Sunday, September 30, 2007

Day with Chief Kurley

Waterfall Bay, Vanua Lava Island, Vanuatu.
13°49.6381 S 167°22.9558 E Anchorage

Day with Chief Kurley,

Yesterday, we went ashore for breakfast at the Waterfall Bay Yacht club. The term yacht club should not conjure up images of a luxurious dining experience as, but instead a thatch roofed hut with a few plastic chairs and a dirty table cloth. Basically, you make "reservations" the day before and then show up and Chief Kurleys' wife Elisabeth makes you breakfast. The first course was "Fried Flour" a super greasy version of pancakes, next a platter of fresh papaya, then fired eggs with green onions, then a platter of fresh pineapple and instant coffee or tea, all in all a nice hearty breakfast. We then went for a walk to one of the six "gardens" that supply the families' fresh food and kava. Kurley suggested it would be about one hour round trip. All said it was three hours as we had many stops to discuss the uses of the jungle plants and trees. Kurley pointed out which trees made the best canoes, bows and arrows, roof thatch, lashing vines, land diving vines, aromatic plants to adorn the body for kustom dances, kustom medicinal plants for upset stomach, boils, bug repellants, and one blood red plant considered a "tonic for your blood".

Once we'd climbed up the steep hills behind Kurley's home we walked along a narrow ridge that narrowed at one point to less than ten feet wide. On the right was a gorge with a rushing river and on the left was a two hundred foot cliff. We paused to take in the view of the colorful reefs and the yachts rocking gently in the crystal clear blue waters below. Kurley explained that this was the place where grudges were traditionally settled. One would lay in wait for their adversary, quietly crouching in the bushes, then just at the right moment leap out roaring and with a quick shove sending the foe over the cliff. Kerley reported the last such grudge was settled sometime in the 1930's. Befittingly, at the base of the cliff is a cave filled with skeletons. We plan to check out the cave this morning and I have a forensic investigation in mind to identify the fall victims by their fractured skulls and femurs. Further up the trail is a small stone pit that was used to cast spells of a sort toward the neighboring island of Ureparapara thereby killing ones adversary's on this island twenty five miles to the north. He correlated this practice to our use of a missile. Not sure why one would use this powerful magic, but Kurley said that when you could see smoke coming from the island it had worked.

Onward and upward we passed through "old gardens" that despite not being maintained were in tropical island abundance bearing much fruit such as pineapples, papaya, kasava, island cabbage (a type of spinach), taro and lots of kava. Eventually, we arrived at our destination, a several acre clearing where Kurley had perhaps thousands of Kava plants cultivated. Kava takes a minimum of three years growth before being ready to harvest and the older the plants the stronger the kava. When ready for harvest the stalks are cut of the shrub-like plant and the root ball is carefully extracted from the soil, then washed. A three year old root ball is worth about ten USD. Next the roots are ground using a variety of methods from the traditional stone grinding where the kava roots are held in the palm of one had while a piece of coral is used to pulp and juice the roots. Other traditional methods include having young children chew the root and then spit the masticated pulp and juice out to then be mixed with water and drank. The most common method in use today is the meat grinder method where an old fashion hand crank meat grinder is used to pulverize the roots. In Vanuatu kava is drunk quite regularly by those who can afford the habit, but mostly by men. I think I already stated previously, but I find it amazing that the women do most of the work, raising the kids, cooking and cleaning, working in the food garden, when it seems the men spend most of their time during the day attending to their kava and then at night, drinking it. At our last stop in Sola, population three hundred, thirteen kava bars do a brisk trade nightly. A "shell" of Kava cost around one hundred vatu or 1USD. A "shell" is perhaps one and a half cups and aptly served up in half a coconut shell. Vanuatu is regarded by those who know to be the strongest in the world. In Sola we had two shells and aside from the numbing sensation felt in the lips and tongue we felt no effect. Most men put away six plus bowls a night so perhaps they "feel" the affects more so than we with only two bowls.

Our return trip down the mountain was enjoyable with much interesting discussion with Chief Kurley on all nature of topics from raising children in the quickly developing culture of Vanuatu, the importance of passing down family history in respect to maintaining historical family land rights, fishing for freshwater prawns, the origins and use of traditional shell money, and a myriad of other topics. Once back to Kurleys' we rested in a gazebo on the beach and sipped on deliciously sweet and cool river water piped in from the nearby waterfall. Cross your fingers for me that we don't get sick.

The waterfall certainly is worthy of description. A few hundred feet from Kurley' s home is an amazing "double" waterfall cascading into a pool just feet from the ocean. The falls is perhaps fifty feet tall and has large double falls of water about ten feet apart. The amazing part is that each of the streams of water cascading into the pool has an origin from different sources or two rivers come within a few feet of joining right at the point they cascade over the fall. The pool is large and great for swimming, bathing and laundry. Through a combination of wanting to support the local economy and laziness we elected to have our two huge bags of laundry washed by the locals. In return for freshly laundered, hung dry and folded laundry we traded about six articles of clothing, two kilos of rice and sugar and some miscellaneous food items we had on board.

Snorkeling just off shore of the waterfall is some of the best we've seen in Vanuatu so all in all this is one of our favorite stops thus far.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Day two of the Gaua Arts Festival

Losalava bay, Gaua island, Vanuatu
14°12.1 S by 167°34.2 E

Day two of the Gaua Arts Festival

We'd heard in about "water music" in passing discussions with other cruisers, but had no idea what or how the music was created. To our delight water music was the lead off performance for day two so we assembled at the boat landing early to await the arrival of the performers. The first group of women arrived in costume including leafy headband and armbands stuffed with brightly colored leaves, shell necklaces, woven "mat" type skirts and little else than the decorative body paint that adorned their bare breasts and calves in red and white stripes or Neolithic stick figures.

The women walked into the water waist deep and formed a line facing the crowd. One woman lowered herself into the water up to her chin then sweeping her head side to side while blowing into the water created a remarkably loud trumpeting sound. Then the women began rhythmically striking the water and result was some amazing sounds.

Quoting Kathy Patterson from s/v Two by Sea wonderful description:

… then, by moving their arms with different hand shapes and specialized movements, they can actually make different sounds come out - and I'm not ONLY talking about the quality of the splashes, but actual NOTES! It is simply amazing. Imagine each of my nonsense words is a different tone, and see if you can sing this."

"It goes in strictly 4/4 time something like this:

THWOOMP, plomp, plomp
THWOOMP, plomp, plomp
THWOOMP, plitter, plitter
Thwoomp, plitter, SPLASH!
Plitter, plitter, splash, splash,
Thlump, thlump, THWOOMP!"

The percussions and notes so aptly described by Kathy were accompanied by singing and the result was extraordinarily magical once in a lifetime experience and certainly the highlight of Vanuatu.

Two more groups performed adding icing to the cake. I have a few short video clips of poor quality and some excellent photos. However, none of these can do justice to the performance and the experience. Simply amazing!

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Water music 2

Water Music

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Gaua Island Arts Festival Opening Day

Around eight in the morning we walked fifteen minutes to the next village of Aver and the site of the festival grounds under the shade of a large banyan tree. The tree is worthy of mention as the base was an easy forty feet across and branches extend another eighty feet in all directions. Along one side of the tree twelve or so huts offering carnival food of a sort. Fresh stalks of sugar cane to chew on in lieu of cotton candy, fresh green coconuts to sip on in lieu of Cokes, freshly roasted peanuts, corn on the cob, and fresh bread with exotic jungle fruit jam, and "lap-lap to go" wrapped in banana leaves and tied up with coconut husk twine. One booth sponsored by the Peace Corp wielded posters promoting the protection of the environment and sustainable fishing and farming practices. A single strand of barbwire enclosed the large performance area and only "paying guests" which they called 'visitors' such as us were allowed inside the wire. I have to say this was a disappointment as the judges and guest of honor sat in a raised hut and proffered speeches that would have been nearly inaudible to the intended audience lined up at the barb wire fence. The speeches were in Bislama and thus mostly unintelligible and lost on the 'visitors'. Perhaps they'll get this figured out in the future.

A parade to the festival grounds from the Air strip with important dignitaries in tow was led by one of the local chiefs dressed in a woven mat type loin cloth, decorative arm band stuffed with colorful leaves and palm frond accessories on ankles and wrists. He carried a war club looking staff and a very large shell/horn. This chief's singing entourage included thirty or so similarly clad young men including a few very young boys. Following was a troupe of singing women in grass skirts and woven mat type tops or in some cases no tops followed by hundreds of locals dressed in standard western style clothing of board shorts, tee shirts and ball caps. What made this really interesting was the trance like song and the pause to do a little island jig of violently stamping feet and haunting menacing chants every third or so verse. The dancing and chanting were very impressive and might be based on a historically intimidating ritual that said to the neighboring tribes "I'm here, watch out!"

Once inside the grounds some chanting and Kastom dancing precede introduction speeches by eight or so dignitaries in attendance including three local chiefs. The speeches were in Bislama and spoken very rapidly so it was a long couple of hours making it through the speeches.

At a break for lunch Kathy purchased some lap-lap which includes some ground up root vegetables mixed with coconut cream and then baked in an underground fire. Served in a banana leaf with some rice and chicken it seemed quite appetizing if you're willing to risk a little upset stomach later. As it turned out Kathy got unlucky as her serving of chicken was a foot and leg. That would be the claws part connected to at one point, but not including the drumstick. Such is the gamble with festival food. I in the meantime I was smugly satisfied that I didn't order any lap-lap and instead snacked on freshly roasted peanuts, no harm in those right? More on that later. All told we sucked down seven green coconuts two cups of peanuts a stalk of sugar and some jungle donuts during the day. Total cost less than two US dollars.

After lunch there was a grade taking ceremony where a local chief was elevated to a higher rank through the gift of a pig, and shell money to the high chief. The ceremony made some of the westerners squirm as the large pig was dragged into the grounds with a rope around one leg and then was held down screaming and struggling madly as the chief bashed it's brains out with a big club. The chief wasn't swinging hard enough as the pig just wouldn't die despite the twenty or so hollow sounding blows to the pigs' skull. With the pig mostly dead the chief placed shell money on the pig and the high chief touched the pig, the shell money and some taro roots lay nearby. Next the pig was carried to the high chiefs ceremonial hut just up the hill from the banyan tree where subsequently several other hollow blows were heard in attempts to finally silence the pig. I was up close for the action photos that I'll be sure to post at some point.

Next a string band competition replete with choreographed dancers competed for top honors. Awesome woven skirt like costumes, body paint and entertaining dance moves that had the crowd cheering and laughing at times. Back on the boat we hosted Chris and Kathy from Two by Sea for cards to round out the day.

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Gaua Island Day 1

Losalava bay, Gaua island, Vanuatu
14°12.1 S by 167°34.2 E

Gaua Island on the northern end of the Vanuatu archipelago is a semi-active smoldering and steaming volcano like most of the young islands of Vanautu. A huge lake replete with cascading waterfalls and steaming volcanic shores takes the place of the smoking rock strewn craters of other islands. The rare flightless turkey like Megapode bird lays eggs in the warm ash soil of the shoreline and leaves them to incubate and hatch unattended in the volcano heated soil. The heavily jungled island receives endless precipitation as the warm moisture laden ocean lightens its' load when the trade winds force it up and over the island.

Although Gaua is only a few hundred miles from the modern if modest capital city of Port Vila it seems as if we've traveled back in time with each mile we've sailed north. Small villages lie camouflaged within the uninterrupted rich green foliage of the shoreline and bays. We've anchored in Losalava Bay while we visit Gaua and attend the Arts festival as it's the closest and best protected bay to the host village of Aver. Within minutes of getting the anchor secured we're visited by locals in dug out canoes heading out to do some fishing. We asked them if it's ok to swim (i.e. sharks or crocodiles). They say yes. It's important from here on north to ask this as there are indeed crocodiles and dangerous sharks in these waters.

A few other boats share our anchorage here in Losalava, Jibcho, Nomad, Two by Sea, Artic Fox, Infinity and Maajhi-Re all great people as one would expect for anyone who has ventured this far from civilization for an island art festival. First order of business was to ensure the show was on schedule after our disappointments at Southwest Bay on Malakula. I confirmed this with Chris and Kathy on Two by Sea and spent over an hour chatting it up with them as to give Kathy some quite time for a much needed nap after out night passage. Surprisingly, I slept great on my off watches and dodged my typical first day out battle with seas sickness.

The weather was also great for the passage and it was a very pleasant sail. Hoping for some fresh fish we'd trolled a line during the few available daylight hours of our mostly dark overnight passage and got unlucky with our great fishing luck when we reeled and quickly released a Great Barracuda as it can carry Ciguatera, a nasty toxin.

Back on the boat I was anxious to get in the water as the weather is getting noticeably steamier as we edge closer to the equator and the sun was burning me up. First we had to be sure it was safe to swim thus requiring another source to answer our questions on sharks and crocs and secondly to obtain permission from the chief to anchor, swim, visit the village, etc. So off we went to shore obtaining a ten year old guide named Oliver from the group of kids jumping in the water at what looked like the best dingy landing site. Oliver guided us to the village then wisely high tailed it back to the swimming hole to escape the oppressive humidity. Once in the village we came upon a group of women weaving grass skirts for the next day's arts festival performance. Their last minute preparations somewhat typifies the live for the moment don't plan ahead island time mentality. No slam just an observation. The village was without running water, roads or power of any type (no solar or generators) we understand there is a phone tacked to a palm tree somewhere. We never found the chief, but instead found Fredy who offered to show us the school. We really just wanted to go for a swim at this point, but went along on a twenty minute sweaty up hill slog to the school. I should mention we followed the main island road to the school. The "main island road" was a single track path that at one point forded a muddy creek that would seemingly be impassable should any working vehicles exist on this island.

At the school we met several of the teachers and checked out the library which was well stocked. One young teacher pointed to a picture of George Bush on his wall and said he is a very great president. Yes? Hummph. I asked what he liked about George and he said he is a very very smart man, relating how he had read about him in a magazine. To further bolster his point he whips out the very old Time magazine with Bill Clinton on the cover to prove his point. I call to his attention to the picture of Bill Clinton on the cover and note that president on the wall is George Bush. Who did he like again? He waved the magazine with Bill on the cover again and with an incredulous look like I was stupid or something said George Bush is very smart still waving the magazine. Hummph. We made a polite exit from the library and were introduced to Valerie, a Peace Corp volunteer form New York. After a nice chat we decided it would be nice to host a Peace Corp dinner aboard La Vie for the three volunteers to get the inside scoop on the island.

Back to the boat we anxiously donned swimsuits and headed to the reef pass for a snorkel. Slipping into the water was a bit of a shock as the water was incredibly warm. Too warm in fact to feel very refreshing to my nearly sun burned sweaty skin. The boat instruments report the water is just over eighty three degrees, three feet below the surface. We spent the remainder of the day chatting with other yachties and hosted new friends David and Themai for a sundowner aboard La Vie.

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Gaua Arts festival dancing

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Deep water

Enroute to Gaua Island, Vanuatu.
14°44.7405 S
167°29.6927 E
Water depth 10,560 feet deep

We are about half way to Losalava Bay achorage (14°12.4100 S by 167°34.1191 E) on Gaua Island where we'll be arriving just in time for a four day Arts festival. We've tried to contact the organizers serval times to confirm the show is on, but still harbor a little doubt as the guy to talk to doesn't answer his phone. The weather is very cooperative for the 84 nautical mile overnight passage with 10-12 knots of winds just aft of the beam and very slight seas. At the moment we are making great time doing 6.5+ knots and should arrive at about 9AM with good light to make our entrance into the anchorage. Occasional rain squalls temporarily blot out the otherwise star filled night. Orion points the way as he shines brightly off our starboard beam.

Blue hole

Espiritu Santo Island, Vanuatu
Peterson Bay Anchorage A
15°22.8206 S
167°11.6934 E

Today we took the dinghy up Nalaiafu River about 1.5 miles to its source at a "blue hole" where the river almost magically pours forth from the earth in the form of a sixty foot deep by fifty foot wide white sand bottom stone lined pool. A blue hole gets its blue character from a high percentage of dissolved sodium carbonate giving the water its surreal blue cast. The blue, but very clear water is surrounded by ancient banyan trees and the air is filled with musical calls of tropical birds and a endless shower of tree leaves. Arriving at the hole we climbed the near vertical rock bank to the out stretched limb of a banyan tree that competing for sunlight stretches its limbs well over the water providing for an exhilarating climb over the water far below and a plummet into the refreshing water below. If there ever were a place for the ultimate rope swing this would be it! Next donning snorkel gear we explored the magical waters complete with a few brightly colored tropical fish and ancient coral fragments. The clear depths of the pool presented the challenge to test my free diving skills to a known depth. The first dive I came up a bit short and the second I was more relaxed and took my time swimming slower to conserve oxygen and succeeded in touching the bottom without difficulty at fifty eight and a half feet. The view from the bottom of the hole, looking up through the water, to the trees above was nothing short of surreal. It was impossible to discern where the water stopped and the air started! On the way down the river we revealed in the sounds of the jungle birds and the sights of the towering jungle clad banks.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Local boys doing some fishing.

Village Visit

Walking through the village
Local carpenter
Chatting with our tour guide Kema
Copra drying a 50kg bag only fetches $15usd for an insane amount of work. In French Polynesia the government subsidises the Copra trade and a bag goes for $50USD alowing one to jsut get by.
Local couple pull their dugout up the beach.

Malakula Village visit

Wow! This is a huge fish!
Young girl paddles up in her dugout for a chat.
Dugouts line the village beach in Southwest Bay.
La Vie in distance.
Villaqe men working on a new dugout.

Misc Pics

Getting boarded by the Vanuatu Navy for a paperwork inspection.
Messy jobof rebuilding the toilet poo pump
Zafarse with skipper Paddy in Havana Harbor. Hope to see you again soon Paddy!
Nice Wahoo about 50lbs & 5'+ long. One of the best table fishes in the sea.
Kathy doing her best to hoist the fish for a photo.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Underway along the West Side Malakula Island, Vanuatu

Underway along the West Side Malakula Island, Vanuatu
16 degrees 11 minutes S
167 degrees 16 minutes E

The last few days have been a relative rush to arrive at South West Bay on Malakula Island for a special four day Arts festival. The festival was to include Grade takings (some sort of promotion ceremony), much dancing, feasts, circumcision ceremonies, and all sorts of other interesting customary ceremonies. This being a very remote location it was a local festival with only a few outsiders in attendance. Unfortunately, it had rained too much the last month thereby delaying preparations and the festival by a month. A big disappointment as to get to South West Bay we'd committed to sailing to the downwind side of Malakula Island making impractical the exploration of the more interesting bays to the eastern side of the island. Adjusting our plans we are now rushing to Bank islands for another Arts Festival starting in four days. To complicate matters we have a mandatory stop in Luganville on the island Espiritu Santo to check-in with customs authorities who are only open on weekdays thus making for the tight schedule. To my chagrin no wind today and an adverse current is further slowing our progress.

Last night we stopped in Lambumbu Bay where we spotted our first Dugong or Sea cow and what is believed to be the original inspiration for the mythical mermaid. The connection to a mermaid is quite a stretch as the dugong is certainly not half a woman, but to its' credit does have a mermaids tail to a certain degree. The sailors to have created this lore must have been many, many days at sea and delirious to imagine this creature to be a lovely, singing half woman half fish concubine. The Dugong which is more akin to a seal of some sort feeds on sea grass and is much endangered and extremely rare so it was quite the treat to spot one!

Also in Lambumbu bay, we met four young men fishing in their dugout canoe. They tentatively made their way closer and closer to the yacht until we called out a welcome and then they came closer, but still cautiously. They were all quite shy and clearly didn't use English too much as it would have to be their third language. None the less we had some conversations about the Dugong, fishing, their village, where we were from, etc. They said they have 'many yachts' that come to visit. We asked, how many and they said three. A little dumbfounded, we tried to clarify, was that 3 that left today or a week a month or what? They so, oh no it's about 3 a year! I held up three fingers and they nodded vigorously. Too bad we are in a hurry as this may have been a neat stopover. We gave them a gift of some fish and an "Outside" magazine. They just kind of hung around in a sort of silence that is very non-western, alternately taking turns paddling and leafing through the magazine. Our western culture compels us to talk and fill silence as we generally get uncomfortable when staring at a new acquaintance in silence. Not so with the island people who are content to just stare in silence for long intervals with complete comfort. Just another example of cultural differences of living at the pace of Vanuatu.

Our brief day and a half stop in South West Bay was interesting as we went to shore to ask permission to anchor in the bay. Chief Tom greeted us on the beach and we presented him with a parcel of our freshly caught Wahoo and asked permission to visit the large salt water lagoon, beach village and reef. He said we'd need to go to the next bay to find the owners of the reef and perhaps pay a small fee. He also said we'd need a guide to visit the lagoon and offered to come along. We made a short trip into the lagoon connected to the sea by a fast flowing stream of tidal powered seawater. On the way back to the village beach the Chief asked if we knew about Marijuana. Pause. I said yes we knew about Marijuana, but did not smoke. Pause. His questions seemed to be more of a proposition than anything. Humm. Moving right along he then asked if we had "drink" onboard the yacht. Humm. I said we had only a few beers. He said he would like to go to the yacht. It was becoming clear that this particular village lacked the Chiefly leadership of other villages in Vanuatu and Fiji, leadership we'd deeply respected. I said out of courtesy that perhaps tomorrow after we visited the village he could visit the boat.

We agreed to meet Chief Tom the next morning at his home and then check out the village. We arrived at the beach and when we asked where the chiefs' house was we were informed he had gone to his garden. Humm. First impressions seemed to be reaffirmed. A young woman approached and we asked if we could visit the village. She said "Ok" and led the way. Kathy and our now "tour guide" Kemah walk side by side down the beach chatting. I took the opportunity to get some interesting photographs of the many dug out canoes that lined the beach. Kemah was nice if a bit shy, but gave us a full tour of the village with brief descriptions of important areas such as the grave yard, and various churches along the way. This village had none less than three elevated covered stages for performances, constructed of bamboo and thatch. Apparently, they are used by a single local string band. Why three stages were built in such a small village we know not.

The first man and one of the few we met in the village was named David and the local Kava exporter. I asked to see his shed where he stored the Kava and inside large sacks full of the Kava root were ready to be sold to the next passing ship. I asked how much he sold the Kava for and when he replied 1000 vatu ($10 USD) for one kilo I was a bit shocked as some middle man must be making out with Kava selling for more than double in Port Villa. I didn't really want or need the kilo of Kava, I ultimately purchased, but it was just such a good deal I rationalized it would make fine gifts for new friends in future villages.

Off in the distance I heard some hammers pounding and as we approached a group of men we were lucky enough to find them working on a dug-out canoe. A canoe carved from a very large log with the middle hollowed out and an out-rigger attached. I asked plenty of questions and got some good photos. In this particular village of four hundred there must have been over fifty of these outriggers in service. Later we met a very old man with serious cataracts swinging an adze expertly as he hollowed out a small canoe. Perhaps this one he was crafting would be for one of his undoubtedly many grandchildren.

Later, we met Kemah's mother and perhaps six of her cousins. We bought some beautiful shell necklaces from them. In turn we unloaded a pack full of gifts in the form of excess food supplies we had on board. The gifts were well received and quickly reciprocated with several large ripe "Pawpaw" or Papaya, fresh green beans and a dozen or so fresh limes. We had to be off to keep our self-imposed schedule to the Banks islands so we raised anchor and set off for a few hour sail to Lambumbu bay.

A little about Luganville

Luganville, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu
15 degrees 33 minutes South
167 degrees 9 minutes East

A little about Luganville:

During WWII Luganville was a significant Allies' base housing nearly half a million personnel and at times a hundred ships anchored off the base. Ten thousand ni-vans (Local Vanuatu people) where employed and of the many buildings erected some still stand today. After the war all of the surplus equipment was offered to the Condominium government at cut rate prices, but they didn't respond thinking the troops would leave the surplus behind for free. The arrogant and short sighted American commander was apparently furious and feeling vindictive when he ordered that everything moveable including heavy equipment to cases of Coca-Cola be dumped into the sea at what is now called Million Dollar point. Needless to say the point is now a popular dive site. Luganville also boasts another screw up in the sinking of the USS President Coolidge a luxury liner converted to troop carrier when it struck a friendly mine and sunk. The ship is one of the largest accessible diveable ship wrecks in the world.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Cook Reef, Vanuatu

Cook Reef, Vanuatu- September 8, 2007
17 degrees 03 minutes South
168 degrees 17 minutes East

Luckily we had a mostly clear day today as we made our way north the thirty eight or so miles from Efate Island to Cook Reef near Emae Island. Cook reef is about a mile in diameter and is underwater all the time with the exception of a few small chunks of coral that are just visible at low tide. As you approach the reef first you notice the large breaking waves, as you draw nearer you notice the deep dark blue of the depths receding to progressively lighter shades of blue and ultimately the aquamarine of the very shallow areas. The chart of the reef was probably drawn by Captain Cook and although he was a great cartographer it leaves much to be desired for a small yacht looking for a unique anchorage. Our cruising guide for the area offers an aerial photograph which is very helpful although again leaves much to be desired for good navigation. At first we overshot the small pass between coral heads by a half a mile before turning back and on closer inspection spotted the darker blue color that indicated the entrance to the internal passages within the mostly shallow reef. Getting closer to the reef we could clearly see the bottom in thirty five meters of water or about one hundred and fifteen feet! Very clear water. Once inside we spotted a desirable looking light blue color we've associated with a sand bottom although not so light as to indicate an area too shallow. We decided to anchor in nine meters and explore a bit more in the dinghy. The anchorage recommended by the cruising guide was too rough as the big swell was making its way over the reef so we stopped to snorkel in a few different spots on the way back to the boat. Nice coral and really nice fish. Very big fish, probably the biggest examples I'd seen of Parrot fish and many other species. The fish were not so shy as in Fiji as they have very little fishing pressure here and probably never see a spear fisherman. We also spotted some turtles sleeping on the bottom in the shallows and they too were not too afraid of the dinghy.

On the way up to the reef we caught a nice two meal Tuna and a large Great Barracuda which we unfortunately identified post huminously when we discovered, with half of the fish already filleted and in the refrigerator, that the fish ID guide recommended in bold uppercase that the fish should not be eaten as it can be highly toxic with Ciguatera, a serious fish poisoning.

For dinner we had seared tuna and curried plantains. At about six PM we were wishing we could go to bed being exhausted with a full day in the sun and on the sea.

We are beset with unusually calm weather as the south east trade winds have temporarily been knocked out by a low pressure system. A low creates clockwise rotating winds here in the southern hemisphere and once the low passed by us its' clockwise winds countered the south east trades so we have very little wind. The passage of this particular low leaves in its wake a trough of low pressure that will deliver lots of cloud cover and rain.
What this means is we can make perhaps a multi-day stop at Cooks reef as the wind and waves are so calm. We are elated to have the chance to anchor in the midst of Vanuatu's best snorkeling and have it all to ourselves for several days in row.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Provisioing, Snorkleing, Caves, Shells, and Broken toilet.

Efate Island Vanuatu- September 7, 2007.

Havana Harbor Anchorage
17 degrees 33 minutes South
168 degrees 17 minutes East

Port Vila was great with superb restaurants, lots of socializing, great shopping, secure mooring for the boat, internet and simple pleasures like fresh bread and coffee shops. Having checked off nearly every item on our numerous lists we now feel ready for the many months ahead in the remote Solomon Islands. We've provisioned with the mindset that aside from some basics be better bring it with us. A few of the items we purchased for both our consumption and for trading purposes: 24lbs cheese, 55lbs rice, 44lbs sugar, 12lbs pasta, 8lbs flour, 4lbs butter, 4lbs peanut butter, 2lbs salt, 40yds of fabric, fish hooks, fishing line, 8 fillet knifes, canned meat, and clothing for trade. We also purchased a small gas powered generator, small air conditioning unit, scuba tank and sewing machine. Right now the boat is jammed full of stuff.

A day sail away from the busy Port Vila harbor we are now anchored off the North end of Lelepa Island in an idyllic anchorage of truly crystal clear water making for spectacular underwater visibility. The reefs are pretty barren and we think the 1993 cyclone destroyed the fragile corals as the beach is piled high with coral fragments. Snorkeling after breakfast around 9AM this morning we investigated alternate exit routes out of this very tight anchorage. Along the way we saw a huge grouper, a crown of thorns star fish, many sea anemone with requisite clown fish, small pink and purple corals, green and yellow soft corals, turtles and numerous reef fish of every description. Not a bad way to start the day.

Yesterday after arriving we went on an adventure to explore the many caves that line the limestone cliffs, snorkel and look for rare shells. The caves are plentiful and very large however we did not locate any burial caves filled with skeletons such as those we explored on Erromango Island. We did find some amazing shells including two golden cowries shells, a nautilus shell and giant clam shells to name a few. According to a shop keeper in Port Villa selling golden cowry shells, these sell for up to $800+USD and none had been found in Vanuatu in over 14 years. Seems like a good sales pitch and since we've been looking for months it seems possible. We mostly just admire the shells as it's not practical to have shells displayed aboard a sail boat for fear of breaking them.

Just to prove that the cruising life is not all fun and games the toilet broke down the other morning and required a three hour rebuild. Pretty much the most disgusting job you can imagine as during the disassembly of the sewage pump the contents of the tubes and pump spill out making a revolting mess. Not fun but I suppose if I want to think positive about this, at least it didn't happen on passage.

Yesterday I completed the installation of an additional rain catching device to supplement our water supply. Catching or making our water will be essential once we get up to The Solomon's and Papua New Guinea. The system utilizes the flat surface of the solar panels to catch the rain and I added little curbs around the edge to direct the water to tubing running to the water tank. The problem with tropical rain storms is they are usually associated with strong winds so the rain blows not falls. The new system is a great improvement over the old system which was a tarp with a tube attached to the middle. The problem with a tarp is that no matter how well you suspend it over the deck it always flaps in strong winds shaking the water off before it drains to the tube. It is also noisy when it flaps and requires about ten minutes to install. Unusually, those ten minutes are during a deluge of rain so again not to fun to get soaked and try to handle the flapping tarp.

The wind is shifting make our idyllic anchorage not so idyllic so we'll be moving on to a more protected harbor.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Port Vila Market and buses, Vanuatu

Port Vila market, Vanuatu

Port Vila Market, Vanuatu

Port Vila

Iririki island resort. We strolled around this private island resort where cruisers are welcome to hang out and use the pools etc.
Fresh tropical flowers abound at the central market.
Fresh fruits and vegetables of every description are available and the prices are usually really good. Think fill your back pack and then carry as much stuff as you can in your arms for under $10USD.
This vendor offers giant clam shells, bananas and pawpaw.
More paw paw and bananas. The colorful dress of this woman is very typical of the working class of Port Vila

Villa Market

Port Vila market, Vanuatu

Vila Harbor and Provisioning