Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

New technology and hysterical laughter

We just love this photo, taken by Damian on Sel Citron yesterday:

Mark from Field Trip flew his drone over the village at the end of the Independence Day service - his video footage is spectacular and, once he's been able to upload it onto YouTube we'll add a link to it. The children, dressed up for this big day, couldn't believe their eyes when the machine hovered just over their heads and then soared high above the island - their laughter was infectious.

We'll try to add some more photos soon, if the mobile phone signal plays ball...

Caofis all around us!

We've just moved from an area of no internet signal to one of occasional connection and have found that our last update, sent via email, didn't make it to the blog. So, apologies for the silence and we'll try to catch up; here's what should have appeared a few days ago:

Internet connections via our Digicel mobile phone card remain of the ‘throw a six to start’ variety so we’re sorry that we can’t post any photos at the moment. That’s a real shame as the cameras have been worked hard over the past few days.

We spent a couple of days in Gaspard Bay, a deep, mangrove-lined inlet which offers good shelter and is, we had been told, home to a dugong.  Dugongs are related, to manatees that can be seen in Florida, and are large, placid mammals that graze on sea grass growing on the sandy bottom. They are, in this respect, rather like cows so the Bislama name for them is Caofis (literally ‘cow-fish’). Well, we had 8 of them around us, surfacing to breath with a loud snort, their noses just poking up above the water, before performing slow forward rolls back down to the grass; occasionally we’d see their whale-like tails appear in the air as they dived. They are very shy creatures but we drifted across the anchorage in the dinghy, watching them for over an hour – it was hypnotically soothing!

We moved on Monday down to Uliveo island, the largest inhabited island of the Maskelynes and were given a wonderful welcome. There are three villages, Lutes, Peskarus and Pelonk which, between them, are home to about 600 people. They get a few yachts visiting (we were the first this year) and have a couple of small bungalow ‘resorts’ so have formed an eco-tourism committee, with the help of some training from the Vanuatu Tourist Board. We were met by Stewart who guided us around the island and formally introduced us to a member of the Council of Chiefs and to the headmaster of the school; we think we met pretty well everybody on the island as well! 

The villages are immaculately kept (they have an annual ‘best-kept village’ competition) and the school is well organised. As luck would have it, for the past two days it has hosted an annual inter-school sports competition against three other schools on the mainland and neighbouring islands so there were running races and volleyball and football matches, all very serious and enthusiastically supported. Graham asked Mr Benson, the headmaster, if he might take photos and printed and laminated about 20 of the best shots; this was enormously well received and, of course, has let to requests for more photos from all quarters!

The anchorage has suddenly got busy with the arrival, yesterday, of Kerry & Damian on Sel Citron and Mark, Sarah, Elizabeth and Michael on Field Trip so it’s been lovely to catch up with good friends again. Another catamaran, called Even Keels, and a monohull called Magic Swan also arrived yesterday. So we suspect we’ll be here for a few more days – it’s Independence Day on Sunday so there are more celebrations and sports events over the next two days plus we want to go to visit the Giant Clam sanctuary that the villagers established several years ago. The cameras will be kept busy!

Friday, 22 July 2016

In the Maskelynes

We moved yesterday from Ambrym to the island of Malakula, a 30mm passage to the south west. The breeze was only about 8 knots so we motor-sailed most of the way but the engine power allowed us to run the water-maker for six hours to top up the tank and we enjoyed the attentions of a super-pod of dolphins (possibly Spinner Dolphins, thinks Laura) en route. We caught one fish, a Big Eye Tuna, but returned him as he was pretty small.
We're anchored in a cluster of islands called the Maskelynes at the SE tip of Malakula. You can see us our position on https://www.yit.nz/yacht/maunieofardwall. It's a beautiful spot though the tides run fast between the islands (we had nearly 2 knots of current yesterday) and we saw two sailing canoes in use, one of which had four ladies sailing it between the islands.
We plan to take a few days to explore this area and will then move up the east coast of Malakula. All's well aboard.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Head 'em up, ride 'em in

The Arrival of the Cattle was certainly a big event here yesterday. The morning started with loud music ashore and then long speeches on a PA system up at the school so we went to have a look; it transpired that the Minister of Agriculture and assorted other politicians were here. The mass shipment of about 150 head of cattle had been enabled by the government to encourage small farmers on the island to work their land so, from what we understood, those who wanted to buy a cow paid 12,000VT (about £80, so still a small fortune for most people here), with government subsidy paying for the transport and organisation.

It was a well-organised operation. Lots of preparatory work had been done to build fences and a shedding yard and the ship from the neighbouring island of Espirito Santo arrived more or less on time. The whole village turned up to watch the show.

The landing strip from ashore

and from seaward

The shedding area

The boat approaches the beach

The animals seemed remarkably calm as they awaited their disembarkation

The first arrivals - the Minister of Agriculture (right) looks on 

Surfin' in!

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Ranvetum village and kindergarten

We had a lovely a walk along the coast to the next village of Ranvetlum where we were given a nice welcome and taken to visit the kindergarten.

A beautiful bay with deep and ultra-clear water

Ranvetlum Kindergarten

and toilet
A shaded play area, complete with slide made with plastic water pipes

Lunch bags hung in the shade

The kindergarten class

The children were quite shy and subdued - we don't think they meet many foreigners!

But when Carl brought out a bubble-maker they were all smiles and laughter filled the room

A few photos of the Ambrym Festival

For some reason we have woken up to find some (still very slow) internet signal on our phone this morning so are taking the opportunity to post some photos of Friday's dance in Fanla village:

One of the chiefs playing the traditional bamboo flute

A household watches all the strange white-skinned folk!

The Rom dance - slightly scary costumes

Don't mess with us!
Today's big excitement is the arrival (possibly) of a coastal vessel bringing 150 cows from Espirito Santo to the island so we'll be there to watch the unloading on the beach!

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Chief Bong Welcomes You

This is High Chief Bong on Fanla village on Ambrym. He's in traditional dress for the dance festival we attended on Friday – note the nambas (penis sheath) and the pig tusks (which show he's a very important man). He must be in his late 70's but led a team of men through some very energetic and long dances with no apparent signs of tiring.
The festival nearly didn't happen this year as the Chief was concerned that the number of young men leaving the village for the brighter lights of Port Vila and Luganville meant he was struggling to have enough dancers who knew the traditional steps. The village is pretty small – 33 houses and about 180 people – so he managed to import a few extra dancers from neighbouring villages. Overall it was a good event, which included a tour of the village for the 24 yachties who attended.
Unfortunately we are in a very poor area for internet again so we'll post more photos and, hopefully, some short videos, when we move.
We're planning to stay in the anchorage here in Ambrym for a couple more days. There's some good walking to be had and, of course, there are boat maintenance jobs to be done. Graham successfully rebuilt the watermaker with parts that were sent to Port Vila from Italy so the water leak has been sorted but now we have a problem with our generator which refuses to start. Having spent several hours working through the system he thinks that the fuel cut-off solenoid is faulty so, thanks to some Google work by his dad in Scotland, emails have been sent to the makers to see if there is a 'work-around'. If not, we'll just have to run the engine to boost the batteries if the solar panels don't see enough sun.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Erromango and Efate

We left Tanna with a couple of other boats, including an Austrian catamaran called Chi; we were pretty surprised when we overtook it with our Parasailor flying!

Mt Yasur belching smoke in the background 
It's always fun to sail with other boats on these passages and then swap photos. This is one taken by Kate on Iolea:

The anchorage at the north end of Erromango Island was very pretty and, after having it to ourselves for one night, Iolea joined us there on the second.

Northerly gales have piled up a pebble beach that has dammed the river at the head of the bay
From Erromango, we had another day sail to Port Vila on the west side of Efate Island. Port Vila sits in a wonderful natural harbour and is a busy town, particularly when cruise ships arrive. Vanuatu is a popular holiday destination for Australians so there are quite a few resorts, many of which were badly damaged in Cyclone Pam last year; there has been some energetic rebuilding since.

Looking north east across the main anchorage towards the town. Wrecked boats from Cyclone Pam still rest on the shore

Maunie on Mooring Number 6 (about £8 per night)
In addition to a busy pit-stop to re-stock on gas, diesel and food (the Bon Marche supermarket was pretty good and the fruit and veg market superb), we took in a bit of culture. A visit to the national Museum was enlivened by the superb guide, Edgar, who shed some light on the mysteries of the Vanuatu culture. He started his tour by demonstrating san-droig (literally sand drawing) which was more that just art, it was a language in itself, in addition to the 110 or so mother tongues spoken across the island chain!

The completed drawing, made almost without lifting the finger from the sand
We have now left Port Vila and will spend the next 3 or 4 weeks away from the delights of shops and bars. We are heading north via the islands of Emae and Epi to Ambrym where there is a traditional festival taking place on Friday. More culture ahead then!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Photo update No 4 - The Tanna Volcano

The Mount Yasur volcano is a brilliant source of income for the villagers who live at its foot; they charge 7,500VT per person (about £48) but put on a couple of traditional dances and provide guides who give visitors a thorough safety briefing. The briefing goes something like:

Rule 1: Your safety is our number one priority (nice, but doesn't go into any details!)

Rule 2: Stay with your guides (ok, we'll curb the desire to go wandering off towards the hot bit)

Rule 3: In the event of an explosion, don't run. We need to assess the situation (note the absence of the word 'unlikely' before 'explosion'. What would they assess, exactly, anyway, the number of casualties?)

So dance and safety briefing completed, we set off up a very steep and bumpy track in the 4x4s and then climbed up to the rim of the volcano. Here are some photos:

The dance in traditional dress

Driving up to the volcano

Slightly worried selfie

The path along the rim - note the absence of safety rails!

First sight of the lava 

The smallest of the four blow-holes fires up a roman candle

The fireworks get better as darkness falls
It was an absolutely amazing experience, though the grit and ash and suffocating gas at one section of the rim wasn't a lot of fun for a while! We were glad to return to the safety of the boat in a very calm Port Resolution.

The local fishing fleet of dugout canoes