Monday, October 30, 2006

On way to Oz

As Cyclone Xavier managed to turn full around and head off in the other direction we were able to breath a sigh of relief. It had come within a hundred miles of us and for some time looked liked we might get a direct hit. Fortunately the weather has settled again and on Sunday morning we left Port Vila making for Port Bundaberg in Australia some 1008 miles to the South West. There are about 30 boats taking part in the Port 2 Port rally including ourselves and already we spread all over the place. We did see one yacht for most of last night before we passed them by. Nothing seen today, Monday but blue skies...can't remember a day like this for several months. At 05:50 GMT On Monday October 30th ReVision II was at 18 Deg 16 Mins South and 164 Deg 53 Mins East with 809 miles to go.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cyclone approaching Port Vila

We are still here in Port Vila in Vanuatu. We have been pretty busy experiencing Vanuatu and monitoring the weather for the last week. We went for a village feast on Friday which was one of the most amazing experiences of our trip so far. We went with some other cruisers and were met from our taxi by the village caller - a man dressed in a grass skirt, full war paint and calling on a conch shell to announce our arrival in the village. We met with Alick, who had arranged the visit and he explained that in the old days the call was for intruders and alerted the village to attack but now they accept visitors and we were quite safe! Although in many ways Vanuatu has adopted western ways you are very much aware that the ‘past’ is not that long ago and the ‘kastom’ or traditional life is only a little way beneath the surface or still prevailing in some parts of life here. We entered the village and were welcomed by the Chief. We were given a coconut to drink. The villagers were all dressed in traditional grass skirts, flowers, leaf garlands and body paint. They all smiled nervously at us but made us very welcome. The men were then invited to drink Kava, which they had to down in one. It makes your mouth numb then your legs if you drink enough. Traditionally women cannot even see the kava being prepared let alone drink it, but they allowed us to try it - not really my thing but an experience. The village we were in was a group from the neighboring island of Tanna who had come to Efate to earn money to send back to their island. They explained that when they are in their own village life is very different and strictly in line with traditional kastom ways, so for example women wouldn’t drink kava. People from Tanna are especially famous for turning their back on modern influences. They have a very special dance called the Toka dance which is usually only performed at an annual 3 day festival called Nekowiar where the villages of the island come together to make alliances and arrange marriages. This village had been given special permission to perform the Toka dance outside of Tanna and we sat and watched an amazing spectacle of men chanting, bamboo poles being rustled together and passionate singing.
After the dance the men were taken off with the warriors and us women went with the village women to serve the food. The food, laplap which roughly translates to pudding, had been cooked under ground wrapped in banana leaves with hot rocks. It is basically a lot of root vegetables and some meat cooked in coconut milk - it really is absolutely delicious. After dinner we had more dancing. The women and children joined in and invited us too. Andrew had a little boy called Rubin and I had a little girl called Joanna who held our hands tightly for the duration of our attempt to join in, which left us exhausted. The children didn’t let go of our hands until we left and Joanna gave me part of her feather headdress. It really was a very special evening and we felt very honored. The next day we took some gifts to Alick for the villagers.

They have fantastic little buses here which you just hop in and say where you want to go - the driver then finds a route for all the travelers it only costs about 50p and it’s really fun. We went down the south of the island to a village called Mele where they have a cultural centre which was really interesting. We learned all about the history and kastom of Vanuatu along with a lot of tales which we found terribly funny but which the locals believe. Black magic is a really big influence here and even more so on the island of Ambrym, we have noticed the local people really believe this and we have to try hard to respect their views. The history of cannibalism here is pretty horrid as is some of the traditions such as burying people alive - women with the husbands if they died before them, unwanted children, elderly people, sick people etc. When one chief died he was buried with 40 family/villagers who were alive. They also had practices such as knocking out a women’s front teeth to make her more beautiful, bringing up an illegitimate child until he was 13 and then hanging and eating him. The last ‘reported’ case of cannibalism was in 1969 so the government doesn’t really like it discussed as many ‘flesh eaters’ are still alive. There is a lot of joking about it though; the local beer adverts says ‘who’s on the menu?’ and there are tourist t-shirts of cooking pots with people in. I could go on forever but one last strange thing for now - there is a village here that believes Prince Philip is their Chief, they worship him and await the day that he will return to Vanuatu!

We have also done some great snorkeling here, had snakes around our necks, held and eaten coconut crab, spent hours wandering around the 24 hour market and been to see all the sights of Port Vila including the President’s residence, a pink court house and a some interesting churches.

We hoped to fly down to Tanna to see the active volcano there but unfortunately the flights were full. As it happens we could have gone later as we are still here because a cyclone has developed currently 200 miles north east of us. We joined up with a rally heading to Bundaberg in Australia which was supposed to leave on or after 23 October but that day cyclone Xavier made it’s appearance and is currently heading our way. We have prepared the boat best we can and are on a mooring in a pretty protected harbour but are very anxious to see what the next few days will bring.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Halo from Port Vila

After a fast and frenzied trip from Fiji we arrived in Port Vila in Vanuatu on Wednesday October 18th. We dropped anchor at 0300 after picking our way in by radar and computer glad to get out of biggest seas we've seen since we left a year ago. We've caught up on our sleep and started exploring. We are going to a village tonight for a feast cooked in an umu (oven in the ground) and to drink Kava. Hopefully it's not us who are on the menu as the last recorded canabalism here was as recent as 1969 (not sure when the last unrecorded canabalism was). Its a very different place to anywhere else we have been where black magic and ancient tradition is still very strong. We are looking forard to seeing as much as we can whilst we are here but are watching the weather carefully as we will head to Australia as soon we get a window. Cyclone season is approaching fast so not much time to hang around.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Departure from Fiji

After a few more days enjoying Savusavu our new belt for our autopilot arrived and we headed out on route to Lautoka on Vitu Levu the main island in the group. The route to Lautoka took us back out into the ocean for a few miles, then in through a reef pass to a route behind the reef along the south side of Vanua Levu where we made our first stop in a huge mangrove bay. We met up with Chris & Jim on 12th Night here but they stayed put when we left early the next morning. The reef routes are fairly well marked but when a marker is missing it really through's you so we had to pay careful attention. We had to cross a wide expanse of water called Bligh water where the wind really whipped up but we had a fast sail across right on the wind. The reef pass on the other side had our hearts in our mouths as we could only find one marker so had to feel our way in with depth readings and gut feel against a 3 knot current and 25 knot winds - very relieved we put into the nearest anchorage. We took a rest but were woken by a German boat calling us on the radio to say our anchor was dragging, this was all we needed but off we went to reset it putting out all 80 metres of our chain this time. We invited the Germans for a drink but just as we were expecting them R2 was off again, the mud was a bit too gloopy and the gusts were pretty strong 40 knots plus matched with a current setting us side on in between gusts, so drinks on standby we had to reset the anchor, launch the dinghy and set a second anchor. We finally got a good holding but it still leaves you a bit nervous for a good night sleep. Next morning we were off again, now running along the north coast of Vitu Levu with green hills rolling inland and reef all around with occasional little atolls on the outer reef. The autopilot decided to fail again, Andrew quickly realised the gearbox was broken which must have been what caused the belt to snap before luckily we had the right contact and immediately arranged for it to be sent to Lautoka. This meant the next two days of hand steering as we were under motor - not tough just boring. The next night we found a lovely little creek to anchor up in, just us and birds - a bit like Newtown Creek on the Isle of Wight. We managed to find an unmarked coral clump right in the middle of the bay which we closely missed after 'full engine astern'! We sat and chilled with a G&T that night all relaxed - only 30 miles to go. Another early start, and before we knew it we worked our way through the outer islets and into Lautoka. Wow how completely horrid it was - I'm sorry but it really was just minging, we took one look at the anchorage with smoke from the Sugar Factory pouring out and oil floating all over the water and immediately headed further south. A low was forcast to pass over the island group so we decided we deserved a treat and headed into the Marina at Vuda point - this was more like it! A white lie to customs - 'yes, the boat is just out there' when we went to Lautoka to clear in and all was well. We had four lovely nights at Vuda, which had a great little yacht club. Next door was the First Landing Resort where Prince Charles stayed earlier this year - good enough for him then we thought we ought to pay a visit so in we popped took full advantage of the facilities (for free of course) and they were so kind to us we decided to stay for dinner. It was lovely, all lit by lanterns - really romantic. That was until we got chatting to some locals on the next table who it turned out worked for customs when we said we were leaving for Vanuatu next morning and they'd see us to clear us out - oops we already did that earlier in the day.... a quick exit with no further chat and we left Fiji next morning. The trip started in flat calm, within the reef, clear skies all was well. As we approached the pass we could see lots of white stuff - on we went and found surfers having alot of fun, but we were trying to go the other way. Progress was slow but we made it through and got out into a pretty big ocean swell as we left the island behind the wind got stronger and stronger until we had a steady 40 knots with gusts on top - heavily reefed down we speeded along holding on very tight - we stuck with it as the forecast showed reduction which eventually started just after midnight. It was probably some of the roughest conditions we've been in and don't want to go back in a hurry. Now we are gently rolling along with just over 200 miles to go to Vanuatu. Position 0140 GMT Monday 16 Oct 17 degrees 58 South 171 degrees 55 East

Friday, October 13, 2006

Leaving Fiji

We are setting off for Vanuatu today. We've had a great time in Fiji - more to follow.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Fijian Hospitality

We are adapting to life in Fiji very quickly. Yesterday we hired a car to explore the island but only drove it about 30 miles. We ventured out of Savusavu, drove through some amazing villages, all very neat and orderly with smiling faces waving at us. Tourism is very limited on the island of Vanua Levu so white faces are very unusual to the people here. We went in search of Nakasa village where we had heard there was a good waterfall. After taking directions from many villagers along the way we found the completely overgrown track we had to follow, we parked up after our nerves couldn’t take any more and hiked the rest of the way down to the river. We couldn’t raise anyone in the village so walked out behind the village in search of the waterfall. After hiking for half an hour through dense rainforest we decided we needed help so headed back to the village. We met Carla and three of her children washing clothes in the stream, she was very excited to meet us and said her husband would take us to the waterfall. He was out hunting wild pigs so she called out for him in a big whooping noise (no need for mobile phones in Fiji), a few minutes later Seca fell through the bush on the other side of the river. Seca hiked up to the waterfall with us and we all swam in the pool, the boys jumped in off the rocks. The fall was beautiful and the area around it completely rugged and unspoiled. We returned to the village, collecting coconuts on the way. Carla had prepared food and drinks for us when we got back and dressed in her best clothes. Seca prepared coconuts, the children cuddled up with me and we had a feast of local vegetables. Seca invited us to drink Kava -(the local grog with him but we have heard it makes you very sleepy and numbs the mouth so declined as Andrew had to drive. Seca only drinks Kava on special occasions but smokes special Fijian tobacco. He told us many Fijians drink Kava all the time and it makes them lazy. Seca and Carla were certainly not lazy, they were building their house when they could buy materials from selling vegetables, Seca also worked on the family farm and was a fisherman. We had a lovely time with them and left about 4pm.
On the way back to Savusavu we stopped in a very different village, this village was obviously very wealthy as the houses were immaculate and the villagers dressed well. We chatted with the villagers a while and were invited to stay but had to return the car. We took a picture and when we showed the villagers one of the ladies was so excited she hugged me. Our day was very special and we felt so welcome in Fiji.

Monday, October 02, 2006


We have finally got over the trip down to Fiji, caught up on sleep, done the laundry and dried out the boat - all the glamorous stuff taken care of and R2 feels like our home once again. We are in Savusavu which is a small one street town on the island of Vanua Levu, the second largest island, in the north of the island group. We are currently on a buoy off the Copra Shed Marina which is a really cute little low key yachting development. The town itself is very simple and pretty poor - quite run down in some places but the people are very warm and kind yet again. It is very different to anywhere else we have been, probably a bit like the Caribbean 20 years ago. Fiji is interesting as the people are either the indigenous Fijians or Indians, the two groups do not appear to mix much and they look very different and obviously have very different cultures. The Indians are fourth or fifth generation descendents of laborers brought from India to work on the plantations, the Indo-Fijians have adapted to life in Fiji in many ways but remain Indian with many of the women wearing traditional dress, Islam and Hindi being the second and third religions here and curry features very prominently on the menu boards. The Fijians have lovely big afro hair and wear Polynesian style dress that we have become familiar with plus the odd England football shirt or two thrown in for good measure.

The weather has stayed a bit wet so we have not done a lot of exploring yet, other than the yacht club bar and the town. The food here is fantastic and really cheap so it’s great not to have to cook on board but not so good for the waistline. We have got a cruising permit so hope to cruise around and do some snorkeling and maybe diving if the weather gets better this week.

Picture of our arrival in Fiji!