Saturday, 22 July 2017

Passage and Mid Passage Beach Party Photos

Although we have been in Vanuatu since May I have not taken the time to seek out sufficient internet bandwidth or, more importantly, sift through the thousands of pictures we have taken ...    So, here comes a series of photo blog posts.

This post is the pictures sailing from the Marshall Islands to Tikopia in the Solomons.  Liz wrote about the passage in this  previous post as well as in a post on our mid passage beach party.

Welcome back to the Southern Hemisphere.  Note the wind heading over 30 kts from its previous more sedate 12 kts.  On the screen you can our latitude is 0 00.002'N (approximately12 feet north of the Equator) and we have a mere 975nm to go.  You can see on the chart page we have headed off downwind to relieve the loads on the boat and to make it more comfortable as this is just a squall

As a former glider pilot and, now, a sailor, I spend a fair amount time looking at clouds but what is this one ?  Pretzel cloud ?

More squalls

Loving our rain enclosure ...

Kind of hard to go around this one.

And some rain

But the wind and current are helping us along our way.  Reefed well down and making pretty good time.

Is the US nuking the Marshall Is again ?  Nope, just some more squalls at sunset.

and what to do on passage when not on watch. Victoria trying to avoid the sun and do her math.

Minecraft with Benjamin

and, of course, catching rain water is a good way to pass the time if you are three.

and then the wind stopped ...

So ... time for a party.  No worry about hitting the bottom as I think it was about 8000' deep or so.

SWIMEX !Yes, we did keep one adult onboard at all times to ensure Fluenta did not decide to leave the party.
Johnathan Diving

Even time to sit and read a book (out of the sun).

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Exodus Reunion and the kids in Latitude 38

Liz and kids are back in Canada visiting and I am on Fluenta catching up on some maintenance in Port Vila.  They had a smooth trip to Halifax and had the extra special treat of meeting up with the Exodus crew at LAX.  Deanne and the boys drove all the way to LAX from San Diego despite their busy shore-based life.

Fluenta and Exodus kids (and Mum's) reunited at LAX (SV Exodus photo)

While procrastinating rebeding some more chain plates and other glamorous jobs, I flipped through the latest Latitude 38 and there was a picture of the young children of Fluenta, Exodus and Lady Carolina.  The kids have grown up a bit since 2014.

Familiar faces in the July 2017 Latitude 38

Hard to believe Benjamin was ever that small and that we took him across the Pacific when he was four months old ...   He looks than impressed in this photo.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Johnathan's Report on the Volcano Hike


As promised, here is a report on our hike up the volcano from someone else's perspective for a change - Johnathan has written a little bit about his experience, and he has agreed that we can share it.


Report on Ambrym the volcano hike (Johnathan)

I got up at around 0540 hrs (still dark) and then at around 0615,  Tim came in Blue Gum and picked us up to go to the shore.  Once we were on shore we met up with the rest of the Honeys and then at 0633 the pickup truck (Ute) came, and took us up to the village. At the village, Tim and Jude got out and we continued on with Samuel and Ella.

We kept going for around twenty minutes then we got to a clearing where the truck pulled in and we all got out. We loaded up our bags and set off. Once we were out the truck pulled out of the clearing and headed back to the village.

Samuel, Ella, and Vicky and I (all the kids), started to pull ahead but then after about twenty minutes the grownups started catching up so when we reached the rest spot we only got about one minute's rest before the grownups got there and we had to go again. We started off again and then after a while of hiking Samuel and I started pull ahead so we were the first people to reach the ash plains.

We sat and waited for a bit and eventually the rest of the group came along; as it turned out, Vicky had thrown up on the path and one of the guides was carrying her pack.  Now that she was better we (the kids) were able trade around the packs so at any one time at least one person was having a break from carrying a bag, or if Samuel was carrying two bags two people were free. When Samuel carried my bag he gave me his so now I had the lighter bag which was nice so I carried it most of the way along to the volcano.

The ash plains were by far the easiest to walk on, considering they were flat and the rest of the hike was relatively steep. So we walked along the plains for about two hours(?) then we got to the beginning of the actual volcano. It was weird how when we were walking on the ash plains if you looked at the mountain it looked like it was retreating.

Before we started to go up the actual volcano, our guides told us that we shouldn't talk too loudly, so I think they have a belief that you should sneak up quietly on a volcano. It was cool how different it was to walk on the volcano rather than in the jungle on the first hill. On the volcano, instead of walking in the shade with vegetation and stuff making it so that you could only see however far it was the to the next turn, you were walking on a gravelly ridge-line so it was possible to see for miles! It was a bit scary not being able to grab on to trees and scrub if you slipped: in the ridge-line you just had to hope you kept your balance.

At the top of the volcano it was surprisingly easy to breath because when Honey had done the hike two years ago they had had to go back down because of all the sulphur on the air making it hard to breath. When we got up it was nice and clear so when you went to the edge and looked down, you could see the lava and magma bubbling at the bottom, when I was doing something — maybe getting food, I lost my grip on my hat so it went cartwheeling over the lip of the crater, I'm sorry to say I haven't seen that hat again — which is sad because it was a really nice hat, but that is beside the point.

After we ate lunch our guides hustled us back down the mountain and to the ash plains again where we stopped at the site that people sleep at if they stay overnight. At the camp mum got out a packet of short bread cookies which were pretty old but not that horrible. We rested there for about ten minutes then we were on the trail again and somehow we managed to cross in about three quarters of our first time. When we reached the jungle Samuel and I sped ahead again and we went so fast we thought we had gotten lost because we had passed through so many spiderwebs that should have been broken when we went through the first time, as it turned out they had just been fast builders and after waiting and listening for a sec we heard the murmur of conversation so we kept going; when we reached a medium sized Banyan tree I had a great idea to hide in it until the rest of the people came, so Samuel suggested that we climb up so we did and after about five minutes, we heard them coming but Vicky glanced up our tree and saw us which kind of spoilt it.

We climbed down and kept going and this time Ella and Vicky kept up with us so we all reached the first rest spot in no time. Once everyone else caught up, we rested then ran ahead again, we reached the truck's clearing and after waiting for the grownups to catch up, we start to hike back along the trail the truck had taken to get up. And let me tell you: it is way faster in a truck, although we made pretty good time and I carried both my bag and the girls' bag which was pretty light because they had drunken most of the water.

Ella, Vicky, and I (Samuel was talking airplanes with Dad) ran down the track which was really fun, we would run as fast as we could down the steep parts of the trail and then keep rocketing on for another fifteen feet when we tried to stop. The guides led us off the big track and onto a smaller trail that was a bit steeper than the rest of the return hike. We kept going along that track for a bit and eventually came out into the village.

Your hat went where ?

I don't see Johnathan's hat down there either.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Land Diving and Volcanos and Caves, oh my!


I am a little behind on my emails, but I am going to catch up before the kids and I fly to Canada on 9 July (Port Vila to Halifax via Brisbane, Australia, Los Angeles, and Toronto).

Honey had a one-month visa in Vanuatu, and had arrived from Fiji a couple of weeks before we showed up from the Marshalls, so we had about ten days together before they needed to head for Port Vila to clear out.  Victoria and Johnathan kept asking *why* hadn't we sailed south from the Marshalls sooner, and we kept saying one word to them: "Donna" (as in Cyclone Donna, which was immediately followed by Cyclone Ella - both of which hit the area in the month of May, ie after the normal Cyclone "season").  These last two cyclones didn't seem to have checked their calendars to find out that they were unwelcome!

Given our short time together, we made the most of every moment, managing to visit what seemed like a month's worth of anchorages in the week that we had together.  We saw the village and waterfall in Asanvari, the Moon Cave and Petroglyphs at Sanasom (both on the West coast of Maewo), the Land Diving at Pentecost, and the Volcano at Ambrym.  As our tour guides, Honey had recce'd most of these spots on their previous visit to Vanuatu in 2015, a month or so before we met them in Fiji.

Maewo is a long, narrow island running north/south and about 30 nm long.  It is famous for its waterfalls (and its rain, which did not stop for the first 24 hours we were there).  After Sunday pancakes, Sunday visiting, and Sunday fish curry for dinner, followed by the first of many mix-and-match sleepovers for the kids, we headed ashore to visit the village on Monday.  While the parents walked around the school and gardens near Asanvari Bay (including a visit to the school library, which Honey had helped to construct two years ago, but which had been temporarily moved to another building in the nick of time when the roof was about to blow away during Cyclone Donna), the five kids walked along the shore to the waterfall.  I am not entirely sure where they hiked (not the usual path to the waterfall - it seems that this was too tame for them) all I know is that at one point, it was steep enough that they passed Benjamin from person to person to go down a hill (chain-gang style, in Honey's terms).  They were pretty pleased with themselves when we rejoined them.  I was pretty pleased that Benjamin had graduated to having adventures with 'the kids'! 

During our walkabout, Jude and Tim discovered that a couple of people wanted to return to their village in the vicinity of Betarara (north end of the island), and offered to take them aboard Honey. Given that we had one of their kids, and they had one of ours, when they left the next morning with five ni-Vanuatu onboard, we decided to join them :)  Our plan was to drop off the villagers and anchor near the site of the 'Cave of the Moon' and some petroglyphs.  We had a lovely sail with the wind behind us for much of the day (although it crept up towards 20 kts and choppy seas at times) but when the time came to anchor, Betararara was unsuitable as a night anchorage (despite appearing in one of our guide books), so we turned around and headed south again.  There began a bit of an anchoring adventure: numerous points were marked in our guide near the Moon Cave, but the waypoints were neither precise nor suitable, so eventually we anchored a little further north off the village of Nasawa.

The following morning dawned bright and clear, so we loaded up our two dinghies, and set off for the Cave of the Moon, the location of which Honey's guests had pointed out the previous day. Legend has it that  that Te Kero (I think he is the local god) lived in the cave with his mother before there were entrances or light.  She had trouble seeing to weave her mats, so Te Kero took the Moon down from the top of the Cave (where there is now a large circular cavity) and threw it to the East to let the light in, then threw it South and again to the North.  These three entrances provided plenty of light for his mother!  I had assumed that the cave was a walking tour, but Honey was a little more prepared, and brought fins and snorkels.  Everyone had a tour swimming around the cave, with the Fluentas swimming in our clothing :)  As it turned out, there were some beautiful corals in the cave ("This is the best snorkelling I've done, Mom - you've got to go" in the words of one of my big kids), and it was well worth the effort.

We understood that the petroglyphs were just off the beach a little south of the moon cave, so we headed to the shore and decided to stop for a bit of a picnic.  Of course, a picnic is not a picnic without either ants or rain, and soon we had both in abundance, to the point that they chased us back to our boats.  As it turned out, the rain was no minor squall, and the downpour continued for most of the afternoon.  This gave Max and me a chance to troubleshoot our generator, while eventually the rain stopped and Jude and Tim went ashore to bring our greetings and to see about arranging a guide to see the petroglyphs the following day. 

The next day was quite extraordinary, well worth the delay, and the effort to arrange a local guide.  It turned out that the petroglyphs were about a 30 min walk from the village, and we ended up with three men taking us there.  Kevery was our main guide, and he spoke very good English, and two older men, the current chief and the former chief.  Chiefly roles are different in different parts of Vanuatu - in this village, the chief is chosen for a certain period of time.  The chiefs seemed to have a better sense of the history and the stories, but had less English.  As we walked through wet grass and mud, we were offered mandarins directly from the tree - it turned out to be the tree belonging to our guide, and he was sharing with us.  I had no idea that mandarins could sometimes be so sour!!  Benjamin (who was along for the ride on my back) and I ate a few segments, but I happily shared with Johnathan (and the ground) after a while.  To our right was an area where the trees have been cut down and the local young men have been going through with machettes to clear the land: one day soon, there will be an airstrip allowing tourists to come to see the Cave and petroglyphs.  I wondered how these airplane tourists would react to a path where they had to pick their way around fresh cow patties and where the mud sometimes wanted to suction our shoes off our feet, but I figured that these minor issues would be resolved by then :)  The subject of change vs tradition (Kastom) came up several times during the day, and I was left with a sense that the Chiefs have a strong sense of the importance of transmitting their culture to the younger members of their community. 

While we walked we learned a few sentences of Bislama, but I must admit that Jude was a more dedicated student than I was!  Because it is, by definition, a second language, it was actually quite fun to learn, since so many words are similar to English.  [Aside - we have learned since that Bislama developed in the cane fields of Australia, where many ni-Vanuatu had to find a way to communicate with one another even though they had very different village languages.  People from neighbouring villages can often understand each other, but when they came from further away, they had no common ground.  Bislama evolved as a combination of English and French words, with a local ni-Vanuatu syntax, and enabled workers from around the country to speak with one other.]  I had a funny reminder of how easily small children pick up languages that evening when Benjamin started muttering to himself onboard the boat: "Nem blong mi Benjamin" (Name belong me Benjamin - my name is Benjamin!)  Without any effort on our part, he was absorbing what he heard us saying :)

Our walk took us back to the beach where we had landed the dinghies the day before and to a short path into the woods.  We found ourselves standing before a rock wall with a shallow cut away about the height of a person that formed a long shallow cave (likely formed by water over the centuries, perhaps when the whole structure was under the ocean).  Over the years (centuries), people have carved designs and pictures directly into the rock.  It was a little hard to understand the stories, given our lack of either the local tribal language or Bislama, but it seemed that many of the patterns would be unique to a tribe, and that many different tribes would come to that same cave to make their mark.  It was tabu to mark in someone else's space.  It also seemed like some of the designs would be repeated from place to place, as a way of marking a group's territory, or letting others know that they had been there.  There were even more recent images (probably about 150-200 years old) of the first sailing ships that the local people saw coming to visit them. 

It seemed that we were about to be taken back to the village, so I asked whether it would also be possible to see some rock formations we had read about.  After some animated discussion in their local language, our three guides agreed that they could take us, and a few minutes later, we were filing into a cave that was as deep and narrow as the previous one had been wide and flat and shallow.  In this cave, the local people had placed flat stones under the points where the mineral-laden water dripped from the roof.  Over the centuries, the rocks had become part of the unusual rock structures themselves.  The cave clearly had a sacred energy for our hosts, and the former chief told us that this was the home of the god to which he prayed (even when the missionaries asked him to pray to the Christian God).  He was fiercely proud of his tradition and his faith.  We felt honoured to be there, and grateful that they were willing to share their sacred spaces with us. 

On our walk back to the village, we stopped by one of the chiefs' trees, where he asked a couple of the men threw stones at the high branches: if there are no young boys around to climb for them, this is how the men harvest the nuts from the tree :)  He used a machette to open the hard outer covering to reveal a tasty white nut about twice the size of an almond inside (called a navele in their language).  Once it was discovered that we liked them, a growing group of men were sent to gather more (with great theatrics as the nuts were a good 20-30 feet in the air), and soon the chief came to us with a couple of dozen nuts held up in his t-shirt, the way the kids gather eggs at their grandparents' farm.  This was typical of the kindness and generosity that we experienced at every turn.

On our return to the village, Kevery had another surprise for us: he had asked his mother to make us 'lap lap' and fish so that we could try it.  As best as I could understand, lap lap is made from grated vegetable (in this case yam, but it could have been another food such as green bananas) which is then combined with other ingredients, wrapped in leaves, and baked in an earth oven, and drizzled with coconut cream.  It was savory rather than sweet, and quite tasty.  As I said, we were welcomed with generosity!

We had a few hours in the evening before our departure for Pentecost, so Jude, Tim, Max and I cooked up a plan to return some of the generosity we had experienced: we invited our Kevery and his parents to have tea with all of us on Honey (there are definite advantages to the cockpit size on a catamaran!)  I was planning to bake oatmeal scones anyway for the following morning, so it was easy enough to double the recipe and have some to share.

Having tea with our hosts wasn't something we 'had time' for, as we had plenty to do to get ready for our midnight departure on an overnight passage, but it was one of those things that seemed like it would be a shame to miss - it is the moments of connecting that make our village visits memorable.  Kevery and his parents seemed quite tickled to be invited to visit in Honey's cockpit, and we all had a nice conversation together. 

With darkness approaching, we said our goodbyes and went back to Fluenta to hoist our dinghy onto the foredeck.  Johnathan (and sometimes Victoria) has become instrumental in this evolution.  Once Max and I have hoisted the outboard onto its mount at the stern of Fluenta (using a block &  tackle setup with a lifting arm), Max maneuvers the dinghy around the bow of Fluenta and we fasten the starboard spinnaker halyard to the painter of the dinghy, then Johnathan grinds on the winch at the mast, Max keeps the boat steady as it ascends with its tubes touching the lifelines, and I hover to make sure that nothing gets caught.  Once the bottom of the tubes are clear of the lifelines, Max swings the dinghy over to hang vertically above our liferaft (where I make sure that the mats are in place underneath to prevent the corners of the dinghy from cutting into our vinyl cover).  Johnathan then eases the dinghy down gently, and Max steadies it while I make sure that the staysail (which is generally in its bag and swinging above the deck) will not be in the way of the bow of the dingy.  Once it is nearly down, Max and I lift the stern together to put the transom aft of the liferaft.  At that point, my job is done, and Max & Johnathan stow any necessary gear under the dinghy, cover it with a large piece of Sunbrella (a former water-catching tarp) and secure it in place with a combination of 2" straps and segments of line that Max has cut to the proper size. All of this sounds really easy, but it can be exciting if the wind or the sea-state is boisterous; every time we do it, I am grateful that the big kids are now old enough to be 1/3 of our dinghy hoisting crew :)  In this case, everything was pretty calm, and we were able to get most of the upper deck jobs done before it was totally dark (easier said than done with sunset before 5:30 pm!)

After an early dinner, Max went straight to sleep, and I stowed necessary items in the saloon and galley to prepare for a potentially bouncy trip.  It was only about 9 hours of travelling, but the seas promised to be steep, and the wind was likely to be on our nose.  All was well for most of the evening, but at one point, the energy monitor made an Alarm sound, and went blank.  Max woke up, wiggled a few wires, the display came back on, and he went back to sleep.  It went blank again shortly thereafter, but I didn't think much of it: I figured I would wake him a few minutes early so that he could wiggle the wires again, and all would be well for our passage. 

As it turned out, the Energy Monitor got its power from a wire from the forward (Windless) battery bank.  When I woke Max just before midnight, we decided that we didn't want to set off into the sea with some unknown issue with the windless bank.  The windless bank is under the mattress in the V-Berth.  I suspect that it doesn't take much imagination to picture our lack of enthusiasm at midnight for moving two spinnakers, three kites, two kiteboards, an autopilot (still in its shipping box), a duffel bag full of books, and various and sundry other spare gear and out of season clothes (not to mention a six-month supply of toilet paper and paper towels making great use of Max's Navy sea bag!) but most of these things had to migrate to the saloon or at the very least move aside so that Max could lift the mattress to even access the battery bank.  With volt meter in hand, he shimmied his way into position, and began to poke around with his volt meter.  It turned out that somehow the fuse between the Energy Monitor and the batteries had blown. He was able to replace it, but we kept the gear out of the way for a few days to make sure that we didn't have a recurring problem; in the fullness of time, he will add another fuse near the chart table to further isolate and protect the Energy Monitor.  For once, I even had a hand in an electrical repair: I re-connected the Energy Monitor at the chart table while he kept his volt meter on the various battery voltages in his cave in the V-Berth.  With building seas/wind/swell, it was becoming more uncomfortable by the minute.  Gasping for breath from a combination of close quarters and sea sickness, it was with great relief that he finally emerged from the V-Berth and we were able to get underway, a mere two hours later than planned :)

For me the rest of the passage to Pentecost was completely uneventful:  after we secured the anchor on the foredeck, I went to sleep, expecting to be shaken around 4am, only to wake naturally at a very civilized 9:30 to find that we were nearly there, and Victoria had spelled Max off on the dawn watch :)  For Max and eventually Victoria, however, it was a different story - the seas were steep and rough, and the wind was on the nose throughout the passage. 

Both of us had heard about the Pentecost Land Diving for many years, in fact, Max remembered reading about it in the National Geographic magazines when he was a boy.  We had called earlier in the week, and made arrangements to see the Saturday show.  With only one other boat in the anchorage, we pretty nearly had a private performance!

The same man has been organizing the Land Diving on the island since he was a bright-eyed teenager in 1978; two years later, at twenty, he went from his village in Pentecost to the stage of the Sydney Opera House to speak to hundreds of travel agents about his village traditions, and the rest is history.  What used to be a one-time event (with extra charges for photo/video equipment - the larger the equipment, the greater the fee) now runs more than weekly through April, May, and June; we were fortunate to arrive before the end of the season.  The villagers build a tower of trees, poles, and vines, which develops a Spirit of its own with which they told us that they communicate to keep themselves safe.  There are a number of platforms built into the tower at various levels; the platforms actually break away when they are used to help break the fall of the jumper, who is expected to touch his head to the ground as he falls.  Thankfully, the landing area is actually the side of quite a steep hill, where the earth has been loosened, but still, it was unnerving to watch the divers.

The performance seemed to involve many in the village, as there were both men and women performing traditional dances beside the tower, as well as many men assisting the jumpers, all of whom were wearing traditional dress.  I believe that boys as young as eight or nine can jump, although the youngest ones we saw were 13 and 14.  The jumpers search all through the jungle to find the vines that will eventually be tied around their ankles, sometimes dragging them several miles back to the tower for an older man to inspect.  We were told that we would see six jumpers; however, there was a problem with the tallest two platforms, and we ended up seeing only three jumpers, from the lower platforms.  As much as the islanders have been doing this land diving for generations (centuries, perhaps millennia), it is still a dangerous activity: two weeks before we were there, the husband of our young guide fell on the ground, injuring his back and shoulder.  One of the men in our show spent quite some time on the second-highest tower preparing to jump before deciding that it just wasn't advisable for him to jump from that platform on that day; as much as we were disappointed at the curtailed show, it was an uncomfortable feeling to be standing with a camera poised, waiting for someone to jump, possibly to his injury or death.  We admired their ability to listen to their intuition. 

It was quite fun later in the morning to meet the two young boys who had jumped and to see their quiet pride in their accomplishment.  It would not have been the same experience at all to have been there the following week when a cruise ship was to visit, bringing 1600 spectators to see one show!

Rather than rushing to sail to Ambrym, likely arriving there in a race against sunset, we elected to take our time in Pentecost and visit the neighbouring village after lunch, which was provided by one of two ladies who offer a meal service.  The other boat in the anchorage was French, so we walked with them down the road to the French village.  Five minutes in one direction the previous afternoon had taken us to a village where the school (and therefore the population) was English; ten minutes the other way took us to the village of St Josef that was similarly French.  Even though they live very close to each other, neither their colonial language nor their village language was the same! 

All the villages were very pretty and well-maintained, with thatch roofed houses and colourful paint jobs on their woven walls.  We were shown around the village and the school, met some ladies at a tiny local market, and were even taken to the nearby hotspring.  I had assumed that it would be used for either cooking or bathing (no chance - way too hot) but in fact, it was used as an area to pluck chickens and skin pigs!   

The following morning, we woke bright and early for the three-hour sail to Ambrym to seen Honey (and hike up to the volcano).  When we arrived, they were just returning from church and from arranging our tour for the next day.  Some people hike up one day and hike down after overnighting at a camp site, but we only had time to do it all in one day.  The truck picked us up at 6:30 Monday morning for the 1100m elevation hike; after a quick stop in the village to pick up our guides (and drop off Tim & Jude) we were taken to a point part way up the mountain where the road ended and the one-person track began. 

In response to my request for free writing, Johnathan has written about the hike, and I am going to send his account separately; for now, I will just give you some numbers: we hiked for an hour (mostly steeply uphill) from the truck to reach the 'ash plain' which was blessedly flat (Benjamin kept asking if I was OK because I was so out of breath on the steep bits ... it turns out that after five years of mainly sitting on a boat, my cardio fitness leaves a bit to be desired!)  We hiked about two 1/2 hours on the ash plain to reach the last ridge before the summit, and it took about 20 min of steep/slippery (high consequence of lost footing) climbing to reach the summit.  In total it was about 3:45 hrs to the summit from the truck.  On the way down, by the time we reached the truck stop, we had been hiking for 7 hrs, and we reached the village at 8 hrs.  We were gone from Fluenta for 11 hours in total. 

For me, the funniest part of the hike was the last 20 minutes before the summit.  I was *not* happy on the slippery / narrow track, and one of the guides could tell this.  I had already become used to their assistance during the three hours that I carried Benjamin at the beginning of the day (I gave him to Max for the steep bit at the end, and then Max carried him for the rest of the hike), so it wasn't a great leap to have them take my hand for the final climb.  What I didn't anticipate was the speed with which we would make the ascent - I was held firmly by a strong hand, and we literally ran to the top!  My feet were in disintegrating running shoes, while my guide had his flipflops in his pocket.  With each step, I watched his strong toes dig right into the earth, and I felt very safe.  We were like an express bus passing congested rush-hour traffic, as we passed by all the kids and Max with Benjamin on his back :)  I have to say that I was relieved when we got there, as I was beginning to feel that my legs just might refuse to go any further, regardless of how strong my will or determination might have been. 

We were fortunate with our experience of the crater itself: when the Honey family had done the hike two years ago, the summit was completely closed in with choking clouds of sulfuric acid fumes; they couldn't see the lava, and had to leave almost immediately.  Although we had intermittent periods of clarity and clouds, we could generally see, hear, and feel the lava bubbling orange 400m below, and could see the sides of the crater across from us.  We had been warned that the wind at the top would be strong, but I was still caught off guard when Johnathan's hat blew out of his hands and into the crater.  We were all just glad that we had lost a hat instead of a child!  Even the kids were nervous when Benjamin was let down from the carrier, and we kept a constant grip on his hand while we ate our picnic lunch on the exposed side of the ridge.  On our way down, a different guide held my hand (we had three for our group of seven) and he very patiently helped me step down slowly, slowly.   You will have to watch for the pictures of this adventure, as it is hard to describe the barren but beautiful scenery, and the steep, volcanic paths. 

By the time we walked down to the beach, we were pretty shattered, and it was nice to take Jude up on her offer of coming over for chicken soup and another visit aboard Honey!  I thought we would have an early night after our long day, but as usual, the conversation flowed from one topic to another, and once again, we solved the world's problems well into the dark hours.  All four big kids had decided to have a sleepover on the trampoline, so eventually we bundled up Benjamin and headed home to Fluenta. 

Inspired by Honey, we have begun to keep a 'memory book' on Fluenta.  I left our book with Jude overnight, and was delighted to pick it up again in the morning with a new painting and a new poem in it: the bar has been raised for our future guests!  In a lovely trade, I gave Jude some flour, and she returned half of it to me in the form of a lovely loaf of fresh bread, inspiring me to get back to baking aboard Fluenta.

Our week-long kid boat hiatus came to an end around noon time as all the kids returned to their own boats, and Honey headed off for Port Vila and the check-out procedure.  We are hoping to see them again in New Caledonia after we return from Canada.

As for us, we took an additional three weeks to make it to Port Vila, stopping at some lovely anchorages along the way ... a journey which I will make the subject of another email :)

Love to all,
At 2017-07-05 10:46 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 17°44.72'S 168°18.74'E

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Luganville and long awaited rendez-vous with HONEY!!


We have now spent just over three weeks in Vanuatu - we arrived the day before our 19th anniversary, which suited Victoria well because it meant that we could stock up on groceries before she and Johnathan created our (now annual) Anniversary Feast :) I have given up on telling you about all our adventures so far in one email, so you will perhaps be glad to know that I will be sending a few short(er) notes.

We spent a few days in Luganville, where Max was able to dive on the SS President Coolidge (one of the top ten wreck dives in the world) and he took the big kids to visit the Millennium Caves (a hike/swim that involved scrambling through the jungle and floating down a river - their report at the end of the day confirmed that Benjamin and I were wise to remain aboard Fluenta). There were happy reports all around from both expeditions, and once we have Internet access, Max will post photos to share more about their adventures.

Clearing into Vanauatu in Luganville is pretty easy if a person knows where to go. Thankfully one of the cruising guides provided photos and directions to the buildings, because Customs is within a commercial wharf, Immigration is completely unmarked, and Quarantine is at the other end of town! When we arrived, we anchored off the main town while Max did the clearances, and then a few days later, I took trekked back to obtain our cruising permit, extended visas, and permission letter to return from Canada on a 'one-way' ticket. We got our exercise, as both excursions involved walking several times up and down the length of the main street (not to mention five editions of a multi-page form, two passport photos each, and a letter requesting our one-way return from Canada). I was glad that, for once, I hadn't left all this admin until the last minute! [Aside - another boat got an unfortunate reminder to keep the boat occupied and/or locked when anchored off the main town of Luganville: their boat was entered through a hatch and a laptop was stolen and another had their dingy stolen and "ransomed back"]

After clearing in, we spent most of the week anchored off the Beachfront resort, which offered yachties the services we have come to treasure - a beach where we could leave our dinghy (under the watchful eye of their 24/7 security guard, but emptied of anything valuable at his suggestion), a bar/restaurant with wifi (free for slowspeed and 1000 vatu/week/device (about $12 Cdn) for highspeed), and a pool where all three kids burned off some steam while we caught up on admin. Wearing the floatation belt from his Auntie Marilyn, Benjamin became confident and independent in the water to the point that every time we have anchored since, he has asked if we are back on the "Pool Island".

Given that our anniversary was the following day, Victoria and I headed for the market, the bakery, and the butcher for some (somewhat famous) fruit and veg, baguettes, and meat. Victoria also added a few ingredients to the shopping list without telling me precisely what they were for (including a two-pound block of cream cheese!) She is always in charge of the menu for our anniversary. To telescope our visit, we also booked the expedition to the Millennium Caves for the next day, with no idea how much exertion would be involved...

The Millennium Caves visit ended quite late in the afternoon and left everyone totally spent, but this did not faze the kids - as soon as they got back, Max and I were packed off (sans Benjamin) for a drink and starter ashore while the three kids set to work to create our Anniversary feast. It is a rare treat to have a conversation without a little voice asking from another room that we repeat or explain something that we have just said! Before long, we received the call on the VHF that our chauffeur was enroute to take us back to Fluenta: everything was ready for dinner, and even Benjamin had been recruited as the 'naked waiter guy' :) Vanuatu is known for its beef (something about grazing on mostly volcanic soil) so on the menu were steaks, potatoes, Caesar salad with home-made dressing, and home-made cheese cake for dessert. As usual, I sent a silent message of thanks to Julie on SV Nirvana for the Caesar dressing recipe!!

Luganville is a busy and colourful town, with one main street that runs from the Customs dock to the Beachfront and beyond into the country. After months in atolls, where nothing much grows but coconuts and pandanus, we especially enjoyed the huge, juicy, and sweet local Pamplemousse (pomelo) from the market. It was easy to either walk into town or flag down a taxi on the road, and there were plenty of taxis in town to take us home. Unlike Majuro, where the fare was on a per-person basis (and strangers shared each cab, getting on and off like a private bus service), the fare in Luganville was per-cab, and it was 100 vatu within the town and 200 vatu to go 'beyond the river' to the Beachfront.

With the kids chomping at the bit to see their friends on Honey, we left Luganville as soon as our admin was finished and sailed to Maewo Island to meet them at Asanvari Bay. For the first time in memory, we tried a middle-of-the-night departure, where all the upper deck preparations were completed in the daylight, Max went 'off watch' immediately after dinner, and I spent the evening preparing the saloon and galley (and watching the clock). Shortly after midnight, I woke Max, we weighed anchor, and I went to sleep as soon as we had all the getting underway chores completed. I had a particularly long off-watch, as Victoria took the dawn watch and the first I knew it was almost 9am!! We sailed the rest of the way to Asanvari together, and then Max was able to sleep after we set the anchor. The Bay was completely socked in with a trough sitting over us, so we didn't venture very far that first afternoon!

The following morning, there was great hooting and hollering and blowing of fog horns when Honey sailed into the anchorage just as I was putting Sunday pancakes on the table. We had been watching them on AIS as they came tantalizingly close and then tacked away again to enter the bay under sail. I had doubled the recipe on the assumption that we would not be alone to eat them, and this began a marvelous week of shared food and company. After an entire season in different countries, we all had so much catching up to do!!

Over the next ten days, I generally knew that I would find two, or three, or five (or even zero) children onboard, but I didn't always know which ones they would be :) Amongst themselves, Victoria, Johnathan, Ella, and Samuel worked out a daily plan of who would sleep and play on each boat, generally including Benjamin, and simply kept the moms informed. They even washed dishes!

I will leave our adventure there for a moment - news to follow of our ten days with Honey, where we saw what seemed like a month's worth of anchorages together. After such a long absence, it was so good to buddy-boat together !

Much love to all,
At 2017-06-18 11:41 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 16°34.10'S 168°10.37'E
At 2017-06-18 11:41 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 16°34.10'S 168°10.37'E

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Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Warm welcome at Tikopia


On our way from the Marshall Islands to Vanuatu, the trade winds (very conveniently) died just as we were approaching the tiny island of Tikopia, so we (enthusiastically) stopped for a few days.

As we approached in the morning light (having been hove-to the previous evening to time our arrival for the morning) the volcanic island seemed to rise from the mist like something out of Jurassic Park (and the blank looks on our kids' faces when Max described it this way reminded us that their cultural education has had some gaps that we will need to rectify...). After months of approaching low-lying atolls that are only visible within the last few miles, it was startling to see land from so far away. As we got closer, we could see tiny little triangles floating on the water off either end of the island. At first, we thought they were markers of some kind, or perhaps toy canoes like the boys played with in Ailuk, but eventually we could see that these were full-sized one-person dugout canoes, with outriggers for stability and tiny sails for propulsion, that were operated by individual villagers out to catch their daily fish.

Anchoring offered another reminder that we have left the world of atolls and lagoons this season: we had no pass to enter, we simply motored up towards a gap in the reef that Max had plotted based on the USN Sailing Directions and satellite imagery, and dropped our anchor in about 80 feet of water. Many yachts apparently anchor on a patch of sand 30 feet deep a little North East of our position, but the late-morning sun on my left meant that I couldn't see the reefs in this direction from where I was standing on the bow, so we biased ourselves to the side of the anchorage where we had visibility. The ocean water was extraordinarily clear: we could see the anchor and chain on the bottom.

Perhaps it was because Tikopia had come highly recommended by our friends on SV INFINITY (, perhaps it was because Tikopia was featured as a success story in Jared Diamond's book "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed", or perhaps it was because we had seen nothing but flat, beige atolls for the last few months, and Tikopia was lush and green, but we *LOVED* Tikopia.

The welcome began almost as soon as we had anchored, as the dugout fishing boats that had been out on the reef since before dawn began sailing back to the village around mid-day; many of the men stopped to say hello and to welcome us, and the first even shared his catch as a gift (yellowfin for dinner that night, and skipjack the following night: we were happy to accept one fish, but he insisted that we take two!) This was an immediate difference from the Marshall Islands, where the villagers were friendly and would wave, but almost never stopped by the boat to say hello.

It was not just the men who visited us: three teenagers came in a one-person dugout with dark green leafy vegetables (an island relative of spinach, I think) and coconuts to trade for sugar and coffee, as well as shell necklace that the girl placed around Victoria's neck as a gift. [In a delightful exchange, Victoria gave her a knotted necklace that she had made in Mexico.] They also invited us to come and see their family when we went ashore. We had a good chuckle as they left the boat: with three of them in a one-person canoe, they had about an inch of freeboard, and in fact, the youngest brother was soon tossed overboard to swim so the other two could make some progress upwind towards the beach!

We have been known to allow lethargy to dictate our agenda after a passage (especially one as long as this) but, aware that our visit would be very short, we launched the dinghy right away. [Aside - We also noticed that we were much more rested after our ten-day passage with Victoria and Johnathan taking watches than we generally feel after short (1-3 day) passages when we never catch up on sleep.] Once it seemed that most of our welcoming committee had gone back about their own business, we headed ashore to find the chief.

We were met on the beach by the village children, eager to look at our dinghy and hold our hands. We asked to be directed to the Chief's home, and one of the men led us to a good-sized thatched-roofed structure. The roof had a very tall peak, but came to within about two feet of the ground, and the doorways were very low. The Chief was at work in his yard when we arrived, but he quickly went ahead of us, and greeted us inside, sitting cross-legged in the middle of his living area. He welcomed us to Tikopia and explained a few aspects of Tikopian culture, including the reason that all doors are built so low to the ground: it requires visitors to enter and leave on their knees (even the chief) facing inwards, showing respect to the home and it occupants. He also told us that it was customary to bring gifts when visiting a chief, so if we were to go visit one of the other three chiefs on the island, it would reflect badly on him if we weren't prepared. Thankfully, we had brought a small bottle of Canadian Maple Syrup for him :) The Chief maintains a guest book for visitors, and when we wrote our entry, it was fun to see the names of other boats we had met, including our friends Yves and Tamanui on Aorai :)

The Chief gave us our first sense of the people of Tikopia, of their pride and resilience. They had experienced Cyclone Donna only a couple of weeks earlier, but we could hardly tell as we walked through the village: the debris had been swept away, and the huts all seemed intact. Unfortunately, many of their crops had been damaged, and they were low on food (to the point that after the Government boat came to do the post-cyclone needs assessment, the school was closed for three weeks until the Relief boat could be dispatched, as there was a recognition that hungry kids wouldn't learn well). Despite this shortage, they had no broad needs that they wished for us to meet. In the Chief's hut, he showed us an intricately carved pillar which had stood there for seven generations. The roots of the pillar stretch down into the ground, even though the top does not have branches, a construction technique that his ancestors developed.

The role of the Chief is hereditary, passed down from father to first-born son. There are four Chiefs on Tikopia, and although one is senior to the others, he is not a paramount chief, and decisions that affect the Island are made by all four of them through a sometimes-lengthy consensus building process. In addition, they are represented in Honiara by a local Member of Parliament (currently a woman, as we were told with pride a couple of times).

Following our visit to the Chief, we walked the length of the beach to visit the teenagers and their parents, gathering an ever-increasing entourage of children along the way. There is only one chief on this side of the island, but there seemed to be several closely-spaced village communities. On this walk, we met Wilfred, the D/Head of the Elementary School, who became our de facto guide and friend for the rest of our visit. Most of the Tikopians we met spoke passable to fluent English, but his was especially good, and he was kind enough to spend some time on several occasions sharing stories of Tikopia's history with us. He was also happy to hear that we had a copy of the travel video filmed in Tikopia during the visit of SV Infinity last year, and was pleased that we would try to leave it with him. The cameras followed a Norwegian family around Tikopia for two weeks to make a number of segments of the Norwegian children's show, "Message in a Bottle". We watched all the episodes one evening, and it offered an enjoyable mix of familiar and unfamiliar destinations ... thankfully each was only 10 min long!

The home we were heading for had been pointed out to us from the boat, so we knew vaguely where we were going, and the teenagers were watching for us as we approached to lead us the rest of the way, so we soon found ourselves kneeling to enter another thatched home, glad of our brief cultural lesson from the Chief. We learned that the dad (John) was out fishing, and that they really wanted to trade for clothing the following day, once he had returned and finished the beaded necklaces he was working on. The perimeter of the one open room was lined with boxes and lockable trunks, and quite a number of ladies and children were there to meet and smile at us. We ended up chatting quite a lot with their new daughter-in-law (married three months!) as she was from another part of the Solomons, and had very fluent English. It was interesting to gain the perspective of a 'local outsider' to Tikopia :) I noticed one of the ubiquitous Singer mechanical sewing machines in front of the mom (Lis), and the next day she asked if we had any Sewing Machine oil; it turned out that it had totally jammed and she could hardly turn the hand-wheel.

All too soon, it was time to disentangle ourselves from all the little hands that were holding ours and make our way back to Fluenta before dark. We had had a very enjoyable first day: our stores of sugar, coffee, AA batteries and ballpoint pens were noticeably reduced, while numerous carvings and seashells adorned the boat. For dinner, I cooked a very local meal of chopped greens in coconut milk with white rice and seared fish with wasabi and soya sauce, topping off the evening with a reading from Johnathan's book.

The following morning again brought a fleet of dugout sailing canoes by the boat, as word spread that we had sugar and other items to trade. As soon as we could, we packed up our bag of hand-me-down clothes and headed ashore to meet our new friends. At the appointed time, the tide was too low for the dingy to make it across the reef to the beach, so Max dropped us off at the reef wall, and we walked through shin-deep water over the coral to the shore. As usual, we were met by most of the village children, who picked their way nimbly through the uneven outcroppings in bare feet, while I walked carefully trying to keep my balance while carrying Benjamin on my hip. At one point, one of the children reached out and took my hand to steady us, and very naturally helped me to balance as we made our way ashore :)

Upon returning to the family's home, we were ushered into a tin building next door to their thatched hut. We learned that this was the the parents' (private!) sleeping room as well as the crafting and storage space (the rest of the family sleep communally in the thatched hut); we were surprised that it had a full-height door. We all crowded into the room and sat on the floor, while a sea of little faces peered at us curiously through the doorway and both windows. A well-spoken man sat near me on a bench outside the door; this was very helpful, as he turned out to be the couple's nephew, and his English was very good. He very kindly explained some of the subtleties of Tikopian culture, and told us about some of his family members who had moved off-island to work in Honiara, one of whom was the HR director for the University. I always find it hard to imagine members of a family living such different lives, one in the traditional village and one in the big city; however, this seems to be the pattern in the remote islands, and it is an effective modern way of controlling the on-island population, given that warfare, suicidal seafaring missions, and infanticide are now frowned upon...

When we were asked not just once, but three times, for clothing the previous day, I had really encouraged the kids to dig in their clothing bags to find things that they had outgrown: we had already given away our ready-use hand-me-down bag in the Marshall Islands, and there were slim pickings aboard Fluenta. It didn't seem to me that we had much worth donating, as most of our clothing is very well worn by the time anyone is finished with it; however, as I looked around at the people I met on the island, I noticed that these items would blend in very well, as the only common denominator for many of the children was that they were covered in fabric: clothes were too big or too small, inside out, full of holes, backwards or frontwards, only tops or only bottoms - it didn't seem to matter. Everyone enjoyed a good chuckle when I offered the bag of clothes and said that they were from children on a yacht, which meant that they had stains and holes - just like on an island! I had rounded out our bag with a bath towel and some tea towels as well. I knew that our gift had been well received when the mom not only put the individual shell and bead necklaces around each of our necks (including an extra one for me when Benjamin ducked his head away) but she emptied the contents of her woven handbag and presented that to me as well :)

Benjamin spent most of the visit hiding and nursing in my arms, ignoring anyone who attempted to talk to him; however, as soon as the nephew (Mitchell) started trimming the top off a coconut with his machete, Benjamin perked up completely and started commenting on the proceedings: "Look, he's cutting a coconut"; "I love coconut"; "He's going to share the coconut!" The locals were quite delighted to finally hear him speak :)

An hour later, the tide had risen enough that Max was able to beach the dinghy, and he came ashore with a picnic lunch. Our plan for the afternoon was to take the 'short' walk to the other side of the island to see the crater lake set amidst the volcanic hills, and then return to meet the school teacher to see if we could give him a copy of the travel show. June, the 18-year-old daughter of our self-appointed host family, and Gwen, the daughter-in-law from Guadalcanal, were directed to lead us over and back again; before long a boy of about 12 had also joined us, and he seemed to know the path the best :) We had been told that the walk took the kids 15-20 minutes when they came to this village for school; jokingly we had suggested that it might take us 30 as grown-up foreigners. As it turns out, the walk was much longer than that, so much so that I set my stop-watch for the return: 50 minutes! All this being said, the hike was worth the effort, and the view at the end was beautiful. The path through the jungle opened up into a field of lush green grass, and calm waters of the shallow lake reflected the the volcanic peaks and the blue sky. Our guides immediately walked (clothing and all) into the water, so we quickly set our bags down and followed suit. After the heat of the walk, it was wonderfully refreshing to submerge ourselves in the fresh water, murky (silty) as it was. Even Benjamin was happy to paddle. Unfortunately, we didn't stop him from blowing bubbles quite quickly enough, so he was the only one of us to end up with a bit of a runny tummy that evening ... such is life in a tropical paradise! [Aside - he was fine by the next day.]

We had assumed that the path to the lake would be over the top of the steep hill between the villages (although I had hoped that we were wrong) but it turned out that the path followed the outer perimeter of the island. This was good from a hill-climbing perspective, but it did limit us in terms of tide: at certain tides, the the path becomes awash with breaking waves. On our outbound trek, we had paused on a built-up corner (concrete, coral, and chicken wire had been used to create an artificial path) for our picnic; however, when I asked Gwen while we floated if we needed to worry about the tide, she made a bit of a face, and shortly thereafter hustled us out of the water. With the windward side of the island behind us, I breathed a sigh of relief when our path took us back up onto the higher ground away from the beach! June was lovely as a tour guide. We were all walking in our usual flip-flops, and I had Benjamin on my back in the carrier; when we began to step carefully over the loose coral rocks on the beach, she was instantly beside me offering me a steadying hand for balance.

The trip to the lake had been on our must-do bucket list for Tikopia, but for me the highlight of the visit occurred the following afternoon when we went ashore for a delayed attempt to give the video files to Wilfred, to see if Max could fix Mitchell's inverter, and to oil Lis's sewing machine. Benjamin was taking a now-rare nap, so we left Victoria and Johnathan to mind him (they didn't object, as they get weary of being the objects of curiosity when we go ashore). Max and I found Wilfred first, and he was in a philosophical mood. He gestured for two boys to pull up a couple of coconut grating stools for us to sit on, and for the next half-hour, he patiently answered our questions about Tikopia. By this time, we had both read the passage in "Collapse" and we wondered how accurate a portrayal the author had created. We learned that the Island villages are typically very resilient to the frequent cyclones, and that even after the island was devastated about 17 years ago (Cyclone Soya or similar?) and the villagers were offered the possibility of relocating to Australia, they elected to stay on their own land, such as it was. Cyclones regularly cause mudslides, which damage the crops, but then the soil seems more fertile than usual the following season, due to new volcanic soil being washed down from the hills: the crop will often be better than average. As usual, we asked about the encroachment of modern technology and the Internet (3G has been promised but not yet delivered); when he expressed a bit of hesitation, we encouraged him as a respected village leader (with over 50 years in education) to trust his instincts about treading carefully into that new frontier. Without Internet, villagers still gather in family groups to sing songs and tell stories after the sun sets (in fact, one evening we could hear the singing from the boat); all three of us were concerned that this practice would fade away as people become more engrossed in surfing the web or posting to Facebook. As outsiders, we wonder at how resilient the traditional culture will be when mass media rolls out over the island. It seems that all we can do is cross our fingers and hope for the best.

Wilfred accompanied us to Mitchell's house, which made it much easier to find, and gave us the chance to keep chatting. Unfortunately, the inverter was beyond repair (likely corroded internally due to the same salt air that eats our equipment) and Mitchell's DVD player, which had long ago lost its remote, would not recognize the USB stick that I had brought. We achieved better success when we took the lubricating oil over to Lis's sewing machine: I gave her the bottle, she doused oil liberally into all the little holes, and when she turned the handwheel everything moved. Her entire face lit up with satisfaction :)

In many places, we go ashore with a strong awareness of the modesty rules that the Victorian-era missionaries imposed, and I wear long sleeves and long skirts so that shoulders and knees are covered. In Tikopia, it was actually a bit of a relief to find that the women were more traditional in their approach. It seemed that tops were completely optional for little girls and old women, while older girls and middle-aged women would generally wear some kind of covering. This also seemed to have something to do with the time of day, and fewer tops seemed to be worn in the late afternoon. I generally wore long sleeves to protect myself from the sun, but it was a relief not to worry about clothing from a false modesty perspective:)

We were anchored in a bit of a natural bay formed more by the fringing reef than by the island, and the whole family was eager to snorkel, which we could very nearly do from the boat (the Benjamin factor makes us a bit more conservative). At low tide, the water over the reef was very shallow, so the bright overhead sun really highlighted the colours of the different kinds of coral. We saw quite a few tiny fish and a handful of larger (spearable) fish down in the deeper water. The most extraordinary thing about our snorkelling trip was that we could clearly see a sting ray dug into the sand on the bottom, at over 70 ft! We weren't the only ones on the reef: three boys were out spear-fishing. We could quickly tell why fins were such coveted items for trading: all the boys swam in bare feet, and their masks were quite old. Even without fancy equipment, they were completely comfortable swimming into the deeper water for their daily catch with their pole-spears. We could also tell that there must be very few sharks in the area - one of the boys had his catch strung onto a belt, and the fish flapped behind him like an old-fashioned bustle on a dress. In many of the places where Max has been spearfishing one would never keep the fish that close to the people, and it is sometimes a race to the dinghy to get any part of the fish home at all!

The big kids unearthed a tiny set of snorkelling gear in the deck box that now fits Benjamin. He was quite excited to wear it in the dinghy, but he wasn't quite ready to put his face in the water. When we got back to Fluenta, he proudly waddled around the upper deck like a little naked duck, wearing nothing but his mask, snorkel, and fins :)

When I went grocery shopping in Majuro, I didn't anticipate that I would need so much sugar or coffee in Tikopia! I never tired of the call from the side deck, "Mom, come on up. Someone is here to trade." One man even came back twice: after his wife saw that he had traded some shell necklaces for cooking oil for his daughter, she wanted some too!! I loved the serendipity of having just the right thing for someone: as it turned out, I had bought three extra bottles of oil in Majuro, so I had one for his daughter, one for ourselves that I had opened that very morning, and one for his wife. It was easy to reprovision cooking oil in Luganville, and it felt good to have the supplies these women wanted.

The majority of the items we received in trade were either hand-made carvings or weavings, or were easily-replaceable shells from the beach. Our favourite treasures were a pair of carvings crafted by the same man: an intricately carved (and very sharp) wooden weapon called a "tao" and a replica wooden dugout sailing canoe. The most practical was a very old wooden-handled tapas (fabric) beater used to pound the pandanus fibres before they are woven into mats or basket, that the old man's wife sent in trade for the cooking oil; he chuckled when I asked if it was for my family if they didn't cooperate :) After only a few days, I began to understand how our friends who had spent an entire season in the Solomons could feel like they had ended up with too many wooden carvings!

In the interests of transparency, it also seems important to acknowledge that some of our trades left us a little doubtful, with mixed feelings; in fact, I ended up asking Wilfred about one of them. One man's four year old son had apparently been quite sad since Cyclone Donna, and the boy wanted lollies. They came to Fluenta in their dug-out canoe to offer an heirloom beaded necklace with a strikingly carved piece of shell that he told me his great grandparents had used in the traditional dancing. The shape of it proudly indicated, "I am Tikopian" and it was still coated with the rust-coloured skin paints (ochre?) that they would have worn. He wanted to trade this and a piece of traditional tapas cloth/skirt (made by hand from local fibres), and was quite keen for us to take both. I asked a few times whether he really wanted to trade away a piece of his Island's and family's history like this, and he told me that he had three of them, and after trading with me, he would still have two. He told me that when the cruise ships come, many people trade away old spears and arrows, and that the people's attitude was that they could always make a new item with the supplies at hand on the island. Realizing that he was very keen to trade, and deciding that if the item was going to be traded, it might as well be to us, I ran downstairs and tried to give him an especially good trade, eventually returning with a bag of candy, a set of toy Tonka trucks, a board book, and a rattle for their new baby. When I asked him about it, Wilfred hesitated, but told me that everyone has the right to trade away their own artifacts, and that it was ok to take this beaded necklace off the island. On a lighter note, Victoria and Johnathan noticed right away that most of the necklace was plastic beads, so it "couldn't be that old, Mom!" Of course, they were right, but I suspect that it is still a treasured piece of this family's history, which we look forward to displaying in our home one day.

Overall, items that we ended up trading included: sugar, instant coffee, ball-point pens, AA batteries, outgrown clothing, and new shorts. The only items we were asked for that we didn't have were fins for snorkelling, as we only carry enough pairs for the family, and fishing squids, a few of which we obtained during our visit to Luganville for future trading. At one point I was excited to be asked to trade for 'slippers' as I believed I had just come across a spare pair in the cupboard; unfortunately, the boy's face fell when I brought them up to the side deck. Slippers didn't mean flip flops to him, he had meant fins for diving!

All the children learn English in school, and the majority of adults we talked to were fluent enough to easily converse. We found this to be a relief after struggling to make small-talk with most people we met over the previous eight months.

With or without English, the children were especially friendly, and any time we went on a long walk, we would quickly become the center of a parade, with many children holding hands with one another, and a select few in the coveted (and sometimes hotly contested) position of holding hands with us. At one point, I had Benjamin on my back and three little girls holding onto my hands. The youngest ones were especially cute, as they would chatter away to us in Tikopian, assuming we were understanding them, even though we had no idea what they were saying! One little girl (perhaps four years old) was a smiling part of every visit from our first dinghy landing, holding whichever Fluenta hand was closest, touching our arms and smiling at us while the grownups were visiting. On one walk, I asked if she was learning English yet. She answered with her only word of English in the whole week: "Soon". I suspect that she will be chattering fluently before too many seasons go by, as she was so excited to meet the visitors :) The day after we brought the bag of clothing ashore, I was delighted to see that she was proudly wearing a pair of Johnathan's well-loved shorts. They had started out as dark navy trousers, and over the years had morphed into a pair of faded cutoffs, each leg trimmed where the knee wore through; she wore them as if they were her most treasured outfit, and pointed towards her legs as soon as she saw us, gesturing vigourously until we figured out what she was telling us :)

One feature that we noticed in Tikopia more than anywhere else we have been was their fondness for Betel Nuts. We saw signs all over Majuro indicating that Betel Nut juice was not allowed to be spit on the premises, but we didn't often actually see the effects on people's teeth. I'm not exactly sure how they enjoy it (I was too embarrassed to ask, and there is no connectivity here to look it up on the Internet!) but many people (even the children) had a mouthful of discoloured orange and jaggedly broken teeth. I often felt like complimenting anyone I met who had a full set of solid white teeth! Another local crop that seemed to be enjoyed by many people was the local tobacco. Whether in a pipe or hand-rolled cigarette (sometimes made out of a torn square of lined foolscap paper) smoking seemed to be a very common social activity, for both ladies and men.

On the other side of the scale, we noticed that the people of Tikopia seemed to be especially fit and healthy. With very few modern conveniences, most people spend much of their day tending their garden, paddling their dugout canoes, fishing, and walking, so it seemed to us that people were fitter and more active than in some of the places we have been visiting recently. Wilfred's mother (whom we were privileged to meet) was 90 years old, still bright-eyed and receiving afternoon visitors.

Gardening is an important activity in Tikopia, and it seemed that they ate very little imported/canned food. Because the island is so tiny, every plant seems to need to earn its keep (we read in "Collapse" that this also applies to the forest trees/nuts), and all the arable land is divided up into family garden plots that are tended carefully. Traditionally, they have learned to preserve some of their food for survival conditions. Cyclone Donna didn't damage the homes, but it seemed to have damaged their crops, which is why they were so keen for the Relief ship to arrive (I am not sure they still preserve much of their food). I would generally think of a garden as being next to a house, but instead, the houses are all together, and each person/family has a certain plot of land in the jungle assigned to them to own/farm. We were able to see many of these plots as we walked around the island to the crater lake.

It might seem from the foregoing that we spent all our time in the village, but Max also spent many hours troubleshooting our Honda generator. It took a tumble on our passage from Majuro, and ended up with some salt water getting into the works. Thankfully, he has a good manual, but it is a slow and tedious process. All the volt-meter tests are pointing towards either the copper windings (stator) or the wiring harness for the windings. As ever, cruising does prove to be 'performing maintenance in exotic locations'! The loss of the functionality of the generator is especially frustrating at the moment, as our five-year-old house battery bank (which Max has carefully maintained and topped up with distilled water every few weeks) appears to be reaching its end of life (one cell has already died) so they are requiring more frequent charging, which has resulted in more engine hours than we have ever needed in the past. So it goes. We hope to rectify both the battery and the generator problems in Port Vila.

All too soon, the forecast changed, the trade winds filled back in, and it was time to continue our passage. This was especially exciting for the kids, as it was the final leg on the journey back to the land of kid-boats - our friends on SY HONEY were already waiting for us in Vanutu :)

Love to you all,
At 2017-06-01 12:09 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 16°09.06'S 168°06.38'E
At 2017-06-01 10:29 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 16°09.07'S 168°06.37'E

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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Mid-Pacific Beach Party


If you look at our blog, you will see that our Speed over Ground is just under a knot, in vaguely the direction of Tikopia. After an uneventful day sail, the wind dropped as expected, and we motored until we were about 45 nm short of our destination. With the genoa furled and the main sheeted in, and 4 kts of wind, our boat speed dropped to about 0.1 kts (similar to the movement of the boat at anchor). Thus began what we are fondly calling our Mid-Pacific Beach Party.

Everyone donned swimming gear (except for Benjamin, who elected to stay below). We set up the swim ladder, tied on a long floating line 'just in case', and took turns diving into our private 9800 foot deep swimming pool. Without another boat in sight, there was nothing but Fluenta, the swimmers and the horizon in ever direction. The water was very clear, but we couldn't see the bottom! In case you are wondering, Max and I took turns standing at the helm, prepared to respond if anything should go awry (nothing did). Victoria and Johnathan outlasted both of us in the water, practicing dives and cannon balls.

The water temperature was so warm and welcoming that I dug out a mercury thermometer, that had been provided with our very first 'homeschool science kit' when Victoria was in Gr 4 (and never used since); after a quick lesson on parallax error we sent both kids back to the water to measure the sea temperature and found that it was a comfortable 30 deg C. No wonder even I didn't need a wetsuit!

After our impromptu mid-ocean swim, it was suntanning [or more correctly, hiding from the sun] stations for Max and Johnathan (taking rare moments to read in our portable comfy chairs on the upper decks) while Victoria and I got busy in the galley: burritos for dinner with chocolate brownies for dessert. The brownies deserve a special mention, as the double package of Ghirardelli mix was a gift from the departing Del Viento family [Google their interesting blog] when we connected with them for a short time in Savusavu at the end of last season (when they were on their way to a shore-side existence for a while). The mix has stayed in our easy-access saloon cubby ever since, waiting for just the right moment when we would enjoy a treat that we didn't want to make from scratch. When Victoria suggested making them today, I knew that we had found our moment. With the addition of a package of nearly-end-of-life marshmallows (her idea), they were especially decadent!

I think what strikes me the most about the afternoon was just how unexpected it was: we are usually very strict on the sleep rotation, so that if two adults are awake, it is one too many, and the other goes down for a nap as soon as possible. Somehow today, the timing worked out such that we came to a stop as I was was waking from my off-watch, and Max had a few hours to go before going off-watch after dinner, so the whole family was awake and enjoying our adventure, with (for once) no obligations of 'time' at all. There was no where else to be and there was nothing else to do. There was no need to rush the swimming, because we weren't going anywhere anytime soon anyway - that was the whole point! Even in our cruising life, this is somehow a rare sentiment for two former (ha!) type-As.

As evening approached, the slatting of our mainsail started to prick our shared conscience - every sound we heard was one step closer to a sail repair - so we furled the main, and the calm, pointing-into-waves motion that we had been enjoying for several hours evolved into the 'rolliest-anchorage-we-have-been-in' motion of +15 to -15 (or more) rolls followed by sudden calms as the boat finds its way in the gentle swell. The waves have a lot of fetch out here! If there were more wind, we would have both the main and the staysail hoisted, and we would be properly 'hove to' but there is not enough wind to keep pressure on the sails, so we are just drifting with bare poles. Because the sea is so calm, the motion is not unpleasant, but I am glad that it is only a six-hour commitment to this 'anchorage'!

Once again, we have a moonless (til well after 3am) night and a vast expanse of stars to enjoy. We have only had one squall so far, and it was a rather surreal feeling to realize that there wasn't much we could do to prepare for it: the sails were already furled, and all we needed was to close the hatches and rain panels if we started to get wet. With a max windspeed of 15 kts, it gave us a light sprinkling and a boost in the right direction :)

We will stay like this til the 3am watch change, then we will motor the last 40 nm or so (our drifting has already saved us about 6nm of diesel with more to come!) and hope to approach Tikopia in the mid-morning light. If the anchorage is safe and somewhat comfortable, we will stay for a few days, otherwise we will carry on towards Luganville, Vanuatu.

Love to all,

At 2017-05-04 3:06 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 11°42.92'S 169°03.35'E
At 2017-05-04 3:06 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 11°42.92'S 169°03.35'E

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