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.
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.
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 thing....it 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"
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.
(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
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 ~ email@example.com
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 it.....at 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.
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