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Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore cruising seminars and boat purchase consultation.

South Seas Adventures, Log 15-1998, Leg 6

Oct.11, 1998 0400
17.40S, 168.07E, Log 18,193, Baro 1010, Air 83F, Water 80
At sea between Malekula and Efate Islands, Republic of Vanuatu

Sailing through Cannibal Islands


Paul & I were first ashore, dropped off by John who went back for the second load. We were met on the beach by two handsome ni-Vanuatu men. After Chief Saitol introduced himself, he pinched the skin on my forearm and indicated that I might taste "plenty good". "Not so," I quickly replied, "I might look good on the outside, but on the inside I'm old, tough and stringy!".

We had a good laugh as his more serious son John explained that his father was just joking, and that they no longer eat people in Banam Bay village

The Small Namba (refers to the size of the penis wrapper the traditional men wear) of Malekula officially stopped eating human flesh in the mid-1950's according to the government, though the interior mountain villages are extremely isolated, living their ancient existence with no outside contact, so no one is really sure what is going on.

Our original plan was to sail from Fiji to Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, but after meeting cruisers who had just visited the isolated islands north of Vila, we decided to make a detour. Following a very mellow four day downwind passage from Fiji, we cleared customs in Luganville, on Espiritu Santo Island.

Until independence from England and France in 1980, Vanuatu was known as the New Hebrides. Independence was a difficult time for this emerging country with powerful secessionist movements on several different islands, fueled by French settler's fear of independence and a bizarre American group, the Phoenix Corporation. A custom (traditional) oriented political-religous movement founded by Jimmy Stevens, a Tongan-Scottish man who jumped ship in Santo during WWII gathered considerable momentum, first petitioning the UN for Vanuatu's independence in 1971, and ending, or slowing with Steven's arrest by PNG troups after independence and death three years later. Slowing because we met Steven's daughter-in-law, saw his grave and met some of the thousands of his followers, still living an isolated "custom" existence in Central Esprito Santo, where the men wear only loincloths and avoid most contacts with civilization.

The New Hebrides were an important staging area for the WWII fighting in the nearby Solomon Islands. Luganville, where we cleared in had up to 100 US Navy ships anchored in the channel and up to 100,000 US troops and support personnel stationed there at one time.

Vanuatu's population is now about 160,000, up from 78,000 in 1967. 105 distinctly different languages are spoken, and 55% of the children receive their eructation in English, and 45% in French. Bislama, or pigeon English is the only common language. All but 3,500 of these are ni-Vanuatu and more than 80% live an isolated rural subsistence lifestyle. Vila's population is 26,000, Luganville's is 9,000, but the third largest is Norsup, a copra plantation with only about 1,000.

The Vanuatu government has had frequent changes of controlling parties, a military coup last year and frequent talk of missing government funds, but they seem to struggle along, having little effect other than in the two towns. Tourism is slowly coming to Vanuatu, and there has been a reversal of former policy of restricting visits to villages to now encouraging eco-tourism where several villages including Banam Bay have built village-owned guest houses. A handful of dive operators in the country provide access to incredible wreck diving as well as vibrant coral and undersea life. A few adventuresome cruisers sail to Vanuatu each year, but there are so many islands (85 total) that seeing another sailboat is a big event.

Wow, that was a long intro! Our crew for Leg 6:

Paul Elliott, 54, an Australian helicopter pilot now living near Seattle and working for Boeing who sailed his Ericson 27 with his wife, Lynn out of Everett. Paul is counting down to retiring in August, finding a good cruising boat and sailing "where it's warm".

Warren Shave, 56, retired computer engineer from Auckland who owns a 65' 1916 canal boat in France which he cruises with his wife Louise who is the ex-manager of Auckland's Westhaven Marina.

Ken Appleton, 50 of Annapolis, MD just retired after 26 years of service in the US Coast Guard. While stationed in Honolulu he met his wife Lorraine, and they just bought a 45' Bayliner on which they cruise the Chesapeake with daughter Katie.

Irwin Buchholz, 64, sails his Niagara 35 (great cruising boat) with his wife Janet out of Edmonds, WA. Although Irwin doesn't plan on offshore cruising on his own boat, he loves adventure and sailing.

Mac Felder, 55 recently retired from Price Waterhouse in Charlotte, NC where he used to sail his Camper Nicholson 35 (another great boat). Mac is thinking about buying another boat and checking out the cruising lifestyle in the Pacific.


Exploring Luganville was a trip!




Jimmy Stevens house and grave memorial

Traditional followers of Jimmy Stevens movement

Wide streets, laid out by the Americans in 1942 carried little traffic, and everywhere were reminders of the war; impressive wharves, dozens of quonset huts, some in use, some caved in, and large concrete buildings. After reading about all of the history, we decided to go exploring. Ken met someone who recommended the son of French plantation owners who could show us around. Malcolm showed up with Toto, a gracious ni-Vanuatu man of 34 who had a minibus and we had a full day of exploring, first a couple of the many airstrips built for the bombers heading towards the Solomons, then introduced us to the followers of Jimmy Stevens independence movement, followed by visits to copra & coffee plantations and Champagne Beach, which Toto's family owns.




Toto and Leg 6 - 98 crew on his families Champagne Beach


Just minutes after we arrived at the powder white crescent-shaped dream beach fringed with palm trees, half of the crew was in the water, while Malcolm made lunch. Toto said that he would like to have his own brochure with his van and beach on it, so we did a group photo with him and the van and sketched out plans for a poster so he can run his own tours.

Producing an advertising notice for Toto's Champagne Beach Tours

After lunch we drove as far inland as possible with the van, then shifted all 11 of us, counting the custom landowners, into the back of Malcolm's Toyota 4WD pickup for a crash through the bush followed by a hike in to see a US Navy Corsair that crashed in 1944 but was only discovered in 1994.

Inspecting the wreckage of a WWII Corsair plane discovered in 1994

By the time we made it back to the Beachfront Hotel where we left the dinghy we were exhausted, had dinner, and crashed back aboard Mahina Tiare.

The following morning Ken, Irwin and Amanda shopped in the open air market for fruit and vegetables (see photo in Amanda's Sugar and Splice) while I cleared out with Customs. We had a picture perfect half-day sail down the thickly vegetated green coast to Norsup, a large copra and cattle plantation still owned by a French family who lived in New Caledonia. Hiking around we were surprised how well organized everything was, and by the size of the hospital and school. Most of the people spoke French and said they were very glad to have jobs on the plantation.

The following day we sailed another 30 miles down the coast to Banam Bay, which we had heard was a good place to see traditional Small Namba custom dancing.
Small Namba Custom Dancers Banam Bay, Malekula Is.

We were surprised to see three Kiwi boats anchored off the beach where a couple of thatch houses were visible ashore through the trees. Once Irwin and Paul landed on the beach they were met by chief Saitol and son John and the incident at the start of this story happened. The Kiwis explained that they had also heard about the dancing, and in fact had made arrangements with chief for the custom dance followed by laplap lunch the following morning.

Chief Saitol (far right) with his band of merry men providing back-up music for small nambas tribal dances.

Chief Saitol's son John asked us to sign their Yacht Log which had photos and stories of previous yachts who had visited, and eagerly showed us the guest house and bungalows that yachties had helped them build 1.5 years earlier. They were obviously enormously proud of the fact that their small village of 80 co-operatively owned the guest house which entertained the occasional rugged backpacker tourist. The guest house and bungalow were built of split bamboo with thatched roofs and the two modern conveniences were a gas hot water heater for showers and a solar-powered AM radio. The nearest telephone for people to make reservations was at the primary school, a couple of villages away.
Leg 6-98 crew with Small Namba Dancers, Banam Bay, Malekula Is. Vanuatu.

They begged us into the village for an afternoon game of volleyball in which neither side kept score but great moves were greeted by shrieks of the children. Little did we know that the following morning the same handsome yet primitive people would transport us back a thousand years, shaking the ground with their dancing, chanting and drumming.

In the morning a villager met us on the beach, explained that there were sacred areas we wouldn't be allowed in, and we followed him through an ingenious screen of bushes into a hidden area of the village we hadn't noticed the day before. The elders of the village, clad only in nambas (penis wrappers) waited with slit drums until the long line of similarly-clad dancers started coming through the bushes, chanting, dancing and stomping, proudly and forcefully. The men were covered in sweat and between the dances one man explained the meaning of each dance.

After four dances by the men, it was the women and children's turn, in a separate sacred area. Clad only in grass skirts, they sang and sort of line danced while the older women beat the slit drums. Every child who was old enough to walk was dancing, and totally absorbed by the music. The women invited the four women off the yachts to dance with them for the final dance. (See Sugar and Splice for more details). Following their final dance, each of the yachties shook hands with every one of the performers (all 50 of the villagers) and expressed our sincere appreciation for their sharing the history and culture that they were so proud of with us.

Custom Small Namba dancers.

Next we were invited to sit under a thatch shelter and watch as the laplap meal (see Sugar & Splice) was removed from the earth oven and served to us on banana leaves.


After changing back into their normal attire (t-shirts & shorts for guys, Mother Hubbard dresses for women) we enjoyed just sitting and visiting with the villagers, learning more about their way of life. Ken and Paul were taken up the side of a mountain to see a kava garden, Amanda and I learned more about weaving and Amanda demonstrated Tahitian and Scottish Country Dancing and the rest of the crew enjoyed the 80 degree crystal clear water while snorkeling around the coral reefs.

That afternoon we set sail for Vila, 100 miles south. We had one of our smoothest moonlight sails as we glided past Epi Island, arriving at Efate island and the Port Vila harbor entrance just after dawn. Since we had already cleared into the country we were able to sail right up to the harbor wall, pick up a bow mooring and back up to the bulkhead where there was already a boarding plank left by the last boat. For the very reasonable rate of 1200 vatu ($10 US) per day we had moorage, water, 220 power if we wanted it, and were just steps away from the Waterfront Restaurant which has showers, heads and libations and is home of the Vanuatu Cruising Club. The moorage is run by Lemara at Yachting World, next to the restaurant. She also does laundry, faxes, mail and has a fuel dock for yachts, all with a gracious smile! In fact, I think the ni-Vanuatu people are the most friendly, open and shyly charming of any of the Pacific islanders we've met.

Port Vila Harbor, Vanuatu

Yachting World fuel dock, Port Vila Harbor, Vanuatu

We had just planned on a two night stay, but that stretched to three when we found out that we could get a cracked radar mount welded.

Now as I'm completing this entry, we're at sea again (seems like that's the best time to write, since so much is happening when we're near land) and at dawn should see the Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia. We won't be able to stop in New Caledonia until we clear customs in Noumea, the capital, but is nice to break up a passage with islands to sail between, anyway.

Our winds have averaged 7-8 knots on this passage, and from our check-ins with Russell Radio, New Zealand, we have heard that the wind is this light all of the way to Australia. The light winds have met that we won't have to slow down to arrive at Havannah Pass, the entrance of 45 tortuous miles of channels into Noumea at dawn tomorrow. What a contrast for our crew, going from the dusty streets of Vila to Noumea, the Paris of the Pacific!

Ken lowering his Corinthian Y. Club flag on arrival, Noumea.

Irwin & Paul, landfall, Noumea

Stay tuned for more exciting adventures in the South Pacific aboard Mahina Tiare.


To the next log entry Leg 7:
At Sea, between Noumea, New Caledonia and Norfolk Is.

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