October 17 - 30, 2006
We left Port Havannah on Efate just after sunrise in the company of dolphins, and we were anchored in Revilou Bay on the island of Epi by early afternoon. We spent a very quiet night on board and left the following morning for Malekula.
Malekula is Vanuatu's second largest island with 781 square miles of land. However, much of the interior is extremely rugged, and 95% of the population (24,000 total) lives along the coast. The coast, however, is heavily infested with malaria, and malaria is a serious health problem on this island.
Malekula has a remarkably diverse population with at least 28 languages spoken on the island. Malekula is home to the kastom groups of Big Namba, Small Namba, and Man Bush Small Nambas. The names of these kastom groups derive from the nambas - penis sheaths - that the men wear. They wear either purple pandanus fiber, dried fiber, or fresh green leaves. Each tuck the leaf in to their bark belts and leave the testicles exposed. Each group has its own traditions dictating its cultural expression, and although there are many similarities among the groups, there are also many differences. (Our gentle readers will be relieved to know that although Bud 'went local' in Fiji and wore sulu like the local men, he did not wear namba in Vanuatu.)
Other traditional culture found on Malekula include dances, belief in devils, and tabu. Some villagers light fires by rubbing sticks together, and nimangki grades are followed by some. Some older men have elongated heads, but fortunately, childhood skull-binding has fallen out of favor.
Malekula is also the site of the last acknowledged kakae man - or victim of cannibalism - in 1969. However, another form of cannibalism continued beyond the kakae man, and that was the ritual eating of one's dead relatives. This practice is believed to keep the dead among the living.
Off the southeast tip of Malekula are the Maskelyne Islands. This is a group of about ten islands - depending on what you call an island. Some are inhabited and attract a few tourists, and others are uninhabited. All are beautiful.
October 17 - 21, 2006
Our first stop around Malekula was at Awei Island - the westernmost of the Maskelynes. We expected a quiet anchorage to ourselves, but we found a windy bumpy anchorage with three big catamarans. But there was room enough for all of us, so we tucked in as best we could.
Shortly after we arrived, an old man paddled out in an outrigger canoe and introduced himself as 'Manse'. Although his English was limited, we understood (and saw) that he had a badly swollen foot, and he wanted some 'medicine' for it. Apparently he had stepped on something a few days prior. We looked at the wound and found an ugly oozing puncture on the ball of his foot. We soaked it, cleaned it, and dressed it. And while his foot was soaking, we got to know him a bit.
We thought that Awei Island was uninhabited, but Manse moved his extended family there a few years ago. We wanted to check on his foot the following day, so Manse invited us to come visit him on his island.
We beached the dinghy on a small sandy beach about 30 yards from the boat. There is only one trail on the island, so we couldn't get lost. We walked along ironwood trees, tidal pools with cool creatures, numerous garden plots, and breathtaking scenery. We expected to find three of four buildings, but we found a small traditional village. There are five or six dwellings, and they have built a well, church, and drying shack. There are even a few benches in various shady spots with great views. And the views...
Manse's foot looked much better, and he was experiencing much less pain. He felt well enough to show us around, then we sat in the sand on the beach and talked and laughed for a few hours. This was one of those times that remind us why we are out here doing this - to meet men like Manse and enjoy places such as his home.
We also met two of Manse's children and many of his grandchildren. They came out to the boat and brought us bananas, papayas, mango, lemons, limes, 'snake beans', kumara (sweet potato), pomelo (grapefruit), and bok choy. They were all very nice.
But the end of the season was approaching, and we needed to head north. So we said a fond goodbye to Manse and headed north for Banam Bay on the southeast coast of Malekula. However, it was quite rough outside, and we had our dinghy in tow, so we decided to tuck in along Sakau Island for a night or two.
October 21 - 23, 2006
Sakau is a pretty little island with a small community center, a health clinic, and a few hundred people. We were surprised to find a few moorings there, and we tied up to one. We were pleased to learn that their Chief, Willie, is involved in various conservation efforts, and he has designated much of the island a reserve. He has designated the anchorage area just offshore a giant clam reserve, and moorings were installed to prevent anchor damage to the clams.
Chief Willy told us that there was a wreck of a former copra boat in the shallows just offshore, and we were welcome to dive it. It was a nice dive with a surprising variety of fish life; however, there were very few clams.
We learned that the health center was involved in the MARC Project. MARC is an acronym for medical access for remote communities. We never did learn the source of their funding, but an expat American (a nurse practitioner?) mans the clinic on Sakau, and he has two apprentices that train with him for two years before relocating to more remote islands.
Mid-day on our second day on Sakau we saw a large three-masted sailing ship approaching. We recognized it as the SS Alvii that we had met in Suva earlier in the season. Alvii is under contract to the MARC Project through the end of October, and she was delivering clinic personnel and supplies.
We were aware of a small low pressure system to our northwest, and we were very surprised to hear that it had quickly developed in to a cyclone. Cyclone season in this area does not begin until November 1, and it is highly unusual for cyclones to affect Vanuatu before Christmas, but Cyclone Xavier seemed ignorant of the schedule.
Fortunately we were only a few miles from one of the few 'hurricane holes' in Vanuatu, so we left Sakau Island for Port Sandwich.
October 23 - 29, 2006
It took us only 2 1/2 hours to get around to Port Sandwich, and the bay was empty when we arrived. That gave us our choice of anchoring spots. We went way inside and temporarily anchored in 23 feet of water over a mud bottom. Xavier was growing in intensity and heading directly for us (still over 300 miles away), so we quickly set about readying Passage to face the onslaught.
We laid out two anchors. We first set our FX-37 Fortress anchor followed by 40 feet of chain. That chain attached in series to our 65 pound CQR on 300 feet of chain. We decided to keep our 44 pound Bruce on the bow in case we needed to throw out another anchor quickly.
Then we completely stripped the boat. We removed all sails and skyed all halyards. We removed solar panels and wind generator. We put away the dinghy, outboard, barbecue, and everything else that might create windage. We even removed our netting along the bow lifelines. Everything was stowed in either the lazarette or the forepeak.
It took us two busy days, but we believed that we had done all we could to prepare for Xavier. We waited and watched. Xavier's predicted path was right over us, but it continued to drift further east than predicted, and it missed us. The eye never got closer than 150 miles, and all we got was a little wind and rain.
Seven other boats had come in seeking shelter in Port Sandwich, and there was a collective sigh of relief as Xavier wound down. It was the birthday of one of the women on SS Alvii, so they hosted a combined cyclone/birthday party that was a lot of fun.
We had been visited a few times by a local old guy whom lives on shore near where we anchored. He had invited all of the boats to come ashore to visit, and we went along with three other boats. This family has quite a spread, and we enjoyed spending a few hours with them. But we needed to put Passage back together.
We wanted to clean the stainless before remounting gear on the rails, so that slowed us down a day. And since everyone was in a festive mood with relief, we had a few visitors stop by for a toddy. But we had her back together by the evening of the 28th.
We planned to leave the morning of the 29th, and we were both a bit concerned about getting our anchors up. Port Sandwich is infamous for shark attacks, and you definitely don't get in the water there. We weren't sure exactly what we would do if we had trouble, but our anchors came in without problems, and we were the last boat to leave Port Sandwich on the 29th.
We had planned to stop at Banam Bay a few miles north up the east coast, but Xavier convinced us that it was time to start winding down this season. So we decided to head to Luganville on Espiritu Santo from where we could check out of Vanuatu and head toward Australia.
So we left Port Sandwich on the 29th and made a day sail to Port Stanley. We spent only one night aboard in Port Stanley, and we left for Espiritu Santo on October 30.