Erromango and Port Vila

I just finished playing sailor and it turned out OK.  We’re on the third night of our passage to Australia, with about 460 miles to go of a 1,200 mile passage.  So far, the wind and waves have combined to make it a fast, if lumpy, ride.  Fast and splashy.  All of the hatches are shut but it has been cool out since Niue so people aren’t sweating too much down below.  I am in fuzzy pants and my only jacket, which is just right for these conditions.  A far cry from sweating on night watches in the Marquesas and Tuamotos!

Back to my playing sailor – I came on watch at 9 pm with Joe and Steve off to bed.  The winds were lower than they had been so I decided to take in the jib and put out the gennaker.  The main was reefed and we had slowed to about 6 – 7 knots which felt quite slow after two days of seeing speeds in the 12 – 15 knot range. 

I couldn’t get the gennaker to come out and finally saw that the furler was caught on the windlass.  Joe and Cobin had moved the gennaker earlier and it must have caught during the move.  I untangled it and pulled the sail right out.  Feeling like a real sailor, I turned the deck light on and made some efforts at trimming it, then enjoyed the increase in speed. 

About 30 minutes later, I noticed dark clouds clustering and thought it would be prudent of me to bring in the gennaker and put the jib back out.  Cobin left his movie-watching to help me.  I could not get the blasted thing to roll up due to some snag at the front.  I thought I could either call Joe or leave the gennaker out and hope for the best.  Joe looked so tired earlier that I decided to get the light and see if I could figure out what was holding it up.  I channeled my inner Joe, put on my life jacket, and went to the bow to look at the furler.  I tried furling again and saw that the thicker spliced part of the furling line that always gets stuck was getting more stuck at the angle I was pulling.  I just changed angles and it moved through.  I was able to furl the gennaker and pull the jib back out and trim it without waking Joe!

Then I woke him 10 minutes later to look at the dark clouds.  He admired them with me, told me they were nothing to worry about, and went back to sleep.

So, you might be wondering about Vanuatu.  I went on blog hiatus because Vanuatu was a ridiculously busy stopover.  It will be hard to accurately depict the whirlwind experience that was Vanuatu.  I will give an overview here and do separate entries about some of our adventures.

They use natural straws in the coconuts made of hollow plant stems

We landed on an island called Tanna, at a village called Port Resolution.  This, and Dillon’s Bay on the island of Erromango, are the most detached-from-civilization places we have visited so far on this trip.  We saw other tourists on Tanna, mainly visiting the volcano that left piles of black ashy sand all over our boat, but no one else on Erromango.  In fact, the man that gave us a tour of “Skeleton cave,” where the bodies of the village ancestors were placed, told us that they had “one white skin that has started a business here.”   I didn’t see any other white skins during our short stay there.

He had a good sense of humor and also told us that, “I’m sorry, but white people are tasty!”  Vanuatu’s last reported instance of cannibalism was in 1969 and the ancestors were placed in the “Skeleton Cave” to keep other villagers from eating their bodies.  No one attempted to eat us during our time there.  Not even a lick.

In Port Resolution, where we spent 3 days, we visited the village school, did a gift exchange and took care of basic boat duties, followed by an evening trip to the volcano which spewed bursts of lava into the air. 

Gift exchange ceremony at Port Resolution

This volcano is billed as the most accessible active volcano in the world.  Although our guide told us no one had ever fallen in, I have my doubts.  Like most places outside the US, you have to use common sense to avoid sliding down the steep slope where there is a drop off into the pit of lava.  Several of the protective barriers had started sliding down the slope themselves so there was really nothing apart from common sense keeping us out of the lava.  Thankfully, a spirit of self-preservation kicks in fairly quickly when it’s obvious that your life depends upon it.  Oddly, they issued all of us helmets before the truck ride to the summit.  We never did figure out if they were to protect from falling lava or just to entertain us as they inevitably blew off people’s heads and rolled down the slope, eventually to be sacrificed to the lava.

The people were very kind and welcoming in all the villages, if perhaps a bit perplexed by us.  Our kids did their best to meet the local kids and joined in with various sports at the school, but ultimately the cultural divide kept them from doing much other than smiling and greeting each other. 

Mary was very popular with her bag of lollipops. But look how patient they are – no grabbing!

We did have one session when I interviewed a large group of kids and they each gave their name and age and then our set of kids did the same.  We all smiled and laughed at each other’s efforts but it was hard to take it much past that, especially since we only had a few hours’ time in the village in Erromango.

We walked down the dirt road on the island of Erromango to a river where a couple of women were washing clothes as cows wandered around, grazing and drinking from the river.  The women had spread the clothes on rocks to dry and I wondered how often the clothes had to be rewashed when the cows spent too much time grazing in the clothes-drying areas.  It’s a beautiful island with lush green pastures, a clear flowing river, and hills in the distance.  I would have loved to go for a run but we had decided to make the passage to Port Vila that afternoon so we turned around and headed back to Charm, scooping up Manihi’s Max and Daisy for a last ride together before Manihi leaves the ARC.

They got lucky because we had a blisteringly fast and easy passage to Port Vila while their monohull slopped around in the rolling waves.

Tully tries out her magic wand on some local Erromango girls

Port Vila was a nice stop with a surprising level of commercialism for a city of 50,000.  According to one of the residents, the whole country of Vanuatu has less than 300,000 living in it, with the most people concentrated in Port Vila.  We had some good meals, did some fantastic provisioning at a grocery store with the best (and only) fresh meat counter I’ve seen since Papeete, and went on another great waterfall tour with a fantastic guide named Robert.

Robert crafts Tully a leaf crown while Manihi’s Sophie and Max look on.

There was a recreated native village visit before the waterfall which I thought would be hokey but was quite touching.  A group of men want to preserve their native culture and so they put on a show for tourists, calling it “Black Magic.”  They demonstrated how to make fire with wood, how they used to communicate between villages by drawing pictures, and they used Cobin as a volunteer and lifted him using only leaves (the magic only worked if Cobin kept his eyes closed).

Cobin is lifted with only leaves and black magic

This was followed by an exceptional walk up to a serious of cascades with a crowning waterfall (with secret chamber behind it) led by Robert, who grew up in the area and stopped along the way to grab pieces of foliage which he used to make hats, musical instruments, crowns, and toys.  I plan to put together video footage of this so you can all enjoy his impressive abilities.  Watch for Waltzing Matilda on the blade of grass . . .

Steve models some wilderness leaf art with daughter Morgan

At some point, we gathered up our new guests – Steve Hunsinger and his children Morgan and Mason, and attended another World ARC awards ceremony where we won the Multihull Division and handed off the blue jacket to Niobe at an evening punctuated with good-bye speeches by all the boats leaving the ARC.

Mason shows off a hat created by local guide, Robert

A greatly reduced fleet left Port Vila for Mackay, Australia in good winds albeit dampened spirits as we left behind many good friends who are wrapping up their time with the World ARC.

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