"Arctracer" Letters

Port Vila to Epi Island, Vanuatu, May 2002

On Saturday, the 25th of May we escaped Port Vila after getting water and diesel at a diesel dock and a few more fresh fruits and vegetables at the market. We sailed about 30 miles to Havannah Harbour on the east coast of Efate Island where the US had a marine base during WWII. We met a few people when they came by in their outrigger canoes. The chief and his wife were in one canoe. They invited us to church the following morning, but we were keen to get farther north to more remote regions. It was somewhat more remote as we saw herons and turtles in the anchorage. That was a nice change from being in Vila Harbour.

On Sunday we sailed to the small island of Nguna, just to the north of Efate. Although the anchorage was lovely looking at two old volcanic cones, it was so rolly that we left early on Monday morning to go to Lamen Bay in Epi - 55 miles away. This sail was absolutely lovely with slight seas and 15-20 knots of wind - one of the best sailing days we've had since leaving Coffs Harbour. As we sailed along the coast of Epi we had a fish on our line, but it got off. We sure haven't had very good luck fishing in the past few months. We never did get licenses to fish in New South Wales, so never fished there. Recently they made having a license required for fresh and salt water there and we never bothered to find out about getting the license. Many young men in outrigger canoes came out to say "Hello" to us as we sailed slowly past. The wind really died down once we got behind the island so we were going quite slowly.

On Tuesday we had a few men visit us in their outrigger canoes. One young man, John Roy, asked if we wanted anything from his garden. We had just finished the last of our oranges for juice so asked for some. When he returned from his garden he brought some. We traded them for a good piece of rope and some plastic containers. He said that he would us the rope to tie up his bullock as he'd never had a piece strong enough to keep the bullock from breaking away. Jerry had the boat all apart to replace some hoses for our terrible plumbing so we didn't invite John Roy inside, but he sat in the cockpit with us for a while. We learned that he is one of nine members of a string band (very popular here in Vanuatu from what we've heard). They have been invited to attend the Melanesian Arts and Cultural Festival in Port Vila from the 18th to the 28th of August. We had heard about this festival and plan to return to Port Vila to experience it before we have to check out of the country by the 6th of September. There are only two places to check in and out - the other is Luganville on Espirito Santo. Anyway, John Roy has never been to Vila and is really looking forward to going. He also invited us to his island, Lamen Island near where we are anchored, to hear his band practice. They don't use watches and talk about when the sun goes down, so we'll have to see if we actually get to see them. Now, we're thinking we should see if we can buy some of his garden products from him so that he can earn the money to go to Vila by boat. In our 1991 Lonely Planet Guide it said that a one- way trip by boat is 2000 vatu - a phenomenal amount for an islander here. Also, if we actually do hear the band practice for an hour or so we'll probably donate 1000 vatu (less than $10 US) towards their voyage. Selling a bag of fruit or vegetables for 100 vatu each, it would take a long time to get the money needed. Also, when we mentioned that we were going to Port Vila for the event he asked us when we were going. Perhaps he was thinking of hitching a ride, but we don't know about taking 9 extras on the boat. If the timing is right perhaps we'll do it - only time will tell. We didn't indicate any such notions to him though as it is too far away and we may change our minds about attending the festival if we get involved in other things.

The anchorage we're in is very pleasant. There are two resident turtles and today we saw the dugong (similar to a manatee) that the bay has been known to have for years. John Roy told us that two teachers at the high school here (in the Peace Corps) have been swimming with it and even touched it. The high school is one of the few in Vanuatu. Students attend from many islands including Malekula, Paama, Ambrym, etc. They live on the campus and have electricity at the school from the time it gets dark at 6:30 until 9:00 in the evening when the generator is turned off.

We still haven't taken our dinghy off the boat since leaving Vila, but once the major plumbing project is under control we plan to visit the village around the bay and Lamen Island before heading farther north.