The Torres Islands

We had hoped to visit all of the Torres Islands during the time we were there, but for ten days reinforced southeast trade winds made all but two anchorages on the island of Tegua untenable.

We’re not complaining, as we enjoyed some relaxing and interesting time in the Torres, off the cruiser’s beaten path, but it just serves to remind us that the weather Gods are generally in charge of where we go, when we go and how long we stay.

We spent our time at Hayter Bay, on the west side of Tegua Island and at another unnamed anchorage just around the corner on the northwest corner of the island. The only other boats in the area were Jeanette and Jim on Dancer, in search of some remote dive spots, and Pam and Bruce on Ahquabi, on their way north to the Solomon Islands, another hundred-odd miles to the north.

Hayter Bay is a deep bight into the west side of Tegua, with rugged coral shores on the sides, overlooked by 200’ cliffs overhung with creeping vegetation. The end of the bay is a coral obstacle course which rewards those who make it past with a lovely white sand beach lined by swaying palm trees.

Ten days seem to pass in a flash, marked by copious amounts of diving. With snorkels we explored the anchorage and searched (unsuccessfully) for lobster, with SCUBA we dropped onto an offshore reef. We also dove into a few light boat projects, and quite of few good books. All in all, it was a nice balance of work and play.

There is no village at Hayter Bay, just one family living apart from the other villages on the island. Chief Donald, the patriarch, and his family have a tidy little homestead just beyond the white sand beach and a row of gently leaning coconut palms. His welcome gift to all the visiting yachties was a coconut crab, or “crab coconut” as they say in their Bislama tongue.

The coconut crab is a staple part of the diet for some of the Ni-Vanuatu living on the remote outer islands. It is a rather large, ugly, dark brown land crustacean whose back and legs are covered by thick shell, the remainder with a scaly, leathery material that would appear to make a suitable substitute for chain mail. The coconut crab carries the odor of the rich, loamy, jungle topsoil of the island and lives on a diet of, you guessed it, coconuts.

The coconut crab’s claws and pincers are strong enough to husk a coconut, an operation that requires a great deal of strength, skill and a big machete on the part of us upper primates. We never ventured a guess as to what the crab’s appendages might do to one of our fingers as they were usually presented to us in some sort of a crude straitjacket fashioned from some island vines. Not wanting any more “boat bites” on my hands, I kept them fully harnessed as I dropped them into the boiling pot. One night however, the Dancer’s coconut crab pulled a Houdini and made a break for freedom, causing a hell of a racket as it crawled along the deck. Jim was awakened in a startle and managed to get the beast back under control.

The ugly, almost frightful appearance of the coconut crab belies its fantastic flavor. Its firm, plentiful meat is unquestionably the tastiest crab I’ve ever had. It is moist and rich, almost as if it was naturally marinated in coconut cream, and requires no seasoning, garnish or elaborate preparation. It is an almost perfect meal. Simply boil it, cool it, and then eat it-a perfect yacht meal. It doesn’t appear in the Weight Watcher’s guide for caloric value, so we can only assume that it is fat free. NOT! The only bad news is that it can take from ten to twenty years for a coconut crab to reach an edible size and in some parts of Vanuatu they have become endangered.

Fortunately, they are still in good supply on Tegua. The natives claim that they are easily found walking around the jungle or “bush” as they call it. We swapped some much- needed articles of clothing with Chief Donald for a few more crabs while were there. I’m sure that on the sand patch underneath the spot where we were anchored, there is a shoal of coconut crab shells.

Situated one half-mile from the anchorage is a coral reef that reaches to within thirty feet of the surface. There are a plethora of small tropical fish, sea fans and other features, as well as some large pelagic or deep-sea fish, which occasionally cruise by in search a quick meal. We enjoyed a few nice dives on this site and in addition to all the usual multi-colored tropicals, we saw some big fish such as gray reef sharks, black-tipped reef sharks, dog-toothed tuna, trevally, sea turtles, barracuda and a spotted eagle ray. It was literally an oversized aquarium and the visibility was “adequate,” at least 100 feet.

After four days in Hayter Bay, we made a move for Hui Island and a little anchorage we had heard about on the east side behind a small, off-lying island. We had just gone through the channel between Metoma and Hui Island, which felt like sailing in a giant Maytag washer on the “heavy soil” cycle during a major earthquake. After 20 minutes of crashing, smashing and splashing, we had come back into relatively calm seas. Ahquabi, who had left an hour before us, hailed us on VHF 16. They had just pulled into the anchorage and reported that it was too rough to stay, hoping to catch us before we sailed through the channel.

We turned around and went back through the channel, albeit with wind and seas in our favor this time and took anchorage in the lee of Tegua on the northwest corner at the foot of a dramatic cliff. After two days there, we were driven away by an uncomfortable ground swell and repeated aerial attacks by swarms of voracious flies and decided to return to Hayter Bay.

We waited out the reinforced trade winds (25 to 35 knots from the southeast) and rough seas for four more days until the winds clocked around to the south and eased, then made a break for Uaparapara, the beautiful volcanic island with the large bay in its blown-out cone. The seas were a bit lumpy and confused, but it was great to be sailing again and we made a swift passage with a fresh breeze just forward of the beam until the wind died out in the lee of the tall, dramatic island.

Shortly after we furled the jib and cranked up its cast aluminum backup, we got a strike on the fishing line. A quick clicking of the reel and it was gone. A moment later, I could see a fin in the water, and another quick strike, and once again it was gone. On the third strike, I managed to grab the reel and set the hook. Just then, I saw a large sailfish jump out of the water and do a tail dance. We don’t usually take sailfish, as they are too large and cumbersome to deal with on board, but I was damned if I was going to sacrifice my lure, and figured that if it bit my lure three times that it was so stupid it should be removed from the gene pool. I played it for the fun and challenge, half-hoping it would spit the hook. No joy, this monster was hooked well, so we decided it would make a nice gift for the villagers at Diver’s Bay.

Fortunately for me, sailfish usually fight fast and hard and then give up pretty quickly. After eight hours of sailing, I wasn’t up for a four-hour fish fight! In spite of this, my opponent put up a worthy fight, leaving my hand blistered from the reel, and within minutes we had this beautiful fish at Moonshadow’s transom. We struck the main sail and once in the calm of Diver’s Bay, I managed to slip a line around the fish’s tail and hoist it up on the stern davit.

The arrival of a visiting yacht usually attracts visits by local canoes. There were lots of canoes in Diver’s Bay that afternoon, enjoying the beautiful weather and visiting the three yachts already lying at anchor. We attracted a few, until they spotted the 8-1/2 foot sailfish hanging at our stern. Instantly, we were surrounded by a bunch of very excited villagers in at least a dozen canoes, wanting to get a closer look at our catch.

We summonsed Chief Nicholson, who paddled out to greet us in short order. He too was impressed by the fish, which we gave to him to share among the villagers. Fearing it would sink his canoe, he towed it to shore by the tail, followed by a flotilla of dugout canoes.

The next day we went ashore for a walk. When I saw the chief, I asked him how he enjoyed the fish. I’m sure he was exaggerating a bit, but he said that everyone in the village enjoyed the fish, all 200 of them! There were no leftovers.

This entry was posted in All Cruising Logs, South Pacific Logs, Vanuatu. Bookmark the permalink.