[Excerpts from blog entry on October 11, 2010 – Aboard IO, a two year Pacific crossing]
Vanuatu. Anchored position: S17 34 E168 12
I am a small fish in a big pond.
I do realize that we are floating in the South Pacific Ocean which is the biggest pond of all, but during most of this trip, with the exception of Suwarrow atoll, I have been one of the largest predators on the reef looking for a meal. Of course, there are always reef sharks and, without fail, the more sharks the better the fishing. However, here in Vanuatu, the game has changed slightly. We are anchored in another pristine bay with the usual assortment of palm tree lined white sand beaches and 28 oC turquoise water. Our morning routine consists of waking early and heading out with the boys for our morning swim/spearfishing in hopes of procuring supper. Tonga was heavily overfished and was hard to find a fish big enough to eat. Fiji was better but still, large fish were few and far between. Vanuatu abounds with monsters. When I say I am a small fish, yesterday I got in the water and within thirty seconds I was six meters away from a fish the size of a fridge! I was face to mouth with a Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus) measuring well over two meters long and in excess of two hundred kilograms! The reef shark’s mouth is not that big and supposing one bit you (so unlikely) it would just do that – bite you. This grouper, however, could have easily engulfed my entire torso in one gulp. I was so amazed at its girth that I just floated there and stared at it. Oddly, it moved away from me despite the fact that I was in no way a threat to it.
Today Jamie and I were on the reef for a total over five hours and were within meters of a 1.5 meter, 40 kg Buffalo Head Parrot fish (Bolbometopon muricatum), a 2 meter, 180 kg Napoleon Wrasse (Cheilinus undulates), five white-tip reef sharks, a 2.5 meter Gray reef shark, and three Spotted eagle rays. The highlight was a half hour before sunset. The light was angled in the water in such a way that it made the beautiful streaked wavy “god” light. I had just begun a 12 meter dive over the edge of the reef when I was startled by a spotted eagle ray approaching fast over my right shoulder. My startle caused it to startle and fly directly into a 2.5 meter white tip reef shark, which in turn startled and bolted off into the distance. I surfaced to find Jamie laughing because he had witnessed the whole scene. He then pointed out a one-meter-long Coral grouper and we both followed it from a distance to see where it would stop. I lagged behind a bit and when I had swum the last 30 meters to Jaime, I found him jabbering and gesturing like mad. I finally got out of him that a two meter, 200 + kg Yellowfin Tuna had just swam within meters of him. To top it off, while motoring back to Totem and IO in the dinghy, three dolphins approached the dinghy, so we jumped in and briefly swam with them before they took off. What a day!
I have felt guilty for not blogging in months. I think it is because that “sailing the South Pacific” has become a bit routine. Believe me that I do realize how awesome this experience is. Soon enough I will be back in office-traffic land lamenting our return, but for here and for now, our daily routine has become normal and therefore does not seem spectacular enough to share on a daily basis. Our repetition consists of a long boring sail for days and days ended by a stressful approach to land. When you are most weary at the end of the sail, you get to immediately deal with the Immigration and Customs to check in a new country. “No, I don’t have Cholera”, “No, there are no rats aboard with Cholera”, “And No, nobody died on the passage from Cholera” etc. We go to the ATM to get out a new set of funny money, and try to remember the conversion “was that a thousand dollars or a thousand Tong for that hamburger?”, “No wait, we are in Vanuatu now, so that was a thousand Vatu!” I used to get excited about using new currencies in different countries; admittedly it’s getting to be a bit of a blur. We see new shaped faces and hear new languages while spending the new “pesos” to get provisions. Then it’s off to find the best anchorage based on where I think the most pristine reefs (i.e. farthest from people) and spearfishing might be. We then explore every coral-head in the area, hike, explore and investigate. Then re-provision for the next passage and check out of the country. Begin the long, boring/terrifying sail to next island group, and repeat!
This will all end soon. Way too soon.