s/y Nine of Cups
Central Vanuatu Islands
Efate, Epi, Ambrym, Malekula & Espiritu Santo Islands - October 2011
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All too soon, it was time to leave Vanuatu and head to Australia for cyclone season. We missed visiting
many areas that were on the planned itinerary, but what we did see and experience was fantastic. We
headed back to Luganville for re-provisioning, duty-free diesel and final check-out and we were off.

Come with us to  
Chesterfield Reef en route to Australia where we begin our adventures in a new
country and a new continent!

Remember there's always an adventure
Sailing with Nine of Cups.
Vanuatu's Southern Islands
Port Vila, Efate Island - 17S44.88 / 168.18.63 - Moored
The trip from Erromango to Vanuatu's capital city of Port Vila on Efate Island was  84 nm and an overnight
passage. We left Dillon's Bay late afternoon and arrived in Port Vila midday.  Port Vila, or just Vila as the locals
call it,  is situated at the head of a horseshoe bay. James Cook originally surveyed the area and named it after
his patron, Lord Sandwich, but the islanders' own name for it, Efate, has prevailed. With a population of about
46,000, it's one of the South Pacific's largest and most attractive towns. We were looking forward to
well-stocked supermarkets, fresh market fruits and veggies and showers...oh yeah, and internet!
We picked up a mooring in the calm, deep waters right off the
downtown area of Port Vila. The town is living up to
expectation. Port Vila is busy and bustling and seems to have
about everything we'd need or want. The French influence here
is seen in the fresh baguettes for 60 cents each and a grand
supermarket, Au Bon Marche, which is well-stocked, tidy and
has so much variety we're nearly overwhelmed. People are
friendly...drivers even stop for pedestrians. As wonderful as it
is, we need to provision, do some chores and get moving as
quickly as possible in just a few days so we can head north
through the rest of these enchanting islands before it's time to
head to Australia for the cyclone season. No lingering allowed.
Cups in the foreground moored off Port Vila
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As we set about exploring the town, the
Vanuatu National Museum was a priority.
Nasonal Miusium Blong Vanuatu...Bislama
for Vanuatu National Museum was 700 vt/ea
One of the most interesting art forms in the northern islands is sandroing (sand drawing). It
provides a method of illustrating local legends and telling stories with elaborate designs.
Our docent, Edgar, is from the island of Espiritu Santo and drew the above designs while
telling accompanying stories. He began as shown above and then never raising his finger,
completed these intricate, beautiful designs. Drawings complete, he played a bamboo flute-like
instrument and sang a traditional song in a low, quiet voice. A most fascinating demonstration
makes us anxious to visit the islands where this art is still practiced. Far right, carved figures
are made for tribal ceremonies .
Around town...from left, tree fern carvings are a familiar decoration throughout Port Vila; men play
pétanque (like bocce ball) at the waterfront park; the outstanding fresh market spans the area between
the main street in town and the waterfront and is open 24 hrs/day except Sunday. Fresh flowers, fruits
and vegetables are all locally grown and we took advantage of the freshies. Green, woven pandanus
palm baskets full of kumala (sweet potato) and bundles of taro for sale.
From Vila, we anchored in Havannah Harbour for one night en route to Epi. We
planned on one long day's passage, but we were slower than anticipated and rather
than risk arriving at night, we pulled into Revelieu Bay, about 10 miles shy of Lamen
Bay, our planned destination.
Ai Creek, Havannah Harbour, Efate - 17S36.29 / 168E14.62 - 37'
Revolieu Bay, Epi - 16S43.65 / 168E08.62 - 36'
Lamen Bay, Epi - 16S35.72 /168E09.69 - 43'
En route to Epi, we were entertained
by a large pod of bottlenose dolphins.
We shared the anchorage with T6
which brought its passengers aboard
via heliocopter.
A typical Epi village hut. Used only for
sleeping, shelves in front hold baskets and
basic cooking pots and utensils.
High and dry, this dugout is stored in the
crook of a tree.
The only indication that this field was
Epi's airport was the wind sock that blew.
A family takes a stroll along the main street in
Lamen Bay, Epi.
Silvereyes are common on most  islands.
An emerald dove
Ranon, Ambrym - 16S08.49 / 168E07.00 - 22'
Ambrym...the Black Island because of its twin active volcanoes, Mt. Marum and Mt.
Benbow and hence its black volcanic soil. Or because it is the most mysterious island of
Vanuatu with strong witchcraft, sorcery and traditions of magic?
We saw petite spinner dolphins as we
rounded Ambrym's west coast.
A scene along Ambrym's black-brown
volcanic sand beach which reminded us of
used coffee grounds.
Carved tree ferns or black palms lie in a
heap on the beach getting ready for
transport to Vila and Noumea.
Ranon village was neat and tidy with large
well-walked pathways. We were welcome
to wander and walk where ever we chose.
We visited Grade 4 at the primary school
and were treated to a class song.
Alex (blue shirt far left) is a carver and we
bought one of his carved statues. His family
joined him for this photo.
Ronnie, a carver, was our host in Ranon.
He invited us for kava one afternoon and
provided lots of fresh fruits and veggies.
Ronnie shows us a kava plant, a member of
the pepper family, the roots of which are
ground, mashed or chewed into a pulp.
Guillermo from "TinTin" gets a closer
look at a tamtam (slit drum) on the shore.
Jeffrey crushes the kava root.
The muddy looking water in the
bowl  to the left is kava.
The magic of Ambrym...a complete,
bright rainbow stretches behind us
after a morning shower.
Ronnie was articulate and openly offered
information about Ambrym and its culture.
At the nakamal (kava bar), we asked and
he answered question after question. Yes,
there really is strong magic on Ambrym ...
many sorcerers practice both black and
white magic. Too many unexplained,
strange things have happened to ignore the
power of these "men blong magik".
From Ambrym, we went west and south
to the tiny Maskelyne Island group off the
larger island of Malekula and anchored at
Gaspard Bay for a night then made our
way around the bottom of Malekula and
up the west coast to calm, serene
Southwest Bay where we stayed a week
to do boat projects.
Gaspard Bay, Maskelyne Islands - 16S28.47 / 167E49.12 - 46'
We stayed one night only in Gaspard Bay with
the hopes of seeing a dugong, a manatee-like
critter and Vanuatu's only native marine
mammal. We saw several, but never long
enough for a photo. This mural in Luganville at
least gives you some idea of what a dugong is.
This is the same bay where Chief Jackson
came aboard to show us some magic.
Dixon Reefs, Malekula - 16S21.29 / 168E23.02 - 36'
Excerpt from our blog:
Jackson, chief of the local village, paddled up in his dugout canoe. He was quite the character. First, he welcomed us and then told us he
usually charged 1000 Vatu for anchoring in the bay, but he'd take a bag of rice as a contribution to the village in lieu of the payment. He
offered to teach us some of his tribal magic if we invited him aboard. How could we say no? Marcie was baking cookies and he waited
patiently ... eating a half dozen warm cookies while waiting. As soon as she finished, the magic lessons would begin. He and David
chatted amiably in the cockpit. When Marcie finally joined them, he described all the wonderful things he could do with his magic...heal
the sick,calm storms, make rain or catch fish anytime he wanted to. In fact, we could tie him up and throw him overboard with a huge
stone attached to him and he could just walk away unharmed.  Normally, this knowledge is only passed from chief to first son, but it
seemed it was okay to pass it on to yachties since we were leaving and not in competition with his tribe.
He asked for a small cup of water and some "sampu"...hmmm? A sample? No, sampu! Ah, shampoo? Yes, sampu! Marcie was
instructed to go below since she couldn't witness the strong magic that he was passing to David. The process included David removing
all of his clothes, lying on the deck and Jackson murmuring incantations and rubbing David's body with the "sampu" and water. That
phase completed, Jackson requested Marcie to remove all of her clothes and lie on the deck for the same ritual.
"Oh, I don't think so." said David. "It's not our custom for other men to see our wives naked or have strange men, even chiefs, rub our
bodies with water and "sampu"."    
"Ah, yes, but I'm a chief, David, and it's okay to do this. Otherwise I can't transfer the magic and something bad might happen to your
"We'll take our chances", countered David. "Perhaps, you can think strong, positive magic thoughts to keep our yacht safe.".
"You should have told me before we started that your customs do not allow your wife to remove her clothes. It's very, very important to
finish the transfer of the magic. Do not be afraid." Jackson was making a strong case for Marcie's nude participation.
"I didn't realize that Marcie removing her clothes was part of the magic transferral. We're very sorry for the misunderstanding, but this is
"I can keep the sampu?"
Jackson ended his argument. With a bag of rice, 1/2 dozen more cookies, the rest of the sampu and one of Cups' old hatches in his
dugout, he bid us farewell and paddled off to see a friend.
Southwest Bay, Malekula - 16S29.54 / 167E25.95 - 33'
We threaded our way through the narrow
canals and reefs in the Maskelynes and
had a great sail up the west coast of
Malekula to Southwest Bay. Above a
sunset with Ten Stick Island in the
foreground. Rumor has it that American
military during WWII paid 10 sticks of
tobacco to be able to use the island for
target practice.
During WWII, up to 500,000 military
personnel were stationed in Vanuatu, then
known as the New Hebrides, as a base
from which to fight the Japanese in the
South Pacific.
James Michener was stationed here and
based his book,
South Pacific, on this
area. The imaginary Bali Hai is supposedly
the island of Ambae seen at a misty sunrise
from the island of Espiritu Santo.
Dugouts line the beach of Lembinwen
Village. The villagers work harder here
than anywhere else we've seen, paddling
daily to tend their gardens inside the huge
Tsiri Lagoon, the entrance of which is
just beyond the beach above.
Kids are shy, but curious and usually
ferret out the fact that we have treats
with us. This time it was banana muffins.
Though she was quite interested in
watching David repair a generator,
she just couldn't keep her eyes open
for the whole procedure.
These pictures do no justice to Dixon Reefs at all. Since we don't own an
underwater camera (yet!), these were taken from the dinghy looking at the reef
below. What you can't see is the glorious, healthy coral in different types, shapes
and sizes and every color of the rainbow. The fish were wonderful. Big fish, little
fish, blue fish, red fish... even sharks.
The village is neat, tidy and growing.
We met Sailon and his family. Above,
David follows Sailon into his house to
begin works on solar panels.
A Swiss yachtie, Walter on Cinderella,
joins David for a generator repair session.
Folks queued up for the generator doctor.
A word about Bislama...
Since over 100 languages are spoken in Vanuatu and each island in Vanuatu has at least
one unique spoken language (Malekula has 23!!) which are not understood by
neighboring islands and/or villages, a common language of Bislama (Bichelama) or Pidgin
English developed. They speak it quickly and it's hard to follow, but we found reading it
off signs and posters and then saying it out loud helped the comprehension process.
Here's a sample:

Wanem nem blong yu?                                        What's your name?
Nem blong mi is...                                                My name is....
Yu save tok tok long Bislama?                              Do you speak Bislama?
Sore, be mi no save tumas Bislama.                      Sorry, I don't know much Bislama.
Please/Thank you (very much)                               Plis / Tangkiu (tumas)
See you later, goodbye                                         Lookim yu afta, tata
Bia blong yumi  (A Tusker beer advert)                Our beer  (see below)
Paradise Lodge Moorings -Aore Island, Santo -15S32.52 / 167E10.42 - Moored 122'
We anticipated a stop between Dixon
Reefs and Luganville, but the winds and
current were with us and we flew.When we
entered the Segond Channel, the water
was calm as a mill pond. Across from our
mooring was the "city" of Luganville and
Espiritu Santo Island.
Alan & Debra Profke own and operate
the Paradise Lodge. Aussies, they came
here 6 years ago on a diving vacation and
fell in love with the people and the place.
They have seven moorings and a beautiful
home. Alan is a physician and they
operate a medical clinic for the locals.
Alan & Debbie had just become an
Official SSCA Cruising Station and we
had the privilege of presenting them with
their SSCA burgee. This occasion
called for a champagne toast and dinner
at their home with Debbie and  Ivan,
their "crew" of f "Divine Wind".
A dinghy ride across the Segond
Channel and we were in
Luganville, Vanuatu's second
largest (and only other) city.
We weren't in Luganville long. There's not much
to see. All shops and services are along one
main road. The fresh market (above and right)
was good and LCM, the main supermarket,
had a good selection, so we stocked up.
From Luganville, we headed along Santo's
east coast past Million Dollar Point (above)
so named when the US Military deposited
all its unneeded equipment in the sea when
they departed at the end of WWII.
Once again, frisky spinner dolphins
accompanied us on our short passage north
to Peterson Bay.
Peterson Bay, Oyster Island, Santo - 15S22.35 / 167E11.40
Peterson Bay, tucked in behind an island and several reefs, is a hurricane hole.
Entrance is tricky between the reefs, but once in and solidly anchored, we felt
very few effects of the wind or sea and it was a perfect place to work on the
boat. Besides being well-protected, it offered another substantial bonus: the
Oyster Island Resort. Oyster Island offered free internet to cruisers. With our
long range antenna, we were able to have internet (albeit painstakingly slow) on
the boat. Besides internet, Oyster Bay also offered a nice restaurant, a bar with
happy hour for cruisers, a beautiful, private 25 hectare island to explore with
well marked footpaths throughout, reefs, snorkeling areas and secluded beaches.

Between work days and projects, we managed to walk the paths and explore
the island. More exciting however, was the proximity of the Nalaiafu River and
its blue hole.
Oyster Island Resort as seen from the
A neat thatched "palapa" boat provided
transportation to the ferry dock on the other
side of the bay for resort patrons.
Colorful fruit dove
Hundreds of whiptail lizards scurried in the
underbrush after a morning shower
A vehicle bridge crosses the Nalaiafu
River. Traveling beneath it reinforced our
fear of traveling on it.
The thickly reefed entrance to the Nalaiafu
River gives way to a jungle-like setting and
leads to a fresh water blue hole.
Blue hole water is crystal clear,
spring-fed, fresh water. It gets its
blue hue from calcium carbonate
The water is clear and calm and reflects
the palm trees and vegetation above it.
Colorful tropical fish swim lazily below
as we dinghy its 3.5 km length.
We called this stretch "watercress
alley". Yup, that's watercress fringing
the sides of the river.
The watercress was so thick in
some areas and had overtaken the
river that it fouled the prop on the
dinghy engine trying to get through.
Tiny swiftlets dart back and
forth across the river
swooping down for insects.
A pair of little black cormorants seem
to dominate the water birds in the area.
Flora was as dominant as fauna.
Above, delicate palau flowers reflect
in the water.
Showy seedpods seem to explode as
they float along the river waiting for a
place to take root.
We received an interesting request from Marcie's sister,
Lin, while we were anchored in Peterson Bay. It seems
a co-worker's 6th grade son has read "Flat Stanley", a
children's book by Jeff Brown,  in class and is doing a
world geography project based on it. Stanley is "flat"
because he's gotten smushed by a bulletin board and is
now like a proverbial pancake. He's fine otherwise,
however, and can obviously be flat-pack mailed to and
from anywhere in the world. The class is collecting info
from as many places as possible. Lin sent directions via
email and asked if we'd participate in the project. Why
not? We remembered doing a presentation to our
nephew, Nicks', 4th grade class many years ago. It was

We had to do a short description about where she was
located, interesting info about the country or city,
climate, etc. I have her perched in the salon on a shelf
just above the settee and I found myself talking to her
regularly. "Hey, Natu...how's it going?".  She's quiet and
doesn't eat much.

She left us in Luganville, when like Flat Stanley, she was
mailed to Marshfield, Massachusetts, USA to join her
friends. Google "Flat Stanley" to learn more about this
I printed and cut-out a gingerbread-shaped figure that Lin
provided. I could make the figure female or male so chose a girl
and named her Natu from Vanuatu. Then I had to color her dark
brown, draw in her hair and facial features and dress her like a
paper doll...grass skirt and a colorful fabric blouse.
We took Natu in the dinghy one
morning to Oyster Island for a photo
shoot. She was on the beach for one
shot and sitting in a palm tree for
another. She even took a turn at the
Recommended reading:
To Kill a Bird With Two Stones - Jeremy
MacClancy - a good history of Vanuatu