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.


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