Posted by: catamarantwooceans | June 27, 2011

Vanuatu with Gili – 2nd week

17.6.11 – Friday – At night rain started falling. We got slightly wet before we woke up and closed the hatch. I was delighted, though, because I left my water collection device installed and knew that we will gain some precious liters.

Ezekiel confirmed that any fish caught in the bay was good, we said good-bye and went out of the bay. I took a new forecast. Today we’ll have light northerlies. The day after tomorrow – when we will want to go south – it’ll be from the south… I’m looking at the chart and the idea of going north seems less and less appealing.

“I think we have enough food and going 30 miles just for shopping doesn’t seem right to me, why don’t we go to the Maskelyne islands on the south of Malakula instead?” Gili looks at the Tusker guide and is convinced. We do a 180 and head south. We choose to go to the one further west, Awei, on which there live a single family. We enter via the northeastern pass, meandering between islands, reefs and shoals. The view is simply breath-taking.

Malakula islands

We see a lot of women and children collecting shells and octopi on the reef.

Collecting

We pass a canoe with three girls, two rowing and one, in the middle, singing and dancing to a tune we cannot hear.

The Girls

Strong tidal streams flow there and one has to take care and not turn to a Cul de sac or even worse, run aground. The Open CPN navigation program is a big help in this condition, although it has a tendency to lose position right when you need it most.

We anchor near Awei and very quickly we have a visitor. Suffren came to offer some fruit for sale. We take a nice pineapple, a papaya and some string beans.

“Where is the good place to snorkel?” “Go around the island to the left”. Clear water, quite a lot of fish but the coral is damaged and the current is strong in places. We’ll try again tomorrow.

18.6.11 – Saturday – After snorkeling we decided to move to another anchorage, just for the change. The one we chose was that of Avokh village. On the way there we saw a local boat that reminded me of the sixties fad of squeezing a maximum number of people into a Volkswagen Beetle.

Safety in numbers?

I counted more than twenty figures on that tiny boat!

You see a lot of canoes paddling between the islands, many of them carrying stuff from the “Gardens” to the villages. Here’s one with a trailer!

From the garden

Doesn’t this picture remind you of Japanese traditional drawing?

In the Avokh bay we had the regular visits of some curious locals but did not go ashore since rain started falling.

19.6.11 – Sunday – We left Avokh early, just after eight am and headed to Ambrym. The regular recommended anchorages are on the north-west shore, a bit far from the Maskelyne islands. Looking at the electronic chart I saw a place called “Port Vato” with the symbol of an anchorage and just 17.5 miles away from our position. Although it did not appear in the Tusker guide I thought that with this kind of name it should be a safe place to spend the night.

As we started motoring out Gili said:” What, no trolling today?” Obediently I put the lure in place. I was watching an interesting village on a tiny island, reminiscent of those in San Blas (Panama) on our starboard, camera in hand, waiting for the right angle to take a picture when a fish was on.

It took about 20 minutes to bring the fish to the boat, by that time both of us were tired and with Gili wielding the gaff we brought the 8 kg tuna into the cockpit. This one will go to the the village in the bay.

Big Tuna

By the time we finished our fish business the interesting village shrank into the distance. Luckily my Canon SX 10 IS has a big zoom lens, equivalent to 560 mm lens on a 35mm camera so I still got the picture I wanted.

San Blas compatible

With Port Vato about three miles away, I was weighing the options in case it’ll turn out to be unsuitable. The nearest anchorage was Craig Cove, 7.5 miles to the northwest. On my electronic chart it looked very good but the Tusker guide gave it a very low rating mainly because the writers experienced bad volcanic fumes and ashes plus “precarious holding and proximity to the reef”. They did, however, mention that there was good snorkeling and diving there and also a store and bank in the village. I was looking in Craig Cove direction and the air looked pretty clear and clean to me. With the light southeasterly that was forecasted and observed there should be no problem with it. I was actually hoping that Port Vato will not be good…

It wasn’t! The bay was too open, big swell was rolling in and it was too deep close to shore. We broke to the left and in 90 minutes entered a gem of a cove, pretty surroundings, clear water (and air!) and good protection from NNW clockwise to the south. We dropped our anchor on black sand in 8 meters, backed under power until it held good letting out about 50 meters of chain as the bottom fell away to 22 meters.

After lunch we went snorkeling, while I was mostly interested in our anchor, Gili found the reef on the south and called me to watch a parade of six giant Napoleon wrasse, a big turtle and a barracuda.

We then went ashore looking for the chief. The first man we asked turned out to be speech impaired, a lad who was in the house gave us directions. On the way we met a guy who introduced himself as a guide to the volcano. “Do you want to join the trip tomorrow? We go out at six am” We were trying to understand the itinerary and cost of the trip. “First you take a car, that’s about 7000 vatu for both of you, then we walk three hours to get to the volcano, entrance fee is 1500 each, we stay there six (?) or twenty minutes, then walk back three hours and drive back. The guide price is 4000 for the two of you”. Altogether 14000 vatu, that’s 165 $ U.S. My experience with volcanoes (Stromboli, Tanna) said it was not worth it and with Gili a bit disappointed, we gave it up.

But back to the chief – we were led on a trail to the chief’s home. we found a scene out of “One flew over the cuckoo nest”. A group of men were sitting on a wooden bench. I was introduced to two guys, one of which looked like a drug baron and the other – a drug addict who was clearing his throat continuously, spitting out gobs of phlegm. “Those are the chiefs”.

D Baron?

D Addict?

They were clearly intoxicated, on one thing or the other. “We want to give you a big fish we caught” I said. I also asked whether they had a place I could dispose of our garbage. This was not so well taken so I told them to forget it and just send someone to shore to take the fish.

The chiefs send someone who, frankly, looked like a character out of a horror movie and with a big entourage we proceeded to our dinghy. Gili stayed on the boat while I delivered the fish, which was received with enthusiasm:”Nambawan fish!”

The chiefs directed the cutting and dispensing of the tuna steaks to the village people.

Dispensing

They agreed to have their pictures taken. I went to the cooperative shop to buy some things we needed. “Come back when you finish, we want to give you some bananas” I took the plantains they prepared for me and retreated to the tranquility of “Two Oceans”.

20.6.11 – Monday – The prevailing wind in Vanuatu is southeasterly and the islands are in a line that goes from the SE to the NW. That is why it is normally easy to go “up” and difficult to go back. This morning we started going back, with the wind on the nose. Beating against it would have taken twice the time so we had to bow to reality and motorsail all the way to Lamen bay on Epi.

Going ashore we met the owner of “Paradise Sunset Bungalows”, a nice gentleman called Taso. His was the only place we could by beers at! “How about some eggs?” “Come tomorrow morning, the ‘Big Sista’ is coming at 4 am with supplies”. They have so many chickens around the village but do not collect their eggs, preferring the expensive ones from the capital.

21.6.11 – Tuesday – At 4 am we woke up to the noisy arrival of “Big Sista”. In the morning we found a message on my phone, sent by Volkmar at that ungodly hour: “Are you in Epi? I can see you” Later in the day I called him up. He was on the ship on his way to Espiritu Santo, playing the tourist.

Again the wind is on the nose, this time even stronger at 20 knots and we are motorsailing all the 30 nautical miles to Emae. As we anchor we can see the rain- clouds coming down the mountain and I put the rain catchment system on the deck.

22.6.11 – Wednesday – It rained and how! Just past midnight I had to go on deck and take down the flimsy rain catcher, which was flapping wildly in the 25 knots gusts. We could see lightning and hear thunder, mercifully not too close to our position. The anchor, lying on a rocky bottom, held O.K but was a constant worry. We did not sleep well that night!

Just after 0530, even though the wind went down to a reasonable 15 knots, the rain, thunder and lightning were still there. I had enough! We had 33 miles to go to Mallao bay on the northwest of Lelep island, our last stop before going back to Port Vila. With a course of about 200 degrees true and the forecasted wind from the east, I was expecting good sailing and was eager to go. I woke Gili up and as we started out a deluge enveloped us, reducing visibility to about two hundred meters. I was navigating by the “Open CPN” on the laptop, unable to see the island.

As we turned to our destination I was glad that I started out with first reef in the main. We had 22 – 27 knots apparent, and boat speed around 7.5 knots. I like sailing like this, but Gili found it too rough and retreated to the starboard aft cabin, where the slamming was not so disturbing.

Gradually, as we advanced to the south, the rain stopped, the sun came out and the sea became calmer. At midday we entered the reef encircled Mallao bay, sandy shore on the north giving place to impressive rocks and caves on the south. Clear, turquoise water invited us to dip in immediately. The absolute opposite of the place we left in the morning.

Mallao bay

The reefs in and on the south side of the bay are in pitiful condition but the one on the north, as you go out of the entrance to the sea side is healthy and full of life. One of the specimen we saw was a 5 foot reef shark who convinced Gili to go back to the dinghy… “How can I be sure that he knows he is not suppose to attack people?” You can’t argue with that!

23.6.11 – Thursday – We started the day with snorkeling, the highlight of which was a large turtle who was very much frightened to see us, working vigorously with his forward flippers and disappearing in the distance.

As we started going out of the bay, a combination of cloudy skies and crew bad communications made us scrape the reef. Always a bad feeling, luckily just cosmetic damage.

We went into Yachting-world marina, tied to the wall and started the “Leaving
the boat” procedure – especially cleaning, cleaning and cleaning.

That was the end of our Vanuatu voyage. I will return in two month time.

Until then – Adios from Gili and Miki on “Two Oceans”

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