Category Archives: Eric’s Posts

Delorme log Vanuatu to Darwin 2017 posted by Eric

This post is a little out of order (late) and perhaps a bit redundant,  but it’s a new category that we’re introducing since Eric recently figured out how to save our Delorme In Reach Satellite texts posted while sailing open ocean without wifi. Good luck deciphering the shorthand!

Avoiding a splash, Eric Rigney saves his dry clothes!

July 2, 2017 – Had a few probs yesterday. Water thru aft port lt, indoor fruit hammock ripped ceiling panel in half (too much fruit), engine won’t start, engine sips coolant (heat exchanger leak? $3k?), engine won’t start (fuel issue somewhere), and prop shaft leaks after 24 hrs of use. Have to tighten packing gland weekly. Might have to replace in Darwin. Always something.

But we’re hauling ass at 7kts on a broad reach with mostly clear skies, ok seas, & the crew is in relatively pos. spirits.

L worried we’re screwing up the boys’ education & social culture. No proms for either. I say they’ll be motivated to catch up & so far no bullying, peer pressure, consumerism, drugs, alcohol, or sex. Their resumes will state: High School “sailed around the world.” That alone might get them the interview. It’s what tipped Nick’s job application w/ Disney over 300 other applicants.

July 4, 2017 – Ships have been passing us every night these past 3 nights. Glad to have AIS transponder. One even radioed us to confirm our course.

July 8, 2017 – E wind last few days inhibited N progress, adding mileage (1/2d) to trip. Trying to balance btwn course & comfort/spd. SE forecast not yet valid.

July 9, 2017 – B caught 20″ albacore! Fresh tuna for lunch & dinner. Wind direction changed. No more calm sailing. Rolly Polly.
Once we get our refurbished pactor modem reinstalled in Darwin, we’ll be able to email while at sea along with sending Delorme text messages. While at sea we’d use our sail mail email addresses…small attachments can be sent too if our pactor modem were working! I’m looking forward to reading emails.

A Taiwanese fishing trawler snuck up 50 yd behind us. No AIS (required by maritime law). Guess they were curious. Woke me up!

We’ll be halfway to Darwin by midnight tonight our time (6.5hrs dif). Pleased w/our progress. Moderately comfortable seas.

18d psg. Won’t sleep much thru Torres Strait. Navigated between natural obstacles while in major int’l shipping corridor. Good practice 4 the Red Sea.

July 10, 2017 – Fulllest of moons. Makes for a bright night watch. Guys all watched first. Mine started at 5:00 am – very unusual. Good to change it up. I enjoyed the sleep.

Hard to believe we still have 8 days to go. This passage seems interminable esp. following the shorter ones to Samoa, Fiji n Vanuatu. We’re only 55 miles off the Papua New Guinea coastline. We’re approaching now the Torres Straights but not yet traveling along the shipping lanes. We’re traveling in the Coral Sea rt now.

Watched movie “Australia” last night. Features Darwin just before and during WWII. All of us ready to get off rocking boat. Rocks esp side-to-side when running.

July 11, 2017 – Stormy wx as we enter Torres gauntlet. 30-35mph wind. Running w/staysail & furled main. Rockiest night last night. Boobies tried landing aboard last night. 1 broke neck on poop deck, 1 hit wind generator blades, 1 landed on boom, 4th on poop deck. Scared live ones away. Asked Trent to throw dead boobie off deck, did he want gloves? He said, “If I’m grabbing a boobie, I ain’t gonna wear a glove!”

July 14, 2017 – We had to stop sailing & hide behind an island in the Torres Strait to escape the 30-35 knot winds that were pounding us. Things were breaking making it an expensive xing. We’re safe. Plan to sail tomorrow am. ETA Darwin on the 21st.

Coconut Island viewed from our anchor.

July 15, 2017 11:13 am – Beautiful sailing conditions. Hoping to clear Torres Strait b4 midnight, then hazard free for 4 days until we approach Darwin. Bryce prepping to catch fish again. Getting back on track. So glad we stopped. Border Patrol helicopter questioned us via radio. Normal.

July 15, 2017 17:20 – Beautiful sailing. Should clear Strait by 11pm. O Happy Day. B caught 2 fish..bam-bam. Tuna (20″) & wahoo (40″). Done 4 the trip!  B cast 2 lines, one lure floats, the other slightly submerged while sailing the shallows of Torres Strait btwn 2 small islands. With setting sun, a tuna strikes. As we drag the fight out of him, Trent goes to pull in the 2nd line before sun disappears–then bam….a Wahoo strikes. Quelle chance!

We drag em til no more fight, pull them in, then bleed & drag em by tail, then gut & behead over the water. Rinse once more b4 filleting in cockpit. Minimal mess, although clothes get a little bloody. After this, we will remove our shirts and shorts to avoid difficult laundry….

Bryce Rigney snags a Wahoo!

Fresh fish if not frozen & then thawed, is rubber-like, not very good to eat. We’ve learned all good sushi is quick frozen ASAP. Leslie finishes filleting fish & skinnin em. Cuts, packages, & freezes the fresh catch. We’ll eat fish tomorrow!

Kandu in the Torres Straits 2017.

July 20, 2017 – Should arrive Darwin Tomorrow. What a passage! Thank goodness the boys are growing up. They have assumed much responsibility since our first passages sailing the large Pacific Ocn: now Trent age 13, Bryce age 15. What a difference a couple years make!

 

Pick and Choose by Eric

Eric Rigney in appreciation of Indonesian temple art.

November 14, 2017

Mom fondly mused that children pick their parents. “For whatever reason, you chose me to be your mother.” Equally, I suspect we pick our life lessons. With time to reflect during watches (between Leslie, the boys, and me, we switch off taking control over our boat while we’re traveling across the sea: 2.5 hours on, 7.5 hrs off), I often mull over thoughts. This one bubbles up often, especially when I’m questioning what the heck I got my family and myself into.

The choices we make line up the challenges we’ll face: relationships, faith, education, career, health practices, entertainment, where we live, attitude, etc. “Why me?” thus becomes, “Why did I?” and “What did I learn?” or “Am I learning?” Finding myself in an overall healthy condition (kidney stones and depression are my crosses to bear), I realized years ago my problems were of my own making, and as such, took responsibility for them. I took the next step of preferring my problems over those of others, not wishing to swap mine for anyone else’s, instead, guarding mine jealously, appreciating I’d have to assume all of another person’s issues, not just some. In my view, one doesn’t get to select individual problems like dishes from a restaurant menu; we instead acquire a set of interconnected problems, more akin to owning a restaurant. My restaurant, I decided, could be made to work productively enough for my goals, even ambitious ones, like sailing around the world on our own.

Rapid river falling and making the most of it on Lombok Island, Indonesia.

To what degree we consciously, subconsciously, and/or unconsciously take on our challenges depends on our circumstances and our willingness to drive our own lives, and the goals we set forth for ourselves. Surging down the flow of life, it can be difficult determining the size of our rudder and how much of that rudder is actually in water. Given events effect how much we can steer our course. Am I in a rapid river in flood, a gentle stream in ebb, or a stagnate pond? Is my course with or against the flow? If against, how hard should I battle it? How big and reliable is my motor. In order for a rudder to have effect, the boat must be making way in the direction in which you wish to travel. Consider boat speed vs. speed over ground (SOG). Our boat can motor up to 6-6.5 knots. If I’m motoring against a 7 knot current, I’m going backwards, -1 knot over ground. Regardless how great the effort I make, I’m not going where I want to go. So I must ask myself, will the current change with the tide, a new phase of the moon, or a season? If so, when, and then what? Should I tuck away temporarily into an eddy, or anchor in place or somewhere downstream? Or maybe I should gamble and try to find if there’s a counter-current able to lift me against the prevailing current (In a current 4-6 knots against us in Indonesia, we found a 2 knot counter current motoring up Alor, pushing our 6 knots up to 7-8 knots over ground in the direction we wanted. In order to catch the counter current, we gambled, having to steer within 100 yards near shore where an uncharted underwater rock could have significantly damaged our boat.)

Heading up Western Alor, s/v Sundance followed closely behind. Note the many currents.

Or, is there something downstream that would be great to experience, taking the current I have and making it in my favor? (30 years ago in Hawaii, I skipped Molokai and sailed directly to Oahu for this reason). Or once secure, should I look into plucking myself completely out of the waterway and dropping myself into another, predictably more favorable circumstance. For instance, we sometimes leave our boat in a marina and drive, ferry, or fly to a location rather than beat ourselves up to get there in our boat. Choices – none particularly ideal over another, but rather, which ones get you closer to your ultimate goals. We weigh whether specific paths and ports support our overall goal of gaining worthwhile life experiences as a family sailing around the world. These decisions are impacted by the fact that we have limited time and funds. Clearly we have to respect seasonal weather patterns and political climates. Consequently, we don’t see everything that’s possible to see. “Can’t kiss all the girls,” as one sailor says.

Attraction, not rejection, drove me. My goal was conceived at age 14. I believed in it so much, I willingly chose, and asked my wife, to step away from an awesome job and neighborhood to achieve it: to sail around the world with our two sons. I did not move away from my land life, I was not fed up with America and the American way of life. I moved toward a lifelong goal, an experience. I had faith that in achieving this goal, my family and I would ultimately be the better for it, learning and growing in ways I don’t think we could have, had we stayed in our wonderful lives without interruption.

Crew Kandu crossing the international date back to the northern hemisphere.

Although I expected some, I really did not anticipate just how much emotional, physical, and financial pressure that decision would fully bear. Obviously, these problems arise from my decision to sail around the world. Thus there’s no place for “poor me.” It’s more, “Well I didn’t expect that one…,” and “Guess I needed to learn that lesson…,” and “Now what are we going to do?” Seldom are the lessons painless; rarely are they unimportant. The real test will be to see whether, after I return, I internalize and incorporate the lessons into daily practice. Consciously, I chose this path, for now, not forever. Hopefully I will return to California a tad wiser and happier. Interestingly, since leaving California, I have not suffered depression. I’ve had one kidney stone, and it was minor, passing within an hour on its own. And as for our sons, I can’t know the affects this trip will have on them. Regardless, it’s not my fault. For better or worse, according to my mom, they chose Leslie and me.

Time to wake Bryce up for his watch.

 

 

Surf – a priority

Ventura’s friendly and convenient surf scene made getting Trent and Bryce into the sport a natural endeavor.  We had previously provided them the “Waikiki” experience when they were very young, surfing in Hawaii on long foam boards with push-offs from the instructor.  Twice they had a week of summer camp surf lessons in Ventura, but nothing compares to the surfing experience they’ve had over this past year.  It’s made a significant difference in their abilities and in developing their passion for the sport.  They currently surf a couple times a week, and frequently more.  They have two surfboards and a Boogie board each.  Although Leslie and I do not surf (yet?), we’re making surfing a priority on this trip.  We’re getting great tips on where to surf in Baja and the Galapagos.  At Wood Shop at Cabrillo Middle School, Bryce laminated strips of wood and fashioned them into a beautiful hand-planer.  I never saw one before.  They are a micro wooden Boogie board that you hold on the hand, extends in front of yourself as you catch a wave, which creates a longer water line, making you go faster with greater accuracy.  As you glide through the water with accelerated speed, you take body surfing to another level.

Bryce monitors surf conditions in front of the Ventura Yacht Club.
Bryce monitors surf conditions in front of the Ventura Yacht Club.

Daily Log: Indonesia, Here We Come!

Tipperary Waters Marina farewell to Uncle Joel Curry and Uncle Curtis Rigney.

7-30-2017 At Sea After Darwin

Eric: 1:00 am. Left Tipperary Waters Marina yesterday. Uncle Curtis and Uncle Joel returned Bryce and Trent to the boat from Zen Hotel at 6:30 am. I was still asleep having rebuilt the head and solved the RO unit’s airlock problem up until 1:45 am. Took last hot water shower for a while during which Bryce and Trent rinsed the deck with fresh water one last time. Said our goodbyes to Curtis and Joel. Sad. They were so generous to us. Their presence with us made Darwin a special stop. Entered lock at 8:15 am.

Eric Rigney getting Kandu in position for the start of Sail Indonesia Rally.

Motored for 60 minutes to the start line. Passed the start line 5 minutes behind the first boat under sail. Curtis and Joel hitched a ride on the committee boat, Spirit of Darwin; we saw them waving. We sounded our siren and air horn and waved goodbye while Trent made bubbles. Flew genoa, staysail and main. Lots of fun sailing so close to other boats. Very festive!

Trent Rigney bubbling-it-up at the start line of Sail Indonesia 2017.

Winds bearing to broad on starboard. Sailed 7 knots average for first 6 hours. Great start. Delorme inReach not working. Frustrating. Another thing to fix. Ugh! Tonight, winds are light. We’re motor sailing with several boats, about 4-5 nearby. Pleasant. I had a terrible headache before dinner. Thought my head was going to explode. Must not have drank enough water. Better now. RPM meter having problems. Another must repair.

Leslie: 7:00 am. Beautiful sunrise and sky: mauve color at the horizon until just before the rising of the sun, changing color to a fluorescent-like brilliant salmon color, then morphing to yellow rose or peach. Now the sun is peaking out. The small crescent shape changes quickly into a half sphere. A minute later the entire body of the sun is a brilliant incandescent yellow ball of fire. From its first appearance to completed sphere the process is less than 3 minutes. Once above the horizon, the blazing ball is so bright that I can no longer stare at it. My vision has sun spots. The color of the ocean was black and now it’s indigo. There is just a slight breeze dimpling the sea; it doesn’t have the smooth mirror quality when there is no wind. We are motor-sailing. The light swell is perhaps 6 seconds apart and 2 feet high. Our sails are constantly luffing making shuffling noises. The engine keeps us in a forward direction at just under 4 knots.7:20 am. The sun has risen a foot above the horizon lighting up the entire sky. Wispy clouds of soft grey purple still reside in the west. The clouds are too far away to be color infused by the brilliant ball of flame. 7:23 am – only just now do I sense heat radiating from the sun’s powerful flames. It’s going to be a hot day on the sea if the wind doesn’t pick-up. During the sunrise, I’ve been sipping my mocha and munching on apple slices plus day-old carrot bread that I prepped in advance to munch during the sunrise show. Four boats from our ‘Sail Indonesia’ fleet are plugging along northside of us. We’re all traveling a similar speed, motoring steadily along. I think we’ll raise the gennaker today. It looks like the weather conditions will be perfect for it.

Kandu flying her colorful gennaker and staysail.

8-2-2017. We made it to Indonesia and are anchored off Timor just outside the city of Kupang, our check-in destination, also Captain William Bligh’s ultimate arrival destination after being set adrift by mutiny first mate Christian Fletcher. Approaching the anchorage, we passed many fish pod bouys bobbing up and down. The south-western coastline up until the city is dotted with industrial-type manufacturing plants. Not many other structures. The flat land is dry, covered in yellowed plant-life. It is the dry season. Not mountainous in the southern part of Timor, the scenery is stark. Coming up on the anchorage, the many seaside block buildings announce a substantial population.

Kupang waterfront ocean viewpoint, Timor, Indonesia.
Kupang, Timor, Indonesia dinghy beach and waterfront.

Immediately surrounding the anchorage, cement houses are built atop boulders at the water’s edge. There is a small section of beach left vacant for dinghies and swimming. We later discovered that the town uses that beachside area for its public events.

Our check-in process went smoothly. All the officials were assembled in one room. We were boarded by 5 people: one was a jilbad head covered woman who acted as translator. They asked if we had drugs or alcohol. We admitted to both: morphine to counter the pain of Eric’s occasional bouts with kidney stones, and some bottles of rum and wine in our alcohol bin. They wanted to see the morphine, which I store in a plastic Kirkland vitamin bottle. The packet wrapped in unopened plastic is still intact since we first brought it aboard in January 2015. I explained that Eric hasn’t had to use it, but we have it on hand just in case. Regarding the alcohol, they simply indicated that we musn’t bring it ashore. We soon discovered that delicious inexpensive Bintang beer is available throughout Indonesia. In the hot heat of Kupang, a chilled beer hits the spot!

The Kandu guys: Eric Rigney, Trent Rigney and Bryce Rigney.

Daily Log: Are we there yet? We’re coming Darwin….

Exhausted Captain Eric

July 12, 2017 – Damage Report – Eric

Damage Report: wind generator (dead), wind vane (chaffed), electric generator (doused), alternator belt (loose), sail sheets (frayed), water maker (impossible to run in bad swell), boat (water intrusion in unexpected places), propeller shaft packing gland (leaking profusely), forward head, (leaking), crew (tired), US flag (shredded like a Fort McHenry replica).

High winds 30-35 mph gusts +40 mph and 2-3 meter seas made upwind sailing difficult. Tried to use engine, but squeaky alternator belt made me nervous. Weather forecast 2-3 days same, so would have to navigate a precise route through Torres Strait at night with a tired crew, and a hard worked, wet boat. Leslie suggested anchoring somewhere. I made a VHF 16 call hailing the coast guard, but there was no response. When I asked “Any boats in the area?” a patrol boat “Cape Nelson” replied. I asked for advice and approval to anchor off Coconut Island. He agreed and said he would notify Australian authorities of our circumstance. Though choppy and windy, the anchorage along side the small island strip was a great respite. I slept for hours. When I awoke, I learned Bryce had swum ashore. I couldn’t believe he could be so ignorant: 1) no knowledge of tides or currents, 2) no knowledge of wild life – jellyfish, sea snakes, crown of thorns, crocs or sharks, etc., and 3) landing before we’ve officially cleared. At a loss as to what to do, I texted Curtis with our Delorme to make contact with the Coconut Island Police. They found and returned him via boat stating, “He is a lucky boy. Lucky to be alive.” The local policeman went on to explain that a previous boater who swam to shore was mauled on his shoulder by a tiger shark. Further, Bryce was swimming ashore close by where sea turtle entrails were being tossed in the water. Bryce was lucky also that his misstep (breaking international law) happened in Australia and not in a strict Islamic country. Before leaving, the policeman mentioned that the officials in Darwin had been contacted and would not be pleased.

7-13-2017 – Coconut Island. Got much work done on the boat!

7-14-2017 – More work, prepped for the next day’s favorable forecast.

Trent Rigney replacing our beaten American flag.
Retired American Flag

7-15-2017 – Pulled anchor 9:00 am. Passage through complex Torres Strait route went smoothly. Very relieved. Bryce caught 20” mackerel and 40” wahoo over 20 minutes. Awesome! Smooth sailing expected all the way to Darwin. Hope we can arrive during daylight hours. No moon then and the tidal variation is high: 18 feet low tide to high tide. Yikes!

Good fishing in the Torres Strait. Bryce landed two Wahoo and one mackerel.

7-20-2017 10:05 am. Almost there – Leslie

This morning the boat movement changed from slow and gentle downwind sailing to a close haul but with gentle seas. We are now healed over on a port tack flying all three sails: white reefed main and genoa sails plus our fluorescent orange staysail. A large pod of small dolphins played around our boat surfing the swell for about 15 minutes until they tired. Only five miles distance to Cobourg Peninsula on the top of Australia alongside Melville Island to starboard, saw a 3 foot sea snake squiggling on top of the water near the dolphins and a very large turtle just under the surface. Maybe the turtle was chasing the snake and got confused among the playful dolphins.

We were just hailed by an Australian Border Force aircraft flying over. The first time we were hailed was shortly after leaving Coconut Island by a border patrol helicopter. After the radio contact, Eric stated, “I read to expect many inquiries from Border Force aircraft almost daily upon entering Torres Strait. Afterall, neighboring island nations could experience unrest at any moment.” Since exiting Torres Strait, it was a straight shot of 550 miles with no obstacles except moving cargo ships. Now that we’ve turned the corner over Cobourg Peninsula heading south into Darwin, we are entering ‘Torres Strait’ navigational circumstances with obstacles and shoals, along with large commercial ships. Eric has configured myriad waypoints on our electronic navigation chart to direct our path avoiding all hazards. We expect to arrive tomorrow morning if the wind holds.

Wahoo tartar made with ginger, garlic, capers and olive oil. MMMM good.
Popcorn for dinner!

Vanuatu in June 2017: Living Dreams, Part III Land Diving & more

Saturday morning, a couple hours before sunrise, we pulled anchor from Ranon Bay, Ambrym, and headed north for Wali Bay on the southwestern side of Pentecost Island. By 8:30 am our anchor was set, aligned with 4 other yachts. Just as quickly as the day before, we headed to the beach. Spent phone cards broke up phone calls to the chief as he called from several different phones to guide us. We would not meet until after the diving. Plan B: Follow the crowd, and that’s what we did. The other yachties had pre-planned the land diving tour with Luke and his daughter, Aileen, the very same people Dr. Alan suggested. Again, Luke and Aileen’s faces lit aglow on the mention of Dr. Alan and Debora, reminiscing about their time spent together.

The cruisers met at the beach, ambled north toward the village of Londot where Luke met us on the way to the communal hut designate. Seated in the hut, Luke described how land diving got its start. There are various versions, but they have a common thread. A girl/young lady, to escape the unwanted advances of a male, climbed a tree, tied her ankles to something on top of the tree (the tree type and tying materials differ per version). As he approaches, she jumps and he after her. She’s saved, he falls to his death. The sport is born. Flash forward hundreds of years and here we are. A 68’ tower of sticks, tethered to a hillside, supports several dive heights. The lower diving platforms are for child beginners; the middle platforms are for teens, the highest, for the experienced adults. A male-only sport, children are free to decide whether they wish to participate or not. No shame if they do not. Jumpers apprentice under the more experienced. Injuries are said to occur only for those impure of heart and action. A successful jump lays testament to a clean and pure life. As the jumper prepares, placing himself closer and closer to the jump off point, a small crowd of topless women, older men, and young boys chant and whistle encouragement. The jumper’s ankles are tied with freshly cut vines of a particular tree, at a specific length, by those trained to select and cut the vines and tie the knots. They straighten out the vines and move away as the jumper steps forward on the end of the meter long diving board, to which the other end of the vines are tied. He takes a moment to gain his balance. The supporters’ sing louder and louder, whistling. He claps, slaps his chest, prays, and/or all of the above before finally jumping. All hold their breath collective breath as he hits the softened dirt below.

Land Dive village supporters, Pentecost, Vanuatu.
Most heralded Land Diver on Pentecost Island, Vanuatu preparing for his last dive of the year 2017!

The loud, crisp snap of his dive platform coincides with his earthly contact, absorbing some of his energy before final contact. All are pleased the jumper appears unharmed as the vines are cut from his ankles with a brisk whack of a machete. Aileen proudly points out that her 14 year-old son, Willy, is to jump. He, like the others before him, is successful. Having started with the youngest jumper, we’ve worked our way up to the highest and final jump. Not just for today, but for the entire 2017 season. He is an experienced and celebrated diver from another village. He is calm, assured, and unassuming as his nearly naked body adeptly scales the scaffolding to the highest point. His leap is graceful and successful. He’s pleased. I take my picture with him and climb the base of the tower to claim one of the cut vine ends with its soft lashings still affixed.

Eric Rigney excited to pose with the most celebrated land diver, Pentecost Island, Vanuatu.

The sailors assemble below at the seating area. Though a seating area exists, we were allowed unfettered access to photograph the event from any angle, with the caveat that women not touch the vines. Gathering together for the walk back to the seaside communal hut, we all seem slightly stunned by the shared privilege of such an extraordinary demonstration of a first people. We sailors were the only audience. Regardless of audience, land-divers jump on Saturday. They do it for themselves, for their tradition, not for tourists, not for money. The money they get from tourists ($80 per person in our case) goes to all those involved, helping encourage the young and old alike to participate, to keep the tradition alive.

At the communal hut, unbeknownst to Leslie and I, a lunch of traditional Vanuatu dishes was included, complete with a drinking coconut. To top it off, we were invited to return at 4 p.m. to share kava with the village and the jumpers. Traditionally a man-only event, the yachting women were invited to participate in the kava drinking. So we of course returned. What made the drinking even more special was the use of fresh kava made from a huge root ball harvested that afternoon. Typically kava today is served from powdered kava, soaked in water and strained. Kava, we learned, takes 10-12 years to grow before the root is ripe for drinking. Pentecost, as with many Vanuatu islands, cultivate kava for export. Bryce was allowed to participate in the kava mashing process as village chief, Peter Bebe, oversaw.

We each drank a coconut cup of kava. One was enough for me, and too much for others. Some slyly poured their undrunk kava on the ground. The boys seemed fond of it, consuming 3 cups of the mildly bitter mouth numbing solution. Kava relaxes. It’s not very intoxicating. Some suggest that were Melanesians and Polynesians to stay with kava, forgoing alcohol, they’d all be better off. That said, I heard stories of villagers drinking a lot of kava at a sitting, acting out a bit more than normal, so I don’t know . . . as always, all things in moderation.

As with the rest of our whirlwind tour, we pulled anchor early in the morning and sailed to the island just north of Pentecost where Dr. Alan described one of the world’s most beautiful bays accessible only by boat. Asanvari Bay on Maewo did not disappoint.

Asanvari Bay on the southern tip of Maewo Island is a veritable Shangri-La, complete with waterfall, beautifully tree-shaded white sand beach, rock outcrops, clear water, and excellent snorkeling. An unintended tour by a local 15 year-old gave us a quick glimpse of this isolated paradise. The village boasts 2 hyper-basic yacht clubs, small church, schoolhouse, and micro store. Wish we had had more time to meet those whom Dr. Alan had spelled out. Unfortunately, the villagers were absent, attending the funeral of a 15 year-old, who had passed away due to illness.

Asanvari Bay, Maewo, Vanuatu.

And yet again, with our three-day, three-island tour ending, we were off the next day, Monday, June 26th, with another early morning departure to arrive that same afternoon at our next stop: nearby Espiritu Santos Island, two islands away. Dr. Alan and others recommended grabbing a buoy at the Aore Resort, across the channel from Luganville, the main city on Santo and our port of departure. When we arrived, we discovered the 3-4 buoys the hotel maintained were claimed by other visiting yachts, and although we could have grabbed a neighboring property’s mooring buoy, with the day growing late, we elected to cross the channel and anchor on the lee shore in front of the Beachfront Resort, even though we had been warned that only days earlier, a boat was boarded and robbed of its electronics.

Beachfront Resort Sunset.

The resort proved very yacht friendly. Having read that Luganville had been the US’s second largest naval base after Hawaii, we were interested in getting a US history tour, as recommended by Dr. Alan. Over 500,000 troops were stationed here in the early 40’s, including James Michener, the base historian. It was from here where Michener researched what would become his “Tales of the South Pacific,” later turned into a stage musical and movie, “South Pacific.” During WWII, the US military built Luganville from uninhabited swampland; all of Luganville’s significant infrastructure comes from that period with the exception of a very new harbor presently being built by the Chinese. After the war, when leaving Luganville, US manufactures didn’t want to compete with military surplus so the government agreed not to return any of the hardware. The US offered the machinery at a very low price to the French and British who “governed” the colony. Thinking the US couldn’t possibly afford to move all that equipment elsewhere, they said “No thanks.” So US forces built a temporary jetty and drove all the equipment into the deep end of the channel, nicknamed “Million Dollar Point” after that.

Million $ Point remains from WWII military equipment.

We walked the beach and found many, many remnants. I especially liked finding Coke bottle bottoms with Oakland, CA and Seattle, WA molded into the glass. Additionally, several US ships sunk while making their way into this top-secret naval base. The largest, the USS President Coolidge, was a passenger-liner converted troop carrier. It struck two not-so-friendly US mines. All but 2 aboard survived: a fireman near the location of the mine strike, and an Army captain who, after having rescued 6 others, could not be rescued himself. Having heard the wreck was one of the best on record, Leslie endeavored to set us up with a dive with Allan Powers Diving Co. It was spectacular! The dive was simple. You walk in the sandy shallows about 50 yards before descending nearly straight down to the bow of the tilted hull below.

The dive guide showed us all around the shallowest part: the front half of the ship. A real tour guide, he uncovered or pointed out pieces of crusty warfare from hiding places: rifles, gas masks, plates and cups, and so on. Because we’d dove deeper than 100’, we had to make a couple decompression stops. It was well orchestrated and an experience of a lifetime, one of several we got to experience in less than 2 weeks.

For our last day, we rented a small car and drove up the east coast of Espirtu Santos Island. Having seen signs pointing out “Blue Hols,” we turned off the main road toward the first one we saw: Riri Blue Hol. Wow! The water was so clear and the setting so magical and playful; it was a jungle pool paradise, complete with rope swings and makeshift diving platforms. We had so much fun. And when a busload of Australian missionary teenagers arrived, for the first time in a long time, Bryce and Trent were surrounded by their own “kind.”

On the road to Port Olry, east coast of Espiritu Santo Island, Vanuatu.

The next stops where Champagne Beach in exotically beautiful Hog Harbor and Port Olry just north of it. Champagne Beach is named for is powdered-sugar fine white sand, a place ideal for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot, with knotted trees overhanging the fascinating sand.

Eric and Bryce Rigney enjoying Champagne Beach’s fine sand.

With the sun ready to set, Port Olry was a quick stop, a place for the boys to run around on a sand spit that joined a small island with the larger. Port Olry, is not a developed modern port. It is a simple fishing village located at the end of a lovely paved two-lane road, a good distance away from the city ruckus.

Leslie Rigney with BnT mucking around in the background at Port Olry, Santo, Vanuatu.

The site offers beautiful beachscapes with warm friendly faces sporting fresh white smiles.On the way back, we stopped at some fruit stands to pick up some vegetables and fruits for our upcoming Darwin, Australia passage. Taking advantage of the car, we did our last minute shopping that night, provisioning Kandu for her 20-day crossing.

Vanuatu is an ancient land in a modern time. I have mixed feelings about the place. Although the people were fantastic, I sensed unease among them, possibly overshadowed by elements of international and domestic greed and corruption. A land of dugout canoes surrounded by Australian prices, a cost of living higher than that of French Polynesia, Samoa, or Fiji: it felt a bit lopsided, a recipe for future trouble. Still, it was a ‘nambawan’ dream come true: Jacques Cousteau, National Geographic’s, and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom rolled into one. Thanks to Seven Seas Cruising Association hosts Dr. Alan and Debora, our experiences of Vanuatu will be cherished forever, or until I die, whichever comes first. Between now and then, I hope I never make a mistake that causes someone to want to eat me.

Port Olry fishing boats, Santo, Vanuatu.

 

 

 

 

Vanuatu in June 2017: Living Dreams, Part II Rom Dancing

On Sunday, June 18th, Father’s Day, after a late morning visit to the Port Resolution village on Tanna when we distributed small toys to children and Bryce and Trent played volleyball and Frisbee, we prepared Kandu for the 24-hour sail to Port Vila, Efate, weighing anchor at 2:30 p.m. The winds were strong most of the way, but shadowed by an intermediate island. We arrived, as predicted, Monday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Customs over VHF radio said we could finalize clearing-in the next day, Tuesday, but having cleared in at Port Resolution, they would allow us to go ashore tonight.

Port Vila city front, Efate, Vanuatu.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but the boys (I just go along with it) have a habit of hitting a town up for movie theaters and McDonald’s. In Vanuatu, only the former exists, and as we soon discovered, at a very cosmopolitan price. Fortunately, they had already seen all the movies showing at the 4-plex, having previously viewed them in Fiji and Samoa for a third the price, so we didn’t partake. Local food restaurants are a challenge to find in Port Vila. Chinese, Indian, Japanese, French, Australian, Vietnamese, Philipino, pizza, hamburgers, and fried chicken; no problem. Kava was the only native thing readily available. I really got a kick sucking down my tongue-numbing kava-colada smoothie at the Nambawan Café, Kandu anchored in front.

Vanuatu suffered much devastation following the aftermath of Hurricane Pam in 2015. Typically, countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Japan come to the aid of Southwestern Pacific islanders. In the past, they have been quite generous, but in these trying economic times, there’s a void. Never fear, China to the rescue. We’re told China began by offering Vanuatu aid in the form of tinted-windowed Buick SUV’s for the leading politicians. Then, $4M USD to remodel the president’s residence and even more to build a very large convention center, too expensive for Vanuatu to support and maintain. With the political relationships firmly established, the aid stops and the loans begin. Want a new wharf? No problem, with unemployment at a high point, China ships over hundreds of Chinese workers to build it. And don’t worry if Vanuatu can’t generate enough revenue to pay back the loan, China will just take it over, making it their wharf, their business.

Port Vila Harbor, Efate, Chinese construction.

With tourism being the main source of revenue after aid money, local Vanuatu business owners demand that the government maintain its airports, repairing the runways so that airplanes from New Zealand, Australia, and New Caledonia can again land at Vanuatu islands other than the principle one, Efate. The new president promised that within two weeks of taking office, runway repair work would commence. Two years later—nada—and the president dies unexpectedly while we were there. During all this, China continues to enlarge another wharf to accept larger cruise ships, knowing the Vanuatu government hasn’t even enough funds to repair the roads leading to and from the port. Some Vanuatuans suspect China is in reality building a future Chinese naval base, the very location used by America during WWII in Luganville on Espiritu Santo, their second largest base after Hawaii. If Vanuatu, a sovereign state, elects to allow China to have such a base, no nation can stop them. It’s a compelling argument, albeit a bit scary in terms of how Vanuatu might ultimately be impacted: its resources, its people, its environment, etc. Anyway, it’s an interesting prospect to consider, and possibly (pardon the pun) a “red flag” for all Chinese aid-funding programs.

I had wondered why Dr. Alan hadn’t recommended anything to visit in Efate. It wasn’t difficult to understand why. The people were nice, but we found the town to have a weird vibe: for instance, lots of reconstruction along the waterfront, but very few tourists, even during this, the high season. And again, the prices were too high. Bryce, on the other hand, did some research and read that the best surfing in Vanuatu was a short drive south at Pongo Village, with three excellent breaks in proximity to each other. To learn more, he went first to the modern retail store advertising Billabong, an Australian brand of surf-wear. They suggested talking to a gal at the Paris Duty-Free store. She in turn gave Bryce the mobile number of a young man, John Stevens, as someone able to assist him in his quest. We called the number and John asked Bryce to meet him at a nearby café to discuss. He also wanted to quiz Bryce as to his surfing level. Bryce and Trent went together. Twenty minutes later they returned to our café table with John in tow carting his skateboard. John explained that he and a gang of young people skate around the town and surf the southern beaches. With tomorrow being a holiday (the newly elected president just died of a stroke after only 2 years in office and his casket procession would occur that day), lots of kids would want to use the occasion to surf.

Port Vila kids learning to surf at Pongo Village, Efate, Vanuatu.

John offered to include Bryce and Trent in the casual affair: skateboard in the morning, lunch (their own dime), then surf until dark. I had initially intended for Kandu and crew to leave for a neighboring island that day, but couldn’t say no to Bryce knowing his surf days would be extremely limited (perhaps nonexistent) between here and Bali. We would instead skip Epi Island, and go directly to Ambrym Island the following day. Bryce was ecstatic, and with his wingman, Trent by his side, we trusted they’d take care of each other. The day turned out well. The boys even witnessed the President’s funeral procession. Not returning until long past sundown, Leslie had become a bit worried. She was glad her two handsome boys came home, happy, exhausted, and unscathed, not kidnapped into pretty-boy slavery. It turns out, Bryce had met the husband of the Paris Store lady in Fiji, surfing Cloudbreak. He trains junior pro surfers. Small world the international surf scene is. And one of John’s tag-along kids, an excellent surfer, is the beautiful daughter of a wealthy Vanuatu family. Is surfing replacing golf and tennis clubs as the place to meet influentials?

Port Vila Market with Leslie Rigney.

On our 4th day hanging in Port Vila, having gotten all the laundry done and gathered a few fresh fruits and vegetables, we left in the afternoon so we could arrive in Ranon cove on NW Ambrym just after daybreak on Friday, June 23rd. A relatively easy overnight sail and we were setting our anchor in black sand beneath the clearest water I’ve seen.

Kandu in Ambrym at Ranon Cove, Vanuatu.

The anchor and chain were clearly visible as if in three feet of water. We quickly dropped the dinghy with the smaller outboard and drop-down inflatable wheels. Leslie and I hastened our way the short distance to shore, rolled Wee Kandu up the beach just past the high-tide mark near some local boats, and tied its painter to a tree. As usual several older men sat along the shoreline. I asked them if they knew of a William “Willie” Adel, the contact Dr. Alan had given as the excursion point person. They indicated down the road, saying, at the end. A hundred yards later down the wheel-lined road, I asked someone working in his garden. He pointed us further down, watching as we walked, waving us across when we’d reached our destination. William greeted us from behind the simple wooden fence demarking his quaint bed and breakfast, sporting the smile and warmth of a long-time friend. So charming was he, and when I mentioned Dr. Alan and Debora, his face lit up even greater. His simple pension establishment, Ranon Bungalows (Facebook, TripAdvisor), is a set of six simple thatched-roof rooms, overlooking the beach, all traditional and made of local materials.

William Adel’s “Ranon Beach Bungalows” dining room.

After getting to know one another a bit better, he asked if, for $60 each, we’d be interested in joining a group to watch the village of Fanla dance their traditional Rom Dance and sand painting tomorrow afternoon. This day was Friday, and tomorrow we learned was the last day the land divers would jump on neighboring Pentecost Island at Wali Bay. I regretfully declined. He picked up his mobile phone and made some calls. Ten minutes later, he had arranged a private Fanla village tour, dance, and sand painting demonstration for that afternoon at 2:30, . . . no car, we’d walk. No problem, we needed the exercise. He then went about arranging our Pentecost land-diving tour for the next day, setting us up with the village chief over there. If anyone wishes to experience Ambrym and beyond, a call to William is a must (mobile +678 59 33106). Ambrym is also home of the other two active Vanuatan volcanoes.

Vanuatu is technologically simple and mostly subsistence living. Leaving the beach, villagers kindly ask us for favors. Leslie felt for one man who pointed to our dinghy rope, asking for something like that. He didn’t like the one she initially offered him, so she gave him a 60’ length of 1” braided nylon rope instead, for which he offered a volcanic stone-carved head figure for good luck.

The 40-minute walk to Fanla was not difficult but you had to be on your toes to not slip on the terrain. With each step away from the beach, the humidity level increased accordingly. Arriving at the modest village, William introduced us to Freddie, the chief and our village guide. He showed us around his village, the size of a city block, patiently answering any questions.

Freddie, Chief of Fanla Village.

He explained that they farm kava and yams on the higher hillsides during the day, housekeep in the evening, with communal kava for the men around 4 or 5pm. The village was clean and simple. The community still practices traditional ways, including the role of a chief and the rule of tabu.

Fanla Village, Ambrym, Vanuatu.

When the signal was given, we were brought to the ceremonial dance grounds, the dancers, only men, were arrayed in traditional garb. One set of dancers wore nothing but a broad black waistband holding the neck of a gourd, which covered the shaft of their penises, testicles fully visible. The other set were ornately masked in bearded wooden geometric masks, resembling the open jaws of a crocodile with rooster feathers on top; these dancers’ bodies were cloaked head to toe in hundreds of long thin dried leaves, perhaps pandanus. In their hands they held finely carved narrow war-like clubs that tapered open to shield over the hands and forearms.

Rom Dancer with mask, Ambrym, Vanuatu.

With but a few basic percussive instruments to keep time, the men performed an ancient traditional dance and chant that took me back to some past life (or TV show?). I was transported. The smile on my face could not be removed. I felt honored and grateful to have been treated so generously to this intimate cultural experience. It’s a large part of what drives me to travel in the manner that we do.

Wood statue carvings from Fanla Village, Ambrym, Vanuatu.

After a brief photo op, posing in front of the dancers, the sand painting began. Once three initial 18” parallel lines are drawn, the artist’s finger doesn’t lift from the ground. Upon completion, we were asked to guess what was depicted. They were proud to offer the meaning behind each drawing.

Two drawings later, we were shown to their handicrafts of wood, bamboo, and stone. The artists stood close behind to see what we would select. The pieces were well done and appealing. We picked out three items, a wooden mask statuette and two carved bamboo chin flutes (No, I didn’t buy a penis guard. They didn’t have my size!). We were so very appreciative of the entire experience: the hospitality, generous smiles, and learning. On a side note, we learned that cannibalism is still occasionally practiced, usually as a form of punishment, not necessarily the chief’s wish, but the village as a whole may demand it being the highest insult to punish an offending family.

As with all our departures, it’s the people that make it most memorable. Although we’d only met Willie that morning, it felt like we’d known him much longer. Leaving him was bittersweet, but leave we must if we were to see the next morning’s land diving.

Local Fanla Village artisans displaying the artwork we purchased, Ambrym, Vanuatu.
Chin Flute presentation, Ambrym, Vanuatu.

Vanuatu in June 2017: Living Dreams, Part I

Vanuatu fulfilled buried fascinations planted decades ago through American television (Growing up, I’d often watch 8 hours of black & white television daily!). From the comfort of a California living room, I viewed: people walk along active volcanic craters, naked dark-skinned men and women dancing alongside costumed figures, young men leaping high atop rickety stick towers with fresh vines tied to their ankles, hitting the ground with their heads, unfathomable tropical bays more beautiful than anything Las Vegas or Disney Resort could build, and a WWII shipwreck dive. And this is what I experienced in Vanuatu in less than 2 week’s time, thanks in large part to the advice of Seven Seas Cruising Association’s Vanuatu hosts Dr. Alan and Debra Profke.

Two months prior to arriving in Vanuatu, before even vacating our French Polynesian dock space in Marina d’Uturoa, I reached out via email to Dr. Alan, asking advice on what to see in Vanuatu in a short time. In his reply, Alan painted a step-by-step itinerary to maximize a brief Vanuatu archipelago visit. Except for the recommended port of entry, we stuck closely to his program. We intended to land in Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital city, as previewed but winds and seas drove us further south, directly to Tanna, home of famed Mount Yasur volcano.From Fiji, a week prior to our arrival in Vanuatu, I duly filled and electronically submitted all required paperwork to Vanuatu Customs. In route to the archipelago, we reached out to Vanuatu Customs, via inReach satellite, asking if we could instead land in Tanna. Tanna’s Vanuatu Customs officer, Iau, directed us to anchor in Port Resolution on the southeast tip of Tanna. Capt. Cook named the bay after his ship more than 200 years earlier. Port Resolution is the closest harbor to Mount Yasur, but unfortunately on the opposite side of the island’s official port of entry. A $40 USD non-designated port penalty fee, plus $50 for land transportation were added to the standard $10 clearance fee. Later seeing the road conditions against which Officer Iau drove for 4 hours round-trip, it made the $50 transportation fee seem a bargain. Not having to sail a half-day against trade winds, from Lenakel to Port Resolution, made the $40 worth the penalty.

We arrived in the small bay of Port Resolution at dawn, Friday, June 16th after a 2-and-half day sail from Lautoka, Fiji. Motoring into Resolution, we were flanked by cliffs to port and starboard. The end of the bay quickly shoaled into a dark sand beach spread broadly across and in front of a lush tropical valley. A wild tropical landscape straight from the pages of National Geographic’s laid before us. A small fleet of fishermen in self-made dugout outrigger canoes paddled out toward us, casting and setting fish nets of fine monofilament. To the south, above, on the cliffside edge, a simple wooden thatched-roofed house delicately stood on stilts over-looking the magnificent bay, seemingly designed for a character out of a far-away, 19th century adventure novel. To the north, steam vented from the cliff side just above sea level, reminding us just how close we were to an active volcano, having witnessed its reddish plume against the darkness of the pre-dawn sky earlier that morning.

A few hours later, after clearing in with Customs Officer Iau, we reserved with Stanley, the Port Resolution Yacht Club representative, four places in a 4-wheel drive truck to take us to Mt. Yasur Volcano Park for the next day’s sunset excursion: $25pp R/T transportation and $100pp park entry fee. The volcano exists on private tribal lands, providing the community the right and privilege to operate an exclusive tour business, charging what they will. We soon learned that the businesses in subsistence-living Vanuatu elect to charge rates equivalent to those in Australia, while not paying staff accordingly. So restaurants, bungalows, movie theaters, and grocery stores are out of the general population’s price range. Thus we rarely saw locals frequenting these establishments. Anyway, we’d come this far, so why not spend the coin to take us the rest of the way for an experience of a lifetime, “Priceless” as the Visa commercial used to state.

‘Greeting’ formalities became quite clear and distinct after the first couple introductions. In Vanuatu, people want you to know their name and want to know yours. Instead of the generic “hello” or “how are you?,” it’s “My name is George,” followed by a look that begs, “and your name?” Then comes, “How are you?” Casual physical contact among Polynesians is rare. In French Polynesia, we say, Bonjour, Kaoha (Marquesan) or Ia orana (Tahitian); shaking their hand if it’s a guy, or a girl for the first time; and kissing both cheeks (more touching cheeks and making a kissing sound) if it’s a gal you know, or friend or relative of a friend. That’s it. In Samoa, people were very friendly, exclaiming, “Talofa,” when seeing you, even as strangers in passing. When being introduced, a handshake was less customary. It was an odd transition after two years in French Polynesia. It felt impolite not to faire la bise (pronounced, bees, meaning “kiss”). On a side note, in Fiji, “Bula” or “Bula-bula” was exclaimed at each passing or meeting. Apparently the government asked its population to greet any and all tourists with this customary Fijian “hello.” It works. You really feel your tourist presences appreciated. Fijians touch even less than Samoans. Handshakes are accepted but not expected. In Vanuatu, another Melanesian culture like Fiji, physical contact introductions were the same. Vanuatu differs in that they smile all the time, big bright beautiful cheek-bulging smiles. It’s relaxing and warm. As white people, dressed as cruising sailors, we were immediately recognized as interested tourists and treated courteously.

Chez Leah, Port Resolution, Tanna, Vanuatu.
Rigneyskandu Inside Chez Leah Restaurant, Port Resolution, Tanna, Vanuatu.

The next day, Saturday, we arrived ashore in time for our lunch reservation at Chez Leah’s, a 1-table restaurant in the village. We had three restaurants to choose from, but we liked the look of hers best. The others had more tables, but no one to speak to. Meeting Leah the afternoon before, we pre-ordered (no waste) our main courses. While Trent would have the omelet, we’d have the fresh fried mackerel. Both main courses were served on family-style platters, including separate platters of fruits and vegetables picked fresh from Leah’s garden. Even the lemon in the lemonade and the coconut cream for the vegetable sauce came from her garden. The eggs came from her hens; the mackerel, from the fishermen below fished that morning. Organic? Fresh? They don’t know any other way. From Leah speaking in French, we learned a little about village life, including utilities. Mini solar panels charge household cell phones and Bluetooth speakers. A single medium-sized household panel installed at the community store recharges portable battery-operated lights for all village households. Water comes from a hand-pump well in the center of the village—all you can carry.

Girls play volleyball; boys play soccer. Some villagers speak French as their third language, but most spoke broken English. The village dialect is spoken at home; the national language is spoken to other Ni-Vanuatuans (the Vanuatu term for native Vanuatu people). Leah’s French was so good, the island elected her to represent their craftsmen at New Caledonia’s annual Inter-Island South Pacific artisan festival. The experience changed her, made her appreciate more what she had, her lifestyle, etc. City’s are exciting, but nothing beats the simplicity of life in her beautiful part of Tanna Island. We were grateful for her generosity. Leslie gave her several gifts of basic food items and a handy sack that she appreciated. We think of Leah when we think of Vanuatu.

Leslie Rigney and Leah from Leah’s Restaurant, Port Resolution, Tanna Island, Vanuatu.

The same day later in the afternoon, the drive to Mt. Yasur Volcano Park was a learning experience. Beautiful country with people’s quick smiles, these smiles made more radiant against their dark skin. At the park entrance, I asked if there was a different price for kids. “No. Sorry.” After filling out the paperwork (there are apparently risks associated with walking on the unrailed edge of an active volcano, especially at night), they asked us to select a wooden picket sign with our country of origin written across it. “USA” having been collected by someone else, so having been recent residents of both Nuku Hiva and Uturoa, sister cities of Tahiti, we picked “Tahiti.” No one believed it, but I didn’t care. I carried the sign with all the French Polynesian pride I could muster.

RigneysKandu guys trying to stay dry and film atop Mount Yasur crater, Tanna, Vanuatu.

A brief native dance and chiefly request/acceptance ceremony later and we were loaded into pick-up beds for the ride up to the crater. A bottle of water was included. The official language of Vanuatu is an English-French pidgin. It’s so much fun to try to figure it out. Try your hand it. The water bottle label read: “Nambawan Wota, Belong Vanuatu, Gud wota, gud laef.”As we approached the pathway to the crater’s ridge, we could hear its explosions more and more impressively and feel the action of the volcano spitting up pent up gasses and red lava. We were all so very excited. We didn’t even see the pending rain cloud coming. After another warning by the guide to follow him and to not endeavor on our own paths (Bryce wanted to snowboard down it!), we headed up the steep hillside of grey ash. Having not walked more than 20 feet at a time on Kandu for the past couple weeks, this proved more labor intensive than normal, . . . oh well. Once at the edge, the guide recommended we stay to the left side, opposite the potentially deadly sulfuric gas spewing cloud, the one four others where standing in . . . so much for listening to the expensive guide wanting to spare you. As each untimed burst occurred, with particular ferocity, we could not help but be humbled by the power, the earth jumps, the heat, the (shall I say it?) shock and awe of it. The backdrop of darkness from the setting sun made the experience even more impressive, more dramatically awesome. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my cold, wet face (yes, it was cold on the windward side of the crater, not the smoky sulfuric side). I was turned into an 8-year-old boy, so grateful and exhilarated. I wasn’t going to leave until the wise guide forced me. It was worth every Disneyland Park penny of it (about the same price, after all).

Leslie & Bryce Rigney atop the Mount Yasur crater, Tanna, Vanuatu.
Mount Yasur, Tanna, Vanuatu.

On the drive from the park back to Ireupuow Village, our driver mentioned that tonight, in his village, was a talent show to support the local schools. Every few months, in different bays around the island, youth groups lead by adults gather to perform in an ad hoc talent auction, the proceeds of which benefit each group’s respective school. Tonight’s talent show auction happened to be in his village, the bay where we had anchored Kandu the day before. How could we miss this? The event was held in the covered community center, a medium-sized cement-block hall with newly mounted tin roof following 2015’s Hurricane Pam. We tried to view the spectacle from outside, but those inside soon covered the windows. No freebies. The local kid standing outside next to me said, 50 vatu per person ($0.50). So we went around back to pay our entrance fee: 200 vatu per person (tourist price, perhaps?). Oh, well, it’s for a good cause. Sitting on the floor in the midst of the villagers was magical, transformative. The young lady next to me explained what we were witnessing. The performers sing and/or dance. A member of the audience will pay the kitty to remove a particular performer from the stage, vanquishing them from performing. Less than a minute later, another member pays more to have that person returned to dance again. It’s all in good fun, no hard feelings. Mothers were pulling their sons off while their sisters or aunties paid to have them renewed. After about 10-12 minutes, the emcee cuts the music, and then starts the process of auctioning the price to have them start again. When he got to 1000 vatu ($10 USD), I handed the vatu currency note to Bryce and insisted he be the one to brave the crowd and pay the ransom. The emcee was surprised to see a young tourist come to him. He asked Bryce what he wanted for the money. Bryce said, for them to dance again. This impressed the villagers. “Dis is a gud ting,” smiled the young lady next to me. And the dancing renewed. We LOVED it! Almost 9:30 p.m., understanding the event would run past midnight and not having the habit of staying up much past 8:30, . . . and having to dinghy back to Kandu, we decided to call it quits and left between two acts, all eyes on us. It felt odd to be ogled as foreign objects, but so it is.

Eric Rigney on Tanna Island, Port Resolution, Vanuatu.

Daily Log: Vanuatu Notes

6-13-2017 18h00 – Leslie. Off to Port Resolution, East Tanna, Vanuatu. Clearing out of Customs early in the morning, Eric was informed that we had to leave Fiji within the hour and that we were not to stop anywhere on the way out. Not stopping is standard protocol.  Leaving in one hour is not. He then asked Eric when we expected to leave. Eric smiled, “Why, within the hour, of course.” No way! Family boats don’t spin on a dime, and most customs agents respect this, typically giving us 24 hours. It took the good part of the morning to prep Kandu before we could leave. Before sailing completely away from Fiji, we needed to stop over at Port Denarau Marina to pick-up a new outboard prop that died on us in Suva. Eric had ordered it the week earlier. Port Denarau Marina is a high-class modern vacation marina, intended especially for super yachts and the like. It even sports a Hard Rock Café. We were in and out within an hour, wishing we had had more time to visit. By 19h00, after a standard tropical sunset, we sailed through the last Fijian pass and into open-ocean, a three day passage.

Trent Rigney walking down the main dock to enter the classy Port Denarau, Viti Levu of Fiji.

6-16-2017 Friday 11:00 am – Leslie. Arrived Port Resolution, Tanna, Vanuatu (originally known as New Hebredes). Our original port of entry was supposed to be Port Vila on Efate, but the winds directed us more south, so we turned toward the first island in the archipelago, Tanna. Through our InReach satellite texting, we asked good friend Ron Bruchet in Victoria, Washington to email the immigration authorities our circumstances and to find out if we could clear on Tanna. Vanuatu customs indicated Port Resolution on the southeastern tip would be the best anchorage even though the customs office was located at Lenakel on the west coast of the island. Upon arrival, arrangements were made immediately for a customs officer to drive the 2 hours one way over rugged dirt roads to clear us in. Wow, what service!6-23-2017, Friday 2 am – Eric. After more customs and immigration business plus getting some laundry done, we left the very expensive, not-so-pleasant Vanuatu capital, Port Vila. We’re sailing from Port Vila, Efate to Ranon Bay, Ambrym, passing several islands in a narrow channel. We were passed by two inter island cargo/ferry boats, fore and aft. Winds light from south due to storm in New Zealand. Helping us sail a bit. Motor sailing too. Nicer ride than any other since French Polynesia.

Ambrym has 2 active volcanoes. They practice magic (black and white), Rom Dance and sand painting. Dr. Alan of the Seven Seas Sailing Association recommends we meet with William Adel to take us to the volcano. Don’t have nearly enough time to explore, as we must leave Vanuatu for Darwin by June 20th to arrive before the ‘Sail Indonesia Rally,’ which starts July 29th. All is well and working about Kandu.

6-23-2017 7h00 – Eric. Arrived Ranon Bay, Ambrym. Descended Kandu to find William Adel. Witnessed Rom Dancing in Fanla Village. No time for a 3-day round trip hike to see the active volcano. Fortunately, we had already witnessed a live volcano on Tanna. Did exchange some new T-shirts and a long solid rope for a carved statue in volcanic rock and local produce.

Eric Rigney looking for William Adel.

6-24-2017 6h00 – Eric. Departed Ranon, Ambrym for Wali, Pentecost. Morning sail. Arrived 8h30 to see extraordinary10h00 presentation of Land Diving by village boys and men. 16h00 Kava Happy Hour to meet Chief of Wali village. Fantastic!

6-25-2017 6h00 – Eric. Left Wali, Pentecost for southern tip of Maewo, Asanvari Bay. Easy day sail. Beautiful and comfortable anchorage with a stunning waterfall to boot! How could cruising get any better?

6-26-2017 5h30 – Eric. Departed Asanvari, Maewo for Luganville, Espirito Santo. Anchored 16h00 in front of The Beachfront Resort in the second channel on the southeastern corner of Espirito Santo next to the main port, Luganville. We were told there had been some recent yacht theft, but decided to risk it in order to be close to the principal city of Luganville. We had many plans: diving the President USS Coolidge WWII wreck, touring WWII sites, swimming the Blue Hols, and of course, provisioning for our upcoming 20 day passage direct to Darwin.

Luganville’s Temporary hold for Japanese POWs during WWII.

7-1-2017 17h00 – Eric. Weighed anchor from Santo at 14h30. Fuel and water topped up (diesel, gas, propane). Last of provisions acquired.

Two locals helping us provision in Luganville.

Left a day later than planned to see East coast of Santo and to start in a slightly easier way (less windy). Still steady, wind and seas pushing us right along at 6 knots. Clear skies with occasional traveling rain cloud. Rocking a bit but not crazy seas, mostly steady. Estimated 16-20 days to Darwin, Australia. First waypoint is +1250 nautical miles away, lining us up for the Torres Strait. Weather forecast constant SE trade winds, 13-18 knots. Hope we can get away without running downwind much. All excited to get this crossing behind us. Boys helped a lot in getting the boat ready. Makes things easier. Poor sleep the night before leaving. It was a Saturday night and I feared reported thefts, so set-up the motion detector alarm, but it went off twice in the night. False alarms. No intruder was seen onboard. However, there was a cockroach intruder crawling on my naked legs during the night. It was annoying!

7-1-2017, Saturday, 11:30 pm – Leslie. Cleared out yesterday; we left Luganville, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu at 2:30 pm. Eric had hoped to depart in the morning, but as always, it took longer to get everything arranged from acquiring diesel, last minute provisioning in town, returning our day rental car, and the cleaning, wiping down, and deflating of the dinghy plus tying it down onto the port foredeck.Our tour of Vanuatu was Eric’s dream come true. Ever since he was a boy, he dreamed of seeing land diving off of log and branch scaffolding, which he had seen on TV. We were quite fortunate to have witnessed it actually. Our June travels brought us to Pentecost Island of Vanuatu on the last Saturday presentation of the year. Only the day before were we anchored at Ranon Bay on Ambrym, the “black magic” island, where our contact William Adel of Ranon Beach Bungalows informed us of the following day’s last diving-of-the-year event. We were completely unaware. What luck to have been in the right place at the right time! Ambrym to Wali Bay on Pentecost was only an hour and ½ sail. We’d sail early the next morning. But on Ambrym, before leaving for Pentecost, we hiked up the hillside for a tour of Fanla Village and a private presentation by men of their sacred Rom pig dance, a bamboo flute performance, and their special sand painting.

We felt honored and privileged to have heard and seen this special ritual that even their own women are not allowed to witness. Afterward, the village carvers displayed their beautiful wares and we bought 2 carved bamboo flutes and a gorgeous wood statuette depicting their Rom mask.

I musn’t neglect to mention that the first stop on our Vanuatu tour began on Tanna, the most southern island in the chain. We enjoyed the beautiful people of Ireupuow Village situated on the east side of the large bay called Port Resolution. Firstly, we were beautifully welcomed by Stanley, the Port Resolution Yacht Club custodian. He hooked us up with the customs officials right away. He helped us exchange money across the island in Lanakel, and made reservations for us to visit volcano Mount Yasur. While walking through their simple village, we passed out toys to the children, explored the village of thatch roof, one bedroom huts/houses, provided skin medicines to an older gentleman with a nasty knife injury, traded rice, corned beef and electrical re-charging of a phone and video camera for limes and bananas with a man in a canoe,BnT played frisbee and volley ball with the local kids (two gifts to them were frisbees), we ate a nice local lunch at Leah’s Restaurant (incidentally Leah spoke no English, only French),

Leslie Rigney and Leah from Leah’s Restaurant, Port Resolution, Tanna Island, Vanuatu.

and attended a quarterly talent show school fundraiser of local song and dance accompanied by modern mixers, microphone and speakers à la karaoke. Witnessing the fun spirit of the locals in song and dance was a highlight of activities on Tanna. To top off our quick stay on Tanna, we traveled 4-wheel drive over craggy dirt roads to experience the remarkable active volcano, Mount Yasur. It exploded a minimum of every 2 minutes. We arrived onsite at twilight, and when night set-in, the exploding lava light show was spellbinding, visually hitting our eyes the same time as the shock and sound waves hit our bodies and ears, we were that close. You could actually see the shock waves in the mist.

 

Sailing West by Eric Rigney

We Kandu with the Rigneyskandu team: Eric Rigney, Captain, Leslie Rigney, Co-Captain, Bryce & Trent Rigney, Crew!

The trip has changed dramatically since leaving Bora-Bora. The larger boat jobs completed in February and March, planned and parts ordered months prior, are behind me. No longer do I shoulder an over-shadowing burden of endless preparatory tasks. So many were completed: haul-out and new bottom paint, re-plumbed some items in the head and galley, revamped electrical system (batteries, solar, monitoring), new standing rigging (hardware, cables and fittings to support the sails and mast), installed an AIS transponder, set up our new dinghy, and more. Kandu feels whole, ready for frequent ocean passages, ready for whatever awaits us.

My captaining tools have improved: additional electronic navigation, weather forecasting, and communication with ports. As a result, after days out at sea, we successfully sailed into two foreign ports at night using tools recommended by a more experienced cruising sailor. My skills have improved as well. The boys are stepping up, particularly Bryce. Getting from point A-to-B, and repairing/maintaining Kandu come easier. Stress levels don’t immediately jump to DEFCON 5 when problems arise: automatic bilge pump counter shows 263 cycles of pumping water out of the boat in 8 hours, starboard side window falls off dodger a second time and shatters, wind vane steering line frays and locks-up the helm toward an accidental jibe in 25 mph winds and 8-foot seas, Custom officers can’t reach us over VHF radio, after changing the oil and replacing all its fuel filters (5) the 44hp diesel engine dies and won’t start, modem fails thus preventing us from emailing via HF and SSB radio. It turns out that stressing over a problem doesn’t resolve it faster. It just ages me. I do the best I can with what I have, “sail the wind I have,” I like to say. With support and assistance from family and friends, I resolve problems and order parts. Our pace, frequent crossings and shorter stays, is possible because our boat is working and with the help of my “team,” problems that arise are typically solved within the available timeframes.

We are seeing places in concentrated fashion, diving in deeply and getting out quickly. We’re seeing cultures new to me and more traditional than French Polynesia. Images from childhood wildlife and adventure television programs come to life, people and culture made real and tangible. This phase of our travel is very rewarding. It’s the trip I envisioned years prior. The two-year stay in French Polynesia was not planned, but proved helpful in terms of ‘finishing’ Kandu and making the boys bilingual. Better still, we deepened existing friendships and established new ones. We also delved deeply into the reviving Marquesan culture. Taking it slow has its rewards. But so does a faster pace. This quickened phase is driving our small family even closer together. We do most everything together, but make efforts to provide the boys “alone” activities ashore.

Our itinerary from this standpoint is:

  • Leave Vanuatu this Saturday for Darwin, sailing 20 days through the Torres Straight.
  • Join the Sail Indonesia Rally and sail through Indonesia over 2.5 months, stopping at 10-12 locations.
  • From there, sail to Singapore, along Malaysia, to Thailand.
  • After Christmas, sail to Sri Lanka and the Maldives before arriving at the Red Sea in late February.
  • From March-September 2018, sail the Med.
  • Make our way to northern South America and Southern Caribbean, and through the Panama Canal.
  • Then home by either coming up the Central American and Mexican coasts, or sailing to Hawaii and then over to North America, arriving in CA the summer of 2019.

When other sailors remark that our pace is too fast, I smile and reply, “Well, then maybe we should just go home and not bother sailing around the world.” It’s not perfect, not even close. But as another sailor noted, “You can’t kiss all the girls.” And with that, I’m happy with what we’ve done, and with what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. Sure, at this speed, we are not able to experience all that we would want. Still I would argue that the bits and pieces we are able to see provide a greater appreciation for the global vastness of culture and natural wonder that exists on our amazing planet, an experience more satisfying than the inspirational one I received watching it as a child at home on TV. Whether we sail one year eastward back across the Pacific or two years westward around the world, we wind up home either way. So why not sail west and kiss a few more girls? Sounds good to me.

by Eric Rigney