Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Last Weeks in Vanuatu

Anne with Amazing Coral Formation



Another Nudibranch

Mark on Blue Hole Rope Swing

Wall Dive

The Girls at Dance Show

Maewo Island Dancers

Our Group at Dance Show

Feather Star
And Another Nudibranch

And One More Nudibranch


Pizza Dinner on Gypsea Heart

Vanautu Independence Day Celebration

Kastom Dancers at Celebration

More From Independence Day Celebration
Our original plan for this season was to work our way north of the Island of Espiritu Santo and visit the more primitive Banks and Torres Islands.  Doing so however, means more miles of bashing to windward when the time comes to sail southwest to New Caledonia.  Because of this, and the fact that we were unable to get first-hand reports about the merits of going there, we decided to postpone that trip until another season.  Instead, we spent more time exploring the smaller islands and bays around Santo.

Returning to Ratua Island, just south of larger Aore Island, reminded us of why it was a favorite from last year with its charming, Balinese-style resort and protected bay filled with beautiful coral formations and a surprising variety of sea creatures.  Several days of snorkeling there rewarded us with sightings of numerous eels, cuttlefish, octopi, shrimp and a splendid assortment of tropical fish.  While there, we also pitched in with efforts to remove the coral-damaging Crown of Thorns starfish.  Eric, and Ann on the yacht “Reflections”, both avid divers and frequent visitors to Vanuatu, provided us with a wood-handled metal tool to prod the starfish up and off of the coral and a large, reinforced rice bag to collect them and transport them to shore where they could be buried.  Along with Jon and Heather from “Evergreen”, we removed well over 100 and, hopefully, helped to insure that Ratua’s reef will remain healthy.

On Santo, the main town of Luganville with it gritty, wild west feel and wide concrete main street courtesy of the US military during WWII, had little to offer us other than a place to re-fuel, re-provision and access internet for a few days.  Before long, we were off to more scenic Aese Island where we snorkeled and hiked ashore examining an old ship wreck and managing to get lost in the bush while trying to hike to the windward side of the island.  Fortunately, we followed the setting sun seen through gaps in the dense trees back toward our anchorage arriving just before dark.  It was just another typical misadventure giving us memories to chuckle about in the years to come.

Stops at Oyster Island, with it’s charming resort, Hog Bay, and Port Orly gave us opportunities for more snorkeling and a scuba dive or two.

All too soon it was time to start heading south, back toward the town of Port Vila, where we would clear out of Vanuatu and sail for New Caledonia.  The big question, for us and and our traveling companions on “”Evergreen” and “Gypsea Heart”, was how to best take advantage of the topography of the Islands to ease the difficulty of the windward passage and in what weather window should we begin the trip south. 

  A typical morning on Blue Rodeo finds us drinking our morning tea or eating breakfast listening to a weather broadcast on our SSB (single side band) radio).  It is usually in conjunction with a “net” where cruisers can check in, report their position and share information with others.   It was during one of these “nets” that we heard Jan and Rich, on the sailing yacht “Slip Away”, check in to say they were going to be at Maewo Island for a few days.  We had met them on the dock in Whangarei last season and quickly become good friends.  At that time, we made plans to do some cruising and diving with them in the islands but, because of delays leaving NZ while fixing some mechanical problems, they had travelled about 3 weeks behind us since reaching Vanuatu.  While strategizing with the “Evergreen” and “Gypsea Heart” crews (also good friends of Jan and Rich) about the windward passage back to Port Vila, we quickly hatched a plan to include a stop at Maewo, just a few miles off of our intended route, and pay them a surprise visit. If we left from Port Orly early in the morning, we could make the 10 hour passage to Maewo and anchor before dark.

While underway the next afternoon, we were relaxing in the cockpit when we were startled by the sound of heavy breathing coming from aft of the stern.  We quickly looked up and spotted a killer whale just a few feet away.  He seemed to be coming close enough to check us out.  We jumped up in time to see him swim under the boat and disappear out the other side.  We kept expecting him to resurface next to us but, several minutes later, saw him broaching out of the water about a mile away.  How cool was that?

We arrived in the Maewo anchorage at dusk managing to surprise the heck out of Jan and Rich who were watching a DVD movie in their boat’s cabin.  We had all maintained radio silence for the last several hours and successfully managed to sneak up on them.  They were so excited to see us.  Unfortunately, it was getting late and we were all too tired to get together that evening so we postponed the reunion.  The next day, our group shared an fun-filled day of scuba diving, watching a group of young women put on a dance show and enjoying a paella dinner together aboard “Gypsy Heart”.

The following morning, we all departed for Batnavine Bay on the Island of Pentecost and ended up spending three nights there waiting for the winds to die down before we could do the overnight sail to Port Vila.  On the last evening, we decided to get together for a homemade pizza party and to say goodbye before going our separate ways.  “Gypsy Heart” and “Slipaway”would be heading to Santo and “Evergreen” and “Blue Rodeo” to Port Vila.

Our overnight passage to Vila was about as good as could be hoped for and we arrived in there by mid morning the next day. We had expected to be able to spend at least four days there but were surprised to learn that a good weather window for the passage to Noumea was opening in just three days.  With one of those days being a Vanuatu national holiday (Independence Day), there would no relaxing if we wanted to make the narrow window.  We quickly tied “Blue Rodeo” up to a mooring buoy and the errands began.  Mark rushing off to get fuel via jerry cans and I set to work cleaning up the boat.  We spent the next day clearing out of the country with customs and immigration and buying last minute provisioning items.  On the day before our departure, with most chores completed, we all went to the fairgrounds to watch Vanuatu’s Independence Day celebrations.  While modest compared to a big US city 4th of July, they were interesting to see with a marching band that hammed it up a bit with some fancy rock and roll dance moves as well as dancers clothed in traditional costumes.  It was easy to see the pride the Vanuatu natives felt as evidenced by the size of the crowd, many with faces painted with the national colors and their waving of flags.  It was another cultural experience that reminded us of how fortunate we have been to have the opportunity to broaden our horizons both physically and culturally.   

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