Tanna Island 22 - 30 Aug
The wind was quite good out of Lifou and we made good progress during the day. Before night fell, we reduced sail in case the wind came up unexpectedly during the night. We had been about 4-5 miles ahead of Windchimes at this stage, but we reduced the headsail too much, as during the night they passed us! At sunup, out came the sail and we gradually caught and passed them. (Definition of a yacht race: Two boats heading in the same general direction and in sight of each other).
We made it into Lenakel on the west coast of Tanna Island on 23rd August. We had been advised not to go there as it can be very rough, but a boat in there told us it was quite OK. On Monday the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Officials came down to do the necessary paperwork. This was quite easy but cost us VT6000 or about AUD75. With that out of the way we were able to go ashore and buy some fresh produce at the open-air market. This was excellent - fresh lettuce, beans, peanuts, onions and mandarins (bitter). All was very cheap, some less than VT100 or $1.20. We also bought some beef for VT400/kg. It had just been killed that morning, so it needed marinading.
The weather was pretty cloudy with some drizzle and the forecast was for strengthening winds, so we decided to get out of there while it was good, so the next morning we headed south down the west coast of Tanna, around the bottom and up to Port Resolution (named by Capt Cook after his ship). The reason every yacht heads for this anchorage is the volcano Mt Yasur, supposedly the most accessible active volcano in the world. We arrived on Tuesday, but had to wait until Saturday before we made the trip. The reason was that the local soccer team were playing in Lenakel, and the truck was there with them. Each day we were told 'maybe tomorrow ..' but they kept winning and made it into the finals. Anyway by the time Saturday came, the number of boats had grown from 5 to 9. The local arranger took VT200/boat to make the phonecall to Lenakel to get the truck, the truck ride up to the volcano was VT1000 each, and entry was VT2000 each. We all headed ashore at 4pm so when the Toyota pickup truck arrived, we had 17.5 passengers waiting. It looked like some were going to miss out, but with 3 in the front, most of us squeezed in the back (wooden bench seats) and 4 on the back bumper bar, we all got a ride.
Consternation at the entrance.
When the driver paid the gatekeeper, we were VT6000 short! Eventually this was found from some who had already paid (its still unclear what happened) and we were able to continue our journey. The track was quite steep in parts and very deeply rutted but our driver skillfully kept us moving. The sun was just setting as we arrived at the 'car park' which is about 150m down from the rim. As we dismounted, the volcano let out a very impressive 'whooooosh'. We clambered up the track to get a closer look. Some other tourists from some of the resorts had arrived just before us - their guide advised us where to stand. This was about 100m from the actual crater. For the next hour we were treated to a great fireworks show (literally). There are three vents with differing levels of activity - one produced mainly smoke while one of the others gave the loudest 'whooompah' sounds, followed by lava. Many photos were taken on both film and digital cameras. The most spectacular outburst threw great red glowing boulders high in the air with some landing about 50m away from us. The return trip was a repeat of the outward journey, but with so many of us crammed in the back we couldn't bounce around. It was a most fantastic event and one that we would not have missed for anything.
The next morning (Sunday 29th August) we were invited to visit a village for a meal. This consisted of rice, yams, manioc and pork all laid out on 'plates' made of leaves and decorated with flowers. It was a great treat to be invited and receive this hospitality. Naturally we took gifts to repay this kindness. We were told later that the Chief Philomon was very big in the local John Frumm organisation.
Tanna to Eromango 30 Aug - 1 Sept
Monday morning was bright and sunny as we sailed past the volcano. From the sea we could only see the smoke clouds billowing around the crater, but friends who arrived from Fiji during the night had seen the red glow against the clouds. (That's what attracted Capt. Cook's attention). We had a pretty good sail from Port Resolution up to Dillons Bay on Erromango Island. This is the forgotten island in Vanuatu and is at the bottom of the list in getting any funds from the government. When we went ashore the next day we met the local missionaries, Lawrence and Sue Bodley. They kindly spent some time with us telling us about their life there, and of the previous missionaries who had been killed and possibly eaten in the 1800's. They were only the 8th and 9th missionaries in more than 160 years. Later they came onboard Meridian for afternoon tea with freshly made scones and pikelets which they really enjoyed.
The next leg up to Port Vila was more than 70 NM so we had an early start - midnight! There wasn't much wind to start with so we motored for a few hours until it built up to about 15kt, later 20kt. Again we were getting swell hitting us on the beam. About 6am while Paul was sleeping in the aft cabin, propped up with pillows, a big wave hit us, throwing him right out of bed into the wardrobe door on the opposite side of the cabin. Luckily no broken ribs, just a bit of grazing on the elbow.
Port Vila 1-6 Sept
We decided to take a mooring in Port Vila rather than trying to find an anchorage spot among the many visiting yachts. Yachting World own these and they really are an excellent company to deal with. We had a problem with the outboard motor so asked them to contact Vila Marine. They did this, the motor was picked up, fixed and returned in the same day! Unbelievable! They also did our two bags of laundry very well and at reasonable cost.
The next few days were spent dealing with bureaucracy, shopping in the huge market or the Bon Marche' supermarket, and visiting the Iririki Island resort for Sunday lunch. We also caught up with friends that we met previously in Lifou or Port Resolution.
Again, time was pressing so we left Vila for Mele Bay, anchoring near Hideaway Island resort. Janise from Windchimes decided to have a game of golf ashore, but Paul declined after his last effort at Laguna Quays. The next day we were off again, this time for Havannah Harbour on the northwest corner of Efate Island. Again we had a great sail in fresh 15kt SE breeeze which died completely inside the harbour. Drinkies were aboard Windchimes with visitors from English and German boats.
Epi Island 10 Sept
The options to get to Epi were 1) an overnight trip of about 70NM or 2) two hops of 40 and 30 miles, stopping at Emae island. We decided on option 2, and had two great days of sailing. We conceded the win to Windchimes on leg 1 by about 2 boat lengths, and we claim victory by a similar margin for the second leg.
Swimming with the Dugong! 11 - 14 Sept
Lamen Bay is famous for its dugong which comes into the bay to graze on the seagrass beds there. In fact if it wasn't there I doubt if many yachts would bother stopping. Anyway the next morning we saw about 8 people in the water, obviously following the dugong. We quickly got our snorkelling gear out and joined them. It was quite unconcerned by the tourists swimming down alongside him, touching and stroking him. The skin texture was quite strange - one boy described it as like cactus - generally smooth but with stubble every few centimetres. There seemed to be very little sustenance in the seabed; he vacuums the bottom and ejects the sand as he goes along. He also stays down for many minutes at a time, then surfaces for a fresh breath, then down again. One French guy stayed with him for two hours and was very excited by the experience. Apparently we were lucky because he doesn't come into the bay every day.
Village kastom dance and meal.
On Monday 13th we went to Lamen Island for a village kastom dance performed by the women, followed by a traditional meal prepared by then. It was interesting to see them prepare the taro, yams and coconut for the traditional laplap which is wrapped in leaves, then cooked on hot stones. They were also weaving mats and baskets with brightly dyed pandanus leaves. Before we partook of this feast, we were given a demonstration of fire-making by rubbing a sharp pointed stick rapidly in a groove of another piece of wood. Some dried coconut husk was strategically placed to catch fire. After lunch, the men sang a few songs for us then we were shown the traditional method of making a dugout canoe. It was a most informative and enjoyable day which only cost us VT500 each. While we waited for our transport to take us back to Lamen Bay we were able to see smoke issuing from the volcanoes on Ambrym and Lopevi Islands.
To round off a most delightful day, we had dinner onshore in the restaurant at the Paradise Sunset Bungalows run by Tasso. These bungalows are traditional huts, but do have the luxury of the generator making power until about 8:30pm.
We arrived in a small anchorage Awai near Maskelyne Islands with a few other boats already sheltering from the SE trade winds. We were immediately visited by numerous locals on their way home from their gardens, so a few trades were made. The next day, Janise from Windchimes had heard that there was a small school on nearby Avock island - she had plenty of material and wanted to give it to a worthy cause. We also had some books and pens, etc to add to the supplies. It was quite a delivery trip! We landed our dinghies on a coral beach at low tide, then had to walk about 500m through mangroves and mud to reach the school. The school was separated from the village by this tidal flat, so when the tide was up, the children paddled over in canoes. Our arrival at lunchtime caused quite a stir with the children, but only one teacher was around to welcome us and take delivery of the goods.
Despite being a "temporary teacher", ie untrained, the work of his children greatly impressed our two ex-teachers. Harold hopes to go to college next year.
Chief Willie and Doctor Nick 16 - 17 Sept
We left Windchimes near Avock waiting (in vain) for promised lobster; we already had bought/traded two mud crabs. Our next anchorage was just 2 miles north at Sakao Island. While anchoring, a man on shore told us that we could use the mooring nearby. This offer was readily accepted, as the anchorage was quite deep close in and we were near a bommie. The man turned out to be Chief Willie. (We had been asked to contact him by our friend Edward, who is trying to organise a clean water project). He came onboard for a cup of tea and after receiving various gifts, he invited us to eat with him. Paul went ashore with him to visit the clinic and meet Doctor Nick. The clinic is sponsored by an American foundation, called the MARC (Medical Assistance for Remote Communities) Project. Nick is in his final year of medical school in London, and was out here for a month. The clinic was recently built and while basic, had the necessities for community health care, including a birthing table.
Dinner was with Chief Willie, his wife Rachel, niece Minnie (one of the nurses at the Clinic) and Dr. Nick. We donated the mud crabs which went into the meal of pasta, rice and traditional vegetables. Nick had taken many digital photos and almost filled all of his cards. As he didn't have a laptop to transfer them, I offered to put them on CD so he could clear them and start again.
The next day Chief Willie, his family and Dr. Nick went to Maskelyne Island to meet Edward and other Chiefs to discuss the water project (fuelled by some of our petrol). We pushed on to Banam Bay, about 20NM north in SE Malekula Island. Again, there were several boats already anchored, some of whom we were pleased to find were old friends from Port Resolution on Tanna Island and other anchorages. Drinks were taken on Santa Maria II (Klaus and Brigitte). While talking to Edward about his project, he mentioned that his printer was broken, so I offered him our old one. The next day we went ashore to meet another Chief Willie (the Elected Chief!!) and to arrange to leave the printer at the Clinic. The other thing was to arrange for the older people to have their eyes tested, as Greg and Janise had brought many pairs of spectacles for them.
While ashore we met Chief Saitol, the Cultural Chief who represents the traditional dancers. We arranged to have a 'kastom dance' that afternoon at 4:30pm. Malekula has numerous tribes but they were broadly categorised as 'Big Nambas' or "Small Nambas", depending on the size and nature of the penis-wrap that they traditionally wore. Our dancers were Small Nambas, the namba being a part of a banana leaf wrapped around the pointy bit and tucked into a bark belt, the dangly bits hung free. They had white paint on their bodies, and rattles made of dried bush nuts tied with cord around their ankles. There were about 20 dancers with about 6 percussionists playing various wood and bamboo instruments.
They performed about 8 dances in all, some very energetic with the dancers coming very close to the audience. The ladies seemed to find the firm bodies, buttocks and thighs to be of interest ... On the other hand, when the women danced in their traditional grass skirts, the sagging bare bosoms on display did little to excite the men in the audience.
The dancing was followed by traditional laplap food which was delicious. All-in-all it had been a great afternoon and very well received by all attending.
Pentecost Island 20 - 26 Sept
Time was marching on so we left Banam Bay with quite strong SE Trades blowing on our beam, This made for a fast if rolly trip, except when we passed in the lee of Ambrym Island where the wind died completely. We decided to bypass Ambrym partly because of time constraints, the other being that the northern access to the volcanoes was closed (not that we would have trekked for 10 hours anyway). Our cruising guide suggested that the locals in Homo Bay weren't too friendly, in fact quite greedy in their demands, so we anchored just north of there in Walli Bay. Homo Bay is one of the centres for the 'Land Diving' event in May and June, but outside of that season, there is little to see. We pressed on to Loltong in northwest Pentecost in growing overcast conditions which eventually became rain as we tried to enter the anchorage. The entry is pretty critical as there are reefs either side of the access, so there are triangular leads to guide mariners in. The problem was that with the rain, we couldn't see them! We followed Windchimes in, creeping along watching the depth gauge closely. Windchimes decided they were close enough and dropped anchor. We went a little further and did the same. As I was checking the hold of the anchor, a local in a canoe came up and told me that the anchorage was further in, and much better. He then proceeded to guide us to the spot. THEN we could see the leads!
His name was Willie (another one) and we invited him on board for a cup of tea. We gave him a few things as thanks for his assistance. Before he left he mentioned that he had a toothache, and asked if we had anything stronger than Panadol. We didn't, but Judy offered to find him some Oil of Cloves to ease the pain. He also asked for a magazine, which we promised we'd find for the next day. When he came out the next day he brought some cabbages, bananas and carrots. While Judy was getting the Womens Weekly, I asked him if he could read OK. He said 'no' so we got out some magnifiers that we'd bought. He was delighted to be able to read the fine print. He was a bit unsure about the Oil of Cloves after Judy warned him that it was poisonous.
The rain continued for a couple of days, but we did manage a walk ashore to the 'administrative centre for Pentecost' which turned out to be a village with a large Catholic school and ruined church (earthquake). The wind was quite strong - a boat outside our anchorage recorded more than 40kt.
Asanvari, Maewo Island 24 - 27 Sept
Our cruising guide said that many cruisers regarded Asanvari as their favourite village and we were soon to find out why. After anchoring in about 13m over coral and sand (two attempts) near a waterfall, we went ashore to meet Chief Nelson in the Asanvari Yacht Club. This was a most impressive structure, quite new. After the presentation of gifts and chit-chat, we were taken on a guided tour of the village by some children. It was unlike any other village that we'd seen so far - neat hedges of multicoloured shrubs lined the laneways between the houses and huts. Some had stone walls or shrub hedges around their houses. Running water from high in the hills was laid on in the village with taps located everywhere. The school was much better resourced than others that we'd seen, but still in need of materials. Janise had a set of encyclopedia which were ferried ashore the next day.
A nice sunny day followed, so washing was on the agenda. The pools below the waterfall were a convenient location for the task. It was a welcome change not having to conserve every drop of rinse water.
Chief Nelson promised us a kastom dance on Saturday night if there were enough boats in. Several more arrived after us, so it was on. This was quite a different affair from Banam Bay - they wore woven laplaps instead of nambas, and elaborate headdresses of bamboo and leaves or feathers. They also wore the rattles on their ankles. There were about 12 dancers and a solitary 'drummer' on a tamba. The effect was somewhat diminished by the rubber thongs that they all wore. The dancing again was very energetic - apparently they won a competition recently. Several of the audience were invited to join in to the amusement of all.
Following the men's dances, the children preformed a bamboo dance where sitting children banged bamboo sticks together while the others hopped between them, trying not to get their ankles hit. This was very well done.
Following the dancing, we were invited to try Kava. Three men had been preparing it all afternoon. We had read various reports about how evil-tasting kava is, but we had to have a go. It wasn't all that palatable, but had a peppery taste with a slight numbing effect on the lips. It is a relaxant, not narcotic.
The kava tasting was then followed by a meal of a beef curry, rice and vegetables - very tasty indeed. This was eaten to the accompaniment of a string band. We had seen one at Iririki resort and this one sounded similar. The group consists a singer (usually falsetto), tea-chest base, 4-string guitar(s) and a sort of home-made banjo/ukulele. Very interesting to start with, but EVERY song starts the same, the rhythm and beat is the same, in fact I'm sure they sang the same song several times.
We spent another day there as the weather wasn't that great outside, and we'd been invited onboard "Firebird" an 85 ft ketch that we'd seen in many different locations. It used to belong to Mr. Timken the roller bearing manufacturer and was built in the 70's. He used to travel with his own doctor, engineer and cook. The present owners, Jim and Vickie have one crew member Dylan, a fit young South African and his Dad, David who is visiting.
We were to have gone diving with Dylan, but the sky was completely overcast so we left for Lolowai on Ambae Island.
Last Volcano, Lolowai 27 - 28 Sept
Lolowai is an anchorage actually inside an extinct crater. The entry is over a coral bar, so some care is needed, as well as a high tide. The track in is actually marked quite clearly with triangular leads which were easily found. Anchoring in about 10m on sand was quickly completed and we were ashore for a walk around. Not a lot to see - some stores, a post office and hospital were the main features.
Eric the Anglican Minister
Edward told us by radio that there is an interesting walk to the crater rim so we set off next morning. After we had tied up our dinghies, we were approached by a man waiting for the 'bus' (truck) with his wife and grand-daughter. They lived about 2 hours travel away, and had brought the sick child to the hospital for treatment. We got talking; next thing he has offered to take us up to the rim. The climb was gradual and not arduous at all. As we walked along the substantial track through lush vegetation, it emerged that Eric was a Minister of the Anglican Church and had been posted to Lolowai last year. Janise and Judy still had lots of clothes left, so we decided to give him all of them as there were no further opportunities to give them away.
The view from the rim was great, with our boats a long way below us. Unfortunately it was cloudy (again). Don't believe talk about the sunny tropics - the Convergence Zone brings plenty of cloud down from the Equator. On our return we invited Eric onboard for a look, then gathered the remaining clothes together for him. He was delighted to receive so much for his parishioners.
Lolowai to Luganville
The distance is 50NM which means about 10 hours travel, thus a 4am departure. We didn't want to go over the bar at that time, so we left at 3pm to anchor around the corner. At 4am we were under way with a fresh breeze pushing us along at 6kts plus. As we reached the northern peak of Ambae, we fell into the wind shadow, so on with the iron topsail (motor). As we cleared Ambae's western corner, the wind came in at 20kts, so off we went on a rollicking ride but with the swell hitting us on the beam. We won that race over Windchimes, arriving about 20 minutes ahead of them.
Luganville and Aore Island Resort 29 Sept - 2 Oct
We luckily found that Aore Resort had two vacant moorings so we took them. Its nice not having to worry about anchoring for a change. The resort is part of a coconut plantation opposite Luganville. We travelled across in the resort ferry to collect mail and do some shopping including the ordering of rump steak at the abattoirs (500VT or $6/kg!). We've never seen so many Chinese stores, all selling the same conglomeration of goods from food to clothing to hardware.
Our last night at the resort was an 'Island Night' so we decided to splurge. Lamen island was 500VT, Banam Bay was 1500VT, Asanvari was 1500VT, Aore was 2800VT. The 'kastom dance' was a touristy thing as the men and women danced together; normally they dance separately. Anyway it was enjoyable enough, as was the String band (same beginning, same beat, same key ...). The buffet meal was quite superior quality of course so the whole evening was worth it.
Homeward Bound 1.
With the impending births, we had to make our way home all too soon. So we haven't seen anything of Santo except Luganville, nor the Banks and Torres Islands to the north; they will have to wait for another time. With 320 NM to Lifou we figured on three days travel. We started off at 7:30 Saturday 2nd making good progress until we fell into the lee of Malekula Island. Once we cleared the island, the breeze came up to around 20kt (the wind gauge display was playing up) and we were sailing along at 6.5 - 7 kts. Great! we'll be there in 2.5 days at this rate! Spoke too soon didn't I? Around 9:20pm there was a funny noise like a wave hitting the hull, then the headsail started flapping loudly. I checked the halyard was still fast in the jammer, and as we looked at the headsail it started falling down the forestay, and over the starboard side of Meridian. Shit!
We gathered it all in and tied it to the lifelines, then put up the small stay sail. We then proceeded at around 4kts but during the night the wind eased and by morning we were down to around 3 knots or less. We decided to wait for the seas to flatten a bit so I could climb the mast to retrieve the halyard, meanwhile we shook out the second reef from the mainsail to get a bit more speed.
After lunch the seas were a bit flatter, but still half to one meter swells were coming in on our port side. The climb up the mast wasn't fun, but safe enough with the bosun's chair and the steps, but I still had to hang on quite tightly at times. The halyard was retrieved, then the sail had to be repaired. The stitching of the webbing loop at the top had come away. Judy managed to sew it with difficulty as it is 9.5 oz cloth doubled over. Next task was to get the sail up again. As we had just hauled it onboard, it was all twisted. By undoing each end we were able to unravel it and get it aloft. What a relief! Back to 6.5 kts instead of 3 - 4. Since then we have covered around 140 NM in the following 24 hours or nearly 6kt average.
We made landfall at We' on Lifou Island on Tues morning, then pushed on to Noumea. After a break, and the arrival of a suitable weather window we left for Sydney on Tuesday 12th Oct.
The wind was just perfect, 15kt just on the beam so we averaged 6.5 kts for 2 days - over 150NM per day. Then it quietened down for a few days so we motored for a while, waiting for the High to move across and bring us more Sou'easters.
All of the photos taken in Vanuatu are at the site.