Friday, June 26, 2015

Awei Island Activities

There are three boats in the anchorage near Awei Island in the Maskelynes. One is Nalukai, a catamaran with a family of five – three young girls Phoebe, Hattie and Willow and their parents Jeremy and Iona from Australia. We have enjoyed spending some time with them – teaching them cribbage and doing an island project. The concrete water tank in the village has a leak so collecting water in what is predicted to be a dry season is difficult. Michael and Jeremy went with one of the villagers, Nasi across to the mainland and collected large bamboo. Then in the afternoon, we all went ashore to put up bamboo rain gutters on the one building that has a tin roof. The bamboo got sawed in half with a lot of effort – Jeremy and Michael taking turns with the saw and the "girls" sitting on the bamboo to keep it stable. Luckily Jeremy had a good new saw for the effort. Then with some webbing and a few screws, the bamboo got mounted in the edge of the roof. It should be an improvement to what they had previously – and can at least collect more water during a rainstorm in buckets and containers. We have put in a request to get a plastic water tank to the village and a few other folks are working on that with the various aid organizations working in this area.

Once that project was completed, the next few days were spent exploring the area's beautiful beaches. This is the home of the "magic rocks" so we went looking for the most magical ones on two occasions. One day we walked through the woods in a valley to get to the long beach on the other side and then worked our way back along the beach. We found some pretty shells and magic rocks and had a good hike.

The gardens we walked passed in the woods were coming along after the cyclone – though there is definitely a shortage of bananas. Lots of trees – little fruit yet. The villagers have had to do lots of clearing of large trees that fell during the storm. The paths now take you around large fallen trees and newly planted ones. You can see how hard these folks who live a subsistence lifestyle have had to work after a devastating storm.

The small local canoes paddle or sail by to go to their "gardens" or to fish and often stop by for a visit and chat. It is a chance to practice our Bislama (the official language of Vanuatu). Its been fun to see some folks we met here last year row by and stop and say hello. Two young children from the village on Awei actually canoe across by themselves everyday to go to the school in another village. They leave in their version of a school bus every morning at 7 am to make the hour paddle across – these are primary school children!

The wind is still blowing 20-25 most days, but we are quite protected nestled between the Malakula main island and Awei. It does seem that this season has heavier than normal trade winds supposedly because of the El Nino year.

We like it here and will probably stick around a few more days at least. Michael is still trying to locate the leak in the engine cooling system and getting some other projects started/done.

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Awei Island, Maskelyne Islands, Malekula, Vanuatu

On Saturday at noon we left the "big city" of Port Vila and did an overnight passage to south Maluka and the group of small islands known as the Maskelynes about 90 miles away. Port Vila was a great stopover. We did lots of walking around different parts the city to see what was still there after Cyclone Pam. We can report that most of the place is up and running with lots of stores, restaurants and ice cream! We did receive the new in the water paddle/rudder for "Otis" our Hydrovane wind steering system. It arrived on Thursday – taking only a week from England which is pretty darn amazing. Thanks to Hydrovane for standing by their equipment and getting this replacement rudder to we'll put it to the test to see if that was indeed the issue.

We left our mooring ball and motored out of the very narrow cut and then put the sails up and managed to sail all the way to the entrance of the Maskelynes. We did put the new wind steering to the test – and it did manage to steer the boat. We'd say it was better than the past - but we'll wait to make a more definitive report after it gets used more and on different points of sail.

We sneaked between a few breaking waves on the reefs as entered the cut in the Maskelynes. The charts have a range – though not a man-made one but rather a natural line up – but it is a wide enough cut to not create to much stress. We moved around the island of Awei and nestled in front of a large reef between Awei Island and the mainland of South Malakula. We were here last year and loved this we returned to see how the small village here is doing.

Yesterday afternoon we had a few canoes come by to visit – a few kids who were very shy, but Barbara practiced her Bislama a bit which got them all giggling. Then we had a large sailing canoe with five guys come by – one, George, spoke excellent English but his fellow canoers (Rubin, Peter, )Fred and Awree (?) were quiet and shy. They told us about a "kustom" dance and ceremony on a nearby island.

Another boat also came in this anchorage, Malakai, a large catamaran with an Australian family – with three young girls aboard. The girls came by as well in their bright pink kayaks and said hello and introduced themselves. It was fun to watch the local children in their traditional wooden canoes watching the young girls in their pink plastic kayaks.
We will settle here for at least a few days (perhaps longer) and explore the reef, the beaches, the village (see if we can do anything to help them) and Barbara can study her Bislama. More on that in another entry.

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Efate, Vanuatu

We had a great sail from Port Resolution in Tanna to Port Vila on the island of Efate. We sailed almost the entire way with a short lull near the island of Erromango. We turned on the engine for awhile – but after a half hour – it over-heated. So off it went gain, but the wind had nicely filled in so we were able to sail again anyway. Of course, all that happened in the middle of the night – so Michael went through the checklist of all the causes. He checked the impeller on the water pump and that was still good. He saw the level of water/antifreeze was down a lot – so the question became where did it go? He refilled the system and watched – and it seemed to not be leaking out quickly. The good news is that we were able to motor into the very narrow pass into the harbor and settle on a mooring without the overheating problem again. It became his project over the next few days to try to solve the new marine engine mystery. He changed the heat exchanger end caps and perhaps that solved problem.

This is the capitol of Vanuatu and the largest population base in the island group. It was also one of the islands that got slammed with Cyclone Pam in March. We are on a mooring ball at Yachting World. In this very, very protected harbor there were 30 boats when the cyclone hit. Six were left floating after it had passed. Eight yachts are still "unaccounted" for – probably on the bottom. There are a few remnants of boats on the shore and against the docks of the small island in the middle of the harbor. Yachting World however, is back up and running and they did a terrific job getting new moorings down and inspected. We are tied to one with brand new line and feel very secure. The dinghy dock is all in great working shape as is the Waterfront Restaurant, showers, fuel dock and office. There is still a tarp on the roof of the apartment above the office. But you wouldn't guess there was that strong a cyclone ripping through this area – they worked hard to get it in shape again for the yachting season. Lamara in the office is also still here – as helpful, cheerful and friendly as ever. We haven't been to the outskirts of the city yet to any of the outlying areas to see how they fared in the storm – hopefully well do that in the next week or so as we make our way to Havannah Harbor.

We were concerned that the fresh market would have a shortage of fresh vegetables and fruits – but that is not the case. There are fewer sellers and they moved the "t-shirt/basket/necklace" sellers to an area in the market from down in the park. The park really took a big hit with almost all the beautiful big trees gone, the benches and sidewalks destroyed and the petanque courts missing. The selection of vegetables is good – but the prices are a bit higher. Tomatoes are scarce and expensive; bok choy (or white bone as they call it here) plentiful as is the local cabbage, watercress and cukes. The oranges and tangarines (mandarins) are starting to show up as well – but not as many grapefruit (pamplemouse). No bananas, plantains or fresh eggs in the market. Eggs are much higher priced this year in the grocery. The grocery store is well stocked.

We have enjoyed meeting a few new folks and reconnecting with some old friends. We also got our immigration sorted for the next few months and finished the paperwork with customs (which was really easy as the customs boat came by and dropped off the paperwork saving us the trip to the office!) Michael continues to be "the guy" in charge of the Vanuatu radio it will be better when we leave the city with the bad radio interference.

We also got some great news about our Hydrovane wind steering system. It hasn't worked well for us over the last almost seven years of cruising...and frankly, we just stopped using it or even trying to make it work. After talking with another boat that uses a Hydrovane, it turns out they had the same problem, which ended up being their rudder. Hydrovane has stepped up and is taking care of the problem, shipping us a new rudder. Good on them! We should get it in the next week or so and that's why we're sticking around Port Vila. Can't wait to start using a wind steering system again and save some amp hours. Perhaps we'll even have to rename it!

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Tanna, Vanuatu

The eye of Cyclone Pam sat on top of the island of Tanna in Vanuatu for quite awhile. It is a small island with the active volcano Mt. Yasur as its main attraction. They also grow coffee on this island and package it as Tanna Coffee. We were here last year for about five days and went to the volcano then and it was a once in a lifetime we decided to make it a twice in a lifetime experience. We sailed, slowly, from Aneityum to Tanna on Monday morning leaving Itchepthav Bay on the northern part of Aneityum. Before leaving on Sunday, Michael went ashore with the "Mawari" crew and met a women named Fiona. She lost everything in Cyclone Pam, her home and all the goods inside it. The water washed it away. Yet, here was a woman perfectly content and happy and talked about simply rebuilding it all (though higher up the hill "we learned our lesson.") Sue from Mawari gave her some popcorn for the kids and she insisted on giving them some fresh green peppers from her garden. They trek from their home one and half hours to get to their garden each weekend. The people here continue to amaze us.

Here in Tanna we made arrangements to take the trip up to the volcano – and ended up in a pickup with a total of nine people! It was a bit crowded. The road last year was death defying – and since Cyclone Pam – it certainly has not improved. In fact, after entering the volcano "park." the road got even worse. It was simply amazing that any vehicle could make it up some of the steep inclines filled with deep potholes – some big enough to swallow an entire truck! Our driver, Darren, did a great job and was much more cautious than last year's Mario Andretti! Talking to Darren, he told us the road was impassable until they (the villagers) cleared it of all the downed trees. They did it all without the aid of a chainsaw – using only bush knives to get the trees cut and human power to move them out of the way.

The volcano was incredible under a full moon. It added to the eerie landscape giving it an otherwordlly light. The volcano was slightly less explosive than last year – but still amazing. It is hard to believe there is a place where you can stand right on the edge of an active volcano that spews lava bombs that are glowing red. Michael went to one edge to get a view and one of the larger explosions of the night, sent a hurling, glowing lava glob at him, landing merely 120 yards away. Eeek. The noise and vibrations that the mountain makes as it hisses gasses and spews lava is something that is very hard to describe. You really feel the power of this natural wonder.

Before our volcano adventure, we had a good walk through several villages to the long white sand beach. Last year, there was a small restarant along the waterfront that has been destroyed. Many of the large trees and palms also along the water are torn apart. The crashing waves and beautiful white sand and blue water remain – but we can only imagine how terrifying a category five storm was in this area. As we hear Cyclone Pam stories, it is amazing that only two people died in this area after seeing the mass destruction. Most of the villagers were together in a community building and a school building. They left the safety of those structures to see their homes and villages nearly wiped out.

Yet they remain hard working, positive and very friendly. Lots of laugter remains part of the ni-Vans (native Vanuatu people) life. We can all learn a lot about life from them.

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Monday, June 1, 2015

Aneityum, Vanuatu

The southern most island of the Vanuatu chain is the island of Aneityum. We waited until Saturday morning to get cleared into the country with the customs, immigration, and biosecurity officers coming aboard. It cost 4800 Vatu for one month immigration visa; 5000 Vatu for customs clearance and 6000 for biosecurity. That was spendier than last year – but we understood that by clearing into Aneityum it was a bit more expensive.

Once cleared in, we went on a nice walk to see the baker in a village inland a bit. There were really nice gardens along the way – and the folks seem to be replanting their gardens after the cyclone.
On Friday, we cirumambulated Mystery Island. Mystery Island is a small sandy island that has an airstrip right down the center. The island is a marine reserve and surrounded by reefs. It is also an island that is used by the cruise ships that come into Vanuatu. The reason we had the officials on Saturday was because a giant Cranival cruise line ship "Carnival Spirit" came into Aneityum on Sunday morning. Mystery Island is the place they get dropped off to beach, swim, snorkel, take out paddle boards, kayaks or just shop at the market which is made up of the locals selling handicrafts. On our walk around the island, we were the only visitors except for a few men putting together the newly arrived "see through kayaks" Don't think they'll be see-through very long after getting dragged on the beaches and into the reefs! The walk was nice though and the water is a range of beautiful shades of blues that we hadn't seen for awhile.

Sunday came and the big white cruise ship arrived and anchored right outside the reef (just about blocking the entrance channel). We decided it was time to move on and headed to the northern part of the island. We are currently anchored at Itchepthav Bay. Mawari also came this way and both boats will head off for the island of Tanna tomorrow morning.

The anchorage is nice – no village in sight. There are many flying foxes though – and they are quite active even though it is still daytime. It should be a great sight tonight as the sun starts to set and the bats take off. We also should see the glow from Mt. Yasur, the active volcano, from this anchorage. This spot has a bit of a roll going as it is not quite as protected as the southern spot. But it should be okay for one night – and it's nice to be away from all the boat traffic created by the cruise ship.

It is nice to be back in cruising mode. After a few days of getting the boat organized again and rested up after the nine day passage, we enjoyed some nice social time with the other boats in the anchorage sharing meals and walks. We met a nice family from South Africa aboard a catamaran and Oscar, the 13 year old son, taught Michael a knot he had been trying to learn. The anchorage was nice because it was just four boats from four different countries...and we all enjoyed each other's company. One of the real joys of this lifestyle.

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