Sunday, December 31, 2006
Finally, after four weeks docked in Bundaberg we were once again off sailing and looking for remote anchorages (something not easily found in the middle of an Australian summer). We started off by working our way south through the Sandy Straits. There isn't much to this area, it's rather flat, nothing really ashore, and no stores or homes, but it is peaceful and we were able to finally 'dry out' after the weeks of socializing in Bundaberg! The Sandy Straits was our introduction to huge tides, strong currents, and shallow waters.
In addition to the normal wind watching, we had to attempt to plan our sails based on current (hopefully going with us) and tides (preferably rising or high). Usually it was impossible to have all the elements ideal, so we'd find ourselves barely skating through shallow areas (seeing 7.5 feet quite often), pushing against current (usually a good 2 knots), and/or motoring against the winds. In the protected waters of the Sandy Straits it was often interesting but never too rough. Once anchored we'd experience loop-d-loops as Billabong would swing 'round and 'round, sometimes riding to the current and sometimes to the wind.
By Tuesday (5th) we'd made it to "Gary's Anchorage", a very nice (even if shallow and tight) spot, where we were finally able to get off the boat and do a bit of walking. Of course we were quite paranoid walking in the wilderness ... after all Australia is home to some of the top poisonous snakes and spiders. Within 30 seconds of coming ashore Chris spotted a Funnel Spider, an extremely deadly little guy. And, as if that isn't enough, no-see-ums and mosquitoes instantly surrounded us! Not all of the wildlife is deadly or annoying; we also spotted a number of sea hawks, a couple large turtles, and a shark fin (off in the distance).
The 7th through the 9th were quite mellow as we waited out a [weather] system passing through; including brilliant lightning storms and a constant drizzle of rain. Finally on the 11th the weather looked good, so we pulled anchor and continued our trek south. In order to exit (or enter coming the other way) the Sandy Straits one must cross over one of the more notorious bar crossings in the area. Up until now we had heard a number of horror stories about bar crossings, including boats being rolled and pitched poled, so needless to say we weren't really looking forward to it. We were patient, waited for good weather, and a day that a number of other boats crossed over as well. In addition, Australia has set up a terrific volunteer marine service, which reports bar conditions (among other things). Everything looked good, but as we approached our nerves were rattling ... especially Chris'. He was beyond antsy and anxious -- even suggesting we anchor a bit just to think it over. We'd been thinking about nothing else for the last week, so I voted we just go for it ... get it over and done with and perhaps gain a bit of confidence with these damn things. The Sandy Strait bar is about three miles. The first mile is also known as "the mad mile". Nice name eh? It definitely held up to its reputation; it was like a washing machine with waves every which way. We had to exit with the current going against us, otherwise the current and wind would be against each other creating even larger, usually impassable, waves. Chris couldn't sit/stand still so he took over steering, reporting our speeds against the waves/current (one time we actually went backwards for a few moments). Once through the mad mile the conditions improved, but now we had to watch the depths. Here we could also see where boats could easily be rolled in worse conditions; we had some large rolling waves, but none were breaking and they were spaced decently apart, I could only imagine what hell it would be in just 10 more knots of wind. Two miles later we were through and both breathed easily again. Now we could settle down for the over-nighter to Moreton Bay. We motored sailed along the coast, still amazed at how flat and small Australia looks from the coast. Just after lunch we snagged a fish, thrilled since a number of other friends of ours who had sailed down weeks early hadn't gotten even a bite!
12/11/06 - 12/17/06; Moreton Bay / Brisbane Area
We almost never enter any bay or anchorage at night, no matter how well lit, marked, or open ... it's just not our thing -- we don't like the added stress. So Moreton Bay was one of our first nighttime channel entrances, and while it is well marked, we both needed to be up to navigate through it. Entering right around midnight meant that neither of us really got any sleep during the prior night's sail, adding to the navigational challenge. We opted to go just past Brisbane, anchoring near Karragarra Island. We were quite excited when later in the afternoon Island Sonata, who we hadn't seen since New Cal, arrived. We had a terrific reunion before crashing, both of us exhausted after the anticipation of the bar followed by a nearly sleepless night.
We stayed anchored off of Karragarra Island for three nights, enjoying brief walks on Lamb and Russell Islands. We were surprised to find that Russell Island was actually quite large, with a decent grocery store and internet access. Both islands also have inexpensive ferry access to Brisbane, but we decided to forgo Brisbane, catching it on our way back north in the upcoming months.
On Friday (15th) we continued south, following Island Sonata (Chris called them our remote depth sounder) through the shallow channels towards the Tiger Mullet Channel and South Stradbroke Island. Once, we hit ground, having to throw Billabong into high gear and plow through (a completely counter-intuitive act). Just prior to our chosen anchorage Island Sonata reported 5 feet ... well, that just wasn't going to work - no plowing through that, so we anchored and waited for the tide to rise. Chris took the dinghy and hand-held depth sounder to find the best route while I made lunch. A few hours after lunch we figured the tide was about as good as it was going to get and went for it. There were some interesting spots, where we are sure our keel left a few good plow marks through the mud, but we got through and were soon resting in a nice protected little spot.
The next morning we took the dinghy over to Stradbroke Island. The island is quite bare; vast sand dunes stretching far. It's a narrow island, so we were able to walk across and check out the ocean ... why we ALWAYS do this is beyond me ... why would people who live on a sailboat, who have traveled over 17,000 miles on the ocean feel the need to go look at it? Whatever, we do, so we did.
The cool thing about this little stretch of land is that tons of wallaby's (small to medium-sized kangaroo) live on it. It only took us a few steps inland to see a bunch of them hopping away. Of course we instantly became stalkers, trying to get closer and closer, but never really succeeding. These guys were good at hiding ... usually we didn't even see them until we'd stumble too close to a shrub they were hiding behind and BAM ... they'd come hopping out, fleeing away.
We had been admiring the large power boat we'd anchored by, so imagine our surprise when the owner dinghied by one day and invited us for margueritas ... for no other reason then he saw that we were from California, which is where he had bought his boat! He was just on his way to pick up his son and son's girlfriend who were coming in from Southport by helicopter (nice eh?), This is a beautiful boat, with restored wood, and tons of space ... I was in awe! We ended up staying until nearly midnight (extremely late for cruisers used to going to bed with the sunset), and drank entirely too many marguerites ... obviously we had a fantastic time!
The next day was quite mellow (due to hangovers). We were surprised when Island Sonata called us on the VHF saying "Stop that ice cream boat". Ice cream boat? Yep, we couldn't believe it either ... just like an ice cream truck, but floating! Now how fun is that? And here we thought we were in a secluded spot!!!
12/18/06 - 12/31/06: Southport
On Monday (18th) we moved a few miles through the channel to Southport (officially we anchored in "Bum's Bay" just off of Seaworld). We couldn't believe our eyes as the scenery slowly changed before us .... first a few nice homes, then islands of fancy Florida Keys style houses with docks out front, and finally high rise buildings jetting out from the sea like huge sea aliens. Boat traffic increased and helicopters flew over head ... island life was officially over! We were a bit hesitant about the 'big city', but it didn't take long to adjust ... obvious just by the fact that we've now been here over four weeks!
Island Sonata was trying to get to Sydney for the holidays, so they departed the following morning, while we moved to a more secure and protected spot within the anchorage (turns out that was one of our better moves). Southport and the surrounding area is quite different than anywhere we've been in the last three years .. perhaps that is part of its lure. We are anchored in a small, protected bay, with walking access to one of the best tourist beaches we've seen. Within dinghy or bus ride distance are a number of different cities, offering everything from Queensland's largest mall, to high rise apartment buildings, to grassy parks. It is unique to be anchored somewhere so calm and serene, yet within sight of high rise buildings and flowing traffic. (You can also read our BLOG description of the area by clicking here).
We've spent the last two weeks of December alternating between lazy days on the boat, to walking the various cities until our feet ached. It's seems that every mall we visited was impossibly bigger then the last! As Christmas approached we watched in fascination as boat after boat piled into Bum's Bay ... and even when we thought it impossible for another boat to fit, still more came. Apparently beaching and boating during the holidays is huge here. As we dingy around the bay we are also quite surprised to find that we appear to be the only foreign flagged vessel in the anchorage! We found it quite amusing to hear the conversations of people passing Billabong ... it usually goes something like this; "Hey, there's a Billabong", "Is that an American Flag", "California? ... but their name is Billabong" and so on. I can honestly say that I have heard such conversations at least 15 times over the last two weeks! (In case you don't know, Billabong is an Australian word).
As for the holidays, we joined some locals a few days before Christmas for a little dock party. Again they were surprised to hear we'd sailed "all the way" from California. On Christmas Eve the locals on a boat that was anchored behind us invited us over for drinks ... which ended up going until around midnight. The one thing we've learned about Ozzie's is that boy can they drink!!! Christmas was just the two of us and quite mellow. We relaxed in the cockpit and enjoyed watching some of the boating action around us. On the 26th, aka Boxing Day, we went ashore for family phone calls and to check out the Boxing Day sales. We actually had our Christmas dinner that night, and enjoyed way too many hours watching the TV series 24 (our gift to ourselves for Christmas). For New Year's eve it was once again just the two of us (along with the other 150 boats anchored here of course). Originally we were going to try and get to Sydney via train, but were shocked to find out how expensive land travel around here is. So it was a mellow New Year's, but fun with some game playing and at least three different fire work shows within easy view.
Continue reading "Sandy Straits, Moreton Bay, & Southport"...
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Next Destination: Working our way down the coast to Sydney … maybe!
I don’t think of myself as a city girl … actually anything but. And I know Chris is far from a hip city boy. No, we both seem to prefer the small towns, isolated villages, and “in the middle of nowhere” locations. So I was surprised to find myself extremely excited as we worked our way down the channels, towards the towering high rises of Southport & Surfer’s Paradise. A city, I was thinking, a real city … at last! It seemed unreal to have Billabong anchored within site of the huge buildings and rushing traffic.
Anxious to explore we wolfed down lunch and headed ashore. But where to begin? The streets ran in every direction and the shops were endless. We ended up at a gigantic indoor mall. The food court alone took up an entire floor and offered more cuisines then we’ve seen in our entire three years cruising. It also finally dawned on us that is was almost Christmas … sale advertisements and Christmas decorations surrounded us (we even got to see Santa!). I instantly got shopper’s fever – not good for someone with no income! Not that it mattered, I was dragged away as we headed to the marine store across town (oh joy). The marine store was not a total flop though, as across the street was a fancy specialty food market, where we finally replenished our stock of aged gouda.
That night we relaxed in the cockpit, watching the sun set and the lights flicker on around us. It was a fantastic site as the city lights came to life. We were in a perfect location … part of city, yet far enough away to enjoy a calm relaxing environment. I was beginning to like it here!
We had heard this area described as being similar to both South Florida and Anaheim. So true! The theme parks are abundant (in fact we are anchored within swimming distance to Sea World); including a Ripley’s, a Wax Museum, and of course a Hard Rock Cafe. Multi-million dollar homes line the water ways, where pleasure boats are docked, and high rise apartment buildings tower over everything.
On our second day we took the dinghy in and cruised through the waterways, jaws open in awe at both the high rises and the expensive homes. We explored the touristy area of Surfer’s Paradise … where Chris made the mistake of taking me down a street lined with Gucci, Prada, Tiffany, and other high-end shops I hadn’t seen (or worn) since cruising!!! I showed excellent restraint though – mostly by moving quickly!
With our boat in a secure, calm & peaceful location, and the city surrounding us, we find ourselves considering staying a bit. Perhaps through the holidays, maybe even longer. I suppose that sooner or later we’ll tire of the city and people, but for now it feels like its own kind of paradise!
Continue reading "City Lights"...
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Current Location: Gary's Anchorage, Sandy Straits, Australia
Current Position: 25º37.79' S 152º58.38' E
Next Destination: Working our way down the coast to Sydney
After three years of cruising, you would think that we'd have 'it'
down-pat by now. So, it continues to surprise me that just about every
place we go, there is something new to learn -- some new 'thing' to have
to deal with.
In Australia that 'thing' is tides, currents, and sand bars (plus hail
storms, which I'm still hoping we will miss out on). Sure, everywhere
we've been there have been tides, and the currents that come and go with
them, but not like here. Traveling through the Sandy Straits we have been
dealing with 8-12 foot tides - in 2 meter depths! We draw 2m (meaning we
hit bottom at anything under 2 meters) -- so you can imagine just how
important getting high tide right has become! In fact we have found just
over 2.5 meters and that was close to high tide. As for currents, we are
experiencing 2-4 knots. Great when it's going with us, but a bitch when
it's against us (since our average motoring/sailing speed is 5-5.5 knots,
you can imagine that going against 4 knots is not entirely fun - or
speedy). Anchoring especially has become interesting. We have to allow
for extra depth to ensure we aren't sitting on the bottom when the tide
goes out, and when the current pushes the boat one way, while the wind is
trying to push her another, it can turn into a lumpy dance. The same goes
for when we are traveling in wind against tide/current situations - the
chop produced makes for a bumpy ride!
And finally there are the sand bars. Nice shallow sandy bars, perfect for
creating surfing waves (great if you are a surfer, not so great if you are
a sailor). We haven't been over the 'serious' bar yet (Great Wide Bar at
one end of the Sandy Straits), but it is continuously on our minds. We've
heard enough bar crossing horror stories to fill our nightmares for the
next months (boats rolling & pitch polling when they catch a wave wrong
crossing over a bar). Needless to say we are waiting for very settled
weather for our 'first time'!!!
Other then re-learning how to sail (in these new conditions), our time
since leaving Bundaberg has been quite relaxing. We left Bundaberg on
Saturday, December 2nd, and have been moving slowly through the Sandy
Straits, making our way south. It is good for both of us to be out of the
marina and 'city', as we find it easier to relax when not surrounded by so
many things to do! It is easy for us to get caught up in the hustle of
town-life and forgo down time and the simple pleasures of a good book.
Since leaving Chris is back to his book a day reading frenzy! The winds
have been blowing pretty steadily from the South-South East, which of
course is the direction we need to go to get to Brisbane and then Sydney -
so we are just hanging, being patient and waiting for lighter conditions
(or a wind shift). It looks like on possibly Monday or Tuesday we will
have decent enough conditions to cross the bar and head to Brisbane (a
quick overnight trip).
Continue reading "Learning to Sail .... in Australia"...
Friday, December 01, 2006
When we were looking for a weather window to Oz, Chris asked me what kind of conditions I would be happy with. I replied, "10-15 aft of the beam". "That's way too little [wind]" he told me, but I was talking apparent, and after our 'rough' year I wanted something tame ... something boring. Good & bad, we didn't quite get 10-15 apparent, usually we had less. On one hand the seas were smooth and the sun was out; it was fantastic. On the other hand we motored about half-way to Australia ... the noise and diesel fumes bugging both of us. In the end though neither of us could complain (in fact whenever we make it somewhere safe, regardless of the trip, we tend not to complain)! The most excitement in the trip was when a whale shadowed us for a wee bit, and at one point surfaced right behind three fishing lures we were trolling. We were lucky he didn't snag a hook and relieved when he lost interest in Billabong. Our trip ended nicely when Chris brought in a 4 ft Wahoo the morning of our arrival. For a few more details on our passage and arrival click here to read our BLOGs.
11/4/06 - 11/13/06: Port to Port Rally Events
Our first week in Bundaberg was consumed by various social events put on by the Port to Port Rally. We ate and drank and ate some more. We also spotted our first kangaroos! During one of the Rally BBQs an excited man came running in, announcing there were kangaroos out in the field across the street. It was funny to watch all the tourist pour out of the tent to go stare at these creatures that were just standing there (eating), much in the same manner as a deer in the headlights. I tried to get Chris to chase after them so that we could all see them hop, but lucky for him one took off hopping on its own, while I squealed with joy! The local Australians probably think we are all just a wee bit crazy, after all they see kangaroos nearly daily (just another form of road kill around here). When one man didn't get up to rush out of the tent the excited man said, "Hey come on there our kangaroos!", to which the local boringly replied "I'm Australian, mate!".
During the day we managed to bus into the 'city' a few times; where we found a 'real' indoor mall and both Kmart & Target! Yes, it is hard to believe that we are so easily impressed and excited! The week ended with a tour of the Bundaberg Rum factory and a visit to the local (huge) hardware store. We covered most of the week, including details on Chris' impressive 'invention' (as seen right) in our BLOGs, so I won't bother to go into all again (click here to see the BLOGs).
11/14/06 - 11/19/06
This was pretty much a 'down' week for us. After all the drinking and eating during the previous week we needed a bit of time off (not to mention some exercise). We still managed to be social, including visiting with an older couple we had met at one of the P2P Rally events. Joan and Fred, both in their eighties, had us over to their house for an excellent meal (honey prawns), and entertained us with stories from their past, including some interesting tales from Africa. If we have learned anything from our travels, it is about hospitality and the kindness of locals to complete strangers.
One of the highlights of the week was the purchase of a small-ish 12 volt freezer. A freezer at last! For the most part Chris had always claimed freezers were a luxury we didn't really need ... and of course three years without proves he is right, but ahh the joy of having one! In truth, I owe it to his growing interest in fishing ... the only way he can fish more (and catch more) is if we can preserve it for longer periods (ie freeze it). While I'm excited about more fish, my real joy comes from the tinkling sound of ice cubes clunking against the side of my glass!!!
11/20/06 - 11/27/06: Thanksgiving in Nambour
We were quite excited to finally bring Billabong to Australia, as when we purchased her she was originally registered in Mooloolaba, Australia, and her previous owners now reside in Australia. So we had been looking forward to visiting Steve & Lynne and bringing Billabong back to her roots!
Monday we hopped aboard a bus and after five, mostly boring, hours arrived in Nambour. Steve brought us to their house, which he had built himself, and instantly we were in love with the place. The house is simple, uncluttered, and airy; surrounded by a walk-around deck and filled with endless windows. The yard is vast and green, with a terrific garden, papaya trees and perfect palm trees. And best yet, tons of exotic colorful birds visited hourly, enjoying the feeders, mini pond and bird bath. Chris instantly grew worried; how would he ever drag me away from this land paradise, back aboard Billabong?
We ended up staying a week. Enjoying time on the deck watching the birds, various street fairs and farmer's markets, a few scenic drives, and a visit to Mooloolaba. With the huge kitchen and terrific garden we did a lot of cooking & eating (what's new there), including a fantastic traditional Thanksgiving meal. We also took advantage of endless power, lots of water, decent internet, and the good 'ol T.V.! It was especially good that Steve and Chris could talk boat stuff, while Lynne and I could talk anything but! We loved every minute of it, but still missed Billabong and felt the itch to finally move on and begin trekking south. So we returned to the boat on Monday with plans to get the boat ready and start looking for a good weather window south.
11/27/06 - 12/01/06
The next four days were spent cleaning and organizing ... basically trying to get all the crap put back away! We celebrated a second Thanksgiving with some of the cruisers and said goodbye to some friends who wouldn't be going South. We also, finally, after months of indecision, decided that we would not ship our boat from Australia to the Mediterranean, but rather would join the Darwin to Indonesia Rally in July 2007. This was a huge decision for us, and we'd spent a number of days and nights debating our next steps after Australia. We still aren't sure what we'll do after Thailand ... but hey, that's a whole 'nother year away!!!
Continue reading "Bundaberg & Nambour Area"...
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Current Position: 24º45.62' S 152º23.28' E
Next Destination: Bundaberg for at least two weeks
More than once on our journey I have thought, “Only cruisers” …. and at least twice over the last week that thought has crossed my mind.
During the last week, the Port to Port Rally has been keeping us busy with every-night eating and drinking events. Besides putting on a few extra pounds, it has been a great chance to meet new people and some of the locals. It is amazing how fast news & stories travel through a fleet of cruisers. It didn’t take long before people were hitting Chris up for both computer and fishing advice. Most people were especially impressed with the use of ‘junk’ aboard Billabong. They found it interesting that he uses old [wine] corks to make fishing lures (and soon they too were rummaging for corks), but were especially curious about the pasta strainer hanging in our rigging. Yes, you read that correctly, we have a pasta strainer hanging from our rigging … and to be honest it is catching on, a number of cruisers are now following suit, and apparently they are doing it in Noumea too (where we first started this trend). What it is in reality is the cruiser’s version of a parabolic wi-fi antennae.
It is really a clever design (perhaps we should patent it, ha ha). Chris taped our external USB wireless network adapter in the center of a medium-sized wire-mesh, hand-held type of pasta strainer (4 bucks at the local supermarket). He strapped that to our rigging, facing the provider’s wi-fi antennae, and ran an extra long USB extension cable down through our hatch. Voila … internet on the boat! We even covered the whole contraption with a Ziploc, making it an all-weather antennae! We started this in Noumea, where we couldn’t even get a signal on the boat, and Chris was getting tired of carrying his computer up to the parking lot to use the internet. Oh sure, we got some strange looks by people walking by, but once word got around that it actually worked, the grocery store found themselves in high demand of wire-mesh pasta strainers. I wonder what people think when the meander by a marina full of boats with pasta strainers and other similar kitchen utensils hanging from their riggings!!! The word followed us all the way to Bundaberg, where cruiser after cruiser quizzed Chris about how to duplicate the setup …. to the point where we finally just brought the thing to one of the Port to Port Rally dinners and had a bit of show-and-tell! Sure, you are laughing, and shaking your head (and perhaps saying, “only cruisers”), but you’d be surprised how well it works, and all it took was a 4-buck pasta strainer and a Ziploc! Still aren’t quite picturing it? – We promise to post a picture on our website soon.
The finale to the week long events was a mini-tour of some of Bundaberg’s sites. It included a stop at Bundaberg’s ginger beer factory and a tour of the Bundaberg rum factory. The rum factory was quite interesting, from the gigantic molasses lake to the huge barrels, each worth about 5 millions dollars (in rum)! The bus ‘tour’ also included a stop at Bunning’s. As the huge charter bus, carrying about 40 people (all now a bit tipsy from rum tasting), pulled into the parking lot a few people walking back to their cars stopped to stare. I’m sure they were wondering what the hell a charter bus would be coming to Bunning’s for … you see Bunning’s is a really big hardware store. Yes, HARDWARE store. And the really funny thing is that everyone on that bus was quite excited to be stopping, and when we were told we only had 30 minutes, I thought there might be a riot!!! Our final stop was at the supermarket plaza, which had a supermarket, liquor store, bakery, and pharmacy. Yes, a tour only a cruiser would love!!!
What’s next for Billabong? With the Port to Port Rally events over, we can finally get on to some relaxing (hmm, like we haven’t been doing that already), and perhaps get a few boat projects done. The previous owner of Billabong lives nearby and has invited us for Thanksgiving, so we’ll probably stay in the Bundaberg area through Thanksgiving, and then begin our trek down towards Sydney.
Continue reading "Only Cruisers"...
Friday, November 03, 2006
Current Position: 24º45.62' S 152º23.28' E
Next Destination: Bundaberg for at least two weeks
Continue reading "Passage to Bundaberg"...
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Current Location: Underway from New Caledonia (day 3)
Current Position: 23°07.47' S 161°58.02' E
Next Destination: Bundaberg, Australia
Miles to Go: 545
If passages were always like this, then I can guarantee more people would be out sailing. I, the one who despises passages, can't believe how absolutely beautiful the last two days have been! Yesterday I told Chris that if everyday could be like this then I'd be willing to sail thousands upon thousands of miles. Alright, maybe I'm getting carried away, but, especially after the really crappy passage-making year we've been having, I'm just in shock of how great the conditions are.
We departed Noumea (New Calendonia) on Saturday morning. Once we were out of the pass, the winds were aft of the beam and we were cruising along under full main and jib at over 6kts. The seas were unbeleivably flat, and for the first time this year, they weren't confused; just nice little waves all rolling in from the same direction. To add to the already excellent conditions, the sun was out and there was barely a cloud in the sky. We lost the wind that night, having to motor 12 hours, but in really really flat seas. Yesterday was a repeat of Saturday; winds a bit lighter, seas absolutely flat, and everything aft of the beam. We had just enough wind to carry us along between 5 and 6 kts (we are trying to keep our boat speed average around 5.5 minimum so that we'll make it in to AU by Friday afternoon, thereby avoiding weekend overtime charges). By 10pm we'd once again lost the wind and had to motor until about 7 this morning. Today the winds are even lighter, so we are hoping for just a few more knots, but we are managing along nicely, even if slowly (only 4 - 4.5kts).
This is what sailing was meant to be. In the day the blue sky extends forever, merging with the dark blue sea. Chris and I sit on deck, enjoying the endless sun and relaxing with our books. At night the sky is lit with thousands of twinkling stars; endless galaxies stretching as far as the eye can see ... reminding us just how tiny of a spec Billabong is in this big 'ol universe of ours!
The forecast shows continued light winds, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that they'll be just enough to keep us under sail, but not so much to increase the seas. Keep your fingers crossed for us!
Continue reading "Dream Passage...So Far"...
Friday, October 27, 2006
It seems that our third year of cruising, was a tough year of sailing. Starting with the passage down from Majuro we had a lot of weather work and a lot of wind. It was never overly frightening ... not the kind of stuff that makes you worried about boat or life, but just tiring work, the kind of stuff that you just get plain sick-and-tired of. The kind of stuff that, quit frankly, makes you want to stay put once you reach a destination. I think that's what happened to us in New Cal anyway ... once we got to Noumea we were so happy to be relaxing on the dock, in the sunshine, not worrying about the weather, that we more or less found ourselves 'stuck'! But if you're going to stick somewhere, Noumea seems as good of a place as any!
As I'm tired of bitching about all of our passages, you can refer to our Blog, if you haven't already read it, for a brief synopsis of the trip over from Vanuatu. As noted, the only good thing about this passage was the delicious tuna we caught.
Unfortunately we were both quite sick upon arrival, and Chris remained sick for most of our first week there. As we were at a 'real' dock for the first time in some while we took advantage of the facilities, especially the free flowing water! We did mounds of laundry and gave Billabong a good wash down. Chris got a kick out of my money saving tallies -- I would point out all the money we were 'saving' by doing the laundry by hand, cooking on the boat instead of eating out, and so on ... thereby justifying staying at the dock another day or two!!!
We thought Port Vila was decadent with the various restaurants and awesome cheese selection, but Noumea easily outdid Port Vila 10-times in the food department (and so began our steady weight gain as well)! We did eat out a few times, and had to laugh when even the Chinese vendors served their dishes with a baguette (the French staple) on the side! Luckily Noumea is pretty big, so we were doing quite a bit of walking which helped shed a few of the thousands of calories we were taking in!
On Thursday, the 5th, we visited the city museum and then bused out to the Cultural Center. We found both places quite nice, but were disappointed in the lack of English information (or any non-French language). It just seemed that these two places should at least be multi-lingual. This was also the last time we'd venture out on the bus for any distance ... The buses had been on and off strikes over the last week (and we heard that this is always the case), we hadn't thought much of it because everything was running smooth that morning. Well, just our luck the bus we need to get back to Noumea from the Cultural Center isn't running anymore, as they went on strike! I suppose we could've just called a cab, but they are pricey, and we are not only cheap, but stubborn. So we started by walking (trying to hitchhike, but no one would pick us up) out to the main road. Once there we continued walking and hitching. We stopped at another bus stop, thinking that a non-strike bus might be able to at least get us closer, while Chris and Island Sonata rested and read the schedule I continued to stand, thumb out next to the busy street. Lucky Days, a guy pulled over. I think he was shocked enough to see Chris was with me, but his eyes opened wide we he also saw John and MJ. He was driving a small two-door car with an eight year old already in the passenger seat. He told us to go ahead and try to cram in (which we did, quite funny when you consider John is over 6 feet, and the four of us were trying to fit in the back all together). We were a bit concerned by the mass of empty, crushed beer cans on the floor, but our driver was currently drinking a Yahoo, so we hoped the cans were left over from a different day. He didn't speak much English (and we speak no French), but he was extremely friendly and thrilled to learn we were on yachts. He dropped us in town (which was out of his way) and we thanked him with some gasoline money (which he hadn't even asked for).
The next day a street fair of sorts was taking place. It was mostly 'crap', but fun to walk along the stalls and listen to the loud & obnoxious music blaring away. I saw a cute dress in one of the stalls and, in my newly learned French, asked how much it was. And here-in lies the problem with only learning part of a language. It was great that I could now ask the cost of something in French, but what to do when they reply in French and I know no numbers??? Luckily she also spoke some English. I wanted to try the dress on, which they said was okay, but there was no place to go ... just here she told me. Here??? I was standing in a very open stall in the middle of the street with tons of people walking past. Ah yes, the difference between most of the world and Americans ... we are such a conservative, reserved culture when it comes to our bodies and nakedness! Anyway, I scurried into a corner and tried to get on the dress, over my shorts and with my bra still on. Well, the ladies were clearly laughing because I was so modest, and I joined in. It was a halter-top dress and my bra was just not looking right, so the ladies had me take it off too. Well, I didn't end up buying the dress, but the changing in public was a first for me (post-adolescence anyway)!
On Monday, we were thrilled when Convergence showed up as we hadn't seen them since the previous year and weren't sure if we'd meet up this year or not. We decided to all go for dinner that night ... and learned yet another thing about the French, they tend to be closed on random days! After much walking Sally-Christine finally spotted a open restaurant. Chris and I were only mildly embarrassed that after being in Noumea for over a week we still didn't know where anything was or when they were open!
Tuesday we took a car trip with Jean and Mark on Renaissance 2000. It was a great way to explore part of the island ... and even better that we could do it without moving Billabong! We had some great views (such as pictured right), found a terrific spot for lunch, and got a glimpse of the huge nickel plant.
Thursdays the city centre park hosts a number of stalls, varying from food to crafts and with some type of performance going on. We heard it was 'hit or miss' ... as you never knew who or what would be there. With rain looming in the sky we went to check it out. It was pretty low key, but there was some tasty food, including a traveling wood stove for pizzas. The rain finally hit so we called it a night without waiting for the local entertainment. (We also went a few Thursday later, and were overwhelmed by the number of people that were there. We once again enjoyed the huge range of food, and this time took in a bit of the entertainment which included dancers from Tahiti).
Sunday we attempted to eat out again ... this time with Dave & Judy on Freebird. They always seem to know where to eat, so we trusted they knew where to go. Hah! Turns out even fewer things are open on Sunday than Monday ... unless you have a car and can get to the tourist drag (which we didn't). After discovering the one restaurant we were trying was closed, we looked for a cab and when none appeared we started sticking out our thumbs. We weren't having much luck when a couple in the apartment above the corner from where we were standing saw us and asked what we were doing. We asked if they would possibly call us a cab, and were completely shocked when instead they came down and gave us a ride!!!
After two weeks in the marina, we figured we should get out and 'do' something. Not yet convinced we wanted to go anywhere far (as eventually, either going or coming back we'd have to beat into it), we opted to go out to Isla Mate, a small island just three miles from Noumea. The backside of the island is a huge kite & wind boarding haven. I didn't feel confident enough to give it another go, but Chris spent a few days of the week trying to remember how it all worked (we hadn't kite boarded since La Paz, Mexico). He did pretty well, but ended up hurting his ribs a few days into it, forcing him to call it quits. Our friends on Ram, Roxanne, Freebird, and Traveler were all out there as well, so we enjoyed a few drinks, and games aboard the various boats. I spent a lot of timing baking and cooking it began to dawn on me how much food we had that would not be allowed in Australia (mainly honey, cashews, and dried cranberries). In order to spread the calories, I'd send Chris out to the other boats every afternoon with the treats. The other source of entertainment were the gigantic Remoras. Until then all of the remoras we had seen were quite small and usually attached to small-ish sharks (under 6 feet). These remoras were so big that at first I thought they were sharks (I'd hate to see the size sharks these guys attach to)!!! And they are quite aggressive, going after the various scraps Chris and I would throw over.
Isla Mate gets cram-packed over the weekend. Tons of boats flood from the city, out to enjoy a bit of R&R and get in some kite/wind boarding. On Sunday afternoon the anchorage again clears out as everyone heads home. What was particular 'funny' about Sunday (the 22nd), was that just prior to the boats heading in, a VHF Securité message came on. It was, of course, all in French, except one word which doesn't translate ... Cyclone. Well, if you didn't know any better it would seem quite frightening to hear the word Cyclone and then see all these boats head back to the marinas! Luckily we have other methods of getting weather and were able to figure out that Cyclone Xavier had just formed, north of Vanuatu. Directional predictions were not yet in. Monday, we thought it wise to get a slip in the marina before they all filled up ... '"just in case". We just got one of the last slips in Port de Sud (pictured right). The next few days were focused on weather and Xavier ... everyone trying to predict where it would go. I don't think we ever were too worried about it hitting New Cal, but the marinas did start to get out the cyclone chains! We were however quite concerned for the number of boats up in Luganville, Vanuatu, and for the islanders themselves. Luckily Xavier missed most of Vanuatu and Fiji and finally died out.
We finally decided that, while we would be missing out on some great sites, we just didn't want to beat to weather anymore, and therefore didn't really want to go anywhere else in New Caledonia. With that decision made we opted to join the Port to Port Rally, a free rally hosted by the Bundaberg Yacht Club, traveling from either Vanuatu or New Cal to Bundaberg, Australia. On Saturday October 28th, we departed Noumea for Bundaberg.
Continue reading "New Caledonia"...
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Current Position: 22°16.65' S 166°26.42' E
Next Destination: Bundaberg, Australia
Continue reading "Off to Oz"...
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Next Destination: Undecided, New Caledonia
Living dockside these last few days has also been terrific. No wet dinghy rides, no “car-pooling” or schedule synchronization. We just step right off and on and come and go as we please, either together or separate, no longer having to coordinate with each other. Our location is ideal too … just a few short blocks from the city center. Shopping and sites mere minutes away.
The only huge downer is that Chris has remained off and on sick, so we’ve yet to really be able to explore and take advantage of our great location and the ideal weather.
The language barrier can also be a bit frustrating – very few people speak English, and I only know about three words in French. I had an especially comically time at the outdoor veggie market today. MJ (Island Sonata) and I walked over just to grab a few items. I didn’t have any change or super small bills, but the market here is a bit more ‘advanced’ and hoppin’ then other countries, so I thought I’d be alright. First stop was some terrific looking vine-tomatoes. I grabbed three, the vendor weighed them and I saw the price of 144 (which is roughly about $1.50 US). I pulled out a 1000 bill (about $10 US), and asked, “Change?”. The lady gave me a strange look and shook her head no. I was a bit surprised because 1000 isn’t really that much, but figured maybe she was just a small vendor and business had been slow. Not having anything smaller, MJ spotted me some change. On to another vendor …. this time I’ll buy a few more things so I can get change. I pick out some onions and garlic, and he shows me the price on the calculator (as neither of us can communicate the price) – 680. Ahh perfect! I try to hand him my 1000 bill, but he shakes his head no. What?, I’m thinking and re-look at the numbers of the bill thinking that perhaps I grabbed a 10000 instead of a 1000 ($100 US vs $10). Nope I hadn’t. I kind of look at him again and he still shakes his head no, almost looking at me in slight disgust. Gee, well fine, I can’t believe he doesn’t have some 400 in change, so whatever I think and we move on, telling him we can’t buy it then. By now I’m a bit frustrated, I mean, what’s the deal, I’ve got to have the exact amount??? I’m not giving up yet, we move on, but this time before I pick out my desired capsicums (bell peppers) I pull out the 1000 and ask, “This ok?”. The lady shakes her head no. UGH! But with my wallet open she can see inside and points at my money. So I start digging through it, only seeing larger sized bills, but she is adamantly pointing, so I’m still looking. I pull out another 1000 and she still shakes her head no and points. But there’s nothing smaller in here! Finally I just hold out my wallet and tell her to show me, and she touched another 1000 bill. I just don’t get it, I’m thinking, and say to MJ, “But it’s the sa….” and that’s when I notice that the color and texture between the two 1000 bills is different. A closer inspection and I’m feeling like quite the fool… my other two 1000 are Vanuatu money!!! Neither MJ or I had noticed and the other vendors didn’t speak enough English to tell me …. no wonder they thought I was nuts … trying to pay in New Cal with Vanuatu money! Well, I was able to pay for my capsicums and then went laughing back to the onion/garlic guy and showed him my French money and laughed, gesturing dramatically to let him know I knew what a fool I was. He instantly smiled and laughed along, handed me my items and, still laughing, my change …. in Pacific French Francs!
Continue reading "Sunshine Days"...
Monday, October 02, 2006
Current Position: 22°16.65' S 166°26.42' E
Next Destination: Undecided, New Caledonia
Billabong's crew is getting just a wee-bit tired of weather work. It seems this season has been full of it, and honestly it is wearing me down! Not only that but the winds have been higher this year too ... 15-20 if we're lucky, and even then always closer to the 20 knots (which when beating into it is closer to 25 apparent). I long for some aft of the beam, 15 knots apparent, sailing. I know what you are thinking -- stop your bitching, look at where you are! And thankfully that is my saving grace, so far every destination has been worth the effort and sea-sickness to get there.
We spent five, mostly rainy, days in Revolieu Bay trying to get a somewhat decent weather window for the beat back to Port Vila. Finally on the 22nd we were off .... a 12 hour sail against the winds, but luckily in not-to-bad of seas.
We spent a week wrapping up errands around town and on the internet, while waiting for another weather window to get us to New Cal. Early morning on the 28th, we released the mooring and headed towards New Caledonia.
Port Vila to Noumea is another 'beat', we waited for the winds to clock as much as we thought they would and then left in time to hopefully arrive before they clocked South. Our first day out was hell ... and I don't feel as though that is an exaggeration. We had 25+ knots at 55 degrees, with big confused seas. We were tossed and thrown all over the place and continuously punched our bow. Waves threw themselves into our cockpit, and green water ran down the rails, spilling over to the cockpit floor. For the first time we actually took a few waves directly into the cockpit, leaving standing water (even if only a few inches)! I was the sickest I think I've ever been, both nausea and a splitting headache that I'm sure went beyond migraine status. Chris was a trooper and let me lay like a dead fish, barely moving but to let him know I was okay.
Renaissance 2000 had departed the day before us, and on the SSB reported that the first 24 hours was bad, but everything had smoothed out by the second morning .... so there was hope that all would be better "soon". The first night Chris took all the watches, as for only the second time in our three years, I was, as Chris put it, "driving the porcelain bus"!
True to prediction, the following morning was ten-times better, with flatter seas from a single direction. By night fall things were nearly peaceful and the sailing was terrific. We were sailing with 15 knots, at about 65 degrees. I was able to take watch and give Chris a near solid 6 hours of sleep (as solid as one can get aboard a moving sailboat anyway). At 5am, during Chris' watch, we caught a big-eyed tuna (about 30-35 lbs). Surprisingly I didn't mind getting up to help bring the guy aboard -- happy knowing that not only would we be docked or anchored that afternoon but we'd also be having a terrific Sushi dinner!
We couldn't believe the beautiful mountains and landscape as we sailed to Noumea. And as we rounded the last 'corner' the gigantic city emerged before us -- boy was it big. We had known Noumea was great for kite boarding, but we hadn't expected 30+ kite boarders along with numerous wind surfers to be zooming about. By 3pm we were relieved to finally be safely docked and ready to relax. Both of us were feeling a bit under the weather, but we still had to get through the check-in procedures. We lucked out with one of the easiest quarantine searches we've been through, perhaps because it was after 5 on a Saturday night. We'd heard rumors that the quarantine lady was quite strict and would search out our frig in detail ... however she barely glanced into our fridge & cupboards.
That evening was calm and relaxing, we enjoyed the stillness of the marina along with the continuous flowing hot water showers! Unfortunately we were both a bit sick, especially Chris with a low-grade fever and shivers.
Sunday was a combination of relaxation and chores. Chris was still sick, so spent a huge portion of the day in bed, while I took advantage of endless fresh water, to wash down the boat and do laundry.
I still can't believe how big of a city Noumea is ... no doubt a culture shock. And with that
big city comes big city French prices. On one hand you can buy just about any meat, cheese or vegetable, but on the other hand most of it is beyond our budget! It's especially shocking after the low market prices in Port Vila. It's weird to be somewhere with so many white faces -- even if they are still speaking a different language. And, as with the other French countries we've visited, Noumea is ALL French and nothing but French!!! So far French Polynesia and Noumea are the only tourist areas we've been where signs, pamphlets, etc are not in more than one language .... it makes it a bit tough to get around, but we're making due and dusting off the French dictionary!
Continue reading "Getting to Noumea, New Caledonia"...
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Finally on the 22nd we figured it was as good as it was going to get, and spent the next 12 hours beating against the winds for Port Vila. Luckily the seas weren't too bad, and we were able to point pretty high into the wind, making good time and good heading. Unfortunately we didn't leave quite early enough, and therefore found ourselves racing against the setting sun. We need about an extra hour, but with Island Sonata helping us we were able to make it safely to our mooring ball in the dark.
We couldn't believe when we first rounded the point to Vila's bay ... there wasn't a single cloud hovering over Vila! Never had we seen Vila so clear ... it was a bit ironic, as it seemed the clouds had been following us around over the last few weeks. Once inside the bay, with the sun just having set, we were motoring up the channel, when a huge cruise ship was making it's way out of another bay into the channel. Although we knew he was going to turn, and had given him ample space, having such a massive ship pointed directly at Billabong was a bit nerve-racking! When the cruise ship finally turned, and passed just along side us (heading out the channel while we were heading in), we could feel it's vibrations!
The next five days it was cloudy and rainy ... go figure! We did our usual 'get the boat ready' routine, some last minute internet-ing, and of course the typically weather watch.
On Thursday, the 28th, we said good by to Port Vila, and Vanuatu, and headed for New Caledonia.
Continue reading "Vanuatu Wrap up - Photos"...
Thursday, September 21, 2006
We had been dreading heading back to Vila, as it is against the winds, and we'd have to really watch the weather, waiting for a shift or lighter wind. The trip to Revolieu wasn't too bad, but it was still to weather, and by the time we set the hook in Revolieu we were worn out. For only the third time in the last two weeks the sun was out and the sky was clear when we entered Revolieu. That night the sky was lit up with thousands of stars. We were highly disappointed when we woke the next morning to clouds and rain!
We spent four nights in Revolieu, mostly just entertaining ourselves while waiting for decent weather to finish the trek south to Vila. Twice we walked the dirt road to a nearby village and school (about 45 minutes one-way). Here we met a young Peace Corp's worker, Kevin. We ended up having him out to Island Sonata for dinner, where he entertained us with his guitar playing and singing. He writes his own songs/music and they are amazing. We also ended up leaving the solar oven with him, to pass on to the village. Kevin and Beth, from Red, had given us the oven in Majuro. We had originally hoped to pass it on to 'our village', Naviqiri, in Fiji, but we never had enough sunny days to teach them how to use it. Most of our time in Vanuatu had also been cloudy and so we were getting worried we'd never find a place to leave it. Since Kevin will be in Revolieu for a couple of years, we figure he'll have plenty of sunny days and plenty of time to show the locals how it works.This text will only appear on after the reader clicks "continue reading.." Delete if NOT needed
Continue reading "Revolieu Bay, Epi"...
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Current Location: Revolieu Bay, Epi Island, Vanuatu
Current Position: 16°43.68' S 168°08.68' E
Next Destination: Port Vila, Efate Island, Vanuatu
Over the last eleven days we've completed a small loop, visiting three anchorages on the South-Eastern side of Malekula (Maskelyne Islands, Port Sandwich, and Banam Bay) and one anchorage on the Northern side of Ambrym (Ranon Bay).
We enjoyed our time in the beautiful and calm anchorage of the Maskelyne Islands, but after three days of on and off sun, the clouds rolled in and have hovered over us ever since. We've been desperately praying to the sun gods to part the clouds and clear the rain, but as of yet they are ignoring us.
From the Maskelyne's we moved up the coast about 12 n.m. to Port Sandwich, a very calm spot to be anchored during some shifty winds. In Port Sandwich we enjoyed some time with a very funny local couple, Ezekiel and Serah. Ezekiel was quite the character, talking non-stop in his heavily accented English, of which we understand about one out of every ten words! They were an extremely giving couple, loading us up with fresh eggs, fruits and veggies after only knowing us less than a day!
Banam bay was terrific, but crowded .... the most boats we've been at anchor with in a long time (about 15)! The village caters to tourist by offering crafts and custom dancing (at a cost of course). The dancing was terrific and energetic, but couldn't compare to the thousands dancing at the Nekowiar festival in Tanna. Still it was great fun, and as always the locals were more than welcoming. The following evening we enjoyed dancing to the tunes of a local string band. We continue to be impressed with the creativity of their musical instruments (a 5-gallon barrel for the drum and a box-stick-string contraption for bass). The fishing just off the nearby reef was outstanding. One afternoon Chris went out in the dinghy and in under ten minutes had caught a dog-toothed tuna! Chris seems to be becoming more and more well known amongst the cruisers for his love and knowledge of fishing, and creative home-made lures. He has now hosted over five
lure-making sessions aboard Billabong!
We motor-sailed to Ranon Bay specifically to hike the ash planes of Ambrym's active volcano, only to learn they had "closed" the volcano for the planting of yams (for spiritual beliefs). So instead we spent the afternoon viewing various wood-carvings by
the locals. Unfortunately Ranon Bay is extremely keen on tourist, so much so that they charge for EVERYTHING (cruise ships visit this bay, so they are used to getting money for everything/anything). To walk through the village and view the various carvings we had to pay for a "tour" .... granted it was only $4 each, but it seemed weird to be paying to go 'shopping'! Ranon Bay has a beautiful long black-sand beach, which Chris was
quite excited about, as it was his first [black sand beach]!
With our visas close to expiring and still having to beat our way back south to Port Vila, we departed Ambrym for a hard on the wind sail back to Revolieu Bay on Epi. We had stopped briefly in Revolieu on our way north, but hadn't had a chance to explore, so yesterday we went on a great walk to a nearby village. There we met a local Peace Corps worker from Idaho. Kevin joined us on Island Sonata for Mexican night and music (he
is an outstanding guitarist/singer).
Now we are just hoping for a half-way decent weather window for the remaining trek south to Port Vila. We figure it's going to be a hell-ish trip, but luckily is under 70 n.m., so we'll just have to tough it out! Once back in Port Vila, we'll prepare to check-out and move on to New Cal. As usual we feel our time has been cut short .... but we must keep moving if we are to have any time in New Cal before departing for cyclone season. Oh woe is us ... having too many wonderful places to visit!!!
Continue reading "A small Vanuatu loop: Malekula, Ambrym, & Epi"...
Sunday, September 17, 2006
It was another motor-sail over to Ambrym. We anchored near Ranon Village, as we knew they offered tours to the volcano. Ambrym's active volcano is purportedly not as impressive as Tanna's, but the ash planes are supposed to be an impressive site. Unfortunately, we learned that the volcano was 'closed' for the planting of the yams (related to spiritual beliefs). Typically they don't close the volcano until October, but this year they had planted early. We joined some other cruisers who had also just come over from Banam bay and were taking a village tour in order to look at the wood carvings. We had to pay for the tour, 400 vatu ($4) each (normally 800, but on special then), which according to the little paper we had been given included tour-like stuff, such as pointing out various plants & foods, demonstrating weaving and carving, and so on. What we got was a person taking us around from one wood-carver's home to the next, showing us the carvings that were for sale. Granted, we wanted to see carvings, and even purchase some, but where was the "tour"? Chris and I only bought a couple of items, but the cruisers we were with spent tons of money ... and still at the end of the day we were all charged for the "tour". Ranon is definitely one of the places in Vanuatu who has taken tourism and making a buck a bit too far.
Ambrym is also where the Rom dance takes place. Originally I had really wanted to see the dance, but a few other cruisers didn't give the dance that great of reviews. The costume is quite impressive, but paying $40 bucks each just for the costumes seemed a bit pricey, so Chris and I decided against it. With no Rom, no volcano, and everything else at Ranon costing money, and with our visas running out of town, we decided it was time to head back towards Vila.
Continue reading "Ranon, Ambrym"...
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Banam bay was an easy motor-sail up the coast from Port Sandwich. It was again a bit crowded, the most boats we've been at anchor with in a long time (about 15), but it's a big bay and there was plenty of room. We went in that afternoon with a number of other cruisers to see the dance performance. At the Nekowiar I thought I had gotten used to the nambas (penis sheaths), but as we entered the dancing area for the men, I found myself trying hard to not stare! Apparently there are different types of nambas, and some cover quite a bit more (or less) than others. Here, they wore minimal coverage, with, as we call them, "the boys" hanging right out there! I had seen pictures, and some men at the Nekowiar had these type nambas as well, but still it was shocking to be around twenty men raging from 17 to 80 years old, all practically naked. We were greeted by a line of about five men, who all shook our hands, and then one would put a leaf wreath over your head; you had to bend forward, and holy-moly, look at what you're looking directly at now!
The men performed four dances for us, and they were all terrific. They were laughing, singing, and energetically jumping around. They wore bean pods around their ankles to add to the beat of the older men playing the drums and tam-tams (ni-Van carved drum). A few 'photography' friends, as well as some of the books on photography, have said that when filming or shooting, try to get at a different angle; either lower or higher. So I was squatting down, filming, I glanced away for a minute, and when I turned back and looked through the viewfinder, one of the dancers had turned and was enthusiastically jumping towards me ... and oh my gosh the 'boys' were coming right at me! I nearly dropped the camera!
We moved to a different area to watch the women's dance, where the main attraction was a little girl trying to keep up with her mom. The women's dance wasn't quite as exciting or energetic, but we still enjoyed ourselves. Afterwards the men had us introduce ourselves and then provided us with drinking coconuts and their local dish, lap-lap. We had to pay for the dancing, but it was well worth the small fee, and one of the things I feel they are totally justified in charging for.
We returned to Billabong, just before sunset, and Chris decided to make a quick dinghy fishing run. About ten minutes later I saw him coming back and figured he had broken something or tired quickly. Imagine my surprise when he returned with a dog-toothed tuna! Word got around the fleet quick, and the next day he was hosting more fishing lure 'sessions'! Besides the barracuda which we threw back, we caught two other good-eaten fish during our short stay!
Banam Bay has a great beach with thousands of neat shells; we spent part of our morning just walking the beach and admiring the shells ... usually joined by curious children checking out what the whities are doing! On our second evening in the bay we walked inland a bit to another village, who had string band. They had the box-stick-string bass instrument as well, and a five-gallon barrel for the drum. The locals and cruisers all danced, and there was an abundance of laughter.
Continue reading "Banam Bay, Malekula"...
Thursday, September 14, 2006
We decided to stop in Port Sandwich mostly because we were ready to leave the Maskelyne's, but wanted to wait out the shifty weather before going into Banam Bay. It ended up being a very pleasant stop thanks to two extremely generous locals, Ezekiel and his wife Serah. Ezekiel was quite the character. When we first arrived he was wearing a white (now mostly brown) button up shirt, that didn't quite fit - the buttons were all stretched, and his small belly protruded from the gaping wholes. He had an enormous smile, and enthusiastically shook our hands, all the while talking non-stop. He wanted to know our names, where we were from, where our kids where (what, you don't have any, well what are you waiting for), and on and on. He invited us inside to wait for Serah, who had gone to the garden. Inside he sat us all down, and then ran off, returning with a couple of huge photo album books. While we looked through his photos, he went off to peel some pamplemouse for us. His photo album confused us all (we were there with Island Sonata). There were pictures of obvious family, and photos from other cruisers we knew, but there were also tons of photos of all these white people; riding horses, getting married, prom photos of teenagers, and so on. One photo actually looked like it could've come from a magazine, then I looked closer, and sure enough it had indeed been cut out, we could see the magazine print. Very strange and funny. He served us the pompelmouse and continued to talk a mile a minute. His English was heavily accented, and we could only understand one out of every ten words or so. Many times he mentioned the "big man", to the point that we were all wondering who this apparently fat man lived and why Ezekiel was so taken with him. It was until we had to pray prior to eating the pamplemouse that we realized that the "big man" was God! We also learned that Serah had only become 'Serah' when she married Ezekiel, prior to that she had some non-Christian name, which Ezekiel stated with obvious horror!
Chris tends to get antsy sitting around and likes to explore, so he asked if we could look around. Ezekiel, said yes, of course, but we had to wait for Serah first. So we just sat there, waiting. Finally I guess Ezekiel got bored too, because he said, okay we could walk until we saw Serah ... apparently he likes to be in charge of things! He gave us a tour of his land, which was beautiful. He owns a pretty large stock of cattle, and processes coconuts. The coconut trees were on a hill that sloped upward away from his house and church. Near the bottom of the hill was a huge pile of still husked coconuts. Just as I was wondering who collected all those, CRASH-BAM, a coconut fell from it's tree, landed to the ground, then bounced and rolled down the hill, landing in the pile of coconuts! Ezekiel laughed and made a joke about what a good coconut collector he was! On our way back, we spotted Sera returning from the garden, loaded full. We accompanied them back to the house, and started to say goodbye, when they told us to wait. Serah separated all of the fresh goods into two piles and then told us one pile was from each of us! There was a huge amount of food there, bok choy, tomatoes, eggs, papaya, and bananas. We tried to tell them it was too much, but they wouldn't hear of it, and so away we went, once again amazed at the giving and friendliness of the locals.
We took a dinghy ride a long ways up one of the rivers. It was a bit eerie, with the muddy still water, funky mangrove trees, and overwhelming silence. If ever there was a place for a spooky movie with crazed mean wild animals, this was it. We returned to Billabong in the rain, with the wind increasing. The wind had shifted and our anchor hadn't re-set so we had dragged just a bit, and had to re-anchor ... in the rain of course!
The next morning Chris and John returned to Ezekiel and Serah to say goodbye and bring them a few gifts as thanks for the gifts of the previous day. Chris said it was funny, because they once again had to hold hands and pray, and since Ezekiel prays in Bislama, some of the wording just comes out a bit funny. Apparently Ezekiel wanted to ask God for us to be safe on our boats which came out sounding a bit like, "Oh, Big Man, please no killem .... no makem big waves .... "!!!
Continue reading "Port Sandwich, Malekula"...
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
We really enjoyed the SW corner anchorage in the Maskelyne Islands. The anchorage was calm and the scenery that surrounded us was beautiful; with green hills stretching down to white sandy beaches, patches of mangroves reaching out to the blue-green sea and coral poking up from beneath the waters. The anchorage was crowded, so it was tough finding a good spot, but it also meant new faces and new friends.
Locals rowed and sailed their outrigger canoes across the bay to their gardens. Usually their trip would include a round threw the fleet, checking out the boats, and trying to sale (or trade) various goods, such as fresh vegetables and large shells. Most were friendly and wanted to talk, but few spoke good English, so the conversations were short. At first the locals and canoes added to the ambience of the anchorage, but after a few days, the non-ending visits and attempts to make a buck got a bit tiring.
On Saturday (the 9th), we walked the south west beach collecting 'magic rocks' and shells, saying hello to the few locals that we came across. (The magic rock story was posted in our 9/11 Blog, for the excerpt on magic rocks click here). We also came across a few 'real' sand drawings. We ventured inland on our return, enjoying the density and intense greens that surrounded us, and nearly getting lost!
Sunday was MJ's birthday, which we celebrated with pizza and cake for lunch, and fish, drinks, cards, and cake for dinner.
Monday marked 1,000 days of cruising for Chris and I. Something we only know because I've never bothered to re-program my watch. It is kind of fun to be able to see exactly how many days we've been out! Chris and John did a bit of dinghy fish, with no luck, while I kayaked around one of the small islands. When I returned from kayaking, a few kids were rowing in their canoes, and stopped to visit. I sat on the swim step, while one of the young girls tried out the kayak ... she and her brother couldn't stop laughing. Later Chris and I went ashore to say hello to one of the men that had stopped by Billabong a couple of days earlier. That evening Island Sonata had EVERYONE over for a 1000 day out party (any excuse for a party around here!). There were 18 of us aboard Island Sonata, but it never felt overly crowded (the good thing about a catamaran!).
We spent most of Tuesday just relaxing, with Chris making holding one of his fishing lure 'seminars' with Wandering Star in the morning.
Continue reading "Maskelyne Islands, Malekula "...
Monday, September 11, 2006
Current Location: Maskelyne Islands, Vanuatu
Current Position: 16°32.05' S 167°46.19' E
Next Destination: Malekula or Ambrym, Vanuatu
1000 days .. as of today that's how long we've been
cruising! It seems unreal to both of us, especially when we
start to reminisce about everything that has happened over
those 1000 days. Just yesterday I was archiving pictures
and in doing so scrolled through our hundreds of pictures
from our first season out; Mexico, Marquesas, Societies,
Suwarrow, and Tonga. What a time! I can't help but miss
those places, but I also can't help but think, what will the
next 1000 days bring???
But back to the current .....
After our outstanding time on Tanna, we sailed back (aboard
Island Sonata) to Port Vila with stops at Aniwa and
Erromango. We were starting to wonder what our fishing
problem was, until Chris & John finally pulled in a Mahi
Mahi on the way to Erromango .... it was about time,
especially since Chris had just about guaranteed us that one
of the lures was absolutely sure to catch a fish!
Back in Vila, it was nice to see Billabong still safely
moored and to be back 'home'. We spent the next six days
just living the 'town life' with provisioning, laundry and
internet. For fun we enjoyed drinks with our friends on
Roxanne, a cultural show fundraiser by USP (University of
South Pacific), and a snake dance performance at a local
By Tuesday (Sept 5th) we were ready to venture north. We
started with a day sail around the corner from Port Vila to
Havannah Harbour. Unfortunately about one hour out, the
engine started sputtering and thumping. Luckily by then we
had just made it out of the harbor and into some wind, so I
took over the sails while Chris went to investigate the
engine. Bad news -- we had a broken water pump. Over the
next couple of hours Chris managed to jerry-rig a fix, while
I kept us sailing along. With the "fix" in place we were
able to run our engine, but were hesitant to do so for any
lengthy period. The anchorage was littered with coral
bommies and not very good holding, so anchoring, especially
since we were trying to do it fast and under pressure, was a
bit tough, but we finally managed. We ended up a little
close to a five-foot deep coral bommie, but didn't want to
have to start the engine again, so instead opted for a
second anchor off our bow to keep us from swinging too far
The next morning Chris found the road and managed to make
his way back into town (Port Vila). Luckily he returned
with a proper fix, and all was once again well on Billabong!
With a working engine we sailed on to Epi for a one night
stop before continuing (the next morning) to the Maskelyne
Islands on Friday. During both sails we had tons of HUGE
fish activity behind the boat; we saw a the pointed nose of
a Marlin and a shadow the size of our dinghy trailing our
lures (we believe it was a tuna, because Chris saw its
'wings' spanned out as it surfed through a wave). We didn't
hook anything we wanted to keep, but Island Sonata managed
to bring in a Wahoo the first day and a Tuna the second, so
we've been gorging on fish for the last few days. (Both
fish were caught on the lure that Chris had talked so
confidently about on the way to Erromango!)
The Maskelyne's are gorgeous ... there are hills, beaches,
and palm trees. Big islands and small. Mangroves, coral,
and white sand beaches. It seems no matter what type of
scenery you go for, you could find it here! The tiny
anchorage in the SW corner is crowded, but we've managed to
squeeze in. Locals do the rounds daily; rowing about in
their home-made outrigger canoes, asking if we need veggies
or fruits. On our second day here we walked along the south
west beach, where we found hundreds of their "magic rocks"
and numerous shells. According the "magic rock" story, if
you pound two together you'll see a flash of blue light, and
then watch out, as a storm will be a coming. That night
John pounded his together .... more than once. We did see a
flash of light, but it was closer to orange/yellow than
blue. And can you believe it --- the next morning we were
surrounded by thick clouds and thunder heads! That day we
did indeed have thunder, lightning and rain! We haven't had
thunder or lightning since we arrived in Vanuatu -- could
those rocks really be magic??? Let's just say Chris and I
will be keeping our magic rocks well separated!
Continue reading "1000 Days ....."...
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
The sail from Vila to Havannah Harbour was a short one, and would've been beautiful had our engine water pump not gone kaput! I kept us under sail, while Chris jerry-rigged a temporary fix. The fix allowed us to run our engine while we anchored, but we were both nervous about running it too long, and so tried to anchor fast ... hard to do when the holding sucks! Even more of a bummer was that we had finally gotten out of rainy Vila, to sunny Havannah, only for Chris to have to return by bus. So while I enjoyed the sunshine, Chris was back in the gloomy rain. Luckily he returned with a fix and we were both back in high spirits.
Revolieu Bay, Epi (9/7)
Although long, it was a good day sail to Revolieu bay. We didn't bring in a fish, but were entertained by the activity the followed us; including the sighting of a marlin and a huge tuna, with fins expanded like wings, stalking our lures. We only stayed one night, as the winds were predicted to die, and we wanted to get up to the Maskelyne's before that happened.
Continue reading "Havannah Harbour & Revolieu Bay"...
Monday, September 04, 2006
We happened to be in town on Friday night (Sept 1st), when we heard about some dancing culture show that the USP rugby team (University of South Pacific) was putting on to raise money for a rugby trip to Fiji. The tickets were only 500 vatu (about $5 US) each, and the show would included dances from all of the South Pacific Islands, put on by USP students. You'd think we, along with all the other cruisers, would've learned by now ... we all showed up 'on time' ... and wouldn't you know it, us whities were the only ones there! About a half hour later locals began arriving, and even they were early for "Island Time".
The event was held at a local 'club'; with a bar, t.v.'s, and gambling downstairs, and a stage area upstairs. The stage had been decorated with randomly placed balloons -- looking like something an eight year would do. Laughing, I said to Chris, "It's obvious the rugby boys are the one's who did the decorating!" The two MC's for the night were a lovingly looking ni-Van women, elegantly dressed, and "Bianca", a cross-dresser, with just a bit too much bouncing energy.
The show started nearly two hours late ... truly island time, but was quite entertaining. Students from Tahiti, the Solomon's, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Kiribati, PNG, and Vanuatu performed local dances, songs, and music. It was a lot like watching a high school talent show, but the energy and laughter were catching, and the traditional dances still remarkable. The difference between the college men and village men really emphasizes how difficult (physically) local village life is; while the college men appeared soft and many of them just a bit overweight, village men are typically either pure muscle, or merely skin and bones, but with minimal flab. Our favorite performance of the evening was the ni-Van string band. A boy about eight years out came out with the group carrying a large wooden box, with a stick strung with a string, attached to it. I had no clue what that box could be, and then the band started up, and the instant the kid propped himself up on top of the box and started to the strum, the entire audience burst into applause. The instrument is a bass, and by moving the stick farther out, and stretching the string, the bass changes tone. The box was practically as big as the boy, so he had to throw his entire body into it. It was amazing to watch and hear!
After the show, we walked back to the boats, stopping in at the local open-air market, to see if any stalls were still open and if we could get some fresh bread. We hadn't really ventured out in Vila at night, and it wasn't until now that we realized a large portion of the women and children who worked the stalls, slept here overnight. I can't imagine how uncomfortable it must be, they are protected from rain, but not the cold night's air, and they are sleeping on hard cement, with only a woven mat for cushion. But many of the women live far outside of Vila and taking a bus or truck in daily is just to expensive, so they travel in on Monday or Tuesday, stay through the week and return home Saturday afternoon.
On Monday we went into the resort on Iririki Island to see a snake dance performance. It was a short performance, with only about ten men performing, but it provided a good taste of a dance normally performed in the islands farther north (where we would probably not make it to).
Continue reading "Port Vila, Efate Again"...
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Current Position: 17 44.72 S 168 18.67 E
Next Destination: Ambrym or Malekula, Vanuatu
Since our last BLOG we made yet another attempt to sail Billabong down to Tanna in hopes of attending the Nekowiar festival. This time we tried for a "calm", willing to motor the whole way if need be. But winds & swell were higher than expected and we once again had to turn back. Luckily Island Sonata, with two engines, was able to continue to motor-sail and made it to Tanna. With the Nekowiar date still iffy we decided to just go for it, and booked flights for the 18th, planning to stay aboard IS and potentially sail back with them after the festival.
We lucked out, as the festival finally did start, on Monday the 21st ... and what a time it was. The chant-like singing, foot pounding dancing, and continuous hand clapping shook the earth below us. It was a three day festival, filled with more energy then we could've every imagined.
After the festival we sailed (on IS) around to Port Resolution, where we hiked up to the rim of Mt Yasur, Tanna's very active volcano. Again we found ourselves standing on shaking ground as one eruption after another left is in utter awe. It was a life threatening experience as a flying lava rock shot out of the volcano, landing barely 17 feet from where we stood (or ran in some cases)! We are still high from the adrenaline rush.
Both the Nekowiar and Mt Yasur were too amazing to describe shortly (here in this BLOG), therefore we our planning a full web update soon with pics and all (www.neoscape.com/billabong) -- so check there in about a week or so (our apologies in advance if it takes us longer).
We are now back in Port Vila (having sailed back with IS). After the weekend we plan to sail to one or more of the islands just North of Efate.
Continue reading "Earth Shaking Tanna"...
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
We had a fast sail (still aboard Island Sonata) from Port Resolution to Aniwa. In the guides Aniwa is only listed as a day anchorage, but with the winds predicted to lighten and from a direction that left the anchorage well protected, we decided to stay there overnight. It was a tight squeeze, and John had to get in the water to find a good spot to drop the anchor. Just shortly after anchoring, a number of men appeared on the beach, calling and waving to us. John and Chris took the dinghy in to see them. Apparently they wanted money for us to anchor. Now here is where things get difficult and confusing for us. According to the government, as posted in the custom offices, locals should not receive (or ask for) any money from yachts for anchoring. But there is government law and then there is Kustom (or local) law. And according to these men, we needed to pay 1,000 vatu per person, per night, plus 1,000 for the boat. That would be about $50 US per night, just to anchor! John told them that when he checked in with customs in Luganville, he had been told not to pay any anchoring fees, but still the men said it was required. John and Chris didn't have any money on them, so the spokesman said he would return tomorrow to collect the fees. We had arrived in Aniwa around 4pm and had planned on leaving the following morning. We weren't going ashore or even snorkeling. With that and with the conflicting rules of the government, we decided to go ahead and leave early in the morning without paying, trying to avoid any conflicts or potential scams.
We left around 5 a.m., heading to Dillian's Bay on the west side of Erromango. We had planned for a long day sail, but with higher winds, we seemed to fly along, and arrived by one in the afternoon! We were also pleased to catch a Mahi Mahi along the way.
A local, David, stopped by in is canoe to welcome us and invite us ashore. The following day we went in to say hello and David, after introducing us to his son and showing us their plant nursery, offered to give us a tour. We were specifically looking for a rock that supposedly had the outline of a killed missionary, John Williams, etched into it. Williams, along with his companion, was killed and eaten in 1839. David said he knew were it was. After a beautiful walk through the village, down to the river, across the river, and half-way up a small rocky hill, we came upon the memorial plaque set into a stone, dedicated to Williams. We explained to David that, while the walk was great, this was not the stone we were looking for ... we were looking for the one with the etching of Williams. Ah, yes, no problem, he told us. So we returned to the village, walking along the river and meeting the locals on the way. We all piled into the dinghy, then crossed the opening of the river, and walked a short distance up the other side, into a cemetery. Here was the gravestone for Williams. We tried again to explain what we were looking for, but with no luck ... and honestly we were only interested because Lonely Planet pointed it out. It had been a beautiful day and a terrific tour, so we left it at that and returned to the boat. Later, just before sunset, David came out to say goodbye (we had told him we were leaving the next morning), bringing us fruits from his garden. We again thanked him for his friendliness and hospitality, giving him a few parting gifts as well.
It was a full day sail back to Port Vila ... 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. We were happy to be back, and anxious to see how Billabong had fared over the last twelve days without us. All was well, and everything just as we'd left it. That night the four of us went out for hamburgers and fries, celebrating our great time in Tanna, and the fact that we could all live together for nearly two weeks (on a boat no-less) and still come away friends!!!
Continue reading "Aniwa & Erromango"...