Vanuatu

September 6, 1997 – Musket Cove to Port Villa Regatta
Up early this morning, our first race on OOB!  As usual, everyone running around for last minute preparations and provisions.  For once, we actually got it done yesterday…most of it, anyway. At 8:00 AM the only thing missing was two crew members, Bill and Scott. 

At that point we really didn’t know exactly when they were coming in, but that it would be in the morning.  The race was due to start at noon, so by 10:00 we were all getting a little worried we would not make it to the line in time.  All we could do was wait. Finally, at a few minutes past 10:00, Bill and Scott come strolling down the ramp looking a bit shabby, but ready to go.

So much for avoiding the last minute scramble, between the two of them they had enough stuff to fill a moving truck.  While they stowed madly, Chrissy, Jeff and I were doing a final check that we would be ready to cast off the lines at a moment’s notice.   It would be close, but we were still confident that we would make it.

11:30...boat ready to go, cast off the lines and head for the fleet. Oh no, low tide, if we can only get out of the channel.  Stay left, close to the two-dollar bar, it’s deeper there. You know the feeling when you are moving along in a boat and your keel finds the sand?  It’s not a sudden, full stop, but kind of a slow motion thing.  So Bill jams it in reverse and we kind of float back off the bottom. Try it again, this time a little more to the left....same thing buried in the sand. Not good, twenty minutes later after a half a dozen tries and a call to the yacht club we find channel (probably the width of the keel) and get out into the harbor.

Free at last, but not enough time to make the start. No sweat, it’s all in good fun anyway, and besides, we’re faster than 95% of the fleet anyway....as long as there’s wind.  At least, we have an enthusiastic audience cheering us on.  Jeff, John and Rachael off of “Beagle” were along side in a dinghy encouraging us to keep the faith and forget about the terrible start. Yea, right, our first race and we didn’t even make the line in time.

With most of the fleet already ahead of us and the wind behind us, we wasted no time and hoisted the A-sail, hoping for a bit of wind. It was looking good, for a few minutes anyway. As the wind died to a whisper, so did the spinnaker.  The only consolation was that we had already passed 4 boats and our good friends Reinhardt and Alexandra (sailing a very fast trimaran) for some reason, started right behind us, dead last.  Although we wanted to win, just as anyone else would, the most important thing was that we beat those Kiwis on “Outlaw”.  They had been boasting that their 41-ft. Davidson was light and fast and that we didn’t have a chance. Really???  I guess we’ll see!

I thought we were going to have a somewhat ordinary passage, until I found out that neither Scott, nor Chrissy had been off shore before. Soon after passing through the reef back into the Pacific the swells picked up.  Not much (in my opinion), but enough to send Chrissy to the lifelines to feed the fish.  I was in the middle of trying to explain the Autohelm controls when she went ghost white and put her hand to her mouth. OK, at least Scott’s all right....not!   It seems that he not only had jet lag, but was recovering from a hell of hangover induced by the post-work-I’m-on-vacation-drink(s).  Bill tells me he was quite entertaining, but his Beef Wellington did not agree with him.  Hmm, neither did the cheeseburger he had for lunch. Should be an interesting passage.

September 8, 1997
What a race! Yesterday was both exciting and depressing at the same time. We were moving right along with the spinnaker up, 15 – 20 knots of wind, when all of a sudden, POP….surprise, she just folds right up and lays gently down in the water. Of course, I was at the helm!  It seems that the reinforcement cuff at the very top just let go.  The wind was still well below what the sail was rated at so it must have been fatigue.   That kind of blew our chances for being in the top 3 (winning against Reinhardt and Alexandra on “Gitana” was a long shot), but we kept pushing anyway.

The highlight of the day was actually catching a Wahoo.  She put up a good fight, but in the end Bill prevailed and the Wahoo became our dinner. Of course, nothing is without a little drama.  When the fish hit the line, during the mad scramble to slow the boat, the other fishing line (the one running off the winch) wrapped in the prop.  Great!! Guess who went in to cut it off the prop?  Normally, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but there were three to five foot swells running under the boat and the transom was coming clean out of the water. Not good for the head if you’re trying to get under the boat.  To make a long story short, I jumped into a harness with a hooka (a regulator on a long hose, which is attached to a scuba tank), a mask and fins, plus a very sharp knife. I kind of looked like a creature from the deep….see picture. Anyway, after a few bumps on the head I freed the line and we were on our way again.

Today was a little less eventful, however not without excitement.  When sun rose this morning, on the horizon we saw in the distance the faint shapes of sails in front of us.  After a night of passing yet more boats we were desperate to get the latest position report on the fleet. As each boat reported in, we determined that we were in 7th place and we still had a good 50 miles to go. Down but not out, we were still confident that we could place in the top 5.  After discussing our strategy we decided that short of a substantial wind shift, we could do nothing to increase our speed. As the hours wore on we passed “Stornoway II”, leaving us 6 boats out of first.  We knew we could catch one more boat, “Windekind”. If we had our Spinnaker we could do it, but of course that was in shreds.  Time for a gamble.

The plan was this. We were running rhumb-line wing on wing with the wind almost directly behind us. If we come to Port and head out with the wind more on our quarter we could increase our speed.  The question was how far out would we have to go before gibing and heading for the harbor. The further forward of the beam the wind goes the better.  Out of Bounds loves to sail upwind and we knew we could take “Windekind” even though she had more water line than us.   We made the decision to jibe and head in.  As we approached the island the wind began to move in front of us, forcing us more starboard and underneath “Windekind”. This next tack was critical.  If we turned too soon we would be forced under “Windekind” again. However, if we turned too late we could not give the shoreline as much of a berth as we would be comfortable with. 

We waited and waited and waited. Bill, like Sean Connery in The Hunt for Red October, nerves of steel, waiting until the last possible second to turn the boat and avoid the torpedo. With our fate in Bill’s hands, he gave the word and we tacked, now parallel to the shore. The timing was perfect and now the only worry would be clearing the point, which curved out in front of us. It was steep to and with less than 100 ft. to spare we nosed our way up just off the point.  Just as we rounded the point, we came up along Windekind’s starboard side, while at the same time the wind was shifting in the same direction.  We were now in sight of the finish line ½ mile ahead.  Both boats tightened the sheets, now trying to hold the line at about 30 degrees off the wind. We had rigged our staysail in anticipation of this situation, but in the end, it was our 9 feet of draft that allowed us to pull away from our competitor and finish a mere 50 yards in front. Ah, competition!

No really folks, it was all in good fun! We found out later that as we suspected, our friends on Gitana received Line Honors, while a motor-sailer and two bigger boats placed 2nd, 3rd and 4th.  Finally safely at anchor in Port Vila, let the post Regatta celebrations begin!  For all those interested, “Outlaw” did not beat us! With any luck, it’ll go the same way in the America’s Cup!

Adventures on Efate
Hitting a new island is always a lot of fun, especially one you’ve never heard of before.  By far the most unusual aspect about the islands of Vanuatu is the people.  Except for Dennis Rodman and a few rappers, I’d never seen black people with blond hair (although Dennis’ changes daily). The Islanders call them the People of the Sea, the meaning of which I cannot recall.  Just as on Fiji, they are as nice as can be and always willing to help you with anything.  

The town of Port Vila is not very big, but then I guess that is all relative out here in the islands.  They have all the basic stores and markets, plus places for electronics, videos and the like.  What they did not have is a sail loft so, the spinnaker’s gotta wait.  Lucky for us we found a local hamburger joint owned by an American couple….YES!! We’ve been to way too may places where they offer “authentic” American hamburgers….yea, right.  It takes an American to know one, and boy were they good! 

The owner and his wife were of course all too pleased that we could appreciate them and after several visits we got talking to them.  After all the usual, where are you from talk, the focus became the spectacular diving around the islands.  John made sure to emphasize that if we missed diving on the Coolidge, our visit to Vanuatu would not be complete.  I had read about it in the guidebook but did not realize that it is rated as one of the best wreck dives in the world. He had and enormous poster/diagram on the wall with the wreck as it lies on the bottom of Santo Harbor.  He went on to say that there were two outfits that dive the wreck and both are extremely qualified. He warned us not to try it on our own and recommended Kevin Green of Aquamarine. Apparently, there have been several accidents as of late, the most recent being last year when two dive masters died.  They thought they were experienced enough to do it on their own and dove to the boiler room in about 170 ft. of water. They had no lines with them and when one of them kicked up some silt with his fins, it became impossible to see anything. Not being able to find the exit, they simply ran out of air.  The next day a rescue team was organized to recover the bodies and when they found them, they were three feet from the door.  What a way to go…I guess a guide is a good idea!! More on the Coolidge later.

The Ride
As we have done on a lot of the islands, we rented a car and took a tour. You might say we circumnavigated the island, which was no easy feat.  Our vehicle, a Suzuki Samurai.  The condition, poor! Well, it was a car with four wheels and it ran.  So off we went, Bill, Chrissy, Scott and myself. The first stop would be the waterfalls about ten minutes outside of town. We parked our car and hopped out for the hike up.  It began in a very dry, parched looking spot, but as we hiked it became greener and more lush. Finally, we hit the riverbed at which point the foliage became dense and wet like a rain forest. We followed the trail as it wound up, being careful not to step on the moss covered rocks.  As it leveled out a little, the pools of water became larger, their deep emerald green reflections inviting us for a swim.  But not yet, we were almost there.  The wait was worth it. What an incredible place!  The clothes came off and it was into the fresh water we went. Chrissy forgot her suit, so after some coaxing she got over her embarrassment, shed her outer garments and went for a plunge.

We could have stayed there all day, but we had to move on or we would not make it around. Back on the road or should I say dirt path. The paved road went for another 5 minutes and then just ended.  It seems that when the Americans occupied the islands (then called New Hebrides) during WWII they cut out a road that rings the island.  I suppose they never had any reason to pave it, so it has remained the way it was 55 years ago, only worse. That explains the condition of the Suzuki! No matter, it was still our faithful Samurai and we were confident that it would take us anywhere. 

As we came over the hills that started near the waterfalls, we descended on the Northwest side of the island. We came up along side the sea as it flattened out and as we looked out over the water we could see some of the neighboring islands.  We continued a little further and came upon a small village, which looked to be somewhat devoid of people.  What interested us were actually the outrigger canoes, which were lying on the shore. This was the first time that we had seen them carved out of a single piece of wood. The outrigger, of course, was attached separately, but the main section was an original dugout.  Sergei, sorry you missed it! 

Pressing on, we ran into a small shack by the side of the road.  It contained various artifacts from the WWII era.  They included original Coca-Cola bottles (with date stamp, 1942 &1943), bullets, shells, misc. mess items and a lot of unidentifiable junk that the GIs left behind.  The funny thing was that there were prices on everything, but no one there.  Instead there was something called “The Honest Box”. I won’t explain.

By this time, it was well past lunch and we were all getting hungry.  In consulting our map, we discovered that there was a resort not too far up the road.  Yahoo….time for a sandwich and a beer.  On we drive.  The problem with these maps is that they never show you distances. What looks like a couple of miles turns out to be twenty and on a dirt road, that takes a while. An hour later we pull up to the gate, only to find out that they are shut down. Number two thing that I hate about those maps…they are out of date!!  Ah, but it shows another resort a couple of miles down the road.  Here we go again.

Not getting our hopes up, we keep moving toward our goal of food and drink.  Aside from the horrendous condition of the roads, the scenery was absolutely incredible.  By this time we were more than half way around the island and still no resort. The question became, does this one really exist? The answer was yes! But, I’m not sure if you would call it a resort. It had rooms and a restaurant and was situated in an idyllic spot, but there was no one there…well, almost no one.  There were two other cars, one belonging to the owner and the other belonging to the only patron in the place. Talk about a ghost town!!

We were just about passing out from hunger when the owner said he stopped serving lunch a half-hour ago. I think we all looked at each other with the same expression…..what we were thinking was, who was he serving lunch to?   He interrupted our gazes by saying that he could, however make us some chips (French fries).  So it was chips and beer for lunch. While we were sitting there I noticed a bit of steam on the surface of a small circular pool in the courtyard.  I remember thinking to myself, why would they have a heated pool on a tropical Island, let alone at a resort with no guests.  Silly me, it turns out that it is completely natural and is actually fed by a hot spring.  It was looking a little ratty and hadn’t been cleaned in a while, so a dip was not in the plans.  Instead, it was to head for home before it got too dark and we got lost.

It got dark, but we got home all right.  I’m not sure about the condition of the Samurai though. It was pretty beat up and didn’t have any shocks or springs to begin with, so I’m sure they didn’t notice the gray smoke it was now producing.  It must have happened as were trying to avoid all the livestock and holes in the road. They don’t use a lot of fences and they certainly don’t have any road crews, so what can you expect. Hey, it’s only a rental!

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