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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Images from the Coral Sea






Sapphire Breeze at Bundaberg Marina
I tidied the boat up and dried everything over the next few days then came to Sydney to visit family. My amazing contact, Amber, in the Locum Agency found me work in no time, and in the almost perfect location, a few miles  north from Bundaberg, at Gladstone for two months. I will return there in a week and on one of my weekends off will sail Sapphire up to the Marina at Gladstone. It will be an unusual experience to be working and having the boat nearby. There are many little chores that require sorting out, mainly electrical things such as the Inverter which stopped working and the Cabin lights and Bilge pumps.

Next year I will sail further south, but not in a mad dash, and perhaps eventually back to Sydney.






Monday, September 14, 2015

Arrived

Well it did work out much as I had hoped. The wind stayed strong and we moved into the coast where I had hoped for some easing but when I was close to the beinning of the amazingly well marked channel into the River, it was still a steady 24 knots. It was drak and the sky was clear and beautiful. There were lights along the coast but the navigation lights and a lighthouse made it all quite simple. I dropped the sails and motored in to calm water and follwed the channel to the marina, where with a torch I found an out of the way spot and dropped the anchor at about 1030pm local time. Its amazing those first few min utes when the motion and the noise all stops and you savour the moment of having at last arrived at a much anmticipated destination. I was worn out but decided to have some milo and a couple of biscuits before creeping into my grotty damp bedding and quickly falling into a sound and dreamless sleep.

The Customs and Quarantine people eventually arrived today, Monday, and the Biosecurity people were incredibly thorough, spending an hour and a half going through every thing on the boat, opening all the lockers and storage spaces, pulling everything out and peering into the darkest recesses for bugs and vermin.

I wasnt able to leave the boat till they had finished just before 2pm when I went ashore to a nice Marina Cafe and had mediterranean salad and lamb cutlets, and a beer! Hardly ever does one enjoy a meal so much as that one after a passage existing on tinned junk as I do!

I will get organised in the next couple of days and post some photos on the Blog once Ive cleaned myself up, dried the boat out and organized Internet.

That was a great voyage!

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Things that go bump in the night.

I hate the unnecessary noises of things in storage banging about, or sheets flapping or stays and halyards vibrating in the wind. One knocking nn oise seemed to come from a storage space right by my head when I lay down to rest or sleep and three times Ive shifted stuff round to try and stop it, or to find the source. I checked other places and moved everythig there around as well but to my intense frustration the noise continued unchanged. Eventually I relaised the stoprage compartment has some sort of false floor and theres a space between its bfloor and the roof of the compartment below but its not accessible except by cutting a hole inot it - aand in there some solid metalic object rolls about and knocks and taps and is driving me insane.

Another knock developed during the night, a much louder and heavy one that sounded ominous to me when I first heard it - something solid and metallic and heavy was creating a bang that went right through the boat. Eventually I tracked it down to the anchor locker and went out there , safety harnessed, at about 2am, got soaked for my efforts and found it was a heavy lead device - I think about 6kg - called an ANchor buddy thats lived in there since 2010 and never moved or created a sound - somehow it finally wriggled its way out from its cranny and started rolling and banging around. In the middle of the night. Oh and the anchor locker hatch fell onto my face when I first peered in and neglected to hold it open against the inevitable lurch.

Mother nature isnt giving me a nice easy time of this last day, though it looked as if she would early in the day, when there was full sunshine and I dried my dripped on sheet and damp pillow out in the cockpit, and the sea state and wind made the sailing really wonderful. What a great way to finish up I thought to myself. But since about 11am - its now 4pm - we have been asailed by a series of squalls moving over under their individual clouds, bringing rain and reduced visibility and wind increases from a pleasant 18 or 20 to 24 and 25 knots with their accompanying short steep bumpy seas and cold air. Some have passed in front and others behind but others we went through or caught the edges of, and then the boat gets splashed and wet again, the annoying drips return, moving about becomes hard and the direction we are heading also varies, usually in the direction of Lady Alice island and some nearby shallows which would be treacherous. In fact we are now past them, with about 35 miles to go, thumping along at 6.4 knots on the outskirts of another squall.

I hesitate to predict what may happen but my intention is to continue right in to Bundaberg, which is up a river. The river entrance seems very well marked with buoys from well out and the marina with the quarantine buoy is on the port side just round the first bend. With luck I will be there round midnight.

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Ocean Sailing

Yesterday I kept waiting for conditions to ease and the sailing to become a little less of an endurance test. After that calm I mentioned yesterday the wind returned after half an hour at its usual force and we lumbered on with the doubly reefed main and the headsail all but rolled up. And then in the dark, about 9pm the wind shot up to 30 knots again, the vane on the Hydrovane jammed across and unable to bring us back on to course and me cursing and swearing with the fickleness of it all, deciding we needed to reduce to the third reef and then heave to...oh yes and it was raining! So I clipped on and struggled up to the mast, yanked down the sail and slipped the reefing point over the hook and crab-like inched back into the safety of the cockpit...oh yes my headlight stopped working just then too! I tidied up the lines and then...and then I was going to try and bring the boat through the wind, probably with the engine...and the wind died just like that it all went quiet again....I watched and waited, it went to 14 knots, and we were almost motionless in the water...and then it slowly picked up to 22 and stayed there. I decided to do nothing for an hour and see what else might eventuate but nothing did, so about 10.30 I went back to the mast and unhooked the ring and pulled the sail back out to its second reefing point, re-engaged the Hydrovane and off we went, back on course but slowly. I had already decided I was happy to go slowly and reduce splashes and crashes and reduce the drips getting in and make it more tolerable in the cabin. It wasn't a race! And so it continued till morning and ZI had a couple of good sleeps.

This morning it was grey and still rough but slowly conditions have improved to the point where its now the sort of ocean sailing most would enjoy. The wind ranges from 18 to 22 , I haven't taken out the second reef but let more and more headsail out and we are running at a nice low angle up and over moderate swells from the south, some still 2 to 3 meters, on a beam reach. I watch and marvel at the amazing way the sea mounts up into walls and troughs and peaks and ridges and then transforms into a valley or a roller makes it all flatten out. Sapphire rolls up and over them all so easily, but now and again we cop one on the side, a slap that sends the water up and over the boat , we twist a bit sideways and then over and down into the next trough.

The rotten weather slowed us down : 24 hr run to thursday was 126 miles, but to Friday it was 85 and to noon Saturday, today, 96. Tomorrows run will be ok but we wont get to Bundaberg before dark. As I write this there's 150 miles to go.

Tinned mackerel with tomato sauce, and rice for tea soon. I always follow up with some fruit, often a confectionary banana or a lemon or orange fruit jelly. And Milo.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Things come to pass

Bobs prediction about the crap weather was amazingly accurte - he warned me to expect it around 9pm and for it settle by noon today or therabouts and thats pretty much nwhat happened. AT 20 to 9 last night I was thinking maybe it wont come an I will be OK - and five minutes later the boat strarted bouncing and bashing about and the wind noise increased and when I looked at the wind instruments -= it was 26 knots. He said gust might be up to 35 but I didnt see anything over 30 but it was pretty wild. I rolled up the headsail except for a tiny scrap and reefed to the second on the main then eased it out to depressurise it and we moved slowly forward all night quite comfortably - I was waiting at first to see what else would happen - I was thinking of heaving to if it got much worse - but it didn't so I decided to wait it out and try to sleep. With daylight in 9 hours we had travelled 20 miles and though the wind was still strong , it was still pretty wild but I decided to start sailing now I could see what to do, and we increased to nearly 6 knots by letting a small bit of the headsail out and pulling the main in a bit. Midmorniung I saw the first lull at 20 knots and guessed the worst was over and it seems to be the case, though we have had a couple of squalls where the wind and sea sprang up remarkably rapidly to 27 and 28 knts again and I felt a certain despair that there was another long slow night of being bashed about ahead of me again. I was sleep deprived for sure. The second squall arrived and I rolled up the headsail again, getting completely soaked in the process and decided to try and sleep after vdrying off and changing my shirt as the boat sat quietly. I couldn't sleep but after 20 minutes it all seemed too quiet I went up top and the wind had fallen away to only 15 knots and the amazing sea, so recently a carpet of white and spray and hills and valleys had evened out to have almost no whitewater anywhere. So amazing! I thought I mighht write this whist all was calm - God only knows what will happen next but what I am hoping is this lighter wind is the one predicted and we have an easier sail for the next couple of days to Bundaberg - now 250 miles away. But who knows what might happen next?
BTW during the night in one of my many checks on wind and boat speed and everything generally I surpised myself to find a ship going by, just the lights are visible of course, a single one at the bow and way further back a cluster at the bridge and the green starboard light . My AIS wasnt on but when I turned it on he didn't appear - not sure if the AIS was at fault or the ship! Another night I saw a very peculiar light on the horison that turned into a sort on line of light and then a vague yellowy sail shape that slowly disappeared - it was the moon rising behind clouds!

I am developing huge confidence in the Boat and have blessed myself repeatedly for having gone back to Fiji to have the rigging checked and fixed as its taken a hammering this last 24 hours!

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Thursday so far OK

Sailors dont intentionally sail in seas like this, 2 meter rough swells, lots of white water everywhere, occasional bangs and slaps to the boat as waves happen to break against the side, the cockpit getting flooded every now and then. Allt the sailor can do is get himself into a place where he needs to make the least effort to stay there. Moving about is tricky and involves reaching from one handhold to the next, getting food other than ready to eat things olike biscuits nuts sweets and left-overs is tricky as things tend to slide about and spill. ANd the constant irregular motion makes it hrd to read or do anything much at all other than lie in the bunk and watch the clock, listen to the wind and the sea roaring, the boat creaking, things knocking in storage....and watch the clock. I think for me the hard part is not knowing what the sea and the wind are going to do next - if I was told this weather you have now is what youre getting till the end of the voyage, just like this, I would be delighted - the boat is reeefed down and sailing nicely through the sea as a good boat does, the ocean to look at is mighty and turbulent and impressive and I am perfectly fine. The gusts are up to 25 knots and the boast is travelling at 5.8 to 6.2 knots. But according to Bob tonight its going to get rotten - but how rotten? It may turn out better thsans forecast - or worse? Its the uncertainty that's killling me.

Our exact position right now is 20 degrees 20 minutes SOuth, 156 degrees 2 minutes East.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Wednesday

Sleep is very broken, necessarily, because I need to check progress and make sure we are not too far off course and heading for the various reefs which litter the coral sea, and which have determined my route to Bundaberg.I try to sleep in he day but almost never can so at might whenj I finally do sleep its different to my usual experience because I have amazingly vivid dreams. One night I dreamd I was walking along the beachfront at Bundaberg and pointing out to sea and telling someone I was actually way out there on my boat and was having an amzing out-of-body expedience, but would have to go back there, reluctantly, soon. Last night I dremaed I was talking and joking with Muhammed Ali - in earlier times - as we were doing some sort of physio in a swimming pool. LAter I dreamed of a world cup rugby match between the All Blacks - wearing pale blue - and England, also wearing pale blue. It was raining and a crowd of English supporters were holding umbrellas over the English team as they packed down for a scrum.!! Work those out!

Today started calmly and then about 10 I noticed we were off course - the wind had strenghtened and gone South agaiun, so the Hydrovane naturally swung us toi the north west. The wind strengthened quickly to 22 knots and short steep seas built up as I reset our course and went below to a much more unpleasant ride, much more bumping and banging and the noise of wind and the waves and crashes and slaps and splashes of water...Bob had predicted strrengthening wind and the worse days of the trip to be tomorrow and friday as a "squash zone" develops above a high moving across the Tasman. I decided it was beginning to make its presence felt and looking ahead was a big wall of black cloud. By noon there was rain and stronger wind and it was all horrible but nothing was wrong, it was just going to be a rotten couple of days ....starting now.

IN fact it all settled a couple of hours later and we are back to 14 knots of wind from the south east and all the headsail is back out, the boat is moving more easily again...I guess the squash zone hasnt arrived yet...maybe tomorrow.

We have passed the second waypoint and are now a little over half way to Bundaberg. I couldnt raise Sailmail this morning so I hope reception is better this evening - the window seems rather small. If tomorrow turns out as Bob predicted and its rotten there might not be a Post till Friday night.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tuesday

We continue on port towards the next waypoint which is above the Bampton reefs now 66 miles away. Overnight the wind was steady and went around towards the east so by this morning we were once again going almost dead downwind. It eased off so much I took the reef out of the main to maintain boat speed close to 6 knots but this afternoon have reefed again as the wind returned twoards the SE and increased to 16 again and gusting to 20. I sail cautiously I know - on one hand I am keen to makle good mileage yet on the other I dont want to push the goat hard and have something break. Which could be me even, becasse going hard for the boat makes it hard on me as well. Its amazing how I am sometimes caught unawares and thrown across the galley, hands flung forward to stop my head crashing into something. All the bony prominences are bruised - elbows, knees, ankles hips....And sleep becomes harder the more the boat crashes round...

Never-the-less our noon to noon run was 129 miles now at 4 pm we are making 5.5 knots. No dramas on board but a booby bird tried landing on the bimini yesterday. I nearly caught it in m y hands and wasn't going to allow him to land because once before when I did, the bird stayed a long time and then left the canvas covered in crap. The sky has mosly been cloudt today and Ive seen a few clouds t
trailing rain but none has landed on us so far. My exact position right now is 18degrees 20 minutes South, 159degrees 49 minutes East.

By morning we will have cleared the next waypoint and the halfway mark of the journey. So far so good but some strong winds are forecast for the end of the week . ON my latest grib they look to be possibly furher north than my track to Bundaberg so maybe I will miss them..

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Monday, September 7, 2015

Monday

Well those conditions are much the same but the sea has gradually increased to 2meter swells and lot of them rumbling forward into whitewtaer. Ive reduced the headsail further as we were making 6.5 knots and hitting the water hard. Our noon to noon run was 121 miles, We passed the first waypoint during the wee hours and I was checking the GPS frequently as the waypoint was about 10 miles off Huon reef, which as always the boat seemed attracted to. Now we are in the Coral Sea and the next wayppoint is north of Bampton reefs 198 miles away right now. Its a hard slog alright, too much motion to even read now and stronger wind forecast in a day or two I am not looking forward to. However this is trade wind sailing I guess - albeit stronger tradewinds than I would prefer.

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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Changes

The light wind and east slow sailing continued till just after lunch today when there was an abrupt sift from 10-12 knots to 18 -22 knots in half an hour witrh a corresponding changhe in sea state. Steep waves quickly developed and the motion if the boat changed. I refed the main and later rolled in some of the headsail and we were making just u8nder 6 knots in stead of 4.5. It was no longer easy to sit ouitside so I came below and lay on the bunk and frequently checked our position as we are closing in on the first way point. I expect to go past it during the night and then angle a little more south heading for the next one, 252 miles away. Thgeres more south in the wind than I would prefer do its forward of the beam already, I am hoping it will go more to the South east. We made 111 miles noon Saturday to noon today but I expect we will cover a little more in the nezxt 24 hours though a lot less comfortably. The forecast is for this sort of weather to continue all week so it will just be a long weary slog. At leas the sun is still sining!

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

Day two

From noon yesterday to noon today we sailed 102 miles which was more than I had thought we would because the wind had been so light and at times we were barely doing 3 knots, wing-on-wing dead downwind. When the wind is light it tends to flick around a bit so I was often up to adjust and readjust the hydrovane to keep us on track for the first waypoint north of the last of the chain of reefs and tiny islands that extend northwest from the northern tip of New Caledonia.

During the night the wind almost dies completely, and then abut 3am a heavy black cloud covered much of the sky and it started to rain but not very heavily. AFter it passed, the wind was a little stronger and there was more south in it than before so we could continue on a broad reach. I pulled the pole in and set the headsail off the starboard side. And so it has continued all day, with the wind a little stronger but not much more than 14 or 15 knots in the gusts, and our speed has mostly been closer to 5 knots.

Not much else to report : a few sea birds, no more whales, bright sunshine and a low easy swell. Great sailing weather really!

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Friday, September 4, 2015

On MY Way

I dropped my mooring line this morning at 9am and half an hour later after motoring out past all the ICA Yachts that filled the mooring filed in the last two days. turned off the motor and began the 1000 mile sail from Port Vila to Bundaberg Queensland. Today and tomorrow the winds are predicted to be light and indeed mostly we have only been managing just on 4 knots. Frustratingly the wind is almost directly behind me, an easterly so the headsail doesnt fill properly and flaps and bangs about. I poled it out for a while and then the wind direction altered to render that plan redundant but now 2 hours later the wind seems to have returned to its former more easterly quarter and the banging has started again! ...

Its a lovely day at sea, half a meter swell and wind only 8 to 10 knots, lots of sunshine.

An hour ago I got a huge shock to look up and see four whales only 50 feet from the boat. They were moving slowly in the same direction as I was, they were very close together and blowing intermittently. Just after I had passed them they lifted their tails and disappeared, and I nervously watched round the boat to see where they might have gone. Ten minutes later I saw their blows again well astern, so I was glad we were clear of them.

Right now Vanuatu has vanished behind me but in 7 hours have only made 30 miles.

I think the voyage will last ten days.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Wreckage in Port Vila


Sapphire Breeze in Port Vila, just to the right of centre. 
The shore of Iririki Island just behind is littered with boats wrecked by Cyclone Pam


What an irony it would be , after all the places Ive been and the sailing Ive done in the last 7 years if I was killed trying to help on someone elses boat, in Port ! Yet that’s almost what happened! I am unharmed but it could so easily have been a different story!

Yesterday I came out of the shower by the sea wall and a man was standing there looking at a modern almost new huge (56foot) yacht stern to just in front of him. But the mast was missing.  We chatted. The man was Wally, a Kiwi farmer and the boat was his. The mast had been removed to fix a relatively minor breakage of the in-mast furling system and in the morning the Crane would be back to lift it back on. He was going to need a few extra pairs of hands – would I be free?

This morning at 9.30 I turned up, along with a few others and quite a crowd of onlookers as the Crane  was attached to the mast with a thick strop. Slowly and carefully  the strop took up the strain and then lifted the massive mast up into the air. I was given a thick heavy wire backstay to manage, and followed it slowly onto the boat and down to the stern where Wally attached it. I moved forward to the base of the mast where several men were trying to coax it into position, onto the mast step. I went forward to help Wallys wife and Scot, my American solo sailor friend get the forestay and heavy attached furling gear into its place. It was two inches away when suddenly with a huge crack the strop snapped and all hell broke loose: the bottom of the mast first crashed down onto the deck and then skidded forwards and to port, towards us, like a huge battering ram as the mast toppled backwards and to starboard. Shrouds and stays and sheets went flying and the furler hurtled forward past the three of us as the mast plunged into the water, the crushed lifelines, stanchions and toe rail acting as a sort of fulcrum, flinging two men who had fallen over the mast ten feet into the air. One immediately scrambled to his feet but the other lay motionless on the foredeck, and I ran forward to him. Blood was streaming from his head over the pristine deck, but he was conscious, and I quickly checked him over – the scalp laceration was not huge but as is typical with them, bled profusely. One leg was bruised and his knee was hurting, but luckily no serious damage was done. Miraculously nobody else was hurt. By this time Sirens were wailing in the distance and soon an older English woman came bustling on board, and pushing me aside announced she was a Doctor and then proceeded to ask the guy the same things I had already asked him, and examine him as I had already done, and then announce as I had already done that he was Ok, nothing serious! She ordered me to maintain pressure on the head wound – as I had been doing since before she arrived - and then when someone turned up with some crepe and some bandages she took over and rebandaged it. We stood him up and as a precaution he went off to the Hospital.

Poor Wally was devastated. A little problem with the furler and now his mast and the radar were under water, the deck was gouged, the toe rail buckled and torn, the stanchions bent double and his sailing season and checkbook under serious threat. A little later the mast was pulled out of the water, the broken strop flapping about for all to see - I just hope the Crane operator had paid his insurance premiums!

As for my Plans, well I’ve decided to head back to Australia this month. One thing I’ve had enough of is trying to fix things in developing countries and being at the mercy of the dodgy operators we are forced to deal with.  Between Fiji and Tanna one night I broke the 10mm thick Perspex board that closes off the companionway – nothing major, but a local guy quoted me around $200 to replace it – basically all that was needed was to trace round the old one and cut it out, then drill a hole for the lock!  Labour was going to be $60! And I just decided to hell with it I will glue it together and bolt some timber across to hold it together till I get back! And yesterday the Inverter stopped working – again not serious or important – I use it to charge this laptop and the Phone and  not much else – and unfortunately the Dinghy IS still leaking – not much but I have to pump it up tight  every morning before I come ashore – and only one light still works in the Cabin….an accumulation of little things that diminishes my enthusiasm for heading further into the unknown.

But the Solar Controller that I bought and fitted works fine and I was very pleased to have sorted that out.

So I am restocking water and food, and replaced the 6 liters or so of Diesel I used getting here from Fiji, - mostly at Aniwa - and looking for a weather window.

This is a 56ft yacht called Udder Life. 
The mast has just crashed into the water after the strop securing it to a crane broke.



Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Photos. In no particular order..

Approaching Tanna : see the smoke rising from the Volcano?

The three  fresh mackerel I ate for breakfast

4 of my passengers about to go home

Going ashore at Aniwa

Racing across the Ash plain beneath Mt Yasur

David and Suzanne about to make my dinner

The Village has an ocean side as well as the Harbour side

Tanna:Bottom left. My track IN from very bottom, then out to Aniwa,(not shown)
up past Erromango to Efate and Port Vila, Top.

Chewed up Kava Root

Pouring water through and squeezing out the drink

Kava root and Taro for sale at Lenakel market


Wharf at Lenakel


Port Resolution ; Sapphire Breeze at left

Port Resolution early morning

Another view of Port Resolution and Sapphire Breeze

Walking up Mt Yasur

On the Edge

Inside the crater

Looking across the rim of the volcano

Another view of Mt Yasur and the ash plain from the river crossing

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Port to Port

I slept badly on Sunday night listening to the wind, worrying about having all these passengers on board and imagining all sorts of things going wrong. As soon as it was light I pulled the dinghy out of the water, dried it off then rolled it up and stowed it, took the sail covers off, forced myself to have coffee and some cereal, put the hydrovane rudder back on and the Vane as well and then as I was finishing, about 7am, Nelson arrived alongside with the first passenger. He clambered on and soon Nelson had delivered the other four. There were two young women and three young men, one of who had his phone playing funky music and in his hand a small portable speaker. Clearly he thought he was coming for a fun jaunt across the sea, and I knew he had miscalculated because looking out from the Port to the open ocean outside the horizon was bumpy and irregular as large swells continued to roll by, and the wind remained around 20 knots. They sat around the cockpit and I gave them a little talk saying they must remain seated in the cockpit or if they wanted they could go inside but no-one was going up onto the foredeck and I warned them about the boom. I showed them the buckets. The they helped me raise the main to the first reef, I pulled up the anchor and we swung round and sailed out past the other yachts and waved and shouted goodbyes as we headed for Aniwa. For three hundred yards it was smooth sailing and they all looked pleased, the funky music played and we were on our way - it was 7.30. Half an hour later it was a totally different scene - we were sailing with the wind and the sea coming to us from the side, so there was a lot of rolling, as well as bouncing up and over some of the irregular waves, and every now and then a good swell would smack the side of the boat and splash and occasionally completely soak everyone in the cockpit. The music had long stopped and three people were vomiting over the side, or into a bucket, hoiking and spitting continuously,one was down below seeming to be OK and the guy with the music was silent and grim faced. I stayed at the helm to try to negotiate the swells a bit better than the hydrovane would and allowing for the effect on our course of the wind and waves driving us sideways tried to steer so the trip would be as fast as possible. There was no danger but it wasnt comfortable for anyone. I tried to keep reassuring them and offered water and biscuits. No body said a thing! Aniwa is a very flat island and wasn't visible for the first 45 m minutes but inevitably it slowly emerged on the horizon and I pointed it out to them but nobody looked. After three hours we at last were on the leeward side of it, the sea was much calmer and we could see people and thyen a village only half a mile along. "That's our village" the group spokesman said, " Go in, we can get off here" - and I looked and saw a flat coral reef with an abrupt edge falling away into deeper water. A small spur of sand and rock acted as a tiny breakwater, and then I noticed three or four canoes being paddled furiously in the far from quiet waters heading our way. Where exactly did he intend for me to "go in" I wondered, and my first thought was 'this is crazy, I have no idea what coral outcrops and obstacles there might be." Fortunately the sun was shining and it was possible to make out clear gaps of sand so after dropping the main we motored cautiously closer to where the canoes were coming from. I ended up as close as 10 meters from the coral ledge and circled round and back and forth as the canoes came bouncing and rolling along side and first the sick passengers then the cargo and the other men were taken off without mishap. It took about half an hour as we had to wait for the canoes to go ashore and return several times. As soon as the last man was in his canoe I motored back out to clear water with a huge sense of relief, shouted goodbye as they all turned and waved from the shore and then after pulling the main back up, headed for Port Vila, 120 m miles away.

I laughed half an hour later thinking they would never believe how things were on the boat now : it was another scene altogether : I was going close to downwind very steadily, it was very dry, very comfortable and I was sitting back under the dodger as the Hydrovane took over the helm, relaxing and having a cup of orange juice and reading my kindle!

And that was more or less how it continued for 24 hours till I arrived in Port Vila on Tuesday around lunchtime. I still didnt sleep too well because we had to gybe around Eromango Island and the wind was now dead behind me, the boat was upright but tending to roll again. I tried to sleep on one side of the boat and then the other. At dawn Efate was in clear view amd as I sailed in I could see the red roof of the big church in the Village I had stayed in with the kids a few weeks before, and the Resort where Janet had stayed, and the 10 2-bladed power generators of the wind farm along from Mele Falls and the Zip lining place we went to. Turning into Mele Bay, the wind became gusty and fluky but the water was flat and we idled up towards the Port where after calling them up on Ch 16, the yacht club gave me a mooring right alongside the American solo sailor I had met in Port Resolution. He had departed just after me and got in an hour before.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Last Day in Port Resolution

I wasn't able to establish a good SailMail connection yesterday or this morning - Sunday - but I will try again tonight and tomorrow morning and who knows, perhaps I will get through. I'm just hoping the problem is not the Radio - if youre reading this on SUnday Night or Monday morning then I guess the Radio wasn't the problem, which will be a huge relief to me.

The weather has continued to be somewhat problematic with strong trades around 20 - 25 knots according to the last GRIB I saw and reflected in the Bay as gusts reaching 20 even though the sky has cleared almost completely and after a few showers over night the rain has gone. Everyone here seems to be set on heading North to Port Vila tomorrow, which was my plan as well, so I have begun preparations for departure in the morning. The BIG issue has been the request to help with transport to the nearby Island of Aniwa of up to 9 people from there who have been trapped on Tanna with no money to pay for the trip home. I had agreed to take 3 and so had the eccentric Italian, but yesterday morning to everyone's surprise he pulled up his anchor and sailed north on his own. That put more pressure on me and I increased my Passenger List to 5. I asked the sailors on another biggish yacht that came in yesterday if they could lend a hand but they were reluctant. In any event 5 is all I can agree to and I understand the other sailors reluctance - it is rather inconvenient, and alters the sail plan and adds a little stress to departure time and the ETA. As long as I arrive in Port Vila Tuesday before dark that will have been OK, but it does depend somewhat on the passengers arriving on time and being taken off at the other end on time. I keep telling Nelson they MUST get their support well organized at the other end, and he reassures me that they have.

I've been keeping the batteries topped up by running the engine for an hour in the mornings, something which I hate doing, but its necessary. Ive also been through my stores and taken ashore for David a few things that I will probably never eat, some I would but wont before I get to Vila so can be replaced, and I've also given bags of rice that I bought in Fiji for the express purpose of giving to people. AFter wandering the village this morning and chatting to various people I went to the big soft comfy chairs at the Yacht Club and ate dried apricots, and almonds ,with water for lunch while I read some more chapters on WWI. What an horrendous debacle that whole event was from start to finish!

Soon I expect canoes to start arriving alongside with the bags of the people I will be taking in the morning, and after thats done I'll go ashore for the last time because David has invited me to his place for a Farewell dinner!

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Things that fix themselves

A few mornings ago I noticed one of the compartments of the inflatable dinghy was noticeably sagging, and over a day it became worse. I ve been dragging the dinghy up and down beaches for 7 years without trouble so it was a disappointment to realise there was a leak but then I thought it lasted well to get this far undamaged. I talked to Levi a crewman on the nearby Cat about how one goes about finding the leak - soapy water, he said - and I rummaged about in my stories and found my packet of dinghy patches and glue. It was a slow leak so I didn't think I would need to fix it right away. I pumped up the deflating compartment before I went ashore again, and to my syrprise, it hasnt needed any further attention! The leak must have been a sticky valve that unbstuck when I reinflated! Good news!

The other self fixing thing has been the stern tube. After getting here over a week ago there has been no leak at all from it, so I am specially glad that I decided not to proceed with efforts to replace it after the workman had stripped a bolt and broken another one trying to get it off. God only knows what other mayhem might have been created!

My throat also seems to have fixed itself, - with the help of Penicillin of course - with todays Photo of my tonsils showing considerable improvement! Dont worry - I wont Post the photos!

However something which will not fix itself is the solar panel. The sun came out yesterday and I immediately noticed that the battery was not being recharged. I checked the wires on the Panel and followed them into the back of the Nav Station. There I found a solar Charge Controller, a small black box with wires going into and out of it. Clearly water has been getting to it, and the last three days of rain have finished it off - all the wires and the terminals were converted to a green mush, and inside the Box the circuit board was delaminating! So I shall have to get that replaced in Vila next week, and in the meantime run the motor to keep the batteries full.

When I visited the Clinic on Thursday the Nurse told me about an old woman he had seen a few days before with a problem that he couldnt figure out. He wanted me to see her and I agreed so he sent a message to her in a nearby village, and she returned today. When I first got to the Clinic she wasn't there but in the sun outside were a young man and his wife and their new baby, there to find out about vaccinations. The clinic had run out but Bob who has only recently finished his Nursing training, was well informed and keen to make sure some were obtained. Eventually the old woman returned and we went inside to the Clinic office. Bob was very keen to learn so I explained my methods to him, in history taking and examination, the general principles that if followed make medicine so much easier. In developing countries Doctors and Nurses dont often appreciate the importance of taking a very broad hsitory from their patients, and often neglect basic principles of examination, and too quickly focus on a diagnosis - and often get it wrong - but that might be a result of having scores of sick people to attend in a very busy day, a scenario we dont often have to face in the west. But in Bobs clinic, that was certainly not going to be the case. So we talked to the old woman and then examined her and figured out what her problem was - nothing serious - in fact for such an old lady, after ten children and who still worked very hard in the gardens, she was in pretty good shape. We reassured her and she seemed very happy.

Later I spoke to Nelson about his friends who are wanting to get back to their island, the island of Aniwa which is 12 miles north of here. When he first mentioned this to me there were three, then four and now nine! I spoke to the eccentric Italian and he seemed ready to take three, but no more than three but I would not take six! We will work something out! But Ive warned them that as there is no harbour or recognized anchorage there, someone will have to come out to take them off the boat. Otherwise they will have to come to Vila with me!

The weather is improving, with sun and cloud today but winds over 20 knots out at sea. I will probably sail to Port Vila on Monday - arrive Tuesday.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday

Now we've had four consecutivce days of unpleasant weather. At least yesterday there was no rain but the cloud was thick and low and my Solar Panel was putting nothing into the battery. I wenrt ashore for a cold shower, and the water ran out while I was still covered in soap. I wrapped my towel round me and went to look for Stanley who gave me a plastic bucket of water to rinse off in. I visited the Health Clinic, a neat little cottage with two small rooms, one a consulting office - so I got Bob the Nurse to check my Blood pressure - it was good! - and the other contained an obstetric bed for birthing, but the set up looked awfully impractical for such a messy business that I wasn't surprised when Bob said women didn't use it. In fact most women here who are pregnant are expected to live in Lenakel for the last few weeks of the pregnancy and deliver there. I developed a sore throat during the day and felt cold and shivery, so went back t the bhoat to warm up and take some antibiotics and some pain killers. I opened m y mouth and took a picture of myu tonsils and the right one was inflamed and covered in pus! I suspect its a bug I acquired from the Kava ceremonies.

Today Saturrday dawned with a little blue sky for the first time since Monday but the wind is still gusty and I think out on the ocean sailing wouldn't be all that pleasant. The other yachties will visit the Volcano this evening and we might all be leaving tomorrow, or perhaps Monday...

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tuesday and Wednesday

ON Tuesday morning it started to rain, and the three other yachts all departed , thier crews having visited the Volcano on Monday evening. I was left in the gray misty bay on my own as the wind picked up and the boat swung back and forth on her anchor. ABout 11, to my delight, the Catamaran and the tiny sloop I had seen at anchor in Lenakel emerged from the gloom and set their anchors not far astern of me, and we exchanged waves. It was a day for staying on board and doing yacht chores - which for me has mostly meant finding the drips of rain that get through. Rain seems to find ways into the boat that sea water doesn't so I have little sessions of mopping up at intervals. The rest of the time I read, I have done a couple of crosswords, I eat and I make cups of tea and I sleep. Ive been reading about the first World War on my Kindle.

About 4pm Ruby buzzed across in their dinghy, soaking wet and invited me back to their boat for dinner, so a little later, with my wet weather gear on I went across and took with me a big pile of veges I had been given, and several pieces of LapLap that David gave me the night before. The skipper of the tiny sloop, Scott came over and so did the skipper of another yacht that had arrived, also a solo sailor, an eccentric Italian with a penchant for Lady Boys. So all in all we had a very enjoyable meal with a few drinks and lots of jokes and laughter. I got back about 8.30, between showers.

Today, Wednesday the weather has been just as awful and I have stayed on board all day, emerging between showers to bail out the dinghy which was a foot deep in rain water. I had a visit from Thompson in his outrigger canoe, he offered me some fish but I declined as I wasn't going to be able to go ashore to clean them and I definitely didnt want to do that on the boat as the fish smell will linger for ever. He visited me a few days ago and left a big pair of boots to repair, which I have now done using araldite and some clamps to hold them firm whilst drying. He will come for them when the rain stops.

The GRIB predicted this weather would last 48 hours so hopefully tomorrow the sun will return, the others can get to Mt Yasur and I will be happy just to get the boat dried out and my batteries topped up again.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lenakel

On Monday I went ashore at 7am to get a ride across the island to Lenakel which is the main village. I paid Tourist price but the tourist seats were taken up inside the twin cab ute by some French people were staying in a rented bungalow near the Yacht Club. Instead I sat on the back of the ute with several other local people and held on grimly as the vehicle ground and lurched and bumped its way along the rough road for two uncomfortable hours. The scenery was amazing in places - we went past the turnoff to the Volcano but the road then skirted the very edge of it further on and crossed an ash plain, a windy dust swept desert-like expanse where the road disappeared. We crossed a shallow stream that cut deep into this plain, and then he road ascended to a kind of plateau in the middle of the island before descending again on the other side to the town. We arrived about 9.45 and left at 2pm. I wandered the dusty streets and chjecked out the few stores there, and the market and the wharf and also visited the Hospital where I met the Doctor, there on his own and unsure when the other doctor will get back from Vila . He was too busy to show me round unfortunately, but as is so typical of developing world Hospitals I noticed donated unusable equipment in several places, long lines of people waiting around outside and buildings in serious need of maintenance. There were two new babies in the maternity wing.

I had been told that in Lenakel Public internet was available so went to find it. THey seem to have skipped the step where internet Cafes have Computers you can use and gone straight to wifi - in other words you have to bring your own computer which of course I had not done!

Down on the wharf a tiny interisland freighter was rolling wildly in the ocean swell as cargo was unloaded by hand, and anchored oput furtherb were two yachts, one of which was the catamaran nthat for a fgew days I had been moored beside at Vuda Point Marina. Later on the street I ran into Ruby, one of her crew, and we discussed ou passages across. They are thi9nking of comiong around to Port Resolution where the anchorage is calmer and access to the Volcano is so much easier.

I had been asked to buy some Kava root abnd cigarettes for the Nakamal, and did so, along with some floour for Nelson and a loaf of bread for myself. The return journmey was complicated by all the supplies that were loaded onto the back of the ute and an extra couple of passengers, so it was a reliuef to get abck about four, and then walk nmup nto the Nakamel mto meet David and Nelson and Thompson - whose boots I hjave yet to repair n- and had some more Kava o drink, a poiece of fish and some laplap. I returned to the boat in the dark and reminded mysdelf yet againj not to ever oleave the boat without bringing my headlamp.

Today, Tuesday it is overcast and light rain is falling. I think I will mostly stay on the boat today. I noticed just now another yacht I was familiar with at Vuda Marina has turned up.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Sunday

Before I had time to go ashsore on Sunday, a chap called Thompson paddled up and showed me a pair of old boots that were coming apart and asked if I could fix them! So I will clean them up and reglue with Araldite - but I didnt promise him they will last long or that I have any particular skill in boot repairs!

I went in for Church but couldnt find it and instead found myself sitting o0n the grass with a group of young men, chatting with the one who had better english. He had lived in New Zeraland for six months about ten years ago, picking Kiwifruit, a story I have heard before. It seems theres a special relationship between NZ and Vanuatu that enab;les fruit pickers to come over to work - no douibt to everyones advantage. This guys name was Nelson and he particularly remembered his visit to the AUckland Zoo and seeing monkeys, giraffes and an elephant. Another highlight was the Auckland Sky Tower.

In the end I spent most of the day with these guys as we walked off through the village, through the bush gardens and past another enclosure of pigs, through still recovering forest out onto the coast beyond the village. One climbed a cocnut palm and we drank the clear water from inside, and from others the white flesh. WE slowly made our way along a long curving white ssand beach with breakers washing across the reef into a shallow lagoon. Three times they swam with a net and with goggles and snorkels looking for fish and ended up with about a dozen different moslty small and pretty reef fish.

For my dinner I heated up the rest of the LapLap with some onions and tomato. It was filling and tasty.

The weaher is fine but the forecast is for rough sea and winds gusting to 35 knots in the next couple of dayts so rather than rtace away as most of the other yachts seem to do after visiting the volcano, I will stay till the weather improves again. Today I will get a ride over the rough bush road to Lenakel, the maion village on the island. I would like to visit the hospital, buy a few things at the market and try to find an internet place to check email and news.

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Ceremony

It started raining yesterday afternoon so I went ashore for my cold shower with my wet weather gear, and once cleand uip followed the rough road out past the main village looking for the Big Banyan tree, where David had said was a track to the left. I followed it up through the forest past a small collection of traditional homes, past a muddy rough pen holding pigs, looking for the Yakoben Nakamal, a special place where men gather to drink kava. I knew I had found it when I came across it a few hundred yards up the bush track because the ground levelled off and opened into a truly magical place that took my breath away, even in the rain. It was a large flat space without vegetation but enclosed by several even more "Big" Banyan trees, thier massive systems of roots seeming to form vertical walls that reminded me of mediaval cathedrals, thier huge canopies arching over like the roof, yet it was all forest. Several large smoky fires were burning and the men round them were dwarfed by the trees. I was beckoned over to one group of old men who all introduced themselves and shook my hand as I stood in the smoke warming up. WHen David appeared he took me further on to another clearing and another extraordinary sight, a huge gathering of women children and dogs were busily preparing food under a makeshift awning. The food was mostly what is known as LapLap, manioc mashed and cooked wrapped in banana leaves with some little pieces of meat scattered through it. It was all set out on the muddy earth on top of more banana leaves. We ent further on into the bush through a new track and came to another makeshift hut, with another smoky fire and inside lying on the ground in rough dirty sheets were the three boys who that morning had been circumcised in that very hut, by the "Doctor" The boys had to remain in there for the next three days, could be visited by men and boys but not by women, while other young men stayed with them all the time and gave them food and water. The newly circumcised boys were around 10 or 12, were very subdued and said almost nothing. I had previously asked David if I should bring themn something, and he suggested sweets so I divided my two remaining bags of lollies into 3, and added a few almonds and handed them over. They said nothing. I think their operations must have been pretty bloody awful - scissors had been mentioned...

And now the Kava ceremony! We went back to the Nakamal and kava root was being chopped up with machetes, the dirt scraped off and then David and half a dozen others began chewing into it, biting pieces off till their cheeks were bulging then chewing and chewing and chewing till a great glob of chewed up Kava root with the consistency of thick porridge was expelled onto a fresh clean green leaf sitting in the mud. Eventually all the root was converted into these hamburger bun sized mounds of pale grey/yellow mush. It was now nearly dark, and to make the drink, each mound in turn was supported in a filthy cotton tea towel , ater was poured inot it and it dripped out below into old coconut half-shells. To assist the process small boys, who were never permitted to drink the Kava, came across and worked the mash in their hands, squeezing and mixing it as more water was poured though, and then finally twisting the cloth from both ends to express the last remaining drop into the coconut. Now, in one go, facing east the entire contents were drunk. Soon it was my turn...I swallowed it all and received some appreciative comments from everyone watching. It wasnt unpleasant and I had already put out of my mind the potential ingestion of someone elses diluted saliva and oral hygiene.

Now I was permitted to eat LapLap and expected to smoke a cigarette, a home made one of a rolled up0 local piece of tobacco leaf inside some notepaper. It was necessary to hold a glowing stick from the fire in the other hand as the cigarrette kept going out unless you puffed continuously. Again, it was not unpleasant. And now, in the dark by the glowing fires evertyone simply settled down and spoke in low whispers if at all, stared into the flames and up into the night sky, almost soundlessly we smoked our cigarettes and meditated and relaxed. It really was quite amazing, the stillness and the sense of closeness with everyone. The one sound that disrupted things but soon became part of the experience was the constant hoiking, throat claring and spitting and coughing of the old men under one of the other trees.

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Mt Yasur, and Ceremony

It was good for me that the ICA Rally arrived because they had organized the Mt Yasur trip and I was able to join in. Otherwise I might have needed to organise it myself and it would have been a lot more expensive. It was really good talking to all the other yachites, mostly Kiwis who didnt take themselves too seriously and weren't all that prone as others that I have run into seem to be, to talk and brag about their sailing exploits and nothing else. So we all piled into the back of two sturdy Utes, squashed together like sardines and set off along the very dodgy dirt main road between here and the main town, Lenakel, to a turn off where we paid the Park Entry Fee of 3500 Vatu ( about $40 AUD) The journey only took about 45 minutes all up and we got out on the ash covered moonscape slopes of the volcano in the late afternoon, and followed a steep concrete path some of the way then a crunchy ash track right up to the very edge of the crater. It was really quite a terrifying place with not one signpost about the dangers, not a single rail or rope or barrier to inhibit the curious, and a sickening feeling that anyone could put a foot wrong at any second and plunge over the edge, sliding and tumbling down the impossibly steep inside of the crater to another ledge and then a drop into the steam and lava and smoke and ash and rumbling inferno hundreds of feet below. Inevitably there were a few individuals who had to advance closer to the edge than anyone else, and who walked along closer and with less care and more quickly than anyone else, ignoring the possibility that a stumble, or a crumbling piece of rock could either lead to them or a person they might fall against or grab in panic plunging to a horrible death. The sounds emerging from way down there were ground moving crashing and banging and roaring that at times was interrupted by a sound like a huge explosion, a sound that was muffled thumps till you got to the rim. Then the thumps became gut wrenching crashes that seemed to shake your lungs and make you flinch and duck as a huge mushroom of black and brown ash billowed up along with a spray of flaming lava rocks, some of which went well above the level of the crater rim but then fell vertically like rain, slamming into the sloping crater walls, and then tumbling like a fiery stream back into the hidden depths. Wind gusts carried a strong smell of sulphur, and volcanic ash blew into our faces as we followed the track in single file along half of the crater rim, the sun slowly setting and the glow and the fiery trails of lava becoming more vivid as night fell. It really was an amazing and awe-inspiring sight, seeing the inside of the planet, realising that it is a seething molten furnace, a place with so much violent utterly uncontrollable energy only a matter of a greater or lesser number of meters beneath our feet no matter where we are. Wrecking the planet by Burning coal, and making nuclear reactors seems somehow ridiculous in this context.

The strong wind became quite cold in the dark and eventually we turned back down the mountain with torch light, back to the Utes and another fun discussion on the way back to the Yacht Club where a dozen of us sat at the table and had a meal of vegetables and omelette, and a most unexpected but very enjoyable Tusker Beer, the beer of Vanuatu.

I slept well and in the morning, fried my three fish for breakfast and they were lovely. By ten, every single yacht, but one, had left Port Resolution. They had been great company but I was glad I wasnt part of the rally and feeling the pressure to move on because apart from the Volcano, there was much more that I wanted to explore on Tanna, in particular the local village and customs. Later, David came by with his net, and I asked him what some of the vegetables were that he had given me - one was a massive raddish the size of a huge marrow, there were eggplants tomatoes and a green leafy thing as well. He was keen to have all the old pots pans plates and cups that I had retrieved from storage, and then he told me about a Circumcision Ceremony they were having later today, and asked if I would like to come...

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

(no subject)

On friday morning after breakfast of cereal and coffee, I hauled the rolled up dinghy out through the front hatch and pumped it up, put it over the side and attached the outboard motor but it wouldnt start. So cleaned the spark plug and sprayed everything with CRC and away it went. Amazing stuff that CRC! During all this, I was visited by Stanley and later by Noel in their outrigger canoes. Noel asked if I had some spare rope and I gave him what I had, it wasnt much but he was very pleased with it, and immediately attached one end to his net and the other to a lump of coral for an anchor. Later he returned and gave me three small fish, the ones the nets catch, and later, ashore I gutted them and will fry them up for breakfast Saturday. Stanley seems to be the go-to guy for yachties, and advised me to keep an eye out for a white vehicle appearing on the opposite side of the bay - that would be Customs. Stanley was also organising a tour to the Volcano for later in the afternoon.
Customs and immigration arrived , and brought with them a very useful woman from the Bank who could change money. I ferried the customs guy out to the boat, and back to the "Yacht Ckub" where the immigration guy stamped my passport, my money was converted to vatu, I paid my dues, and still had plenty for the volcano trip. The Yacht Club is a rather lovely open sided old shed with a tiny locked up Bar, and old battered soft chairs and a settee and rickety tables decorated with a few flowers. The Guest book hanging on a nail by string is rusted shut!

I went for a short walk to find Stanley. The dirt was road was deeply rutted and I followed it a short distance to a group of houses, more like thatched huts with battered tin and timber sides. Chooks and a few dogs and pig wandered about along with numerous children and I found Stanley chatting to a group of people which included his in=laws, his wife and a baby. My main interest was to get a place on the Volcano tour - no problem! I was concerned because the Catamarans had kept coming till there were 11 and three monohulls. Most of these boats flew the Island Cruising Association flag, and had been sailing en-masse since leaving the Bay of Islands in May. They had cleared in at an island to the south of Tanna, Aneityum - or so they thought! SOmehow or other the I(mmi8gration guy worked out they had not cleared in properly, though all of them were certain they had, on the information they had received through the ICA. SO, later as they came ashore to get ready for the Volcano tour, they were told they must get immigration clearance and pay their fees first. Then followed some minor arguments and finally everyone raced back to their Cats to find their papers and passports, and rustle up what money they could find, and rushed back in to get clearance in time for the Volcano tour. Everyone blamed me for dragging the Customs guy over, but in the end they were happy because he was very efficient, had them all sorted in no time, Eva changed their money, they didn't miss the Volcano tour and they now no longer needed to go direct to Port Vila as they had been told to previously to do these now completed formalities.

I should also mention David. He also came alongside in his Canoe and chatted as I sat in the dinghy. The cyclone had wrecked his restaurant and he was trying to rebuild it. Like everyone he recalled the fear they all felt, and the noise that he said was like a jet engine as most of the village was torn apart. Even his pots and pans had disappeared. Remembering there were some old pots and things on the boat I never used I offered them to him. He sounded interested but I havent had time yet to get them to him. Later, at the beach where we all land, he saw me and later returned to the dinghy with a MASSIVE bag full of fresh vegetables including carrots and a coconut. I was almost overcome with emotion because of the generosity of this man, and all these people who have so little and for whom life has been such a struggle this year.

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