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.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

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.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

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.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

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!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Port Stanley, Malekula Island, Vanuatu

At daybreak, we left Port Sandwich for a 35 mile trip up the island to another Port – this one named Stanley. Haven't yet figured out if James Cook named it or for whom it is named...but we'll find out! Though two students came by the boat and they couldn't tell us who Stanley was either. Our last evening in Port Sandwich was quite special as we spotted a very small dugong swimming near the boat. We saw him several times – so it was definitely a dugong. We had not heard of any in Port Sandwich before – so it was exciting and we enjoyed looking for him to pop up again for another breath of air. It makes us wonder about the talk of many sharks in Port Sandwich...if this relatively small dugong was around. We still weren't going to be the test case for a long swim around...and we never saw locals swimming.

We had a great sunny day in Port Sandwich which meant laundry day after collecting all the rain water from the many days of cloudy, grey, rainy days. It was a breezy, sunny day so everything dried quickly. We went ashore to say goodbye to Rock and Noella and had a great visit with them. They are really great folks and we left with more fresh stuff from their garden - this time a perfectly ripe popo (that's Bislama for pawpaw or papaya). Now fresh fruit since Cyclone Pam is really a treasure – so we felt very honored to be gifted this.

Our sail up the island was great – we had a steady 12-15 knot southeasterly and the seas were less than a meter. We had the head sail out and a lovely run – just having to jibe a few times. The bad news was no fish even though we had two lines out. We settled into an anchorage near the island of Uri and set the anchor in about 11 meters (36 feet). It is quite windy here as there isn't much protection from the low lying island on the windward side. Willy, a local in a canoe who came by, told us it should calm at night. Hope he's right! There is a little bit of fetch so we get some pitch at anchor – but we did get spoiled in Awei Island and then Port Sandwich where it was flat calm.

Here's a little history about the island of Malekula. Don't read any further if you are queasy or prudish because the history is not for the feint of heart. The island is actually shaped like a dog sitting down and is the second largest in the Vanuatu chain. It is one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse islands. But it's claim to fame rests in its cannibal past and fashion statements when it came to male organ coverings. There were many villages on this large island and they were divided into two distinct "clans." They were the "Big Nambas" and the "Small Nambas." They are so named based on the style of "namba" that the men penis sheaths. It doesn't refer to the size of their units – simply the style of covering said unit. The small nambas use a dried fiber and wrap it around their penis and secure it to a belt. The big nambas use a purple pandanus fiber that they wrap elaborately and secure it to a large bark belt. In the past, the tribes fought – usually big and small nambas against each other – but often it was even the same " clan" - just different tribes. The battles weren't about their fashionable wraps – but over anything from territory, crops or just because they liked to fight. The outcome usually meant someone went back with the winners village for dinner...only they weren't the guests they were the dinner. This was the one instance in the history of Vanuatu where being a woman was an advantage. They didn't eat women...nor were women allowed to eat human flesh. The Big Nambas were re-knowned for their fierceness. Many foreigners would never come near a big namba village – and with good reason. Even the police when investigating the death and dining on a trader – would not return.

But the cannibalism is in the past – though many "kustom" villages still attire in the appropriate sized nambas. Now, they capitalize on the cannibal past with tours and treks to old sites and stories from villagers. The island is known to have some of the best traditional "kustom" dances – especially the dances for the male grade-taking ceremonies.

Glad we arrived in the post-cannibal era – though one of us would be safe!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Friday, July 3, 2015

Port Sandwich, Malakula Island, Vanuatu

Another place named by James Cook – this one for the Earl of Sandwich. It is not named because there are lots of sandwich shops on shore! In fact, there isn't a restaurant in sight – but you can buy bread here – either "Roc rolls" (large rolls made by Roc and Noella) or long french type breads in the town of Lamap about 30 minutes up the road.

We came here a few days ago – and the trip up was a bit adventurous. Though only 14 miles from Awei Island in the Maskelynes, it was not the best day to travel. Though thanks to some tides and current in the Maskelynes between the islands, we hit some speeds over ground at 8.2 knots! It was pretty squally and of course a good squall came as we were trying to get out a narrow pass. Between heavy wind, current and big seas, it was exciting! But all was good when we turned the corner and came into the cut to Port Sandwich. Once inside, the bay is very protected and was as calm as can be.

Today is the fourth of July in the southern hemisphere - but we probably won't see any fireworks....just lots and lots of rain. A tropical Cyclone Raquel, had formed in the Solomon Islands and is sending lots of troughs and clouds our way. Luckily the Cyclone was downgraded to a Tropical Storm this morning and hopefully it won't redevelop into anything further. It is passed Cyclone season, but Mother Nature doesn't follow calendars.

We were here last year and really liked this place. Yesterday, we went on a long walk to Lamap and stopped by to see Roc and Noella at their store near the anchorage. Then we went up the road a bit and went into the village where Odelia, her sister Madeleine, her brother Raphael and the kids were. It was great to see them again. Madeleine was very pregnant last year when we were here and she came aboard our boat – now she has a little boy named "Bill." She named him after Bill of Bill and Sue on the sailboat "Lady Nada." Pretty funny.

There are three boats here now...when we came in the catamaran Nalukai was here so we enjoyed an evening meal with them (Jeremy, Iona, Phoebe, Hattie and Willow). It was a fun night with the girls challenging Barbara in backgammon and beating her badly! They left the next morning so Barbara couldn't get her just revenge!

We're managing to collect a lot of rainwater – as the rain is steady and the day is gray. We will get to shore to pick up some promised eggs though!

Happy Fourth of July to all our American family, friends and fellow cruisers.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: