Tag Archives: Sailing around the world

Indonesian Variety by Bryce Rigney 2017

Indonesia, the planet’s biggest island country lying between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, consists of more than 17,500 islands packed into 735,000 square miles, an area one-thirteenth the size of America. Two hundred sixty-one million inhabitants make Indonesia the world’s fourth populace country, with more than half of the population living on the island of Java. Nearly 90% Islamic, Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. Considering the many immigrated cultures, religions, and 700+ diverse languages Indonesia harbors, it’s really a mystery how this archipelago ever came to be a single nation.

Centered in the middle of Arabian, Chinese, Indian, and Japanese trade routes, Indonesia was surrounded by great commerce and power. Indonesia’s wealth began around the 7th century when Asia first discovered and settled along the islands of Java, Sumatra, and Kalimantan. To Asia’s surprise, valuable spices and pottery material were aplenty. In return, they bore gifts of forged metal, a new way of life, and new religions: first Hinduism and Buddhism, followed by Islam.

Buddhist Borobudur Temple of Central Java finished in 825 CE.
Hindu Prambanan of Central Java finished in 850 CE.

Christianity’s popularity grew later. For eight centuries the Asian powers controlled and held firmly their hand over Indonesian trade, until the 16th century. Hypnotized by the valuable spices and rare resources, Europeans such as the Portuguese, sailed across oceans, around continents, and unknown waters for the riches of the “Spice Islands,” taking over small ports along the way, eventually conquering Melacca in 1511. This was done in vain for once the powerful trade ports were conquered, nobody wanted to trade with them switching up trade routes. Eventually, after two years of spending money and losing lives, the Portuguese were squeezed out by the Dutch who gradually built-up trade with the locals and throughout the Indonesian archipelago and surrounding regions.

East India Co Trade Routes

In 1595, the Dutch set-up the United East India Company (VOC) and eventually ended up running what is now considered Indonesia. Grasping tightly onto their specialty of spices, the Dutch and Indonesians produced many crops. Indonesia’s early wealth revolved around their most profitable export crops, nicknamed “black gold:” nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper, sought after spices in Europe, more valuable than gold.

Nutmeg
Cloves
Cinnamon
Black Pepper

As the years passed, the Dutch became more and more entrenched, but despite imposed death penalties, spice plants were stolen and planted elsewhere in the world. Bit by bit the Dutch controlled Indonesia spice monopoly began to crumble in the early 1800’s. Housing a large population and a declining economy, the future seemed bleak. The Dutch crown had to take over the VOC and then lost it to France and then to Britain during Napoleon’s wars. Control to the Dutch was restored in 1816.

The Dutch then shifted their export production efforts to feed the growing demand for rubber, developing enormous rubber plantation, “white gold.” Tea, medicinal plants, cacao, tobacco, sugar, indigo and coffee exports were also developed. Due to their complete involvement in the various Indonesian islands’ economy, the Dutch improved infrastructure adding railway lines, shipping services and roads even while violently subduing the working people.

World War II was the final straw for the Indonesian people. They were taken over by the brutal Japanese where neither the Dutch nor the English were able to help. When the war was over, the Indonesians declared their independence on August 17th, 1945 from Dutch colonization. After several years of war with the Dutch, they were awarded complete independence in 1949. Today, they celebrate Independence Day every year on August 17th. We were in Kalabachi, Alor during this year’s Independence Day and were amazed by their incredible ceremony reenacting the gaining of their independence and the following day’s regional parade.

Alor Independence Day Re-enactment, August 17, 2017.

In most recent decades, declining rubber exports have caused Indonesia to shift development toward petroleum products (gas (LPG), crude oil, coal briquettes), gold jewelry, wheat, and the most profitable of all—palm oil or “yellow gold.” In 2016 Indonesia sold $140 billion (USD) worth of exports, palm oil contributing a tenth of that sum. Indonesia is one of the few countries with a trade surplus, compared to the USA who harbors a debt of $783 billion (USD). Yet even with a positive income of $8 billion (USD) Indonesia lies in a pile of trash.

Trash in the river water along a Kalimantan jetty.

With a decreasing economy and low income, we found ourselves surrounded by piles and piles of trash. During my time spent along the coasts of Indonesia, I developed a sickness of heart as the result of the expanse of polluted beaches, oceans, rainforests, and streets. While crossing over bridges, I saw painful amounts of plastic trash discarded along the riverbanks waiting for the rain to flush it all out to sea. This floating trash makes it dangerous for boaters to motor in Indonesian waters for fear of catching a few plastic bags in the prop like our friends on s/v Ocelot.

In the large fjiord of Alor looking toward Kalabachi from Kandu – plastic trash in the water.

In addition to polluted waters, hoards of fisherman struggle everyday, completely de-fishing their local oceans. Catching pre-mature fish, turtles, manta rays, crocodiles and sharks the size of your arm, these fishermen are relentless!

Indonesian fishing boat.

While passing nets 4 miles long and experiencing these haunting actions first hand, this traveling forces me to open my eyes to really see how humans affect their surroundings. Yet this traveling through Indonesia also brings me to appreciate the incredible beauty we have seen and been a part of.

But unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Like at home where precious resources have been squandered, Orangutans indigenous to Indonesia, are regularly killed and/or stolen for money. Palm oil implants destroy ecosystems full of endangered trees, monkeys, birds native to the islands along with the precious orangutans.

Palm Oil trees as far as the eye can see.

Yet in my three months of traveling in this region, the amount of “bad” in Indonesia doesn’t begin to measure against the overwhelmingly loving embrace the islands and the people give to total strangers like us. Exemplifying a generosity level of 100 percent, it’s hard to judge Indonesia just by their poor circumstances. Besides the trash and the loss of rainforests, it’s quite easy to love the culture and its people. With the hundreds of dinner invites and bonding photos with the local girls (etc.), I developed a great affection for the islands and their rich colors.

Medana Bay, Lombok Muslim Temple invited us to celebrate end of Ramadan fasting.
Belitung Students who came specifically to speak with Sail Indonesia cruisers.

Due to the many quick visits during the rally, it was difficult to appreciate all of what the villages had to offer. There is so much more than we got a chance to see: Raja Ampat and Papua New Guinea for the diving, and the Mentawai Islands of Sumatra for the surfing.

In just three months of sailing around, we experienced orangutan feedings, river tours, incredible surf, jungle hikes, national holidays, local feasts, temple & mosque visits, drum troupes, traditional dances, elephant rides, deserted white sand beaches, and we made life long friendships. My time amongst the Indonesian peoples was truly a blessing in “5D.” From inexpensive delicacies and ethnic spices, to billions of treasured photos, there will always be a place in my heart for the beauty of Indonesia and its culture!

Variety is the one word that best describes Indonesia. From the clearest of waters to the darkest of forests, Indonesia exhibits diversity of all kinds, most noticeable in their many cultures made up of varied peoples. Through the eyes of a 16 year old who has now left Indonesia with a sad heart, my hope is that more travelers will see and experience the fullness Indonesia can offer.

Sources: Website – Wikipedia, Indonesia history; Book – Lonely Planet, Indonesia; Kandu – Traveling by sailboat through Indonesia Aug-Oct 2017.

Pick and Choose by Eric

Eric Rigney in appreciation of Indonesian temple art.

November 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to wake Bryce up for his watch.

 

 

Singapore by Trent


In just 200 years the small island of Singapore, perched at the very end of the Malaysian peninsula, has turned into a high-tech city  country with a multitude of humongous high-rises housing 5 million people. Singapore is going to be celebrating their 200th year anniversary, from 1819 to 2019, in two years.

The country of Singapore is 269 square miles. Rhode Island, the smallest state in the US, is 4 times larger with just a fifth of the population. The people in Singapore are a mix of 74% Chinese, 13% Malay, 9% Indian, and the rest are foreigners. They speak many languages Malay, Mandarin Chinese, English, and Tamil but they often speak ‘Singlish,’ a combination of Malay, Chinese, and English. Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore in 1819 when it was just a fishing village and turned it into what it is today. The favored Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, served from 1960 to 1990 after Singapore declared independence in 1963. Religions are freely practiced in Singapore and Mahayana Buddhism is the most practiced, but they also practice Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism. During my stay in Singapore my favorite spots were the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the adjacent Gardens By the Bay. We also visited Little India and looked in a lot of shopping malls.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel is impossible to miss. It has three 55-story hotel towers, and all three are connected by a roof terrace that looks like an enormous surfboard. The hotel has 2,561 rooms. Just across the street the Marina Bay Sands Mall has two movie theaters, an ice skating rink, and two crystal Pavilions. At the very top of the hotel they have an awesome infinity pool, one of the nicest swimming pools I’ve ever seen and certainly the highest.

Trent Rigney enjoying the high sights atop the Skypark of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore.
Downtown Singapore view from the Marina Bay Sands Hotel….forest of highrise buildings as far as the eye could see.

We ate ‘linner’ (late lunch/early dinner) on top of the surfboard at the ‘Skypark’ restaurant, but only guests can swim in the pool. But the best part about going to the hotel is The Gardens by the Bay, a nature park, located just across the street.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore.

The gardens are so big they’re divided into three sections: Bay South, Bay East, and Bay Central. It reminded me of Disneyland. The gardens were planted with over 250,000 rare plants, and of course the 16-story, man-made ‘supertrees’ that collect rainwater and solar power especially built for observation are impressive. Bryce and I walked on the skywalk, which is suspended between two ‘supertrees’ and has a great view of the garden and the hotel. At night they say they have a great light show.

Bryce and Trent Rigney strolling the Gardens by the Bay and Supertrees in Singapore.
Bryce and Trent Rigney enjoying the Supertree Skywalk at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore.

Singapore has tons of high fashion specialty malls. Orchard Road is a great shopping center like Rodeo Drive in LA or Union Square in SF. We only had a little time in Orchard Road, so we visited the ION Mall. The ION Mall had the most expensive things I’ve ever seen. My favorite things in the mall were the Golden Phantom speakers, best speakers in the world. It’s too bad we couldn’t see all the malls but we had a great time visiting the best ones.

Eric & Leslie Rigney at ION mall, Orchard Road, Singapore.
Interior ION shopping mall, Orchard Road, Singapore. Xmas decorations in October!
Devialet’s Gold Phantom speaker.
Trent Rigney taking a break from window shopping at Orchard Road, Singapore.
Bryce Rigney posing for Hermes and CocaCola in Singapore.
Singapore’s Orchard Road – a high end shopping district on a late Wednesday afternoon.

At the entrance to Little India are two specially made great elephants decorated with colorful plastic flowers like a Rose Parade float. Little India is a great place to find cheap food and cheap clothing. I bought my favorite shirt here. They have many Hindu Temples in Little India. ‘Sri Veeramakliamman’ is the most colorful that we saw and well crafted in Little India. We spent a lot of time in Little India. We happened to be there during Deepavali, the Hindu festival of lights celebrating good over evil. The streets and stores were festively decorated with hundreds of worshipers milling around in traditional Indian dress making their way to the temples to worship.

Deepavali decorations at the Serangoon Rd entrance to Little India, Singapore, Oct 2017.
Little India’s Deepavali elephant decoration demarking Sarangoon Road, Singapore, October 2017.
Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple with Rigneyskandu people watching during Deepavali Hindu Festival of Light Celebrations, Oct 2017.
Bryce and Trent Rigney thought Little India’s ‘celebration of lights’ decorations were impressive.

I had the best time in Singapore: hotel room, Wi-Fi, and hot showers are all things you forget are really cool until you have them again. It’s really interesting how often electric scooters are used in Singapore and they even have scooter tours which I would have loved to try.

So, over all, with so many cool places to see and things to do, I’m pretty sure I’m going to go back to Singapore in the future. Thirty-six hours just wasn’t enough time to spend in this interesting and complex city.

Before you leave Rigneyskandu.com, take a look at our new Singapore photo gallery located under ‘Recent Photos’ on the main page headers!

Surf – a priority

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

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

Shades of Sea

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary definitions:

  • Blue- one of the three primary colors (red, yellow, blue); a hue of the clear sky or that of the color spectrum lying between green and violet
  • Turquoise- a variable color averaging a light greenish blue; bluish green
  • Aqua- a light greenish blue color
  • Aquamarine- a pale blue to a light greenish blue
  • Blue-green- a bluish green pigment
  • Cobalt- a greenish blue pigment; a tough lustrous silver-white metallic blue
  • Light Blue- a pale sky blue
  • Cerulean- resembling the blue of the sky
  • Azure- lapis lazuli- the blue color of the clear sky; the heraldic color blue; unclouded sky
  • Royal blue- a variable color averaging a vivid purplish blue lighter than navy
  • Sapphire- a transparent rich blue edging toward navy; a variable color averaging a deep purplish blue
  • Navy- a variable color averaging a grayish purplish blue
  • Slate- a grayish blue with a silver tint
  • Indigo- a variable color averaging a deep grayish blue; blue w/ a coppery luster
  • Silver- a nearly neutral, slightly brownish medium grey having a white lustrous sheen
  • Blue-brown- a group of colors between red, yellow and blue of medium to low lightness and of moderate to low saturation
  • Inky-black- like oil, very dark with no spectrum of light, almost seems viscous
Inky Black or Indigo?

Today, 2 days past the Torres Strait now sailing in the Gulf of Carpenteria between Cape York Peninsula and Darwin, Australia, the color of the salt water surrounding us is a translucent aqua, the color of an aqua marine gem, like the gem that my mother passed down to me set in a ring designed by my Uncle Denny. The water is so clear, if it weren’t for the whitewater chop and 6-foot swell, you get the sense that you could see exceedingly deep. The color gives me the false impression that the gulf is quite shallow, maybe 10-50 feet deep with a sandy bottom like in French Polynesia’s lagoons. However, consulting Kandu’s depth gauge, we measure 175-feet. As far as oceans go, this is somewhat shallow, yet no lagoon.

Aquamarine Blue

“Trent, what color is the sea to you?” sitting across from me in the cockpit. “It’s green and blue, so turquoise,” he said gazing at me uninterested while listening to ‘The Sing-off’ on his iPod. With the angle of the sun shining from the west at a little past noon, looking behind me to the east, the water is aqua with shimmering highlights of baby blue. There is a definite sense of coolness, but not cold, a thoroughly welcoming sight under the hot sun. Gazing west toward the direction of the intense sun, the color morphs into a deep sapphire or indigo blue with silver glistening on top as the swell leisurely rises and falls. Light winds, no clouds, slight cirrus wisps visible on the horizon 360 degrees around.

Turquoise

My unblemished mood is directly related to today’s genial ocean temperament.Circumstances in life provide a multitude of colors and moods, all of which are left to our own interpretation: good, bad, happy, sad, like the sea: magical, mesmerizing, meandering, monotonous, massive, morphing. Today the sea is kind and mesmerizing, tomorrow maybe not. She is a fickle beast, undeterred in strength and hue by us voyagers. But like all things in nature and circumstance, she isn’t personal in her charm or rage. We simply float on the surface, riding along while it suits us, tucking away close to shore if we can when her condition no longer warrants safe and breakage-free passage.

Royal Blue

When fathoming her magnitude, strength and changeability, this day, her color is expansive and her mood gentle, inviting. Aboard Kandu, we have witnessed most of her colors, those found in the color spectrum between green, blue, purple and inky black at night. One of my favorites being shiny slate, normally glimpsed at twilight or on a 75% cloudy day. Most other cloudless windy days her color all around is navy blue with sky blue highlights. That’s when we’re sailing in deep waters. When first approaching the more shallow Torres Straight, the shiny bright blue plastic color on the boys’ Skylander figurine Freezeblade, offered a distinct demarcation between deep waters and this new ‘other water.’

Freezeblade

It was as if we were entering an entirely different ocean, passing from cavernous shadow into liquid light suggesting a certain mystery. However, this afternoon, there is no hidden secrecy. The path is straightforward, lucid and clear, no humidity thus no haze. The sun shines brilliantly and the winds are fair, steady, not cold nor hot, not too strong – just right.

Leslie

 

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: Bucking Bronco is Kandu

July 10th, 2017 Monday 23h20. Jiggling it up with boobies.

Kandu is acting like a Bucking Bronco, but she’s keeping it altogether. With the heavy movement, the crew and captain are lethargic. Tonight, we are still benefitting greatly from a slightly waning moon. It makes a great difference when you can see the surrounding ocean and waves instead of just feeling it by how the boat reacts to the swell. The sea has been so turbulent, we’ve been attracting red-footed booby birds and other marine birds as a resting haven. Last night one landed on our solar panel. It did not want to budge. Finally when forced to fly away, he left a rather large wet present behind. Ugh! Tonight during Trent’s watch, he heard a bit of racket behind the cockpit and thought he saw something fall. It turns out, after he scrabbled for the flashlight, two boobies had boarded. One was laying dead on the stern poop deck with it’s neck broken, the other flapped around nearby startled by the light and lodged itself under the starboard genoa lines. The swell was so that every time the boat heeled over, and that was often, rushing saltwater would run down the starboard deck right into the birds face. Yet the booby refused to leave until Eric eventually pushed it overboard in preparation for a jibe as it would have gotten crushed. It’s funny how the booby bird in every language has a silly name. All consider it a very dumb bird. The next morning, we had to jibe again and called everyone up. Eric asked Trent, “Please get rid of that dead booby bird over the side. Do you want gloves?” Trent replied, “If I’m going to touch a booby, I’m not wearing a glove!”

July 11th, 2017, Tuesday 23h15. Torres Strait.

Darwin is getting closer but is still far far away. We entered Torres Strait around 19h30 this evening. No boats along the shipping corridor, just a couple off to the side quite a distance away. We sure are loving our AIS (Automated Identification System) transponder right about now! We’re moving fast for Kandu between 6.5 and 7.5. We don’t really know how fast the wind is because our wind gage is broken, but we’re thinking it is blowing about 30-35 miles per hour with a swell of 2 or 3 meters. It’s overcast and stormy, yet Kandu is handling very well. The cockpit is pretty wet. I’m enormously thankful to have our solid dodger instead of a canvas one blocking the saltwater spray, and our newly constructed cockpit canopy built in Raiatea to keep out most of the rain. Our previous canopy had slipped off and fallen overboard while crossing to Tahiti from Fakarava in 2016. Expensive loss that was!

We continue to attract sea birds. Booby birds seemed to have gotten the word that it’s not safe aboard Kandu, but the medium sized black petrels with red webbed feet didn’t get the message. One landed on top of our canopy during sunset. He couldn’t find grip so relocated near the stern BBQ. I haven’t shewed the petrel away mostly because it’s been keeping me company during my watch, hanging on for dear life. Two others that night didn’t make it aboard instead flying into our wind generator. When that happens, the sound it makes is rather chilling. It’s not ideal sailing the Torres Strait at night. However, with our radar, AIS and mapped out waypoints, ‘We Kandu.’

Little Petrel sea bird taking a rest aboard Kandu.

July 12th, 2017 17h00. Reprieve at Coconut Island.

Shortly after I finished my log notes last night, a large wave struck the boat healing us over 50 degrees or more partially filling the cockpit with water. Immediately after the wave hit, Kandu started to head forcefully downwind into the oncoming swell causing the boat to dangerously heal over again. Our Monitor wind vane had been steering us steadily up until that point, but it wasn’t correcting itself. I grabbed the helm and pulled it to starboard, but alarmingly the helm would not budge. At that point I yelled to Eric for help. I put all my weight on the helm and suddenly something gave. By that time, Eric had flown up into the cockpit and was asking what happened. He took over the helm and while steadying Kandu, realized it was loose.

For the third time since leaving Polynesia, the control line had chaffed. In this case, the frayed section must have gotten hitched on an interior bolt and with my forceful tugging on the helm was shredded in two. Chaffing of the control line has been a problem since using the wind vane continuously while sailing from the Galapagos to the Marquesas. We thought we had the problem fixed in the Marquesas: the Monitor manufacturer replaced the suspect bolt with a shorter one and gave us new lines. Evidently, after three separate incidents of a frayed control line since leaving Polynesia, the problem is not yet solved.

Eric re-rigged the wind vane right away and it continued to work fine after that. But the weather continued to be terrible all morning. Fortunately, we positioned the plexiglass divider between the cockpit and the interior as we took a couple more BIG waves filling the cockpit halfway. Our electric generator stored in the cockpit got completely doused with salt water and then our wind generator failed. Craziness! By 10:00 am, we were all wiped out by the pounding. Eric was stressed and exhausted. After discussing our situation, we decided to see if we could find a place to hide from the heavy swell and winds. Eric contacted the Australian Coast Guard and arranged permission to duck behind Coconut Island, a sliver of an island four hours away, to wait out the bad weather for two days. Anchored in 60 feet with all but 3 feet of our 300 feet of chain out, we collapsed for a much needed nap.

Torres Strait. Note Coconut Island in the middle.

 

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 side-to-side 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.