After spending a few action packed weeks in Aur Atoll we set sail back to Majuro with what looked like to be a good weather forecast. The winds had been blowing out of the NE for days and the weather report showed one more day of this wind direction as we raised the anchor sailed towards the south pass of Aur. Approaching the pass I could see this was not to be the case the wind had already clocked way south and had somehow already generated a nasty swell to go along with it! To make matters worse we could see a series of squalls stacked up on the horizon! We cleared the pass trailing a few lines and landed nice yellow fin before the first squall hit and that was the end of the fishing for the trip.
The pass into Majuro lay 65 agonizing miles to the south and I found myself furling and unfurling the jib sail for the next 5 hours as squalls would pass by blowing at over 30 knots and dumping tons of rain as they went by. For Daria the rougher the seas get the sleepier she gets and in these seas it was not long before she was sound asleep leaving me to drive the boat alone. After 5 or six squalls passed I have had enough of it all myself and left the jib most the way rolled up and started the engine. I set the auto pilot and radar alarm and then took a nap. By dawn the skies had cleared and we found our way through the pass into Majuro and motored our way towards the anchorage while beating into a 20 knot SE wind the last 12 miles.
Anchored safely we wondered how we could have had such crappy weather in both directions visiting this amazing atoll?
Bob on Braveheart was anchored a few boats away and had recently returned from the states with bags full of boat parts and other stuff…and one bag full of stuff was ours! We thought this would be much faster getting parts delivered to us than trusting the mail system but as it turned out it saved little or no time since our plan was to meet Bob over a month before in Tuvalu…. But the nice part about the delay was it made it a little like Christmas after all. As we opened packages we ordered months before, some of which were surprises since we forgot what we ordered them so long ago. Other packages were delivered via US mail (Majuro even has a US zip code) began trickling in and by Christmas we received all our packages except two lost packs of fishing lour’s. Santa was nice enough to send me a few new kites for Christmas and Daria got a box full of girlie stuff and some new clothes. One special gift Daria received was a pit of Burberry sunglasses she found on e-bay that turned out to be fitted with her prescription. They were not listed that way but hey small miracles happen!
The Tide Water Restaurant was close by and located right on the wharf and served decent food most the time and a place we could get on the internet. Daria spent many hours talking to family and friends while posting tons of pictures and stories on our blog while eating bowl after bowl of ice cream! While Daria sat in air-conditioned bliss eating ice-cream While I spent the day filling the diesel and propane tanks.
While doing our last minute shopping we checked out every store in town and to our amazement found one store with a icebox full of Hagen Das Ice Cream! Needless to say every square inch of freezer space was stuffed with Hagen Das when we set sail!
Christmas was fast approaching but with 90 degree days it did not feel much like Christmas to either of us. We would hear the holiday music playing on the taxi cab radios and in the stores in Marshallese and did not understand the words but recognized the tunes. In the supermarket we found a whole turkey and all the fixing for a Christmas feast as we stocked up Downtime. One of the other boats Bluebird with Bonnie and Richard aboard were organizing a party and on Christmas day and about 20 of the World Teach teachers and several other cruisers got together for Christmas dinner. These teachers were fresh out of college and volunteered to teach for a year on one of the remote atolls. They came here from all over the US, Canada, and Europe, one was even from Riverside Ca. 10 minutes from where I grew up. This was their first school break since arriving in August and everyone was happy to be back in civilization with warm showers, flushing toilets and air conditioned rooms.
Daria did an amazing job cooking her first ever whole turkey! And even more of an amazing job afterwards making it disappear! She had to try a wing, a leg, some breast meat, and some more breast meat…….soon it was all gone!
After Christmas we did our last bit of shopping loading up the boat with carts full of basketballs, soccer balls, volley balls, crayons, coloring books and lots of other toys for the island kids.
My friend Mark at Pacific Trading brought another order of Heineken and Miller light out while Daria went vegetable shopping and by the end of the day we found ourselves ready to sail.
With Downtime loaded with enough supplies to get us to Palau and 4 months down the road we set sail for Wotje Atoll with yet another great weather forecast! Ya right! But that’s for another story…….
Merry Christmas all our followers,
Pete and Daria
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Dec 26, 2012
We spent a week in Majuro catching up on internet and restocking Downtime with what we could find in the supermarkets in town. To Daria’s dismay the produce selection was as poor of quality as we had seen in a long time. The “fresh” produce looked pretty rough after it’s 3 week trip across the sea but we found out that if you went to the market every day you could eventually find what you were looking for. Also during the week we spent there I went out on a dive with a few other cruisers out to the pass with Cary a local dive charter captain and fellow sailor. The dive was 12 miles from town in the main pass and the pass had an amazing amount of fish life in it along with several large sharks!
We spent one morning at the ministry of internal affairs to received permission to visit the outer atolls and saw the rest of this small town.
On our way out of the lagoon the next day we stopped for a snorkel just before the pass and found much of the coral to be flourishing and lots of fish too see. Half way through the snorkel Daria became frantic and told me one of here caps fell of her tooth as she was swimming back to Downtime. I thought this can’t be good and how would we find a cap in all that white sand? She got back to the boat and was carefully going through her snorkel looking for the cap with out any luck. We were considering our options and while I was putting away the gear I shook the sand out her dive booties and could you believe it that her cap fell out and landed on the deck! (the cap floating in the ocean current and fell directly into one of her boots!) Whew!! What a relief! We had a emergency dental repair kit aboard and an hour later her tooth looked like new! And they say there are no miracles?
We set sail at 9:00 pm for the 80 mile trip to Aur Atoll. The winds were fresh and blowing 20 to 25 knots and we just set only the jib sail for the overnight passage. We thought the seas would calm down when we were a few miles from land but they never did? If anything they got bumpier! It felt like we were back in the North Atlantic with waves smacking us from all directions? There must be some strange currents around here causing all this wave action?
At daybreak I set the fishing lines as we approached the atoll hoping to catch a fish to give the village when we arrived. The wind had lightened but the waves were still crashing on the reef we would have to cross. Our charts showed several passes to the north and we hoped the skies would clear so we could clearly see the pass as we went through. Daria went forward to watch for bombas (rocks) as we slowly went through the reef going through a pass just over 100 feet wide and 35 feet deep with jagged coral reef on either side with waves crashing.
Having safely cleared the pass and made our way across the lagoon and anchored in front of Tubal Island. We were greeted on the radio by James Bond 007! James is the local medical practiciononer and as it turns out would become our good friend and connection to the village for the week. The village only had 150 people so every one naturally knew everyone. James greeted us when we came ashore with a big bunch of bananas, giant cooking bananas, and drinking coconuts.
We had been hearing that the islanders could be a little standoffish and rude to visitors but our experience has been totally the opposite and we were warmly welcomed by everyone we met.
Meeting James and his family was the link to making the whole week an amazing adventure. As we sat down and shared stories with a fresh coconut in our hands James began telling us a little about the island and what was going on that week. First of all it was Gospel Week and the 7th of December was Liberation day from Japan and the day they celebrated the arrival of the first Missionary. Sunday would be a huge celebration, one of which where a sister island Aur would come over and they would all celebrate together a the arrival of the first missionary bringing the gospel.
In one our conversations with James he told us that his wife owned Mummet Island the small island we could see 9 miles across the lagoon. Unfortunately they have not been able to get out to the island for almost two years since his father in law had passed away. Daria asked if they had coconut crabs on the island and when he explained there were probably more crabs than we could catch in a week the decision was made to take he and his family to the island the next day.
I went ashore early the following morning to give the family a ride out to Downtime in SD with all their gear that they would need to spend the night camping on the island. We had James, his wife ,two daughters, two sons and nephew aboard Downtime as we set sail for the island. While sailing I changed to some baits James recommended and soon after we landed a few nice Rainbow Runners while crossing the lagoon!
James’s wife is an expert weaver and she gave us small woven hearts, dolphins ,and fish to put on our small Christmas tree. She also made a beautiful basket and other woven decorations for us while we were there. Special gifts that we will treasure, a small token for us taking her and the family to her island. Thank you so much for all the gifts!
With the winds still blowing out of the NE we found we would have to anchor in the lee on the SW outer side of the island outside the reef with the open ocean behind us. We found a place along the outer reef with a small shelf and 40 feet of water to drop the hook on and luckily it wrapped around a big rock and held fast. We let out another 150 feet of chain and backed down over the outer edge of the reef and were now sitting in 200 feet of water! Wow what a drop off along this reef! This definitely would be one of those night I would be sleeping with one eye open and have the anchor alarm on hoping the winds did not shift from the west!
We left Downtime anchored on the reef and lowered SD to bring the Family ashore in a bumpy sea. Safely across the reef and onshore James assessed the remains of the shelter that had been last used 2 years ago. The shelter had the tattered remains of a blue tarp and a few pieces of rusted tin for a roof another small structure nearby covered the copra (coconut) drying oven. In the past they came out for a month or two at a time and harvested copra while living primitively on the island that covers roughly 25 acres.
The older boys went out to set traps for the coconut crabs which involves splitting a copra (when coconuts are dry they call them copra) and wedging them between a few low branches just above the ground outside the holes where the crabs live, wedging them tightly so the crab does not carry away the bait. Later they go back with bright light and sneak up and blind them with the light and grab them being careful not to loose a finger in the process.
Back at the shelter the women were cooking fresh fish (rainbow runner and travelly) and rice for dinner, along with the fish and rice they served baked breadfruit and cooked bananas. The fire was made from coconut husks and when they cook fish over a fire they use the coconut shell for fuel which burns hotter and cleaner. They cleverly serve the meal in a woven palm leaf which takes them all of 20 seconds each to make. (The first true “GREEN” paper plate)
By morning they had caught two sacks full of two different types of crab, one a small land crab about the size of your hand and the other the famous coconut crab we had been hearing about that grows to over a foot round and can pinch your fingers off with their huge claws that they use to open coconuts.
In the morning, when Daria and I arrived back on the island, there was a fresh batch of steamed crab laid out on palm leaves and we sat down for a crab breakfast. James showed us how to crack open the crab by cleverly cracking them between two coconuts, using a full one as a hammer. To me eating crab is a like slowly starving to death since it requires much more work to open and eat them than the energy you are consuming, but Daria loves the little critters and can eat them for hours.
Later we walked around the island which was a sanctuary and nesting ground for many sea bids and green sea turtles. Daria and I were walking back to the shelter and we saw James and the older boys digging in the sand under some tress near the shore line. To our dismay we saw that they were digging up a turtle nest! This kicked Daria’s “save the turtles” action in gear and she began giving them the save the turtles speech. The sea turtle is in danger of being over harvested in all these atolls and is endangered to the point of soon becoming extinct if things do not change.
All the islanders know this but nobody is following the ban on eating them! Daria told them she refused to let turtle eggs on Downtime and I agreed with her. It was just a awkward moment being on another persons island in their country trying to enforce what is right. Reluctantly the men put the eggs back in the nest and re-buried them, hopefully several of the 80 plus eggs that were buried would hatch and a few turtles will survive to live and return and lay eggs of their own on these shores one day?
Later that morning with everyone back aboard Downtime we set sail for the return trip to Tubal Island. We re-set the fishing lines and were sailing along the reef towards the pass and found ourselves sailing directly into a flock of feeding birds and landed a nice 35 pound yellow fin tuna. This one fish would surely make up for the protein loss of the turtle eggs and we gladly gave the fish to the family. Later while gong through the pass we landed another fish, a nice barracuda to add to the bounty we had been given by the sea.
During the passage Daria cooked banana bread and fish for all crowd, girls really liked it and was asking new recipes, but simple sweets and chips disappearing fast too!
Back at the village the work of processing the crabs began and Daria spent hours picking meat out of the steamed crab legs. She worked her hands raw in the process but did use a ball peen hammer instead of coconuts to break open the tough shells. In the process of getting one of the larger crabs into the pot one grabbed onto her finger but she luckily was able to shake it loose before it took off her finger! One night she cooked delicious pasta for me with crabs, cream and fennel from her sister recipe.
Over the next several days we would bring fish ashore for the family that we had stored in our fridge on Downtime since they do not have any way to keep it cool on shore. Just try to imagine living without a refrigerator or ice!
On Thursday James asked if would like them to catch us some lobsters? Well, after my last lobster experience in Kiribati I was a little leery about going lobster fishing but I said sure lets go. I would just need to bring masks, snorkel’s and flashlight batteries. The two boys that caught the crabs on the island would be doing the catching and we would hold the bag for what they caught. I said I was not going in over my waist this time since I almost drowned last time! They promised this would be much safer than my last experience and rarely did they go in water over 4 feet deep to catch lobster. We would have to wait for low tide which was at 2 am. I met them on the beach in SD and we drove 3 miles down the lagoon on a calm moonlit night to a deserted island known to have what we were looking for, lobsters! The moon was in its last quarter providing plenty of light to see on this clear starry night and we anchored SD of the lee shore and walked to the island with high hopes. I had one thing to do before I went out and that was to call my Dad on his 70th birthday. It will be a call I will not soon forget, standing on a moonlit beach talking on the satellite phone to my Dad 8000 miles away. After the call I flip flopped my way out to the shallow reef where the boys were wading in the water with their dive lights searching for lobster. They had caught two by the time I arrived and within an hour we had 10 in the bag! This was definitely going much better than my last time out! The boys waded across the reef that connected the two islands while James and I made our way back to SD taking a shortcut across the island. It was darker in the jungle and soon our faces were covered in spider webs and our legs were being scratched by the underbrush and we made out way across the island. We made it back to where we left SD to find that she had drug her anchor and was now sitting on the reef in about a foot of water! Dang! I did it again, stranded myself! James said he would be right back and brought some fishing floats that he had seen washed up on shore. We put them under SD and rolled the dink into deeper water. Whew! Good idea James! The boys had made their way to the next island walking across the reef and catching a few more “bugs” along the way. It was not a great lobster night according to James but we had enough for a few nice meals! Thanks James and the boys!
There was a big celebration this weekend to celebrate Gospel Day, the day the missionary brought the Gospel to the islands back in the 1800’s The whole village had been practicing their dancing and singing and we had be hearing it aboard Downtime all week. We were told church started at 10 and finally somewhere around 11 the bell rang (a old oxygen cylinder with the bottom cut out being struck with a claw hammer). The celebration started with the pastor giving praise and then different age groups doing a crazy dance to a beat played on a electric keyboard being led by a guy blowing a athletic starter whistle. After this was a donation in which I put one of two bills I had in my pocket. The guy holding the basket asked if I wanted change? I said that’s alright, the church can keep it. Then there was another dance with younger kids and another offering…..and so it went…I should have got change and a few smaller bills to put in all of the 8 different dance offerings.
Four hours later the service was finally stopped for a break and we were welcomed to stay for lunch as honored guests, which you guessed it would require another offering (people usually give 50 cents) . We were invited to sit at the Mayors table and enjoyed a lunch of steamed coconut crab, whole lobsters, pork, baked bananas, rice, and breadfruit. Our beverage choice was Mountain Dew, Pepsi of green coconuts, we drank coconuts! Naturally sitting next to the Mayor we had all you can eat lobster and left the table unable to eat another bite.
The kids on the island would swarm around us and be so friendly, asking questions like where you from? And what’s your name? Can we come see the boat? The bags full of candy would disappear and smiles were shared.
We met the World Teach volunteer Julia from New York earlier in the week and today another volunteer, Chuck also from NY was up from the southern village of Aur for the celebration. They were part of a team of almost 30 teachers who volunteer to teach English on the islands for a year to gain experience after graduation. They are paid a whopping $100 a month but have host families that give them food and lodging while they are here. We invited them both aboard Downtime later that afternoon for an “American style” meal and cranked up the Air Cond for them and grilled a few steaks which they both enjoyed. It had been 4 month since they started teaching here and we were the first Americans they had seen since. We loaned Julia the sat phone to call her family as our Christmas present and she was able to talk to her family for the first time in months back in the states.
Monday was another holiday and school was out and I met the kids on the beach with SD and a surfboard. The kids had no idea what I had in mind and it took a little coaxing to get the first kid on the board but soon they were all lined up want to try and surf behind SD. Thirty something kids tried and 6 were able to stand up which was amazing since this was everyone’s first time! We all had so much fun watching the crashes and the success of those that were able to hang ten!
The kids here are so courteous and respectful to their elders and if one achieves something the whole group celebrates! We had the first kid riding the board and the whole group was clapping and giving him praise on shore. It is like they all want everyone to enjoy success and share the glory and are so un selfish. We spent two days dink surfing and then had a big party with 20 kids drinking pop and eating Oreo’s on Downtime! This is one Island I will never forget!
The next day we headed south to Aur Island in hopes of doing some kite surfing along the reef there. Again we were greeted with coconuts and bananas and were able to give three rainbow runners in trade that we caught along our way. This is the Island the Chuck taught at and we went to the school to say hello to he and his kids. The village was a little bigger than the one on Tubal and was very clean and well kept. Without James it was just not quite the same though and we did not feel as welcome here.
Daria enjoyed snorkeling and feeding the huge silver groupers from the back of the boat. It reminded us Tuamuto’s in French Polynesia.
I waited two days for the wind increase to kite surfing strength and finally on the third day the winds filled in and I was kite surfing for hours, which is not always the smartest thing to do if it has been two months since the last time you did it! I was pretty sore the next day!
On Saturday we had Chuck out for another dinner, one he had been craving since he been on the island.., Pizza and beer! Just after dinner I got a call from James which was strange because I knew his radio did not reach all the way from Tubal? It turned out he was Aur and that his uncle had passed away that day and they needed some tools to cut wood for the coffin! I said I had a tape measure and saw and soon we were ripping 2×4’s on the back of Downtime! The funeral was to be Sunday at 10 am and when we arrived just before he told us they had to burry him that morning because of the terrible smell. So we missed the ceremony…..
One more day of kite surfing on Monday and the weather started changing for the worse….We were trying to return to Majuro for Christmas and it looked like the winds would be blowing our way for just a few more days so the next morning we set sail at 4 pm with dark skies and squalls on the horizon.
The winds had been NE for days and only decided to change out of the SE the day we set sail! We would be close reached with bumpy seas all the way back to Majuro. I gave fishing a shot going through the pass and landed a nice yellow fin tuna and put the poles away for the rest of the trip.
The sun set and the fun began with one squall after another slammed into us every hour just like clockwork. The winds would be blowing 15 knots and then all of a sudden jump to 30 plus along with a driving rain. They only lasted 10 to 15 minutes or so but it finally came to a point where I left the jib triple reefed and started the engine to keep us heading in the right direction and got some sleep.
Morning came with the pass into Majuro a few miles off. We cleared the pass and spent the next two hours motoring into 20 knots winds towards the anchorage.
Our friend Bob on Braveheart had arrived from Fiji several days before and we looked forward to spending the holidays in Majuro…not really but this is where we find ourselves….
In out next adventure we will be heading to several more atolls to the north including Bikini the island where they tested The H bomb!
Until then Peace! And get out there and live your dreams YOLO! (you only live once)Pete and Daria
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Dec 16, 2012
We left Vanuatu at 5pm on 8th of November.From Pete’s mail to Bob, 10th of Nov : “300 miles under the keel so far and we are STILL close reached heading our way N-E. Who knows where the end of this road is? we will most likely continue to see the winds shift to north and not have to touch a sail for the next few hundred miles to the equator. The good news is the winds are strong and we are making decent time for a BASH!
We should be in Kiribati in 5 days about the 15th unless the winds say NO, then we will continue on to the Marshall’s direct (hope not). Been going to fast to fish so no good stories other than passing Anuta Island (Cherry Is) at about 5pm last night. There was a proa cat on the beach and about 10 people that we saw on this remote island. It looked like 150 years ago except they had clothes on. The cat was drug up to the tree line and it looks like they live there 200 mile from anywhere?”
2 days later:
“Bob! make sure you get fuel before you leave, your going to need it! We have been motoring for two days and the only wind to be had is on the nose! 3-4 knts. Any who…..we have seen two tuna killer helicopters fly by in search of fish. We have drowned several lures in our attempt to land one ourselves and new recruits are lined up to replace drowned comrades. The freezer is near fish less so it is about time we catch something. We will be stopping at a few islands along the way since we have developed (engine troubles) and will need a few days at each atoll to sort the issues out. I am sure it is just a loose connection or the key is in the wrong position? who knows? hehehe!
We will arrive at our first port to repair in the morning”
From 15th of November:
“Still no wind or not much any ways!
We crossed the Equator last night! who-who!! We were about 100 miles out from Eanikai Atoll and were hailed by the coast guard and after 7 tries they understood “Downtime” was the name of the vessel! We were going to stop for the “day” and work on the engine but who was right on our ass first thing in the morning? The coast guard! We had the main down and took out a reef, like we always do it that way….and re-set main let out the jib and the fishing lines and turned north.
We were trolling through several schools of feeding fish with hundreds of birds and caught a few small tuna. We switched to small 4″ baits and had better luck than the bigger baits. Then a few miles up we hit a big school of tuna!! all 4 lines had a fish!!! And then…the Mako’s (shark) came and ate ALL our fish and took two lour’s! fuckers! But one 5 foot shark gave Pete a work out and we got him to the boat before the line snapped with a cedar plug in his lip! so no use fishing there!
We went 40 miles up the road and anchored at Rotuma and took SD to shore a few miles to the north next to the church and spent an hour with the locals who were all very welcoming and gave us coconuts to drink and showed us their village. Very cool! Very remote place!”
From my mail to Kate 18th of November:
“We are anchored in Abemama, we spent some time at the village for the last two days. They are very nice here and present me 2 home-made dresses, fed us lunch and gave us dry salty fish, which is really testy with cold beers!
First day SD was high and dry for 5 hours while we had a banana bread still in the oven! IT WAS BLACK WHEN WE FINALLY GOT BACK!”
We arrived in Tarawa early morning on 19th of November.
From mail to Bob:
“Well all the stories from last year are BULLSHIT and we had a nice time in Betio. We anchored at 1’21.915n 172’55.791e next to two other boats in 25 feet of water. Contact Tarawa Radio on channel 16 on arrival and they will organize a boarding party of 5 people to come out and clear you in. We did not have this info and went to town and did 2 hours of running around to the dismay of all officials. Any who we got cleared in. You can have fuel delivered to the boat for $5 a gallon! Although it is a pain…you have to go to the fuel office on the left side of road by big fuel tanks and pay first. They brought ours in a tanker un-metered? but I think the amount was right? The 8-10 am delivery was actually at 1:30 and the hose was a 2 inch reduced to 1 inch with no valve on the end! let her rip and cross your fingers it will all fit!
We met Kaure, who has a cab and is a retired school teacher and knows every one the island. He might be a good tour guide. He gave us a ride two days for 6-7 hours all over town and charged $30. You can park the dink at he head of the harbor next to concrete steps and there is an ANZ Bank if you take the first right and walk half a mile. Across from the bank is a (All local) shop that has fresh produce in a refrigerator, onions by the bag full and tons of frozen meat, and canned and paper goods. Best shop i saw in town.”
This tim clearing out was on me. Early morning I went with Kauri started my run around with paper work and visiting local markets… Prices for veggies: salad – Australian $10, 1 avocado -$8, 1 apple – $2, 12 eggs – $8, huge flying fish at local market $2 per pound and coconut $0,5. Internet – $1,8 per hour but very-very slow…
Around 1pm I went back to the boat, I got all papers for next port, but did not pay tax yet… Truck with diesel just arrived… Pete was so pissed of after waiting diesel for 5 hours, that we left without paying tax.. he-he.. no idea how much it was!
We sail from Tarawa around 2 pm and stoped outside Butaritari for a day! We did not go to village, were just waiting better direction of the wind.
The next night we anchored outside Milli Atoll and even snorkeled there! It was cool:) a lot of different fish and coral canyons!
We arrived in Majuro on Friday night and and finally caught Mahi and 2 rainbow runners and dogtooth tuna as we made our way inside the pass to the Atoll!
living our dream,
Daria and Pete
We set sail from the northern most Loyalty Island of Atoll d’Ouvea after spending 6 amazing weeks in New Caledonia for a 200 mile sail back to Vanuatu in the 3rd week of October. The weather had been stormy all week and we were having a rough crossing the day we left and were being slammed by crazy big waves and 25 to 30 knot winds. The weather didn’t stop me from fishing though and several hours into the trip we had a huge fish on the line. After an hour and a half of fighting this monster in the rough seas I don’t know who was feeling worse, the fish or Daria and I. Downtime was being tossed around by the 12 foot waves and I was fighting one of the biggest fish I had ever had on the end of a pole! The fish would take in seconds the hundreds of feet of hard fought line that took what seemed like forever to reel in. At one point as the 40 foot leader finally started winding on the reel we got a mere glimpse of this 7 foot shinny silver/blue monster before he made one last run under the boat and cut the leader on the rudder. My hands were bloody from being slammed against the rail and my arms ached from the constant pull of this monster but I was somehow glad that he managed to get away because it would have been several more hours of hard work to cut him up and put in the ice box. Well that’s the story of the fish that got away….
The seas and winds did not let up as we bashed our way to Port Villa on Efata Island, the capitol city of Vanuatu. Needless to say we arrived tired and hungry since neither Daria or I had much of an appetite due to the rough weather on the sail over. We dropped the anchor just in time for a big rain squall to wash the salt from Downtimes decks and found ourselves ready for something to eat and a long nap.
Port Vila is a one of the major cruise ship destinations in Vanuatu and there is a new ship on the dock 6 days a week. This would also be one of our last chances to get provisioned at any major grocery store for the next few months. The supermarkets here were well stocked and we did some major shopping during our stay. This would also be one of the last chances to find a decent restaurant and we tried a few with mixed results. The best was a French restaurant that has been there for 40 something years and the food and service was amazing. They also had a few local delicacies on the menu one that I will most likely never see again, Flying Fox (Bat) and the other wild pigeon. Daria just had to try the Flying Fox and she said it tasted a little gamey. I passed on even trying…. We had been seeing these amazing creatures flying over the islands since Tonga but this is the first time we saw one on a menu. For the main course Daria had a plate full of slipper lobsters and I went for a pasta dish and a cup of French onion soup.
It rained almost every day during the week we were there and it made shopping miserable. On our last day we went to the local vegetable market and stocked the produce fridge on Downtime and were ready to set sail and explore the northern islands of the country. Too bad we were still too early in the season for mango’s , we seem to always be just a month early in the last few islands we have been?
While I was stowing everything and preparing before we set sail I checked all the lockers and to my surprise found 2 inches of diesel covering the floor of the fuel locker! I have to say I was not a happy sailor at this point! One of the stainless steel fuel cells must have cracked on our sail here? Luckily I was able to pump the fuel off the floor and through a special filter we have and put it back into one of the two undamaged tanks. Now that the mess was cleaned up we had to decide if we wanted to spend another week here getting the tank fixed or brave sailing the 1000 miles to Kiribati with 100 gallon less fuel aboard Downtime? We raised the anchor and threw caution to the wind and headed to the next island. It is what it is after all….
Our first stop was just 15 miles to the north and we anchored on Eretoka Island and went for a dive. Unfortunately being this close to a major city we did not see very many fish left on this reef. The water was in the mid 80’s, crystal clear and it sure was nice to be diving again. Later that afternoon we continued up the bay in hopes of spotting a Dugong ( a large plant eating mammal related to the manatee) known to live here but we not so lucky in spotting one and dropped the anchor along Moso Island unknowingly in a marine preserve. With the boat safely anchored we went ashore to the Resort and spoke with the manager about diving and he told us for $200 he could arrange a diving trip and for another $30 we could see their turtle preserve. Well in my mind for $30 I can buy 2 six packs of beer throw my dive gear in SD and go find our own turtles! So thanks but no thanks…This is a country where people make $2 an hour after all? We thought oh cool there should at least be some great diving and snorkeling here in the preserve right? Wrong! The coral here like many other places is being killed by over fishing and The Crown of Thorns (a coral eating starfish looking thing) . The preserve is just the start of the long process in getting the reefs to heal but it will take many years to restore centuries of damage that has been inflicted on them. What happens to many reefs is that the locals catch ALL the fish. Some of those fish are the house keepers and some the builders and with no one cleaning the reef gets covered in algae and coral suffocates. that’s my opinion…..No fish=No Reef
In the morning we continued sailing north and attempted to stop at Emae Island but the combination of the wind direction and lack of accurate charts made it too dangerous for us to attempt anchoring there. We were finding more and more that our chart plotter was not very accurate and was offset by up to a few hundred feet from island to island. Our back up plotter was not much better and it was a rare occasion when they both agreed on the exact same location?
We had just 3 hours of daylight left and navigating at night was out of the question and we had to find a place to anchor. We motor sailed 12 miles north to Epi Island. The pass between the two islands was were two tidal currents met and the ocean had wild waves crashing into each other as we sailed through. We anchored on the SE side in a bay to our selves next to stunning thousand foot high rock cliffs. In the morning we took SD back to explore a few the small islands that we had missed in our rush over the afternoon before. We were looking for a place to dive on out lying islands, but found just one point close to where we anchored and Daria was able to snorkel with a turtle.
Lonely Planet said there was another Dugong preserve on the north end of the island and we motor sailed our way up to go search for them. The winds were still out of the S-W and the anchorage on the west side was not going to be too comfortable so we found a spot out of the wind on the north end of the island in a small bay. This turned out to be a very special anchorage with a view of 3 active volcanoes! As the sun went down and the sky darkened the clouds above the island of Ambrym began to glow and amazing orange color and there was a faint glow over Lepevi Island which is shaped like a huge inverted cone. We have seen several volcanoes here in Vanuatu, but being this close to so much energy and power just never gets old, I found myself staring at them for hours….
The next day the winds settled down and we were able to take Downtime around the corner to the west and anchor in front of a small village. We were welcomed to the village by the chiefs daughter Wendy and her brother who came paddling out in a dugout canoe. We gathered our gifts and went ashore and met the village Chief and the village traded vegetables and fruits for hats, tee shirts, toys and candy. There were about 150 people living in this village. While we were talking with the villagers an American came walking up and it turned out he was a peace corp. volunteer from Minot ND of all places! This was his last day of a 2 year commitment to help the villages on the island and later that day he would be flying home to the snow and ice. We asked him what he had accomplished in the last two years and basically he said things in the islands move really, really sloooooowwwww and a few things were in the works but not much has been achieved. Later we took SD in another search for the illusive Dugong to no avail…Lonely planet claimed these were easy to find and friendly? After our search we set sail for Molekula Island just 20 miles north.
We dropped the hook in Gaspard Bay on the south end of the island after a near miss with a coral head on our way in (darn charts)! The bay was part of another marine sanctuary but anchoring was permitted and we found ourselves surrounded with some of the thickest jungle we have ever seen. The vines here were growing wild on the mountain sides covering everything including the palm trees!
We set the anchor and we immediately started seeing turtles surfacing for air all around the boat. Turtles to me are as interesting to me as volcanoes and it just never gets old watching them. Oh there’s one! And another! Too much fun!
In the morning we lowered SD and went to see the rest of the sanctuary. The weather was nice and warm and we brought our snorkel gear and set off for another adventure. Along the way we stopped at a few nice reefs and saw some beautiful coral and fish. We headed toward another village and on our way found three boys going out fishing in their dug out out-rigger canoe and we gave them hats, shirts and candy. On another small island we found a large sign with a map of the reserve and we discovered we were anchored in a Dugong feeding area! We raced back to go search for this illusive creature!
Finally we were in the right place at the right time and got a glimpse of these wonderful mammals! But we soon found out that watching Dugong’s is like watching turtles race, they only surface every 20 to 30 minutes just long enough to get a breath of fresh air and back down they go. At least your anticipation builds while you wait for that brief sighting….the rest of the time you are wondering which way are they going and are we still in the right spot? OH well Dugong’s are off the bucket list!
Our next stop was Ambym Island the home of the two active volcanoes we had been watching for days. The anchorage on the N-W side of the island just next to Ranwakon Point which provided good protection from any southerly winds but was wide open to the north. The village here is small but has several guides that will take you to the volcanoes and do a 6 hour hike through the lava fields to the crater.(weather permitting) Daria went ashore and booked the trip for the following morning and we hoped for good weather.
It had rained most the night and by morning the clouds were breaking up and we thought the hike would be a go. I took Daria to shore but the guide had decided it was a holiday due to the elections going on, so no hiking today or the rest of the week for that matter? Oh well….With the hike canceled we decided to go check out the north coast in SD and drove east along the black sand beaches in search of the inland lake that was supposedly just 6 miles away. The beaches here have the most amazing sand, pitch black with shiny specks that sparkle in the sun! Oh and the sand gets burning hot from being so dark so shoes are a great idea! Along the rugged coat we set the anchor and swam to shore to ask a local where the lake was since we were totally lost…he told us we needed to go two more miles and then hike inland a half mile. We anchored in a small bay with the beach to ourselves and once ashore we headed into the jungle along the path in search of the illusive lake. Well either Lonely Planet went to a different lake or we were in the wrong spot again….the lake we found was covered in algae and not “spectacularly” clear but the hike through the jungle was interesting.
Election time here in Vanuatu is a BIG deal and everyone gets involved. There are big parades, marches and lots of parties for weeks. The percentage of people voting here has to be much greater than back home.
Daria was not able to hike to volcano, but she did a good job to giving away coloring books for kids and costume jewelry to the women back in the village. In exchange the local people brought for us a big bag of mangos! Yummy! We finally have mangoes!
The snorkel in this bay was amazing and Daria thinks it was one of the best spot in Vanuatu because of contrast of colorful fish with bright mushroom corals growing out of black-black sand bottom with crystal clear water! Simply amazing! It’s a shame our underwater camera didn’t work!
We set sail back to Molekula and anchored in Port Stanley an met Carl one of the only people in the small village who did not go the mainland to vote on Uri Island. He paddled his out rigger canoe out just after we anchored and asked us to charge his two cell phones. In the morning he came back out to get his phones and brought us bananas and popo (papaya). We asked him if he could find a few lobsters and he offered to take us along to catch them. We dove on a few coral heads nearby in the bay and within an hour had caught two nice sized lobsters! Carl made it look easy and knew exactly were these spiny creatures hiding places were. In trade we gave him a set of snorkel gear and a Downtime hat.
The next island to the north is Santo where we would clear out of Vanuatu in Luganville. We had trolled lines for days and just before the pass we finally had a hit over a sea mount just before the pass and landed a nice Wahoo. We made our way through the pass and picked up a mooring ball at Aore Resort just off of Aore Island for $15/day next to our friend Paolo on Super Mario who we had last seen in Fiji.
Luganville is the second largest town in Vanuatu, but nothing special, the dingy dock costs $1000 ($10 US) for 4 hours, but at least someone is watching it for you. We went ashore for lunch and to check out the markets since this would have the last shopping of any kind before leaving Vanuatu.
We would also need to top off the diesel tanks here before we left with duty free fuel at just under $5 per gallon US price.
Getting fuel was an adventure in itself…..We had to first clear out. This involved going to the Customs office and filling out clearance papers, then to the harbormaster to pay our fees(about $100) then we were able to get a duty free form for fuel. We then had to bring this form to the fuel station (they said just 2 kilometer down the road) actually 2 miles……We walked…At the fuel station we had to guess how many gallons (Liters) and we needed and pay in advance for that amount… then make an appointment for delivery…Back to the dock master to pay dockage fee for fueling another $45… and then back to customs to let them know when the fuel was coming and let them know when we would be leaving. Wheeeww!! Well…the fuel was to be delivered at 4 pm and we were tied to the sea wall were the cruise ship would be docking in 12 hours and patiently waited. And waited…..Finally a little after seven the truck showed up and the fun began. Our friends would fuel first and had tied along side Downtime and we drug the two inch grimy fuel hose across our deck and they began fueling. The truck operator dispensed fuel 5 gallons at a time and we needed a abacus to keep track of how much we received! At this rate to took 45 minutes to fill Super Mario and then it was our turn. I told the guy to give me 100 gallons (400 liters) to start with and fueling process went much faster until the time the tanks were full and we still had 30 gallons left. It was either take it or leave it with no refund so we decided to put it in 5 gallon cans. I got to tell you filling 5 gallon cans with a 2 inch hose in California would be a environmental disaster on the front page of the LA Times. I wrestled the hose and was able to get the majority of the fuel into the cans and finally this messy job was finished.
In the morning we went back to town to the fresh market to get out last supplies with sunny skies overhead. Daria got all the produce shopping finished and I brought it all back to Downtime and went the Customs dock to finish clearing out while Daria got a few last items at the supermarket. About the time she got the shopping wrapped up and most of the people were debarking from the cruise ship the skies darkened and it started to rain. Not just a little rain but a deluge and everyone was scrambling to find a place to get out of the rain. There we at least a hundred vendors that had set up tables selling trinkets and souvenirs all franticly covering them up with tarps or whatever they could find. The cruise ship only comes to this port twice a month and it was a shame the weather had to be to terrible for all these people. I bought Daria an umbrella which was the fastest selling item at the moment but I just continued walking in the warm rain back to SD which by now had 20 gallons of rain in her.
With all the shopping finished we set sail for Million Dollar Point to do a dive with Isabelle, Paolo’s new crew from Switzerland , Daria and myself on a bunch of old war equipment the military dumped into the sea when they left the island after WW2. There were trucks, airplane engines, old boiler tubes, old tires, an old ship and lots of other junk that created a reef for thousands of fish to live in. We saw a several large groupers, a huge Napoleon Fish about 4 feet long and a foot long Cuddle Fish. (our first ever)
After the dive we sailed 15 miles north and anchored next to Malono Island, barely making it thought the pass before sunset. We went ashore in the morning to one of the nicer resorts in Vanuatu. The Oyster Resort was located on a beautiful lagoon and there were only 15 to 20 small bungalows for guests to stay in. I was thinking that this would be an awesome place to get away from it all. Just across the bay was a river that went inland a few miles and you guessed it we took SD all the way up. The river was spring fed and became clearer and clearer as we went up. It was really a amazing feeling driving in such clear water and gave us the feeling that we were flying a few feet over the ground. At the source of the river was a hundred foot wide blue hole surrounded with jungle. The water was cool, clear and very refreshing to swim in.
Our next stop on the sail north was Hog Harbor were we anchored next to a reef with hot springs coming out of it. Daria spent and hour snorkeling all around this reef feeling the water continually changing temperature. This must have also been a favorite place for bait fish to hang out because schools of predators fed for hours while we watched the bait fish jump frantically out of the water trying to get away from their hungry prey.
We spent the next night in Port Olay just 15 miles to the north hoping the winds would continue to blow the right direction for our sail to Santa Maria in the morning.
Well, the winds started out blowing out of the SE which was perfect. Then the squalls started blowing mid morning gusting 20 to 40 knots and from mostly the E and NE which is not at all the right direction when your course is NE! As we motor sailed closer to the island the sky began turning a smoky pink color from a great plume erupting from the center of the island. Our first anchorage we tried to stop at on the SW side was covered in this smoky sulfur haze and we decided to continue on to the next bay on the NE side of the island where our friends Paolo and Isabelle were anchored at in Lesalav Bay. We arrived just before 5 and luckily received and e-mail from Paulo stating that the charts were off over a half a mile! Sure enough the pass was no where near close to where the charts showed they were! We made the adjustment and cleared he pass and were able to safely get the anchor set before the sun set and the rains started again.
The main attraction here is a small village in Namasari that does a water music show. Well by the time we got ashore it was pouring rain and there was plenty of water so it should be a good one! We first met with the chief in a small hut and learned a little about their village while the ladies got prepared for the show. I had no idea what to expect? They took us down a trail through the village to a small bay where the ladies were standing waist deep in the ocean dressed in headdresses and baiting suits. The music was made with slapping the water with different hand movements and rhythms. I have to say it was a very unique thing to experience and will never be forgotten. The rain was pouring down and the village kids were all holding banana and elephants ear leaves over their head to stay out of the rain.
The pink smoke continued billowing out of the center of the island the whole time we were there and it made a amazing contrast to the lush green jungle of the island. The chief told us he would take us on a two day hike to see the lake that this pink smoke bubbles up through but I for one could not leave the boat alone for that long and the thought of two days in the muddy jungle was too much even for Daria.
The next island to the north is Vanua Lava and we anchored in Port Patteson. The small town of Sola would be were we officially cleared out of Vanuatu. The town is built along the bay and at most has 500 people living in it. Paolo had the great idea to get malaria tests at the hospital here and a local gave us a ride a few miles down the road in his Toyota truck that looked to be a member of the million mile club. The medical station was just a few small rooms and the doctor sold us 4 tests and 4 treatment packs for just $20.( I hope we never need them) We were not so lucky as to get a ride on the way back and walked the whole way. Later that afternoon Isabel cooked us spaghetti balanies on Super Mario.
The next morning we continued north and decided to see a few more places in the islands even though were officially cleared out of Vanuatu. One was Waterfalls Bay where we swam in a pool with a huge waterfall pouring into it. The village had just one family living in it and Chief Kerely and his wife were very welcoming and served us mangos and popo. They have a ‘Yacht Club” here and each year up to 20 sailors visit the small village.
We had anchored Downtime 5 miles away and Local paddled out to welcomed us ashore to see his village and offered to be a guide to the waterfalls. We went to shore with our gift bag full and met his Father, the Chief and the rest of the village. The chief asked if I had a metal file that he could sharpen his machete with and later when I brought him one he traded me with a bag full of mangoes! The rest of the village gave us fresh green onions, tomatoes, coconuts and a few popo’s! The chief told us he had 10 children and most of the people living here were his immediate family and he was very fortunate to have so much land to take care of them all.
Our guide took us south along the coast to Waterfall Bay in SD and he showed us many interesting points along the way. One of which was a big sea cave and another a natural spring that flowed out of a rock cliff where the paddlers would stop for a drink while they traveled along the coast. While we were at the falls he went to his in-laws for a visit, happy that he did not have to paddle 10 miles to do so. He came back an hour later with a solar panel and asked if I could hook it up for him? Back At Downtime I gave him some wire and a power tester, so now he can charge his radio battery.
The next stop was the Rowa Islands which are no longer inhabited due the fact that the highest point is now only 2 feet above sea level . We anchored out side the reef in hopes of kite surfing the following day in the large protected lagoon. But as my kite surfing luck would have it there was not strong enough winds and none of any strength forecasted for the next few days…..
Vanuatu, the land of volcanoes has been truly amazing and it turned out the last island Norbarbar was saving the best for last. After all the volcanoes we have seen during our time here from afar this island would be one where we could actual anchor inside a sunken caldera in Lorup Bay! The island is 4 miles across with a big bay (middle of volcano) open to the east that is 80-100 feet deep surrounded by the steep 1500 foot high mountainous sides of the volcano. We anchored in 40 feet of water at the head of the bay and were greeted by the village Chief who paddled out in his out rigger canoe. We were asked to stay aboard until he could come back and formally greet us. An hour later he returned with freshly made magnolia flower lei’s and asked permission to come aboard Downtime. He first welcomed Daria with a fairly long traditional welcome greeting and then he did the same with me. After the ceremony he welcomed us ashore to his village. This was the first time in our travels that we had been formerly welcomed and received flower lei’s !!
The village was immaculate with many of the palm covered homes recently recovered. The whole village was well laid out and seemed very quiet for as many homes that were there? Chief Nicholson explained that the election was last night and their party won and they whole village celebrated until sunrise and were now all sound asleep. This was also the first time we had seen small sailing canoes and we left them with one of my old kites to make a sail out of. The chief promised to e-mail a picture when he gets it all sewn up!! We sat in the village and shared stories for hours and it was so interesting to learn how they life in such a remote place where running water is a actual river and the only electricity is made from a small solar panel that charges a battery bank. They are too remote to even have generators because the only supply ship comes just twice a year! In an emergency someone has to hike to the top of the mountain to get a cell signal and call for a boat from Sola 20 miles away.
Vanuatu has been a wonderful experience and a reminder that life is really simple…We really do not need a whole lot of stuff to be happy. Food, Family and friends on an island in paradise seems to work for these few lucky souls. I want to thank everyone in Vanuatu for their warm welcome’s and many, many happy smiles’!
We say good bye to our friends on Super Mario who are hearing to the Solomon Islands, see you in Palau!
Later that day we set sail for our next country, Kiribati. But that’s for another story!! Until then, get out there and live your dreams!!
Peace! Pete and Daria