The natives aren’t revolting

..as it turns out, 5 litres of petrol gets you a huge bunch of bananas and several pawpaw, which we’re still munching on. Huge banana bunches look fantastic swinging from the aft archway, but of course ripen suddenly and all at once, so we’re plunged into a diet of bananas, bananas and more bananas. Good job we all like them. Rebecca’s mildly concerned about potassium poisoning.

The boys had clearly had enough of passage-making, so set out in search of a place where we could stop for awhile. Initial plan was to stop at Ambryn Island, and we dropped anchor off the small village of Ranvetlan in black sand about an hour’s sail North of Ambryn’s active volcano, which constantly belches foul smoke that other cruisers warn discolours rigging and needs to be avoided. First job at each anchorage as a matter of course is to visit the village chief and ask permission to be there, which we duly did. All good, except that the chief warned us about sharks. A free-dive on the reef the following day showed good fishlife, but also one of the aformentioned teethy critters, and we wondered about allowing the kids to swim freely here (this being one of a couple of Vanuatuan islands with a wee history of attacks). A night of wild swinging with big gusts of volcanic ash-laden wind descending from the mountains cemented our decision, and we set off in search of a safer bay.

And here we are, a week into our stay at Asanvari Bay at the South-Western tip of Maewo Island, Vanuatu. The bay is about 500 metres wide, with a huge tumbling waterfall on one side that provides freshwater to the village and a wonderful spot for showering and washing clothes. The other side of the bay has a coral shelf leading to a small blonde sand beach, where the village buildings start. Chief Nelson sits regally outside his thatched wooden hut on his throne a blue plastic picnic chair – greeting visitors and running the affairs of the village seemingly without moving. The 600 strong village is scattered through the rainforest that fringes the bay, and has about 100 children at the primary school. No secondary school on the island, so most teenagers get sent off to one of the nearby islands.

This is our boys’ first experience of a developing country, and it’s been fascinating watching them approach it. Full of trepidation and shyness initially, as you’d expect, our first walk around the village attracted a lot of attention, but the boys resolutely refused to respond beyond the requisite hello and my name is. On the 3rd day, with some prompting Luca summoned the courage to talk to the chief without us, and reported back that he’s now his best friend on the island. On the following day they met a cheeky 12 yr old boy Carl at the waterfall who was ranging through the forest gathering food and attempting to shoot things with his slingshot. After hesitant introductions, Carl suggested they go shoot birds (having watched the birds flying around, we figured they’re pretty safe) and Luca and Gabriel disappeared into the forest. They returned a couple of hours later full of stories of Carl climbing tall coconut trees and cracking nuts with a massive machete, now firm friends. And so the ice has been broken.

We met the school headmistress and her husband, who invited us to a feast last night to farewell a couple of teachers. A fantastic example of generosity and of island time. Initial invitation was for 4pm, we arrived an hour later to find things a long way from happening, but hung around happily while the boys played soccer (with their only ball a deflated basketball) and generally larked around. Jacob draws special attention from everyone, it seems long blond curly locks carry huge novelty and both Mums and kids can’t help themselves from touching him. This infuriated him initially, but even he’s starting to warm up to it. Waiting for the feast soon attracted a decent crows of kids, and the soccer game was punctuated by Jacob walking around the village with a train of giggling kids walking in line behind him. This went on for hours until the feast was finally in place around 7pm, by which time Jacob was leading a line of about 20 laughing kids in complete darkness with barely a backward glance.

The headmistress Charity was enthusiastic about Luca joining their eldest class, and he has now met several other kids his age and is loving it. Anything to avoid home schooling lessons, I guess.

..and this is exactly what we came here for: to introduce the boys to another life, and we’re thrilled to see them starting to get into it. We’d be lying if we said that both Rebecca and I haven’t had moments of doubt during the departure preparations and especially during the long passage up here when we’re all sleep-deprived, abit stroppy with each other, and the boys are missing their mates. But it feels like the plan is coming together.

Drama narrowly avoided

It’s only a question of time before some drama unfolds on the sea. On our last cruise it involved a narrow escape in a 50knot Tongan squall resulting in hands sliced open on oyster shells as we desperately picked up a mooring line bare-handed; a dismasting in Vanuatu, a narrowly-avoided subsequent dismasting on route to New Caledonia, and later two knock-downs just short of NZ. A decent handful of dramas for 7 month’s of cruising.

Of course, we have to invent or at least exaggerate these stories to make our existence worth reporting – everyone knows that. But to be honest, many of our dramas are either man-made or exacerbated by our own nautical mistakes. Which brings us to today’s drama narrowly avoided.

We sailed up from Ambryn to Maewo Island, leaving at crack-o-sparrow into a 25 gusting 30 knot following wind and rain. Reinforced trade winds, I believe they’re called. Cautious as we are with the power of this boat, we sailed on jib alone and still managed 8-9 knots most of the way. Later in the day the wind dropped away, lulling us into raising the mainsail and full jib, only to lift again in our last hour before arriving at our new anchorage. In our final approach – bearing in mind the charts here are scant and inaccurate at best, and the place riddled with reefs – I announced time to roll up the jib prior to dropping the main (as we careered towards an uncharted shortline), only to find the jib stuck. In the ensuing drama-filled moments as we tried to drop all sail with the jib shaking violently, Rebecca got whipped by a 12 mm rope across the face and collapsed with face in hands. We finally managed to roll up the jib and drop the main, and limped into the bay in some state of shock. We were lucky to have avoided riding straight onto nearby rocks, and Rebecca was very lucky not to have lost an eye. She has a nasty bruise right across her face, and anticipates sporting a nice shiner tomorrow that will carry faint suggestions of domestic violence for our new Vanuatuan village hosts. I’m hoping they’ll understand the need for the skipper to keep his crew in line?

It’s in the reflective moments that follow wee events such as these that we ponder on what we should have done, and of course the answer was right there, determinedly avoiding my problem-solving logic at the time. Yes, Jason, i know you’ll be reading this saying “head downwind, you big plonker, take the pressure out of the foresail”, and this I should have done. Next time.

In the meantime, we’ve arrived at Asanvari Bay which sports a beautiful sandy beach fringed with coral, a tumbling waterfall, and a very welcoming village chief Nelson whom we’re already traded some petrol that the village needs for their generator. “How much for the petrol?” he asked us. Not having any idea of the money currency out here, we suggested he provide us with whatever fruit and veg he thinks is fair (most Vanuatuan villages have fantastic gardens), so we shall see tomorrow how many banana and pawpaw 5 litres of gas gets you.

The most expensive fish in the world

OK, so I know that there are some people who’ll hire a private plane, book rooms at the most exclusive resorts, hire the world’s most expensive guide and charter huge boats in order to catch one fish (which they don’t even get to eat). Still, I think we must be contenders for the “most expensive fish” tournament amongst normal contestants.

With the promise of big game fishing and a life of living off the sea, we stocked up on heavy line and big scary-looking lures with massive hooks that we had no idea what to do with (chuck it behind the boat, presumably), but were assured would be guaranteed to catch tuna, mahimahi, sailfish, marlin, wahoo etc. We dragged these things behind the boat for miles..in fact, we trolled pretty much all the 1100 miles from Auckland to Vanuatu. We hooked one large mahimahi and brought it all the way into the boat, when it took one horrified look at me bending over to grab it and decided to spit the lure out. That was all the fishing action we got. Mind you, we weren’t too worried about this as we did have Jason on board, and he’s known by most Aucklanders as the ultimate fishing jinx (sorry to broadcast this little known fact, J, but he managed to fish soft bait for a whole 2 years without a single bite). Poor old Jason took this jinx suggestion somewhat to heart, and spent alot of the passage resetting lures, tweaking lines, reading up on clever trolling techniques and generally starting to lose his sense of humour (colloquially known within the Nolan family as an SHF*) over the whole fishing drought. Once in Vanuatu, we then proceeded to lose two flasher rigs, and very nearly a spear from my gun.

Naturally as soon as Jason leaves us we start to get lucky, altho’ this luck has come at a price. Yesterday we hooked and brought a decent-sized sailfish to the boat, when it promptly bit thru the line and took off with my favourite lure. Lost the lure on the other line by a mysterious fish, also bit thru’. OK, this was clearly “no more mister nice guy” territory, we swapped to steel traces, the preserve of only the most hardened deep sea fishermen, and finally managed to hook and land a medium sized wahoo this afternoon. Luca promptly renamed this fish the “hurray”. So two lures, flasher rigs, much line and Jason’s worn patience later we have finally caught one. Waaahooo!

Trolling behind this boat carries it’s own drama, which we’ve now experienced twice. Both occasions we’ve been tanking downwind with a decent amount of sail up. Yes, the wiser amongst would say “bring in the fishing line”. When the reel makes that unfamiliar “weeeeee” sound indicating a fish, we’re then plunged into the very real challenge – how do we slow the boat down quickly enough before the fish strips the reel? For our first strike we elected to roll up the jib, turn on one engine, and spin the boat into the wind with the mainsail up… all this with the reel screaming as the fish takes off. This worked pretty well, but left us with hundreds of metres of line to retrieve. Today, however, caught us in 25 knots gusting 30 in a decent-sized sea pulling 8-11 knots of boat speed with regular big surfs off waves, when the reel starting screaming. Rounding up into the wind seemed a pretty unattractive option, so I tried centering the mainsail to reduce speed. This was definitely not a good strategy, as it immediately sent the boat careering off in a determined attempt to round up, followed by an uncontrolled gybe and the same the other way. So we dragged that poor wahoo about a mile downwind before being able to bring it in, Rebecca desperately trying to prevent a broach and me furiously trying to wind the thing in, by which time the poor fish was probably pleased to be put out of it’s misery.

Incidentally, for anyone reading this blog who actually wants to know where we are….We have now arrived at Ambryn Island, off a small village called Ranvetlam, which we hope to spend a few days exploring. An active volcano, local wood carvers, and supposed excellent fishing should keep us quiet for a day or so. More soon.

The most expensive fish in the world

OK, so I know that there are some people who’ll hire a private plane, book rooms at the most exclusive resorts, hire the world’s most expensive guide and charter huge boats in order to catch one fish (which they don’t even get to eat). Still, I think we must be contenders for the “most expensive fish” tournament amongst normal contestants.

With the promise of big game fishing and a life of living off the sea, we stocked up on heavy line and big scary-looking lures with massive hooks that we had no idea what to do with (chuck it behind the boat, presumably), but were assured would be guaranteed to catch tuna, mahimahi, sailfish, marlin, wahoo etc. We dragged these things behind the boat for miles..in fact, we trolled pretty much all the 1100 miles from Auckland to Vanuatu. We hooked one large mahimahi and brought it all the way into the boat, when it took one horrified look at me bending over to grab it and decided to spit the lure out. That was all the fishing action we got. Mind you, we weren’t too worried about this as we did have Jason on board, and he’s known by most Aucklanders as the ultimate fishing jinx (sorry to broadcast this little known fact, J, but he managed to fish soft bait for a whole 2 years without a single bite). Poor old Jason took this jinx suggestion somewhat to heart, and spent alot of the passage resetting lures, tweaking lines, reading up on clever trolling techniques and generally starting to lose his sense of humour (colloquially known within the Nolan family as an SHF*) over the whole fishing drought. Once in Vanuatu, we then proceeded to lose two flasher rigs, and very nearly a spear from my gun.

Naturally as soon as Jason leaves us we start to get lucky, altho’ this luck has come at a price. Yesterday we hooked and brought a decent-sized sailfish to the boat, when it promptly bit thru the line and took off with my favourite lure. Lost the lure on the other line by a mysterious fish, also bit thru’. OK, this was clearly “no more mister nice guy” territory, we swapped to steel traces, the preserve of only the most hardened deep sea fishermen, and finally managed to hook and land a medium sized wahoo this afternoon. Luca promptly renamed this fish the “hurray”. So two lures, flasher rigs, much line and Jason’s worn patience later we have finally caught one. Waaahooo!

Trolling behind this boat carries it’s own drama, which we’ve now experienced twice. Both occasions we’ve been tanking downwind with a decent amount of sail up. Yes, the wiser amongst would say “bring in the fishing line”. When the reel makes that unfamiliar “weeeeee” sound indicating a fish, we’re then plunged into the very real challenge – how do we slow the boat down quickly enough before the fish strips the reel? For our first strike we elected to roll up the jib, turn on one engine, and spin the boat into the wind with the mainsail up… all this with the reel screaming as the fish takes off. This worked pretty well, but left us with hundreds of metres of line to retrieve. Today, however, caught us in 25 knots gusting 30 in a decent-sized sea pulling 8-11 knots of boat speed with regular big surfs off waves, when the reel starting screaming. Rounding up into the wind seemed a pretty unattractive option, so I tried centering the mainsail to reduce speed. This was definitely not a good strategy, as it immediately sent the boat careering off in a determined attempt to round up, followed by an uncontrolled gybe and the same the other way. So we dragged that poor wahoo about a mile downwind before being able to bring it in, Rebecca desperately trying to prevent a broach and me furiously trying to wind the thing in, by which time the poor fish was probably pleased to be put out of it’s misery.

Incidentally, for anyone reading this blog who actually wants to know where we are….We have now arrived at Ambryn Island, off a small village called Ranvetlam, which we hope to spend a few days exploring. An active volcano, local wood carvers, and supposed excellent fishing should keep us quiet for a day or so. More soon.

Home schooling stinks!

Well, we deferred the start of home schooling during the passage up here rough weather on some days, low-grade seasickness on others, and the daily sleep deprivation amongst potentially teachers made home schooling one tiny objective too far… one tiny objective amongst a whole list of other fanciful goals that wed set ourselves for the passage and utterly failed to achieve. But as wiser heads than ours (you know who you are!) advised us from the start, the more structure we can introduce to the boys for this new life of ours the better, and so we began home schooling in earnest on Monday.

The day after arriving in Port Vila we were joined by Jasons wife Greta and 3 year old Ella for a weeks recuperation, most of it spent trying to get our youngest to be quiet in the mornings. Small consolation, altho some consolation nonetheless, to know that their little girl woke up anytime from 4:30am, whilst our little boy was luxuriating in a leisurely 6am wake-up. To those reactionary old farts amongst you who still believe monohulls are the only proper offshore boat and catamarans not quite cricket, its worth pointing out the extraordinary mayhem that can be occurring in one hull, whilst the residents of the other sleep soundly on. Naturally I exaggerate for effect. Anyway, heres a quick and huge thanks for our long-suffering and hugely resourceful friend and crew Jason, who as predicted has now witnessed the Nolan family at their worst moments of adjusting to boat life (nothing a few counselling sessions shouldnt cure, Im sure J).

And so back to homeschooling. Being numerically challenged as I am, Im forbidden from teaching any subject with numbers in it, so we now have a simple division of teaching duties. Rebecca teaches maths, myself reading, writing and other stuff. As it turns out, the boys HATE maths, so we find ourselves unwittingly falling into the good cop/bad cop roles Rebecca firmly in the role that none of us would choose. And of course however much she may rant against the injustice of it all, she knows what a complete hash Id make of teaching maths if allowed to do it, so shes stuck on her own determined objective to make our children numerate. Or, at least more numerate than their Dad, which shouldnt take too long. And in the meantime, Im suddenly everyones best friend in the classroom.

The general structure for us is starting to emerge: breakfast and morning boaty chores, school for 2-3 hours, then lunchtime and cool stuff in the afternoon. Sadly our cool stuff afternoons have been curtailed by a long list of dull but necessary jobs as we prepare for our first proper foray into the deep dark remote corners of Vanuata. This includes refuelling, stocking up on water, petrol, LPG, food supplies etc, fixing a few inevitable breakages, and in particular trying to figure our passage plan to get us to Indonesia by Xmas and how to manage what everyone reports as extremely tricky immigration and clearance procedures once there. Anyone out there with a recommendation for an Indonesian agent for handling cruising permits?

More seriously, anyone whod like to join us to crew one of the passages thru Soloman Islands, Papua New Guinea and Eastern Indonesia during Oct & Nov, wed definitely like to hear from. Come join the Nolan family mayhem Write soon!

Settling into island life..

After a couple of days in Port Vila getting checked into the country, we are now parked off an idyllic spot in Havannah Bay, Efate Island.

9 days at sea from NZ in total, so it was a relief to put foot on Terra Firma – although it didn’t feel firm at all.. It wasn’t Vanuatu earthquakes making us sway, just those sea-legs not quite computing with the still calm of solid ground.

Checking into the country was wonderful island style. We anchored next to the Q-flag (indicating we had just arrived in the country)at 7am and after calling Port Vila Radio a few times on our VHF (they were obviously taking the day off), we gave up and waited to see if anyone would turn up. By lunchtime, we made it off the boat..

Port Vila was a bit of a shock for the kids – lots of people, traffic and smells they had never experienced before. Gabriel promptly asked if we could leave to one of the outer islands and go fishing. We had a few more jobs to do before we left, including celebrating my birthday. We had a lovely birthday meal that evening, thanks to Greta and Jason, and the next day (my actual birthday) started SPECTACULARLY with Eggs Benedict. Sitting on our lovely yacht, in a beautiful bay, with no waves crashing, munching on a delicious breakfast was a perfect way to start the day. Fred knows the way to his wife’s heart..

The next treat on my birthday was that the boys were to take all the laundry away to do, while Greta and I went for a coffee and connected to the good old internet. It was wonderful to catch up on everyone’s messages – just to let you all know that they wont appear on the blog until we get to hotmail and can ‘approve’ each message. Answering each individually means being on line for long periods of time, which isn’t really an option for us.

So in answer to some of your comments;

Thank you for all the birthday wishes – much appreciated!

Captain Kook didn’t get sea-sick at all, but McTed needed an urgent dose of champagne to settle his stomach. Slightly annoyingly, every time I got out a fun toy to play with, Jacob announced that “Susan got that for me for my birthday. I love Susan”..

Clearly the 40th birthday party was a huge success Karl – it’s about bloody time you were in your 40’s. Now Conrad and Cathy just have to get on with it.. Dave – keep name-dropping to your heart’s content. I’ll never stop telling people I rubbed shoulders with Sting..

Raech, dry your tears and come and join us – we are missing you guys so much. Just ruin your husbands career and book a holiday!

Michael – you are so right, the two hulls are just perfect – now.. Off shore – still prefer this, but could do with another couple of feet of bridge deck clearance for a bit of sleep. Couldn’t possibly admit we would prefer a monohull at this juncture, and now that we are sitting here with all this SPACE. And swell, what swell??

Can’t believe Nozzers is still alive – she was so FAT – and that was 12 years ago!

Completely forgot Father’s day – I always resented it being so close to my birthday (because it’s all about ME), so sorry Fred, all too late now.. Maybe I can resurrect some of the hollandaise sauce in the fridge..

I’ll let Fred do the next blog, because he is chomping at the bit and writes a much better blog. Hopefully we’ll all retire on the sales of his next best-seller..

Imminent landfall

Well, we’re finally within cooee of our first landfall.
Perhaps not cooee exactly, but only 50 or so miles away, and moving along on a rollicking downwind ride in 15 knots with every 2 metre swell lifting the boat and pushing her on a gentle surf. Lovely low maintenance sailing which we all feel we deserve after a nightmare night involving lots of pounding, two nasty squalls, about 10 sail changes, an accidental gybe, and a rope wrap around the wind generator. Limited sleep for all.

Nevertheless, everyone’s excited about our imminent landfall after 9 days at sea. It tends to remind me of the old joke about the gynaecologist, who arrives at a party and just stands there saying “ahhh…faces, faces”. However grotty the land it’s good to see it after days and days of just ocean to look at. The boys especially will be pleased to get ashore – it’s very early days in the trip for them, and we’re all yet to figure out how to make the long passages less boring for them. The size of the boat makes much of the sailing activity full of technical detail, high working loads, and constant awareness of safety margins…stuff that we’re confident we can get the older boys into in time, but not without a build-up. They started standing a watch each of an hour a day – Luca at 7pm and Gabriel 6am – with us of course awake and quietly monitoring in the background. Baby steps.

No fish landed on the trip so far, which is a cruel blow for a family with an already dismal record of catching fish. We hooked a decent Mahimahi about 3 days ago, but it escaped just as I lifted in onto the boat…as the boys would say “Doh!”

We should approach the island of Efate around midnight, but given the uncertainty of charts, markers and lights etc in this part of the world, we’ll choose to stand-off and wait for daylight before going in. Assuming no last minute dramas, our next blog should be from Port Vila sipping pina coladas by the swimming pool of a 5 star hotel, surrounding by nubile hostesss peeling grapes for us on demand…. I jest of course…we’ve both resigned from our jobs for this trip, so a glass of watered-down plonk and a dry cracker on the boat will be our more likely reward!

Beyond half-way

We seem to have escaped the challenging weather patterns that surround NZ, and picked up the edge of a large stationary high off the northern Tasman, bringing light Southerlies and sunny days this now being our 3rd day flying the gennaker (big sail at the front) and cruising along at a steady 6-7 knots in smooth seas. The temperatures are gradually rising, and we’re progressively shedding more clothes as we approach New Caledonia latitudes. Lovely sailing, and a lot less pounding!

Yesterday we celebrated our official half-way point, an important milestone for crew morale and a good excuse for treats. With a no-alcohol policy whilst on passage, treats invariably mean food, provided for by Rebecca ‘she who knows where stuff is stored’ (a power second to none on the boat, cherished and fiercely protected by the holder). She can instantly lay her hands on things the rest of us dared not dream we even had. This included pancakes for breakfast, hugely appreciated by all except me, who missed the event whilst I slept off the last watch and awoke to eat the usual 6-day old crusty bread. Are there no privileges for the skipper?

At our half-way point we also run an ETA sweepstake, another morale-booster and one heavily supported by the skipper, who naturally feels better informed than others and therefore pretty confident in winning. We each take turns guessing arrival date and time in Port Vila, starting with Jacob who after some prompting randomly picks the first day of the week that pops into his head. The rest of the family quietly prepares for the standard guffawing as our trusty 3 year old supplies yet another ludicrous contribution to our discussion, but are quickly quietened when we announces Tues 10am 6 days hence. Albeit a tad pessimistic, we realise he’s made an unwittingly shrewd guess and start to readjust our own estimates accordingly. Actually, the good money’s on Monday, but we’re still debating the winners’ spoils. Luca suggested a week-free of washing up duties, a proposal quickly veto’ed by Rebecca and me who saw an essential element of our parental armoury for keeping a semblence of order onboard slipping away from us. I suggest an icecream, but get quickly veto’ed by everyone, who rightly point out that after 10 days at sea we all deserve a wretched icecream! And so the debate continues. Thankfully we still have 5 days to resolve it (no, 6! no 3! etc).