Tag Archives: Land Diving

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.

 

 

 

 

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.