Land Ho! We're in Oz!
03 September 2009 | Bundaberg, Queensland/AU
Ah, the pleasant culture shock of returning to the "first world." AU customs and quarantine officials (two young women) were friendly and professional. We're now in a berth at Bundaberg Port Marina and just reunited with Aussie friends Don and Barbi, s/v Lutana II, who we first met in French Polynesia, then NZ, then Fiji. While Burger tends to boat r&m, I'll be researching our land travel plans. Looking forward to seeing those kangaroos and koalas!
Boobie on the Bow
03 September 2009 | Curtis Channel, Approach to Bundaberg
Just before sunset, a brown and white boobie approached and circled the boat, finally landing on our bow pulpit. Poor guy must have gotten tired and needed a rest. The bow of a boat is the least stable spot, bobbing up and down with the waves. But not only did our friend not have a problem balancing, he even tucked his head under his wing and had a snooze! After a few hours when the moon came out, he took off again. We hope he found his way home.
02 September 2009 | En route to Bundaberg AU
It was tempting to stay longer at Chesterfield Reef, but the weather looked good for the 450 mile stretch to Bundy, so off we sailed next morning. ETA is tomorrow night, just in time to clear in with Customs on Friday to avoid paying hefty weekend overtime charges. We're trying to eat up our remaining fresh food since it'll be confiscated by Quarantine. But winds have picked up to 20-25 knots and seas are rough, so we don't feel much like cooking today, or eating, for that matter.
Last Chance for Lobster
31 August 2009 | Chesterfield Reef
Another two nights and a day brought us to Chesterfield Reef, yet another uninhabited large atoll in the middle of the Coral Sea, belonging to New Caledonia. The Coral Sea is full of such reefs, treacherous to navigate without reliable charts and GPS. We anchored in the shelter of an island in 20 feet of crystal clear aquamarine water on a wide sand shelf studded with coral heads, in front of yet another bird rookery, this time with lots of boobies, noisy brown terns (I think) and frigate birds. At first we thought the terns were blue, then realized their white underbodies were reflecting the color of the water. The lagoon and surrounding ocean must teem with fish to support such big seabird colonies. It's nice to know there are areas of the world where the marine life is thriving undisturbed.
As soon as the anchor was down we launched the dinghy and went ashore to take advantage of low tide, Burger's last chance to find lobster before we reach Australia. While I waited on the beach, he waded waist deep across the shallow lagoon on the windward side of the islan!d, since that's where the lobsters can usually be found. "Shark!" I shouted as I saw three black-tipped fins fast approaching him, but we both then saw that they were just little ones, evidently curious to see the intruder. They then swam away, frolicking and splashing playfully with each other.
While I waited I started walking up the beach to look for shells, but didn't get far before huge flocks of birds took flight and soared and circled around me, clearly displeased with my presence. With thoughts of the movie "The Birds" in mind, I beat a quick retreat back to the dinghy, amazed that I made it without being hit with droppings. When Burger returned we returned to the boat and went snorkeling.
Alas, no lobster to be found. Burger wanted to return at night with a flashlight, since they're easier to find after dark, but my protests were strong enough to dissuade him. Exciting as it is to have the whole place to ourselves, hundreds of miles from anywhere, it's also a wee bit creepy.
29 August 2009 | Ile Huen, New Caledonia
Two nights and a day with steady SE tradewinds brought us from Santo to Ile Huen, a large coral atoll in the middle of nowhere. Why not two days and one night, you ask? We calculated our departure to ensure a landfall during midday, since we needed good visibility to see the bommies (coral heads) in the lagoon. We anchored in front of a long narrow white sand islet, uninhabited except for the thousands of boobies and other seabirds who make their home here, as well as turtles who lay their eggs in the sand. We dinghied ashore to stretch our legs, burn our trash and do some beach combing. Just as I stepped out of the dinghy into the shallow water, a small black-tipped shark swam by. A sign on the top of the grassy ridge proclaimed the island and surrounding reef a World Heritage site, and gave directions for counting turtle tracks, but we didn't see any. We did see lots of nesting boobies, some black on top and white on bottom, and some just the reverse, and some fluffy babies. Then we snorkeled around the coral just off the beach. Back aboard, it was so nice to be able to cook without having to hang on, take a hot shower and have a good night's rest, to the sound of waves breaking along the reef. Now we're on our way to our next stopover, the Chesterfield Reef, conveniently located on our course toward Bundaberg.
Underway, Or So We Thought
25 August 2009 | Lisburn Anchorage, SW Santo
We cleared out with Customs in Luganville and filled our fuel tanks with duty-free diesel at a big discount, but it still cost around US$4 per gallon. Now we can power through any doldrums between here and Australia. We took off this morning and headed out, but by midafternoon we discovered a problem with the mainsail roller-reefing. Impossible to fix at sea, we checked the chart and found that we were right near a beautiful, protected bay with a backdrop of high mountains, on the southwest corner of Santo, the last bit of land before leaving Vanuatan waters. If Burger can't fix the problem by nightfall we may be here another day, a pleasant prospect; several dugongs live in the bay, and we'd love to swim with them. Dugongs are very funny creatures, just like manatees but a different shaped tail.
Soon after we anchored, four outrigger dugouts with handsome young men and smiling children paddled out and gave us a bunch of grapefruit and oranges, so we certainly won't get scurvy underway to Australia. Though they politely didn't ask for anything in return, they weren't shy in requesting t-shirts when asked what we could offer them (we have no cash since we're leaving the country). I wonder if they purposely wear rags in hopes we'll be more generous, or if that's really all they have, certainly a possibility. Just an amusing thought, don't mean to sound cynical! The village is quite isolated with no tourists and very few yachts coming this way, as off the beaten path.
A Hard Place to Leave
23 August 2009 | Oyster Island, Santo
I'm amazed to realize that we've been here at Oyster Island Resort nearly a week already! It's a virtual hurricane hole surrounded by idyllic deserted islands, and the healthy coral reefs and two jungle-clad rivers with blue swimming holes (photo) have given us plenty to explore. On the main island of Santo, just a short dinghy ride across the small bay, we hiked to an abandoned WWII airfield. The surrounding waters reportedly abound in fighter plane wrecks but we weren't able to find any on our snorkeling forays. James Mitchener's postwar experiences here and in the Solomons were the inspiration for his Tales of the South Pacific.
Free wifi at anchor, compliments of the resort, is a big draw for us and other internet-starved cruisers, but a dozen or more yachties online at the same time often slows the speed down to a crawl.
We just returned from a leisurely, delicious Sunday brunch ashore, together with friends on several other boats. Before leaving, we all took turns visiting the unique unisex restroom, keeping its secret so we could enjoy the big sheepish grins on those returning: the toilet and sink are set in a disconcertingly open-air tropical garden, enclosed by a stone wall just high enough to ensure privacy.
21 August 2009 | Oyster Island, Santo
Watch this video of Burger playing Tarzan!
Together with our friends on s/v Grace and s/v Mind the Gap (great name for a catamaran!), we dinghied a mile up river through dense jungle to a blue hole.
A Charmless Place
18 August 2009 | Luganville, Espirito Santo
I was finally able to upload photos to accompany my blogs. Scroll down and take a look! The photo on this post shows a kastom dancer's poll decorated with four boar tusks.
A brisk morning sail brought us from Malekula to Santo, where we picked up a mooring in front of the Aore Resort across from town. The water shuttle across the harbor to Luganville was a wet ride. We had been forewarned that Luganville, only other town of significance in Vanuatu, was nothing to write home about. Indeed, we've seldom seen a less charming place. After a visit to the open-air market, the poorly sorted supermarket and the hardware store, we took the shuttle back to the resort. Back on board, we were delighted to find a leaky wifi signal, first time on the internet in a month!
On our way to Oyster Island next day, we sailed around Million Dollar Point, where the US military dumped massive amounts of equipment and supplies following the war, rather than leaving it for the islanders. What an awful waste! Relics of WW II abound all over Santo, much metal debris and the invasive "mile-a-minute" plant imported as camouflage. Yet Ni-Vans continue to hold America in high regard. We also passed the underwater site of the USS President Coolidge, sunk by "friendly" mines near the entrance to the harbor. All but two of the 5,000 troops survived. Today it's one of the world's most famous and accessible wreck dives, with its full load of jeeps, trucks, cannons, etc.
Doctoring under the Mango Tree
15 August 2009 | Malua Bay, Malekula
We were just planning to spend one night in Malua Bay to break up the trip to our next destination, Espirito Santo. But no sooner was the anchor down than we were surrounded by outrigger canoes, the paddlers offering us papayas and pampelmousse, and asking for rope to tie up their cows. A young woman named Stefanie pointed at Burger and asked me, "what he do?" "Doctor," I replied. Could he look at a sore on her little son's leg, she asked? But as there were three little ones with her in the canoe, she was understandably reluctant to board Halekai with her son. So we agreed to meet her ashore next morning.
Chief Don, with his braided goatee and near-toothless smile, greeted us and offered to escort us to Stefanie, but could the doctor please first look at his daughter's heel? It had an imbedded splinter. Then a man appeared with his arm in a sling: he dislocated his shoulder a year ago. Nothing Burger could do about that without anesthesia.
Chief Don asked me "how you family plan?" Interesting question ... I replied that condoms were best for his people, good for preventing disease too. He smiled knowingly: "Ruba blong fakfak." He then told me his wife took anti-baby pills. Then we were led to Stefanie and her little boy who were waiting for us, surrounded by a crowd of villagers.
Well, one patient led to a dozen, mostly with open sores aggravated by flies. Burger sat on a woven mat in the shade of a large mango tree, treating one after another while I consoled the youngest patients with "lollies" (candies), and entertained with our digital camera. Everyone delighted in seeing the photos on the camera screen. (See photo gallery.)
I gave the ladies mini soap and shampoo collected from hotel rooms, and received lemons and cabbage in return. Children took turns swinging from a seat made of cow bones tied to a rope. Margaret, with three comical pigtails on top and either side of her head, gave me two baskets, some squash and long green "snake beans" from her garden and nuts from the tree, then asked if I had any spare shirts for her. Later she paddled out to retrieve them, one for her and one for her husband, who taught at the local Seventh Day Adventist church school.
We were about to leave when Burger spotted a man with a chainsaw, which led to the subject of generators. He spent the rest of the day fixing two of them ("he a mechanic too?"). Soon after we returned to Halekai, Geoff and Sally aboard s/v Grace arrived and invited us over for dinner, a pleasant end to a busy day.
National Geographic Live
14 August 2009 | Southwest Bay, Malekula
The weather gods intervened on Day Three of the SW Bay Festival, so we donned sunglasses and hats for the three mile dinghy ride up the bay, then followed the markers through the break in the reef to the white sandy beach. Smiling Ni-Van women welcomed us ashore with flower leis ("sulasulas"). Men in Hawaiian shirts and name tags attempted to divide us into groups of six, but soon discovered it was like trying to herd cats. Cruisers are an independent breed, different from the cruise ship crowd the guides were trained for.
We ambled along the beach to a large grassy field, landscaped on three sides with tropical plants and flowers. A tall banyan tree towered over the scene, its long exposed roots reaching down the steep hillside facing us. We were beckoned to sit on rough hewn wooden benches, our backs to the bay. Once we were all assembled, four drummers took their places and began to beat their tam-tams, calling the men from neighboring villages. What a sight as they marched along the beach toward us! One after the other, small groups of men performed their ritualistic kastom dances, chanting and prancing around the kneeling drummers. What they lacked in choreography they made up for with their elaborate costumes, headdresses and masks. Small variegated leaves adorned their arms and legs, larger leaves and flowers covered their buttocks like bird tails. Shells rattled around their ankles. "Nambas" (penis sheathes) completed the attire.
All that entertainment made us hungry, so we were ready for the feast that followed. And a feast it was! Roast pig and fish and all sorts of local vegetables and tropical fruits covered the long buffet table under the thatch roofed shelter. Afterwards we were taken on tours of the local village, built in terraces up the steep hillside. The chief's hut at the top enjoyed a million dollar view of the bay. Then it was time for a siesta back on board, followed by the finale of the Festival: a potluck supper at the Yacht Club, back where we started on Day One.
. . . Come Again Another Day
13 August 2009 | Southwest Bay, Malekula
Day Two of the Festival was just as soggy as the day before. But knowing how much work the Ni-Vans of SW Bay had poured into the planning, we all dutifully dinghied ashore. We were each welcomed with a drink coconut and a flower to tuck behind our ears, then encouraged to view the local produce and handicrafts for sale under the shelter of a large thatched pavilion, built for the occasion. A table full of food was offered for snacking: banana this and banana that, yams and taro and boiled eggs. Despite the variety of plants that grow here, Vanuatan cuisine is bland and starchy.
After awhile it was time to troop up a steep path to a small clearing in the jungle, where we were entertained by half a dozen bare-breasted women in woven grass skirts and beads, chanting and shuffling around in a circle. I was reminded of those National Geographic photos we used to look at as kids . I felt sorry for the youngest woman, who was clearly embarrassed, shielding her chest with raised arms and turning quickly away from the audience as she circled.
Next on the agenda was the men's dancing. I kept dry by holding a large umbrella over the videographer's equipment while he filmed the muscular warriors.
Afternoon snorkeling and diving on the reef were canceled when the rain persisted, and we all retreated to our boats to drink hot tea.
Rain, Rain Go Away . . .
12 August 2009 | Southwest Bay, Malekula
Rainy days are best spent cozily aboard doing chores, cooking, reading a good book. But instead we put on our raingear and dinghied up river for the start of a three-day island festival, put on especially for the yachties. The villagers had spend weeks building a large round thatched roof "yacht club," and we were all invited to the dedication ceremony: flag raising, speeches, prayers and all. A huge iced cake awaited us, so we all crowded inside to eat it while escaping the downpour. Burger and I were among the stragglers remaining inside when a huge fat pig suddenly crashed through the wall! Some children had been chasing it and it decided to take refuge with us. Had it done so just a little earlier it would have been mayhem! Luckily it exited quickly from whence it came and the hole was easily fixed, a matter of putting the woven mats back in place.
A Sad Day at Anchor
09 August 2009 | Awei, Maskelyne Islands
Our dear friend Sylvia died aboard Windcastle last night: I can't believe I'm writing this! She was only 56. We first met in New Zealand, and have been sailing together since Fiji. She and I were close friends.
We left Lamen Bay late yesterday morning for our next destination on the south of Malekula, with Windcastle planning to follow. But as we learned with shock this morning, Sylvie spent the day violently ill, and by nightfall had fallen into a coma; local help came too late. Could Burger have helped had we been there? Sadly, we'll never know.
Sylvie was from Mexico City, a lovely, lively, warm-hearted person beloved by all who knew her. Just the night before last at the Festival, she was laughing and dancing with the delighted local children. Doug is returning to Port Vila to deal with his tragedy. We feel so bad.
Canoe Racing with Palm Fronds
08 August 2009 | Lamen Bay, Epi
Sixteen yachts converged on Lamen Bay for the third annual Outrigger Canoe Race Festival. The rain didn't dampen our spirits as we cheered the paddlers on, aided by "sails" made of large palm fronds. The participants were in good shape, as they paddle and sail back and forth between the "mainland" of Epi, where they tend their gardens, and the small island where 500 Ni-Vans live. Except for the occasional plume of smoke you wouldn't know anyone lived there, so well are the huts hidden among dense green vegetation.
The villagers went all-out for the Festival, and the children had the day off from school. Stalls were built to sell local food and handicraft. That evening we all dined on roast pig with lots of trimmings. The day ended after dark with a "fireworks" of expired boat flares.
First Fresh Fish Since Fiji!
02 August 2009 | Rivelieu Bay, Epi
A strike at last! Sally and Geoff, sv Grace, and Sue and John, sv Aurielle, the only two boats in Rivelieu Bay when we arrived, were delighted to share our mahi mahi feast aboard Halekai last night.
This morning we dinghied ashore and took a walk along the long black sand beach. Then a dozen or so black-skinned, bronze-haired "pikininies" accompanied us on a walk through their village, along with dogs, chickens, a goat and a pig. The oldest, eleven year old Buddy, was in charge of the little ones while the adults were all up the hill tending their gardens. (We've heard to be careful of wandering through village gardens, since families sleep together in their one room huts and couples have little privacy.) Some children who looked no older than six carried infants on their hips, others carried long bush knives. Our gift of one piece of candy each brought big shy smiles. They loved looking at themselves in the camera screen, after posing for photos in front of a tiny thatched roof Presbyterian church. They showed us their defunct communal water pump, possibly a Peace Corps project, and told us that they fetch water from the nearby river. Buddy asked if we had a piece of rope he could use to tie up a cow, which we were happy to give him in return for some big pampelmousse (grapefruit).
US Tax Dollars at Work
01 August 2009 | Havannah Harbour, Efate
A day that started out overcast and humdrum turned out to be delightful ...
July 30th, Vanuatu's official Independence Day, was the last of several days of festivities all over the islands. We dinghied ashore and walked to the nearest village, where brightly festooned roadside vendor booths offered food and handicrafts. Music blared from loudspeakers at the grandstand while villagers milled about, enjoying their holiday. We continued our walk along the dusty road, which is being widened and resurfaced thanks to a grant by the US Millennium Fund, though few Ni-Vans seem to know it. Not very effective US PR.
A pickup truck flying a NZ flag stopped and offered us a ride, so we climbed aboard: two cheerful Kiwi couples were on an island tour and invited us to come along! Matty, a foreman for the road works, honked and waved at everyone we passed, many of them workers on his road crew. We stopped at another village in the midst of celebration, and met Noelle, a Peace Corps worker from Colorado who trains teachers. I was surprised that the Kiwis had never heard of the Peace Corps.
Then we drove to a large waterfront property that was once the rec area for US Naval officers. Tall Norfolk pines, albeit a bit crooked, have miraculously survived over sixty cyclones seasons. On the return trip Matty stopped often to show us remains of US tanks and other rusting debris sinking into the lagoon and mangroves, left behind when the troops withdrew. We returned the island tour favor by inviting our new friends aboard for a rum punch at sunset.
Tourists for a Day
29 July 2009 | Lepela Island, Efate
Sometimes it's easier to join a tourist group than do things on our own, and besides, after two days of contorting himself to fix the engine, Burger deserved a holiday. The $US40 per person we paid for the Lelepa Island tour was well worth it. We were picked up in the morning by a shallow-draft panga, and along with three young honeymoon couples from Sydney, we motored across the bay for a circle trip of the offshore island. First we snorkeled among the coral gardens of Mallao Bay, then sunbathed on the white sandy beach (something cruisers seldom do) while our guides prepared a sumptuous lunch on the grill. Next we explored a deep, spooky cave with bats hanging from the ceiling, our way lit by candles, while listening to stories of cannibalism. The island was long a hold-out against missionaries, and even the black-skinned Samoans sent to convert the heathens weren't spared. Later we snorkeled off the boat in deep water, feeding breadcrumbs and chicken bones from lunch to the myriad of colorful fish. As ever larger fish approached, we exited the water before the sharks came ... Last on the itinerary was afternoon tea in the village of Natapao, served by smiling ladies who displayed their handicrafts hoping for sales. We bought a large, perfect nautilus shell for our collection. The several hundred islanders have no electricity or plumbing, but Burger was able to buy cell phone minutes for our mobile phone from a woman in her hut. They charge the phone batteries with small, noisy generators that they run occasionally.
White Smoke Is Bad Smoke!
28 July 2009 | Havannah Harbour, Efate
When an ominous cloud of white smoke poured out the exhaust upon starting the engine, we immediately got calls of sympathy and offers of help from nearby boats. As yachties know, white smoke means water in the oil. It can be caused by a variety of reasons, the worst of which is a cracked engine block. With visions of sailing engineless to Australia, fine as long as the wind is constant but not ideal for maneuvering in harbors, Burger investigated. Finding no obvious problems, he nevertheless replaced the head gasket and changed the oil. This was a major two-day ordeal, with boat parts and tools strewn everywhere. My job came afterward: cleaning up oily black finger- and footprints smeared all over. Thankfully the engine started again and so far so good, but our fingers are still crossed.
27 July 2009 | Havannah Harbour, Efate
Was that the anchor dragging? Did the engine start all by itself? We stared at each other in surprise, then our neighbor Sally from sv Grace hailed us on the radio: "Did you feel that too?" A few hours later Sally called again: her mother emailed her the news from Boston that a 6.2 underwater earthquake had been reported just south of Vanuatu. Later on we felt a short aftershock. But it was business as usual for the Ni-Vans, who are used to it. Earthquakes are commonplace here on the Pacific Ring of Fire, with active volcanoes not far to the north and south of us.
Independence Day Vanuatan Style
26 July 2009 | Havannah Harbour, Efate
Ever since New Hebrides became Vanuatu when the French and English departed 29 years ago, Independence Day has become a major annual event. We and the others anchored in Havannah Harbour received a special invitation to attend the celebration on nearby Moso Island.
We all sat on the grass in front of the grandstand and listened to visiting officials give speeches in Bislami (Pidgin English). Men sat separately from the women, who were dressed in colorful, frilly Mother Hubbard dresses and held amazingly well-behaved toddlers on their laps. Then we all stood at attention while the red and green flag with its Tusker national emblem (circling boar tusk) was solemnly raised to the tune of the Vanuatu national anthem, played by the excellent 15-member Vanuatan military brass band. To the crowd's surprise and delight, the band then began to "rock," culminating in a rousing performance of the Macerena! We laughed till tears came to our eyes ...
Relaxing in Havannah Harbour
24 July 2009 | Vanuatu
A few hours' sail north along the coast of Efate brought us to the large, beautiful bay of Havannah Harbour, which once sheltered the US Naval fleet in WW II. No sooner did we drop anchor than a villager came by in his outrigger canoe, wondering if we could ferry his brother across to Moso, the small island across the bay. Burger reluctantly launched the dinghy, but his good deed was rewarded with a bunch of fresh vegetables, among them tomatoes and green peppers which are expensive in the market.
After two weeks in bustling Port Vila harbor we spent a tranquil night together with half a dozen other yachts. Today we went for a walk ashore with Steve and Di to visit Ernest, a local who gives tours of his little "museum collection" of rusting WW II artefacts. He was especially proud of his dozens of coke bottles with engraved bottling stamps from all 48 states (pre-Alaska and Hawaii).
Time to Leave Port Vila
22 July 2009
It's easy to get stuck in a place like Port Vila, with its protected anchorage, convenient shopping, cafes, laundromat, and most especially, wifi. How did we ever get so dependent on the Internet? Last night we and around 40 other cruisers had a special dinner together at a French restaurant. We were going to leave for the next island today, but we still have a few hours left on our wifi plan Here's a photo of the anchorage, with Halekai in the foreground.
Off to the Races!
18 July 2009 | Port Vila, Efate
Once a year the expat French and British community dresses up in their finest, with ladies in fancy hats, and go to the Port Vila horse races, a vestige of the colonial era when former New Hebrides was ruled jointly by France and England.
Free buses take locals to the track, where a fun day is had by all, eating, drinking, and betting. Every so often the horses and riders whizzed by, hardly noticed by the elite, who were too busy sipping champagne in their row of little white tents, separated by a fence from the riffraff--which included us scruffy yachties, along with the local folk.
Pacific Climate Warrior
17 July 2009 | Port Vila, Efate
Esperanze, the Greenpeace vessel focusing on world climate change awareness, was in port and offering tours today, so we walked along the waterfront looking for the launch, together with Steve and Di. Instead we met the Esperanza's First Mate, a friendly chap from Panama, who took us out to the ship in his large inflatable. Neat!