We have just arrived in New Caledonia after two exciting months in Vanuatu. As you know, we joined the Brisbane to Vanuatu yacht rally. This rally was organised by Dr Alan Profke to address the medical and educational needs of people in the Banks Islands.
For this purpose we received generous donations from the Mackay Health District as well as from Lightwave owners during the Lightwave regatta 2009. We had a good thought about what to do with the cash donation and our previous plan to buy staple food to distribute was exchanged for a different plan. Flour, rice and sugar are introduced food groups and according to our opinion lead more to the destruction of the natural food source, the typical Ni-Van garden and increases tooth decay, obesity and type 2 diabetes. We therefore decided to convert the donations into something more sustainable and bought bush knives, axes, shovels, saws and buckets at a hardware store in Luganville to support the local infrastructure.
Before we explain how we distributed all the donations, let us tell you a bit about our trip to Vanuatu.
We left Brisbane on a supposedly good weather window on the 2nd of May and steered a course slightly east to the rhomb line for Huon Reef. MUSKAT our LW 45 sprinted well ahead and soon we lost VHF contact to the other boats. Due to some difficulties with the programming of our HF radio we could only receive not transmit. Although we made good progress towards Huon Reef sailing at about 40 degrees to the wind, we heard that the organiser of the rally decided to aim for Chesterfield Reef due to the rough easterly weather with winds between 25 and 35 knots. By then four of the 11 yachts had either not left or already turned back due to technical difficulties caused by the weather.
We decided to follow the main group to Chesterfield Reef and turned more northerly losing all that hard earned mileage towards the East, to Huon Reef. Nevertheless MUSKAT was first at the entrance to Chesterfield and we entered the Reef at dawn. We spent 4 days at beautiful Chesterfield, the snorkelling was superb, the weather good and we never regretted our decision. With the next good weather window we continued on to Huon Reef and again MUSKAT was the first boat to arrive at the anchorage, a theme that continues throughout the remaining regatta, so we will stop mentioning it….Although our boat was filled up with provisions for 6 months, 12 heavy boxes with donations, fuel, water, diving gear and many other items, MUSKAT sailed beautifully to windward, we always felt safe and protected and our main issue was to slow the boat down as she seemed to love the two digit speed more than we did….
Huon Reef was nice but we didn’t find it as beautiful as Chesterfield Reef. We spent 5 days there waiting for another weather window until the wind turned to North and the anchorage became unattainable for the monohulls and even we thought it was a bit swelly.
After an uneventful last crossing we arrived in Luganville (Espirito Santo) on the 18th of May. We spent a week there, did some fantastic tours, dived the President Coolidge wreck and did a bit of shopping as we were about to head to the Banks Islands for some weeks.
Every anchorage on the islands belong and are owned by the villages next to the bays and therefore every time we arrived at a new island or anchorage we went to the village first to speak with the chief and ask permission for anchoring there, snorkelling and fishing. As soon as we dropped anchor, we always had a few canoes around with locals keen on trading fruit and vegetables for whatever we had on board or just curious and wanting to see who we are and have a look at the boat.
On four different islands we visited the schools as well as their health clinics and donated all the goods we were given in Mackay. Everyone was very happy and thankful for all the donations. The Banks are the most northern islands of Vanuatu (apart from the Torres) and therefore pretty remote. There are no shops and the trading ship from Luganville visits only some of the islands every few months. The locals were very thankful for soaps, clothes, fishing gear and especially for the tools.
Nils treated a few sick people and did some operations on people in various islands. The health problems encountered were various and sometimes beyond the scope of what could be done locally with the drugs and instruments available. Alan, the rally organiser, and Naturopath by training attended to the more medical and less surgical cases. The predominant problems seem to be malaria, parasitic diseases, ringworm, dental problems, accidents and problems related to child birth, although civilisation introduced diseases like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obesity are on the rise. The children often suffered from ear infections and scabies.
The Ni-Vans were very appreciative and probably the thing Nils was most proud about was that there is a little Ni-Van baby in Uruparapara (the most Northern island of the Banks) called Nils now.
Through this involvement we were lucky to learn quite a lot about the Ni-Van culture in the Banks. Every family has its hut and a vegetable garden that they own and where everything grows. This is a lush paradise, plenty of water, very fertile. The Ni-Vans are very happy and friendly, their family and community life is hugely important and they spent their days taking care of their gardens (the main food source they have), going fishing and enjoying life with the rest of the village. Pigs are very important in the community and a status symbol, there are quite a few running around the villages as well as dogs, cats and chicken… they are all moving freely and seem to be happy, probably just a bit thin. The problem with no pens and fences is….where are the eggs??? All over the place or the dogs get them. The problems are the need for cash for schooling and medical issues and apart from working in the cities sometimes Yachties are the potential source of income. This leads to an understandable but not always pleasant commercialisation of some of the spots and activities, mainly the ones most frequented by yachties. The other problem is a rising population that means the finite amount of gardening space is providing for an increasing number of people.
We spent 4 days at a few deserted islands called Reef Islands, where we were more in the water than on the boat. Fantastic diving, spear fishing and snorkelling – it was paradise.
Nils had generously given away all the strong antibiotics to all the sick people he visited on the islands and thought that we wouldn’t need them….well. A tiny coral cut on his right ankle turned really nasty after a couple of days, within a few hours and Nils (who thinks himself indestructible) was in bed for nearly one week with high fever, a very swollen ankle and far, far away from civilisation. At this stage, we were still travelling with 6 other boats and they were all looking for the right strong antibiotics for Nils. We were already about to sail to Luganville, which we could have done within 12 sailing hours and hop on a plane to Brisbane, when finally the right antibiotics were found, the fever came down and he started to feel better. Although he improved steadily, it took him 2 weeks to walk again.
Vanuatu is exporting beef to Japan and Europe and we have eaten the world’s best steaks here. Fruit and vegetables that are available are most delicious and fresh but there is certainly not a huge variety. At the end of the trip we were a bit over bananas…
After some reprovisioning in Luganville we continued sailing South and one of our highlights was the walk to one of the volcanoes on Ambrym. We walked 11km up the mountain and along the ridge of the volcano but unfortunately it was cloudy and we couldn’t see the lava. Nevertheless it was a great walk with breathtaking views and sore legs the next day…
We only stayed a few days in Port Vila and with the next good weather window we continued on to New Caledonia. The wind was very light and we were able to cook, bake and do some washing during the crossing, even managed to swim in the ocean…quite a different trip to the one over from Australia.
The customs formalities in New Caledonia were extremely easy and we found the people very friendly and helpful. This is quite contrary to some of the warnings of the unfriendly French that we were given before our trip. What remains true is that New Caledonia is indeed very expensive. We would advise anyone to provision well in advance with staples pasta, rice, tins, etc.
At the moment we sit in Noumea marina as we have a low crossing New Caledonia and we are enjoying cafe au lait, fresh croissants and beautiful baguette….
We have been living on MUSKAT now over 6 months. Now that all the donations have left we can even see her waterline again. But even with the full load that made Roger comment “it will be a comfortable trip” meaning, not a fast one, she performed beautifully. The problems we had were with the DPI unit of one of our Volvo motors, sent by DHL to Vanuatu and replaced under warranty and one of the feeding pumps of our Spectra water maker, sent to Noumea by TNT and replaced under warranty. Most rally participants and people that visited MUSKAT are impressed with the design, the comfort, performance, the solid feel and the obvious great workmanship. Many monohull owners are seriously considering to change sides to travel faster and more comfortable and to stop rolling when arriving at the destination.
We would like to thank again all the Lightwave owners who donated generously to the people of Vanuatu. We hope to be able to make a presentation during next year’s Lightwave regatta.
Greetings from Noumea
Mayte & Nils on MUSKAT