Posted by: catamarantwooceans | October 7, 2011

Vanuatu – Continued

Hi All! Finally we are back in (relative) civilization and have (slow) internat. I’ll try and publish chronologically. Hope the pictures will come on too!

Tried uploading – no joy! Will try again later!

13.9.11 – Tuesday – Sandy sent Bob to take us to town. Luganville is the second town in Vanuatu, smaller than Port Vila but still a lot of traffic, many tiny taxis, and active commerce. Some mountain people come to town in their habitual appearance.

montainman

We did our shopping, fuel, food and after looking in five hardware shops I found good fishing line to replace the one I lost. This time it is 80 lbs. test, let’s hope the fish will not break it!

After coming back we cautiously manuevered “Two Oceans” to Dr. Alan’s narrow jetty and filled up our water tanks with collected rain water.

Israel on Dr. Allen's dock

In the evening there was a dinner plus show in the resort. Israel went and enjoyed it while Zvi and I elected to stay on board. I still have bad memories from “Native shows” in Tonga and NZ.

14.9.11 – Wednesday – It rained hard during the night, filling the lazybag with a lot of water. We left Luganville and sailed to Peterson bay. The entrance was quite tricky and luckily for us somebody put in red and green stakes to mark the channel in. Still it was nerve wracking, with the depth gauge showing a minimum of 1.1 meter, signifying only 20 cm below the keel. Once inside we could marvel at the beauty and tranquility of the place.

Oyster resort view

We anchored near Oyster island and its resort between three other boats. One was named Jubilee which I already met somewhere (Panama? Caribbean? Tahiti?) another with strange metal-tower type masts and and old decrepit traditional schooner.On the mainland side opposite the anchorage there is an old WW2 airfield still visible on the satellite picture and also two Blue holes, fresh water deep basins. We went to investigate, leaving the main coastal road and entering a dirt road with thick jungle on both sides. It was clear that the airfield was run over by the vegetation and we were ready to turn back when a pickup truck came and stopped. “We are going to the Blue Hole, climb in” said the driver. We were glad we did! The one we saw is the source of a river flowing into our bay and people from the resort actually paddled kayaks all the way to it. The water had a very special blue tint and with the jungle all around the place looked magical.

blue hole

Rob, who was kind to take us for the ride, turned to be the manager of the resort. The guide says that it is the best place to eat in all Santo, so we decided to give it a try. Until dinner time each of us did his own thing, reading or just resting.

Trouble hits you when you least expect it. I was charging the Olympus camera battery and when I took the cable out and plugged in the computer the inverter beeped and died. We found out that the fuse has burned and a replacement we put in went the same way. I am ashamed to say that this was the first time I understood the importance of that gadget. With no inverter we could not charge our computers and when there are no computers there are no electronic charts and no getting weather grib files by Iridium. The fact that I did not arrange for a spare or alternative solution is not to my credit.

As we came to the resort for dinner I spoke to Rob, explaining my predicament. “Come back in the morning, we’ll see what we can do”. Dinner was very good and later that night I went to bed, evaluating various scenarios for solving our new problem. It goes without saying that I will go to Luganville to try and find a new inverter!

15.9.11 – Thursday – In the morning I hurried to the resort. Rob made a show of being very busy but did direct me to a computer store in town. I flagged a passing truck and rode in the back with the locals. The computer shop did not have an inverter but sent me to a place called “Daming store”. When I entered it I was sure it was a big mistake. This was simply a general store, selling cloths, cleaning agents and food. Luckily for me I asked the sales person whether they had what I wanted. The guy took me through a side door to an adjacent building, opened the padlock and the door to reveal a room full of electronics. He had a few inverters of various sizes including the one I needed. What a relief!

I took a micro-taxi back to Oyster Island reaching the boat at 1145.”Shall we stick to our original plan?” Everybody thought we should, so, although it was low water, and the channel shallow, we started the engines and went out, through the same passage we came in the day before. Somehow there was a lot less pressure this time, and we did not see less than 1.4 meters. Outside the wind was blowing 18-20 knots and we were bowling along at around 7 knots. The sea was lumpy with short waves but we only had 22 miles to go to Port Olry. After a time the wind went down somewhat, a big rain cloud passed and pulled the wind around forcing us to roll the poled out jib for a while. As we got close to where we had to turn in to Olry another rainy squall approached. We dropped the sails and motored in quickly trying to outrun it. At 1630 we dropped our anchor in the calm lee of Thion island just past the small islet called Bucephale (whose horse was it? Alexander the great’s? can’t remember…)

Over dinner we discussed the plan for the following day. The closest anchorage on Gaua, the next island before Vanua Lava, where we have to do our departure from Vanuatu, is close to 50 miles away. We will have to give up going ashore in Port Olry, get up very early, sail all day and arrive too late to tour the place. Remember that the day in the vicinity of the equator is short, only twelve and a half hours long  here. So a different option was decided upon; we’ll spend the day in Port Olry, leave it in the evening and sail directly to Vanua Lava, arriving in the morning.

16.9.11 – Friday – We circled the bay with the dinghy, going ashore on Thion island, entering the river on the west and coming back to the village. The most prominent buildings were, of course, the church and school. This is a French village and is not as tidy as some other villages we’ve seen. We met Francis, an employee of the “National Bank” who proudly invited us to visit his branch. He then told us about the local restaurant and urged us to go and have something to drink there (it was 10 am). We went there and had juices and coffee. The lady working there told us that the owner is the very same Francis the banker…

Olry cafe

At 1620 we went out, passing the gap between Santo and the island of Lathi. The wind was on our beam and stronger than expected.We were sailing too fast for our plan of reaching Vanua Lava in daylight so We gradually reefed down to third reef to slow down. We started a watch system of three hours each, starting at 2100. Israel, as he went to bed, had the misfortune of trying to open his hatch “just a crack” and had a large amount of salt water inundate his beddings. He had to spend his sleeping periods in the saloon.

17.9.11 – Saturday – I did the midnight to three o’clock watch; Israel took over and I asked him to wake me up at 0530 or at 3 miles to our destination waypoint, whichever comes first. At a certain moment, right in the middle of a dream in which I was taken to a fancy restaurant I did not want to go to by a person I disliked, Israel woke me up. “I’m not sure where we are” he said. Once outside I saw that we were closing on a black mass of land and immediately tacked away to the right to get away from it. As the fog of sleep cleared I understood what has transpired; Israel, unaccustomed to the display of my old style GPS plotter and hampered by the fact that its backlight is inoperable, was keeping a course he thought would get us safely to destination but actually had us drifting to the left, close to the southwestern part of Vanua Lava. After that bit of a scare we continued through Dudley pass into Patteson bay anchoring near the village of Sola.

Aware of the fact that it was the weekend, we went ashore looking for the Customs officer. “He has gone into the bush” said one man “He’ll be back by 1730″. We were walking around the village, when a guy said:”There he is!” Harold, the custom officer is a bald, middle-aged man. “I’ve been fishing all night I very tired and it’s the weekend, come back on Monday” he said.

Harold

“Oh, we wanted to leave the country tomorrow, we are ready to pay overtime” I replied. “O.K, come back at 1pm”. We did. He took us to his office and I had to fill some form including what race I belong to (none…),calculated the pricy “Port Dues” and then said we had to see the immigration officer who lived in the hospital where his wife worked to have our passports stamped. He sent his son, Rigi, a 23 old young one, to take us to a truck driver that will take us.

On our way Rigi was keen to know whether we had any liquor on board and if we could spare some for him. I told him to come over promising I will put aside some Rum in a small bottle for him. Both truck owners did not have sufficient fuel to take us anywhere and the second one  knew that the immigration officer went out to the mountains for a picnic and could not be reached. Rigi promised to make the man come to the dinghy dock at 0800 the next day. We’ll see.

Rigi comes for Rum

18.9.11 – Sunday – Small things can start a chain of events. After breakfast I noticed an oily slick close to our stern. I had a trauma of my fuel tank leak I had twice in the last four years so I immediately dove into the port forward locker, where the port fuel tank is located and was happy to see a clean, dry bottom. So what could it be? Suddenly Zvi called out:”Miki, the port fuel gauge shows zero!” “Don’t worry” said I “It’s simply not working” But as I approached the panel I noticed that he was looking at the port water gauge which was showing ZERO! It was more than three quarters full the last time I looked! Forgetting the oil slick we now tried to understand how we lost almost half our water. After a thorough check we found the stern water tap, the one on the port stern steps, not completely closed. That was enough to drain all the port tank. And what about the oil? We remembered that our dinner was comprised of fried chicken, fried Calamari and fried something else, and that washing the pots and pans released a lot of used oil into the sink drain pipe. That was it!

Now we needed to fill up the port tank. The only way we could do it was by hauling our two 25 liters jerry cans from the tap near the courthouse to the boat. I also had a “date” with Harold the custom man to come and inspect our duty free liquor. I took him and a young man who came along with him to the boat. Goods inspected, beers drunk (at 0845) and a very friendly conversation took place.

My premonition regarding the immigration inspector became true. We’ll have to wait here another day and see him Monday morning. Oh well! I can live with that! Back to the water issue; It took three and a half rounds, using all sort of containers we had in addition to the jerry-cans, the young man who came with Harold lending a helping hand and me shouldering 25 kgs jerry-cans on a pole (pity nobody took a picture of that) and then the tank was full. The moment we finished an ominous cloud approached and in minutes a big downpour drenched us. Disregarding the rain I put on my water-catchment rig and filled one of the empty jerry-cans. It turned out we were lucky to be stuck here. Great rain clouds passed overhead with thunder, lightning and heavy rain. Surely tomorrow will bring improved weather.

In the afternoon two other yachts emerged from the wet gloom and came to anchor. We were having a happy hour with Gin and Tonic for Israel and Miki and Baileys Irish Cream for Zvi.

19.9.11 – Monday – In the morning I called my wife who is at home in Israel and asked her to look at the Vanuatu Met Office website for the forecast. This is what we got: “Monday and Tuesday E-SE 20-25 knots, sea rough with 2.5 meter waves. Wednesday E-SE 17-22 knots, sea moderate to rough with 2 meters waves”. While I was pondering the situation we saw a yacht coming in. They passed close to our position so I hailed them and asked that they call us on VHF the moment they could. I thought that a fresh report on the sea condition outside will help us decide.

I went through the motions of clearing out at the immigration office, but with Zvi and Israel took the decision to stay put until tomorrow. Our hope was that the weather will improve sufficiently for our planned 25 miles to Ureparapara from where we will continue to Ndende, Solomon Islands.

A little later the skipper of “Flashgirl” called. They came from the north, had strong winds and squalls, lumpy irregular sea and visibility going down in such a way that forced them to go into the bay mainly by GPS. I invited them for happy hour in the early evening, it’ll be interesting to hear their story.

The skies gave a show of clearing somewhat but later we had very heavy rain. I was lucky to rig my water catchment and topped up the tank we were using. The time has come to change engine oil and while doing that found some sweet water in the bilge of the port one. Couldn’t see where that came from, but experience taught me that the source will be revealed in the near future!

Around 5pm our neighbors showed up. I always say that one of the great joys of cruising is meeting interesting people and this visit was a proof to that view. Nancy and Warwick Tompkins have a long career in sailing. Warwick, who is from San Francisco, started sailing with his father at a very early age on the family’s 85′ schooner including a trip around the Horn from east to west. He later worked as a racing and delivery skipper. While talking he admitted that next February will be his 80th birthday! He absolutely did not look it, moving and sounding much younger. Nancy is a native of New York moved to California, doing mostly racing until she met Warwick. He designed and built their 39 foot boat and put some interesting features in her, like water ballast, lifting keel (Inoperative at the moment) and an open interior suitable for their two people  on board agenda. She also has a very tall, thin mast sporting four spreaders. They started sailing her in 2005 and are now “concentrating” on the Pacific.

The Tompkins

They sell a DVD and a book of that voyage that took them from Gloucester, Massachusetts to San Francisco via Northwest Africa, Europe and Cape Horn. Our crew made a decision to buy.

We sat until almost eight pm, then tried to make a hasty chicken soup and went to bed.

20.9.11 – Tuesday – Although the weather forecast did not change, we made the decision to go. 25 miles, even with adverse conditions was something we could tackle. So, anchor up, we motored out of the bay, hoisting the main to second reef as the wind showed 28 knots. In the beginning the going was rough, especially in the vicinity of Ashwell bluff and Ravenga island where the map showed some serious shoals and reefs, but as we left Vanua Lava behind, everything became easier, we were running 6-8 knots with over-reefed sails that we kept with the hope catching a fish. (none were taken)Three and a half hours after leaving the anchorage we entered the dramatic bay of Ureparapara. This island is a volcano, in which the northeastern part of the crater broke away to open a large bay.

Crater entrance

There is a village with about 300 people, some of which were there to greet us on their canoes and showed us the best place to anchor. One of the men who greeted us was chief Nicholson. When he heard we were from Israel he became very enthusiastic. We agreed to meet in the village at 1500.

Come 3pm we stepped ashore where the chief was already waiting. He took us to a part of the village where we met the members of the family who lived there. The elder of that family was a man called Simeon who said he was 78 years old.

Village elder

He proudly showed us the conduit made of plastic and bamboo pipes, bringing water from a nearby fountain to their compound.

Waterworks

He and the chief requested that after a tour of the village we will give them some time for a “Talk”. They had many questions he wanted to ask about the holy land.

We went on to the main part of the village, hand in hand with the local kids, who were enthralled to have their pictures taken and to see them immediately on the camera screen.

village was very clean and tidy; one could see that a lot of work was invested in what we would call landscaping. The We met the chief’s wife, Melody, who, at 38 years of age, is a grandmother to three. The chief said she had her firstborn when she was 15 years old.

With chief and wife

The main and biggest structure was, of course, the Anglican church. Contrary to other islands we’ve been to it’s the only one they have. Another long hut was the meeting place, where the people had communal activities and feasts.In another corner a “Kastom” game was going on. Two groups were hurling small stones or shells at one put in the middle. I didn’t really understand the rules but the participants seemed very happy with what was going on.

The chief took me to meet the local Michael, who is his in-law and was carrying their new, 5 month old grandchild. We also saw the cook-house, where they prepared the evening meal, cooking it in a traditional earth and stone oven wrapped in banana leaves.

This was by far the least affluent village I ever visited and yet everybody was full of smiles, I saw nobody scowling or in a bad mood. They had to do with what nature made available and almost nothing more. A supply ship only comes once a year and many times does not come in time and copra that they gather gets bad and has to be thrown away.

Then it was time for the “TALK”. Some stools and mattresses were positioned in a rectangle. The three us sat opposite the chief and the local priest who showed up for the occasion. These were the topics we discussed:”Was Jesus married and did he have a son?” “Did he have a brother?” “What was the Hebrew meaning of the words ‘Eli, Eli, lama azavtani'” and some more in that vein.

The TALK

The priest took out a bible that had some pictures featuring holy or ancient sites as they look in our modern times. “Is it true? Is it really like this?” was a question he asked more than once. He was clearly happy to hear our answers and the best was yet to come!

Israel told them about the Wailing Wall, the only remaining wall of the Jewish Temple and about the custom to put small notes with a wish in between the huge stones. “If you want, write down your notes, seal them and I will put them there for you when I get back to Israel” This was received with strong emotions by the chief and the priest and, frankly, was really moving.

We said goodbye to the villagers and turned back to the boat. Chief Nicholson wanted to reciprocate for what we gave him, our now regular school materials for the kids, and gave us some drinking coconuts. He came on board and sat down some more. Another man with a small girl showed up on his canoe, wanting to change a dollar bill that somebody gave him to Vatu. I only had a 200 bill (2.5$) and gladly gave it to him. He shyly inquired whether I had a cookie for the child, got some and left.

We sat for a last chat with the chief. It was quite sad to hear him say:”We have nothing! Our representatives in Parliament go to live in Port Vila and forget about us”. There is neither medical facility nor any trained nurse, not to mention a doctor. It’s true that everybody looked healthy and well fed, but what about illnesses, giving birth and emergencies? The one telephone they have, with the impressive solar panels array is not working. They do have some cellular phones but down in the bay, surrounded by the volcano steep walls there is no reception. (We gave him our local Digicell Sim cards that had a bit of airtime). The chief has a relatively big boat with an outboard but it was not clear whether he had enough fuel to get to Vanua Lava.

Life is hard for people living out of the two centers, Port Vila and Santo, but you don’t see anger or despair, maybe just mute frustration. We gave the village just a few things they needed, but, of course, could not provide for 300 people. I have the urge to send a letter to the government of Vanuatu but will that do any good?

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