It’s 4 in the morning and I can see an alien-green tinted star out of my bow hatch. I’ve never seen a star that color, maybe it’s not a star at all. Whatever it is it reminds me of Christmas. The other day a woman on top of a waterfall fed me a tree nut that also reminded me of Christmas because it tasted just like a Christmas tree. You should have seen her crack the nut open with rocks. Women in Vanuatu can build you an entire world out of stuff they find in the bush using nothing but a rock and a knife. I wanna be a woman like that.

I’ve spent the past week in the Bank Islands which is the north-eastern most island chain of Vanuatu. I was there chasing waterfalls and hiding out from some gale force winds, but now the wind has mellowed so I’m jetting up to the Solomon Islands- that’s the country next door to Papua New Guinea. I gotta be quick before the wind starts ripping hard again. The weather has been unusual this winter in the South Pacific; really wet and a touch violent. I hear it’s been like that all over the earth. What does this say about the earth?

While I was hiding out in the Banks I would occasionally get hit by a cheek-flapping gust and I was grateful that Juniper and I were tucked in close to shore instead of out there at sea. One gust was so big that it blew a pair of my shorts right off my life lines- where they were drying- clothes pins and all. I gave someone a cookie to snorkel around and find them for me. Speaking of clothes, moths ate the crotch out of my favorite pair of pants. I don’t know what that says about the scent of me, but if the wind doesn’t get me, the moths will.

Anyways now I’m out here sailing on a flat sea with a peaceful 13 knots of breeze and I’m on a broad reach. The sky is peachy and the sail is cruisey. But leaving one country for the next is never easy, especially when the country is as in vogue as Vanuatu is.

I had a chaotic time in Espiritu Santo getting ready for departure. Provisioning was quick and easy, but fuel and water took forever. You can get special permissions to tie up on the commercial wharf and get those items, but after watching friends wait for hours and only get half of what they came for that seemed like a bad hassle. Without a dock to tie onto it meant I had to go back and forth to shore five times with a dinghy full of 20 liter jerrycans to gather water and fuel. When the cans were full lifting them onto Juniper from the dinghy was a circus act. Anyway I did it and it’s done.

I cleared out of Vanuatu with a Wolfpack of boats heading for the Solomon’s. We were naughty for stopping in the Banks after officially leaving the country, but it was as much for our safety as it was for our pleasure. Plus a friend of mine sailed up to the Solomon’s a few weeks ago during a wicked weather window and lost their life raft overboard. It was mounted on the rail, not the deck like mine is, but lord if I lost my life raft I’d just die inside. For one thing it’s brand new, for another it gives me a sense of security.

There are four boats in my Wolfpack at the moment; Isis, Libre, Juniper, and Kalimera. It’s also for safety that we’re traveling in tandem because in the Solomon’s there’s a lot of reported yacht crime; men boarding boats with machetes, etc. I was told that anything not locked down on deck will get stolen. There’s corruption too; police held one sailor on false crimes to extort money, and one custom’s official keeps charging sailors entire bottles of wine for small mistakes on their custom’s forms.

The Wolfpack got a bit separated in the when the wind hit. I was with Libre on one island as sheltered as could be, the other two boats were on an island just north of us that is shaped like Pac-Man and they were totally exposed to the wind and the swell and nobody slept for days. Then there was a fifth boat coming to meet us that got stuck on the island south of everyone, but the captain of that boat is sick. In fact he may be going septic- vomit, diarrhea, knee so swollen he can’t walk- so they had to do a bat turn and go back to Santo for medical treatment, because the Banks is the boonies and none of us are witch doctors.

In fact the Banks might as well be their own country because they’re so different from the rest of Vanuatu. Remote. Desolate. It’s like some severed limb that floated away from the rest of it’s body. Most of the Bank Islands don’t even have cell service unless you walk way out on the reef at low tide. And nobody in the Banks cares about money, they prefer goods.

I’ll tell you about each spot I saw in the Banks if you want to keep reading. But first I need to adjust the sails. I’m in the wind shadow of Pac-Man and everything is flip-flapping.

Ok I’m back….

LAKONA BAY – GAUA aka Santa Maria
I arrive here in the pitch black- typical. Someone on shore sees me flashing my spotlight and they flash one back at me. For a brief moment we speak like fireflies do.

The next morning a woman rows out to the boats with bananas and grapefruit. She’s looking to trade. I have a pile of stuff to give away – flip-flops, fabric, toys, fishing line, hooks, food- i ask her what she needs. Cash is no longer king in this water world.

I meet the chief. His name is John Star. Chief John Star. He’s wearing a bright green long sleeved shirt with a big pink fish on it. It looks like it came from a fishing magazine. Chief John Star asks, “Which one of you came in and anchored at night?” He wants to shake my hand. His three granddaughters- two teenagers and an eight year old- take me and Libre to a waterfall. It’s through the woods and up a river. The older girls have bush knifes and they blaze a trail as we go, and all three of them walk across the rocks like they’re walking on a sidewalk. Meanwhile me and Libre turtle on all fours and still slip in the river from time to time. We all get wet. That evening the women and children put on a water drumming performance for us at sunset. Listening to water drumming never gets old.

This is where Libre and I got stuck for the blow and I could have stayed there forever. I get there and start cooking and am startled by a man in a canoe saying “hey you” into my porthole. I scream. Turns out he’s the priest and he wants to know if I have matches and playing cards. I give him some. Then he goes over to Libre and asks them for the exact same items. I don’t know if he’s really a priest, maybe he runs a kava bar or is planning to start a casino.

Just after the “priest” leaves a voice comes on the VHF radio, “Juniper, Juniper, Juniper, this is Isis, Isis, Isis, do you copy.” Isis is on an island 20 nautical miles away and somehow I can hear them! Me, “Juniper here.” Them, “Hey listen mate there are saltwater crocodiles hanging out around the island your on, so be careful in the water.”

I can’t imagine crocodiles here. The bay itself is the most beautiful blue your eyes will ever know. And there are spotted eagle rays swimming beneath my boat and sea urchins and sea turtles and schools of spinner dolphins that jump across the bay in the mornings. Just south of the bay there are twin waterfalls dropping into the sea and I swim in their pools and feel their moss as the sun paints rainbows across the water drops.

The village is on the other side of the waterfall and it’s so peaceful that I could fall asleep standing up in it. They have woven their entire existence out of nature- even their lobster traps which look like some sort of a wicker sculpture. There are kids running around everywhere, and citrus fruit trees, and glow-in-the-dark mushrooms, and one lady has a red-eyed green-feathered black-beaked bird as a pet. The bird poops all over me.

I make friends with a woman named Caroline. She’s the kindergarten teacher. Get this, she somehow saw a copy of that Netflix movie about the young Australian girl who sailed solo around the world and she has a million questions for me.

We motor north from Twin Falls. Close to land. We pass red cliffs that look like dragons and another waterfall that spills into the sea. The wind is still a monster and it takes us a while to find a protected anchorage. We drop the hooks in a bay that has no name.

Only ten families live here and there are more kids than adults and none of the kids go to school because there isn’t one. Everybody there eats dog “it’s good for your knees” they tell me. And the men all chew beetlenut- it’s a stimulant that turns your teeth Cheeto orange. There are two chiefs in the village and one of them is single and he gifts me with a pumpkin that’s bigger than my sink. The ladies tell me that in the Banks if a man likes you he’ll give you fruits and vegetables and flowers. They say I should stay and be the chiefs wife. I say, “I would love to but I don’t eat dog.”

Anyway now I’m out here on my way to the Solomon’s and I would like to tell you more, but it’s night and there is a 178 FT. barge in front of me heading for Tonga. According to my chart-plotter we’re going to pass with only 65 feet of water between us, so I need to alter course, which means sailing as deep as I can, which means the genoa needs to get furled, which means I need to focus, which means I have to go.


P.S. if all goes well this voyage to the Solomon’s should only take two days.

P.S.S One of the gals in the Wolfpack is a marine biologist from Mexico and she has a whale shark NGO in La Paz. She’s crewing on Libre and snorkeling has reached a whole new level thanks to her. And we are very similar so we equally love and detest one another. And for some reason everyone in the villages assume she’s the solo sailor. I don’t know why, I guess I don’t give off that vibe.

5 Replies to “SO LONG VANUATU”

  1. Dearest Olivia ~ I will write more very soon, but just let you know that I am so happy you’re writing your letters to us during your passage! Love you!💕⛵️🌊🌞

  2. It’s hard for me to imagine you ever coming back to live in civilization.
    Like Memphis or Jackson , TN.
    Or well any place like that. ✌🏼Peace

  3. Farewell Vanuatu and onward to the Solomon Islands. Glad to know you have a wolfpack, safety in numbers. Safe travels and anchorage in the Solomon islands.

  4. Hi, Olivia! It looks like you are almost to the island of Nendö on your tracker — I wonder if that’s your destination? I cannot wait to hear more of your stories from your passage and also once you make landfall! Every time I see one of your posts come to my Inbox, I am SO happy!!! It may sound strange, but I always wait to read them right before I fall asleep — that’s because this time of day is the most sacred time of day for me — and it’s also the most quiet time of my day. I want to fully absorb every ounce of your writing because your words just leap off the screen and transform themselves into kaleidoscopic, three-dimensional landscapes which I love to immerse myself within! You make the reader feel like they’re right there, sharing the adventure with you — a part of the magic and the story! Your time in the Bank Islands sounds wild and incredible — twin waterfalls, water drumming, and wait, saltwater crocodiles??? I always love to Google the places you visit to learn more — for example, I learned that the Pac Man island you wrote about looks the way it does because its volcanic cone was breached by the sea! I also learned that the Santa Cruz Islands are part of Temotu Province, and are the eastern most part of the Solomon Islands nation. I hope you will write to us again tonight — I think you mentioned it would likely be 2 days for your passage, so I am thinking you should be there anytime now. Sending love and thanks your way! Stay safe! 🌊⛵️🌞💕

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