Reflections on Vanuatu

18 June 2014 | Vanuatu
17 June 2014 | Vanuatu
16 June 2014 | Vanuatu
15 June 2014 | Vanuatu
10 June 2014 | Vanuatu
28 May 2014 | Port Vila, Vanuatu
10 May 2014 | Vanuatu
10 April 2014 | New Caledonia
01 March 2014 | New Zealand
26 February 2014 | New Zealand
04 January 2014 | New Zealand

Back to the Maskelynes

18 June 2014 | Vanuatu
Anne Simmons
As I sit here writing this blog the sun is setting and we are shallowly anchored in the beautiful Masklyne Islands, today has been an exceptional low tide and there are many people still out on the reef fishing. We are here to visit our friend Ambong who owns the bungalows on the beach in front of us, but he is away today in Lamap. So the very small tuna that we caught enroute from Paama I have given away to a passing couple who had caught no fish this afternoon - so they are going home happy. We had two sightings of a dugong as we dropped the anchor and have had plenty of visitors already, some remembering us from previous years. The Maskelynes are a group of low lying islands with stunning beaches amidst mangroves and a series of reefs, the people here are a seafaring community with amazing nautical skills.
The trip from Liro on Paama this morning was uneventful, though the morning was made all the better for me as I prepared the emails whilst still on anchor, looking out the window I spied a pod of dolphins swimming past and enjoyed sitting on the back watching and listening as they chirped their way to some unknown destination - very cool.

Paama Island, a fantastic place

17 June 2014 | Vanuatu
Anne Simmons
Today we are meeting Sam and hiking inland to a village hallway across the island that is putting on a kustom dance for us. Firstly we meet with the chief from a neighbouring village who shows us the Paama sand drawings he knows, strangely his mother taught him, which is unusual. And sadly he is now the only one on this side of the island who still knows the art of sand drawing as the young people just don't want to learn. He shows us 6 designs but the one that interests me the most is the sin-titamol, which is a part of the story of the Lesipsip, the magical hidden beings that live in the bush and are never seen. However they have this habit of removing the back bone from those that perish which then becomes a deadly weapon. I love the custom stories here.
After that we head up the track to Tevali where the mamas are showing us their weaving skills and providing us a small refreshment, eager to hear what we have to say about getting more yachts to come here. Then its further on and upwards to Tevali Aot (out of Tevali) where they are going to show us their Kustom dance. About 30 dancers in total , from small pikinini, girls and men of various ages. They do 4 dances for us and its all very humbling, as always there is one dancer that stands out effortwise and the young man in question today is elaborately decorated and a very good dancer. However it is one of the chiefs ( there are two) who intrigues me, in full kustom dress he refuses to part with his sunglasses which makes for a unique look - especially as he is so serious.
Back down the beach I take some photos of the wreck of the Kimbae who sunk here nearly 15 years ago, carrying 300 tonne of cobra, catching fire and consequently burning for a week following. Mark, a young man who walked with us up to the dance, proudly tells us his uncle was the captain at the time - and that he subsequently sunk another boat on Ambyrm and is now the captain of the Sarafenua, who we often encounter at various villages - a tad worrying....
Paama has a reputation of having lots of bad sharks, this is totally wrong and sad that it puts so many people off coming here. Sam who is a local fisherman and diver, with a dolphin tour, tells us there are no sharks here. Eric is disappointed but I am quietly relieved as we prepare to dive the reef in hopes of getting some nice pics. Sam has accompanied us in our dinghy and will act as boatman. As I jump in I tell Sam he will be in big trouble if I get eaten by a shark. He then tells me I am likely to see one but it wont worry me - huh! Anyways when we finally got to the best part of the reef it was stunning, full of so many different types of fish that I wouldn't have cared.
Finally we surface and its time to say goodbye to Sam who has been an excellent guide, we promise to leave him some photos at the police station in Liro so they can show yachts the sort of activities available here. Although Sam is a Francophone and very conscious of his English limitations he has communicated so well with us, he and his wife have been a godsend and we hope they like the wee package we have sent back to them. Yet again such lovely people here in Vanuatu.

Paama Island, Tahi Anchorage

16 June 2014 | Vanuatu
Anne Simmons
As soon as the Radio Net is finished we head back into the beach to say a last farewell to Aisem & Lucy and Benington & Kenneth, managing to get some of Bennington’s excellent bread rolls to take with us as head off towards Paama, an island we havent visited before. The population of this island is somewhere between 1500 and 2000, depending on who you are talking to. Its only about 6nm and we are there before 10am. Unable to contact Sam, the contact we have here to show us around we take the dinghy into Nehili, which hosts a French Primary school and the southern medical dispensary. We are met by James the Chairman of the School Board and he proudly shows us the school and introduces us to the staff. What is amazing about this place is that on the 24th October last year the school was hit by a giant landslide that actually buried one of the classrooms, luckily in the middle of the night so no one was hurt. But today you wouldn’t even know such an event occurred, the whole community worked together and removed the massive amounts of debris and mud that nearly destroyed the school. They showed us photos taken, with classrooms full of mud and huge trees scattered around the play area. There is no heavy machinery here to remove the mess, just good old hands. Everyone kicked in to help, even the former prime minister came along and got involved. It would have been a massive job.
After a quick lunch we take the dinghy down to the southern end of the island to Vutekai where Sam lives. Here we finally meet him and his wife Ruth, who teaches at yet another French school. Sam is going to take us on a tour tomorrow, hopefully to see a kastom dance and various other activities that we can help promote here on Paama. His wife Ruth is lovely and at the end of our visit I am blown away when she gives us a beautiful woven mat, a huge stash of avocados and bananas. They insist we take these and we leave feeling quite humbled by their generosity.
Paama is proving to be a great place to visit, with beautiful sheltered anchorages, complete with dugongs, dolphins and turtles, seldom visited by yachts which seems like such a shame. The community here seems very keen to provide services and activities but have no way of promoting their beautiful island. Hopefully we can help in a small way at least.

Lamen & Communication Challenges

15 June 2014 | Vanuatu
Anne Simmons
Imagine sitting in the warm sun on a Sunday afternoon, on a beach, with small lizards scuttling around, even clambering over your keyboard as you try desperately to retain position so as not to lose internet reception, clear blue water in front of you and pigs snuffling around behind you. This is us – trying to get a modicum of internet so we can answer some emails. Here in Lamen Bay TVL coverage is poor so we have to dingy over to the airport and hope for the best. Cant complain though – its definitely one of the most attractive offices I have worked from. Already today I have snorkelled with the turtles and found a new nudibranch that I have not yet seen so life is good. Dougie the dugong has been uncooperative today, showing his head only briefly and then disappearing but no problems. We are heading into catch up, we hope, finally with Aisem, who has been so busy we haven’t yet seen him, plus Bennington as well as Douglas at the bungalows to put up some flyers for the various festivals happening around Vanuatu. A nice quiet day with lots of positive outcomes.

Havannah to Epi

10 June 2014 | Vanuatu
Anne Simmons
A few days over in Havannah, catching up with old friends and then we headed to Emae with intentions of going to Tongoa the next day. Yet again our plans were foiled by the weather, which turned NE! and eliminated the option of sailing to Tongoa so we changed plan and headed directly for Epi, investigating many of the anchorages we haven’t had the opportunity to explore in the past. At Emae Micheal snorkelled out to see us and ask us to buy to some fruit to help with his son’s school fees, always happy to get a fair trade we were a little disappointed in his expectations, albeit done in a very friendly manner, with the promise of free lobster when we return. The next night’s stop at Foreland totally contradicted this as two kids paddled out in their dugout to talk, after giving them a ball and some crayons they were off to return a short while later just on dark with a canoe full of pomplemoose. A pod of dolphins under our bows as we headed to Foreland was a great highlight for the day, these guys had speckled grey bodies with white snouts and very sleek bodies. They stayed with us for a few minutes before veering off to return again and then made their way elsewhere.

Working in Port Vila

28 May 2014 | Port Vila, Vanuatu
Anne Simmons
Then we were in Port Vila and this blog will skip over the several weeks of working in the VTO office, with the occasional dive and plenty of socialising with friends and other yachties passing through. Over this time Eric got the Radio Net up and running again and we spent much time talking with local businesses and getting the website ready to go live before we departed northwards. Spending time in Vila is always lovely but exceedingly expensive compared to life in the islands so it was a relief to finally be able to move in the first week of June. In the midst of this period we were also fortunate enough to have the opportunity to accompany a superyacht ( The Big Blue) and guide them through a whirlwind tour of the highlights of Vanuatu. An interesting experience for us with a look into what superyachts bring to the country and expect. The owners of the ship were wonderful people and treated us more like guests than crew so it was an amazing experience which for the most part we enjoyed immensely. The stress of trying to organise activities as we went around and constantly getting voice mail message rather than contacts drove me crazy but everything worked out well with an action packed agenda. They were just our kind of people, wanting to fit heaps in to their short time in Vanuatu, especially diving! Interesting dynamics with the crew made more difficult with the lack of time and busy agendas, plus a lack of cohesiveness in everyone knowing what everyone was doing but a worthwhile and learning experience for us.
Heading North.....Now that we have the website up and live we are able to leave Vila for the next round of adventures, with our aim being to explore the northern islands of the Banks & Torres this year to complete our project. It's a funny thing, we never gave much thought to what would happen once we got the first stage of the website live, just that it needed to be done before we left. As soon as it did go live we were shocked by the attitude of a couple of whitefella businesses who seem to think that they should have been getting more free advertising and consequently griped about various issues. It was obvious after meeting with them that while they thought they understood cruising around the outer islands they actually had no idea whatsoever about what is involved for the average yachtie. Very sad and much time wasted as we attempted to explain this project is to promote Vanuatu and Ni-Van businesses so they should be happy with the several mentions their own businesses received. After much angst we eventually acceded to accept that you just cant please everyone and some people just don't know whats a good thing - happily most other local businesses were more than happy.
Vessel Name: Reflection
Vessel Make/Model: St Francis Catamaran
Hailing Port: Nelson, New Zealand
Crew: Eric & Anne Simmons
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Reflection's Photos -

Who: Eric & Anne Simmons
Port: Nelson, New Zealand