At Home in Vanuatu

In a faraway land, surrounded by volcanoes, palm trees and water-life, a child was born. The year was 1987, and her world was an isolated series of islands, their location barely known to the rest of Earth, and each one ripe for exploration. As the years went by, her family, both white and black, would snorkel amongst starfish, fish from trees dangling over lagoons, and sometimes… go sailing. A little boat, full in the belly and with a witch painted at the bow, “Magic Moon”, would carry this little girl, safely in her mothers arms, out to the horizon. The first time she drifted away from land, out, out, out, into the bay and slowly out to sea, was on-board this magic carpet, and as the people, then the trees, then the buildings grew smaller and smaller, her mind was imprinted forever.

Twenty Six years later, an even smaller little boat left the Kingdom of Tonga, bound for Vanuatu. This one was named “Portal” and had traveled across many miles and many nations to finally begin this important journey. On board was the little girl (not so little anymore), her co-captain Charlie (not little at all), her beloved big sister Carolyn, and their cat Pixel (she at least, was quite small).

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The day they all set out, began with flat seas, calm winds and pleasant sailing. The forecast looked good for their 10day push past Fiji and onto Vanuatu. But perhaps that never really matters – A first day sail is still a first day sail, and that usually means bad weather. Sure enough, by afternoon it was blowing 35knots from the South and little Portal and her crew were being thrown about. Carolyn, freezing even in her rain-gear, lay sprawled out in the cockpit, vomiting periodically over the side. Charlie stayed down below, clutching a bucket. Pixel snuggled tightly into her corner and tried to forget where she was. Our youngest sailor tried to make food and keep morale up, but mostly that meant making bruises and keeping things right-side up. Into the night they went on, all very thankful for the trusty self-steering gear “Gramps” who kept the small ship on course. By morning the worst was over, and the seas again were calming down.

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The journey was to be a tough one though – no sooner had they settled down, that our roaming crew were back to work: Old Gramps, Mr Grumpy, Auto-Helm 2000, had decided enough was enough – he had conked out. Could this be it, could he really be dead? Charlie, the vessels smartest engineer, spent hours trying to breath life back into the old robot, while the others took the helm, but to no avail. Just when they thought it fixed, he would beep erratically and sway wildly off course. It was no use, Gramps was dead. R.I.P.

Even with a crew of Three, hand-steering the rest of the way was a dismal prospect. Thankfully, most of the hard work had already been done on an ingenious self-steering mechanism for Portal, called “Sheet-to-Tiller”. With just a few ropes, some blocks and some bungee chord, our little ship would steer herself!

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Well, as with most ingenious ideas, this one took a LOT of finessing, and was never quite perfect. Hourly, her crew would re-adjust this and tweak that, zig-zagging their way towards their destination. Then, for three days the wind played a mean trick, blowing straight out of the SW, forcing our heroes to live at a 45 degree angle as they close-hauled their way forward.

Finally though, after a long Ten days, smelly, salty and exhausted, the crew spotted land.

And imagine what joy was felt, when the little girl aboard Portal, drifted into the bay, closer to the people, the trees, the buildings, closer and closer to her old home: that dream-land full of islands and volcanoes. Imagine her heart beating as she raised the national flag, sister by her side, from her little ship brought from so far away… her national flag, the flag of Vanuatu.

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Hand in hand, the two sisters explored their old home. Charlie, now the camera-man, followed close behind. Into their old houses, past familiar streets, cafes and markets, along well-known beaches and into previously explored lagoons. Into the arms of old friends, old family, not seen for years but as familiar as if it were yesterday. They filled their bellies with food they had long dreamed of, and nourished they souls with memories of days gone by.

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One day, as they were walking along the water front, our little-girl-sailor stopped dead in her tracks. Tears began to flow as she stood transfixed at the sight in front of her. There, just two meters away and plump as ever, lay her first ever magic-carpet: “Magic Moon”.

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Charlie drinking his first Kava and climbing a Paw Paw tree:

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Portal Anchored at home at last:IMG_8890  IMG_8905 IMG_8907

Mmmm, Pawpaw from Mum’s land:

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L’Houstalet, a Vanuatu institution, with delicious pizzas:IMG_8943   IMG_8955

Exploring our old homes; Lily in the ‘Pink House’:IMG_8967 IMG_8969                Carolyn’s friend Tony Tasavi, chief of Njuna Island:IMG_8998

A trip to Erakor Island, an old childhood hangout:

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Gladys, my surrogate mother:IMG_9034

A swim at Hideaway, another old hangout, and where my parents were married. It’s also home to the only Underwater Post Office!IMG_9039

A tour of Dad’s old Soap Factory, and old friends, all grown up!IMG_9044 IMG_9051 IMG_9052

Sunset on the waterfront with dorky family:IMG_9069 IMG_9073

Vanuatu family and friends onboard Portal:   IMG_9097 IMG_9103 IMG_9106

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