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TRANSPAC III

TRANSPAC III


October 26, 2018
La Paz, Baja California, Mexico


DOMINO deserve a badge: 50,000 NM under the hulls, and counting.

Honolulu to Cabo San Lucas in less than 11 days, it was my kind of Transpac; one with absolutely nothing to report, no mechanical problem beyond a blown fuse that stopped the autopilot for a few minutes, no engine problem beyond a distended alternator belt (easy fix) and the best weather window we could have hoped for… expect for Hurricane WILLA that was waiting for us in Cabo.

Leaving Hawaii behind, sunrise to the east
For weeks, JP had watched the weather and patterns for this 2,660 NM trip.  Since this route is traditionally against Force 4 winds (11-16kts) and 8’ seas, running against 05-1 Knt current, he had been looking for a bit of a break, hoping for lesser winds.  PredictWind could give us a 10-day outlook, so the plan was to leave when Predict Wind was clear and to make the crossing as quickly as possible, hopefully in 10 days, clocking 260 NM/day.  We waited and waited, and suddenly a window opened.

October 10: take the Honolulu bus to Pier 1 and get our Zarpe from Customs to please the Mexican authorities.

The fuel dock in Ala Wai no longer sells fuel to the public.  It is now privately owned.
BUT.. for a fee ($200) the owner will let you dock and fuel up from a truck.
We used the Fuel Man
On October 11, at 0400, in pitch darkness, we eased to the old fuel dock at Ala Wai Marina in Honolulu, paid a $200 fee to the owner of the dock to use the space (yikes!) and the Fuel Man truck rolled in.  Two hours later, we had loaded 2,600 gallons and lowered our waterline by a foot.  A bit of cleaning up, a nice breakfast, a last run to the store for croissants, and by 1100 we were off.
The first 2 days were a dream: less than 10 knots of SE wind and flat seas, a Dorado in the cooler.  We were running 10-5 to 10.7 kts.

The next 2 days were rougher, 20-25 kts E wind on the nose, 6’ swells with a crossed 2’ wind chop.


Going upwind, 13-18Kts of wind, 10.5 Kts boat speed

The last 6 days were just peachy, the wind stabilized around 15-18 kts,  seas 4-6’.  It was a good time for fishing and catching another Dorado. While we were running East, the wind backed progressively from SE to E, then gently to ENE, N, and to NW 1 day out of Cabo.  We were expecting to make 14 Kts on the last day (1500 rpm) but, surprisingly, we were working against 1.5 to 2 knots of current.  So yes, it was uphill all the way, except maybe for the last 50 miles.

Five-day outlook: we knew it was going to be close
Our only concern was Hurricane WILLA.  We kew it had a chance of developing even before we left Honolulu.  After sort of petering out on day 1 and 2, WILLA reappeared on day 3 and looked horrendous, as if it were going to hit Cabo and run up the west coast of Baja the way GEORGE had just done.  We decided to wait and see, slow down to 8.5 kts, not just because the going was rough that day, but we also wanted to see what that hurricane was doing.  

Arriving Cabo: we need to keep on going!
The next day, WILLA had stalled in her track and we decided to make a run for it, go as fast as possible with keeping a 500 gal reserve just in case we would have to ditch our route.  And, as the days went by, running faster and faster (up to 13kts) as our load got lighter, we ducked the storm and made our destination at last.

Our daily recon: WP14, we clocked 283 NM that day

By the numbers:  
  • Distance: 2,661 NM
  • Time: 10 days, 18 hours
  • Average speed: 10.3 kts
  • Fuel used: 2,000 Gal.
  • Reserve: 600 Gal.
Arriving Cabo ahead of WILLA

We arrived Cabo San Lucas early on the morning of October 22 as WILLA’s outer bands were churning overhead, the sky heavy with clouds, the air misty, but no big wind. The barometric pressure had dropped to 1009, 12 ticks in the last 3 days.  

The beautiful white rocks at Cabo San Lucas.  We arrived with drizzle and flat seas, no wind

We had just turned the Cape when the Port Captain announced that he had closed all the beaches, anchoring in the bay and was warning agains high-sea navigation since WILLA was but hours away.

Would you know there is a hurricane coming?

There was nothing for us to do but keep on running, all the way to the safe harbor of La Paz.  

Rounding Cabo San Lucas, the cave.
Nobody on the beaches, the Port Captain has shut down the beaches,
restricted navigation to wharf-to-wharf only.

We slowed down and enjoyed the scenery, trying to adjust to the heady smell of Mexican scrub brush, lazing on 1 engine wile 2-meter waves from the south were pushing us along.  A last PredictWind download confirmed that we would be safe to anchor at Bahia de los Sueños (B. de los Muertos) and so we did, loathe to navigate the San Lorenzo channel at night.

Bahia de los Muertos (rebaptized Bahia de los Sueños)

It was nigh when we arrived at the anchorage and, of course, after some 800 anchor drops without a hitch, Big Bertha’s foot switch refused to work.  And that is why we have 2 anchors!  We dropped Lit’l Lou (43Kg Raya) and left it at that.  JP would replace the foot switch’s corroded connector in the morning.

It was a splendid night, clear to the north, clouds churning to the south, and a small swell rocking us gently.  

WILLA to the South… we are just at the edge of the weather system

From there, it was another half-day run to La Paz where Marina La Paz happened to have a vacancy for a few days.


Marina de La Paz: Great docks, spa time for DOMINO
And so we are!  Washing and scrubbing and rinsing and waxing and giving our Big D. a full spa treatment.  She worked hard once again and did it all happily.  Darn, we love that boat!

Off to the islands…
till next time

dominomarie

CRUISING HAWAII – Oahu

CRUISING HAWAII – Oahu

August 19th, 2018
Lahaina, Maui

Hawaii in Summer… Dodging Hurricanes… HECTOR
If a major storm had not thrown us off our course to Alaska and forced us to divert to Honolulu, we never would have chosen the Hawaiian Islands as a cruising destination.  There are several reasons for that.

Kewalo Basin and Ala Wai Boat Harbor, Honolulu.  No transient docking available


The sad state of Ala Wai Boat Harbor
  • Few protected anchorages.  The Eastern coasts are, obviously, exposed to the trade winds and unsuitable.  The Western and Northern coasts are made of steep cliffs and rocky shores, steep drops, and count very few natural anchorages.

The work dock… we nudged Domino next to the SWATH 
  • Decrepit harbors.  I hate to say it, but it is true.  The yachting population is not a State priority and the State-controlled harbors are in dire state of disrepair.  Take Oahu, for example.  It took us 4 days to find a berth at the Ala Wai in Waikiki, and only after we got denied by all of the other State-harbors, private harbors and yacht clubs.  

The splendid and immense Pearl Harbor, the only safe harbor in all of the islands, of course, is reserved to the military and the only way to get a mooring is to be military personnel.  Well, scratch that!

Riding HECTOR on the lagoon

Keehi Harbor (State-owned), by the airport, is another enormous harbor, with fair protection.  We called, and there is NO berth or mooring for a 65’ boat, and there is NO anchoring in the enormous Keehi lagoon.  Yet, when we took a peek at the harbor, a good 30% of the docks were destroyed, and of the boats present, I’d say a good 20% were derelict.  Some weird traffic goes on at night too, making you wonder what’s going on under the nose of the harbormaster!  However, when hurricane HECTOR reared its head, we anchored in the lagoon anyways, and beseeched permission as soon as the harbormaster’s office opened.  After some back-and-forth, we were allowed to stay until it was safe to cruise again.

Friday Night in Waikiki’s Ala Wai Boat Harbor
Kewalo Basin (State-owned) had no room for us.  We waited 4 days for any yacht to be moved around, but no, no room for a transiting yacht.

Koalina Boat Harbor (private) was promising… but no, no room for a 65’ boat, and even if there had been, the monthly fee was $3,000 and NO live aboard.

The yacht clubs were no better.  The Hawaii Yacht Club had no room above 45’ and the Waikiki Yacht Club had no room, period.

The perk:  Fabric shopping!
Ala Wai Boat Harbor, Waikiki (State-Owned)    After spending 4 days at the loading dock (usually a 30’ limit) and with no other option available to us, we begged the harbormaster to let us stay at the work dock, a 24-foot wide berth for our 23’ wide cat… a tight fit.  We took it, at $231/week, no easy-way electricity 9have to register with the city; we passed1), no facilities, no bathroom and transients and taxi drivers urinating outside the condemned public bathroom.  The weird thing?  We were happy of have found a space to park our boat.

The Ala Wai Boat Harbor – So many derelict boats that should not be there!

All this to say, don’t cruise Hawaii with a big boat!

By now, I’m sure that you have written to the Hawaiian congressmen and begged to support yachting in their district, right?

Learning the Hawaaian quilting with the pros… the real deal!

For all the ugliness of the situation, there were a few bright points.  Hotels, restaurants, bars, shopping (Don Quijote is the best!), night life, Ukulele lessons, Friday night fireworks, World Cup on TV, and —my favorite— learning to quilt the traditional Hawaiian way with the legendary Poakalani clan, the Serrao Family. 

Ukulele and Hawaiian Quilting!

But once JP got the fuel pump fixed and installed the new washer dryer (you read right!), we were off cruising again.


Thank you, my Captain!

POKAI BAY – (Wai’anae) 21*26.661N, 158*11.536W
If you have a small boat, you can anchor behind the breakwater, but we found the proximity of the park a bit loud.  This is a cool spot.  Every morning, large pods of spinner dolphins come to feed in the area… and an armada of charter boats follows, dozens of people in the water to swim with the creatures.  With a bit of luck and patience, we managed to slip quietly down our swim ladder and have some 1-on-1 with a small pod, papa, mama, and newborn baby!  

How can we not love these amazing creatures?  Spinner Dolphins
Snorkel on the outside of the breakwater and you are sure to find a few turtles.  As for me, I was pretty jaded and ready to go back to the boat when I was surprised by a 4-foot Zebra Moray Eel.  You never know!

Zebra Moray (Photo Graham’s Island.com)

NORTH SHORE – WAIMEA BAY – 21*38.421N, 158*03.943W
Strange… sailboats are allowed to anchor close to shore.  Motor yachts must anchor outside of a line that stretches between the outermost structures built on both sides of the bay.  Still, it’s good holding and a mythical spot.
All day, we watched hundreds of enthusiasts jump off the Black Rock… they jump at night too, crazy buggers!
The snorkeling in the bay is marginal, just big boulders and nothing much.
But…. we anchored at North Shore and could just imagine the force of the winter waves by looking at the steep grade of the beach and the cliffs around.  Moana! Never to be underestimated.

Fourth of July at the Ala Wai… we have 40 flags out!

Off to Molokai, Lanai, and Maui….
Till next time,

Ahi Poke, anyone?
dominomarie

Transpac 2 – Part II

TRANSPAC 2
Week 2
Running from the storm
This is definitely NOT Alaska!  Aloha Waikiki!

Day 8 – June 11 – Dang! This storm is not going away!  Instead of weakening, it’s gaining strength and dipping south, forgetting to turn north.  The NOAA report is transmitting yet another PAN PAN and the edge of the storm is bearing southeasst, in our direction.  The two highs to the NE of us were supposed to give this huge front the boot, but they are quickly vanishing.  Meanwhile, the monster is gobbling a couple of small disorganized lows, gaining in strength and scope, bearing down on us.  Our guardian angel, Peter Mott of Northland Radio in New Zealand, shoots us an email, urging us to dip south, as low as 25N, four degrees south of where we are.
June 11 GRIB – We are at the green marker… 31* North –  planning on going SE

  Easily said but not really possible since the entire area to the south is restricted, from Midway to the French Frigate Shoals near Kauai.  That’s right!  Midway atolls is under the control of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, and my inquiries as to whether or not we could seek refuge in case of Force Majeure were answered sternly; do not attempt to enter the Midway Wildlife Refuge or any part pf the Papahānaumokuākea Reserve or you will be fined heavily.


Plan A: Run south and double back to the west
Plan B: Run south, wait, and run back north
A&B impossible, of course!
Plan C: Stick to the northern border of the reserve


Fortunately, DOMINO’s range of speed and her fuel capacity give us options.  For now, we’ll just go as south as possible, trailing towards 27 degrees N, along the northern border of the Papahānaumokuākea Refuge Zone until the next weather report, as slow as we can on 1 engine: 7.5 KTs.

 If the storm decides to dip even more south, we’ll be left with only one option: hightail it to Kauai, 760 NM away, steaming at 15 kts, a 50-hour trip.  Refuel, wait for weather to improve, and resume to Sitka!  
In anticipation of some rocky seas, I’m taking advantage of the smooth ride (8 days of smooth ride!) to bake a turkey-and-leek quiche.
Miles today: 166NM
When in doubt, cook!
TURKEY and LEEK Quiche
  • 2 leeks, steamed, sliced thinly, sautéed with onions and ginger (see Wahoo recipe in Week 1)
  • 6 slices of turkey or ham (sliced or cubes)
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/4 Cup milk or light cream
  • 1 Cup grated Swiss or Cheddar cheese
  • Salt, pepper.
  • Herbed Pie crust for 9” pie (250g flour, 120g margarine, pinch of salt, 1 Tbsp thyme or Herbes de Provence, 1/4c water)

Pre-heat over 375F – Roll out dough to form circle wide enough for 9” pan, and line the pan with herbed crust.
Prick the bottom, place waxed paper at the bottom, line with baking weights, bake at 375 for 12 minutes.
In a bowl, whisk together, the eggs, milk, salt, pepper.  Fold in the meat and grated cheese.
Take the crust out of the oven, remove weights and paper, pour egg-meat-cheese mixture, bake at 350F for 25 minutes or until golden.  Insert a toothpick in center to check cooking: it should come out just moist.
June 12 GRIB
Day 9 – June 12 – The wind is still SSW, but starting to ramp up in the 18-20Kt range, the barometer has fallen 5 points overnight, and I wake up to an obstructed horizon, the air thick with mist, the ceiling so low it seems to crush us.  Bad signs. We fire up the Iridium and download an updated PredictWind GRIB.  The southernmost bands of the storm are on us, and we are getting into the squash zone, the low to the west, the high to the east, and we know it’s not a good place to be.  

June 13 – We gotta get out!
This is as much as we want to wait.  Time to make our exit.  Escaping hurricanes isn’t new to us: Thomas in the Caribbean, Irene in New York, we wait as long as we can to see where these unpredictable beasts will decide to go then we zoom out. 


By mid-morning, we are zooming at 15 kts toward Kauai.  I’m amazed to see how squeezed we are, the wind at times from the SSW, at other times out of the SSE, trying to make up its mind, sometimes in the teens, sometimes in the 20s, the seas small but incredibly confused.

By evening, JP announces that we have used almost half of our fuel and going to Alaska is no longer an option anyways.  We’re only 500 miles from Hawaii and that’s where we are going!

Our final course

The rest of the trip is uneventful.  The Coast Guards inform us that Kauai is a port of entry but there is no customs office and must divert to Honolulu (still trying to figure that one out!)  
June 14 GRIB forecast… need to be as far as possible
Of course, there is always a mechanical challenge.  This time, the STB high-pressure fuel pump starts leaking a bit of diesel as we rev-up the engines to hold our 15kt speed.  Hot fuel is the diagnosis.  But if we keep the RPM below 1200, no problem.  JP figures we eventually will have to install a fuel cooling system, and fix that fuel pump anyways.  
Glad to be safe in Honolulu and not on our way to Alaska!
It took us 10 days 10 hours to travel 2827 NM.  This was definitely NOT the Transpac we expected, and was a very long detour since Majuro to Hawaii is only about 2000 miles.  Of course, we are disappointed not to have made it to Alaska.  Of course, finding a place for DOMINO in Honolulu is a nightmare.  But here we are.  We had a beautiful cruise, dodged another major storm, learned a lot more about our boat, and live to play another day!

Four days later: should we go now?
Till next time

Nah… let’s play!

dominomarie

Transpac 2, Part I

TRANSPAC 2
Week 1
Marshall Islands to Midway
June 4-11, 2018

* I hope you enjoy the recipes and book references.


June 7, 2018,  some 750 NM north-northeast of the Marshall Islands.

 When I think of crossing oceans on board a power yacht, I want a good captain, one who can fix anything in DOMINO’s twin engine rooms.  Automatically, my mind flashes back to Robert Mitchum (or was that Kirk Douglass? or Bogie? My memory fails me…) peeking out of his stinkpot’s engine room, on a Carribaen-blue background, captain’s cap askew, a crooked smile across his face, nonchalantly wiping his grimy hands on an oily rag (Name that movie?)- Well, I don’t have a movie star on board, but I have my captain JP who, if  not as nonchalant as the heartthrob Mitchum, is at least as handsome in my eyes, and a true mechanic.  In this second transpacific crossing, from Majuro (Marshall Islands) to Sitka (Alaska), a 4,000 NM endeavor, once more I place my life in JP’s very capable hands.

Leaving the Marshalls (bottom left of the screen: all calm)


Day One – June 4, 2018 – For the last ten days, we have kept an eye on the weather.  We had provisioned early, not because we expected an early departure, but because the produce cargo ship had just arrived in town, and in Majuro you buy the produce when it’s on the shelf!  From the GRIB data, we were expecting to get underway on June 8.  But, last night’s data turned our plans upside down: a 3-day window had opened, with almost no wind in the dreaded trade wind belt north of Majuro.  Just like that, we had to go!  I just had time to prepare and freeze some cauliflower au gratin and vegetable lasagna.

CAULIFLOWER AU GRATIN – 
  • 2 heads of cauliflower, steamed
  • 2 cups Bèchamel Sauce
  • 1 cup grated Swiss cheese
  • 3 hard boiled eggs, halved lengthwise
In an oven-safe dish, place the steamed cauliflower florets. 
Mix the still-hot Bechamel sauce with the grated Swiss cheese to make a Mornay Sauce.  Pour on top of Cauliflower and eggs.  Bake for 20 minutes, let cool, vacuum-bag lightly and freeze.

The beefy commercial bunkering dock in Majuro.


9 AM local time- We are at the fuel dock in Majuro, bunkering 2,500 Gallons on top of the 420 gallons left in our day tanks.  The fuel is sampled, tested, and not a drop of water found.  This load should take us all the way through our 4,000 NM crossing, at 10 Kts, in average sea conditions.  By 1300 (0100 UTC), after the obligatory rounds of Port Captain, Customs, and immigration, we slip our dock lines and off we go!  The weather GRIBS were right.  Instead of the typical 20-25 Kts trade winds and 2m beam seas, we encountered no wind over 15 kts and no seas above 1 meter, except for a few squalls during the night, 30 knots and buckets of rain, a bit of a roll, but short-lived.  
Day 1 – 239 NM made good
Our planned rhumb line… but Moana had another plan for us!

Day 2 – June 5 – You gotta love it when the GRIBS over-estimate the wind!  We are finding nothing above 10 Kts and a gentle, 1-m long swell.  But why is the sun not showing?  We can’t even identify a definite cloud cover.  The haze drifting from the Hawaiian volcano to the North-East is enveloping us in an eerie, cottony bubble.  Engine checks: all is good, but perhaps a few drops of something under the starboard engine show up on the late evening check, nothing much. Time to bake bread!
Day 2 -244 NM made good

DOMINO’s Multigrain Bread   In the breadmaker (I use a BREVILLE) pour:
  • 2 1/4c water
  • 2 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 4 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 1 cup organic whole wheat flour
  • 3 Tbsp powdered milk
  • 1/2 Tbsp organic gluten flour (gives added structure to the bread)
  • 1 1/4 Tbsp yeast    
Set the bread maker for basic bread, large loaf, dark crust. 
In the seeds dispenser, add the grains:
  • 1/4 cup oats
  • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds (white or black)
  • 2 Tbsp sunflower seeds
  • 1 Tbsp Chia seeds

3 1/2 hour later, voila!



Day 3 – June 6 – 0100 UTC –  Engine check:  OOPS!  Coolant, a lot of coolant is leaking under the Starboard (STB) engine, something like a gallon in the bilge… not good!  What possibly could be leaking?  JP’s brain revs up, now in high gear.  On thorough inspection, he finds out that one of the four bolts holding the turbo is missing, the stud broken, the bolt shorn off.  This has to be fixed immediately.  We are at risk of the turbo completely breaking off, hot, dry exhaust gas coming out and setting the boat on fire.  “Not good,” says JP, biting his lower lip.  “Gonna be a bitch to fix!  Dunno if I can do it.  Gonna need to help me.  Gonna be hard to do!”  

In times of crisis like this, the 1st Mate’s job is to get quiet, trust the captain 100%, let him think, and think hard, and be efficient.  But JP and I have worked together for over 40 years, and when the proverbial shit hits the fan, we go into our team mode.  First, turn off the STB engine and keep going on the PORT engine at 900 rpm, still making 7.4 kts, not losing too much headway.  While the STB engine cools off, I periodically irrigate the STB Sureseal to avoid overheating and melting that could be caused by  the still-turning shaft (probably not necessary but the last thing we want on this crossing is a melted-down Sureseal!) 

JP gathers tools, parts, and his wits… just like the old days in the Emergency Clinic!  The plan? Remove the turbo, extract the shorn-off studs, and put everything back in place.  Fortunately, the wind has decreased to 6 knots and the swell is now below 1 meter, a very long and smooth Pacific swell.  Thank you, MOANA!

The culprit: shorn-off bolt #1


And thus it goes:  drain all the coolant, remove the air intake casing, the stainless steel dry exhaust tube, disconnect all hoses to the turbo, and find out that not ONE, but TWO bolts have shorn off.  OK, so remove the last 2 bolts standing and take the turbo out.  Easy-Peasy.  Now the hard part: removing the shorn-off studs.  The 1st one hads a little stub coming out and is removed fairly easily, but not so for the second one, shorn-off flush with the exhaust manifold.  Simple solution:  drill a small hole in the center of the stud, insert an extractor screw, and counter-screw the little bugger out of its place.  No dice! It’s frozen.  Desperate times ask for desperate measures: Propane torch time!  A few drops of penetrating oil, a bit of heat to the area, and BINGO!  Out pops the reluctant stud.

Always a good idea to have an extractor set on board.  Got the broken bolt!

From here on, it’s all back-tracking, taking advantage of the situation to replace the exhaust manifold-to-turbo gasket.  All done?  Check for extra parts left on deck?  None?  That’s good.  Fill up with coolant, settle it, top it off… restart the engine, check for leaks, shift into forward, check for leaks, throttle up, check for leaks, all good.

It took JP just over 5 hours to fix this potentially devastating situation.  But here he was, sweaty, grimy, and a grin on his face, “No leaks!”  Yeah, I like my captain, the fact that he had planned for this eventuality by stocking on parts and tools: gaskets, bolts, studs, coolant, empty drums and cans, drill bits, extractor set, propane torch, even a new lighter! 
After a refreshing shower, JP had earned his favorite dinner: “Timbale aux Coquillettes” (that’s French for Mac-and Swiss-cheese-and-ham casserole, sans les champignons.)
In the morning, not a drop of coolant in the bilge!  Time for a second treat for the Captain: banana bread… oh, did I forget to mention?  We had a bunch of bananas on board!
Day 3 – 225 NM made good
Timbale aux Coquillettes (for 2)
  • 4 Cups cooked macaroni, still hot, salt and pepper
  • 2 Cups grated Swiss Cheese
  • 1 1/2 Cup chopped ham
  • 1 1/2 Cup sautéed mushrooms

Mix the macaroni, ham, mushrooms and half the cheese.  Fill an oven-proof dish with the mixture. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.  Bake at 350F for 20 minutes, switch to broiler and broil till the top is golden.  Eat half, freeze half.

A perfect day… (we are the white dot)

Day 4 – June 7 – What a perfect day!  Yesterday’s repair of the turbo is holding, no leak, and the weather is as calm as one could wish for — gentle seas and 5 to 10 Kt. wind, and even if it’s on the nose, it remains quite pleasant.  Domino unleashes her long stride, running an easy 10 Kts. at 1180 rpm, burning 6 GPH, a bit hungrier than normal, but expected in head seas, contrary currents, and a full belly.  We lucked out on the weather window, really, since the area we just covered in the last 48 hours is now buffeted by 20-25 Kt. trade winds.  At last, in the afternoon, the winds shift to the SE, giving us a push, and we are now running at 10.8 Kts. at 1100 rpm, 5 GPH… yes, that’s more like it. 

But a Transpac wouldn’t be right without a bit of drama.  Suddenly, a massive squall line appears on the radar, 16 NM in diameter, impossible to avoid, so we brace for it.  For an hour, we are buffeted by sustained 30-kt winds, gusting at 44 Kts, 3-4m head seas, pounding rain and tons of foamy water breaking on deck, strong enough to bend one of our windshield wiper blade… well, that’s a first!  After a 30-mn relative lull, another squall pounds on us, only in the 28-kt range and shorter-lived.  Once more, we brace and let DOMINO perform her usual samba through the pounding seas.  Once more, we are amazed at this awesome powercat’s stability, its ability to rise above the crests and not slam into the troughs, the smoothness of the ride, and we have gotten used to her trademark “samba” sway.  Never do we experience the bone-shuddering slamming that we have witnessed or heard of on so many other catamarans, sail or motor.  Once more, we silently thank Malcolm Tennant and Anthony Stanton for their CS hull design and strong, commercial-grade structure.


  After 3 hours, at last, the wind abates, the rain stops, and the seas gradually recede.  Thankfully, all that rain has scrubbed the air from the volcanic ash and gasses, and we can sea the sun again.  This was the strongest gale we’d ever experienced, but we had learned to trust our boat and felt absolutely confident that DOMINO would strut her stuff when needed, and she didn’t disappoint. 
At last, the sun returned, the wind shifted to the SE and gave us a push once more as we carried on at 11 kts on 5 GPH, 1100 rpm.  Lunch, though, was a small affair, a half a turkey sandwich with a handful of baby carrots… and a slice of banana bread!
Day 4 – 248 NM made good
Cream-Cheese and Honey Turkey Sandwich
Slather cream cheese on both slices.  Arrange basil leaves on the cheese, add a twist of ground pepper.  Place turkey on one side, close the sandwich, slice in half.  Serve with slices of green apple. 


On quiet crossings, JP loves to tinker with boat design.

Day 5 – June 8 – We love it when there is absolutely nothing to report, but sun, calm seas, gentle wind on our STB quarter, and making 11 kts on 5 GPH.  JP throws a trolling line in the water as a flock of red-tailed Phaetons materializes on our stern.  Meanwhile I attend to a bit of laundry, bake bread, and we decide to bake macaroons together.  If the bananas are now gone, we need to get rid of the coconuts: let’s go grate some coconuts!


Coconut Macaroons
 Mix all ingredients together.  With your hands, fashion small cones and place on cookie sheet lined with wax paper.  Bake at 350 for 15 min.  Open the oven door and let dry in the oven 5 minutes more.  Transfer to cooling rack.  

Day 6 – June 9 – Three things happened today:
1- We crossed the date line   180 degrees of longitude.  In the middle of the night, we went from 179*59 East to 179*59 West and 180* was just a bur.  A stealth move! No longer are we a day ahead of our US and French families.  No longer will we be the first to post “Happy Birthday” on their Facebook pages.  No more 2-day celebrations, which really was fun on Christmas, New Years and birthdays.  We are back into the fold, a small step towards coming back to the norm.  I’m not sure what I feel about that; a small sense of loss, perhaps?

2- We completed 1/3 of our crossing – Since we’d left I had been nervous about our fuel burn.  Oh, sure, we had our historical data, our trip fuel burn expectation, had loaded an estimated 400 gallons extra fuel, but I was still nervous about the reality of this crossing.  Well, no need to fret.  We have consumed 800 gallons to cover 1300 NM at an average of 10 knots, or 0.6 gallons per mile.  Sure, it’s a bit more than our usual 0.5 GPM, but we have been riding into head seas, against currents, on a full belly of fuel and water, and against a few gales.  Yet, with 2,700 NM left to go and at that rate, we would only need 1,620 gallons.  We have 2,100 gallons left, an almost-500 gallons overage, allowing us to speed up if needed (we can go up to 20 kts) to run away from a front, slow down and divert if we need to wait for a front to pass, or even completely divert to a new location if the weather sours.  Five hundred gallons, or nearly one thousand miles of safety options.  I’m feeling better.
  The weather has been absolutely perfect, no wind, slight swell on our starboard quarter, and now the wind has turned to the SSW, only 6 knots, but we expect to see less of a current against us, improving our performance.  At this moment we are traveling at 11.4 kts, 1114 rpm, 5.2 GPH.  


3 – We caught fish!  A nice, meaty wahoo, another Red Eye Lure catch… just like that, we have 7 kg (15 lbs) of filleted wahoo in the fridge, looking forward to more recipes!

Perfect time to cook a nice meal: Wahoo on a bed of gingered leeks.

Wahoo with gingered leeks
Blanch the leeks by dumping them in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a large skillet, melt the butter, add the ginger and heat up till it smells good.  Add the sliced onion and sauté until translucent.  Add the leeks, stir, and simmer – partially covered— for 15 minutes or until leeks are tender. Salt and pepper to taste.

Place the fillet of wahoo on top of the leeks, cover, reduce heat and steam until fish is barely cooked.  Remove from heat, transfer to serving platter.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, a pad of butter on top of the fish.
= Serve with steamed Chinese rice with organic wakame seaweed.

2 nice fillets!
Day 7 – June 10 – Another perfect day, sunny, no wind, flat seas, and a whale sighted use to our port side.  We reached the NW end of Midway Atoll National Reserve, under the control of fish and game, and took our heading towards Sitka, Alaska, using the Great Circle Route, as generated by our on-board Navnet system.  But before committing to this heading, we took a look at the weather, downloaded from PredictWind  via Iridium on our iPad, and were in for a shock.  


Uh-oh… We are the bottom-left white dot, on our way to the green marker…
Let’s keep an eye on this baby

Two large storms are forming NW of us.  If we can dodge the first storm, there is serious doubt as how to dodge the second storm which looks very powerful already.  So, we remain on the straight course, a bit south of the rhumb line, waiting for the next weather report.  From our current position, the rhumb line affords a distance saving of 121 NM, not worth committing to it if we need to turn away from it later, so we remain on a straight course.  In the morning, the weather report is daunting.  This large storm is headed straight into our intended path and our NE route is now unthinkable.  There is nothing better for us to do but alter course to the ESE, remain below the 31st parallel, and keep an eye on the weather.  The storm is supposed to dip very low, possibly south of the 30th parallel.  This means also that we must drop out speed, not only to let the storm pass us, but also to save fuel.  This new course means an extra 500 NM, or about 250 gallons of fuel, which is well within our 500-gallon security margin.  

We are at the green spot… this storm is picking up steam.
Plan is to duck southeast till the storm passes.

There is nothing wrong with steaming at 7.5 knots on one engine, 900 rpm, burning barely 2 GPH.  We are in no rush to get to Alaska.  In fact, I thoroughly enjoy these warm, tropical days, traveling on flat seas and preparing meals for a stormy day!

Duck south!  Way South!

Lunch is a refreshing affair of marinated wahoo and gingered cabbage salad.


Marinated Wahoo 
In an air-tight container or large glass jar, place the sliced wahoo, onion, carrot, garlic, herbs and spices, cover with olive oil.  Mix well.  Add lime juice, mix and close the container.  Keep refrigerated, serve cold.  Will keep 5-7 days in the refrigerator.

Quick easy lunch!  Marinated wahoo.

BOOKS READ: 
  • Origin (Dan Brown)  5 stars 
  • The Black Book (James Patterson)  4 stars
  • The Fallen (David Baldacci)  4 stars
  • Red Sparrow (Jason Matthews) 5 stars
  • Palace of Treason (Jason Matthews) 4 stars
  • The Kremlin Candidate (Jason Matthews) 3 stars
  • At the Edge of the Orchard (Tracy Chevalier) 5 stars
till next blog
dominomarie


Gratitude in Kiribati

Most Grateful People: Kiribati 

Our lady friend in Abaiang, south village
Memorial Day 2018
Majuro, Marshall Islands

On this memorial day, 2018, I thought it would be appropriate to thank our servicemen and their families for their sacrifices.  The price of freedom is high, ultimately high, and knowing that the freed people do not forget their liberators is a balm.

Sitting on the Equator
In November 2017, we stopped in Kiribati (pronounced “Kiribass”) without the foggiest idea of what we were going to find.  We only had heard from other cruisers that on November 20th, every year, the islanders of Butaritari commemorate the battle of Makin.  Since Kiribati was on the way between Vanuatu and the Marshall Islands, just north of the Equator, we thought it would be a nice stop, even if the authorities only grant a 30-day visa to cruising yachts.
Tactical error on landing: choosing a neap-low tide to land the troops

Betio Beach – 1*44.453 N, 171*01.795E – As we dropped anchor at Betio Beach, it suddenly dawned on us that this was the infamous Tarawa of the previously-named Gilbert Islands.  This very beach is where Operation Galvanic took place, one of the bloodiest battles of WWII, where, from November 20th to 24th 1943, a total of 35,000 U.S. marines and soldiers attacked this 3,800 yard wide strip of land, decimating the 4,500 Japanese soldiers, making the battle of Tarawa one of the bloodiest in the history of American landing assaults.  It was also the first American victory over the Japanese, and the turning point of war in the Pacific.  The cost to our forces? 1,113 dead Marines and 2,290 wounded.

Betio Beach
We dropped anchor at Betio’s Red 1 Beach, just short of assault ship wrecks, and let the history of the place slowly seep into our minds. So many dead, on such a tiny strip of land, it seemed obscene.  In the bus to the the immigration office, it felt surreal to drive along the Japanese Causeway, passing decrepit bunkers, rusted pillboxes, jutting defense guns, pressed against a human throng of Malay, Indonesian, Japanese, Philippino, even a few token Polynesian, trying to ignore the squalor of shanties and unfinished cement block buildings.  Dealing with immigrations and customs authorities did nothing to lift the malaise: customs and immigration seem to have their own internal war, each wanting to control the movement of foreign ships, forcing the yachtie to kowtow to both.

Taking a nap underway, I can always see the islands
There is only ONE port of entry in Kiribati: Tarawa.  Yachts may not enter or exit anywhere else. In order for us to visit Butaritari 140 NM to the north, we had to ask special permission from immigration AND customs in Tarawa, then return to Tarawa to process our exit.  With only 30 days to visit the entire atoll and the paperwork hassle, it’s no wonder that very few cruisers bother to make landfall in Tarawa.  What a shame, though.  If Tarawa is nothing much than an overcrowded shanty town, the rest of the atolls are just wonderful.

No wonder that a large tuna fishing fleet loiters in these waters
Two days later, armed with permits to visit Abaiang and Butaritari, we made for Abaiang Atoll, 38 NM away.  With the wind from the south, we decided to make for the southern anchorage and wait for the wind to shift to the East before landing at the main village to present our paperwork. 

So many islands… one of them
Pass Waypoints: 
WP1 outside – 01*44.983N, 172*58.034E
WP2 inside – 01*46.206N, 172*58.977E – Turn 90* to starboard, straight to the anchorage.

We used the middle pass on the west side of the lagoon, since the southernmost pass is too shallow and the northernmost is still loaded with unexploded depth charges!
Abainag, South anchorage – talcum-powder sand

ABAIANG SOUTH – 01*44.453N, 173*01.795E – 3.5m –  Thick sand.  If the snorkeling failed to impress us, the villagers won our hearts.  The homes? A simple platform made of coconut trunks, a roof of woven palm leaves, woven coco mats on the floor.  

Typical home conatruction.  The COCONUT tree is the life of these island

Wherever we walked, people would hail us, make us sit on the platform, share fresh coconut (“Moimoto”) and communicate with smiles and a few words in English.  

Homework time!

They are the loveliest people.  Their needs are few.  Gardens?  it doesn’t rain much in Abaiang, but depressions in the ground (old shell craters from WWII???) retain enough water to grow taro, banana, and pumpkin. 
Our favorite couple.

ABAING TABUARO VILLAGE – 01*49.088N, 173*00.871E – sand – Of course, the policeman was waiting for us on shore, adamant to see our permit.  We obliged, and he was not too happy to have waited a week for us to show up at the village.  Was he going to arrest us?  He just motored away on his moped, asking us to slide the documents under the door at the police station.

School pickup
 The village was quite deserted.  Yet, we were impressed by the cleanliness of the streets, the hedges made of braided coconut palm, and the water distribution at each house: a halved fishing float for sink, PVC faucets and lines to carry water from the cisterns to each home.  The best we’ve ever seen in the islands.

Tabuaro: The loveliest, cleanest village we’ve visited, 

There was, once, a pearl farm in this village, but it seems that pearl oysters did not like the conditions of the lagoon and the farm has long been abandoned.

Every home is fitted with running water
It is any wonder that the village has been labeled ORGANIC?  There is absolutely nothing to pollute the place!  
















BUTARITARI – Main village – 03*04.566N, 172*47.120E – 6m – sand.  This is a peculiar anchorage. A very shallow reef stands between the anchorage and the village, which makes it almost impossible to land at low tide.  We had to time our landing just right.  Another squalid village, dilapidated school house, rubbish-littered streets and paths: not a pleasant place, but the police officer met us quickly enough, gave us a bit of a hard time about our length of stay (we declared 14 days while our document only authorized 10 days) and it wasn’t long before we anchored up and left for a more hospitable village.

A typical food storage shed

KUMA VILLAGE (Butaritari) – 03*10.539N, 172*57.242E
– 7m – sand.  Did you say HEAVEN??? We dropped anchor just short of the shallows that fringe the village.  Yes, another place impossible to reach at low tide!  But what a reception.  If there is heaven on earth, this has to be it.  Never have we encountered people so warm, happy, simple, absolutely at peace.  The community (just a few families) is strong. 

Our host in Kuma, speaks English, served on a ship for many years…
His trunk is behind him, the key around his neck, and that’s about it!

Not a single cement block house: only traditional platforms, open to the elements, sheltered by a palm roof and woven palm shutters on coconut fiber strings to keep the sun or rain out.  Possessions? They all fit in a locked trunk or battered suitcase, the key hanging on a string around the owner’s neck.  Would our whole life fit in a single trunk?  Can life be that un-embarrassed? 

A typical “window blind,” lowered or raised to provide shade or protect from the rain
On November 20th, we were ready to travel to Ukiangang Village, at the south end of the island.  JP had rented a motorcycle and we did OK until we hit a bump on the causeway and took a spectacular spill.  From that point on, I rode behind our hostess on her vespa-like “put-put”.  And hour later (and sore butt) we reached Teinaura Primary school where the WWII Memorial ceremony was held.  

The local kids are always ready to tag along

What a reception!  We were the only tourists, only joined by 2 LDS missionaries, one from the US, one from Fiji.  

“Thank You America”
We presented an American flag to the community and the kids took us under their wings: school classroom visits, how to wash our hands, peppering us with questions about America, and giving us more “moimotos” to drink. 

How to wash your hands!!!
At last, the school principal collected us and sat us in the VIP section.  Flag ceremony (Kiribati and US), prayer, speech (oh yes, I had to give a speech too!) and finally, the parade.  

Year 5 school room
Each classroom, each church and community group paraded in front of the War Memorial, laying a tropical-flower-wreath.

When one of the village elders stood, all went quiet. The old man waved away the microphone, and his stentor’s voice retold the story of the liberation of Butaritari, when thousands of Marines landed and defeated the Japanese.  A scared 5-year old boy never forgot, and to this day keeps reminding the islanders that “Without the Americans (he points at us) YOU and I would not be here today.”  In a very emotional moment, he walked to us and shook our hands.



More parades, this time by the older groups who pretended to entertain the GI’s with songs and a bit of ribaldry.   This was an emotional day for us.  Never had we met with so much respect and gratitude, a deep sense of remembrance, a day of fellowship.



NATATA ISLAND – 03*12.921N, 172*56.978E – 10m, sand.  It may lay only 3 mile NW of Kuma village, but Natata might as well sit at the end of the world.  Nobody lives there.  This may be one of the most beautiful anchorage we’ve experienced, and I’ll leave it at that because there is no word to explain the vibes that emanate from this sanctuary.



Until next time


dominomarie

VANUATU – The Happiest People

VANUATU – The Happiest People on Earth
Bettina… my little friend
May 14, 2018
Majuro, Marshall Islands,

As our 8-year island-cruising extravaganza draws to a close, we look back and draw hyperboles, unearth superlatives, and clumsily catalog our most unforgettable experiences.  Let’s start with the happiest people on Earth: VANUATU.
Children everywhere, laughing and happy. 
But parents are concerned that the island may not be able to sustain so many lives.
Family planning is sporadic, with accent on” family,” not so much on “planning” as the health worker often runs out of BCP

It’s true.  A recent survey determined that the islanders of what used to be known as the New Hebrides are, indeed, the happiest people on earth.  We could debate whether they absorbed their joie de vivre from their early French colons or retained the phlegmatic cool of their English tutelage.  Certainly, it was unsettling to land on a beach and address the villagers to the North in French, those to the South in English, observe how the twain didn’t meet, each happy in their identity (French-Catholic vs/ English/Protestant).  

this 5-year-old already wields his dug-out with mastery

Yet again, there still exist the traditional villages where no visitor are allowed, possibly the most authentic and worry-free people we ever met as they came out of their villages to meet us and share their culture with (Yam Festival, High Jump, Canoe Festival in the Meskalines.)
In the lush valley, the village lay still
This authenticity is especially true in the North of the archipelago, the Banks Islands.  If Port Vila, the capital, is an amalgam of shanties, corrugated tin walls, black plastic-wrapped rotting frames, and rubbish-strewn streets, the villages in the Banks Islands are neatly built, houses of woven pandanus and coconut, the sand-and-pounded-dirt streets raked and clean, the gardens neatly tended.  


Cynthia, Fred’s wife, works hard, as all Vanuatu women.
When she is not at the garden, she weaves mats and handicraft
In the Banks, the needs are simple: water (usually from mountain streams) and food (lagoon and pelagic fish, yam, and fresh veggies from the gardens.)  

The bath house and shower stalls
Farmers Market – Never used… perhaps when the supply ship comes?
Very traditional, with dramatic backdrop
Our 3-week stay in Ureparapara opened our eyes.  This is a rather isolated island, nothing more than a volcano whose crater has collapsed, letting the ocean flow in, where the soil is fertile and the valley hospitable.  There are six active volcanoes in Vanuatu, and evacuation of an island or another is frequent, as it happened in Aoba while we were there, 11,000 islanders evacuated.  But Ureparapara is an extinct volcano, safe for now.

The key to the crater
As we steered DOMINO into the maw of the swamped crater, we were enveloped by the absolute magic oozing from the steep banks, the mist caught in the coconut trees, the hush of the jungle broken only by the sound of a conch signaling our arrival.  Soon, dugout canoes were converging on us, welcoming us (and wondering if we had caught any fish!)

The receptions committee

We arrived 2 weeks after Cyclone Donna had done a ravage on the island: ruined the gardens, decimated the coconuts, uprooted and brined the taro roots.  


Shells – great game pieces!
The only fiberglass panga used by the villagers was holed in several places.  The village had run out of rice and no government help had arrived yet.  What could we do?  We had not even caught a fish, skunked again, having lost some 12 big fish in a row… pitiful!

Papa Fred and his brood
Simply, Fred (could be the village greeter, or Big Papa since he can always be seen with a dozen kids trailing behind him) invited us ashore.  Of course, we brought all the rice we had on board which, we knew, would not cover the needs of the 120 or so souls on the island.  The 6 dozen cookies I had quickly baked were reverently accepted by the kids while Fred portioned out the 2 banana breads (I hoped for a miracle!).

Fred and Cynthia’s home… for a couple and 6 children
  The village, though simple, was immaculate.  Family compounds were neatly arranged, the paths raked clean, 3 water spouts were strategically placed for water distribution (water piped from a mountain stream), a central shower hut, outhouse, a community solar panel and individual home solar units were in disrepair, but the village was holding together.  Then, the fishermen grabbed JP and asked if he could fix the panga.

JP Inspects the damages, and John is very eager to learn, under all the men’s supervision
No 110v power on the island?  Just paddle the panga over to our stern and start grinding away.
John gets a lesson in wielding the grinder
A thank-you gift from the fishermen
Oh Boy!  the rest is history… we had three weeks of fiberglass grinding and laying, fiberglass lessons, making blankets for the 6 newborn babies, baking hundreds of cookies, banana bread, and polenta pies, repairing solar panels and HF radio, and night fishing with our hosts.  

6-month old Fred loves his quilt
1-month old Katrina
Named after the anthropologist who lived with the village for a year, an honor for Katrina.
The supply boat — who anchors about once a month in the shallows  — finally brought some rice, more than a month after the cyclone hit.  It left with the coconut harvest, poor, the trees decimated by the cyclone.  Copra production is the main income source on the island, and it will be another 4 months before they collect any coco of value.  Bananas? ripped out too!

The supply boat keeps on its schedule, in spite of the dismal weather,
18-20′ waves outside!
There is no phone service on the island, the HF radio was broken and we had to take it to Port Vila for repair, so there is no way for the villagers to communicate with the outer world.  But, for those who have the courage to walk a few hours, over the crest and to the other side, there is a weak reception… 4-hour round trip!
John’s canoe, super light and fast
As we ran out of butter,  flour and eggs for making cookies and breads, my little friend Bettina organized a supply gang.  Hey kids, you want cookies? Let’s find what we need!

Shy, Sweet, Resourceful Bettina

The team of 18 kids delivered a quart of freshly-squeezed coconut milk (28 coconuts squeezed!), sweet potatoes, ad 14 eggs, begging for more cookies.  Sweet-potato/coconut milk and lime zest make, indeed, wonderful cookies. 




But the eggs?  oh my!  Sure, chickens roam free and you just KNOW there are eggs around… but where?  No chicken coop!  Although Fred swears that he knows his chickens and where they lay, out of the 14 eggs produced, twelve yielded chicks in various stages of development.  Chickens are a status symbol on the island, a sign of wealth, a brick in the road to power, therefore it’s more important to grow chickens than to harvest eggs.


Chickens roam free all over the islands


This incident, of course, had to be immortalized in a quilt, “Island Chickens.”

Bok Bok!
At the end of our stay, the gardens where starting to produce, the guys were fishing on their panga, and all was well again. 

Flower crowns, AKA Leis
Served kava on bended knees
But we were not to leave this island without the Chief throwing us a party — or, as they call it, a “Program.” 

The Shaking of the Hand
On the eve of our departure, the entire village converged to the meeting grounds, the Chief introduced us and thanked us, flower necklaces, kava ceremony, speech, prayer, and the amazing “shaking of the hand” reception line, as every single villager shook our hand in thanks.  

John’s brother gives JP a ukulele lesson


To top it all, John-the-fisherman, our “go-to” man, even named his first grandson “Jean-Pierre” — probably a phonetic version— and sent us on our way with a bag of Pamplemousse and a bag of coconuts, laughing, crying, singing, ringing the boat with their canoes, waving from shore.

Time to say goodbye
Fresh scallions and Island Cabbage (tastes between spinach and taro leaf, yummy!)

Yes, happy Vanuatu, simple, traditional, endearing.  If you cruise the Banks, do not miss Ureparapara and say hello for us.

Till next time.

Pamplemousses, limes, and we are very grateful
This beautiful hanging flower is actually a nut
The fruit
The nut, incredibly hard to crack



























dominomarie

DOMINO… Powercat with muscle

DOMINO Powercat For SaleMajuro, Marshall IslandsJanuary 2018After a full season in Vanuatu and a short month in marvelous Kiribati, we are now cruising the Marshall Islands.  We are planning on returning to the US via Alaska in June.  Meanwhi…

Cruising Vanuatu

In the banks Islands, dug-out canoes are the only way to fly!

December 19, 2017
DOMINO in Vanuatu

Weeks, months go by and we have been so involved with land life that I haven’t written much.  Already, we are in the Marshall Islands, out of Vanuatu (New Hebrides), out of Kiribati (Gilbert Islands), and I have so much to write about these wonderful places,  starting with Vanuatu, South to North.

 I’ll let the pix do the talking… Once again, our granddaughter Zoe and friend Q joined us for 2 weeks, and there’s no greater pleasure than grandchildren on board.

A parrot fish peeks over a bit of coral

Snorkeling in Anathem Island, the southernmost of Vanuatu Islands, trying to shelter from strong westerlies, was a challenge. 
Breakfast on board, ready to go for a swim

At Anelghowhat, the tide was running strong and even my strong swimmers had a frisky time staying put in the current.  Clear water, though, but not much reef to see.  Over-visited by cruise ships!   

A lonely cowrie, not much else around
The northern anchorage at Anawamet was not much more sheltered, but we never found t
he turtles in the chop from 25Kts+ winds.  We had to console ourselves with a 20-lb pumpkin the villagers gifted us!
It may be blowin’ a stink, we’re off for a snork!
Soon, the westerlies abated and the SE trades returned.  It was time to head north to Tanna and its volcano.  Good thing we had waited!  The yachts anchored in Port Resolution for the past 3 days were covered in volcanic ash, quite a mess, as the westerlies had swept the plume right above the anchorage.
The Old Man is spweing
The Tanna Volcano, Mt. Yasur —or the “Old Man”—  is, I believe, one of only 2 active volcanoes in the world were you can walk the rim.  It’s a spectacular experience that our girls will not soon forget.  Not free, however, by a long shot: cruisers, beware!  If Northern Vanuatu is poor, it’s not so in Tanna where the tourist trade is swift.


An overnight stop at Erromango’s north shore, in a tiny enclave of black sand, introduced our girls to the purplish-blue of black-sand bottom anchorages… and a white tip reef shark, while DOMINO stood still in this volcanic crater.

flower market boon

Efate Island, home of Port Vila, the capital, had a few surprises for our girls.











The Mele Cascades saw us all gliding down waterfalls and swimming in calm pools like happy fish.

 The Blue Hole saw the girls play Jane-of-the-jungle, swinging from vines into cerulean-blue pools.


The turtle farm elicited oohs and aaah and awes, as the girls handled baby turtles, fed big turtles and got introduced to coconut crab.
Then, we were off to Havana Harbor, NW of Port Vila, where the main activity is to scavenge for WWII glass.  At the end of the war, the Americans scuttled all their ships all over Vanuatu, and you can find treasures on the beach: Coca Cola bottle glass, Australian beer bottle glass, airplane and submarine tempered windshield glass… I was lucky to find a few treasures!

Whales are always a welcome sight
As quickly as they had arrived, the girls had vanished, a breath of fresh air in our life.  
… and turtles are fun to swim with

Off to Epi Island and Lamen Bay, the very best spot to swim with dozens of turtles and a couple of manatees.  to the NE of the bay, the coral garden is vast and the water is clear, well worth a look.

Manatees, big sea cows, are really gentle and gregarious
In Malekula, Crab Bay is worth a stop.  The only reserve we’ve encountered, it’s a good spot to snorkel with turtles on the NW end, and big parrot fish on the NE end.
Not the same story in Vao.  15*54.101S, 167*18.167E – A beautiful sand spit, french village ashore, dead reef.  Still, a pretty overnight stop.

The Blue Hole in Espiritu Santo
Next Island: Espiritu Santo.  

Our first stop at Oyster Island / Petersen bay was a good choice in bad weather.  This is possibly the only hurricane hole in Vanuatu.  We anchored in the outer lagoon and waited for high water to cross into the inner lagoon.  Just enough water, and the waypoints on the Rocket Guide were spot on.


From that anchorage, it was a short and magical dinghy ride upriver where, for a $10 fee (or trade for a soccer ball) we enjoyed the splendid Blue Hole.


Still traveling north, we made it to the famed “Champagne Beach,” anchoring in Lonock Bay.  Now, you tell me!  Where do you even have to pay to walk on a public beach?  We landed the kayaks on Champagne Beach and the keeper asked us to pay to walk on the beach.  We left, of course, then found out that she had no right to do so.  Instead, we landed at the inn in Lonock Bay and celebrated Fathers Day with a couple fruit drinks.  Yes, another lovely stop.

In Ambae, we were lucky to arrive a few weeks before the volcano decided to rumble and the entire 11,000 population had to be evacuated.  Lolowai Bay is quite spectacular, another volcanic crater, totally protected.  One night, and we were off.
Totally protected from the sea, Lolowai Bay, a volacnic crater

Across the channel, due East of Ambae, lies Maewo and the lovely bay at Ansavari.  15*22.590S, 168*07.920E – This is a lovely bay.  We anchored by the roaring waterfall and —I should have known better— accepted our guide’s invitation to scale the waterfall and go spearfishing fresh water shrimps. 

Water taro terraces cling to the hill, way above the bay.
A thin bamboo stick and a rubber band, 8 waterfall pools and 3 hours later, we had scaled the waterfall and had netted 2 shrimps each.  Thankfully, our guide had the other 50 promised prawns and we had a great dinner, still charmed by the powerful pull of the earth, water and energy that flow freely in these magical islands.  

JP holds the bag and happily lets our guide spear a few prawns.
To the south and east of the bay, the snorkeling is good.  Ancient, very ancient coral stands the test of time.  

Every day, I had to dive these ancient corals, so unlike any other I had seen in the Pacific

Reminiscent of the ancient coral we had seen in Guanaja (Honduras) this is definitely a place to explore, its trenches, caves, mounds and crevices.  


Off to the Bank Islands, starting with Gaua (Santa Maria). 14*18.801S, 167*25.897E  The little anchorage of Kwetevut is a good overnight stop before attempting to enter LosaLava in the north, an anchorage that needs excellent lighting to enter.  No sooner had we dropped anchor than the chief was visiting us in his canoe, a tradition common to all the Banks Islands.  We soon found out that the Banks had been ravaged by Cyclone Donna the prior month.  A Cat. IV cyclone wrecks havoc in these islands, mostly on the gardens, destroying crops, twist vines, felling all coconuts, and soon there is nothing to eat.  Even the fish gets displaced.    Sadly, we had not even a fish to gift the village.

As soon as we drop anchor, the locals come to visit
Losa Lava was our next destination. 14*12.482S, 167*34.185E –  

Entering Losa Lava, not too hard, but can be tricky in low light and high wind.

This is a good stop, but beware the guide’s tours offerings!  JP fell for the trick to the active volcano surrounded by a lake and waterfall.  It sounded good, “easy” 3-hour round trip.  My hero returned after a 5-hour hike to “the limit of his ability” and really unsafe, still in one piece, but scratched by undergrowth and bush, scratches soon to become majorly infected and turned into a 3-week staph infection nightmare.  We also booked a trip to the waterfall on the west side, but after 30 minutes of dinghy in 27Kts, blinded and soaked, we turned around.  When the locals tell you “Easy” and “Piece of Cake” and “2-3 hour trip,” understand BRUTAL!!!!
He may be deaf and mute, but our friend is the best communicator ever! 
With mimes and gestures, he had us laughing so hard! 
We could not refuse his prize for entertaining us: JP’s sunglasses!!!

Next?  Ureparapara, the most magical island, village, and people on earth!
Have you hugged your wahoo today?
Until then,

dominomarie

Ambryn

“This is Your Yam.”Port Vila, VanuatuOctober 14, 2013″This is your Yam – Ambryn.”  Words spoken to Capt. Cook by the Ambryn chief during his visit.  Of course, Ambryn is famous for its twin active volcanoes, and it truly is an island deeply c…

MASKELYNES Canoe Festival


MASKELYNES Canoe Festival

July 2017 – Uliveo, Vanuatu

At the southeast point of Malakula Island is a small archipelago: The Maskalynes.  It’s a small group of tiny islands, some lined with mangroves, others fringed with reefs and white sand beaches, and we thought we’d check them out.  Our first visit took us to Awai, a cul-de-sac anchorage closed by a reef that looked really quiet and peaceful.  It was.


AWAI – 16*32.031S – 167*46.167E – The reef around the anchorage isn’t much, shallow and rather beat up, and every day the villagers walk the reef at low tide to gather what they can: small octopi, shells, tiny fish that they trap in their nets. 

Awai’s sandy beach
Grass beds are quite healthy and this is turtle and dugong (manatee) territory.

Women going to the gardens
The locals greeted us warmly.  All day, we watched women paddling by on their dugouts, traveling from nearby Uliveo to the mainland of Malakula where the fertile land yields splendid crops of island cabbage (a kind of spinach,) root vegetables (water taro, yam, cassava) and of course coconut.

Man on his way to the gardens
Let’s not forget the “flying foxes,” or giant fruit bats that fly overhead!  If you have a gun on board, the locals will take you hunting.  Yes, they are excellent to eat.  Although the locals just roast them, we prefer them in civet (marinated in red wine) or paté.


When a long boat stopped by to invite us to go anchor at Uliveo, we thought well, OK, we’ll go there next.


ULIVEO – 16*31.913S – 167*49.793E – Our first encounter in Uliveo was a nightmare.  As soon as we dropped anchor in front of Sangalai village we were hailed on VHF by Stewart, the self-declared yacht club and guide.  Did we need a guide? Should we want to eat ashore? Visit the island? Snorkel with a guide?  Nope, we didn’t think so.  All we wanted was permission to snorkel along the reef.  Permission granted, anywhere we wished.  And so we dropped in the water and snorkeled the east side of the reef. 

Peskarus landing from the inside anchorage, not reachable at low tide
As we returned, we were confronted by (as I call him) Chief Mad Dog from Peskarus village who decreed that we had violated the custom law by snorkeling the reef and we had just been assessed a 15,000 Vatus ($150) fine.  

Now, why did Stewart say we could snorkel?
I lost it.  After 2 hours of heated argument, with Stewart trying to swallow his mistake under the blows of Chief Mad Dog’s insults, while I responded with not-so-ladylike language to the threats of impounding our dinghy and our powercat, JP managed to calmly bring the fine down to 1,500 Vatus ($15) which we paid quite reluctantly.  Chief Mad Dog returned to his village with money in his pocket and my evil eye following him… something was fishy.  We left at dawn.


CANOE RACE FESTIVAL –
When a month later our buddy boat “Blue Bie” announced they were returning to Uliveo for the Canoe Race Festival, I was not enthused, but JP managed to convince me it could be fun.  So, we returned and landed the dinghy at Peskarus.  No sooner were we on land that Chef Mad Dog was passing me a letter asking for a donation for his Independence Day Festivity Committee.  Was he kidding me?  

Kit is the man!

Meanwhile, JP had met Kit, and Kit had a crazy idea: bring DOMINO around to the east side of Peskarus to anchor in the lagoon, a much quieter and pleasant anchorage than in front of Sangalai.  This was yet another example of village rivalry.  All the yachts anchor in front of Sangalai, but none has ever enter the shallow and narrow pass into the Peskarus lagoon.  Kit looked at DOMINO and knew we could do it.  After sounding the pass with the dinghy, JP agreed: at high tide on neap tide, DOMINO would make it.  Right now!



It was a mad dash to race the tide, but Kit had us on schedule and on track.  One hour after high tide, we threaded the narrow pass, with barely 50 cm under the hulls (we draught 1.20m) and a few inches on each side (7 meter wide.)  Under the delirious applause of the entire village, we dropped the hook in this splendid lagoon, the 1st yacht ever to do so.  JP was suddenly the hero, the “Mensch” who had proven that Peskarus was a desirable anchorage.  


The lagoon is an idyllic anchorage… if only boats could get in!

That was before Philip on “Blue Bie” shot us an SMS to remind us to watch out for the tide.  In 3 days, the tide amplitude would be 40cm less and we would be stuck in the lagoon until neap tide.  With regret, we left the next morning at high tide, with only 30 cm clearance. That was too tight for comfort.  

Paddling is at the center of the villagers’ lives

We spent the next two days feasting with this village that turned out to be amazingly friendly.  We soon found out that there was a new chief, that Chief Mad Dog had been disciplined for his poor behavior (and embezzling some of the village’s funds) and relieved of his official responsibilities.  We never saw him that weekend.

Our reception committee

What we saw was a village working hard to improve their destiny.  The fisheries’ representative, John, showed us how his task force removed over 800 Crown of Thorns (Acanthasters) from the reef
Canoe making: 1st, fell a breadfruit tree

All of us 12 cruisers were treated with the utmost courtesy, from paddling us to a reception line, flower leis, welcome speech and 2 days of activities: canoe races (“2 blacks 1 white crew”), visit of the soap factory, reef preservation education, canoe building, weaving, kava tasting, singing and dancing.  

Then, give it a gross shape

The women cooked splendid meals of fish and lobster, and the men roasted a pig for our last evening.  

Then, drag it to shore

JP took to the festivities as a fish to water, cheered by the villagers and hailed as “The Man” as he joined in the dances and led all in “Hip-Hip_Puray” and laughter.




The new chief— a retired teacher— impressed us with his organization and vision, his plans for bettering the economic future of his community.  As we left, he had filled out a request for a Peace Corps volunteer and garnered donations toward the projects at the top of his list: a hot air dryer for the island’s copra cooperative and enough money to dynamite a widening in the pass (he already got the OK from the Ministry of Environment.)

The village’s deaf-mute is the only one who knows the secrets of sand drawing

 It was a privilege to be part of this festival, a celebration of the canoe without which the Meskaline islanders could not survive.


Sharing a light moment with the kids as they teach me to weave palms into balls.
Off to another island,


Until then


dominomarie