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.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The Maunie Bounce - photos from a different perspective

It's always fantastic when someone gives you photos of your boat under sail as it's a view you seldom see for yourself. We always take pictures of other boats we meet at sea, in the hope we'll be able to pass them on to their crew, and we've been hugely fortunate to sail in company with some talented photographers. 

Peter on Stormvogel produced nearly all of the great photos we have of the Parasailor, Bev on Mersoleil got some nice shots of us in Fiji, Irene on Kiapa was responsible for the cracking photo on the home page of the blog and two photographers whose skills I'd love to be able to emulate, Adam on Bravo and Kerry on Sel Citron, have caught us in action this year.

Here are a few that Kerry took as we were beating against the wind to get down to Ambrym last week. We were actually motor-sailing the last couple of miles into the choppy sea so the yankee headsail was furled away but they give you an idea of the conditions as Maunie shoulder-charges the waves!

Dianne on the foredeck ready to flake down the staysail as it's lowered

Saturday, 27 August 2016

The Good Life

Laundry day on Maunie
We may be showing our age here but we clearly remember a 70’s comedy TV series called The Good Life, where a couple called Tom and Barbara, living in middle-class British suburbia, decided to give up their jobs and try their hands at self-sufficiency. They sold their car, disconnected the electricity supply, ploughed up the lawn of their detached house and planted vegetables – all to the uncomprehending dismay of their status-conscious neighbours, Jerry and Margot.
Fast forward 40-odd years and Tom and Barbara’s concept seems slightly less controversial, in spite of a spiral of consumerism and technology dependence that they could hardly have dreamt about. Back in our home county of Somerset, the decision as to whether to build a twenty billion pound nuclear power station, just 3 miles from our house, hangs in the balance as the government ponders the pros (of job creation and carbon-neutral electricity supply continuity) and the cons (of the huge problem of nuclear waste disposal and the immediate financial and political worries of handing the build contract to a French company supported by a 25% stake from China). But, meanwhile, we are all becoming more used to the concepts of green energy generation and there’s a wider  realisation that energy conservation and even small-scale production at home and in business makes financial as well as ecological sense.
Here on Maunie, as we’ve touched on before, we’re trying our best to work towards some reasonable degree of self-sufficiency. Admittedly our crop-growing potential is somewhat limited and our fishing skills still leave a lot to be desired but our need for electricity and fresh water, at least, is something that we can address pretty well. The key to self sufficiency in these areas, of course, is to make things easier by cutting down on our demand. So our electrical load when anchored is limited to energy-efficient refrigeration and LED lighting which means that our 320W solar panels can more than keep up, given a moderately sunny day. 320W is the peak output, by the way, so in reality we probably generate about 1200 watt-hours per day (about the same amount of energy used if you boil a domestic 3kW electric kettle about 8 times a day, to put it into perspective).
Fresh water is, if anything, more of a challenge. We haven’t connected Maunie to a shore tap for nearly 2 months so our small water-maker, which generates only 24 litres per hour, has to keep up with our thirst when the solar panels are generating enough spare capacity for its 110W power demand or else when the engine is running. Again, the secret for us is minimising demand so we have a salt-water tap in the galley sink for prewashing the dishes and our showers are necessarily kept short; leaving the tap running whilst we brush our teeth has become unthinkable. Clothes washing (or rather rinsing the soap out of them after the washing bit) is the big challenge, however, so when we find a stream or fresh water spring ashore we follow the locals to their laundry spot and get to work; we haven’t quite adopted their technique of thrashing our clothes on a rock yet! The heavy rain of the past two days has given us a welcome break from running the water-maker; we let the rain wash the salt from the decks for a few minutes and then dam up the deck drains to divert the rainwater flow into the deck-mounted water filler for the main tank, whilst the cleaned-out dinghy provides another useful catchment area.  We’ve successfully diverted about 300 litres into our now brim-full tank (there’s a micro-filter on the drinking water tap in the galley to remove any potential contaminants) and the 150 or so litres that we pumped out of the dinghy has been used for the laundry today; Graham still did a dinghy run ashore with the soapy clothes to rinse them in the spring water that gushes from rocks on the nearby beach. When the sun’s out a camping solar shower left out on deck provides hot water for the washing up and the sunshine and a decent breeze soon dried the laundry.
In reality, Maunie is one of the smaller and simpler boats in the cruising fleet around here. Many boats have washing machines (not jealous, honest!) and even air conditioning but every extra delight demands more power and adds to the boat’s complexity so we’re happy with our energy vs. luxury balance.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Some Festival Photos

We've just done the SIM dance on Maunie and Digicel is giving us the faintest glimmer of internet so we'll have a go at adding a few photos from the past three days:

Carved tam-tams - slit drums which  make a deep booming call, traditionally to communicate news to the village
Many of the dances are performed in an inward-looking circle, with loud singing and the heavy beat of stamping feet. The item being carried by the chief in the centre of the photo is a small drum

Some of the dances, however, involved solos....

... plus a bit of audience intimidation......

..... and some colourful head dresses. The 77 year old High Chief watched them all and joined in.

Three of the elder ladies joined in

Invent your own caption!

The High Chief takes a rest. The boars' tusks and the carved staff slung over his right shoulder signify his status

The High Chief and is son-in-law, Chief Sekkor give support to the boy being initiated into the Rom dance

The audience watches, in the pouring rain

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Writing without repetition, deviation, hesitation or repetition

Three generations at the Rom Dance – the High Chief (left), Chief Sekkor and his son
Apologies that a recent post arrived now fewer than five times on the blog! We can (occasionally) get the blog to appear on our pc here – log in, go and make a cup of tea then come back to see if the thing has managed to connect – but at the moment we can't edit it, the internet is just too slow. So the only way to add a post to the blog is to send an email update and the 'Gentlemen Don't Go to Windward' email seems to have repeated itself several times! These days we get so used to being online, even on the boat, that it's frustrating when it doesn't happen. We're using a Digicel sim card in Graham's iPhone which can then act as a wifi hotspot to allow the PC to connect but, despite the fact that we can see the Digicel cell tower on the hill just above us and the phone shows 5 bars of signal, there's virtually no data transfer available. Ah well....
The final day of the Festival was very, very wet! The Rom dance doesn't usually take place if it's raining because the beautifully-make masks, painted with natural colours and woven with pandanus fibres, would be damaged but, after waiting in vain for the weather to clear, the chief decided to go ahead with just 6 Roms rather than the usual dozen or so. The dance was made all the more special because the chief's second son, who looked about 13, was being initiated to be allowed to wear the Rom costume and join the elite band of dancers who can take part in this unique-to-Ambrym tradition. The poor lad looked very uncomfortable at having to do all this in front of all of us but with his father, Chief Sekkor and his 77 year old grandfather, who is the High Chief of the region, looking on supportively as he made it through the ceremony. At the end he was supposed to kill a very large pig but, probably because of his audience or perhaps because of the wet conditions, he just gave it a tap with his ceremonial staff (but he will have to do the job properly in the next day or so). This came as quite a relief to us; at the start of the previous day's proceedings we'd witnessed a pig being ceremonially despatched with blows to the head with a club, which wasn't a great sight.  His father handed his uncle (we think) a substantial wad of money and a new Rom mask was presented to the boy in return. We were told that, once a dancer has earned the right to wear the Rom costume and has learned the intricate dance, he must not divulge any of what he has been taught to others or he'll face a stiff penalty.
Afterwards Chief Sekkor explained to us that he was desperate to keep the traditions of Ambrym alive so this latest initiation was really important to all of the locals. The High Chief, who had looked taciturn throughout the whole festival, broke into a lovely smile at the end and, holding hands with Kerry like a long-lost friend, looked delighted that his grandson was continuing the tradition of his forefathers.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Singing (and dancing) in the rain

The dancers at the Back to My Roots Festival
Yesterday was Day 2 of the traditional festival at Olal in the northern tip of Ambrym. The dancing and singing has been really powerful, thanks to a much bigger group of dancers than we had at the Fanla festival, and we've taken loads of photos and video. Unfortunately yesterday's programme as punctuated by rain showers so we were glad that we took our big Yeo Valley umbrella!
Overnight we had really heavy rain so Graham did the traditional naked deck dance to set up the water catcher system (blocking up the deck drains and putting a small dam in place to direct the water into the tank filler socket) and the main tank is nearly full. The forecast is for more showers today so we'll be suitably prepared for the grand finale of the festival – the Rom mask dance.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Gentlemen don't go to windward!

Maunie rinsing her side decks 
Since we left Luganville, we've been working back against the SE trade winds to return to Ambrym. The reason for putting up with all the bouncing around is there's another traditional festival here this week, called 'Back to My Roots', which is supposed to be really good. There's quite a cluster of yachts here for the event so it's been a very sociable anchorage so far. We came on a two-stop strategy, at Ambae and Pentecost, with good anchorages in both in spite of wet and drizzly conditions; the weather has cleared now so we're back to warm sunshine. As ever, you can find out where all these places are on https://www.yit.nz/yacht/maunieofardwall
The Festival seems to be organised with military precision so there was quite a lot of confusion as to whether it begins today or tomorrow! Eventually it transpired that the start date would be tomorrow (Tuesday) so we spent today cleaning the boat and baking banana bread and doing a long coastal hike.
Unfortunately the internet here is terribly slow so we can't access the blog to post more photos and we are hoping that the photo attached to this update (which sent as an email) will make it. We'll update the blog with more info soon.

Monday, 15 August 2016

And then there were two....

Today we said farewell to Laura, who has been an integral part of the Maunie crew for very nearly four months. She joined some guests from the resort to share the ferry across to Luganville and then a minibus to the airport for the three-hour flight to Brisbane. The next exciting chapter of her foreign adventure begins - she has an Australian working holiday visa and hopes to get some work in the marine biology line as she explore the country.

Now many people marvel that the two of us can coexist in a 38ft boat without falling out (with each other, if not from the boat) so surely adding a third person to such a small space would be a real challenge? Well, we are delighted to report that it has been a real pleasure to have Laura aboard - she's a great sailor and a quick learner, very positive and just good fun to have aboard. She makes cracking shortbread as well, as you will have read from a previous blog!

We ended her Vanuatu adventure in some style when we spent the last weekend on a mooring off the very swanky Ratua Private Island Resort.

The resort is upmarket and expensive but beautifully built and furnished; it's owned by a Frenchman who imports wine from his own chateau in France onto the wine list and the staff are impeccably trained. 

In the Yacht Club bar

Restaurant with a view - Maunie on the mooring to the right

Laura was very happy with her chocolate pudding 
The island has its own organic veg gardens and the food is excellent so it's refreshing that they are happy for yachts to pick up their moorings (free of charge) and come to drink and eat at the 'Yacht Club' bar; it was good to sample a little of what the guests, who pay up to $4,000AUS per week, enjoy. 

We had an excellent supper with the entertainment of the local Bamboo Band (playing instruments made of bamboo, of course) on Friday and then returned for cocktails  whilst the string band, whose members are all regular Ratua employees, provided some great music on Saturday.

Dressed up for cocktails on Saturday night

As we write this Laura is at the Luganville airport which she describes as slightly chaotic; hopefully her flight (on Air Vanuatu's new Boeing) will be smooth. We'll miss her, though Maunie will feel lighter without her huge rucksack and assorted baggage:

Laura's bags are ferried ashore

Friday, 12 August 2016

Diving the USS Coolidge wreck

In 1942 the USS Coolidge steamed into the harbour at Luganville. A 650ft ocean liner, requisitioned in WW2 and converted into an armed troopship, she struck two ‘friendly’ mines due to a communications mix up and the captain beached her on the reef. Over 5,300 men walked to safety ashore.

According to Wikipedia:
A large military base and harbor had been established on Espiritu Santo and the harbor was heavily protected by mines. Information about safe entry into the harbor had been accidentally omitted from the Coolidge's sailing orders, and on her approach to Santo on 26 October, Coolidge, fearing Japanese submarines and unaware of the mine fields, tried to enter the harbor through the largest and most obvious channel. A mine struck the ship in the engine room, and moments later a second mine hit her near her stern.
Captain Henry Nelson, knowing that he was going to lose the ship, ran her aground and ordered troops to abandon ship. Not believing the ship would sink, troops were told to leave all of their belongings behind under the impression that they would conduct salvage operations over the next few days.
Over the next 90 minutes, 5,340 men from the ship got safely ashore. There was no panic as they disembarked; many even walked ashore. However, the captain's attempts to beach the ship were thwarted by a coral reefCoolidge listed heavily on her side, sank, and slid down the slope into the channel.
Now she’s one of the most accessible and biggest wreck dives in the world and is an amazing experience. The holds are still full of vehicles and tanks and guns and there are safe access points to various parts of the hull. For obvious safety reasons we have to dive with certified dive guides but Graham did two dives on the wreck yesterday and says the second, when he entered the wreck, was his best dive ever!

Graham and Kerry at a decompression stop (required after a deep water dive)
The dive is a deep one, and Graham's deepest at 43m, so photography, particularly inside the wreck is particularly difficult unless you have fancy strobe flashlights. Paul from Iolea took his GoPro and his shots do give you an idea of what it was like:

The first view of the bow - the ship is lying on her port side
'The Lady' - a porcelain statue from the First Class Smoking Room. It's traditional for divers to give her a kiss.
In the No2 hold - some side panels of the ship were cut open in the war to try to salvage some of the kit. The remains of a vehicle can be seen at the bottom

The glow of sunlight through the starboard portholes which now look up towards the surface

Glass bottles and jars 

Yes, you swim through there! We had to twist sideways sometime to get the scuba bottle on our backs to fit through

Paul poses with one of the 3" guns on the starboard bow

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Millennium Cave Tour

It's really refreshing to come across initiatives that have been driven by locals, rather than foreigners, to benefit their villages. In Vanuatu, as in Tonga and Fiji, often most of the business enterprises in the more developed areas are run by incomers - for example in Luganville there is only one shop that's owned and operated by Ni-Vanuatu people, the remainder are Chinese and Vietnamese.

So, yesterday, Graham joined the crews of Sel Citron, Pacific Hwy and Iolea to do the Millennium Caves Tour. This began in 2000 when Sam, the eldest son of the Chief of the remote Vunaspef village, realised that the limestone cave and river gorge buried deep in the forest could become a tourist attraction. Once he'd cut a circular trail and trained some other village men as guides, he used an agent in town to market and sell the tours - they charged 8,000V per head but paid the village only 500V of that for all the hard work! In 2011 the village decided they'd had enough of that poor deal so built an office in Luganville, reduced the cost to 7,000V per person and invested all the the money into several villages up there in the forest. The funds have paid for a new school and kindergarten and provide employment for 19 guides who do a tremendous job.

The tour involves a bumpy 45 miinute ride in a minibus to Wambel village, a 20 minute tramp to Vunaspef (which has no vehicular access) and an hour and a half hike to the cave.

A bridge constructed from a bundle of long bamboo poles

Vunaspef village

Hiking towards the cave

The villagers have constructed lots of ladders in the steep bits
Once we arrived at the cave we had our faces painted to show proper respect to an area that was, until 2000, considered sacred and 'tabu'

Kerry gets the mud-paint treatment

Graham's new look
The cave itself is pretty spectacular - a lofty limestone cavern, probably 800m long, with a river running through it. We were provided with waterproof torches (vital as it's pitch black in there) and made our way slowly along the boulder-strewn river, with bats and swallows nesting in the walls above us.

Entering the cave

Swallow nests in the limestone

A waterfall at the side of the cavern, illuminated by torch light

Light at the end of the tunnel

Kerry emerges into the light

We had a guide for every three people and they were brilliant - they were mostly barefoot but know every foothold and pool and guided us safely to the next stage of the adventure. We worked our way down the Sarakata river, first 'canyoneering' through a stretch of huge boulders and then swimming down river. They have cut foot holds in the rocks and cemented in steel bar hand-holds but even so it was reasonably challenging in places. Breath-takingly beautiful, though.

One of the guides takes a well-earned rest at the lunch stop

Heading down the canyon

Wooden ladders have been built to traverse some of the trickier bits

Swimming down stream, hoping the waterproof bags actually are

After the final swimming section there was a very steep climb up the canyon walls and back to Vunaspef. We passed through some of the village gardens, which were surrounded by a dense creeper which is smothering everything. It's known as 'Mile-a-Minute' for the way it spreads and was introduced by the American army in the war as natural camouflage for their military bases.

There's no way of containing this stuff!
So, weary but elated after a long day we returned and were given fresh fruit and coffee at the village before the final 20-minute walk back to Wambel to be collected by Sam and his rattly van. We had an impromptu stop on the drive back on the remains of a WW2 airstrip to recharge the van's boiling radiator with water - pretty normal stuff for vehicles around here it seems!

A pitstop where once USAF bombers and transport planes thundered
All in all, just a brilliant day, made all the more special by the friendly and professional guides and by the knowledge that the whole thing is a locally-run operation.