[110822, 0112 UTC, Luganville, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, 15º32' S / 167º 10' E]
After returning from Tanna Island to Port Vila ("Vila"), Efate Island, we collected our mail and supply parcels from Vanuatu Post, provisioned and took off again heading north. Our first stop was Hideaway Island, only four miles from Vila in Mele Bay. Hideaway Island and its marine preserve coral reef - complete with an underwater Vanuatu Post box - forms a small tradewind-protected anchorage off a long beach. Unfortunately, the Beach Bar on adjacent Efate, rents jet skis to beer-lubricated cruise ship day-trippers who find it amusing to use sailboats as a high speed slalom course. A friend, Laila, off the Swedish yacht Comedie, had an oblivious driver on one of these super charged jet skis pass about a foot from her head while she was swimming near her yacht. Thankfully she was not injured. Frustrated by this and with a weather front threatening, we pushed onto Havannah Harbor, formed by two offshore islands on the NW coast of Efate.
Once settled into a small indentation known as Esema Bay, we were thrilled that the only sounds we could hear were the cooing of doves. Locals soon discovered us. A few came from the small settlement ashore but most were those who commuted by small outrigger canoes (one man hauling a very large, precariously balanced wheelbarrow!) from Moso Island to "mainland" Efate to work in their gardens. At dusk, yodel-like calls between gardeners echoed off the water as canoes began to put to sea for the mile long return trip to Tassariki village on Moso.
These friendly soft-spoken folks were anxious to trade their fruits and veggies (and in one case, mud crab) for...just about anything. One man wanted to trade for some of our old rope so he could snare the wild pigs that were ripping up his garden. Another wanted popping corn for his brother's children. And so, for our old rope, tinned beef, tea, sugar, lollies, etc., we got in return, bok choy, bananas, green onions, green beans, tomatoes and cucumbers.
After a few days we left Esema Bay and sailed overnight to the Maskelyne Islands, just off Malakula Island, about 70 miles away. We had planned a stop at Epi Island but large SW swell would mean our intended anchorage would be untenable, and we pushed on. We arrived in the early morning and anchored off Awei Island among 3 or 4 other sailboats.
While at Awei, Brian of SV Skylight, was approached by the villagers (and a Kiwi couple involved in good works) at the main village of Peskarus and asked to fill in for a missing New Zealand voc-tech guy and to teach basic trouble-shooting techniques in the repair of two and four cycle engines. Philip offered to help and, for two days, traveled by village boat from the anchorage to the village, a distance of a few miles through an abundance of reefs and into the strong tradewinds. At Paskarus, a cadre of 15 or so intense, dark-skinned men gathered around us as Brian explained how to fix engines, charge batteries and how to size solar panels, regulators, and batteries to address different electricity needs.
The team also fixed an inoperable, monstrous, Indian-manufactured diesel generator that the village had been running on coconut oil. An OSHA nightmare, the immense one cylinder engine was affixed to twin rails and the machine powered a pulley and belt system which drove a large generator. When we were finally able to get the machine running, black diesel soot and smoke belched out the exhaust and filled the work shed while the engine roared and jitterbugged around on the concrete floor. The village guys laughed while they held the machine at arms length and tried to keep away from the whirring pulley and belts which could easily pinch off errant body parts. Brian strongly advised that the villagers bolt the machine down onto the floor and build some sort of wooden enclosure for the pulley/belt system before they put the generator back into operation.
While at Awei, we saw our first sailing canoes but didn't have many trading opportunities except for a small but magnificent (and delicious) rainbow runner, exchanged for fishing lures and fish hooks and, then a bit later a trade of a whole bag of provisions for freshwater prawns so fresh that one went galloping across our galley. Instead, most canoes that approached wanted us to charge their cell phones! A recent and perhaps unfortunate arrival to native villages, cell phones replace the tamtams that were (and still are) used for calling and alerting the village people, such as the usual 5 am wake up call.
Where there are cell phones, there are cell phone towers (powered by solar and wind generators); a jarring sight. The phones are relatively inexpensive to buy but expensive to top up and (surprise!) need to be recharged. This is a major dilemma since electricity has to generated somehow; solar panels are expensive, and with fuel at about $7 USD per gallon, generators are a luxury few can afford.
These islands generally have no roads, just a series of ancient trails linking villages, some of which are far "in the bush" (in native parlance) where non-natives seldom venture. Water is diverted from mountain streams and gravity fed and, in most villages, a single leaking spigot serves four or five houses made of woven bamboo with natangora (palm) roofs. Cooking is done on wood fires in shelters separate from the living quarters where the women try in vain to avoid breathing the smoke from the cooking fire of wood or coconut husks. Most homes now use metal pots and pans though some women still use the hollows of bamboo for cooking which is reputed to give a special flavor to the food. The method: food such as the ubiquitous laplap - where a grated or mashed root such as taro or yam is mixed with coconut and sometimes spring onion and wrapped into small packets in island cabbage leaves - is stuffed into the bamboo tubes and put into a wood fire and allowed to roast and steam.
After a few days we sailed away from Awei on an outgoing tide through a narrow pass and into steep, choppy and confused seas driven by strong trades - about ten minutes of white knuckle motor-sailing before being shot out into an equally turbulent Pacific Ocean. We had hoped to stop at an anchorage off Tomman Island at the SW tip of Malakula - where historically they had bound the heads of young men to force elongation of the skull. Wind and waves strongly suggested we carry on to Southwest Bay, also on Malakula.
As has been the norm for us lately, winds picked up to gale force by mid afternoon as we approached Neur Tomboi Island (a.k.a. Ten Stick Rock) and we turned and shot into the bay on a beam reach under deeply reefed sails. Turning directly to windward and dousing sail, we anchored in the sheltered corner of the bay off the village of Lembinwen. Local legend has it that the moniker Ten Stick Rock originated during WWII when the US military paid the local chief 10 sticks of tobacco to compensate for using the sea stack as target practice.
In SW Bay, we planned to attend the Nalawan Festival, an annual festival related to the natural calendar of these small namba tribes and centered around the ever-important foodstuff, the yam. As it turned out, we sailed right into the middle of inter-clan rivalry plus a wee bit of attempted deception and spent the next week helping an ill-prepared village to organize and market their festival day. Not getting straight answers from some of the villagers, we actually undertook a 5 km walk (each way) along the windswept shore, on an ancient path between villages, in an attempt to meet Willie Isno, one of the festival organizers at the distant village of Labo.
When we arrived at Labo, the village seemed a ghost town. Homes were shut up, cooking fires cold and only chickens roamed the stone steps and worn paths that meandered up the slope above the sea. The one ancient man who answered Philip's soft calls seemed astounded to see this foreigner at the front door of his modest tin home. He recovered quickly and explained that all of the villagers had walked to another village (one we had hiked through) to worship. On our return trip, Freddy, a friendly local chief who recognized us, jogged up and said that someone who saw us from a distance asked him "who are those white guys?" (we all chuckled) and he asked us if he could help. In the end, the coconut wireless began its mysterious workings and we finally found Willie, the man we were looking for.
We won't bore you with the details of the inter-clan/village rivalries but, in the end, eight boatloads of yachties and a few other tourists (including Peace Corps and Oceanswatch volunteers) enjoyed two and a half days of visiting the friendly islanders, dancing, culture, crafts, food and kava drinking and everyone seemed thrilled, including the clans of small nambas. Philip was welcomed as a "hala" or brother into one clan's nakamal and was asked to consult on plans for next year. He immediately requested donated land to build his thatch hut, a second wife to do the cooking and cleaning and 10 sticks of tobacco. His request was politely but firmly refused.
We promise to write of these mystical and symbolic festivals in our next passage note and hope to have photos posted this week.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake