle with our main sail furler), on our way to a new island for us – Ambae (pronounced Am-Bye). It was a 48 mile trip and we sailed a bit of the way but once in the shadow of Ambae – which is quite a high island – we had to motor. As we approached the northeastern tip of the island, the wind really picked up on our nose at it wrapped around the tip of the island. We saw near 30 knots in gusts.

We carefully entered the anchorage at Lolowai which is located on the edge of a water-filled old crater. We had to make our way over the edge of the crater – seeing about five feet under the keel in a certain spot. Unfortunately the two white triangle range marks to get in are overgrown – so it was impossible to locate the range. So we moved slowly and made it in – luckily tide was relatively high. We got in over the edge, the water got deep and we found a place to anchor in 10 meters of water. The crater is surrounded by high hills and a rocky ledge on the ocean side. We'll head into the small town today.

Ambae is a relatively small island, but quite high and has Mt. Lombenben (1496 meters) and has Manaro Volcano – one of the ten most active in the world. There are several crater lakes on the island – one is lime green and hot and the other is cool blue with a cold spring in the center. It is not a hot tourist spot for Vanuatu – but volcanologists like it!

We have never been here before - so it is always fun to see new places. We are exploring while we wait for decent weather to start or hard trek south.
At 9/7/2015 8:16 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 15°16.85'S 167°58.84'E

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Bamboo Band Aboard

The festival was fabulous, but we also enjoyed some snorkeling in Lakona Bay. We hadn't been in the water in a really long time thanks to the challenging weather this season in Vanuatu. But during our week in Lakona Bay, we went out to the reef near the village and had a great visit with variety of tropical fishes of all sizes and shapes. We saw a giant wrasse – easily three feet long and quite chunky as well as lots of bat fish, parrot fish, butterfly fish of many styles and some pretty good-sized groupers. We then went to a rocky shore closer to our boat that Michael had taken a swim towards the previous day and discovered an underwater field of garden eels. So we went to check them out again. It was quite a sight to watch the hundreds of eels with their bodies coming out of the ground swaying in the current. They were much longer than eels of this type we had seen in the Caribbean.

After the festival "officially" ended, there was a "farewell" on Saturday morning. They gave out special awards for the canoe races and bow and arrow shootout. Michael got an award for being the assigned "bigfella" for the committee. He was the "official" liaison between the yachties and Levi, the head organizer. He got a beautiful hand made carved wooden knife. The other prizes were handmade crafts as well, including a fan, a hat, a basket and bag.

The "committee" of festival organizers wanted to get feedback on what we all thought about the event and how they could improve upon it. Each yachtie spoke and the unanimous sound was that there was little they could do to improve the show. We then got yet another meal and listened to the "bamboo band" one more time. They did put on a great show.

On Sunday morning we were planning on leaving and offered to transport some of the Bamboo Band back to their village. We told them we could take six and as many instruments as we could fit. Another boat was also going to take six and some of the instruments. Sunday came and the other boat backed out of the transport and instead gave them some gasoline. They feared the locals would get sea sick aboard. We then were asked to take twelve people but we anticipated a rough trip once around the top of the island heading right into the wind and seas and said we couldn't. Many of the band decided to stay at the village and perform some more for an upcoming "saints" holiday on Wednesday. So the instruments would stay and we would take six people. They came out to the boat and we got underway with Isiah, Mores, Wesor, Daniel, Ifrem and Cartraet aboard(the spelling is correct, we had them sign our guest book). Most spoke pretty good english and we learned about the band and life in Lemoga, their village.

While underway, we enjoyed seven dolphins playing with Astarte for a long time. The boys loved it and sang, yelled and banged on the boat to the leaping water mammals. The dolphins seemed to respond by staying with us for almost an hour. Like everyone else, they like the bamboo band as well. The dolphins put on quite a show. The good news is that it kept everyone occupied enough to not get seasick.

We also handed over some fishing lines and the pole for them to fish. They managed to get a pretty good sized barracuda as we neared the entrance to the reef near their village. They got it in, cleaned it, and took it with them. We heard the next day on our walk from someone who said the boys cooked it after church and it fed many in their village. We loved that! They were probably quite the heroes.

We are now anchored behind a large reef near Losalava Village. Because of the large reef, there is a little less of a roll than in Lakona Bay. The first night was a very restful night. The next night there were some wind bullets coming off of the hills and we had a small roll going – but still not so bad. We took a walk into the village yesterday and met the chief and got our permission to walk around and snorkel. The plan is to be here for several days or until the wind comes less from the south and more from the east – or with any luck, the northeast. Then we can make our way back south and start our trek back towards Port Vila for departure in late September for New Caledonia.

For now, we'll enjoy this part of Gaua – and if ambitious may take the long hike to a huge waterfall near a lake. That's if the old knees recover from all the dancing at the festival!
At 8/25/2015 7:45 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 14°12.47'S 167°34.19'E

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

KASTAM FESTIVAL =?ISO-8859-1?Q?=96 =93THE MUSIC=94?= - PART 3

14degrees 18.8minutes South
167degrees 25.9minutes East

The sights of the festival were visually exciting. The sounds were equally moving! There were at least four very different types of music we heard during these few days. Some we have heard before – but two of the varieties we've heard for the first time.

The Singing: The folks from these villages love to sing and they do. If they knew a song that the band was playing they would jump up and sing along. They welcomed us with a song and many of their dances included singing. Some of the sounds would include a loud yelling sound – especially during the woman's kastam dance,

The Tam-Tam: This is a large wooden log with a slit in the center. It is hit with wooden sticks and makes an incredible sound. They come in various sizes and styles – some very basic looking like a log – others quite carved and elaborate totem like structures. The large ones make a loud deep sound and the smaller hand-held ones made a less bass sound. The small tam tams are often held by one person and played by another during the kastam dances. We had both played often during the festival for various purposes from calling people together to creating music for a ceremony or dance. The large drums often have three players with the central player being the leader – calling the shots – the others on each side of him follow his lead.

The bamboo band: This was amazing. The bamboo band came from another village on Gaua – Lemoga Village - about a ten hour walk away! There were around 34 people in the band including the drummers, blowers and singers. The instruments are of varying sizes and all made from bamboo of varying widths and lengths. There are anywhere from about five pieces to 20 pieces of bamboo in each instrument. Some are struck with a wooden stick that has a foam paddle at the end. The paddle part hits and covers the end hole of the bamboo piece making an incredible sound of varying musical notes. Some of the other bamboo players use the bamboo and blow into the pieces – with great energy and enthusiasm making an almost tuba like sound. Michael tried to get a sound out of it but couldn't manage one. Some of the players are quite young. Some of the instruments are quite large and have stands that they sit upon to be played. It is quite a sight and the sound is really unique and remarkable This band has only been performing for two years. The "bamboo band" tradition has moved to Vanuatu from the Solomon Islands and seems to slowly be working its way south. This group is self taught and made their own instruments and write their own songs and musical arrangements. The village chief, Edwin, is also the band's leader. This band worked very hard throughout the festival playing for the two days of the festival, for a special Saturday morning "farewell" for a Saturday night party in the village and then some even stayed to play again on Tuesday in the village for their "saint's day." They were probably the hardest working musicians we've ever seen. Their pay: kava! As the band told us "No kava. No band."

Water Music: The last daytime activity of the two day festival was "water music." This is a woman's dance/music. They perform it in the river in waist deep water. The group of women of any number, gather in the river or ocean and literally splash around in the water. But what looks like simply playtime for adults is actually music. They synchronize their movement of hands and elbows through the water to create amazing sounds. They have a very deep thumping sound as well as higher notes. The sound coming together makes beautiful music. This particular music is said to actually have started in this bay – started by women simply playing in the water while doing their laundry and taking baths. It was started long ago and then disappeared from the culture and was reintroduced about 30 years ago. Now it is spreading throughout Vanuatu as women move from Gaua to other parts of the island chain through marriage or work. They are teaching it to others and water music is being performed on other islands as well. But it was really something to see and hear. Certainly one of the highlights of the festival.

So we got to see traditional activities and heard remarkable sounds. Take advantage of the Gaua Lakona Bay festival if you are ever in Vanuatu August 20 and 21 – same dates every year!
At 8/23/2015 4:43 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 14°12.47'S 167°34.19'E

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Sore from so much dancing the night before, we made our way back to the village. Another sailboat arrived the evening before, so they joined in the festivities. That meant another "welcome" song and village greeting. On Friday though, the weather was not very nice. We got lots and lots and lots of rain. But the dampness did not deter the festive feeling nor the attitude of the villagers. They still went all out.

First on the docket for the day was learning about how they prepared traditional "kakae" (or food). They did everything in a specially designed cooking hut. They showed us how they made their stone pit fires as well as a "bush" fire out of tree fern wood. The women were all using only nature made tools to prepare the food and the men used rocks and sharpened sticks to make the fire box. The tools were shells to get the coconut meat out of the husk; the thick end of palm frond with some slits in it as a grater; thin slivers of bamboo as cutting knives for the was all fascinating and seemed quite hard work. They pounded the cooked taro, manioc and yam into a pulp with bamboo stalks and used banana leaves as pot holders (though no pots)! The root vegetables were tossed into the hot rock pits to cook and the coconut was cooked in banana leaves.

We then saw some traditional "magic." This was great and quite entertaining. They made coconut water turn red while still in the husk by waving fronds over them; they lifted a conch shell with a palm frond; eating a poisonous sea snake (didn't quite see that one); and a battle scene where one man gets stabbed ("blood" and all) and later comes back to life! It was all quite fun and the local crowd loved it.

There was more dancing on day two – the final men's dance was a very special one with elaborate costumes and headdresses. The figures represent different spirits and the people in the crowd would each have their own special "family spirit." This dance is rarely performed at their ceremonies – maybe only once a year.

During all the dances over the two days there are these "creatures" that come out and dance around the crowds – not really part of the actual dance – but as a sideshow. They are covered head to toe in greenery – and known as the "manbush." They each have a slightly different headdress and one in particular is the "devil" manbush. He is amazing. He runs around in this costume and chases the children and they run from him. He is constantly moving, jumping and dancing - for hours! They were the figures we saw on the beach that greeted us as we pulled into the anchorage. During the two days of festivities they would come out at random times as well as during all the dances.

On day two, the participatory activity was a demonstration of the bow and arrow shooting at a very small target. The first man up, hit a bulls eye first shot! Amazing. Then the yachties gave it a try and only one of us all managed to hit a bit of the palm frond on the bottom of the target. These bows and arrows and the string – again were all made from the products available on Gaua – a taught vine, a flexible wood and a thin shaft of hardwood for the arrow.

We got another meal – a nice traditional lunch – from the cooking demonstration seen earlier. Plus, they showed the system of grade earning in a pig killing ceremony. This is where a man earns a new title or a step up in the village hierarchy. It costs the man a pig or two. This was showing how a man is made a chief. The ceremony was done in front of the very traditional "nakamal" - traditional community building or in this case, the kastam chief's personal nakamal for "men" only. It is where the headdresses are stored for ceremonies and where the men meet and drink kava. The pig that was killed in this ceremony can only be eaten by men because of the type of ceremony it was used for. It is still a culture that isn't based on sexual equality!

The day's activities ended with an amazing sight and sound - "water music." You'll read more about that in the next entry.

That evening – though it was raining hard, there was still a bonfire, music, dancing and kava as well as another meal. Though the folks were now dressed in non traditional clothes so they wouldn't get too cold in their "kastam dress."
At 8/23/2015 4:43 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 14°12.47'S 167°34.19'E

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That sums up a two-day festival in Lakona Bay on the island of Gaua in the Banks Island group of Vanuatu. On Thursday and Friday (and even a bit of Saturday), we, along with 12 other "yachties" enjoyed the hospitality of three villages. This was only the second year of this festival, but it was a truly remarkable event in both quantity of activities and the quality of them. The pictures that we'll post will tell a lot of the story (you just have to wait for us to have internet to post them).

The festival celebrates the area's "kastam". It's purpose is to pass on these traditions to their own youngsters as well as to help make a few vatus (dollars) for the villages. It takes place in a very traditional small village where there are no tin roofs nor non-traditional homes. The buildings are made of all natural products and it has a large "playground" in the center surrounded by large trees – perfect for the festivities. The villagers were all required to wear traditional clothes (though many had "western" shorts under their grass skirts) – and they were "fined" if they showed up into the area in other attire. Everything used during the festival was the traditional way of doing things...more on that later. The whole ambiance was indeed very unique and special.

We were told to all be at the beach at 8 am on Thursday morning. We then walked towards the area of the festival and were "attacked" by the warrior boys. These young men came out of the bush with spears and bows taught with arrows yelling and looking very threatening. Then a man with a "peace" frond came forward and stopped the attackers and greeted us and led us into the village. We were greeted with the entire group of approximately 150 people lined up singing and the "bamboo band" playing. We faced them and then were formally greeted with a welcome song and dance. Then every person, man, woman and child, came by and shook our hands and said hello. They also did a salusalu (hanging of flowers) around our necks. This was a wonderful way to start our day. They provided drinking coconuts and fresh popo (papaya) and bananas and the festivities continued.

The day was jam packed with several dances – men's kastam dances of different types meaning different things and in different outfits. A woman's dance, lots of bamboo band music and a demonstration of how they make their baskets (for vegetables or chickens), armbands and "bracelets/anklets" for kastam dress, roofs for houses and even some toys. We had a traditional lunch that was delicious and interesting (including some lobster salad!) and lots of opportunity to talk to the villagers about their traditions. The day was picture perfect with sun shining and a light breeze to keep the temperature perfect. The big trees surrounding the village made for comfortable viewing. Plus, they had put benches all along the perimeter of the area for seating as well as a covered hut for us to relax in.

There were two particularly unique events we watched. One was a traditional marriage ceremony. We were shown how the "bride" is carried in and the exchanging of gifts between the families (including live pigs). We also were shown how the various villages used to wage battles against each other and how the peace came following the fight. Our host, Father Levi spoke very good english and would explain these various events to us and then we would watch. The people were very good at demonstrating the traditions. One "fighter" deserved an Academy Award for his "wounded warrior" part!

The day ended with the battle of the canoes. Three canoes raced against each other – first with yachties as part of the crew and then the real race with the villagers alone. Michael took part in one race and his team came out in front!

We had a late afternoon break before we reconvened on the island for nigh time activities. This included a giant bonfire, kava making and tasting, and lots of music from the bamboo band and everyone danced – non-stop! The beat just makes you move. If you weren't dancing, someone would grab you and force you to get in gear! The kids in the villages (and there were loads of them) had a ball and laughter could be heard from all quarters. Then we were given yet another traditional meal and finally sent on our way.

It was a long first day and so filled with so many things it was hard to sleep.
At 8/23/2015 4:43 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 14°12.47'S 167°34.19'E

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tolav Village, Lakona Bay, Gaua,

The Banks Islands, Vanuatu. If the anchorage didn't have the consistent roll from a swell – this place would be near perfect. It is very remote – no internet, no cell phones no shops. But it has crystal clear water (we can see the bottom and we're in 25 feet of water and it is a black sand bottom), verdant green hills and some of the friendliest people we've met. They don't speak great English – though most of the inhabitants speak two languages – their native village language as well as Bislama the language of Vanuatu. Most also have a smattering of English. They have worked hard at keeping their village (and the two nearby villages) quite traditional. They are generous with what they have.

We were greeted by two canoes when we arrived and then on Sunday, another canoe came out and delivered a giant basket of vegetables. Steven spoke quite good English and we had him aboard for a cup of tea and conversation. We also try to "pay" for the goods we are given with trade items of things they may need. We gave Steven some vegetable seeds and a can of varnish. He is the handyman for the villages and that is what he had asked for. We in turn, received green peppers, beets, spring onions, eggplants, bok choy (White bone), radishes, a few small tomatoes and fresh basil.

After Steven departed, Ben returned (he was one of our original "greeters" with his son Wesley). On Sunday he was with his wife and another son Chesley. They brought us a lovely large stalk of bananas, some drinking coconuts and some long beans. Long beans are a crazy looking vegetable that is a very long, skinny bean. We're still trying to figure out the tastiest way to prepare these. They came aboard for a cup of tea but the boats roll got to young Chesley and he got sick. Poor thing...and poor us!

On Monday, we finally made it to the village and met the chief and got permission to be at the anchorage and walk around the village. His name is John Star (though we heard it as Johnston and kept calling him the wrong name – oops). Then we met Levi, who is the coordinator of the upcoming festival and the best English speaker. He is also a minister from a village on the other side – but this is his home village where his family owns much land. He is a remarkable young man. He only had an early education to grade 3 but his family couldn't afford the school fees to let him continue his education. He moved on to Santo to work and then returned to Gaua. He was given the job of youth advisor and started to study again as he had to write letters and do some paperwork. He succeeded in his position for seven years and then was selected by someone who saw his potential to go on to the Anglican ministry. He was sent to college which he completed. He is a strong believer in balancing the native customs with the church. He started the festival that this area has in order to teach the young children more about the native "kustom" and traditions of dance and music.

The festival starts tomorrow – wish there were more boats here to support them as we can see how hard the three villages have been working. As of Wednesday, there are four boats planning to attend the event and a fifth boat with a single-hander that we are not certain will participate. We are entertained daily by someone dancing along the beach in a costume and we hear the drums being beat, as the dancers are most likely practicing They do not want us to see the "preparation."

The other exciting news for us was our reunion with a dear friend. We met Angelika and Friedl in 2009 in Curacao aboard their catamaran "Tumshi." Michael and Friedl were part of a crazy boat rescue (fiasco caused by bad anchoring and another two "helpers"). Then we got together and decided to buddy boat with them from Curacao to the Venezualan island of Los Monjes then along the Colombia coast and on to Panama. They became good friends and we enjoyed their company immensely. They went on through the canal and into the Pacific – we stayed in the Caribbean. We haven't seen them since November 2009. Angelika is now aboard a different boat "Carl" as crew with the captain Harold. Last night we had dinner with them aboard Carl. They came to Lakona Bay yesterday just so we could connect (and caught a tuna that we enjoyed for dinner). Angelika is a great cook and it was a delicious meal – especially because they have been the Torres and Banks islands for the last three months – remote areas with few supplies. We toasted with their last bottle of champagne and really enjoyed the evening and reunion. Angelika looks terrific!

Tomorrow – the festival begins.

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Underway Again, FINALLY!

After almost a month in Peterson Bay, Santo we have finally got the anchor out of the mud and moved out. It was a pleasant stay there. Michael completed the big sewing project and now "Pukupuku" (our dinghy) is covered. We saw a rodeo and enjoyed the festivities of Independence Day. And Barbara managed to get over a bout with not feeling well (that was the reason for the extended stay). But all is well now and we left on Thursday afternoon to get out of the tricky and narrow cut during high tide. Then we anchored outside near an island and had a very pleasant evening. It is always fun to discover a new anchor spot that isn't listed in any of the books!

On Friday morning, bright and early, we pulled the anchor and sailed to the northern part of Santo and anchored in Port Olry. This was a very pretty anchorage that we snuck way back into over a few small reefs. It was that pretty place with a white, white sand beach and water of various shades of blue. Very pretty. We got visited by Marcus from a boat that was a bit further out in the bay. He needed help with his computer and Michael was able to give him a hand. Unfortunately our plans wouldn't allow us to stay in this spot - though we will probably come back.

Our goal for this year's trip to Vanuatu was to get to the Banks Islands...well we finally did. We left Port Olry at 0630 and made the 50 mile passage to the island of Gaua, also known as Santa Maria. The trip was interesting – the predicted 19 knots of SE winds ended up being anything from 8 knots of East winds to 22 knots of NE and some SE thrown in as well. That meant lots and lots and lots of sail changes. We put our downwind/whisker pole up and down three times! Of course the sea was very confused and the two plus meter "significant" waves made these pole changes challenging! But we were able to sail the entire way and got here by 1630 (4:30 pm).

We are anchored in the Lakona Bay near three villages. As we approached the anchorage, two canoes headed out towards us and met us. They told us we could anchor pretty close to shore and that the bottom had no rocks – just sand. We are settled in about 20 feet – but unfortunately, it is a rolling anchorage. There is a steady swell that works its way into this bay and hits the boat on the beam giving us a nice steady roll. We invited our canoe greeters aboard for a cup of tea and got some of the island info. We came here because on this Thursday and Friday there is a big festival. On shore, the women were practicing the "water music" which is one of the events for the festival. This is supposed to be one of the nicer events in Vanuatu and we are looking forward to it. It is a two day event filled with music, dancing, arts and local food. We will learn more when we meet today with the festival's director (who also came by in a canoe later – but we had just sat down to dinner (our only meal that day).

Today is Sunday, so we will go into the village of Tolav later today and get our official permission to be here and get more info about the festival. It is a pretty grey and drizzly day (like yesterday), so hopefully that is not indicative of this particular island's weather pattern. It is a relatively high island with what looks like lots of rivers and waterfalls. But we'll will be good to get off the boat as much as possible simply because of the roll aboard.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Happy Independence Day Vanuatu!

This is a young nation – today, July 30th is the 35th Independence Day Anniversary of when the New Hebrides became the island nation of Vanuatu. The former British and French "condominium" government gave way to a new democracy. We went into Luganville today for some of the festivities here on the island of Santo. Last year, we celebrated the event in the capitol of Port Vila. The weather was not great with on and off rain and grey skies. The parade was even canceled because of the rain. The festivities in "Unity Park" involved the great marching band – an real crowd-pleaser. Though only 14 members large, this military band marches in precision and then breaks out into dance moves from the macarena to twists. The police and army marched and were inspected then shot off three rounds. That scared the kids. Luckily gun fire is something very seldom heard in this lovely, peaceful nation. There were lots of speeches and the crowd was pretty large.

Food booths- each individually decorated with festive colored material surround the park selling everything from donuts and cakes to ice cream and popcorn to local main dishes like laplap, fis, kababs and other "kakae" (food/to eat). As we were walking around we met a man who introduced himself as Colin and then we gave our names...his sister was also named Barbara so we all met – had to take pictures and then we were invited to come and sit under there covered booth whenever we wanted during the day.

We joined our friends from Mawari, Sue and Bob for lunch at one of the local booths (where you could sit down and get served a meal for about 400 Vatu ($4 US). Then we walked around and went to watch the much talked about "Monkey Boys." We had heard about the "Monkey Boys" from the previous year but had never seen them...nor did we know what to expect. A band? Jugglers? Magicians? When people would talk about them – they would always say in a very excited way - "The Monkey Boys" are performing. Well, we stayed to see them. They are a comedy trio...and to appreciate them the way the Ni-Vans seem to - you have to be fluent in Bislama - which we are NOT. It was fun though to watch the crowd and hear them laughing.

As usual our transport in and out of town is always interesting. Our ride in this morning was with a private truck driven by the company's owner Bob and his wife Annie. They own a small wood mill nearby and were heading into town and gave us a lift. These people are so friendly. The other day when we went in to get groceries, another private truck picked us up and drove us all the way to the place to get our propane tank filled. We have met some wonderful folks and it always seems to end with an invite from them to join them for a coffee at their home.

Happy Independence Day was great to see how proud you are of your country.

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Local Vanuatu Radio

While sitting in Peterson Bay, Santo, Michael is busy sewing a cover for our new dinghy...and putting together new strings of words to release his frustration. I think it looks great – he is not very pleased. But as the sewing project progresses, we have been listening to the local Vanuatu radio station FM 107. It is a great way to learn the native language of Bislama and it is entertaining. The play list is probably the weirdest combination of tunes you could imagine. The local music is a string band which has a kind of "bluegrass" sound but the lyrics are in Bislama. They'll play a string band song then go to an American hip hop, then reggae, then to a Calypso and then to a French lounge act song followed by some old R&R. They have a "French hour" in the afternoon which features all French language songs though the commercials and DJ are still in Bislama. There is usually one or two songs followed by three or four commercials – and lots of DJ announcements including the Vanuatu ferry schedule, church service schedule and shipping news. They also do news breaks and lots of Public Service announcements.

We have made a few treks into town and the plan is to take a break from the sewing project (though it may get completed today hopefully) to head to town for a local rodeo tomorrow (Saturday). After the big project is completed we will make a provisioning run into town and stock up for the Banks Islands. We have been asked to buy and bring some supplies for one of the islands. So that will add to our shopping list. Once that is completed we'll look for a weather window to head north. It will be good to see a new area and from everything we hear this is one of the "special" places where fewer boats head and the people are extraordinarily welcoming.

For now, we listen to local radio and Michael's language! We've been in Vanuatu two months.

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Yee-Ha – Ride 'em Cowboy!

New photos up...check them out (especially butterfly fans).
As our loyal readers know, we like local events and try to go to them whenever we can. We heard about the "Santo Rodeo" and decided it was a "must" - especially after the fun we had at the rodeo in New Zealand. So without our Texan buddies, we ventured off to the Colmar Plantation near Kavu (as opposed to kava) Park near Luganville. It was an adventure getting there as the PT's (Public Transport) trucks were in rare supply on the road. We hiked quite a way and came upon a family of eight also waiting on a truck and also heading for the rodeo. As we passed them we knew now they would be the first to get a ride and they would certainly load up a truck. Sure enough, a truck finally came by and they all loaded in – but being Ni-Vans (the nicest people around), they made the truck stop to pick us up and squeeze us in. It was a loaded back of the pickup!! But the driver did great collecting 200 Vatu from each and having 15 riders!

We got to the park and followed the stream of people heading to the field. There were lots of pick-ups and a few larger trucks with people sitting on the roofs of each of them. A dirt field surrounded by a fence was the venue and you either had to stand alongside the fence or find a place on a truck or in a tree for a view. The first event was a race through some poles – two horses and riders each, on a side-by-side course. Some of the horses were not excited about the event and downright refused to obey their riders. That got the crowd cheering and laughing. The next event was similar, only this time the riders had to grab a flag off the post and return to the start, drop the flag in a barrel and then go and retrieve the next flag.

Then there was some interesting horse and rider doing a musical interpretation. Hmmmm....sure not like the Pendleton Round-Up. Luckily there seemed to be only one competitor on this day. Next was the "Barrel Racing" - often a women's event – here it was all men who took it very seriously. Each rider did the cloverleaf track around the barrels against the clock. The crowd loved it with the people on each side trying to out-cheer each other as the rider came nearest the barrel where they were located. The crowd was at much fun as the event – mostly Ni-Vanuatu and a few ex-pats.

Then, the announcers invited all the kids into the field where they competed in a foot race to buckets filled with water and apple bits. They had to "bob" for apples and then race back. The prize was the apple they plucked from the water (and trust us, the price of apples here is quite high so it's a good prize!) The kids were hysterical and had a good time. We thought some would actually drown themselves in the bucket of water!

Then the "real" rodeo began. The bronc riding – bareback and saddled. The ring was pretty small and the announcements were constant to stay away from the fence – especially the children ("pikinini" Bislama – so the announcement went something like "olgeta pikinini away from fence. Very dangerous. The horse he killum yu dead). Sure enough, every bronc was kicking the fence as he came by – after dumping his rider within seconds. We never saw anyone make the eight second mark – even the imported cowboys from New Caledonia.

The cowboys were mostly local Ni-Vans who work on the plantations and ranches here on Santo. Santo has a large Vanuatu Beef industry – and the Vanuatu beef is quite desired. They cannot keep up with the export demand. It is one of Vanuatu's largest exports. So these are working cowboys – not professional rodeo cowboys. There was not a cowboy boot to be seen nor any big belt buckles! Instead, you had round-toed work boots or flip flops! Some leather cowboy hats – but no Stetsons. Lots of baseball caps or no hats. Most had pretty nice saddles, but many were just blankets over the horse. The reins were pretty worn rope in many cases. Many cowboys had lots of earrings or braids with beads – the new Marlboro Man certainly has a different look here. But they were all fit (except Pierre a French rider who's poor horse was disadvantaged by the weight of the rider), and very intense on the competition.

We met our friends Sue and Bob from "Mawari" at the event and it was fun to see them again and listen to Sue who is a "horsewoman" - having even worked a traveling rodeo in Great Britain in her teens. We all enjoyed the local fare for lunch and the beer price was the best we've seen – 350 Vatu for a Tusker. Other than some rain for a bit which muddied the field, it was a great fun day. The event went on two days – but we passed on the Sunday adventure...though it would have been fun to see bull riding in that small about staying away from the fences!!!

Sunday was a busy day – Michael had spent the entire week working on the new dinghy cover – and it was now on "Pukupuku." He still wasn't happy about the fit and planned some modifications. So Sunday, we went up the river and did some laundry, took our showers, cleaned water maker water filters and rinsed the cover from salt water.

Today, Monday, Michael re-sewed the bottom extending the seam for the tightening line. We are still waiting for the winds to moderate to make our way north to the Banks. It has been a very windy season in the islands. The winds are a steady 20-25 it seems and if it moderates it is only for a day or two. This is a great anchorage and with the river so close and town easy to get into – not a bad place to hang out.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

Known simply as "Santo", this is the largest island (landmass) in Vanuatu – covering 4000 square kilometers. Not named by James Cook, but rather by Spanish explorer Queiros who thought he discovered the Australia continent and named it "Terra Australia del Espiritu Santo" back in 1606. It is the home of Luganville, the "northern" capital of Vanuatu and the second largest city. Santo island also is well known for its World War II history. This was a huge American and allied force base – and the old TV show "Black Sheep" always had the squad going to headquarters on Espiritu Santo. One of the best wreck dives is right here as well – the sunk US ship SS President Coolidge. The ship was a cruise ship converted to troop carrier and at the time it sunk it had 5000 men aboard. It is a sad story - it was sunk when it hit friendly mines and the captain managed to get the boat run to shore very quickly to avoid massive deaths. Only two people died – but the destruction of the ship wreaked havoc on the war's movement of men and supplies for some time. The other claim to fame is the "Million Dollar Point" - the place where the US dumped millions of dollars of equipment after the war into the sea. You can still see jeeps, trucks, forklifts and loads of construction equipment. Now a popular snorkel site.

We made our way from Port Stanley to Ratua – a small private island off of Santo – having a "boistrous" sail. We made great time hitting 7 plus knots much of the way with head sail only. The seas though were pretty rough, so we also took some waves over the boat – but made the 40 mile trip in great time. We also caught a nice tuna as we were about to enter the cut to get to Santo. We got it aboard but had to wait to clean it until calmer conditions. But it was a nice 12 meal size.

We went to a small anchorage near the island of Ratua, near another island of Aore. It was a pretty spot and protected with lots of turtles around and a pretty fancy resort on shore. It was out of our price range for a "cook's night off" - so we enjoyed fresh tuna instead (who's complaining about that!).

We spent a few nights there then made our way thanks to a sunny day to Peterson Bay around the north east side of Santo. It was a 20 mile run and the first 6 miles or so, we had an outgoing current doing battle with the incoming swell and wind creating some pretty nasty standing waves through a narrow passage. Then it was relatively smooth going. Getting into Peterson is a bit tricky – you need a high tide and good visibility as it is shallow with lots of coral bommies in the cut. We had a nice incoming tide and made our way in at about 2/3 tide.

This is a very protected anchorage with good holding. There is a resort on an island called Oyster Island that has a "Happy Hour" and a nice restaurant and they welcome "yachts." It is a pretty island to walk around and it is also relatively easy to get into Luganville from here. So we'll settle here for about a week and work on a few big projects. Michael is tackling a major sewing project – designing and making a cover for Pukapuka – our new dinghy. It is a huge project and he'll need a good solid chunk of time to get it done. We went into Luganville yesterday and that entails taking the dinghy to the "mainland" side and then walking up a side road to the main road. Here you hail a PT (public transportation) or B (bus) vehicle. That designation is on the license plate. It is 200 Vatu per person to town (about $2 US). You usually ride in the back of a pickup holding on around the corners. On the way in we had the back of the truck to ourselves – which was good as there wasn't a lot of "clean" seating area nor places to really hold on. On the way back Barbara got the truck's cab and Michael shared the back of the truck with six giant tires and three other passengers.
We did a bit of fresh veggie and fruit shopping and finally scored some bananas. Since the Cyclone, there hasn't been a banana to be found until now. Santo didn't get badly hit by the storm so there is plenty of citrus (grapefruit, tangerines, oranges and limes)as well as bananas, soursop and pawpaw (papaya). The tomatoes here were 100 Vatu a bag compared to the 500 Vatu they were asking in the Port Vila market. We went a little late to the market though as it was pretty slim in the lettuce and veggie department.

We met our friends Brian and Sue from the yacht "Daramy" for lunch. He did a two tank dive on the Cooliidge the previous day and said it was fabulous.

Today the projects begin!

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