Tin Tin's Sailing Calendar

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….


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.