Vanuatu & the Village of Yakel


Tanna Volcano

Asha Forsyth joins the expedition and comes to see Tanna volcano.  Some climate researchers believe that tectonic activity will increase with climate change as glaciers melt and the water balance between earth and atmosphere changes.

Asha has joined the expedition from Beijing and as a fluent mandarin speaker has been discussing the Chinese construction of flood proof roads on Tanna with the Chinese construction workers.

Yakel Villagers

Yakel Village

The crew visit the village of Yakel on the volcanic island of Tanna in Vanuatu. 
Here Tawateh showed them special buildings made of traditional organic materials that can withstand CAT 5 cyclones.  The village took shelter in these when Cyclone Pam hit.

Yakel is a Kustom village where residents choose not to adopt western clothes, food or consumer goods. 

Form left to right jonson. Tom. Salina. Tawahteh and linkaikowya accept and invitation to come sailing!

Form left to right jonson. Tom. Salina. Tawahteh and linkaikowya accept and invitation to come sailing!

Yakel organic cyclone hut

Yakel organic cyclone hut


Clean up of Suwarrow

Suwarrow marine plastic

Suwarrow. Look it up on google maps- zoom in, then some lies between Samoa and French Polynesia in the northern Cook Islands. We stopped for an unexpected and truly satisfying five days. Spoke with the Rangers there about thinning fish populations and a lost way of life. They were two men living there during the dry season, returning to their roots for 6 months a year. Did a beach clean up, Recorded lots of coral in the best visibility we've seen yet.

Ruth Tedder shows what we found at Suwarrow... Think about what you buy!

The first video is pre-clean up and the second video is post-clean up.

Happy viewing.

And so to Samoa

We have drunk in the sounds and sensations of French Polynesia, and found it sweet.  We now lie in Bora Bora, waiting for the wind to catch to Samoa; our first new country in 3months.   The trades have been roaring too hard for comfort; better to wait for the trough to pass through and ride the gentler seas that follow behind.

Whilst the weather danced her capricious melody, we have had an unexpected suspension of the imperatives of sailing life, and instead enjoyed more time with friends we must soon farewell and an anchorage on surely the bluest lagoon we have known yet. 

In these mountainous volcanic islands sat squarely in the trades, to lie in the lee of the rock is not sufficient.  Katabatic gusts (powerful downdrafts) blast irregularly off the mountain, straining mooring lines and disturbing sleep as you listen for something to go wrong on deck.  Its fairly typical to be up on deck of a night, naked if you will, checking lines, dinghys and other toys to be sure nothing will be lost.  The other night an unexpected downpour had Karl and I awake and mopping at 2am due to hatches left open for cooling breezes.  We laughed it off the next morning, as we took in the extraordinary palette of blues and turquoises around us that seemed to deny belief.  So blue is it here, that not only do the bellies of birds but also the clouds flying overhead reflect the colour of the lagoon.

Last night we sat on the bow, taking in the (finally) still vista around us.  It's a new moon, the nights are black, and the water was so still it reflected the stars and the milky way burning above us.  Mast head lights of other boats at anchor drew long caterpillar lines across the water towards us, the flashing of beacons adding intermittently to the effect, and we could pick shooting stars out on the surface of the water.  The outline of the nearby motu behind which we sheltered, completed the picture that no camera could possibly record.  Ukelele plucking ashore drifted across the water, accompanied by the boom of surf further out on the reef.  I declared it a night like I’d never experienced, committing it to memory for all time.

Its nice to rest back into the softness of such a sensory experience, and store it like a method actor for when we need it at sea in those times you wonder why the heck you’ve taken on such a journey.  Its never guaranteed what you’ll get out there; we do our best with weather forecasts and other knowledge gleaned from fellow sailors and books, then you take your leap off the edge and do your best.  On this 10-ish day trip to Samoa we will be two handed only, meaning tag team watches and - should anything get tricky on deck at night -your precious four hours being interrupted to get up and help.  So be it.  It wont last forever, you find tremendous strength of character in these moments, and I find it's a powerful expression of the team ship between Karl and I; we never squabble under pressure, only work our best together to manage whatever the situation requires.


And finally, at the end of it, theres a new port, new people, new customs and lore to experience, and a powerful potential for yet another extraordinary memory in the making.    

Skills for life

We have chosen to adhere to the NSW Maths curriculum while we sail and travel.  Frankly, it's a bore and a chore, but kids want to rejoin school in term 4 so that's the deal.

There never seems to be a good time to do it – it always interrupts something more urgent, important or interesting.  The morning is a good time for productive activity; surfing, taking coral footage, or working on the boat.  After that we all want to eat and relax a bit.  After that we need more activity to stimulate us through the afternoon heat.

We dutifully sit down together, text books open, and the heat seeps into our brains and everything becomes slow and dull.  Soon one of us is yawning, which is of course contagious.

Today, having suffered through half a chapter of algebra, Django threw off the stupor and announced he’d had enough of maths.  “I want to go and learn something useful, like how to drain the carburettor!”  Karl needed no encouragement.

Yesterdays adventure was a late afternoon fang in our new speedy tender to the pass in the reef nearby; the location of a fat and heavy wave we’d spotted the other day.  Clearly a local break (betrayed by a mooring ball behind the break for securing your canoe, dinghy etc whilst surfing), it had been too big the day before.  Django went prepared and optimistic, and was rewarded by a wicked session on his biggest wave yet, owning it with the locals out there and even managing a bit of French to discuss the swell.  (The other component of our “formal” schooling programme)

Milking it to the last, the crew gathered for the 2 mile journey back to Blue Heeler 1 at fading dusk, only to find the engine conked out and not responding.  It was already a long paddle home against potentially counter currents, when one paddle broke and they had to invent a way to use Quinns short board as the other paddle.  Clever use of the leg rope to pull it through the water had them underway – truly an innovation resulting from adversity!

The story of my anxiety back on BH1 is another paragraph; but never mind that.  They appeared just after I’d called the coast guard – an hour after last light – all safe, and well worked out from the 2 mile paddle.  Karls conclusion; water in the carburettor, and that lay the ground for todays lesson for life; how to trouble shoot a two stroke engine.

You can read Django’s report in another post.   But after a morning working on the boat and doing maths, Karl, Teaghan and Django set up in the shade and took the simple little Tohatsu apart, working steadily through each component and rendering her running again within 30 minutes.  Like Django said – something very useful to learn!

It's a blessing of this lifestyle, to be constantly challenged with problems that you need to solve by your own wits, inevitably learning something along the way.  Karl and I are often surprised by and pleased with our own ingenuity.  It certainly makes me feel more solid in the world; that I have the skills to work a problem much deeper than I give myself the credit for; that I am possibly the best available “expert” to turn to for advice.  It helps me manage the stress of the unknown and makes me feel more empowered. 

What skills do we really need for “success” in life?  Although I have a deep respect for maths as a classical discipline, does it really help my children?  What other things may we be able to pass on as parents? 

Here’s a few:  How to make friends in basic French.  What makes machines work?  What happens if I pull this rope (is it safe? What do I have to check first?) And, of course; What to do when you’re up the creek without a paddle.

Church on Sunday

We Are Welcomed // Press play on Church 1 as you read - Trust me it will transport you to a wonderful world of Ukulele Church Worship.

People clustered together in different parts of the pews, who later turned out to be groups with their own musical offerings. There were ukuleles, guitars, and sweet harmonies.  The music is cheery and makes me smile; nothing of the sobriety I associate with church and Christian worship.

Sunday best is colourful printed fabric dresses - hibiscus and ferns and lace in pinks, purples, reds, greens - accompanied by elaborate woven rattan hats.  The men suffered long trousers and closed shoes in the heat for this one day of the week.

The sermons were interspersed with music every 5 or so minutes.  Groups within the congregation have clearly practiced a lot and enjoy their offering.  After the Lords prayer, the whole church all joined in on one song they clearly felt deep in their hearts, and I was moved by the sense of community cohesion.

They insisted we join them for communion - gluey cubes of taro and coconut water!  Afterwards everyone cued at the door to kiss either cheek and shake the hand of the preists and pastor.  “Bon Dimanche!” they say – Have a good Sunday! And off they go to enjoy their day with family and food – no shops, no work – old style.

Heiva Practice, Raietea

A National festival of dance and song.  Different localities get their drummers together and practice for weeks leading up to the 3 week competition.  Each night around sundown the drumming starts, calling us from our labours in the boatyard to follow the sound.  The drummers are key; nothing happens without them.  These rhythms have been played for years, practiced, handed down.  The hollow log drummers hands move so fast you cant see them. 

Tempers will fray

When we arrive we'll have a good couple of weeks work to get the boat up to scratch for sailing again.  It's a trying period of endless lists and general frustrations of sourcing stuff you need in a foreign land without a car... in French.... all in oppressive humidity.  Tempers will fray.

I love cleaning! (not).  There will be a lot of that to do.  I’m holding out hope but the realistic forecast is for lovely layer of mold on every surface inside and out. Man, before I left I BOMBED that boat with vinegar, but you cannot believe the amount of misty, tropical, volcanic, waterfallish vapour that particular location brews.  It's the steamiest several square miles on Tahiti I’m sure.

Additionally, theres heavy lifting and toxic painting to keep reefs in the water and not on Blue Heeler 1.  You all loved that picture of me up the mast but I tell you thats hard work (I had to lie down for a while after that)!  We have the lovely Teaghan joining us again so an extra set of hands will be welcome for the myriad of jobs whilst entertaining tetchy, relocated youngsters...

Depriving the groms of surf on the doorstep (like we have in Mona Vale) for anything longer than several days will ensure a tricky time too.  We’ll have to just get into the tropical pace of life - move a little slower, smile a little easier, and… get ready to sail in Tahitian time.


Flare Practice with the Girls

Flare practice on Saturday night with the girls.  Dont worry, we let all the right people know.  I was completing Safety and Survival at Sea training.  We weren't allowed to take photos in the pool, but the 3 hours spent in full wet weather gear, life jacket inflated, maneouvering with other bodies in the water and the life raft, was much more real.  The flare was a thrill really... the afternoon in the water was much more sobering.