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Logbook:       Vanuatu (June to September 2014)

When Jan returned to New Zealand from the U.S. in mid-May, summer was over and cooler fall weather had set in, but having spent so much time in New Zealand over the past couple of years, we were finding it difficult to leave.  New Zealand had come to feel like home for us - we had friends here, and we liked the beautiful surroundings, as well as the pace of life in the town of Whangarei.  However, we also like the warmth of the tropics, and by early June, winter was just around the corner.  We were eager to escape the cold and rainy weather, and the islands of Vanuatu were calling our name.  Vanuatu had been on our list of places we have wanted to see for several years, so we were excited to get going. 

Passage from Whangarei, New Zealand, to Aneityum Island, Vanuatu (June 2-10, 1048 nm, 7 days + 20 hours).  As everyone probably knows by now, the passage from New Zealand to the tropics can often be rough, and we had been quite lucky to have good passages on our previous trips.  However, when we were preparing to depart New Zealand for Vanuatu and received our forecast from our weather router, it appeared this one wasn't going to be a comfortable trip.  Although we could have waited for the next weather window, we were already leaving a bit late in the season.  With each passing day we were getting closer to the winter solstice, and the longer we waited, chances were that it would only get worse.  There was nothing dangerous in the forecast, so we decided we would go. 

We cast off our lines from Marsden Cove Marina just after noon on June 2, and motored out the mouth of the Hatea River.  We were riding the outgoing current, but we had about 15 knots of southeast winds blowing on our nose, and with the wind against the current, short steep waves were stacked up in the "Mad Mile" (a stretch of water where the current is especially strong).  We buried our bow a few times as we worked our way across that rough patch to the side of the channel where the water was much calmer.  After a couple hours of motoring, we were out in the open ocean, and we turned north and set our sails wing-and-wing.  Seas were a little lumpy, but not too bad, and the wind was on our starboard quarter, so overall, the trip was starting out pretty well.  During that first evening, the wind started backing to the east, so when we changed watches, we took the whisker pole down and sailed with the wind on our beam.  The next few days got pretty rough with the wind building to 20-25 knots and the seas to 2-3 meters (6-9 feet).  If these winds and seas had been coming from our stern, this would have been a fantastic passage, but with the wind and seas on our beam, it was rough and uncomfortable.  At its worst, the winds backed further to the northeast and we had squalls with gusts up to 35 knots as a trough passed over us.  Since we were expecting a wind shift to the southeast after the trough moved on, we turned off our northerly course and headed west-northwest for a bit, which put the seas on our quarter and gave us a more comfortable ride.  At that point, we were headed toward Brisbane, Australia - not exactly our intended destination, but at that point, we really didn't care.  After the trough passed, the wind died out to less than 10 knots, and we ended up motoring the last 60 hours of the trip.  Although every hour of motoring meant using a gallon of our precious diesel ($7 a gallon in New Zealand), we knew we had more than enough fuel to get us to our destination, and at that point, we just wanted to get there.

Although we've had rough passages in the past, we found this one especially difficult because it's a long trip and the rough weather lasted for several days.  We were sleep deprived, and the boat was getting beaten up.  At one point , we were hit with a wave which knocked us over pretty far - not a knock-down, but it was the closest we've ever come to one.  Jan was on watch and was standing in the companionway when she heard the hiss of the wave coming at us.  When she turned and saw the wave, she just sat down on the top step and held on.  Rich was sleeping on the settee, and she was worried he would get thrown out of the berth, but thankfully he didn't.  We were actually quite pleased with how well the boat handled this wave and thought everything was fine until later when we looked in the engine room and saw that four plastic jugs of engine oil had gotten thrown out of their storage crate.  One of the jugs was holed, and we had five gallons of oil in our bilge.  Adding insult to injury, a fitting for a hose which ran salt water from the engine to our dripless shaft seal had broken off, so we had salt water running into the bilge as well.  We felt like the kid in Holland with his finger in the dam, as we held our thumbs over the leaking hose and engine fitting while Rich figured out what to do.  Fortunately, that salt water hose was not critical to the operation of the shaft seal (in fact no longer included on newer models), and by some stroke of luck, we had a plug on board which fit the opening on the engine.  Rich then used Rescue Tape® to seal off the hose to the shaft seal, so we stopped the ingress of water.  But we had a mess to clean up, and of course, this was all happening when the seas were extremely rough.  We were fortunate that we had no other serious issues, but Rich was quite disheartened when his favorite coffee cup went overboard, and Jan was bummed when her new reading glasses fell on the floor and ended up under Rich's foot (not a big loss since she bought them at the Dollar Store).  We were also not happy when the new Jabsco fresh water pump which Rich had recently installed quit working.  Our previous Flo-Jet pump had served us well for eight years, but we replaced it because it started making noises which made us think it was about to die.  Grrr....  Thank goodness we have a foot pump in the galley!


When we told friends and family in the USA that we were sailing to Vanuatu this season, most of them asked "Where's that?"  To be honest, before we started cruising, we'd never heard of Vanuatu before, either.  But the islands have a very interesting history and played a significant role in World War II.   

Until its independence in 1980, the islands of Vanuatu were known as New Hebrides.  Vanuatu lies in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, north of New Zealand, south of the Solomon Islands, east of Australia, west of Fiji.  Vanuatu covers at total area of about 860,000 sq km (332,000 sq miles).  Vanuatu's 83 islands cover a total of 2,200 sq km (850 sq miles) and 69 islands are inhabited.  The islands of Vanuatu are volcanic and emerged from the sea between 5 and 22 million years ago.  The people of Vanuatu (called ni-Vanuatu or ni-Vans) are of Melanesian descent, and their earliest ancestors are thought to have arrived from southeast Asia in about 3000 BC. 


Vanuatu was first discovered by Europeans in the early 1600's - a Spanish explorer named Queirós discovered and named the island of Espiritu Santo.  Captain Cook sailed through these islands in 1774, and the European settlers and the sandalwood trade arrived in the 1800's.  Two hundred years ago, the population of Vanuatu was estimated at over one million people, but white man's diseases decimated the population, diminishing their numbers to 40,000 by the 1930's. Today's population is just over 200,000.  About one-third of the population lives in the two main towns of Port Vila (on Efate Island) and Luganville (on Espiritu Santo Island), and the remainder live in rural island villages.  Port Vila is the capital of Vanuatu and the largest town.  Port Vila and Luganville have the only paved roads in the entire country. 

Most of the European settlers in the 1800's came from France and Great Britain, and they fought over which country would govern the islands.  In 1906, France and Britain established a joint "Condominium" rule (referred to by cynics as the "pandemonium" rule) which resulted in much duplication of effort - two police forces, two education systems, two currencies and more.  Vanuatu was governed by this Condominium arrangement until it became an independent nation in 1980.

In World War II, the United States built a large military base in Luganville on the island of Espiritu Santo.  Luganville became a city of 50,000 servicemen, and a half million Allied Forces passed through these islands during the war.  It is true that when the soldiers came to Espiritu Santo, the local chiefs moved their women off the island - to the nearby island of Maewo.  Lieutenant James Michener was stationed in Luganville during World War II, and his experiences on this military base were the inspiration for his first novel, Tales of the South Pacific.  The island of Maewo was his fictional "Bali Hai." 

The national language of Vanuatu is Bislama, which is a form of pidgin English, and most locals speak either English or French, depending on whether the island and/or village was under English or French influence during the Condominium government.  We found it hard to understand Bislama when it was spoken to us, but sometimes we could read it.  We received promotional texts from Digicel on our cell phone in Bislama, and they usually started with "Hariap!" (Hurry up!) because they didn't want you to miss out on their special deal.  Hello in Bislama is easy - "Alo!"  Thank you very much is "tank u tumas!"  A popular name for restaurants and stores was "Nambawan" (Number One).  We liked the signs we saw that said "Mi wantem Tusker!" or, in other words, "I want a Tusker beer!"

Vanuatu is one of the most undeveloped countries in the world, and it has one of the most traditional tribal cultures that we've come across in our travels.  Several of Vanuatu's islands are volcanically active, and the people living on these islands have strong beliefs in spirits and the powers of the volcanoes.  Magic is prevalent in the cultures of these islands, and cannibalism was practiced in the past - but actually not all that long ago.  The last known act of cannibalism occurred in 1969!  That said, most of the local people we met were soft-spoken and very gentle people.  One of the local men we talked to said the big change in their culture was a result of the missionaries.  The ni-Vans are very poor economically, but they were often very generous.  They were happy to share their locally grown fruits and vegetables with us and sometimes asked for nothing in return.  But we were quite happy to trade clothing, rice, tea, school supplies, rope or other items for their gifts of local produce, and they were always grateful for anything that we gave them.  Our oldest t-shirts were almost always nicer than the ones they were wearing. 



Sign in the Port Vila Yacht Club

Although their traditional culture is still strong, these islands are starting to change.  Digicel built cell towers on several of the islands, and most if not all of the village chiefs now have cell phones, which has greatly improved communication between islands.  The islands see tourism as a way to make money, but they are still learning the concept of providing value for the money they charge.  But, for some, money is a whole new concept. 

Anelghowhat Bay, Aneityum Island, Vanuatu (June 10-16).  We arrived at Anelghowhat Bay on Vanuatu's southernmost island of Aneityum (aka Anatom) early in the morning.  The anchorage was flat calm, and we were happy to be there!  After a hearty breakfast, Jan started working on getting the inside of the boat organized, and Rich cleaned up the outside of the boat, rinsing off some of the salt and checking to make sure everything was OK on deck.  He found a couple of squid and flying fish on board, including an 8-inch squid on our cockpit roof - as if we needed proof that water had been flying everywhere on that passage!  After we had the boat a bit better organized, we squeezed in a short nap before heading ashore to find the local police officer who would handle our check-in paperwork. 

On our way to meet the police officer, we met a local lady who welcomed us to their island and asked if we would like some pamplemousse (grapefruit).  We enthusiastically said "yes" and asked what we could give her in return.  We ended up trading some of our old clothing for the fruit, and in addition to the grapefruit, she gave us some long beans, and a gourd we'd never eaten before.  She explained to Jan how to cook it, and it wasn't bad, and it was a vegetable we received in trade a few more times over the next couple of months.  Our encounter with this ni-Van woman was typical of most of the interactions we had with the locals - they always offered something  to us first.   

We spent six days in this lovely anchorage.  We had a couple of rainy days, but that helped to wash the salt off the boat from our passage.  We had an opportunity to do a few boat repairs, but also enjoy a little downtime.  We caught up with some fellow boating friends here and also were excited to get our faces in the water and go for a snorkel.  We saw all of our usual fish friends - angelfish, butterflyfish, anemonefish - but the water was chilly (about 75F or 24C), so it was a short snorkel excursion. 

Slip Away anchored at Aneityum Island
A beautiful sunset on an exceptionally clear day at Aneityum

Port Resolution, Tanna Island (June 16-18).  From Aneityum Island, we had a good sail north to Port Resolution on Tanna Island (49 nm, 9½ hours).  Tanna is the home to Mt. Yasur, which is considered the world's most accessible active volcano, and that was on our "must-see" list.  We booked a trip to the volcano for the day after we arrived and shared transport to the volcano with friends from Freycinet II (Doug & Sandra) and Fruits de Mer (Garrit & Annemieke).  The boys rode in the back of the 4WD pickup truck while the girls rode in the cab with our driver.  It was an hour's drive from the anchorage to the volcano on the roughest dirt road we've ever ridden on in all of our years of traveling!  The volcano tour started in the late afternoon so we could enjoy the fireworks show after sunset - and it was incredible!  As we stood on the rim, the volcano rumbled, belched steam and spewed lava - wow!!  A few hours and a couple hundred photographs later, we headed home on the bumpy road.  On the way, our driver popped a cassette tape into the player, and the girls sang along to John Denver.  Although Jan was the only American, the other ladies (Australian and Dutch) also knew all the words to "Take Me Home Country Road".

View of Mt. Yasur from the Port Resolution Anchorage
Getting up close and personal with the smoking volcano


This person standing on the rim provides a good perspective of the caldera size
When the volcano erupted, the ground shook,
but fortunately there was no lava or rocks spewing out at us!

The anchorage at Port Resolution was quite rolly and uncomfortable, and having seen what we wanted to see, we left the next day and continued north to Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, on Efate Island (136 nm, 24½ hours). 

Port Vila, Efate Island (June 18-28).  We arrived in Port Vila early in the morning, and took a "Yachting World" mooring in the harbor.  This harbor is well protected and quite calm, a welcome relief after a rolly couple of nights in Port Resolution and previous night at sea.  We had some business to take care of with the Customs and Immigration officials in Port Vila - although we did our initial check-in with the police officer in Aneityum, we had to finalize and complete some additional paperwork here.  Once that was done, we needed to make a call to a mechanic because Slip Away's engine wasn't starting right.  We were given the name of a local mechanic - an expat Kiwi, who diagnosed it as a feed pump going bad.  He bled some air out of the lines, and the engine was starting OK again, and he told us we would be fine until we got to Australia, where we could buy a new pump.

There were a number of things we liked about Port Vila.  It had an excellent fruit and veggie market, and we were surprised to find a few really good restaurants.  One of our favorite cafes sold wonderful French pastries - carryover from the previous French government.  The town had a good supermarket, but we were well stocked with non-perishables, which was a good thing because prices were quite high.  The folks at Yachting World couldn't have been nicer, and the harbor was well protected.  The biggest negative about Port Vila was the main road through the town.  It was narrow with little or no sidewalk and often bumper-to-bumper with traffic, and with many of the cars belching black smoke, a walk into town wasn't really all that pleasant.  There were a few cruising boats in the anchorage, and we enjoyed spending time with them, but ten days in Port Vila was more than enough.  We were ready to move on.



Beautiful flowers for sale at the Port Vila Market

Paul's Rock, Efate Island (June 28-29).  Heading north from Port Vila toward Havannah Harbour is generally a good trip in the southeast tradewinds.  The only caution is to time the tides right and round Devil's Point at slack, which we did.  We had 15 to 20 knots of wind as we left Port Vila, which increased to 20-25 knots as we rounded Devil's Point.  The seas got a bit rough around the point, but the wind and seas were on our stern and quite manageable as we sailed under headsail to the Paul's Rock anchorage on the northwest side of Efate Island (15 nm, 4 hours).  We had chosen this anchorage because there is a good dive site here.  The afternoon of our arrival, we snorkeled near the boat, and it felt good to be back in the water, which was much warmer here than in Aneityum because we were further north.  The water was clear, we saw good fish life, and Rich found a beautiful Spanish Dancer nudibranch. 

The next morning, we gathered our scuba gear and headed out toward the dive site (about a half-mile from the anchorage).  As Rich picked up the revs on the outboard, we started to take off, and then suddenly, slowed down.  The rubber gasket in the outboard prop was shot.  Our old prop was 8 years old, so we can't complain, and fortunately, we weren't far from the mothership when this happened.  The propeller would work OK at low revs, so we putted slowly back to Slip Away, found our spare outboard prop and installed it.  A few minutes later, we headed out again to the dive site.  The dive was excellent with great visibility, colorful corals, good fish life, a big turtle, and lots of nudibranchs - a good first dive in Vanuatu!

Havannah Harbour, Efate Island (June 29 - July 2).  Although we enjoyed the dive at Paul's Rock, the anchorage on the outskirts of Havannah Harbour was fairly rolly, so we moved further into the harbor to find a better spot.  Havannah Harbour is a deep water harbor that sheltered the American Naval fleet in World War II, and the challenge was finding a spot shallow enough to anchor.  We found a decent spot just inside the Purumea Channel, which runs between Lelepa and Moso Islands and spent another couple of days here.

Lelepa Island (July 1).  We had our eye on another dive - at Lelepa Island - which was just a few miles (3½)  from our anchorage in Havannah Harbour.  We headed to Lelepa early in the morning with a plan to dive that day, spend the night and leave early the next morning for Epi Island.  Entering the Lelepa anchorage requires navigating through a narrow opening in the surrounding coral reef, and we were just a bit early to have good light.  We came uncomfortably close to hitting the reef, but fortunately, we were proceeding very slowly and steered clear.  When we finally had our anchor down, we breathed a sigh of relief, but we both agreed there was no way we would be able to leave this anchorage the next morning without good light.  Since our previous anchorage in Havannah Harbour was so close and would be easy to depart from even in the dark, we revised our plan to return there after our dive. 

But first, we needed to go ashore to find the chief of the island and ask permission to do the dive.  We found Chief Rubin on the beach waiting for us.  We'd heard from others who went before us that the village was charging an anchoring fee of 1000 vatu per night (about USD$11).  We gave Chief Rubin some small gifts (tea and breakfast crackers), and explained to him that we were just going to dive and not spend the night.  He gave us the OK to do the dive and didn't ask for the anchoring fee - and we didn't offer.  It was another excellent dive with beautiful corals, schooling bannerfish, and we saw our first banana nudibranch - very cool!  After the dive, while eating lunch, we were visited by a "Lelepa Tours" boat with a couple of guys who we're quite certain were there to make sure we paid our anchoring fee - and they weren't all that friendly.  We managed to steer clear of any direct discussion of the anchoring fee and since we told them that we spoke to Chief Rubin and he had given us permission to dive, they left us alone.  After they departed, we were finished with lunch, and with the sun high in the sky, we wound our way out through the coral reef and headed back to Havannah Harbor for the night. 

A canyon full of bannerfishes
Banana Nudibranch -
this was a big one, about 4 inches (10 cm) in size
A pair of bluestreak gobies

Lamen Bay, Epi Island (July 2-6).  The passage from Havannah Harbor to Epi Island was a long day sail - almost 64 miles, which we expected would take us close to 12 hours, so we needed to get an early start to reach our destination before dark.  We were intending to get underway around 4 a.m., but when the winds came up at 3 and woke both of us, we decided we may as well get started and left the anchorage at 3:30 a.m..  We had laid a track on our chartplotter into the anchorage the previous day, and there were no real obstacles on our course, so it was fairly easy to depart in the dark.  The wind was up and down on this trip - from 10 to 30 knots - but it was on our stern, and we had a good sail up to Lamen Bay.  The trip took us exactly 12 hours, and we sailed all of it, except for the last 1½ hours, when the wind died.   As we pulled into the anchorage, we saw several turtles swimming around and poking their heads out of the water.  Very cool!  We dropped the hook and were looking forward to our happy hour cocktails.  But, there was a small amount of swell coming into the anchorage, and with very little wind, we turned sideways to the swell and were rolling around.  Dang it!  Our work was not done - we spent another half-hour putting out the flopper stoppers so that we could get a decent night's sleep.

The next day was our wedding anniversary - 15 years of wedded bliss!  Our Lonely Planet book and cruising guides talked about a restaurant ashore here, on the premises of the Paradise Sunset Resort.  Lonely Planet described the resort as "basic" but said it had a "large for breakfast, lunch and dinner...often full of yachties" and one of our cruising guides called it "a fantastic beachfront restaurant."  So, we thought maybe we'd go ashore for a nice lunch to celebrate.  We were greeted ashore by a lovely lady named Bennington, but the owner of the Paradise Sunset Resort - Tasso - wasn't around, and the resort looked like it had seen better days (much better days!).  Oh well!  Fortunately, we had the foresight to bring lunch with us just in case.  We told Bennington we wanted to take a walk, so she pointed us down the dirt road, and off we went.  The walk wasn't exceptional, but it felt good to stretch our legs.  On our way back, we ran into an ex-pat dental hygienist (U.S. born, but now living in Australia) who was doing some volunteer work on the island, and we spent some time talking to her.  We were glad that we were not handing out lollies (candies) to the local kids because she let us know that she wasn't happy about visitors who did that - she saw the damage it was doing to the kids' teeth.  After our trip ashore, we headed back to Slip Away, and Jan cooked a nice anniversary dinner, which we celebrated with a bottle of bubbly.

The next day was a another dive day.  We were quite lucky to have friends who were traveling ahead of us, and they were passing on waypoints to us for all of the good dive sites.  Nice!  Although there were a couple of other boats in the anchorage, none were divers, so we headed to the "Dick's Place" dive site on our own.  The dive was fantastic with clear water, beautiful healthy corals, good fish life, several different nudibranchs and our first cuttlefish sighting.  Very cool!  The dive site was quite large, so we only dove a small part of it the first day.  We went back the next day and dove another part, and it was different, but equally as good, with beautiful coral canyons.  Outstanding!

Beautiful and healthy corals on the Dick's Place reef
One of Jan's favorites - Fire Dartfish
This pretty nudibranch is called a Kunie's Chromodoris


Our first cuttlefish sighting - very cool!
Another nudibranch - this one is a Carlsonhoff's Phyllidia
A little blenny pops out of his hidey hole to pose for our photo

Port Sandwich, Malakula Island (July 6-9).  There was some bad weather on the horizon, but there was a well-protected anchorage nearby - Port Sandwich on Malakula Island - a harbor named after the Earl of Sandwich, a British Prime Minister.  We had a lovely sail to Port Sandwich with winds in the high teens to low 20's, initially sailing wing-and-wing, then broad-reaching when the wind shifted to the northeast (27 miles, 5 hours).  We pulled in and dropped the hook in a flat calm bay, which was especially nice after the rolly anchorage at Epi.  It was warm, and there was very little wind, and we would have liked to dive in the water for a swim to cool off, but we had been forewarned not to swim here because of shark attacks.  In the past, there was an abattoir (cattle killing station) ashore, and it disposed of the carcasses of the slaughtered cattle in the bay, and the sharks came in to feed.  We repeatedly heard the story of a kid who was killed by sharks while swimming in this harbor.  This happened several years ago, but we weren't going to test the waters. 

Quite a few boats came into the anchorage seeking shelter from the approaching storm, and we enjoyed spending time with Michael & Barbara (s.v. Astarte), and Bill & Sue (s.v. Lady Nada).  Bill is an expert fisherman and gave us some tips to improve our fish-catching success rate since we'd been skunked so far this season.

Since we couldn't swim, we took a couple of walks ashore.  The locals on shore were friendly and generous, and young boys gave us grapefruits as gifts.  Very nice!  The bad weather arrived - of course in the middle of the night - but it wasn't so bad in our protected anchorage, with maybe 20-25 knots of wind, and no seas.  One boat's anchor dragged, but they re-anchored with no drama.  We left our VHF radio on during the night in case anyone experienced problems, and we overheard a conversation between a couple of boats who were in a different anchorage about 10 miles away from us, and they were not faring quite as well.  They were getting 35 knots of wind, and one of the boats dragged anchor and went aground.  We were not in a position to render assistance, but we didn't get much sleep during the night as we listened to their discussion on the radio.  Fortunately, the boat that went aground was refloated the next day and had minimal damage.  The storm also brought significant rainfall, and we filled our water tank courtesy of Mother Nature.   

A traditional ni-Van home in the village of Lamap
One of the walks we did was to a War Memorial -
Slip Away is anchored in the Port Sandwich Harbor in the background

Nebul Bay, Ambrym Island (July 9-12).  From Port Sandwich, we carried on to Nebul Bay on Ambrym Island (31 miles, 6 hours).  We sailed the first half of the trip, but when we got in the shadow of Ambrym, we had to turn on the motor.  We tried Bill's recommendation for trailing our fishing lines further out behind the boat, but still no luck!

We went to Nebul Bay specifically to attend the "Yam & Magic Festival" held annually at the village of Olal.  Magic in Vanuatu is strongest on islands with active volcanoes, and with it's twin volcanoes, Mt. Marum and Mt. Benbow, Ambrym is considered the sorcery center of the country.  At the Yam & Magic Festival, we were looking forward to seeing some of the country's traditional dancing (called ROM dancing) and other cultural demonstrations.  Folks who attended last year said the two-day festival was excellent.  One concern we had about attending this festival was related to the tradition of slaughtering pigs.  Friends of ours had attended a circumcision ceremony on another island and said it was great, until the local people started killing pigs.  Although it is part of their local custom and celebration, our friends were a bit turned off by it.  We weren't particularly interested in watching pig slaughtering, and we were assured that was not part of this festival.  

Shortly after arriving at the anchorage, we saw Rita & Ulli (s.v. Anni-nad) returning from shore, and they stopped by to say hello.  They had gone into the village of Olal and spoken to Chief Sekor, who outlined to them the events planned over the next couple of days.  Rita & Ulli are German, and Rita wrote everything down in her notebook and shared the information with us.  She also told us that Chief Sekor was charging 7000 vatu per person (about USD $77) to attend the festival.  We felt this price of admission was pretty steep, but since it was a two-day festival and we were hoping to have a great cultural experience, we decided to do it.  Festivities were scheduled to start the next afternoon. 

After Rita & Ulli left, we donned our masks and snorkels and jumped in the water for a swim.  The snorkeling was just OK, and there was a bit of a current, so Rich opted to swim back to the boat.  Jan continued on for a bit, and just as Rich swam away, she saw a dugong!  Dugongs are related to the manatee, and look quite similar except that they are smaller and have a different tail.  Jan tried to call Rich back, but she couldn't get his attention, so she gave up and swam with the dugong for a short while.  He was pretty shy and didn't stick around very long, but she got a few photos.


Swimming with the dugong - or "dingdong" as Rich calls it

The next day after lunch, we headed ashore with Rita & Ulli (s.v. Anni-Nad) and  Michele & Gerard (s.v. Tara) for the start of the Yam & Magic Festival.  When we arrived at the village (a 40-minute walk), Chief Sekor told us that the day's events were cancelled because the village was preparing for the celebration of his grandson's circumcision, and the events of today would only be for the locals.  He told us they would do all of the Yam & Magic Festival events the next day.  Chief Sekor is French-speaking, and Michele & Gerard (s.v. Tara) are French, so they translated for us.  Michele suggested to the chief that he reduce the price he was charging us since it would only be a one-day festival instead of two.  He agreed to 4000 vatu per person (USD$44) instead of 7000 vatu.  He told us to be back at the village at 9 a.m. the next morning.  We were a little put off by this change, but we've all learned that things don't always go as planned in the third world, so we went with the flow.  The next morning, Rita & Ulli and the two of us went ashore to get to the village by 9 a.m.  Michele & Gerard decided to sleep in and arrive a bit later.  Michele & Gerard made the right decision! 

When we arrived at the village bright and early, there were only a few people around, but they were starting to set up for what looked to be a big event.  Large piles of yams were accumulating, and some of the men were carrying in live pigs "hog-tied" to tree branches, as well as various parts of butchered cows.  The big excitement of the morning was when one of the pigs managed to escape, and the guys had to chase it down with their dogs.  We sat around for a couple of hours, and finally at about 11 a.m., things got started.  Long story short, there was no Yam & Magic Festival this year.  The event that day was a celebration of the circumcision of the Chief's grandson and another boy.  There is a very traditional celebration surrounding circumcision in the villages of Vanuatu.  Boys usually aged 10 to 12 are taken to a secluded hut and circumcised.  Once they are healed, they come back to the village and there's a big party to celebrate their manhood.  Because this particular celebration involved the Chief's grandson, it was quite the event, and it appeared to us that the whole village, as well as folks from neighboring villages, had turned out for it. 

Since Chief Sekor doesn't speak much English, he had their village school principal who does speak English explain to us what the schedule of events would be for the day.  They would start off with some traditional dances, and then there would be some other ceremonies, but at the end, they would do the traditional ROM dance "especially for us".  The dances were not really choreographed, but they were unusual and interesting, and this was the first opportunity for the newly circumcised boys to participate in the dances and wear their "namba" (a penis sheath).  After a few dances, they started a ceremony of passing around money, which seemed to last for hours - we had no clue as to what was going on.  Then they started killing pigs - bludgeoning their heads with a stick.  They must have killed about 15 pigs, and it was pretty gruesome.  Rich and Ulli watched most of the pig killings - Rich says that stuff doesn't bother him because he grew up on a farm, but Jan and the other ladies made themselves scarce.  Once the pigs were killed, they were added to the piles of yams and other gifts.  By then, it was mid-afternoon, and the party seemed to be over - all the locals were starting to leave.  So, we decided we would leave too.  But Chief Sekor and the school principal came running over to us to tell us that they were still planning to do the ROM dance for us, so we sat down while they got themselves organized. The ROM dance lasted about 10 minutes, and from our perspective, it was thrown together at the last minute, and their hearts weren't in it.  Dancers wearing the costumes with the traditional elaborate masks had their shorts and t-shirts showing underneath.  Also, at one point one of the ladies joined in the dancing, and she wore a t-shirt with her grass skirt.  It's not that we wanted to see her topless, but the t-shirt didn't do anything to make this feel like a traditional dance.  We would have preferred it if she had covered her top with another grass skirt.  Needless to say, we were very disappointed.  After the dance was over, Chief Sekor came over and collected the money from us.  At that point, we didn't feel like arguing with him, gave him the money and went home.  We got back to the boat at 4 p.m., tired, hungry and disappointed.  The day was not a total loss - we saw a very authentic circumcision ceremony, and this one was likely much more elaborate than most because it involved the chief's son.  But most other villages invite cruisers to circumcision ceremonies and charge them nothing.  And mostly, we were disappointed because what we really had wanted to see was the Yam & Magic Festival.  .  

Piles of gifts, and the crowd begins to gather for the circumcision celebration
The high school principal explained the ceremony and
dances to us in English. He is dressed in the
traditional "namba" or penis sheath.
Bringing in a pig for slaughter


The start of the Yam Dance
These are the two newly circumcised boys - the one on
the left cowered and hid as best he could
during the entire celebration. 
The ROM dance, not looking so traditional with t-shirts and shorts. 
Chief Sekor is on the left, carrying his purse on his shoulder during the dance. 

The folks who gave the Yam & Magic Festival a rave review from the previous year were doing some work with the Vanuatu government to promote tourism.  We shared our experience with them, and they were very sympathetic to our experience and passed on our comments to the Chief.  Vanuatu's tourism trade is definitely a work in progress.  We had picked up a schedule of festivals for the season from the Tourism office in Port Vila, but after this experience, we weren't so interested in these events. 

Londot Bay, Pentecost Island (July 12-14).  We had a short sail from Nebul Bay on Ambrym Island to Londot Bay near the southern end of Pentecost Island (13 nm, 3 hours) and we once again had good sailing conditions for most of the way.  As we departed Nebul Bay, we set our sails and put out our fishing lines.  We no sooner got the lines out when they both went off.  Rich spent quite a bit of time and energy reeling in both fish, and we were a bit disappointed to find that they were both skipjack - not our favorite fish.  But beggars can't be choosers, and we were craving some fresh fish, so we kept them both. 

We came to Londot Bay to see the land-diving platforms.  Each year from the end of April to early June, young men from this island tie vines around their ankles and leap from towers over 30 meters high toward the ground as an offering to the gods to ensure a bountiful yam harvest.  This activity inspired modern-day bungee jumping.  The land-diving events ended a couple of weeks prior, but we understood that we could at least take a look at the towers. 

When we arrived at Londot Bay, it was Saturday afternoon, and we heard a lot of singing coming from shore.  It sounded like church music, and we didn't want to interfere with their church celebrations, so we stayed on the boat and enjoyed the serenade.  It was actually quite beautiful singing.  Also, the view from this anchorage was incredible, especially after sunset when we could see a red glow in the sky from the active volcanoes on Ambrym.  Although we were unable to get photos of the night sky, It was a sight we will never forget. 

They were still singing the next morning, so we went for a snorkel and found some scattered debris from a wrecked World War II Hellcat plane, as well as some beautiful soft corals.  After lunch, the singing was finished, and we felt it was probably safe to go ashore and ask to see the land diving towers.  When we arrived on the beach, we were greeted by Luc Fargo, who told us we could certainly see the towers, but he would charge 1000 vatu per person (about USD$11).  We were thinking this was pretty steep charge for a walk up a hill to the towers, so we asked him if he would accept 1000 vatu for the two of us and also offered him some tea and breakfast crackers.  He was fine with that arrangement and sent his granddaughter Lily to accompany us and answer any of our questions.  Lily was a very sweet young lady and spoke some English, but she didn't seem to know much more than what we had already read about the annual land-diving ceremony.  In any event, we had a nice walk up to the hill to see the towers, and on the way back to the village, we ran across a local man who was happy to share a bit more information with us.



View of the volcanoes on Ambrym Island from Pentecost Island -
the sky glowed red above the volcanoes after dark

Colorful soft corals seen on our snorkel
The land-diving tower at Londot - it looks scary
to climb, much less jump from!
Jan with Luc Fargo and his granddaughter Lily

Batnavnine Bay, Pentecost Island (July 14-18).  From Londot Bay, we continued a bit further north along the west coast of Pentecost Island to Batnavnine Bay (17 nm, 4 hours).  The passage started with light southwest winds, so we decided to put up our spinnaker, and just as we were about to raise the spinnaker, both fishing lines went off.  One of the fish got off, but we landed another skipjack.  We didn't really want another skipjack, but we decided it would make a nice gift to the chief at Batnavnine Bay.  We had a lovely sail under spinnaker to Batnavnine Bay, starting out slowly with less than 10 knots of wind, and then picking up a bit toward the end.  When we arrived at Batnavnine Bay, we took the fish ashore to Chief Charles, and he was delighted.  He offered that we could come ashore the next day, and he would have some fresh vegetables for us. 

We spent a few days in this anchorage and really enjoyed our time here, although the first couple of days and nights were quite uncomfortable with south-southwest winds and a significant roll.  But the wind eventually moved around to its normal direction (southeast), and with shelter from the island, the roll diminished and life was much better.  We snorkeled inside Tayac Point on the southern end of the bay, and dove the wall at Naroboulou Point on the northern end of the bay.  Both were quite good, and we were looking forward to diving the wall a second time when the weather forecast sent us on our way. 

From Batnavnine, we could see Ambae Island -
the inspiration for Michener's "Bali Hai"
Some of the veggies given to us by Chief Charles - kumara and long beans


Colorful lace corals on the wall dive
This blackspotted pufferfish was having a wee nap
We saw quite a few turtles in Vanuatu - nice!

Vanihe Bay & Lolowai Bay, Ambae Island (July 18-21).  The weather forecast was calling for strong southerly winds the following day, so we headed to the north side of Ambae Island.  With 15-18 knots of easterly winds, we had a beautiful sail (28 miles, 4½ hours) from Batnavnine Bay.  An hour after leaving the anchorage, we got a big hit on one of our fishing lines and lost a lure. Dang it!  Rich picked out a new lure, and both fishing lines went back in the water.  A little while later, both lines went off.  We lost one of the fish, and landed another skipjack, which we threw back.  Shortly thereafter, both lines went off again, and this time we landed two more skipjacks, both of which we threw back.  Our fish catching had definitely improved, but we just needed to figure out how to catch what we wanted - mahi mahi or yellow-fin tuna. 

Although we wanted to go into the Lolowai Bay anchorage, we needed to time our arrival with a high tide.  We arrived at Ambae Island close to low tide, so we anchored for the night around the corner at Vanihe Bay to wait for the high tide the next morning.  Lolowai Bay is a sunken volcano crater, and entering the bay is quite tricky because it requires crossing over the edge of the crater in some very shallow water.  There are range marks ashore to line up the correct course, and there is very little room for error.  As we passed Lolowai on our way to Vanihe, we looked for the range markers, but only saw one.  Where the heck was the other range marker?  Jan searched through our cruising guides for directions on how to get into the anchorage - we had no waypoints, only a drawing with a magnetic compass course toward the range markers from a guide written in 1998.  She plotted a course based on what she could find.  High tide was at 9:30 the next morning, so at 9 am, we weighed anchor and headed in. With Rich on the bow and Jan at the helm, it was a nerve-wracking entrance as we very slowly inched our way across the crater edge.  At one point, Jan saw just one foot of water beneath our five-foot keel.  Yikes!  But, we made it in safely and once we were across the edge, we had plenty of depth and room in the anchorage.  Later, some locals told us that the other range marker blew down in a cyclone last year.  Great!  

Shortly after anchoring, we went ashore.  There was a village here, and it was actually one of the larger villages in the outer islands, with a few small shops, as well as a hospital and high school which serve several of the neighboring islands.  Our friend Eric (s.v. Reflection) told us to ask for his friend John, a Kiwi who was doing some volunteer work in this village.  But there was no need for us to look for John because John found us.  As we came ashore in the dinghy, a few ni-Vans came to greet us, and John was with them and easily recognizable - the only white face in a sea of black.  John was a great guy and showed us around the village.  As we were talking with John, a local man named Ronin approached Jan and asked if she would like some fruit.  We were pretty low on fresh produce, so Jan happily accepted his offer and agreed to meet him later in the afternoon to get the fruit.

As John showed us the village, we stopped in at the two or three small shops to see if we could buy some eggs or fresh veggies and fruits.  We weren't having much luck finding the eggs, and the only veggies we found were a few onions.  Most of the stores had rice, flour, tinned tuna and not much more.  The tour of the village didn't take long, and afterward, John borrowed a truck from the local high school principal to take us further afield.  John took us to another village - over some very rough dirt roads - where we managed to find some eggs, and he shared some of his own stock of fresh veggies with us.  John talked a lot, but not in a bad way.  He was nearing the end of his two-year assignment with the NZ-Aid program, and he said it had been a while since he'd had the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation in English.  He shared with us his experiences working in this village for the past couple of years - some of it wonderful and heartwarming, and some of it incredibly frustrating.  It definitely shed some light for us on the difficulties of providing aid which truly benefits a third-world country. 

Later that afternoon, at the agreed time, we met Ronin on the beach to get some fruits from him.  Ronin was a little rough looking, with a shaggy beard and a missing front tooth and wearing a very tattered t-shirt, but he made a good impression on Jan when she met him because he was very soft spoken and courteous.  He had mentioned to Jan that he had a family, so we took some school books and pens for his kids, as well as a couple of clothing items to exchange for the fruit.  When we arrived at the beach, he had three of his kids with him, and he insisted that each of them introduce themselves in English and shake our hands.  The youngest one, Samson, was only three and very shy, but he finally did it to the delight of all of us.  We spent some time chatting with Ronin, and Jan complimented him on his excellent English.  He told us that he had attended school up through grade 12 and had intended to go on to university studies, but his mother became ill, so he came home to care for her.  He has a strong desire for his kids to be educated.  What an interesting man!  He told us to come visit him any time and said he'd be happy to get us more fruit if we needed some.

On our second day in Lolowai, we walked to John's house, and he showed us around the local high school where he had been teaching some of the kids woodworking skills.  That evening, we invited John to Slip Away for dinner and we enjoyed more interesting conversation. 

The high school in Lolowai served a few islands so the kids
lived in dorms while attending school.  These are the boys' dorms. 
Rich and John engrossed in conversation
Ronin with his kids and the fruit he gave us

The following morning, we were preparing to leave on the high tide, but we wanted to say good-bye to Ronin before we left, so we dinghied over to the beach where we previously met him.  Two teenage boys helped us pull our dinghy up on the beach, and we asked them if Ronin was around, but they told us that he and his wife were at the hospital because Ronin had a bad tooth.  We were disappointed to hear this and asked the boys to please let him know that we had come to visit. 

While at this beach, we had one other thing we wanted to do.  The range markers indicating the correct course into the anchorage over the volcano rim were here, and we wanted to fine tune our departure course.  The boys were more than eager to help us.  The stand for the missing range marker (the rear one) was still in place, so we stuck a stick in the sand in line with the two range-marker stands.  As we took off in our dinghy to plot some waypoints along the correct course, we were finding it hard to see the stick lined up with the range marker, so one of the boys stood behind the stick.  Keeping the boy and the front range marker lined up, we dinghied out over the volcano rim using our handheld GPS to drop waypoints and our handheld depth sounder to check the depth.  After completing that exercise, we thanked the boys and went back to Slip Away.  Jan entered the waypoints in our chartplotter and found that we were slightly off course on our entry.  Our departure was less nerve-wracking - still shallow with only four feet of water under the keel at one point, but that's much better than one foot!

Asanvari Bay, Maewo Island (July 24 to 28).  We had light winds on our passage to Maewo Island, so we had to motor, but it was a short trip (12½ miles, 2½ hours).  Asanvari is a favorite anchorage among cruising yachts because it has a beautiful waterfall.  We were looking forward to visiting this anchorage, but we were also sorting out a boat problem - our watermaker stopped working.  This was a big problem.  Although some folks cruise without a watermaker, we depend on ours - we like to take fresh water showers and wash our dishes in fresh water, and we especially like it that we have an endless supply of safe drinking water.  Also, when we scuba dive, we use a fair amount of water to rinse our gear because leaving it salty causes corrosion.  Of course, the watermaker broke just after Jan had done a few buckets of laundry, and Rich had spent some time washing down the boat, so our fresh water supply was extremely low. 

When we got to Asanvari, we went ashore to visit the village.  In years past, this was a popular stop for cruising yachts because there was an "Asanvari Cruising Club" building ashore, built by NZ-Aid.  Unfortunately, the building was neglected and now quite run down.  An ambitious local guy named Alex recently built a new business called "Sparkling Waters" at the base of the waterfall, and we met him ashore.  He charged 500 vatu per boat (USD $5.50) for use of the Sparkling Waters facilities, but we thought this was quite a reasonable charge because it was a nice facility.  Alex also told us he had plenty of fresh water, and he would be happy to give us what we needed (no extra charge). 



Asanvari's waterfall and the Sparkling Waters facility run by Alex


We were feeling quite relieved that we had access to fresh water and felt comfortable hanging out here for a few days.  We were somewhat surprised that we were the only boat here, but we settled in to enjoy this beautiful bay.  However, that evening, just before sunset, our quiet solitude was shattered when an old rusty fishing boat came in and dropped their anchor right next to us.  There was plenty of room here - why did he have to anchor so close?!  We could hear their voices when they spoke to one another, they had their generator running all night long, and we felt we were at risk of banging in to him if the wind switched - we were not happy campers!  Fortunately, they left at sunrise the next morning - we were glad to see them go.

We spent the next day troubleshooting our watermaker issue.  We had been in touch with the guy we bought the watermaker from, and he helped us determine that a capacitor had blown out on the waterpump motor.  This was not something we could fix - we would need to find a replacement part.  We went ashore and hauled some water from Alex, but although he assured us it was safe to drink, we didn't put it in our tanks.  We talked about what to do next and were feeling a bit down.  This cruising season had had its ups and downs.  The diving was spectacular, the islands were quite beautiful and some of our experiences with the local people had been fantastic.  But we missed having cruising friends around.  There were very few boats in Vanuatu this season, and we couldn't seem to find another boat or boats who were on a similar schedule to us.  We'd crossed paths with a few, but then we seemed to go off in different directions.  We hadn't found another boat with divers, so we were doing all our diving on our own.  We were often in anchorages by ourselves and had not seen another cruising boat in the past ten days.  Some folks love isolation, and we like some of that, but we also really enjoy the company of others.  Our friends on Evergreen, Gypsea Heart and Blue Rodeo were having a great time cruising and diving in Vanuatu together, and we were keeping in touch with them and trying to work out a place to rendezvous, but they had gotten a couple weeks' head start on us, and we couldn't catch them.  And, now our watermaker was broken.  Boo hoo!!



The offending fishing boat - even Alex at Sparkling Waters
asked us "Why did he anchor so close to you?"

Since we hadn't had anyone with whom to share happy hour, we'd gotten into the habit of sipping our happy hour cocktails while watching the BBC Planet Earth series.  That evening, we were watching the last program in the series, and it was almost sunset when Jan got up to pour herself a second glass of wine.  She looked out the window and saw a catamaran coming into the anchorage.  Rich came to look, and recognized it as a Leopard, which is the make of our friends' catamaran Gypsea Heart.  Jan looked a bit closer, and said "I think that is Gypsea Heart!"  And then we saw the other two boats - Blue Rodeo (already anchored) and Evergreen not far behind Gypsea Heart.  Jan got on the radio and asked "What's going on here?!", and Ann on Blue Rodeo came back and said "We wondered how long it was going to take you to notice!"  What a NICE surprise!!!  We actually had tears in our eyes.  The three of them had been cruising on Espiritu Santo Island a bit north of us and had turned around to start working their way south toward Port Vila.  They were planning to leave Vanuatu in the next week or so to sail on to New Caledonia, and just the previous night, they decided to stop in at Asanvari to surprise us.  They'd had a long day, so we agreed to get together the next day.  We went to bed that night in much higher spirits. 

The next morning, Rankin & Sandy (s.v. Gypsea Heart) came over for a visit after breakfast.  They showed up with two full jerry jugs (5 gallons each) of fresh water made by their watermaker - water we felt confident putting in our tank.  How nice!  In fact, they did this on a daily basis for the next several days.  And, each time we went over to their boat, Rankin would put two full jerry jugs in our dinghy for us to take home with us.  Wonderful friends! 

The eight of us went for a dive the next day - it was so nice to have some company, and we felt more secure having additional dive buddies around.  After the dive, we rinsed our gear in a fresh water stream at the base of the waterfall, and we're sure our gear got a better rinsing in that stream than it normally would.  That evening, we went ashore to "Sparkling Waters" to watch a traditional dance performance by the "Seven Fantastics" - a group organized by Alex.  In addition to our four boats, a small local cruise ship was in the anchorage, so the dance performance was put on primarily for them, but we were invited along too.  This was a well choreographed dance performance, cost 1000 vatu per couple (USD$11), and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  After the show, we went over to Gypsea Heart for a potluck dinner.  The following day, the other three boats were planning to continue south to the Batnavnine Anchorage on Pentecost Island, and although that wasn't the direction we were intending to go, we changed our plans and tagged along with them. 

Interesting underwater topography on our dive on Maewo Island
Mom (or maybe Dad) & baby nudibranch
The "Seven Fantastics"


Enjoying the company of our friends -
crews from Gypsea Heart, Blue Rodeo and Evergreen
View of Asanvari's anchorage from the porch of "Sparkling Waters"

Batnavnine Bay, Pentecost Island (July 24-28).  Chief Charles at Batnavnine Bay was happy to see us come back, even if we didn't have another fish for him.  We spent a couple more days here with Evergreen, Gypsea Heart and Blue Rodeo.  We did another dive together on the wall at Naroboulou Point and shared meals, adult beverages and lots of laughs.  Great fun! 

After a couple of days in Batnavnine, the party was over.  Evergreen and Blue Rodeo had a weather window for continuing to Port Vila, so they headed south.  Gypsea Heart decided to sail back to Luganville on Espiritu Santo Island - they had been there previously but felt there were a few things they missed and still wanted to see.  Our plan was also to head to Luganville, not only for the sights but also because Luganville is the second-largest town in Vanuatu, and it was our best option for finding the part we needed for our watermaker.  The other three boats departed, and we stayed at Batnavnine one more day.  On our last day, we went ashore to say good-bye to Chief Charles, and we were intending to go for a snorkel afterward.  But when we arrived in the village, we found out there was a soccer tournament happening.  Teams from all over the island were assembled here to play.  So, we skipped the snorkeling and hung out with the locals to watch the sporting event.

Pretty feather stars on the wall dive
Rich waves to the camera
Pizza party on Gypsea Heart


Gypsea Heart
was the first to take off - heading for Luganville
Chief Charles, his wife Florence and their two daughters


Soccer tournament on Pentecost Island
These little girls bravely sat down with us on our mat while we
were watching the soccer games.  They loved having their photo taken.


Luganville, Espiritu Santo Island.  Luganville was the main location for the U.S. military base in these islands in World War II, and evidence of the former base is all around.  There are numerous Quonset huts (some in disrepair, and others now used as shops and other businesses), a wide paved main street, a large commercial wharf, the wreck of the SS President Coolidge in the bay and their Santo-Pekoa International Airport, which was originally built as a U.S. military airfield.  Unfortunately, much of the historical value of the area was not maintained, and we were unable to find a good World War II land tour of the area.  The best tours we found were underwater.

Aore Island Resort (July 28-31).  We left Batnavnine Bay before sunrise because it was a long day sail to Aore Island (56 nm, 11½ hours).  Winds were light, so we started out motoring.  Shortly after getting underway, the sun started coming up, and we put out our fishing lines.  At 6:30 a.m., we landed a 52-inch mahi mahi.  Excellent!  A little later in the morning, the wind picked up to 10-12 knots - still not a lot, but we raised our spinnaker and mizzen and sailed for about 4 hours, which was quite pleasant.  The wind died again in the afternoon, so we finished the trip under motor, arriving about 4 pm at the Aore Island Resort (just across the bay from Luganville), where we picked up a mooring.  Gypsea Heart was waiting for us there, and they had made arrangements for the four of us to go diving the next day.  After our nice catch that morning, we had some fish to share with them. 


Quonset huts leftover from World War II

Early the next morning, Sandy & Rankin and the two of us dinghied to Aore Adventure Sports, where the owner Paul and divemaster Alfred were waiting to take us diving on the wreck of the SS President Coolidge.   The SS President Coolidge was a U.S. luxury ocean liner built in 1931, and she served as a troop ship in World War II from December 1941 until October 1942, when she was sunk by mines as she entered Luganville Harbor.  The SS President Coolidge was steaming into the harbor to deliver equipment and stores to the military base, but the Captain had not received some critical information regarding the correct channel through which to enter the harbor, and he entered via a channel which was protected by mines.  Two of the mines exploded when the ship hit them.  The Captain realized he was going to lose the ship, ran her aground and ordered the troops to abandon ship.  Over the course of about 90 minutes, 5000 men got safely ashore, before the ship listed and slid down the slope into deeper water.  There were two casualties, one man killed by the first mine blast, and the other who had safely gotten off but then returned to help men in the infirmary get out.  The wreck of the SS President Coolidge is now used for recreational diving, and is rated as one of the top ten wreck diving sites in the world.

The two of us are not particularly into wreck diving, but we definitely wanted to see this.  Dives on the wreck are deep, and for safety reasons, anyone who wants to dive this site needs to do it with a local dive shop.  Our divemaster, Alfred has done literally thousands of dives on this wreck and is considered to be the local expert on the site.  We were quite pleased to be diving with Alfred and it was a nice treat to have just the four of us on the trip that day.  Before the dive, Alfred gave us a very informative briefing covering not only the information we needed to know about the dive, but also a good history lesson.  On our first dive, we went down to 130 feet and swam along the outside of the wreck. After lunch and a long surface interval, we did a second dive to 110 feet and penetrated the wreck.  It was quite an incredible view of this 650-foot (200-meter) ship, which now lies on its side with the stern in over 200 feet of water (70 meters) and the bow in 60 feet (20 meters).  Upon penetration, in addition to wrecked equipment, we saw the medical dispensary area, showers and toilets and the on-board barber shop.  Some interesting sea life, like electric file clams, had also taken up residence in the wreck.  It was a great day!

Entering the wreck of the SS President Coolidge
Barber Chair
Wrecked Jeep


Electric file clam

The next day was Vanuatu's Independence Day (July 30), and Rankin & Sandy and the two of us took a ferry from Aore Island, across the harbor to Luganville, where we joined in with the local celebration.  We enjoyed the festive atmosphere, tried some local foods and ran into Alfred, our divemaster from the previous day.  Even though it was a holiday, we found the local open-air market was open for business, and we were quite happy to pick up a few fresh fruits and veggies.

Crowd gathered to watch the military parade on Independence Day
The two of us with our divemaster Alfred
Kids lined up for cotton candy - a special treat!

The following morning, the two of us decided to treat ourselves to a nice breakfast at the Aore Resort.  Additionally, we wanted to speak to the owner of the resort to find out who serviced her refrigeration units because our watermaker vendor told us a refrigeration company might possibly have the capacitor we needed for our pump motor.  When we went ashore, it was quite calm in the anchorage, but as we ate breakfast, the wind came up.  The mooring area in front of the resort has a pretty strong current running through it, and when the tide changed, there was wind against the current, and we watched Slip Away rolling from side to side in the rough waters.  The breakfast was good, and we got the information we needed regarding the refrigeration vendor, as well as the name an  electrical supply shop in Luganville, but when we got back to Slip Away we quickly realized we couldn't stay here.  Sandy from Gypsea Heart called to say they were heading to Ratua Island, which was south of Aore Island, only about 9 miles away, and would be a much better anchorage for these conditions.  We decided to follow. 

Ratua Island (July 31 - August 3).  Once we dropped our mooring and headed down the Segund Channel, the waters smoothed out and we had a nice sail for about 1½ hours.  When we reached the end of the Segund Channel and turned the corner to head to Ratua Island, we had 20 knots of wind on our nose, but fortunately, that was only for a few miles, and when we pulled into the Ratua Island anchorage, it was nice and calm.  Ratua Island has a resort ashore and a beautiful reef on which to snorkel.  We spent the next couple of days playing in the water - the snorkeling was excellent here. 

A family of four cuttlefish lived on the reef at Ratua -
it's amazing to watch them change colors to camouflage their appearance
Pretty chromodoris nudibranch -
it's maybe 2 inches (5 cm) long
An unusual Warty Sea Star

After a few days, the weather improved and Gypsea Heart made plans to sail south toward Port Vila, while our plans were taking us north back to Luganville.  These kind friends had given us enough water to almost top off our water tank (capacity of 120 gallons or 450 liters).  We'd been able to get water from the resorts for washing dishes and showers, which allowed us to use the water given to us by Gypsea Heart primarily for our drinking supply.  We'd had a really nice time with Rankin & Sandy over the past couple of weeks and were sad to see them leave.  We kept in touch as they sailed south, stopping at a few anchorages on their way.  We were really bummed to hear that a few days after leaving us, they had a problem with their watermaker.  No good deed goes unpunished!  Fortunately, once they reached Port Vila, they found the issue - an o-ring, which they replaced, and all was well again. 

Aore Island Resort (August 3-6).  From Ratua Island, we returned to Aore Island Resort, and we would become very familiar with this passage up and down the Segund Channel over the next couple of weeks.  This time at Aore, we met up with Eric & Anne (s.v. Reflection).  Eric was in charge of the morning SSB radio net, and we'd spent the past couple of months talking to him on the radio, but we'd not yet met in person.  We shared a couple of meals with them over the next few days, including a celebration of Anne's birthday, and we really hit it off.  They are avid divers, and we dove with them on a WWII plane wreck (a Dauntless Divebomber) in the Segund Channel.  The two of us decided the dive site should be re-named "Nudibranchs Galore" because we'd never seen so many nudibranchs.  Visibility wasn't as good as our other dives in Vanuatu, but this was a fantastic dive.  While here, we also followed up on the local leads we had for the capacitor for our watermaker, but no joy. 

Dauntless Divebomber wreckage
Shireen's Phyllidiopsis Nudibranch
Jan was thrilled when she got this photo - a Desirable Flabelllina - because
it was so small and the branch it was sitting on kept swaying back and forth

Beachfront Resort & Ratua Island (August 6-23).  After our rendezvous with s.v. Reflection, we headed 1½ miles across the bay and anchored off the Beachfront Resort.  Although the Aore Resort moorings were nice, the anchorage in front of the Beachfront Resort was free and offered easier access to the town of Luganville.  The Beachfront Resort was very welcoming to cruisers - they had a free wifi signal which they broadcast out to the anchorage and also a water spigot right at the beach where we could get water for free.  The restaurant at the resort had some reasonably priced meals and pretty good pizza, so we ate there a few times to repay them for their hospitality.  We also enjoyed meeting the former manager of the resort, David Cross, who spent a couple of hours one afternoon showing us some old World War II photos he had collected. 

With good internet, we were able to source a new capacitor for our watermaker from a company in Australia, but the transaction became complicated when the vendor would not accept payment by credit card.  He only accepted a transfer of funds into his Australian bank account - a practice we were used to from New Zealand, but we did not have an Australian bank account.  The  cost of the capacitor was only AUD $40, and when Jan looked into transferring the money to him from our Bank of America account, it was going to cost us USD$35 in service fees.  Additionally, we were concerned that the vendor would incur other service fees on his end, thus creating a mess and delaying the shipment of the capacitor.  Any Australian bank account holder could easily transfer the money with no service fees, and fortunately we have friends in Australia.  We emailed our friends Rosemary & John and asked if they could transfer the funds, and we promised to pay them back when we got to Australia in a few months.  The money was transferred to the vendor within a couple of hours - thank you Rosemary & John!  The Vanuatu office of DHL arranged the shipping - DHL picked up the parcel from the vendor in Australia, and about ten days later, it was in our hands.  Rich installed the capacitor, flipped the switch and the motor turned on and the pump started pumping.  Yay!  We were back in the business of making water!

While waiting for our watermaker part, we saw a few more of the sights this area had to offer.  One afternoon, we took an excursion to Leweton Village, where the local villagers had organized a "Custom & Cultural Experience" of dancing, kava making, water music and other demonstrations.  These folks were very enthusiastic in their presentation, and it was a fun day.  The traditional dancing was very good, the water music was really unusual, and their kava was smoother (and stronger) than the kava we tried in Fiji.  The water music is hard to describe, so here's a short YouTube video on it:   

The whole village of Leweton participated in the dancing
Making kava the ni-Van way
Water Music - very unique

On an exceptionally calm day, we took Slip Away out to Million Dollar Point, which was so named because this was the place where the U.S. military dumped millions of dollars of machinery and heavy equipment into the sea after the end of the war.  The equipment had been provided to the U.S. military at a price slightly over cost as part of the war effort, with the agreement that the military would not bring the equipment back to the U.S.  The military offered the equipment to the Condominium Government for pennies on the dollar, but they never responded to the offer, so the military built a big concrete wharf and drove all the equipment into the sea.  We anchored Slip Away just around the corner from the dumping ground which is now a dive site.  We dinghied to the dive site, tied to a float and spent an hour underwater looking at all the equipment.  Again, some interesting sea life had taken up residence among the wreckage, and we saw a cuttlefish, octopus and various other fishes.  This was Rich's favorite dive in all of Vanuatu. 

Wrecked bulldozer
Truck chassis
And a well-camouflaged Scorpionfish among the rubble

On another calm day, we anchored Slip Away off the main wharf and hauled jerry jugs of diesel to top off our fuel supply.  We dinghied ashore, and since we tied the dinghy at a small dock with a "private" sign on it, Jan stayed with the dinghy while Rich took the jerry jugs to the gas station.  We only have two diesel jerry jugs, so it required a few trips.  Each time Rich returned he found someone new (mostly young men) had stopped to chat with Jan while she waited by the dinghy.  We found the ni-Vans to be quite curious, and they liked to talk to us about where we were from, life in the United States, and what it was like to live on a sailboat.  One young man she talked with told her that he had just gotten a scholarship to attend a university in China, and he was interested in developing a business to export kava from Vanuatu to other countries - it sounded like a great idea to us!  On his last trip back from the gas station, Rich found Jan "holding court" with a group of four teenage boys who were hanging on her every word.  Although some of these boys dressed like "gang-bangers", they were really nice kids.   

During this time, we also made another couple of trips down to Ratua Island - it was close by and a good spot to seek shelter if we had strong winds.  We enjoyed some walks on the island, took our dinghy on a trip to Malo Island (just south of Ratua, across the Bruat Channel), and we never tired of the snorkeling there.  We also did some harvesting of crown of thorns starfish, which are very destructive to coral reefs.  Eric & Anne (s.v. Reflection) gave us some basic tools - a metal rod with a hook on the end and a plastic flour sack.  We picked them off the reef and left them on shore to die (away from areas being used by the locals as they have really sharp thorns and far enough from the water so that they couldn't crawl back).  One day when we were dumping some crown of thorns ashore, some local guys saw us and told us "tank yu tumas!"

Slip Away anchored at Ratua Island
(photo taken by Gilles on s.v. Zeecada)
Exploring Malo Island by dinghy
with Mike & Jennifer (s.v. Mahili)
Goats grazing among the coconut palms on Ratua Island


A blue-spotted ribbontail ray peeks out from its hiding place
There were a number of banded coral shrimp hanging out
under one of the floating pontoons
Local guy paddling across Segund Channel

Oyster Bay (August 23-26).  We enjoyed our time in Luganville, but once the watermaker was fixed, we were eager to move on and see more of Espiritu Santo Island.  Our next stop was Oyster Bay on the east coast of Santo (17 nm, 3½ hours).  Here, we ran into Anne & Eric (s.v. Reflection) again, and they offered us the use of their kayaks to visit one of the Blue Holes, a lagoon of fresh water with a blue hue.  The paddle up the river was fun, the Blue Hole was absolutely gorgeous, and we enjoyed a swim in the clear (but cool) fresh water. 

Paddling through gorgeous scenery to the blue hole
Jan enjoys a swim in the beautiful blue water

Port Olry / Thion Island (August 26-29).  From Oyster Bay, we continued north along the east coast of Santo to Port Olry, where we anchored behind Thion Island (26 nm, 6 hours).  While underway, we landed another big mahi, this one even bigger than the last - 55 inches.  Delicious!  At Port Olry, we enjoyed more great diving and snorkeling.  Port Olry was as far north as we intended to go in Vanuatu.  We were hoping to move on to Australia in early September, so we turned around and headed south from here. 

Mahi Mahi for dinner!
The very colorful reef at Port Olry

Hog Harbor (August 29 to 31).  From Port Olry, it was a short trip to Hog Harbour (10 nm, 2 hours).  We made the trip in the morning, and since it was a calm day, that afternoon we dinghied to Elephant Island (about 2 miles away), where we had a nice dive.  There were a number of other reefs in the area, and the next day, after speaking with the captain of a large power boat that was anchored nearby, we decided to dive another spot just off Champagne Beach, which was even prettier (and closer) than Elephant Island.

Starfish at Elephant Island
Leather coral on Champagne Beach Reef
Champagne Beach Reef



Champagne Beach runs along a portion of Hog Harbor and is touted as one of the most beautiful beaches in the South Pacific.  There is a resort nearby, and cruise ships stop here.  The locals charge the resort guests 1000 vatu (USD$11) per person to use Champagne Beach (fortunately, the resort also has its own beach).  Since we were not staying at the resort, we apparently caused some confusion with the kid who was manning the toll booth when we arrived, and she let us through without paying.  A few minutes later, we were chased down by another kid on a bike who told us we needed to pay, and we told him we would do so on our way out.  The beach was very pretty - beautiful white sand - but it needed a bit of cleaning up, and the bathroom block which we think was built by the cruise ship companies, was disgusting.  We couldn't believe they were charging 1000 vatu per person for this!  When we left the beach and walked back through the toll booth, there was no one there.  We did leave some money in their "honesty box" but since we were less than impressed, we didn't pay the full fare. 


Aese Island (August 31 - September 2).  From Hog Harbor, we motored into light southeast winds to Aese Island (26 nm, 5 hours).  We found a good site for snorkeling and also found a good spot to beach the dinghy, turn it over and scrub the green scum off the bottom in preparation for our anticipated passage to Australia. We were in contact with David from Gulf Harbour Radio in New Zealand, and he was keeping an eye on the weather for us, looking for a good window to sail from Vanuatu to Australia. 


Champagne Beach in need of a little cleanup

We saw lots of shrimp gobies on our snorkel at Aese
Pink anemonefish hiding in its home

Change of Plans.  Over the previous few days, Jan had been in close contact with her family because her Mom had a fall and was moved into a nursing home.  Early on the morning of September 2, Jan awoke to find a text on our cell phone and an email in our inbox from her sister Judy asking her to call ASAP.  She knew this was not good news.  Fortunately, we had recently purchased a satellite phone, and Jan used it to call her sister who told her that her Mom had a severe stroke and was not expected to live.  It took a few hours for us to come up with a plan, but we finally figured everything out.  Jan would fly home, and Rich would stay in Vanuatu on Slip Away.  Although Luganville was just around the corner, we felt Rich needed to be in a more secure location in case of bad weather, and a Yachting World mooring in Port Vila's well protected harbor was the really the best option.  Also, in Port Vila, there would be other cruisers around and a bigger town would keep him from feeling isolated.  It actually looked like the weather was going to cooperate for us to get to Port Vila quickly.  We were amazed at how everything came together.   

That same morning, we headed into Luganville to see the Port Captain - we needed to get our cruising permit changed for our return to Port Vila.  Luganville wasn't far away (11 miles, 2 hours), but we bashed into 15-20 knots of southeast wind and big seas rounding Million Dollar Point.  We anchored off the Beachfront Resort, taxied to the Port Captain, and our paperwork was done quickly.  That afternoon, Jan sent an email to her friend Kara, who works for Delta Airlines.  Kara had previously told Jan if she ever needed a buddy pass to let her know.  Kara was on-line when Jan's email arrived in her inbox, and in a matter of minutes, Kara was working on getting an airline ticket for Jan.  

Early the next morning, we departed Luganville for Port Vila.  Normally, this would be an arduous trip bashing into the southeast tradewinds, but the weather gods were exceptionally kind to us, and the forecast was calling for northeast winds.  We motored most of the way to Port Vila with Rich pushing the RPM's a bit higher than normal and a favorable current giving us a nice boost.  We managed to sail for about five hours, but for most of the trip, the wind wasn't strong enough to keep our speed up, so we powered on.  We rounded Devil's Point early in the morning with light winds and calm seas, and completed the 162 mile trip to Port Vila in 26½ hours.  Once we were tied to a mooring at Yachting World in Port Vila, Jan went on-line and booked an airline ticket from Port Vila to Sydney, Australia, for the next morning.  Kara had made Jan's arrangements for her flights from Sydney to Cincinnati.  Later that morning, we visited the Immigration office for paperwork to allow Jan to return to Vanuatu without an outbound airline ticket.  After the visit to Immigration, she packed and was ready to go.  Her flight from Port Vila to Sydney left early the next morning. 

It was a long trip from Port Vila, Vanuatu, to Cincinnati, Ohio, but it went about as well as one could expect.  Jan was sorely disappointed when she arrived in Sydney 45 minutes too late to make the flight from Sydney to Los Angeles that same day, but she knew making that flight was a stretch, and she found a place to stay for the night.  Her overnight in Sydney gave her an opportunity to write the first draft of the eulogy she would later deliver at her Mom's memorial service.  The next morning, she caught the 14-hour flight from Sydney to L.A.  During Jan's four-hour layover in L.A., our friends Camille & John picked her up and took her out for breakfast.  Thank you Camille & John!  That evening, when she arrived in Cincinnati, her sister Joyce met her at the airport and took her to the nursing home.  Mom was still hanging in there, and all of her family was by her side.  Jan had a couple of days with her before Mom passed away on September 9.  After the funeral, Jan stayed on for another week before returning to Vanuatu. 



Rest in Peace, Mom
Dottie Schwab (April 5, 1930 to Sept. 9, 2014)

Port Vila, Efate Island (September 23 to 30).  Meanwhile, Rich was in Port Vila, working on a few boat projects and also appreciating the support network of the cruising community who looked after him quite nicely.  Once Jan returned to Vanuatu, she needed some downtime, and she was grateful that there was no weather window on the immediate horizon for our passage to Australia.  We spent a few days doing a lot of nothing and enjoyed the company of friends.  Rich had discovered a few new places and met some new people while she was gone.  He had become quite friendly with the owner of the local ice cream shop (no surprise there!), and we stopped in to see him a few times.  Eric & Anne (s.v. Reflection) came in to Port Vila one evening, and we went out for dinner at a restaurant called "The Flaming Bull."  Vanuatu is well known for its beef in this area of the world, and the steaks we had that night were outstanding.   

We kept our eye on the weather and in touch with David from Gulf Harbour Radio, and a week later, the forecast was looking quite good.  We prepared the boat and ourselves, did our clearance paperwork with the ni-Van authorities and sent our Advance Notice of Arrival information to Australia.  With another angel watching over us, we sailed west for the land of Oz. 

Cyclone Pam
(March 13-14, 2015):
  I was just putting the finishing touches on this webpage when Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu.  This cyclone was one of the strongest in recorded history in the South Pacific, and it devastated this island nation, especially the islands of Epi, Efate, Erromango, Tanna and Aneityum.  These people had very little to start with, and after the cyclone, even their basic needs of safe water, food and shelter would be in scarce supply.  Neighboring countries are sending aid, and donations are welcome.  If you are able to help, our friends Eric & Anne (s.v. Reflection) recommend the Butterfly Trust, which will be on the ground in Vanuatu aiding the relief effort.  Donations can be made at