2020

Leaving the Maldives (Apr 2020)

 

 

We already fell in love with la Réunion when we were still in the Maldives. It was incredibly hot and the weather started slowly to change. Winds were getting stronger and there were more squalls with heavy rain fall. For the long dinghy ride to the village to get provisioning from our agent we had to pick the right weather window…

So we were checking our options where to go. There were not many options…. Mauritius was closed, la Réunion was closed, Seychelles were closed and Madagascar as well, all due to Covid 19 lockdown. Our original plan would have been to go to Mauritius then to la Réunion and then to Madagascar. We thought our best chances to be let in would be La Réunion, as it is French territory. After googling around a bit and seeing pictures about the hiking in „Cirque de Mafate“ with stunning mountains and beautiful scenery we were hooked and absolutely determined that this was IT.

We wrote an email to the harbour master in le Port la Réunion explaining our situation and asking for permission for entry in May… no answer… A few days later we saw a catamaran approaching on the outside reef and heard them talking with the coast guard in Addu. It was a French boat on the way to la Réunion, coming from Sri Lanka. They had arranged an emergency stop with the embassy to refuel and provision. They were guided to an anchorage near the village and we contacted them by VHF.

They invited us for dinner and we enjoyed a beautiful evening with Alain and Tycho on TEC’HADENN. Our first social contact after middle of March! There was also a second boat TY BALOO with solo sailor Jacques, but the coast guard did not allow him to leave his boat. Funny enough they did not say anything to us. They must have seen our dinghy too… The next day TEC’HADENN told the coastguard that they had an engine problem and asked for permission to anchor in the same area we were to fix the problem. TY BALOO of course followed as they were sailing together.

Tycho swam over to our boat and invited the girls to do an apple cake on TEC’HADENN and then have lunch all together. Jaël and Amina were excited to go and jumped into the water. I promised to bring a fresh baked bread for lunch and off they swam. In the meantime I resent our message to the harbour Master in la Réunion using the address that Tycho gave me. He had had email contact and the harbour master had confirmed their arrival.

We had a wonderful lunch the three boats together with a lot of laughing and jokes. We all enjoyed the pleasant company in these strange lockdown times. Alain Tycho and Jacques left the next day at first light and we were looking forward to see each other again soon in la Réunion.

The next day we received an answer from the harbour master. Hurray!!! He said that if the lockdown period will not be extended by the French Government we could enter after May 11th. He sent a few forms to fill in and we all sent them back except the health declaration form, which would only make sense to send before leaving. So far so good – we received confirmation including a map, indicating our berth number.

This was good news! We were all excited and happy to have such a wonderful place to go to. We timed our departure for being in La Réunion after the 11th of May and before the 16th of May as we were hoping to spend Amina’s birthday on land. We were really desperate to leave… after 46 days quarantined we were done with snorkeling, spearfishing and collecting garbage on our small remote island and the weather was really getting worse. The forecast looked alright for checking out on May 1st. But as Maldives is an Islamic country not much is happening on a Friday. Check out got delayed but on Saturday May 2nd we could finally leave.

After one day sailing we received an email from the harbour master, telling us that our request for clearing in was rejected from the „préfécture“ and he hoped we had another solution. Well we did not have another solution, as all the other countries were closed and as we had checked out from the Maldives they were closed for as well for us. We explained that and repeated our reasons why la Réunion was our only solution. In addition André contacted the Swiss embassy in Sri Lanka for help. After a few days we got the ok from la Réunion. The passage was not very pleasant. Before we reached the latitude of Chagos the winds were very unsteady changing between heavy squalls and periods of no wind after we had periods with very uncomfortable waves and strong winds and a few days of nice sailing. In the early morning of May 14th we could see the lights of La Réunion.

 

“Mom, do you know what will be my job, when I’m grown up?” “No, I don’t know Amina, please tell me!”

“I’m gonna save the world! I’m gonna collect all the plastic in the sea….. and maybe I’ll do a little bit of drawing too…”

Amina’s first words after she woke up one morning on the passage from Maldives to La Réunion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2020

Maldives (Feb – Apr 2020)

 

Our friends from ALKYONE and ALDIVI were already waiting for us in Uligamo. They had left Galle earlier than us. Hans guided us with his dinghy through the shallow waters  of the anchorage and helped to find a good spot for anchoring. The water was turquoise and crystal clear. We could just swim and snorkel off the boat. The variety of colorful fish in all shapes was simply stunning. What a beautiful anchorage! 

Also the clearing in was a bit different than normally. I think this was the first time the kids got sweets and ice cream while we were getting cleared in. Our agents Assad and Hanoon really spoiled our kids. Ashore they drove them around through the small village in some kind of motorcycle pickup and our kids had a blast.

One afternoon Assad and Hanoon arranged a small get together on the beach for the three boats of us where local women prepared some delicious Maldivian specialities and our kids could play with the local kids. During the day we enjoyed the fantastic swimming and snorkeling around our anchorage. And of course it was also a paradise for spearfishing… we made a few spear fishing sessions and André caught enough fish for the three boats. Delicious! André’s spear fishing skills came quite handy as in Maldives all the fresh food has to be flown in from far away. There is of course no agriculture or farming on these islands except maybe some chicken delievering a few eggs, but that’s it. Maldives completely depend on tourism industry.

As we had decided to take the route around South Africa instead of going through the Red Sea we had to say goodbye to our friends from ALDIVI and ALKYONE. That was not easy… we had been cruising together since Port Moresby and we really enjoyed their company. Without cruising permit they were only allowed to stay one week before moving on to Djibouti and we wanted to sail south to meet Karin and Hanspeter, who were on holiday in Vilamendhoo Island resort, located in the Ari atoll.

With heavy hearts we said goodbye to our cruising friends and left Uligamo. Everything worked out as we had planned.  Just the thunderstorm that welcomed us in the morning was not exactly what we had wished for . But it passed on time so that we could enter the atoll in good visibility. We anchored off Dhangethi a local island with a few small hotels. From there we could dinghy over to the resort island. We got a special permission to dock with our dinghy and pick up Karin and Hanspeter.  They came over and explored Dhangethi with us. We found a nice restaurant where we could have lunch and has coffee on Mirabella later on. It was so great to see them. Karin had arranged that we could come over to the resort the next day and spend the whole day there in the pool area. Jaël and Amina were in heaven…. after all these beautiful beaches they still love to swim in a pool if they have the opportunity.  We enjoyed the pool area and also went snorkelling on the reef which is very close to the beach. After a sundowner with beautiful views we hit the road – I mean jumped into the dinghy – and drove back to our anchorage as long as there was still some visibility.

 

The next day Karin and Hanspeter flew back to Switzerland. We spent some more time in Dhangethi as we really liked this place. We had made some local friends… Jonayed, a very charismatic young guy who worked for Leela, a local shop owner. Leela took our kids to her sister Zidhuna’s place, who had three kids as well. That’s how we met Zidhuna, her husband Fayaaz and the three kids Fawwaza, Fauza and Zayaan. They were a strong islamic family but very open minded. Fayaaz himself had worked as a captain on a safari boat for many years and could speak English, French and also some Italian. One day we invited the whole family, Leela and her friend Shaheedha on our boat for coffee and tea. On this anchorage we experienced the easiest spearfishing ever… we could spearfish unicorn fish just off the stern without even going into the water… You just had to throw a few bread crumbs and there they showed up. We could just catch them with the hawaiian sling. Never caught any fish from the stern like that before… 

In Dhangethi we also went on a fantastic dive trip to see some manta rays. Jaël and Amina could join too and were snorkelling with a guide. They were able to see the same manta ray from above as we observed from down below. I was so happy that they had the chance to see these wonderful creatures with their own eyes.

After about a week we wanted to go to Male to get some repair supply for our dinghy and then come back again to see our friends again and do some more diving. Ari atoll is famous for their whale shark dives. The evening before we left we met a safari boat captain, Mohamed Hanimaadu. He gave us a number of good anchoring spots.  Our first stop was one of his recommendations:  the lagoon of Rihiveli Maldives Resort. It was an incredible spot. From far we could already see the dolphins jumping. They were everywhere! You could just jump in the water  and swim with them… try to follow them… it was amazing! Under water you could hear their sound. It was just beautiful! What a great anchorage. We also went snorkelling on the reef. The great thing in the Maldives is, that you barely get cold as the water is so warm. You can spend a lot of time exploring and observing the colorful variety of fish and you will never get cold. Of course the warm water is also a disadvantage if you are looking for refreshment but for snorkelling it is perfect.

We continued our journey to Male and stopped in Maafushi, one of the mixed islands where you have local people livinig but also some tourism with hotels and restaurants. It was a mixture we liked although the anchorage offered not the best protection. It was a bit busier than Dhangehti. We spoiled ourselves with a buffet dinner in one of the hotels at the beach. Jaël and Amina of course were most excited about the dessert buffet 😉 We moved to the neighbour island Gulhi for better protection. There we had a dream anchorage in the lagoon almost just to ourselves. Gulhi is a smaller island than Maafushi with just a handful of guest houses. The anchorage was well protected and the snorkelling and spearfishing  around the reef was great. For André’s birthday we wanted to go out for a nice dinner and moved to Maafushi again.

When we came back to Gulhi on the evening of 15th of March and wanted to get ashore we were stopped by a health officer and a police man. They told us that we were not allowed on land as there was a lockdown for all the tourists because of Covid-19. We had been in the Maldives for a month already by that time and it made not really sense to treat us differently than the local people but these were the rules and there was no exemption.  From that day on we were in lockdown on our boat. No more cruising, no more exploring on land. For groceries we had a local contact from our agent who could bring us stuff when he was going to Male. We spent our days with boat schooling, swimming, snorkelling and spearfishing. Lucky enough there was plenty of fish and the spearfishing also kept us busy… But of course it was very strange to be in lockdown on the boat while the locals on the island had no restrictions by that time. There were hardly any cases  except a few on some resort islands. Most of the tourists had been flown out of the country. There were no tourists left and they simply did not know what to do with the cruisers on sailboats. They would have loved to get rid of us but of course we were already cleared in and the season was not yet right to move South. 

At some point they wanted all sailing yachts on a few designated anchorages. Most of the visiting yachts were stuck in Uligan up North and some were around Male. Our anchorage in Gulhi  was not one of these designated spots so they wanted us to move. Male would have been a short daysail but of course we did not want to go there. Male is the capital and hub of the Maldives. All the supplies are there and it is a busy place. There is no snorkelling and swimming around the boat there so that would have been a nightmare in lockdown. We told our agent we are gonna move to Gan the most southern atoll of the Maldives. Sooner or later we wanted to go there anyway to checkout of the Maldives. The windforecast promised very light winds so it was gonna be a slow passage and that was just what we wanted as we were in no rush. André forwarded a passage plan to our agent indicating a few stops on remote places to stay overnight as of course we can not sail during the night (;-)) We did not really wait for the feedback as we were afraid they could change their mind and ask us to come to Male. So we left Gulhi on the 3rd of April. It was very strange to pass Maafushi, which had been full of life just 3 weeks ago – now it looked completely deserted. It was sad that we could not go back to Dhangethi to see our friends again. We had not even said goodbye properly as we had thought we were gonna see them again soon anyway…. It felt wonderful to move again and we enjoyed a bit of freedom. We stopped on the way ond a few beautiful anchorages, always far from villages. On the 8th of April we arrived in Gan. There was just one anchorage close to the village and it was already taken by another boat. The entrance to the small harbour was too shallow for us so we chose an anchorage a few miles east with good protection from a reef and close to a small uninhabited island. We had been there already all day when the coast guard arrived at 5pm and wanted us to move closer to the village. We told them that we for sure won’t leave now with just a little bit daylight left and that we had already checked out the area there and did not find a good anchorage. At the end they let us stay and never came back.  

We were on a different place now but the daily routine in our lockdown life stayed the same…. boat schooling, swimming, snorkelling, spearfishing and baking bread every second day. Through our agent we had a contact where we could order groceries. It was a 20 minutes ride in the dinghy to pick it up. It was always supervised by the police to make sure that André stayed in the dinghy and did not go on land… kind of ridiculous, treating us like criminals. By that time Maldives were starting to have more Covid-19 cases as some local students returning back from the UK had not been tested nor put in quaranteen. They had brought back the virus… 

After a while we started going to the small uninhabited island… a very unpleasant surprise as it was full of garbage. We started to collect it and put it together in some kind of BBQ area in the middle of the island. It was not garbage coming from some far away places it was all local rubish being washed onshore by the prevailing winds. The BBQ area was covered with even more garbage. I wonder how one can enjoy a BBQ sitting in all this plastic waste leaving all the water bottles and plates and cutlery etc. there afterwards. Very sad to see that. During our time in Gan we filled about 10 extra large bags which cleaned only about 20 meters of the shoreline. 

 

Our lockdown anchorage in Gan

 

 

 

2020

Sri Lanka (Jan 2020)

 

Arriving in Sri Lanka was fantastic… not the official part though. As Galle is a commercial harbour things are not as easy as we were used to from other places. Everytime we left or entered the harbour area we had to pass the gate and show a copy of the crewlist. In addition to the complicated formalities it is a very dirty place and there is a lot of swell.  Hans from ALKYONE was so kind to let us raft up to his boat instead of to the concrete wall and we were very thankful for that.

As soon as you have passed the gate,  things were not complicated at all. We decided to go out for dinner and Marlin, a local guy who organizes all kind of services for yachties like laundry, tuktuk tours, sail repairs etc. recommended us a nice restaurant in Unawatuna Beach. So we squeezed in a tuktuk and  immediately plunged into the lively evening traffic. There seemed to be a traffic jam and Pahan, our tuktuk driver explained that this was due to a Buddhist procession. Shortly after we saw the parade… it was fantastic. There were elephants and dancers and music between cars and tuktuks. What an exciting welcome to Sri Lanka! The restaurant was located right at the Unawatuna Beach with plenty of space to roam around for Jaël and Amina after being a week on the boat.

Timing worked out very well for Martin. There was still one spare day to visit the beautiful Old Town of Galle together. The following day he left by train to Colombo to catch his flight back to Singapore. We had enjoyed his company and for him it had been a great opportunity to experience an ocean passage.

Pahan, the friendly tuktuk driver showed us a beach bar on Dewata Beach where his sister just lived nearby and worked in the kitchen. This little beach bar became one of our favourite places because of the friendly and relaxed atmosphere and the fantastic beach and waves. André showed Jaël how to surf on the waves with her boogie board and once she got the hang of it she could not get enough. She paddled out with Andrea and Tobias, the oldest of the ALKYONE kids and waited far out for the best waves. Amina needed some help to get out into the right position and a bit of a push to set off but then she surfed very often all the way right onto the beach. We had a lot of fun together with our friends from ALDIVI and ALKYONE.

Every morning at 8.30 the sound of the Sri Lankan anthem rang out of the loudspeakers and all the security  guards had to stand in line. The melody often followed me during the day and always will remind me of Sri Lanka. Even the whole passage to Maldives I could not get it out of my head.

Sri Lanka has not only beautiful beaches it also offers a lot to discover on land. So we decided to do a landtrip for a few days.  We hired a car with driver to get us and our broken code zero sail to our sailmaker who is based near Colombo. It was nice to see Phil again and he gave us a tour of the whole factory! That was really awsome! We also could pick up our suncover which was custom made to André’s design.

From the sail factory we continued to Kandy. This is a big town set on a plateau surrounded by mountains. It is a very popular town not only because of the beautiful setting by the lake but also because it is home to some sacred Buddhist sites, including the temple of the tooth.  We went for a stroll in the city and ate some Kottu Roti, a typical,local dish. You can hear the fast cutting of the roti from far and the sound of it became almost as familiar to us as the national anthem, which was played every morning at 8.30 am in the harbour.

The following day we had to get up early. One of the two owners of the hotel drove us with the tuktuk to Peradeniya station. There was already a lot of traffic and he drove really fast. We did not want to miss our train. Luckily we were there on time! I would highly recommend this train ride from Kandy to Ella to anyone visiting Sri Lanka. It is quite loud as the windows and doors are open,  but it is a great way to travel through the country. We met Kenuli, a local girl  travelling with her father to a badminton turnament. Jaël explained her how to play UNO and another girl joined too. Amina made friends with a couple from Finnland and André and me enjoyed the stunning views.  After about 6.5 hours we arrived in Ella.  Ella is located 1041m above sealevel and is surrounded by hills covered with forest and tea plantations.

We stayed in a nice small hotel with a beautiful view on Ella Rock. On our first day in Ella we started with a hike to Little Adam’s peak and then stopped at beautiful 98 acres restaurant. From there we walked to the 9 Arch Bridge and waited for the train to come to shoot some nice pictures from the bridge with the train. The trains do not run that often, so once the train has passed you can walk on the railway all the way back to Ella and that’s what we did. What a wonderful day that was! Back in Ella we went for dinner and unfortunately André’s had bad luck with his choice. He had an awful, sleepless night and was sick for the following two days days.

While André was in bed Jaël, Amina and me took a tuktuk to the Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory. It was fascinating to see how the green tea leaves got transformed into different qualities of Ceylon tea. To stay into the theme we visited the Ella Tea Shop in the afternoon where we could pick tea leaves ourselves and produce our own tea. After having seen the process in the big factory Jaël and Amina could grab a basket and learned now from Lanka which leaves to pick. Afterwards we put the leaves into a dryer and then grinded them with a mortar to start the fermentation. In the end we could taste our self made green tea!

In our hotel there was another family with two children, a little bit younger than ours. The following afternoon we booked some cooking lesson together. That was great. It was just us and no one else so the kids could also help cutting the ingredients. Lanka prepared with us some delicious Sri Lankan curries and coconut rotis. Afterwards we ate all together and also the kids liked it. Such a shame that André still did not feel well enough to join. We even had to postpone our return to Galle by one day.

We had a different driver than the one on the first day. Nihal was extremly friendly and told us a lot of interesting things about the places we passed. He also stopped to let us taste curd with tree honey at one of the stalls where they sold it. I had seen the clay pots already on our journey to Kandy and wondered what it was. It tastes similar to yoghurt and is simply delecious together with  tree honey. Nihal’s wife is a kindergarden teacher in Galle and so we arranged a visit in her kindergarden. These are the things that make travelling so special. You meet so many friendly people and get great opportunities to learn about their way of life.

Nihals wife Pinky also loved cooking and was interested to give some cooking classes. So I told Berna and Jutta about my fantastic experience with Lanka’s cooking lessons in Ella and they immediately wanted to join Pinky’s cooking lesson too. We had a great time all together. The kids could get henna tatoos and play in the kindergarden while we were cooking delicious food with Pinky and her mom Renuka.

Nihal also arranged for us a safari in the Udawalawe National park. We slept in a beautiful lodge and got up early to start the safari. It was magical to hear all the birds in the morning. We saw beautiful peacocks, an owl hidden in a tree hole a horde of water buffalos and had to wait a bit until we saw elephants but were rewarded at the end. A whole group of elephants just passed us and we could see them from very close.

After long discussions with our agent and the port authorities we were able to invite the Finnish couple we had met in the train to Ella. We could not really understand why this was so complicated but finally it worked out and Jaana and Pekka could come aboard Mirabella. Amina was very proud to show them around. We also tried to invite Pinky’s  kindergarden class to the harbour to show the kids our boats but it did not work out. At least we were able to get the permission for Pinky, Nihal and their son Nikil to visit us. We really enjoyed our time in Sri Lanka and Nihal, Pinky and their beautiful family made us enjoy our stay even more.

Sri Lanka was a beautiful discovery for us. It is not necessarily a destination to visit by boat as there are no anchorages and no good marinas to leave the boat while you explore land. Lucky enough we were a bunch of boats and there was always somebody there to keep an eye on our boat while we were in Ella.

We had to say goodbye to POLARWIND as they headed to India and not to the Maldives. What a fantastic time we had spent together in Sri Lanka. It is always hard to say goodbye to Cruiser friends. You never know if and when you gonna meet again…

We left Galle on the 12th of February and arrived in Uligamo, Maldives on February 16th. Our friends from ALKYONE and ALDIVI had left Galle earlier and were already waiting for us. It was a beautiful arriving. The water in Uligamo are turquoise and crystal clear. There is an incredible variety of colorful fish in all shapes and the water temperature is 29 °C.

2019, 2020

Thailand (Dec – Jan 2020)

Our first anchorage in Thailand was Koh Lipe. A beautiful small island with a bit of tourism but not too much. On the northwestern side where we anchored there were just a few small hotels. We went for a walk to explore the busier part of the island. It was wonderful to dive into another culture. We strolled through the village and really liked the vibe. It was early in the season and luckily not too crowded. We tasted delicious homemade icecream and in a restaurant Jaël could watch how a friendly lady painted the menu on a wooden board.

In the evening we enjoyed dinner in a small restaurant overlooking our anchorage. What a beautiful welcome in Thailand! This was just our first stop but actually Koh Lipe will be our favourite at the end.

 

The next day we continued our way to Phuket Yacht Haven Marina. We cleared in with the help of an agent as we had just little time before taking the flight to Switzerland. We wanted to be sure that there will be no issues with leaving the boat in Thailand and come back again afterwards. Everything went perfectly well and we just had enough time to pack our bags for Switzerland.

On the pictures above some impressions of our visit in Switzerland. What a change of temperature!!! It was so nice to see family and friends and we all enjoyed our stay to the full. Jaël and Amina were thrilled by the snow and the iceskating. And of course Jaël and Amina were thrilled by the snow and the iceskating :-).  

When we got back to Thailand, ALDIVI was there with visiting family. We had some visitors too: Karsten who already chartered a sailing boat in Mallorca with his kids Lucia and Luca when we were there at the beginning of our trip. We had inspired them with our adventure and he and his wife Xiaolei were close to buy a catamaran to start their own sailing trip. They chartered the same type and size of catamaran they were planning to buy.

We stopped in Koh Dam Hok and celebrated Christmas with Karsten and his family. The following day we were heading towards Kho Phiphi with its stunning scenery and famous Maya bay. We were lucky and managed to grab a buoy. They closed the beach but there is a snorkelling area open to the public in the corner of the bay. It is absolutely crazy how many tourist boats there are. In the evening it gets quieter but early in the morning it starts all over again. You can not even swim from the buoys to the snorkling area because there is so much traffic… it was actually quite shocking.

Before going back to Yacht Haven Marina we stopped at the Island Koh Yao Yai and had dinner in a beautiful restaurant just by the beach. The following day Karsten and family had to return their boat to the charter company. It had been a fun week together. Maybe we would soon meet them with their own boat…

 

After Karsten and family had left we rented a car and drove to Kao Lak to celebrate New Years Eve. For André this was a very special trip as it was the first time he returned there after the Tsunami. Back in December 2004 he had been very lucky. Despite an ear infection he decided to go on the dive boat (without being able to dive). This decision saved his life. When he came back his bungalow was gone… Being there again after 15 years brought back the memories of the terrible devastation…  walking on the same beach and reading the notes of families and friends who had lost their beloved ones was very moving. It felt like André had got a second life. If he would have stayed in his bungalow he certainly would not be among us today.

In the evening we sent together a lucky balloon to the sky. It was beautiful. A lot of people were on the beach and the sky was full of rising lucky baloons. The next day our friends from ALDIVI joined us and we spent a wonderful day at the beach and by the pool. In the evening we met up also with Jasmin, Jaël’s favourite supervisor from the daycare. She was on holidays with her boyfriend Cris. What a great coincidence!

Back in Yacht Haven Marina we started to get ready to move on. We waited for Martin from Singapore to fly in as he wanted to seize the chance and join us for the leg Thailand to Sri Lanka. After he had arrived we went one last time to our favourite small restaurant Papa Mama. It is a small family run restaurant within walking distance from the marina. The meals are authentic, delicious and extremly good value for money. We left Yacht Haven Marina on the 11th of January to anchor in Ko He.

Many of these beautiful small islands are really busy during the day. Tourists are shipped there by tour operators every day. Only around sunset they all leave and then you got the island to yourself. It was also that way on Ko He. The staff in the restaurant was just about to finish cleaning up and by the height of the stacks of plates we could imagine how busy this must have been during the day. Beautiful hornbill birds tried to find some left overs and we enjoyed watching them.  After an overnight stop in  Racha Yai where we met up with our friends from ALDIVI and ALKYONE we moved to Nai Han Bay which is a wide bay on the  South Western Coast of Phuket.

We went on land for a stroll the beach and had dinner all together. The three captains organized a bus for all of us the next day to check out. So the following day we drove all together to check out of Thailand and everyone had a blast in this beautiful bus.

We left on the 15th of January for Sri Lanka with Martin on board with us. It was a perfect passage for him. We had nice sailing conditions almost all the way and no one got seasick. To tick also the box in the fishing department we even caught a delicious fish.  On the 22nd lf January we arrived in Galle, Sri Lanka.

 

 

 

2021

Sail to the US on the Visa Waiver program (May 2021)

‘You and your crew have been cleared to enter the U.S.’

was the answer that followed shortly after we filed the arrival with our yacht Mirabella in New York. In the end, the whole story how to enter the US by Pleasure Boat turned out to be fairly easy.

I wasn’t too sure about it for a long time and maybe some of you fellow sailors can/will benefit from our experience.

Sail to the US as a non-US resident, what is the challenge?

The visa rules that apply if you arrive to the US on a private yacht are different then when you arrive with an official carrier like an airline. For most european citizens and many other countries traveling to the US for tourism is not too complicated. Thanks to the Visa Waiver Program the need for a visa for short term visits is, as the name suggests, waived.  One needs to obtain an electronic travel authorization (ESTA) before starting the journey and on arrival you get a 90 days visa waivered stay.

If you arrive by a private pleasure boat, however, you are not eligible for the  Visa Waiver Program. In this case you need a B1/B2 Visa, an actual visa. This requires a bit more planning as the process can take some time and involves an in-person interview at your nearest US Embassy.

Cruising friends of ours have done this in the past and we were prepared to go down that road as well. Due to Covid, the waiting times at the  US Embassies in the Caribbean (Barbados, Grenada, Bahamas, Bermuda, etc…)varied a lot. Mostly the waiting time was many weeks, possibly months. Not practical for us.

Bermuda however, had a waiting time of one week only. Great, the decision was made quickly, we sail to Bermuda!
Unfortunatly, during our sail from Antigua to Bermuda a new Covid-19 wave hit Bermuda and everything went into shut down. By the time we arrived in Bermuda, the embassy stated the waiting time as ‘maybe 6 weeks’. Bummer.

The Visa Waiver program option

So, we searched for alternatives and found various information of cruisers who entered the US with just a Visa Waiver. They all did this in the Caribbean and the story goes like this: You sail to the BVIs with your yacht. You complete an ESTA. Then, from the BVIs, you take a normal ferry to the USVI, get your Visa Waiver for 90 days and return to the BVIs.

Next day or later you sail to the USVI with your own boat. As you posses already a Visa Waiver everything is in order and no B1/B2 Visa is required. The stay is limited to 90days from your first entry.

As we were in Bermuda when the problem with the closed Embassy arose a simple sail to a US Port of Entry with a ferry was not possible. However, we could fly to the US and return to Bermuda within days and then sail to New York.

Unsure if this is really a correct way of entering I asked the US Embassy in Bermuda and they pointed my to the official Customs and Boarder Protection website. But the website was not overly clear and left some room for interpretation in either direction.

How we actually did it

We decided to give it a go anyway. We filed in our ESTA, got it approved and flew to Atlanta for two nights. Visa Waiver and corresponding I-94 optained. A weather window to sail to New York opened shortly after we returned back  to Bermuda and so we set sail immediatly.

Before we left we filled in the electronic Notice of Arrival/Departure (eNOAD) and once we arrived we reported our arrival via the Customs and Border Protection App ROAM. Everything as per the book. 
Within hours after arriving we got the information from Customs and Border ”You and your crew have been cleared to enter the U.S.’

2019

Big city life in Singapore and sailing to Thailand (Nov 2019)

Singapore… the first big city since Sydney was only about 20 miles away. But before exploring this city we had to cross the busy strait between Batam and Singapore. We felt a bit like a rabbit, crossing a busy motorway. We first motored along the traffic separation scheme, observed speed and course of the numerous cargo ships and tankers and then chose the right moment to cross. We found a good slot and made it safely to the other side. We headed towards the quoted area for clearance. Our anchor was not even down yet, when the Officials came sideways in a speedboat to pick up our papers and passports in a plastic bag with a fishing net. It was about the fastest clearance we ever had… cleared in before we even had set one foot on ground. The process was finished a little while later by another boat coming alongside, taking our passports and doing the visual check by calling every one of us by name through a loudspeaker, comparing photo and reality. That was it! Passports were stamped and we were allowed to proceed to the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club.

We passed an incredible amount of cargo docks. We have never seen that many before… and finally made it to the marina. Our friendly agent John came to say hello as well as the Yacht club manager. We could’nt believe our eyes when we saw the big pool area with warm shower facilities. Close to the marina there was a park with a bicycle rental place and big playgrounds. So whenever the kids would be tired of city sightseeing there were alternatives just around the corner, perfect! The same evening we met up with Jeremy at the restaurant. Jeremy and his family crossed the Atlantic also with Jimmy Cornell’s Odyssey on the catamaran INFINITY. We spent some time together in French Polynesia, Niue and Tonga. Jeremy had sold Infinity in Noumea and was back at work in his former hometown Singapore. He told us about many nice places to visit in Singapore.

The next day we were invited at Martin’s place. Martin was André’s boss at Crédit Suisse many years ago. He lives in Singapore with his wife Sandra and his son Maurice since 9 years. They live in a modern apartment complex with a huge pool area where Maurice and the girls could play. In the evening we went to town together, enjoyed the fantastic view of Singapore skyline and ate delicious dumplings in a cool restaurant downdown.

The following days were spent with sightseeing and meeting up with our local friends again. The girls were happy to catch up with Quentin and Theo, their friends from INFINITY. We invited Martin and his family to our boat and slowly but surely Martin got hooked by the idea of joining us for the passage from Thailand to Sri Lanka.

In the meantime the first of our buddy boats had arrived. ALKYONE was going to stay a while in Singapore as Hans flew to Germany to work. The kids enjoyed playing together in the great pool and Amina made good progress in her swimming skills. We enjoyed our time in Singapore a lot and would have loved to stay longer but as we had booked a flight home to Switzerland from Phuket early December we had to move on. Because of a broken starter battery we could not leave Singapore on November 25th as originally planned. André bought a new battery and POLARWIND arrived. So maybe a lucky coincidence. It was nice to spend the afternoon together with POLARWIND. We had not seen each other since Lombok.

On November 26th we said goodbye to our friends from ALKYONE and POLARWIND left Singapore towards Malaysia and the busy strait of Malacca. We tried to keep right of the traffic separation scheme and left of the uncountable fishing boats… not an easy endeavour. This was by far the most uncomfortable cruising ground that we have encountered on our entire trip. We had to be constantly vigilant and in addition got hit by very strong thunderstorms. In addition it was also by far the most polluted waterway. There was floating plastic everywhere. We were very happy to reach the beautiful island of Langkawi for s short stopover. Phil from our sailmaker zoomsails lives in Koah and we met him and his family for dinner on our arrival day. The next day we checked in and out on the ferry terminal and Phil took us to a beautiful restaurant of a golf club for an early dinner. Phil suggested that we bring the broken code zero sail to their factory near Colombo, when we are in Sri Lanka. There they could have a look at the sail and we could see where our sails were made. This seemed to be a good plan and we promised to come to the factory in Sri Lanka.

On the first of December we left Langkawi and had a beautiful sail to Koh Lipe. Welcome to Thailand!

The busy Strait of Singapore
Merlion, Marina Bay Sands and the Art Science Museum

 

Does anyone know these two?
Beautiful Gardens by the Bay
Waterfront in Langkawi with the Langkawi eagle square
Koh Lipe

 

2019

Indonesia (Oct-Nov 2019)

Ricefields in Lombok


So the plan was to sail from Kupang to the Komodo National Park and then move on to Lombok and stay there a while. Very soon we realized that our concerns about nightsailing in Indonesia proofed to be true… André had a quite scary encounter with a fishing boat in his shift. They had no lights at all and were just floating silently. It was quite a shock for him, when he discovered the boat so close! We tried to be as vigilant as possible but some of the fish attracting devices were almost impossible to see at night. So in the end it is also a bit a question of luck if you hit something or not.


After two nights we arrived in Rinca early morning and found a beautiful anchorage in a stunning scenery. We hoped to catch a glimpse of the famous Komodo dragon and were very lucky indeed. From our boat we could observe some monkeys on the beach. And later in the afternoon, when we were all on ALDIVI three Komodo dragons appeared on the beach. We jumped in our dinghies and could watch two of them from very close. This was more than we were hoping for.

Three Komodo dragons on the beach in Rinca


Hans from ALKYONE had some information about a spectacular dive spot, so we wanted to have a look the following day. But as we arrived we quickly realized that neither the anchorage nor the dive spot were protected in the present conditions. So we had to find another anchorage. We anchored in a bay on the west side of Kepala and were invited on ALKYONE for coffee and delicious cinnamon rolls.

As we were already a bit late in the season we wanted to move on. Soon the season would start to change and we would end up sailing against the northwest monsoon. So we moved on to Lombok. We stayed in Medana Marina on a buoy and had a fantastic time there. There was a nice restaurant at the marina surrounded by huge green area where the kids could play hide and seek and other games. Jaël was very happy to celebrate her 8th birthday with all our cruising friends from ALDIVI, POLARWIND and ALKYONE.

We made a trip to beautiful  Gilli Air, where we did some nice snorkeling & enjoyed a ride in a horse carriage taxi to the kids delight. Another day we hired two busses for all of us and made a lovely island tour. After a short stop at a local market and a tipical ancient local Sasak village we drove to the beautiful Strawberry Hill Gardens Ponds at the foot of Mt. Rinjani. On the way back we took a refreshing bath in the Sendang Gile waterfall just before sunset. It was a bit of a hurry as it was already late in the afternoon. So we decided to visit the waterfall again on another day and do a nice picknick there.

Strawberry fields forever…

In close dinghy distance to the marina there was a small resort with a restaurant and a pool. We went there for lunch and they showed us a small covered basin with baby tortoises. Jaël and Amina were even allowed to hold them. They were just a few days old. The owner of the resort protect them until they are strong enough to have a good chance to survive in nature.

After 10 days we left Lombok and headed towards Batam, where we wanted to check out from Indonesia. In the distance accross the straits of Singapore we could already see the big city lights. The staff from Nongsa Point Marina was very efficient and helpful. Within half a day we were checked out and had all our documents ready for clearing into Singapore the following day.

Thank you Indonesia for this short but beautiful insight. Maybe one day we will be back to have a closer look. We will keep good memories of your friendly people, delicious food, colorful markets and stunning sunsets.

 

 

2019

Through the Torres Strait to Indonesia (Oct 2019)

Beautiful Arafura Sea

The passage through the challenging Torres strait could not have been better. The most critical part we crossed on a beautiful and sunny day in very calm conditions. It was my birthday by the way but as we had to have constantly a careful lookout we decided to celebrate the next day when we will have passed the strait.

Once we had passed the critical part with all the reefs some beautiful light wind sailing days in the Arafura sea followed. We sailed silently with the gennaker or sometimes with the Code zero . No banging, no heeling, no waves… it was simply perfect! Every morning I threw the fishing line at sunrise and after maximum one hour there was a nice tuna on the hook. The kids could play lego on the table and I even had a cup of coffee now and then. Normally both does not work on passages because of the heeling. My stomach does not like the combination of coffee and heeling. We even used the BBQ and I think that was the first time we did that on a passage. It was not our fastest passage but definitely one of the most beautiful ones and we all enjoyed it.

After 10 days we reached Kupang at nighttime. The traffic on the last few miles gave us a little taste of how challenging night sailing in Indonesia is going to be… many fishing boats and fish attracting devices…. some with no lights, most of them without AIS. Our friends from ALDIVI who had left Port Moresby before us were already there. Also ALKYONE, a German boat with five kids, who knew ALDIVI and POLARWIND from Fidji and had come from Australia. Normally we avoid to arrive on an anchorage at night but both ALDIVI and ALKYONE assured us that it was no problem and helped us to find a good anchorage spot.

We had many officials on board for the clearing in. One guy started to investigate the cabins and lockers and wanted me to take pictures of him investigating while the lady from health department wanted me to fill out a form. André was with other officials in the cockpit, filling out other forms…but then after a short while they got ready to leave again without really completing the investigation. A quick group selfie and off they went… A bit strange and chaotic but we were cleared in and ready to explore a new continent.

Clearance Indonesian style…

We went ashore all together for dinner on a street with many barbeque stalls offering fish, all kind of seafood and meat. We had to get used to all these zeros of the Indonesian Rupia… we spent over 1 million rupias for the dinner for three families that sounds a lot but it is just about 50 Swiss Francs. Bye the way… for the first time during our travel we hit the mango season!!! Yummy! They were incredibly delicious and cheap.

The next day I went for provisioning on the local market together with Jutta and Bernadette. It was great fun. Altough many of the locals did not understand English we got along somehow. There was always someone trying to help. I love to stroll through markets. It is one of my favourite things to do in a foreign country because you can learn a lot about local food and you feel the atmosphere. You discover local fruits and vegetables , you can taste them and you learn about people’s everyday life. Of course the strolling part on a provisioning tour is more limited to the beginning as your bags get heavier and heavier with every stall you stop at. But it is still fun especially on an Asian market, where there are heaps of different flavours, smells and colours to soak in. We squeezed in one of the local minibuses, just next to a fisherman with a bucket of fish and headed back to Teddy’s Bar.

Jutta, Berna and me really enjoyed our provisioning trip

Before heading off towards Komodo National Park we not only had to stock up our pantry we also had to refuel. And I do admit provisioning is the much nicer job than doing the refuel. At some places it is very easy of course. When there is a fuel dock where we can go by boat, it is similar to refuel a car – you basically just plug in the hose and that’s it. But in smaller places it is not as simple as that… There you have to refuel with 20lt. jerry cans. So you have to get a taxi to get the diesel, then load the heavy and super smelly jerry cans in the dinghy, lift them on the boat and fill them one by one in the fuel tank. And then you repeat the whole procedure depending how much diesel you need and how many jerry cans you have. Our local “agent” in Kupang was very helpful though, lent us jerrycans and delivered them full to the dinghy at the beach.
We left Kupang and planned to meet each other again in the Komodo National Park. Our concerns about nightsailing in Indonesia proofed to be true…

 

2019

Papua New Guinea (Sep/Oct 2019)


It was hard to say goodbye… we had spent three unforgettable months in Vanuatu. This beautiful, extraordinary country of about 82 islands and it’s welcoming friendly people who shared parts of their traditions and every day life with us. Also three months of great company… We explored Mount Yasur and Efate with our South African friends from UBEJANE, experienced customs and every day life of Penthecost and Ambae with our German friends from ZIGZAG and enjoyed blue holes and beautiful beaches in Lelepa Island and Santo with our Australian friends from QUINCO.

So it felt strange to finally leave and for the first time after many months there was no friends boat heading for the same destination. Like when we left the Carribean for the Pacific this felt like the beginning of a new chapter of our journey.
It was September the 5th, when we dropped the buoy in Aore resort in Lougainville and waved our Australian friends Quinco goodbye. We set sails for the Louisiades in excellent sailing conditions.

Unfortunately our code zero broke. Many hours in the sun had weakened the fabric. In addition André had a fight with some red footed boobies every evening when the sun was down. They wanted to sit on the bimini and on the solar panel but of course André did not like that. So he chased them until they seemed to give up… all except one. One boobie sat on the bow until we reached the pass to sudest island of the Louisiades.

Our first stop was Tagula on Sudest Island. While we were preparing the dinghy a few boys passed by in a small fiberglass motor boat, making some advertising for the shop on land. A little bit later we were ready to go. This shop seemed to be some kind of meeting point as it probably is the biggest store (maybe also the only one)in the Calvados island chain… and we are talking about some really tiny type of store…
We met the shop owner Byron, who is also selling diesel and gold (altough the mines are shut down, locals still search and find gold). We asked for a SIM card and wanted to pay with US or Australian Dollars, but he explained us that they do not accept foreign currencies because it is almost impossible for them to change it in the local PNG kina. At the end he just gave us a SIM card and we promised to come back with a chocolate cake for his kids the next day.

There was a nice footpath through the woods and after asking some locals if it is ok, we went for a walk. Everyone we met was greeting very friendly. After a while we turned around and walked back. About half way back to the village we crossed a guy we had already crossed before. He introduced himself as Owen and said he was looking for us. He was curious to know who we are and where we came from and he wanted to show us his new home that he had built all by himself. It was a beautiful hut indeed. Unlike the ones we saw in Vanuatu, this hut was not built directly on the floor. It was built on stilts. We sat down and Jaël was allowed to paint on his wall while we were talking. He told us that he is the president of the local school and would like to show us around the next day.

So next day, after having brought a chocolate cake to Byron, Owen proudly showed us the village and the school. It was a beautiful day. Owen also invited us for celebrating Independance Day with them on Monday. We lifted the anchor next morning to go and explore the anchorage of the neighbouring island called Nimoa. As it was weekend the celebrations for Independence Day had already started. Many beautiful sailing outriggers came from the surrounding islands. We changed anchorage as it was a bit too shallow for our taste and as soon as we had dropped the anchor on a better place the first canoe arrived.
And soon we realized that now we were the biggest shop in the bay ;-). The locals paddled in their canoes to our boat with things they wanted to trade. They offered bananas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, tiny little eggs and oranges. They were looking for clothes, stationary, needle and thread, fabric, fishing lines and hooks, fins and dive masks. We had stocked up in Australia for exactly this purpose but still we should have brought so much more…

In the afternoon we took the dinghy to go on land and have a closer look at the beautiful sailing outrigger boats and the small village near the catholic mission. As soon as we stepped on land we had a bunch of kids around us and Mary, a curious and clever teenage girl showed us proudly around. There was a small hospital, a school and a church. There were two local teams playing football and some teenagers played volleyball near the beach. The sailing boats were fantastic to look at. They are the only way of transport between the islands as there is no ferry or other public transport. But of course these sailing boats are expensive and only few people can afford one. That’s why they are very often loaded to the maximum. The person sitting in the middle always has to bail out the water as they are not 100% watertight.

So if one thinks that what we are doing is adventurous, I must say that it is nothing compared to what these people do. They sail without GPS, without autopilot, without a dry cabin, having just a small space to sit. But this weekend it was just a funride for them. They made a little race up to Nimoa island to join the party there.

 

Mary showed us proudly around on Nimoa island… and a bunch of kids followed us
Sailing outriggers in Nimoa

Sunday afternoon we sailed back to Tagula to be on time for the Independence Day Celebrations at Owen’s school on Monday morning.

We were welcomed as guests of honour together with a local priest and a politician from Alotau on PNG mainland. A huge flag was presented by the students and another one was hoisted on the flagstaff. A few speeches followed about Papua New Guineas young history of independence and about the challenges the country has to face in the coming years. After this official part some games followed and lunch that had been prepared by some parents. For us this was a very interesting day and for the local kids it was exciting to see some Dimdims like us (Dimdim is the name for white people in Papua New Guinea).

 

Independence Day Celebrations
This little young man has not yet seen many Dimdims in his life…

The following day we said goodbye to Owen and moved on to Hoba Bay in Pana Numara Island, where we stayed two nights and after that we sailed to Panapompom, where all the sailing outriggers come from. They are made of a special tree which grows only on Paneati Island just next to Panapompom. On both anchorages we had very nice encounters with local people. In Hoba bay for example lives David who traded a beautifully crafted wooden board with glued shells saying „MIRABELLA“ against dive mask and T-Shirt. He lived in Port Moresby for several years, working as a printer but decided to go back to his home island. He prefers the island life. It is very basic but more relaxed and as there is enough land to grow your own food one is not so dependent on money. In Port Moresby which is an urbanized area with more westerly standards the living costs are of course much higher. It is full of Australian expats and people with a small salary struggle to make a living. In the small village of Hoba Bay we also met Patrick, who showed us how to make baggi necklaces. Like the red mats in Pentecost baggi necklaces are also used to pay outrigger sailing canoes, pigs, family ceremonies, schoolfees etc. They are made of red shells and it is a lot of work as they use very basic tools. We traded one of his beautiful necklaces against a dive mask.
On Panapompom Island we met Martin. He showed us his sailing canoe, which was almost finished. But he still had no sail. We offered him our old Genoa sail and he was very happy. A bunch of kids walked with us to the local school an Edith the teacher showed us around. They even have a small garden where they grow some vegetables and salad.

Mirabella trade store was busy again. Twice André had to save some kids, because the weather was a bit too rough for the small canoes and two boys with their baby brother forgot to bring a bailer… so the waves flooded the canoe and they were in trouble. André rescued them with the dinghy and brought them on shore ! Another time a family in a sailing outrigger asked for help. They had a damaged sail and wanted to repair it before heading to their home island Utean. They were looking for any kind of stronger fabric and we gave them a bag that was a gift from the guy who made our lazybag. Hopefully they made it safely back to their home island…

David with some beautiful handcrafts
Patrick showed us how to make baggi

After two weeks in the Louisiades our tradestore run out of stock and we headed towards Port Moresby, to get ready for the next passage through Torres Strait to Indonesia. We arrived in Port Moresby at night. There were several squalls and we had to wait until there was a clear period to pass the harbour entrance through the reef. The marina allowed us to tie on one of the first pontoons near the entrance, which was perfect for us. It was strange to arrive in a city with so many lights after all our time in Vanuatu and the Louisiades, where we visited many places with no electritity.

In Port Moresby there is a big Australian expat community. Many of them live on a boat in the marina, as it is a lot cheaper than renting an apartment. While checking out the Royal Papua New Guinea Yacht club the evening of our arrival André met Cameron who is working for DHL and lives on a Bavaria yacht in the marina. He encouraged us to order our replacement for the broken gas spring of the boomvang in Australia and have it sent by DHL to Port Moresby. Normally this would have been a risky thing as it always takes longer (especially when you are on a tight time schedule) but Cameron was very optimistic that he could speed up things. And he really did! So we ordered the new code zero sail as well to Port Moresby. This one took a little bit longer but at the end it worked out perfectly.


When we aŕrived in Port Moresby I thought how nice it would be to meet some kids boats with a similar route like ours and guess what happened…. After we had changed to another pontoon we saw this aluminium boat with many stickers on it…. ALDIVI was the name. We started chatting and invited them for drinks in the evening. That was the beginning of our wonderful friendship with Alejandro, Bernadette and their three kids Alexa, Diego and Vital from Mexico! They were also heading to Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Red Sea. Jaël and Amina quickly made friends as Diego is the same age as Jaël and Vital the same age as Amina. The following day Jaël and Amina were already invited for a sleepover on ALDIVI.
We spent a fantastic day in Port Moresby Nature Park together with our new Mexican friends and learned a lot about the Bird of Paradise (which is on the National Flag of Papua New Guinea) and other local animals. The following day friends of ALDIVI arrived, a German Chilean family on a boat called POLARWIND with two kids, Antonia and Theo. They were also heading for Indonesia, Thailand and the Mediterranean Sea and they knew each other from Fidji. What a nice surprise! This is gonna be great! Indonesia here we come!

Traditional outrigger canoe in the Papua New Guinea National Museum

Jane is selling beautiful handcrafts in the garden of the museum

Port Moresby Nature Park

 

2019

Vanuatu (Jun/Sep 2019)

Already the arrival in Vanuatu was special… I had the early morning shift and was the first to see Aneityum in the morning dawn. Three dolphins welcomed Mirabella at sunrise. And just to top this perfect setting I heard a strange noise, turned around and just saw the back of a whale disappear next to Mirabella’s port side… it was a mixture between shock and excitment. I don’t need to see the whales THAT CLOSE… but anyway… I thought ” hello Vanuatu, I think I already like you”

So we anchored in this beautiful bay between Aneityum and Mystery Island. We stayed a few days and met very friendly people like Roslyn for example who was a teacher at the local school. But as one can only clear in in Aneityum when a cruise ship is there, we did not want to stress the goodwill of the local police and moved on to Port Resolution in Tanna. We timed our arrival there together with Ubejane, our South African friends. They were coming from Fidji and we were all looking forward to see them again. Last time we had been together was in Opua in November. It was already getting dark when Ubejane arrived at the anchorage but it was perfect time for dinner. They had caught a nice tuna and came on our boat to share it with us. The girls were happy to see Noah and Samuel again.

The next morning two officers from Lenakel had come over to clear us in. The kids enjoyed playing together in the garden of the yacht club and later on we walked to the beautiful village to look if we could find some bread. We found the bakery (a small hut with a big wood fired oven) but all the bread was gone already. We ordered some for the next day and Leah, the friendly lady from the local restaurant, offered to pick it up for us. The village was made of beautiful hand built huts with pandanus leaf roofs and nicely arranged gardens and paths. But there was no electricity, no running water . The village shares 5 water tabs. Even Leah in her small restaurant has to fill water in bottles at one of the tabs. She has a small two flame gas stove in her kitchen. Normally the people cook on an open fire on the floor in one corner of the hut. They grow most of their food like taro and yams roots on their own.

Of course we wanted to see the volcano and Saturday seemed to be a good day for it. We left Port Resolution at 3 p.m. and the kids were very excited. The road was bumpy, narrow and not easy to drive on. Thank god we did not have to drive on our own… We arrived at the Visitor center and were welcomed by the chief and a local dance ceremony. After getting permission by the chief, some last safety instructions and a short drive we were ready to climb the last peak up to the crater…

To stand at the rim of the crater and look down into the boiling lava was really impressive and also a little bit scary. When there was a bigger burst you could feel the heat and smell the sulfur.

Mount Yasur, Tanna

 

Mother nature’s fireworks – very impressive
More fireworks later on our cruise through Vanuatu – fireshow in Mele Beach Bar in Efate

Port Resolution – a beautiful village

After our trip to the volcano, we continued towards Efate, the most developed island of the Vanuatu group. We were waiting for an engine sparepart to be sent to Efate and we hoped to speed up the process a bit by being present. That did not really work out and we missed our weather window to sail to Pentecost and see the last land diving of the season together with our friends from ZIGZAG. So we spent a few days in Port Vila experiencing Vanuatu “city life”… the girls loved scootering up and down the seafront promenade together with the boys from UBEJANE while we enjoyed the delicious coffee in Nambawan Cafe. We visited the Vanuatu National Museum where Edgar explained us many interesting things about different customs in Vanuatu and we saw the most stunning fire show at the Mele Beach Bar together with QUINCO.

On the images below some impressions of our visit in the Vanuatu National Museum with Edgar. While telling a story he draws these beautiful pictures in the sand in one run.

Vanuatu National Museum in Port Vila, Efate

Market in Port Vila, Efate

We moved on to Lelepa Island where we wanted to catch up with our friends from UBEJANE and fell in love with that small beautiful island. The water was cristal clear and Ruben (one of the chiefs) and his wife Esther were very friendly. UBEJANE went back to Port Vila und we just wanted to move on when QUINCO turned up. What a nice surprise! Of course we stayed and shared the magic of this island with them.

Ĺelepa Island

After a few days we left Lelepa island to meet up with ZIGZAG in Loltong, Northern Pentecost. As they had already been to Vanuatu they had contacts from their last visit and got invited to a local wedding. Of course we did not want to miss that opportunity. In addition we wanted to celebrate with ZIGZAG Irene’s birthday.

Compared to the lonely Lelepa Island, Loltong was something completely different…. Whenever we stepped on land we were surrounded by kids. The Nakamal was the center of the village and of course the weddings were celebrated just nearby. (“Nakamal” is a traditional meeting place in Vanuatu. It is used for gatherings, ceremonies and the drinking of kava. A Nakamal is found in every significant community but design and traditions can vary).

A wedding in Vanuatu is not a one day celebration. There are numerous ceremonies like for example the exchange of the payment, the bride moving out of he8r former home and all her belongings being brought to the ceremony place and of course the actual wedding ceremony. Three couples were getting married and the ceremonies had already started the day before with a special snake dance. On our arrival day it was “payment day”. An uncountable number of woven red mats (typical for Penthecost area) were exchanged as payment between fhe families of the three brides and grooms. They will be stored at home and can be used as payment for special ceremonies or school fees for example.

The following day, Irene from ZIGZAG, the kids and me joined a group of local women to walk to the next village and pick up Diane, one of the brides. All her belongings were piled up in front of her house and another ceremony with exchange of many red mats followed. After that, we all walked together with Diane to the main square in front of the Nakamal where 30 pigs were waiting. She then waited patiently on a mat with all her belongings piled up behind her until the other two brides arrived from their villages. To make a long story short… we thought there would be a wedding ceremony with some custom dance and music, but either we missed it or it did not happen. But nevertheless it was very interesting for us to see.

Irene and Georg from ZIGZAG introduced us to their friends and day by day we got to know more people. It was so interesting for us to get more insight in their every day life. André and Georg built a swing for the kids and tried to fix some solar panel connections. But it turned out that the battery was dead. On the National children day we had the opportunity to visit a boarding school and attend their special ” slow food” programm. The students were divided in groups and they had to prepare traditional dishes.

The kids of Loltong
The two swing engineers…
Mathilda and Munduru are enjoying the new swing

Slow food Vanuatu style…

Life is hard when you are a chicken in Loltong…

Wedding ceremony Vanuatu style

We felt quite at home and found always a reason to stay. At the end we planned to celebrate Independence Day in Laone and then move on to Maewo the next day. Many of the locals were looking for a ride to Laone to attend the celebrations. So we had a few guests on board… most of them had never been on a sailing boat before and were very excited. The main attraction was a football game between two local teams…

Independence Day in Laone

The next day we sailed to Asanvari, a beautiful little village on Maewo island. As there were stronger winds predicted for the next few days we just stayed one night and then moved on to Lolowai, on Ambae island, where we should have enough protection. It was one of the most beautiful anchorages we had on our trip so far.

Ambae is the emergent portion of Vanuatu’s largest Volcano which rises 1’496m above sea level and 3’900m above the sea floor. On September 28, 2017, after a week of increasing volcanic activity to Level 4 (level 5 being a major eruption), the government of Vanuatu ordered a complete evacuation of the island. Many people were brought to the neighbour island Maewo. Many of them have returned as soon as the alert level had dropped to start recovering their homes. But who knows when they have to leave again? Definitely not an easy life…. We spent a few days there together with ZIGZAG waiting until the wind calmed down.

As soon as the wind forecast was good, we sailed to Peterson Bay , Espiritu Santo. Our friends from QUINCO were already waiting there for us. It is a fantastic place. There are two blue holes, where you can paddel to from the anchorage: the Matevulu Blue Hole and the Riri Blue Hole. We paddled with our Kajaks to the Matevulu Blue Hole and it was simply magical! The kids had great fun in jumping into the cristal clear blue water and so did we.

Within a short dinghy ride there was the Turtle Bay Lodge, where we could bring our laundry, have a nice meal and the kids were even allowed to use the pool. Another day we were invited by a local family for lunch at their beach. In the meantime our sparepart for the engine had arrived and André therefore flew to Efate to get it while I did some provisioning. We had not seen a shop since Port Vila and needed to stock up a bit… After coming back André went on a dive trip in Lougainville to see the wreck of SS President Coolidge while QUINCO was already sailing north to Lonnoc beach. A few days later we celebrated there Maya’s 8th birthday. A few days later the anchorage filled with kids boat… ZIGZAG, BRAVE and FAMILY CIRCUS had arrived and now it was Noah’s turn to celebrate his birthday. What a party with so many kids!!! Next day we headed out with three dinghys to a nice dive spot while the kids were playing on the beach. We had a great dive with our friends. How fortunate we are to explore the underwater world on our own… these are the big advantages of our cruising life. One of the disadvantages is for sure the goodbyes and I probably will never get used to them. In the evening we had to say goodbye to our friends from ZIGZAG not knowing if we are gonna see each other again. They were heading to the Banks islands and then to Solomon islands while we wanted to go to the Louisiades in Papua New Guinea.

We were working hard on our friends from QUINCO to join us to the Louisiades but we finally gave up and enjoyed our remaining time in their good company on a buoy in Aore island resort, doing last provisionings for the passage to the Louisiades. One day we will sit together again somewhere in this world, play Skipbo and have a good laugh.

Dolphins in Lolowai, Ambae
Our beautiful anchorage in Lolowai, Ambae
Matavulu Blue Hole on the island Espiritu Santo
The beautiful waterway to Riri Blue Hole

Impressions of André’s wreck dive in Lougainville, Santo – SS President Coolidge

Lonnoc Beach
We will miss these guys… Anna & Mario from Quinco

After three unforgettable months it was time to move on. Byebye Vanuatu… you are incredible!