“Let us probe the wild places,
Let us seek what luck betides us.”
-R. Service, Call of the wild
Vava'u to Aneityum
Departing for Aneityum
As Viti Levu faded astern, the brig embraced the offing and found it in a favorable mood. Her sails drew to the steady trade winds, which moved her along gainfully while undulating her gently to the cadence of a benign ocean swell. We entertained high hopes of an easy passage to New Caledonia.
But later that evening an encroaching bank of blackening cumulonimbus clouds materialized and quickly dashed the ambiance. The wind freshened to 25 or 30 knots, and after we had reduced sail we could only brace ourselves against mercurial seas that began buffeting Suka noxiously.
Anxiety is a great tormentor, and for two days, as the conditions slowly deteriorated, the fear that we would become embroiled in a full gale pervaded our minds like a gloomy pall. Suka was not so mentally affected. With seeming ebullience she blazed a trail of flung spray through the gnarly breakers, while dashing ahead at great speed.
After 48 trying hours the blow abated, and in another eight hours Suka found herself wallowing along in near-calm conditions. Recuperating in the cockpit while basking in the tropical sun, I wrote in the journal:
“During bouts with rough seas, such as the one we've just endured, invariably we set our resolves to abandon this wretched way of life, to sell the yacht, and then to keep our feet planted squarely on terra firma - if only we could reach the safety of the next port. Plying these capricious seas for even a few weeks is enough to prompt the rational person to abandon sailing forever. But alas, the first hint of pleasant weather is the sailor's panacea. When the skies turn sunny and warm, former miseries pall and former abnegations disperse like so much advection fog. Today our world looks cheery again; our cruising dreams have assumed their former glistening, as has the face of the sparkling seas. And once again, the distant horizon beckons.”
The fourth day was a pleasant one, save for one disquieting incident seemingly aimed at any lingering complacency borne of Suka's crew. Between a flawless cobalt sky and a calm ocean, a gentle 15 knot wind broad on her port quarter nudged the little brig along graciously. Then without the slightest warning, the four winds hurled forth an invisible white squall. Lashing out with a vengeance, the northerly bullet of a tempest caught Suka fully garbed, and trounced her hard onto her beam. Engulfed in a ground blizzard of stinging, clamorous spray, Jenny and I ran forward and clawed down the flogging sails. And by the time we had reduced the canvas to bare poles, the blast had raced on, leaving the ketch bobbing placidly on benign seas.
Later that afternoon, we inadvertently sailed over a drift net. Luckily, though, the brig's keel and self-steering rudder avoided snagging the submerged cable. Peering through binoculars, in the distance I spotted a large trawler/drifter. And incidentally, since departing California, this was only the second ship we had seen upon the face of the staggeringly empty, open ocean.
Aneityum, the southernmost inhabited island of the Vanuatu group.
Steering clear of the Constantine Bank and other pernicious shoals in its vicinity, our track was taking us temptingly close to the Aneityum (ah-night'-chum), the southernmost inhabited island of the Vanuatu group. And as the sun was dipping ever lower to meet the horizon, the summit of this yet distant island lifted over the bulbous seas. Because this was not a port of entry into the country, calling in here was illegal without first clearing-in with the officials much farther north at Vila. But the closer we drew to the island, the more tantalizing the prospects of visiting it became. So we decided to take our chances with the officials.
Navigating coastwise with a puck-type hand bearing compass, a set of parallel rulers and a chart.
Analgahaut bay. Zoom out to see where we are.
Reducing sail, we glided throughout the night, holding well off-shore to lessen the chance of encountering any uncharted reefs - as per the note of caution on the DMA chart. Sunrise found Suka skirting Aneityum, her crew eagerly feasting their eyes on the vivid green island standing close at hand. Just as we were rounding the fringing reef and steaming into the bay called Anelcauhat (Analgahaut), the trolling line sprang to life, and I hauled aboard a king mackerel. The timing was excellent, for belowdecks Jenny had been baking a platter of muffins.
Anchored in Analgahaut bay, in front of the village.
We handed the sails and motored under the lee of a motu fronting the island, just as a torrent conveniently washed the evaporated salt encrusting Suka's rigging and topsides. Nearby the anchorage's sole occupant, a sloop named Tukua, Jenny lowered the anchor into 5 fathoms, then we retired belowdecks to indulge in a luxuriously hot shower, afforded by the running of the engine which circulates hot coolant through a secondary heat exchanger inside the hot water heater. How fabulous indeed it felt to be in!
Throughout the afternoon the wind increased and bore ever more easterly, placing us unfavorably out of the motu's lee and subjecting the anchorage to a substantially larger fetch. But the plow had taken a firm grip on the seabed and was holding the ketch true, so we paddled ashore on the motu to stretch our legs.
The next morning a young native man hove into sight paddling a dugout canoe. Norman, as he introduced himself, was shy but congenial, and we invited him into Suka's cockpit for coffee and cookies. His English was rudimentary, but it sufficed to let us to ply him with myriad questions regarding his island, its inhabitants, and the local conventions. The nearby village Analgahaut, population about 350 he said, was nearly self sufficient, and was without electricity or automobiles save for two logging trucks used in exporting the island's kauri pine.
After Norman had departed, Jenny and I motored the dinghy a short distance to meet our neighbors aboard their beautiful, home-built 38-foot ferrocement sloop Tukua. Bob Noyes, his wife Freda, and their teenage son Joe were expatriated Americans that had been cruising the western Pacific for the past four years. Presently they were en route home to New Zealand, via Noumea. Mechanically adept, Bob had been an electronics technician in the US Navy, and his wealth of practical knowledge concerning the engineering aspects of yacht cruising kept our conversations rolling. We quickly became friends.
Jenny and I spent the next day again exploring the motu afoot, and snorkeling its surrounding waters. Then on Sunday we joined the Noyes for a trip ashore to visit the village. Closing the beach we sensed that scores of hidden eyes were hard upon us. Obviously all activity had ceased on our behalf, and the indigenous populace had seemed to crawl into the proverbial woodwork. Landing ashore we felt as though we had stepped from our respective UFO's. If the "F" could stand for "floating" instead of "flying," then perhaps we had.
Boys of Analgahaut.
Men at a swimming hole.
This place was rarely visited by tourists, so the children are a bit shy.
Beach and dug-out canoes.
Thatch roof house.
The typical dwelling was of straw, and was surrounded by grounds impeccably groomed. Nowhere was there even a scrap of rubbish lying about. The only islanders in evidence were four children playing at the beach. Their unassuming curiosity had won over their urge to withdraw, as had the adults. The skin of the Melanesian is tawny and the hair typically a frizzy black, although one of the boys' frizzy hair was blond, supposedly the result of a genetic aberration of some sort.
After visiting with the children we wandered into the village. A few adults showed themselves diffidently from their doorways, and we hailed them genially. Then after passing through the small village we followed a trail leading into the hinterland, while smearing on mosquito repellent and articulating the need to take the chloroquine medication for a few more weeks - for this was reputed malarial territory. On our return, a dozen children gathered round us in innocent curiosity, and soon they had encouraged some of the adults to appear and greet us with smiles and the occasional mistrustful wave. Soon we met the village's Methodist minister, who spoke fluent English.
The Methodist minister spoke fluent English.
We gave the teacher our magazines.
The final evening of our sojourn we invited Norman belowdecks for an enjoyable few hour's visit. (Weeks later, while fumigating the ship we regretted having extended such hospitality, for Norman seemed to have left his calling card: body lice.)
Both Suka and Tukua were bound for Noumea, and their crews had decided to depart together in order to pool resources: Suka carried a sat-nav, and Tukua, guide books and charts appropriate for entering the foreboding Havana Pass at the southern end of Vanuatu. And so we embarked with our "Noumea gibbous moon," waxing to full and promising the most advantageous night-time illumination.