Tag Archives: Bryce Rigney

Finally, Darwin by Trent Rigney

Aerial view of Coconut island, Torres Strait, Australia

Sunday, July 30, 2017

It took us 24 days to get to Darwin, Australia. It would have taken 20 days, but we were getting so beat-up by the waves along the way, that we stopped and anchored at Coconut Island in the middle of the Torres Strait. After 13 days at sea, Bryce couldn’t stand staying on the boat, so he swam to the island not knowing that he was breaking the law. When he got to land, everybody said that he was really lucky that he survived because there are a lot of sharks and huge crocodiles swimming around there.I finished reading “The Golden Compass” series by Philip Pullman. I loved the books – They are now my second favorite series after the “I Am Number Four” series by Pittacus Lore.

Gorgeous Cullen Bay and the entry clearance pontoon pictured down right.

When we finally got to the Cullen Bay pontoon at Darwin on Friday morning, July 21st, I really wanted to go to land, but I had to wait for quarantine and that took an hour or so. Once cleared by biohazard, customs, immigration and two sniffing dogs, we went looking for lunch. We found a great burger place called Lola’s.

Lola’s Restaurant Bar at Cullen Bay, Darwin, Australia

It had a ton of cool vintage stuff and colorful hanging decorations almost like going to the fairgrounds or Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. After lunch, I wanted to stay on land, so Bryce and I walked to the city to find a city tourist map, a McDonald’s, a skate park and the movie theater to find out the movies playing and their times. It was an hour walk both ways. It felt good to walk, but it was hot.

Later that evening, it was decided that we’d all take a bus back into town even though dad hadn’t slept for 24 hours. Bryce and I wanted to watch Spiderman, but it was very expensive, so just Bryce and I stayed to watch it. Mom and dad left to explore the city without us because we had already done that. The movie was great. We all took a cab home.

Kandu at Tipperary Waters Marina

The next morning, we motored over to Tipperary Marina Waters where we had a dock slip waiting for us. Before leaving, we filled up our diesel tanks with a hose. That was one of the easiest diesel refills ever…no jugs, no filters – diesel pumped straight into the tanks without worries of poor quality, dirt or water! It took us an hour to motor over to the marina, and since they have an 18-foot tide in Darwin, the marina had a lock. It was really cool entering into the lock, having the solid doors close behind us, and then rising up to the level of the marina water. We entered the lock at the closest time to slack tide to make the levels as equal as possible.

We washed down the outside of the boat and cockpit. Then, I took a long hot shower. It was very nice. A little later we got dressed-up and left for the ‘Sail Indonesia Rally’ Welcome BBQ held at the Darwin Sailing Yacht Club to meet all the other people sailing in the rally. The Bali dancers and the food were great, but the event got boring once we ate, so I played rugby with some little kids on the grass.

Uncle Curtis arrived the next day on Sunday, but before he arrived we had to do boat work like cleaning the back lazarette and anchor locker, dry the gennaker, new measurements for staysail halyard, washing and scrubbing the deck twice, fixing toilets, etc. Dad had a huge list that we worked on all week. Once Curtis arrived, we all ate together at the local Frying Nemo snack bar and then Bryce and I got to go with Uncle Curtis to sleep at his specially reserved hotel room. It was really nice with air-conditioning, a living room and separate bedroom, a small kitchen with fridge, stove, oven, sink, dishwasher, pots, dishes, a balcony, hyper fast wifi, a pool, a small washing machine for laundry, and most importantly, hot showers whenever we wanted with fancy towels!

Monday morning, we had an amazing tasting breakfast at the hotel buffet with Curtis before we had to return to the boat to get to work. Mom washed our massive 24-day collection of laundry at the marina coin operated laundromat, and we worked on cleaning the bottom of the boat. Dad had to replace the heat exchanger and repair the engine with a marine mechanic specialist. Curtis picked up some chicken for lunch, which was a tasty break. We worked a bit more on boat projects, then skateboarded to Curtis’ hotel for the night. Mom prepared dinner from the rest of the wahoo fish that Bryce had caught in the Torres Strait and we taught Curtis how to play Carcasson, our favorite board game that Curtis had actually given us before we left. We also enjoyed the speedy wifi!

Bryce’s second wahoo was WAHOO BIG!

The next day, Tuesday, mom and dad came to the hotel and ate breakfast with us because we said it was so good the day before. And it was great again! Bryce and I skateboarded back to the boat for more work projects. We finished at 2:00 pm. Without mom since she was working at the hotel on our website, the four of us drove to the mall. We ate at Pizza King and I had a double chocolate muffin. I also bought a really nice metallic figit that was Aus$30 and got a cool plastic one for free – or two for the price of one. Bryce bought a high quality JBL speaker that’s supposedly waterproof. When we got back to the hotel, Bryce and I worked out at the hotel gym and then went swimming in the modern looking pool.

The following day, Wednesday the 26th of August, Uncle Joel was coming, but we had to work some more at the boat after all of us enjoyed another great breakfast at the hotel. We met Uncle Joel at the airport with Uncle Curtis around 1:00 pm. He dropped his stuff off at the hotel, then the four of us went to the mall again. I got an Australian straw cowboy shaped hat and Bryce got new wheels for his penny skateboard. We ate at Subway. I LOVE Subway!

Massive brute! This Australian Saltwater crocodile weighs close to 2,000 lbs.

Thursday, we went to Crocasaurus, a saltwater crocodile marine aquarium where they breed crocs and feed huge ones in front of the visitors. While the trainers are in a croc’s habitat to feed the beasts, they never turn their back on the massive creatures and always carry a big stick. The zoo had viewing glass tanks where you could watch the crocs up close swimming in the water. They had an area with a hundred small juvenile crocs, which we could actually feed with a bated fishing line ourselves. It was kinda like a carnival game holding the bate out to tempt the juveniles.

Plus – we had a chance to hold a baby crocodile while getting our pictures taken. The babies are already quite heavy. The massive male adults can weigh over a ton. The Crocasaurus marine park takes care of the troublemaker crocs taken out of the wild…ones that have gotten too close to humans. They breed the crocs for their expensive leather hides and good quality meat. Burgerstyle, the meat has the texture of chicken and a light flavor of fish. I liked it, but they oversalted it.That evening, we ate at a really nice restaurant where the beef steaks are known for their high quality, but are very expensive. I ordered the meat lasagna, which was so big I couldn’t finish it. Bryce split a steak with mom. Joel ordered fish. Uncle Curtis and dad both ordered the huge fancy steaks. It was all delicious. Bryce and I even got FREE ice cream. Yum!

The next day, Friday, was our last full day in Darwin. We worked a lot that day on the boat with dad while mom, Curtis and Joel went shopping to bulk up on staple western type food provisions for the next few months while traveling in southeast asia. When we finished our work, Curtis drove Bryce to the fancy skateboarding park that we located the day before, and I stayed at the hotel to do internet because I wanted to research buying a new penny board on amazon. That night we all went to Mindil Beach where food trucks and local artisans set up shop. Tons of the local people were there swarming the food trucks and cool artisan stalls. It was really festive. The food choices were incredible: Greek, Indonesia, Malaysian, Indian, baked potatoes with chili and most importantly, Australian kangaroo, croc or water buffalo burgers served with huge french fries.

The Road Kill Cafe offered Australian burgers of Crocodile, Water Buffalo & Kangaroo

There were amazing street musicians playing didgeridoos where a group of local Aborigines were inspired to get up and dance – Wow! Dad bought two didgeridoo music albums, I bought myself a cool tiger eye crystal pendant for improved concentration, Bryce bought a crocodile spine wristband, mom got a couple Indonesian looking longer length dresses in preparation for Indonesia and Uncle Curtis and Joel bought two Aborigine paintings to add to their art collection.

Didgeridoos for sale

On Saturday, having enjoyed our last night at the hotel, we woke up early because Kandu had an appointment to exit the Tipperary marina lock at 8:00 am. Uncle Curtis and Joel were at the lock waving goodbye. We made it to the starting line on time for the rally kick-off signal. While sailing past Uncle Curtis and Joel waving goodbye on the big rally coordination boat, we blasted our horn and I waved a bubble stick up in the air. Turns out the bubble stick presents that Joel gave were more fun than I expected.

Even with all the work and shortened time window, we had a great time in Darwin especially due to being able to spend so much quality time with Uncle Curtis and Uncle Joel. I liked the area so much, I hope to travel there again someday to visit the sites we missed: Kakado National Park and Aboriginal peoples, and the Litchfield Park termites.

Fortunately, we did get to see those scary crocs. The saltwater crocs live near rivers because they have to detox from the saltwater every so often. All river outlets in the Northern Territory are extremely dangerous. Did you know that Australia’s saltwater crocodiles were endangered and have now increased in numbers from 100,000 to 200,000 adults in the wild? The population of crocodiles in Darwin is as big as the population of humans. Those statistics are great for the crocs, but there is a price. People cannot swim in the local waters for fear of attack – no kayaking, long board paddling, nor surfing in the Northern territory. Instead, fishing excursions are very popular along with boat trips into the mangroves to watch wild crocodiles jump for fish on a stick!

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!

Daily Log: Kandu To Darwin by Leslie

Leslie Rigney – on the road again!

July 1, 2017 21h30. Off to Darwin for a 20 day passage.

July 4, 2017 21h30. Fourth of July. No celebrations on Kandu, however, the day passed cheerfully. Everyone helped themselves to breakfast: cereal, leftover banana bread, or toast and grapefruit. The boys and I played 3-way cribbage for the first time to great success (Bryce won) and after dinner, we played a round of monopoly, which Bryce also won. Stinker! We listened to loud music and the boys showed off their growing arm strength by trading off doing pull-ups hanging off the top of the hatchway. Before dinner, I read out loud three or four chapters of “Carry On, Mr. Bowditch,” a book I assigned the boys to read during this voyage. Turns out I had two identical paperback versions on board. Before we left the states, I guess I really wanted them to read the book. And in fact, they are enjoying the story as it’s about a boy indenture apprenticed to a chandlery on the East Coast of the US in the 1780’s, who improves his lot by intense individual study and ‘Sailing by ash breeze.’ Oars are made of ash. Can you divine the meaning of the turn of phrase? It’s a lesson the boys are slowly learning. Early education isn’t about teachers teaching you, it’s about learning to learn and taking it upon yourself to study the materials presented so that you absorb them and make them a part of you. The ultimate goal is learning how to teach yourself.

I took the first watch tonight as I had a late afternoon nap and was wide-awake. It’s a peaceful night: less wind so less swell. Not as scary as the two previous nights, hence my ability to write. We’re steadily heading northwest toward the Torres Strait. It’s also getting warmer the more north we sail. All the port lights and hatches are closed tight. We had some moments early on during this passage when salt water shot inside due to our laxity. Don’t want that to happen again. Yesterday, Eric fixed the stalling engine problem, a second time. He had replaced the filters before we left, but the new ones were still not filling up with diesel, even after Eric worked to solve the problem in Espirtu Santo. Fortunately, he figured the problem was still the same and it was an easy fix, thank goodness. So far, the engine hasn’t stalled again.

July 10, 2017, Monday 7:15 am. Full moons & illegal fishing trawlers. We’ve been enjoying the fullest of moons during the last three night watches. The days are passing slowly. Still an estimated 8 days to go – Eric thinks it will be a total of 18 days at sea. Sailing downwind, we are rocking a lot and moving at a snails pace of 5 knots. Now in the Coral Sea, we’re pulling close to the Torres Strait. We are not yet sailing inside the shipping lane but have already encountered a good share of boats. Two nights ago, little 42 foot Kandu was sandwiched in between two 770-foot cargo ships within 2.5 miles. They were traveling north and south while we were heading west. Everyone’s AIS systems were working that night!

Kandu’s Navigation monitor.

Yesterday morning, Eric and I were enjoying the cool cockpit breeze when a 60-foot fishing trawler surprised us. In the cockpit covered by a towel in order to block the light, I had been intently watching a movie with headphones. It wasn’t until the trawler was 50 yards away to our aft port that Eric heard a strange engine noise, looked up and turned around from sending inReach delorme text messages.

Eric Rigney in the process of texting.
Crystal 102 looked a lot like this.

He shouted in surprise. The trawler had approached dangerously close and all their men on deck were staring at us intently. Bryce quickly hailed them on channel 16, but they didn’t speak English or French. He thought perhaps Chinese, Taiwanese, or Korean. After a few minutes, they fell off displaying their name: Crystal 102. There was another twin trawler about 1 mile to our north. We figured they were illegally fishing in Papua New Guinea’s waters. It’s a shame we didn’t have the foresight to jot down our latitude and longitude in order to report them to the international authorities later. It’s possible that we had crossed over their fishing nets. The way they acted, they were definitely aggravated. They didn’t wave, nor did we.

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.

 

Leslie’s Letters: Vanuatu in June 2017

View of Kandu from Beachfront Resort, Luganville, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

June 27, 2017

Dearest parents,

Well received all of your incredible newsy emails. Thank you ever so much. I haven’t written you many emails of late. I’m in the midst of posting some of the blog entries that I’ve been collecting and writing at night. It’s a long process.

We’ve had the most incredible experiences here in Vanuatu. Exploding volcano, Rom dancing, hiking into remote African like villages, Land Diving, eating local yams and local mackerel – what adventure!

Mount Yasur, Tanna, Vanuatu.
Rom Dancing, Fanla Village, Ambrym, Vanuatu.
Leslie Rigney hiking to Fanla Village, Ambrym, Vanuatu.
Land Diving, Pentacost, Vanuatu.

Tonight we’re anchored outside The Beachfront Resort (friendly and helpful to cruisers) on the island Espiritu Santo in Luganville and are planning to have dinner at the resort in order to benefit from their great Wi-fi X 4 people/devices. We’re hoping the wind dies down a little so our dinghy ride back in the dark to Kandu is not bumpy and wet as we’ll be transporting computers.

Eric got the engine figured out, which had been causing him angst since yesterday. Happily, the problem was apparent and the solution was simple; he had changed the oil and filters but didn’t stock up the new filters with oil, so the engine was sucking air. When we get our retrofitted pactor modem in Australia, we’ll actually be able to send emails in route over the ocean along with low-resolution photos. It will be great to have that working again along with our wind sensor.

I’ve got to send a message to Teaching Textbooks (Bryce and Trent’s math programs) regarding the discs we’re having problems with probably due to being in a salty environment since early 2015. They said they would send us replacements. We need them badly now that the boys are boat schooling full time. I must find the list of bad CD’s that we painstakingly drew-up! Where could that be? Sigh.

This week, we plan to go on a scuba dive of the USS President Coolidge 600 foot troop carrier wreck that sank in 1942 during WWII.

Image of USS President Coolidge wreck on it’s side.

It is located in relatively shallow water so it will not be a problem for the boys to dive it considering their low degree of experience and skill. We also plan to take an afternoon island tour of the WWII leftovers: Million Dollar Point where the Americans dumped massive amounts of war vehicles and equipment deep into the water after the war, hospital sites, quonset barracks and shelters still in use, an old prison cell built to detain Japanese POWs, etc,

Trent Rigney at Million Dollar Point looking at rusted engine parts.

It should be a great education adding to the boys’ understanding of World War II and how it affected even the most remote peoples of the world.

Also, I think we might rent a car to tour the northern part of the island up to Port Olry, fitting in a swim in one of the celebrated Blue Hols along the coastline and a visit to Champagne Beach where the sand is beautifully fine.  Friday – we’ll stock up and check out of immigration. Saturday we’ll be leaving.

Gotta go – dinner is ready. I love you, and dittoing your memorable salutation, send you back clouds of love love love, Leslie.

Samoa Days by Trent Rigney

South Eastern Coastline of Upolu, Samoa

Samoa was a great place to visit. We visited Apia, capital city on the island of Upolu, the smaller of the two islands. The other island is called Savai’i, a bit like Hawai’i. Samoa used to be called Western Samoa to be different from ‘American Samoa.’ ‘American Samoa’ is an American overseas territory. The people of Samoa voted their country name to be simply ‘Samoa’ when it became it’s own country, independent, no longer a protectorate of New Zealand. In Apia, they have great restaurants and really nice people. The food in Samoa is much cheaper than in Tahiti and the people were always smiling. Not much Wi-Fi in Samoa but they have great surf and exciting new things to do.

There are all kinds of special natural wonders on Upolu all owned by different villages. In order to visit these sites, instead of paying a national park fee, you pay the family or village who owns and maintains the site. We got to visit the Papase’ea Sliding Rocks, the To Sua Ocean Trench, and the Piula Cave Pool.

The Papase’ea Sliding Rocks was mind blowing. We asked locals how to get down to the slides just to make sure we wouldn’t get hurt. There were over a hundred well-maintained stairs to walk down. It was a hot day, so there were already a lot of people visiting the falls and slides. Dad asked a local how to slide down the rock. He went first, then I went, Bryce and mom last. It took some time for her to gather her courage. After awhile having slid a lot, Bryce and I went over to the waterfall. I went under and it felt like I was getting a massage. It was the best natural rock slide I’ve ever slid on. We all had a lot of fun.

To Sua Ocean Trench, Upolu, Samoa

The To Sua Trench was nothing I’ve ever seen before. When I saw it, it looked like a big blue hole in the ground. The sides were covered in vines and plants. It was located next to the ocean with what looked like pretty good surf swell. To get down into the water hole, we walked down some stairs then climbed down a ladder made out of huge trees. You can jump off the ladder at whatever height you want (no rules) then swim into the connecting cave. It was lightly raining, not cold though. Bryce and I jumped and swam to our hearts content in the refreshing fresh water.

View from the cliffside next to To Sua Ocean Trench. Could have been good surf!

Another day we got to swim again in cold, fresh water at Piula Cave Pool located on the north side of the island, also right next to the ocean. When you go deep in the cave where it’s dark, your body turns blue. It might turn blue because the water was super clean, or because the rock ceiling dripped water minerals in the water. It sparkled in the sun. There were two caves and we heard they were connected by a small opening that you could swim through, but the passage was dark and under the water so you would’ve had to hold your breath all the way to the other side. We didn’t have a light and a mask, so we didn’t go.

Piula Cave Pools, Upolu, Samoa

We had a great day visiting ‘The Samoan Cultural Center’ to learn about different aspects of Samoan culture. First, a trio of men danced a Samoan paddle dance.

It was much tamer than Marquesian and Tahitian dancing. It wasn’t a war dance as the three men dancing were all smiling. A woman danced too, but all she seemed to move were her arms, hardly any hip and leg movement.

After the dance, the performers treated us to a kava ceremony and explained, back when they were cannibals, if they didn’t give you a kava ceremony they would eat you. Next up, we walked to see real tattooing in progress. Samoan artists like using their old wooden tools, but in an upgraded style. They used to attach shark teeth on a stick, but now they use stainless steel combs. We got to see them tattooing on two Samoan men. It looked very painful. Every Samoan guy has the same tattoo in the same spot. For Samoan men, it’s their dream to get this tattoo, but if you start and then stop because it’s too painful, you disgrace your family. The session goes for an hour a day for six days.

Lastly, we went to see how you could make clothing and artwork from bark. You cut off a branch from a specific tree, and carefully remove the bark. Then they separate the outside of the bark from the inside layer. After, you get two shells, one that is a little sharp and one that isn’t. After you’re done scrapping the bark, it’s six times the size. They stretch it out with rock as weights and let it dry. They dry it in shade letting the wind and air dry it because the sun dries it too fast.

Samoa has some great surf, but you have to pay to surf. Families own surf sites, which I don’t think is right. You can’t own a part of an ocean! Samoa is a Christian place so you can’t surf on Sundays. There are some surf resorts in Samoa and they pay to get permission from the families to go surfing, but they can only allow 12 people to surf at a time. We went to a resort and made an arrangement to surf on the following Monday morning. The spot was an hour and ½ away from our boat, and we wanted to catch the first boat out leaving early from shore at 6:30 am. So we woke up at 4:30 to drive over to the other side of the island and the surfer guide said we couldn’t go surfing with them. He said it in a really mean and aggressive way. We left and searched for another way to paddle out to the surf later that same day. When we arrived, that surf guide was frustrated we were there.

Internet photo of Salani reef

It’s said that Samoa and Tonga are where all the Polynesians came from and that the islands form a triangle in the Pacific from New Zealand in the west, to Hawaii to the north and Easter Island at the eastern corner and all the French Polynesia islands are in the triangle. Rapa Nui is the island where the performers wear the least amount of clothing when they dance. Performers in French Polynesia and Hawaii wear similar clothing, using grass and leaves, coconut shells and pareos. In New Zealand, dancers wear warmer outfits sometimes with fake animals skins. It’s cold in New Zealand even in summer.I loved the rockslide and the trench. Bryce and I had a great day surfing the Salani reef. I loved how Samoa, being next to ‘America Samoa,’ had my favorite chips that we’ve not found anywhere else: Spicy Hot Cheetos. We were going to tour Savai’i but immigration would only let us check out from Apia and dad didn’t want to sail back against the wind. After just one week only, we left to Fiji.

Daily Log Notes: Musket Cove, Fiji – Surf Spectaculaire

6-4-2017, Tuesday 23h15 – About Musket Cove and the surf.

Now on watch, I have a bit of time to recount some of our adventures in Musket Cove. From Suva, the most southeastern city of the island Viti Levu, we wanted to head west to the Western Mamanuca Islands and the renowned Musket Cove Marina and Yacht Club. With an obligatory $5 processing fee, we each became lifetime members. The Mamanuca Islands of Fiji are central to some of the best surfing in the world, boasting the legendary Cloudbreak, rated one of the top 10 waves in the world. Incidentally, the International Volcom Fiji Pro Surf Competition happened to be in full swing. As we were sailing up to Cloudbreak, we could see the hubbub and gathered boats, onlookers and surfers so we anchored the boat and hurriedly rigged up the dinghy for the boys to get close and check out the quality surf and male competitors. Bryce and Trent were ordered to be back by 15h00. Sure enough, they returned on time bubbling over with excitement, ready to haul-up anchor in order to make Musket Cove and its protection from the open ocean swell before sunset. We had a small glitch raising the anchor. The anchor, 50+ feet below, with a strong current was likely stuck on corral. Bryce quickly donned his mask and fins and dove overboard. With one hand on the chain and the other to clear his ears, he free dived as close as he could get. On his first attempt, he couldn’t get close enough to see the problem. Eric told him he didn’t have to get to the anchor, just see what it was doing. The second time, after relaxing and getting a solid breath, he plunged down the anchor chain again, determined to succeed. Once down, he realized exactly how the tip of the anchor was stuck. Under his directions, we motored forward over the corral head and with a strong tug, the anchor came free. Whew! Bryce saved the day!

This is the Cloudbreak wave that we saw. It can get much much larger.

Easily anchored in popular Musket Cove, we stayed put for a quiet dinner on board. Bryce was the only one who ventured out to the marina resort with the dinghy that night to try and learn how to taxi over to the various surf spots: Swimming Pools, Tavarua Rights, Second Reef, Wilkes, Restaurants and Cloudbreak. The next day, we organized a boat and I went with the boys that first afternoon. That day, our goal was Cloudbreak, but the weather was so rough and windy that we decided to stop at a closer spot called Wilkes.

The next couple times, Eric went with them to videotape. Each time it was our own private taxi boat, a little costly, but worth it, in case one spot was blown out, they could then go over to another. In all, the boys got to surf Wilkes again, Second Reef and Cloudbreak. Normally during the competition, the Cloudbreak wave would have been off limits to non-competitors, but when the competition was paused four days to wait for bigger waves, it presented perfect conditions for Bryce and Trent, so they headed over. While surfing, Bryce recognized his favorite pro surfer, Gabriel Martinez. Bryce paddled over and shook his hand. Cool beans! Eric was there video taping. Hopefully they got some good shots. Haven’t yet looked at all the media. After Fiji, the boys won’t be getting much opportunity to surf, so we really supported them to get out to the reefs everyday. Trent too had great success surfing. Bryce constantly encouraged him, which made for a happy Trent. The boys got in 4 days of great surfing.

We forgot to collect sand, darnit. I’ll have to contact Kurt Roll, a surfer/sailor/drone flier ex-patriot who lives on a modern south pacific style studio hut-boat in the Musket cove Marina. He took the boys surfing one afternoon. Maybe he’ll collect some sand for us and mail it back to Ventura for our growing collection. Every place the boys surf, we commemorate it with a vial of sand.

We also met some Danish sailors, a couple and family of 4 with 2 sons of similar age. I approached them for a game of beach volleyball. We played together a couple times and enjoyed a couple BBQ dinners and happy hours together. The father was a minister. We had much to talk about and share. Eric had recognized their sailboat from the Papeete Marina the summer before. It was lovely to meet such culturally interesting people.

The Musket Cove Resort was gorgeous and high class. We felt so spoiled being able to enjoy it without having to pay the high daily resort fees. We even got a chance to walk to the adjacent island during low tide to visit a nearby local Solevu village and school. The central village buildings were solidly constructed in cement blocks. The outlying thatch homes and structures were similar to the Polynesian style – open without glass windows. The villagers were friendly and the children at play were full of smiles and polite ‘hellos.’ Bryce had a great time amusing two little boys giving them piggy-back rides and playing ‘Catch me if you can.’ The walk back across the pass was a bit more challenging. Up to my thighs in water, I sloshed back as quickly as possible conscious of the ever rising tide and wanting to keep my clothes away from the salty water….laundry is always a consideration, of course!

Lautoka, Viti Levu, Fiji Sugar Cane Plant.

6-4-2017 To Lautoka, Viti Levu from Musket Cove.

Departed Musket Cove and headed back to the main island of Fiji, Viti Levu to anchor outside the east coast city, Lautoka, to provision and check-out of Fijian customs and immigration. Lautoka is a sugar-cane oceanside town, less important than Suva. It is quite modern with a brand new shopping mall sporting many fancy shops, a restaurant court and a fancy movie theater. The downtown was large with a McDonald’s, several gas stations and well-paved streets. Apparently a Hawaiian owns all the McDonald’s in Fiji. After provisioning one afternoon, the boys and I hired a taxi to carry our many bags of groceries back to the boat and asked the taxi driver to give us a quick city tour. He brought us to a couple colorful Indian temples, drove us through nice residential areas and passed by the very large sugar cane plant. There were lines of trucks loaded with long poles of sugar cane waiting to enter. The air smelled sweet surrounding the factory. Kandu was anchored just opposite that factory and the exterior of our boat became immediately dusted from the filthy black soot blowing across the water from its hot fires.