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.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Secchi Disk Project

Richard Kirby, a plankton scientist at Plymouth University, UK, wrote to us recently to about the new Secchi Disk project.  It is a really simple way of measuring plankton abundance with a circular home made disc and graduated line or measuring tape.  It is all about citizen science and we'd encourage every-one to take a look at the web site and help out. After all plankton provide us with about half the oxygen we breath.

Here are the links :  www.secchidisk.org  and www.facebook.com/secchidisk

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Narama's Voyage - the Book!

If you have enjoyed following Narama’s Voyage on our blog, we have put together a book! 

Have a look at the Blurb website where you can look at the book and order one if you like.

This book was not professionally editted, but we did have fun putting it together.  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Landfall Australia

This breaching Humpback welcomed us into Autralian waters

After the wind swung and the seas built we were effectively booted out of Huon Island.  It was against our will, as we loved it there and I could have happily spent weeks counting and photographing the nesting birds.  Then the wind stayed in the SSW so we could not stop at Chesterfield Reef which was likely to be another amazing wildlife spot.  So we had a week at sea with perfect sailing breezes, but we couldn’t set full sail and carry on because that would have meant making landfall in Australia on a weekend and the officials make it prohibitively expensive when that happens.  So we continued to shorten sail and leisurely make our way west.  Our autopilot motor finally died shortly after the wind died, so we had to tie the tiller and hand steer more than usual.  We could have arrived two days earlier than we did, but managed to slow ourselves down enough to arrive at midnight on a Sunday.

Our arrival into Australian waters was heralded by a wonderful show.  Lots of breaching, pectoral slapping and breeding Humpback Whales!

It is hard to believe that this amazing adventure has come to an end, for now anyways.  We have mixed emotions as we start preparing to leave Narama for a while.  What a magnificent journey it has been!
Lunch at sea
Our sea berth, the lee cloth holds us in bed.

Trip Stats  Luganville, Vanuatu to Bundaberg, Autralia

Days on passage:  10.5
Total distance: 1101 nm
Average 24 hour run: 98 miles
Best day: 143 miles (en route to Huon Island)
Worst day: 77 miles (en route to Bundaberg, when we had to slow down)
Engine Hours:  42.7
Number of Humpback Whales seen en route:  12
Most interesting Bird Species: Southern Giant Petrel

Thank you for following us on Narama's Voyage

Huon Island en route to Australia

Residents of Huon Island: lots of birds!

A sandy island 0.6nm long in New Caledonia’s most northern reef system lies about 100nm NW of the mainland. Its exposed grassy ridge about 20ft above sea level is home to thousands of birds.  “What sea sickness…” says Heidi as a booby landed on our boom just after dropping anchor. We’d had a super fast 2 day 300nm passage to get here and had our fingers crossed the wind would swing further to the east as even the SSE wind had chop wrapping up the open lagoon. Still it was better than at sea. We found the GPS (WGS 84) longitude agreed with the French Chart 5978 but the GPS latitude placed us about 0.35nm north of our actual position in relation to the island.  Some nice big areas of sand to anchor in just near the island’s centre. We had a fly over by a French patrol plane who politely asked over VHF our past and future ports of call etc, so we were glad we’d put the courtesy flag up and had emailed customs.
Brown Booby adult

The wind did swing overnight, so we went ashore and walked the beach around the island amid the thousands of Brown Noddy’s and Brown Boobies. Both of these were in quite a range of breeding stages, but the less numerous Masked Boobies were courting and incubating.  Hermit crabs were doing a good service as clean up crews for the large numbers of dead chicks and when they weren’t eating they hid under whatever minimal cover there was from the debris washed ashore be it coral blocks, wood or coconut shells. The eastern shore was covered in debris with the reef extending beyond. The western side is more or less exposed to open water.  The only Red-footed Booby we saw was the one that roosted on our spreaders doing injustice to our decks but some how missing the French flag.

Turtles also breed here and a plaque asked for help in with a breeding survey. So we diligently dragged a stick around the island drawing a line that we are meant to inspect for turtle tracks the following morning. Unfortunately the wind returned to the south and we were unable to return to our last bit of paradise. By lunch time the 2-3-foot chop and 20kns finally dragged the anchor and we decided it best to put to sea after one re-anchoring attempt.

Species List Huon Island

Brown Noddy 1000’s
Brown Booby 1000’s
Masked Booby 100’s
Lesser Frigatebird  2
Ruddy Turnstone 6-8
Red-tailed Tropicbird 2-3
Sooty Tern 10-12
Black Naped Tern 3-5
Red-footed Booby 1
Masked Booby courtship behaviour

Masked Booby pair

Brown Noddy looking sharp

Our Red-footed Booby friend;
please don't dirty the flag!
Brown Booby chick, still fuzzy
One happy resident biologist

Hermit crabs taking shelter on the beach

Monday, August 6, 2012

Vanuatu Bird Species List

Peppered Moray swallowing a crab whole
White-tailed Tropicbird
Striated Heron
Pacific Reef Heron
Lesser Frigatebird
Red-footed Booby
Brown Booby
Swamp Harrier
Pacific Golden Plover
Great Crested Tern
Bridled Tern
Black-naped Tern
Mackinlays Cuckoo-Dove
Pacific Emerald Dove
Tanna Fruit Dove
Red-bellied Fruit Dove
Pacific Imperial Pigeon
Vanuatu Imperial Pigeon
Coconut Lorikeet
Glossy Swiftlet
White-rumped Swiftlet
Uniform Swiftlet
Vanuatu Kingfisher
Collared Kingfisher
Grey-eared Honeyeater
Cardinal Myzomela
White-breasted Woodswallow
Grey Fantail
Streaked Fantail
Melanesian Flycatcher
Pacific Swallow
Vanuatu White-eye
House Sparrow

Roadside Dragonfly on Malakula Island
Can anyone ID this species?

Kava in Vanuatu

Sunset Kava Bar in Lamap; host Fidel in centre

Lamap on Malakula Island seemed to be Kava Central, with 14 kava bars (nakamals) for its population of only a few hundred.  Our first taste of this peppery, muddy brew was in Vila at a feast we attended.  This really was a thick sludge and I’m glad it was only a small taste and not the usual full bowl.  Possibly it was made from a powder which made it thick.  The usual way to make it is much more interesting.  It takes a few years to grow a Kava plant to produce several kilos of kava root.  The root sells for 250 Vatu/Kg and Vanuatu Kava is the strongest in the South Pacific (or so we were told).  We couldn’t work out the exact ratio but it seems that you need a few kilos of root to make a bucket of kava to drink.  They diced the root into small cubes, give this a rinse and then put it through a mince meat grinder (or on one island they pounded it in a large improvised mortar and pestle). Traditionally this stage was acheived by young boys chewing the root, but times have changed.  Water is then added to the mash which is wrung out through a hessian sack a bit at a time.  The whole grinding and wringing process is then  repeated.  Finally the silty muddy product is poured through a fine cloth.  A ladies slip seemed to be the correct weave.   This sieving out the sediment was done many times during the production and I’m sure it was the reason that Lamap kava was more palatable.  Kava bars in Lamap come in all shapes and sizes, but the norm was a thatched roof with seating underneath.  I think Fidel’s “Sunset Kava Bar” had the most character of all and he was proud to say that he had many regulars.

Stephen takes a turn grinding Kava root for Louie

First it gets squeezed through a hesh sack

Then it gets seived through silk (or fine nylon) several times
The Kava plant;
it takes at least three years before the root can be harvested

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