Tin Tin's Sailing Calendar

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Breaking Bad!

It's lousy weather. Grey, rainy, strong winds, steep seas and the current against us makes them even steeper. The curious thing about ocean currents is that there are well established streams that should help to shove you along in the right direction, but which in our experience set in the opposite direction. So the South Equatorial Current which is meant to sweep westwards and up the Gulf of Papua seems to be in reverse.

We caught a nice tuna today, and as it is my day on chef duty I produced a Harissa and sesame coated seared Ahé served with a sun dried tomato, onion and cannelloni bean salad, enlivened by a second salad of thinly sliced cabbage, dressed with sesame oil and cashew nuts sprinkled with cayenne pepper.

For supper I cooked Banana Lime Fish, and marinated the tuna in lime juice, garlic, grated ginger and chilli with chopped bananas. After two hours in the fridge it was quickly pan fried before sealing it in a tin foil package to steam in the oven. (I would have wrapped it in banana leaves and placed these on a hot stone oven, or Umu, if we'd been ashore.) This was accompanied by orange and white sweet potato slices with chopped onions baked in coconut milk. It seemed to get a thumbs up from the crew, and Mark said it was the best tuna he'd tasted, which was nice.

Just before supper we aimed to put up the spinnaker pole to windward in anticipation of a midnight downwind run towards Port Moresby. Unfortunately as we raised the pole the end suddenly snapped off, and shot through the mainsail, leaving a foot long tear. To prevent the rip spreading we quickly rolled the main down to a third reef. Now I hope I can get a spare Harken part flown up to Thursday island , or more likely, Darwin. The sail repair we will try to effect with needle and thread and a bit of spare sailcloth, until we can find a sailmaker.
On investigation the part that snapped had been badly bent at some point, although we can't recall any incident that could have done that. Perhaps it was damaged when we bought TinTin. It was lucky that it happened when it did and not when under full load under sail in a gale, and that no injuries resulted.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Fish and Ships

When Justin took over the watch from Toby and me at 03:00 this morning he was suddenly thrust into the busiest shipping channel we had seen since Panama, with seven ships closing on us from north and soup through a narrow reef channel that provides a short cut between Australia and Japan. We called the 280 foot long Yasa E Mehmet to make sure they were aware of us, because with our speed varying from 7 to 9 knots in the gusts, our closest point of approach was often less than a tenth of a mile. In the event they passed just under a mile ahead, but their lights could be seen either side of our bow, and I stood by with Justin to change course if it all got too close.

This morning we have been watching boobies snatching flying fish on the wing. They hover to windward pad of Tin Tin and when we send a flush of fish spurting out of the water they swoop down as a trio flying at the same height as the fish, skimming the waves, hoping to catch one before it folds its wings and dives back in. It was wildly exciting to see such flying skills and the chase inches above the water as they followed the contours of big breaking seas.

The boobies show great perseverance in trying to land on the wildly gyrating mast at nightfall, very rarely managing a brief foothold before sliding off. However at midday we had a more successful visit from a Noddy, with its dark plumage and white coot-like patch on its forehead, about the size of a small dove. It perched on the rail, preening itself unperturbed by us all trying to take its photo. The last time we had a bird sit on the rail was in Colombia during the night of 55 knot winds, whence it was eventually washed off by a big wave which also took our Danbuoy and life belt. Fortunately Emily stayed secured to the boat.

Encounter with the Natives

The Louisades, Papua New Guinea 28 August 2017

Having chosen to divert a little from our direct course to visit The Loiusades archipelago at the eastern most end of PNG, I was mightily relieved that we managed to arrive at 14:00 with enough time to enter the lagoon and drop anchor for a few hours. Any slower and it would already have been dusk, which would have made it impossible. As always, planning and managing the speed and angle of voyage to be there at the right time is a challenge which is very satisfying if achieved.

During the night we had the alarming prospect of a seeing the lights of large ship bearing down on us with no AIS signal to identify it. I got it tracked on radar and was relieved to see that it would probably pass astern. Nonetheless I called the vessel on Channel 16 to ask if they had seen us, and to ask why they had no AIS (mandatory on vessels over 300 tonnes). The reply in an American accent was " This is Coalition Ship Six. We have you on our screens and will pass two miles astern". Hmmm......a US warship heading north.... I wonder where that's going? Guam probably.

It is exciting and a little nerve wracking approaching land in high seas and low visibility, with rainstorms sweeping through. With Mark at the helm, we found the pass through the reef and sailed through into calmer water. Ahead the outlines of hills were like layers of blue grey through the mist and cloud. As we sailed the 3-4 miles across the lagoon, the nearest hills became clearer with rounded grass covered slopes, and some red earth cliffs. The water's edge below the grass parkland was dark with a margin of trees. A bit Dorset in the mist and drizzle. We cut between various areas of breaking water on reefs, and turned into a bay bounded by high forest to the left, and with the green grass areas to the right. Through binoculars I could just make out occasional thatched huts under the trees along the shore. One or two white skiffs were anchored off the largest village, and we dropped anchor about half a mile off, prevented from getting closer by coral. As well as h
uts we could see a large blue notice board on green lawns under a grove of coconuts, with some more modern buildings behind.

With only a couple of hours before we had to set sail again, we brewed a cup of tea, and, as I'd hoped, were soon visited by an outrigger canoe. This was a bit different from ones we had seen previously with a nicely carved prow, and a platform built on the outrigger supports. The carved top rail was sewn onto the dugout hull, and the methods of securing the outrigger were the usual diagonal struts into the log.

The crew were three tiny boys in filthy T-shirts. The eldest, aged 14, was Julian looked hardly bigger than a six year old, and seemed malnourished. His younger cousin, Paul (12) was even smaller, and little Massaman aged 6 was tiny. All were shivering with cold, and Massaman's teeth were actually chattering. I don't normally invite locals on board, but these boys were up through the gap between dinghy and transom very quickly. Julian spoke excellent English and explained that he attended Greywalls(?) Primary School to which the blue notice board belonged. He told us that both his parents were dead and that he lived with his sister, presumably Paul's mother. He very politely asked if we had an empty plastic bottle with which he could make a bailer to empty his sinking canoe. We found him a tin, and then he asked if there was a biro or pencil he could have. Once these were found, he followed up with a request for a writing book and a rubber. Sadly I had given all of our s
tore of pencils, crayons and exercise books away in Vanuatu. They would have been much appreciated in PNG where I had the impression of much greater poverty. Polite suggestions for other useful things kept coming up, including specs (already given out in Vanuatu), an onion, reading books (none suitable on board). Toby produced an old T-shirt which they appreciated.

Mark had been flying his drone to get an overview of the area, and they clearly knew what it was, waving at the camera, and later being delighted to see themselves on his phone screen. Julian showed good spatial awareness by being able to identify his landscape from the high aerial shots. From the air it was clear that there was a well laid out village out of sight with tin roofed buildings. As they left with handful of sweets Julian gravely gave us a very small coconut, to my surprise saying "this is a hybrid coconut." Should have asked him to explain, but he said it was good to drink. They retrieved their anchor, which was a heavy swivel wheel off a trolley, and paddled back to the village into the teeth of the near gale, looking very tiny and frail.

Another canoe intercepted and then came on to see us. There were two teenagers and a small boy, wearing little more than a large Ivory cross and a silver St. Christopher medallion. The teenagers seemed grey and unwell, with bad skin. Their jagged teeth were dyed deep red from betel nut, which gave the unfortunate appearance of having just dined on the last yachtsman. Raymond, Francis and Nicholas asked if we had any spare T-shirts or clothing to trade, and Toby dug out another one in return for a beautiful necklace handcrafted from little shell beads. Satisfied they said goodbye and paddle home upon which we finished our tea, upped anchor and motored back out to the pass.

As we crossed the lagoon Justin produced an excellent dinner of battered Mahi Mahi, mash and peas which we ate in the shelter of the reef, and then hoisted sail as the sun set at 18:40, and roared off into the boisterous seas making 8-9 knots. Much to Mark's disgust I had to reef in to slow us down a bit to avoid arriving at midnight in Port Moresby, three days hence.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Badly Balanced Boobies

Last night I had a lovely satellite phone call to St. Mawes, finding that Anne and all our four daughters, their partners and our six grandchildren were there for the week. The weather sounded absolutely glorious, and it was easy to close my eyes and imagine the scene hanging over the wall above Tavern Beach to watch the Toppers, Oppy, canoe and other boats being happily paddled, sailed and capsized all over the bay.

I woke to another lovely Trade Wind Sunday, with a steady wind and fluffy clouds rolled by. I celebrated with toast and marmalade for breakfast - I've still got one cherished pot of my Trotton marmalade hidden in a locker somewhere. Later that day we clocked up 20,000 nautical miles in Tin Tin - the Earth's circumference is 21,600 nautical miles so we have nearly sailed a full circuit even if we are not home yet.

Justin saw a whale arching through the water today, heading in the opposite direction. Having not got engaged in fishing much on the trip, I found myself gripped by the Cruisers' Fishing Guide, which hitherto had seemed too technical, with most of the first section taken up with detailed equipment specifications. But today I'd started in the back looking for recipes, and then found it very readable on the tricky subject of how to catch fish reliably. We set about applying some of this knowledge, and just as Justin was about to reel in the Yoyo at supper I said " Hang on a moment- this is feeding time". At that instant the line jerked in his hand and he had hooked a nice big dorado, about 4feet long weighing in at 5kg. Toby, who was in the middle of preparing supper quickly incorporated Mahi Mahi fillets into the menu.

I altered course slightly. Northwards towards Tugalu Island in the Louisades, hoping to arrive there at midday tomorrow, and explore briefly before sailing on to Port Moresby. If. We had carried straight on we might have arrived at midnight, so the diversion should avoid that and also give us sight of these interesting islands.

We are crossing a route between Japan and Australia so there have been a couple of ships passing ahead of us today. I called one to reassure myself that they Can see us on AIS - they can.

As night fell boobies began to circle us looking for a perch for the night. We ended up with one on the masthead and one on each of the cross trees, but without much grip and a wildly swaying mast they soon slid off with a squawk! Meanwhile terns circle the boat being very vocal - rather like a rubber toy that squeaks badly when squeezed by Monty dog!

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Ferocious fish

After a full 24 hours with the Parasailor flying, it feels like the perfect sail for these conditions. The wind, almost dead astern, is blowing 12-8 knots and the spinnaker flies steadily without flapping or collapsing. The seas are pretty smooth which helps. An increase in wind is forecast for late tomorrow, so I shall risk flying it another night I think. However with only one person on night watch it can be a problem if it needs to come down, so another crew member has to be woken.

I have been very engaged with the book that Emma brought me. It is the GCHQ Puzzle Book, and although at first defeating me, I have eventually begun, with help from Justin, to decipher it. My great triumph on night watch was to crack the GCHQ Christmas Puzzle, for which no answers are given the book. If one submits the result to GCHQ it takes you on to another level.

There have been many more birds in evidence today with lovely White Tailed Tropic Birds, and flocks of 20 Sooty Terns circling shoals of fish nearby. Our fishing lines were out hoping to catch a large fish prying on the smaller shoals, and this afternoon that is what happened. Toby was holding the rod as we passed within yards of a swirl of Sooty Terns, and suddenly there was a big strike, and he was fighting to reel in a big fish. Suddenly the rod snapped (sorry Kyle) and Justin leapt to help haul the fish in wearing gloves of course. He and Toby fought the monster for a while, and then the line went dead. As they hauled in the slack it suddenly struck with great force again and the line snapped. Possibly a much larger fish helping itself to the hooked one!

Having said that everything was working smoothly, of course things didn't. Our masthead navigation lights have failed, and then our steaming light. Luckily we still have deck level nav lights. Our six month old batteries, bought in Panama, are also a problem. We installed 450Ah, expecting to get half of that between charges. In fact we only ever got a quarter when new, and this has drifted down to only 50Ah before the voltage is too low to operate equipment. So we have to run the generator every 5 hours at night, although the solar power keeps us going all day. I think a Watt& Sea brand water generator sounds like the answer as, according to various boats we have talked to, it can produce enough power whilst sailing to run everything.

Thinking of you all - do drop us a line on paul@myiridium.net

Friday, 25 August 2017

Flying the Parasailor across the Coral Sea

The wind had dropped a bit overnight, so after breakfast we furled the White sails and got out the Parasailor. With 17-22 knots of wind it set perfectly and we picked up speed behind its straining bulge, with the big orange smile of the parafoil holding the spinnaker wide.

The temperature has warmed up noticeably and it's rather hot and sticky. No more fleece and long trousers on night watch...in fact I even resorted to a blanket in the cockpit a couple of nights ago.

I emailed the Royal Papua Yacht Club in Port Moresby and got a nice reply (albeit with one of those colourful logos that took 4 hours to download!). With more than 3000 members and 130 people living on board their yachts it sounds like quite a busy place. I'm looking at the Louisades, an easterly PNG island group noted for its remote culture, and wondering whether we will make enough time to drop in for a day en route. The wind is expected to pick up strongly tomorrow so I expect we will race along.

Mark served the last of the wahoo as couscous-coated goujons for lunch today - so we need to start fishing again.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Wahoo!!!

Two days out from Vanuatu, and we are sailing directly downwind towards Papua New Guinea. The wind is brisk and we have our sails goose winged in 25 knots, giving us between 6-7 knots towards our goal. We've been swept south a bit by 1 knot of current too.

At last we caught our first Wahoo, a long streamlined zebra striped torpedo with a lot of teeth. Justin's latest fishing purchase, a bright red and yellow lure, was successful and Toby had a struggle to haul in the Watamu Yoyo line. Yesterday something big took the hook and all the line on the fishing rod reel......

The catch was timely for Justin's cooking night, and we enjoyed the meaty white flesh served with pumpkin and sweet potatoes.

We have seen a lot more birds today, something that seemed very strangely la King at sea round the islands. The elegant white tailed tropic bird has circled us, followed by brown boobies. Sooty terns in pairs have bounced past with their curiously buoyant wing strokes, and storm petrels have reappeared fluttering across the waves, paddling little black feet in the water as they hover. The look like Leach's storm petrel, with black body, legs and wings, with a white rump patch and some white below the tail, but that isn't meant to be south of the Equator.

Everything seems to be functioning well on board, and we are enjoying Toby's company. He is one of the lucky few who don't get seasick!

As we left Vanuatu I had a crisis moment, fearing that I was making a terrible error not to stay another year in the Pacific. The wind was fair for New Caledonia, and I actually set that course for a while while I thought it over again. In the end I was able to have a long helpful talk with Anne by satellite phone and resolved to stick to Plan A and return to the Caribbean as planned. Now that we are on course towards Darwin I feel happy and contented again, but it was a difficult decision to turn north and leave the magic of the Pacific islands behind.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Ambrym Dancers

Last experiences in Vanuatu

Our route took us to Havannah Bay, and then as the sun set we sailed out through the fringing islands for the sail north to Malekule and the Maskelyne Islands.  We had a brisk wind astern and made good speed to arrive after breakfast.  My first choice of anchorage was rather too exposed, so we tucked in behind Awae Island, where we soon met people paddling their canoes to and from their gardens or fishing grounds.  

The following day we set off the 30 miles to Ambrym Island which was clearly visible with stream issuing from its three volcanoes.

From Ambrym, where we witnessed traditional dancing, and enjoyed sharing kava in the evening with locals, we set off again to Malekule Island.  Here we anchored off Uripiv Island where a sandy beach fronted the village.  We were shown round by a young islander, Colin, who showed us his house, built of women palm mats on a wood frame, and thatched with palm leaves. He had built a sweet little playpen for his 3 month old son.  The village was very neat and tidy, and their water supply was a well, dug into the coral, which delivered a steady supply of fresh water.   There were other wells for the 600 inhabitants, but only one was consistent fresh.

That evening we sat and drank kava and chatted with locals, including a couple of Peace Corps volunteers. Very peaceful, but I don’t seem to register any effect of kava, unlike the locals who were all spitting at the bitterness of the liquid.  Supposedly it numbs ones mouth and makes one calm.  I felt the calm…..

We said farewell to Uripiv and sailed overnight to Luganville to clear out of Vanuatu.  Our schedule has slipped a couple of days because there are no Customs and immigration facilities on the weekend, and we missed getting there on Friday.

Now the weather has changed and it’s rainy today.  We are trying to get another gas canister to fit the boat, as our European ones cannot be filled here, and we are rather short of gas for cooking now.


Next stop could be Port Moresby, unless the weather and timing are right to push on through the Torres Straits toThursday Island, where we must clear Customs.   Biosecurity is very strict and we are concerned at how much of our ship’s stores will survive the inspection….

Luganville

Our final stop in Vanuatu at the northern island or Espiritu Santo, where we finalised formalities and did some last vegetable shopping.  It's a windy stretch of water ad clearly the pilot boat didn't survive the last cyclone.

Next stop could be Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea before tackling the Torres Strait towards Darwin.

I have updated the calendar so that you can see the current schedule.

Port Vila,Vanuatu

We rather reluctantly said goodbye to Erromango, where we had enjoyed meeting the villagers and were impressed by the lovely canoes in constant use.   

We arrived in Port Vila at 07:30 after a good overnight sail in starlight.  The port was very busy with yachts and other ships.  We had to squeeze under overhead power lines, with a clearance of only about 3metres. and then picked up a mooring off the Yachting World marina.   Not a pontoon marina, but with a few stern-to moorings along the wall.  The Waterfront Grill provided an easy place to relax and watch the boats go by.

As it was Saturday we rushed to get to the Museum before it closed at noon. It was well worth it. There was an extraordinary collection of masks and headdresses, some excellent canoe figurehead carvings and lots of quirky information about the history of the islands.  

We then met Edgar, who did wonderful sand drawing, played various flutes and a bamboo tubular bells instrument and told stories.

We then headed down to the market where  we found a spectacular display of vegetables for sale.  We also found food stalls, where we eventually settled on Anna's kitchen for fried fish and rice, whilst Robert and Francis chose curried fish from a nearby stall.

The following day the McAdie family packed up and went ashore, while Justin and Toby arrived.  That afternoon we did a big shop up at the large supermarket, and stowed it all aboard.

Monday dawned and I went to get my cruising papers at Customs over at the cruise ship dock, and then back across town to Immigration, where I succeeded in completing paperwork before they closed for lunch. The team had meanwhile stocked up on fresh vegetables, and in due course we were ready for sea.  It just remained to get our Australian visas on line, and to submit advance notification of our arrival.    At this point I had a horrible shock, when I got a message saying "Visa denied. Please contact our nearest consulate. "  


The good news - there's one in Port Vila.  The bad news - its closed on Tuesday as its a public holiday!    I then realised that I had made a mistake with my passport number, starting with 009 rather than 09, so obviously they wont let a Double O into Australia. :-) When I resubmitted my application, to my great relief, I got a visa letter by return email......

Monday, 21 August 2017

Dancers on Ambrym

Having anchored in Craig's Cove we organised a trip to a remote village to witness traditional dances and magic. These old men made  a powerful dance on the sacred village dance floor, shielded from womens eyes by high hedges.  The tam-tams witnessed the age old ceremony in a row.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Lobster lunch

Walking through Unpongkor I met Mali who asked whether we would like some lobsters.  If turned down an offer in Fiji, but with a crew who likes them I agreed. In return Marlow asked for fishing line, and when he arrived at night with a sack of 6 spiny lobsters I was able to provide 120 metres of 59lb breaking strain line plus about 25 big fish hooks.

We had our first delicious lobster lunch on Tin Tin!

TinTin donates her old Cornish ensign to Unpongkor Yacht Club, Erromango, Vanuatu

We anchored for three days in Dillons Bay, Erromango where David Tahumpri welcomed us to the Yacht Club he is building.  He already had an impressive array of flags decorating the room, to which we gladly donated our old Cornish flag duly annotated and signed.  We also provided a bundle of books to start off a book exchange.  All he needs now is a fridge full of cold beers, which are in the plan.

Erromango 9th August 2017

We set off early from Tanna before 7 for the day trip to Erromango , the next island north,  and were able to wave to the Besleys at breakfast as we passed White Grass Resort.  Then  we had our closest encounter with a humpback whale which was exciting.  By 15:00 we had dropped anchor in Dillon's Bay, amongst three other yachts, and to our delight were soon being greeted by several beautiful dug-out canoes full of children. Later a grey haired man, David, paddled out bringing us a gift of fruit, which we reciprocated with some powdered milk. 

The following day David invited us to do a tour with him, and led us to a beach about two miles along the coast.  Here we found a rock shelter above the beach, and higher up a series of caves used to bury the dead. The first contained members of David's family, one of whom had been laid on a rock slab , and his belt buckle still lay there amongst his bones. Another cave, much higher up a cliff contained the skulls of two previous chiefs and three of their wives.

Later we went to the yacht club that David was building in his village of Unpongkor.  We found a charming garden and a simple room, hung with flags, to which we contributed our old Cornish ensign signed by us all. To Rhoda, David's wife, we handed a bag of clothes including things from Emily and the McAdies, plus some books to start a book exchange shelf. I showed them my sketches and gave crayons and sketchbooks to the children there. Later I gave Roger at the dispensary a number of sets of spectacles plus school materials to distribute as he saw fit. 

From there we had a leisurely stroll through the village ending up at a large fresh water pool where we had a glorious swim. On the way we met many people who chatted happily with us.  Later we visited a lovely site where an Eco-lodge was being built overlooking the river.  We scrambled through thickets along a cliff edge to reach the site where missionary John Williams body was laid on a and his out,one incised in the rock.  He had interrupted an important kastom ceremony and lost his life.  Later missionaries and other visitors brought smallpox which killed 60% of the 20,000 population so that in the early 1900s there were only 380 people still on the Island.  The population is now 600. No kastom villages remain, since the missionaries successfully stopped any traditional life.  Other invaders from Hawaii and other parts of Polynesia came to take all the sandalwood trees, but were repelled, but eventually trade emptied the island of the species.

The island was visited by two battered trading vessels while we were there, landing sacks of rice and other stores on the beach to be shouldered up to the village. There is only one vehicle on the island, but there is an airport giving access to hospital in Vila.

Naked Villagers and Volcanic eruptions 8th August 2017

Through Peter, a local agriculturalist Mark met who is working at Tanna Coffee, we were given the phone number of his cousin, Berry, who took us to the volcano, and through John we arranged a visit to the kastom village with driver Sam.

The track up to the highlands was rough and took us through wonderful countryside and villages. Great banyan trees were frequently seen, putting down a forest of roots, often trained to make a room in which men gather to drink kava. As we climbed, the villages had more traditional huts, with woven walls and thatched roofs, with neat compounds and gardens.

At Lowenia, we were invited to join half a dozen other visitors sitting on benches under a shelter at the edge of a clearing with a beaten earth floor. At the far side a group of bearded men hung around wearing nothing but grass penis sheaths. Across from them, under the banyan tree, were bare breasted women, wearing long grass skirts, and displaying handicrafts on mats. Our host was a well spoken educated young woman, wearing a second skirt as a a modest cape, who was the spokesperson for the village. We were entertained to dancing, and invited to join in, stamping feet hard to make the world tremble, and clapping hands at knee level with a sharp cracking noise. Then the men showed us how to make fire, rubbing a stick hard along softer wood to create saw dust which smoked and glowed. Once scooped into wine dried coconut husk fibre it was soon aflame. Having tried unsuccessfully to do this in the Las a Perlas Islands, I was keen to try the technique. Kneeling in the dust and rubbing the stick back and forth with maximum pressure I soon had it smoking.

Before we left we were shown the vegetable gardens, which are very fertile in the volcanic soil. For example, "water taro" produces tubers. One lifts the whole plant and cuts off as many as required and put the plant back in the hole. Kitchen taro is different; one cuts off the whole root, and replant the leafy top! There was also cassava, or tapioca, ground nuts, pumpkin, beans, a kind of bush called spinach and chillies (eaten mainly by the men) and kava.

After buying a little souvenir we were treated to a taste of "lap-lap", a cassava pancake with spinach. It was fascinating to meet these people who lived a peaceful simple life. I worry that exposure to tourism may change their self-perception to that of being a dancing troupe. Clearly some of the younger women were becoming shy about the traditional costume, covering their breasts. The men were friendly, and seemed relaxed and kind to the little children who sat with them or on their laps.

That afternoon we set off to the volcano up a much better road, which rose through the highlands or "MiddleBush", until it reached the ash plain. Along the way we entered a region of dense tree ferns, growing twenty feet high, and later on the ash plain it changed to a yucca-like plant with mangrove-like roots, the pandanus. Eventually the vegetation ended and we raced across the flat expanse of the ash below the volcano, which was rumbling deeply and belching smoke. In a cluster of vegetation we came to the park entrance where we watched a ceremony to placate the volcano, and a dance troupe which clearly did not come from a kastom village, wearing board shorts under their grass skirts.

Then a drive almost to the top of the crater, which we reached with a 10 minute climb up a steep path. Here on the rim the deep noises of the volcano sounded like a giant steel factory, with occasional explosion and deep rumbles that really shook the ground. As light fell we circled the rim to a high point where we could see right down to the glowing vents. There was a constant shower of sparks, with regular explosions that sent boulder sized gobs of molten rock high above us to crash in a shower of incandescence on the crater walls. I watched one above me getting bigger and bigger, and not deviating left or right, and got ready to step smartly out of the way. Thankfully it crashed into the rim below me.

It was a remarkable experience, free of most health and safety restrictions. So free in fact, that despite the supervision, I was concerned that older or younger visitors might lose their footing on the rim and plunge down to the inferno.

Arriving in Vanuatu. 7th August 2017

After three days sailing from Fiji, with the wind picking up after a gentle start, we sighted Futuna Island, and slowly closed with it all day, finally passing about 5 miles off at midnight.  Futuna looked like a perfect volcanic cone, with the top cut off.  At dawn we gybed and sailed up the coast of Tanna, seeing the 3000' mountain sticking its head into the clouds.  To our delight there were humpback whales breaching nearby and before anchoring we motored out to get closer. The anchorage at Lenakel was far from promising, feeling very exposed, but we tucked in behind a small curl of surf on a reef point, and found it quite peaceful, although it was tight with another small yacht already there.

Ashore we found a rather battered concrete wharf, with jagged reinforcing bars making it a dangerous dinghy dock.  I set off to find Customs, but found the official had gone to Vila for a two day conference. However, to his credit the Inland Revenue man, Alain Roger, organised our clearance by phone with Adrian, in Vila.  It's a strange feeling landing in a new country, unsure of how things work.  Lenakel looked very third world, with dust devils blowing up the road, run down shacks, and people looking quite impoverished.  Somehow people reminded me of Papua New Guineans, with different features from Fiji.  I was helped by various men who spoke with me and guided me to places in excellent English.  French is equally used as this is a Joint Condominium.

At the bank I found a long queue snaking out of the door. The ATM only took cards from ISI BANK, so I queued with the locals to exchange our limited amount of foreign notes -£20, 4,500CFP and $111.  However a man called Stanley insisted that I step into the room and someone else eventually arranged for me to be seen at the Foreign Currency Exchange desk.  I apologised to the queue, and they were all very gracious and I was soon out into the hot sunshine carrying 19,350 vatus.

There were two activities that we wanted to try on the island; visiting a "kastom" village, and going up the volcano, Mt. Yasur.  It quickly became apparent that we only had enough cash to get a taxi to the volcano, but not enough for the 9,750 vatu/head entrance fee.  So I took a 3,000 vatu taxi trip with Robert and Francis to the nearest resort that accepted credit cards, accompanied by a local, Peter, who runs a Labour recruitment office sending agricultural workers to Australia. We bumped and crawled along a crude track weaving in and out of the forest alongside a new road being built by the Chinese. From the depth of the surface on the road it looks as though it will only last a year or so.

At White Grass Resort, to my great pleasure, we were greeted by Justin and Siobhan, who coincidentally had come to Tanna to visit the same attractions. Justin kindly bailed us out by lending a big wedge of cash.  We sat on the elegant  terrace surrounded by bougainvillea, with a fine view of the sunset, enhanced by a cold beer and the sight of breaching humpback whales!

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Farewell Fiji

We absolutely adored Fiji, mostly because everyone we met was unreservedly welcoming and friendly. From the port officials and tuna fishermen who invited us to drink kava in the port offices in Levuka, to the sugar cane train drivers who invited me into their cab for a breakfast kava drink.

We made landfall in the old capital of Fiji, and cleared in with friendly officials. The old capital is a World Heritage site and preserves its old colonial buildings combined with a clean, fresh painted laid back feel.

From there we sailed north around the main island of Viti Levu for four days, anchoring in various bays but, in the end, never engaging with a village in the sevusevu kava ceremony. We spent one night anchored at the little island of Nananu-I-ra where we went ashore and enjoyed the peaceful low key resort, which was a few modest bungalows, without hot water. However there was a bar, which enabled us to watch the sunset through the palm trees in the approved manner.

We went snorkelling on the reef and found an amazing landscape of corals and fish, unlike any before. Phil was always fishing and consistently hauling in a wide variety of colourful reef fish by day and great long scary fish by night.

A huge fire was burning in the hills, and the thick smoke had been irritating us all the day. Eventually we arrived at Lautoka City, and anchored off the wharf, out of the smoke at last,mouth suddenly beneath the plume of the sugar refinery, which covered us in black ash overnight, from the burning bagasse. Our anchor kept dragging in a strong breeze, and Justin and I stayed aboard while Siobhan led a shopping trip ashore. Eventually we got the anchor to hold as darkness fell, but I had a restless night checking our anchor frequently.

The following day was 26th July and we made it in good time to Vuda (pronounced Vunda) Marina. With a strong crosswind the narrow channel carved through the coral was a bit daunting, but once through to the circular marina pool we were sheltered from the gale and, with the help of the marina launch, easily managed to moor bows to between all the other radially moored yachts.

Vuda was a welcome stop which provided everything I needed for repairs and maintenance. We were able to repair the mainsail and sprayhood, change the water pump on the generator and adjust its tappets, and attend to the chart-plotter which had been getting frozen and then rebooting all the time. We were there for 8 days while we worked on the boat and managed the crew change. We're sad to say goodbye to Phil, who had been so helpful in tackling various mechanical problems en route, and the most amazing fisherman. Then Justin and Siobhan left for a few days on land, and although very sorry to say farewell to Siobhan, we will soon see Justin again in Vanuatu.

Despite our best efforts we didn't manage to get out for any serious exploration of Fiji, as each set of engineers seemed to only be available on different days! However we did get into the neighbouring town of Nadi (Nandi) and Lautoka city, and to save on taxi fares I hired a car which was invaluable for provisioning and other errands. I also bought 23 meters of black netting, from which Mark and I fashioned mosquito nets for each hatch, and for the cockpit, in anticipation of malarial mozzies in Vanuatu and beyond. We found a seamstress in Lautoka, who sewed up all the covers, which I had tacked together to fit.

Vuda also provided a very nice restaurant and bar overlooking the sea and, because we were moored between boats, we soon got to know several of our fellow travellers after the day's work.

On the 2nd of August the McAdie family arrived, and the following day we cleared customs and immigration, filled with fuel and settled all our bills before departing at 14:00. By 17:30 we were heading out through the reef on the 470 mile trip to Vanuatu. As we did so we were delighted to see the super yacht Annatta sailing in. I called on the radio to congratulate skipper, Fabien, who we had met in Papeete. Annatta originally had the tallest mast in the world at 87 metres, but is now the second tallest. She has had a very long time in dock and the crew must be thrilled to be sailing at last.