September 20

We’ve been here at Aore Resort (pronounced Ow-Ree) for 3 days now and we’ve been working like dogs catching up on repairs and maintenance and re-provisioning the boat for the next 2-3 months. Since we expect to find few if any provisions from here until we reach Majuro in the Marshall Islands (in December) we are trying to get as much food as possible aboard. Today we stocked up on pasta, we found the local butcher had a small stock of Barilla pasta and bought 11 boxes of Penne and Fusili. We also ordered a load of meat to be ready for next Wednesday.  

Santo is the center for cattle ranching in Vanuatu and it is one of their few exports which bring in any foreign currency. Japan supposedly buys about 85% of the beef produced here and you can imagine therefore that it is of fairly high quality. We ordered 10lbs each of tenderloin (filet mignon) and strip steaks (also called NY strips in some places but simply called sirloin here). We also ordered 20lbs of ground beef which we use for hamburgers, meatballs, meatloaf or sometimes pasta bolognaise. As an example, the filet costs about $5.50/lb and the strip steaks about $2.65/lb., not bad at all.  

We would love some pork chops and leg of lamb which they advertise but just shrug when we ask about when they might have some. A supply ship did come in today however and so we may find some available on Monday morning when we go into town. Chicken, on the other hand, is just plain impossible unless you want frozen chicken wings which they import in abundance. Apparently a local chicken producer in Efate island (where the capital Port Vila is located) has convinced the government to ban all imports of chicken other then wings so he can enjoy a monopoly. I am sure a healthy kickback was promised to them gov’t for this “service”. While we were able to buy fresh chicken in parts or whole in Vila , they do not produce enough to supply any of the other islands of Vanuatu which means Santo since none of the other islands have any community larger then a village which couldn’t afford it anyway. So, no chicken.  

On the repair and maintenance front I have been very busy. A problem which has plagued us for 2 years now is finally solved and fixed. I have never mentioned it here because I have been trying to ignore it in the hopes it would not cause too much trouble. Basically the problem has been that once every 5 or 10 times the starter on the engine would not do anything. It would just click, click, click. Twice in the last 3 years I replaced the key switch thinking this was the problem. Problem still there. Lately it began happening more frequently, like once out of every 3 times. An opportunity presented itself to consult a professional mechanic (Martin on “Wind Runner”) and after describing the problem he assured me it was the solenoid on the starter. I have a spare starter with solenoid and he advised me to install it. I did, it took 3 hours. Problem still there.  

I then coerced Martin to come over and take a look (with the promise of cold beer) and he immediately discovered a low voltage condition on the wire which triggers the solenoid. He described further testing procedures to me and I spent a few hours tracing the wire and testing the switch again and the wire in question and determined it was bad. It was simply not delivering the voltage which the switch was sending to the solenoid. I ran a new wire (of heavier gauge for good luck) and all seems well now! Problem gone, we hope.  

Next we changed the motor oil and filter and replaced the secondary fuel filter (which is mounted on the engine – the primary fuel filter is a Racor and is mounted in a locker accessed from the cockpit). I will change the primary filter on Monday and also the filter for the generator. I also still have to change the oil on the generator and change the transmission oil. Also, we have been ferrying diesel fuel on the ferry (which runs from the resort we are moored at to the town) since there is no proper fuel dock where we can tie the boat up and fuel directly from a pump. What a chore! We need about 60 gallons (we hold a total of about 190 gallons) and this equates to 10 6gallon jugs! Backbreaking work for sure.  

All is going well and we are hoping to leave Luganville next Friday and begin working our way North along the East coast of Santo and then hop over to Vanua Lava in the Banks Group, about 80 miles North of Espirito Santo. From the Banks we jump off for Tarawa in Kiribati (the Gilbert Islands ) which will be a fairly long passage of about 970 miles or 6 or 7 days, depending on wind. There is a chance we will encounter adverse winds on this passage, though they are rarely strong for that area. Adverse in this case meaning from a quadrant which makes sailing difficult, i.e. from the direction we are heading. Either way we will be sailing close to the wind (close to the direction from which the wind is coming) which will make a difficult one if the wind is strong.  

Once we arrive in Tarawa we plan to stay long enough only to clear customs and immigration and get permission to visit the outer atolls of Abiang and Butaritari which are both North of Tarawa and on the way to the Marshall Islands . Kiribati allows yachts to clear out of the country in Tarawa and then make legal stops at these atolls (theoretically for a limited time of perhaps a week or two) on the way North to the Marshalls . We hope to arrive in Majuro, the capital of the Marshalls , sometime in the first week of December. Tarawa is known as a fairly dirty, crowded place with a poor anchorage, thus our plan to get in and out as quickly as possible.

When we arrive in Majuro our plan is to (again) clear into the country with customs and immigration and then apply for permits to visit the outer atolls. In the Marshalls individual permits are required for each island you want to visit. The department of Outer Island Affairs actually contacts the island chief of each island you apply for and requests permission for you then grants you a permit for each island (assuming the local chief grants the request which they always do as long as you agree to pay the required “fee” upon arrival). Reports are that some islands charge a fee as high as $150, and that’s US money! Others are as low as $50 and this seems far more reasonable. This is the only country we have encountered where such a fee structure exists. In most countries ( Vanuatu for example) a small fee is charged when entering the country and then you are free to move about as long as you notify the customs agency where you plan to go. If the atolls of the Marshalls where not so incredible no one would go there given these high fees, but the islands are supposed to be among the most beautiful in the Pacific if not the world and should be worth the expense. And besides, the local people have almost nothing and given this it does not seem much to ask. Once we have our permits we plan to hop around a bit before returning to Majuro to clear out of the country and head West to our next destination. More on that later…