About Us

Welcome to our blog, describing our voyage aboard Bravo, a Kelly Peterson 46 sailboat with homeport in Seattle, Washington. We headed south in 2010, destined for Mexico and beyond. Cheers, Adam and Cindi


"As for me, I am tormented by an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts." -Herman Melville, 1844


Monday, October 16, 2017

Passage to Australia - Chesterfield Reef

We had a terrific 3-1/2 day sail from Luganville to Chesterfield Reef. Seas were a bit rolly at first with about 2 meter seas on the beam, but died down after the first day. The only challenge then became trying to slow down in the 15-20 knot broad reach to allow for a daylight entry into the reef. Actually, scratch that.....there was another challenge.....Bravo became an official Booby Transport Vessel. Each night, we had from 2-5 large booby birds stowing away for a several hour ride toward Chesterfield. We thought it was pretty funny to watch them make landings on the flat glass solar panels.....sort of like watching Top Gun fighters try carrier landings without a tail hook!!! They'd usually skid right off, and keep at it until they settled in for the ride. But the challenge came in the morning, when we found that, like all animals, birds are what they eat. And they eat fish, and show their gratitude for a nice night sail with a leave behind of piles of stinky fish crap.....thick enough to nearly shut off our solar panels!!!

Chesterfield reef itself is extraordinary. Actually part of a few reefs joined together over a distance of nearly 60 miles, Chesterfield is a series of low sand bars and rocky shoals surrounded by ocean depths of over 10,000 feet, all hundreds of miles away from any other land, with occasional entries into a beautiful blue inner lagoon. While the low sandy shoals offer nearly no protection from the wind, they break the swell nicely, allowing for a terrific interlude in the passage to Australia.

The reef is a major sea bird rookery, with various boobies, noddies, shearwaters and terns all nesting in the low scrub or right on the sand. Young hatchlings are learning to fly (the beach is littered with the carcasses of the slow learners!!!), and the area where we've anchored has continual fly bys of parents out fishing. Walking on the beaches is amazing. You can literally walk right up to the birds, as they have zero fear of humans here in this remote outpost. We remain a respectful distance, and save the occasional feisty booby parent, all seem fine with our quiet presence.

The sand also serves as a nesting beach for loggerhead turtles, which we frequently see swimming near the boat. Although we've seen many tracks on shore, as well as the big holes indicating their nests, we have yet to find a turtle laying her eggs, even when we stayed ashore after dark one evening.

The big issue now is the weather. We've now been here at Chesterfield for 5 days, and are ready to head on to Australia. Unfortunately there is a very large high pressure system south of us, creating winds of 30-35 knots on the passage route, with higher gusts in the squalls. The winds will likely reach us here at Chesterfield in about two days, and hopefully after they pass, in 5 days or so, we'll be on our way again to Oz in a nice weather window. In the meantime, the sun is shining in this beautiful spot, and it may be time to head back to the island for some more photos!!!

We also plan on some snorkeling or diving while here, as the coral looks promising. The 3 meter tiger shark that swam by does give a bit of pause, though!!!

Sorry for the lack of photos. We obviously have no internet here (how refreshing!!!), so this blog post is made via ham radio Pactor email, which is extremely slow...text only. Photos will have to wait until we arrive in Australia, hopefully in 1-2 more weeks.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Getting wet in Vanuatu

We've been having a great time underwater here in Vanuatu.  Both diving and snorkeling, there's a lot to see.  Most known for its wreck dives, mostly from WWII, we've also found a fair variety of fish, and great underwater topography thanks to the volcanic origin of the islands.  The coral may not be as vibrant as we've found in Fiji or French Polynesia, but its fairly good in many places, especially where protected from the ravages of recent cyclones.

Wrecks
SS President Coolidge when launched
The big attraction in Vanuatu is the wreck of the ship SS President Coolidge.  It is an enormous luxury liner which was in use during WWII as a troop transport ship for allied forces.



With Vanuatu (then New Hebrides) used as a major allied base during the war providing bomber support for the Guadalcanal theatre in the Solomons (the largest base in the Pacific except for Pearl Harbor), the ports of Espiritu Santo and Port Vila saw enormous buildups of ships and troops.  It seems that the Coolidge was entering the port at Santo, which was heavily mined to defend against Japanese submarines.  She was given the secret coordinates of the safe course to navigate, but was not advised that the course was set through a mine field.  The captain, thinking the course was a bit close to a reef, and unaware of the danger of a deviation from the recommendation, made a change, and hit a mine.  The captain, knowing he was about to lose his ship, tried to run her up on a beach, but she hit a coral reef near the shore instead, sank, and gradually slid down to her current resting place.

Abandoning ship

The "Coolidge" is a big ship (653 feet in length, compared to the 883 foot Titanic).  She is also very accessible, as she sank close to shore, and as such is a very popular recreational dive destination.  (Most guidebooks and articles rate her as one of the top 10 wreck dives in the world).  There's a lot to see, both from the early days as a luxury ship, and her later days as a naval vessel.



The diving is quite deep.  She lies on her side on the sloping bottom, with depths ranging from 35m to 60m.  Dives at this depth have short bottom times, with some decompression likely required.  The payback is lots to see.  We found old military hardware, guns, and ammunition, medical supplies in the sick bay, a barbers chair anchored to the "wall", actually the floor, but the ship is on her side, which can be a bit disorientating, and other bits and pieces.  We only did two dives on the ship (a minimum of 6 are recommended to see it all, including the swimming pools, china closets, Japanese baths, engines, etc., but we felt we got a great intro to this amazing wreck.  Here are a few images from the Coolidge dives...

Descent to ship bow
 


Trying on a gas mask found in a locker on deck









Supplies in sick bay





 Another unique dive in Santo harbor is what is known as "Million Dollar Point".  When WWII ended, the Americans were preparing to abandon the base as they pulled the troops out.  New Hebrides was governed as a sort of joint colony of the British and French governments at the time.  The story goes that the Americans offered the huge quantity of military hardware to both the Brits and French for pennies on the dollar.  Hardware included trucks, tanks, jeeps, bull dozers, cranes, spare parts, etc.all in tremendous quantities.  Both governments declined the offer.  They knew that the Americans would not ship the hardware back to the States, and felt that if they waited until the yanks pulled out, they could get the goods for free.  The Americans didn't like these terms, and instead decided to drive all of the equipment into the sea.  A huge waste, and testament to pig headed leadership even among allies around the world.

But there it all lies, perhaps the worlds largest underwater military wrecking yard.  Makes for fascinating if not overly scenic diving, as you can make your away around and into the old equipment.  There's even an old naval boat wreck to check out while down there.










Cindi tries to start an old truck, while a little scuba gremlin jumps on her back!!!

Just to add to the variety, there are also plane wrecks to explore around Vanuatu.  Here are the remains of an old Dauntless dive bomber which went down, broke into three major sections and sank next to Aore Island, right near our current mooring position.  We went over with the crew of Legacy in our dinghies one morning.....made for a fun dive in about 75 feet of water..






Finally here are just some random shots from other dives we've been doing in Vanuatu.  This country just continues to amaze us with the variety of species and often great water clarity!!!


Arc eye hawkfish


Great camouflage of black striped goatfish



Dorid nudibranch



Granular sea star



Lionfish, highly venemous






Gorgonian fans










Snowflake moray eel



Mantis shrimp







Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Deep in "smol namba" territory

Vanuatu is famous for its celebrations, and the Nivan people do love a good festival, as we saw on Epi for Independence Day (week).  So do we!!!  We got word of a "kastom" festival coming up at Lamap, on Malecula Island, the next island to the west.  Bidding sad goodbyes to Kenneth and Bennington, we weighed anchor for the 20 mile downwind run to the Maskelyne group, on the SE tip of Malecula.  The fishing was good, as we caught a couple of barracuda (released), hooked a huge mahi (broke off), and boated a tasty wahoo.

Our stop at Maskelyne lagoon was great.  Seems like not many yachts visit here, so there was lots of trading action, as a steady stream of villagers came out to greet us in their dugout canoes.  Fishing line and hooks, school supplies for the kids, fresh wahoo, chocolate bars, and home baked chocolate chip cookies yielded a mountain of fruits and veggies, and many invitations to come visit the village.
 
  The next day we saddled up the dinghy and headed in to the village for a bit of an exploration.  As we secured the dink, word got out among the kids that Cindi had a bag of fresh cookies.  She was like the pied piper, with a gaggle of kids of all ages scarfing down the treats as fast as she could deliver the goods, while the adults, including Adam, sat back to watch the horde of locusts.  All good fun!







During the feeding frenzy we ran into Philip, an outgoing local guy who had paddled out to us the day before.  He now took us under his wing, and proved to be a terrific tour guide, giving us a two hour tour around the island, visiting its three villages, and teaching us heaps about life in the remote area. 









Peeling and grating manioc for lap lap



Soap factory, where women of the village gather to make coconut soap and lotions for sale in Port Vila.





Red Cross outpost seemed a bit vulnerable in cyclones or tsunamis, when it would be most needed!


Kindergarten








Planting yams


Philip asked if we'd like to watch "kastom" dancing performed by the men of his village later that day.  We'd heard of the dances of the "small namba" tribes, and we were good to go!!!  ("Namba" is a penis sheath that the men traditionally wear on these islands.  In the Maskelynes and south part of Malecula they are known as the "small nambas", while the studs up north are the "big nambas".   We were in the heart of small namba territory.)

After our round island hike, we met up with Rich and Cyndi from Legacy, and Philip let us into a clearing to watch the dancing.  We placed some vatu into a large clam shell, and the tam tam drums began their rthymic beat as the dancers came out, dressed in nambas and ankle rattles, plus a sneeze of various ochre body paints.  They did several dances for us, describing traditional myths and stories.....terrific!
















Philip knew of the upcoming festival in Lamap, and asked if we could give him and another guy, Carlos, a ride.  He'd be happy to show us the best route through the islands, and the way to the festival from the anchorage.  Welcome aboard, mates, nothing like a little local knowledge!

After wending our way through the Maskelyne Island group, we anchored in Gaspard Bay, a sweet little bay tucked deep into mangrove lined bush.  We once again had the bay to ourselves, and here there were no villages on the shore.  With the protection from all winds, the little bay was completely quiet, save for the occasional crowing of a feral rooster.

With the tide fairly low, we needed to make a wide circle around and through the reef at the bay's entrance to find our way to the end of the road on shore which we could hike into the village.  Good thing we had Philip and Carlos to show us the path through the reef.  We tied up the dink among a bunch of cows and headed up the 45 minute walk through bush and farms to get to the festival in the village.  On the way, we passed locals working in their fields, all with a big wave and smile.  At one point we passed a group of 5 teenage boys on a hunting party with spears and homemade bows and arrows, looking for birds and hoping for a wild pig.


Finally we arrived at Dravail, the host village for the festival.  The entire village paraded down the road, then assembled to greet the 25 or so guests who had arrived. 











Pig exchange ceremony

We were given a small trussed up pig to give as an offering to the chief (how did they know we didn't bring our own pig???)  The chief accepted the offering, gave an opening greeting in Bislama, and "let the games begin!!!"

The kastom festivals are designed to highlight traditional local customs and rituals, foods, games, skills, and just give insight into life in the village.  The villages were extremely proud to share their culture with us, and we learned heaps about their daily lives.  It was a fantastic two day event.
First up was the mens kastom dancing.  Lamap is the heart of small namba country, so the dances and costumes were similar to what we saw in Maskelyne village, but on steroids.  The men wore beautiful carved sacred masks.  It is considered "tabu" for anyone who has not been through a "rank taking" initiation ceremony to touch a mask.....if it happens, the mask must be burned.  The clearing where the men dance is tabu for the village women to enter, and the dances and tam tam beats were much more elaborate than any we'd seen before.....fantastic!






















The women of the village prepared a huge feed (called a "kaekae") of traditional dishes for lunch on both days.  Included various lap lap's, salads, fish and pork dishes, and lots of fruits, all beautifully served.  Afterward, we saw a women's kastom dance performance, very different from the men's.










After kaekae, it was time for the string band to fire up.  Typical Nivan string band, with guitars, ukes, and a tea chest bass, they rocked out, and with an average of 3 strings on each guitar.  (We brought extra guitar strings for them.....a much appreciated gift).






Women of all ages participated in the kastom women's dances.







We saw demonstrations throughout the festival on weaving, thatched roof building, preparing lap lap (usually grated manioc wrapped in banana leaves, and baked in a pit oven lined with rock, fire making with sticks, sand drawing, bow and arrow hunting, animal trapping in the jungle, copra harvesting and preparation, etc.  Wow, we learned heaps about the skills it takes to live this "simple" life in the village.

Making various types of lap lap

One of the highlights was just watching the local kids playing games.  The toys may be different, and the rules a bit hard to follow, but they're just playing like kids do everywhere.










All in all, it was a fantastic couple of days.  The folks of Dravail were so proud of their kastom and village, and eager to display it at the annual festival.  We felt honored to get a glimpse into traditional village life.








The day after the festival, we hosted a couple of the local guys George (the festival organizer), George's two young boys and Roberto, aboard Bravo.  They paddled out in their canoe, and we had a great day with them.  At the end of the day, Roberto told us he'd like us to be his "white parents", and offered us land on his family property to build our house.....There wasn't a dry eye in the crowd as we finally bid our farewells.