About Us

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We work as ecotourism guides (as well as biologist and boat captain) often on the BC Coast, but also as far ranging as the Arctic and Antarctic. We have an insatiable curiousity for the planet; all its hidden gems and what makes them tick. That and our love of sailing is what inspired us to sail around the Pacific in Narama, our tough and pretty little sailboat.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Copra and Gardens in Vanuatu

Some of the produce available in the Port Vila market.
It shows some of the amazing variety in the local gardens

During our extended stay in Port Sandwich due to bad weather, we learnt a lot more about the production of copra.  It seems like copra is a staple in the cash economy of the islands.  Not easy cash, but always there to provide income if you’re prepared to put in the hours.  In places where money can be made more easily from tourists, the labour to produce copra in return for about 30 000 vatu (about $350) a tonne is often deemed not worth while.
This coconut plantation had a perfect funnelling effect.
The coconuts rolled downhill towards the house to save time gathering!

First you have to collect the coconuts from beneath the tress laden with them.  On a short walk through one plantation three coconuts dropped off near me in a matter of 10 minutes, so collecting has its hazards.  One family-owned plantation had the perfect topography for funneling the coconuts downhill towards the house, which means less work!  Once collected the coconuts are then split in half by a knife or axe and the hard meat removed.  In Tahiti it was dry enough for the meat to be sun dried, but here in Vanuatu it needs to be smoked for up to seven days, when it loses about half its volume and finally it is put into large hesh sacks that are weighed and bought by agents in the village.  When enough is collected, a ship is then called.  In a few places they have a wharf, but mostly it is loaded by a landing barge pushed up on a beach or taken by lighter to the coastal cargo vessels.  Estimates by those we asked:  it takes about 50 coconuts to fill a sack and 10-15 sacks for a tonne.  A large majority of the copra goes to Post Vila to be made into biofuel which is then used for generating electricity in an effort to be less reliant on imported fuel.  The remainder goes to a plant in Santo (Luganville) to be refined for cosmetic uses.
Copra smoker

With the increased use of cell phones the demand for cash is on the increase.  Other wise if you ask most people what they do the reply is, “I go to my garden.”  Every family here has a garden plot (or several) and a great variety of fruit and vegetables are grown.  The gardens are usually a good walk from the village or across a body of water to segregate from the cows and pigs that wander freely and would love to raid a garden.  From a young age the ni-Van people carry large knives so that they are able to tend their gardens or drink from a coconut at will (no carrying water bottles).  Not once did we see any one coming or going from their garden with more than a knife in their hands and their bundles of produce on return.  Food is often sent on the coastal boats to family in Port Vila who do not have a garden and an easy, cheep supply of good food.  We believe that the soil in Port Sandwich must be very fertile as we were constantly offered a range of fruit and vegetables.  We did our best to always offer something in return but it wasn’t expected.
A loaded copra boat in Port Sandwich

Vanuatu Kastom

Stephen with Odealia and her four boys on Narama

Our first introduction to the culture of Vanuatu was in Port Vila and it felt a little more produced for tourists, but was still very interesting.  We had a rough crossing from Lifou Island, but luckily it was only two days before we made landfall.  The feast night that we attended in Vila had a ground oven and then a performance by a group of singers from Tanna Island as well as lots of songs by the local kids.  We also had a look at the Museum in town which had local kids learning song and dance and an art exhibit by a contemporary artist as well as many artifacts from the different islands.
Heidi with Louie's family:
Espel holding Simone, Alice one of the village elders, Joe the oldest son and Louie

When we arrived in Port Sandwich on Malakula Island Stephen met Louie a local man whose mother is one of the few in town who still sings the old Kastom songs.  So we arranged for a private performance in their home and met the whole family.  The weather turned sour shortly after and so we ended up staying in Port Sandwich for over 10 days, which meant that we got to know that family very well.  We had Espel and Odealia (Louie’s wife and sister) out to Narama with a bunch of their kids which was great fun.  The next day we took Odealia and her youngest to the local hospital and offered to pay the fee (only a dollar for adults and half that for children) for wounds that looked terrible.  We have been given lovely gifts from them including a grass mat and a tusk necklace and wanted to help them after their generosity. 

The Pig Tusk necklace
given to Stephen by Jean-Marie,
Odealia's husband.
Our next stop after Port Sandwich was Ranon on Ambrym Island.  When we mentioned to a few local people in Malakula that this was our next stop they often said “Oh be careful strong Kastom!”  It seems that although most people in Vanuatu will tell you that they are Christian there are still some strong beliefs.  For example on Ambrym you are not allowed to visit the active volcano at certain times of the year as the spirits will get angry and upset their yam crop.  We didn’t have time to visit the volcano but had a great view as we sailed over.  We did meat Parry a local man who took us on a walk through the village and showed us several carvings by different artists.  We couldn’t resist and traded for one TamTam statue and bought another of a masked dancer.  We also walked to the next village of Ranvetlam and traded for another intricately carved “pig killer”. 

Life sized Tam Tam
Over 4m tall
 used by the chief
to call people tegother

Our small Tam Tam
and the rope we traded for it
The rope is for the carver's cow.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Our Boat

For those that have not physically joined us on this voyage, here are the nuts and bolts of our boat.

Designed by Peter Joubert and built by Baker yachts in 1971, she is one of about 25 Brolgas built. 10.16m (33’4”) long, 3.1m beam and 2.1m draught. The latter has been a little deep on occasion for cruising but with half the 11,000 lb displacement in the keel, it’s reassuring in heavy weather.  Being built in the early days of GRP, she is solid, with 7 full or partial bulk heads and forward of amidships has ribs every foot.
A windex and VHF aerial top the mast.  We have a slightly shorter single spreader rig compared to the double spreader rig on most Brolgas. Being an old race boat,  the suite of sails is more than necessary for cruising and we could have easily gone without the #1, 3 jib and a spinnaker. However we have used them all so the list is: Mainsail, trysail on its own track, #1 and #2 jib that fit the furler, #3, #4 and storm jib that hank on a removable solent stay that we tie back for enclosed water sailing or we can’t tack the jib without furling.  Otherwise we leave the #4 hanked on and the storm jib can be attached above it if required. Finally, 2 spinnakers and a blooper. With just the two of us sailing we have found the blooper the handiest light wind sail when used like and asymmetrical spinnaker, as it is easy to set and douse with-out a pole.  For stronger down wind sailing we do have 2 poles, with fore and aft preventers and topping lifts on these poles and the sheets, it becomes quite the cats cradle in the cockpit. Both storm sails have their own sheets that remain on the sails. Self tailing winches never made it to the top of the wish list, but the 8 cockpit winches with cleats and jammers have worked perfectly

The main anchor is a 35lb Delta on 80m of 5/16” chain and that runs over a manual windlass. This is great for simplicity, exercise and saves having to start the engine to sail on and off the anchor. The anchor well drains overboard, a nice alteration we made and we have to flake the chain if more than 30m is out.  A sealable dorade over the forward end of the vee berth and small hatch over its aft end provide good ventilation.  The large fore hatch is kept locked down at sea except in calm conditions and two dorades over the main cabin can be left open for ventilation in all but gale conditions. At anchor in hot weather the wind scoop forcing air down the aft facing fore hatch is our best friend.

The dodger and side curtains on the life rails around the cockpit keep the majority of spray out except in heavy weather and also give a little privacy for using the solar shower in the cockpit.

The life-raft sits on deck under the boom which rather blocks some of the view, we opted for this rather than a valise packed raft taking up more room below.  We have a tiller for steering which can also be connected to an Autohelm 2000 tiller pilot when motoring or the manual Flemming self steering gear (our most important crew member). This has been very reliable and easy to use.  It also swings up out of the water very easily when not in use and his name is Earnest because that’s how he works.

Above Earnest, a radar/solar panel framework holds a 62W and 105W panels.  These go through separate regulators to the single start and house battery respectively. In NZ we upgraded from a 42/62W combination which has given us a lot more power freedom as we hate and rarely do run the engine to charge, preferring to be frugal with power consumption. For charging cameras and computers we have a small 150W inverter that plugs in so we have no fixed AC systems to worry about.

Diving below decks the anchor locker can be accessed through a watertight hatch. Aft of that the vee berth with clothe storage racks above is just long and wide enough for the two us. The pile of paraphernalia under that bunk has never been reduced. Next section aft is a sail locker (always crammed) and head. You can’t stand up in the head, but on a boat that’s a good thing as peeing into a small bowl from a distance is a bad idea. Curtains divide all these areas, so our friends and family who join us have to be pretty down to earth people.  The “saloon” area makes use of every nook and cranny for storage with the galley running down the starboard side and a settee that drops to a double bunk on the port. The double seats of the settee face each other with our GPS radar and SSB receiver between and current charts stored under the table top which is also our chart table when underway.

At the forward end of the settee the mast sits on a large girder that wraps up to the chainplates.  There is a hanging locker to port and to starboard is a diesel heater and oil lamp that keeps the chill off cool evenings.

Our stove is a Swedish Origo non-pressurized alcohol stove that is simple, safe and effective to use. Obtaining fuel has sometimes led us on interesting searches, but only once have we had to resort to our camping stove when in Mexico.  The price of denatured alcohol has also fluctuated so baking bread in our stove top oven has not always been as economical as we’d have liked.  The gimbled stove is housed in a stainless steel cooking area which keeps spills and heat well contained. We did raise the height of the custom pot holders to hold the pressure cooker more firmly given its regular use.  The sink with its wide draining board is a gem and a hand pump for water helps with water conservation.  We have three water tanks, 2 internal keel tanks and a flexible tank for a total of 240L.  For extended periods away from water sources we have another 60+L capacity in jerry cans. Splitting up water like this is good for quantity control and contamination issues should they arise.

Lockers fill the port side of the settee area and under the galley bench that runs the length of the saloon area. High in the bilge under the table is fresh food storage as we rarely use the fridge at sea (not making the power to run it continuously).

Tankage for diesel is likewise split with the majority in a stainless tank and the remainder in a flexible tank. This gives about 150L useable fuel. Add 30L in jerry cans and we have a range of about 500nm.

Around the bilge are 2 more anchors and chain. That added to our main anchor and stern anchor with chain and rode in the cockpit, gives us more ground tackle than I hope we’ll ever use.  That said, we’ve had up to 3 set out on one occasion. We do carry a 15’ parachute sea anchor as well and have had the dubious pleasure of using it once a 1000nm east of NZ.

The port quarter berth is a long wide berth and is our sea berth that we hot bunk in. The starboard quarterberth is a bit more of a squeeze and is our “spare room” for storing stuff. Between the galley and the stb quarterberth are 3 big drawers that are bolted locked at sea. Great storage and above is a switch panel, VHF and AM/FM radios.

Our dinghy is a 9ft inflatable Avon Redcrest with a soft bottom and no outboard. It rows very well and carries 4 adults easily.  We have accepted a lift a few times over the years to reach a distant objective, but have no intention on changing. It rolls up and stows easily, we have no fuel worries and enjoy the exercise.

So that is our great little ship Narama in a nutshell.