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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


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


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,



“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.

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


Pentecost Island – 1-2-3 Jump!

Pentecost Island (Vanuatu) – June 2nd, 2017.

This was the stuff DISCOVERY Channel and National Geographic crave: Land Diving on Pentecost Island.  One of the world’s few remaining rites of passage, Land Diving is becoming a tourist attraction that we were more than willing to pay $70 p/pers. to watch.  This is, even in Vanuatu, a rare and special event, and we rushed from Port Vila to the village of Wali on the west coast of Pentecost to catch the last of it.

This is the original bungee jumping
You see, land diving only happens at yam harvest season, when the vines that tie the divers’ feet are still moist and flexible, a short season in April-May.  When June comes and the dry season starts, the vines are deemed too dry and brittle, a danger to the divers.  Thus, land diving only happens for a short 6 to 8-week period each year.  

This is an event specific to Pentecost Island.  Nowhere else in Vanuatu is it performed.  A one time, it was a rite of passage required of each young boy.  It is now a voluntary act; no young boy is forced to jump.  Yet, the young boys we spoke with consider it a proof of manhood, to the horror of their mothers who dare not watch.

Each jumper has his own landing style: shoulder sideways, upper back roll, chest flat.

Pentecost is one of the few islands where traditional villages still exist, primarily on the east coast.  

A branch, a stick, and 2 tuna cans do the job: perfect trolley!
There, the locals must wear the traditional attire: waist girdle and penis sheath for men, grass skirts for women.  They live in traditional palm huts, fish from traditional canoes, and subsist on their own farming of pig, cows, chicken and—of course— yam.

Reception committee

Yam harvest is a big deal in Vanuatu and is the cause of much celebration and festivals.  We joined a few, starting with land diving.

** Note –  We have been using the Rocket Guide to Vanuatu for all our waypoints and have found them spot on.

Shortly after we anchored by the black-rock and sand beach between Lonwe and Wali (15*54.519S – 168*11.194E) we discovered the vagaries of village politics.  Lonwe to the north is catholic and French-speaking; Wali to the south is Protestant and English-speaking, the division a remnant of colonization days when the New Hebrides were French, then British.  
The French-speaking villagers were about to feast with chicken… that will be for another day.

Our friend Philip (s/v “Blue Bie”) had negotiated a show with the French village and at the appointed time, our 4 yachts disembarked to be lead to the French village.  But STOP!!! The chief from the southern village showed up, telling us that the minister of tourism for the region was bringing tourists from Port Vila and had ordered the jump moved from the French to the English village.  After much argument, the French-speaking villagers bowed out and we were led to the southern village.  This was our 1st of many frustrating experiences of village politics.

The elder makes sure that everything is done right.

In the end, a dozen of us tourists were led to the giant jumping tower.  To be sure, there is only one man in charge of the tower, its woods, its detachable platforms, the long “lianas” that tether the jumper to the base, and the grass that tie the jumper’s feet.  If the man decrees that the vines are too dry, no argument.

While the jumpers get ready, a choir of men, boys and women sway and sing to encourage all participants

Another successful landing

Each man has a job.  One is in charge of the landing platform, a plot of soft soil on a sharp slope, that he constantly cleans of debris and tills to maximum softness.  This man also takes care of the jumper upon landing, helps him up and releases him from the tethers.

First jump ever!

Two other men are in charge of helping the divers onto the tower, tethering them and setting up the jumps, as well as removing the platforms after the jumps.

The young boys, as young as 8 years old, jump first, from the tower’s lower levels.  The first-time jumper was cheered on by a chorus of men, boys and women, singing and chirping him unto action.  Mama was closing her eyes.  But the jump was a success and the boy swelled up with pride.

The top man!

Adult men jumped from higher and higher, until the top jumper launched himself from the top of the 30-meter tower, pumped up by chants and bird chirping.  yes, he could definitely fly!  

While this show was presented on the west coast village, most jumpers and dancers had come from the traditional villages on the east coast.  

The “crack” sound that can be heard near the end of the jump is the proof of a functioning shock-absorbing system.  Each launching platform is mounted on a few sticks.  When the jumper reaches the end of his fall the vine tenses up and pulls on the platform, breaking the support sticks, therefore allowing a bit of a stretch and shock absorbing to soften the fall.

It was, indeed, a privilege to be accepted into the village and to share in the ceremony.  

Back landing… stylish!

Later, the young boy’s mother sold us coffee and bread, just to make a few Vatus so she could send her boy to school.  No, secondary education is not free in Vanuatu and we were happy to spend a bit of $ to help her out.  Yes, her son had jumped but the money definitely didn’t go to him.
Successful 1st jump… proud boy!

WATERFALL BAY – 15*47.310S – 168*09.691E 
–  A few weeks later, we anchored overnight in this beautiful bay, one of the many where waterfalls drop straight into the sea.  Another nice anchorage!

Till the next one…


Into Vanuatu

Into Vanuatu

Port Vila, June 1, 2017

Arriving Port Vila at sunrise.

Patience has its rewards.  For five weeks, we waited for a weather window to leave New Zealand, and suddenly it was there.  On the tail of a low, we rode the southerlies for 1,100 NM.  Fair winds and following seas for 4 days!

Running away from the storms

We hadn’t made a passage in so long I had forgotten the drills.  I have found that my focus has changed over the years.

Are we getting old or just simplifying our life?  Provisioning is not so important anymore: we find our staples of rice, beans, pasta and flour anywhere.  Fresh produce can be found anywhere, especially since we insist on eating locally-grown foods.  As for meat, we don’t really eat any (unless it’s fresh and locally-grown).  Eggs and fish are plentiful anywhere we cruise.  So, unlike our previous passages when all the lockers were overfilled with stuff: crackers, snacks, staples, this time the lockers are almost empty.  It’s weird how, over 7 years of cruising, we have down-sized our pantry and gone almost vegan.  As for booze, since we now drink only occasionally, the wine cellar is virtually empty.  Life is simpler that way.

Fishing is a main activity on board.  This short bill spearfish is an exception… released

Rather, JP has concentrated on making the boat ever simpler to run,  more efficient, and asking less of me.

Anchoring – JP had wanted to modify the anchoring system for years.  Finally, he did it.  With the  previous configuration, the bow rollers being way inside the bows and high on the foredeck, dropping anchor in any kind of strong wind was a challenge.  By the time JP would let out enough chain, the cat would be across the wind and I would have to race in order to clip the bridle before the chain would graze against the bow… scraped the paint many times that way.

Fabricating 2 steel extensions – Lower launching point, more forward, and a smooth-grooved acetal roller.

The modification consists in a massive extension of the bow roller, bringing the launching  point lower and more forward, with an acetal roller lathed in a smooth depression rather than a chain-gripping groove.  The chain no longer grazes the bow as the cat turns across the wind, giving me more time to clip the bridle on.  Also, the smooth groove of the acetal roller allows the anchor shaft to roll itself in the right position for storage, instead of the chain being stuck in the groove.  Makes sense?  My life has suddenly improved, and the anchoring can now be single-handled.

Nasty, nasty exhaust stains… and hard to clean
Exhaust –  If you buy a motor boat, make sure that the exhaust is below water.  Sure, it’s a bit noisier, but no soot or smoke.  I was so tired of having to clean the hulls aft of the exhaust every time we used the boat that I had mutinied.  JP had mercy on me and built an extension to the exhaust, directing the fumes outward.  There is still some black smoke stain after we run, but not nearly as much as before.  And, to minimize my cleaning duty around the exhaust, JP painted a big black teardrop.  

Not sure what to make of the tear drop, but definitely less smoke to clean

These are little things that make my life easier, which means it makes JP happier too!

Another big deal during this haul-out season was servicing our John Deere 6081 engines, including doing a valve adjustment.  We just found out during this last passage that this adjustment gave us a 20% increase in performance.  Now, at 1025 RPM, running at 10 Kts, we burn 4 GPH instead of 5.  A significant savings!

Some people look for the pot of gold… rainbow was chasing us and we didn’t want to be anywhere
close to the wind and rain at the end of that rainbow!
It only took us 4 days and 13 hours to run from Opua (NZ) to Port Vila (Vanuatu), an 1,112 NM trip.  After a bit of a rough start in cross seas (2m from the east, 1m from the west) that lasted almost 24 hours, the following 3 days were just a dream, following seas all the way.

Sunset off Tanna Island.  Perhaps the volcano smoke gave the sun this hazy red tinge?

We fished, ran before storm clouds and rainbows, drank blood-orange sunset and were surprised by glorious sunrises.

The market:  peanuts!
We are spending the season in Vanuatu, JP resting his brain and hands…. except for trying to catch more fish!

Baskets of yams and sweet potatoes

As for me, I spent the day lazing around the local market.  It runs 24/7, amazingly.

The fridge is stocked up, and we’re ready for some new adventures.

Even in the rain….

We’re off to Pentecost Island…

Till then.


Leaving New Zealand

Leaving New Zealand

Russell, May 25, 2017

It seems that leaving New Zealand is never easy.  It’s not just the great boating and fishing that hold us back; it’s not just the friendly Kiwis that tug at our friendship heartstrings;  it’s the weather, always the weather, that bars us from moving straight north to Vanuatu.

Under leaden skies and another gale warning, JP finds the way to catch dinner.
A year ago, we left NZ in the first half of May to hang out at Minerva Reef for a week.  This year, it’s been much harder to find a window, even a short 4-day window.  
Trying to dodge weather… not today!
The Kiwis say you should leave for the tropics before well into May, and it certainly is true this year.

In Whangarei, extra-tropical cyclone COOK brought us beautiful skies
For the last five weeks we’ve been waiting for a weather window.  Leaving New Zealand at this time of year is tricky.  The waters north of Fiji are still very warm (30c till last week) and are a caldron for spinning cyclones.  In five weeks, we’ve seen extra-tropical cyclone COOK, then DONNA (cat. 4) and ELLA (cat. 2).  These barrel down from the north and the space between NZ and the Tropics is no place to be.  

Cyclone from the north, ridges and troughs and all sorts of nasty things.
As if the end-of-summer cyclones are not enough to deal with, a train of early winter storms roll in from the Tasman sea and Australia.  The last two weeks have seen almost daily gale warnings for our area.  Again, not a time to be at sea.

More nasty weather and gales
In addition to the cyclones from the North and gales from the West, systems also roll in from the East, as the trade winds try to establish themselves.  Result?  We are pinned down in the Bay of Islands.  Last week, some 50 yachts were waiting to leave for Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, or New Caledonia.  About half of them have left.  Most have made it to their destinations, some in 40 knots of winds and 5-meter seas, really horrendous conditions.  Some have had to return: one broken autopilot,  one  dismasted, yet another one with dirty fuel -hence no engine, no power.  It’s been a horrendous beginning of season.  

Cold in the morning (1.3 celsius = 34F) may be pretty but it’s too cold for us!

 The Bay of Islands has seen us switch anchorages almost every day, as the wind shifts from NE, to NW to SW…

 so many sheltered spots, but few have cell phone reception, which means no Internet!

As much as we itch to move to warmer climate to avoid getting up with 1 to 10 celsius outside, we have been patient.  We agreed with the Island Cruising Association (ICA) leader in waiting it out and not jumping into a “dirty” weather window.  We have waited, sitting at anchor for a month.

Taking advantage of a sunny morning and low tide, JP and I go clamming.
Part of our passtime: looking at boats!

We managed to keep busy.  Fishing and scavenging?  Oysters, mussels, cockles, clams, scallops, red snappers and “kingfish” (yellowtail) have been part of our daily diet for the last few months.

Hiking?  The bay of Islands has impressive scenic hikes with stunning views.  The hills twitter with birds and the smell of Manuka bush in bloom permeates the air.

Manuka bloom
Koru, or the Kiwi fern.

Boat chores?  Of course… always.  

Our wonderful ventilation hatches: never use the A/C

JP has serviced just about every piece of equipment on the boat, including our five double-door ventilation hatches.  That’s 20 pressure locks, each made up of 17 parts.  Kudos to JP!
Massive extensions for the RAYA anchor bow rollers

The major refit this year was an improvement in the anchoring system.  Each anchor launch has been lowered and brought forward in an attempt to reduce the risk of scraping the chain against the bows when dropping the hook in high winds.  So far, so good.

There is always a new quilt to work on
As for me, I took advantage of the quiet anchorages to quilt, quilt, quilt.

The lovely Bay of Islands, NE coast

Tonight, one more look at the GRIBs: we are good to go tomorrow, as soon as a small system blows through.  Then, it’s 4 days of NO WIND!  Good for us, but the sailboats aren’t too happy: motoring it is.

Of course, we’ll have weather under way.  Our new IRIDIUM Go system is up, with PREDICT WIND  offshore app for weather on the go.
HF: check – Genset: check

JP aslo fixed the HF radio so we can contact NORTHLAND RADIO (ZMH292) daily for our trip report.  Peter Mott does a fantastic job of checking on the fleet.  He currently monitors over 20 yachts underway and has another 17 on the back burner, ready to leave this weekend.  Gotta love those HAM radio guys!

So, that’s it!  We’re off to Vanuatu for the season…  

We will enjoy the new seats and cushions in the saloon.

Also will love the widened bistro table on the aft deck and the fix outdoors cushions: no more slip-sliding!

JP worked hard… time for R&R
Until then


DOMINO’s Fiji Compendium

Opua, April 3, 2017  – The Fiji cruising season is upon us and yachts are lining up in Opua, waiting for a weather window.  We’ve cruised Fiji twice and I wanted to share with you in a single document all of the waypoints and routes we g…