Friday, November 17, 2017

New Caledonia and on to Australia


It was an easy 2 1/2 day sail to New Caledonia from Vanuatu, and it turns out that our charts are very accurate here (that’s often a question when arriving in a new country). Although New Caledonia has many beautiful islands and reefs, we were here for Malcolm to see the cardiologist so we anchored in the main harbour in the capital city of Noumea. We made an appointment and found the cardiologist to be a really nice guy from France who now lives here. He explained there is a new procedure that can be done which usually prevents atrial fibrillation, but we’d have to go to Australia or Canada to get it done.

We spent a bunch of our time in Noumea looking for where to put the boat for cyclone season, looking for flights to Vancouver, and so on. When we weren’t doing those things we did explore the town, which has several great places to get delicious food (French and tropical) and strong coffee!

Meeting the owner of a great cafe in Noumea

Our friends on Roxanne were also in Noumea, so we took a road trip with them up to the northern part of the island were there are some lovely bays and mountains.




At our final appointment with the cardiologist we told him that we’re taking the boat to Australia to store it for the cyclone season and then flying to Vancouver to see about getting the procedure done. He recommended that Malcolm NOT go on the 6 day sail because of the medication he was on. Upon hearing this, our friend Tom quickly volunteered to help Dina with the boat and let Malcolm fly to Vancouver from Noumea.

A few days later, that’s what we did. Malcolm flew to Vancouver while Dina and Tom sailed Good as Gold for 6 days and arrived safely in Bundaberg, Australia. There was no problem checking into the country, and Tom was a great help getting the boat ready for long term storage. 


Within a few days, Good as Gold was safely put away at the marina in Bundaberg, Dina was on a flight to Vancouver and Tom was on a flight back to his boat in Noumea.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Leaving Vanuatu


Our plan was to continue north to the Torres island group, an even more remote part of Vanuatu, and then sail on to the Solomon Islands. Sailing plans have to be flexible. Somewhere along the way, Malcolm got a bug bite on his leg that got infected and wasn’t really responding to the medication we had on board. Our friends, Chuck and Laurie on Free Spirit, had met up with us in Ureparapara and they both had cuts or bites that were not responding to medication. Perhaps the medication had expired, but we didn’t know. What we were sure of was that we were 2-3 days from medical assistance and going to an even more remote place was a bad idea. Free Spirit was already planning on heading south, and we decided that heading back to “civilization” was a good idea, so both boats left Ureparapara and sailed south.
Woman walking to her garden to collect food

Waterfall on Sola

The weather was a bit rough, but not unreasonable, so three days later we were anchored in the northern end of Espiritu Santo, at Port Orley. Chuck and Laurie both reported that their skin infections were healing nicely and Malcolm’s bug bite seemed to finally be responding to the medication. However, there was another problem. The apprehension Malcolm had been feeling about the passage south was not going away. He was experiencing a minor heart issue known as atrial fibrillation, were the heart doesn’t beat steadily. It’s not immediately life threatening, but needs to be addressed. We hitched a ride to a medical clinic at the south end of the island where an Australian doctor confirmed the diagnosis and said we should get to Port Vila soon because he couldn’t do much for us there. He confirmed that we didn’t need to fly there, but that we should get on our way.

Pretty flowers


So off we went, heading south to Port Vila, about a week away. Along the way, our main GPS antenna died. We switched from using our main chartplotter to using our backup system of an android tablet with a navigation app (Navionics). The backup system worked fine, except that the screen is impossible to see in the sunshine so we’d often have one person driving and the other one shielding the device from the sun.

We went to the New Zealand doctor in Port Vila we had met before, and she confirmed the diagnosis as well. She also said that Vanuatu doesn’t have the modern facilities that New Caledonia has, so we should head there soon. There wasn’t enough wind to sail there right away, and we barely had enough fuel to motor there, so we stayed put for a few days.


The next day, Free Spirit arrived into Port Vila, and the weather was looking better for a departure in a couple of days. Since neither doctor was too concerned about Malcolm’s condition, he and Laurie went on a mission. We’d been told there is no limit to the amount of alcohol and wine you could bring into New Caledonia, as long as it’s for personal use and stays on your boat. Malcolm and Laurie went to each of the duty free shops that service the cruise ships, checked out the prices for various items and made a list. The next day, we got ready to leave by visiting the authorities and checking out of the country. This meant that we had 24 hours to depart for New Caledonia and that Malcolm and Laurie had the paperwork that lets them purchase duty free liquor! The prices were a lot better than those duty free shops in most airports. Most of the one-litre bottles, for name brand gin, tequila, rum, and so on, were around $20. Our next port of call was Noumea, in New Caledonia, where they have some good French wine, so they just bought liquor. Malcolm and Laurie felt a little guilty when the delivery truck showed up with 18-20 bottles for each of them, but another cruiser had done the same thing and had 4 cases (12 bottles per case) delivered.

Our bottles got stowed on Good as Gold and we got ready to set sail for New Caledonia. The weather was cooperating, the doctor had recommended a cardiologist for us, the backup navigation system was working fine and our friends on Roxanne were already in New Caledonia. Vanuatu has certainly been our favourite place so far. The people, the geography and the coffee were all awesome.









Sunday, October 1, 2017

Ureparapara


Torba province is pretty remote and does not get many visitors. Of the few yachts that do come this far north, very few go past Sola, that motivated us to go further north. The next stop after Sola is the island of Ureparapara. The island was formed by an ancient volcano, and the north east portion is “missing” so the crater is actually a large bay.

Satellite image of Ureparapara

It took most of the day to sail from the northern edge of Vanua Lava to Ureparapara. It was somewhat surreal pulling into the bay, surrounded on three sides by steep jungle-covered walls rising out of what used to be the volcano crater. The only spot to anchor is just off the village at the end of the bay. The village is typical, perhaps a bit prettier than most. Everyone we met was very friendly and curious about us. The village chief told us that about 5 yachts visit every year. There are probably about 150 people living on the island, and nobody has any electricity other than an old car/boat battery and some donated LED lights.

The market

The main path includes a bridge


We found the school and were welcomed by the teachers. We met some of the students and showed them our route on the world map hanging in the classroom. The “Sports” list showed that tomorrow’s activity was frisbee so we made a plan to return the next day to play “Ultimate”. Malcolm had an idea, so we stopped by the chief’s hut on the way back and confirmed that none of the children have ever been off the island. 

Largest hut in the village (not the chief)

Pretty sitting area

The next morning Malcolm grabbed the camera, then put all of our ice cubes into a large thermos and we headed to the school for a bit of science before frisbee. At the school, we told the teacher what was in the thermos and he was excited. He confirmed that none of the kids, ages 10-15, had ever seen ice. With about 30 kids and two teachers around us Malcolm started to explain that we brought something they’d not seen, that we have a machine on the boat that makes things very very cold. So cold that water changes to a solid, just like you’ve heard about in science class. Malcolm pulled out an ice cube and showed them it was hard. It was melting fast, so Malcolm let the drops of water fall into his mouth. The kids were amazed, and Malcolm handed out ice cubes while Dina operated the camera. Some kids were afraid to touch the ice. It was so strange for them to handle anything that cold. A lot of them were very reluctant to drink any of the water that ended up in there hands.

Malcolm handing out ice cubes

Excited students

In the tropical heat, the ice cube adventure was over quickly. We asked about the frisbee and were told they don’t really follow the posted sports schedule and they don’t know what to do with the frisbee. However, a student ran and got it so it was time to play.

Before we knew it, the kids were splitting themselves into two teams, not caring about gender or age, and Malcolm was looked to for guidance. We played a modified soccer/ultimate game with all of the kids at once. Only Malcolm ended up playing because Dina is smarter(?) and took photos. 

Frisbee game

It's good to be tall
After running around for 30 minutes, the teacher asked about drills, so Malcolm made up a few for them to use for practice. By this point, Malcolm needed to get back to the boat and rest with a nice cold drink. But he had given out all our ice!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Sola

After two days of rest in Lusalava, Gaua, and as the stinging and aches subsided after Dina’s failed waterfall hike, we sailed about 4 hours to Sola, on Vanua Lava. Sola is the capital of the northernmost province of Vanuatu, Torba Province, consisting of the Banks and the Torres Islands. Ashore we found a small variety of stores and a “Yacht Club” that was also a guesthouse.
The "Yacht Club"

The locals were friendly and assured us that the saltwater crocodiles were further north and rarely ventured out of the river. These crocodiles were said to have either been introduced in the last century by Bishop Patterson – although it is unclear what purpose the Bishop thought the crocodiles could serve to the people of Vanua Lava – or there is belief the crocodiles swam to Vanuatu from the Solomon Islands after getting lost during a cyclone.

We were told there was a weekly Friday market, the next day, and we saw flyers about a school fundraiser that included food, dancing and music on Saturday. The Friday market failed to materialise. As there is but one road on Vanua Lava and few vehicles, it is difficult for people to bring their goods to market. We were told the market would “open” sometime in the afternoon once everyone arrived. Fortunately, a few people were selling prepared food so we ate chicken, pork and rice while we chatted with the locals.

The school fundraiser, held at the Sola school, was to raise funds for the primary school on the island of Mere Lava. We arrived after the water music performance and cooking demonstrations, but in time for lunch and to see the students dancing. We found a good place to sit, watch and take photos. Malcolm's camera received a lot of interest from the children in the audience.
Local girl looking at the photos Malcolm has taken
Thanks to Laurie of s/v Free Spirit for this photo


The Sola school is a boarding school for secondary students of the Banks and Torres Islands. To raise funds, the students from the various islands got together and performed the traditional Kustom dances from their home islands.





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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Lost in the jungle


We anchored next in Lusalava, on the north side of the island of Gaua. We had been told that from this bay there was an easy walk to a stunning waterfall. Visiting onshore, Dina asked many locals and everyone agreed the waterfall was an easy 2-hour walk. So the next day at 9 AM, Dina and Chuck, from SV Free Spirit, set off for a leisurely walk to a reportedly stunning waterfall.

As they walked through the village, people pointed them in the direction of the walk, all saying the waterfall is easy to reach. Dina asked a few people about an informal guide, perhaps a young person who could accompany them. On the outskirts of the main village, a man suggested his son and friend, Eric and Sos, both around 19 years old, could show them the way.

Soon Chuck and Dina were following these kind young men through fairly rough forest. They had turned off the main road and seemed to be following an animal trail. Soon they were in a thick jungle. After stopping to drink fresh coconut milk, the boys admitted they had lost the trail. About 4 ½ hours later, they arrived at the river, near the supposed waterfall.

Exhausted, Chuck and Dina ate the snacks they had brought along for their easy walk. The boys claimed the waterfall was just around a bend. The said it would be in view from the other side of the river. The raging river. Being so close to the end goal, Dina decided to attempt the river crossing. With the boys trying to stand firm in the water, they guided her across. Chuck was not going to be out-done and he crossed as well.



Unfortunately, the waterfall was not visible. The boys now said it was just ahead, back across the raging river and around a bend. At that point Dina gave up. Chuck was in agreement and they all turned around and headed back into the jungle.

At first, they were on a clear trail. The boys admitted that they were on the “principle trail” that had eluded them on the way to the waterfall. Unfortunately, they soon lost the principle trail. After about an hour, they found themselves in dense jungle. The boys had one machete between them and took turns trying to cut out a path. They were often crawling under dense foliage, over fallen trees and up or down muddy slopes.

Darkness fell, making the going even tougher. After about three hours, they emerged from the jungle and spent the next three hours trudging in the darkness along a dirt track and then the road, back to where they had left Tubby on the beach. At this point, well over 10 hours, everyone was too tired to speak. The boys help get the dinghy into the water and Dina and Chuck made for the boats.

Fortunately, Chuck had saved the battery in his headlamp for the dinghy ride back to the boats. It was pitch dark and there was a reef between the shore and the boats that had to be avoided. It was about 8:30 PM when Dina dropped Chuck off at SV Free Spirit and a very relieved Lauri.

Malcolm tied Tubby to the boat as Dina made it aboard. Helping her down below, Malcolm gave Dina water, food, a stiff rum and coke and tended to her cuts, scrapes and bruises.  It had been quite a jungle adventure!


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Gaua - start of the Banks Group of Island

Our next destination was the Banks Group of islands. This group is even more isolated than the rest of Vanuatu, partially due to the extra distance. The southernmost island, Gaua, is 25nm north of Espiritu Santo. This is too far for most of the locals, and most cruisers don’t bother making the crossing so they turn south after Espiritu Santo.

In order to arrive at Gaua before dark, we made a 05:30 departure from Port Orly on the northern end of Espiritu Santo. The forecast was supposed to be a downwind sail, but it turned out to be 3 hours of motoring, then 6 hours of sailing upwind. Most of the 6 hours was spent hand steering because the little CPT Auto-pilot didn’t deal well with the big swells. It just cannot anticipate as well as we can. Our friends on Free Spirit were about 1 hour behind us the whole way.

We anchored in Lacona on the SW side of Gaua, where there is a lovely black sand beach we’d have to explore the next day. The morning mist looked lovely in the jungle green mountains of this island.
Morning mist on Gaua

There was a nice little viewpoint overlooking the bay, so we went ashore to check it out. The locals were very nice, and of course the kids all wanted to talk to us. The viewpoint was a short walk passed the village’s nakamal (men’s hut for drinking kava). 

Village girl

Statue in from of Nakamal

Good as Gold and Free Spirit anchored at Gaua

The women on Gaua discovered a way to make “water-music”, which involves some chanting while a number of women slap, scoop, skim and swirl the water to make a number of different percussion like sounds. The locals were interested in what goods we had, and offered a Water Music performance as trade.



Most people in the Banks group are subsistence living, so trading with travelling yachts is a very common way to get items they cannot produce. Ropes, batteries, LED lights and school supplies were the most common requests, with fresh fruit and vegetables being the most common offering.
Village boys playing on the beach

Mother and daughter - Gaua

Father and daughter - Gaua

In addition to trading for goods, a somewhat common request is for transportation. These islands are quite rugged and there are only rough foot paths connecting the villages. We ended up taking a couple and their son to Lusalava, a 15nm trip to the other side of the island. The mom is the local junior school teacher and had to get to Lusalava for meetings with the government, and the 14 year old son was heading back to boarding school (high school) for another term. The trip was uneventful for us, but the boy was not used to the motion and got sea sick. The dad wasn’t looking too good either, but he remained stoic. We decided that our boat is a little too crowded with the extra people, and we don’t want the added responsibility, so we’re not going to be transporting people again unless it’s a dire situation.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Back on Espiritu Santo

Without much wind, we motor-sailed back west to Oyster Bay, back on Espiritu Santo Island, about 20km north of Luganville. The entrance to Oyster Bay is quite tricky. With some waypoints from “Mr. John” and Malcolm on the bow, Dina made it in, manoeuvring around shallow coral heads, without touching! During the days we were there, other boats were not as lucky.

From Oyster Bay, we dinghied up the river to the Matevulu Blue Hole. It is a nice freshwater blue hole surrounded by banyan trees and grazing cows. The local land owners have added a ladder to the large banyan tree and a rope swing.


Although the Oyster Bay Resort was closed for renovations by the new Chinese owners (Chinese have purchased quite a bit of property in Santo and own many businesses), the Turtle Bay Resort was open. With Lynn and Tom from SV Roxanne, we rented a small car from the resort and drove north to the Loru Conservation Area. While this is described as a bird sanctuary, it was really a nice trek through coconut plantation and jungle to a wonderful, bat-filled cave on the coast!

The cave has a rugged, narrow entrance and was filled with hundreds of palm-sized bats! The bats flew around acting as a natural ceiling fan with a slight whirring hum. As we crouched to pass into other chambers of the cave, the bats were also trying to enter or exit. Their radar did not always work and they either brushed up against us or bonked into the walls trying to avoid us. It was a great experience!

On the return drive to Turtle Bay Resort, we stopped at the Nanda Blue Hole. It is more touristy, but stunning! A small group, from the cruise ship that had arrived in Luganville, were just leaving and we had the place to ourselves. The proprietor gave us fresh coconuts to drink and we invited her to sit with us and share the banana bread Malcolm had made.

We left Oyster Bay thinking there would be wind for a downwind sail north to Hog Harbor. Unfortunately, the weather GRIBs were wrong again and there was no wind. As we motored past the famous Champagne Beach, we were underwhelmed. It is not a large or wide stretch of beach, or anything really out of the ordinary. We anchored off Lonnoc Beach, just around the corner. Dina paddled around the bay and over to Champagne Beach, and was unsuccessful finding the famous bubbles of air or freshwater that gave the beach its name. We did see a few turtles!
Good as Gold anchored in Lonnoc Bay
Tubby floating in the beautiful blue water of Lonnoc Bay
When we snorkeled, we discovered the “bubbles” are actually smears created by the freshwater streaming into the salt water from numerous fresh water springs on the sea floor. It was very disturbing having the visibility change from incredibly clear (some of the clearest water we have seen!) to looking through Vaseline! The next day, after quite a rain, it was even worse, with almost no visibility!

It rained quite a bit and one morning, during a torrential downpour that included thunder and lightning, we used our new rain-catchers to collect enough water to fill our water tanks!
Raincatcher on the bow

Raincatcher doing it's job


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Million Dollar Point, Millennium Cave and Ansanvari

American Forces were stationed on Espiritu Santo during WWII, and after the war they tried to sell their equipment to the French, who administered Vanuatu (or New Hebrides as it was known). The French knew it would be very expensive for the Americans to ship everything home, so they didn’t want to buy anything, hoping instead that the Americans would just leave things behind. However, the Americans didn’t like this idea, so they dumped everything into the sea. The story is that over $1 million dollars’ worth of trucks, jeeps, cranes, and other equipment was dumped off of what is now known as Million Dollar Point, just east of Luganville. Much of this equipment is in fairly shallow water so we went and snorkelled it. The wind was up, so there was a lot of silt in the water, but it was still very interesting to see the old “junk”.
Upside down tank? Crane?

Truck

Jeep
After several days, we motored back to Luganville did a very large provisioning. Fortunately, the LCM grocery store provides free delivery and the butcher will freeze and vacuum pack meats. We took advantage of being back in Luganville to go on the Millennium Cave tour with SV Free Spirit and new friends, Andy and Brianna of SV Wanderlust V (formerly our Bluewater Cruising Assoc. friend, Glenora Dougherty’s, boat!). We found the cave a bit underwhelming, but the river canyon was pretty and refreshingly cool.
Dina at the cave entrance

After the cave, we climb some more to get to the river

Artistic(?) shot of light coming into the river gorge


With our boat full of provisions, we went east to Ansanvari on the SW end of Maewo Island. It seemed to rain the entire time we were there. We then read that Maewo is the rainiest island in Vanuatu! We went ashore to deliver a letter from cruisers who had spent a lot of time in Ansanvari in the early 2000’s. The first person I showed the laminated letter with embedded pictures said, “Mr. Gene!” This family was well remembered and loved by everyone we met in the village.

We next sailed to nearby Ambae Island and found sunshine! We anchored in Vanihe Bay on the NE side of the island. We dinghied and paddleboarded all around for a few days, exploring the caves, crevasses, reefs and freshwater streams on the black sand beach. In one crevasse, with cold, fresh water coming from it, we found a couple of lion fish. The larger one refused to come out of the crevasse, but the other one posed for the camera.
Lion Fish