2019 Vanuatu Southwards down the leeward western side of Pemtecost to Batnavni
Southwards down the leeward western side of Pentecost
“We’ll catch you up, I’m going to try for fish now I have enough line.” Ken said as we moved out of Loltong bay, back down our black chartplotter line and into a silky smooth ocean. I was taking it steady and when Rob turned on the autopilot it functioned for a few seconds and then lost its drive connection a few times.
“Maybe we are going too slowly,” Rob suggested, so I upped the revs to 1500 and it appeared to engage the helm properly, so we hoped that was it.
“I’ve caught one, a nice big poulet for our tea,” Ken’s jubilant voice rang over the VHF, “Don’t know how much line went out but it was over 200 metres,” and that was just outside the bay!
It was a calm, almost cloudless day, a reprieve from the fresh trades, and behind every sandy beach along the coast were settlements and thin plumes of smoke ascending as the villagers cooked, baked and cool burned the shrubbery.
I watched flying fish as they spun away from us, the oceans mini fighter planes. They emerge from the water, tap it hard with their tails while their ‘wings’ are slanted and then when sufficiently elevated to fly they level their bodies and their ‘wings’ and they’re off. What we take as an amusing sight is in fact their escape from a predator, on this occasion ‘us’.
Big catholic churches and missions and a government guest house dominated the village huts in Namaran and a little further on past the next jungle headland we came into Batnavni Bay where a herd of six spinner dolphins showed us where it would be best to anchor.
An hour late Kena and Bron arrived and we went ashore to explore the sprawling village that was gearing up, actually tidying up ready for the Independence Day Celebrations on the 30th July.
Ken brought ashore the coral trout with the massive eyes he had caught and as it was so big, too big for the four of us, he offered it to a young lad “Go on take this to your mum and tell her you caught it off the beach,” the lad understood the joke and dashed off with his prize in a carrier bag. We wish we’d been there!
Young Sarah came forward to greet us and introduced us to her mum who opened her shop, not the one in the photo which was at the other end of town. We gave our beer barrel to another lad because the top only rest on it so it isn’t ideal for the boat and he was delighted. Sarah sent her husband off to collect some coconuts and papayas which we loaded onto the dinghies.
Sarah’s family ran out of money so she was unable to finish her studies but her brother is at university in Beijing learning Chinese history and hopes to work in the diplomatic service in the Vanuatu Embassy there.
There was a nice clean looking river and some freshwater springs so Ken could top up their water supply on Nichola. Children accompanied us along the earth track towards the school and playing field and some men were erecting what appeared to be a stand by the side of the road for the celebrations. Numerous kava bars sat anonymous and empty, ready swept for the evenings session. We were on a mission to find another shop, the one in the picture, which belonged to very friendly Ben. He struggled with the use of the calculator to do a sum we had already worked out for four beers and we wondered if he had missed out on school altogether. He introduced us to his wife and friend Basil who was sitting in the shade of the shop veranda watching his mobile phone screen.
“Come and look at this,” he beckoned so Ben hastily brought together enough chairs and we sat and chatted while some young children watched. Basil had retired from a career in teaching followed by a government ministerial position and was very concerned about the growing Chinese presence in Vanuatu. Not the all-pervasive retail presence in the shopping areas of the big towns but the massive financial loans given to the corrupt Vanuatu government for the building of the vast new customs compound in Luganville that we visited and also the sports complex (headquarters?) in Port Vila where the government cannot even afford the cleaning and electricity bills.
He showed me an interview between a government minister and a British journalist who asked such questions as Why were these places built? (For future Chinese military use and to make Vanuatu indebted to China?) How is the government going to pay China back and could there be a strategic reason for the buildings? (In land and political control?) The Luganville customs compound and substantial wharf is adjacent to an area of water large enough for a fleet of ships. Basil suspected China had designs on taking over at least one island in the area for a military base and he feared for the future of the young children who were listening to our conversation. The government official could not, or would not answer any of the questions.
Worried in mind, we returned to the dinghy where we found some bananas from the family of the little boy who had presented them with ‘his catch’ and escaped back to Zoonie’s peaceful decks where I was satisfied her aft deck is now used for shucking coconuts instead of gutting fish. Reluctantly we decided against a snorkel as the sea in the bay was building and clouds gathering, so we sat a while and watched the dolphins, a dugong and two turtles around the boats.
A short while later we took buttered sweetcorn and minted peas to Nichola to go with Ken’s truly delicious breaded and fried poulet knowing it would be the only time we would taste it.
The night turned out to be the mother of roly nights and at 2.50am I had to break up the romance between the two wine bottle waltzing on the galley floor to the accompaniment of the sloshing soaking dried mushrooms. Then mop up where a half filled beaker of water had shed its load onto the saloon seat. The baking tins in the oven were clashing like culinary cymbals because I had bolted it earlier. A quick release and it was free to gimbal to the motion again.
At 6.50am we were relieved to get underway once more 17 miles down the coast to Homo Bay where 19 years ago Nichola of Miz Mae strongly recommended no cruising yacht should anchor anywhere near this bay. We will learn why and whether the disturbing situation still exists today.