05 August 2008 | Vanuatu
With the new crew member Brian settled in it was time to think about setting off South from Luganville. The day was spent on the north shore of the bay filling the Diesel tank, a laborious process as there is no fuel dock in Luganville and neither jetty or wall we could moor against. Therefore several hours were spent heaving diesel from the petrol station to the dingy then out to the boat and back again. In addition to this, in the afternoon the hunt for the elusive gas refill station began. It turned out to be 10 miles out of town, and a very expensive taxi ride! Our days missions thus completed we returned to the more sheltered anchorage at Aore for an early night.
Tuesday 1st - Wednesday 2nd
We had an early start from Luganville, sailing south across the straight between Espirtu-Santo and Malekula, Although we were heading directly into the swell and it was not the most comfortable trip, we made good time, and rather than bash on through the night to arrive in Banam Bay in the dark, we anchored in the lee of a small island just north of Norsup, the island capital. The next morning we again set off early and sailed south, arriving in Banam Bay in the early afternoon. That evening we quickly visited the village to say hello and meet the chief to ensure we were welcome to anchor where we had, and then returned to plan for the next day.
Thursday 3rd - Wednesday 9th
We had been asked to visit Banam Bay by Henk Meuslar of project MARC, a medical aid organisation. He has started to set up a yacht club in the bay and wanted to have a report on the state of the reef in front of it, for two reasons; firstly so he could advertise it as a good snorkel site and secondly to help encourage the establishment of a Tabu area in the bay. We then met up with Jake, a local guy who had worked extensively alongside Project MARC setting up local aid projects. He took us on a tour of the bay, and in particular outlined the proposed snorkel area in front of the yacht club. The reef in Banam Bay broadly speaking consists of two habitat types. From the shore outwards for approximately 70m there is shallow reef, where much of the coral (mostly Acropora species) is exposed at low tide or just beneath the surface. Further out from this there are scattered small coral heads (>15m across). Because the depth and size limitations on the reef here it was not possible to carry out a ReefCheck survey. Instead we took the 100m2 area in front of the yacht club site to be representative of the rest of the bay. We then sampled this area extensively. We mapped it, carried out 45 min fish ID swims (where every species was recorded - 92 in total), carried out substrate surveys and invertebrate surveys. For the invertebrate surveys we were helped by lots of the young guys in the village, which was really good fun, as well as helpful in finding things we wouldn't normally notice. The same procedure was used on a selection of the small coral heads, therefore covering both habitats. This baseline survey is very important to allow future assessment of change, especially if a tabu area were to be established.
In addition to the survey side of the work in Banam Bay we tried to get everyone in the village thinking about the reef. We showed (using a projector and a bed sheet) one of the BBC 'Blue Planet' series. The film chosen was about the Reef. Using this as a tool we explained the ecology behind what people were watching. For example, in one scene there is a Crown of Thorns devouring the coral. Katie explained (in Bislama) how the Crown of Thorns kills the reef, and how, if its predators such as the Conch or Maori Wrasse are over fished then the Crown of Thorns population can explode and lead to the death of the reef. We held the showing in a hall which could hold over 100. At the beginning it was packed (I had three kids sat on me), but when we switched the lights on at the end there were even more people hanging from rafters, and squeezing in through the windows! It was a very popular event!
We were also very lucky to, by chance, meet the local Vanua-tai (resource protectors) representative, a really keen young guy. We sat with him and talked about the reef, problems they were having, Reef Check (which he had already heard about), and the philosophy of OceansWatch. He then insisted that we accompany him the following morning to address another village meeting. Katie explained Reef Check and how and why monitoring was important, as well as the importance of taboo areas. I explained OceansWatch and believe left people looking forward to our return and working with us in the future. After the meeting there was some beach volley ball! As an Englishman I am useless at volleyball (where would we play?) so I left it to Katie to represent us. I think she lost?!
We tried to leave Banam Bay to make the Maskelynes or back down to Efate where we were expected, but the big swell, really short gaps between waves, wind gusting 30/35 knots head on and a very strong current between Ambrym and Malekula ensured we made no head way. After a few hours of extremely uncomfortable trying we were literally half a mile south of where we had started, so we turned for the comfort of the bay once more. Later that day we were relieved to meet a boat coming in from the Maskelynes. They were heading North but told us it was so bad now that they had to give up for the day, which made us glad we had beat a retreat. Over the next few days the wind increased, we had 25 knots even in the shelter of the anchorage, which led to several restless nights.
Although we were frustrated to be stuck (new crew were waiting), I think the village was very glad to have us there still, as we had made some really good relationships whilst there. On going back ashore everybody came down to greet us and make sure we were all ok, with exclamations of 'eeee wind e strong e strong strong' or 'bigfela wind eee no gud' that's Bislama for the winds strong! On the Sunday Jake took us as part of his family to share laplap in the village. Each family prepares its own 'special recipe' laplap, and then, sitting on the beach, everyone swaps bits with each other. Jake's wife Emily had prepared her laplap with taro and emperor fish amalgamated into it. Others had used yam as a base and others kumara. It was a really pleasant place to be, surrounded by the village and enjoying the food and company. After eating our fill we followed Kastom and lay out (where we had eaten) and had a snooze.......
The new skipper arrived, and as by now the wind had dropped we decided to try for Efate again. We managed to make East to almost Ambrym then tacked back to Port Sandwich... Then some small tacks (current greatly reduced this attempt) down to the Maskelynes (8hrs thus far). From there we were able to make 170 degrees so headed South. The wind had picked up to 35 knots and we could do 4 knots, double reefed and with a tiny jib out. However the toe rail was in most of the time, it was hairy! But definitely fun. When we were about on a level with Emae the wind angle changed, so we could steer 150, direct to Nguna. However we got there in the dark so decided not to anchor and keep going to Vila... Katie helmed a lot, she was impressive for her first time and in such poor weather... As went into the shelter of Efate and past Lelepa and Hat Island the wind completely died. On rounding Devils Point and then tacking to come into Vila bay, we got hit by the full force again. As this area is relatively shallow the swell mounted up to at least 6m, but they were well spaced (like rolling hills) so as Brian said 'no worries'... Except there were 40knot gusts! Was a crazy few hours... Made it back to Vila in a total