Bommies in the dark

Wed 13 Aug 2008 06:22
15.43S 167.06E
Sue writes:
Storyteller is now at anchor off the island of Aore, just across a stretch of water from Luganville the decidedly third world capital of the island of Santo in the north of Vanuatu.
I arrived back in Vanuatu after three winter weeks in New Zealand. I'd gone there when my elderly mother was hospitalised after her leg was broken. Rather mercifully, she developed pneumonia and was able to slip away never knowing that she couldn't have returned home. I was very glad to have been there, and also to provide company for my stepfather, Dick, who  is most unwell, but luckily his daughter, Margo is able to takeover the role of companion housekeeper. The weather in New Zealand was frightful, with two weather bombs in one week. A nice time not to be on a yacht!
While I was in NZ,  John and Rigel sailed northfrom Port Vila to  Santo, stopping overnight at islands on the way. They and Southern Princess acted as the start boats for the next leg of the World Arc.  It was sad to say goodbye to so many of the good friends we have made since the rally began in the Caribbean in January, but we're not at all sorry not to be making any more long ocean passages. The Indian Ocean--no thanks! You may have read that one of the yachts, Asolare, was wrecked on a reef off the Queensland coast en route to Cairns. Luckily their distress call was heard by Taupo radio in NZ, resulting in Peter and his crew being winched off the reef, with the total loss of the yacht. More sad news this week when we heard today that a friend on Ideal, who became ill and returned home from Tonga, has just died of liver cancer. Of all the yachts that started the Rally about 10 have dropped out, some of them cruising Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Two other yachts are planning to make the trip down to NZ with Southern Princess and us in mid October.
Of all the places we've visited Vanuatu is the least developed, with very little tourism outside of Vila--no marinas, of course, and no marine industry. If you have a technical problem you really can be in trouble. John had a very amusing experience with a guy known as Whispering Dan, one of the many characters you find in this part of the world.
The bracket which holds the alternator to the engine had worked loose and the increased vibration had elongated the main bearing holes. Asking advice ashore I was told the Dan, an elderly Australian expat was the guy to fix it. I Found Dan's workshop out the back of town but Dan was not there and nobody knew where he was or when he would return. So I left the bracket and said I would return in a couple of hours. Having to fill in time I negotiated with the taxi driver and he took me about 20km across the island to look at bays that might be attractive anchorages. At the first bay I saw a large catamaran from the Southport Yacht Club that had been beached at low tide. I introduced myself and the group on board invited me to join them for afternoon tea. They had beached the boat to work on some problems they were having with the propellers. The guy doing the work was Whispering Dan. He welded and redrilled the bracket for me the next morning.
There are lots of surprises here--the most notable being some delicious Cointreau souffles we were served at a tiny little resort on Oyster Island. There we ate beautiful local oysters and the famous Santo beef. Although we are taking anti malaria medication, here's a refreshing lack mosquitoes and sandflies. It's surprising as there are mangroves everywhere.
One of the big attractions on Santo are all the World War 2 shipwrecks which draw divers from all over the world. This is where James Michener set his stories, Tales From the South Pacific, which we've all enjoyed rereading. We've been snorkelling over sunken plane wrecks near to one of the US airfields.
We had some of our most challenging moments getting in and out of the anchorage at Oyster Island, where there is a stretch of reef that can only be crossed by yachts of our depth at a very high tide. Unfortunately the only very high tides this week have been at night, so we had to wait until nearly midnight before we could attempt the narrow passage through the reef. We took the precaution of marking the navigation beacons with reflector tape, and it was a lovely moonlit night, but it was still a very scary experience inching our way through with less than an inch of water beneath us. The current pushed us sideways on to a bommie, so we now have a small chunk out of our keel. When we finally made our way through we poured ourselves a very stiff drink.
This morning John and the guys from Southern Princess are off on a NFW (no f------ women) fishing trip with a group of kiwis who have properties up here. I've just made a curry to to make sure they catch plenty of fish. After a couple of great nights ashore listening to NI Vanuatu (the local indigenous people )playing ukeleles and teachest basses we'll head off tomorrow on the trip south to Vila, taking about 10 days to get there. Luckily Southern Princess have on board Bob Colbert who first came here in 1972. His knowledge of the islands is going to make the trip much more interesting.