Awei Island

Sophie is currently anchored at Awei Island, which is part of the Maskelyne Islands on the southeast corner of Malakula Island in Vanuatu. 16.32.055S 168.01.112E for all you geography buffs. (Which mainly means my father.) We crossed over here yesterday afternoon from Epi Island and plan to sit here for a couple of days as another low pressure system passes over the area. The forecast is for 20-25 knots of wind and lots of rain. The anchorage seems nice and protected here, and we are surrounded by 2 islands, a reef, and a mangrove. There is another boat (Firefly) in the harbor with us, and we have invited them over for coffee later this morning.

Once again we are in an anchorage with no Internet coverage. Our cell phones can pick up a data signal when we are on passages between islands but the signal seems to get blocked as soon as we drop the hook. We can use our single side band radio to receive detailed weather forecasts and update the blog, so we haven’t completely cut the cord with the outside world.

Lameh Bay in Epi was a wonderful place to visit. It is shallow bay with sea grass on the floor and hosts a colony of sea turtles and a dugong, the South Pacific cousin of the manatee. Yesterday morning we started the day with a visit to the village. The chief, a guy named Willy, greeted us on the beach and helped us haul our dinghy up the sand.

Another guy walked over and asked if he could give us a little tour. 200 people lived in the village, spread out over an area of 200+ acres in clusters of huts organized by family. We agreed! He started by taking Leo and Hazel into a kitchen hut and explained how people in the village had to prepare every meal over a fire, and because it sometimes got very smoky they needed a separate place for cooking. Our tour guide had lived in Australia for 2 years and said it was so much easier there to turn on a machine that instantly cooked your food. Here, they had to use fire.

He showed how they had toilets (outhouses) 100 meters away from the sleeping huts. I told him how clean I thought everything here was compared to villages in Fiji and Tonga. There was not a scrap of garbage to be seen anywhere, and people raked the yards and roads every day. He laughed and said he thought the village looked really dirty right now, a thought shared by all compulsively neat people throughout the world. He also said they needed to keep the ground clear of leaves and garbage in order to keep the mosquitos at bay when it rains. This is malaria country.

He took us to the local primary school, and we got to see all of the little kids running around in their uniforms. About half of the village was school-aged. Like most of the schools here, it consisted of a cluster of buildings arranged around a grass field large enough for a full-squad soccer game. This school also had a playground and a basketball court. One of the buildings was made from concrete and contained 6 classrooms. It was built by a Rotary club from Japan and was another example of how small, locally-funded foreign aid projects from the first world can have a massive impact on the lives of people in villages out here.

He said the village couldn’t survive without the skim from New Zealand and Australia. This was the word he used to describe the money sent back home from locals who go abroad to work. For example, his brother went to New Zealand to pick kiwis (fruit from trees, that it) and came back with enough money to build a couple of concrete houses, a stone well that captured rain water from a roof (and featured small fresh water fish swimming around, eating the mosquito eggs), and a store equipped with solar panels to power a refrigerator.

Given there lack of money, they have to be as self-reliant as possible. He showed us the food his family grew: coconuts, bananas, mangoes, papayas, avacados, grapefruit, cassava, kava, “island cabbage” (a type of kale they eat every day), green beans, cucumbers, squash, and herbs. He took us to the local fish market, where they sell fresh yellowfin tuna to the yachties for ~$3/kilo. (Unfortunately they were out.) He showed us a couple of women who were weaving room-sized straw mats from dried grass, using die to color some of the straws to create geometric patterns. He showed us his family’s bread oven. Everyone in the town worked. Everyone in the town seemed happy even though they possessed very little. Our guide wanted no money or food or gifts in return for the tour. He was just happy to share with us. The walk through town took less than an hour, but we’ll all remember it for a long time.

So we then went back to Sophie, donned our snorkel gear, and swam with turtles. We dinghied around a bit to find them, but over the next hour Jenna and I spotted about 20 of them underwater. She took photos with her Go Pro, and at one point I went down 20 feet and touched the back of one. She didn’t seem to mind.

Soon it was noontime, and we decided to leave Epi for the 20 mile sail west over to the Maskelynes. There is some more culture to explore over here, and Lameh Bay can get rolly if the wind picks up. Our sail started in very light air, and we were making 4-5 knots with just the code zero up and 4 lines in the water. There were tuna jumping in schools all around the harbor entrance, including a group that looked like they were attacking a large floating tree branch. I had even seen a yellowfin while swimming with the turtles, but I didn’t have my speargun on me at the time. Didn’t think it was a good idea.

No luck with the tuna, and we were soon out of the lee of Epi and the wind picked up to 20 knots with steep 10 foot waves. It was more from the beam than from the stern, and the motion was uncomfortable. Our initial plan was to visit Uliveo Island, but this would involve riding the surf through a 30 foot wide opening in a reef to get there. Plan B was to turn north and enter through the East Channel where we could have a protected approach to our anchorage.

While executing Plan B, a mahi mahi hit the Riebling lure trolling off our fishing pole. We were still in the steep waves, Jenna furled in the jib, but Sophie continued surfing at 4 knots under bare poles and no engine. The fish fought hard but spat out the Riebling while airborn on the top of the wave just 10 feet from our stern.

That was it for adventure yesterday. We motored to our anchorage, dropped a hook, and were greeted by a local chief and some other fishermen in their dugout canoes. They invited us and Firefly to attend a performance of a local dance ritual that will take place this afternoon in a nearby village. I think this is the dance where 20 men stomp around wearing nothing but some dried grass tied around their privates. I am sure Jenna will bring her camera.

Dinner was pasta bolognese. The Friday Family Movie was the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton Batman. We slept soundly, the wind howled, and the anchor didn’t budge. It’s early morning now, and it is starting to rain. The luck continues.

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