Friday, September 26, 2008

Journal Entry - September 27, 2008 Important Update from Oyster Island

Hello Friends of the Blind Circumnavigation!

This is just a quick update to bring you up to date on a bit of a concern we are experiencing on Starship. We are currently on Oyster Island in northern Vanuatu. Four days ago Pam developed a pain and blurred vision in her right eye. This condition has persisted and after consultation with medical professionals in Australia we have decided that the best course of action is for Pam to fly to Australia for a complete ophthalmological evaluation.

At this point we do not consider this situation an emergency but rather circumstances requiring timely attention.

Please check in on the website over the next few days for updates as they become available.

Scott and Pam

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Journal Entry - September 11 - 13, 2008 - Lamen Bay, Epi Island, Vanuatu

Author: Pam

We made it through the night in rolly Revoliue Bay, but boy were we motivated to make a move the next morning. Lamen Bay was our next stop on Epi Island, a whole eight miles away. One could get used to these day hops. We weighed anchor at 0830 and drove two hours reaching Lamen Bay at 1030. There was not enough wind or time really for a sail. As we approached Lamen Bay a naval ship crossed fairly close behind us leading us to believe they were not planning on stopping. However, their next maneuver was to go in front of LL and head straight into Lamen Bay and drop their anchor. Lamen Bay is wide open exposed to the west, but you can get in close enough to be protected and thank heavens there was no swell. Besides the naval ship there were no other yachts anchored, so we scouted around and anchored a safe distance from the shore and the ever present bombies (coral heads).

About five minutes after we dropped the anchor a dinghy was headed directly at Starship from the Naval ship. They came alongside and without asking permission or identifying themselves three of the five of them boarded Starship. I was sitting in the entrance to cockpit and though I did not feel at all threatened, I did not invite them on board any further than the side of the boat where they were standing. They asked if we had a cruising permit and I said we have a sealed envelope to give to Customs in Luganville when we check out. The guy seemingly in charge asked me to write the name of the boat and the crew on his clipboard. Then the second guy asked to see our passports. They asked where we planned to check out and we said Luganville and they reiterated we need to visit Customs in Luganville and if we want to check out of Sola in the Banks Islands we must ask permission in Luganville. They disembarked and it looked like one of the guys in their tender took a picture of the boat, Rebecca confirmed later he did. They headed for LL and we called and gave them a heads up. We have not been boarded "at sea" since the California coast at the beginning of our trip, when we were boarded by the US Coast Guard.

As we are now full on into the island hopping routine, there does seem to be a routine developing, deploy the dinghy and head to shore to explore our new surroundings. So, after changing into our swimmers (as they say in Australia) we headed for shore for a walk and a swim. We had read in our cruising guide there was a resort, a high school and an airport, otherwise we didn't have much information. There were a couple of young men sitting on the beach where we landed the dinghy and I asked if it would be ok if we went for a walk. They basically looked at us with the deer in the headlights stare with a smile. We took that to be a yes and we headed off on a road inland turning onto a path we thought would head back to the beach. We passed a couple children, but otherwise there really wasn't anyone around. We also passed a couple of huts with the preverbal chickens and roosters roaming around, but we didn't actually see another person until we met Ron sitting with his shiny silver support cane on an upside down canoe. He was friendly, but also a man of few words and only one front tooth (according to Rebecca).

We are finding the people of Vanuatu to be very friendly, but also quite shy. It has been quite difficult to have a conversation. The native language is Bislama (pigeon English) and as in any language when they speak to one another it is with confidence. Many people do speak English, but not many with confidence. Therefore, they may be able to understand and speak English, but they often do not speak very loudly, making it difficult to hear their responses. I have also observed they ask very few questions. The children are openly curious with their stares, enthusiastic hellos and big smiles, but they seldom initiate any interaction or conversation, so far anyway. If you ask them, how are you? They will respond "fine" and flash a beautiful smile, but that is usually the end of the conversation.

After a swim at the beach we decided to head back to the boats for lunch and a rest after getting no sleep the night before. For someone who does not nap, I seem to be getting quite good at it, I slept all afternoon. We made veal with cream sauce and rice for dinner and enjoyed the peace and quiet of a civilized anchorage.

The next morning we awoke to discover a large square rigger had arrived in the night and was making trips to shore delivering the people on board. We had also watched a maxi yacht come in after dark and roam around looking for a place to anchor, my how the neighborhood can change in a few short hours.

We headed over to LL and hung out while Rebecca finished baking bread, which was fine with us since she had promised us a loaf. We were feeling especially lucky since we had had to throw almost an entire moldy loaf overboard. On one of the trips back from shore the 2nd Mate from the square rigger stopped by and asked if LL could possibly move in a bit closer, so they could get in closer and out of very deep water. He also invited us to join them on shore for a BBQ that evening, which we all thought sounded like fun. Graeme was more than happy to oblige and move LL, so he and Scott went off for a squiz in the dinghy to locate a good spot. That done, LL weighed anchor and tucked in a little closer to shore.

When the bread was baked we headed into shore for another look around and in search of the Sunset Paradise Resort, Scott was most likely hoping for a cheeseburger. We landed the dinghy on a different beach, which didn't prove to be a good idea due to the number of coral heads dotting the approach, definitely not nice for swimming. Graeme ended up pulling the dinghy around near the beach we landed at yesterday. On our way to meet him we met several guys who had been snorkeling and we quickly learned they were guests on the 105 foot square rigger, the Soren Larson. She sails out of New Zealand and makes a nine month passage through the South Pacific. She has 13 crew and up to 23 guests at any given time. She is registered as a training ship, but the guests are not students per say, it is up to you how much you want to participate (though they do help keep watch and do safety checks). The guests are on board for anywhere between 10 days and 9 months. I hope we get invited for a tour.

After a swim we headed back to the boats for lunch and to prepare for our trip over to Lamen Island. The day before Sam had stopped by LL in his canoe and they had invited him on board. They learned 300 people live on Lamen Island, which is located approximately two miles across from Lamen Bay. The people who live there come across to the "Big Island" to work in their gardens. There is a primary school on the island and Sam said it would be ok for us to come for a visit. Apparently, the tuition is 1000VT ($10.00) per child per term. We planned to talk to the Head Master about sponsoring at least one child for a term and I gathered up a few school supplies and stickers to donate. We headed out in LL's dinghy, it would have taken a month of Sundays in ours. It was a bit choppy on the way over, but fortunately we managed to stay dry, the trip home was completely another story. We landed the dinghy on the beach and headed to where the sand stops and the rocks begin, this is where we would find Sam's house. Along the way we were stopped by a number of men who wanted to know our reason for being there. One of the young men offered to show us Sam's house and in about a second flat that meant several children and another adult male. Sam was home, but we clearly woke him up from a nap. He was polite and offered us a small bench to sit on. Graeme asked about visiting the school and Sam informed us the school was closed on Friday afternoons. He neglected to mention that yesterday during the discussion of when we would visit. Sam said he would take us to the Head Master's house, but he wasn't sure if he had gone over to the "Big Island" or not. Lamen Island is very pretty with lots of great, big trees and no cars. However, there are two mobile phone companies that have set up towers. It is strange to be walking through these very remote and rustic villages and see people talking on their mobile phone. Telecommunication really does seem to know no boundaries. Scott had a great time taking pictures of the kids playing in the water, they definitely are not camera shy. The Head Master indeed was not home and we had run out of conversation with Sam (we learned he had a kava hangover and was not feeling very chatty) so we headed back to the dinghy and roared back across to Lamen Bay arriving looking like drown rats. When we got back to Starship Scott rolled out of LL's dinghy and completed the task of getting soaked.

I did chores for the rest of the afternoon and Scott took a nap, he is even better at napping than I am. I prepared pasta with pesto to bring to the BBQ and we headed back in to shore a bit after dark to make new friends. When we arrived the BBQ was full of meat and the table full of food. Inside the yacht club there were several local children dancing to a DVD of island music they were watching on a small TV. Otherwise, there did not seem to be many locals around, however I suspect they were there in the shadows. We chatted with several people we had met earlier in the day about their experience aboard the Soren Larson and where they were going next. It wasn't long before chow was on and we all grabbed a banana leaf plate and headed for the buffet line. There was heaps of food, burgers, rolls, sausages, pasta bake, cucumber, tomato, our pasta, Rebecca's fried rice… I have never tried to balance food on a banana leaf before, though a little wobbly it did make a very nice plate. We all sat at the long table on benches in an open structure, under a thatched roof. When Scott went back for seconds and I went to lend my support, we met Tasso. We had read about him in the cruising guide, he owns the resort and yacht club. He had heard about these people who didn't see well and was very excited to meet us. He said he wanted us to meet his wife and son and in a couple of minutes he was back with them and two other family members. We had a very nice chat with him and he was thrilled we had chosen to stop in Lamen Bay. We had hoped we would see him again the next day on shore, but unfortunately we did not. As we were getting ready to head back to the boat, we were invited aboard the Soren Larson the next morning for a quick tour, they were planning to leave at 0900, yippee! Graeme, Rebecca, Scott and I climbed into the dinghy and headed back to Starship, the night was young and the moon was almost full. We sat in the cockpit under a gorgeous moon and shared some of our more intimate and personal life stories and our friendship bond grew a bit deeper.

The next morning we were up and ready to go over to the Soren Larson at 0800, that is when they said they would be finished with breakfast. She makes the second tall ship we have met on this adventure so far, the Picton Castle in Rarotonga (Cook Islands) was the first. The Soren Larson was built in 1949 and has undergone major rigging changes over the years. Her interior woodwork is absolutely beautiful, despite an interior fire at some point. The crew and guests were gracious and very proud to show her off to four wide eyed and admiring visitors. Our visit was short, we didn't want to overstay our welcome. I did have a quick chat with one of the crew as I was disembarking who is from Boston and is quite familiar with MDI, my little island in Maine. We both agreed we were a long way from home.

The rest of the day felt like a lazy Saturday. We went to shore and explored in the direction of the airport, hoping the shop might be open. It was no surprise to find that it closed. A light mist started to fall as we wandered along and observed more of the ease the children seem to have with just having fun. They were everywhere, swimming, canoeing, sitting on a tree branch, playing sports (we weren't sure what the game actually was), running, playing with a puppy and endlessly laughing and giggling. I can't think of many things that have warmed my heart in the same way. Before heading back out to the boats to prepare for our departure in the morning we found the water tap and filled up our four collapsible water jugs and deposited our rubbish in the designated spot.

After a stop by LL on the way to discuss our next destination and have a snack we headed back to Starship. We stowed the dinghy, made dinner and called it an early night so we would be rested for our next hop to Malakula Island the next day.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Journal Entry - September 10 - 11, 2008 - Holy Rolly Cow!

Author: Scott

Today I feel like living Jell-O! Last night we spent the night at Revolieu Bay on Epi Island, one of the rolliest anchorages we have experienced on the voyage to date. What makes us appreciate just how awful it was is the contrast from our prior night's calm and peaceful experience at Port Havannah on Efate Island.

Our departure from Efate Island was filled with the anticipation of leaving the comparatively bustling modern life of Efate Island and Port Vila to return again to the traditional island life of villagers outside of "the big city". Our cruising guides told us that on Epi Island we would find kind gentle people and perhaps interactions with sea turtles, and even dugongs (sea cows). A dugong is a large lumbering creature, with a thick body and whale-like tale. They are known to breed and feed in the bays on Epi Island and other cruisers have reported swimming with these immense and gentle friends from the sea. Cool! I want to swim with a dugong!

Our first stop on Epi Island was Revolieu Bay, a large and relatively open bay from the northwest, west, and southwest. Upon entering the bay I could feel the swell gently lifting the boat from the northwest and I wondered to myself, 'could this swell make things a bit unruly?' In short, the answer was a resounding YES!!! We dropped the hook in ten meters of clear blue water with a white sand and crushed coral bottom. The surrounding landscape was lush green with low lying mountains and very little sign of life on shore. There were no other yachts on anchor, and soon it became clear why that was.

I first noticed the roll as I was waiting for the anchor to set, but I figured things would soon settle down. I was wrong. We bounced, we thrashed, we wiggled and jiggled, we bounced, we rolled… Shortly after anchoring Graeme and Rebecca dropped by in their dinghy, which was a bit of a surprise, as they silently slunk up to Starship rowing without a motor. LL's dinghy is easy to deploy off davits, but they have a bigger challenge of transferring their motor to their dinghy, which is mounted on the rail. Therefore, they often will go motorless and paddle if they are just visiting an anchorage for a single night. With our friends on board we caught up on the past two days spent on our respective boats and of course talked about our current amusement park-like anchorage. Beck said when she looked over at Starship she could actually see our keel flash in the roll. They had decided to use their fancy "Flying Fluke" anchor to anchor their stern into the oncoming swell. A "Flying Fluke" is a nifty anchor that is designed to glide through the water upon release and embed itself in the bottom at a distance from a boat, thus eliminating the need to paddle out in a dinghy to set a stern anchor. It sounds too good to be true, but they reported that their "Flying Fluke" did its job and that their stern anchor had calmed their boat somewhat. We also considered deploying our stern anchor in the more conventional fashion, but decided that the roll would soon abate. We were wrong.

Before they departed Starship we agreed with Graeme and Rebecca that if the roll continued, we would head off for Lamen Bay, just another eight miles north. It was also a wide open bay and would be easy to anchor, even if we had to drop the anchor in the dark.

Preparing dinner was a challenge, but the real fun began at dish time. Plates were flying, glasses were skidding across the counter, and cutlery was bouncing around. All I could think about was finishing the dishes so I could rest. We did finally finish the dishes with no casualties, but rest did not come easily. As the boat rolled on through the night, anything not wedged into place jumped and rolled around building to unbelievably loud crescendos of noise. Halyards smacked the mast and Starship serenaded with all her secret squeaks and moans and groans. I was up at least twice in the night to tame objects that had come to life. In the end I was lucky to have managed two hours of sleep. Pam probably had even less with her proclivity for insomnia induced by the slightest noise. Pam's simple description of the night was 'trying to sleep in a torture chamber'.

Dawn finally did come. I know this as I was up to greet the sun. With the new day calm was not restored in the anchorage. We never had a break as we weighed anchor in sloppy swell, eager to move on further north, in search of calm, our sanity, and perhaps a dugong.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Journal Entry - September 9, 2008 - Port Havannah , Efate

Author: Pam

After three fun weeks in Port Vila we finally broke away and are on the move again. We left Port Vila at 0915 and motor sailed around the corner to Port Havannah, arriving at 1330. We had 9 to 19 knots of wind, unfortunately on our nose. Motoring wasn't really a bad thing after being on a mooring for three weeks, Starship's batteries needed a good drink.

We had to make four attempts at anchoring, which I must say is unusual for us. First attempt we ended up too close to Listowell Lady, second attempt the anchor did not set and we continued going backwards in reverse and the third attempt the chain got caught in the windlass. There was only one other boat in the anchorage, so there was plenty of room for our trials and errors.

Port Havannah is recommended as a good stop to make the passage to Revilou Bay on Epi Island a nice day sail. Since we were only staying one night and the village is a bit inland we decided not to deploy the dinghy. We spent the afternoon reading about the Banks and Torres Islands at the top of Vanuatu and finishing up a few chores. It was very hot and it only took Scott about 15 minutes to go for his I have arrived, the anchor is set swim. I wasn't up for a swim so I spent the afternoon trying to find the right lack of clothing, which proved to be a challenge. Of course just after I put on my bathing suit top and a pereo I looked out and there was a guy in a dugout canoe headed straight for the starboard side of Starship, where I had also hung 13 pairs of my underwear to dry on the lifelines. The people of Vanuatu are very shy and seemingly quite modest, I immediately felt under dressed as I sat on the side of the boat with no where to go, I had been seen I was sure. He approached the boat and offered me some tomatoes, not to buy, as a gift. I said one would be lovely, but he gave us four. Scott had a nice fishing hook handy, which he offered and Reuben accepted with a smile. His kanu (canoe in Bislama) was huge. It took him two months to make it out of a Milk Tree (or white tree). It had pieces of wood lashed in the center where he could put the fish he catches, which he said there are plenty. Reuben told us 30 people live in his village and 15 of them are children. We bid him goodbye and I took the opportunity to bring in my knickers (as they say in Australia and NZ), you really never know who might drop by.

The anchorage was dead calm and remained so throughout the night and once the moon came out it was beyond perfect. Starship did not move or make one sound all night and we had a blissful night's sleep.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Journal Entry - September 8, 2008 - Our Stay in Port Vila

Author: Scott

Port Vila on Efate Island in Vanuatu is everything we imagined and more. During the past three weeks Port Vila has been our home, and though we had heard so much about this bustling small city in the South Pacific, we were delighted to personally discover the charm Vila has to offer.

Port Vila, like many other island towns and cities, is situated along a main road. Most streets do not venture far off of this main thoroughfare. The city is alive with transportation, mostly small jitney buses that are designated with a "B" for bus or "T" for taxi. A bus is a shared ride for 100 VT per person and will usually take you directly to the door of your destination. Taxis are exclusive to your needs at modest rates. Anyone wishing a ride would never be waiting long as these enterprising vehicles are always scouting for fares. The traffic in Vila is almost always bustling in the city center. Once outside of town the roads quickly turn to dirt and with the exception of the main road, diminish down to small dirt tracks, some leading into the hills and center of the island.

Poised in the center of town is the marketplace. A concrete slab with a large overhanging roof serves as the city's market. People from around the island bring in produce for sale, often sleeping in their stalls at night to avoid the trip home. The market also hosts a lively street food business, with long picnic tables surrounding makeshift kitchens. While walking around the market's food stalls there are wafts of all sorts of smells, some good and some not so good. The flies are a constant challenge to these entrepreneurs and it seems like some people are hired just to wave banana leaves over the offerings to keep the flies away. Most of the produce available for sale at the market is tropic climate fruits and vegetables such as bananas, papaya, coconuts and taro. There are also some lettuce, tomatoes, capsicum, beans, and onions. One day we even came across ripe raspberries.

Fanning out in both directions from the market are various restaurants and shops ranging from glitzy duty free shops to basic shops such as the local butcher and plumbing supply store. There are a number of grocery stores in town with the two Bon Marches leading the way as the most up market option. We also found good deals at Centrepoint Market.

The restaurants in Vila are plentiful and wide ranging. You can get a decent cheeseburger at Jill's American Grill and at the Waterfront Restaurant. The Waterfront Restaurant also makes quite good Mexican food (for the South Pacific) with chicken tacos and nachos among my personal favorites. At night the Waterfront Restaurants pulls out the tablecloths and becomes a decent dinner spot, complete with live entertainment, that eventually heats up to night club levels after ten. Another favorite spot is the Numbawan (number one) Café on the beach near the anchorage. Ivan the proprietor has done a fine job of capturing the cruising essence with his outdoor environment with tables and chairs on the sand, overlooking the bay. On Wednesdays and Sundays he offers a free beachfront movie that serves as Vila's only cinema. Throw in free wireless Internet after three and you have a recipe for a successful cruiser hangout. Throughout Vila there are also many move dining options ranging from the budget minded to the extreme gastronomic experience.

We found the yachting facilities on Vila to be adequate and charming in the spirit of a far away destination. Yachts have the option of anchoring in the north or mooring in the south. You can also opt to tie up med moored style on the sea wall. Yachting World is the provider of both moorings and space along the sea wall. They also include cold to warm showers, and manage the fuel dock. Also available in the Yachting World vicinity is a well run Internet Café and laundry for hire in the Yachting World office. A load of laundry costs 800 VT or about $8.00 for wash and dry or 450 VT for wash only. A real benefit to using the Yachting World moorings is the close proximity to Irriki Island. Irriki Island is a resort on a small island that spans the mooring fields. Yachties are welcome to use the facilities as long as they are paying customers for drinks and the occasional meals. The island makes for a beautiful stroll, there are two pools, sailboat and kayak rentals tennis courts, fair snorkeling, two decent restaurants and a spa. It was a real treat to get to hang out by the pool, dipping in the chilly fresh water.

This Log-Blog entry would not be complete without mentioning kava. Kava is a root that grows rampantly in the South Pacific. When crushed and mixed with water the kava root produces a numbing and euphoric sensation. Although just as much of a drug as alcohol or marijuana, kava is a legal substance in Vanuatu, and widely used by the inhabitants. Kava can be purchased at a kava bar or 'Nakamal'. This is generally a hut or small building with a counter and kava kept in a barrel and ladled out to customers into 'shells' or bowls. Kava is prepared in a number of ways throughout the islands ranging from chewing the root, then spiting it into a banana leaf and filtering water through the leaf. The group sharing the kava would then be united through saliva and not just the experience. Kava is also ground in a meat grinder or pounded with a stick in a tube, then water is filtered through it. It is unanimously agreed upon by the locals that Vanuatu has the strongest kava in the world (Tanna kava being the strongest of all), and the method of chewing the kava is known as the most potent way to experience the effects.

Of course I could not leave Vanuatu without trying this experience, as they say, 'When in Rome…". It was suggested that to truly feel the effects I should have at least four shells, and I had five. Upon drinking the first shell I could immediately feel a numbing sensation in my mouth and throat, similar to Novocain at the dentist. By the time I finished all five shells I could certainly say that I felt mellow and a bit numb. I would not compare the sensation to drinking alcohol, I felt very clear headed, but I was also happy to just sit and chill out. I probably could have just sat there for eight hours in fact.

During our time on Efate Island we did have a chance to tour the island. Rebecca's mother Mary came for a visit and we were invited to join them for a day trip in a hire car, designated with an H on the license plate. Although we found the island to be slightly unspectacular with much of the view obscured with thick jungle and coconut plantations, we did happen across a spectacular spot called "The Blue Lagoon". This private lagoon in owned by a local village and offers the use of the lagoon for a nominal fee. The water here is a crystal clear aquamarine brine mixture of fresh spring and tidal salt water. The lagoon is an inlet from the sea with rocky shores that snake their way back to the head of the little bay. There are basic toilet facilities, a makeshift changing room (with a black plastic bag curtain), picnic facilities, and best of all a rope swing over the water. Graeme and I took full advantage of the swing, and I made a spectacle of myself posing as a lizard on a branch and inadvertently falling off the branch into the cool water.

While in Vila we did manage to finish up a few projects on Starship. We hired a mechanic to oversee the first independent servicing of our engine. The mechanic who showed up was named Alex and he was quite a character, having lived the last twenty years in Papua New Guinea. Alex shared a number of yarns with us, and was tremendous at providing me with helpful tidbits about diesel engines. By the time he left, I had learned much in the four hours he was aboard Starship and his generosity continued as he would only accept payment for two hours of labor. We also had our mainsail repaired in a few places by Eric who lives on a boat with his family. We found Eric to be serious, knowledgeable and friendly. As we prepare to depart Vila we feel that Starship is in very good condition to face the remote areas we will be sailing to.

When I think back it is hard to believe that we have spent three weeks in Port Vila. The time has gone quickly and it seems that we have been constantly busy. I think Vila is still a loosely kept secret for a wonderful vacation for anyone wishing to taste the South Pacific, either on or off a boat. The people though sometimes shy are wonderfully warm and friendly. I see a day when the island will reach a level of tourism from Australia and New Zealand that will rival Hawaii; you can already see it in the escalating property values. For now Port Vila is it a magical place and well worth a visit.