Thursday, 3 September 2015

Vanuatua Maskelynes

Maskelynes 25-27 August

The Maskelynes are low lying islands just south of Malekula and one of the reasons they get so few tourists is that it is one of the islands that still has cases of malaria. Not to be put off by this, and taking precautions with mosquito nets and plenty of mosquito repellent, we set off from Ambrym in calm seas and gentle winds. That was until we passed the end of the island and spent the next two hours sailing into 35 knot winds and big seas while a big weather front went over us. Once it had passed it was a pleasant sail and all we had to do was find the anchorage.

Destruction from Cyclone still evident
The entrance to the large bay was about 40 metres across with reefs just under the water either side with depths in the entrance dropping down to 4 metres at high tide. Once inside we were the only boat in the anchorage. We were surrounded on all side by mangroves, forest and three villages along the shore all of which had been badly damaged by the Cyclone. Children on shore were waving and shouting ‘Alo’ as we came in.

Our first trip ashore in the dinghy was tricky as we negotiated the reefs inside the bay but managed to get ashore to meet Stewart who was the local guide. We arranged for a tour of the village the next day with an afternoon visit to the clam sanctuary.

Stewart's family at their home
The next morning we went ashore at low tide, only to find there was not enough water over the reef to get to the beach. We found a route that got us within 50 metres and then walked through thick mud to get to the shore, tying up the dinghy to a stick that Stewart brought out to us. He arranged for someone to bring our dinghy ashore when the tide rose which was very kind of him.

Founder of the village and now 106!
After a little clean up to get the mud off our feet we met his father in law, Paul, who was one of the founders of the village – he was 106. The village was located on another island but the earthquake and subsequent Tsunami in 1965 wiped out the village with the villages getting onto their canoes to escape the waves as it destroyed the village. The village relocated to their present location on the shore of main island.

Making bricks from cement
 Stewart took us on a tour of the three villages – all very and surprisingly different. One had a few island shops, one had beautiful bougainvillea and one had the big school. One thing that
the villages had in common was straight paths laid out in a grid and all had traditionally built houses made from bamboo and leaves. In fact one of the main exports from the village to Port Vila are the leaves woven in lengths to form thatch which are sold in the market or to a middle man. Some of the houses have a base wall built out of brick which they make themselves using cement brought from Port Vila.

Local Kava Bar - one of many!
The kindergarten
Water is short on the island as it so low lying and water has to be gathered from the rain they do have. Their main garden is on another island which is an hour’s boat ride away and they spend each Saturday there to tend the garden and pick the fruit and vegetables.

Inside the Church
The church in the village is one of the biggest that we have seen in the South pacific and it took them 35 years to complete. The three villages come together at Christmas to attend the Carol Service at this church and they stay with the villagers overnight. Stewart explained that before the missionaries came in 1896, the villages were always at war, capturing and eating people from the other villages but that all stopped when Christianity took hold. The villages have been at peace ever since and has changed my somewhat jaundiced view of missionaries (in this case at any rate).

One of the villagers in another village we visited had obviously done very well for himself in Santo where he now lives and had invested the money to build some holiday homes for rent in a small complex complete with a café – the only one on the island. The homes were built from brick and the small complex well designed and finished to a western standard. It was a stark contrast to the other homes on the island. He hopes to attract more visitors to the island (to help the economy) but it will be tough. The journey from Port Vila involves either a long ferry crossing which arrives once a week or a plane trip to Malakula, a ten hour truck ride through the jungle followed by a two hour boat crossing.  And having seen the ferry, that is certainly not an easy option. But it was heart-warming to see someone invest back in their own village despite all the difficulties.

In the afternoon we went to meet the owner of the clam sanctuary and to take the journey by outrigger canoe to the small island. I sat in the front with Stewart and the owner at the back with Catherine in the middle. I was handed a paddle as we made started the 1 mile trip against the wind and the incoming tide. After about 30 minutes I was getting tired and we seem to be making slow progress. I turned round to see our guide was talking to the owner at the back and I was the only person paddling! No wonder they sat me at the front. Thereafter we did make better progress.

The clam sanctuary was created in 1991 to avoid the extinction of the giant clam population and many of the clams are brought there by the villagers to help the conservation.  Once you have seen a few of them it lost its appeal but the reef and the fish were spectacular. We saw many types of fish we had not seen before and the colours of the coral were so vivid. A worthwhile trip.
On the way back we stopped at the Café for a drink. Our guide Stewart was very keen to do this as it is real treat for him. They had to open the café for us since they do not have guests yet and the beer was warm – the fridge is not yet connected. The setting was perfect, overlooking the sea and the café itself had been well designed and built.

We took Stewart back to the boat to collect some medical bandages and antiseptic supplies for his sister who had cut her hand that day with a machete. They had no supplies at all and it was wrapped in some very dirty rag. The nurse on the island was away and would not be back the following day – plenty of time to get an infection!

Back to Lamen Bay 28 – 30 August

The trip back to Lamen Bay was something we were not looking forward to. Directly into the strong wind and steep waves which meant the 18 mile trip took 6 hours. There were two other boats from the rally in Lamen Bay and we joined them for drinks on one of the boats  “On The Double” – a catamaran.  We left them at 9pm after a very enjoyable evening, swapping stories about where we had been and what we had done since we left Port Vila.

The next morning we were alone in the bay as the other boats headed off. But not for long as another four of the Rally Boats joined us in the afternoon. The snorkelling was unmemorable but I did see some giant turtles but not Dugongs.

Return to Havannah Bay 30 August – 2 September

With an easterly wind forecast it meant that we could sail south back to Havannah Bay without tacking into the wind. The seas were not as rough as they had been and we made the 60 miles journey in in 7 hours giving us plenty of time in daylight to anchor. We saw Chessie anchored off the reef and so joined them for drinks in the evening to catch up on their adventures.

We snorkelled to check our anchor the next morning only to find it stuck under a large piece of coral. In fact there was no sand where we had anchored, only rock and coral so we decided to up anchor and move. I had a brilliant idea of using the dinghy anchor to hook the front end of our anchor upwards to clear the coral head under which it was stuck. An hour later and after half drowning in the attempt, I consigned that idea to the scrap heap with some of my other brilliant ideas.

The other option (and the only one left) was to try and move the boat forward over the rock and force the anchor out. I was not sure it would work and we had little room to manoeuvre as the sea bed rose rapidly towards the shore. But with me on the helm and Catherine pulling up the anchor it came out relatively easily and I was quite pleased with our effort. That is until Catherine asked me to look at the anchor and we had broken off and hooked up a huge piece of coral on the anchor. Had I not made the original attempt at freeing our anchor with the dinghy anchor I would have been even more devastated about the damage to the coral. I think we will keep that little episode quiet.

We anchored with some of the other rally boats further along the shore (in sand this time) and went ashore for our first meal out since leaving Port Vila nearly two weeks earlier. The restaurant was very nice, overlooking the bay and afterwards we joined Mike and Chrissie from On The Double for a walk along to the resort – it did not look far. After a good hour and a half’s walk along the shore, climbing over rocks and wading through the water, we arrived at the resort and sat down for cocktails as the sun set over the horizon. There we met up with some other Rally Boats and we were late leaving with no option but to walk along the road back to our dinghy, still at the restaurant where we had had lunch. 

The road up from the resort to the main road was long enough in the dark and we had no idea where the original restaurant (and our dinghies) was. After ten minutes of walking we saw headlights approaching and we put out a thumb for a lift. The truck stopped and three of us joined the five people already in the back of this small truck while Catherine sat in the front. We stopped a couple of times to ask directions and after fifteen minutes arrived back at the entrance to the restaurant.  It would have been a very long walk otherwise.  Twenty minutes later we were back on our boat exhausted.

One of the people we had met along our walk was the manager of the beach resort who said we were welcome to use his mooring buoy if we wanted to come back to the main resort – it was a short dinghy ride from the buoy. As we had planned to eat in the resort in any case, we upped anchor the next morning and took him up on his offer.

We set off in the dinghy for the resort at lunchtime to book a table for ourselves and Mike and Crissey. We had planned to have a lazy afternoon reading on the beanbags in front of the resort overlooking the sea. The wind came up as we left and by the time we arrived we were soaked as the waves became steep with the wind blowing the spray over us. We dried out a little before going into order some drinks and settle down for an afternoon’s reading.  We had a very pleasant lunch of smoked fish before heading back to the boat and changing for the evening.

The trip back was much easier as the wind had subsided and we arrived dry. We had a few cocktails while the sun set and then and some excellent food as we passed a very convivial evening with Mike and Crissey. Even the journey back was easy although we did have to use the torch to wend our way through the reef most of the way – it was all very shallow and a couple of times we had to avoid the bombies that come just below the surface.

The next day we had a slow motor back to Port Vila in very calm conditions which made a very pleasant change!

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