Friday, July 30, 2010

Vanuatu at a glance.

Port Vila in Vanuatu is a pleasant little town where we took the time to enjoy a little bit the local living. Things here are either very expensive or very cheap. It just depends what you are looking for. In the supermarket items are very expensive but at the farmer’s market you get a bag full of local produces for $10. Restaurants work the same way. In the tourist oriented places you’ll pay $30 for a meal while at the market you just sit at the table and eat for $3.50. On the picture you can see us eating at the farmer’s market but this was before the food poisoning struck us and puts us down sweating for 12 hours! But hey, we saved $53 on the meal…. On the plus side this is winter down here and nights are pretty cold so a bit of fever is always welcome to warm us up ;-) We know we are very bad and never follow the advice of our travel doctor we consulted before leaving for this trip who told us to NEVER eat street food but experiencing the local bacteria ecology is a trill we always fall for and makes us marvel the power and ingenuity of our immune system!

Shopping or just wandering in the markets and shopping centers is always fun and here is no exception. On the first picture you can see some produce we bought at the local market. Pay attention to the bag containing a sort of potato that I never remember the name but tastes pretty good. The bag is made out of a palm leaf and you wouldn’t believe how strong it is. The bag is cheap to make, sturdy and 100% biodegradable. Not hassle with the “bring you own bag to save the environment” here. Just pick up the bag at the market, bring it to the boat, wash all the potatoes in soap water to remove the dirt and the cockroaches that got in and throw the bag overboard. On the second picture you see Danielle browsing at the DVD stand. Here they have these interesting products where they managed to cram 12 to 16 illegally copied movies into one DVD and selling them for $4 ($0.35/movie). Many of the movies have been recorded in a movie theater with the occasional hands and heads of the spectators in front of the camera and are completely illegal in any country where anti-piracy laws are enforced. But here no problem! Stands like this are everywhere and obviously the actors, the producers and the investors who worked hard making the movies get big zippo, nothing! Outraged and our social conscience aroused we just bought 12 of them…. The third picture shows something we found interesting. In this clothing mall ladies make dresses, skirts and blouses right on the spot and sell them from $10 to $15 a piece. If you look closer at the sewing machine you may think that she uses one of those old machines made in the middle of the last century but this is not the case at all. We saw those machines for sale in Fiji last.

The visit of the National Museum in Port Vila was a bit short but interesting. The artifacts were obviously unique but what struck us the most was that we happen to be there the day the local schools had chosen to hold a field day at the museum. Thus we ended up at the door surrounded from everywhere by kids moving in all directions. The personnel of the museum had their hands full with all this youth and we just couldn’t find anyone to pay our entry fee so we finally just entered and did our visit. Inside was as hectic as outside and as far as we could see we were the only visitors that day other than all these small two legged Vanuatians running everywhere with their sheet of paper containing the questions they had to find the answers inside the museum. But the highlight was definitively the kids who were drawing on a sand board patterns that, base on the tone of the instructor’s voice, meant something about the culture of Vanuatu but he was talking in the local language, which seems to be a derivative of English but coming way too far in time to be intelligible for the profanes like us.

We took a tour to visit the Ekasup Village not far from Port Vila. For 15 years they receive visitors with a special and imaginative setup. Out of the bus we were greeted by a warrior who walked us through a path in the forest to the entrance of the village along which we could not only see spiders with a body the size of a quarter and 3 inches long legs but also other warriors, all dressed up with palm leaf skirts, black painted marks and wooden weapons shooting angrily at us and defying us to step out of the path! Again this was an occasion for me to act manly in front of Danielle but unfortunately I’d left my bow and my spear in the bus and knowing that these guys used to be cannibals I just kept walking! The great chief stood in the door of the village with all the warriors, about 15 of them, behind him with their weapons aiming at us. The chief finally agreed to let us in and we were then taken in charge by a guide who showed us the different aspects of the village life and the way the ancient lived one of them being the fact that men used to pay the fathers with pigs to be able to marry their daughter. Interestingly this dowry system is still in place but money replaced the pigs in the transaction and the government sets the price, which is about $12,000.00, to be paid for a bride. To put things in perspective in Canada I would have had to give my mom and dad in-law a moose, two deer and five loonies to marry Danielle!

The last but not the least we happened to be in Vanuatu on the 30th anniversary of their independence on July 30th, 2010 and had the chance to walk in Parliament Park where food stands and shows were going on all day. Well, I say all day but I should say almost all week as we had fireworks every evening and we could hear music for the last three days from the park. The fact is you can buy fireworks at the hardware store in town so many people just have fun at night. So far we haven’t heard the fire trucks so these little explosive rockets must not be that bad after all. The shows were quite humble but the food was really great. The park was completely surrounded by something like a hundred shacks built for the occasion and selling skewers, fish, rolls, roasted chicken, square smoochy things we have no idea what they were or different kind of pastry. All cooked on a small grill at the back of the shacks. Once again and against all our travel doctor’s advices we tasted almost everything. But after the market food episode our immune and digesting systems were up to the job and we just had a gustative blast for only about $5.00 each!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Arrived in Vanuatu.

We arrived in at the town of Port Vila on the island of Efate in Vanuatu, from Savusavu in Fiji, on July 21st, 2010 after a passage of 711 nautical miles (1322 Km) that took us exactly 5 days for an overall average speed of 5.9 knots.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Passage from Fiji to Vanuatu and broken parts (by Danielle).

We rarely talk about our passages at sea because it’s boring and nothing really happens but I think this passage deserves a little talk. We left Fiji on Friday and expected to be in Vanuatu the next Wednesday. We saw in the weather forecast that it’ll be windy but 20 to 25 knots of wind is just ok to make good speed. On our second night I am on watch and see a light. There is another boat on starboard, the wind is light at that time and we are making only about 3.5 knots. I start to follow the light and about half an hour later the light is clearly changing into a power boat about 100-120 feet long those kinds that travel between islands to deliver stuff. About 15 minutes later I can count the number of lights on the side of the boat; Oh! Oh! Way too close. I wake up Roger and believe it or not we had to untie the sails (we always tie our sails in case the wind shifts thus making a nice accidental gybe and destroys everything) and change our course under engine to avoid a collision. That’s why we don’t sleep when we are at sea, always somebody on watch.
On our third night; BANG! The “boombang” broke again. The new block from Puerto Rico had gone. After changing parts all the time on this boomvang we just didn’t have any spare blocks left that can sustain the tension it needs. Take a look at the picture to see the nice repair Roger did! It may not be pretty but it works!
As Roger explained before we are heading toward Australia, North Queensland in order to fix the boat and pass the hurricane region before the end of September. Faster we go faster we’ll get the boat fixed and slower the rest of the ride will be. We’re now at night 3 about 300 miles from Vanuatu. I went to bed, it’s 8:00pm, and Roger woke me up because the hydraulic autopilot was not working anymore. We had problems with the other autopilot, the ST4000, as well since this one is eating our driving belts like crazy. We had 4 new driving belts delivered in Tahiti and 2 already broke. So we put the ST4000 on and guess what? It broke the belt. Waves were about 4 meters high and the poor ST4000 couldn’t make it through. I have to mention that except for sleeping Roger stays in the cockpit during our passages because he gets seasick inside the boat. So I found myself steering the boat by hand and Roger inside emptying the port side bed in the middle of big waves and trying to figure out what was wrong with the hydraulic autopilot. Meanwhile I am at the wheel and of course it starts raining on me with the wind from the stern and with the big rain I got soaked in less than a minute. So I am at the wheel freezing to death and Roger is down below sweating and seasick trying to get the thing back on track. After a while he came outside and said “I have to take the motor of the hydraulic RAM apart!” By then it was almost midnight and I said “Wait a minute we can’t take that poppy apart in the middle of the night and exhausted so let’s just steer by hand for the night and check it tomorrow morning.” I managed to put the ST4000 autopilot on but waves were crashing and pushing so hard on the boat that the autopilot could turn port side but when it came to starboard we heard tack-a-tack-a-tack-a-tack and the boat didn’t turn so we had to stay at the wheel and help the autopilot to turn starboard every 10 seconds. So Roger said “Ok let’s do only 2 hours shifts” and I said “Ok you go sleep and I go after you.” Around 7:00am Roger had slept about 3 ½ hours and so did I. I said to Roger “I can’t barely steer the boat even with the help I am giving the autopilot.” Roger said “I think the belt is broken again we have one left so we will change it.” But to change the belt you have to remove the wheel. How am I supposed to steer the boat without a wheel? We usually put the hydraulic autopilot on but this time …. Ok, let’s close the sails and we’ll float around while you change the belt. And so we did. Start the engine and try to control a bit the boat with the engines, OK it’s working! Change the belt and restart the autopilot; tack-a-tack-a-tack-a-tack can’t make it through the waves even under engines. “Ok then I’ll steer again” I said. Roger went down below and worked about 2 hours on the motor, opened it and cleaned it. During this time I am in the cockpit steering by hand and imagining us for another 20 or so hours steering by hand. But guess what? Roger came back from downstairs completely naked, all wet from sweating, white face and red eyes and said “Put it on it will work.” I love that man, I thought. It worked like a brand new one autopilot. Conclusion; if you want to be safe at sea take Roger along with you. Although I doubt he will be willing for another trip like this one!!!
I will not mention all the repairs and fixings we have to go through again once we reach Cairns in Australia but take a look at the cost page for the month of August and you’ll see what it means!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Arrived in Fiji

We arrived at the town of Savusavu on the island of Vanua Levu in Fiji, from Samoa, on July 12th, 2010 after a passage of 574 nautical miles (1068 Km) that took us 4 days and 3 hours for an overall average speed of 5.8 knots. It was a relatively smooth ride if it wasn’t of the rainstorm we encountered during our trip and yet another piece of our boomvang that snapped. Fortunately the storm lasted only about 2 hours and the wind gusts were only up to 27 knots so nothing to be too worried about other than the fact that the cockpit was all wet after that. As of the boomvang it seems that this is the story of our life in the Pacific. Every pieces of this equipment break one after the other, even the main cable, which was rated for up to 16,000 lbs, snapped on our last passage to Samoa. There is so much tension in this equipment that every time something breaks it comes with such a huge BANG that Danielle now calls it the boombang! This time it was the shackle holding the base of the lower block that snapped from fatigue. It took only 10 minutes to fix but this is really getting on our nerves. The plan is to change the whole thing once in Australia with much stronger parts in the hope that after that we will be able to straighten our main sail without worrying that the whole thing falls apart at every wave! On a different topic we hope you find our courtesy flags nice for since Panama we stopped buying the flags and started making them ourselves with our turbo Sailrite sewing machine. Fiji was quite a challenge and the result may not be perfect but, all things considered, is not too bad.One last thing to tickle your brain. We left Samoa on July 7th, 2010 and arrived 4 days later on July 12th, 2010. Do the math and you’ll see that something is wrong. The reason is that during this passage we crossed the date change line (180° longitude) and since we were sailing west we never saw the day of July 9th, 2010. Since we cannot travel in time the question you have to answer is where did this day go? Please send us an email with the answer. For the purists let’s assume we crossed the line at exactly midnight, but this is semantic.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Samoa is wonderful but be careful!

Samoa is a small country in South Pacific made of many islands but the vast majority of the population is concentrated on the biggest two islands; Utopu and Savaii. We stopped at the town of Apia on the island of Utopu and took a guided tour to visit de many waterfalls and to be explained the local culture and customs, which are quite different than ours. Strong family life, predominant religion and a joie de vivre you can only find in places where capitalism and over consumption have not yet left their trail of devastation. The visit was quite pleasant and we let ourselves go to wear small flowers on our ear and admire the nature. However I didn’t go as far as wearing one of these skirts, the lavalavas, men regularly wear down here. On this subject, the first day we arrived I went to the bank to change money while Danielle stayed on the boat. A man came to me to sell me those famous lavalavas. I looked in his bag and thought that he was definitively talking to the wrong person so I said no thanks. A few steps further I finally saw a policeman wearing a uniform made up of a shirt with a tie, sandals and … a skirt! I think I’ll send the Montreal Police Corps a suggestion to see what they think!

Here’s a picture of our guide Andrew (Andi for the friends) demonstrating how people around here play those popular wooden drums. We must admit that he gave us a pretty good tour, speaking good English sure helped, but it as at the end that the cream turned sour. At each places we went, waterfalls or other points of interest, we had to pay a small fee between 5 and 10 talas, which is the local currency (1 tala = $0.40), per person and this was fine. However, at the last waterfall our dear Andi knitted a fine story about the fact that at this place there was nobody to collect the money but we had to pay him instead and he would go pay later since the control was made apparently through a camera on site. I know that told like this the story is not very credible but, without going into lengthy details, let’s say that he was very good at making it so. Us, true to ourselves, we felt for it and gave him the 40 talas ($16) he asked for. Just to give you an idea he even went as far as inviting us to his house the next Sunday for a lunch with his family members and all the rest of it. Back to the boat we checked and sure enough the waterfall in question was obviously free! And since it is easier to convince a politician that world peace is an important thing than getting money back from a Samoan we simply let it go. Of course, we never went to his “lunch”, which was very likely another scam of his to get something out of us. So, if you come to Samoa have a good time and just avoid taking Andrew as a guide or a taxi driver.

Here’s another picture of the waterfall we are photographed in front of at the beginning of this post. Unfortunately, without another reference point it is hard to see how high this fall really was. The place was splendid with lush topical vegetation everywhere and this huge column of water falling. Seeing the flat rock at the top of the fall Danielle was wondering how it would be to dive from that point into the fall. Unfortunately, I’d left my swimsuit in the car and was not able to show my virility to her that day!

Here are a few pictures of Apia. Children here really like to be taken in picture and as soon as I pulled out my camera these young girls started to shout for me to point the device at them. We obviously went to the central market to buy fruits and vegetables. Prices are quite low, especially compared to French Polynesia, and the choice reasonably good. One interesting thing about the markets in the islands is that there are many people selling their products but the products are same on every stall. You can also see here a view of the large Catholic Church in the center of Apia, which is a landmark hard to miss when taking a walk in town. By the way, it is quite pleasant to walk in Apia. It is not very big but, other than the taxi drivers who you must watch, people are extremely nice and convivial.
One last note about our itinerary. If you read so far in this article you are probably one of our regular readers and in the next few weeks you will notice a tangible acceleration in our progress through the Pacific. The reason is quite simple. We had two choices for our Pacific passage. We could take our time and go to hide in New Zealand for the cyclone season, which starts around October, or speed up and leave Australia before the beginning of the cyclones. In the former case we’d have had to stay almost six months in New Zealand and get to South East Asia a year later. The latter scenario takes us through Fiji and Vanuatu and makes us to miss Tonga and New Zealand but shorten the trip by one full year. If you consult our cost page you will quickly understand why we chose this second scenario even though we are really sad of missing to visit such nice countries that are Tonga and New Zealand. One thing we realized in this trip is that the world is immense and it is impossible to see it all especially with the means we have. Nevertheless, we see many extraordinary things often beautiful but sometimes ugly and we are quite happy to have ventured into this trip and this even though we deeply miss Canada and the people we love.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Arrived in Samoa

We arrived in the Western Samoa in the port of Apia on the island of Upolu after a nice passage of 1179 nautical miles (2193Km) that took us 9 days and 1 hour from Bora Bora in French Polynesia. The funny thing is the 1 hour in question was cancelled by the fact that Samoa is one hour behind Bora Bora and therefore we arrived at the same hour we left 10:20am. Our original plan was to stop in the middle at the atoll of Suvarov, which is part of the Cook Islands, but the wind direction and the fact we were making very good progress made us change our plans and we simply went straight to Samoa.