Freebirdie's Sailin' Blog

22 November 2011 | Seattle
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03 July 2011 | Greece
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20 February 2011 | Istanbul, Turkey
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31 December 2010 | Marmaris
24 October 2010 | Cappadocia, Turkey
16 September 2010 | Marmaris Turkey
26 August 2010 | Fethiye, Turkey
19 August 2010 | Marmaris
03 August 2010 | Larnaca Cyprus
01 August 2010 | Mediterranean Sea
30 July 2010 | Ashkelon Marina

Passage back to Australia

25 October 2007 | Huen Reef
Dave and Judy

Log 52
Passage Back to Australia

October 23, 2007 Under sunny skies we make our way out of the Port Vila harbor, leaving our favorite Vanuatu for the 2nd time. We're headed back to Bundaberg, Australia with a planned stop at Huon Reef in New Caledonia. Conditions are near perfect. The wind is on the port quarter at about 17 knots. The sea is a little lumpy but not too bad. Freebird sails along without any fuss and we slowly get our sea legs back. It seems like we always have a little queasiness the first day out. We take turns sleeping and watching through the day. The sun sets off our bow and soon it is completely dark. The only light is coming from the glow of the electronic instruments in the cockpit and at the navigation station. We settle in for the night. A yellow glow on the horizon becomes a nearly full moon which soon illuminates the sea around us. We can't describe the beauty of sailing under a bright moon and clear warm skies. Dave stays on watch until midnight. Judy comes on from midnight to 4 AM…then Dave again. The moon sinks in the west and the orange ball ascends in the east. The warm rays penetrate into the cabin removing the dampness from the left from the night.
The email is checked for the latest weather report and for messages from friends and family. We are forwarding weather information to two boats that are bound for New Zealand. They don't have email capabilities. We fire up the SSB radio and relay the information from the weather files. We have a little chat and sign off confirming that we will meet them on the radio again that evening. They are sailing south, us west. Soon we will be a thousand miles apart.
When the radio goes silent we are alone again. Our day is consumed with sailing, navigation, cooking, resting, if we are lucky… reading, and playing games. Occasionally we catch a fish on our hand lines. We make entries in our log every 3 hours. This is our record of: position, speed, course, wind direction, wind speed, engine hours, battery capacity, and weather conditions. Our mainstay for navigation is GPS with electronic charts on the computer. We must be prepared to navigate without these aids should we have an electrical failure. This can come in many forms, the most common being a lightening strike. We are prepared to use paper charts and traditional navigation tools. The log contains vital information to start this process called DEAD RECONING.

Greeting Party

The second night is just like the first but the sea becomes quite rough and we drop the main sail which is slating back and forth annoyingly. We are sailing slow with only the jib. This is not a problem because we must slow down anyway to arrive at the reef in daylight since we can't navigate into the reef in the dark. Good light is required to sail among the coral into the protection of the lagoon.
At first light, many birds are soaring around Freebird. We are getting close to the reef. Most of the birds are boobies. These birds are so placid that they will land on deck and you have to literally push them off if you want them to leave. (you do, trust me) We are concerned that they will fly into our wind generator turbine. What a mess that would be.

As the sun rises we cautiously approach the shallow pass that leads to the calm lagoon in the lea of the small island. We watch our anchor hit the white sand bottom in 15 feet of clear water. A large turtle pops his head up to welcome us. It seems like every bird has flown over to greet us as well. Freebird settles back on the anchor chain. We lay back in the early morning sun completely alone in awe of the beauty around us. We are completely alone. Clothes are optional….
After breakfast we launch the dinghy and head for the beach. Thousands of birds flock overhead. We land on the pristine white sand. Judy instantly begins to graze for sea shells.


Judy in Heaven

As we walk, Dave notices that there are tracks all over the island. They appear to be some kind of 4 wheel drive tracks. We are completely baffled. How could somebody be so insensitive to this beautiful place. Nesting birds are everywhere. It is truly a fragile environment. Then it dawns on us. These are the tracks of turtles coming ashore to lay eggs. We follow the tracks to find the huge craters left by the female turtles.

"Four Wheel Drive Tracks"

Our day is spent exploring the island. We are reluctant to swim much because of the many sharks present in the water. The temptation is too great .We swim a little anyway in the clear warm water. Back on Freebird that evening we enjoy the classic south seas sunset. Dinner is prepared on the barbeque. Exhausted, we fall into early slumber…. dreaming….4 wheel drives chasing baby birds ……


More Locals

Mama Turtle at Work

The next morning we awake to another perfect day. We spend most of it in our dinghy exploring the reef and island. That evening we take a bottle of wine to the beach and enjoy the sunset. We watch the completely full moon rise above the sea. The evening is calm and warm. The moon illuminates the island. As our eyes adjust we can see something moving down the beach. We watch and listen soon realizing that it is a turtle coming in from the sea to deposit her eggs in the warm sand. Cautiously we follow her keeping our distance. She stops and proceeds to dig her hole. We crawl up on our bellies and lay there in the bright moonlight and observe the whole event. We both agree that this is one of our best lifetime experiences. Back on the boat that night we dream… turtles emerging from the earth….struggling to the water…. The warm clear sea….

October 27, 2007 06:30 Hours The sun is up and we reluctantly depart magical Huon reef. Port Bundaberg lays 800 nautical miles over the horizon. For the next 4 days and nights we sail alone with the warm sun in the day and the bright moon at night for company. Our only distress being the mayday received on the radio for our early morning check-in from a single handed yacht 300 miles behind us. He had made navigational error and struck the reef loosing his boat and home. He was at the end of a seven year circumnavigation heading home to Australia. He was airlifted at 1 in the afternoon by the New Caledonia coast guard. Imagine ending this way! This makes us acutely aware of how fragile we can be in this sometimes unforgiving environment. We are very thankful as we approach the anchorage. We spot the familiar boats of many friends. We have all sailed here. Each has a story to tell.

We Love This Life!

Back to Vanuatu

01 May 2007 | New Caledonia/Vanuatu
Dave and Judy
New Caledonia/Vanuatu again

Westerly winds had been blowing off the Australian east coast for almost a month. We watched each day as the weather reports would unfold predicting another 5 days of westerly weather. We decided to take advantage of the anomaly and sail eastward back to Vanuatu.
We had boisterous conditions for the first 3 days of our crossing with 35 knots of wind blowing up our tailpipe. The seas were quite large coming from a deep seated low pressure system off the southern Australian coast. Freebird surfed along happily with just her jib unfurled. The large seas would roll under her transoms and she would fly down the face of each following sea. We departed in the company of four other boats maintaining a radio schedule with them each evening, until our radio decided to give up.

The fourth day out calmed down and we were able to set our reacher sail. The boat picked up speed and started moving smoothly toward New Caledonia I was sitting in the deck chair and commented on what a beautiful day it was for a sail. I looked down at the chain plates as is my habit to do. Shock! The whole mast and rig was being held by a fractured toggle jaw. Half of this most critical piece of hardware on the boat had broken. It seemed as if the mast would fall into the sea at any moment. Luckily we had installed running backstays as a precaution for this very reason. You can't believe how quickly we deployed the windward runner and dropped the sails. The mast was now safe but unhappily we looked forward to two days of motoring. Of course, the sailing conditions were perfect the rest of the way.

Broken Toggle

The morning of the fifth day we arrived at Port Moselle Marina, Noumea, New Caledonia. We enjoyed the usual fresh bread, coffee and all the ambiance of this sophisticated little city .We found ourselves in the company of many old cruising friends. Some we hadn't seen since French Polynesia, three years before. Our good friends Ed and Melissa from the yacht "Mag Mel" showed up. We enjoyed seeing them and comparing notes. We've traveled with them off and on since San Diego five years ago. We left them in Fiji two years earlier and they had just come from Vanuatu. We were crossing paths once again.
Judy received the sad news that her sister was very sick and probably not going to live much longer. She caught a flight to Seattle to spend a couple of weeks with her family and saying goodbye. Dave spent the time catching up on long overdue projects (chain plate toggles). The weather here was much improved over Australia. It was warm and sunny. We had been freezing to death in Australia. The Aussies were even complaining about the cool conditions. Coming here WAS the right decision. When Judy returned she brought back the much needed watermaker membranes and a new SSB radio.

We set sail for Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu on Efate Island. Our goal was to return to our favorite place on earth; Vureas Bay, Vanua Lava Island, Vanuatu; hoping to make it there in time for their annual "Kastom" festival. Vila is another cross roads for yachts from all over the world. Our second time here, we felt like old timers. We knew our way around. Our plan was to fill Freebird with as much food and other needed items as she could carry for our friends on Vanua Lava. Huge bags of flour, soap, cooking oil, rice, salt, clothes, fabric, school supplies etc were loaded aboard. We even went all out and purchased a Coleman kerosene lantern for our Paramount Chief Godfrey & Veronika.Manar The next week was spent loading our girl down like a cargo ship. Heavily laidened, we hopped through the island groups. We sailed under the cloud of a live volcano of Ambrym island. We anchored in bays with gentle dugongs. We moved slowly northward. We visited villages and traded for traditional carvings, fruit and veggies.

Stewart greets us

Finally, we arrived in Vureas bay. We head screams of joy on the beach. An outrigger canoe is headed out to greet us. It's Stewart the chief's youngest son. He is so excited he lets out a big spontaneous yell. It's a very emotional moment. We launch our dinghy and head into the beach where a small crowd is waiting. Before the boat touches the shore many hands drag our dinghy up on the beach above the shore break. There's a frenzy of kissing and hugging....smiling and laughing. What euphoria! It's so nice to be back among these friendly happy people again. They have taken us into there hearts without any hesitations & they into ours. The entourage heads for the Chiefs compound where there is a welcoming ceremony with singing, music, food and kava. Our eyes are filled with the tears of emotional reunion.

Vureas Bay

The next few days were spent unloading Freebird. It's fun to watch their joy at receiving some little item like bed sheets, a small sauce pan or even a picture of themselves. The Chief worships his Coleman Lantern. Such a simple makes life a little easier. We spent many evening doing "toktok" (talking) under the warm glow of the "koman". Several times Dave was the recipient of a big kiss (on the lips) from the chief who was so happy to have light!. He would say, "tankyu, tankyu to mas fo koman David"

Welcome Party

Snake Dance

The wind swung around in the bay. The conditions became untenable. Freebird must depart for calmer waters. We are heading to the island Cultural festival. For the first time the festival is being held at Waterfall Bay, a two hours sail up the coast. We were hoping to take some of our village friends with us but the sudden urgency of our departure wouldn't allow it. A few of them have already gone ahead with our friends on the yacht "Rascal Too". Others will make the rough four hour journey on foot. When we sail back after the 5 day festival we'll save them the long wet walk back. People come from all over the island to join the event. Some walk 7 hours each way from their villages.

The Vanua Lava cultural festival (Yam Festival) is a five day event that involves traditional dancing, teaching and demonstrating of "Kastom" ways, and music, music, music. There were seven other yachts in the bay with us. We were all treated as special guests. We were assigned special advisers to explain each event. If rain started to fall, they would run and get a large taro leaf and hold it over our heads. We watched demonstrations of canoe building, house building, a wedding ceremony ,death ceremony the making of "shell money", traditional medicine, and much more. Exotic traditional dancing was the center piece of the whole affair. This festival is a primary means for sharing the traditional ways with the children. They are striving to keep their cultural heritage alive.

Island Chiefs
(Paramount Chief Godfry Manar, with walking stick)

Leaving Waterfall Bay

The whole scene took place in a spectacular bay with a large twin waterfall dropping into the sea next to the village. You couldn't ask for a better venue..... Imagine.......a warm twilight.... dusk.....glassy water reflecting ...... lush cliffs above your head ....your ears are filled with the rhythmic beat of island drums ......your boat gently rocks.... your drifting .....drifting into a slumber of exotic dreams. It's a tough life out here!

After the festival, we returned to Vureas Bay with a boat load of passengers. Chief Godfrey asked us to come in because he had a special announcement to make. We arrived at his compound to find him preparing for a small ceremony. He had decided to adopt Judy as his own daughter. So.... Now Judy is now the daughter of the Paramount Chief of Vanua Lava island. For the rest of the stay she called him "father" and he called her "daughter". Of course along with all the responsibilities of being a chief's daughter she is required to send Christmas presents home. It was all very serious and Judy was really overcome with emotion. What about Dave? Later we were talking to some other cruisers and they said the Chief told them: "Dave is my best friend...but he no smoke"

Chief Godfrey with his Daughter and Son in law

Our Family
Steven, Juliana, Densley, Judah, Quiniva & Jenny
(Lavendar & their oldest daughter,
Nelian missing from photo)

When we originally arrived in the bay there was one other boat anchored near by. The yacht "Rascal Too" with Greg and Pat aboard. We got to know them and found that they have the same interest in this place as we do. They have been coming here for the last five years. Greg has masterminded a hydroelectric project. He even has a waterfall named after him: "Greg's Waterfall" It is the site of what is hoped by many to be the new power plant. He asked Dave to sit in on a meeting on the other side of the island in the main town of Sola. We feel a special connection to Greg and Pat through there bond with the people of Vureas Bay. They have worked very hard to facilitate things that will benefit the people here. We feel that this progress could be a double edged sword. The people will gain all the benefits of electricity but stand to loose their happy free life. The people here are very hard working. Changes are coming to their world. Really, nobody can stop it. There will be electricity which means lights, refrigeration ,television and jobs. Unless the islanders can be prepared to take these jobs they will be taken by people from off island. They will become second class citizens in their own home. These folks are among the hardest working people we've mett. They tend their "gardens", which are really plantations, make their own houses, canoes and generally survive off the land and sea as they have for thousands of years. They are vaguely aware of the changes ahead. They want desperately to send their children to school. School cost so much money for them! They have very limited ways to make money. They have never needed it before. Trading is the normal way. They harvested copra (coconuts) for a long time but the market for that has disappeared. No copra boats come anymore.

We and our friends are adopting families here that need help with school tuition among other things. We have started a loose program that will enable us and our friends to help with school tuition. It's not affiliated with any charity or religious organization. It's not really even a program but we think it will make a difference. It's amazing what small dollars can do to make huge changes in peoples' lives. If you are interested in becoming involved with this worthwhile endeavor, please email us for assistance ~

The Sunset String Band

Once again, Freebird is driven from the bay by the threat of bad weather. As we pull up anchor we promise to return... soon. Our course takes us to the other side of the island, Sola. This is the biggest settlement in the Banks Islands. It's still only a small village. We find our old friends Father Luke and family. We have a wonderful reunion. They are so welcoming. They invite us to dinner that night. We bring in the little portable dvd player and the kids get locked into Ice Age 2. It was so nice to see them again. Take a look at Log 43 for details on Sola and Father Luke and family. Before returning to Vureas Bay we decide to take a little vacation. We headed for the Reef Islands just a day sail away. These islands are the only true atolls in Vanuatu. The inner lagoon is guarded by a trecheres reef. Care must be used when gaining entrance to this little piece of paradise. We arrive to find our friends on the yacht "Nomad" anchored on the inside. They are snorkeling the reef and offer to "snorkel us in". With them snorkeling ahead and identifying the hazards we make entry into the calm waters inside. They have a crew of four and were able to use this technique for their original entry. The anchor goes down in 6 feet of water over white sand. Ahhhhh, paradise. Only two boats for miles. Perfect! We find out that Nomad is planning on an early departure the next morning. Hmmm.....Oh Oh, We hadn't thought about how we're gettin outa paradise. Nobody to "snorkel us out"! Oh well,it's too perfect to worry about anything so trivial. The next morning we wake to find ourselves all alone. Perfection just got better. We quickly shed all the clothes and enjoy the solitude. Our days are spent snorkeling the reef and beach combing. Not a soul in sight. The weather was perfect, the water warm, the fish plentiful ....sunsets to talk about. At night; not a light anywhere... only the stars, moon and the sound of the surf crashing on the reef. . It seems like for every up there is a down: The ying and yang if you will. As long as the weather remains "normal" things are fine here. If the wind decides to come in out of the west, we must leave this little piece of heaven. The lagoon would turn into my grandma's Maytag. We still haven't figured out how we can get out of here. Our trusty dinghy takes us out to the reef. We look for an opening that would fit a twenty three foot wide catamaran. After a lengthy search, we find one that looks promising. It looks like we could just make high tide with good light to see the reef. We decide to make our own marker buoys. We mark our channel with plastic pop bottles that we found on the beach. Each one is tied with string to the coral on both sides of the channel. We spent several hours out there planning our escape from paradise. We used the portable GPS to lay a track out through "Freebird Pass" It was nice snorkeling too. We encountered a pesky 7 foot long barracuda, some nice rays, a shark or two, a 4 foot Napoleon Wrasse, and many many large fish.

Reef Islands

Several days later our time here had come to an end. The anchor is up and we follow our GPS track toward the channel. We can see our little buoys bobbing in the distance marking death and destruction on both sides. As we approach a nice big nasty rain squall lands on the scene. The only thing we can now see is our little trusty buoys. We can't turn around. It's too narrow. We are committed. With dry mouths we forge ahead. The depth sounder is giving extreme readings....10 feet, 21 feet, 5 feet, 2 feet, 18 feet. The bottom is so irregular it's of no use. On we go. Just as the rain cleared we clear the last buoy and find ourselves outside of the lagoon in deep water. Fun! Why do we do this again?

Back to Vureas Bay we go and find that there was a big worry about us. We had been gone for too long. They were sure Judy had come down with malaria and we had headed for Vila, never to be seen again. We had a few more days of fun with our "family". They guided us to Greg's Waterfall. And finally the sad day came for us to leave. The night before the chief had a farewell party for his daughter and son in law. We all cried. I don't think we will ever be back here again....So sad... But you never know...

Click on links below for more photos:

Photos Vureas Bay

Photos Festival

Movie Clips


Vanuatu Part 6

01 February 2006 | Vila and Tanna
Dave and Judy
Log 48
Vanuatu Part 6 Vila and Tanna

After a couple of interesting months in the wilderness. Vila was a breath of fresh air. We tied to one of the mooring balls in the harbor and spent the next couple of weeks in sidewalk cafes, bakeries, and restaurants. Vila is a crossroads for cruising boats so we ran into our old friends John and MJ from the yacht "Island Sonata" and Chris and KT from the yacht "Billabong" We made some new friends as well. We hung out and enjoyed the wonderful ambiance of this little capital city in the happiest country in the world. We celebrated our anniversary at a romantic little South Seas restaurant. We found Asian food, Thai food, Indian food, Mexican food and food, food, food. You get the idea. We either have to sail on or we're going to explode. Our stay in Vila for us was pretty much all about food.

Port Vila Morning

So the day finally came when we waddled down to our boat and sailed away. Actually we left in the dark at 0400. We are bound for the island of Erro Mango, a convenient stop on the way to Tanna. As a contrast to our sunny lazy days in Vila we were met with rain and 30 knots of wind on the nose. So our plump little bodies bounced around until we sailed into Dillon bay. It was a tough trip made tougher by the fact that we had a little too much to drink the night before we departed. Those anniversaries, won't we ever learn?... After being escorted into the bay by a pod of dolphins, we quickly anchored and retired below. Dave slept from 1730 till 0600 the next morning. Thankfully the conditions were much better than the day before. The next day we had a nice sail to Port Resolution, named by Captain Cook after his ship. An interesting fact to note was that the bay was 60 feet deeper then. These islands are still very active geologically. The ocean floor was pushed up in 1878. Thankfully, it stayed put while we were here.

Approaching Port Resolution
Mount Yasur doing her thing

Ports Resolution is another real popular destination with cruisers. We made new acquaintances and renewed some old ones. Our good friends John and Heather on the yacht "Dancyn" showed up. We had many good adventures with them in El Salvador two years earlier.

Dancyn makes an appearance.

The village here in the bay caters to yachts. Among other services, they provide tours to the volcano. This is the main attraction. So, one late afternoon, we along with about ten other people piled into the back of a small pickup truck. The best time for viewing is after dark. Two very bumpy hours later we arrived at the base of the mountain. It was dark. We started trekking up the trail. While we trudged, we quickly lost site of the reason we were here. The trip alone to get here was an adventure in itself. It was quiet as we continued to climb up the steep path. Just as we arrived at the crest....KABOOM!!!! The concussion almost knocked us off of our feet. The hot air sucked your breath away. Fire shot hundreds of feet into the air above our heads. There was no place to duck for cover in the surrounding moonscape. We watched in awe as showers of hot lava fell just a couple of hundred feet ahead. The question popped into our heads... What are we doing here?....It was mesmerizing...We couldn't pull ourselves away. Two hours later we still clung to the edge of the crater feeling the power of this awesome volcano. It was a long cold bumpy ride back to the bay but it was worth every bruise. You could never have an experience like this back home in the USA. Can you imagine the legal liability?? They only loose a few tourists now and then. Our friends were there a few weeks later and almost got clobbered by a Volkswagen sized blob of lava. It's probably something you should do only once.... if at all.

Hanging out at the "Yacht Club"

What are we doing HERE?

Welcoming Committee

Our remaining time in Tanna was spent hanging with friends and villagers. We met a Peace Corps worker who had lived in the village for the last two years. He lived in a small grass shack just like everyone else. It was interesting hearing his perspective on the culture. One day Dave was walking down the trail to the village when twenty or so women came running by then suddenly some men started chasing them and hitting them with banana stocks. The women fought back. The whole procession moved down the path. Dave followed out of curiosity. It turned out that this was a customary tradition when a young girl has here first period. She wears feather in her hair and if one of the young men can get it that would previously signify that he gets her. Now, it's a matter of tradition & custom. So the women group around her and protect her. They were coming up from the beach where they had just completed the other part of the tradition. The women take the young girl to an isolated location where they proceed to make incisions on her lower back with pieces of glass or sharp bamboo. This right of passage is observed throughout the culture. Everybody seemed to be having a good time; it all seemed to be in the spirit of fun. Dave stayed out of the way.

We sailed from Port Resolution around to the other side of the island. A friend had told us about a small eco resort that had two free mooring buoys that we could hang on. After a few days hanging there with Island Sonata we decided it was time to sail on. New Caledonia is laying over the horizon.

Bye Bye Vanuatu

More Pictures

Movie Clips

Vessel Name: Freebird
Vessel Make/Model: Grainger MC420 Catamaran
Hailing Port: Seattle
Crew: Dave and Judy Howell
Dave started building Freebird in 1995 in a plastic shed on Camano Island, NW USA and launched her in April of 2001. He retired from the Fire Department in 1999 after 28 years of service. Judy Retired from dentistry in 1995 after 27 years. [...]
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