Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dinghy adventures in Luganville

We sailed directly from Banan Bay to Luganville, Espiritu Santo, anchoring to the west of the town just after dark. Anchoring is prohibited directly off the town; the warning on the chart reads: "Former mined area in which mines could present a hazard to anchoring, fishing or any form of submarine or seabed activity" - pays to read the small-print!

We raced to Luganville so Charlotta could compete in a 2.6 km swim (pacificswims.com) from Luganville to the resort on Aore Island. So while Charlotta was off wining third place, I cycled round town, visiting customs and provisioning for the reminder of our time in Vanuatu and the 2000 mile trip to Darwin, Australia.

The following day the wind and swell dramatically increased making the anchorage uncomfortable and the dinghy trip to the now surf-breaking beach hazardous. Undeterred we continued our provisioning and filled the dinghy with three cans of diesel, two of petrol, a folding bicycle, computer, 24 eggs and ourselves balanced on-top and paddling frantically against the swell. We made it back without mishap and without needing to cook an emergency omelette.

The second dinghy adventure took us to Million Dollar Point with Gif and Patty from Phoenix. Along the shores of Santo the US military built a huge base during the Second World War. At the end of the war, the US forces found themselves with more equipment than they could realistically repatriate and in August 1945 they staged a massive clearance sale, selling a ten-ton truck for $25, a patrol boat for $300, etc. Rumour has it that the Vanuatu government assumed all the unsold equipment would be left behind, but the US forces called their bluff and dumped most it into the sea at Million Dollar Point. Throttles were jammed and tanks, jeeps, ambulances and bulldozers propelled themselves into the water with their engines still running.

I've been wanting some dive gear onboard since we left the UK, but always seemed to have other priorities, however slowly from cast-offs and boat sales, I've patiently been acquiring the missing pieces. The completion of the enlarged cockpit locker in NZ finally provided storage for a tank. In Port-Villa I aquired the final piece of my dive gear - a tank harness and bouyance device straight from the early Jack Cousteau films. So with some excitement I got to try them out, and in the experienced company of Gif and Patty, who lent Charlotta some spare gear.We set off with our dinghy loaded with myself, Charlotta and my dive gear. Our 8hp outboard wasn't powerful enough to plane the dinghy, with this load, so Gif offered to take Charlotta in their 15hp powered dinghy. Unfortunately this merely swapped the problem. I was pondering how I could suggest trying a different combination of crew without hurting any feelings, when Gif, obviously more experienced in these matters than myself, found a face-saving solution and transferred another tank to our dinghy. With this optimal loading we both made fast progress to Million Dollar Point.

Initially we appeared to be diving on an indistinct scrap heap, however slowly the shapes of trucks, tracked vehicles, fork-lifts, bulldozers and the wreck of a ship could be distinguished from the mass of bent rusty metal. The tyres appear to last longest while everything else was slowly disappearing and being colonised by coral.I'd hoped for a some green military paint with "US forces" in white letters, but instead enjoyed the diverse colourful coral fish who have made the dump their home.
It seems a shocking waste that the equipment wasn't left to the inventive Ni-Vanuatus. We've seen steel matting used by the US forces to construct bomber airfields, dug-up by the locals and shipped around the islands to use as racks for the coconut husks in cobra production and old plane wings used as water tanks; imagine what use would have been made of all the surplice equipment if it had been left intact by the departing forces.

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