Saturday, July 29, 2017

On to Malakula

We sailed to Craig’s Cove at the SW of Ambryn to spend a night before crossing to Malakula Island. We were pleasantly surprised by the arrival of two 12-year old girls, Victoria and Elsie, who canoed over in a traditional dugout canoe to our boat and invited us to their village! We dinghied to shore for a lovely tour of their village and to place an order for fresh bread for the morning.

After going to shore to pick up the warm bread, we had a surprisingly comfortable 4-5 hour close-hauled sail (wind almost on the nose) SW to Gaspard Bay on the southern end of Malakula Island.  Gaspard is a deep, keyhole anchorage well protected from wind and surrounded by mangroves. We had the anchorage to ourselves and could hear the dugongs coming up for air. Due to the mangroves, the water is shallow, very dark green, a little muddy, and the dugongs were difficult to see. Malcolm saw one, but after two days of paddleboarding all around, Dina didn’t see any.

After a brief stop at Uliveo Island in the Maskelyne Island group south of Malakula Island, we headed north. We had a nice broad reach (wind from aft quarter) sail to Banan Bay on the east coast of Malakula Island. The water in the bay was clear with some coral heads and the paddleboarding was nice. SV Second Wind was anchored nearby and they organised a Small Nambas “kustom” dance for the three boats in the bay.

There are two primary tribes on Malakula: Small Nambas and Large Nambas. Both tribes use banana leaf penis sheaths (nambas) in their kustom (traditional) dancing. The large and small refer (supposedly) to the size of the bark belt that holds the namba.
Small Namba kustom dance

Younger boys in the kustom dance

The dancing was over quickly, again nothing to do with the size reference, and we enjoyed time in the village.

Local kids posing for a photo

Local kids posing for another photo

Young girl throwing frisbee

Beautiful mother with baby

Local villager

Local catch
Ready for cooking

We had a lovely 3 hour downwind sail to Crab Bay, further north along the east coast of Malakula Island. Crab Bay is a marine reserve and looks like a wonderful anchorage to explore. Unfortunately, the wind was strong with small white caps in the bay and it wasn’t possible to explore.

Dina untangling the fishing line...
didn't matter, we still didn't catch anything

Dina doing laundry at Clam Bay

Saturday, July 22, 2017


We sailed north from Lamen Island to Ambryn Island. Ambryn is known for its black magic and active volcano. We arrived in time for the second day of the annual festival in the village of Fanla, supposedly the oldest village on Ambryn. The famous Rom (“mask”) Dance was held on the second day.

Village elder supervising the dancers

Chief making sure they're doing it right

Mask Closeup

Dancer closeup


The Rom Dance is an important native tradition in which men participating in the ceremony are granted additional status based on the masks they purchase. One mask went for 20,000 vatu (~$200), while others were purchased from their traditional owners for between 10,000 and 4,000 vatu (~$100-$40). Men are allowed to participate in various ceremonies across the island based on their status level. Some men have several masks and significant status on the island.

Villagers watching the performance

Local kids looking at their own images on the screen of Malcolm's camera

After the performance, there are some handicrafts available

The festival also corresponds to Yam planting season
Village elder

Village elders with gifts given to the village by Captain Cook

Village elder

 Several boats were anchored off Ranon village, we anchored closer to nearby Ranvetlam village. We took a long walk to Ranvetlam and along the way we met John Willy from Fanla. He said he was a trained guide and we arranged an overnight volcano tour for us and 4 other cruising couples for the next day. Unfortunately, when we contacted John Willy the following morning, he requested 16,000 vatu (~$160) more than what he had quoted the previous day.

Fortunately, another cruiser, Nancy on SV Second Wind, organised another guide for the same price we had originally agreed upon.  Before noon we were off to see the Ambryn volcano with 3 other couples.  After a very arduous hike up steep jungle trails and along narrow ridges, we arrived at the cabin. Calling the cabin rustic would make it sound nicer that it was; it had curved bamboo floors, woven mat walls and a thatched roof. There were no table, chairs or designated outhouse.

After eating the lunch we brought, we continued on towards the rim of the volcano crater. About 2 hours later, as darkness was falling, we still had not reached the rim of the crater. It was raining, cloudy and windy. Our guides, two 16 year old boys (one of which had never guided before), told us there was no point in continuing as we would not see anything in this weather. They were also very concerned about the windy conditions and asked those ahead of us to crouch down for safety.
We slowly made our way back down the rocky, steep terrain by the light of our headlamps.

Back at camp, we ate a soggy meal and two couples went to sleep in tents while we spread our sleeping bags over the lumpy bamboo inside the cabin with another couple. Our two young guides were unsuccessful in building a rain-proof lean-to, so by 2 AM they were up, getting food out of the cabin, cooking and chatting. Needless to say, no sleep was had by anyone!

A four hour hike down the mountain in the morning brought us to a truck that took us to the beach and our dinghies, and the end of our Ambryn adventure.

Anchorage at Ambryn

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Heading North from Port Vila

After the boat was put in the water, we spent another two weeks in Port Vila. Some of our time was spent getting some necessary jobs done on the boat, such as putting the sails on. The rest of our time was spent buying provisions, as we knew that there wouldn’t be much available as we explored Vanuatu.  We decided it was time to retire our Canadian flag and hoist a new one.

After a few days in the anchorage, we noticed that our solar panels weren’t providing enough power and certainly not providing as much as they used to. A simple bit of diagnostic work showed that the panel which was damaged in Fiji (link here, or photo) was not providing any power. There are a lot of people using solar power in Vanuatu, so we went to a couple of shops and found a very reasonable replacement panel. By some awesome stroke of luck, it was the same size and had the same connectors as the broken one, so installation was easy. At this point, our cupboards, fridge and freezer were full so we headed out.

Our first stop was at the island of Nguna, which has a large dormant volcano overlooking the little bay. Last year, Dina had enjoyed stand-up paddle boarding so much that she bought herself a board. Now that we were in a quieter place than the Port Vila harbour, it was time to inflate it and try it out.

Dina trying out her new paddleboard

We also figured it was time to get in the water, so we snorkelled along the little reef in the bay. The coral was okay, and it was nice to see some fish. Luckily, a sea turtle swam past us as we headed back towards the boat.

A nice sail north of Nguna brought us to Lamen Bay on the island of Epi. This bay has crystal clear water, but it took a while to notice because the entire bay is black sand. When the sun was out, we could see the bottom easily in 8 metre deep water. One afternoon we watched a sea turtle eating the bit of grass growing on the bottom.  It’d come up for air and then swim back down to continue grazing.

Lamen Bay is famous for dugongs (a relative of the manatee) and sea turtles. We saw many large sea turtles and a few even swam along with us, but we are not sure if we saw any dugongs. They are very shy and surface very briefly. Along with 6 people from 3 other sailboats anchored in the bay, we went with a local fisherman for an afternoon snorkel at Lamen Island, just outside of Lamen Bay. As the fisherman’s boat approached the beach, he pointed out a dugong grazing in the shallows. However, it was gone as soon as we got into the water.

We will continue to hunt for a glimpse of the elusive dugong as we explore more islands in northern Vanuatu…