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