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Posts from the ‘Destinations’ Category

The Spice Islands! And Buffalo Soldier Goes AWOL.

Some of the rally sailboats opted out of the passage north across the Banda Sea to the Spice Islands, a cluster of about half a dozen small islands in eastern Indonesia. This was primarily because it would necessitate beating back south later, with no help from the tradewinds blowing from the southeast. We didn’t have to worry about that aboard the Buffalo, though, and we wouldn’t have missed our visit to Banda.

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Hello Mister!

That’s what we heard shouted in our direction, in every town and village, in every anchorage in Indonesia. By grinning kids canoeing up to Buffalo Nickel in their outriggers, by adults walking, or zipping by on motorbikes in the busy market streets. Once in awhile someone with better English would wave and say “Hello Missus” to me. And we heard a lot of “I love you!” as well. But mostly, it was a face-splitting smile and “Hello Mister!”

We thought people could be no more welcoming than the Fijians. But that was before we made landfall in Indonesia. Folks there are simply overflowing with warm welcome and frank curiosity about us. I think “Hello Mister!” will be my free-association thought when Indonesia comes up, for the rest of my days. That, and the pervasive scent of kretek, the clove cigarettes everyone smokes there.

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Australia – The Short Version

The 1,300-mile passage from Vanuatu to Cairns, Australia took us nearly six days, but was one of our most comfortable and uneventful crossings to date. Seas were 2.5 meters for the first couple of days, but all well aft of our beam, making for decent surfing conditions. We hit 15 knots with regularity, and had to slow way down our last 24 hours in order to ensure a daylight arrival.

We worked into a comfortable rhythm with the boat and our own four-hour watch schedules. And for the first time ever, the Admiral wasn’t sleep-deprived, even in those notorious first 24 hours. A milestone!

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Buffalo Nickel in Vanuatu

Our first week was spent in Port Vila, making reconnaissance and loading up. The three of us (Brian and Sue of British sailboat Darramy, Brian and Sandie of American sailboat Persephone, and ourselves) were impatient to get out to the islands, but the groundwork was important. We met with what seemed like everybody: World Health Organization (WHO,) Peace Corps, Save the Children, National Disaster Management Office (NDMO,) District Administrators for the various islands we were to visit, Minister of Education, and a variety of other non-governmental organizations (NGO.)

With plans and protocols in place at last, we packed our boats. Some of our supplies we purchased with personal and donated funds: roofing nails, building tools, a chainsaw, calico fabric, fuel and engine oil. Other items were donated: seeds to replant crops, clothing, food, schoolbooks and supplies, tents and sleeping bags, tarps.

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On Giving Well

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In this second of three posts about our time spent helping with cyclone relief efforts in the Shepherd Islands of Vanuatu, I’m going to get on a bit of a soapbox about offering assistance in the event of a large-scale disaster: specifically, things one can do to be most, and least, helpful to a disaster relief effort. We learned some valuable lessons during our time interacting with Vanuatu government officials, NGO’s (non-government organizations) both large and small, health care providers, and the victims of Tropical Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu. We feel compelled to pass along information that could be useful to you, as donors wanting to give what you can to help with a disaster relief effort in the future.

But afterwards, we’ll lighten things up by giving you a brand new cocktail recipe! Sound like a deal?    I thought so.

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Steaming West from Fiji. But Not Without the Persian Fetta!

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The second week of March this year found us avidly following developing weather in the South Pacific from the comfort of our cozy Seattle digs. For the cyclone season, we had left Buffalo Nickel once again hauled out into a protective ‘pit’ in Vuda Point Marina, Fiji, while we visited the States. An intense tropical storm was threatening not only to up its game to Category 5, but also to hit Fiji, so we fretted about our boat.

That storm did up its game, becoming Cyclone Pam, but instead of Fiji it went for the island nation of Vanuatu to the west. With 155 mph sustained winds (highest sustained winds of any storm in the southern hemisphere) and gusts to 200 mph, it wiped out power and communications in this poor nation of 82 islands. 90% of buildings were damaged, and thousands of people displaced. With few airstrips, most local boats damaged and storm season still ongoing, many of the islands and their villagers were cut off from all contact or aid even four days after the storm passed. Some islands were completely without fresh water or shade during that time.

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Fulaga, and the Little Dive Compressor that Couldn’t

Down to just the two of us, having left Jeff and Julie in Vanua Balavu in the northern Lau to make their gradual way back to the States.

The passage to Fulaga (foo-LONG-ah) in the southern Lau was a short overnight. When entering and exiting via reef passes, as this trip entailed at both ends, it’s best if you’ve got some daylight so that someone on the bow can spot the dangerous bits under the water before smacking your boat up against them. Our friends John and Kathy aboard Mystic Moon were making the same passage. They left a bit earlier than we did in the late afternoon, then we leapfrogged by them during the night and arrived a couple hours ahead of them at the reef entrance.

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Susui Island, the Color Pink, and Hemingway

Our last anchorage before bidding Jeff and Julie a sad farewell was the small island and village of Susui. Though we spent only 4 or 5 nights here, we all fell rapidly in love with the place. We really clicked with Jacob, the kind, quiet man who met us when we came ashore and escorted us to the chief’s house. We were only the 5th yacht to visit the island this year, and the first motor yacht to visit, ever.

On the Beach in Front of Susui Village

On the Beach in Front of Susui Village

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Vanua Balavu, and Thoughts on Cruising Under Power in Various Boats

From Viani Bay, we made our way southeast to the island of Vanua Balavu (VAH-noo-ah bah-LAH-voo) in the northern Lau group. The Lau group is the easternmost group of islands in Fiji, reportedly the least visited islands in the South Pacific. This is in large part because (as related to us by one of the Lau’s village chiefs) several decades ago, recreational drugs were brought ashore by some cruisers. This caused quite a stir among the very conservative Fijian villagers, resulting in the chief of the entire Lau group ordering the whole group closed to all tourism thenceforth. For the past several years they have tried to relax this strict isolationist policy, first by issuing only a handful of permits annually to a very few lucky cruisers, then as of last year, opening it up on request to all cruisers holding Fijian cruising permits. Since one still has to clear into Fiji in the middle or western islands, then travel a couple hundred miles against the prevailing trade winds to get here, the Lau group is still a relatively remote destination.

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Savusavu and Viani Bay

While underway on the calm inter island passage between Suva and Savusavu, Jeff encouraged Stan to fiddle with our speed and interrogate its effect on fuel consumption, engine load, etc. We have lots of data at our fingertips from our Maretron monitoring system, which can be displayed any which way we want, so it was a fun exercise for them.

Our ‘normal’ cruising speed is 9.5-9.75 knots over ground at 1700-1750 RPM.

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