Saturday, August 30, 2008

Reef Islands

We crossed to Vanua Lava and stopped for one night at Waterfall Bay. This is the location of the Festival that we wish to attend. It starts September 8th so we plan to go a bit further north and come back.

We were keen to visit the Reef Islands, a classic coral atoll about 15 miles northwest of Vanua Lava. There is an anchorage outside the atoll, at the southwest point, and an entry pass for shallow draft vessels into the inside. We initially anchored at the southwest point because we couldn't find the entry pass. The seas were very choppy as it was blowing 25kts so we knew we couldn't stay there. We surveyed the entry pass in our dinghy - getting wet and shaken about in the process - and with the help of Harald on the yacht Carl, who was already inside, we picked a few waypoints. The entry is strewn with shallow reefs and we had to find a route where the gaps were wide enough for a 25' beam catamaran.

Getting in was tricky as moving at 2kts in 25kts of wind results in the boat going crabwise. But we managed it and anchored near Carl behind the southern island. The atoll is very shallow and this area is the only anchorage available. We actually had to move the second day because we could feel the boat touching the bottom at low tide!

Since we arrived it has blown at 25kts every day. It builds up a chop which makes dinghy handling a challenge but the boat motion is tolerable.

We've been ashore to explore one of the several islands in the atoll and we've dived just outside the entry pass. We'll probably stay here until next week and make our way back to Waterfall Bay.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bushman's Bay, Gaua

We're still at the Banks island of Gaua. We took our two passengers around the island to Losolava, at the northeast point, and stayed there four nights - it's a sheltered anchorage and it blew hard for a few days. We traded with some local kids for fruit - drawing books and colored pencils for oranges and grapefruit. We dived the reef twice but there didn't seem to be many fish. We did see several cuttlefish though.

Now we've moved 7 miles back west, retracing our steps to another anchorage, Bushman's Bay. It's nicer than Losalava - better sheltered under present conditions and we had a great dive on the reef - three octopi, a herd of huge bumphead parrotfish, ... And we traded a Tee-shirt for corn and squash.

In a few days we'll head for Vanua Lava

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Heading North

We motored to Ambae without incident and spent 5 nights in Vanihe Bay. The bay is beautiful, surrounded by cliffs that are home to fruit bats, swallows and 'little' bats. We made a few dives on the reefs in the area including an isolated pinnacle that rises out of deep water half a mile offshore. It was all mainly rock with little coral. We visited the village but were unable to score any fresh vegetables. We had the anchorage to ourselves most of the time except one day when a horde of nine boats in a cruising rally suddenly turned up for a night.

After a brief stop at the northern end of Maewo we headed for the Banks Islands. Despite optimistically hanging our spinnaker - and despite the weather forecast - we had next to no wind and motored most of the way. I hope our fuel lasts until we get back to Santo! We arrived after dark but luckily this anchorage is wide open and easy to get into.

We're now at Gaua in the Banks Islands. We've been ashore to meet the local chief, and to be taken on a tour by his wife, and we've been visited five times by dugouts in the first 24 hours. We've gained some fruit and veg, a model dugout canoe, and a carved wooden dagger. We've traded a gallon of gasoline, and 4 D-cell batteries, and we've agreed to transport two local chiefs to the other side of the island on Monday. Tomorrow we have a demonstration of water-music.

We're going to be busy in the Banks and Torres Islands! I hope we have enough gasoline!

Sunday, August 10, 2008


We spent two weeks in Luganville and its immediate area. After the Aore Resort closed its moorings we moved over the channel to the town side. The problem here is that the anchorage is exposed to the prevailing southeasterlies and there is no good dinghy landing spot. Our cruising guide said that there is a dinghy dock up the river, but it seems to have gone.

After a day shopping, and while we waited for Nick's flight day, we left Luganville and moved to the nearby islands on Santo's southeast side. We spent a couple of nights at Aese Island and made some dives on the reef that extends from that islands southern tip.

We then moved on to Petersen Bay. There is an outer bay and an inner bay which is said to be a well-sheltered possible cyclone anchorage. Our cruising guide gave complex instructions on finding a way in through the reef. When we got there we found red and black channel markers! The inner bay is totally surrounded and calm, and right there is the Oyster Island Resort who served us an excellent dinner! We dinghied out of Peterson Bay to dive the reefs outside.

We returned to Luganville in calmer weather so the town-side anchorage was more comfortable. We still had a dinghy problem though. We used the beach (and restaurant) of Beachfront Resort but on several occasions we returned to find the dinghy swamped by surf and rising tide. We can't drag the thing above the high tide mark - partly because it's too heavy and partly because its bottom is rough with barnacle remnants - the legacy of our stay in Bundaberg.

We bought fuel by asking to use the dock of Aquamarine Divers and ferrying our 10 jerry cans 200 yards to the gas station over the road. We bought (cooking) gas by taking a taxi out of town to the LPG depot.

Resupply in Luganville is hard work! But now we've left. A fortuitous forecast of light/no winds has allowed us to motor 40 miles due east to Ambae. We're now well placed to sail northwest into the Banks and Torres parts of Vanuatu. We have about six weeks to visit them - we have to be back in Luganville when our current visa expires September 18th.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Podcast posted

My son Nick has just left us in Luganville after 3 months aboard. Before he left I recorded an interview with him that I have posted to my PodCastaway feed. It may be downloaded from my podcast page.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Diving the SS President Coolidge

As soon as we arrived in Luganville, we booked up with Allan Power Dive Tours to dive the SS President Coolidge.

It's actually a shore dive. The captain ran the ship up onto the beach, after it hit the mines, and got the 5000 troops off safely. It then slid back into deeper water, but is only about 100 metres off the beach.

Ginger and I are no fans of shore diving - staggering around with all that weight on ones back compares poorly with falling out of an inflatable. Worse, we typically dive with full-foot snorkeler-style fins - frowned upon by 'serious' scuba divers. So we had to walk out in bare feet the 50 yards until it was deep enough to out on our fins.

The first dive was an easy checkout dive - typical of a first dive with a new dive operator. We stayed around the bow and starboard side of the ship - down to around 110', but entirely outside. At their regular safety stop (around 15') the dive operator has assembled a coral garden that teems with fish - actually the most interesting part of the dive!

Most dive operators plan the deepest dive first in the day, and dive shallower later on. So, as we couldn't go any deeper that day, we elected to visit Million Dollar Point instead.

At the end of the War, as the US Army was leaving, they offered all their trucks and construction equipment to the local (French) administration at a knock-down price. The French demurred, presumably expecting to get it all for nothing, so the Americans dumped it all in the ocean. This pre-dated the environmental movement.

It's another shore dive and was much more interesting. There is a huge pile of bulldozers, cranes, trucks, and a couple of small vessels. Lots of fish.

The next day, Nick and I returned to the Coolidge. We chose to go see 'The Lady'. This large carving is on the wall of a lounge/ballroom at 130' - inside the wreck. So in we went (with our guide). We maxed at 147' - which is my deepest dive ever - and my computer told me I'd need a decompression stop on the way up. We made two stops - one at 27' and one at 15'.

The Lady was interesting to see, but I'm not sure it was worth the trouble - all that effort for a few minutes at 140'. And there's few fish inside the wreck. The 'hard core' wreck divers we met seemed to count the various routes and ship spaces they'd explored liked rock climbers or train-spotters. I guess I'm just not an intrepid wreck diver.