Awei Island, Maskelynes.

Fri 23 Oct 2015 05:12
16:32.066S 167:46.233E

Maskelynes sailing outrigger going along the outer reef.

Our main topic of conversation whilst zigzagging our way South and East down the coast of Malakula was “should we tack now, or later?”. Every time we thought we were on a making tack the wind would shift, so we’d try the other one, but then the wind would shift again. It seemed we could either go South, and a little West,  or East, and a little North, not South and East together. However, in every other way, the day was a success. It was beautiful weather, we were making good speed (all be it in slightly the wrong direction) and… we caught fish!

Those of you who are regular followers will have been on the edge of your seats wondering what THE TREASURE was that we found in Port Vila, well today is the day your curiosity will be satisfied. Way way back, before we left the UK Phil had been looking for an Alvey rail mounted fishing reel. The new ones we found were just too expensive and although Phil trawled through Ebay, we couldn’t find a second hand one. It seemed those who owned an Alvey reel weren’t planning on parting with it. But there, in the fishing shop Nigel took us to, was a beautiful specimen, and at a very good price too. “Go on,” I said “You’ve wanted one for ages!”. So He did.

And yesterday was the day that it proved it’s worth. First, a lovely big Mahi Mahi

Followed shortly by his sister:

We don’t usually put the lines out again once we’ve caught a fish but we knew there would be villages near that night’s anchorage who would be glad of the fish. The fish processing system slid smoothly into play and, with a pause to tack, we soon had fish number one transformed into vacuum packed fillets in the fridge and freezer.  The head and carcass we put in bags and stored in the cool of the cockpit bilge, along with the second complete Mahi Mahi. 

Our anchorage that night was to be in the beautiful Maskelyne Islands on the South East corner of Malekula. These are a network of little islands and reefs, providing some well sheltered anchorages. We arrived in plenty of light so threaded our way in with the reefs and sandbanks easily visible.

Entering through the North East Channel.

Passing Avokh.

Soon after we anchored we saw a couple leaving Awe in their canoe, they were headed back to the village on Avokh with a big bundle of pandanus for weaving. We called them over and gave them the fish - they were delighted. Soon after an old gentleman named Whitey came to call, we told him about the fish and he set off to find them in order to get a share, but we learned next day that he was too late, it had all been eaten by the time he got back.

We did a lot of trading and gifting here. We met the Chief of the family that live on Awe whilst walking on the reef and he and his wife came to call, telling us of the difficulties the community faces, and the help that they’d received after cyclone Pam. We were glad to give him things to help out: nails, a hand saw, fishing line and hooks, a solar lantern. He asked us to get him some things from Vila: shoes he could use whilst looking for food on the reef, a sharpening stone for their knives and some more nails, along with some calico (in Bislama all material is calico) to use to make new Mother Hubbards for the women. Other folk came wanting bits and pieces: matches, fishing line, weights and even a sail was asked for. We’ll ask around in Vila in case anyone has an old one, we’ve not replaced any of ours so don’t have an old one to spare. They offered many coconuts, both green and brown, reef fish and papaya. We refused the fish of course, having as much as we could want already.

After a peaceful night we got up early with the sun and, as it was low tide we took the kayak to go walking on the reef. All sorts of little creatures darted and scurried in the pools: little black fish with whiskers, like cat fish, in schools of a hundred or more, making the water dance with their squirming; bright blue starfish, half hidden in cracks and crannies;  crabs, perfectly camouflaged until they moved; beautifully coloured cowries, two inches long, alive so we didn’t take them; sea snakes, black and white striped and spotted, slinking smoothly through the seagrass; sea cucumbers, the black turd type ones, spinning trails of white web, and the long long ‘elastic’ ones, like the picture I put on in the Oyster Island post. I discovered why the locals call them elastic. If you step near them they suddenly shrink down from maybe 5ft to 1ft. Rather disconcerting and an excellent strategy to avoid predators. But the strangest creatures we saw were bright fluorescent green things. They were tube shaped, about 1 inch by 5 inches, and they bounced across the shallows ahead of us, end over end like a slinky, before disappearing down a hole in the coral. Extraordinary! 

The beach we anchored off, Awei.

Back on the boat, whilst breakfasting, we were surprised to find our quiet bay starting to fill up with outriggers and little motorboats, overflowing with passengers. Some were full of men, some full of women, never a mixture. They got out with goggles and walked chest deep in the shallows and on the reef, clearly looking for something. One of the motor boats were having trouble with their outboard, they were having to pole themselves along the shallows, so we paddled over in the kayak with petrol, spark plugs and tools. Phil stayed on board to help get things fixed whilst I paddled to the other side of the bay with two of the ladies on board. They were hunting sea cucumbers to sell to the Chinese, who, amazingly, eat them. I grabbed my mask on the way over and joined in the hunt. I found no sea cucumbers but instead saw some beautiful anemones growing singly on the sand. They were like intricate flowers, or snow flakes, 10 inches across, quite beautiful. I also surprised a sting ray in the sea grasses, which disconcerted the ladies, they wanted to get back in the kayak and move away if there was a sting ray around. Happily, the other sea cucumber hunters were more effective than I was; a good haul was collected by the end of the morning:

Yes, the Chinese actually eat these...