Sailing Around The World

How’s the Local Culture? Vanuatu.

A few day ago based on my dad continued request we found a local man to take us lobster fishing. He had come to your boat on anchor several times asking for gas, and help to fix his lawn whip. We of course helped the young man named Thompson. He grew up right in Port Resolution in one of the four villages that encircle the bay. I have to point out that Port Resolution is not a port town or any major industrial shipping yard. Port Resolution is just the name for the area and there is not really much their other then four villages and the port resolution yacht club that caters to the cruisers as they anchor in the bay to go hike up the volcano. The Port Resolution Yacht Club is just a small palm hut that has a bar were you can buy a very expensive beer and arrange a meal with advanced notice. But all in all the village people and the Port Resolution Yacht Club contains very nice people that don’t have much but seem very happy. Majority of the people live in grass palm huts and the kids run freely among the elderly and farm animals.

Now after meeting Thompson a few times he dropped by with his cousin that was visiting from the center of the Tanna Island which is about 40 km away. His cousins name was Pete and it was his second time visiting the ocean in his life. He was about 30 years old and he had spent his entire life living 40 km away from the ocean in his village farm and family. Thompson wanted to show the boat to Pete and we had them both come aboard. After checking out the GPS chart plotter and the interior of the boat we offered them a beer. They would only take one and I think it was not a custom of theirs to drink beer or spirits of any kind. They would drink Kave but a very strong Kava that makes your mouth go numb and you get hallucinations. This seemed to be a very popular thing to do among the village men only, no women are allowed to drink Kava. After some discussions about different things my dad asked to go lobster fishing or I should say he asked for Cary and I to go learn lobster fishing. Thompson was very excited and said yes.

Before I agreed to go with Thomspon I asked how he went lobster fishing? Thompson described that we would be in about 2 meter of water or less and go at night. We need underwater flashlights, mask, and fins. He said to show up at his hut at sunset, Pete and Thompson would join us and walk to the ocean side were the reef was. I asked about sharks and Thompson side “not a Problem”. I think I should also point out that speaking English was more or less understood between us and Thomspon but Pete had no idea what we were talking about. Well sounds like a plan and Thompson left for dinner in his hand carved log canoe that his father made 20 years ago.

Cary, my dad, and I left Dragonsbane right after the sun set and as we motored for shore I hit a gill net of one of the local village people. They come out during low tide and stretch gill nets across the areas of the bay and you cannot see them at night. It took me about 20 minutes of messing with the net and got it off the prop. We then continued onto the beach and road the surf in with no issues. My dad said he knew were the trail was and well, it took us a long time to find it in the night. We found the trail to the main road and walked to Thompson house. A woman came up to us and showed us to Thompson who was sitting around the fire with all the other men. He was bundled up in a coat, pants, and sweater saying it was cold out tonight, it was 78 degrees out. The children ran around us saying and smiling asking questions. Thompson grabbed his little spears, Pete, and a bag to hold the catch.

We walked away from the village to the other side of the point and came to the ocean. Pete set out to make a fire Cary and I got ready. My dad would stay with Pete and help with the fire so when we returned we could warm up around the fire. The plan was to hike a quarter mile down the beach and slip into the ocean behind the reef were the white capped waves were breaking over. The best lobster fishing was right behind the reef and we would follow the reef all the way back to the fire and come out. One problem was that my underwater flashlight would not work anymore. Thompson said no problem, his big flashlight was very powerful and we could all see well under the water as he handed the kill bag to me. So in the pitch black night with no moon and cloud cover we dived into the ocean.
Now as we swam out to the reef the water was warm and about 2 meters deep but quickly became shallow. Thompson began swimming right over the reef with the white capped wave breaking over us. The bottom was a few inches under us and we were swimming between the coral in naturel trenches in the reef. Thompson was in front Cary and I swimming next to each other so we could both see in the dark behind the flashlight. The problem was that every time a wave broke over our heads the air bubbles from the wave blacked out the light and you could not see anything in front of you. As we continued to go across the reef I started brushing up against the coral cutting my forearms and biceps. Car was having the same issue and we were both just pushed off the coral with our gloves.

The last thing I was thinking about was sharks, I was thinking don’t push off a rock fish or a black crustacean with long black thorns all over it. Thompson was chasing little tropical fish and spearing whatever moved real simple technique “kill everything that moves”. He finally killed a little yellow fish and put it in the bag I was carrying. As Thompson did so I had to stand myself up in the breaking waves and the force of the wave pushed me right back and I sat in a coral patch feeling the coral break under my weight and scrap my butt up. Then we started swimming again and he saw this little lobster and caught that. This time I positioned myself so there was no coral behind me but a really big wave pushed me a few feet and I fell right back into a coral head racking my back on coral yet again. Buy this time the coral that had cut my forearms, butt, and now my back was burning really bad in the salt water. Cary nor I could see much without flashlights and I was carrying a bag of bleeding fish so 30 minutes into this hunt I told Thompson I was going for the shore. Thompson said ok and we all swam back to the beach and fire. Needless to say I told my dad to buy his dam lobster from somebody else because I am not doing that shit again. It has been about a week now and I still have coral rashes on my back side and my forearms are all scabbed over and itch bad.

I was grateful for Thompson to take us lobster fishing and I kept my cool saying thank you for the experience. Thompson cooked the little lobster on the fire and we all got a nice bit of it. Then we chatted about their life and ours. Pete had showed my dad a flute that he had made sense they didn’t talk much and showed that off again. Pete informed us through Thompson that there were 100 local languages on the small Island of Tanna between all the villages. Pete new 25 of the languages and if they didn’t know the language they spoke pigeon.

On our hike back to the village Thompson asked what I did for a living and I told him but I don’t think he understood me but he seemed pleased with my response. He offered me Vanuatu local tobacco to smoke and I tried it. The local grown tobacco is very strong stuff, it burn the back of my throat, and made my head spin. He asked me if my life was good back home. I said it is a good life and I missed my family, friends, and village. But most of the people from my village work hard to come to a tropical island to have fun and relax. Thompson said that was nice but at least they had money to travel, I won’t ever travel and I would like to do that. I had no good response other then that’s a good point. Thompson only went to school for two years and could not read or write but spent his days providing for his family and village. His life was very simple and from my observation a happy life.
We are currently moored in Port Villa getting geared up to head north to Espiritu Santo Island to hopefully go diving on the SS President Coolidge and the Million Dollar Point. So stay tuned!

Cheers,

Jacques Henry

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