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
Sailing through Cannibal Islands
Paul & I were first ashore, dropped off by John who went back for
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
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
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
Until independence from England and France in 1980, Vanuatu was known
New Hebrides. Independence was a difficult time for this emerging country
with powerful secessionist movements on several different islands, fueled
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
Santo during WWII gathered considerable momentum, first petitioning the
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"
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
nearby Solomon Islands. Luganville, where we cleared in had up to 100 US
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
the only common language. All but 3,500 of these are ni-Vanuatu and more
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,
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
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
several villages including Banam Bay have built village-owned guest houses.
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,
they just bought a 45' Bayliner on which they cruise the Chesapeake with
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
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
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
Just minutes after we arrived at the powder white crescent-shaped dream
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
After lunch we drove as far inland as possible with the van, then shifted
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
By the time we made it back to the Beachfront Hotel where we left the
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
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
which we had heard was a good place to see traditional Small Namba custom
Small Namba Custom Dancers Banam Bay, Malekula Is.
We were surprised to see three Kiwi boats anchored off the beach where
couple of thatch houses were visible ashore through the trees. Once Irwin
Paul landed on the beach they were met by chief Saitol and son John and
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
back-up music for small nambas tribal dances.
Chief Saitol's son John asked us to sign their Yacht Log which had photos
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
After changing back into their normal attire (t-shirts & shorts for
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
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
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
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
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
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
best time to write, since so much is happening when we're near land) and
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
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
slow down to arrive at Havannah Pass, the entrance of 45 tortuous miles
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,
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