LTY UPDATE: Thursday, September 13th, 2012
Namaram Bay, Pentecost Island, Vanuatu
LTY time: 17:15 (Vanuatu time = UTC +11)
Location: Namaram Bay about mid-way up West coast of Pentecost island, Vanuatu
Position: 15 37.534 S, 168 07.368 E (you can cut & past this into Google Earth to see on map)
Wind: 3 knots (inside the bay)
Air temp: 82 F 28C
Sea temp: 90.5 F 32.5 C
MOTHER NATURE is SUCH a SHOWOFF!
Been a fabulous few days since I left Uliveo Island and continued making my way up north through the islands of Vanuatu. I stayed in Uliveo for a few days after my friends Teri and Philip left to head south to Port Villa and had the whole little bay all to myself. The locals all knew me by now so they were not coming by to offer fruit and ask for things so it was very peaceful. Ruby and I took a few trips off in the dingy to explore a few more deserted spots and she had her usual great time running nonstop on the beaches and in the jungle on the coastline. Tuesday morning dawned with clear blue skies and the sea was calling me again so it was up with the anchor and I motored my way on a very circuitous route through all coral and the other little Meskelyne Islands and out into open ocean again. The day cleared up and once I was clear of the wind shadow of Meskelyne I picked up the SE trades again which were blowing about 8-14 knots most of the time. The wind does vary here much more than it did in Fiji but most of my headings here are NW so this is all downwind sailing and I’ve been getting lots of practice trying out the new setup of putting my spinnaker pole out to windward and pulling the big genoa out to it so that I have what is called a “wing on wing” sailing setup with the main sail out to one side and the genoa out to the other. This presents a very large sail area to the wind coming from my back and doesn’t take too much to push all 33 tons of us along at 5-7 knots. The boat is also nice and level most of the time as there is no heeling and with the wind from behind the apparent wind (wind you feel on the boat) is much less so it is extremely calm and serene sailing.
I headed for Ambrym island which his home to Vanuatu’s other active volcano and I made my way around the west corner and then up along the NW coast of Ambrym where I was able to carefully hunt out a great little unchartered anchorage. The bottom in most areas here slopes up very steeply from the ocean and then turns to black sand just off shore of most islands with coral intermixed along much of it. Taking my best guess from the guides and charts I have I spied this little indentation just south of the very north west tip of Ambrym and crept in slowly with my eyes carefully going back and forth between watching the bottom in front and beside me and the depth gauge. The black sand makes it a bit more difficult to see compared to the white coral sand in other places but as I crept in towards the shore the depth gauge finally started to show a gradually decreasing depth and about 100 meters off shore I had about 25 feet and was right on the edge of where the coral started to grow on the bottom. Up at the bow I carefully targeted a sandy spot and dropped the mighty anchor and let the wind push me back as I played out almost 150 feet of anchor chain, locked it down and waited for the confirming tug as Learnativity stopped her backwards travel and the chain went taut. The shoreline was composed of small cliffs of black lava and it was speckled with kids who were both coming out to see the unusual appearance of a yacht in front of their small village and having a great time jumping off the cliffs into the warm water. I later found out that it was the middle of a two week school holiday and so each day was filled with the music of children’s laughter as they swam, jumped and played ashore.
I also had a steady stream of them coming out to the boat in their family dugout outrigger canoes. I must have had over 20 of them come to visit over the next few days once word got out that I was happy to have them aboard and let them look around. Many of them returned with treats for me in the form of papayas, coconuts and pamplemouse (sp?) (grapefruit) which I was most grateful for and exchanged this for chocolate, dried cranberries and some Canadian souvenirs. Mostly though they loved the chance to explore the boat, ask lots of questions, and try out the binoculars that were a big favorite with them all. I was also able to give them a few magazines I kept for just such opportunities and which they enjoy for both the pictures of new and different things and a chance to practice their English and reading. Of course teenagers are similar in many ways the world over and so one of the groups of the older ones got brave enough on one visit to ask if I had any wine! Of course they assured me this was only for their parents ;) but I declined and told them this was just not allowed.
Two boys, Amos (15) and Robert (9) were the most frequent visitors and on one of their last visits they stopped by to show me one of the more interesting if somewhat unsettling catches which was a sea turtle they had just caught and killed. They say there are lots of them here and they swim in the rocky areas near the shore and are a relatively regular catch. They were on their way to take this one home for their mother to boil and make into various meals. I asked them if they liked eating turtle and they said it was OK but not one of their favorites.
I looked after several of the boat jobs needing attention such as replacing my main alternator and fixing a troubling seawater leak into the freshwater cooling side of my diesel generator and was reminded how true it is that cruising is the art of moving your boat from one exotic repair destination to the next! Just part of the price that has to be paid to enjoy this phenomenal life of freedom and independence and one I’m happy to pay. That along with more reading, writing and snorkeling and two days and nights zipped by. The water here was finally nice and clear again after being rather murky in the Meskelyne Islands and other spots so far in Vanuatu plus the water was finally back up over 30 degrees Celsius so I enjoyed more snorkeling time though the coral and fish life wasn’t too spectacular.
What WAS spectacular though was the night time entertainment from Mother Nature. I was completely unprepared for the spectacle that awaited me when I came up on deck as part of my regular night time off to bed routine. The night skies are so fabulous when I am anchored in these remote spots partly because I’m the only boat and light source as the small villages don’t have power and so it is completely dark and when the skies are clear of clouds they are filed with more stars and galaxies than I ever imagined possible. It is so black that you can see the galaxies very clearly and they almost look like “cloudy” areas out in the cosmos as they are so dense with such far away billions of stars of their own. I’ve become relatively accustomed to this, though always amazed and in awe of it all and so I’ve made it a habit to come up on deck each night as I’m making my way to bed and check out this cosmic show each night to send my hopes off into the cosmos and to enlist the help of the stars to bounce special thoughts to some of the special people in my life.
Two nights ago though, it wasn’t the distant stars that took my breath away but the land based one. As I looked southwest the whole sky over the rising hills of Ambrym Island were ablaze in the most intense shades of orange and red I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen some pretty amazing sunsets in the past five years but nothing to match this. What I was witnessing was the smoke billowing out of apparently VERY active volcanic cone and spreading for miles above and beyond that was coruscating with the light from the fiery cauldron of lava below! I just stood there on deck with my mouth agape and tried to take it all in. As my awemazement lessened a bit in time I again turned my gaze upward and out into that deep starry starry space over the open oceans to the north when I saw not one, but TWO shooting stars in quick succession. My my, Mother Nature was really putting on quite a show for me tonight and as I was about to discover, she wasn’t done yet! As I was looking upward at the more stationary stars and bouncing my hopes and wishes off them, there was suddenly a whole series of fiery stars zipping around down below the horizon! No, I didn’t have THAT much wine with dinner tonight, they were fireflies! The most enormous ones I have ever seen. As I watched this spectacle for the next long while I was able to see some of the ones that flew close enough to me in the light of the stars and the volcano and I could see that they had large wings like those of a moth and their bodies must have been two to three inches long with this huge glowing end section. I’m not sure what I could ever have done to be so blessed with such spectacles but there I was completely immersed in the fiery side of this incredible cosmos we are a part of as Mother Nature showed off and shared with me what she has going on below me, around me and above me. All this in ONE night! Could I lead a more charmed life? I think not!
This morning sun dawned a bit later than usual as it took a bit longer to make it above the mountainous topography of Ambrym Island and reveal an increasingly clearing and blue sky and an ocean that looked more like a lake as there was not a breath of wind and not a wave or ripple in the water. Hoping that there would be more wind once I cleared the top of the island I felt it was time to continue north and make my way up along the west coast of Pentecost island and perhaps all the way up to the south end of Maewo island where I’ve been told there is a great anchorage and some fabulous snorkeling in Asanvari Bay which is about 50nm away. However my departure from Ambrym was delayed a few miles off shore when the new alternator decided to throw both belts off. With no wind I just shut off the engine and spent the next hour figuring out this newest problem which turned out to just be used fan belts that were not up to the strain of this high output alternator and after replacing them with new ones I have in my well stocked “spares” department, I soon had it working again. But just as I fired up the main engine again the sea water pump alarm went off and I found that its belt had suddenly become too loose! Fortunately that was a quick fix of readjusting the belt tension and I was underway again at last. Better yet the wind filled in a bit later and I was able to setup my spinnaker pole again and have that wing on wing arrangement I mentioned earlier. The SE trade winds were very light and varied from 5-12 knots but with all that sail area this was enough to keep me moving forward at 4-5 knots and enjoy a leisurely and peaceful sail along the west coast of Pentecost Island.
By mid-afternoon I was about half way up Pentecost and the skies were increasingly overcast so I started looking for a good spot to anchor while I still had some good light above me and headed for another small unchartered anchorage by the tiny village of Namaram where I writing to you from now. Similar to the previous anchorage off Ambrym I crept in slowly and found an indentation in the rocks and coral where there was just black sand rising up close to shore and was able to drop the hook in about 25’ off water. This spot is very sparsely inhabited but there are a few homes ashore and I headed ashore in the dinghy to ask permission to stay. There were only a few buildings nestled into the jungle a ways back from the shore and at first it seemed to be deserted but I finally came across some young boys ages 3-7 I would guess and they led me to an adult who then took me to the local chief. Chief Roman was up to his elbows in grease as he was repairing the villages chain saw and after a quick introduction I was able to help him figure out that the carburetor gasket was cracked and letting in too much air so it wouldn’t start. He had some material that could work to make a new gasket and he felt he could do that himself and told me to go enjoy walking around the area. One of the challenges in these small villages is the lack of much skills or tools to maintain things and so they do tend to do without more than with. It makes for a good source of interaction and bartering for me in many places where I am able to help out with my floating tool shop and a reasonable set of skills in mechanics, metalworking and wood working.
With the blessing of the chief to anchor here and explore the area, I went back to LTY and picked up Ruby and headed back ashore where we were soon mobbed by about ten young boys ranging from about 3 to 13 I’d estimate. As usual they are initially equal parts fascinated and fearful of Ruby but once I assure them she won’t bite or hurt them she soon wins them over and they are all petting her, calling her name and having great fun running after her. After lots of fun doing that I was launching the dinghy to head back to LTY when the oldest boy asked if I could give them a ride in the dinghy. So I soon had a dinghy full of ten VERY happy young boys and we were off at high speed for a quick trip around some of the outlying rocks and then back down to the shore in front of their village where we dropped them off and headed back to LTY. I could still hear them laughing and excitedly telling all the other kids in the area about their fun and fast ride in this strange ruby boat. Such a fun way to end the day.
It is now well after sundown and very dark up here in the cockpit, and my thin tropical blood is getting chilled so I’ll sign off for tonight. Depending on how things look in the morning I’ll probably head north again and make the jump over to Maewo Island and what is supposed to be a spectacular anchorage in Asanvari Bay. I’ll be back with an update for you on just how that turns out to be from my perspective and wish you all a good night for now.
Wayne & Ruby the Wonderdog