Saturday, July 12, 2014

Epi and Ambrym

Anne fighting Mahi Mahi

The catch

Moray eel

Giant Scallop



Dugout canoe

Lamen Bay beach

Mark fighting Walu

The catch

Ambrym's Mt. Marum volcano

Limited view of cauldron

Volcano hike guide

Children of Ambrym

We were sad to leave Tongoa after just one night and wished we could have stayed to do more diving.  But, after a rolly night at anchor and the forecast for winds to pick up from an unfavorable direction, we departed for the island of Epi.  Once underway, we were soon experiencing some rather boisterous sailing conditions.   I had decided to start fishing before the winds picked up and, as often happens, wasn’t really paying attention when I got a hook-up. We were sailing at over 8kts, going mostly downwind so, as usual, it was an inconvenient time to fight a fish.  While I struggled, Mark did his best to slow the boat down quickly.  He had to wrestle the jib in which was loaded up and hard to do by himself plus turn the boat either into the wind or downwind to unload the mainsail small feat.  Meanwhile, I struggled to hold on to the fishing pole due to our high speed and drag of the fish. The fish was a real fighter but, after what seemed like an eternity, we finally managed to get the darn thing aboard. It was a 4’ Mahi Mahi.  Yay... my first fish of the season!  We have been traveling with 2 other boats so if someone catches something we all share in the booty. It would be fresh fish for everyone tonight  As we approached our destination, Lamen Bay, on the island of Epi, we noticed 5 or 6 boats already at anchor and felt it was a bit crowded for our 3 boats to squeeze in.  There also was quite a swell running through the anchorage and all the boats were rolling from side to side.  Not wanting a repeat of our last uncomfortable night at anchor, we elected to backtrack about a mile or so and anchor between shore and a small reef that was deflecting the swells.  Over the next few days we explored the reef both snorkeling and scuba diving and thoroughly enjoyed it.  One morning, Sandy and I made our way into the little market onshore and were pleasantly surprised by the variety of fruits and veggies available. The friendly local women, with their colorful native dresses pointed and giggled at us as we made our way around the various tables.  We spent 3 enjoyable days there but endured a few rolly periods which were especially bad at night.  On a positive not though, each evening, we were treated to the sight of the red glow from the two Ambrym island volcanos, Mt. Marum and Mt. Benbow, lighting up the sky in the distance.   After a couple of days we moved to Lamen Bay, our original destination. The other boats had departed by the time we got there and we had it all to ourselves.  We again snorkeled around the anchorage, took a long walk on the island retracing our steps from last year.  This time we acquired a furry companion along way in the form of a small dog with a hurt paw.  Jon named him Jack.  The day before, he had been the recipient of a ham bone that Jon and Heather had given him so, of course, they had become his best friends.  He was a lovely little companion for the day and I was left wishing we could take him home with us to live a good doggie life.

When we left Lamen Bay for the island of Ambrym, Rankin on “Gypsy Heart” caught a big Mahi Mahi.  So, in the spirit of competition, I was compelled to put my lines in the water to see what I could catch.  Since we would passing over a shallow reef area along the way, and since seas were calm, I thought... what the heck, let’s try for a Wahoo.  I really didn’t expect to get anything but, sometimes when you least expect it, that’s when it happens.  Mark and I happened to be down below, and had passed well beyond the reef, when I heard line screaming out of my reel.  Since I’ve been nursing a sore shoulder since my last fish fighting episode, Mark had to reel in the fish, gaff it and bring it aboard for me to clean. It was a beautiful Walu, over 4’ long.  These are very similar to  Wahoo but even meatier.  This was our first time catching one, and we weren’t sure what we had, so a quick VHF radio call to Jon on “Evergreen” helped us identify our catch. Upon bringing it aboard we noticed that the lower half of its tail fin was missing.  It looked like it had a previous encounter with something that had bitten it off as it was scarred over.  Approaching the anchorage just off Ranvetlan village, friends Mike and Barbara on “Astarte” radioed to let us know that Joseph, the village’s chief was onboard their boat.  We radioed back and offered our fish carcass to him.  He was happy to except which was good news as it meant we didn’t have to go ashore and find someone to give it to.   

After anchoring, we quickly put our dinghy in the water but Chief Joseph paddled his beautifully carved canoe over to meet us.  Before we knew it, he clambered aboard and promptly made himself at home in our cockpit.  We hadn’t yet cleaned things up after the passage and we weren’t really in the mood for visitors but we did our best to be good hosts. We offered him a glass of water but he asked for juice instead.  As we chatted, he peered into the bag with the fish carcass and asked where the meat was.  Generally, the islanders are happy with anything and nothing in the way of meat goes to waste.  Even the fish heads are picked apart and boiled for soup.

 The chief stayed onboard for a good 45 minutes telling us what a masterful carver he was and about tourist activities in the area.  We were particularly interested in doing the volcano hike and were told to go into the village the next morning to find out more information.  That evening, we gathered onboard “Gypsy Heart” enjoying a fresh fish BBQ and a wonderful reunion with Mike and Barbara who had crossed the Pacific with us in 2012 and had spent the last cyclone near the equator in the Marshal Islands.

The following morning we all went to shore, met with Chief Joseph, and arranged for a guide to take Heather, Jon, Mark and me up the volcano.  We were instructed to come to the village at 6:30 the next morning.  Waking up that morning, we were disappointed to see that the weather was looking less than perfect.  The 4000’ mountain was in shrouded in clouds.  We discussed this as we walked to the village and hoped that it would burn off later in the day.  Arriving at Chief Joseph’s home, he seemed surprised to see us and promptly confessed that he had forgotten to arrange a guide for us.  Hmmm!  He told us to stay put and he would find someone to take us.  A few minutes later, he was back with a fellow whom he had literally just dragged out of bed.  He didn’t appear to be too happy.  His name was Tomate.  We exchanged a few words and were on our way.  The hike up Mt. Marum can be done one of two ways, either as a day hike, which takes 7 hours roundtrip or as a two day hike with an overnight stay at what could loosely be called a hut.  If you choose the latter, it would mean bringing a sleeping bag, food and water for the trip.  We chose to do it in a day, not wanting to leave our boats unattended overnight.  As the hike began, we wound our way through coconut palms and vegetable gardens passing a shed where they store and dry copra and on up a rather steep, hilly path.  After several hours of climbing, the trail descended to an ash plain where we hiked for awhile on level terrain. Up until this point, it had been very hot and humid and we had been sweating profusely.  Now however, we had reached the base of the clouds and were cooled off dramatically by the falling drizzle. Unfortunately, the visibility got much worse.  Along the way, we followed the dark-colored, compacted, gravel-like pumice winding our way through patches of greenery growing up from the volcanic flood plain. The area wasn’t as barren as expected and we were surprised to see quite a few wild flowers.  We walked for what seemed like miles on the crushed lava passing the small hut and accompanying cooking shelter for overnight stays before making our way up lava rock to the cinder cone itself.  We ascended a steep, narrow ridge to the summit, which was shrouded in mist, and peered over the sides in hopes that the clouds would miraculously part and we would be treated to the sight of the boiling lava 1300’ down into the cauldron.  We could clearly hear the gurgling and rumbling of the molten rock but managed to get just a quick glimpse of it when the clouds momentarily parted.  Despite our optimism, the sun never appeared and we were grew cold and wet from the strong winds and rain.  At one point, a cloud of sulfur enveloped us and we all started coughing expediting the decision to make tracks back down the mountain.  We quickly descended to the overnight hut and stopped for lunch.  We had carried all of our own food and water but ended up also providing our guide with some as he hadn’t brought any for himself.  It was a rather soggy affair, but it was nice to take a break.  We arrived back at our starting point back in the village about 2pm tired but happy having had a great hike even though we hadn’t seen as much of the volcano as we had hoped. 

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