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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Nov 4th, 2009 - Last Night at Sea for a While

It is 1:20 AM on Nov 4th. Nov 3rd in the USA - Happy Birthday, Mary, my sis-in-law! I am on night watch and wanted to pop downstairs to do a quick update. As Frank has been mentioning in his blogs, it has been a blessedly docile passage this year. We remember back to last year's passage from Tonga to New Zealand and tremble at the memory of the gale-force storm that had us in its vortex for a frighteningly long leg of the journey. This year, when we agreed to return to New Zealand, John Martin, the ICA Chairman who sails "Windflower", promised Frank and I that if we stuck with him he would choose the best possible route and weather window for us to make a safe trip back. We took him at his word and are very happy we did. In spite of the lack of strong sailing winds, and that the trip has been nearly accomplished using the "iron jib", we are not complaining. Normally a crossing to NZ is guaranteed at least one big dicey blow. We skirted them all this time.

We plan to arrive at dark-thirty tomorrow, which means we can tie up to the "Q" dock and get some rest and tidy the boat up before the Customs, Quarantine and Immigration Officials arrive at 8:00 AM the next morning. Already, Frank and the boys are icing down champagne with the promise of a toast to a job well done at arrival there. Apparently we can gather on the dock, which is completely isolated, just can't board any one else's boat. This will be interesting. My big plan is to SLEEP!

The best part of the short trip from Norfolk Island to here so far has been watching the beautiful giant orange moon rising while the sun has been setting in the skies, each night. Tonight's full moon performance was particularly spectacular! Although it is Spring time in this part of the world, it sure looked like an engorged Harvest Moon to us. Just breathtaking.

I have 30 minutes left on this watch, then off to beddy-bye at least for a couple of hours. Although the trip has been relatively short, we are both pretty tired, so 2-hour shifts is all we can muster this last night.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

October 25 -31, 2009 - Hello Norfolk Island and chance encounters!

I am never surprised by the fact that although two people will have the same experience (together), they may take away different memories and perspectives of the event. If anyone is reading our blogs, you will note that Frank has gotten over his "writer's block" and has recently been inspired to get back to journaling. In reading the posts he'd sent in I had to laugh because what he highlighted in his notes were a bit different than what I would have (and vice versa).

So we left Noumea with a small group of yachts determined to sail direct to Opua, NZ, but planned a contingency stop at Norfolk Island. Besides being a choppy journey with the wind on our nose most of the time, I remember mostly that the fuel leak reared its ugly head again. It is no picnic being in rough seas anyway. Then you add to that recipe these factors: can't open hatches or portholes because the water is washing up over the yacht… this makes it real stuffy below…fuel leaks leave ghastly fumes that can't go anywhere but up the companionway and into the cockpit when the hatches are all closed…generally we are in the cockpit or sleeping in the saloon during a crossing so the fumes pervade every breathing space. This was my most vivid memory of the 3½-day passage to Norfolk Island. We were very happy to see this tiny little island in the middle of the ocean, perfectly situated halfway between Noumea and Opua. We did not stop because of the fuel leak. We stopped because we needed to get out of the "washing machine seas" and wait for the winds to shift around for a better shot into Opua.

Norfolk Island has a very interesting history. It reminds us somewhat of Niue, which has ties to New Zealand. Norfolk Island was originally discovered and named by Captain Cook, claimed by the Australians, used for a penal colony and then later to relocate the Pitcairn Islanders. The Pitcairn Islanders were the surviving mutineers from The Bounty. Fletcher Christian's bloodline is alive and thriving here on Norfolk Island. It is tiny, but loveable! There is a beautiful golf course, which Frank and John from "Windflower" played along with Toby and Kath from "Solstice". While they golfed, Lynn (John's wife) and I went touring. There are prison ruins, lots of museums, shops, boutique hotels, B & B's, spas and duty-free shopping galore! There are many very good restaurants and sweet shops. It is a jewel in the middle of nowhere, and we are so glad to have found it. The 1300 or so islanders are mostly all related to the original settlers - either of the penal colony, the military & supply ships that wrecked here or from the Bounty. They are adorably friendly and hospitable. The entire island is nothing but a holiday & vacation venue for loads of Aussies and Kiwis with a few Americans and other nationalities thrown into the pot. One local man and his wife left a car at the wharf for any of the cruisers to use who need transportation. There really is no crime here, no worries of car theft or otherwise. The livestock, cows mostly, just roam free and all driveways and roadways have cattle guards to keep the cows from where they aren't supposed to go. It is simply beautiful.

Our second day at Norfolk, while bringing the dinghy into the wharf one of the local men walked over to Frank, offered him a hand and spoke to him like they were old friends. I did a double take, realizing it was Dean Burrell from Hutcheson Boat Builders down in Tauranga, NZ. I walked over to him, leaned in close and said, "Dean?" He threw his head back and just laughed, gave me a hug, saying what a strange coincidence it was to see us. He had grown up here, and is a descendent of one of the original families. He and his wife had recently bought a holiday apartment complex and had just relocated here from Tauranga to raise their little boy. He had heard there were yachties in Cascade Bay, so he wandered over to find out if there was anyone he knew among us. The World just keeps getting smaller.
The only downfall is that the anchorage is the rolliest we have ever encountered in our nearly two years out cruising. Many of the yachties are on seasick meds while at anchor. I asked Frank if it is possible to suffer a knockdown while at anchor. He just shrugged and said, "Well, I guess it is possible". When we do go into town, someone in the anchorage is always on watch for the boats in the bay. We do not leave the boat at night, although Dean had offered us complimentary use of an apartment in case we wanted a calm night of rest. We declined his offer but were deeply grateful.

It is looking like the winds are favorable for a Sunday departure. All Saints Day - well, perhaps they will be looking out for us on this next 400-mile leg of our journey back to The Land of the Long White Cloud. In the meantime - Happy Halloween to all back home.

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Oct 17 - 24, 2009 - Noumea, New Caledonia

The exodus continued each day as we bid farewell to many dear friends who were departing for Australia. In the meantime, we were on a mission to find a venue somewhere in Noumea to watch our beloved Denver Broncos play the San Diego Chargers in Monday Night Football. Frank inquired everywhere we went around town and his request was often met with a glazed over look from the locals - what was he talking about? What is Monday Night Football, and why does he want to watch it on Tuesday at 11:30 AM? What is ESPN? Ha! It was pretty funny. He was not to be denied and continued the quest until he found that there is a casino outside of town at the Meridian Resort that may have cable/satellite TV. So we jumped on a bus Tuesday morning, along with all the locals, taking it to the end of the line. We walked into the casino to find nothing but blinking and flashing slot machines. In the middle of the room was a small snack bar with plastic tables and chairs - this was a high dollar outfit! There were video monitors suspended down from the ceiling on two sides, playing New Caledonia's version of VH-1. Frank walked around asking anyone who may understand a little English if there was a place in the casino to watch American Football on ESPN. They again didn't seem to know what we were talking about, so finally a man came along who thought he could help us out. He took us to a manager who went behind a locked door into a control room. After flipping the channel several times to various soccer games, watching us as we shook our heads telling him "American Football…ESPN", behold he found the game! We were the only people in the snack bar at the time so the manager switched two of the four screens to our game. We were in Heaven! It was like we had a private viewing room, but with the bells and whistles of slot machines in the background - there was no sound, just the audio but we didn't care. And the Broncos won! It was nearly the best part of our visit in Noumea!

Afterward we walked for a few kilometers along the beach road, watching kite surfers and surf sailors. This is a haven for those sports and the masses were out! It was a pretty day, so we strolled over to the famous Aquarium for a visit. It was well worth the price for admission. Finally we caught another bus back to the marina. That night we had invited Tanja and Bernd from "Upps" over for dinner. I must say I fixed a superb fresh prawn curry dish that was a huge hit. I hope I can remember how I prepared it so I can do it again. The local prawns here are outstanding.

Most of our time in Noumea was spent getting the boat ready for departure , getting laundry sent out and having dinners with friends. Noumea houses a vast seafood market just a block from the marina, and then next to that is an even larger fresh foods (fruits, veggies, etc.) market and then next to that is another market for jewelry, clothing, shells, hand crafts - you name it. There were even several French pastry and coffee shops. We really liked Noumea and would have enjoyed spending more time here, and probably will next year if we pass this way again. I was able to refill some of my prescriptions and get other medications for far cheaper than back in the States, so we restocked some of our med supplies at the local pharmacy.

Wednesday night we all gathered at the yacht club for a passage briefing and steak dinner. This one is a "real" yacht club. The Port Captain and his wife were invited, and seated at the table with Frank and I, so we had to behave. The plan was set for our departure on Friday, when we were to check out of the country, after which we could receive our duty-free fuel, and then be on our way to NZ. Fortunately, Customs gave us a 36-hour departure window, because conditions were not good for a Friday departure, AND we do not generally leave port for any passage on a Friday (sailors superstition). So we fired off goodbye emails to friends and family and had an early night to bed. Saturday at 6 AM we left the dock. First stop was the fuel dock to top off the tanks. If all went well, we planned a stop mid-way to New Zealand at a small Australian territory called Norfolk Island, three ½ days out.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Oct 12 - 16, 2009 - Baie de Prony & Noumea - Saying Sad Goodbyes!

We left Ils des Pins on Oct 12th, headed northwest for Baie de Prony, which is located on the southernmost part of Grand Terre, New Caledonia's main and largest island. The Gribs (raw weather data) had indicated we would have a good day of sailing. Gribs are often not what they seem. The winds were very light, but we had a nice motor-sail journey, arriving around 3 PM. This area is known for its red soil. In fact the soil is so red that you will not get it out of your clothing or off your shoes. The topography is vastly different than anything we have seen outside the USA. The bay is very large, tranquil and looks like a lake in either North East Texas or Georgia, with red clay hills all around and water that is rather brown - not clear. Not blue. It is not what we would call attractive by South Pacific standards, but held another kind of beauty. It was peaceful! The only sounds we would hear were for three days were hundreds of birds - not chirping or screeching, but singing melodiously morning and evening, and fish jumping and splashing, causing ripples and ringlets across the waters. The water was calm, and if the sun hit it right on a clear day you could see mountains of delicate stag horn coral just underneath the surface off to the sides of our boat. Anchoring is dicey because of the delicate bottom, and we only anchored in depths marked far clear of the coral areas.

We took this opportunity to work on deck, polishing and cleaning. Then while Frank finished around the outer hull, I got down to some serious scrubbing of floors and lockers inside. We were getting Destiny ready for passage.

We had been in touch with Morning Light, thinking that they were leaving Noumea around the 18 or 20th for Australia. So we spent 3 blissful days in Baie de Prony, but then we received an email from them indicating they had a "weather window" much sooner and would probably leave on Thursday the 15th! Early AM on Thursday we made tracks for Noumea in a desperate attempt to arrive before they left port. We arrived around noontime and managed to catch them on the VHF 16. They were still here. There was no room in the marina so we anchored in the next bay over. They had decided to leave very early the next day instead. We were thrilled! After getting settled and having lunch we dingied over to see them. We spent the rest of the afternoon together and then had a farewell dinner with them and Dave and Jan from "Baraka". Afterward Frank and I walked Jaime and Christine back to their boat and had a teary goodbye. They tried one more time to convince us to come with them to OZ and we made a final attempt to change their minds as well. At the end of it all we hugged and vowed to make plans to see one another many more times wherever we are. Friends for life.

On the 16th, they departed early in the morning. We hailed them on VHF 16 when we awakened at 7:00. They were already far outside the reef pass, but still within range. We bid them fair winds and following seas. At around 8:00 AM we called the marina and were given a berth - it was the one vacated by our dear friends! We got settled in and went to shore to get set up with the marina, get an internet card, and take care of general business. It was nice to be on shore power again and to have the convenience of the marina.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

oct 3rd, 2009 - Going to Ils des Pins AND Decisions, Decisions…Where to go? OZ or NZ? Nearly stepping on Sea Snakes!

Side note to my blog...When we received the tsunami warning the other day we had been very concerned for our friends Glen and Sally aboard TDM.  The last time we had heard from them they were in Western Samoa, which was near the epicenter of the earthquake.  We had sent an email to them inquiring about their welfare. Their response to us was both upsetting and comforting, as they were in fact directly impacted yet remained unharmed.  She detailed their personal experience on her blog.  A link to the blog, "s/v The Dorothy Marie", is listed here on the left-hand side of my blog page, for anyone who would like to read about it.  Also, sadly, we heard that a boat called "Sunshine", whom we had met in French Polynesia was in Pago Pago during the Tsunami and was thrown onto a reef and completely destroyed. We did not hear whether they were onboard at the time.


The day before our departure from Ouvea, Frank and I had a big discussion.  We had already obtained our Australian multiple-entry visas and we had booked and paid for a marina berth in Bundaberg, Australia.  We had changed our insurance, which must be done whenever there is a destination change. We had been making arrangements to sail down to meet some friends in Sydney, November 18th and to book all kinds of great stuff over the holidays and through New Year's in Sydney.  We had lots of plans for Australia (affectionately known in these parts as "OZ").  But I was having misgivings.  When Frank and I sailed out of New Zealand in May, it was with every intention of returning there for another season.  Then after arriving in Fiji, various dynamics came into play precipitating a change of plans and so we committed to sail to OZ during the off-season instead.  My heart still wanted to return to NZ yet I just did not want to endure that passage.  That was the bottom line and this thought:  If we carry on to OZ then we will more or less be committed to leave the South Pacific and continue toward Indonesia.  I for one was not yet done with the South Pacific or with NZ. Frank wasn't either but he was less inclined to change everything AGAIN. Many of our Kiwi friends were expressing disappointment that we were not returning and were trying their best to gently, and sometimes not so gently nudge us back there.   After speaking to John Martin on s/v Windflower, AKA the head guy for the ICA, AKA our Rally Leader, AKA Frank's golfing buddy, we decided that we would put our faith in him and God and return to NZ with the ICA Rally.  We created a stir of mixed emotions and reactions from friends and loved ones over that decision.  This time we stand firm.  We cancelled the marina berth in Bundaberg.  We cancelled our plans in Sydney L, and we changed our insurance once again.  New Zealand, here we come!  This decision also gave us an extra week or so in New Caledonia, so we can slow down a little bit.  Yachts departing for OZ normally begin the exodus in mid-Oct.  Boats departing for NZ start looking for weather windows the last week of Oct.


OK.  That said, on Oct 3rd we sailed an overnighter down to Ils des Pins with Morning Light, Baraka, Free Spirit, Special Blend and Priscilla. It was a good trip.  We arrived in Kuto Bay, which was nearly as beautiful as Mouli in Ouvea.  This was a fun place, with resorts nearby that served fabulous food!  We had access to a small grocery store and bakery that cranked out fresh baguettes daily.   There were a couple of boutiques des gifts that sold fairly pricey items.  Well – everything in New Caledonia is pricey.  When you get right down to it if you want to come here you just can't let that stuff bother you.  You will pay $25 for a hamburger, $100/day for a car rental (only $70 for 6 hours though), and dinner out is approx $100/pp without drinks.  These are US dollar equivalents.  Any place owned by the French is going to be expensive.  So you suck it up and decide whether you want to spend a little money to get out and enjoy yourself, or be budget conscious.  We bit the bullet a few times and ate out.  Our favorite was to head over to Kanumera Bay for a cheeseburger (in paradise!) for lunch – it was very, very good! Kanumera Bay is an easy walk from Kuto along the beach during low tide and at daylight (close via the beach, quite far via the roadway).  Their dinner menu featured some Ils des Pins specialties, such as escargots, local land snails, so we made a reservation for dinner with Jaime and Christine (ML) for the following night, including a car service to pick us up.  The car arrived, took us to the restaurant where we dined in style and had an excellent dinner and then walked back to reception desk for our ride back to Kuto.  There was no one there except workers who were piling into a van to go home.  Finally a lady came out to the front desk, and when we asked about our transport back she just giggled and shrugged, as though we were either the funniest people she had ever encountered or she had no idea what we were asking.  Frank tried to "mime" our needs, as she continued to giggle.  Then he asked the workers if they would mind giving us a lift.  They joined in the laughter, and continued to look at us as though we had asked something quite absurd!  Finally, Frank said, "Fine, then we will just walk back".  They all seemed to understand this and nodded as if in approval.  Christine and I had worn fairly nice shoes and dresses, so we were not as amused as everyone else.  We set off for the beach.  It was very dark and the tide was on the rise, slamming into shore.  Thankfully, Jaime carried a pocket flashlight.  We all took off our shoes, I held my dress up and off we went, along the beach sidestepping branches and debris that was washing up to shore, when all of a sudden one of the branches began slithering!  Oh my god!  We nearly stepped on a 3 ft long sea snake!  He was swimming and sliding along the edge of the beach with the incoming sea wash.  He wasn't bothered by us in the least so we maneuvered around him and continued onward.  We still had quite a long, dark walk ahead of us and although we did not encounter another snake, we decided one dinner there was enough.  We did return for burgers at lunch though.


Tsunami Warning # 2!  We awoke the next morning to Déjà vu!  A general announcement was made over the VHF that an earthquake had occurred in the ocean off the shores of Vanuatu and that a Tsunami was imminent.  Alas, Ils des Pins is surrounded by intricate reef systems and isn't quite as easily and as quickly evacuated!  Yet, at 7:00 AM we were raising the anchor to rush out to sea.  This time we had even less information and the Gendarmes were not letting us back in until they had news of the situation from Noumea Radio.  I didn't' mention that we still had no internet – no link to the outside world other than SSB and VHF radios.  Thank goodness, Frank's daughter and son send us email updates about what is going on "out there", albeit most of them have some reference to Denver sports teams.  So, we danced and bobbed in a holding pattern until nearly 11:00 AM, when we were finally given the all clear to return to the anchorage.  We still do not know what exactly happened with that quake; however, we know that it did not happen in New Caledonia.


Our time with our friends who are heading to OZ was coming to an end all too soon.  Martha from "Special Blend" was having a birthday while in Kuto, so on our last night with ML still there we went in to the resort for dinner (the one in our bay) to celebrate with Martha.  After another fantastic French meal, we were all walking back to the wharf to collect our dinghies, when Jaime decided to turn on his pocket light for us to see the planks.  Oh my Lord!  Right where Frank and Jim were about to step was the biggest sea snake any of us has ever seen!  This thing had to be 3 inches in diameter and about 6 feet long.  This time we were a little more intimidated.  Sea snakes are deadly and we did not want to aggravate this one.  We quietly and carefully stepped around him and ran for the dinghies, shining Jaime's light all around to make sure none had crawled up into one.  This place was literally crawling with the buggers!  By the way, these two weren't the only ones we saw, just the only ones we nearly stepped on.  You encounter at least one a day around these parts.  And they do like to come onto land. 


The next morning, ML and Baraka departed to make their way up to Noumea (the capital city) in order to check out of the country and get ready for a weather window to leave for OZ.  The weather wasn't good for sailing so we decided to wait a few days before following them.  We stayed and really didn't do much of anything but polish stainless, play Rummikub and read books.  It was nice to have some quiet time.  Before we left, we joined our friends from Special Blend, Free Spirit & Priscilla for one last $25 cheeseburger with fries!

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sept 26th - Sailing to New Caledonia and Tsunami Evacuation! – Ouvea

Our passage to New Caledonia only took two nights.  Leaving at 5 PM from Port Vila we enjoyed about an hour of perfect sailing, then when we passed the protective barrier of the mountains and exited the bay for open water the bash began!  For about 14 hours we rocked and rolled in 2-2.5 meter seas with 25+ knot winds.  I told Frank that he would have to live on muffins and brownies, nuts and fruits because I wasn't even going to go into the galley, much less make an effort to heat up prepared meals.  He was OK with that, being a junk food junkie at heart. 


Then on my first Watch of the night, as I went below to grab something to drink I became overwhelmed with the smell of diesel fumes.  I had a flashback to last year's fuel line leak and at first I put it off as residual vapors from our recent fill up.  After a few hours of heeling to starboard, however, I could smell the fumes wafting up through the companionway.  Crap! The fumes grew stronger and began to pervade the entire salon and galley area.  When I awakened Frank for his watch I voiced my fears that our repair of the former fuel-line leak last year in French Polynesia had been compromised.  I knew there was nothing I could do about it while alone on Watch, so he dove into the locker to check. Yep – we had a leak!  So far about a cup of diesel had accumulated in the refrigeration compressor locker. We spent the next several hours mopping and tossing sodden paper towels overboard, then washing the locker with grease cutting soap.  For the rest of the night this was the drill – mop, sop, clean, toss, tighten the fittings, then come up for air.  It was absolutely nauseating!  For a while even Frank got queasy.  Eventually all we could both do was to sit in the cockpit, keeping the locker open to air out until the nausea passed and we could start the operation again.


By mid morning the leak was sealed but the fumes were horrendous!  We sprayed air fresheners, wiped the area with vinegar, Simple Green, lemon, dryer sheets.  It was so bad that I had removed everything from the entire area – top, middle and bottom shelves and spent the day re-organizing our food and supplies.  Thankfully the seas had settled down and we enjoyed a beautiful day of sailing.  We moved canned goods into the locker, and called it good.

Our second night out was lovely! We had a fantastic trip the rest of the way. We arrived in New Caledonia at the island of Ouvea, in The Loyalties, at daybreak and were anchored in time for a nice breakfast and a generous pot of coffee.  Our anchorage in Mouli Bay was as pretty as a picture.  Many cruisers compared it to the Bahamas.  I have not been to the Bahamas so I just compared it to Heaven!  The sand was pure white and so soft I couldn't get enough of burying my feet into it.


On September 30th we were scheduled to take a group tour of the island beginning at 10:00 AM.  We were happy about the prospect of sleeping in a little.  At 6:50 AM we were awakened by a blaring air horn!  I turned to Frank and said, "What kind of jerk would do such a thing at this hour of the morning?"  He said, "Well it's probably Lizzie, they always blow the horn when they leave an anchorage, so they must be leaving and saying goodbye".  (Lizzie is a huge custom motor yacht that is part of our rally group.)  He rolled over to go back to sleep.  I got up to go to the bathroom and saw through the porthole that several yachts were leaving.  So I casually remarked, "Well, it looks like a parade out there – lots of boats are leaving".  Then we began hearing more horn blasts real close to our boat.  I went over to turn on the VHF, and immediately heard several boats hailing us. They had been blowing the horns to get our attention!  A Tsunami warning had been issued and all boats were ordered to evacuate. We jumped to it; Frank started the engine as I headed forward to raise the anchor.  While Frank was negotiating our way out of the bay I phoned my brother and Sis-in-law on the Sat phone to let them know of the evacuation in the event something happened and they would need to inform the family. We were out of the bay within minutes, heading for deep water.  Fortunately, this atoll is surrounded by very deep water – fathoms!  It didn't' take long to get far enough away to feel reasonably safe.  Many of the boats threw out fishing lines and used the opportunity for some trolling. We made coffee and began tuning into various radio stations on the SSB to try to get some kind of report in English because Noumea Radio was broadcasting in French.  All we knew was that a deep ocean earthquake had occurred off the coast of Samoa, which triggered a Tsunami that was headed our way.  We waited in deep water until around 10:00.  Thankfully it turned out to be a non-event.  Nothing happened here in New Cal.  So we made our way back and got re-anchored.  I am immensely proud to say that this was our first experience responding to this type of emergency situation, and we handled it with amazing calm and order.  We were a unit, working in concert with one another.  In fact it felt a little exciting, although neither of us wanted to admit that until later when it was all over.


We all hustled into our dinghies to go in for the tour.  When we arrived at the designated spot on shore, however, two of the vans had left having given up on us when they saw all the boats leaving the anchorage, (can't say I blame them!), so half of the group went in the available vans and the rest of us returned to our boats happy to just hang out and do nothing.  We did manage to get the buses back the next day to take the remainder of us. It isn't difficult to see the island in one day – there is one road, one town, one significant resort, (a beauty by the way called The Paradise; very befitting!), and a small airport.  We visited a soap factory where copra is made into soap and washing powder – we made come purchases there.  We visited the lovely Catholic Church, and some sacred lagoons. It is a beautiful island but we noticed that the people of New Caledonia – the Kanaks – are not very friendly.  In fact they are vastly unfriendly to outsiders.  One group of cruisers had rented a car for a couple of days, and when we all had gone into shore for the tour, it was noted that all 4 tires of the rental car had been slashed and the petrol siphoned.  We made a note to self – do not rent a car here – or if you do, do not leave it unattended overnight.


We had seen all and done all that we could here, and knowing that we had three weeks to see New Caledonia, we made plans to leave for Ile des Pins before heading to Noumea and getting ready for the passage to Australia (OZ).
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Friday, October 2, 2009

Sept 11th remembering our homeland as we sail into Port Vila

We wonder if September 11th will always send a chill up and down our spines as we have our morning coffee and ponder how violent life has been in these beautiful remote islands of the South Pacific. These dear people, innocent and sheltered in their own civilizations, protected from the impact of cultured nations have many times over fallen victim to Western, Asian and European Nations' struggles for power. They have known more death and suffering than most others ever will, and that is just because of their location on the map. They have been invaded, dominated and stripped of natural resources by the superpowers and then left to lick their own wounds and to repair their own lands. Amazingly they remain childlike and ingrained in their own traditions and values. They are precious and proud. We have tremendous respect for them. After coffee and a leisurely breakfast we bid farewell to simplicity and then weighed anchor in anticipation of reaching Port Vila in time to book dinner at a nice restaurant.

We had an easy day sailing up around Devil's Point (known for the underwater currents that have claimed many a ship), and into Port Vila. We cheered as we entered the anchorage full of yachts. John on "Windflower" had made sure that a marina berth was reserved for us, and as we were settling in we heard a familiar voice on the VHF; "Destiny, Destiny, This is Mai Miti, do you copy?" James was here! We have somewhat adopted James. Whenever we see him we treat him as we would hope others would care for our kids if they were out and about so far from home. James is the same age as my daughter, Jen, yet in many ways he is far older. He is our peer out here and we consider him family.

To compress our Port Vila experience -
We met with Sam from Kaleva Yacht Services to arrange for the batteries to be dealt with ASAP,
We ate out as much as possible,
We paid $100 for two weeks worth of internet that was crummy but at least it worked about 25% of the time,
Frank played golf,
I sent lots of laundry out to be done (who cares that it cost $15.00 per load!),
We watched two All Blacks Games at the Anchor Inn Sports Bar with James and a bunch of Kiwi friends,
We watched NY Giants play the Dallas Cowboys in Sunday Night Football on Monday afternoon at The Anchor Inn Sports Bar,
We found out that for the second time in 2 ½ years, our very expensive house batteries needed to be replaced,
We ordered new batteries and fought with Lifeline over warranty issues,
Frank played golf again,
We found out that we would be spending our children's inheritances on new batteries to be shipped from Australia and installed,
I uploaded some pictures to our website,
We ate Ice Cream Sundaes at Jill's American café at least 5 times.
We shopped at real grocery stores,
We shopped at the 24-hour open-air market,
Frank played golf,
We went on an excellent shore excursion to The Cascades waterfalls,
We got our Australian multiple entry Visas,
We ate a righteous Sri Lankan dinner buffet at a local 5-star restaurant with Jaime, Christine and James and toasted Andy and Melissa (they are getting married in Sri Lanka in March of '10),
We bid farewell to James as he left for New Caledonia,
We made lots and lots of new friends and had the time of our lives. We loved Port Vila.

On September 26th I baked brownies, banana nut muffins, boiled eggs, and prepared a meal-at-sea and then at 5 PM, we departed for New Caledonia.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tsunami NOT a Problem for the Gladneys

Sorry for the mass email, but we have received some troubled inquiries and want to put to rest any concerns for our safety. First of all, Frank, Barbara and Destiny are all A-OK.
Yesterday we arrived in Ouvea, New Caledonia. We have no internet access and therefore do not know who among you heard about the Tsunami that emerged in the South Pacific today. Early this morning we received emergency evacuation orders to get offshore as quickly as possible. An earthquake had occurred in the ocean near Samoa and the resulting Tsunami was headed this way, with an expected landfall in New Caledonia of 9:16 this morning. We immediately made for deep water (4,000 feet) and stood offshore until the officials in Noumea, New Caledonia gave us the all-clear. Other than a little excitement over our morning coffee and a chance to do some deep sea fishing, it was a non-event for us. Sadly, we heard there were lives lost and many unaccounted-for in Samoa.
We hope also that anyone who bore anxiety for us will forgive us for not getting in touch sooner. Also copying our blogs on this message...
Love and best wishes, Frank and Barbara

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Friday, September 25, 2009

September 3 – 10 Making our way down Malekula Island

We arrived at Banam Bay happy to have gotten out of the rough sea state to find another beautiful, crystal clear blue water anchorage.  As with other anchorages here, the locals came out in their outrigger canoes to have a look at us.  Some of them wanted to trade fruits and vegetables and others would just come up really, really close to our boat and just sit and stare at us.  It gets a bit creepy after a while, but this is their world and we are the intruders therein, so it is not for us to get indignant or annoyed.  We did some trading, walked the shores and trekked inland with "Free Spirit", "Baraka" & " Morning Light "(ML).  We generally just killed time waiting for the weather to calm down so that we could continue southward.  Our original plan was to hop over to the island of Epi and to swim with the dugongs, however, we kept hearing other yachts on the VHF reporting that they were getting beat up out there in 30+ kt winds and confused seas.  We sat for three days and then stuck our nose out on the 4th. 

Yep – not nice out there, so instead of a rough 4-5 hour trip to Epi, we make a 2-hour, 12-mile jump down to Port Sandwich, on Malekula.  It wasn't as pretty there but sure was calm inside the anchorage.  What a funny name for an anchorage anyway, especially since it is known for its high concentration of sharks.  This is the former site of a meat packing plant, where the companies would toss meat scraps and entrails into the water.  Smart, since there are several villages about.  I guess they don't do much swimming.  Our cruising guides warned against that and even kayaking.  We did not see any sharks while at anchor there but didn't want to temp fate by jumping in to bait them.  We did venture into shore and walked through several villages and combed the beaches for shells.  I found some of my most unusual shells there. We passed a couple of nights playing "Oh Shit" on Val and Bill's yacht, "Ivory Quays".  And then another night playing Mexican Train on "Baraka".  Isn't this what we come to paradise for anyway?

Finally feeling safe to sail, we at last made for Aiwa Bay in the Maskelyns (islands) at the southernmost end of Malekula.  It was a lovely anchorage.  We ran into Morning Light and several other friends there.  It was kind of a ditto deal – absolutely beautiful.  Lots of outriggers coming by to have a look at us.  A lot.  We walked beaches, picking up what the locals call "sparking" rocks.  One beach was littered with these beautiful quartz treasures.  If you struck them together they created sparks.  The locals probably think it is some kind of magic.  We enjoyed the tranquility and beauty of this anchorage very much and would have spent more time there exploring, except that on the 4th day, 5 other huge boats squeezed in on us making it very uncomfortable.  There had been barely enough room in there for those of us already in the there and we knew that anchor chains were undoubtedly tangled up underneath us all, but with the weather that had been kicking around such that safe anchorages were getting jammed with yachts.  Our goal was to get up very early for the 12-hour sail over to Efate's Havannah Harbour.  We made plans with "Morning Light", "Free Spirit", "Priscilla", "Baraka" and "Ivory Quays" to head out in the wee hours. 


So, at 4:00 AM, we raised the hook, nearly kissing a large French motor yacht that was hovering very near to where our anchor lay, and picked our way out of there.  The winds and seas had clamed considerably and we spend a lovely morning sailing down to Efate.  Havannah Harbour was loaded with lovely clear, calm anchorages.  We chose to stay just one overnight and then head into Pt. Vila for two major reasons.  The most critical was that our batteries were going.  We were needing to turn on the generator every three hours or so, getting up in the middle of the night several times to charge them.  At first we had thought that it was just the intense heat of the day causing the fridge and freezer to work overtime, but then it seemed that just turning on the coffee pot or microwave anymore is causing the breakers to trip.  We knew that we had to get to a professional soon before our systems began to go caput!  These batteries are the top of the line (maintenance free AGM's), yet have given us only 2 ½ years of life.  We were real worried about the fact that they would not hold a charge and knew that we would not make it beyond Vanuatu if we didn't get something done real soon.  The other major reason was that Barbara (me) was craving civilization – laundry facilities, internet and shopping.  I was going mad.  

Thursday, September 17, 2009

August 30 - Sept 3 - Moving onward to the islands of Land Diving, Rom Dancing, active Volcanoes.

We departed Maewo for Loltong Bay on the island of Pentecost.  The big draw to Pentecost is the Land Diving. We have read about and heard about this "do not miss" ritual but were too late in the season to get to see it. It is on the list of things to do if we return next year.  Reader's Digest version: It is like bungee jumping but these crazy men and boys do it with vines tied to their ankles (which are not elastic), jumping from a tree on land – no water to brake the impact if they hit.  They wear only "small red nambas", which I'll describe later. There is a superstitious reason for the diving – it is done to appease the spirit of Tamalie (the first land diver who died during his jump), to ensure a successful harvest and to fertilize the soil for the yam crops.  The idea is to dive, arching their backs as they fall and to touch the ground lightly either with the hair of their head or with their chest.  Some don't quite judge the angle and depth of the dive right and suffer broken bones and banged heads in the process. 
So we missed Land Diving but we did see turtles!  Loltong Bay was lovely, the water clear, and inhabited by friendly sea turtles.  We snorkeled spent one night and then moved on to Ambrym. 
Ambrym is known for two major draws – Volcanoes and Rom Dancing.  We arrived in North Ambrym at Ranon Bay mid-day on September 1.  This black sand bay is large and provides waterfront to a couple of villages.  Just as we were setting the snubber on the anchor chain, an outrigger canoe approached carrying two young men.  One was Jeffrey, who was as slick as any salesman we've ever met.  He quickly introduced himself, thrusting large laminated brochures up at us illustrating all of the services he would arrange for us, giving us loads of options to divest us of our cash.  It was a little too much.  We told him we would like to arrange a few activities but needed to consult with our friends on other yachts first.  He made sure that we knew to contact only him and no one else who may approach us offering their services.  Marking his territory.  OK, no problem.  We kicked back the first afternoon, watching the colorful display as locals hand washed their laundry and then laid it all out on the black beach to dry.  Then as evening darkened into night we could see the red glow of the volcano on top. It radiated into the sky casting reds and oranges into the clouds.
On Wednesday, we went to shore to the Visitor's Bureau.  Hmmm, ok "hut".  We arranged for a group of yachties to go to the village of Fanla for a Rom Dancing Experience on Thursday.  We talked about hiking up to the volcano but were told that this activity is closed; it is Tabu after September 1, because if anyone sets foot on the soil going up the volcano it is not good for the yam crops – a Kastom belief.  Another missed opportunity that will wait another year.  No problem – we would not miss the dancing.
At 8:00 AM Thursday we gathered on shore for the trek to Fanla, which is a guided 45-minute hike straight up the mountain where the inhabitants still live as their ancestors have for hundreds and hundreds of years. They are not Christian and hold firmly to their Kastom (Pagan) beliefs.  Ni Vanuatu women are not permitted to participate in this & several other rituals.  In fact we felt like we had stepped into the land of OZ, or had fallen down the rabbit hole as the day wore on.  While huffing and grunting up the mountain, we noticed loads of villagers walking down with armloads of fruits and vegetables, and carrying goods on a pole over their shoulders, dressed in festive garb.  Our guide informed us that they were going into Ranon for a circumcision ceremony.  This marks the initiation of boys age 10-12 into adulthood and is a very public and highly celebrated event.  Happily we missed that.
After our hike we were each offered a drinking coconut for refreshment and asked to sit and rest in an adjacent village while our guides sought permission for us to approach to watch the "performance".  Our package included the dance, sand drawing, magic show and flute playing.  We certainly hoped we would be granted permission, since we had already paid our VT 4200 ($43.00) per person.  Eventually we were told that we could move along to the village's staging area, but if we wanted to see the magic we would need to pay more.  Uh huh.  We didn't bite.  So, no magic for us today.   But after all we had primarily come to see the very unusual and sacred Rom Dance.
We had been instructed that the area where the dancers perform is Tabu (sacred) and so are the performers.  We were not to approach the area until the official welcome had been issued, and then we would be ushered to a seating area near the periphery. Never were we to approach a dancer or to touch one.  For photographs, after the performance, we were permitted to step a little closer but not within 3 meters of any of the men.  I won't go into the details of the idiosyncrasies of the Rom Dance and the history – it can be "googled". We were not disappointed. In fact we were mesmerized, enthralled.  The dancers themselves were eerie and ominous to watch.  There were two distinct sets – one group, the dancers, wore the highly decorative Masks that were large, colorful and very tall (must have weighed a ton!), and covered their bodies in corn husks such that they resembled a dancing, bobbing hay stack, carrying a very long spear with a top that resembled a tiki torch, but that had a handled in it.  When they slammed the spear on the ground it made rattling sounds. These men surrounded the musicians who wore nothing but "small nambas".  This is more bizarre than the dancing hooded cornstalks, because in sharp contrast they wore nothing but a band around their waist, which supported their penis sheath.  Yes, balls exposed, penis wrapped in a leaf, sticking straight out, supported by the waistband.  Frank took photos, which we will get uploaded sometime this century.  I think most of us sat looking hypnotized as these men – two were Chiefs the others ancestors thereof, chanted, made music and danced hauntingly for some 30 minutes.  Following their performance, one of the primary chiefs played music for us on his beautifully hand carved bamboo flute and then the other chief performed sand drawing.  Our guides explained to us that everything these people do is significant in some way to the spirit world, and is a form of communication.  They further explained some of the Black Magic beliefs and why they ate each other.  Some villages told us that they ate man just because that is what they did.  Others said that it was the result of punishment for crimes, or for trespassing (like us white people being here), and then some still believe that you eat part of the person to hold them in perpetuity after their death.  Whatever the reason, we are glad it is no longer practiced.  After the performances we were offered opportunities to purchase, carvings and flutes.  We bought two flutes. 
We didn't sign up for any more activities because most of them we had already done on other islands.  So on Thursday morning we set off for Malekula Island.  The wind was gusting to the mid 30's and the seas tossed us like toys so we made the quickest and most direct landfall at Banam Bay, only 3-4 hours instead of 5-6 to our originally planned stop in Aiwa.

Monday, September 14, 2009

August 10-30, 2009 part 4 Asanvari Bay, Island of Maewo, Vanuatu – Getting Adopted!

On Monday we journeyed a few hours across to Asanvari Bay at the southern end of the island of Maewo. This is a beautiful bay with very nice villages and a wonderful waterfall. The ICA has invested heavily in Asanvari, assisting Chief Nelson's efforts to improve and advance his village. It is home to the Asanvari Yacht Club, which is basically an open-air, multi use community center type building. It can be a restaurant. It is quickly converted to a home theater where chairs are set up in rows in front of the village's DVD player with tabletop screen, or into an entertainment venue for Kastom Dancing and general celebrations. There is no bar and in fact, no drinks soft, hard or otherwise are provided, other than Kava, which is normally only served in the Nakamal, however, twice an exception was made for the ICA rally group and was served in the Yacht Club. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

On arrival, John (our leader) informed us that on Wednesday, the village would host a formal welcome to us all and during this event a local family would adopt each yacht family. Frank and I had heard of this practice but had no idea what to expect. I personally had some anxiety about it because friends of ours, on another boat and at a different island, had been invited to dine with the locals in their home and were served some very unappetizing dishes. One of those dishes was flying fox – a local large fruit bat! It was cooked whole. They said it stunk to high heaven and just did not taste very good at all. I will try a lot of things, but I just do not want to eat a bat. We were both hoping that being adopted by a local family would not necessitate our dining on flying fox. After getting anchored, I tidied up the boat while Frank went to shore to get the lay of the land. He returned to tell me that we had a dinner reservation at the yacht club for 6 PM. We were to bring a flashlight and our own beverages. We arrived to find that we had the place to ourselves. The meal du jour was chicken curry and sautéed vegetables, and it was delicious! Frank introduced me to Nixon, explaining that he is the son of Chief Nelson, and is the chef and manager of the yacht club. While children played about quietly, watching us eat Nixon sat and talked to us. He is an engaging 26-year old who seems mature and wise beyond his years. These young people grow up quickly here and take on quite a lot of responsibility at a very early age, so age 26 here is a much older "26" than back home. As we visited with him we learned much about his family and the village itself. Right now the entire village is in mourning for Nixon's 32-year old brother who died not 3 weeks ago, leaving a young wife and three children under the age of 5. I asked Nixon if his brother had been ill. He very simply replied that he had not been ill but had in fact fallen victim to Black Magic. Apparently this is huge in Vanuatu. These beliefs are very strong here. Nixon told us that all 3 of his brothers have died from Black Magic. He is frightened and wants to leave; yet his father, Chief Nelson needs him here. The standard period of mourning is 100 days yet here we were descending on these dear people like locusts just days after the Chief has lost his third son! You could see the sadness in his eyes, although he certainly stepped up to make us feel welcome and comfortable. Frank and I thanked Nixon for a delicious meal and promised to hold him and his family in our prayers.

Tuesday was a lazy day for us – book reading and just taking it easy watching as more ICA yachts arrived in the bay. Wednesday we all prepared to meet our families. Frank and I knew that we should prepare some kind of gift for them but not knowing who would adopt us and how many would be in our family I just took a tote bag with a couple dozen lollipops, a t-shirt and a cap. We were directed into the yacht club and asked to sit in chairs that had been arranged around the perimeter along the walls. Chief Nelson greeted us and invited John to join him as they performed a ritual of assigning John an honorary leadership role. Nelson and his wife had adopted John and Lyn a few years ago; hence they will always be with the same family. Following the formal welcome, Chief Nelson began the adoption process. It went like this: yacht name was called, summoning that family to the center of the room. The adopting family from the village would approach the yachties and introduce themselves, shaking hands, hugging and whatnot then would present gifts to their yachtie family. When Chief Nelson called out "Destiny", Frank and I approached to find that his own son, Nixon with his wife Vivian and two little girls, had adopted us! They showered us with fresh fruits and vegetables, placed leis around our necks, gave us hand-woven bags (beautiful basket weave totes), and then leaned over placing a Mother Hubbard dress over my head. As I was being dressed I noted a nod of approval from Chief Nelson. His son and daughter-in-law had made him very proud. I found later that receiving the dress is a very big deal. These folks wear mostly second-hand clothes; many are threadbare and have permanent stains and holes in them. That dress is special. She gave me the nicest and newest garment she owned, which had been made for her and sent to her by her mother from the island of Pentecost. I told her I will cherish that gift more than any other I've received. Actually she set the bar real high on that one. Afterward, the other ladies of the village were scrambling to give dresses to their adopted "daughters". We caused quite the little frenzy. (I made sure to wear my dress several times in the village during group events.) After all of the yachts had been adopted, a group of young men were brought in to prepare the kava. They used hand made tools to grind the roots. They ground and squeezed and worked like mad to prepare the kava just right. The head of each family brought his adopted family over to have a formal "high" or "low" tide drink from the coconut shell. We knew that Vanuatu kava is strong. Had read about it and had heard stories about it. Fiji and Tongan kava cannot even hold a close second to this stuff. We laughed as large men, big guys who can drink most people under the table were "woozing" about. I won't name names, but at the end of the evening those who had consumed more than two bowls had a very, very difficult time walking back to their dinghies. The locals enjoyed the show.

I am happy to report that we did not eat any flying foxes. We didn't even go to Nixon and Vivian's home but we did invite them and their two beautiful little daughters, Tesha and Leticia, over to Destiny. I had baked cupcakes and prepared huge goody bags for the family, filled with clothing, food, coloring books, hard candy, perfume, nail polish and a couple DVD's. Over the course of the next few days they lavished loads of goodies upon us: drinking coconuts, eating coconuts, an entire stalk of lady finger bananas (the really small sweet ones), paw paw, kumara, water cress. It was great fun exchanging and sharing with them.

The week was filled with activities. Chief Nelson and Nixon arranged for the locals to perform a Kastom dance show for us one night. Another night we enjoyed a feast of local pig and side dishes from their gardens, followed by a live performance of their String Band. Nixon arranged (and led us on) some beautiful hikes for us and told us stories of the history of this village and the tribes who have existed for hundreds of years here. We were told of the little people, the Lysepseps, who lived in the Banyan trees, and about the cannibal tribes who would murder the children of the rival chiefs and serve their body parts in laplap (a favorite gelatinous snack made from local roots), during feasts with the other villages. We hiked the waterfall. I did my laundry in the waterfall. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Asanvari. The day before our departure I made a picture CD for Nixon of all the photos we had taken of the hikes, the ceremonies, the families and the yachties, which I knew they would pop into the DVD player for everyone to watch over and over. It was a sad and teary farewell for us. We got Nixon and Vivian's address and promise to write to them as we travel onward.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

August 10 - 30, 2009, Part 3 Palekula Bay, Santo and Lolowai, Ambae - Vanuatu

Palekula Bay is a beautiful anchorage in a very large but shallow bay. The mouth of the bay was home to Club Nautique, which had been a decent yacht club until a recent cyclone or some such storm completely wiped it out. Now all that remains is a barren slab where locals gather in the evenings to drink kava or to congregate for a day of net fishing. There is a lot of evidence of small fire pits around the perimeter. The bay is closer to Luganville and to several favorite tourist sites and dives. The most popular and famous dive is to the USS President Coolidge, a 200-meter long former luxury liner that was converted to a troopship. In October 1942, carrying 5000 men she sank in the Segund Channel just outside of Luganville, after hitting two "friendly" (American) mines. The boat slid into deeper water as it sank, sitting on its side in 30 m to 67 m of depth and apparently remains reasonably intact. The other big attraction is called Million Dollar Point, where at the end of WWII, the US Military literally dumped thousands of tons of equipment (bulldozers, jeeps, cranes, forklifts, trucks and munitions) after a dispute with the French. The story we were told was that the Americans could not (would not?) bear the expense of transporting them back to the US when pulling out of here, so they made an offer to sell the goods to the French for pennies on the dollar. The arrogant French replied, "Why should we pay for these things when we can just take them after you leave?" Hence the US Military responded by dumping it all into the waters and along the beach and then blowing up access to the place, leaving millions of dollars of debris littering the area. Would our military do this on their own soil and get away with it? It makes a great dive/snorkel attraction for visitors. We had missed the big group dive, which occurred the day we were at Champagne Beach, but planned to go the following day. Unfortunately those who had done either or both dives the day before reported that visibility was so poor subsequent dives had been cancelled. Alas, we missed the diving but saved several hundred dollars. Maybe next time, if we return to Vanuatu.

We only stayed two days in the anchorage, and one of them was spent going back into town, via a cab that had been arranged to take groups of us to Customs and Immigration so that we could apply for our 30-day Visa extension, and to take care of whatever business we might need to, since this would be our last stop in civilization until we get to Port Vila in about 6 weeks. Our "cab" turned out to be a mini super cab pickup truck. Four of us crammed into the cab while Frank and Jock (from "Just in Time") rode in the bed of the truck. Poor guys! Thank goodness this was only a 20- minute/7 mile ride into town. In the Customs office we met another American cruising couple, Laura and Mark aboard "Sabbatical III", a 54 ft. Amel. He is a professor at Brown Univ., and sails 8 months of the year, then goes back to work for the remaining 4. Nice deal. Lovely people whom we ended up spending a bit of time with over the next couple of weeks.

Friday, Frank played golf with John from "Windflower". Somehow I ended up on the boat all day, so I just read a book. I should have planned that better so that I could have access to the dinghy or to hitch a ride with someone else to go snorkel or just for a walk on shore. It was much too far to swim.

On Saturday morning we left for Lolowai Bay on the island of Ambae, which was a great 6-hour sail. We had anticipated 8 hours, but caught great winds across the beam, averaging 27 knots, gusting to about 35, giving us an average boat speed of 7-8 knots with reefs in both sails. The going got a bit rough, seas a bit high and it was exhilarating! Lolowai reminded us very much of the Marquesas. We anchored in a deep, dark bay surrounded by mountainous terrain. The beaches were black, as is quite common in these volcanic islands. There wasn't much to the village, in fact it appeared fairly deserted with only a few homes, although it is said to be the principal center for the Anglican Diocese of Melanesia, and houses the hospital, bank and post office for this entire area. The villagers were very simple people and quite curious about the yachts. They hooped and hollered to us from shore. Next morning the local ladies set up a fruit and vegetable mini market for us on shore. We purchased some cooking bananas, kumara (sweet potatoes), pawpaw (papaya), and pampelmousse stowed our goods into the dinghy and then set off for a long group hike, which everyone enjoyed immensely. We climbed up to the caldera of the no longer active volcano. The hike turned out to be an all day adventure sometimes through rugged wilderness, often on steep rocky trails and roads, hardly seeing another soul. Every now and then we would spy what appeared to be an abandoned garden and perhaps an abandoned home, although we were told they probably were inhabited but that this is just the way these people live. The islands here are so lush with vegetation that it is nearly grown over itself. Michele and Paul's two young children, Merric and Seanna were in heaven on those trails. I kept thinking of my own grandson who is about their age, and how much fun he would have out here picking up sticks and rocks, climbing the huge Banyan trees, picking bananas and fruit, seeing lizards, frogs, baby pigs and chickens scattering along. It wouldn't be a bad place to get stranded now that they no longer eat people. After the hike we walked up to the hospital. Oh my god! It is not a place you would want to go if you are infirm! Remembering episodes of the TV show "ER", when Carter went to the clinic in Africa, I thought this place didn't even measure up to that. The patients even have to bring their own drinking water, drinking cups, and food. Their medications are apparently outdated and the place, just like some of the villages and homes we passed, looks like the remains of either a bombing or a cyclone. Very sad. Not sanitary. We guessed that the only people who go there are the Christians who do not believe in Black Magic and are so very ill they look to this as the last resort. It probably is their last.

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

August 10-30, 2009; Vanuatu part 2

After our village visit, we were all in an interesting state of mind; mostly of gratitude that we were born into the cultures that were our own and not of a third world, superstitious heritage. For some odd reason, Vanuatu has made quite an impact on me, which I find difficult to articulate. We spent a week at Oyster Island, during which time it rained nearly every day. I finally took some laundry in to be washed on one of the sunny days. The resort has a washing machine and will wash our laundry for V$1,000/load (approx USD$10), but returns them to us to hang dry on the boat. Although the exchange rate for us is quite good, the fees for service at Oyster Island were pricey. Each activity, including the trip to town and to the village cost us the equivalent of around USD$50.00 per trip. Groceries were inexpensive but not abundant and not what we would consider usual goods. White potatoes are not found. Kumara (sweet potatoes) are abundant. Pawpaw (papaya) and bananas are also found in large quantities. I have learned to cook with green bananas and green pawpaw, making some excellent vegetable curry dishes. Pamplemousse is back! We haven't really had those since the Marquesas. We don't find lettuce, tomatoes and the like, but are told that if we do we may not want to eat them because of the contaminated water in which they are grown. Oddly, however, eating cucumbers, kumara and radishes seems to be OK. The cucumbers are gargantuan, as are the white radishes! We have made a steady diet from bananas, pawpaw and coconuts. There are the eating and the drinking variety of coconuts, as well as the many varieties of eating (raw) and cooking bananas. Lord, I could go on and on about that!

The resort provided varied forms of entertainment for us, which were local performing arts. One was a performance done solely in the water, where the women made rhythmic musical sounds with their hands slapping and splashing the water. It was actually quite incredible. Also during this event, some of the men did a type of Kastom dance, which is derivative of cannibal tribe rituals (we think). The spears and clubs used are much more primitive than those in Fiji. The men wear very strange costumes, including a tree branch sticking up through the crack of their rear end. That can't be very comfortable - especially while dancing and stomping around. It is all very strange to us. We find it gets stranger as we travel these islands.

We had a final chart marking meeting one day, and at the end a local fellow from the island of Santo brought out some carvings and woven baskets for sale. I bought a large "tote" for V$1,200. We passed on the carvings. I'd seen many in the market and didn't get quite develop an appreciation for them. I'm not sure what they are, but they look like some kind of mutated alien bug. They are probably a type of tiki god, but have the face of a praying mantis. I will take a picture of one and when we do get internet will try to post it along with the hundreds of other pictures we have yet to post.

On Monday, the 17th, the rally group moved south to get closer to Luganville. We decided to cruise up to Champagne Beach toward the north end of Santo in Hog Bay. This area is noted for being the most photographed beach in all of Vanuatu, and is a regular stop for cruise ships. We sure are glad we made the detour. It is lovely. When we arrived, only two other yachts were in the anchorage: "Lady Kay" (English) and "Crystal Harmony" (Kiwi). It was a quiet, sheltered anchorage that boasted clear aqua blue water and sugar white sand beaches. There were turtles swimming about and it was as tranquil as you can find. Champagne beach was just around a small point (which Frank calls a "stick-out") that separated it from the rest of Hog Bay where we anchored. In front of us was a small beach hostel much like a backpacker's resort. We spent our first evening just relaxing and taking in the peace and quiet.

The next morning, we waved goodbye "Lady Kay" as they departed and then took the short dinghy ride over to Champagne beach. It was August 18th; our 8th Wedding Anniversary, and were tickled to be spending it in paradise. As we landed on the beach we noticed the sand was so fine it felt like soft powder on our feet. We marveled that this incredible spot has been unmarred by some high-end hotel/resort chain. In fact most of Vanuatu remains relatively untouched by the outside world and its commercial disturbances. After our morning adventure to the famed beach we lunched at the "resort" and then hiked up to the road, a bit inland, for a walk. A young man approached us asking for rope, clothing, etc. I asked him if he had anything to trade for any of these items. He said he would bring us bananas, later in the day. I felt strange about his request and don't quite know why, but we soon found that in Vanuatu a lot of the locals make a habit of asking for handouts and offer little in return. We continued on our way but then it didn't take long for us to feel we had just stepped out of time and reality once we left the beach area. We passed dirty homesteads with trash thrown all about, cows and pigs tied up anywhere and everywhere. Mangy dogs and puppies roamed about. The homes were thatched and near shambles. There were many areas of smoldering fires, near piles of dirty dishes and pans with chickens and roosters jumping in and around it all. We ventured into one village where I swear they were not done "eating man", as the locals spied us warily following our every move. I felt utterly creeped out. Frank went to talk to some of them, asking directions but their response seemed evasive and made me feel very discomforted. They whispered a lot and looked at us as though we were not welcome there. I hardly find it possible that they have not seen white people around here yet perhaps we were an anomaly to them. I just wanted to run back to the boat. When we returned to Destiny I felt a strong need to take a bath. After a short rest, however, we joined Crystal Harmony for sundown and were just enjoying a lovely sunset and placing our order for fresh lobsters from a local fisherman when we noticed a young man in a crude outrigger canoe approaching Destiny. It was the banana guy. Frank jumped into the dinghy to go meet him. He returned a while later telling us that he had just traded some caps and t-shirts for several dozen green bananas. So the young man had come through after all. We enjoyed our visit with our friends and went back to dunk the bananas in the water. (This is a must with all local fruits and vegetables to get the critters off). When I picked them up, however, I noted that they smelled more like a cow pasture and not at all like bananas. They looked pretty ratty too but we thought a good dunking might take care of it. By the way - these bananas hung on the back of our boat for a week, went from green to black and were still hard as a rock. They went overboard shortly afterward.

On Wednesday morning, Tony from Crystal Harmony stopped by with our lobsters. They were V$500 each ($5.00!). What a deal. Soon afterward we weighed anchor, heading south to Palekula Bay in order to join back up with the rally boats. We had a wonderful sail most of the way down arriving early in the afternoon and just in time for another rain squall. We sure had hit it lucky in Hog Bay with two blue-sky days, and now it was time for a little rain and rest, which is my excuse to sit around and read a good book.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

August 10 - 30, 2009 Vanuatu - land of naked children, active volcanoes, waterfalls, mosquitoes, black magic and Bislama! Part 1 of the experience

It has been nearly 20 days since my last posting, and may actually be even longer depending on whether or not this transmission gets through the airwaves. Our first landfall at Oyster Island Resort was like a refreshment after a workout - not a full meal but just enough of a snack to nourish our need for creature comforts.

The word "resort" should not be taken in the sense that Americans refer to a resort. It was more like a quaint get-away for those seeking solitude and tranquility, owned by a partnership of Kiwis, and operated by Grant, Colin and Sunshine. (two Kiwis and an American). It consists of several adorable and comfy bungalows at waterside, and a restaurant/bar/lounge area, nestled in a lovely, calm bay giving shelter to a resident dugong, which we understand is similar to a manatee. The restaurant prepared excellent food and the resort management did their utmost to welcome us and to keep us entertained. They provided laundry services, ground transport around the island of Espiritu Santo, limited internet access and a staging area for our meetings, craft markets and local entertainment. We spent a very busy week there.

Our first order of business after clearing Customs was to get to an ATM machine and visit the hardware and grocery/supply store. Luganville was less than 10 miles from Oyster Island, yet it was a 45-minute drive by motor vehicle because the roads are little more than deeply rutted dirt pathways just wide enough for a vehicle to traverse. Frank and I, along with Dave (from Baraka) had the unfortunate fate of sitting in the rear seat of the dilapidated15-passenger van. We doubt that the tires held much air and knew beyond a doubt that the suspension was already shot as we slammed, jolted and hurtled up and down bobbing painfully along. By the time we arrived at Luganville we barely managed to unfold our wobbly legs and stand on terra firma without crying out in pain. Our lower backs had taken such a jarring that we swore our spines had compressed at least ½ an inch. Unfortunately, the ride back was even worse, as we got manipulated into the back yet again, and this time were even more cramped as people shoved their packages in and around us all. Did I mention that it was stifling hot in the rear of the van? It took two days of Ibuprofen to relieve our aches and pains from that ride.

Anyway, while in town we noticed that Vanuatu, although only a few hundred miles from Fiji is far less commercialized and developed in spite of a major occupation of Americans, French, English and Japanese during the World Wars. In fact, many Western and Eastern cultures had tried to introduce commerce and industry over the years, however, it seems that Vanuatu is not interested in these kinds of advancement. They have managed to maintain a culture that remains very close to the missionary times when Christians brought civility and modesty to the cannibalistic indigenous people. Villages are still full of people living 100 years in the past, without electricity, running water or even toilets. This we had read about and would soon experience personally. Luganville is the main town on the island of Santo, and resembles Tonga in that the cultures seem to be in a battle between the old and the new. Ni-Vanuatu women still wear the Mother Hubbard dresses, which were introduced perhaps a couple hundred years ago by missionaries in an effort to cover up the near naked women. Men in the towns wear standard garb, but in some villages wear next to nothing. They are trapped in a time warp, yet many of them carry a cell phone on a halyard around their necks. They walk either barefoot or in Crocs. The shops are mostly owned by Chinese (as in Tonga) and are dusty and dirty (as in Tonga), although there are one or two nice and tidy businesses that appear to be owned by French. Local fruit and vegetable markets seem to be reserved for and limited to Vanuatuans. There seemed to be several empty and rotting buildings among the thriving ones and perhaps a hotel or two that may have been in business although it was hard to tell by the looks of them. It is a bizarre clash of styles and culture that sent our senses into a frenzy of adjustment.

Back at Oyster Island we took our laptops to shore trying to get some banking and other personal business done but got frustrated and gave up. If there were more than two computers online at a time it just overloaded the system and shut us all down. The resort probably never intended to get bombarded by a crowd of internet-starved cruisers. The access they had was intended for their own business purposes, and because they offered the Wifi to us at no charge we did not complain but tried to minimize our use of it. That night, ICA had arranged for a welcome feast at the restaurant. It was wonderful, with lots of varieties of both Vanuatuan food and Oyster Island's specialties. Some of the fish that cruisers had caught during the competition was prepared. Awards were given for the fishing tournament and for those who had made their first open ocean crossing. Paul and Michele aboard "Free Spirit" won a night in the resort for having caught the largest number of fish - 16 - and for the largest fish - a Sword Fish. Wow - they blew us all away.

The next day we were granted permission to visit an indigenous village, which is NOT a tourist venue. Rather is a working village that had adopted Grant's father as Honorary Chief. He has been working with them to teach them gardening and farming techniques. Because it had been raining for the last 24 hours, we got out of the van (this time Frank and I grabbed the second row of seating!), and negotiated our way through a series of mud puddles onto the path leading into the village's first structure, which was the home of the resident chief, medicine man (witch doctor). He wore nothing more than a string around his waist into which was tucked a long flap in the front and a long flap over the middle of his backside. He is an amazing man who spoke to Grant in Bislama. Although there are over 108 different local languages in Vanuatu, Bislama, a form of Pidgin, is the universal language of the people. For instance, "Where do you live?" would be "Yu blong wea?" And "Thank you very much" is "Tank yu tumas". "I'm sorry": "Mi sori tumas". It's fun! But they talk so fast we can't keep up. So, we got a personal tour of this village where the children are called pikininies, and wear no clothing. They are nearly completely self-sustaining. Everything that they eat they grow. Even their medicines come from their own plants. We were shown plants used for curses and for spells. This village and the people, who are seemingly untouched by modern advancements, fascinated us. They are not Christian - they are Kastom, and very superstitious, and up until not long ago were cannibals. Vanuatu has an extremely violent past. Even into the 1970's they were eating man. By the way - women were not eaten - just males.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

August 10, 2009 - Arrival in Vanuatu

During the radio Sked last night we heard that 4 boats had arrived and were anchored at Oyster Island, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. We were 100 miles out, anticipating arrival around mid-day Monday. When it is Monday here it is Sunday in the USA.

We were both operating on sleep deprivation in spite of napping throughout the day, and were ready to be there. At 2:30 AM we entered the first pass through Vanuatu's western islands of Pentecost and Maewo. Frank was on watch. I was fast asleep and fighting to stay that way. When my watch began at 6:00 AM, he informed me that we were in Vanuatu's waters but still at least 6 hours from our destination at Espiritu Santo's Oyster Island. I set the hand line and within an hour and a half had a fish on the line. I woke Frank to tell him I was going to clip on the tether to reel it in. He decided to get up anyway; I guess he was too charged up to sleep so he grabbed the camera and measuring tape as I set about bringing in the fish. It was a Bonito that was crawling with sea lice. Blaah! Yuk! As Frank was tossing it back I reset the line. We had just settled into the cockpit and were halfway through our first cup of coffee when I looked up and said, "Frank we have caught another fish". Out came the camera, the measuring tape and the towel, as Frank brought this one in. He was a large Skip Jack Tuna. No sea lice, but we don't much care for Skip Jacks so over the side he went. He was a pretty thing though. We did not manage to catch any more fish yet that was all right with us. Our freezer is full.

We had one more pass to enter before arriving at Oyster Island and were informed that this one was a bit tricky, was very shallow and could be dangerous, however, special markers guiding the way in had been requested. Knowing our draft, the ICA leader informed us that we would be fine getting through at this time. We had an hour to go before low tide. It is a good thing that someone had seen fit to clearly mark the entrance because all of our chart data was far off the mark. There were three sets of red & green poles sticking up out of the coral laid out in a zig zag pattern marking the way through, the first set being the easy one. The way they were laid out resembled a Croquet field in that each set of markings resembled the "wicket". It was like threading a needle, entering the second one. I was up high on the front spotting, and noting that this was almost too shallow for our dinghy! Frank was calling depths to me, and just after he called "3 feet", we heard CRUNCH! We scraped right over a coral head but continued moving forward. We cleared the second set and just eased through the third with clearance to spare. Frank radioed John and asked if we were going to make it to the anchorage. John informed us that we were home free! We found a spot in the crowded anchorage, were met by shouts of greetings from folks on shore, set the hook and breathed a sigh of contentment. We are here!

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

August 8 - 9: Vanuatu Passage Part 3

Neither of us got much sleep as the storms and squalls pelted us throughout the night and into the wee hours of Saturday morning. Sometime in mid-morning the waters laid down as well as our fantastic sailing winds and we settled in to day 3 of the journey. John Martin from S/V "Windflower", who is our rally leader, made a VHF announcement that Oyster Island Resort (our destination in Vanuatu) has decided to sponsor a fishing contest and is offering prizes to the largest fish caught and the most fish caught during the passage. First prize is a free night at the resort. You could nearly hear the scampering as fellow cruisers ran about their boats to get their lines in the water. We of course joined in the action. I lumbered out to the aft deck to set our newly rigged hand line. Before long we heard yachties reporting in that they had caught: a bill-fish (either a Marlin or Sword), a 1.5 meter Mahi Mahi, a large Skip Jack, and so on. "Free Spirit" reported an amazing catch; two double-header Mahi Mahi's (that's two lines rigged with two lures each meaning they caught 4 fish at one time). Wow! By mid-day, we snagged a beautiful 42" Wahoo. As I was skinning it Frank yelled down to me to stop deboning and skinning because we were to be judged on total weight. Hmmm. Where to put a fish when the fridge and freezer are full? This leads me to wonder what should we do if we catch a lot of fish? But we continued nonetheless, not catching anymore this day. We continued hearing the announcements as various yachts called in their catches. Some of them were using monster lures landing 8-10 foot billfish. We could not possibly compete. This passage has produced the best stocked fishing holes we have yet to encounter since leaving the US. I think my ex-husband would be in heaven were he to troll these waters!

Saturday night we heard "Kiss II" check in on the Sked. They were mobile again and in the fleet. Great news! The lack of wind became monotonous, making it difficult to stay awake on watch. When there are storms and high seas at least your nerves are alive and adrenaline is up so that there is no difficulty staying alert.

Sunday, Frank and I both finished our books and he announced that I really must read "Getting Stoned With Savages", because it is the author's account of living in both Vanuatu and Fiji. Been to Fiji, heading to Vanuatu so I snatched it up and could hardly put it down. Although Mr. Troost sometimes gets caught up in his impressive literary genius and expansive vocabulary (lots and lots of verbs and adjectives I have to look up), it was a highly informative and entertaining book. He has a great knack for writing. His tales of Vanuatu had us rolling in laughter and quivering in fear. Apparently there are a lot of deadly creatures there, such as a venomous 2 ft. long/2in. diameter centipede that ventured into his home that must be smashed to smithereens to kill because if you just chop at it each piece will continue to thrive independently and regenerate. He eventually was stung by one and became very ill and nearly paralytic! He mentions other dangers that we had read about in our cruising and travel guides such as an alarmingly high rate of malaria and dengue fever, seriously shark infested waters and lots of volcanic activity. We read on Noonsite that swimming at most beaches is not recommended, especially at black beaches and wherever you spot a red buoy in the water. The red buoy is laden with bloody meat to attract sharks! These people are nuts! OK, we are warned but we are also looking forward to discovering the beauty and allure of Vanuatu. If the TV show "Survivor" can allow participants to do a stint in Vanuatu then I think we are going to be just fine.

This was to be another day of motoring with light squalls on and off throughout. We have had some difficulty getting through on the HAM to post our position report, but Sailmail is working for emails. We received sad news that our friend from Denver, Jeff lost his father to a fast attacking and deadly battle with cancer. Our hearts are heavy for Jeff and Jeri Lyn.

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