Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Vanuatu Wrap up - Photos

Port Vila, Efate (9/22 - 9/27)

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.
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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Revolieu Bay, Epi

Revolieu Bay, Epi (9/18 - 9/21)

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
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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A small Vanuatu loop: Malekula, Ambrym, & Epi

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!!!

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Ranon, Ambrym

Ranon, Ambrym (9/17)

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.
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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Banam Bay, Malekula

Banam Bay, Malekula (9/15 - 9/16)

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.
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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Port Sandwich, Malekula

Port Sandwich, Malekula (9/13 - 9/14)

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 .... "!!!
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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Maskelyne Islands, Malekula

Maskelyne Islands, Malekula (9/8 - 9/12)

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.
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Monday, September 11, 2006

1000 Days .....

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

Havannah Harbour & Revolieu Bay

Havannah Harbour (9/5 - 9/6)

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

Port Vila, Efate Again

Port Vila, Efate (8/31 - 9/4)

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"...