19 October 2009 | Peterson Bay, Espirito Santo
We left Uliveo Sunday morning, sailing up the east coast of Malekula Island towards the island of Espirito Santo, the largest island in Vanuatu. We decided to break the trip into two easy day-sails so we dropped the anchor Sunday night in Crab Bay, a beautiful isolated anchorage with very flat calm water. There was a rather heart-stopping moment when we came close to bumping the keel on coral while we were scouting the anchorage. One minute we're in 15 feet of water (with poor visibility) and the next moment we have large angry coral heads poking up at us and less than a foot under the keel. That's the kind of excitement we can do without, thank you very much.
An hour after arriving, Rick and Terry from Morning Star arrived and anchored nearby so we had them over for a barbecue.
The following morning the wind had completely died and the forecast called for continued very light winds, so we debated whether to go (knowing we'd have to motor the whole way) or wait a day or two for the wind to fill back in. Rick and Terry wisely decided that light winds would make it a good time to head east, into what would normally be prevailing winds, and get to Pentecost Island, then Maewo and then on to Santo. It was a good plan but we had fairly committed ourselves to meeting up with Bill and Janet from Airstream on Santo so we stuck with "Plan A" and had a very pleasant motor-sail (mostly motor) up to Peterson Bay.
On the way we had the best day fishing we've ever had (the bar's not very high, though): We caught 3 Wahoos (!) a very tasty, firm fleshed, white-meat fish. The fish themselves were not huge- probably 2 to 3 feet in length and very slender- but we got quite a lot of meat from them. I broke out the vacuum sealer to package and freeze what we couldn't eat right away.
After checking the cruising guides and talking to Bill we knew that the entrance to the Oyster Island anchorage in Peterson Bay could be a bit tricky, but was definitely doable. What makes it tricky is the way the pass cuts a twisty, narrow path through the coral, and the depths get quite shallow: arriving at or near high tide is critical. According to the guides there are sometimes, but not always, markers placed to guide you in (a bit like gates on a slalom ski course). Fortunately for us, Bill came out in his dinghy as we approached the entrance and he guided us through the three sets of navigational sticks and into the inner bay in front of the Oyster Island Resort.
Oyster Island Resort is a tiny but pleasant little resort- no real amenities for a cruiser other than a welcoming restaurant and bar, but the anchorage is very well protected and it's conveniently close to two of Vanuatu's famous "blue holes" (What? You haven't heard of them?).
Shortly after dropping the hook we jumped in our dinghy to follow Bill and Janet up a twisting, turning river to the first blue hole. The distance from the anchorage to the hole is about 1 km. The water becomes increasingly clear as you move further along- until it's so clear you could read the date off a dime 10 feet below.
The dinghy ride itself is straight out of Disneyland's Jungle Safari ride. We kept expecting to see hippos surface nearby (hope the ears aren't wiggling!) or see some natives staring out at us from the bushes along the river banks. Oh wait, we did see that. Of course, they were wearing Nike T-shirts and gym shorts. and they weren't holding shrunken heads. Instead they jumped into the river to clear a path for our dinghies, ripping away the floating vegetation that was clogging the river. As if that wasn't nice enough, they gave us coconuts on our way back down the river!
After about a 20 minute dinghy ride we arrived at the blue hole. The "blue holes" are formed by underwater springs pumping fresh clean water into a huge limestone "pool". The clarity of the water inside these 30+ feet deep pools is startling. And the color (think blue Listerine) only adds to the magical effect.
As I said, there are two blue holes accessible from two separate river outlets to Peterson Bay. The larger one is a bit more magical, certainly more pristine. The one we found ourselves returning to again and again (along with Airstream and later Tin Soldier and Kairos) was the smaller one. the one with THE ROPE SWING! I must confess I never worked up the courage to take the plunge myself, but John and Bill and most of the others had a thrilling time climbing out on the branch (about 20 feet up?) grabbing hold of the rope and doing their best Tarzan impersonations before dropping into the clear sapphire pool.
In all we spent about a week at Oyster Island, doing school in the morning, making a few trips in to Luganville for provisions, and cooling off in the afternoons at the blue hole.
Next up. Aore Island.