I have created this blog with the hopes that you, my friend, will follow me as I sail around the world (figuratively or literally, not sure yet) with my parents on their Contest 48. Whereas I hope to keep you updated with exciting adventures of exotic ports and epic waves, keep in mind that cruising - that is, traveling by boat in a leisurely fashion - tends to be filled with days of intense boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Please keep this in mind as you read these entries, for this platform will be just as much an attempt for me to maintain my sanity (and connection to the California-based world), as entertainment and reassurance for you. And so, follow me as I sail the world.

P.S. All material on this blog, words and photos alike, are copyrighted by me. Copyright 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018. If you decide that this material is worth re-publishing, please give me credit and lots and lots of money.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Chesterfield Reef

The azure waters of Chesterfield Reef

If I was stranded on a deserted island what are the three things that I would wish to have with me? 1.Rutea (everything on board included), 2.Merkava - we all need a buddy, especially one with a dive compressor, and 3.A few other boats, just to keep the party going.

Voila - we have them all. The French territory of Chesterfield Reef is a quintessential deserted island setting with small, sandy islands spread out around the fringing reef of the huge lagoon. The water of the lagoon changes from deep blue to electric turquoise. I have only ever seen this color in crystal clear, clean water of 20 feet in depth over white sand. It is stunning. We are anchored off a low lying sand island covered with brush (no coconut palms) and inhabited by thousands of birds ranging from boobies to frigates to terns.

We arrived here yesterday morning after being hove to all night. We had decided it was better judgment not to go into an unknown and not very well charted reef at night, so we hung out outside the pass all night rolling around. It was a bit nerve racking (not to mention annoying) - after all we were moving at about 1 knot/hr and knew that there were reefs surrounding us - but we were fine. As the sun rose we set the sails and headed for the pass.

It is always such a relief to get into calm waters after rolling around on the ocean for days. It felt so good to be able to move around the cabin without doing ninja moves and not having to hang on to my cup of tea for fear that it might fly across the cockpit. We motored up to the anchorage where Diligaf, Merkava and Tenaya were all comfortably anchored (Rutea is usually last). After setting the anchor I dove in to check the anchor and a few bomies around the boat. While the water is some of the most beautiful I have ever been in, it was a bit of a shock. The water here at Chesterfield is a chilly 78 degrees, down from 85 in northern Vanuatu. Nevertheless it felt amazing - the first bath I have had in 5 days.

After checking the anchor I went over to Merkava where Mark and I had a celebratory breakfast beer. After that we decided to go for a walk on the beach of the bird infested island. I wouldn't say that I have a bird phobia, but I really don't like birds. I was a bit nervous as we walked past the nests of huge, prehistoric birds with blue beaks and beady little eyes, guarding their fluffy offspring rather viciously. There was a constant din of bird calls, shrieks and cooing that, mixed with the sound of surf made me feel like I was once again in Jurassic Park. While I was waiting for a pterodactyl to swoop down and peck my eyes out I got a stick for protection, although unfortunately it did not protect me from being pooped on at least three times.

Birds, Jurassic Park stylee

As we walked down the beach we disturbed thousands of birds from nesting and sleeping, sending huge flocks up into the air screaming in a frenzy. I am sure many of them thought we were going to fry up their babies for dinner, a thought I considered but decided on pizza instead. When we walked over to the ocean side of the island (a mere 100 feet across) I saw the ocean choppy and windy, which made me feel very warm and cozy to be anchored in such a nice, protected lagoon. As we walked down the beach we saw stunning shells - nautilus, cowrie, hermit crab, giant clam, etc. It made for some great beach combing.

There was also a fair amount of trash on the beach, washed up from who knows where. Fluorescent light bulbs, shoes, beer cans, fishing gear, crates and all sorts of other junk lined the beach. It was a bit depressing to be in such a remote and pristine place but still encounter evidence of human pollution. The birds seemed to make the best of it, as we found more than a few nesting on plastic boxes.

After our land excursion Mark and I went snorkeling. The coral is pretty good although there is quite a bit of dead stuff, but the fish are out of control. I saw more fish and more different kinds of fish here than I have ever seen anywhere else. No wonder there are so many birds here. We saw a few baby sharks in the shallows which is a good sign - where there are baby sharks there are bound to be mama sharks - and from the looks of it they are well fed.

By 5 PM I was struggling to stay awake, but managed to make a pizza dinner (I had been fantasizing about since our first day of passage) and drink a few beers before I crawled into bed at 8 PM for 12 hours of delicious, calm-water, uninterrupted sleep. The last thought that entered my head before I passed out was, "It's October 31... It's Halloween!" This means that for all you reading this in the Western hemisphere it is Halloween today, so have a good one!

P.S. This post and all material on this blog are copy written by me, Corie Schneider, 2012. Copywrite 2012.
At 10/31/2012 9:02 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°52.96'S 158°27.87'E

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Day 4

I don't know who is winning the World Series, I don't know if Obama is still ahead in the election polls and I do not have a Halloween costume. And to be totally honest, I don't really care. What I do care about is what the wind is doing, what the seas are doing and what's for dinner. Of course I want the Giants to win and of course Obama is going to win, but out here - 500 miles from any significant landmass - priorities change.

We are about 80 miles away from Chesterfield Reef (which I do not consider significant landmass). We are averaging about 7 knots, which would make our arrival time about 8 PM. Unfortunately the sun sets at 6 PM and although it is a full moon, it is kind of sketchy to be going into unknown reefs in the dark. But sitting out in the ocean for an extra night is really, really unappealing. Especially after last night.

Last night the wind and the seas picked up. When I got up for my watch at 00:00 the wind was at 26 knots, we had the mainsail double reefed as well as the genoa reefed. The seas were at 2+ meters, although it is hard to tell in the dark, but every once in a while we hit a wave that put Rutea over on her ear and a few loose items crashed around the cabin. This makes for very poor sleeping conditions - imagine trying to sleep on an erratic roller coaster - and makes the idea of a calm anchorage that could be attained this evening all the more appealing.

Fortunately, the wind and waves have both calmed down this morning, the sky is bright blue and we are cruising along at a nice pace. It is still a bit rolly but I think a shower might be in order, after all its been 4 days...
At 10/29/2012 10:07 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°11.00'S 159°36.00'E

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Day 2

The skies are clear and bright, the ocean calm and blue. The wind is light out of the East and we are sailing along smoothly. Last night the moon was so bright it never really got dark, and there was just enough wind to keep the sails filled and keep us moving comfortably forward.

In spite of getting a bit of a slow start yesterday morning - the wind was at 0.0 and there was a 3 knot current running against us - it has been a very nice passage so far. I've spent my days reading "Lonesome Dove" (semi-tedious but appropriate passage material), making a collective effort on NYT crossword puzzles (definitely tedious) and eating.

The best part about this passage, aside from the excellent weather we are having, is that once we get to Australia they are liable to confiscate all of our food. OK, not all of it, but all fresh stuff - eggs, meat, rice, beans, fruit, veggies, etc. This means all the treats are a free for all, and I get to eat whatever I want, as it would be a tragedy to see Customs confiscate the last bag of Cheez-its or biscotti. Granted, they probably wouldn't confiscate the Cheez-its, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Last night Dad made an awesome chicken dish and we have already discussed the many options for dinner. As you can tell, eating is one of our favorite pastimes. I am just stoked that the seas are calm so we are not too seasick to eat all these treats!

We have about 400 miles to Chesterfield reef, which is more or less half way between Vanuatu and Bundaberg, Australia. We are sailing along with two other boats, Mark and Diligaf, and all of us are planning to stop at Chesterfield. Should be a party once we get there, as there are also strict regulations on how much alcohol you can bring into the country, so we gotta drink up!
At 10/27/2012 10:46 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°36.00'S 164°47.00'E

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The End of Days (in the S.Pac)

Diving is a good second when there is no surf to be found!

The mental and physical preparations required for embarking on a 1,300 mile passage across the ocean include wasting lots of time on the internet looking at trashy news sites and Facebook, eating greasy food from restaurants, perhaps the last dive and, well, the usual pre-passage chores.

It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that we are leaving the South Pacific - Australia is considered to be the Coral Sea - at least the East coast where we are going.  It is a great consolation that we intend to stop at Chesterfield reef, an atoll about 500 miles from here that is supposed to be a paradisical stop-over with great diving, snorkeling and other cool wildlife activities.  It also breaks the trip up into 2 four day passages rather than one 7-8 day passage.  I like this.  However, this is weather permitting, so we will see how things go.

Aside from bingeing on junk food and internet, Mark and I did one last dive yesterday.  Actually, he is doing his last dive today, but our dive to see "The Lady" - a restored relief of a lady riding a horse - at a depth of 135 feet inside the Coolidge was enough for me.

In fact, that dive was pretty freaky.  I know you are now sick of hearing about dive adventures, so this one will be brief.  We descended to the deck of the ship at about 80 feet, and after getting the OK signal from all four of us, our dive leader descended into a pitch black square cut out of the hull of the ship.  It is counter-intuitive to go down into a dark whole in a wreck 80 feet under the water, but I paid $50 for the dive and was not about to chicken out, so I followed.  

We followed our guide down the black tunnel, dodging overhanging beams while looking down into the infinite darkness below, also being careful not to kick the walls or beams so as not to cloud the visibility.  We descended another 50 feet inside the ship, making our way down to "The Lady".  By the time were at 120 feet I was breathing as if I were running a marathon, really trying to slow my breathing but finding it hard not to suck the whole tank in one breath.  In reality I had lots of air, but my adrenaline was pumping and I was pretty narked.  

Being "narked" is a kind of high you can get from going down super deep, although depending on the person they can get narked at 40 feet or whatever.  It is kind of fun, a trippy feeling like, whoah duuude, although some people make irrational choices when they are too narked, making it a bit dangerous.  See the PADI dive manual for further explanations (it is a real thing!).

Anyway, we made it down to 135 feet to see the lady, and sure enough she was there riding her white horse.  Our dive guide had told us on the surface that it is good luck to "kiss the horse's ass" (literally).  Of course the last thing I wanted to do at that depth was take my regulator out of my mouth (a big PADI no-no), but I could use all the luck I can get, so I managed to give the ass a quick peck.

We had about 3 minutes down at 135 feet before we had to start ascending, which I was happy to do.  On the way up our guide took us through a few more rooms on the ship, showing us old medical supplies and other random stuff.  It was a super cool and technical dive - being that deep and in an enclosed area - but I didn't feel the need to do it again.  And while I feel like I am pretty bad ass, in reality the dives get way deeper and gnarlier the farther you go in the ship.  I'll leave that to the experts. After all, I only have my open water certification.  

Enough about diving.  Today is our last day in Luganville, our last day in Vanuatu and our last day in the South Pacific isles... at least for a while (I am not sure if Chesterfield is considered s.pac or not).  I can't help but reflect and reminisce about the amazing experiences I've had out here but will refrain from rambling about them today.  Perhaps I'll save that for entertainment while we are on passage, assuming we have smooth seas.

Gud bey Vanuatu!  Mi likem yu tumas!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The COOLidge

It is hot. And still. There is not a breath of wind and the air is heavy. The sun beats down mercilessly, even though it is still morning. The austral summer is creeping up on us, and summer in the tropics not particularly fun. As opposed to the 'go to the beach every day and BBQ every night' California kind of summer, the tropical summer is marked by torrential rain, malaria outbreaks, lightning storms, cyclones, oppressive heat and all sort of other fun things. Thus, we are leaving the tropics. Soon.

As a matter of fact it looks like we will head for OZ on Saturday - at least that was the consensus of this morning. In the meantime, I have been spending my last few days basking in the soggy heat and also trying to hide from it. I have found that the best way to hide from the heat is to hang out underwater, and the easiest way to hang out underwater is to scuba dive. Thus, I have been doing lots of diving.

A few days ago a group of us got a dive trip together to dive the SS Coolidge, which is considered to be one of the best wreck dives in the world. The Coolidge was an American luxury liner (think Titanic) that was converted into a troop carrier in WWII. As she was entering Luganville on October 26, 1942 to deliver troops, tanks, jeeps and other military stuff, she hit an American mine, due to lack of updated information (oops). The captain, realizing that the ship was going to sink, ran her up on the reef and called for all 4,000 troops to abandon ship. Amazingly only two people died, thanks to the quick thinking of the captain.

And now we have an awesome wreck to dive. The Coolidge is considered a technical wreck dive because it is so deep - the bow sits in 70 feet of water and the stern is in 250. It would take over 15 dives to see the whole thing, but I have no desire to dive to 250 feet, so we stuck with the intro dive which took us down to 103 feet.

After getting all our gear set, we all rolled off the dive boat and into the water. Because the wreck is so deep and because they do not want it pillaged, you have to go with a dive tour to dive the Coolidge. So we had a few local dive masters take us down. As I descended down the mooring line I saw the bow of the ship start to emerge from the depths of the gloom. It is absolutely huge so it was hard to tell what I was looking at, until I recognized the winches for hauling up the anchor.

At about 90 feet there is a hole in the side of the hull, and our guide led us into the cargo hold. Inside the hold there are still jeeps and tanks, lunch trays and cooking pots. It is so eerie to be swimming around in a pitch black cargo hold with only the beams of a few flashlights to illuminate ghostly relics of WWII, as well as the schools of fish that live in the wreck.

After leaving the cargo hold we swam down to 100 feet where, on the sun deck (or what used to be the sun deck) there are old corroded helmets and guns. The dive master tried to put one on my head, but it was so heavy I started to sink. It must have weighed 10 pounds. The thing that amazed me most about this dive is the fact that so much of the original stuff from the ship is still there - doorknobs, shoes, coke bottles, shells (as in bombs), guns - but I guess that is what happens when there is a lockdown on a dive site.

Because we were so deep we could not stay long, and after a few minutes at 100 feet we had to start our ascent. On the way up I saw some cool looking lionfish, a titan triggerfish (my new favorite fish) and some nice coral. The wreck disappeared back into the gloom and we headed back to the boat for our surface interval.

The next dive was a mellow dive on Cindy's reef, full of beautiful coral, an occasional shark and huge schools of fish. There were also a few clips of bullets strewn about the reef. I don't know if there was much actual fighting in Vanuatu during WWII, but there sure is a lot of junk leftover from it.

Speaking of junk and wrecks, Mark and I heard of a plane wreck that was supposed to be a good dive, so yesterday we went looking for it. Our only directions were, "look for the cattle fence that goes down into the water East of the resort, head off at a 45 degree angle, go down to 90 feet and it should be there." Unfortunately there was more than one cattle fence to the east of the resort, but we followed the directions to no avail. It was kind of fun anyway, and at least a good way to stay cool.

And so it is getting to be about that time where we say goodbye to people not going our direction, and talk incessantly about weather with those who are. Last night we had a goodbye party for our good friends on Sarah Jean, who are heading back to New Zealand. We couldn't convince them to come to Australia with us, which is too bad because they are good people. We spent the afternoon snorkeling and when we got tired of that, swam to Mark's boat for a beer. Then we all jumped in the water and swam to Rutea for a beer. Then we all swam to Riada for a beer, and so on, to complete our booze cruise/pub crawl-swim. Of course the sun was setting as we all swam back to our respective boats, made all the more exciting by the exclamation, "Last one to their boat is shark bait!" I have never seen everybody swim so fast.

Tonight Mark and I are heading back to Luganville (oh yeah, we left the Luganville anchorage for a few days to get into some nice water) to do a dive or two more on the Coolidge before we head out. A few more provisioning trips, a few more internet sessions, clean the bottom of the boat, check the rigging, check the fuel, check out and we are outta here!

P.S. I am absolutely gutted at the idea of leaving the South Pacific, but really excited about getting to OZ. As we say out here, it's all good!
At 10/23/2012 9:02 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 15°31.37'S 167°09.90'E

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Lowdown

Hunks of junk at Million Dollar Point - Luganville, Vanuatu

Don't worry, today I am not going to ramble about the primitive beauty of Vanuatu.  Instead I am going to winge about paradise lost.  Perhaps it is the rain, perhaps it is the muggy and buggy heat, but Luganville, the second biggest "city" in Vanuatu seems to be a bit of a... letdown.

I should not have had very high expectations, as the South Pacific is not known for its charming cities.  I was misled, however, by the guide book which describes Luganville with a "sprawling main street with breathtaking ocean views at every corner..."  Maybe in its prime Luganville was a nice place.  But the dilapidated buildings, the remnants of WWII warehouses and the Chinese stores selling cheap knock-off goods are a bit of a downer for me.

You might ask, why did we even bother to sail all the way up to Luganville, anyway?  There are a few reasons, the first being that the government only allows us a one month visa for the country and that expires tomorrow.  We have decided, along with encouragement from the weather, that one month in Vanuatu just is not enough, so here we are extending our visas for another few weeks.  This means that we will probably skip New Caledonia which I am a bit bummed about, but sailing to New Cal also means sailing into the wind for three days and personally, I think that sounds miserable.  At this point it looks like we will sail straight from Vanuatu to Australia. 

The second reason why we are staying in Luganville (for a few days anyway) is because there is great diving here.  One of the best wreck dives in the world, the SS Coolidge, is right here in the bay.  We were going to dive it today but it rained torrentially all night, which will make the visibility terrible.  Perhaps we will get to dive it in a day or two.

Yesterday Mark and I went for a dive out at Million Dollar Point, which is a point just outside Luganville where, upon leaving the country at the end of WWII, the Americans dumped all their military gear into the ocean.  The US military did not want to ship all the tanks, cars, bulldozers and everything down to lunch trays back to the States, and the French/British did not want to buy it off the US, so into the ocean it all went.  I think the idea was, "If we can't have it then nobody can." 

It is kind of cool and pretty depressing to see all those materials - car tires, tank shells, boat hulls, airplane wings, etc. - underwater.  Coral has started to grow in spots and there are lots of fish swimming around, but it makes me cringe to think of the pollution it caused.  I guess that is a running motive of war: waste, destruction, greed...

But I digress.  There are lots of other cool things to do on the island of Santo besides dive on WWII wrecks, and hopefully when the rain stops we will be able to venture to check out underground fresh water caves and blue pools up rivers.  We only have a few weeks left before we need to head to Australia; cyclone season (and the Austral summer) officially starts November 1, and I have no desire to be in the tropics for the summer or for cyclones.

I must admit that I am pretty excited to get to Australia.  To be perfectly honest I find it a bit exhausting to always be a spectacle, to have people gawk at me as I walk through a village and to have to work so hard to communicate with people.  I am looking forward to fitting in (so long as I keep my mouth shut) and possibly even having more people my age to hang out with.  In the meantime, I suppose I should start working on my Aussie accent, aaiiiiii maaaiiiiite?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

State of Nature

When sailing up to an island in Vanuatu there is no sense of time. The islands themselves have not changed very much in the past few thousand years - save the occasional cell phone tower - which seems to be one of the few modern concessions the ni-Vanuatu have. Upon sailing into an anchorage you might see smoke from a small fire seeping through the jungle, a canoe anchored on the shore and maybe a thatched hut or two. I can only imagine that Captain Cook saw the very same things as he arrived on these shores hundreds of years ago.

In fact, the ni-Van have retained their traditional ways of life more so than most ancient cultures around the world - partly from choice and partly due to their isolation - being at the edge of the world and all. In the Kastom villages they have rejected all things modern, and go about their lives just as they have since the beginning of time. The ni-Van in the Kastom villages still wear nambas (penis sheaths), grass skirts, do not have cell phones and (I am pretty sure) have stopped eating people. Although we have not visited any Kastom villages yet, it sounds like some cater to tourists, putting on dances and feasts when palangis arrive, while others completely ignore or ban white people altogether.

Even though the villages we have visited are not Kastom, it still feels like going back in time to walk through a village with naked children running around, chickens, dogs and pigs foraging in the bush, fierce looking men coming up to introduce themselves...

After leaving Epi Island we sailed to an island off the south end of Malakula, called Maskelyne Island. We were promptly greeted by Ambong, who introduced himself as the secretary of tourism for the island, and who arranged for us to see Kastom dancing, go for a walk in the bush, a mangrove tour and out to see the giant clams. We did all of these things the past two days, but it was the dancing that was most remarkable.

A group of ten palangis arrived on the shore and we were given a brief welcome, before being led through the bush into something of a mangrove swamp. We arrived in a sandy little clearing and a man welcomed us to watch the dancing, or rather gave us permission to watch. Then there was a howl. A drum started thumping and male voices started chanting. They came out in a line with their feet stomping to the rhythm of the drum. And of course, they were wearing nambas.

Here is a description of men wearing nambas from Captain Cook's journal:

"The men go naked, it can hardly be said they cover their natural parts, the testicles are quite exposed, but they wrap a piece of cloth or large lead round the yard which they tye up to the belly to a cord or bandage which they wear around the waist just under the short ribs and over they belly and so tight that it was a wonder to us how they could endure it."

It obviously took some cajones (no pun intended) for these young guys to come out and dance for us in their nambas, as the missionaries did a very good job of convincing everybody to dress modestly. And whereas the nambas look extremely uncomfortable and just plain weird, it is amazing to see that this tradition has withstood the tests of time and the wrath of God (i.e. missionaries). The men performed a few dances and watching them, in that swampy mangrove, with their voices chanting and the drums beating, it was as close to time travel as I will ever get.

We are now at Banem bay on Malakula Island (named by Captain Cook), which translated means "Pain in the Ass" Island, or, as I prefer, "Badass Island". Malakula is known for black magic and big sharks/shark attacks, and although I have seen 2 sharks here - which is two more than I have seen anywhere else in Vanuatu - I am not too worried. As for the black magic, I will be sure not to piss off any of the locals so as to incur any of their wrath. This afternoon we are going into the village to see more Kastom dancing, and it should be interesting to compare notes on this dancing versus the dancing on Maskelyne Island. I'll let you know how it goes.
At 10/12/2012 9:24 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°32.41'S 167°50.20'E

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Jurassic Park


Like I said before, we are in Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park or Epic island, whatever you want to call it. You can watch sea turtles swimming around the anchorage all day and watch the glow from the twin volcanos on Ambrym island in the distance all night. Yes, Lamen Bay on epic Epi island is quite a place.

We arrived here a few days ago - I am not exactly sure when because time here seems to slip away as does one day into the next, but frankly, the day and even the date really does not matter. What does matter is that there was a dugong sighting at the East point of the bay yesterday morning.

A few of us went into shore yesterday morning to check out the village and say hello/ask "permission" to walk through the village, go snorkeling, diving, etc. Not that there is a law that says we have to ask permission, but it means so much to the locals when we go into the village, introduce ourselves, ask if it is ok to swim and tell them what a beautiful place their land is. It can be a bit daunting to walk up to a motley-looking crew of locals and say, "Alo! My name is Corie. This is a beautiful place. Are there sharks in the water? Is it ok to walk through the village?" Usually their stoic faces melt into smiles and we are invited to go anywhere and take pictures to our hearts' content.

After introducing myself to the village chief and high-fiving a few of the little toddlers in the village square, Mom and I along with a few friends set off down the road to take a look around. As we were walking toward the "airport" (or rather a landing strip with a thatch hut as the "terminal") a truck pulled up. "Alo! We just seen the dugong at the point. Jump in the back and I give you a ride out to see it!" a local cried at us, apparently very excited to show us the dugong. We sped down the "runway" (grassy field) and pulled off at a beach where, sure enough, a dugong was hanging out in the shallows.

I wish I could give you a Wikipedia explanation of what a dugong is, but I don't have internet access so my interpretation will have to do: a dugong is very similar to a manatee (if not a manatee, I'm not sure), and looks like a cross between a seal, a dolphin and a vacuum cleaner. Otherwise, insert Wikipedia article [here]. Unfortunately I did not get a very close look at the dugong because I didn't have a mask with me, and it swam away soon after I went swimming after it (in all my clothes, I might add). I did, however, notice a nice wave peeling just off the point so I decided to get my surfer buddy and partner in crime, Mark, to go check it out with me.

After lunch we went out and surfed the wave which was exactly like a dugong - kind of slow and mellow, popping up in random places on the reef and throwing a bit of a punch when needed. Hence we decided to name the wave "Dugongs". So please be aware that if you ever surf the reef at the north point of Lamen bay on Epi island, you are surfing Dugongs.

After an hour or so Mark and I decided to head back to Merkava for a much needed beer. Just as we were climbing up on the boat Beth, who had been snorkeling around the anchorage started shouting "Dugong! Dugong! Right here!!" We grabbed our masks and cameras and jumped back in the water. Sure enough, we came up on the sea cow munching on sea grass, vacuuming up all the underwater foliage with its big, floppy lips. He did not seem to be bothered by the group of people free diving down to take his picture, and kept on eating except to come to the surface for a breath of air.

After following him for an hour I decided to leave the dugong alone, snapping a photo or two of a turtle along the way home. There are tons of turtles here and I just found out why: apparently there is only one month out of the year that people are allowed to hunt sea turtles on Epi island, otherwise they are protected. But they have to go to Port Vila every year to obtain permission to hunt the turtles, and this year they did not make it in time. This is a good year for turtles. And for the record, they never hunt dugongs.
At 10/9/2012 9:06 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°35.74'S 168°09.81'E

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Port Vila

It is hard to write about Port Vila at the moment because I swear we have sailed right into Jurassic Park - including an active volcano erupting in the distance, being greeted by million year old reptiles (sea turtles, and friendly ones at that), hills covered in thick foliage with wisps of smoke coming through the trees, and I am pretty sure I saw a pterodactyl swoop through the air... but I might have a good story or two about Port Vila and if I don't write about them now, they will be lost forever.

Let's see. Port Vila: charming colonial town - meets South Pacific - meets 99 cent store - meets resort atmosphere. There are French bakeries next door to the dive shops, the supermarket next to the traditional open air market, the bar next to the nakamal, a few good restaurants and lots of Chinese stores selling everything from rip off name brand shirts to Vanuatu beer huggies and cheap, plastic ukuleles - all of which I was tempted to buy. Of course after not having anything to buy - let alone anywhere to shop - save the local woman's kitchen for a grapefruit and some cabbage, just wandering through the stores and supermarket was quite entertaining.

And of course, I had to try out Tusker, the local ni-Van beer. Many times. Although I had a great time checking out the local bars - of the likes I had not seen since we were last in Port Denarau, Fiji - beer is super expensive here. Kava, however is not.

Mark and I, who have been palling around for quite some time now, decided that in Port Vila we would test the limits of kava. Considering it is the "big city", if we were to get a bit out of hand we could blend in with the other clueless tourists easier here, due simply to the fact that there are tourists here. And so we set out.

Mark picked me up from Rutea around sunset. "Where do you think we should go?" I asked him. "Oh, I dunno, I figure we just start walking and we will find something," was Mark's typical casual reply. "Well, in the tourist pamphlet it says there is a place called the "Chief's Nakamal" up the hill over that way, but it is probably filled with palangis (white people), being in the book and all." I told him. Not wanting to hit the touristy joints, we walked in the opposite direction. The farther you walk from the main drag in Port Vila, the fewer tourists you see.

Thus we started getting strange stares as we walked up the hill. Finally, we asked a kid walking down the street where the nearest nakamal was. He told us he doesn't drink kava, but that the Chief's Nakamal would be a good place for us. Mark and I shot each other a look, but the kid had taken it upon himself to flag down a bus and tell the bus driver where to take us, so it looked like we were headed for the palangi nakamal. I supposed it was a good start.

When we got in the bus (which was really just a van) we started chatting with the bus driver, asking him if the Chief's Nakamal is a good nakamal. "Ehh, is gud." "Oh yea? Do you drink kava there?" "No, but I take you dea." Then I remembered to ask the very important question that I had forgotten to ask in Vanuatu thus far: "Hey, um, what do you call white people in Vanuatu? You know, in Tonga they call us palangis and in Fiji they call us kaivalangis, what do they call us in Vanuatu?" He had to think about it for a minute. "Ah, we call de white man 'Masta'." My jaw dropped. "Excuse me? You mean like 'Master'?" "Yes! De master and de misses." Whoa dude. The ni-Van call the white man "master". What are we in, 1800?

By this time we had arrived at the Chief's Nakamal. Actually, I was not aware that we had arrived at the nakamal that was highlighted in my tourist packet because it was not much more than a wooden shack with one light and a few wooden benches under a banyan tree. There were also no other palangis around (sorry, I can't call us master and misses). Excellent. Mark and I walked up but I hesitated for a moment because I did not want to get beaten or killed. But as we entered I noticed a woman take a shell of kava, down it and then hawk a big loogie on the ground, so I knew we were in the right place.

Mark and I ordered our first shells - 100 vatu shells -, went to the side of the nakamal to chug them down and then went and bought a slice of papaya from a few women selling food outside the nakamal. We sat down. "So how do you feel?" I asked Mark, already starting to smile through numb lips. "Good, good." We sat for a bit and talked quietly. There are no loud noises in a nakamal, everybody nearly whispers and any cars that drive up dim their lights so as not to bother us kava heads.

Mark and I went for another 100 vt shell, which was no easier to drink than the first. The horrible bitterness combined with the strong numbing effects make my stomach churn now, but somehow I got them down that night. We went and got another piece of fruit to wash the taste out and sat down again. "Why do you think all nakamals are built under banyan trees?" I asked Mark. "Maybe because everybody goes to the banyan trees when there is a cyclone, and so even in the middle of a natural disaster they can still drink kava." Hee hee hee, this is as good an explanation as any I have heard (also the only one).

By our third shell I was finding it very hard to talk. I felt like I was falling backward even though I (am pretty sure I) was sitting up straight. Mark and I were chatting with a few local boys and I felt my voice get softer and softer and then trail off as my eyes closed... "Mark, we gotta go. I don't even know if I can walk." "Ok, but how about one last bowl before we go." Of course this was a horrible idea, but I made it less horrible by appealing for 50 vt bowls. "Good idea."

Shortly after drinking our fourth (although only half) shell, we left because had I sat down again, I would have slept under that banyan tree for the night. As we stumbled out onto the street I said, "Dude, I don't feel so good." "Hmmmm, maybe we should go find a place to get a beer," was Mark's logical reply. We managed to make it back down to the waterfront, but only by clutching each other so as not to stumble into oncoming traffic and those horribly bright, fast moving lights.

We finally made it to a bar where Mark got us beers, but I couldn't do more than take a few sips. I am not sure how he managed to drink both of them before we decided to go back to the boat. By the time I got home I was sure it was 2AM and I was going to be sick as a dog. In reality it was only 9:15, but I was sick as a dog with my stomach tossing and churning for the better part of the night. Alas, I am no longer a fan of kava. Mark and I wanted to push the limits, to feel the full effects of kava, and we did. And I don't ever want to again - at least not for a long time. But I also say this every time I drink too much alcohol, so we will see, although since then every time somebody tries to get me to go to a nakamal with them I politely decline.

That is Port Vila for you, in a (coco)nut shell. We have since moved on to Epi island, i.e. Jurassic Park. Today we were greeted by huge sea turtles and a pod of dolphins as we entered the anchorage, and on the way up from Efate we snagged a three foot wahoo. Tomorrow I am going to search for an alleged dugong that lives in the bay, as well as try to catch a ride on a sea turtle. And so the wild adventure that is Vanuatu continues.
At 10/7/2012 3:20 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 17°36.37'S 168°14.51'E

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

From Village to City

Alas we have made it to Port Vila, the capital and biggest city in Vanuatu. Of course, Port Vila is not much more than a quaint town, but with wi-fi internet, supermarkets, bars, restaurants, hotels and cars, it is feeling pretty busy to me. This is also due to the fact that we came from Erromango, which is considered to be the most remote and least developed island in the country.

Aside from the extremely rolly anchorage at Port Narvin, Erromango was a super cool place. Not many people come to Erromango - there is no tourist infrastructure, no cell phones, no cars, no stores... not much of anything but a little village with two schools. As we took the dinghy into shore to meet the locals all the children of the village were lined up on the beach waving at us. When we came ashore the two chiefs of the village introduced themselves, Chief Joseph and Chief Andre. They were very happy to have visitors and, as we were one of five boats in the anchorage, they told us this is the most boats they have ever had there at one time.

A visit to the school in Erromango.

There were about ten of us yachties who came in as a group and we were led to the school for a welcoming ceremony. The school was a run-down cinder block building with wooden desks and benches, open windows and a tin roof. The room we were in was packed with 50 or so students aged from about 5-12. Our group was asked to sit in chairs at the front of the room, and I couldn't help but feel like I was on display as 100 eyes stared at me with intense curiosity and smiles, but quickly looked away when I made eye contact.

We were all asked to introduce ourselves, and after saying our names and where we came from the school sang us a welcome song. It was beautiful. The children sang at the top of their lungs, filling the building with a chorus of happy and strong voices. After a few more songs, presenting them with some school supplies and a quick speech by the principal, the teachers invited us to go around and talk with the kids. This proved difficult as the kids were so shy they would giggle and run away whenever I tried to ask them a question.

Finally I went outside and sat down at a bench. Slowly two kids came and sat down next to me, followed by three more, and soon I was surrounded by 30 kids. The only question they would actually answer was, "What is your name?" - if they could keep from laughing. Other than that, they answered yes to every question: "How old are you?" Yes. "Do you have brothers and sisters?" Yes. "Is the sky blue?" Yes. "Is the sky red?" Yes.

Seeing as how our conversation was not going to well, I resorted to giving high-fives to the kids around me. They thought it was hilarious. A few kids sitting behind me would quickly poke my hair and then pretend they had not touched me, but were curious so I took my hair out of my ponytail and told them they could touch it. Instantly I had twenty hands in my hair. They shrieked with laughter as they pulled my hair over my eyes and made pig tails. I never knew straight brown hair was so funny or entertaining.

Then the kids decided I should have braids, so they called in an older girl - apparently an expert - and she set to give me corn rows. Of course she had helpers, other kids who would hold a portion of my hair or whatever... and only after she finished did it occurred to me that she had probably never braided straight hair before, let alone touched any. I was glad to provide the opportunity.

Getting my hair did.

After my hair appointment, Chiefs Joseph and Andre wanted to take us on a hike to the prospective site for a cell tower they are lobbying the government for. Mom, Dad and I were not exactly prepared to hike the highest peak on the mountain - we were in flip flops and had no food or water, but what the hell, so we took off. About an hour into the hike Chief Joseph was concerned that we did not have water so he disappeared into the jungle to look for coconuts.

After two and a half hours we arrived at the peak of the mountain. It was a fairly aggressive hike through the jungle but made much more difficult due to the fact that in the past three days I had not walked more than 30 feet because we had been on the boat. Regardless, we made it and were greeted with a fresh coconut at the top. Just as I was feeling accomplished and fit, three men and two women arrived at the summit, each carrying a 40 liter jug of water or a bag of cement mix. There are 1,000 bags of cement and hundreds of jugs of water that have to be carried up the mountain to build the cell tower and all the villagers chip in to carry them up. I could barely make it up just carrying myself. These people are boss.

The trip back down the mountain was much easier and, after a quick birthday party for Dad - complete with cupcakes and cheesecake - we all decided to bug out of the (extremely rolly) anchorage and head out for an overnight passage to Port Vila. I decided to sail with Mark so he could get some sleep during the night, and we had a beautiful passage under a full moon to Vila.

We arrived in Vila in the morning, went out for breakfast, stared wide-eyed at all the stuff in the stores and dodged cars driving down the two way streets (fancy). Port Vila is a funny place but this post has already gone on for way too long, so we will save that for another day. We now have internet, albeit very slow and testy internet, but I will do my best to go back and post pictures. Thanks for reading!
At 10/1/2012 10:07 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 17°44.69'S 168°18.75'E

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