Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas in Palau

As you might have guessed from the title, we did make it to Palau yesterday, 24 December in the morning, yeah, it was a happy xmas on Sophia after all :-) 9 days in total for 830 miles, although in reality we did sail quite a bit longer than that. Phew, I'd say has probably been our worst (rough and rolly wise) passage, although a close second to the previous one from Kavieng to Hermit Islands, but at least that one was shorter.

We called up the harbour on the vhf to announce our arrival and request permission to tie up to the main dock, which we had read is what's expected of yachts arriving. The person that replied was sooooo hard to understand, basically impossible. The only thing I kept picking up was something yacht club. We though they wanted us to go to the yacht club instead, which we were really keen to do as well, because there it was blowing pretty hard right onto the wharf and we weren't keen on Sophia banging up against that. But it finally became clear that we did have to go onto the dock. Luckily it wasn't too bad, but one person did have to stand and help the fenders. It was quite uncomplicated checking in and after an hour or so we could motor over to the yacht club anchorage area around the corner.

There are maybe 15-20 yachts here already, the far the majority American. They are allowed to stay here as long as they like, whereas all other nationalities only get 30 days, extendable up to 3 months. As it's supposed to be clear-ish from typhoons (although far from guaranteed) some (Americans) stay for a while and also leave their boat here. They were super friendly though and several came to say hello and introduce themselves. Everyone had also heard our exchange on the radio and no one else had understood what they were saying, so it wasn't just me. We were told that there are two Danish boats here, but they are out cruising at the moment, but I really hope they come back here so I can meet them. They would be the first Danish boats we have met.

We had already been invited for Christmas dinner (24th) onboard Jenny, a Norwegian boat we met way back in Malekula in Vanuatu and had stayed in touch with via email. They had also invited the only other European boat (besides one UK one), a German/Russian couple, so it was a very international Christmas. It was a traditional Norwegian xmas dinner, which is surprisingly different from a typical Danish one. Lamb (supposed to be racks, but was a leg) was cooked for a long time and very salty with a root vegetable mash and melted butter. We also had a roast pork, potatoes and gravy. Phil was in heaven :-) I had made ris a'lamande, slightly 'funny' because the whipped cream does not behave well in +30 degrees, but it was liked nonetheless, the Norwegians also sometimes have that for xmas dessert. Today we're invited to the German/Russian boat (we don't even know the boat name yet, but they are called Andreas and Ana) for more traditional Christmas food, so that should be interesting.

Palau is a country on its own, but has some ties to US (can't remember exactly what it's called), so we were looking forward to checking out the supermarkets here. We didn't go into town (45 min walk away) but just went to a small mini mart and oh my gosh, it was amazing! Lots and lots of choices (mostly American and some Asian) and prices werent' bad at all, we even found it pretty cheap! Definitely the best we have seen since Port Vila. We're really looking forward to checking out some of the big supermarkets!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Day 7, passage from PNG to Palau and squalls

We're almost into day 8 on our passage and we're just really looking forward to ending it. The last two days have been quite windy, gray and very squally, of course mostly at night. We have had several squalls that have brought along 30-35 knots of wind when it's worst, sometimes lasting up to two hours. We're going for headsail only and often it's partly furled. We have had mostly 1 knot or even more of current against us, but luckily it's now down to about half a knot against us. All this wind and squalls (and worse weather north of us, exactly where the wind comes from) means a big seas and us bouncing around.

But, it does look like we'll make it to Palau on the 24th, fingers crossed, touch wood! Very typically, when I wrote the six months anniversary blog, I actually knew that our main auto pilot ram was playing up and needed work. Unfortunately this time Phil wasn't able to fix it and we're going to need a new one when we get to Palau. We're now using an old ram that still works, but it has already done a lot of miles and it's making some noises too. More fingers crossed it will hold up for this last bit as we wouldn't like to have to hand steer the whole time.

We played some Christmas music today to try and bring some holiday spirits to Sophia in the middle of this massive blue ocean. I'm also hoping I'll be able to do some xmas sweets and baking tomorrow, but it all depends on the state of the sea.

Position: 5, 44, 66 N and 136, 42, 15, E
Miles to go: 162
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Friday, 21 December 2012

Six months anniversary musings

Today is our six months anniversary since we left New Zealand (Gisborne). Funny that it's also so close (four days!) to us crossing the equator. It's been a great half year and we're most certainly loving this cruising life style. Longer passages is not our favourite thing, but they are far from the norm.

- We have visited four countries (Tonga, Vanuatu, Solomon Island and Papua New Guinea) and sailed just over 6000 miles (since Christchurch, which adds three weeks to the half year).
- A quick rough count shows we have spent about 48 nights at sea (and still counting) which is actually surprising, but a bunch of them are just single night passages, often when a day passage is too long.
- Far the majority of our nights are spent at anchorage, and on average we spend 2-3 nights at each place.
- We have only caught maybe 10 fish in total, nowhere near as many as we would have liked (eg compared to Stewart Island). Solomon Islands probably had the most strikes, though only 2-3 caught there, but we lost quite a few lures from something big taking it, and sometimes the fish just jumps off the hook before we can reel it it.

Stuff broken:
Overall we have been lucky and nothing important has broken, but f course we also did do a lot of work before leaving and almost all gear is newly installed on Sophia, although a fair amount is secondhand. Generally speaking stuff simply breaks at sea, it's just a really tough environment.
- auto pilot rams. To be expected, especially considering they are the ones that have steered 99% of the 6000 miles! However, they are not waterproof (contrary to what you'd expect), so Phil quite often has to take them apart and clean and re-grease them. Luckily he has become very apt at fixing them!
- the nexus wind speedo suddenly stopped transmitting in Solomon Islands. This also explains why we have been guestimating wind speeds since then... It's one of those things that aren't necessary at all, but merely a nice to have and it also took a lot of consideration whether to get one or not before leaving.
- the toilet lid has cracked off! Because it's a lavac, it works creating a vacuum and so the lid is necessary. It's now taped on with duct tape and kind of does the job, but it's it's annoying and another crack also means it isn't flushing as efficient as it's supposed to. Hopefully a new lid (and seat) are waiting for us in Palau.
- one of the (front) hatch friction hinges has cracked off. Thankfully the hatch still closes and opens just fine, it just means the hatch can't hold itself open, so a wooden spoon now has that job.

So, not bad at all, and nothing that stops us cruising, maybe besides the auto pilot, but we have one and a half spare ram and touch wood, Phil has always managed to fix them so far. Thankfully the engine (original) is still working just fine, touch wood again, but Phil is also pretty religious about maintenance and always remembers fuel additive. Naturally we have gone through several filters and oil changes, and we have changed the alternator belt and my parent brought along a new exhaust elbow to us in Solomon Islands as the old one was getting very worn.

Highlights have been:
- whales in Ha'apai, Tonga
- Yasur volcano in Tanna, Vanuatu
- manta rays in Hermit Islands, PNG
- all the many amazing and special village visits (boils down to friendly people) in all of Melanesia (Vanuatu, Solomon and PNG)

What we miss the most (besides friends and family, naturally):
- unlimited fresh water (and especially showers, especially for Phil)
- food (I miss well stocked supermarkets and Phil misses fast (junk) food). Tropical fruit is a pretty good consolation, but the supply and variety isn't as good as you'd expect and it spoils very easily
- cold. OK, we don't miss NZ or Danish weather at all, but since north Vanuatu we have been very HOT. During the day the temperature can easily be 35 degrees both outside and inside, and we're lucky if it climbs below 30 at night in the cabin. Add a general high humidity to that and it means a lot of sweat. We LOVE our fans and wouldn't survive without them! I especially miss being able to cuddle up under a duvet, or even just a sheet for that matter. But, we're not complaining, overall the heat is great.

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Day 6, passage from PNG to Palau and a mystery at sea

We're on day six now and there are three days to Christmas and it's still within reach to make it to Palau in time. Two days ago the weather file we downloaded indicated that a tropical storm/potential typhoon was forming NE of us and heading just north of Palau, so we have mostly been heading west (as opposed to NW which is the direction of Palau), so we could quickly head south if things were starting to look dicey. We also got Helen (Sala) to keep an eye on the weather (Guam is especially good for typhoon monitoring) for us, thanks for that! Thankfully it doesn't look as bad anymore and we are again heading NW.

Weatherwise it has also been up-hill, as we have had about 1 knot of current against us the last two days. This slowed us down considerable especially on day 4, but then suddenly (of course at night just after the moon had gone down so it was hard to see much) what initially seemed like a squall was just lots of strong wind coming (30 knots), but with a squally front also containing rain. Luckily it's on our starboard rear quarter, so no where near as bad as beating into it, but with it the sea has been very rough and consequently we're rolling around a lot. It has eased town to sometimes maybe 20 knots, but often more. At this point we're pretty keen to arrive at Palau and just get this passage over and done with.

The other day we spotted what initially looked like a ship. We're close to a shipping route from Chine or Japan to Australia/NZ, not sure, but anyway, it means we fairly often pass ships, or to be exact, they pass us. They always come up on the AIS before we actually spot them visually, so it was unusual to first spot the ship. As we got a bit closer, it was clear it wasn't a bit ship. Was it a fishing boat or something then? It did seem very square and strange. With binoculars and the zoom on the camera, we both realised at the same time it was a house! We weren't too far away from it and could make it on the tack, so we turned towards it. As we came closer we could see it indeed was like a raft with a small house built on it and it was actually fairly well made and sturdy. Lots and lots of birds were using it as a resting place. Very strange experience for sure. We're very happy we spotted it during the day, as it certainly wouldn't be nice to hit it at full speed at night time, obviously there were no lights on it.

Speaking of birds, this night we had two birds come rest on Sophia. We tried chasing them away, but they kept coming back. It took them a while to realise the swinging boom (we're going for head sail only) wasn't the best place to sit and rest, it was real funny to see how they were struggling to hang on.

Position: 4, 09, 58 N and 138, 46, 27 E
Miles to go: 318

PS: Last post, day 4, was a little unfinished, I had written it on my watch and Phil sent it while I was sleeping without my usual last check-over.
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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Passage from PNG to Palau, day 4

It's now four days since we left Hermit Island and we're making good progress. After heading north (and slightly east) the first two days, we finally started heading NW, actually towards Palau and it was nice to see the miles to Palau start diminish.

The wind is still on the foreward quarter or beam on, but that means good speed, sometimes, with 1/2 - 1 knot of current with us, up to 7+ knots. This is only possible as long as the wind doesn't go too strong, maybe over 15 knots or so, because then the sea builds too big and slows us down.

Day three was pretty light, we could still have sailed, but only at 1.5-3 knots, so we choose to burn some diesel and make way to Palau We were motoring for 6-7 hours before the wind came back. Normally it wouldn't have bothered us, but xmas in Palau seems pretty nice and still within reach. We would also have to pay overtime if we arrive on a holiday.

Position: 3,42,06N 141,27,15E
Miles so far and to go 474

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Monday, 17 December 2012

Sophia across equator and now in the Northern hemisphere

We crossed equator at about 9am yesterday morning, a day after leaving Hermit Island. It was fun to watch the GPS count down and go all zeros and it's interesting that we're now in the northern hemisphere, but other than that, it was quite uneventful. At the time we had the company of another boobie (or some kind of a bird) on the solar panel and we got a celebration photo of all three of us, but then we had to shoe him away, as he was shading for the solar panel. We celebrated with freshly squeezed juice of Hermit Island oranges, banana cake and yet more delicious fresh pineapple. Yeah, I know, we're such party people :-)

So far, finger crossed, touch wood, it has been a pretty pleasant passage. We started with about 15 knots of wind, now we're down to 10 or less knots, but because we're closed hauled, we're still making pretty good speeds. The only problem is the wind is directly from the direction of Palau, so we have been sailing NNE (Palau is NW), but hopefully we'll reach the NE tradewinds in a day or two. We don't regret any bit going to Hermit Islands and having all that headwind, as the visit and experiences were more than worth the effort. We haven't had any doldrums or squalls of any significance either, which is surprising, but great. Just lots of stars and some of them shooting.

Palau is still 718 miles away, we have only gained 100 miles towards it the last two days, even though we have sailed about 200 knots since Hermit Island. There is a chance we'll be spending Christmas at sea, but that's OK, we're very far from in xmas mood, when it's 30+ degrees and all blue ocean around us. We did see a few Christmas decorations in the supermarkets in Kavieng, but that's the limit of our xmas exposure so far!

Position: 1° 15' 91 N and 144° 44' 68 E
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Saturday, 15 December 2012

Snorkelling with Manta Rays at Hermit Islands

WOW, Manta Rays are super duper cool animals. This was definitely an experience on par with whales in Tonga and the volcano in Vanuatu. They are very majestic and apparently very intelligent too.

These islands are the kings of pineapple growers! There are tons of them and they are deliciously sweet. We have eaten at least one a day and we still got 4-5 more that will need eating within the next few days. We also traded for eggs, kumera, pumpkin, beans, lemons, limes, oranges, mangoes, guava and of course bananas.

We had read another cruiser's account of the islands when they visited in 2007 and back then they did have some Taiwanese fishing boats here (it's not their mooring we're on, but one the village has put down for yachts). Apparently they cheated them and used cynoid (?, poison), so luckily they sent them away. They have also for years been making money on sea cucumbers, but the government has put a ban on that now (probably to let the population recover). The islands are too far away from anywhere else to make any other trade viable, fuel is simply too expensive. This all means that there's no way to make money and they are therefore very keen to trade with us. We got the impression that they they have been used to having money and being able to buy stuff, but haven't actually saved much up. Many people have solar panels, batteries and there are some generators in the village also. They also have 40 hp outboards that they use to go to Manus and the mainland, a 6-12 hour trip using 400 liters of fuel. Vanuatu is so poor that canoes are the only mode of transport and most people have no power at all, if lucky maybe a solar panel, but batteries are expensive, so often they weren't hooked up. Solomon was a little bit in between. Most amazing though is that almost everyone in all three countries has a cell phone, even when there's no reception where they live, they still have one for when they travel to where there is! We have also several times been asked to charge a cell phone for someone.

Trading-wise, sugar, like at Nissan Island, was the most sought after item! Lucky for them this is the last place where we can trade, as we don't anticipate much of that in Asia, and if there is some, it's easy to buy new things in the bigger towns. We has a fair bit of clothes, rice and various other items left, so we were quite generous with our trading.

Back to the Manta Rays. There's a passage between the two biggest islands where there's usually always Manta Rays, sometimes even hundreds! Bob, the village councilor who doubles at the tour guide took us there and we anchored Sophia nearby for the night so we were ready early next morning for the low tide. Unfortunately the visibility wasn't the best (May to August are the best Bob told us) but it was still maybe 10 meters or so. At first we didn't see any and had almost given up, although it has still been a pretty good snorkel where we had also seen several turtles and some huge giant clams. But suddenly we spotted one Manta, and then there were several They are really beautiful, most were black on top and white on the belly, but one was all black with only a small white spot on the belly. The biggest one would have been 3-4 meters wing span. I got some OK photos, but unfortunately the battery went flat quite early on, big time bummer, as I could have gotten some really cool ones because they didn't swim away from us, but mostly stayed in one spot and we could even swim down to them and be within touch distance! At one point there were three Mantas and one turtle and various fish and remoras (sucker fish) in one frame, would have been such a awesome photo!

We have only been here three days, but we have already made some really good friends. Hermit Islands despite its isolated location gets a surprising amount of yachts visiting each year, and actually throughout the year as it's on the passage both to and from Asia (both via Indonesia and Philippines). The visitor book was full of praise and many people declare it a favorite, but we actually hadn't read or heard much about it beforehand, so it seems a bit of a well kept secret, or otherwise we don't mingle enough in the cruising circles. All the people we met were super friendly and really keen to chat with us. Last night we were invited ashore for a farewell meal and lots of people came along to see and chat with us. The cookies I had made and the small photo prints I can make were a huge hit.

So, the islands are very paradisaical and visitors tell the locals how lucky they are to live here. However, if you're stuck in paradise it may not seem like it. People live off the land and the sea, but they still need clothes and some foods they can't grow themselves. Then there are all the other nice things you can buy like cell phone, boom-box (music player), TV and the list goes on and on. Plus school past primary cost money, as well as hospital and dentist. It's very hard to move on and there aren't many jobs around either and even less on this small island.

If the weather we are about to download looks OK, we are leaving for Palau now. It's a bit over 800 miles and xmas is in 10 days so we are in a bit of a hurry!
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Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Finally at Hermit Islands

Phew, we made it! It was a really tough passage where we were constantly beating into the wind and even tacking, making it extra slow, as we have to cover a lot more ground and it's frustrating to look at the chart and see our zig zag course. What we had expected to be a 3 1/2 day passage took us five full days. We haven't yet calculated how many miles we actually covered over the ground, but it sure was a lot more than a straight line. We did actually arrive here maybe midnight last night, but spent the rest of the night heaving-to. We went through the eastern entrance this morning and did have mostly sun, but typically a super vicious squall came through exactly at that time and brought winds 30+ knots, but thankfully no torrential rain and the reef and islands were sheltering for the sea and we just motored right through. There were also several markers, so it wasn't difficult.

After the last post where we were NE of Admiralty Islands, the wind didn't die down at night, on the contrary, we actually had quite strong winds for the remainder of the passage, most of the time 20-25 knots, a few times easing to 15 knots. When we were planning our trip through PNG and to Palau, we had hoped to make it to Hermit Islands, but we also agreed that if it was all headwinds and tough going, we would just go directly to Palau. It's a good question why we then just didn't do that. I guess we were quite keen to get here, as it's supposed to be really great. We also weren't very prepared for a long passage, as it we hadn't done any cooking beforehand, and it quickly gets old eating canned spaghetti and baked beans.

Anyway, we made it now and we are very happy to be here to get a rest, see these beautiful islands and get ready for the next leg to Palau. Check it our on Google Earth, it might recognise Hermit Islands, otherwise, 01°30'56.3"S and 145°05'6.40"E should get you there. It's actually an atoll and there is an almost circular reef around a couple of islands in the middle. We're anchored just south of the village where it's very protected from the weather. It's quite deep, but luckily a boat came out and told us which mooring we could use. Apparently they have sold fishing rights to some Taiwanese fishing boats, and we guess it's their moorings, but none are here now, so that's nice.

Beside having a non-moving and quiet boat, the best part was jumping in the water! Because our bodies haven't been near any water since Kavieng, but also because we're right on top of coral and lots of fish. When I was snorkeling on the mooring I even saw a turtle. Hopefully a sign that we'll have a few nice day here.

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Sunday, 9 December 2012

Upwind passage

We left Kavieng almost 2 1/2 days ago and we are currently just north of Admiralty Islands (Manus) which is a bit over halfway to Hermit Islands (200 miles done so far, 150 to go still). We're making slow progress as the wind has mostly been on our nose and it usually dies at night. The first night we at least had about 2 knots of current with us, so we were still moving along, but last night there was none, and we were literally bobbing around. At times we almost welcomed the frequent squalls, as they usually bring along wind, although we never know from which direction or how much. We're also quite happy to at least have wind during the day and don't mind beating into it and luckily Sophia is also quite capable of it. We are hoping to stay a few days at Hermit Islands and maybe also Ninigo Islands before heading north to Palau, so we have to make sure we have enough diesel until then, hence why we don't just motor through the lulls.

Last night a bit before sunset a bird (maybe booby, not sure) came to rest on Sophia, at first on the solar panel, but a little later it moved into the comfort of the cockpit, although still in a corner furthest away from the hatch. After much grooming of its feathers, it stuck its head into one wing and slept all night. It took off a little after sun rise. It was fun and interesting to watch, but it was also quite a smelly visitor, though thankfully the rain had washed away most the mess it made.

Kavieng was a pleasant stop and we stayed four days. The best part was the water was quite clean and inviting (and no crocs!) so cooling off was great. Usually when anchored near a town the water is too dirty for our liking. Close to the anchorage was also an interesting Second World war plane wreck that we could snorkel. It's situated at 7 meters and is quite complete still and had good reef and fish life around it.

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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Our route

It is now half a year ago we left Christchurch, and we're about to cross into a new hemisphere and continent, so I figured this would be a good time to write about our past and future route.

We left Christchurch at the end of May 2012 and sailed up to Gisborne via Wellington. We waited patiently in Gisborne for three weeks to get a good weather window for the passage to Tonga. We finally left Gisborne on 21 June and arrived at Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga 11 days later.

We spent six weeks cruising the Vava'u group and Ha'apai and it was a great introduction into the cruising life as everything is very close by and it's pretty ideal cruising grounds which is also evident by the many yachts present. Towards the end of August we did a seven day passage to Vanuatu, bypassing Fiji on the way. We spent another six weeks in Vanuatu slowly making our way north. A short two day passage later we were in Solomon Islands where we spent about five weeks before heading further north to Papua New Guinea where we are now in early December.

We're hoping to spend Christmas in Palau, so we will soon make our way first west, then north, all depending on the weather. On this passage we're going to cross the equator, so that's quite exciting.

From Palau we'll sail to Philippines probably in January. We think we'll spend a few months (supposedly the safe-ish season from typhoons) in Phillipines before we're heading towards the north coast of Borneo and we'll hop along Malaysia towards Singapore and eventually Thailand. Our plans are very loose and subject to change, but this is the rough plan anyway. We are pretty much at loss as to what we'll do after that, but I'm sure we'll find out as we go.

Before leaving New Zealand we had only really committed to visiting Tonga and Vanuatu and weren't really sure where we were going after that, although we did think we would head towards Asia. It's really mostly thanks to yacht Carillon that we got onto the PNG-Palau-Phillipines route which happend to suit us the best, both route and time wise. It's always a bit of a puzzle to match a desited route with the different sailing seasons.

October and November's cruising expenses

I missed October's months budget because of my parent's visit, first of all because they were here during the end of October and the beginning of November, and also because their visit kind of screwed up those two months' budgets. We were recording costs before and after their visit, but we totally stopped while they were with us as we were spending a lot more money than we would if we were alone, particularly on alcohol and eating out, but also somewhat on groceries. Another reason is they kindly paid for all those extra expenses.

Anyway, here is both October and November's cruising expenses. It's not 100% accurate, but I still think it's a pretty reasonable reality of what we spent, if we had just been the two of us alone. Overall the countries have been pretty cheap for cruising, although food (besides fruit, veggies and a few staples) is still more expensive than NZ, but then it's also quite limited what you can buy in the first place. Solomon Islands is quite expensive for clearing in and out of though. Interesting is also we haven't spent anything on mooring fees (haven't been any) or water (we have almost exclusively caught it all with our rain catchers). Drinks out has pretty much merged into eating out, I may delete it next month if we don't start going out drinking a lot. It's also mostly a night activity and we have spent pretty much all nights on Sophia for security reasons.

More interesting village visits

We left the extremely secure anchorage of Cigaregare and moved just around the corner to Teripax village. It wasn't as good an anchorage (a bit rolly), but visiting the friendly village more than made up for it. We spent a fair bit of both Saturday and Sunday hanging out with the locals, meaning mostly kids. They don't get many cruising boats visiting, as most stay in Cigaregare anchorage, which is only half an hour walk through the bush though. We did the walk while in Cigaregare with a couple of young men as our guides. The best part of that was submerging ourselves in the creek, only just deep enough for it. It was quite elevated, so no crocs up there.

Anyway, the kids in Teripax were great. Only kids under 8 or so were present, all the older ones stay most of the time in a neighbouring village (a canoe ride away) where they go to school. We brought in baloons the first day, always a big hit. They like getting their photo taken, but they love looking at the camera afterwards. This means they have quite serious faces for the pictures I take, and then I get all the smiles and laughts when they see the pictures! I brought in my old camera, so I was comfortable handing it over to the kids. This produced some quite interesting photos, they definitley relax more that way and also make some more daring poses, for example one guy though it was fun to stick his blood red (betel nut) toungue out in all the pictures! For some reason they also love making hand signs for the camera. Check out facebook for pictures.

Some of the very little kids were not used to white people and started crying if we got too close. The slightly older kids were very facinated by us though. I'd often find myself being stared at by half a dozen little ones. The women were also very curious and at one point started enquiring about my hair. When I released it from the bun they were uhm-ing and ahh-ing and carefully touched it and declared it was very beautiful. To that I could only say thanks, but I love curls :-)

Sunday we brought in our laptop to show a movie for the kids. We had been shown through the village and the men/boys only house was shown to us. We also saw these (from outside) in Nissan Atoll, no women or girls are allowed, only boys. However, for some reason, it was suddenly OK to use it for showing the movie, I was worried none of the girls would go in, but everyone seemed happy to go there. Strange. Anyway, watching a movie is definitely a rare treat, if not even a first for many kids, but it was a little hard to keep concentration naturally as they don't understand English that well or at all, plus it's a quite small screen in a big room.

Later on the women were practising their custom dance and singing, which was interesting to watch. They do the when they have special celebrations and feasts. Buka, Nissan Atoll and also the people we met on Tabar are all been catholic, so there are a ton of kids around and some very young mothers.

Chewing betel nut is done by everyone, including breastfeasting mums and I'm sure preagnant ones too, though we never see them, it's something about preagnant women being taboo or something like that. Even little kids are allowed to chew it. Mark, the resort owner on Lihir Island told us that one ingrediants in betel nut is used commercially as a sedative for horses! The gold mine has a strict no betel nut policy for all their workers during work time.

After an over-night passage, we're now in Kavieng, which is a provincial capital. We're anchored across from town by a small island where there's a resort for surfers mostly. It's a pretty long dinghy ride, but our good steady little dinghy did make it. The town is very typical with a bunch of small shops all selling pretty much the sime kind of Chinese cheap junk and a bit of food. It wasn't until the 7th shop we found ice cream, phew.

We are going to spend a few days here getting ourselves organised before leaving. There tropical low/typhoon we eluded to ealier on did indeed turn out to be a typhoon, for a while it was even a super typhoon. It hit Palau a day or two ago with some damage, but no loss of life and now it's on it's way to Philippines. It's the first typhoon to hit Palau in over 20 years, so we keep our fingers crossed it won't happen again while we're there. The 'scary' part is that it's out of season and the typhoon's path was irregular, I'm sure all signs of global warming!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Wild west gold mine visit

Lihir Island was a great stop. We stayed at Latakot Bay where there's a resort of the same name. It's basically a hotel that serves the big gold mine half an hour away. It's also an excellent and very secure anchorage, the best on the island. The expat Aussie owner, Mark, even has his own yacht parked up in the bay. As much as we like visiting remote islands and villages, sometimes it's nice to be able to just hang out on Sophia without a constant steam of visitors/audience. Not to forget the extravagance of rowing ashore and ordering a pizza as opposed to heating up Sophia even more with our cooking...

Every day a car from the resort drives to town and we caught a ride with it (of course at a price). The great thing about the drive is that it goes right through the open pit gold mine). Neither of us have ever seen a gold mine, or any mine for that matter, so it was quite interesting. It's a HUGE operation and it sure leaves a big open scar in the landscape. Apparently the whole island is very gold rich (mostly just dust though) and there are a lot of negotiations etc going on with various land owners and also some environmental considerations. The ground has a lot of thermal acticity too, and we did see steam venting up from many places around the mine, so they do used it to create geothermal energy to power the processing plant, but there was also a floating gen-set ship in the bay. Mark, the resort owner, did say it was pretty sad to see how so much wealth went out of the island (and the country). PNG is very resource rich, but it's going to take a lot of careful management to use it to the country's best interests.

The main town is a bit further past the mine and as this serves the many thousands of workers at the mine, including a good bunch of foreigners (aparently both Aussie and Asian workers), the supermarkets had an excellent selection and prices were even OK-ish too. There were a lot of local people hanging about the place, I'm sure many hoping to find a job, but the place did seem to have the feel that it has just pooped up very quickly, probably not unlike the wild west's mining towns back in the day.

We have now sailed to the neighbouring Tabar Islands and are anchored in Cigaregare Harbour, a very protected bay off the passage between the two biggest islands. There's no village here, just a few people that are looking after a Chinese owned plantation. But, unfortunately there are crocs around here, so no swimming, which is a real shame, as it's super hot! We are now also only 2 degrees south of equator, so it shouldn't be a surprise. It's very pretty though with lush green jungle around us and lots of bird singing.

Last night a banana boat came into the bay to get some fuel off the people that live here and they stopped by to say hi. They are from a village just around the corner on the west coast, Teripax, and invited us to come stay here. We had already considered that as Mary, the Swedish boat we briefly met in Stewart Islands back in February was here some months ago and wrote up a report to Noonsite on Tabar Islands and that particular village and proclaimed it one of their favourite places, so we'll probably go there this afternoon after we have done some laundry in the river while minding the crocs.

We were on the internet at Lakakot Bay, so there are new imagines from both Solomon and PNG on facebook now.

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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Sailing up the island chain

The night before we were planning to leave Nissan Atoll another yacht arrived! Imagine our own, but also the locals' surprise. That will only be the 5th yacht visiting this year. Even better was that it was another young couple! Cruisers our age are a bit of a minority and have only briefly met one or two young people yachts since Tonga (we miss Sala!), so this was great. Shawn and Holly on Oh la la are from Moloulabar and only left Cains a few weeks ago but the even better thing is they are heading the same way as us, although we might not see them before again before Palau! We ended up staying another day, mainly so we could catch up with them.

We also finally went for a snorkel in the entrance to the atoll. The entrance itself wasn't very interesting, but right outside on the very edge, the reef drops from maybe 7 meters to really deep (deeper than our dept sounder) and on that edge we saw several sharks, some of fairly decent size and they were pretty curious. At this point we were back in the dinghy, because the out-going tide kept sweeping us out to sea, so we were doing the head-snorkeling thing from the dinghy. Suddenly we also realised we were surrounded by a big pod of dolphins. It was hard to pick whether look over the water and see them do full body jumps/spins out of the water, or look underwater where we could also spot them swim underneath the dinghy. Pretty amazing.

After a final goodbye visit to the village we left at dawn the next morning. We had hoped to only do a day sail to the next island in the row, Feni Island, but unfortunately the wind picked up and we had 25 knots SW, which meant big swells wrapping right around the island and it was also overcast so we couldn't see the reef and on approach it suddenly went from 30-40 knots to 12 and without any change in water colour, furthermore the chart was without any detail, so we bailed out and left the island and a good night's sleep. It was a real shame, as it looks like a really pretty spot, several beaches and a tall jungle covered island.

That meant the next island group, Tanga Islands, was also out of the questions. We have now sailed 27 hours since Nissan Atoll and we're almost by Lihir Island, where there's a gold mine and therefore more resources and people, so should be an interesting visit. Our weather seem to be affected by a typhoon forming up in Micronesia. On our grib file it looks like the winds is kind of being sucked towards it, but in real life we seem to have changing wind directions and wind speeds and a fair bit of swell.

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Saturday, 24 November 2012

Our first atoll and mahi mahi

We left Buka later in the afternoon after our morning arrival. A ton of big dinghies with big outboards were zipping across the harbour constantly and most of them wanted to get as close to us as possible to check us out. Their wake combined with the current made the anchorage quite unsettled and with a big population like that, raskols (PNG name for criminals/bandits) would be a possibility, so that's why we left. We had three knots of current with us as we left, so we did get the times fairly right after all.

It was a little tough being on our forth night at sea, especially because we were close hauled all the time, at times with 20-25 knots of wind, but at least we were sailing, not motoring, and we could almost hold the course, so we didn't have to tack much. We arrived at Nissan Atoll (also called Green Island) at 8am in the morning and went through the pass without any problems, it was quite obvious where the passage was and the water was super clear and beautiful. It's our first atoll on this trip, so that was quite exciting. It's quite different from the Maldive atolls that are the only ones I know, as there isn't much beach and some of the island is quite raised. It's very densely wooded, we well as fairly densely populated. We read that 3000 people live here, but the local chief said 1700. We're anchored just inside the passage to the south in 3-4 meters of water, but with quite poor holding in coral and hard sand.

We had barely gotten our anchor down before the first dugouts arrived. One funny thing is the canoes now again have outriggers here in PNG, same as in Vanuatu, but different from the single hulls in Solomon Islands! The locals were very keen to trade with us, and we got yummy passionfruit, a local orange/mandarin fruit, paw paws, pineapple, eggs, bananas, starfruit, kumera, eggplant and lots more I can't remember. So despite the soil being fairly poor and sandy with lots of coral rock, it still is quite fertile! Sugar was especially popular to trade, but we also traded second hand clothes, fish hooks, line, pencils, lollies and salt. The only income possibility they have is copra and cocoa, but at the moment they aren't selling any, because the price is only 20% of normal prices. It's a 2-3 hour trip to Buka for them with their fast outboards, but it's very expensive in fuel, and hardly justify the cost of selling their produce at the market there.

Later when we visited the village and met the chief we learned we're only the 4th yacht this year. Some years they have had many more though, when the visitor book started in 2002 maybe 30 boats visited! There are a ton of kids and young people in the village and everyone are super friendly. It does get a bit tiring being constantly surrounded by canoes all day long (starting at 6.30 in the morning!), but on the other hand, it's also quite understandable, as we're the biggest and best entertainment they have had in a long time. Plus of course the trading possibility. After the first day we had to stop trading though, as we already had more fruit and veggies than we can eat!

Today we spent most of the day ashore being guided around by 16 year old boys. They took us to the school which is about 30 minutes walk away. It was Saturday, so no teaching, but it was still very interesting to see anyway and we spent a while looking at maps, books and stories written by the kids that hang on the wall. Some younger boys that were also following us climbed up really high in a tree to fetch us a local fruit that looks a bit like a green mango, but is more like an apple in texture and taste.

One big thing I forgot to mention in the last post was the Mahi mahi we caught on the passage to Buka! It's our first mahi mahi and it was so beautiful and golden that it was really sad to kill it and watch all the colour disappear. But it was really yummy!

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Thursday, 22 November 2012

Arrived in Papua New Guinea

We're now in Buka in Papua New Guinea. It took us three nights and two days to get here, but all the time in sight of land. The Shortland Islands are only a few miles south of Bouganville (PNG), so in theory you could just day hop, but there's no customs in neither Shortland Islands nor in south Bourganville, so it's stiil a small passage to change country. I also got it mixed up in my last post, we stopped by Sagharaughombe and Liapari Islands before going to Noro to clear out of the country, as of course we wouldn't do illegal stops after clearing out of a country.

The passage was typical of the weather we have had in Solomon Islands, pretty light, but a bit of everything and lots and lots of lightening, thankfully all in the horizon, not near us. The wind was mostly on the forward quarter, which is great when it's very light, as we can actually move at a good speed, and it's not uncomfortable either. It's a fine balance though, and when the wind picks up, it's not so fun beating into it. We had 1/2 - 1 knot of current with us the first 24 hours, but halfway up the coast of Bounganville, it changed to being against us. The last night we were tacking into the wind and being pushed by the current away from Buka, very frustrating, but we managed to get there, even after some hours of heaving to.

Buka passage can easily have 5-6 knots of current, so trying to time our arrival was important, but difficult, because we couldn't find any time table. OpenCPN did have one, and Phil estimated that morning arrival was OK, which was also what we'd prefer, so that we didn't have to stay the night, but could leave again the same afternoon. We ended up having about 1 knot of current against us, which was totally fine, but not what we expected. We just passed the passage again coming back from town (in a local boat) and it sure looked like there was a lot more current then, so it will be interesting when we leave a little later on.

So far people here are just as friendly as in Solomon Islands and people are actually slightly better dressed and many have backpacks etc, but then it's quite a big place also, much bigger than Gizo for example. Bouganville has quite a tumultuous history with civil war and mining problems (the two being related), but there's peace now and in 2020 there's an election to decide if Bouganville should be independent. All the land is owned by private people, nothing by the government, so somebody owns the land where the gold and copper mines are, and there are now ongoing negotiations about the rights to the land. So much potential in this land, but who is going to benefit is the million dollar question.

Like in Vanuatu and Solomons Islands, men must pay the father of the bride a pride price. This is very old customs and today speaking with one of the friendly locals (John) from the boat we caught a ride on, I suddenly realised why that is. I already knew that usually the wife goes to where the husband comes from. The parents are therefore paid a sort of compensation for loosing their daughter. Yeah, I know I'm slow. These days it's mostly paid in cash, but there's also some traditional trading/goods involved. A typical bride price around here is 4-5000 kina (1 kina equals approximately 0.66 NZ$), so it's quite a lot of money a man has got to save up to buy a bride, but he'll often also get help from his parents. According to John it's much more expensive in Port Morseby though, there it's more like 50-60,000 kina, though that does sound super super dear!

We're now going to make our way north on the outside of New Ireland stopping at some of the small islands on our way to Kavieng, the next big port. Unfortunately we have a lot of miles to cover, almost 1000 miles, to get to Vanimo by the north coast of Guinea just before the border to Indonesia. From there we're going to hop north over equator to Palau, where we hope to spend Christmas, so we gotta get a move on and can't spend too much time exploring this big and interesting country. We're still in the transition period between the SE trades and NW monsoon, and hopefully we can make it (a lot of motoring is guaranteed) before we get too much headwind, but we'll have to wait and see.

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Monday, 19 November 2012

Off to PNG and goodbye to Solomon

My parents left almost a week ago and we have now gotten used to having all the space to ourselves again and are over the 'empty boat' feeling. Overall it was a successful visit and enjoyed by all. The biggest problem for my parents was definitely the heat! Solomon Islands are very hot and humid, but at least Phil and I have been eased into slowly over time. We think it was very adventurous of them to come to Solomon Islands and stay on Sophia for 2 1/2 week.

We spent a few days in Gizo on the internet and stocking up Sophia again. And one day scuba diving! It's been five year since I last dived, but to me it's just like bicycling, where my body remembers the movements and feeling (and with that comes all the happy memories of past dives). Phil came along to snorkel, but we have snorkeled so many great places off Sophia, that it wasn't really that special for him. First dive was on Tua Maru, a Japanese 140 m long passenger/cargo ship, sunk during World War II by American bombers. It's definitely not the best wreck I have dived, but it was pretty OK.

Lunch was on the tiny deserted island which again would have been more fun if we aren't used to pretty little islands plus halfway through it started pouring down with rain and we had to sit in the sea to be warm-ish. Definitely the coldest we have been since NZ! Next dive was just off the islands (the site called Grand Central Station). It was on the wall of a reef and we saw some OK things, but like the wreck, it wasn't a super dive, just fairly average. The rain also wasn't doing the visibility any favours either. We saw a turtle, a shark, a lionfish,lots of clown fish and the usual reef life.

We had hoped to be able to clear out of Gizo and one boat which had stayed 6 weeks in Gizo confirmed we could clear out, lots of boats had done it, the only tricky thing was the immigration guy had broken his leg so we'd have to find his house which was over the hill somewhere. But it turned out the customs guy has just left Gizo and gone back to Noro and he wasn't coming back until sometime in December, so we had to bite the bullet and go back to Noro. It was OK though, we left early in the morning and arrived just after lunch and managed to clear out very easily, we spent our last Solomon money and still had time to sail to another anchorage, as Noro apparently isn't super safe on a Friday night. We anchored by Sagharaughombe Island just off Kolombangara. Like Bat Harbour, only a few yacht stop every year, so they were really happy to see us. The next morning a bunch of kids showed us the reef to snorkel and an old Japanese barge, almost disintegrated on the sea floor. One of the older kids did have an old mask and snorkel, but we lent our masks and snorkels to other kids, many of them had never even seen the barge themselves. We also tried to paddle their canoes, which is an awful lot harder than it looks. Every single Solomon Islander has been in a canoe even before they can walk, and so their balance is excelent. Both Phil and I failed to paddle very far, and we flooded and tipped over in the canoes, of course much to the amusement of the kids.

We have now spent a few nights by Liapari Island where an expat kiwi has a small boat yard, both for local barges etc and for yachts visiting, some people also leave their yachts here for the cyclone season (it's so far north that no full-blown cyclones hit). Phil has done a bunch of work on the engine and we're getting ready for another country. We're planning to clear into Buka on the norther side of Bourganville and it has a narrow passage with a lot of current, so we have been trying to find out the best strategy for that. Fingers crossed that it will work. It's only about a two day passage, so it hardly even counts.

Our verdict of Solomon Islands as a cruising destination is overall great. We have had a good time and haven't had any safety problems whatsoever. Of course we have taken precautions and stayed away from any places where there have been incidents and we always lock up the boat at night and take everthing loose inside, we even bring in our outboard, one advantage of having only a 2 1/2 horses outboard. People are very friendly and welcoming and there are litterally a ton of anchorages, we have only explored a tiny part of Solomon Islands. Furthermore most anchorages are very protected and safe and therefore there's no rolling. Compared to Vanuatu, the anchorages are definitely much more secure and non-rolly. OK, we have been here in the transition period between the SE trades and the NW monsoon, so we have had very light/no winds most of the times, but we would still claim that even in stronger winds, many anchorages would still be very calm. Only two downsides are the crocodiles and the heat. That combination even makes it worse, because it's so hot, but some places you can't cool off in the water because of the crocs. Another plus side (for some anyway) is that there aren't that many cruisers here, we think because of the safety issues, but we're not sure. We have has almost every anchorage all to ourselves.

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Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Empty boat again

My parents just left Sophia this morning, so she feels all empty now. It's been really nice to have them visit us and experience our cruising life, and they had a really good time (especially once they got used to the heat) but it's also nice to have her to ourselves again and especially to be able to tidy up.

We all enjoyed staying at Zipholo resort, despite the fact that it rained some of the time. My parents decided to stay in a bungalow for the night, and they also had an amazing feast of crayfish (lobster). We visited skull island nearby which is this tiny and very beautiful island full of shrines of skulls of old warriors and chiefs. When it was time to leave it was still quite overcast, so we couldn't continue through Vonavona lagoon, but instead we followed our track back to Diamond Narrows and went through that way and past Noro. We stayed a night in Kale/Bat Harbour on the kolombangara coast. It was a very protected small bay and only a handfull of people lived there. Florida Islands (Rodrick Bay) and this place are definitely the poorest places we have seen, more like almost everywhere in Vanuatu. Otherwise the other places we have visited in Solomon seem to have been a bit better off and people live in more 'proper' houses.

We have spent the last few days in and around Gizo. There are two resorts on a nearby islands, where the snorkeling is excellent (and no crocs!), but unfortunately they don't have very good anchoring, so it's better for day visits. Luckily my birthday was with lovely sunshine and we visiting one of resorts and had a great day first with dolphins playing by Sophia on the way there, then great snorkeling and a nice lunch at the resort. Unfortunately the wind picked up and we had to move back to Gizo before dark. My present to myself is to go scuba diving tomorrow, which I'm really looking forward to, it's been many years since I last did that!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Tricky lagoon sailing

We left our beautiful Sarumara anchorage and sailed further through Marovo Lagoon to Seghe, which is the main town. We needed eggs, very important for my parents' fried egg on toast every morning. Monday morning when we went hunting for eggs, the two shops we found didn't have eggs. The ladies at the small market were only selling bananas, pineapple and betel nuts. We decided to move on and hopefully find eggs somewhere else. 20 minutes after we left it started raining and it was naturally overcast as well. It meant we couldn't see the water colour ahead of us which is crucial when navigating in the lagoon as not all reefs are marked nor on the chart, so we had to turn back and follow our track back to Seghe. The rain was actually good, because it really started pouring and we managed to collect almost 100 liters in a very short while. The rest of the day continued to be overcast and drizzly so we stayed in Seghe.

It was actually quite lucky we came back, because we then ran out of gas (or to be exact we went onto our small spare bottle which wasn't full), and so Phil went ashore to see if he could find some. He then managed to find a third shop that actually sold eggs. We ended up buying a new gas bottle in order to get gas, but that's OK, we can always use more anyway. It sure makes a difference gas-usage-wise to be four people and especially also making coffee several times a day for my avid coffee drinking parents.

After the rainy day we again had beautiful sunny weather and could continue. We then exited the lagoon and sailed over to Tetepare, and unhibited island with no proper anchorage, but we managed to tug into a small bay close to the shore in 25 meters of water. It was another hot day, so we had been looking forward to a dip, but even before we got the anchor down, we spotted a big crocodile swimming near the shore, so we changed our minds.

Yesterday we sailed further north to just past Munda. We had hoped to make it to Vonavona Lagoon, but the last leg was going right against the setting sun and again that means we can't see the water colour ahead of us, so we had to stop. Now we're in Vonavona Lagoon by Lola island and Zipolo Resort which is great, as it means the cook (me) gets a rest and we have internet again (which means photos on facebook). 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Anchored in paradise

We have been in many paradise places on our trip so far, but now for the first time we have it all to ourselves. In Tonga we were often sharing anchorages with other boats, and in Vanuatu and Solomon so far we have usually anchored by villages. Naturally good anchorages and bays are where people live, so we have never really had an anchorage in total privacy until now. We're in Marovo lagoon in the Western Province. It's supposedly one of the biggest lagoons in the world and it has been proposed for a world heritage listing (but put on hold until the plundering of the land is done!!!). Actually it's made up of several lagoons in succession of each other.

Back to Honiara: we spent two nights there, my parents in a air-con hotel and my dad got well again. The doctor told him the best thing to drink is green coconuts, which I had already tried to tell him. He's not super keen on the taste, but he did drink some. He has now worked out it tastes a lot better with a bit of rum and a splash of lime in it. We plunged my parents into the deep end and did a 26 hour passage directly up to the Western Province, skipping Russel Islands on the way. Luckily it was a most pleasant trip, hardly any roll and only light winds and no wind overnight so we had to motor.

We stayed a few nights at Mbili where we were approached by about six different dugout canoes, some with several people in them, all wanting to show us their carvings. Marovo lagoon is knows to have a lot of skilled carvers and to be a good place to acquire carvings. It's often one of the only ways for the locals to make money. Anyway, we already got a few in Roderick Bay, and we don't have much room for carvings, so it was a bit limited what we could buy, yet we still ended up with a several more, but unfortunately we had to turn down a bunch. We were still happy to be shown all the beautiful carvings and admire their great work. It was also a beautiful bay, but unfortunately there are crocodiles in the area, so we couldn't snorkel, but we did hang off the ladder on Sophia once in a while to cool down a bit.

Now we're anchored by Kokoana Passage a little further north at place called Sarumara anchorage. It's on the outer edge of the lagoon, so there is only a thin strip of land and therefore no village and therefore no dugout canoes visiting. It's nice to meet the locals and trade veggies and fruit etc, but sometimes it's also nice not to have a constant stream of visitors. We haven't seen any other yachts since Honiara, so we have it all to ourselves. Yesterday we even had a bit of a breeze (but still protected from chop) to help cool us down, make it even more perfect. We also spend A LOT of the time in the water cooling off.

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Monday, 29 October 2012

Parents onboard Sophia

After two nights and three days in Tavinipupu we sailed to Honiara overnight. That passage was the busiest passages we have ever had navigation-wise. There was a few island and reefs we had to pass in the dark and in total 6-7 ships/boats passed us coming up and down the coast to the capital Honiara, only one of them on AIS and with proper nav lights.

We arrived early morning and were quite appealed to find the anchorage extremely rolly. We literally rolled from gunwale to gunwale. Honiara is notorious for being a bad anchorage: poor holding, rolly, squally and lots of thefts. But almost all boats have to stop there to clear into the country. I rowed ashore by myself to pay our entry fees with customs and immigrations (we had done the paperwork in Lata) while Phil stayed on board in case conditions got worse. Luckily it improved and by midday it was much better, and we hardly experienced more rolling the next two nights we were there.

My parents arrived on the Thursday and were met by 33 degrees heat. They had been quite cold on the airplane but I promised them they wouldn't be cold the next 2 1/2 week! We had thought we'd leave the same night and sail overnight to Russel Islands, but it wasn't rolly, so we stayed the first night in Honiara. It meant we had better time to eat more ice cream, buy cheese, wine and beer!

Another boat we had met in Tavinipupu told us about a nice bay in the Florida group where they had just spent a few nights, so we decided to check it out, also because it was only a 6 hours sail to get there. Roderick Bay Hide Away is a lovely little village (one big family). They came out in canoes to help us in and took a stern line ashore as it was quite steep right up to the beach. They also have a mooring, but another yacht was on that already. We were immediately invited ashore to join them that evening for a pot luck dinner, as they were having a farewell party for the other yacht. They had cooked up a lovely sea food chowder, grilled fish and several kinds of root vegetables, some baked into a kind of cake. The table was fully covered in beautiful flowers, we each got flowers around our neck and even the drinking coconuts were decorated with flowers.

The next day we were guided around the village, saw the guest books from previous boats visiting, a photo album another yachtie gave them, and we walked over to a bigger village where the school and church is located. We also snorkelled on the reef and they showed us a small group of giant clams. The kids came out to us several times with tomatoes, beans, nuts etc, but unlike many other places they didn't linger, but they were very polite and super friendly. It's really hard to pick the nicest places/people, but this is definitely one of the top ones, mostly because of the super kind and honest people.

We're now back in Honiara as my Dad is sick and needed a few nights in a nice air-con hotel and also to see a doctor. He is slowly on the mends again and hopefully soon we'll head to the western province. There has just been some civil disturbances in Gizo this weekend, some violence and arrests, so we need to keep track of the situation and possibly avoid it, but we'll wait and see.

Monday, 22 October 2012

We're now in Maurau Sound, which is located at the south western part of Guadacanal. We had a super nice sail to here from Santa Ana, with only light winds and no swell for the most part when in the lee of the land. We're tugged into this tiny anchorage between the island of Tavanipupu (with a fancy resort that makes amazing ice cream) and another island with a typical Solomon village. Right behind us we have beautiful coral and the lovely light turqoise blue hue of shallow white sand and the snorkeling is pretty good. Great spot.

When we were at Santa Cruz we heard that Prince William and Kate were in Solomon Islands about a month ago, being out of the news loop, that of course was new to us. Anyway, it turned out they actually stayed one night here at the resort, pretty cool! They build this big wooden fence around one of the bungalows and that's where they stayed.

My parents are arriving in Honiara on Thursday 25 October, so we can only stay another night here. They are staying with us on Sophia for 2 1/2 weeks, the plan is for them to fly out of Gizo. It will be very interesting for all parties, I'm sure, but we're really looking forward to it. I'm grateful that I have such a chilled and relaxed boy friend :-) If anyone starts getting on the edge, we can hopefully just find a hotel where they can stay a few days if necessary. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

Antoher passage and something about crocodiles

We stayed 3 nights in Graciosa Bay on Santa Cruz. It was just so nice to be at an comfortable (ie, non-rolly) anchorage and just chill out. We had a fun day in Lata checking in and getting a few things. So far our experiences with officials and bureaucrats in Tonga, Vanuatu and Solomon have only been very pleasant and we even enjoy the experience and chat with the nice people and it hasn't taken us longer than half a day at the most at times.

At Shaw Point where we were anchored is a rural agricultural college where young kids are taught agriculture, mechanics and carpentry. It's run by a church and about 30 students are enrolled all from around the Santa Cruz region. We were shown around by Michael, one of the priests (not sure if he used that exact word) after spending half an afternoon with him and his family, including a 2 1/2 month old super cute chubby baby girl. So far Solomon people are just as friendly as the super friendly Vanuatu people. Back to the school, unfortunately when one of the teachers left last year, he took with him all the carpentry tools. There are no funds to buy new tools, it will take several years to raise the money. This means the carpentry class is all theory, which understandable is quite frustrating for both the teacher and the students. If any cruisers come by here, any wood working tools would be much appreciated.

The last night a big cat from New Caledonia came into the anchorage. It's the first other yacht we have seen since Peterson Bay, so we were excited to see them. It was a big group of Germans that had chartered the cat from Port Vila and up to Santa Cruz to visit some of the very remote and very seldom visited islands around there. It was actually because of them that the two customs and immigration officials were in town. They kindly invited us to stay for their dinner, a lovely mahi mahi, yummy.

We have now done the 200 miles passage from Santa Cruz to Santa Ana, which is at the bottom SE corner of the main Solomon Island group. It is actually even a little bit south of Santa Cruz! It's another lovely anchorage, big bay sheltered by two fringing reefs, charming village with lots of happy kids, a big freshwater lake in the middle of the island where we had a nice swim, and best of all: no crocodiles (yay). Yes, since northern Vanuatu, we're now in crocodile territory, the dangerous saltwater kinds. Luckily they are not everywhere, but mainly where there are rivers and mangroves.
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Monday, 15 October 2012

Arrived in Solomon Islands

We have had a fast passage, about 200 miles, which took us 48 hours, but we were actually slowed down to only a scrap of head sail half the last night as not to arrive in the dark. We have had winds from 5 to 20 knots even gusting up to 29 knots, though mostly around 15-20 knots. A highlight was catching a small skipjack tuna just outside Ureparapara, first fish in almost 3 weeks since Malekula. The police officer in Sola did say that they had a problem with Asia fishing boats illegally fishing in Vanuatu waters, but they don't have any boats to go stop them, so there's not much they can do about it.

Speaking of which, I forgot to mention in the last blog that in Sola both police and customs officers had been to NZ and loved it. The police officer was educated at the police academy outside Wellington and had been stationed several places in NZ (and PNG, told us NOT to go to the highland and cities there!). The customs guy had been playing tuba with the army band, being based in Canterbury, but had visited many places in NZ with the band. They were both very happy to talk about NZ with us.

Back to our passage. Weather wise it was interesting that we had several showers-squalls during the day time, but none at night, but on the other hand, we had some lightening at night, especially the first night, but we never saw any at day time. Lightening is not good when you're a sail boat with a tall mast, but it did seem to be far away from us and upwind and we could never hear any thunder, Strange. Anyway, it meant that our most important electronics, such as a handheld gps, vhf, spare computer and sat phone lived in the oven the, whole time, as that is supposed to possible save them (faray's cage, not sure, can't google it?) in case of a lightening strike (which in lucky cases only take out all electronics, unlucky being when it makes a few exit holes in the hull). The moon was being particular unhelpful as it only rose about an hour before sun rise and then only a tiny sliver, so it was pretty dark nights with only some stars.

Now we're in Graciosa Bay on Ndende. We are anchored by in Shaw Point, directly east across the bay from Lata, as it's the most safe and comfortable anchorage. And comfortable it was, no rolling whatsoever, bliss after so many days of constant movement. Unfortunately the bridge to town is washed out, so we couldn't walk to Lata as we had hoped, but instead we caught a ride with a small local (church owned) boat across the bay to Lata. Normally you can't officially clear into Lata, but only kind of provisional, but when walking across town looking for the police station, we were approached by three different guys, three times. The custom and immigration guys happend to be in town because a cruising ship is arriving this afternoon and finally the quarantine guy also found us. They were all super nice and shared the same office, we came to see them after we had been at the police station/

Two things to indicate we're in a new country: betel nuts and canoes. Here they don't drink kava, but instead they chew betel nut! It makes their mouth and teeth blood red and it isn't exactly attractive. We have even seen 10 year old kids and nuns with tell tale red teeth! Around the streets are these red splatters on the ground, making it look like lots of accidents happen, but it is just betel nut spit! The dugout canoes differ because they don't have any outrigger, they are just plain single hull canoes.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Rolly nights sleeping on the floor

From Gaua we went up to Vanua Lava, the main island of the Banks Group. Our first stop was Waterfall Bay. It's about on the middle of the west coast and has, as the name indicate, a twin waterfall that's visible from way out. Ashore it's only one (big) family living there, although there are more settlements further down the coast. We were welcomed by chief Kereli and taken to the small yacht club (a leaf building with lots of flags from other cruisers). Here we got the most thorough and formal welcome we have received anywhere, it included a welcome song and flowers put behind our ears.
The waterfalls were super cool and provided a lovely fresh swim. Apparently the snorkeling is also good there, but we didn't have time, as we had to keep on going over to the other side of the island to Paterson Bay to Sola to check out.

Here we are now and we're officially cleared out and we'll hopefully leave tomorrow morning, weather depending. It's not exactly a big passage to Solomon as the Santa Cruz islands are only two days away and there are actually a few islands on the way where we can possibly stop.

Every single anchorage since Port Peterson has been rolly, this now being the fourth anchorage in a row. That means I'm sleeping on the floor in the saloon as that's the least rolly place, although all is relative, rolly is still rolly and annoying. It's also getting still hotter and hotter and we have experienced our first squalls. Squalls are little rain and wind clouds that travel quickly through, varying in strength, some can bring lots of wind, rain and even thunder. The first one we saw happened to be when we were about to put up the main. I said it was going to blow, but Phil was sure it was only rain. I was right, although it was only a little one with winds up to 20 knots. I'm sure we'll get to experience many more to come.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Moving north and catching up

We ended up staying a whole week in Peterson Bay, mostly because of too much wind and a fair bit of rain. Another reason we weren't moving was because of other cruisers: Sagata (Phil and Leslie from Wellington), Proximity (Elizabeth and Rod from California/Germany), Maia (Fran, Mark and Matthew from Dunedin) and Blue Bie (Phil from Switzerland). It's the most socialising with other cruisers we have done since Tonga. This is very nice, but it also means we don't get much interaction with the Ni-Vanuatu people, so it's nice to have a balance of both, which I think we have managed quite well so far (easy when we have often been the only boat in our anchorages).

Peterson Bay is one of the nicest places to be stuck, especially when it blows, as it's an extremely protected anchorage, so absolutely no rolling. It has the two beautiful blue holes I already wrote about, two resorts and it's a easy ride into town. One of the resorts (Turtle Bay) has a circus show regularly, or they do when the owner is around anyway. It was really cool, very low key and casual, but still really good and perfect for island circus. Phil learned to do Devil Stick on fire when he spent a year at polytech in Nelson, and he brought them along and was allowed to do a little show afterwards. It's the first time I have seen him do it, and he wasn't bad at all, only dropped the fire stick a couple of times and almost lit up a couple of kids sitting on the ground, but, never mind, it was pretty cool, see facebook for photo proof.

On our way north we stopped at Hog Harbour which has one of Vanuatu's most famous beaches, Champagne beach. Some cruise ships stop there, so there was fancy toilet buildings again, just like Mystery Island and Wala Island. It is a really pretty beach, it has the most amazing fine, soft and white sand and super clear turquoise water. Phil's Dad, Ron, cruised through the Pacific 12 years ago and also anchored at Champagne Beach. He fixed a radio and installed a switch for one of the local guys in the village and told us to go look for him. Armed with his name this was very easy, but the cool part was he still remembered Ron. One of his daughters showed us where to get bread and meanwhile they set up a table for two. When we returned, Phil and I were placed there as guests of honour, while the family sat on a bench across from us and just watched! The daughter had also bought a bread, and so we had tea and bread. We saw the radio and the switch that Ron installed inside the house and were gifted two beautiful Lava Lavas that they make (to sell to cruise ship passengers) and of course coconut and banana. They were just super nice people. They were probably also the most well off of Ni-Vanuatu people we have met, the house was made of concrete and had proper floors and they had a car. It it only half and hour or hour's drive into Lunganville and I guess cruise ships generate a good way of income. Cain and his wife walked us back to the beach and came out to Sophia for a quick visit (it was now dark) and we found a few gifts for them also.

We have now sailed further north to Gaua which is part of the Banks groups, the most northern part of Vanuatu. Here we were greeted by no less than 5 canoes that came out even before our anchor was down, all young people and kids just curious to check us out. Depending on the weather tomorrow we may go into the village in the morning. Next we're going to Vanua Lava from where we're going to clear out of the country.

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Tuesday, 2 October 2012

September's cruising costs for Vanuatu

Another month has ticked over, so it's time for another cost sheet. Phew, this one isn't looking as good as the last two months. Total spending cost was almost $2400!

There are several reasons why we spent more than in Tonga. Entry, immigration and exit (already paid) fees are much higher than in Tonga. We had to get a visa extension because we're here longer than one month, and it's only one set fee for up to 4 months, $85 per person. Although food is cheaper than Tonga, there's a much better selection here and we have used up some of our NZ stores, and we're also stocking up for Solomons and PNG, so all in all that means we have bought quite a lot of food here. We have only eaten out for dinner once, but ice creams, cheap lunches etc all adds up as well. We have added two new categories, transport and sightseeing and have spent some money on that like seeing the Yasur vulcano. There is some over-lap between the two, because some sightseeing includes transport cost.

Anyway, enough explanations/excuses, here it goes:

Fun and beautiful blue holes

We have now spent almost a week in Espirito Santo, first in Luganville (second biggest city in Vanuatu) and now in Peterson Bay.

Santo was a major American military base during the WWII when fighting the Japanese invasion of the Pacific, though most of the fighting and losses were up in Solomon, where we're heading next. Aparently 100,000 American servicemen were stationed here for several years and it obviously had a major impact on the locals and the environment. They did bring a lot of jobs and economy with them and to the Ni-Vanuatu people the Americans seeemed very wealthy and generous.

When they left they dumped a whole heap of equipment into the sea, aparently negotiations with the French and/or locals fell through, and it was too expensive to transport back and they didn't want it to fall into wrong hands, so into the sea it all went. The place is now called Million Dollar Point and is a great snorkel attraction, as you litterally step into the sea from the beach and can see trucks and all kinds of things scattered on the sea bed, though some things need a fair amount of imagination to recognise after almost 70 years in the sea.

Peterson bay is an extremely protected bay just north of Luganville and we're enjoying a completely roll-free anchorage for a change after the rolly Luganville spot. There are two blue hole up two rivers from here and we have now visited both. Lovely amazing fresh and very clear water, beautiful green trees, a rope swing at each hole = we had a ball.

Another impact we saw from the Americans is the camouflage vine that was introduced to hide military equipment. It sure was effective as camouflage, but it now continues to smother the native forest in this massive green blanket. Kind of pretty, but also kind of not.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Wala Island guest house

OK, so as described in the last blog post we had a great time on Wala island. It's located just north of Port Stanley. George, the village chief's nephew, has build a guest house and he welcomes visitors. We can wholeheartedly recommend a visit and we can guarantee it would be a very unique and different experience. You would experience real Vanuatu village life.

The guest house is right in the village which sits right on the beach. The beach too is lovely, beautiful sand and very clear water and we found the snorkeling just off the coast great. Everyone in the village are super friendly and were very interested to learn where we were from. George's wife cooked us a lovely meal and I'm sure she look well after visitors. We had a tour of the island and saw these ancient sites that were used for pig killing ceremonies. Big stones are arranged into tables and there were so many of them, very impressive. Wala also has custom dancing and we have hear it's the best place in Vanuatu to see it. We were there at the end of September which is dry season, so they didn't have any mosquitos which is always a bonus.

So, how to you get there? You fly into Port Vila, then fly to Norsup, the main town in Malekula and from there George will come pick you up. Easy peacy. George's contact details are:

George Enson
Wala Island
Cell phone is: +61 5626527

Either write him a letter or simply give him a call to get more info. You may be able to google more info, but it definitely won't be well publicised! Phil and I hope one day to be able to go back and visit Wala Island and George.

Meeting the lovely people of Malekula

We left Maskelyne islands and sailed up the east coast of Malekula. Our next stop was Banam Bay just north of Port Sandwich. It was quite a nice place, big sheltered bay, which is nice because it means we can anchor far away from the shore and be further away from flying bugs and have more privacy.

We happened to arrive late Friday afternoon, so it meant the kids didn't have school on the Saturday and came out in their canoes to fish and check us out. We first spoke with two kids in one canoe and later more boys arrived. We invited them onboard for popcorn, an offer they more than happily accepted. Two more arrived with some fish and I made another pot of popcorn, as there were now 10 boys onboard. They chopped up a couple of the small reef fish, head, tail and all, and gave to me to fry up and that was just a quickly devoured as the popcorn. Some of the boys went ashore and got us a couple of coconuts to drink while others stayed onboard and had fun playing with the binouculars and checking out Sophia. She did need several buckets of sea water after the visit to clean up popcorn and fish bits!

Later in the afternoon Phil and I went ashore to have a look around and find the shop. Some girls showed us the way, which was great, because there was no way we would have found it ourselves. Shop is generous word for a tiny hut with a few cans  and not much else, but we got some more 2-min noodles and met some nice people on the way. On the way back the girls giggled and asked if they could also come and visit Sophia, they must have heard from the boys about their visit, despite the fact that it was quite a big village. Sure, no problem, we arranged they would come the next day after church and lunch.

Sunday morning we had a good snorkel on the reef where we saw lots of Nemos, a black-tipped reef shark and some pretty big groupers. I baked a cake and we started waiting for our visitors. At 4.45 we had almost given up and were about to eat the cake ourselves, but they finally turned up. Three girls were escorted by one boys and two young men, so it wasn't the all girl visit I had hoped for, but it was OK. The girls had fun playing with my hair and were just as interested to see Sophia as the boys had been. They were all very polite, dressed in their Sunday best and we weren't at all worried about them nicking anything. The best part was when we asked them to sing for us. They sang beautifully, mainly hymns in bislama and songs about Jesus providing vegetables for us.

Next stop was Port Stanley. We first went to Norsup, Malekula's main village. It was different to the other villages we have seen because the houses were actually concrete and corrugated iron and not just wood, wowen and tatch. The people were still just as friendly, everyone says hello, smiles and waves. The anchorage was pretty rolly though, so we went further into Port Stanley to Sauro to stay the night.

Our last stop on Malekula was by Wala Island, just north of Port Stanley. Our guide said it was one of the best places to see custom dance. However, we were the only ones there, so we didn't feel like asking them to put on a dance show for us alone. George, the chief's nephew, rowed out and welcomed us and pretty much immediately invited us to come have dinner with him and he'd also show us around the island. Imagine in New Zealand if people invited total stranger tourists into their homes for dinner. They are just such amazing friendly people here. First we had a great snorkel on the reef. Some cruise ships also stop here, like at Mystery Island where we cleared into Vanuatu, and there was the same kind of plastic floating dock and fancy toilet building! Anyway, George took us on a tour around the island and showed us these amazing clearings in the middle of the islands where many many big stones were arranged like tables. We didn't quite catch the whole story, but there was something about Pentecost (antoher island further east), either the people or the stones were from there or going there or something. The tables were used for pig killing ceremonies. We did understand it was unique and the only place in Vanuatu that has them. It was amazing how they would have gotten all these big stones lifted into the middle of the island and arranged like that. The whole place was thick with culture and traditions.

George's wife cooked us a lovely meal of yams in coconut milk, rice and tomatoe omelet. I had brought in chocolate muffins (again). George also had a visitor book we signed. He has built a little guest house, a proper concrete house with real windows and sometimes cruise ship visitors want to come back and stay and also sometimes cruisers. I'll write a seperate blog post with more info, including his contact details as it would be a truly unique experience to visit this beautiful island and be part of island village life.

We fixed a broken switch on a solar powered torch of George's, gave him some old rope, printed a few photos of his family I took, but in return were give a whole bunch of veggies and the lovely meal. They didn't want any money, but asked that we gave him a donation to pass onto the chief for the tour of the island, which we of course were more than happy to do. The whole village had just built a brand new church and had celebrated its opening. Every morning kids and adults row or boat over the mainland where there's a school and they have their gardens (veggie gardens that is). 

We're now in Luganville on Espirito Santo and enjoying things like ice creams and internet again. I have uploaded a truckload of photos on facebook, so check them out, this is hopefully a direct link: Facebook album: Vanuatu II

Friday, 21 September 2012

Attending village romance dispute and getting kava drunk

First a warning that this is a very long post, but we have had some really cool experiences with the locals and it requires a lot of explaining. If you're not into reading, just wait till we get on the internet and I'll upload photos that tell the stories with images.

Well, after we left Port Vila we first stayed two nights in Port Havannah, a very sheltered harbour on the north of Efate (where Port Vila is in the south). The most surprising thing there was a Raven 26! It didn't look like it was still in cruising mode, but it must have gotten here somehow, so now we know at least two Ravens that have made it to the islands :-) Great little boats.

We did go for a snorkel on a reef, but unfortunately it was mostly dead and there weren't many fish. We also met up with Sagata from Wellington, Phil once made them a main sail and they are friends of friends.

Next we sailed 55 miles further north to Epi, the next island in the chain. It has marked our first big change in temperature, besides obviously leaving NZ. Both in Tonga and in the southern islands in Vanuatu it has always been around 25 degrees inside Sophia at night when we go to bed, sometimes even a bit cooler. But now it's suddenly more like 28 degrees at night time and although it not a big change, it really does make a difference. We have also been using our fans during the day for the first time. I'm sure though it'll only get hotter and more humid from now on though.

We anchored in Revolieu Bay which is located in the middle of the west coast of Epi. It's quite a big and picturesque bay, which can get a little rolly, but not too bad. We intended only to stay one night and then move to Lamen Bay further north on Epi, but we ended up staying three nights because of the friendly and hospitable people ashore.

When we went ashore to ask the locals permission and advise on snorkeling the reef we met Jeffrey. He was one of many people that has just loaded copra (coconut) onto a barge. Anyway, we got talking and he invited us to come back and meet him later in the afternoon. I baked chocolate muffins in the meantime so we had something to bring along and Jeffrey met us again on the beach and we walked back to his houses. He's a chief for his part of the village which is quite spread out. He showed us a cave with lots of bats in it, little almost cute ones. He then took us on a tour through his land where we saw his cocoa trees (more valuable than coconut) and his garden which was very big and had all kinds of vegetables in it, for example three kinds of beans: regular 'small' beans, long skinny beans and fat and long snake beans (almost as thick as a cucumber and up to several times as long as a cucumber)! He picked a bunch of veggies for us. We then came along to the school on the school truck which had to detour into the bush and pick up firewood, literally driving right through the bush, you'd never think you could go through! The point of going to the school was to try kava, as there's a little kava bar by the school.

Kava is a kind of narcotic drink made of mashed up kava root. It's very common in the pacific islands and most people from NZ know what it is too. In a way it is much better than alcohol, because it makes people very relaxed and mellow, not aggressive and out-going. There's a downside to it too though, maybe people drink it too much and get too lethargic,I'm not sure, but Jeffrey apparently drank too much and hasn't had it for several months. Many describe kava as dirty dish water and it certainly doesn't look, smell or taste very good, but you just gotta drink it fast, most skull it. It has a peculiar taste, quite peppery, and it makes you lip and tongue a bit numb, but not for very long. The first night we tried it at the school we only had a quite small bowl each, not quite enough to feel it, but the next day (story follows), it was maybe stronger, and we also had a bit more and we definitely felt the effect. Phil liked the effect to alchohol, but I found it different, made me just want to sit and relax, and a bit wobbely on the feet and slowed down my brain, but it was actually an OK feeling, and I can see why people like it.

After first night of kava drinking, Jeffrey and Lydia (his wife) walked us back to the beach and they invited us to come back in the next day for a meal, and we also invited them to come out and see Sophia. The next morning I was busy making kringel (a Danish cake) for the visit on Soph and also falafel and cucumber/yogurt dressing to take in for the meal for them to try. Jeffrey and Lydia came directly from a village meeting but had kindly left it because of our visit. They had cooked a traditional meal, chicken, fish and veggies wrapped in leaves and cooked on hot rocks on a fire, similar to omu on Tonga. It gives the food a great taste and makes it very tender. One of their sons especially liked the falafel, said it tasted like meat. They are catholic and have 12 children, some of the oldest already moved away from home, but the youngest is about 5 years old.

After the meal they took us back to the meeting. They don't have police and courts, but disputes and problems are solved within the village and with the chiefs. They don't have any serious crimes, and they try and get problems solved early on. We didn't quite understand the full issue, but it was something about a couple having problems, the husband wanted to split from his wife because she had a boy friend (on another island). There must have been more to it, because a lot of people were involved and there was a lot of talking going on. About 35 people were sitting under a big tree, plus a bunch of kids and the usual dogs and chickens running around. The meeting must have started maybe at 10am, we got there about 1pm, and it went on for another hour or so. There was one main chief, also called chairman and maybe 6-7 other chiefs, among them Jeffery. Finally they went aside and took about 10 minutes to come up with a resolution which they announced and everyone seemed happy with it (basically making the couple stay together). An hour later (during which the principal of the school took us back there and showed us around), there was a ceremony where woven mats, 200 vatu (about NZ$ 2), kava roots and a pig was exchanged. This is where it was more confusing, because three mats were given by the husband who wanted to split to various other couples and several people gave each other coins and shook hands and made statements. Afterwards they even rang up the boy friend on a mobile phone on speaker phone and told him not to contact the women any more! I asked the principal if it wasn't kind of embarrassing for the couple with problems to have everyone involved and discussing it, but he didn't even understand my question at first and insisted it wasn't.

Everyone were super nice and wanted to come and meet us and hear where we're from. Lots of people have been in NZ picking fruit, mostly apples in Motueka, so of course it was funny that Phil grew up there. They insisted we stayed for the kava ceremony as well, now that we had been part of the meeting. By the way, the meeting was all in bislama, the local pidgin English, so we didn't understand much, just the odd words here and there. The pig was also killed, it had its feet tied, and the neck was simply cut with a knife. Then the long process of making kava began. First they gotta cut all the roots into pieces they can peel with a knife, then cut it all into small pieces. Kava roots are very twisted, so that along took a long time, but they also seemed to make a lot of it! Then it has to be mashed up, which was done manually by pounding the kava pieces with a rod in a pipe. Other places they use a machine, and traditionally it was chewed to ground it up. They were very proud of their kava process and didn't seem to mind the hard work. The roots were mashed up, then soaked in water and mashed up again, then soaked in water, many times. Finally they strained the water and it was ready. We were made to drink first. Phil and the principal of the school shared the first two cups, then the main chief and I shared the next two cups and so forth. The point of the kava was also to make people to put the dispute behind them and relax together. The pig was also being prepared at this point and I'm sure they all continued into the evening, but it was getting dark and we were still to go visit Sophia with Jeffrey and Lydia.

Luckily they arranged that the school truck drove us back to the beach, otherwise I know I would have struggled with the half hour walk right after drinking the kava! The school truck driver and two of their kids also came along. Phil and I aren't the first cruisers they have interacted with, they had a visitor book we signed and they visited yachts before. Jeffrey we gave a pair of sun glasses as his eyes had some sun damage and Lydia got a pair of my old glasses (long sighted), plus an old towel, some coffee and a comic book (in Danish, but you can still see pictures).

After three nights we were sad the leave the beautiful island and the lovely people, but there are many more islands to visit! We are now in Maskelyne islands, just to the south of Malekula island. We're at a beautiful anchorage by Awai island. And yes Sarah, the snorkeling here is great, the first good snorkeling we have experienced in Vanuatu so far. We have seen lots of clown fish, a huge napoleon (?) fish and even a turtle, plus the water is very clear. No dugong yet, but we're still hoping. Now though it's time to sail further north up the east coast of Malekula.

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