Saturday 13 June, 7.57pm (Nobul Anchorage, North Ambrym)
After a very rolly night, we had an early visit from our young traders from yesterday and exchanged two more exercise books for three green coconuts and three nandao fruit, which are a bit like lychees. Green coconuts are those pierced for their liquid, which is a wonderfully refreshing drink, but they can only be kept for a day or two. The flesh is slightly gelatinous and can easily be scraped out with a finger and eaten. Jen and I did have a go at producing coconut cream the proper way from the older cooking coconuts by grating the flesh and squeezing the liquid out, but after labouring over after half a coconut (!) decided to supplement the effort with the canned variety. It makes you realise how much time the locals spend producing food, though admittedly they are much more efficient at it than we are. The coconut- gouging tool Lucy had was a beauty – an S hook bent into a loop, pounded flat, sharpened, and attached to a board you can stabilise with your knee as you scrape out the flesh. All we had was some dodgy spoons and an even more dodgy knife. So much for technical sophistication putting us ahead.
We set off just after 8 am into a morning cooled by overnight rain. The breeze was non-existent, so we motor sailed for around 40 minutes before our friendly south-easterly picked up (might be less friendly for travelling south) and the staysail was unfurled. A pod of more than a dozen dolphins played around us for upwards of half an hour, gliding in shifting formation around the bow, leaping and turning, one youngster excited enough to perform a couple of backflips.
We pulled into a calm anchorage at Nobul, where the village chief greeted us in his finely-made canoe. He courteously invited us to visit the village. We asked about the volcano, which he said is a four-hour walk away. He acts as a guide for people wanting to explore the area, but as we’re continuing on to either Malekula or Luganville tonight, we couldn’t take up the invitation.
After a swim over the vibrantly alive coral reef (no turtles or dugongs, although both live here), we were back on board for a dinner of moussaka and dessert of baked paw-paw with ginger and lime juice. Jen and I watched the local kids play in their canoes, around the rocks and in and out of the water and mused on how it would be growing up with this as your back yard, and what it would be like growing old here. We’ve seen older women sitting flat on the ground with their legs stuck out straight, weaving palm mats, playing with children, and selling fruit. We’ve seen them sleeping under trees on mats on the hard ground. It would be a fascinating exercise to compare their hardships and blessings with those of some of our own elderly folk.
As I write the anchor is up and we’re heading away from the volcanic glow over the ridge into a pitch black night under the guidance of “Ray,” the chart plotter/auto- pilot. I’m told that he steers a far truer course than any of the other crew members, although of course there is always someone on watch. We aim to reach Espiritu Santo a few days ahead of the medical team so we can refuel and replenish ready to leave with them as soon as they arrive.