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Sailing From Vanuatu

As I write this our Picton Castle is under all plain sail to the royals, steering west in a modest easterly tradewind about 300 miles west of the island of Espritu Santo in Vanuatu – we have just sailed through a minor line squall which brought with it a wind shift of about 90 degrees. Crew were jumping about, bracing to the new winds and otherwise doing what crew are supposed to do in shifting wind conditions. Robert at the wheel did fine and Ali on lookout kept her eyes peeled all about for anything to report.

We make it a policy to post a dedicated lookout forward in this ship in the daytime and not just at night – you never know what might worth seeing. We do this because it was reported by the eight survivors of the loss of the schooner Pride of Baltimore in 1986 who spent four days in a life raft drifting about north of Puerto Rico and just east of the Bahamas that in broad daylight a number of cruise ships passed so close to them that they could make out the names of the ships – and no one aboard these ships saw them in their bright orange liferaft. So we keep a dedicated lookout on the foredeck of this ship pretty much all the time, day or night. Yet, on the other hand “lookout” is a condition, not a person. But always, no matter how, keep a good lookout.

We have some catching up to do on our logs here at – many fine accounts of the ship and crew’s doing are getting drafted but in the meantime here we have something of a recap.

After a fine six day passage from Fiji we sailed into and anchored off the old Burns & Phillips wharf at Luganville, Santo, Vanuatu. After clearing in we soon set sail again to see and explore some of this mysterious and friendly island country. Over the last couple weeks cruising around here in Vanuatu we have managed to check in with most of the villages and people we know hereabouts. Most are doing well. Very sadly, not all: Chief Alan Bule of Bwatnapni died last February, one of my personal best friends in these parts. A wonderful man who looked after his village with compassion, we had a lovely connection. Chief Saitol (maybe about age 90) and family at Banam Bay doing quite well. It has been wonderful for the crew to hang with the different villages; meeting folks, visiting schools and having schools visit us, eating and feasting together, hiking along beaches and though jungle, dancing at night, trading, playing guitars with all these nice folks, and drinking that funny stuff, kava, too. And, of course, longboat expeditions, cooking and cleaning and ongoing ship’s work, anchor watch and so on and so forth. And plenty mast-head tropical piloting (with no large scale charts of these islands available) to get our barque safely anchored. Real old fashioned Jack London, South Pacific stuff are these islands.

The crew favourite for sheer beauty may well be being at anchor at Asanvari, Vanuatu, although anchoring right next to a reef but we put a stern anchor out in this tranquil cove to keep us away from it – an amazingly beautiful small cresent moon bay and charmingly idyllic palm thatched village at the southern end of the island of Maewo filled with the sweetest peoples – surrounded by tall steep jungle tangled mountains – old wooden outrigger canoes pulled up on the beach, Picton Castle framed in palm trees in a crystal clear sea maybe two hundred yards from shore in this still lagoon – a cooling water fall nearby tumbling down to the cove, perfect for swimming (and washing clothes which some of us did) – incredibly cute kids running around happy to take your hand and walk you through the forest to their village and then when three or four of them get together, they seem to just burst out in song, and they sing like angels – no road to this village, can only come by boat – everybody barefoot, smiling – prettiest village you ever saw – like Spielberg and Disney got together to make an adorable South Seas native village, gardens, rock lined coral gravel paths, pretty flowers everywhere – but Disney and Spielberg had nothing to do with this – this is just how the villagers want it and how they keep it – we took lots of our Nova Scotian donated encyclopedias, school books, paper and pencils to the school which had so very little – our Doc Vicki went to the clinic to look at folks if they wanted it (I have seen a rise in the standard of health in the years I have been coming here) and we all had a “Kastom Dans” (traditional dancing) followed by kava (Vanuatu has the strongest kava in the South Pacific and Asanvari has the strongest kava in Vanuatu; tastes like kerosene, dishwater, used lube-oil, and mercury mixed) and kai-kai (chow and pretty good) – old fashioned poi or laplap, kumera, yam, coconut crab and pig roast. And Banam Bay at southern Malekula and Bwatnapni Bay at Pentecost were equally delightful and enchanting. Stay tuned for more accounts about our visits to these fascinating South Pacific spots.

Then back to Luganville, Esprito Santo, Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides) which was a massive naval base in WWII, almost every USN ship passed through here in that war – they still have plenty of those round topped corrugated steel Quonset huts all over the place. Bomber and fighter strips, now abandoned, broad Seabee built boulevards, wrecked planes and ships about, every small shop sells old crusty bullets, old spoons engraved USN, old Coke bottles stamped “Seatle”, “Oakland” or “San Francisco” 1943 or something – heavy glass, only 6 ounce and just millions of them everywhere. I am sure the broad roadstead anchorage bottom (where vast fleets of huge Navy ships once anchored) is covered with them – any country on a massive war footing that can still devote that much war transport space to that many crates of coloured sugar water must be pretty confident about winning a war. What? Didn’t they need bullets, torpedoes, plane parts (and also planes), rifles, spam and corned beef? WWII Navy Coke bottles everywhere hereabouts – got the crew to go on a WWII tour here, wrecked B-17 bombers recently discovered in the forest, PT Boat bases, Million Dollar Point where they bulldozed a lot more than a million dollars worth of military supplies into the sea instead of leaving on the shore at wars end – makes for great diving though – but also amazing fresh water “Blue Holes”, coral reefs and much else besides… Now, after fuelling, provisioning and all this exploring ashore, we are now sailing for Bali, 3300 miles to the west out of the Coral Sea, South Pacific and into the seas of the Orient.

crashed B-17 bomber engine and wing pieces in the woods of Vanuatu
Ladies Kastom Dans
long boat heading off at Pentecost
Paul works on new masts in the breezeway
PICTON CASTLE anchored at Asanvari with long boat sailing in
Posing for the camera in Banam Bay

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