Sunday, October 17, 2010

New Caledonia

Two nights at sea, one very windy (on the nose) and swelly and of course trouble always strikes then. The engineer was hard it again changing fan belts and fuel filters while we dipped and heeled.
And this was after he had fully serviced the engine in Vanuatu. How quickly things go awry.
So we made the marina in Lifou and found our 2 friends, GatoGo and On-Site. David had to fly to Noumea to do immigration and caught up with some yachtie  Noumea friends, Sharril and Bernard from Chamaral.  Through them we have met more French people and we have been invited to play cards  and French bowls (Petong) . And they always  makere that there were some English speakers around.
Ah a French colony…. Cheese, pate, fresh baguettes and wonderful wine.  We made our way  down from the  Loyalty Islands to the beautiful Isle de Pines. Blue, blue water but oh so cold!! 25degs on the water and on the land.  Had to rummage to find long sleeves and sweaters.
On Isles de Pines we got out the bikes and cycled to the village market (6kms). So much exercise for us, even hiked up the mountain for a spectacular view. We found a lovely “snack” or cafĂ© in Vao and returned many times for coffee and a “croc monsieur” (toasted ham and creamy cheese sandwich). It was lovely to catch up with more yachts that we knew, Blue Dawn, Destiny 5, and GatoGo, and John and Moira from Oz came for a week.
So time to get to Noumea via Baie de Prony. On the way we stopped at Mato, an island with the bluest lagoon and a high hill that overlooked the lagoon. Sensational.!
In  the huge Baie de Prony we went to the head of the bay, in the calmest anchorage and explored hot springs and cascade waterfalls. The scenery was a contrast of red hills and blue water.  We found more islands and bays. The captain’s highlight was assisting a solo woman sailor in Baie Ure. He fixed the electrics, hauled the anchor by hand. What a star!
So now we are in Noumea! Ginny’s daughter Kate has come for holiday and we sailed  around the beautiful lagoon and islands out from Noumea. Its been 3 years since we saw her in Langkawi!
We have been lucky to catch the Melanesian Arts Festival and saw dances and crafts from PNG, Solomons and Vanuatu and Tahiti. There are lots of cruisers here, including a few who came from Malaysia…Solan, Tonic and Forza. 
So its been very social, but always time to browse the shops and find some beautiful black pearls.
But all this must end and this week we have begun preparations for the final passage home. Probably 6 days to get to Bundaberg. We are joining the Port2Port Rally so we will have some company along the way and some parties in Bundaberg.


The Journey continues through the volcanic islands of Vanuatu . From Espirito Santos we moved to Ambae, where we  anchored in the crater of an extinct  volcano and celebrated the 4th July with 3 U.S.  boats   GatoGo, Special Blend and Asylum.
At Asanavari, on Maewo,  the spinner dolphins played with our dinghys and swam with us. In the evening we experienced our first local dinner with a string band and some excellent kava. Although the “ever in control “ captain said it had NO effect on him.
As always in these islands there is always some assistance needed from mechanically minded cruisers. David was able to repair solar panels and battery fittings in Lolotong, on Pentecost and fix the generator in the Maskelynes.
It was onto Ambryn, the mysterious magical island, and we anchored where Captain Cook came ashore in Nopul. There we found such friendly people, the best Vanuatu carvers and a wood fire bakery. Yummy bread and freshly caught and plucked chook!!
Onto the Maskelynes in Malekula, where finally David was able to spear some wonderful Mangrove Jacks. We have still been unable to catch  any fish.
On board we were carrying bags of clothes and bedlinen to give away. We had been told that the Ni-Vans were the most needy. In retrospect I think that the Solomon Islands were more needy. So at Revolieu Bay on Epi, we found a lovely anchorage  and went ashore with all the trading leftovers and bags of clothes for the villagers. It was nice to be so well received and to get our forward bunks back!
The rest of our time was spent on Efate, the main island. At Havanah Harbour we did lots of jobs and enjoyed the company of the villagers in canoes travelling from little islands to the big island with lots of fruit and veg for sale.
Onto  Port Vila and a big town for Independence Day celebrations and a tie up to the town seawall. Amazing not to dinghy to shore. Our first alongside in 12 months – power and water. It was here we caught up with Second Winds (Bryan and Glee). Glee is running the paramedic operations in Port Vila and Bryan took David off for a day of spear-fishing and coconut crab hunting. A much need diversion for both of them.
There was plenty of native dancing to see during the celebrations and the town had a festival atmosphere. David got up at 5am one morning to go for a walk to see what all the early morning music was about. He found 500 people rocking in the rain on mud soaked ground but they couldn’t care less. Kava was suspected as the happy medium.
From our berth it was a short  walk to the shops and market  to have coffee and lunch or half price drinks on Friday evening on the top floor of the Casino Hotel. Very civilized. It was also wonderful to see Kay and Grant Ferguson for a week. We realized how much we miss our land based family and friends.
The Engineer was exhausted after completing his list of Port Vila jobs. The AB was worn-out just watching him and passing the odd spanner or cleanup rag.
A bit of respite was needed, so we flew to Tanna island for a couple of days to see the active volcano. So much easier than sailing against those SE trades. It was an amazing island. Huge banyan trees and what a trip to the volcano. We could stand on the edge of volcano (no fence) and watch and hear the explosions of molten red rocks flying into the air above us. In Oz we would have had to view it behind a big fence two Kms away..
So then back to Port Vila to purchase more duty-free gin and fuel and make the big passage ( 2 days) to New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Road to Vanuatu

The Road to Vanuatu
We have come 1100 nautical miles or 2000kms since the last note. And 10degrees south and 10degrees east.  Our current position is 15s16 167e60 in the northern islands of Vanuatu. And David reckons that the Able Seaman is still a paid passenger.
In total we spent 3 months in the Solomon Islands. The Solomons we saw was a country still living as their ancestors had done. The villages usually have about 100 people living in very tidy houses made of sago palms and surrounded by gardens of bright flowers. A few have a solar panel and battery for lighting, some have a generator. They all have canoes and use them to travel long distances. But by and large they live a subsistence life and seem quite happy.
We felt that the government was ripping them off by not providing more services from the foreign aid and that their local MPs were pocketing most of it.
Our favourite spot was the Western Province, in particular, Marova Lagoon. They say West is Best.  In company with Blue Moon we travelled 60 miles in a month in the lagoon searching out the best anchorages and islands for snorkeling and spear fishing and beach BBQs.
The best had to be Samurana Island where we celebrated the Captain’s 61st birthday. Copious amounts of port were consumed that night on the beach, under a full moon.
Another special place was Charapoana Island right next to the renowned diving resort at Uepi. Unfortunatley the owner dislikes yachties and wouldn’t even serve us a beer or let us snorkel in “his” water. So we moved close to a uninhabited local resort and used their cooking fireplace and drank cocktails on their jetty. Our own private resort.
During this time the search for lobsters and the ideal carving occupied a lot of energy. Marova Lagoon is renowned for its expertise in carving. Every canoe (and there were plenty) that visited the yachts had a piece or two of  carving for trade or sale.
David was in his element. They don’t call him Scrooge McMaxwell for nothing. Bartering was his game. So on board we have an elaborate mask (!!) and assortment of bowls. Take it straight to the pool room! And for the princely sums of $10 or a heap of sandpaper or rice and sugar.
Not only were carvings  not safe from his eager dealings, the trade for lobsters and fish brought tears to the AB’s eyes. She  couldn’t watch as David managed to procure 8 lobsters and 2 fish for 1 kilo of rice and a T-shirt and 2 packets of noodles.
In  fact we met with some very generous fishermen who provided a plethora of seafood for us over the span of several weeks and we were happy to give them whatever they needed. It was usually material to assist their carving endeavours or basic food essentials.
Finally it was time to depart and leave Blue Moon to head further south. The Captain was concerned about the weather and increasing southerly winds in May. The AB was concerned about being on her own with Captain Bligh. We had been together with Blue Moon for 8 months so parting was very hard.
So to Honiara and shopping and restaurants we went. 6 days anchored outside the Point Cruz Yacht Club was heaven. Ex-pats galore to talk to and drink with. David again was in his element getting duty-free (cheap) fuel, booze, and meat. The highlight was Eggs Benedict on smoked salmon for breakfast at the yacht club. The best I have ever had!
After such excesses we moved on eastwards towards the Santa Cruz group, the most easterly of the Solomons. The last indulgence was to anchor at Tavanipupu Resort (owned and run by an American Woman, Pamela) for a great dinner and marvelous company.
The weather was very kind to us, except for one day of huge seas and wind on the nose. Lucky for us we were still within range of an island, the 3 Sisters, where we took shelter for 4 days till the system passed away.
The people on the Santa Cruz islands lived a very basic life. Their only means of communication is the HF radio. The Engineer spent time trying to fix their microphones, generators and solar panels. And we were rewarded generously with 16 lobsters, 3 fish and 13 mudcrabs. Pura Vida now sports a bow and arrow and walking stick for the aged Captain from Vanikolo Island (furthest SE).
By now the trade currency was DVDs for fruit and veg. Even the poor  villages still had DVD player, bought from the proceeds of the logging on their islands.
Still trying to daysail, we had one more overnight passage to Vanuatu and the Torres Islands. Expecting a decent wind, we set off and straight into wind almost on the nose. This also meant stronger seas on the nose! And alas the engine stopped .. blocked fuel filters.. so we tacked and sailed while the Engineer got some sleep before going to work on the engines. Ably assisted by Virginia with torch in hand in rolling seas.
We made Vanuatu and the Torres Islands mostly under sail. These are remote islands with very few villages. We continued to island hop until our clear-in point at Sola in the Banks Islands.
The transistion to the lower latitudes has meant that we now get more “weather” higher, winds, seas and rain. On more than one occasion we have had to scurry back to the anchorage to wait out the storms and repair the storm damage.
After the Banks it was Espirito Santos and, at last, civilization and other yachts. We had come 1000 nm without seeing another boat, ferry, freighter, fishing boat or yacht or bigfellah, whitefellah.
The last two weeks have been filled with trips to the “shops”, beach BBQs, sundowners, 50th birthday celebrations with other Aussies, Nzer’s, Yanks and Swiss. I forgot to mention lunches and dinners out at restaurants. Luxury!!
Our anchorage at Oyster Island was so calm and friendly and easy to wait out the big winds that seems to happen for 5 days every week. Very hard to drag to AB away to the serious business of exploring the other Vanuatu islands. But first its time to open the dutyfree Bombay Saphire and have Gin and Tonics and watch the sun go down.
See you down the track

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Solomon Islands .. April 2010

Solomons April 2010

It seems that we have been doing very little of consequence these last few months. It has been a few months of finding nice spots to wait out the Cyclones season before moving south, observing the Pacific Island cultures and trying not to be judgmental from a 1st world perspective and meeting friendly new cruisers.

Oh.. did I forget to mention we “RAN AGROUND”.. on a reef.. the Captain says it was a minor navigation error and gave him the opportunity to clean the hull while we were high and dry!!! The able seaman not at fault.. off watch and getting coffee for the commander at the time. Anyway no harm done we sat on the reef for 24 hours and John from Blue Moon came out to us and chiseled away some coral from the bilge keels and at high tide Auspray pulled us off.

Have met up with Auspray, Trish and Kevin (pity he’s a NZer and avid All Black supporter). We have been talking to them on the HF radio Sheila Net for the past 4 months and now they have really nice faces. David and Kevin dingy off to the satellite TV here at the Loa resort Friday and Saturday evenings to watch the Super 14.
See that the “Waratahs” are leading for the moment!!
Trish, Sarah and Able seaman follow at our leisure to have quiet chats and beers watching the sun go down.
Fish and squid have been plentiful in this lovely lagoon Vona Vona and each one of the boats seems to snaffle a trevally with a hook and line overboard each day. The Blue Moon kids are a whiz at catching squid, despite John’s moans about black ink all over the boat.. perhaps that’s why the Captain isn’t keen on squid catching on Pura Vida.

Shopping in the few island towns has been a bit fraught. Its like going back 50 years .. all counters with the food in tins on the shelves. And no variety or little delicacies. But we did get some mince and sausages.. !!
But in Gizo we had two surprises. The first was a wonderful lunch (hamburgers and chips) in a real restaurant (the Gizo Hotel) with chairs and tables and service and cold beers.
The second was Gazza the Rat from Gizo jumped aboard Pura Vida. Rat number 5. Only able to make a 2 night stay before caught in the kindly rat trap and assigned to the watery depths.
And of course there is the added problem of getting money. Since Westpac ballsed up delivering new cards to PNG we only have a Visa card and that means using the bank teller to withdraw .. one and half hours to get permission from Honiara to ring the Visa authority to withdraw!! And then of course we still have to pay a service fee.

Always at the back of our minds is the safety of the boat. A number of boats have been robbed when at anchor.
We had 2 drums (60l in all) of diesel lifted from the front of the boat in the Islandsnear Kavieng. A few men kept David in conversation at the back at night while the others cut the securing rope and took the drums. Pretty useless to them.. they need petrol not diesel. And now we use the chain not rope.
And the Captain “donated” his crocs to a new home in Albatross Pass. They were left in the dingy. Not happy, David!!

So now its Easter Monday and we will be moving from this comfortable anchorage of two weeks to explore more lagoons, trade for carvings and more fruit and vegetables.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

New Ireland PNG December 2009 to February 2010

The last 6 weeks in the Kavieng area has enabled us to relax and recharge and prepare for the next phase of our slow journey home.
Our time here consists of sailing around the local islands of New Hanover/ New Ireland enjoying copious amounts of mudcrab and wonderful fresh fruit and salads. The anchorages have usually included some good snorkelling and diving as well as meeting the locals. The New Ireland people seem not be as enterprising as the Ninigos or Hermits, but this maybe because they are within 20kms of a town, while the other islands are 100's of kms away from towns.
Xmas was great fun, despite Blue Moon running out of gas and us being low as well. We did pork,chicken and all the trimmings, on the back of Pura Vida. Finished with more red wine and a game of 500.
New Year was a lobster feast on Blue Moon with their friend Gaynor from Sydney. She brought all kinds of goodies over from Oz. The most sought after were the Australian and SMH weekend papers.
These sojourns has been interspersed with time back in Kavieng to do the usual list of jobs and shop at the markets. We met another kid yacht, Twin Image. Lots of tales and booze has flowed with them, including a great day out on their huge catamaran on Australia Day.
It has been a time of Losses and Gains and Mysteries on Pura Vida.
The Captain has lost 2 inches around the waist as well as 3 food scrap bowls overboard. He also lost all our 3 expensive rapalla fishing lures to very large fish and a coral reef. He did gain a big coral trout though, which he speared and it fed 6 of us. A real treat, fish and chips, all done by the Captain - chef extraordinaire- he says!
The yacht lost a red head and gained a blonde. When V decided to have a haircut and colour brightening in Jayapura to get rid of the sunbleached ends on her head, the Indonesian "hairstylist" misunderstood. And instead of darkening the hair, he made it the same colour as the sunbleached ends. Hence V is a blonde. Not a good look!!
The PuraVida mysteries continued.
Where did the 4 rats come from? They have gone now and so have any stray cockroaches.
The continual saga of water in the port fuel tank, which stops the engine at inopportune moments, close to reefs in big seas and causes much swearing and cursing and the engineer to don the overalls and clean fuel fiters at lightening speed.
The mystery was solved when the AB found one wine box completely soaked, and rust around the hotwater heater that sits above the fuel tank. She spends half her time looking at or soaking up wine. Wine is OK, heater not OK.
It had rusted out on the bottom rim and made holes though the steel into the fueltank. Hence the water.
The Rheem 50 litreheater was installed in 1982, not a bad innings. So Captain became the painter and decorator and filled the rust spots in lots of internal areas including the bathroom . More cursing and wet epoxy paint for ages! Naked showers on deck -yeh. Not quite the same as watching the girls on a boat from Brazil shower which was anchored nearby. The captain always had a job to do topside when the "event" occurred.
So we have lost the use of hotwater (no warm showers), lost some weight on the port side and gained a list to starboard.
A more dangerous mystery was the small explosion in the stove. On investigation, the gas lighter was found inside the oven. Just as well it only had a small amount of gas left. But how did it get there. Of course the Unable seaman was blamed!!
The one remaining mystery that gets right up the AB is the delay of 10-20 seconds for the freshwater pump to deliver water to the tap. Captain says, "tell someone who cares". He also says its a pink job.
The one major gain has been getting Radio Australia so clearly on the HF radio from 8am to 12.30am. Not so great is some the news, especially the ongoing aussie political jibberjab but the captain's morale has improved as he has been able to listen to the cricket..
So we pick up our creditcards from Westpac on Monday ..( only taken 6 weeks to get here, but thats another story) and start the voyage to the Solomon Islands with Blue Moon. Mostly day sailing along the New Ireland coast and a 2 day passage past Bougainville Island to the Shortland Islands in the northern part of the Solomon Islands. Should take about 2 weeks.

PNG November to December 2009

PNG November to December 2009
After a decent stay at Jayapura we headed off to the northwest islands of PNG, The Bismark Archipelago. All ideas of sailing went out the window when we encountered winds from the SE exactly where we headed. Our "sailing" mates Blue Moon, headed north to the Equator in search of a breeze. The unable seaman said "bugger the diesel cost put the iron horses on and we will be there in one less overnight". By luck, rather than the Captains drift calculations, the huge logs (up to 1mtre diameter by 20metres) stayed out of our way.
Motoring into Ninigo islands, an atoll of 8 islands and 200 people, we were met by a local chief Solomon on his sailing canoe and led into a beautiful safe anchorage. A wonderful introduction to the Pacific Islands. We were welcomed with fruit and vegetables and traded for fish and lobsters. The villagers made us welcome and showed us how to cook and where the best fishing grounds were. Quite sad though, one person a day dies from malaria in this group. We don't venture ashore after 5pm where there are villages and people.
After 10days time to move on to the next famous atoll, The Hermit Islands, made famous by Jacques Cousteau, for diving and snorkelling. Here we found a deserted island, Makan, where we could make BBQs and stay on shore after dark. Great coral reefs and evening moonlit swims.
A few miles away we anchored at the main village islands and found such friendly and enterprising people. The village huts were tidy and clean with panelled woven walls and roofs, both single and two storey. They had high community values.
There is even an appointed island tourguide to make life easier for the yachties. While predominantly Christian, there are "the backsliders", in the community who drink and smoke and eat shellfish. They were all great fun and came to boat for "western" cooking lessons and the kids sung hyms on the bow. The highlight was a dinner of coconut crab, cooked in the local ovens and brought out to the boats. Sarah and I were in heaven, no cooking, delivered take away food.
Unlike other PNG islands that we encountered later on, the villagers here had solar panel and generators, so that they could run HF radios and watch and listen to DVDs and music. They borrowed our DVD collections and watched movies to well into the morning hours. David and John spent time with the men, assisting in fixing the generators and broken solar panels. Education was highly valued in the Bismark Archipelago and most children went to school, even it meant canoeing to or staying with relatives on the various scholl islands.
The winds had changed by now and we had several huge squalls, one which resulted in Blue Moon dragging the whole mooring and line across the bay at 5am,. She headed directly for the reef passing within a metre of our starboard side. Much excitement, but within minutes the villagers had launched 3 of their open boats with outboards into the 2 metre swell and came to assist.
After 2 great weeks time to move onto New Britain for Xmas and New Year in Kavieng.
And the good ship Pura Vida sailed most of the 300 nautical miles. The swell though kept the AB well off her food, and the Captain, as usual, had to do everything (or so he would tell you).
It was so nice to put the anchor down close to an island, Nusalik, which had a beautiful small resort built in the traditional native style. It caters mainly for surfers from Australia. And we were 10 minutes dingy ride to the town which had supermarkets and ice-cream cones. We were soon learned that we were back in the land of expensive food items. No more Asia prices and $2 meals ashore.
As we wait out some rainy weather, thought I would pen some details of life in these remote places. The Captain is happy as all water tanks are full, the AB can wash her hair without the usual whine from the water warden.
At Ninigo Islands we are anchored in beautiful blue water surrounded by a protection of reefs.
Although at the moment there is a swell coming thru that makes V feel a bit seasick (or was that sick of the sea!).
This week we have interacted quite a lot with the villagers as their english is very good. They have no means of communication- radio, TV, phones, but they do have a couple of DVD players. They have borrowed our DVDs and spent all night watching them. They just come out to the boats for a chat.
We have been plyed with pumpkins, sweet potatoes, bananas, fish and lobsters and a coconut crab, and the odd sago (!!) cake.
In return Blue Moon and us have fixed fish lures, tested solar panels, given away books, magazines and a compass and old spectacles, and our own banana bread. We also burned and gave them several CDs of photos we took of them.
David joins them for the afternoon volley ball match when its not raining and he isn't snorkelling and spear fishing. Must say his skills are the best of the lot at VB. They are better fishermen.
The villagers get lots of clam meat, 100 kgs, which they take to the mainland and use the proceeds to buy necessary provisions like rice and fishing line and some clothes.
Just some trivia
Thinking about our provisioning in Jayapura, Indonesia before we left for PNG. Lots and lots and what did $10aud (85,000 rupiah) buy us.
A tooth filling for David. The dentists in town only work 7pm-9pm because they cant make enough money. The main job is usually working an admin job for the government.
20litres of petrol, 4 cans of beer (it is heavily taxed .. to stop domestic violence), 2 cups of good coffee at the only cafe in town, case of soft drink, 2 shirts for David, 2 pairs of thongs, 70 eggs, 1.5kgs of large king prawns, 42 bus rides, 8 pkts of cigarettes to feed the captains addiction, 2 .5 kgs of potatoes, 11kgs of rice, 6kgs of limes
I am guessing that we wont be getting such cheap provisions again.
So life on the ocean waves continues at a slow pace..

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

From Borneo to PNG

From Borneo to PNG

Its about 3000 nautical miles (almost 6000kms) from the tip of Borneo to Papua New Guinea. Quite a hike for 5 months.

After leaving Borneo, we headed east and crossed the Sulu Sea, nearly 5000metres deep. Amazing night passages , starry nights, quiet seas and a not so quiet engine running. Reached the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia to find “IT CLOSED”. It was Ramadan, Muslim fasting season and it appeared that, except for the Chinese businesses, the towns were closed. Just refueled and kept going east onto more picturesque islands off Bacan, Halamera.

By now we had been sailing, just the “two of us” for about 3 weeks. So it was a great time for celebration when we met up with Blue Moon of Oz in Bacan, and they had just caught a large Tuna. Sashima and champagne to celebrate the reunion.

From there we tried to daysail and find some beautiful anchorages with Blue Moon. Deserted beaches where the Captain could fulfil his passion for building huge fires and BBQs. Blue water and coral and lots of local Indonesian villagers who came out to the boat wherever we were.

Finally we reached the first port, Sorong, in Irianjaya, the western half of Papua. The population(2 million) is spread thinly over the 2 provinces and is made up of a strange mixture of Papuans and Indonesians who have been resettled from other parts of Indonesia under the “trans migrassi” scheme. They fill the towns, litter the coastline, fish the seas dry and build mosques everywhere. But they are very friendly and helpful.

Trying to squeeze into these small harbours filled with fishing boats was always fraught and David’s desire to get as close to the fuel depots and markets as possible set us high and dry at low tide. Just as well we have bilge (2 ) keels to sit on the bottom till the tide came in!!

This time of year is the start of North East/West Monsoon and the seas came crashing onto the shores of Irianjaya. So our anchorages where on off-shore islands or well protected harbours. So it was a few overnighters to find calm anchorages.

At Manokawri, the next biggest port/town, we anchored in a very safe but filthy harbour. The stilt houses built on the shore even had pig hutches built over the water. So it was awake at 5am with the blaring mosques and squealing pigs wanting food.

It was here that Virginia found “blood on the streets”. She thought that chickens had been slaughtered. But no it was the first sight of Beetle Nut. The islanders chew this nut and it has a bright red juice that they spit anywhere!!!

The next 3 weeks took us along more wonderful islands filled with wrecks from the WW2. and beautiful people in the islands of Yamna, Wakde, and Biak. Lots of snorkeling and the start of spearing fish and lobsters.

Our final port in Indonesia was Jayapura, where we filled our boat with provisions for the long haul home and indulged in coffee and Chinese food. This would be the last of the cheap Asia living.

So onto the islands in N/W PNG after much hassles with the PNG consulate in Jayapura trying to get a visa.