The Islands of Vanuatu – Santo, Espiritu Santo

Peregrina's Journey
Peter and Margie Benziger
Wed 12 Jan 2011 02:35

Position Report - 15:31.559S  167:09.886E

Leaving Vao, we headed to Espiritu Santo Island, the largest in the archipelago. Peter had been looking forward to visiting the main settlement of Santo on this island because here one finds the site of the U.S.S. Coolidge, an American troop and cargo carrier that was sunk during World War II.  The ship, apparently, was a victim of “friendly fire” hitting a mine placed by our own Navy to guard the entrance to the bay.  The Captain, in an effort to save the crew, drove towards shore and ran it aground just a couple hundred feet off the beach in about 125 feet of water.  Peter made two dives into the wreck penetrating the hull with lights.  He’ll tell you about the dive in a separate email….
But, did I mention the earthquake???
Well, as it happened, Peter and I were walking back to the dinghy, each carrying one handle of a large canvas bag filled with groceries that we had just purchased in downtown Santo.  The sidewalks were all broken up and rutted in places and it was definitely not a smooth surface so, when I stumbled and almost fell down, I assumed that I had just tripped over my own two feet but Peter immediately said, “Margie, I think we’re in the middle of an earthquake!” 

I was about to tell him he was crazy when I realized that the entire population of the town was spilling out from the buildings and into the streets!  I especially noticed a small group of kindergarten children who were herded out of their school by three teachers and immediately circled together holding hands with the teachers surrounding them like mother hens.  It was obvious they had done this drill before and, the more I looked around, the more I realized that Peter and I appeared to be the only people panicking at the thought of our impending doom while all the others seemed to be taking this natural disaster in stride!   We finally asked a couple guys standing nearby, “What’s going on,” and they replied, “Just another earthquake.”  JUST ANOTHER EARTHQUAKE???  OMG!!!

As it turns out…Vanuatu is apparently a hotspot for seismic activity and this sort of thing happens with great regularity around these parts.  Who Knew???  We come to find out that this earthquake registered a hefty 7.2 on the Richter scale and, lucky for us, the epicenter was about a 100 miles south, closer to Port Vila.  We learned this out when we visited the hardware store a few minutes later (after we had caught our breath and checked to see whether we had pee’d in our pants.  You’ll be happy to know we hadn’t…)   The manager assured us that this earthquake wasn’t that much of a big deal.  Apparently, they consider it a “big deal” when the paint cans start falling off the shelves.  “Makes a terrible mess,” he noted ruefully.

Anyway, we found out later that night that Caroline and Stewart on Gaultine III, who were still on the dock at Port Vila, got rocked by so much wave action that their lines, which were attached to the dock, snapped right off the cleats!   Luckily, they suffered no damage as a result.  But, Lucy Alice, with Glenda and Ian aboard, who were sailing not far off the coast of Port Vila, were buffeted by huge waves that knocked them all around the cockpit and their mast shook so violently that they were afraid it was going to go down!  It was quite the show of Mother Nature’s fury and one that I will not soon forget!

Needless to say, we bid a dubious fond farewell to Santo, Espiritu Santo the next day and headed off for Mackay, Australia.  We had waited for a weather window for several days and the entire fleet was ahead of us with the exception of Aqualuna, with Jonathan, Gabbie and Donald aboard, who showed up the night before to our great surprise and pleasure.  I don’t like to be at the end of the fleet so it was nice to know that we’d have at least one other boat in the vicinity, although Aqualuna, a Discovery 55, would, undoubtedly, pass us very quickly and beat us to Mackay by a considerable timeframe. 

Nevertheless, it was a comfort to know that we’d have another boat to “buddy sail” with on our passage – which meant that we could set up a schedule for SSB radio checks at 2am and 2pm each day in addition to the Blue Water Rally radio “Net” that operates at 10am and 6pm daily.  That way, we knew there would be four chances for us to call for help if necessary.  As it turned out, we didn’t need it because we had a terrific sail to Mackay….8 nights, 9 days of perfect sailing conditions, sustaining winds of 18-22 knots from the South South East and calm seas all the way.  We didn’t put our engine on until the last day when we had no wind and a terrible fog that reminded us of the coast of Maine.

But, we’ve reached Australia, having crossed the Pacific in 192 days from the Panama Canal to Mackay.  We haven’t come half way around the world yet but we’re getting close.  We’ve covered almost 12,000 miles so far and we’ve had the time of our lives.  Thank you so much for allowing us to share our journey with you.  Stay tuned, it’s only just begun…..