Vanuatu to Solomons, Day 1

Sophie is rolling along on a straight downwind run on our first day of this passage. Current position is 12.51.229 South, 165.08.442 East. We’ve covered 149 miles in the last 24 hours. We tacked downwind in the middle of the night, so we’ve actually sailed a longer distance than the 149 miles since we left. We have 567 miles between us and Gizo. Right now we are sailing close to the rhumb line and are hopeful we will make our arrival by the end of the week.

The wind has been blowing between 20 and 30 knots since we left, and it is a little frustrating for us to be sailing at a speed between 6 and 7 knots. But straight downwind sailing can be a problem for catamarans like Sophie, because our mainsail becomes ineffective at this wind angle. If we were heading in a direction 40 degrees more to the south or to the north, we’d be cruising along at 9-10 knots with our full mainsail up. Right now the mainsail is down and we’ve been sailing with just our jib for the last 20 hours. There is too much wind for our spinnaker or code zero, which are large, light air sails that do well at this wind angle. And we are making just enough speed heading directly toward our destination that we don’t feel like putting up the main and tacking downwind.

We’ve never had a good solution for sailing straight downwind in winds over 20 knots, but we think we may have finally found one. We’ve re-rigged our jib, running the sheet to a block on the midship cleat on the inside of the lifeline, then back to the spinnaker block and then up to the winch. This wider sheeting angle prevents the sail from collapsing when sailing straight downwind. There is also no chafe on the shrouds or the lifelines. I now think we want to buy an identically-sized jib and sail it from our little bowsprit with the same sheeting angle on the other size of the boat for these downwind scenarios. I think the width of the sheeting angles will keep both sails filled on a downwind run and would likely increase our boat speed up to 8-9 knots at this wind direction, adding an additional 50 miles a day on our downwind passages. The second sail could also serve as a backup to our primary jib. I wouldn’t bother using a furler and simply fly it from the sprit using the spinnaker halyard.

The only other excitement on our trip so far? We hooked another billfish yesterday. It was either a sailfish or a smallish marlin. It hit the Riebling lure trolling off the pole and jumped 4 times within 100 meters of the boat. It had a dark top and yellow belly and initially started swimming towards Sophie after getting hooked. We were all pretty tired and Sophie is full of food, so we quickly decided to cut the line and let Miss Marlin go. Maybe sportfishing for marlin is simply not as exciting for us as it used to be. We are all interested in getting some yellowfin tuna, though. THAT would be exciting.

Overall the boat is working well. Nothing is broken. Jenna has the kids in Sophie school. Before we left, Lauren made pumpkin curry, pork/pumpkin/alfredo lasagne, and pasta with an eggplant red sauce. She also cut up half of our fruit and put it into containers for the fridge. We are not going hungry.

So far, so good. 4 lines are in the water and it’s getting sunnier. Sure beats work.

Santa Maria

We have finally started the process of leaving Vanuatu and are currently anchored on the top of Santa Maria Island. 14.12.775 S 167.27.704 E.

We sailed here yesterday, covering the 75 miles from Oyster Island in Santo in under 10 hours. It was a bright and sunny sail, with 20 knot winds from the east slightly ahead of the beam. We sailed most of the distance with a single reef in the main and a full jib. The beam seas were a little uncomfortable for the folks below in the main salon, so the bowls were out and the movies were on.

While we were underway, a large fish snapped one of our meat line snubber/shock absorbers in half, leaving just a small length of nylon rope attached to a stern cleat. The length of black rubber tubing was completely gone, along with 10 meters of 400 lb line and a very nice squid lure. None of us saw the hit, but I assume it was a marlin or some other large pelagic predator. We’ve caught 50 pound fish on those babies and they worked fine. Now one is gone. The hit must have been quite a sight.

When we came into the lee of Santa Maria Island, the wind died so we turned on the motors. After 30 minutes the starboard Yanmar overheated, so we immediately shut it off. I am pretty sure it’s the first time that has ever happened. We motored the rest of the way into the anchorage using the port engine, and turned the starboard engine back on to help set the anchor. Raw water was coming out of the exhaust, which is a good thing because it meant that the impeller for the raw water cooling pump was still working. Marine diesel engines cool themselves with seawater that is pumped through a heat exchanger, which in turn cools a fresh water/radiator fluid mixture that circulates through the engine. I’ll take a look at it later this morning. I am hopeful that there was a temporary blockage in the sea water system or that the coolant level was low. Good thing we have 2 engines!

Prior to going to Oyster Island, we spent 4 nights in Santo Harbor hanging out with Arctarus II and Flour Girl in front of the Beach Front resort. There were 5 kids between the ages of 6 and 11 across the 3 boats, and it was good for Leo and Hazel to play with other kids. We did Steak Night at the resort one night, sundowners on Flour Girl another night, and a birthday party for 9 year old Khan from Arctarus on Thursday. The weather that week was rainy, the anchorage was rolly, and the water in the harbor was too muddy for swimming. But Jenna and I enjoyed the company of the other adults, and the kids enjoyed the resort’s small pool. The $3 happy hour draft Tuskers didn’t hurt, either.

We couldn’t leave Santo until a package for Jenna arrived from New Zealand. We were starting to get a little nervous about whether or when it was going to show up, but thankfully we got the phone call from the post office on Friday morning and were soon on our way 10 miles around the corner to the Oyster Island resort. That place was beautiful and protected with a lovely beach and a restaurant on the water. It’s also for sale, and we spent a couple of hours discussing what we would have to do to increase traffic there if we owned it. Nice place.

From Santa Maria today we will sail another 18 miles north to Waterfall Bay on the Island of Vanua Lava. We’ll get our passports stamped by the island’s policeman/immigration officer on Sola Bay on Monday morning and then start sailing northeast. We’ll make a final stop at either Norbarbar or the Torres Islands, and then we will begin our 680 mile passage to Gizo in the Solomon Islands. The heading from here is 288 degrees magnetic, and if the southeast trade winds continue we will have a comfortable downwind run. Lauren is still with us, and it will be nice to do a passage with 3 adults standing watches at night.

We met a young couple in Santo this week who had just lived in the Solomons for 3 years. They said Gizo was lovely, and that the mayor there was from a German family that had lived there for 3 generations. The family sailing on Per Ardua arrived there 4 days ago, but my assumption is that they will be on the way to Kavieng by the time we get there in a week. I assume we will catch up to them in Kavieng.

The boat is full of food and we are enjoying the transition into adventure mode after over a month here in Vanuatu. Please wish us fair winds with no storms over the next week!

Millenium Cave

We are still in Santo but have moved across the harbor and are now anchored in front of the Beach Front Resort, and we’ve been hanging out here for the last couple of days. Our weather pattern remains consistent: sunny humid mornings that give just enough of a sense of hope that you think you can get a load of laundry outside to dry, followed by an afternoon of torrential tropical downpours, thunder, and lightning. It’s actually quite delightful, and we are enjoying ourselves very much.

It was sunny enough two mornings ago that we were able to move the boat across the harbor, change the oil in the Yanmars, and get our last load of laundry finally dry (third time was the charm) before the day’s deluge began. We spent the afternoon in Sophie school and doing inside projects, marveling at how much rain can actually fall from the sky at one time. Since our itinerary involves traveling up next to the equator during monsoon season over the next year, we know that this weather pattern will be with us for a while.

Afterwards, we took a cab into town, walked around a bit, then ate dinner at a steak restaurant called “Deco Stop” (a dive term) located on a mountain overlooking the harbor. We very much enjoyed the view from up high.

When we returned to the Beach Front, we saw the Philippines National Rugby Team in uniform walking into the restaurant for dinner. They were in town to play the Vanuatu National Rugby team the next day, and for Santo this was a big deal because it was the first time there was a friendly for the national team that was played outside of Port Vila, the country’s capital. The Filipinos, as rugby players, looked much smaller than rugby players from New Zealand and Polynesia. Their team’s main sponsor was Philippine Airlines, and the airline’s logo was on the from of their jerseys. When I was in college, I lived in the Philippines for 6 months, and the airline’s logo back then was PAL, adorning the tailfin of their planes. The locals used to joke that PAL stood for “Plane Always Late.”

We spent yesterday on a daylong expedition to a local attraction called “Millenium Caves”, and it turned out to be one of our best adventures since we left Seattle 2 years ago. And that is pretty special praise, because we have had an adventure or 2 during our trip. We shared the tour with our friends from Morrigan, and we weren’t even sure that the trip was on until 7:15 AM. It gets cancelled when the area gets heavy rains, and as you know it’s been raining a lot around here lately.

But the journey was on, and there were 8 of us that piled into a diesel Hyundai 4×4 van at 8:00 AM for the 45 minute bouncy drive through the jungle to the start of the tour. The trip involved several stages: the van ride to the village; a 90 minutes trek through the jungle to the cave site; a 30 minute scramble through the cave in a stream in the dark with flashlights; a break for lunch, a 30 minute canyon scramble over boulders after the cave; a 30 minute swim/float through waterfalls along the river; then a 15 minute climb up ladders and cliffs back to the village and the Hyundai for the trip home.

The cave tour is owned and operated by the local small village, and they have been working very hard to turn it into a destination for foreign tourists. Our group had 5 guides including the local chief and his son. They wore uniforms, had lifejackets and waterproof flashlights for each person in the party, and even assigned dedicated guides for Leo and Hazel. They needed them, because the initial jungle trek was pretty rough going, with the party going up and down jungle ravines using ladders and wooden stairways cut from small logs. The trail was brand new. In fact, we were stunned to learn that the village had constructed it earlier in the week because the original trail had washed away in the rain. This trail was probably 2 kilometers long and had 40 ladders and stairways cut into the hillsides, and 15 men had constructed it in the rain over a 48 hour period earlier in the week. We were all amazed, because with every turn in the trail there seemed to be another brand new 50 foot long ladder or stairway.

We stopped in a clearing right before the final descent to the caves to get our faces painted. The locals believe that people entering the caves for the first time needed to have designs – bat, bird, stone, fountain – painted on their faces to show respect to the cave spirits, so we all had clay fingered onto our foreheads, noses, and cheeks before the final 100 foot ladder climb down to the river that flowed into the cave.

We all had to dive into a pool and swim to the mouth of the cave, then scramble 400 meters over boulders and through little waterfalls in the dark. The cave ceilings towered 50 to 150 feet above us, and swallows and bats flew through the air. Leo and Hazel’s guides each had an iron grip on their hands, but Hazel kept trying to break free so she could scoot down the little waterfalls by herself. The water was warm and had a decent rate of flow, and the whole experience wasn’t very scary (except for when I wondered what would happen to the cave river if there was a sudden deluge in the ravine above us, but I tried to keep that thought out of my mind.)

When we finally emerged from the cave, it had indeed started raining. Some women from the village had carried our day packs down to the little rocky beach where we stopped for a quick lunch. As the rain strengthened, the guides urged us to eat quickly and get moving. Once we were back underway, we understood why. It was now dumping rain, and our gentle river had turned into white water rapids. We scrambled along its banks, using metal handles hammered into the boulders at key locations. You could tell the guides were nervous about us, especially when they deployed their climbing ropes and carabiners to assist us in crossing water chutes and at one point the entire river.

We finally got past the whitewater and reached a stretch of river that flowed quietly past 100 foot cliffs on either side, punctuated by towering waterfalls every couple of minutes. The guides tied ropes to Leo and Hazel, and then asked everyone to jump in and float down the river. It was still dumping rain, and we floated in the river for 20 minutes. We were as wet as could be, and the whole experience was epic.

The float finally came to the end, and we then climbed up out of the canyon on large ladders and cliffs with steps carved into them and ropes to pull on. The guides continued with their iron grips with Leo and Hazel, and the rest of us proceeded quite cautiously. We finally made it back to the village where they served us coffee and fruit. Hazel used her tooth fairy money to buy a blue and yellow (with green streaks) tie died pareo.

We finally made it back to the diesel Hyundai, and the drive back to town seemed much quicker than the drive out. It was too late for us to make it to the rugby game, so after a long and luxurious shower stop back at Sophie we returned to the Beach Front for pizza, beer, and the hope of seeing the Philippines Rugby team partying after their match. Unfortunately they never showed up, but a Vanuatu player on crutches met his family there for dinner. The poor guy had broken his leg during the game.

It was the only sad note for what was otherwise one of the best days we’ve had on our trip. We are incredible lucky to be doing this.

Aoare

Sophie is on a mooring in front of a resort at Aore Island, opposite the city of Santo (Luganville) in Esperitu Santo, Vanuatu. 15.32.262 S 167.10.805 E.

We enjoyed a couple of pleasant days in Wala and Malakula. It was dumping rain on our first morning there, so we were late for our appointment with George for a tour of the village.

That didn’t stop Don from showing up at Sophie at 7:30 with 3 enormous coconut crabs that were still alive, tied up with palm fronds. They were gun metal blue,weighed 1-3 kilos each, and looked like the aliens from the movie Starship Troopers. We had to cook them in 2 batches using our big pot on the stove, and they were delicious. Since the crabs exist mainly on coconut milk, the crabmeat tasted like sweet coconuts. We got 3 meals out this catch. Spectacular.

We eventually dinghied in to the village for a quick tour of some grave sites, the church, and George’s house. George’s main goal was to escort us across the harbor to the opposite village to watch another Smol Nambas dance. I have now learned that “Nambas” is the name for the palm frond penis sheaf they wear here during performances, and the dances are either Smol or Big depending on the amount of costume the dancers wear.

We arrived unannounced in the village and met the young chief while he was out fishing in his dugout canoe. Since they were not expecting us, we had to wait for almost an hour under the roof of a building that served as a factory for making concrete blocks and also as their church. The chief had to go up into the bush to find people to do the dance. We were joined during our wait by some local kids who made mud pies on the concrete floor. Hazel played with them and got a little messy. The local kids usually walk 30 minutes down a trail to a big catholic school overlooking the bay, but school is canceled on days with heavy rains due to the mud.

Our wait was definitely worth it, because this village’s Smol Nambas featured men and women, boys and girls. It was clearly a traditional part of their lives and not a learned tourist thing like the dance we saw in the Maskeylines. The women did a taro root smashing song, and the men did a traditional dance, a rowing dance, a bird dance, and a dance involving feathered hats that were much larger than the fascinators we saw at the horse track in Auckland. For the bird dance, there was a teenaged boy painted like a bird, with black wings painted on his arms and chest, all covered with stars. The villagers also showed us how they make fire by rubbing wood, and how they use magic to carry someone who gets injured in the bush back to the village. (Hint: the leaves are sticky). Afterwards they posed for photos and even let us try on their hats.

We spent the afternoon doing Sophie School (Jenna and the kids) and taking naps (me) before returning to George’s village at 5:00 PM. Jenna went off with the kids to see how George’s daughter Ley does sand drawing, a traditional art form in Vanuatu. Wait until you see the pictures. I went off with the guy named David to help him fix things. Our first stop was his buddy’s fiberglass fishing boat, which had 2 small dings on the gelcoat. I said they were above the water line and too small to be worth fixing, but he insisted and claimed that one of the holes caused a leak. So I went back to Sophie, got some 3M sealing compound, and put a dab on each hole. For this, David’s buddy later gave us 8 large grapefruits and 6 drinking coconuts! Nice guy. I then went to David’s house to help with his electronics. We started with a small generator, which he said wouldn’t start because of a bad spark plug. He flooded it (which I now realize he did deliberately) and said it wouldn’t start. I played with the gas and it started and ran just fine. I had brought an extra Honda outboard sparkplug, but it was the wrong size. There was nothing wrong with his generator. We then went into his hut to look at his broken inverter. It was a little 500 watt box connected on one end to a both a solar panel and a car battery. The other end was connected to a multi component stereo system with a wall of speakers that belonged on stage at a Cheap Trick concert. We opened up the inverter, and on the circuit board where there was supposed to be a fuse was a bridge wire. There was no AC load on the box. I put in a 10 amp fuse I had brought with me, and it immediately blew. The same with a 15 amp fuse. It was clear that he had fried his circuit board. George told me later that David (his uncle) would disrespect the Sabbath by playing his stereo loud during church services and was not liked in the village because of it. God invented fuses for a reason, people!

After David, I walked over to George’s house for dinner. Ley and George’s wife had cooked dinner for us. But first I mentioned something about kava, and they insisted that George and I go to the kava bar for a pre-dinner cocktail. It was my first time at a kava bar, which in this case was a small hut and some benches on the beach. They poured kava from the bucket into beer bottles and sold it to you for $1. David was there, but George wouldn’t let me buy him a drink. Jenna has been told that kava in Vanuatu is 10 times stronger than kava in Fiji. George chugged his bottle, but I paced myself with just one but was definitely feeling its narcotic affect as we joined the ladies back in George’s hut.

Dinner consisted of grapefruit, rice, pumpkin, island cabbage in coconut milk, tuna, yams, and local fish cooked with bananas. We sat on woven mats on the floor. 2 children also joined us. We have heard from multiple people throughout Vanuatu that they preferred to live in their village over living in Port Vila because village food was so much better than food in the city. You also didn’t have to pay money for it. You just walked out into the bush and collected what you needed. That night we understood why.

The next morning the rain had cleared and George joined us on Sophie for the 20 mile trip around the top of Malakula to Benenaveth village to explore some historic caves with ancient drawing on their walls. We anchored off the beach, and immediately 5 young men paddled out and climbed on to Sophie. They wanted to check out the boat and were not in school because they were all playing in a soccer tournament that afternoon. The couldn’t speak much english, but they knew their positions: striker, right stopper, center midfield, and right midfield. The keeper was out in the bush.

We dinghied into shore and waited for the chief at his house, but he was up at the soccer field for the tournament. His son Aime had seen us anchor and had come down to show us the nearby caves. One was nearly 50 meters long, and the local belief was that they were the first places inhabited by people in Vanuatu over 2,000 years ago. There were carvings and handprints on the wall, and scientists had apparently come and carbon dated them to help prove their authenticity. Jenna has the photos.

After the caves, we returned to Sophie and motored George 10 miles up the to the top of Malakula where he would spend the night at his uncle’s house. He left Sophie with some frozen marlin for his uncle, 50 feet of old rope for his cousin’s cows, one of my sunhats to shelter his bald head, and some memories of new friends he had made. He kept inviting us to come back and build a vacation house on his family’s land. It’s a tempting idea.

Sophie then turned north to cover the remaining 20 miles to Santo. There was supposed to be lots of tuna in the area, and we had 4 lines in he water. Soon the reel started whizzing with a hit, and I stopped the boat, pointed into the wind, and started to bring the fish in. A lot of line had run out, and the fish never surfaced so I didn’t think it was mahi mahi. While it was still 100 meters away, I saw something move under the boat and thought there may have been another fish on a meat line down there. But we ignored that and reeled in the smiling head of a wahoo (and nothing else.) Its body had been bitten off by a shark, marlin, or another wahoo. I never felt a change on the line and assume it happened close to the boat, probably by the fish I saw lurking beneath us.

We threw the lines back in and enjoyed a quiet afternoon sail into Luganville Harbor. We had dinner at the resort (Cold beer! Coconut Prawns in Curry!), and then later in the evening Jenna and Leo went on shore with the big gun camera and tripod and took photos of the moon.

It was a good couple of days.

Wala

Sophie is starting her day nestled behind Wala Island, gently rocking as a rain shower passes overhead. 1558’632 S, 16722’437 E. Please note how our lattitude keeps getting smaller as we continue to journey north.

We woke up yesterday at Awei Island hearing a snort outside the boat. A dugong cow and her big baby were swimming around 10 meters behind Sophie. The dugong looked like a big brown hippo in the water, except for when it dived and showed off its dolphin tail. Her baby stayed right by her side the whole time. They hung around Sophie for 2 minutes, then went away. I never had “See a dugong cow and her enormous baby” on my bucket list, but it felt like a bucket list moment.

Actually, I don’t have a bucket list. My life is a bucket list.

It was 7:00 AM and sunny, the forecast was for ~19 knots of wind from the SE, and Jenna and I decided to take off for an anchorage on the north tip of Ambrym Island, 30 miles away. If it was too rough, we could always turn and sail with the wind back to Malakula. As we turned the corner and began to motor up the Northwest Channel away from our anchorage, the wind picked up to 25 knots apparent on the nose, and we were riding a 2 knot ebb tide that helped push us along. When the wind blows against a fast current, it makes the waves become tall and steep, and at the entrance to the channel we were motoring through 10 foot standing waves at 7+ knots. From the wheel we could see how the waves ended once we got through the entrance to the reef, but it made for an interesting 10 minute roller coaster ride. Once we cleared the channel the waves calmed down, we put 2 reefs in the main and pulled out a full jib, and enjoyed a fun sunshine sail for 15 miles up to the western tip of Ambryn. Our cellphones started working again, and we even posted some pictures to Facebook and Instagram.

As we rounded Ambrym, the wind swung around to the north. This created a bit of a problem for us, because our intended anchorage was 15 miles away and looked like it was exposed to the north. Given the wind, we reluctantly turned and set course for Wala and Rano islands, another 35 miles away on the north side of Malakula. Jenna was bummed because she had hoped to spend 2 days learning more about the mountain culture on the island. They have a large and active volcano there, they also do some unique dances involving giant masks in the shape of cones that go all the way down to the dancers’ shoulders.

But at least we were sailing downwind on our warmest and sunniest day in a couple of weeks. We lost 2 fish on this leg. The first was a 4-5 kilo mahi mahi that we caught on a Riebling via a long meat line. We got it onto the deck, and I tried a new technique that David on Flour Girl told me: if you grab a mahi mahi’s tail and bend it up towards its head, the fish completely stops flapping around. It worked! We then removed the hook and looped the red rope that Melissa Ahlers gave us around the fish’s tail. We have started bleeding our fish by dragging them in the water behind the boat. This makes for better tasting meat. (And yes, Melissa, we are using your rope to do so. But we haven’t reached the point where we say “OK, it’s time to Melissa that fish”.)

Anyway, as we were about to Melissa that fish, but its tail slipped out of the loop and the fish drifted away from the boat. Goodbye mahi mahi, hello shark snack.

The second fish we lost was a flying fish. There are tens of thousands of them around here, easily the most we have seen in the Pacific. I was up at the wheel and one caught the corner of my eye. He picked the wrong moment to launch off a wave and arced high and long directly onto Sophie’ trampoline. I yelled and started running for it, because fresh flying fish make the best bait in the Pacific. He saw me coming, rolled three times, found the edge of the trampoline net, and then fell back into the water. Oh well.

By the time we rounded Wala Island, it was 4:30 in the afternoon and we had sailed almost 60 miles. But it was still warm and sunny, and the island’s village was bathed in golden light as we dropped anchor next to the beach. Soon a fellow named George paddled out in his dugout and invited us to dinner at his house. I was pretty tired after a long day of sailing and asked if we could do so tonight instead. This was most likely a social faux pas on my part in this culture, but he said tonight would be fine. He also offered to walk us around the village and arrange tours or another Nambas dance for us. Thirty minutes later a fellow named Donny and his 2 buddies paddled up and asked if we wanted any coconut crabs. These are apparently the largest crabs in the world. He said he would climb some trees at night and bring us 2 or 3 this morning. He said he would charge only ~$7 for a 2 kilo crab. We said YES! 30 minutes later a fellow named David paddled up and asked if we knew anything about inverters. The inverter for his solar panel was showing a red and a green light, and it was supposed to show only a green light. It might need a fuse. He also asked if we had any spark plugs, because his generator won’t start and he thinks it is the spark plug. He offered us grapefruit in return. We said YES!

I would have helped him without the offer of grapefruit, you know.

Nambas

We’ve spent our second night anchored behind Awei Island in the Maskeylines. According to the grib weather files, the wind has shifted up to the east, which for us now means that there is no wind in the harbor. Two other boats — Flour Girl and Octurus II — joined us and Firefly in the anchorage yesterday. This morning the boats are lazily swinging around at anchor in little wind under a leaden sky. Firefly just left 30 minutes ago and reported from the entrance of the channel that it was blowing 25 knots from the southeast. We are quite happy to sit tight here for another day or so.

Flour Girl and Octurus are both boats cruising with kids, and it is quite nice for Leo and Hazel to have playmates in the harbor again. We assumed when we took off from the States two years ago that we would encounter lots of other children on boats, but outside of Opua and Musket Cove it hasn’t happened that much.

We started our day yesterday with Jenna leading Sophie school and me doing chores. Our water maker had shut down the other day due to a low pressure sensor reading. This usually happens when the filters get clogged and is not that big of a deal. So I cleaned out all the filters, which were quite icky, and ran the system again. I kept getting a low pressure fault accompanied with an automatic system shutdown. I flushed the system multiple times with no luck. Same error. I finally disconnected the hose that leads into the fitting that houses the low pressure sensor, and was proud to see an enormous amount of water gushing through the hose at high pressure. I reconnected everything and opened up my beloved Sea Recovery watermaker control panel. Much to my surprise, I saw that the wire leading from the low pressure sensor was not even connected to the system’s circuit board. Some other sensor wire — most likely the lead from either the old or the new high pressure sensor — was plugged in there instead and it was telling the system to shut down. Since we weren’t having a high pressure problem — I could tell by reading the gauges — I bypassed the low pressure sensor leads on the circuit board, started the system up, and it ran just fine. I’ll spend some time debugging the new pressure sensors, but many of my friends out here in watermaker survival land have ditched electronic sensors altogether. We still have one that checks for salinity in the water, which is important. But simple is better.

Meanwhile, while all of this was going on, the other boats in the anchorage were preparing for the 2:00 PM dance performance the local village on Avokh Island had scheduled for us. It was a big village with 2,000 people, but they didn’t have as much money as the village in Lameh and were still learning how to work with tourists. The crews from the four boats piled into 3 dinghies and motored for over a mile through some sloppy waves and around a mangrove island to get Avokh. As we stepped ashore, a group greeted us with necklaces made from palm fronds ad a flower. We were then led by Kaiser, our guide, on a path along the shore to the performance area. At one point, he asked us to duck as we walked under a tree branch that was well above my head, because Michael Jordan had bumped his head there last year. He has visited this village twice in the last three years and has promised to return. He must be very tall.

The most visually significant aspect of the native Vanuatu dances are the costumes the men wear as they perform. It consists of a palm frond tied around their waist like a belt, a palm frond wrapped around their penis like a sock, with enough extra frond at the end to pull the sock up and attach it to the belt. Everything else on them was left to freely swing in the wind. They used mud to draw shapes all over their skin. Some of them had another leaf hanging from the belt over their butt crack. A few were adorned with feathers. One had some leaves braided into his beard. They all had bracelets on their ankles that made a maracca noise as they danced.

Needless to say, Jenna was impressed and took many photos. And I now know what I am going to wear as my Halloween costume this year!

They called the dance they performed for us “Nambas”, and I believe it is a variant of the Vanuatu dance unique to their area and dialect. We were arranged in a clearing away from the village, and 4 older men plus a drummer, all in costume, marched down a path and started singing in front of us. Soon they were followed by 18 young men carrying sticks. They stamped, chanted, and marched around for 15 minutes. They performed 2 songs and then they were done. Afterward, we posed for photos with some of the performers. Hazel refused.

We then walked back to the village, ducking under the Michael Jordan branch, and gathered in their community center hall where they served us a snack of nuts, baked cassava wrapped in island cabbage, smashed breadfruit covered in coconut milk, and kava. Vanuatu kava is much stronger than Fiji kava, and just one cup gave me a bit of a buzz.

We then had a very wet dinghy ride back to the boats and invited the three kids — Zach, Khan, and Jarah — over to Sophie for a play date. We told their parents that their presence was optional, and all 4 parents chose the “we will enjoy a kid-free boat for a while” option. Our guests brought over a couple of bags of popcorn, and Jenna made 2 batches of kumara fries. The kids had a great time, playing with Lego around the salon table and then watching The Lego Movie.

It was after 8:00 when the movie ended and the kids returned to their boats. Jenna and I were ready for bed, and Hazel asked us “Mom, what are we going to eat for real dinner tonight?” We gave her a snack and all tucked into bed after a busy and memorable day.