Vanuatu second part of voyage

Wed 26 Jun 2019 05:09

A Mysterious Night-time visitor, The Moon in its Moods and some Arses.

A successful day had been spent cooking up most of the remaining fresh veg and finishing the last blog. We were both researching our destination with the help of the Lonely Planet Guide 1995 written by David Harcombe and Denis O’Byrne and s/v Miz Mae’s Guide to Vanuatu 1998 by Nicola Rind, both second editions and looked forward to seeing how things have changed since way back then.

In the early night the moon rose in an orange glow in the east and lit up the night sky. A little spider had ambitiously started spinning a circular web between the aerial post and Hydrovane and it shone like a CD in the moonlight with the spider in the middle, waiting. When not giving generously of its reflected light the moon slid elusively behind silky clouds or stood solitary and proud draped in its diamond studded black sky.

Just before 5.00am, while in the process of turning off the engine, furling the main and letting the genoa work single handed we noticed the familiar signs of a nocturnal visitor, but the culprit was long gone leaving lots of white guano like thick deck paint. The wind was great for sailing, 10 to 17 knots just off her stern, a little too much for the Diva but the genoa was giving us a constant 6 knots plus so that was good and we could relax below.

We spent the morning passing Aneityum (prev: Anatom), the first inhabited island in the 84 island archipelago all dark and moody in the distance. A few metres away frigate birds hovered menacingly over a flock of Sooty Terns fishing below, ready to steal their catch. No, our visitor would not have been one of them, like shearwater they show no interest in us and terns have to be careful not to encounter the sea as their plumage becomes waterlogged. They have to sleep on the wing and rather like the young Royal Southern albatross we learned about in Otago who soar over the southern ocean for 5-6 years, young terns can spend the first three years of their lives at sea until they are old enough to breed.

Sooties are also known as Wide-awake terns because of the incessant deafening cacophony of noise they make on their breeding colonies at night, no doubt catching up on all the gossip.

Talking of albatross and along with them earlier in the voyage we saw Black-browed mollymawks. While looking up terns I found an under wing side picture of one of these birds very similar to the photo I took. They are big birds at 90cm body length but not as grand as the Royal Albatross which can reach 145cm.

That night our visitor returned and sat on the end of the boom for a rest. As you can see from Rob’s great photo boobies can grip rope with their webbed feet, they just hadn’t done so on Zoonie before. It is a male brown booby bird as only they have blue faces.

Two more visited and one took up position on the top of the mast. We feared for the VHF aerial and the windex which gives us a visual on the wind direction.

Fortunately the aerial survived but somehow it managed to break the windex, the pointy end I later found on the side-deck. We saw a large flock of these birds busily feeding.

All down Zoonie’s starboard side the next day were conical volcanic islands and flatter ‘lava flow’ islands. Slowly Zoonie was climbing further up the chain in the direction of Espirito Santo and in particular its main town, Luganville. But first we had to navigate through the Selwyn Strait in the middle of the night. Named after Anglican bishop Selwyn who reported that despite the brutal activities of French ‘Blackbirders’ in the north of Maewo Island (more about this island and blackbirding later) he found the people of that island were the most pleasant and honest he had met in the entire archipelago.

From the eye of a booby on the wing a group of the northern Vanautuan Islands together circle around to form a large bay. Starting on the southwest is Malacula Island (so named after some clan members got French sailors to sit down on some nice furry leaves and then proceeded to get them drunk on kava because they wanted to get rid of them. When they sobered up the sailors discovered the leaves contained a strong skin irritant, so they ran around yelling “Mal a cul” ‘pain in the arse’.)

To the east is Ambrym Island which has the Sewyn Strait lying between it and the thin north to south Pentecost Island. North again and joined with a subterranean link to Pentecost is Maewo Island of a similar shape and west of that Ambrae with its live and very active volcano. Its caldera glows orange and our booby avoids flying over it. It made UK news not so long ago when all the inhabitants had to be evacuated twice because of dangerous eruptions. West again is Espirito Santo and to the south Malo Island north of Pain in the Arse Island.

As the booby looks around he clearly sees the islands in the moonlight, the water shimmers between them and white lights, some along the shores and others further up the slopes gradually go out as the night progresses, the kava sessions finished and sleep time ensues. But wait, there is something in the water between the two islands. A tiny vessel making a dead straight wash with just one little sail flying at the front. Two people are moving around in the middle of the craft, “I think I’ll go and take a look, maybe I can rest a while.”

On board the couple are cautious about entering the strait, wondering if wind over tide is having an effect in the narrow passage, there isn’t quite enough light to see that far ahead. Will the water be rough or smooth, what is the rate of the tidal stream? They already know it is not directly in their favour from the direction of the blue tide line on the plotter screen. But all is very well as wind and water let the little vessel through without any discomfort.

Dawn spreads its watery light and the booby admires the pale blue sail flying off the front of the boat as it rocks very gently from side to side sending both the people on board into restful sleeps, at different times of course. The booby flies off to join its buddies for some fishing. Zoonie is on rails again, the islands protecting the ‘bay’ from the effect of the trade winds on the water. The blue sail has gone and a white sail is poled out with a little of the white sail behind the mast too, for balance. A perfect run across the ‘bay’.

While chatting over a cup of tea I was struggling to reach for the levers to open one of the front windows and let in some fresh air when Rob watching said, “You really are a little short arse, aren’t you.”  After some thought I came out with,

“If I was three inches taller I’d have beautiful legs,” poking the extra layer at the top of one, “This isn’t fat it’s POTENTIAL!”

I started doing some washing thinking our nice progress would help it to dry and cooked the rest of the fresh red cabbage so it wouldn’t be confiscated. The end of the voyage was in sight now. A long flat tree covered shoreline stopped with a lighter shore in the further distance and that was where we turned left into the Segond Channel. Just another six miles or so to go to our anchorage beyond the town and the Sarakata River, past the Luganville School into a little bay where we dropped the hook into sand and mud at 9 metres depth. We have covered 1247 miles in 10 days one and a half hours and used 91 ltrs of fuel completing 229 days at sea on our circumnavigation so far.