The Dark Magic of Vanuatu, and the exorcism of Khulula

Oceangybe

Asanvari Village, Maewo, Vanuatu

It was a fateful day when s/v Khulula spent the morning ferrying stranded missionaries across the windswept channel between Maewo and Pentacost Islands in Vanuatu. These 29 missionaries had heard about this tiny village (Asanvari) over which the black magic spirits still had a firm grip, and had arrived to free the villagers of the tyranny of the black magic. Sickness and death, the harvest, the weather and all unfortunate events are attributed to the poor disposition of the black magic spirits. The missionaries arrived on Maewo on a picture perfect day with barely a ruffle of breeze stirring the waters in this fearsome pass. On that rare day of calm, two small village boats with little engines did two overladen trips from the Pentacost dirt strip airport, to the paradise of Asanvari…

Five days later the reverse was required in order to deliver the self-entitled “Sold out Youth Leardership Crew (SOYLC)” to the airport, and back to the U S of A. One small problem: The Sou’ East trades were cranked up to 30kts+, embedded with frequent squalls, torrential rain and large wind swells that lashed up against the leeward side of Pentacost and Maewo. The once tranquil island passage was now a fury of wind swept ocean as all the swell and wind was funneled into a gap less than 6 miles wide… Anchored in the relatively calm and sheltered Asanvari Bay, the weather sweeping past the point was a sight to behold – formidable dark grey rolling breakers with their tops being blown of in streaks by the howling wind, all under a leaden sky. The mere sight was enough to make one shudder.

It had become apparent that this was the work of the black magic spirits that reside in the cave in the point near Asanvari village. The SOYLC had arrived in the village to spread the word of God and the “black magic” (what we have come to refer to it as) was downright peeved. It had sat up late at night it its cold dark cave on the point plotting it’s revenge and brewing this tempest for the day that small boats of God fearing men would be crossing the waters of his domain.

Local Asanvari fisherman go miles out of their way to avoid the terrible cave on the point. Legend has it that any boat not giving the point sufficient berth will be the lucky recipient of a cranky “Black Magic” jumping aboard.

In the days before the SOYLC’s return to Pentacost, the black magic was hard at work, conjuring clouds and guiding low pressure systems, creating squash zones and interactions with tropical easterly atmospheric waves and low pressure troughs. The mood in Asanvari was tense, with the SOYLC praying for a solution to present itself. The five of us (Mike and Diana Robertson, Hugh, Brys and I) were having a great time, swimming in the waterfall, spearfishing the reef, scuba diving the pass and cataloging the garbage on the windwind beaches when it became apparent that the SOYLC solution was floating right there in the bay, with the world “Khulula” printed on the side.

We offered, they accepted, relief lighting their faces.

At dawn the following day, s/v Khulula was stripped of surfboards, dive gear, jerry cans and other gear, and loaded up with the kit of 25 people; also the majority of SOYLC sitting outside on the rail, preparing to get wet. The heavy weather sails were hoisted, and off we went.

We sailed right past the cave and shortly after hit the wind and swell rolling through the pass… BLAM!, the first wave sweeps the decks, dousing the SOYLC crew, amid shrieks as Khulula heeled sharply with only a scrap of sail up the mast… “IS THIS NORMAL??” cried some of the girls in the cockpit (all the guys were on the rail)… Um, definitely more heeled over and rougher than normal, but quite safe.

In the hubbub of leaving, and the congestion aboard, we completely forgot to close the middle hatch of the boat. The Black Magic noticed this as we sailed past his cave. BLAM! Another wave sweeps the decks. Buckets of water are suspended in the air. Khulula rolls, the wind catches the water, and a waterfall cascades into the warm, dry, salt water interior – a deluge that completely SOAKS the settee, bookshelves, aaaannnnnnd, the Nav computer (Doh!) We realize now that this is undoubtedly how that sneaky little black magic got aboard, and marks the beginning of the black magic’s vendetta on Khulula’s electronics. It was going to let us know just how angry it was that we rescued the SOYLC from its ingenious plan of doom.

Two days later, we lost our second computer.

Four days later my Ipod refused to turn on A week later Hugh got doused by a wave and that was the end of his music player Our handheld VHF radio charger shorted out The fan in the cabin slowed, stumbled, revved up and down and finally stopped turning One of our speakers stopped playing An electric bilge pump shorted and needed rewiring.

After months and months of problem free cruising, this confounded black magic was wreaking havoc on the electronics. There was clearly an epic spiritual battle being fought on SV Khulula, between the new comer black magic, and the two angels that my mom, Diana Robertson, placed on board Khulula before our Mexico departure last year.

Our theory is that the Angels ganged up on the black magic, who rapidly realized that he had no hope in tormenting our souls and rapidly refocused his energy onto the electronics on board! The Angels must have accepted this and allowed it to play inside the electronics until an opportunity arose to toss it overboard. The black magic moved from one item to the next, pulling wires and corroding connections galore, it seemed there was no end to its mischievousness.

After a week it became evident that the Angels had banished and jailed the black magic in the speedometer display in the cockpit. All day the speedo would read zero kts (no matter what our speed, we had to resort to using the speed on the GPS) but at night a strange thing would happen: The speedo would start to register again, but the readings would make no sense. There was no consistency either; it was an eerie feeling sitting alone in the cockpit at 3 am on a moonlit night and watching the display on the speedo crank up to 30 kts, count down slowly, surge upwards, drop to zero, count up, back to zero.

During the day the black magic would sneak out of its injection moulded plastic cell and cruise around the boat looking for other electronics to destroy. Like I said, there was no end to its mischievousness. We reckon this must have been a very frustrating time for the black magic, as now the Angels had cottoned onto his scheme and were keeping a casual eye over all the major electronics on board. Having violated all the low hanging fruit, the black magic was at a loss as to what to do next.

One fine morning toward the beginning of this passage the black magic was hanging out in one of the winch handles in the cockpit contemplating his next line of attack, and in a rather grumpy mood. The Angels had him under their thumb, the seas were slight, the winds were astern and the sun was shining. Things were just too darn peachy! He was starting to seriously regret his decision to leave his cave and associated domain. Trust him to pick a boat with such a strong heavenly force, he thought bitterly; he SHOULD really have done his research better. Now he was hundreds of miles from land, with Vanuatu fading rapidly behind. DRAT!

So engrossed was he in his thoughts that he completely failed to notice that the crew of Khulula had decided to hoist the spinnaker (large, powerful and colourful downwind sail), a rather involved process. The crew was unpracticed (how do you do this again?), and the hoist was a complete debacle! Already a valuable shackle had been dropped overboard! Blackie (black magic) was so grumpy and lulled in the sun that he didn’t move, or pay attention to what was going on. Up goes the chute, POOF! It fills with wind, Khulula surges forward in a rush of bow wave. Too late the crew realizes that the main sheet (rope required to control the main sail) was wedged under the winch handle… A gust of wind hits, the main sail fills, the sheet tensions and the winch handle gets launched 30m into the ocean, rapidly sinking to inky 3km depths. The Angels had completed the exorcism of Khulula!

Since the day of the great exorcism the speedo has stopped fluctuating and now reads a constant zero night and day, the empty cell of the ejected black magic. No longer does it undergo its nightly wandering, and good fortune has returned to the electronics aboard this vessel! We sit here rocketing along at 8-9 knots, under sunny skies, plotting our course on our refurbished NAV computer, listening to beats through TWO speakers and generated from my IPOD which also miraculously recovered recently…


Note: These impressions are surmised by the crew of Khulula. There is no evidence that the black magic was in the winch handle that fateful morning, but the timing is just too darn spot on. We figure it was either the winch handle or the shackle, and how on earth could a black magic fit inside a shackle? Must have been the winch handle… :

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