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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Monday, 22 May 2017

Almost at Tikopia (Days 8-10)


We are sailing under clear skies with lightning (go figure - it's hard to picture, but somewhere ahead of us and behind us there are thunder heads, even though it is very benign where we are) with less than 100nm to go before we might put our anchor down at Tikopia. I say *might* because our stay in Tikopia is weather-dependent. We have left the region of lagoons and atolls and returned to islands where we just nestle up close in a bay. The bay at Tikopia is more of a gap in the reef on the sheltered side of the island than an enclosed nook, so we will just have to see what it is like when we get there.

The last few days have been blissfully non-eventful. The weather has been very cooperative, with light winds interspersed with short periods of motoring when they dropped completely. We have had blue skies during the day and clear views of the stars at night. We have had a few squalls, but nothing like the ones earlier in the passage. The weather models when we left Majuro indicated that we would likely have 'sailing winds' throughout our passage, but that behind us a huge area of calm would be opening up (ie delaying our departure by a day would have meant little wind for most of the trip). This is pretty much what we have seen, and we may find ourselves in this calm as early as tomorrow. We will sail until we run out of wind, then we will motor. We are also now into the speed-time-distance management mode: we need to control our speed (including heaving-to for a few hours while we still have sea room if necessary) in order to time our arrival at the anchorage for around mid-day to have the best light to see the reef. If you check our boat speed on our blog, don't be too surprised if it looks like we have stopped mid-ocean - we may well have!

We had a funny moment two nights ago: I was on watch, and Max was asleep in the saloon. I started to hear a strange noise, kind of an intermittent clicking sound. When it went on for a couple of minutes, I peered into the saloon to see if I could see anything amiss, and was met by an unusual smell; my first thought was that something was burning. By this time, Max had woken up, and he opened the bilge to check the pumps. We were worried that one of the bilge pumps had somehow burnt out. Thankfully, the floor had been cleared of Lego and toys earlier in the day, and all he had to watch out for was one errant airplane. I shone the big white flashlight on the area, and we soon solved our mystery: there in the gap between the bilge cover and the starboard bench was one very startled flying fish!! It had taken the leap from the water, through the open hatch above Max's head, and landed on the floor of the saloon. Many people cook these surprise visitors, but we decided to send him back from whence he had come. The surprise for me was that Max actually expected me to do the honours! He grasped our friend with a paper towel, and instead of brushing by me to head upstairs to the rails, he held it out in my direction! It is well known on board that the fish I handle are well dead and filleted before they reach my hands, but clearly Max was looking for me to make an exception. Gritting my teeth, and mentally crossing my fingers that the 8-inch fish wouldn't get away and start flapping around the cockpit, I grasped it firmly about the middle and flung it to the sea for all I was worth. It gratefully swam away, and we all breathed a sigh of relief :)

Calmer seas have enabled a little more activity. Johnathan and Benjamin have been busy, either building things with Lego or creeping around the boat as 'good guys' sneaking up on 'bad guys' with life-sized Lego weapons in hand (built out of spare parts by Johnathan). Sometimes Johnathan is aided by Benjamin and sometimes he is aided by "Special Forces Spiderman": our friends in Kiribati gave us a hand-me-down costume, and it is getting good use :) We couldn't find the mask for a couple of days, and after hunting in all the usual places, we figured that it would eventually turn up. Benjamin was disappointed that we couldn't find it, but generally nonchalant. Imagine our surprise when it was Benjamin who found it - exactly where he had put it - in the little tool cubby beside the navigation table! For her part, Victoria has been working on various crochet projects, making little sea creatures with patterns she copied when we were in Fiji. Both big kids have been getting ready for their return to the land of other kid-boats by working on some shared worlds they are creating in Minecraft, and Johnathan surprised me the other day by showing me an entire aircraft fleet he had built with his own designs. I love the creativity that unfolds when they are left to their own activities (even if it is on an electronic device!)

We deployed our fishing lines today, but so far our flying fish is the only aquatic life to have come aboard. We re-deployed the water-towed generator just after dark, and it is making 2-4 amps as we sail slowly at about 4 kts. With any luck, we will catch something shortly before we arrive so that we have fresh fish at anchor.

Once again, I have spent much of this night-watch (2am til morning) just watching the bowl of stars above us. Sometimes, something like mist creeps up towards the boat (when it is black, it can herald a squall, but when it is white, it is generally benign; tonight it has been benign). I am reminded of night travel in times past, before the advent of headlights and street lights, when this encroaching and enveloping dark would have been the norm. After off-watches, where I can turn my back on everything and sleep, quiet night watches are my favourite time on a passage. They lend themselves to a sense of reflection and peace that is otherwise rare. As I feel the gentle breeze on my cheek and look up at the stars that guided so many generations of Pacific Island navigators over the millennia (wishing I knew the legends they told about them) the calmness and vastness around me seem to invite a similar calmness within. I am left with a feeling of immense gratitude - for the opportunity to be here in this place at this time, and for the family and friends at home who are in my heart as I voyage. We are all connected; we are all under the same moon and stars.

With love for your journey,


At 2017-05-04 5:38 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 10°55.58'S 169°08.47'E
At 2017-05-04 10:12 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 11°15.49'S 169°07.27'E

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Sunday, 14 May 2017

Passage towards Vanuatu

Fluenta has left Majuro and is now heading towards Vanuatu. Only 1420 nm to go ... We will keep a good watch to see if any more out of season cyclones form before we get too far south.

Nice start to the passage with Johnathan and I sailing the boat off the mooring and then Victoria and I sailing out through the pass. Engine hours so far zero but we will see how the ITCZ treats us.

We will update Yachts in Transit as we go and likely blog posts as everyone regains their sea legs.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Majuro Photos

Things can be so relative.  Majuro seemed so nice after Tarawa but now seems too busy and crowded after our two months in the outer atolls.  Still, it is a good place to work on boat projects, catch up on administration (tax time !) and reprovision (plus a bit of playing too)

Majuro is a busy commercial harbour as you can see in this photo from the cockpit - mostly tuna boats and cargo ships taking the fish to other ports.  For the Sea King guys reading the blog, check out the yellow help on the bridge top.

Majuro was a time to catch up on boat jobs - Lunasea was nice enough to replace our "out of warranty" trilight that lives at the top of the mast with a new and improved design at no cost.  I wish others in the marine industry were so responsive.

Speaking of masts, here is the view from the mast while I was doing the usual pre-passage inspection and replacing the trilight,   The little ketch beside us is SV Adele singlehanded by Moon from Korea.  He was going direct from Hawaii to Korea but had some boat issues and diverted to Majuro.  Unfortunately without an autopilot and a lack of charts we fell asleep and went up a reef.  Super nice guy and have enjoyed having him over to Fluenta for dinner (Benjamin likes him because he brings gifts !)

Hmm ... 10.5 volts ?

Replacing the windlass battery bank was not on the "to do" list but the batteries are not holding a charge so needed to be replaced.  Of course, you cannot get the same size batteries we originally had so adapting was required.

And time of course for some school ...  Very cheery about that too it appears.

Time for a trip to the barber.  Johnathan and I got our hair cut.

and time for cakes too.  One for one of our new friends in the cruiser community here.

Pool has not been a large part of the kids education - like not at all - so Tamanui, Johnathan and Benjamin work on their pool skills.

Tamanui, Johnathan and Benjamin playing in Fluenta's saloon.

Hmm ... this does not look right either ...  something else for the "to do" list.

We also had the chance to meet the "sea gypsies" of Infinity.  A truly different model for going to sea.  We were hosted on board a few times and enjoyed getting to know the family that owns and runs the ship. (This is a photo from Infinity's site and not taken here in the Marshall Islands as I neglected to take a  picture of the ship)

One of the Infinity crew took this picture of, what a surprise, Johnathan climbing the rigging on Infinity

and of Victoria rightside up on the boom of Infinity

The Easter Bunny found us !

Looking for eggs.

That crafty Easter Bunny put an egg in the dorade.

The church put an Easter Egg hunt on too.

Oh, and I got a year older too.  Victoria's cake.

I tried to go sportfishing for my first time but we had engine issues once we got to the fishing area (injector pump stuck at low revs).  We did get a strike from an approx 200 lb marlin though.  This is sunrise as we leave Majuro.

The winning marlin was 430 lbs.

We were honoured with a visit from Anious and Emily from Ailuk.  They are trying to get to Wotje to see their son's high school graduation so they need to go come to Mauro first to get a ship to Wotje despite the fact that the closest atoll to Ailuk is Wotje ... The whole trip will take them about a month,

A trip to the canoe musem

This model was made with the same materials the Marshallese would have originally used.  The hull is breadfruit wood and the rigging and sails from pandenus.

Rigging details - all natural materials.

Sail detail - all natural materials.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Maloelap WWII Sites - Underwater

In the previous blog post I showed some photos from our time on land Maloelap.  Of course, below the surface there are various ships and, rumour has it, aircraft.  Using Matt's 2006 report we dove on three Japanese ships that had been converted to warships.  All three ships are within free diving depth so I did not bother with the dive gear. 

The ships we dove on were:

- Tarushima Maru: it was rumour to still have live depth charges but as much as I searched I do not think they are still onboard.  I did find the depth charge track though and checked in the hold below the track to no avail.
- Seisho Maru:  Either this ship or Kaikou Maru was rumoured to have a carried Zamperini, an American Olympian turned airman.  He was a  downed US pilot who drifted in a liferaft for 46 days, only to drift into Japanese hands at Maloelap.  His story is chronicled in "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption."
- “Kaikou Maru

Johnathan diving down for a closer look
Deeper down ....
Depth charge track and exit point off the transom.
Matt's photo showed a depth charge right here but I did not find them
Well secured on the bollards.
The steering compartment of the Tarushima Maru
And the other end of the steering compartment - the rudder and propellor

Stairway to nowhere.
Lots of natural life to see as well.  A giant clam.

Victoria checking out a Christmas Tree worm she spotted.  How she spotted it I have no idea. I have a good video of it that someday should find its way to the blog.
Of course, anchoring with the coral bommies around we buoy the chain to reduce the wear and tear on the reef and our anchor tackle.  Reduces dramas when it is time to leave too !
Bye !

Monday, 8 May 2017

World War II Relics at Maloelap - Above Water.

On our way back from Ailuk we stopped for a week at Maloelap Atoll.  It was a major Japanese air base during WWII.  It was not invaded by the US forces but was rather rendered ineffective by airpower and naval bombardment and then bypassed as the USN moved closer to Japan.  According to Wikipedia, of the over the over 3000 Japanese personnel, only 1041 survived.

On the main island we asked about the airfield and were taken on a tour, by the kids, of the massive Japanese command bunker, generator station and the airfield.  Then, using the Matt Holly study, we took the RHIB to see the downed B-25 he discovered and finally moved Fluenta to Olllet Island to see the Japanese Zero's on the beach.

Photos below but if you would like more information about the history and the items left behind I recommend reading Matt's 2006 study.   We also have a more detailed version which appears to not be on-line.   Matt is still here in Majuro (we rented a mooring from him) and interesting fellow to talk to.

This is one of the engines from a US B-25 that was shot down attacking Maloelap.

The other engine is about 200 ft further away in deeper water.

On the island itself there are lots of parts of the B-25.  This is a, still lockwired, cover for the gyro.

Further along in the atoll is a Japanese zero fighter.

This is another Zero has what we think is a bullet hole in the prop.

Big carburetor on the zero.

Figuring out how the parts go together

A little hard to see but the purple things are jellyfish. 

Drop tank ?

Ashore, we asked about the airfield and were taken on a tour by the children.

The Japanese infrastructure was impressive.  This is one of the large generators.

The old airfield has Zero fighters and Betty bombers.

Looking at one of the engines of a Betty bomber

Betty bomber

Japanese Betty Bomber

The dials on one of the radios.

Ammunition is strewn around

Placards are still legible (if you can read Japanese)

Massive tanks.  I should have had someone stand byside them to understand the scale.  They are at least two stories high,

One of the smaller cannons with Fluenta in the background

I suggested to the kids that digging up unexploded ordnance is maybe a bad idea.

The whole ocean side of the island is a complex of shore batteries and bunkers.

and more generators.  Look at the size of the flywheel

More cannons.

and bunkers

and old shells.

The interor of the island is full of bunkers.  This one is about three stories tall.

To be continued with the "below water" portion of the visit ...