Thursday, December 21, 2017

There Are Good Bars and There are Bad Bars

Good bars serve decent whiskey with large pours at reasonable prices. Bad bars water down the pour then charge even more. Above is a shot of the Wide Bay Bar at sunrise as we start our way out.
The bar is at the bottom of Fraser Island. It is known as one of the worst bar crossings on the east coast of Australia. One reason is that one leg that takes you very close to beam-on to the swells. That’s the middle blue line on the chart above. The locals call it the Mad Mile, even though it’s closer to 2.2 nautical miles. We left at about 4:30am to start heading out. This gave us plenty of time just before high tide. You really need to do the bar with an incoming tidal current so the wave faces don’t get too steep.
Our crossing was a little stressful being our first one on this coast, but in practice pretty mellow with nothing shallower than about 11 feet and maybe a 1 meter swell.
After a decent days sail south we arrived at the bar entrance to Maloolooba. This one faces north, so the swells go across its entrance The weather was light winds and small swells. The bar was being dredged at the time. Like most of the other boats, I called the dredge master on the VHF and asked him if it was clear for us to come in. He said no problem, just come close by my side on the eastern side of the channel, as he had his piping on the western side. I told him we drew 2 meters (6.5 feet) and asked him to confirm that there would be enough water on that side to carry us safely over. No problem, he says, I just got done dredging that portion.
So we proceeded in and promptly clipped our rudder on the bottom. An official Holy Shit moment. I looked behind us and the bottom portion the rudder was floating off away from the boat. A quick check and we still had steerage.
Called up the dredge master on the VHF radio to let him know of our situation and told him to get his work boat to go out and retrieve the floating portion of the rudder.
Just after we went in a large, commercial, aluminum catamaran came in. The dredgemaster called him on the radio and asked him what was the shallowest he saw coming in. His response was 1.8m... too shallow for us! Argh!
Ours is a carbon fibre rudder with a carbon fibre shaft. The lower portion of the rudder is designed to break away on impact to protect the shaft and the remaining portion. The sacrificial break away did its job. Above is the recovered lower portion of our rudder.
There are a lot of sharks in the water here in Australia, we figure this is what a rudder looks like when a Great White takes a nibble.
We continued south for a few days (with overnight stops) down to Moreton Bay, in the Brisbane area, through the shallow, winding straights in South Moreton Bay to the Gold Coast, up the Coomera River and, finally, to the haulout at The Boat Works boat yard.
We were really lucky to hook up with Ryan from 143 Boat Builders onsite at The Boat Works yard. He went out of his way to get everything lined up for the repair and keep it all at as reasonable a cost as possible. This during the Christmas season, when things really close down.
Ryan matching the original layup schedule with layers of double bias fiberglass and carbon fibre unidirectional cloth (the black cloth is the carbon fibre). The CF cloth is amazingly strong and light.
It took a bit of effort and wiggling to get the rudder back up through the bearing, but we got it in.
All ready to drop back in, as close to good as new as you can get.
Notice the steps in the pic. All the boats that haul here get to use steps instead of yard ladders. This makes living aboard in the yard so much more comfortable. The daily yard rate includes free loaner cars, super clean heads and showers and an air conditioned room with TV for cruisers. It really makes for a whole lot more pleasant yard experience.
There are lots of contractors onsite here. If you need some work done, give Ryan at 143 Boat Builders a call and let him offer some suggestions. He’ll bend over backwards to work with you and does excellent work.
We’re off to an anchorage so we can spend Xmas day with our friends from Fair Winds, Judy and Sherman,  and Chris and Chris from Scintilla.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Fraser Island

We finally got off the dock at Bundaberg. Chris got back from her Kathmandu work trip (with no pictures, so not sure it happened). Paid off our bills with the chandlery and the marina office, filled up with diesel and stocked up with food.
I had finished up most of the boat projects list. The first pic is our Spade anchor looking a little sad after some hard years of work. The second one looking more like jewelry is after getting re-galvanized at Kenco Galvanizing in Bundaberg. They had to melt the lead out, sand blast the paint off, dip to get a thick coat of galvanizing and then melt the lead back in. All for about $100. Pretty good deal.
It’s about 40 miles down Hervey Bay to the start of the Great Sandy Strait, then another 40 miles inside of Fraser Island and through the narrow navigable route. There’s lots of anchorages to stop at on the way and since the weather for heading south from here is not cooperating we are taking our time going through the Strait.
Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island. We signed up for a not cheap 4-wheel drive purpose built bus tour so we could get from the west side anchorages across the island and along the east side beaches. Short of having, or renting, your own tricked out 4-wheel drive SUV, this is the way to go to see the island.
After crossing the island on sand tracks you arrive to the east side beach highway. This is actually a legal highway. There were too many accidents and deaths during the days when every punter could go screaming up and down the beach in their dune buggies. So the government made it a highway that requires a licensed vehicle and driving rules like staying more or less to the left hand side of the beach. There’s even a police station just behind the dunes to enforce the traffic laws.
They do use the highway a little unconventionally by landing these small planes on the beach to pickup tourists for sightseeing flights over the island.
Even on a scheduled tour there’s time to stop and look at rusty stuff. This is the SS Maheno, she was a high speed ocean liner built in Scotland and operating between Sydney and Auckland starting in 1905.
In World War I she was converted to a hospital ship. The Maheno ended her life when she was being towed to Japan for scrap steel and her 900 foot, 6 3/4inch wire rope tow line broke after being caught in a July cyclone in 1935.
The tour was not all fascinating activities like viewing rusty stuff. You could also float down some amazingly clear, sand filtered water, creeks in a slow Disney World Lazy River sort of way. There are a lot of campers along the beach and they all seem to congregate here, rather than at the ocean where a lot of sharks hang out.
Fraser Island is home to one of the most genetically pure dingo populations in Australia. This one is a 5 month old male that apparently has been booted out of the pack to head out on its own. He’s a little on the skinny side, as he learns to forage/hunt on his own to survive.
The dingoes used to be fed by the tourists and tourist hotels here. After too many unfriendly interactions between the species there are now strict prohibitions against feeding or leaving any food out that the dingoes can get at. Also a lot of electric fences around the hotel area. There have been a number of attacks and unfriendly interactions on Fraser Island.
The most famous dingo attack occurred out at Ayers Rock (in central Australia) and was made famous by the Meryl Streep movie ‘A Cry in the Dark’, aka ‘Evil Angels’ as it was released in Australia and New Zealand. A young child was taken by the dingoes, her mother was charged with murder and spent 4 years in jail before it was shown to actually have been dingoes – I know I forgot to say spoiler alert, but any Streep movie is worth a watch.
A few days after the tour, we anchored further down the island at Garry’s Anchorage and saw a pair of healthy looking dingoes cruising the beach as we went by in the dinghy.
Now just because the dingoes don’t get you, doesn’t mean the saltwater crocs won’t. Haven’t seen any of these guys yet.
We have however seen lots of turtles cruising the straits and the mangrove tidal flats. This is a big turtle breeding area.
To leave the Great Sandy Straits we need to cross the Wide Bay Bar to get back out to the open ocean so we can make our way to Moreton Bay (Brisbane area), our next stop on the way south to Sydney. The river bars along this coast are notorious for being dangerous – even the Aussies take them seriously. Unfortunately, you need to cross them to get to many of the anchorages. We need to wait for some north or easterly winds (rather than south winds) and then attempt to cross the bar near high tide with an in-coming current and a swell of less than 5 or 6 feet. All these conditions may align early Friday morning.

Saturday, November 18, 2017


Here’s the sunrise on our last day on passage from New Caledonia to Bundaberg, Australia. If you read the blogs I posted during the slow passage, you already know that I whined about the lack of wind the whole way. Passage done, no one hurt and the boats in decent shape.
Next up was to get cleared into the country. We had arrived about mid-day on a Sunday. We had resigned ourselves to paying the overtime fees so we could get a slip in the marina and get off the boat. After contacting the Port of Bundaberg Marina we found out that no one from Customs was available to clear us and we had to anchor in the river till Monday morning with our yellow Q-flag flying. At least there would be no overtime.
Monday we headed into our assigned slip and started the cumbersome clearing process. Everyone were very friendly about clearing – its just a long and expensive process. This picture is of the most friendly drug and gun sniffing dog. He is decked out in his best boats shoes and had a nice sniff around our boat.
Customs and Immigration are combined as the Australian Border Force. No charge for them and they gave the boat a 12 month cruising permit.  That’s good for the boat but doesn’t cover Chris and I. We are on a 90 day visa renewable multiple times for another 90-days for up to one year. To renew you have to actually leave the country and come back in. We obtained this visa because we didn’t want to jump through the hoops for the straight 12-month visa.
Biosecurity is a fee-for-service organization. The odd part about it is that you can’t refuse their service. Seems like a good business to be in. They charge some fixed fees that get you to about $280aud. Then it’s an additional charge for each 15 minutes that they take searching your boat for termites. In our case that was about 2 and 1/2 hours of going over every bit of wood on the boat (or timber as they refer to it).
So far Australia is pretty much tied for the second most expensive check-in we’ve done (Galapagos out paces everyone). It is on top for the most invasive and time consuming. And that’s after 25 different checkins in other countries. At least it is all done with a cheery attitude.
While I think we were both disappointed that there were no Roos or Koalas at the dock to take our dock lines when we came into our slip, it wasn’t long till we came across a whole family. This pic is taken while we were walking to the food store in the field next door to it. Judging from the looks on their faces I think it was the first time they’ve seen anyone from Bellingham.
So you aren’t completely lost as to where Bundaberg is here’s a map. Bundy is about the middle of the east coast above the much larger area of Brisbane. If you aren’t sure where Australia is, just take your globe and turn it upside down. Australia will be prominent then. Bundaberg is an agricultural area with lots of sugar cane.
Its known world wide for Bundaberg Rum and Bundaberg sodas.
We had been warned that sometimes the Queensland coast gets strong afternoon thunder storms. On our second day in the slip this one started coming down the river the SW. We are about the 6th mast in from the right in this pic (taken by JAMS).
Turns out this was more like a once in 10 year thunder storm. We had sustained winds of 50 to 55kts. The maximum gust we measured was 67kts (77mph). That is a ton of wind and a new record for us that I don’t want to break. Chris and I were standing in the cockpit behind the dodger just kinda awestruck. The boat was healing over hard toward the dock and the visibility conditions were just a white out.
BundyIMG_8181 When the wind stopped this was the view off our stern. The catamaran Felix, a Lagoon 400, had broken free of the t-head dock along with another cat. They were pushed down on top of the adjacent dock. While powering hard to get around the end of the dock an 18-24 inch hole was gashed into the waterline mid-ships. The boat was beached on the sand you can see on the right.  At low tide it was patched and refloated. It is most likely an insurance right-off. Not a good ending for a cruise. The cruisers and the town folks all came out to help the owners both in recovering their cat and in helping them deal with the loss. The local restaurant gave them free meals, the Lighthouse Motel gave them a free room for a week,….
Chris has taken off for three weeks working in Kathmandu, Nepal on a quality assurance for birth control providers project. Me, I’m doing boat projects. Got the traveler off today so I can take it in to a machine shop to drill out a broken bolt. When Chris gets back we will start sailing down toward Sydney with a new found respect for the local weather.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Done and Dusted

We anchored in front of the Port of Bundaberg Marina at about noon today after a 6 day passage from New Caledonia. Customs and Immigration are not available to clear us in today, so they are having us anchor out until Monday morn where we can come into the marina and clear. The good news is we don't have to pay overtime to Biosecurity to 'inspect' the vessel.
Done and Dusted is the Kiwi (and I assume Ozzie) way of saying completed. The passage of Georgia across the South Pacific is now completed.
More to come when we get the luxury of some Interweb and catch up on sleep.


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Friday, November 3, 2017

Enroute Bundy Day 5

24*20S 154*43E Noon to noon run 137nm Distance to go 139nm
We actually got in 33 hours of slow sailing that came to an end at 3am. Been motoring since then. The seas have gone pretty much flat and its sunny. Just no wind. We are about 88 miles from our waypoint to round the top of Fraser Island. Its probably the same waypoint that Capt. Cook used in the 1770s when he entered Hervey Bay. Since he named the named bay, I suppose any bay he entered then would have been Hervey Bay. This area is basically just below the start of the Great Barrier Reef that extends north for near 1,500 miles. We should be arriving midday on Sunday (that's Sat for those of you hanging on the otherside of the dateline.)


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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Enroute to Bundy Day 5

24*08S 157*10E Noon to noon run 139nm Distance to go 274nm
Whooa, we've actually been sailing for over 14 hours. Winds picked up to 10-14 kts out of the ESE early last night. Earlier in the afternoon we had a little rain that past over us and had us sailing for a full 15 minutes before its affects died off. This mornings big excitement was seeing our first ship on this passage. The 804foot big white cruise ship the Pacific Dawn on its way to Brisbane doing 19kts. The only other thing out here is the occasional storm petrel and boobie flying by. Looks like a Sunday arrival for us. If we arrive latter in the day we may just hangout till Monday morning to avoid the clearance overtime charges.

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Enroute to Bundy Day 4

23*33S 159*37E Noon to noon run 120nm Distance to go 411nm
We are in eyesight of the halfway point. That's the good news. Still no wind. We sailed through most of the late night to sunrise, then back to motoring. Switched over to our second fuel tank this morning.
Only one catastrophic event onboard today. Someone maliciously put a raw egg in the hard-boiled egg container, with the expect resulting mess. I believe it may have been a left over Halloween trick.


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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Enroute to Bundy Day 2

23*22S 161*47E Noon to noon run 118nm Distance to go 530nm

It really take a lot of patience to sail offshore doing 3kts. We have been bouncing between motoring at 6-6.5kts and sailing between 3-5kts for the last 24 hours. The sailing usually lasts for 3 to 9 hours before the light winds just get lighter. There's really no sign of the winds filling in ahead of us, so its slow and easy for now. At least the seas are really small, making life onboard comfortable. It was hot shower night last night -- taking full advantage of our on-demand diesel hot water heater.
The turn out of Trick or Treaters was really low. But I guess that is to be expected when you are a few hundred miles off of a French island and an Australian island.

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Enroute to Bundy Day 2

Noon to noon run was 140 miles. 648 miles to go.
Boring. We got in decent sail yesterday afternoon. By midnight we were down to 3 or 4 kts. Turned the motor on at sunrise and its been on since then except for a brief hour of wind head fake. Its now noon on Halloween day. We're a day ahead of the slow pokes back home. So far preparations for costumes have not preceded much. We will be giving out mostly low-sugar treats to the Trick or Treaters that come by, with the exception of some Skittles to the best costume.

The weather goddess is offerring up more of the same for the next few days.


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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Enroute to Bundy or The Coral Sea Adventure

We had a good week in Ille des Pins and the Southern Lagoon of New Caledonia. Ille des Pins probably deserved a blog with some photos, but I guess I was too lazy when we had connectivity. We left Isle of Pines and motored 36 miles west, ie closer to Australia, to Illot Kouare. Got in a good snorkel with some decent coral and another beach walk where we got skunked again for shells.
We are leaving this morning to cross the Coral Sea to Bundaberg, Australia. For those that are geographically insecure, the Coral Sea is bounded by Papua New Guinea in the north, New Cal in the east and Australia's Queensland state on the west. It is considered part of the South Pacific Ocean. It's not the Koro Sea that is in Fiji.
The passage is about 800 miles and should be a slow one. The winds are scheduled to be light most all of the way. We'd wait for more wind, but there doesn't seem like it gets much better over the next week and its getting to time to move on. Cyclone season officially starts Nov. 1st, plus Chris will be doing some work in Nepal mid-Nov.

The plan is to leave the S. Lagoon and head somewhat North of the rumb line (direct course), then sail in the light winds as best we can with maybe a day plus of motoring on the eastern end of the passage. It'll probably take about a week. We'll see.


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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

New Caledonia

We’ve spent the last few weeks playing in New Caledonia. We’ve gotten to visit a few of the small islands in the South Lagoon plus visited the “Paris of the South Pacific”, Noumea. OK, that Paris thing was in the tourist brochure. Noumea is the capital of New Cal. It is certainly a French city, you can tell that by the ease of obtaining baguettes. The fuel dock in the marina has fresh baguettes for sale next to the cash register. Noumea isn’t as impressive a city as Papeete in French Polynesia. It has a little more of a working town feel.
New Cal itself is interesting because of its less than stellar colonial history. Most of the colonial powers have some ugly historical treatment of the indigenous folks in their history books. The thing that stands out for New Cal is that the local white French settlers, now locals, were killing Kanaks (the indigenous New Caledonians) as recently as the 1980’s. New Cal is an Overseas Territory of France. A twenty year treaty stopped the 1980’s killings. It leads to a scheduled independence vote that is to take place November 2018. Apparently the money is flowing.
New Cal’s original attraction to the French was as a prison colony, al la the Brits in Australia. The reason that New Cal got so much attention from the French in later years was due to the nickel deposits on the island. It currently has 11% of the worlds nickel reserves, the second largest reserve on the planet. This is a picture of a large nickel smelter taken from the anchorage in Noumea. That brown smoke coming from the stacks is not as bad as it could be, as it is being blown downwind by the trades away from the nice part of the city onto the poor part. No wonder asthma is a big deal here.
Back to a lighter note. The picture at the top of this blog is the 1865 cast iron lighthouse shipped from France that stands 184 feet and still operates today on Ille Amedee. If anyone cares, it shines two white flashes every 15 seconds out to ships as far as 20 miles away.
Ameede is a tourist island about 2 hours sail south of Noumea. In the early morning and late afternoon before the tourist ferries arrive it is empty, except for the yachts that hang on the free moorings. The moorings are in place so that the boats anchors don’t destroy the turtle grass. The island is home to dozens of turtles who clearly know that this is a protected sanctuary, as they are not skittish at all. This green turtle was grazing right next to our boat for hours. What looks like an ill-fitted tail is a remora fish that was hanging out to do some grooming for her. These green turtles breed and lay eggs on the Australian beaches 800 miles to the west.
Amedde also has an excess of sea snakes. You see these highly poisonous, but reportedly unable to bite humnas, snakes crawling among the tourist lounge chairs after hours. Strange.
A view of the central park in Noumea from the colonial style history museum porch.
I took Chris to the botanical gardens in Noumea for a treat. But first she had to be schooled in the basic rules of bird watching.
This is why you need to be checked out on the rules before you enter. The young man chest pumping on the left is named Kim Jong-un, the old guy to the right is D. Trump. Just think what plucking tail feathers might precipitate…
The top picture is a live ‘eggshell’ cowrie we saw on the reef in Lifou island. When alive they have a black membrane that comes out of the shell and surrounds most of the top. The lower pic is what they look like when they have gone to cowrie heaven.
After we cleared customs and immigration in Noumea, we stopped at a number of the small, pretty much deserted islands in the South Lagoon in a valiant effort to stalk some shells. We basically got skunked – even on the islands that looked so promising from sea.
We did see this large bird of pray, I believe a goshawk, noisily protecting it’s large, stick nest in the mid-day heat.
We are currently at the Ile des Pins (Isle of Pines) about 50 miles SE of Noumea. We plan to stay here till we see a decent weather window to make Bundaberg, Australia or until we get tired of looking at weather GRIBs and decide to go anyway.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Enroute New Caledonia

AFter a nice snorkel in the cold waters of Baie de Doking (or Baie de Joking) - the water was 81*F - we got a little rest for the afternoon. Then picked up and motor sailed down the leeward side of the Lifou island at around 6pm. We headed far enough south in the dark until we figured to could sail hard on the wind to Grand Terre, the main island of New Caledonia. It was boisterous sail till just before dawn when the winds laid down. We took a mooring at Ile Casy, Baie De Prony right next to our old friends Art and Nancie on Secondwind (out of Ashland, OR). They came over bearing duty-free Gin and Tonics. The duty free stuff definitely tastes better. We need to sit tight for the weekend so we can head in the next 25 miles to Noumea on Monday morning to clear customs.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Enroute to New Caledonia

We left Havannah Harbour in Vanautu at about 7am after spending the last of our Vatu at the Wahoo restaurant the night before. It was an uncomfortable, but fast 26 hour close reach down to Baie de Doking, Lifou Island. Lifou is in the Loyalties group, the most eastern islands of New Caledonia. We did a nice snorkel and plan to get some rest for the rest of the day. Then we'll head out again around mid-night to sail the 115 miles to Baie de Prony o our way to Noumea. We plan to clear into New Cal on Monday in Noumea.

Baie de Doking anchorage at 20* 42.31S 167*09.66E on a small sand patch in 50feet.

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Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Little Bislama

After Erromongo we sailed up to Efate island and into the capital of Vanuatu, Port Vila. It’s an easy town to get around and reprovision. I’ve spoke a couple of times in the blog about the Bislama language spoken in Vanuatu. It is a fairly sophisticated pidgin English. You can often understand what is written and sometimes understand a small amount when you hear it spoken.
One of the most endearing expressions is tenk yu tumas. Thank you very much. If you look at these papayas in the market, you’ll notice that the sign says  No Prestem Po Po. Don’t squeeze paw paws!
Emergency instructions for Etkwek (earthquake) and Tsunami posted in the village.
Here’s a more complicated message letting every parent know about the fees that are due for school.
The National Museum of Vanuatu – pretty easy to translate.
The museum has a good collection of artifacts from early Vanuatu populations and some good discussions on the culture. Vanuatu is known for the tradition of sand painting. The sand is smoothed out and then a picture is drawn with one finger without lifting it while a story, related to the picture, is told. These stylized pictures represent events from Vanuatu’s history, ancient and more modern. This one was done by a young lady during a demonstration in the museum. It tells the sotry of one village’s experience with the Blackbirding ships that came to the islands and essentially press-ganged local men to go work in the Australian cane fields. An estimated 40,000 ni-Vanuatu were ‘recruited’ between 1863 and 1904. Some islands, like Erromongo, were hit very hard and the population is still recovering.
We sailed around to the NW corner of Efate to the area called Havannah Harbour. It was the location of the original colonial settlements. They were moved to Port Vila after a drought (the west sides of the islands are typically dryer due to the prevailing SE Tradewinds). During World War II this was an American naval and air base in support of the attack on Guadalcanal.
Going up the bay we saw this two masted boat on the reef. From a distance it looks like a normal sized cruising ketch. But up close it is really a mega-yacht. The catamaran that is in the picture above to the right of the ketch is 45 feet long. The yacht is named Blue Gold and it went on the reef during Cyclone Pam in 2015. The owner was arrested in Switzerland and charged in the Netherlands over various financial issues apparently not related to the yacht.
Blue Gold is being watched by one of the islanders living close by and has not been stripped. Up close the steel hull looks in good shape and ready for salvage. The water off its stern is deep, so salvage should be fairly straight forward. Just when the salvage will occur is an open question.
This is the bay that Blue Gold was in when it broke free during the cyclone. We anchored just off to the left. If you look closely there are a couple of yellow mooring balls in the picture. When we anchored there were four large yellow moorings arraigned in a square. These were installed, after Pam, as cyclone moorings for larger ships. When we woke in the morning, one of the yellow moorings had drifted off to another location?????????
Not ones to miss out on a world class museum, we took the dinghy for a long ride in to find the WW II Museum. It took asking three different people to actually locate it, but of course it was well worth it. With a motto like Rust In Peace how could you not like it?
Once inside you find out that the focus of the museum seems to be old bottles, with Coca Cola bottles leading the way. Here Chris is looking at some of the latest Coke finds. The guy in the red shirt is the grandson of the museum founder and the current operator. If you are old enough you probably remember that Coke bottles had the bottling company city and state embossed in the glass on the bottom of each bottle. I remember working in a welding shop as a kid. At break time we would through in a few quarters to a pot and who ever got the break-time Coke bottle from the furthest away bottling plant was the winner. Since all the bottles had a nickel deposit and were re-used in those days, bottles ended up getting distributed all over the country and world. Chris is looking at a bottle marked from Albuquerque NM, her old home town.
The museum also has some serious art work and some unexploded ordinance as well.
Flowers for sale in the market.
We cleared out of Vanuatu today in Port Vila. A quick trip to Immigration and then Customs stopped by our boat. We will hang out for a few days until we see a good weather window, then we are off to Noumea, New Caledonia. The passage should take 2 to 3 days.
Gut naet (good night)