Great Barrier Reef, Brisbane, Vanuatu, Whitsundays,
Brisbane, Great Barrier Reef, Vanuatu - June 2001
It has been raining for several days now as the Intertropical Convergence Zone swings over us. Strangely enough I am reminded of good old England, as the rain streams down, even though I am sitting here in just my shorts and its about 84 degrees F. Its not bad, the water tanks are full and theres plenty of water to shower. The weathers cool andI,ve had time to catch up on a few of the chores.
Meniscus has already taken care of a number of guests this year, en route to Vanuatu, including Joanna, Tony, Brenda, Alan, Pat, Fred and Sue. Thanks to them for coming and making it all happen. Life this year has been just as hectic as ever. The year started with a major refit in Brisbane Australia. All in all it took 5 months of continuous work and has improved the interior of Meniscus considerably. There was a trip up to the Whitsunday's Islands and the Great Barrier Reef in February. We visited Lady Musgrave reef to watch Green and Leatherback turtles struggling ashore to lay their eggs after laboriously digging holes. One stately old lady dug seven holes, each of which collapsed when it was nearly ready and she finally collapsed and fell asleep at 04.00 in the morning. There was some spectacular snorkelling and the favourite was to shoot through the pass on the ebb tide. We were able to dive down deep and float suspended in the current through and out the other side. A large shoal of Big Eye Grunts took us in formation and glided through as though we were one of them - then back in the dinghy to do it all again. We had a delightful time. The Great Barrier Reef itself was well worth the visit and the snorkelling was about as good as you can get with plenty of large fish to see as well as some all too inquisitive sharks.
The refit was completed by the end of April and we set off for Noumea in New Caledonia for a very easy and calm 8 day, 1000 mile, passage. No records there! The wind was from the west at around 20/25 knots and the whole trip was down wind instead of the normal east/south east winds. The dolphins were there to greet us on a perfect moon lit night as we crept in through Dumbea pass and just as well because it was very tricky to find even in the very calm conditions. We spent a week in Noumea practicing our Franglais whilst getting to know some of the local French cruisers before taking in Ille Canard, Baie de Kuendo, Ille Ouen, Ille des Pins, Ille Moro. They are all beautiful Islands with stunning scenery.
The next leg to Vila, Vanuatu started at the end of May and we had another great down wind sail which started very calmly and ended with some great stong wind sailing over the last 24 hours so we has plenty of relaxation and some really great fast and exhilarating times too. A nice tasty yellow fin tuna volunteered itself for dinner on the last day too. Arriving on Saturday we took the opportunity to relax and catch up on sleep before clearing customs on Monday. Then a quick reprovision, a new crewmember and we set off again heading north. The weather forecast from Russell Radio and my own fax's showed only around 20 knots but I could tell that we would get more than that. Sure enough, there was plenty of wind as we passed around the choppy northeastern point of Efate Island. We ducked into Havannah harbour and found a quiet spot to hang the hook till the next morning. The wind seemed a little better next morning but it is always hard to judge in a sheltered harbour. Anyway off we went again and out in the open the wind was still good and the waces gave us a bit of a surf. It was superb sailing and great fun watching the sped flick up to 12 knots as we shot down the breaking waves. Meniscus was in her element and we were sailing pretty fast, averaging 7 knots even though I was keeping the speed down to avoid broaching on the breaking waves. It wouldn't have been much fun jhad we wanted to go the other way though. It was a good sail to Epi and as we came into the lee of the island we sailed faster in the flatter water, arriving nice and early at Lamen Bay.
As we arrived the sky was unusually dark and the volcano on Lopevei Island was erupting. That night we drove to the other side of the island through the bush to see it. There were a number of bright flashes and occasionally we could see bright streaks of lava running down but unfortunately clouds of volcanic ash obscured the view. Here we met Tasso and his son Douglas running a small resort and Roger an Australian teacher with his girlfriend Mary were eager to share a shell of Kava with us. Lamen bay is well known for its friendly Dugong (a vegetarian mammal that feeds off the bottom) but the recent cyclone in February has swept the seabed of the grass that it would normally eat. Well it did make a brief appearance but did not wait to meet me underwater as I snorkelled out to meet him. There was a large school of dolphin and several turtles in the bay and the snorkelling proved reasonably good despite the obvious damage from the hurricane. Our next anchorage was Banon Bay after another good sail with plenty of wind. The weather faxes were still showing about 15 knots - I just wish those weather gurus would open the window and take a look out once in a blue moon! Damage from the cyclone was more evident here with damaged trees lining the beachfront as well as inland. Some of the houses were damaged and the local resort was closed with its roof falling in. We visited Remep village in the bush and gave some photos to Celia and Janet, met John and Willie who supplied us with lobster and fruit. In Vetgod Village we delivered some photos from friends to Chief Saitol and Mary and in Fartvo Village we met Chief August who gave us some beans that looked like cucumbers and then went to relax in the nakamal (meeting place) to drink kava with Jake, Carl and Ezekail. The volcanic dust from Lopevei was thick on the vegetation and the villages told us that it had been like fog when it had come across.
The following day the wind did drop as we sailed up to Aitchen a small island off the coast. We took a brief visit ashore in the evening and were met by Denis who took us on a tour of the Island. How kind and friendly, we all thought, until he demanded 1000 vatu (about £5). It did look like an interesting Island, though, and there were several Kastom (ceremonial or dancing) sites with large coral slabs standing like tombstones and abandoned tamtams (huge wooden drums made from tree trunks hollowed out). The island itself was heavily populated but neat, tidy, cool and mosquito free from the sea breezes. The people seemed healthy and relatively wealthy, paddling over to the mainland to farm everyday. From Aitchen it was a short hop to Santo. We followed the coast in a light 20 knot, breeze and as we approached the southern islands of Santo we hooked a good sized 20kg Wahoo and hauled it onboard before dropping our anchor outside the Beachfront Resort.
It took a couple of days to reprovision and we decided to become tourists for a day taking one of the Islands tour buses out to Fanafo Kastom village - where we waited a short while for our guide to persuade the villagers to put on a show for us. They duly did of course disappearing for a while to remove their clothes the men returned in lava-lava's and the women and children adorned with fresh evergreen leaves around their waists. We were treated to a display of dancing; while five of the men sang or chanted while pounding hollow bamboo sticks up and down on a piece of wood, the children and a women danced around them. We were given a guided tour round the village and the "gardens" before returning to our bus to the Blue Hole in Shark Bay. The Blue Hole turned out to be a lovely clear blue spring of fresh water and wonderfully refreshing to swim in. The final stop was Champagne beach which was as advertised a beautiful white coral sand beach, the back drop of which was covered with palm thatched huts all waiting for the next cruise ship to arrive. Fortunately we had chosen a ship free day and I was left to sit like a pensioner and snooze for the rest of the afternoon before returning.
We set off again in Meniscus to explore more of the Island. Unfortunately we had only taken a short hop round to Palekula Bay before Sue's (a guest) foot had erupted into a classic Staphylococci infection. She had cut her foot on some coral and one or two mosquito bites had also become swollen. We have all the necessary treatments onboard but it was wiser to take the precaution of visiting the local hospital. Meniscus and I remained camped out in the bay. I took the opportunity to catch up on some maintenance and a bit of walking around the coastline and through the bush. Amongst other places visited were Million Dollar Point, where the Americans dumped all their surplus equipment after the war. I had a good snorkel around and amused myself looking at the wreck of a small coaster, various heavy plant equipment and a few jeeps and trucks. The site of the wreck of the President Coolidge is close by and this is one of the best wreck dives in the world, accessible from the beach. I also visited the rusting hulk of an old tug lying high and dry on a reef in Palekula Bay. In order to get onto the wreck I had to clamber through a hole in the plates at the bow and shin my way up inside. The deck plates were severely rusted and I walked with great care on the steel beams to ensure that I wouldn't fall through. There wasn't much left to see really as most things had been stripped off. Anyway, at the end of my explorations I clambered back down through the hole in the plates and back into my trusty dinghy tied below. As I cast off perching in the bow and blinking in the bright sun light, I noticed that I had a passenger. It was a 2 foot black and white banded sea snake who's Latin name momentarily escaped me - I hadn't forgotten, however, that this particular species was known to be one of the most deadly on earth. Although it is very hard for these snakes to bite a human, as their jaws are incredibly small this piece of information didn't stop me from involuntarily receiving a large shot of adrenalin and I jumped up and prodded it with a stick. This was a mistake as it started to become very animated if not agitated. Presently it shot under the fuel tank and disappeared from sight. All very well but I would have to sit there to drive the dinghy so I lifted it and took another jab with the stick hoping it would disappear over the transom into the sea. Mistake number two! The serpent now decided to chase me out of the dinghy, something I was very reluctant for it to achieve. I figured it would be much easier for it to attack me if I was in the water. It shot towards me in the bow - well I fended it off as best I could and hopped and jumping around it I managed to exchange places with it so ending up in the stern. At which point it turned and headed back again as I poked and prodded skipped and jumped back to the bow. Fortunately the floorboards were very slippery and it seemed to be a lot slower than it might have been. This little game continued for some while as the dinghy merrily drifted out to sea and I hopped round and round and back and forth. There is a well-known dance out here called the snake dance, it is affected by male Banks Islanders and it is supposed to be some sort of fertility right. Well I cannot tell whether I became more fertile but I can be sure that anyone watching would have been well entertained by my little performance. Eventually it shot under the floor-boards and into a place where I could not get to it - well that will do for a truce I thought as I blocked the holes and motored back to the boat.