Time Bandit

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You Only Live Twice

19 September 2017 | See the likeness?
It's not that we're getting lazy but this week, it seems sensible to wait until the wind comes around to the east and we can make our way south to New Caledonia on a nice reach rather than beating our brains out going to windward for forty hours.

Consequently we're killing time here in Port Vila. The height of bloody looxury what with all the first world amenities at hand. We've been going crazy and having showers at least once a day as we know we can fill with water on Friday. We've filled our gas tanks, both the cooking type and the petrol stuff. Walked along the New Zealand funded, newly opened promenade. Both ways. Visited the market and gawped at more vegetables, as always searching for the ones that have childishly amusing and rude forms. We've even scrubbed the interior varnish and polished the rubbing strake.

Exhausted with all that effort we decided we'd treat ourselves to a Thai massage. After a Thai lunch.

And just like lunch, there was a Thai menu. Anne went for the "Relaxing Hot Oils" (which from what I could hear was more like a wet haddock being battered in a Largs chippy) while I went for the macho "Tiger Balm Massage".

Medium-hard please.

When I go for a massage I'm always faced with same same dilemma. Is it, as a good Brit, "tackle in", wearing ones best M&S Lycra Y-Fronts or, as in Bislama, nopantspliz". ( That translation from Ag - thanks).

The decision wasn't made any easier when I was shown into a curtained room finding a pair of baggy pyjamas that James Bond may well have worn in You Only Live Twice.

So, pants on or pants off? I'll leave that to your imagination but suffice to say, all that was missing was Kent Walton from 1960's Saturday afternoon TV wrestling show to do the commentary. For only 2,500 Vanuatu dollars I had the equivalent of a tag team bout but just me against Mick McManus and Jackie Pallo.

The masseuse easily won by two falls AND a submission.

The Dugongs

15 September 2017
The Dugongs live here, where we are right now.

No, not the family that run the takeaway. The Dugong, aka a weird looking "sea cow", is so ugly only a mother could love it. The Dugong, almost on the endangered list (apparently they're quite tasty) mooches about the anchorage chomping on sea grass and occasionally coming up for air, and presumably the odd fart. All that grass you know.

We had a snorkel beside the old girl but to be honest, it wasn't the most exciting of sea creatures. Like watching a cow eat grass. Just doing it underwater. Surprise, surprise.

And that zoological highlight brought to a close our months in the Barefoot economies of the western Pacific islands. Next up is Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, to replenish stores then, next weather window, off to New Caledonia where the French have apparently created mini France out here in the Pacific, doing for palm fringed atolls what they did for ski resorts. Highways, high rises and no doubt high prices await.

I'm glad we've seen the unspoiled, traditional outlying Pacific islands while you still can. While I did feel a bit uncomfortable gawping at the villagers and how they lived, pretty much everyone seemed to welcome our company and have a giggle at those weird white folk from the yachts. Being here 15-25 years earlier would have been even better but on many islands, probably not much has changed. When people younger than me only have one tooth, a couple of mangy torn T-shirts, live in mud floored, palm thatched huts, cooking on logs on the floor venting smoke through the roof and are happy as sandboys, you do sometimes wonder if they've got it right and all the rest is just all bollocks.

One big laugh is that our buddies Trevor and Jan were recently continually hassled and told to up anchor and move on from bay after bay while in the Yasawas, to the east of Fiji. The Australians were in town filming the next episode of "Australian Survivor". Apparently it's a syndicated show and several different nations send their TV crews and a bunch of contestants to the Yasawas to film their country's series. I've never seen it but from the adverts it seems to involve having hot young girls clad in not very much arguing with some bronzed, tattooed bloke, probably a Yoof, whose steroid enhanced pecs show a cleavage some of the girls would appreciate.

The objective I believe is to see who can survive on a desert island without outside assistance....,.,other than the evening meals Trevor saw being boated in each night. I suspect most viewers simply watch in the hope of a "wardrobe malfunction" or perhaps some nocturnal activity and I don't mean fruit bats.

The ironic thing is that the 10 year old villagers we've met, for a couple of quid, could show them all they need to know in an afternoon saving us from the tedium of weeks of idjits trying to catch a fish with a bent pin.

There's no question tourism and progress, not to mention cyclones will keep changing these island communities. Only in the most remote were you unable to get a phone signal and in most, a TV is available at least either in the chief's house or the school.

Here's hoping that when the villagers realise that even with 200 channels, there's nothing on.

Other than Survivor.

Vanuatu Pub Crawl

11 September 2017
Vanuatu has its own language. First discovered by the Portuguese the islands then passed through British, German, Spanish, French and back to British control and influence.

Imagine trying to learn each of these in turn, only to end up back where you started. The end result is that, and I'm theorising here, from this turnover of languages the Nivans gave up on trying to learn the language of the latest invaders and developed their own, Bislama. A verbal and cultural two fingers to the colonialists. Bislama is as good and refined a version of pidgin English as you'll get anywhere. Understanding the spoken word is near impossible but with a bit of effort and imagination it's possible to interpret the written word. Try these.......

1. Basket blong pikinini
2. Fatfat tumas
3. Bonebone tumas
4. Ruba blong fakfak
5. Hed blong em i no strait
6. Ringim Polis sapos yu gat eni infomesen
7. Drink tumas alkol i save inkrism risk blong......
- developem kansa
- Liva damej
- Bren damej

Translation
1. Womb
2. Too fat
3. Too skinny
4. Condom
5. Mentally ill
6. etc......

Espiritu Santo, where we are now, or were when I started this woffle, was the first island in the Vanuatu chain to be discovered way back in 1606. We discovered it after a five hour sail from Ambae, to the west and moved from people living in shacks to fancy mansions with lawns rolling down to the sea.......then you move one street back and its shacksville again.

Truck rides have become our thing and yesterday we hired and I drove my first Chinese car. A number 22 I think. (why Land Rover walked away from the "4WD consumer "truck" market is beyond me". Thousands of Mazda, Toyota and Mitsubishi 4WD copies wobble, scrape and grind their way past the rusting hulks of abandoned 1970's Defenders which would outperform these eastern built pseudo 4WD's any day. Or am I just being an old colonialist?)

Anyway, five of us squeezed into our rented Grand Tiger, a Chinese built, 4WD double cab, flat bed truck. Out in the back, Florian was relegated to the back patio braving the elements and the flies, hanging on for dear life, as he fought to stay aboard every time I forgot he was there and gave a bit of welly, just to see what it could do. Which wasn't much.

First stop, we talked our way into the agricultural research establishment. It's EU funded so we said we were there to check how the money was being spent. I think the guy we met took it literally as we were then led on a 90 minute tour over acres and acres of palms, coffee, cocoa and grasses, all being genetically or naturally modified to withstand everything from bugs to high winds. Nothing about stopping the produce giving YOU wind but I guess that's a next project.

Next up was a $500 (£5) visit to one of the much lauded "Blue Holes". AKA a limestone sink hole filled with water, which, if the sun is out, will be blue. In our case, it was more of a Grey Hole but we amused ourselves on the rope swings before pressing on north until the road ran out. So we had lunch by the beach while it tipped down.

By the time we got back to the big city, Luganville, it was getting dark. I had noticed some lights appearing on the road outside some of the properties we were passing and thought, "That's a good idea. Put up a wee light to show you where the house is when you come home in the pitch black". Street lights being as yet unheard of here.

I felt a bit naive when Sven said that what we were seeing was the kava houses opening for business. Unable to resist the temptation of another round of this unique beverage, we pulled in and wandered into our first kava bar.

Now, I've never been in an opium den but I suspect what we were seeing was a fair imitation. Inside a few old guys were sat on benches staring listlessly at the dirt floor, no doubt wondering where their hard earned day's wage just went or perhaps, just wondering aimlessly. At the "bar" mein host was dispensing 100Vt (£1) servings in plastic bowls. The only concession to hygiene I saw. Outside, two of his mates, the production team, were feeding kava root into a mincer, the kind your granny had. Two carefully measured handfuls were placed into the remains of a much used woven plastic sack and hand washed in a large plastic basin. After a bit of sloshing around and squeezing the two guys took the sack and together, twisting the sack in opposite directions, wrung out every last drop of delicious, tingly, narco juice. It just looked like dirty water to me.

As the designated driver and already suffering from squishy tummy I abstained but Sven and Florian got tore in. We waited and waited for the narcotic juice to kick in, in the hope of maybe an Abba number from Sven or a Viennese waltz from Florian but no, just tingly lips and the prospect of squishy tummy.

Skimpy Bikini

03 September 2017 | Cornwall, just after the war.
Facebook, love it or hate it, you have to admit it is a very well written and superbly functional bit of programming.

One feature users will recognise is the "share a memory" function where pics you've uploaded in the last month, year or years pop up to remind you what fun you had in the past. Now, for folks of our vintage that's a great feature as remembering why you came down below from the cockpit is a big enough challenge let alone remembering what you did last month.

So, here's a memory from the past, the distant past AND as promised, it includes a picture of Anne in her skimpy bikini.

Blogs and Bikinis

30 August 2017
We met Florian and Martina back in the Galapagos about 18 months ago. I remember back then talking about our respective blogs and being surprised that Florian had been told he could make some cash from it. At the time I had a look at his blog but as it was in German I didn't really get past just looking at the pictures.

Our paths crossed again recently and over sundowners the subject of blogs came up again.

My jaw dropped when Florian said that SVEsperanza had 600 followers. I was floored completely when he finished the sentence with "thousand".

Now, especially as I can't read his blog's German text I shouldn't really comment but I did think, "Six hundred thousand" for a narrative on what exciting stuff happened today or in the last week when my beautifully crafted works of amusing and creative genius gets what, six, maybe ten readers on a good day. Our kids don't even read it.

So, I've been doing some research on successful sailing blogs to see what I'm missing.

First thing that is immediately obvious is the need for more pictures, if not video and if video, shot by a drone. An R2D2 type thing. The critical thing however is that all images must, most definitely, feature a well tanned, "fit" female in a skimpy bikini.

The second thing is an icon where readers are invited to, "Buy us a Beer". One clicks here and there's text saying something like, "Our sailing adventure is wholly funded by donations from our followers. CLICK HERE to buy us a beer".

So you stalwart followers of the Time Bandit blog as soon as we get to some decent wifi I'm going to build a new Time Bandit blog platform where you can look forward to.....

1. More pictures, possibly even feature videos.
2. The usual accompanying highly entertaining and amusing text.
3. Anne prancing around in the new beachwear I'm about to buy her, probably pictured picking up something I've carelessly dropped on the deck.
4. Our YouTube channel where you can see me being interviewed by Oprah or the like.
5. "Buy us a Beer" icon. Like all good websites, if users do click here they will have a double check Yes/No icon. This one will have some text like, "Are you 'avin a laugh - bugger off and buy your own beer"

As I used to say at work, "You can't fool all the people all the time but you can usually fool them long enough to make a profit"

Crossing the Line

27 August 2017
About a thousand years ago when I was gainfully employed I had the good fortune to visit Egypt for a few days to win some new business. For a myriad of reasons a few days turned into over a week, most of it in the five star Mena House Hotel, just a couple of miles outside Cairo and a few hundred metres down from the pyramids of Giza. I didn't know it when I stayed in the Mena House but Winston Churchill and Roosevelt met there to discuss strategy during the last unpleasantness.

Anyway, one of my abiding memories of Egypt was that you couldn't take a step outside the hotel without someone trying to scam you. And that was long before scamming was commercialised.

En route between the Lau Group and here in Pentecost, Vanuatu we crossed the Date Line. It seems we've also crossed another line. I'm going to call it "The Shirt Line".

Back in the Lau the villagers welcomed you with open arms, asked for nothing, had little but would give you the shirt off their backs.

Here in Vanuatu it seems that if you weren't paying attention they'd swipe the shirt off YOUR back. And probably charge you for the pleasure.

While I'm not a religious chap I think it's interesting how the culture between the two island groups has changed as the influence of the church has diminished, or even vanished.

"Want to see our famous jumping tower?" says chief Sam. "That'll be 1,000 each". Now, fair enough, they've a right to leverage their few assets so we coughed up; well, Anne and Sven pinned me to the ground and forced it from my death grasp.

In Home Bay, they have what is said to be the tower that gave rise to bungy jumping. Sam led us on "a half hour guided walk" through the fairly tattered looking village, through what can only be described as a check-in hut, or indeed a shearing pen, a small square shack with a one person door at entry and exit and benches on either side. I think this is where the P&O visitors get fleeced. Us? We were traipsed through the muddy, or was it cow patted field, along a bit of a track for less than ten minutes before being stopped, just out of view of the famous tower, to be parted from our tourist dollars.

Was it a coincidence that at this point three other machete carrying guys appeared? The enforcement team? Whatever, paying seemed wise. Running seemed even smarter.

We stepped over the barbed wire and, there it was, the world's first bungy jump. Unlike New Zealand the structure is built of bamboo, liana and twigs.

It's quite high, maybe 60 or 70 feet. Enough to give you a sore head if things go pear shaped. I've a feeling it was fully tested on passing missionaries.

"Oops! Better shorten that rope a bit. And him? Well, just put him in the pot!"

The youth of the village prove their manhood by jumping off with tree liana tied round their ankles. To date they've only had a couple of fatalities. Apparently these were because the jumpers hadn't been focused, had taken stuff and the spirits weren't right.

My guess is the "rope" broke.

On the way back to the boat we were passed by a few locals.

Shaved mohicans, plastic earring, Arsenal soccer shorts and machetes. They wouldn't have looked out of place in gangland '60's Glasgow. Anywhere else you'd cross the road pretty smartly. Here, the ominous "vibe" is lessened by the Jesus Saves song coming from the Boombox one of them is carrying. His hard man image was further diminished when Jesus finished and "Country Roads" started.

Nonetheless, I haven't taken to this island. You want to take photos? That's extra. You want a grapefruit? That's a another thou.

You want to sleep soundly?

Pull up the drawbridge, lock the companionway and switch on the VHF for a listening watch. That's the first time we've done any of that in months.

Moving on soon!

Roots and Leaves

25 August 2017
Having set the date and flogged many, many miles overnight in the pitch black and 25 knots the Roots Festival was something of a surprise. Not to mention disappointment.

While I didn't really know what the festival was about, what I'd pictured in my wee mind was us few yotties having the honour of spectating at a largish get together for the locals of Ambryn to celebrate their culture. 

Instead, after a $20 USD back of the truck ride we were led to a small clearing in the bush with bamboo poles to park our bums on while the chief and his lackies meandered about, apparently puzzling over the agenda for the "production" making up prices as they went along. It was their equivalent of the West End. The price certainly was.

My understanding was the festival was for the local population to ensure the island culture is handed down the generations. However it seems the mighty tourist dollar has spoken and it's now an income stream and the youth, understandably, are more interested in making some cash than dancing around in the rain half naked.

They'd also advanced the start date by one day so most of the 15 or so boats that made the trip, missed day one.

Sitting around the edge of this muddy patch made me feel like a poor pink tourist off a cruise ship, wheeled into manufactured tourism so I bade farewell and sodded off back to the boat and I'll keep my £40 for something better. 

Something of a disappointment for me, although I did get a nice wee kip and some boat jobs done, however, the good news is Anne got to see a bunch of blokes dancing around, "tackle out" as Captain Blackadder would say.

Raspberry Ripple

18 August 2017
Getting over to Vanuatu we've been foolishly chasing Tika, an Outremer 55 performance cat. Each morning Russell comes on the air to report his Lat Long, course and speed.

Yesterday, before he had a chance I said, "and I suppose you're doing nine knots". Now, Russ knows I covet an Outremer and takes some delight in winding me up so he says, "No,", "we're going ten".

At that point I gave him a loud and not very nautical raspberry......and that dear readers reminded me of my dear old mum. Blowing raspberries was one of her specialities. Her best could usually be heard shortly after hearing out my dad after he'd been nagging her about some trivia and, as he retreated from the room, having assuredly made his point, mum would blow a raspberry while giving his retreating back a "Churchill Salute". All with a wicked smile on her face leaving our kids giggling at wicked granny.

Blowing a raspberry at Russell made me think that once again, I'm carrying forward many Letton traits. It also brought back the memory of one of our recent village visits. As regular readers will know by now, these super kind people have little, and as I've said, if you asked, they'd give you the shirt off their back.

Now, most cruisers know the form and having done the prep back in the big city, stock up on T-shirts, schooling utensils, flashlights, peanut butter etc.... Things the villagers are known to appreciate. It's not charity, just a way of saying thanks for welcoming us to their island, their village and their homes.

A week or two back, in one of the villages where they operate a "host policy", meaning each family in turn get a crack at visiting yachts, as there was a rally in town, host families had to be doubled up with the crews of two yachts. Twice as much cooking, feeding and guiding around. It actually must be a bit of a chore when there's a continual stream of yachts but it seems to work for both sides.

What brought dear old mum to mind was when we were invited into our host's house, along with our "doubles" from the rally for a cup of tea and a bit of cake. As we'd been in the village for a few days we'd already given some stuff to mum and dad and the kids and so, they looked at the new folk with politely eager anticipation as they unzipped their large black holdalls. I can only guess what they were thinking when two ukuleles appeared. "Nice, but we're not that musical", or perhaps "Nice, perhaps the school would like them" or even, "There's twenty minutes burning in these; enough to bake a cake". Whatever it was, they were as surprised as we were that what they actually got was.....a wee song.

Ukes back in their bags, our wandering minstrels bid adieu and headed off into the woods probably saying to themselves, "There now.....wasn't that nice, taking some music to the villagers.................Did you just hear a raspberry????"
Vessel Name: Time Bandit
Vessel Make/Model: Island Packet 45
Hailing Port: Largs, Scotland
Crew: Anne and Stuart Letton
About: ex dinghy and keelboat racers now tooled up with an ocean going boat and cruising around aimlessly, destination Nirvana...
Extra: 2016 Transited Panama Canal early February '16 bound for Galapagos (March), Marquesas, Pacific Islands and New Zealand for November '16
Home Page: http://www.sailblogs.com/member/timebandit/profile
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