Trip Reports

Vanuatu Tu (31-Aug-2001-22-30):
10:30 PM local time Friday, August 31st. (1130 August 31st UTC) 17 40 S 168 18 E. Temp. 79, Humidity 67%, cloud cover 10%. On a mooring at Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu.

We did, as promised, say goodbye to Fiji on Thursday. The prediction called for 15-20 knots of southeasterlies, but we got about 6 knots. The seas were lumpy enough that we couldn't fly the light wind sails, and we elected to motorsail until we found the breeze. On the third day we still had little wind but decided to leave a reasonable amount of fuel for our approach to Vanuatu, and we turned off the engine. By then the seas had flattened out somewhat so we hoisted the drifter and managed 60 miles in the next 24 hours.

Bay area sailors will know that if you sail to Drake's Bay in twenty- five knots and the wind dies overnight while you're at anchor, the next day upon clearing Pt. Reyes you will find glassy seas with a long, low swell. Here the ambient seas were still a mess, 4-6 feet from three directions, after two or three days of less than eights knots of wind. Now you see how it can get rough if you add a fairly serious breeze. But actually, on the fourth day we had a truly beautiful day of sailing with sunny skies, 3-foot seas, and a 12-knot northerly on our beam. If the sea were always like this, the oceans would be crowded with boats. It was good for almost eight hours; then it headed us and finally died completely, so we put together 130 miles or so between motoring and some light air close-hauled sailing to arrive at our destination. We got into the harbor on Tuesday, a day later than expected, with about four gallons in our tanks. We blame the lack of wind on the fact that, after five months of strong breezes where our headsail was constantly reefed, we had finally decided to douse the genny and put the working jib on the furler.

Port Vila is pretty sophisticated and another yachting center like Neiafu, Tonga. It's a very pleasant place and we wish we could explore the outer islands, but this won't be possible. The life is quite stone- age there, we've heard. Gentlemen who dress traditionally wear only a belt-like device made from leaves that holds the penis away from the body. The testicles, known colloquially as balls, nuts, cojones, the family jewels, or the Bobbsey Twins, are not covered as they might be in San Francisco by an athletic supporter, briefs or boxers, knickers, trousers, kilt, sulu, or petticoat, but are left uncovered and unprotected from the depredations of bees, wasps, spiders, snakes, rats, opossums, racoons, weasels, coyotes, owls, cats, dogs, alligators, big horn sheep, wolves, kangaroos, cassowaries, mules, cougars, lions, tigers, and bears, not to mention lightning, landslides, tsunamis, meteorites, and car doors. Yet, these hardy people carry on, though it is notable that no famous jockey or big league catcher has issued from their ranks. A fellow cruiser who did visit these islands found himself in a conversation with the chief about youngsters straying from traditional ways and he said he felt very much like saying, "My good man, I'm sorry to say that because of your attire I find it altogether impossible to give this matter the serious consideration it undoubtedly deserves. Put your balls away, and then let's talk."

As the young men grow up they face the difficult decision on whether to carry on the customs of their forebears or to adopt modern dress. The Captain, with humility, suggests that, when faced with a sartorial quandary, one which implies layers of other ethical, metaphysical, and personal hygiene questions, the more serious among them should do as the Captain does when deep issues find him at sixes and sevens, and ask themselves, "What would Britney think?" If you showed up on your first date in that penis holster affair, would she be a) extremely pleased, b) not very pleased at all, or c) quite displeased indeed? Frame your query thusly, and you'll never go far wrong.

But the town of Port Vila is perfectly civilized, down to Bocce Ball tournaments and people who pretend to be working at a computer terminal but are actually playing games or surfing the web. SUVs, posters for AIDS awareness or prevention of spousal abuse, and French restaurants will fill out the picture. People all recommend visiting the other islands, but I notice they make their homes here, where they can watch TV, buy ice cream cones, and shop for clothes.

Not everything is as up to date as we might wish, and we did have occasion to visit the local hospital in search of the most recent information on malaria, which is a big problem here. It was disconcerting to go to the lab and see the pathologist sitting in a cluttered and not particularly clean room, wearing shorts, flip flops, and a polo shirt, examining a pile of slides of potentially lethal diseases without availing himself of the protection of surgical gloves. He was as helpful as could possibly be, but the finicky Captain, as he left, wondered what microbes might have been transferred to his person when he shook this very nice man's hand.

Now I can hear from our mooring here in Vanuatu the cover band on shore at the Waterfront Bar & Grill playing "Brown-Eyed Girl," and this reporter reflects that the real brown-eyed girl, the one about whom the song was written, is an old friend, and that the world, penis belts notwithstanding, has become a pretty familiar place indeed.

Next report from this location: Where There's a Will There's a Wei

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