10/21/2011, 250 south west of New Caledonia
We left New Caledonia 2 days ago. For the first 24 hours we sailed into the 20 -25 knot wind and fairly large waves, about 8 to 12 feet high. Very bumpy ride! Over the past 24 hours the waves have become a little smaller and our ride is much nicer. Both Katie and I have been sleeping well between our 5 hour shifts. It is still hard to believe how well you can sleep when your bed is bouncing all around and rolling you back and forth.
With the trade winds still blowing hard we will continue to go west as we go south. it's never fun to be going west when your destination is to the east! But when we get further south (we are at 26 degrees now, so maybe in another 250 miles at 30 degrees) the wind will shift and come from the west. That will push us back towards New Zealand.
We are having a great time, with nice weather during the day and many stars at night.
10/07/2011, Tanna, Vanuatu
Sailing into Port Resolution is like sailing back in time to when the earth was young and volatile and the lives of the native people were inextricably intertwined with nature. Villages with huts made of woven pandanus leaves are nestled beneath the lush canopy. Men paddle their hand hewn outrigger canoes to fish and bats fly over the anchorage every night at dusk . Every person has a garden and they eat what is available. Their lives are simple but the people are rich with culture, family and natural resources. We can learn a lot from them.
Jim and I were invited to a circumcision ceremony on the far side of the island by a friend that lives in that village. She and her daughter dressed us up and painted our faces in the traditional fashion. We were welcomed and accepted into the village.
In the black of night we stood on the rim of Mt. Yasur as his belly roared sending clouds of gas and ash mushrooming up from deep in his bowels and blowing fantastic explosions of incandescent red and orange bits and streamers high into the sky.
We were led by a new friend back into the bush behind her village to see natural hot springs that have recently emerged and learned much about that corner of the island.
I spent one morning with another new friend visiting her garden and those of her family while learning about new foods. We spent time together and later she gave me two very special feathers that are worn in ceremonies. I will treasure them.
We spent three days in a remote village a two hour walk from the anchorage where we slept in a tree house, drank kava with the chief, the roots having been chewed by boys, and lived among the villagers. Jim helped gather, shell and prepare the coconuts to make milk for the laplap while I grated manioc on a spiky branch and learned by helping to make the laplap inside a communal kitchen while a curious and very vocal baby chick hopped about my shoulders. We witnessed kastom dancing where the ladies put a skirt on me and Robin rubbed her painted face against mine to color it. They taught me two dances. The red glow emerging from the summit of Mt. Yasur in the otherwise black night was framed by coconut palms outside the window of our tree house.
Tanna is a magical place. We were anchored in Port Resolution for three weeks and left only because my finger became badly infected. Now we are in Vila waiting for it to heal and the side effects to abate. We feel a bit cheated to have our time cut short there and be tied to a mooring ball at the edge of a seaside resort.
Jim took some amazing photos and I've been working on pages for our website about our time on Tanna. See www.tenayatravels.com for stories and photo galleries. Additions are being made almost daily.
09/09/2011, Analgawat Bay, Aneityum Vanuatu
I can't believe I drank something that had been chewed up by two prepubescent boys and spat out into a wad, then mixed with water and strained through an old, dirty t-shirt. Kava. Made almost the traditional way; the t-shirt in favor of coconut fibers. The taste is vile. Tanna is lush and fertile with no detrimental bugs so the fruit and veggies and kava are of excellent quality. Today is Monday, market day in Lenakel. It seems everyone from this side of the island wants to go there. We piled into a Toyota Hilux with 13 people and bags of who knows what in the back, and six people in the cab. We counted ourselves lucky to be inside as the truck trundled along engulfed by primordial wilderness, negotiating the treacherous, narrow, rutted, often steep, sometimes completely non-existent dirt road across the island.
Our local friend, Winnie, had invited us to her village near Lenakel. After showing us around, she took us to a large circular area cleared out of the dense green bush. An enormous tree with an expansive canopy stands protectively in the middle while a banyan hovers off to one side with a small tree house clinging to the massive tangle of a trunk. A kava bar, called a nakamal, made of bamboo, is nestled between the two. It is here, in the open yet protected sanctuary, that men from two villages gather each day in the magical hour before sunset for a bowl or two.
Here on Tanna, in Vanuatu, women are not allowed near the nakamal while the kava is being prepared. They do not drink it. It is strictly a guy thing. Thanks to Winnie we had our own private kava experience. Two boys of about ten or twelve years chewed the root until it was mushy then spit it into a bowl. I had no desire to watch this. Three men helped mash the spitball with water through the decrepit fabric. This village has no water. No river, spring or tank to collect rainwater. The source, or how they clean each bowl in between servings, are details I'd rather not know. We like kava. We learned this on Aneityum where the root is ground up in a meat grinder, not chewed. It looks like dirty dishwater and tastes positively awful. Imagine a hint of pepper in tepid, sooty water, drunk from half a coconut shell which has passed the lips of half the village. It is a mild intoxicant and ever so slight hallucinogen, completely natural. How could we not try it? It numbs the lips or inside the mouth a little and puts the mind in a very mellow and serene place. Yes, despite the taste, which is actually growing on us, we like kava.
08/30/2011, Analgawat Bay, Aneityum Vanuatu
Light winds had us motoring out of Ile des Pins, New Caledonia, to reach the pass before sunset. A humpback whale bid us farewell. Once outside, up went the sails. There was very little swell as we sailed along in 8-13 knots. During our 2 day, 286 mile passage the wind backed from SW to SE, allowing us to sail on a broad reach, then beam reach. Very pleasant indeed.
Another humpback greeted us near the pass as we arrived shortly after dawn. Only one other yacht floated quietly in the anchorage. Clearing customs was simple. Less than an hour after we arrived, Colin paddled out in his yellow outrigger and came aboard. He sealed up our extra beer and wine but left us with plenty, and instructions not to give any to the locals. He told us to go to shore to clear Quarantine and Immigration. Fortunately those officials were here for two weeks because of several cruise ships visiting nearby Mystery Island. That made checking in as simple as can be! As they have no incinerator to burn banned fresh food, they require it and all rubbish to be kept on board until Port Vila. We are not allowed to take any food ashore or give any to the people which is a pity as they could use it. It cost 4000 vatu for Immigration and 3000 vatu for Quarantine. No problem, the bank is open until 3:30. They will change Australian, NZ and American dollars as well as Euros and possibly NC francs. The Customs fee is paid in Pt. Vila.
The people here are very friendly, hospitable and polite. Seemingly shy, it is the custom for visitors to initiate any conversation so they will leave you alone if that is your wish. If you smile, they smile. If you wave, they wave. Most speak English pretty well. We were invited to a kava bar the first night by Yassi, the Immigration official. The nakamal was closed so we followed him in search of an alternative. We ended up deep in the village at the head of the bay, in a clearing with more than a dozen young men. I felt a bit out of place! We watched and chatted as the kava was prepared. I was offered the first shell, a small one, with instructions to down it in one gulp. Okay. They cheered me on and clapped when I finished. Jim went next and received applause as well. Aahh... it was a nice, mellow, barely perceptible, change in attitude. Our lips went a little numb and our brains floated in contentment.
We have wandered around the long, sandy bay meeting people and taking pictures of the adorable kids. The people are Melanesian with dark skin though some have fairly light hair. The various neighborhoods of the village are well-kept. They seem quite primitive but have some modern conveniences. Everyone has a mobile phone. Anthony showed us the home solar kit he installed in his house to run lights and chargers. Norman's family has a solar panel as well which also powers a DVD player.
We have not found the cruise ships, that come about once a week, to be a problem. They anchor out and ferry folks to Mystery Island for a day in the sun and water. The tourists are not allowed on Aneityum unless brought over for an escorted, organized hike. Most yachties will probably avoid the place like the plague when a ship is in but we went over to see what was on offer and to visit our new friends, Winnie, Annies and Norman who had a booth there. We had a delicious lobster lunch too.
Aneityum is a beautiful, serene place and we are enjoying our time here. Eventually we will go north to Tanna to see the volcano and other curiosities, but we are in no hurry.
08/16/2011, 25 50.52S 169 20.12E
Yesterday morning as I climbed up the companionway stairs, an awful stench smacked me in the nose. " What IS that? Where is it coming from?" I asked Jim. " Huh?" He didn't smell a thing. Big help. And because he didn't smell anything, he wasn't interested in finding the source. It was a beautiful sunny day, no wind, and no bodies spewed from a ferry or cruise ship to clutter the beach. He was keen to get over to Baie de Kunamera and take more pictures of fish. So off we went.
We returned just in time to rinse our gear and ourselves before a dinner date with new friends on their cat across the anchorage. In and out of the cockpit again. Still the foul scent. No time to do anything about it.
We talked about many things beginning with Gail's amazing talent. She played the harp and sang such beautiful songs in their large cockpit that were completely awestruck. Later the conversation wandered down several paths, one of which was pets. She and Dave brought their sheltie along when they moved on board. The lovable dog sailed with them the rest of its life. Somewhere in their travels a trio of geckos moved on board and became pets as well. I left their boat with a full belly from a delicious meal, a happy well-being from the marvelous entertainment and jovial company, and a little heavy in the heart missing past pets and wishing for another.
This morning we awoke early and crawled out into the breaking day. There it was, the smell. No time to search for it now, we were off to the market in Vao. It would be my afternoon project. Imagine wandering through the back room of a seal or penguin exhibit of an aquarium. You know that smell? Rancid pooped fish? Surprisingly similar to this smell. It seemed to be coming from the cockpit sole, under the grid that lets dropped food and other trapped things turn yucky beneath a nice lattice of teak. Perhaps more of the massacred dorado made it into the cockpit than I thought?
After our 12k walk to town and back we decided to tackle the vile odor, whatever it was. I was down below as Jim lifted up the teak grid. An excited, slightly fearful, definitely surprised yell escaped his body. Then the crash of the heavy grid slamming down. Then "a snake!" I climbed out the aft hatch; no reason to take any unnecessary chances.
Sure enough, there, slithering around the sole of the cockpit, was a banded sea snake. A pet! It wasn't exactly what I'd had in mind though. How the heck did it get there? Did it swim up a drain as Jim thinks, or did it stow away from the beach in our snorkeling gear as I think. I guess it didn't really matter, we just needed to get his slithering body over the side. Trying to hook him with the boat hook only succeeded in scaring him and possibly pissing him off. The bucket was a little too shallow. Turns out a cardboard 12 pack box is the perfect snake extractor. The snake crawled in and before he knew it, the whole thing was sailing through the air before it hit the water where he could shake his little head with the venomous little fangs and swim for his life. Just for good measure, and because we are a little frightened of the band of remoras living under Tenaya, we dinghied over to retrieve the box rather than diving in and swimming the few meters.
Upon release, Mr. Snakey dove quickly, slithering his thin, meter-long body in a series of graceful continuous Ss right under Tenaya. He didn't come out on the other side. I looked. So, if Jim's theory is correct, he may pay us another visit.. If he comes back, can I keep him?
Updated by HAM radio.
08/16/2011, 25 50.52S 169 20.12E
We only meant to stop for a night or two. That was nearly a week ago. But we are smitten. Tenaya floats in the crystalline water of a tranquil bay edged with powdery fine white sand, grass, shade trees and pines. Yes, pine trees! Tall, spindly pines reach high above the other leafy trees into the dazzling blue sky creating an unusual beach landscape.
Two stunning bays, Baie de Kuto and Baie de Kanumera, are separated by a narrow isthmus that widens in to a familiar round shape. Many of the small islets in this southern part of the world's largest lagoon are round and topped with lush vegetation. Perhaps the guide book is correct when it calls Ile des Pins the gem of New Caledonia. From atop Pic N'Ga, the high point of Ile des Pins, it is possible to see all around the island which seems to float with many round, green islets in a gentle pool varying in shades from the lightest aquamarine to deep cobalt, sporadically broken with white breaking water on outlying reefs.
Tenaya is anchored in Baie de Kuto which has mostly a sandy bottom with some grass. Occasionally turtles swim lazily by, and we are pretty sure we saw the tail fluke of a dugong several times a couple of days ago as we watched the sun slowly set amidst a blaze of color.
A large round tree-topped islet is tethered to land at low water by a sandy spit in Baie de Kanumera. Surrounded by uncolorful coral, it is home to more fish that one would expect. The water is 20C this time of year, the coolest in which coral can survive. Maybe because it is a sanctuary, the fish are quite unperturbed by our presence. Many are fairly accommodating as we try to photograph them. Several types of wrasses including the odd-snouted bird wrasse, damsels, a few different anemone fish, various parrotfish, surgeon fish and butterfly fish inhabit the area. The shallow water next to the rock is a nursery dotted with tiny butterflyfish.
Next week we will make our way east to Lifou in the Loyalty Islands, then on to Vanuatu. That is the plan anyway.
Posted by HAM radio.