With sadness Temptress crew said good bye to Fiji and motored south west towards the Navula Pass, the big ship channel through the reef on Vitu Levu’s north west corner. We motored all night too in sloppy seas and very little breeze. On Friday morning the breeze sprang up from the east and gradually headed north east over the next few hours. At last we could sail; it set the pattern for the next few days, nice sailing breeze once the sun got up giving us six or seven knots through the water, little or nothing over night meaning we motored. At least once well clear of the islands the seas settled down to a gentle rolling swell mostly from the north east though at times a little southeasterly swell crept in resulting in the occasional odd jerking movement if they met at the boat. All in all typical Pacific seas, trade wind skies and a little chilly at night.
The skipper finally caught a fish to supplement the small amount of frozen minced beef we had. A nice sized skipjack tuna with its characteristic dark horizontal stripes and purplish back, sufficient for four meals for two even though I was a little rough with the fishmongering cutting off only the fat cylinders of flesh from the fish back and discarding everything else.
Our fish filleting skills are improving; a tuna has a thick blood line running down the middle of each fillet which is very dark and usually removed before the fish gets to the fishmongers slab, if you cut it out by making two lengthwise cuts in a v shape and then remove the skin from the fish, each fillet produces two tapering cylinders of delicious tuna. The belly flesh and the bones I discarded as too fiddly to use, though they with the head would make a good fish stock but that’s not a task whilst at sea. A bit wasteful but there are only the two of us and a limit to how many tuna meals one can successively eat.
One cylinder was cut in two, floured, seasoned and pan fried in butter for supper on Saturday, the others bagged and frozen for future meals. A new delight discovered in Makogai is mashed squash – boil cubed, peeled squash til soft, drain then mash with butter and pepper and a little mace it goes well with fish instead of potato.
By Sunday morning, another sunny day with perfect sailing conditions, Temptress had covered more than half the five hundred odd nautical miles with just one hundred and forty to run. We started to read the various cruising guides we’ve acquired, mostly electronic copies of older books from the nineties and look forward to our first port of call Port Vila, the capital which is situated on Efate island about halfway up the chain. The eighty odd islands offer a mix of volcanoes and rainforest as well as a colourful history.
Vanuatu before independence in 1980 had been ruled by the French and the English at the same time for about eighty years! As the two colonial powers couldn’t agree, the New Hebrides as the islands were known then, had two sets of law, two police forces to enforce them and two education systems – this condominium was referred to as the “pandemonium” government! A legacy of the former colonial powers remains but modern day Vanuatu has also preserved a lot of its Polynesian and Melanesian culture known as “the custom” or “kastom” with villages owning the sea that lies on their doorstep, retaining their own distinct tribal dances and rites, often speaking their own dialect. English, French and Bislama, a form of pigeon English are the national languages. We are looking forward to it all as well as to French bread and croissants and apparently some of the best beef in the Pacific.
By evening the bank of cloud ahead told us everything we needed to know about the local weather; Temptress was rapidly catching up with our old nemesis the SPTCZ. The wind died to nothing, another night of motoring brought a grey dawn with flat glassy seas over which big, long interval ocean swells rolled westwards. Our first sight of Vanuatu was of flat, misty, tree clad land with white beaches on which the big surf was breaking; the smell reminiscent of Singapore, was of damp, slightly spicy jungle. Overhead clouds of every formation and every hue of grey covered the sky, the light as a result was still like dawn even several hours after sunrise, the sea below reflecting the silver greys of the clouds. And on the way in another skipjack came our way so now the icebox is full of tuna meals!