New Caledonia & Vanuatu

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We passed close by Cape Moreton, and motored towards the east, with intention of keeping that course as long as we could, for when the usual south easterlies, or east south easterlies arrived. Early on the 3rd day we heard chatter on Channel 16, altered course slightly, and passed two yachts mid ocean. It was not until during the 3rd day that a front bringing 25 knot southeasterlies arrived, necessitating a second reef in the main, and a slight change in course. By the 4th day we were forced to run the engine for power generation. Every day since we left had been cloudy, so the solar panels contributed only a little; we had only been on one tack and the main sail had been blanketing the wind generator; the tow generator was successful, but caused interference with the HF radio. We sighted land on the 5th day, and as the weather had died down, with a clear night and good lights, we entered the Passe du Boulari at 2100, and a couple of hours later tied up to the Port Moselle visitors berth and had a good nights sleep. The log book notes indicate that the 903.9 miles took 130.5 hours, so an average of 6.9 knots.

 

After a few days in Noumea, we went out to some of the small islands to wait for the arrival of “Swallow” another catamaran with 2 children aboard to arrive. We had met them in Brisbane before the trip, and had arranged to try to meet them from time to time while we were away, as we were both going in the same direction at roughly the same time. Unfortunately they had to turn back to Bundaberg on their first attempt, and so were delayed.

 

We decided to go down towards the Isles of Pines anyway, first exploring the Baie du Prony. This is a large inlet with a lot of different bays, with some very scattered and isolated villages, and often deserted groups of houses. We decided that it would be really good to have an HF receiver, and thought that we would phone Tony, who was expected to sail over to New Caledonia within a few weeks, and ask him to purchase one for us. We found a public phone box in a deserted village, which was powered by solar panels, and rang Tony at his workplace in Sydney. As the public phones there have a phone number on them he was able to ring us back and have a good conversation.

 

The even more bizarre thing was that, while on the phone, a group of 6 Japanese tourists walked by, the only people we saw the whole day. Further on in the upper reaches of the Baie du Prony we investigated the cyclone anchorage possibilities, took the dinghy up to the bottom of a waterfall and collected fresh water, and swam in the hot pools. For a lot of the time we had been in New Cal the weather had been slightly overcast, not full sun, and quite a bit of drizzle, so by this time we found ourselves seeking anchorages in sheltered sea, but full wind. There was an ideal spot at the entrance to the Baie du Prony, with only reef in front of us, exposed to the full 20 knots of south easterlies, which persisted most of the time. The Air Marine wind generator certainly earned its keep there, and for the whole trip, but some times we turned it off during the night, as the noise the blades made, made the wind sound much worse than it was. Finally the wind was light enough for our liking and we were able to make for Kuto at the southern end of the Isles de Pins.

 

The next day we sailed around to Vao on the southern side of the island, and were able to take the dinghy up the passage marked for dinghy’s only and explore the Baie de Upi. This was the most beautiful shade of pale turquoise with lumps of mushroom shaped coral rocks scattered about. In the background on the mainland were the New Caledonian pines. We went as far as the other harbour entrance which faces the east, and then returned to Catchcry. After leaving the Kuto area we picked our way through the reef to the northern part of the island to an anchorage called Gadji. This is a small shallow anchorage surrounded by about 6 islands with small gaps between, normally idyllic. However that night a 20-30 knot wind from the north came up (unusual in the trade wind season) and it rained for the next 24 hours. It was a bit of a worry, as a couple of other boats dragged anchor and the holding was not very good. By this time we had heard on the air waves that Swallow were finally in New Cal, and we were able to meet them in a bay near Noumea for one evening. They left for the Isles de Pins and we returned to Noumea.

 

After a couple of phone calls home to Catherine’s family in New Zealand, she decided to fly to New Zealand. What we discovered that there were only two direct flights to Auckland per week, Thursday and Sunday - and it was Monday. Her father passed away a few hours before she arrived in Whangarei, but was there for 2 weeks and able to see her mother and brothers and other members of the family and friends. Whilst she was away John had the boys all to himself, and as the weather was right, once more sailed down to Isles de Pins and met up with Swallow, and generally had a good time, as not much school work was done. Another week around the Noumea area, with a couple of visits to nearby islands, and then it was the weekend of the World Cup Final. Well, France won, which we could hear from our anchorage at 5.30 in the morning. That day and night there were huge celebrations, from car horns honking, flag waving, then dancing in the centre of town, and of course the next day being Bastille Day, was rather secondary.

 

We cleared out of Noumea for Port Vila, and had a good run to Lifou, where we went in through a narrow reef entrance and anchored in a bay for a few hours. For the night we went up to a more recognized anchorage further up the island near a wharf. We left Lifou the next morning, and 27 hours later were in Port Vila. The wind was 20-25 knots from the south east at one stage, and for the first (and only) time all the books fell off the book shelf, after a larger wave hit the starboard side. In Vila we waited for some items from West Marine (Vanuatu is tax free), and went on some walks, visited the museum, made a couple of day sails, and enjoyed Independence Day celebrations on 30 July. Finally there was a break in the weather and we were able to motor sail for the island of Tanna. During the time we were in Port Resolution, we hired a truck to visit Lenakel, custom village and markets on the south side of the island, drove and walked up to the crater of the volcano, and had the best crayfish meal ever. The meal was in the “yacht club”, with hand made furniture and a dirt floor. During the day we watched as the whole village participated in making a thatched roof for the new restaurant, which was also going to have a concrete floor. On our way back to Port Vila we stopped for a couple of days at the island of Erramango, where John somehow agreed to fix a plywood dinghy, we were guests at the school open day, were taken to a cave with old skulls and bones. The family put on a feast for us, during which Marilyn (from Swallow) and I were given “Mother Hubbard” dresses. We also lent the one person in the village with a video player and generator two videos to play “The Lion King” and “Star Wars” which everyone turned up to watch. The village did not have any electricity, only a couple of vehicles between everyone, which were usually only used to get to the airport a few hours away, and running cold water to taps among the houses. The norm for most villages we met throughout Vanuatu was that an aid project generally from Australia or New Zealand had set up a pump from a water catchment area in higher ground, and installed pipes to the village where there was usually about one tap for about 6 houses.

 

On returning to Port Vila we were in time for the re-enacting of the first missionary landing, which involved a 10m sailing canoe arriving with missionary and he was carried on a platform at shoulder height by warriors and dancers in grass skirts and taken to the centre of town. There were colour co-ordinated groups of women representing every province of Vanuatu also in the parade. During this time in Vila we acquired our email address for the first time, and were able to start using the benefits of having email.

 

 

During our first time there, one of our sisterships “Blue Water Dreamer” had arrived in Port Vila, but also one day we heard the name “Midnight Blue” come over the radio, and much to our surprise this was our only other sistership, so all three together at one time - in Port Vila of all places. They were new (and much younger) owners of Midnight Blue, and said they did not know much about the designer Robin Chamberlin or the ideas behind the boat. We were a little horrified when they said that they often had the boat up to 16 knots, and had been to 20 knots. The three boats parted ways after one day, but on our passage from Havannah Harbour to Epi Island a week or so later we saw a dot in the distance which became larger, passed us and reached Epi a while before us - this was Midnight Blue. We were pleased with our sailing that day, as there was plenty of wind, and the sea was relatively flat in the lee of islands for most of the way. The log book notes indicate 3 separate hourly averages of 9.3, 9 and 8.8 knots. Unfortunately also during the day the stitching in a seam between the first and second reef in the main sail tore, and we had to complete the sail with 2 reefs in the main. At Lamen Bay we were able to borrow a generator from another yacht, and set up our sewing machine in an empty classroom we cleaned out (school holidays). Catherine was only able to sew one row, and so we had to sail with two reefs in the main until Luganville, where we had read about sail making possibilities at the fish co-op there. On leaving Epi Island it was calm, so we were able to head to the east and completely circumnavigate Lopevi Island which is a still smoking volcano, all lava, no vegetation.

 

 

The next island we visited was Ambrym, which is also another active volcano, but the walking access to it is much further and more difficult than Tanna. Due to the light winds, we stopped at a couple of anchorages that rarely had foreign visitors, and these people really live a very simple self sufficient life. We were able to trade or give clothes, glass bottles and rope. Towards the north western end of Ambrym is the villages of Ratvenlan, Ranon and Rodd’s Anchorage. It is only at the more populated areas (usually one per island) is there a phone, where it is possible to either pay or use a phonecard to make phone calls. From Rodd’s Anchorage, where there was better breeze and cooler, we did a very pleasant walk up the hill for two hours to the village of Fanla. We passed many people looking after their gardens on the way, all elaborately fenced from pigs, and they all - men and women - shook hands with all of us. Fanla was a traditional village, where the people spoke mostly French as their third language, and we purchased and traded for carvings, pipes and ankle braclets.

 

The next stop was Wali on the island of Pentecost, where the original land diving occurs in April and May. We went on an easy walk up to this years tower which is built on the steep slope of a hill so that the divers, if they touch the ground, the land is falling away from them.

 

The towers are made of little more than sticks and bound together with vines, but are rebuilt each year. We arranged here also to hire a truck and be driven across the island to the eastern side to visit a real “custom” village. (The one in Tanna is only kept that way for tourists, and the people actually live nearby). The drive was in a new truck owned by the Bunlap community, but noone could drive it, so was driven by Daniel from Wali - they are all from one language group or tribe. The drive was an hour or two over high mountain ranges and valleys with rainforest, the road having been only completed for 3 months. Previously the only access to the western side involved a walk for 8 hours and a stay overnight. Where the road ended was a beautifully kept village with church, but then it was an easy walk to the custom village, which has no school, church, running water or western clothes. They did know enough to want money for taking photos, so we do not have any of the village itself. These are the people that own the vehicle, and this has been made possible from tourists coming to see the real original land diving. The houses have low sides and the whole family eat, cook and sleep in the one house, along with the pigs and chooks. Every one was dressed in custom clothing - the men with just a nambas (penis wrapper) and women in grass skirt only, and the children nothing. They touched us a lot, particularly David who was the smallest, as I don’t think they had seen many children before. Only some of the people here spoke Bislama, and no French or English, but luckily one of the Germans with us could converse in Bislama (its actually fairly easy to pick up). When all the men had gone the women came up closer and we were given a baby to hold, who was clean and healthy. All the other children were quite dirty, and this was the only village that we went to that the people had to go to the creek to collect water, instead of having a water supply tap in the village. On the road back to the boat, we passed a family group taking their pigs (on a lead) to their gardens. The villagers all have one or more gardens away from the village where they grow all their food, and this is the case all over Vanuatu outside of Port Vila and Luganville.

 

Next stop was a village a few miles short of and around the corner from Loltong, the main town in the province of Pentecost, but they had not had a yacht stop there for a couple of years. They seemed a fairly wealthy village, which is from growing kava, and the chief’s son is a doctor in PNG and had given money to the village. The next day was a big soccer competition and fair to raise money for the school, so the villagers killed a calf and took it by dinghy and we took 8 passengers, who would have otherwise walked around the rocks. In the evening we had a great meal at Philip’s restaurant at Loltong, with string band for entertainment. The anchorage is amongst coral bommies and during the storm with wind from every direction the next morning the boat swung around touching one slightly, but we did collect enough rain to fill our tanks (700 litres).

 

Asanvari is well known for its great waterfall near the beach and its hospitality with custom dancing. If there are 10 or so people they will put on a meal, custom dancing, kava tasting and a string band. The men doing the dancing were great - all dressed in woven mat skirts, and headdresses with feathers.

 

Next stop “civilization” at Luganville, commonly known as Santo. At the fisheries co-op we found the industrial sewing machines and large tables, even cloth and thread, but no-one to sew it. There was nothing else for it, so John along with Don and Marilyn from Swallow, resurrected the machines, cleaned them up, got them going, and sewed up the main sail, a repair which lasted until we sold the boat. The kids - Richard, Andrew & David and Andrea and Peter from Swallow were told to sit quietly as it was very hot. The grounds had very lush grass, so Andrew was sliding along the grass (being ridden like a horse by Andrea), and sliced his knee open, badly enough that he would normally have stitches. But no, he was taped over with sail repair tape and wrapped up with sail cloth until we could get back to the boat to wash it. We kept it taped with strips until healed, but he had to stay out of the water for a couple of weeks which was very hard, but healed ok with no infection. Santo is a one street town, with many Chinese stores, who also run the trading boats to the villages, and of course a good produce market daily. We were able to extend our cruising permit and visa to allow us to stay for a total of 4 months.

 

On leaving Santo we passed by Million Dollar Point, and anchored briefly to take the dinghy and drift over the wrecks looking with the coral viewer. The first great anchorage was at Petersens Bay, a protected anchorage behind an island, accessed by entering through a coral pass. The great thing about this anchorage is the dinghy ride up the river about 2km to the source of the river, which is a spring coming out of the limestone island, named the Blue Hole.

 

The limestone gives the water a beautiful pale turquoise colour and the Blue Hole is surrounded by trees, one with a rope hanging off, and is about 15 metres deep. We stayed a couple of days, going up the river for a swim each day. Further up the coast is Champagne Beach, where the cruise ships stop with beautiful white sand, pale blue water, but the locals want money to anchor there. Luckily around the headland is Lannoc Bay which looks the same, but a few more pieces of coral in the anchorage. It was hard to see and a bit cloudy and unfortunately we hit a bommie with the rudder. The steering jammed, but 2 canoes came immediately, and they showed us a way through the bommies to a nice clear area which was fairly shallow, and we were able to maneuver using the engines. The rudder stock had bent and jammed on the hull with a small amount of bog off the bottom of the rudder down to fiberglass with the tip broken. The hull was only depressed slightly. The rudder actually floated once pulled out, which actually became a problem when putting it back in. John organized with the locals to get a car jack and with the rudder held in place by a slotted piece of wood and the chain attached to either end we used the jack to straighten the stock. A bit of bog and paint and it was all fixed by the afternoon. Peter from Swallow had his 8th birthday, so the mothers rustled up birthday food - pizza, vanilla slice, chocolate slice, popcorn balloons and birthday cake on the beach. When we were leaving Lannoc Bay we were still deciding where to go and some friends from Brisbane came up on the radio - Hamish & Sue on El Kouba. They were in Port Olry, so the anchorage at the island near Port Olry it was.

 

The first anchorage in the Banks Islands is Lakona Bay where we were warmly welcomed. They have a custom chief, who knows all about the land boundaries and families, and the village chief, who is like a mayor, who looks after the village, and this person changes regularly. They teach the children themselves until about Grade 4, when the children have to go away to the main town, and often either the mother or father have to go and stay there as well to look after them. Some of the children here have blond hair, which is said to come from Polynesians coming to the islands a few hundred years ago. Leaving Lakona Bay we had four extra passengers that we dropped off at Mosevuno Bay on the north side of the island, otherwise they would have gone by canoe and paddled all day.

 

Chief Godfrey at Vasevu Bay on Vanua Lava is well known in the cruising community for his friendliness and welcome there. Another must see place on Vanua Lava is Waterfall Bay, which has a twin waterfall right on the beachfront. The family there were very happy to trade kerosene for freshwater prawns and vegetables. We decided to have a farewell feast there for Swallow who were off to the Solomons, which consisted of seafood pizza, marinated prawns, beef stew and apple pie and custard, not bad for 2 weeks away from any kind of shops.

 

Ureparapara Island was the furtherest north that we sailed. It is a large extinct volcano with a gap on the eastern side letting the sea in to fill the centre of the volcano. The village there were very short of goods as the supply ship had not been for several months. We were able to trade with them kerosene, rice, sugar, clothes, plastic containers and fish hooks. Communication with the main town of the province was by HF radio only, and to use that someone had to walk over the hill/mountain to the village on the outside of the island. They had heard of the tsunami that occurred in PNG earlier in the year and most of the villages were in the process of building new houses further up the hill near their gardens, as most of the village was at sea level. The Reef Islands were our next stop, which were very low lying coral islands, with surrounding reef. All the people that had once lived there had left for Ureparapara Island to live.

 

A big day sail ending in the dark back at Lakona Bay. Once dark we could see fires lit all along the coast, as the villagers thought we were the copra supply boat, as that was usually the only boat moving about in the dark. As we came into Lakona Bay we could see several canoes on the radar coming out to meet us.

 

Finally back at Luganville and the shops and a rare meal out, which was very welcome. It was now mid October and quite late in the season and there were fewer cruising boats about. We traveled down the east coast of Malekula Island, stopping at Atchin Island. At Atchin we were asked to take photos at the wedding of 3 old couples. It turned out they were being married for the church (SDA), but had long ago been married in the custom way. Uripiv was a very neat and tidy village also with hedges and fences and coral paths. John fixed a generator here. On the way to Bannan Bay we could see sailing north, (we were heading south) a spinnaker, and who should it be but “Blue Water Dreamer”. Much taking of photos. Bannan Bay is also another well known stop where the village put on a very good custom dance, with both men and women participating. The charter yacht MizMae arrived and so all yachts were able to see the custom dance. The last anchorage on Malekula is Port Sandwich, which is a good walk to the town of Lamap. It has signs of better days, as in concrete block houses, power poles and lines, a police station and meteorological station. Down to the Maskeyline Island group, and after a short stop at Sakau Island we went around to Sangalai where is a sizeable school. We walked right around the island to Peskarus village, and noted that the island is quite populated and the water is collected from roofs and is kept in tanks or cisterns underground, as this island is a flat coral/limestone uplift and not mountainous. We found a small beach on Awei Island which was suitable for a short stop to clean the boat. Many people in canoes came by to have a look, as they had not seen a boat on the beach before. One traded pineapples which was unusual. A group of 4 teenage girls came, collected their lunch of crabs and bananas, made a fire and cooked and ate it. They then talked to the boys, and played bows and arrows, as well as taking them for a short sail in their canoe.

 

Back again to Lamen Bay where an unexpected south west swell came up. It was about 2 metres and because of the wind in Lamen Bay we were held side on. There is a small gap in the reef on Lamen Island with protection from the west, so we went over there. The next morning the south east wind increased so back to Lamen Bay, which still had a swell too large to land the dinghy. We took the boys to the surf line, they jumped in and had fun surfing until we picked them up again later. From Lamen Bay we headed south down to Rovo Bay where the provincial headquarters are situated. We were able to obtain mangoes. Next was Revolieu Bay where we met Elsie who with her husband seemed to have a lot of grazing land with Brahmin cattle. They had both been teachers working away, but had given that up and came back to the family land to farm. A hard motor sail to windward finally brought us back to Port Vila.

 

We finally left mid November for Noumea. By the time we passed through Havannah Passe and were heading north for Noumea the sea was very calm with a very slight south easterly. After calculating time and distance we worked out if we took all sails down and went at about 2 knots with the light wind blowing into the cockpit, we would reach Noumea after 5pm. This would mean we would reach the visitors berth after the marina closed and we would have our free 24 hours for a full 24 hours. John did not need a visa this time as during the time we had been away, the regulations had been changed. Along with a number of other boats, we were all waiting for weather for a passage to either New Zealand or Australia. During that time we had westerly winds and we all had to move to the northern side of the bay. A number of long walks to the Meteo Office, preferably with a French speaker, to look at the weather charts and chat about the patterns.

More socializing and a few other kids were there too. Finally on 26 November we were able to leave Noumea with a less than perfect weather charts (i.e. no nice high with south easterly winds).

 

 

Not long after we left we heard a weather forecast in French issuing a gale warning, and then later Townsville Radio noted gales on the Queensland coast. However, we only had a large squall to 40 knots with heavy rain for a few hours. The whole way we had light northwest, west or southwest winds and so we were forced to motor sail most of the time. By the time we were nearing Cato Reef the Queensland coast had a strong wind warning, so we decided to stop there. It was a good anchorage behind the island, but the ESE wind was 20-30 knots, and so we could not get off the boat. On the first morning there was an almighty bang, and large vibrations felt, and after rushing up to the deck discovered that a bird had hit the wind generator and broken off one of the three blades. After 2 nights at Cato we left with 193 MTG, and after 12 hours of really great sailing we had averaged 9.58 knots. Unfortunately all good things come to an end, and the wind started dying down, until the early hours of the morning we had to start motoring. Over the 24 hours we had travelled 207 miles at an average of 8.62 knots. We arrived at the mouth of the river on the morning of 4 December 1998.

 

 

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