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Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu

By Kate “Bob” Addison

August 15th, 2014

Picton Castle is anchored in seventeen fathoms of water off Port Vila on the Vanuatu island of Efate. We sailed in on Sunday morning after a fabulous passage in fresh trade-winds from Fiji; for the last day and night we took off most of the sail because we were going too fast and it looked like we would arrive at night – never a good idea, especially in an narrow, badly charted harbour when there’s coral around. So we took her almost down to bare poles: just a topsail on the fore, inner jib and main topmast staysail – and still she was doing 5 knots – makes you realise how much windage there is in our rig!

Arriving on Sunday morning meant that we couldn’t clear in until the next day when the officials are back at work, so we had a pleasant Sunday at anchor, doing small cleaning and tidying jobs and a fair bit of standing easy. People did laundry on the well deck, and helped the galley team make supper. Ship’s doctor Murray made scones served with jam and real butter for afternoon tea and Alex and Gabe were in charge of making a Sunday desert bonanza so we had a super-gooey chocolate cake as well as brownies – such gluttony! We had a little marlinspike party in the early evening and everybody was very happy and relaxed after successfully completing the first ocean passage of this voyage – for some of our crew, their first time ever at sea. For the more experienced Picton Castle crew a week at sea seems like nothing at all, but for the newly minted mariner it’s probably quite a long time to be out of sight of land.

Monday came in bright and clear, so the gang ran aloft to loose sail to bake and dry in the sun while we called the port authorities and waited to be cleared in to Vanuatu. The bio-security officer who inspected our frozen meat and fresh fruit and veggies sounded slightly concerned that we had cats on board, but when Tammy bought them in to be inspected he seemed pretty much disarmed cooing ‘ah kittens!’ with a big smile when he saw them. And their being from rabies-free Fiji made them safe too. He cleared the cats in no problem after a glance at their vaccination papers.

The week that we’ve spent here in Port Vila has been very pleasant. It’s a bustling small town by Western standards, though it’s the capital of Vanuatu so it’s got a real buzz about it. Lots of mini-bus cabs which you can hail and ride anywhere in town for 150 vatu (about $1.50 US). There are small craft markets selling carvings, paintings, weavings and handmade clothes as well a hundreds of Chinese stores selling anything and everything made of plastic or cloth. Plenty of bling, $4 Ray Ban sunglasses and $8 Rolex watches, sarongs of every colour and style, Rastafarian hats with artificial dreadlocks attached and electronics stores stuffed with speakers, mp3 players, clocks and all sorts of gadgets. My favourite find was a 3D holographic picture of a four-masted fully rigged ship with tiny dolphins leaping out under the jib boom and sea birds flying above. Captain says the picture is a Japanese sail training ship and it’s now adding a certain kitsch to the foc’sle.

The big outdoor food market in the middle of Port Vila is very good. The produce on offer was similar to Fiji although the market’s on a smaller scale. One notable addition at the Port Vila market are blue coconut crabs: sold alive but wrapped tightly in vines so their enormous coconut crunching claws aren’t a threat to the unsuspecting shopper. We bought big stems of bananas both yellow and green, pink grapefruit, passion fruit, pawpaw (papaya), melon, and pineapple; salad, fresh herbs, tomatoes and aubergine. Oranges we had to buy imported from the supermarket because the season has passed here, but they keep really well for breakfasts at sea so we bought a case despite being out of season. Imagine a whole stalk of bananas for $6!

The off watches were kept busy doing the usual explorations: snorkelling and scuba diving on the perfect coral reefs, island tours with visits to lagoons for swing rope and hot springs for soaking, and to traditional villages to watch the custom dancing and learn how to make traps from sticks and vines to catch wild chickens, pigs or parrots. The parrots are for pets, chicken and pigs for eating, though men may prefer to save their pigs since apparently you need more pigs to get more wives!

The Vanuatu museum in Port Vila was popular, with its live demonstrations of sand drawing and traditional flute playing and also visits to the WWII museums with their amazing collections of Coca-Cola bottles left behind by the American soldiers. Guess the South Pacific wasn’t such a bad place to be during the war with sunshine, palm trees and what seems like an endless supply of cokes. If you were not in the thick of the most appalling fighting that is. There is a French bakery out of town which proved popular for good cheese and fresh baked bread and pastries, and the ice cream parlour was also very good – freshly made with local flavours of coconut, lime, honey and passion fruit.

Yesterday was our final day at Port Vila and starboard watch had the day off, so Aaron, Alex, Gabe, Mark, Mark, Christian, and Rob decided to rig the monomoy up and take her out for a day of sailing adventures. They started by rowing to town to buy bread, cheese, and fruit, and then with provisions stowed, sailed about looking for a pretty beach to have lunch. The first proposed beach proved impossible to land because of dense coral heads and rocks, but a nice sandy beach with a safe approach was identified and the boat was soon Med-moored with her bow anchor out and her stern tied to a coconut tree ashore. After a gorgeous afternoon tacking about the bay, the wind came light, so as dusk fell they took in sail and rowed the last few fathoms back to the ship in time for supper.

Coconut crabs - small

Coconut crabs tied up at the market

Donald at the market - small

Ship’s cook Donald shops for fresh provisions at the market in Port Vila

Festival -small

The crew checked out a local festival on Efate

WWII museum - small

Captain Moreland and trainee Luke at the World War II museum

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