The Picton Castle sailed into Luganville, Santo, Vanuatu after a decent six-day passage under sail from Fiji. A beautiful approach between all the islands on a sunny morning as we sailed past “Million Dollar Point” the wreck of the SS Coolidge, the WWII transport ship that hit a mine at the entrance and was rammed on the beach to save lives, which worked. And down this big sound once filled with all manner of navy ships at anchor during the war years. And the setting for “Tales of the South Pacific” by James Michner. And finally at anchor under sail off the town.
I was hoping for a quick clearing in so we could head out for Banam Bay that night, but this was thwarted by events. No worries, we spent the night at Luganville and set off in the morning.
By later in the afternoon we were making approaches to Banam Bay. There is not much of a chart for this bay, but between coordinates and bearings from previous visits marked in our logs, as well as good local knowledge from these visits, we got in around the reef and anchored in 50 feet of water in hard sand. A good anchorage is Banam Bay, one of the few in these parts.
A lone outrigger came out to greet us. Afung Saitol was our visitor. His father was the famous Chief Saitol who was so wonderful to us over the years. His grandson Dixon has taken over many of Saitol’s duties as ‘cultural coordinator’ and I mentioned to Afung that I would come in next morning to say hello to he and his wife Yvonne and their baby girl Tammy. Yes, this little cherub is named after my wife. She is 4 years old. We had a quiet night at anchor with nary a light ashore.
The morning dawned balmy and clear. We could see the smoke from cook-fires drifting above the trees. The odd dog barking and a few roosters crowing without much enthusiasm over the still bay. The gang was excited to get ashore but first we had to pay our respects. The chief mate, our doctor, and a few others went ashore with me after breakfast to say hello and see what folks were in the mood for with our visit. The folks of Banam Bay are enormously friendly, gentle and hospitable but we do not want to presume that they have time or interest in entertaining us just because we showed up in a big sailing ship. Discussions and hopefully invitations would ensue. They did.
But first we take the skiff into the landing on the smooth calm beach (and a perfect chance to learn and practice beach landings in the skiff), we find some children who hold our hands and walk us down the beach, into the woods until we find the “Small Village” where Dixon is waiting for us. We chat and catch up, I see little “small Tammy” (adorable with big huge infectious happy grin and likes to be tickled), cool fresh coconuts all around, flowers for our ears as we sat under a lovely shade tree next to their cook house. Little kids coming up shyly to look at the visitors, us. Older folks came by to shake hands and re-introduce themselves. An exercise in gentile politeness from which we can all learn. Grace and calm. Some discussion of the devastating effects of Cyclone Pam some years ago, wiping out the village but all rebuilt now with no sign of damage. Thatch houses have that advantage.
Soon Dixon was coming up with ideas of what we should do in the intended three-day stay, starting with the idea that we should stay four days. We should have a welcome party tonight with kava and a string band. Great! We should make a ‘Kastum Dans” for us. Quite amazing this. We should have a market day so we can buy lots of fresh produce. Maybe we want a couple canoes? And other souvenirs? And I mentioned that our doctor Tomas was willing to hold a clinic to see folks who may be ailing. The clinic building is quite a nice one but their young nurse had died suddenly and no replacement had come yet. We talked about having a lunch ashore of local foods in the village as a fundraiser for the Local Ladies Association, $3 each, not bad at all. They were going to charge $1 each but we insisted on $3. So the plan was forming for a good visit to Banam Bay, and now with such plans well formed and guided by Dixon, all the Picton Castle crew were welcomed ashore at magical Banam Bay, Malekula, Vanuatu.