"You are England!"

20th November 2013

We’re anchored off Huon Island, although island is a bit of an over statement for this scrap of sand, barely 6 metres high in a lagoon in the middle of nowhere, enjoying being by ourselves, when two heads pop up – not some Pacific SBS but two green turtles, mating. Being here is another example of serendipity, a chance conversation with other cruisers ‘Have you been to Huon Atoll?’ Given we’d never heard of it the answer was a ‘No’. But as result of their description here we are. And it’s not just one pair of turtles, we’ve lost count of the number we’ve seen. And not just pairs, where there’s a pair mating there’s almost invariably another male hanging around ‘just in case’! Of course mating is followed by egg laying and we’ve watched several of the females haul themselves up the beach until a suitable spot was found and then the labourious process of digging a hole. It all seemed to take forever and the effort these poor females have to expend is incredible, only to be repeated several times in the breeding season no wonder the book says their mating cycle is about three years.


But Huon Atoll is a long way from Fiji and our last Sea Mail. The time had come to finally move on from Fiji. How were we going to better the wonderful time we had had in the Lau Islands? Certainly Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital was going to have a hard time living up to our Fiji experiences, and initially we found ourselves wondering why we had bothered to move on and not spend the extra month in the Laus. But we had aboard photos we’d taken on our previous visit in 2010 when we’d gone to one festival where two kastom (traditional culture) chiefs were ordained, in a traditional ceremony that felt like something from a National Geographic magazine, and wanted to take these back.

If our experience in the Laus was anything to go by, returning with photos was something that people really appreciated.
Once back underway and heading towards the outer islands it began to feel worthwhile. A stop in Lamen Bay gave us the chance to swim with dugongs, really improbable creatures related to Manatees and known affectionately as Sea Cows. The one I swam with certainly seemed to have a somewhat bovine expression!

The real objective was to get to South West Bay on Malekula and take the photos back, so onward we sailed in lovely conditions.
As in Fiji the reception for the photos was quite remarkable and everyone was just as appreciative, in fact one guy took photos of our photos on his phone, so he could have a copy as well. When we said we’d hoped to catch up with the chiefs, Johnery Naki and Ranel Kaikap, no problem come ashore on Sunday and there they all were and we sat and talked about Vanuatu for a couple of hours with the topics ranging everywhere from the challenges facing the country to the desire for education and back again. Keenly aware of the need to preserve the best of their rural and kastom way of life, their aspirations surprised us, one man simply saying “we want the white man’s lifestyle”, creature comforts including refrigerators and cars, even though there is a distinct lack of electricity and roads. As we walked round afterwards, the village had changed little, the paths were still steep, narrow and more like muddy/rocky stairs (don’t think even a 4X4 would have coped!), we were able to renew acquaintance with people we’d met before and were snowed under with gifts of fruit and vegetables, despite the fact we kept saying there are only two of us more kept arriving. We’ll have to eat several bananas everyday between now and arriving in Australia or give them up to quarantine/MAFF.
Talking of education, I’d been ashore with a few gifts for the primary school; talking with the head teacher, Jack he got very excited. Seems Year 6 were doing the British Isles and as he said ‘You are England. Please come and talk to my students!’ So Monday morning we set off to school, haven’t done that in many a year.

So there were Mike and I in front of the class. Was quite a help that he’d been born in Northern Ireland and my mum is from Scotland, means we got to cover much of the UK without too much effort; add to that the fact that dad was from Mauritius and we managed to cover the empire and Commonwealth part of the curriculum as well – real value for money. They didn’t appear to have heard of the newest edition to the royal family and several of the kids thought William would succeed Elizabeth, more a of misunderstanding than wishful thinking, which we tried to correct in our few words of Bislama, the language of Vanuatu: explaining that Charles “number one picanini blong Queen” is next in line. It’s a language which still surprises us, such as accounts being a ‘financial samting’ or this government department we’d come across in the capital.

We’d planned to say goodbye to Willie, our guide when we were here for the chief’s ordination in 2010, and with whom we’d just spent a couple of evenings aboard Sea Rover. So off to the bank where he now works in charge of loans and with the responsibility of helping to raise peoples’ financial literacy through a three step programme the bank has devised. Looking through the stage 1 book which starts with personal and family budgeting, one of the things it asks people to do is list what they spend cash on, everything from mosquito coils to loo paper. Through the bank and their programme he helps locals prepare applications for loans and clearly it’s not just a good idea that counts but a track record showing you can earn and save money.

So after some fun time with people both ashore and aboard it was time to leave. Many knew we plan to sell Sea Rover when we return home and asked wistfully ‘Will we ever see Sea Rover again?’ The decision to return had proved the right one and we were both feeling much happier about leaving Fiji. It was off to Luganville to clear out and back to that conversation with other cruisers. As Huon was 300 miles roughly on our track to Brisbane it seemed rude not to stop. So down to our last 30 bananas, 3 mangos and 3 papaya we set sail. As we dropped our anchor we knew we weren’t going to be disappointed. It wasn’t just the turtles there was abundant birdlife in the form of boobies, noddies and terns. It was all very reminiscent of the Galapagos where the birdlife seemed pretty unphased by our presence as we walked along the beach. It is a very special place and we were the only ones there.

The one thing the couple had forgotten to tell us is that this atoll is a protected marine area! Something we were made aware of as the French navy over flew us several times and called us on the VHF! Still it was all very friendly and we left with no hard feelings and some more wonderful memories of four years in the Pacific. So now we are truly Brisbane bound, should be in time to catch at least one of the Ashes test matches. Hopefully we’ll get all that fruit eaten before we arrive, banana smoothie anyone?

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Photo comment By Sherry Bower: Love these Seamails and living vicariously through your SeaRover experiences. You can't sell her!!!

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