August 23

Here we are at the Maskelyne Islands, a small group of little islands, perhaps 5 or 6, just off the SE tip of Malekula. The islands form a protected bay with the mainland of Malekula forming the Northern and Western ends of the bay and the Maskelynes forming the East and Southern boundaries of the area. It is one of the most beautiful places we have ever been and after Port Vila it is truly paradise. As so often is the case, paradise awaits only a short distance from the hustle and bustle (relatively speaking) of the 'big city', in this case Port Vila. So often have we found this to be the case. In Fiji the distance between Suva (the capital) and the outlying islands is small geographically, but in terms of aesthetics, lifestyle of the people and general beauty a world away.

The standard means of transportation here are dugout canoes, most with outriggers, some even with lateen rigged sails of a reddish cloth which looks like tanbark (an old fashioned method of dying canvas used on sailing vessels until recently and still in use on some sailing vessels from modern countries, though rare). We arrived yesterday morning at about 9am and were surrounded by 4 or 5 dugouts as we dropped the hook. They were very quiet and not aggressive in the least. Most were just curious, though they do get a fair number of boats in here. Right now there are 3 other sailboats here besides us, strangely all American (two from California and one from Seattle as we are). Some of the canoes had only kids in them and Jonah went on deck to pass out pencils, an item in high demand here as school supplies are scarce.

Only 3 or 4 of the islands in this group of tiny islets are inhabited. One with a single small village and one other with 3 larger villages. There are also a smattering of isolated families living on some of the other islands. Yesterday when we arrived we went over to "Valere" (our friends Craig and Carol had been expecting us) and had banana bread and talked a bit. Then Craig and I went t recon the reefs in the area for good dive spots. The other two boats here had done one dive and told us where they went and we took our masks and snorkels and drove along the reef in a dinghy popping in and out as we went checking out the scene. We didn't find any drop dead spots, though we found several awesome spots which would be perfect for snorkeling. The swell on the outer reef was fairly high so we did not go out too far, but perhaps today or tomorrow we will find better conditions for examining the outer reef.

This morning we are going to dive along the edge of the island though we are not expecting much. The depth is no more then 45 or 50ft along the edge of the reef but the water clarity is very good, especially on the incoming tide which we have in the AM.