INSIGHTS: Cruising Kindly 2 – Be Kind to the Local People

Part 2 of Richard Chesher’s series of articles for INSIGHTS on Cruising Kindly. Part 1 in February focused on ways cruisers can be kind to the creatures of the sea and the marine environment, while Part 2 looks at the way cruisers can be kind to the local people they encounter as they explore remote Island nations (in particular Vanuatu). Author Richard Chesher is a marine scientist and creator and writer of the Rocket Guides for New Caledonia and Vanuatu.

Published 4 years ago

INSIGHTS: Cruising Kindly – Part 1 (February 2020)

Remote Island villages are highly vulnerable to new diseases.

Part 2: Be Kind to the Local People

The Covid-19 plague is something you do not want to bring to the islanders. Imagine the consequences if you, or a guest who has flown in to cruise with you, just happen to be a “symptom free” carrier of Covid-19 and the virus gets ashore on a remote Pacific Island. There are no hospitals available to treat the villagers. Many people would die, especially the elders who are so respected and loved in the villages.

Pacific islanders have experienced introduced diseases from sailing ships before. For example, Aneityum, the southernmost island of Vanuatu, reportedly had a population of about 12,000 people when Europeans arrived to trade for sandalwood, melt whale blubber on the beach, and Christianize the people. By 1925 European diseases had killed all but 250 of the original 12,000 villagers.

When the Covid-19 travel restrictions are lifted and you are allowed to sail to the islands again, don’t be surprised or annoyed if some of the villages don’t want you to come ashore. Understand they are frightened and have a really good reason to be cautious. If you are permitted to go ashore, wear a mask and keep your distance from the islanders. Be sure any items you have to trade with the islanders have been aboard your vessel for at least two weeks to be certain they are not contaminated with live viruses.


  • You may not have Covid-19, but you might have influenza or a cold. Anyone aboard who isn’t feeling well or is sneezing or coughing, should not go ashore until better.
Island Villagers gathering leaves for basket weaving.

Kind Cruisers are Happy Guests

Villages in remote island areas might have been exactly where they are now for hundreds, even thousands of years. Most of the people living in the villages were born there and will live their lives surrounded by the same people. They have evolved strict social traditions to live together with as little friction as possible.

One of their special social skills is understanding body language. You’ll be amazed how the people of Vanuatu know exactly what you are thinking. It hardly matters what comes out of your mouth. City people block out body language – to us it’s an unconscious and somewhat mysterious dialog going on without our thinking about it. So most of us have no idea what we are actually saying to the villagers with our eyes, nose, eyebrows, head position, body stance, etc.

When you go ashore in a remote island village you are entering the intimacy of their home. It’s very much like going to someone’s house for a party. If you smile and show a happy respect for your hosts when they open the door you’ll have a much better time. Well, going ashore in rural villages requires exactly the same good manners.

If you go ashore with a grim, unhappy look on your face (and I’ve seen lots of yachties do just that) you’ll be greeted with grim, unhappy looks from the people in the village and nobody will have much fun.

A young boy reflecting my face perfectly.


  • Go ashore with a happy face, filled with respect, joy and anticipation. You’ll see the same expressions reflected back from everyone and have a super great time. You can’t fake it because the villagers will see right through social masks. So… go ashore actually feeling happy and full of respect and anticipation.
  • Pay your respects to the host, the Chief. If you were going to visit a friend’s house you would bring a little something for your host, too, like desert or sweets, and would present this to the head of the household. So when you visit the Chief bring a little something – never alcohol – and don’t give anything the Chief could not (if he was so inclined) match in value. Food is usually the best gift for a Chief because (of course) the Chief can almost always match the gift himself.
  • If you visited someone’s farm in New Zealand you would never wander around their house or garden, swim in the swimming pool or anything else without first asking your host. So when you go ashore in a village, politely ask the Chief’s permission to wander around the village, go for a swim on HIS reefs or from HIS beach.
  • Never catch fish in the village bay or reefs – village marine resources are strictly “custom” regulated and are usually overfished. Some areas may be set aside by the Chief as reserves to rebuild the stocks. Fishing for pelagic fish offshore is fine, but not shallower than 100m.
  • Never ever pick fruit or vegetables yourself. Every single fruit tree, coconut tree, garden plant belongs to someone. If you need fruits or vegetables, ask if you can buy or trade for them.
  • Dress modestly (don’t show off your wealth), don’t wear bathing suits anywhere except on the beach or your yacht and wear modest bathing suits to avoid offending the villagers.
  • Village men and women treat each other in public with the utmost modesty. Open signs of physical affection (or aggression) to a spouse or partner would embarrass your hosts. This isn’t to say that you should ignore your partner, show respect, but not through physical affection. Couples can go on walks together but they don’t walk hand in hand, kiss or cuddle in public.
  • Be sensitive to their gender traditions, men off the yachts should socialize with the men of the village, while the women should socialize with the women. If a man sat down with a group of women, or followed them around, the women would be embarrassed.
  • Use a holding tank when at anchor – villagers harvest shellfish for sustenance.
  • Never throw rubbish overboard or dump it on the beaches or in the village. Keep your trash aboard until you can dispose of it properly. If you had storage space for the plastics, paper, batteries, cans, cardboard when you left port you have room to bring it back with you. 
  • Respect the people, their land, reefs, property and traditional way of life.
  • Remember they are the hosts you are their guests.

Further Reading: Cruising Vanuatu – Hospitality 

Yachtsman Mark Rolle repairing the Uliveo village solar powered desalination in the Maskelyn Islands of Vanuatu. He got it working again, producing 180 lpm of quality water.

Gifting Kindly

Kind Cruisers are careful about giving gifts or contributions. They know giving something to one person will cause envy and disharmony in the village.

Help everyone:

If you want to help, do something to benefit the whole village. First take the time to find out if there is something you can help with that the village really needs. You might offer to help fix the village water supply, or help repair the outboard motor on the boat used to service the village or repair the village generator or solar panel array. When fixing something, try to teach some of the men the diagnostic skills used to troubleshoot problems and how to do the repairs themselves. You might donate some antibiotics or other medicines in short supply to the village clinic, or donate some pencils, crayons or books to the school, fix the women’s groups’ sewing machine.


  • The Kind Cruiser’s rule of thumb is, “will my gift empower people or create dependency?”
Traditional art forms are a way for villagers to earn some money.

Support traditional values:

Kind Cruisers redistribute wealth without creating dependency by offering to purchase carvings from the men or handicrafts produced by the women such as baskets or mats. This may actually encourage the young men and women to take up art and handicrafts as a way to earn some cash and in doing so, maintain traditional skills.

Don’t buy or trade for sea shells or objects made from endangered species – like sea turtles. If villagers think they can sell sea shells they will destroy corals and take shells that are critical components of coral reef ecology – like the triton shell that helps control the Crown of Thorns starfish.

Accept gifts with thanks:

Kind cruisers accept gifts as gifts. If someone gives you some fruit, accept it with a warm smile and heartfelt thanks. If you were a guest in someone’s home and one of the family members gave you an apple from the family fruit tree would you offer money in return when they have just offered you a piece of fruit out of hospitality? No, of course not.

My wife, Freddy, and I walked into Lakatoro, Malakula, Vanuatu and passed a group of young ladies sitting under a tree. One of them came over to us and handed Freddy a nice big papaya. Freddy, admired the papaya, smiled and thanked her. I, being somewhat of a social klutz, said “that’s really nice” and reached into my pocket for some Vatu. The woman laughed, shook her head, and said, “No, really, it is just a gift to welcome you.” I’ve never forgotten how embarrassed I was and how glad she laughed and didn’t feel insulted by the crass tourist that thought gifts were another form of begging. Freddy gave me one of those, “Really?” looks as we walked off.

Trading old clothing for fruits and vegetables is always popular.

Trade for supplies:

On the other hand, if you get the feeling the gift is an initiative to open up an exchange, then respond accordingly.

If you need fresh fruit and/or vegetables then their gift of a coconut or two could be your cue to ask them if they could supply you with some provisions and offer them something in return. Money for a quantity of provisions could be appropriate as most villagers have basic cash needs for school fees, tea, sugar, soap, kerosene, matches, and clothes. If you have already provisioned in the market in town you will have a rough idea of the value of things. The village price for fruit and vegetables should be roughly half of the town market, but sometimes it will be the same.
Islanders often appreciate a gift in return rather than money; especially something they can’t ordinarily get like T-shirts or hats from somewhere else labeled with Australia, USA, or other ‘exotic’ locations. Good quality cotton clothes are always appreciated on the islands as what is available there tends to be rather expensive for low quality products.

Guided tours are a marriage of adventure and donations.

Hire a guide:

There will be interesting treks through wilderness areas on many of the islands you visit and some exciting dive spots. To visit them you need to ask permission of the Chief of the village. He will assign a guide to show you the local waterfall or accompany you to the top of a live volcano, or walk through a forest of giant ancient trees or maybe explore a taboo ancestral site with cave paintings. Settle on a price for the guide before you go and pay the Chief when you return.

Pay the admission fee:

More and more villages charge visitors to see custom dancing, visit their cave, dive spots or waterfalls. Some people on yachts get upset by this, but kind cruisers know that charging fees to tourist attractions – and to beaches and public parks – is common in every country of the world. It is one of the very few ways villagers can earn money and is ecologically much better than selling their forests or their marine resources.

Custom dancing is fun for everyone and contributes to the whole village.

How to Deflect Demands

Unfortunately not all members of a village are nice. If some young men come out to your yacht and demand anything – alcohol, tobacco or cash – don’t give it to them.

The instant an islander demands you give them something they are assuming you are beneath them on the social status scale. In the islands, a person can only demand tribute from those beneath them in their social standing. Equals trade or gift each other, but never make demands.

If you give them what they demand you teach the young men of the village that yachties are prime targets (i.e. suckers). You teach them intimidation is a great way to get whatever they want. Plus giving alcohol to anyone in the islands is a sure way to cause trouble for everyone. Yachties who have given on demand to islanders have created problems for every yacht that came after them. But you have to be careful about how you refuse. Here’s how we do it.

Freddy and I were in an anchorage in the Maskeline Islands in central Vanuatu when 3 young men in a canoe came alongside and one of them immediately said, “Gud morning fren. Oli dring gogo, oli stop nomo taem bia i finis. Mifala wantem bia. Plis, yu save givim Bia?” My Bislama is poor but the meaning was clear. They had drunk all their beer and wanted us to give them some beer. He did say please, but his face and tone were demanding, not asking.

After cruising the tropics for over 35 years (at the time) I had learned an amazingly useful tactic. Island men (including officials) can be very domineering to their women and their women are submissive or abused. The only women in their lives who are not submissive or abused are their grandmother, their mother, and school teachers. Island men, especially young ones, never act in a domineering way to their mother or school teachers. So if a woman speaks to them the way a teacher or mother might, they immediately become respectful or even submissive. We’ve seen some big island mamas schooling a misbehaving child and understand exactly why the kids are submissive to their moms (and possibly why they later become abusive to their wives).

Young men demanding alcohol in the islands.

So when the young men paddled up and immediately asked us for beer my lovely wife Frederique (who is rather small and pretty) talked to them. I just sat down and watched quietly.

She smiled at them and asked, “Good morning, and what village do you come from?”

Two of the guys immediately stopped grinning and looked at the leader. He looked confused for a moment, glanced at the village next to the anchorage then pointed to it and said, “Mi kam long Vilej klosap long sanbij”. (From the village there by the beach).

“My name is Frederique,” she said looking at the leader, “and what is your name.”

“David,” he replied. It was probably his “Christian name” or maybe his “school name” – islanders usually have several names including their local name. Freddy then asked the other men their name, exactly the way a school teacher might ask children in her class for their names.

“Your village looks very nice and we are looking forward to visiting the Chief of your village today. Do you know if he will be in home today? Or will he be in his garden?” Freddy’s mention of the Chief sparked a quick exchange of nervous glances between them. They shrugged, and shook their heads, having no idea if the chief was home or in his garden. Or they were worried we would tell the Chief about their demand for beer.

By now all three had lost their smug sneers, two of them concentrating hard, looking confused as they tried to decipher Freddy’s English spoken with a French accent. The leader clearly understood her English and was responding to Freddy’s friendly, happy attitude. Freddy’s facial expression was mirrored exactly on his face; friendly, not sneering or demanding. They all had accepted Freddy’s role as teacher/mother figure as opposed to scared or dumb yachtie.

They glanced at me from time to time as Freddy talked to them, but I just sat there trying to look like a high school principal; observant, not very interested or friendly. An authority figure.

Once they shifted their mood to “yes mom” body language, Freddy said, “We don’t have any alcohol or tobacco aboard. We don’t smoke or drink and you shouldn’t either. But if you bring some fruit, maybe bananas or papaya we will trade with you for some fish hooks or fishing line or maybe some shirts.”

They looked at each other and the leader nodded and said in rather clear English, “Thank you too much, we go garden – find banana.”

We never saw them again.


About the Authors:

Richard and Frederique Chesher began cruising the Pacific aboard their Peterson 44 cutter in 1976. Richard is a Ph.D. marine scientist and Frederique is an artist and professional photographer. Together they created and publish the Rocket Cruising Guide to New Caledonia and the Rocket Cruising Guide to Vanuatu, widely praised as the best cruising guides in the world.

Rocket Guides are computer programs for Windows and Mac computers (not Ipads or Android tablets). They are unlike any other kind of cruising guide you’ve ever used; extremely intuitive, fast and comprehensive. With just two clicks you can do a virtual visit to 220 anchorages in New Caledonia and 170 anchorages in Vanuatu, with 240 verified GPS routes in New Caledonia and 160 GPS routes in Vanuatu. The guides cover all of New Caledonia and Vanuatu and are updated at least 4 times a year.

Every anchorage has a high definition, color aerial image showing the anchorage area, surface or drone shots showing what it looks like on approach, what it looks like after you get there plus above and below water (sometimes even spherical 360 degree images) of beaches, coral reefs, forests, waterfalls, and trails.

The guides offer everything you need to choose the places you and your crew will enjoy most along with reliable sailing directions, exact GPS coordinates of the safest place to anchor, depths, bottom type, protection from wind and waves, hazards, VHF reception and times of the weather reports, mobile phone, Internet, WiFi and TV reception, points of interest, treks and trails. Plus important information on health hazards, social issues, where to get fuel, supplies or repairs, government and local restrictions, conservation laws, and more.

Guides are accompanied by the Rocket Travel Guides prepared for the tourism departments of New Caledonia and Vanuatu to train travel agents about the enormous range of tourism facilities and activities in both counties; accommodation, car rentals, shopping, tours, sights, beaches all the things tourists need to know about visiting these holiday destinations.

Rocket Guides have it all available in a couple of clicks – and you don’t need to be online.



Living Off Grid – by Rekka Bell 
Arctic Vlog – Diesel Heaters Compared – by Juho Karhu
Man Overboard – Episode 1 – by Duncan Wells
Cruising Kindly Part 1 – by Richard Chesher
Sailing Away – Top 10 Tips – by Nicola Rodriquez


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of or World Cruising Club.

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