Monday, January 16, 2017

The Maskelynes, Vanuatu

From Havana, we sailed straight up to the Maskelynes, trying to pass Kerry and Damian on Sel Citron early in the morning to get a head start.  Diana and Graham were already in Lutes and we decided to join the pack once again to explore the clam sanctuary and participate in the Vanuatu Independence Day celebrations.

The entrance to the anchorage was a bit of a nail-biter with one section narrow and quite shallow (3 m) edged by reef.  We used the satellite images to plot a course and also cross-referenced the course with the waypoints given in the guidebooks.  Still, I stood up on the bow, keeping a lookout for hazards below and cringing as the crystal clear water made things look so close to the surface!  Mark carefully monitored the depth sounder over the shallow bit, and we were fine.  The opposite challenge awaited us in the deep, dark waters of the anchorage.  And we took care to put out 5 to 1 scope in the 20+ meters, leaving plenty of swing room between us and the other boats.

Turns out, Sel Citron has beaten us there after all, having left at about the same time from an anchorage at the northern tip of Efate.  Oh well, Mark had fun imagining us passing them and surprising them.

The big news in Lutes, though, was that only 3 weeks prior, a sandspit had risen up suddenly from the shallows.  A new island had been pushed up from below by some sort of tectonic plate movement, and the owners of that portion of the reef were preparing to have a dedication and naming ceremony for this new piece of land.  It was quite the event and somehow we all were invited as the honored guests - the first white men to set foot on the dry sand.  The Ni-Vans sure do love any reason to create a full-on celebration!

Ferry ride to new island.
Mark and Damian set off in the morning to pick up folks on shore who would be joining/facilitating the ceremony.  Joseph rode with us, the actual owner of the new island.  His English was fantastic, and we soon understood why - he works the vineyards every year in Marlborough, NZ for months at a time.  I continue to be impressed by the industrious characters here in Vanuatu.  Later, in Malekula, we’d meet George who worked on a commercial fishing boat and traveled all through Asia and Oceania.  Through his travels, he realized what a rich, unique culture he had here in Vanuatu and decided it was important that they share it with the world.  That’s how he got started in tourism here.

We anchored off the new island, where men were busy setting up a wooden sign adorned with tropical flowers.  It read, “Niel Fat Sunburn Floating Beach” - a mouthful for such a small spit of land, but I’m sure there is significance… well, pretty sure.  Niel is the family name of Joseph, it’s the ‘Fat Sunburn Floating Beach’ part that I’m not too sure about. Maybe in honor of all these fat, sunburned tourists that come to visit them here??  But no cruise ships come this way!  And they can’t be talking about us, can they!?

Island dedication ceremony

Graham the cartographer
A few prayers are said by the pastor, speeches are given, and Graham is the official cartographer - commissioned to walk the perimeter of the island and plot GPS coordinates that will put it on the map.  Oodles of photos are taken, as well as some video of the first outrigger canoe landing on its shore.  Stewart, the tourism rep on the island could be a hollywood producer with his knack for dramatic and poignant images, and he directs the cruisers (necks heavy-laden with ridiculous camera equipment and video cameras) as if we are his full-time film crew.

He keeps mentioning his hopes for how the village can use this island to attract visitors, thinking people will come from far and wide to see a piece of land that rose from the sea.  Geologists, maybe, but I’m not sure the average Joe would deem this an eleventh wonder of the world.  However, based on its location and makeup, it might prove to be a fantastic draw for wind kiters - flat water, sand from which to launch, and steady wind.  I love his enthusiasm and foresight, again, a sign of the industrious spirit here.

The ladies on the beach

It was a carefully orchestrated ceremony, and I felt so honored to be invited to be part of it.  The following day, Mark would come back with two dinghies full of villagers to take some drone footage.  The people had never seen a drone before, and the kids especially went nuts about it - a mixture of awe and uncertainty.  But when the adults saw the finished video on Mark’s laptop in the kava hut later that night, they were hooked.  I think they must have played it 5 or 6 times!  The elderly father shuffled up close to the screen, not believing what he was seeing.  It was so fun to see their reactions!  And of course, they insisted Mark bring it to the Independence Celebrations the next day to film the village.

Village patriarch squinting to view new video
Before leaving, Stewart organized a trip out to the Giant Clam Sanctuary for us.  We paddled in authentic outrigger canoes, and had a chance to snorkel in shallow waters over extravagantly colored clams.  The sanctuary had been set up by a local man, seeing the need to protect these vital sea creatures.  Although Cyclone Pam depleted the population of clams, many are still thriving.

Kids padding outrigger to island
On the day we left, we saw Stewart showing the video footage to a newly anchored yacht as part of the tourism welcome!  And then when we arrived in PKiKort Sandwich a week later, a man stopped Mark and asked if he was the one who had a drone.  Turns out Joseph had told him all about it!!  News on the coconut telegraph travels fast!

Enjoying the new beach

New Island Video - Maskelyne Islands Vanuatu. from Mark Silversetin on Vimeo.

Vanuatu Independence Day Celebration from Mark Silversetin on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Beyond Volcanoes: More from Tanna

Port Resolution is known as the anchorage to pull into when you want to take the Mt. Yasur volcano tour, but there is more to this location than what they tell you in Trip Advisor.  Stanley at the Yacht Club is happy to help organize your volcano tour, but make sure to leave some time to visit the villagers, watch them weaving, browse the handicraft stall, and have a coffee at the cafĂ©. That’s when you’ll be greeted with the warm friendliness that is the true glow of Tanna.

A teacher from the village paraded us around and introduced us to some of her family members.  She told us that her 8-year-old son was still up in the bush (and had been for two weeks) as part of his circumcision ceremony.  Messengers had been running food from her to him, and sending news of his well being.  I imagined what it would be like to send Michael up into the bush to fend for himself as he prepares to step into his manhood.  Yikes.  I’d be a wreck!

Among the huts, ladies sat weaving skirts and mats of brightly dyed pandanus leaves.  The skirts would be worn at the upcoming circumcision ceremony, but for now, were hanging up to dry in an empty bamboo hut - a curtain of fusia, turquoise, and purple grass whispering in the dark.

Outside again, I looked at the heavily laden roof of the next door neighbor’s hut, a carefully placed pile of stiff-leaved fringe.  It was all very primitive looking, except for the small solar panels that had been stuffed into the roof and a snakelike cord leading to a cell phone in need of a charge!

Mark took the opportunity to do a bit of drone footage of the bay, since a total of three Antares were in the same South Pacific anchorage - something I thought we would never see!  Of course, the kids were enamored at the helicopter that buzzed above their heads, and Mark had an audience of curious onlookers.  I love watching their excitement and complete awe - seeing something like this for the first time.  Even some older men gathered in the wings, trying to get a glimpse without letting on how interested they actually were.

Throughout her visit, Mariellen had set up her own little sweat shop in the cockpit, busily sewing covers for various items with the new Sailrite sewing machine.  (Thank you, Mariellen!!  The covers are holding up great and we even got brave enough to make one for the paddle board, although it’s not nearly as precise as yours!)  So, it was quite a sight to see two women sitting on the floor in the handiwork shop, sewing curtains for the school with a fancy old-fashioned manual sewing machine from China!  We giggled together at how life is so similar everywhere in the world in so many ways, enjoying the connection we could share.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Author: Mark
Date: Dec 15, 2016, 7.30am - Guadalcanal
Location: 09 50.2 S - 160 52.3 E
Conditions: 0-5kts NW, calm anchorage with sunny skies, and a bar of 1005

We finally made it to Guadalcanal. We've been here for five days now, and it is great. We are anchored off the southern tip of Marapa Island. We used SAS Planet to find this snug little spot. Prior to anchoring, I took the dinghy ashore to confirm with the chief it was OK to anchor. He said yes, but to make sure we favored the East side of the channel, as the West side and reef is taboo for women. Yep, women are not allowed to be on the reef to the west of our anchorage. It is an ancient burial site for their warriors, and customary for men only to be allowed on the reef. I asked the chief how many yachts anchor in this area, and he said no yacht has ever anchored here. YEAH! We LOVE to find those spots that are not in guidebooks, or cruising notes - and find our own way off the 'beaten path'. In general the Solomon Islands see few yachts every year compared to Fiji or it is easier to find an anchorage that no yacht has visited. This is our kind of exploring!

In short order we became fast friends with the village ashore. On our second day here, the local village kids picked flowers, and canoed over to our boat with the gift. They were SO excited to see other kids. The village consists of a family - all relatives that live in this spot. In total there is the chief, who is the father of the four 20 something year old kids that live there with their spouses and kids. In total six kids live in the it is very small. There is a new church that Francis built a year ago - for his family - and the neighboring village - who worship twice a day for mass. Francis is a builder by trade and he has built some beautiful homes for his family. When we have internet we will post some pictures.

Guadalcanal has a lot of WWII history. It's been fun learning about the history of the island, both during WWII and the social unrest that occurred in early 2000. Sarah and I watched 'The Pacific' HBO miniseries, and I read the book Neptune's Inferno to better understand the naval war that took place in this area. It's been fascinating. We can't wait to dive some of the wrecks from WWII as we move farther north.

Our plans are to stay here until next week, get to Honiara for some provisioning, and then sail to the NW corner of the Florida Islands for Christmas. We'll see how that goes, as we have to wait for a weather window for each hop. We hate to motor, but find ourselves faced with the high probability of using the engines as we head farther north into the ligher winds. We waited and waited for our window to sail up here from the Three Sisters - and had a great sail the entire way. In general we have to wait for a low pressure system to spin the wind...but it can't be too big a low or it could turn into a cyclone.... :-)

Well, that is all for now. We will provide more updates as we get better connectivity. So far we have gone almost two months without internet....and that is a good thing for the most part.... :)