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


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!