Captain's Log

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Bwatnapne Bay, Pentecost Island, Vanuatu

August 24th, 2014

It is just after dawn and the day comes in fair and clear. The sole anchor watch has shut off the forward anchor lantern in the gaining morning light. A few roosters ashore a few hundred yards off in the small thatched roof village are doing their early AM job. Bwatnapne Bay is broad and palm fringed with a coral beach under high green hills. The waters of this cove are smooth and still and reflect the blue of the sky and the clouds passing overhead. An easy swell turns into a small rolling surf on the beach tumbling the small coral rocks about at waters edge, working their way into becoming sand, enough to be heard from the ship as a gentle white noise. A dugong nearby breaks the surface with a fin or tail. Odd gentle creatures. A turtle pokes his head up for breath of air leaving a set of circles to mark the spot ever so briefly. Even small pods of dolphin make their lolling hobby-horse way into the bay from time to time.

In the golden early morning light a lone dugout canoe is paddling slowly a few ship lengths off, perhaps fishing. The Picton Castle is anchored on her heavy port hook with two shots of chain out in this open roadstead bay up on the west side of the north end of Pentecost Island, a simple indentation along this high jungle cliff wall on the lee side of this long island. To the east and windward the land rises sharply and becomes dense jungle right away. Overhead is what looks like a fresh easterly tradewind as the low puffy clouds are crossing the mountains with a good clip. We feel only the gentlest breeze down here in the lee of the high deep green hills and mountains of Pentecost.

The two kittens from Fiji play on the spanker boom in a manner that does not bode well for their seagoing longevity. In the galley we begin to hear the knocking together of tin pots and that clang-slush of the hand water pump filling a kettle. Smoke from a cook fire ashore drifts aboard and give a pleasant accent to the growing day. And the coffee is good this morning.

After an easy day-sail of 46 miles from Malekula we dropped anchor in five fathoms, sandy bottom, here in Bwatnapne. It was later in the day and I did not wish to disturb the villagers on such short notice so we waited for the morning to launch the skiff and pay our respects to folks ashore. Once we did, however, we were made to feel completely welcome and were offered the run of the bay with a couple areas pointed out as being ‘tabu’, meaning, in this case to be avoided. But this was not much and we were told that we could pretty much go where we wanted and to do what we wished, that the river was open for swimming or bathing. We could swim on the beach and dive on the coral, even fish if we liked. Of great interest was whether we had brought any goods to trade? Yes, we had. So young Frederick Bule, friend and son of the former chief Alan Bule, passed the word up the hills to the other villages that, yes, there would be some trading to be had in Bwatnapne Bay tomorrow at two o’clock in the afternoon.

Trading is pretty popular in these islands. It is very difficult and extremely expensive for the outer islanders to get even the simplest material goods. Machetes, knives, soap, pots and pans, cloth, clothes, shoes are all wildly expensive within their economy. A t-shirt costs $10-$12, a cooking pot might cost $40, and this is after taking the truck ($5) to a shop in the main village, or $60 to get the ferry to the main port of Santo and being gone for several days with all this could imply and all in a nation where $1 more or less represents a day’s wage. So trading a basket or a carving or maybe a stalk of banana for a t-shirt or two (or a few bars of soap, a knife, a machete etc) or for trousers, a foul-weather jacket or a used but good kettle becomes a very attractive exchange for someone in these outer islands. And it is good fun, a big social occasion for all concerned. When the crew arrive with their various good for trade, some bought in Fiji or Vila, some scrounged from their seachests, many islanders, mostly ladies, have set up their wares on pandanus leaf mats in the shade of a large tree near the shore. Our gang soon arrives off the skiff and spreads out some tarps and pareaus and lay out their wares as well – and now the fun begins!

Bwatnapni sing sing

Sing sing in Bwatnapne, Vanuatu

Dkembe at Bwatnapni Bay

Dkembe looks at the ship at anchor in Bwatnapne Bay

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