Mele Bay, guests and water problems.

Thu 17 Sep 2015 01:09
17:41.56S 168:15.896E

Leaving Port Vila

We were lucky enough to have some visitors, long-time friends of Phil, Don and Jan, who flew in from Australia to Port Vila. When we have guests on board one realises anew how different it is living on a boat, how adapted we are to ‘off grid’ living, being careful of power and water, how we’ve developed ways of doing things to take best advantage of the resources we have. You see things through other people’s eyes and the everyday normal stuff like pre-rinsing washing up in salt water and, if you know you’re going on passage, leaving it ‘till after you’ve run the engine because then there’ll be hot water (the hot exhaust cooling water from the engine is piped through the hot water cylinder) suddenly seems complicated and unusual. People usually just wash up, without all that much thought about it. 

Jan and Don, living the life...

It also made me aware of how much time we spend fixing things. Sure, houses need work doing on them too, and things break, but you don’t shake a house violently about and dip it in salt water, and most houses don’t have to generate their own power nor make their own water, nor navigate from A to B across a watery desert with dangerous edges, so there are less systems to maintain. During Don and Jan’s visit it was the fresh water system that played up. The pressure at the taps was slowly decreasing, then the pump kept coming on in bursts when no one was running water. Then we realised the bilge was filling up when it hadn’t been raining (there are always ways for rain to get from the deck to the bilge - down the inside of the mast for example). Phil tasted it and sure enough it was fresh water. A systematic survey of the pipes revealed a steady drip from a joint, hose clips were tightened and job done, all good. For a day or two. Then the water pressure started to drop even more. Frustrating! Strangely, more than one problem with a system seem to develop together, perhaps the combined effects are enough to provide symptoms, we often think we’ve fixed something then find there’s something else wrong too.  The bilge was filing up again, the pump running when it shouldn’t. A further hunt revealed the wonderful new washing machine was leaking. Yes! You read right, the new half size machine we found in New Zealand, in a camper van shop, representing freedom from bucket washing and hand wringing after over two years of peeling hands*. The dratted machine we managed to haul up on deck using halyards, somehow wrestled down the companion way - they’re heavy you know, filled with concrete blocks to stabilise them when they spin, and manipulate into the designated space next to the diesel day tank. I have to admit that bit was stressy. There was much “Hold on! The knob’s not going to go through!” and “I can’t hold it anymore!!” and “It’s not going to fit” from Phil and “It bloody well will!” from me. We had a short break for an argument at one point and there was that terrible moment when we realised it was going in but Phil was behind it and may never be able to come out again**. Eventually it was in. But the door wouldn’t open. A small matter of Phil relocating our diesel pump solved that. I mean, what’s more important? A washing machine or a diesel pump? 

Washing machine in situ.You’re standing in the heads off our cabin looking through what used to be our shower, and is now our Brompton bikes, dive equipment and spare life raft store. See it in the back there, alongside pipes and things? Those are the diesel hoses and pumps for the day tank. Phil might have been stuck in there for ever...

Anyway, said washing machine (which wouldn’t work anyway, due to low water pressure!) was leaking, which was easily fixed, and the tap water flowed again, reasonably well, for a day or so… during which the pressure continued to drop. We decided to just live with it for a bit, we had guests, perhaps they could do with some attention, we’d sort it after they left.

So poor Don and Jan (mostly Jan, Don wasn’t that bothered about water, sensibly preferring beer, or whisky with a little soda) had to cope with a limited trickle instead of a flow. We’re used to being salty, but Jan wasn’t and it must have felt rather uncomfortable. When we did give the ok for a shower there had clearly been so much discussion about water, worry about water, and making of new water to replace the water that had leaked into the bilge, that she didn’t feel able to wash her hair. “I’ll just wash it in the basin when I get to the airport” she offered. 

We spent a couple of days in the harbour, whilst our guests got used to living on the boat and to climbing up and down ladders into bouncing dinghies whilst we were in a sheltered environment, then we motor sailed around the headland into Mele Bay to find a place where we could walk on the beach and adapt to a little swell before going further afield. Mele has a little island, hardly separated from the mainland by a reef renamed 'Hideaway Island' after the resort that’s on it, we anchored in the lee of it and dinghied over to look around, it was manicured and expensive but made delicious iced cocktails - so cold they gave me brain freeze! There’s also beach bar on the main land here rightly famed for a fire show on Friday evenings. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no history of fire dancing on Vanuatu, it’s not part of the culture or kastom, but it’s a very good and varied fire show, lasting an hour or more, and so we returned to Mele just before Jan and Don flew out of Port Vila, to enjoy it, coming by taxi instead of anchoring that time. The place was packed, over a hundred tourists had emerged in buses and taxis from the various resorts and hotels, indulging in happy hour cocktails and steak and chips before the show. However, the show was free (it would have been impossible to police anything else) so some local families also got to enjoy it, sitting on mats on the sand. I’ve been trying to get better at my photography, exploring more settings, so I played with long exposures and got a few snaps I rather liked!


The bay has a long sandy beach along the western side so next day we went ashore for a lovely saunter along it. The further you went the blacker the sand became and the bigger the waves breaking on the beach as you approached the Northern unsheltered end of the bay. Massive corpses of trees, relics from the cyclone, bleached white now and sanded smooth by the wind and tide, lay across the beach, striking against the black dark sand. At the far end we found a little village and a resort with a restaurant. It was beautifully laid out, pleasant bungalows in lovely grounds, access to the sea via a wooden pier with a ladder at the end, so you could get past the surf and the reef, and even a little tide swimming pool for the kids (next to witch we saw a beautiful tiny tiny baby sea snake). Next to the swimming pool two Australian women were sat on sun beds, with woolly hats on, enjoying the view whilst reading. I expect it didn’t say about the prevailing wind in the brochure.

On the way back we stopped in the lee of the island for a swim, finishing off in the river that meandered across the beach just there to wash off the worst of the salt. It was nothing like the fresh water pool we’d enjoyed on Erromango, being shallow, rather silty and a bit brackish, but after all, four people take lots of water from the tank to shower and what’s a bit of grit between friends?

* Those of you who are saying ‘just get a mangle’ hush. Firstly, they’re heavy and you have to find somewhere to securely mount it on deck, secondly we’ve not been able to find one. So hush.
** Interestingly we’re not the only one who had this problem. Ian on Outsider asked us to come over as he was trying to fix their washing machine (most catamarans have them on board). He was single handing just then as Wendy was back sorting some finances in Australia and he was worried. He’d pulled the machine out but had to get in behind it to disconnect the hoses and power, he was concerned that if he went in there he’d never be able to get back out again and Wendy would return some days later to a half starved wreck of a man instead of the well built handsome fella she’d left behind! He’d have had access to water so probably wouldn’t have died but it wouldn’t have been nice. Being considerably smaller than him I was able to nip in behind and do the disconnect without much problem. It is my fate in life to be the smallest on board and have to go in horrid cramped spaces.