Where are we

Saturday, 9 September 2023

Part 3 - Espiritu Santo to Aoba and back to Port Vila, Efata

From Luganville we headed north to a very sheltered bay with a tricky entrance requiring a high tide, waypoints and nerves of steel.  We anchored in the outer bay when we first arrived to check that all was as expected and waited for the next high tide.

It was very much worth the worry and wait. Inside the bay was wonderfully sheltered, the shore dotted with holiday villas. It was also a place where we thought we might see a dugong, but didn’t.

Once anchored up, we dinghied ashore to look around and found the homestead of Philip, Reena and their children. It was manicured jungle walk with well maintained gardens with a beach at the mouth of a fresh water river. 

Philip walked us up to the village and then back down to the beach with the whole family in tow.

They are hoping to become licensed as a tourist destination and are more than happy to allow visitors to use their beach and the tables and benches by the beach.

Sheena and Willis. Apologies for the repetitive waffling in video.  Should have had a longer think before pressing record. There is also a language issue; all speak the local dialectic and may also speak more or less English and or French and it can be hard to tell.

 Boys playing football on the beach. It is a wonderful backyard.

This is the mouth of the river, looking out into the bay. Everything about the river was pretty and best of all it lead to a blue hole. 

Even the US Army built bridge we passed under was enhanced by its surroundings.

On the far side of the bridge, we were surprised to be hailed by a man sitting on the bank with a slingshot. There is an entrance fee of 1,000 VT per person to visit the Riri Blue Hole. This was expected. We paid and carried on up stream. Colin and Thant Zin were following us and spoke longer with the man.  The slingshot wasn’t for trespassers or non-payers, but for parrots. They grow rice nearby and they have problems with parrots eating the rice, thus the slingshot. Colin has run across exactly this in other countries. On our way back from the blue hole, there were half a dozen boys with slingshots festooning the bridge. With current and tide both with us, I was too slow to get a photo as we shot past them.

I would have like to see how they grow the rice, but time did not allow.

 The river was long and winding. It was a blustery day on the bay, but calm on the river. In wider sections of the river, we could see the wind whipping the treetops.

And here we are. The river just opens up and then ends. On the bottom you could see tiny pale peaks where the fresh water came out. You couldn’t see it but if you got close enough you could feel warm areas.

Swimming refreshing as it was much colder than the sea. Tim had a short swim, but Colin and Thant Zin could not be .

The dinghy looked quite surreal appearing as it does poised above the water. 

I think all the pale/white areas on the river bottom are where the fresh water is filtering up from the depths. As it’s white it must mean that the water is bring up coral sand… sound reasonable? I have tried to get more info on blue holes but any internet search results in blue holes in the open ocean. Spectacular, yes, but not so restful and shady as this.

Riri Blue Hole must have been well maintained in the past. There were steps, a concrete dock, a seating area and paths but all were in various stages of disrepair. It did not detract from the beauty of the place though it did make you careful about where you put your feet or what you sat on.

Heading back down river. I was thinking how nice it would be to paddle down in complete silence when around the bend came a canoe with a paying passenger. Unfortunately,  almost the minute they came around the bed, I shifted my grip on my phone and put my finger over the lens, which I managed to edit out eventually.

By the time I realised I’d missed most of it they were passing Colin and Thant Zin.

We enjoyed this so much that the next day we went up another nearby river to see the Matavulu Blue Hole.

The river journey wasn’t as nice as the day before, but it was worth it!

This is our arrival. It was very impressive and looked like a set from the film ‘Avatar’. 

It was a bigger, deeper, a little colder pool than Riri and no one fancied joining me for a swim.

We were the only group there. Instead of swimming, the guys chose to walk part of the track to the old airport. I was still swimming when they got back. It is such a treat to swim in fresh water. I had no idea how unusual that is having grown up on Lake Huron, one of The Great Lakes.

Tim, Thant Zin and Colin.

These two ladies maintained and managed the site on the day we arrived. They welcome visitors, keep the gardens tidy, collect the 1,000 VT fee and then wave them goodbye. Visitors can also come by road.

Heading back down the river I was wondering if one could swim it or how nice it would be to not use the engine to better hear the birds, when around the bend came a canoe.

Our man with the slingshot exchanged it for a paddle and tourist.

These two days were our favourite experiences thus far in Vanuatu.  I would happily swim in blue holes every day of the week, but there appeared to be a favourable weather window for heading south in the offing.

The red line is northbound and the green southbound.

The islands of Vanuatu run north- south more or less and the prevailing winds are from the southeast. This makes it easy to sail north, but more challenging to sail south.  The farther north you go the more more weather windows you could need to get back down.  A window might only be open long enough to get you to the next island, where the waiting begins again. 

Almost from the moment we left Efata, Tim was eyeing up potential weather windows daily in every 10 day forecast to come back down south.  We were also resigned to leaving from Luganville on Santos if a window never came.

As chance would have it, more southerly wind than normal was forecast for two days time and would be followed in a week or so by two days of easterly winds with perhaps a hint of north in them. 

A plan was formed to over night at the nearby island of Aese and the next day use the southerly to go further East to the island of Aoba. 

Aese has a beautiful sandy beach on one side and a windward side of exposed volcanic rock. Only one family living permanently on the island, but as we arrived a church group were pitching tents, digging and outhouse, settling up cooking areas with military precision.

Tents going up.

The windward beach. 

No photos were taken on the walk across the island. It was a mix of trees and grassy areas but throughout was a thin strong creeper vine that tried very hard  to trip you.

Thant Zin is SO at home picking through tide pools and clambering over razor sharp volcanic rock.

I am a lot more cautious and stopped walking till I could look where I put my feet again.

Jennifer and her family. She has the best smile.

It’s one thing to buy them in a shop but I had no idea that chayote/christophine grow on a vine.

I love this video of Jennifer. I had wondered how she was going to reached the chayote.

(I wasn’t able to put it on YouTube as they converted this to a ‘Short’ that I wasn’t able to insert here. So I deleted it despite the fact that it had had 3,600 views and 26 likes.)

The next morning we headed east from Aese to Aoba.

Lovely sailing.

Restful too.

The anchorage outside the village.  We moved to the village anchorage but due to the protective reefs, the bay is best entered at high water.

For scale, Burmese Breeze anchored near the cliffs.  

The tree above were full of bats. You could see them coming and going, twittering like birds.  We had bananas ripening on the aft deck so we covered them at night in an abundance of caution. In the Caribbean, fruit bats will swoop into boats left open with with ripe bananas on display. They poop on the fly and make a terrible mess. 

In the heat of the day in search of the local market, we walked to the east coast of the island. 

In the distance is the island of Maewo, which looks amazing but is also know for sorcery. All about Maewo - it was tempting but we didn’t have time to stop. One must also ensure that you are not ashore when, once every two weeks or so, the sorcerers  ‘self medicate’ and roam the island. Anyone not sheltering inside risks being beaten.


Tim, Colin and Thant Zin made a long hard walk to see the lake in the caldera. Luckily, it was baking day for me.

This is Celia and her daughter Samantha. 

Celia has the best shop in Lolowai and she specially ordered bread for us to be collected at 10.00 the next morning. The bread came early and not being able to make me understand from the shore the need to come and get it now, Celia and her daughter delivered it. It was Sunday and there was big event on the East side of the island and she and her family hoped to go. She invited us to go along too but transportation is an issue and the distance was too far to walk.

I sent these photos to Celia’s son who is 14 and at flight school in Fiji. Celia has a phone but has no idea how to use it. Hopefully when he next visits he can put the photos onto her phone.

Onions are priced individually depending on size.

When we shop, we buy far more at a time than the local people. We have refrigeration and are away from shops for long periods. In remote areas or when produce is scarce, it’s better to leave what there is for the locals.  They don’t have visitors often and can be more generous than they should be.

When Celia, delivered the bread and after chatting with us for a while, said she would gift us the bread if she had baked it, but the baker needed to be paid.  

The departure of the ferry and panorama of the bay. You can see the route the ferry takes to keep clear of the unseen reefs.

From Aoba we sailed to Port Vila, Efata over two days.  

The winds were forecast to be from the East and maybe a little from the northeast.  We decided to use our staysail, which is smaller than the main jib and is hanked onto a removable inner forestay. We set it up before departure and then haul it up once under way.  

The headsail made a huge difference sailing with the wind ahead of the beam. Our main jib is much bigger and gusts can make it quite a lively sail. With the staysail, the ride was much smoother particularly behind the island where the seas are flat but the wind very gusty. It allowed us to have more main sail up, which is great for stability and comfort and keeping the speed more consistent. 

We anchored for the night on the north west coast of Ambrym. We arrived just after dark and we’re glad of two other boats already anchored there.  I’ve anchored between them.  The next morning the tide turned and the wind picked up into the anchorage and we were forced to start our journey a little earlier than expected.

The next leg from Ambrym to Efata was more challenging.  The wind was strong and although in the open sea it would probably have been blowing from the East North East it was quite different behind the islands.

The wind tends to bend around and accelerate down a islands coastline. With the wind coming from the east, the wind direction we experienced depended on the direction of the coast line.

So as you go along, the wind comes from this direction then that direction and so on. It makes for a meandering coarse over the ground.

From Ambrym we had 24 hours of hard sailing. Not as hard as Burmese Breeze had.  They were about 12 hours ahead of us having opted not stopped for the night.  We seem to have had a much better sea state for a lot of the passage, but it was still a fast rough passage with little sleep had by any.

We were very glad to get into the lee of Efata, but the 2 hours of motoring up to Port Vila to arrive at 0400 in the morning was horrible in its utter tedium. We were very glad to drop anchor and sleep.

We are now sticking to the Port Vila area, and on the lookout for a weather window to New Caledonia and Australia.

Friday, 25 August 2023

Port Vila to Espiritu Santo - Part 2


The island of Epi, our next stop, was a full days sail from Efata. They day promised good winds but once we had left the bay, where the winds were gusting 25 knots, we lost the wind completely and despite our best efforts motored for first two hours. Eventually we left the island’s wind shadow and in the blink of an eye we were hustling to get reefed down.  

This was very like sailing from Guadeloupe to Antigua in the Caribbean. No wind, no wind, no wind, and suddenly gusting 25 knots as you cleared the island. The jump in speed makes any lure you are trailing much more alluring and all at once you have a fish in the line with the boat heeled over on her ear.  Larus likes to heel and sails well in lots of wind but it does make reeling in, landing and filleting challenging. We learned not to fish heading north from Guadeloupe. 

We anchored in Lameh, Bay. Rachel had warned us we’d probably need a stern anchor to keep our stern into the swell. When we arrived there wasn’t any swell and the bay seemed reasonably protected. The wind was blowing offshore and keeping us in a good position to meet any swell that bent around the headland.  It was good until the wind dropped in the middle of the night, we were turned broad side to the swell and then the rolling was terrible. We left as soon as we could the next morning for Malekula. 


We had a fast sail with crazy currents and strong wind combination. This does makes for an exhilarating sail. It’s the sort of passage where you wish you’d made the sandwiches for lunch before you left. Luckily, we had tuna salad made up already and I just had to slap it between two slices of bread.

Our destination was the anchorage tucked in behind Awei Island, part of the Maskelyne Islands.

Awei Island in marked by the anchor symbol on the bottom left corner of the chart. Once again we were expecting rain and strong winds and it was a wonderfully protected spot.

That triangle of sail in the distance is Burmese Breeze. We are looking at them over an impassible reef, which keeps the waves and swell out of the anchorage, making it very well protected from pretty much any direction.

It rained the whole time we were there, which really was too bad as there is the headman’s house on the island and nice walks. Our only interaction with the locals was when a canoe paddled up with fruit and veg to trade for something they need.  The most popular item requested was a length of rope to tether a cow.

The headman got his rope in exchange for our using his bay but he also asked boats in the anchorage to use their own dinghy to take the kids from the island to school. This was often on a particularly rainy day or when the tide was out, but it is hard to say, ‘no’, the the village headman, particularly when he shows you his machete accident, the resulted being a thickly bandaged shin.

Honestly, nearly everyone has a machete. 

And not just a machete, maybe a hammer too. This was a disreputable looking group was from our next anchorage. I do not think the headman’s children here would be allowed roam Awei Island with a machete or a hammer.

The school for Awei Island was on the far side of the bay, protected by a reef. They had the common sturdy all weather watercraft, but they didn’t alway use it and asked for assistance dropping off or collecting the kids. Maybe they didn’t have petrol? Maybe the tides were particularly low and their normal transport - it’s the orange lump by the shore - couldn’t get over the reef? 

Tim took three of the little ones who tested the how bouncy our dinghy was compared to their very safe and utilitarian launch. They enjoyed the ride VERY much.  This was as close as Tim could get to the shore because of the reef in front of the school.

We had hope to have a tour around Awei Island but the wind and rain was unrelenting. The bay was getting quite full with new arrivals and, after 3 days stuck onboard, we decided to head further north to the next big bay on Maskelyne Island.

Port Stanley and Port Sandwich

Both the British and Americans had bases in Vanuatu during the World War 2 and the names and many concrete constructions still remain.

We anchored far up the bay next to an island across from the bay ferry dock. The island appeared to be inhabited by loads of chicken. In the morning they would wander down to the beach to scratch in the sand.  

At the weekend, a group women and children came to the island to do a little maintenance, some chicken wrangling and to play. I see quite a lot of different things during early morning my yoga sessions.

Like this school of fish, just doing their thing.

We anchored here in the hope of finding the Port Stanley Village Market and hopefully to see a Dugong, which is a type of sea cow. We found the market but not a dugong. I swam to the beach to ask the ladies if there were any in the bay. The conversation was difficult as, I think they spoke more French than English, and my going on about ‘a big thing swimming in your bay’, made them strongly assert that there were no big things swimming in the bay.  We later learned that many years ago at Port Sandwich, a nearby community, there was a shark attack due to fish being cleaned on the jetty.

The day we moved back up the bay to Port Sandwich, where we did not swim. We did have along interesting walk and found the village centre where I bought the best grapefruits we have eaten here for a 10th the price we pay for them in Port Vila. They were 30 VT, about 20 pence each.

The village was similar to only one other place we’ve visited in Vanuatu. It is quite a affluent area as was the village of Mele, near Port Vila. Lots of well maintained gardens and animals and many of the plots of land were fenced. The fences were varied. 

Sometimes they were a narrow yet impenetrable line of living trees.

Sometimes they were the mere a suggestion of a fence.

Sometimes they were a bit of both.

A delivery from the local butcher waiting to be collected - keeping cool in the shade and safely out of the reach of an opportunistic pooch.

And sometimes, when you most expect them, there are no fences at all.

We passed these gentlemen on our way to the village and I wish I’d taken a photo then. I did not appreciate that they would cut from that coconut stump the planks to make a crate for a pig in just a few hours. Impressive.

As we weren’t swimming here, we went with Colin and Thant Zin to investigate a mangrove river.

Three men in a boat heading that way.

Thant Zin looking for mud crabs along the river bank.

It was a lovely river but in light of the rivers to come, I’m moving on.

We now needed to do some serious shopping in Luganville, Espiritu Santo Island, but stopped to overnight at Wala Island.

It was another baking day for me so I stayed onboard while Tim, Colin and Thant Zin went ashore.

While there, the headman asked it they could fix his broken solar light. Of course! Tim was back and forth to Larus for tools and crimps in the hopes of cleaning up or replacing any corroded bits.  

As it was late in the day and we left first thing in the morning, we don’t know if Tim’s was successful or the light was past repairing.

Luganville, Espiritu Santo

We anchored by the Beach Front Resort, which was a long walk or a short taxi ride from the town centre. We would leave our dinghy on their beach, walk through the resort to the road or a taxi. They were very kind and not very busy.

Luganville was a US military base in WW2.

The main road - the only road not so badly pot-holed by the logging trucks that cars regularly drive on the wrong side of the road to get around them - was the base’s runway and is in far better shape than any road  built recently.

The town is very spread out and it took 3 days to locate everything we needed and get our gas bottles filled.  It was hot and humid, and both of us ended each day foot-sore.

There were some things over the 3 days that did make me smile.

1) Check out the yellow bag. I spoke to the lady carrying it, and the disgruntled rooster will be very pleased when he gets to his new home.

2) I managed to find a public toilet in the park at the centre of the town. Public toilets in the Fiji and here are run differently than those from the global north expect.  There is a attendant who takes the fee and gives you a tiny hand-rolled roll of toilet paper.  

In Luganville, it was a little different. When I arrived I asked the lady on the door what the fee was. She asked, ‘Do you have to pee?’  I said, ‘Yes’. Then she put down the toilet paper and said 30 VT (FYI if I’d said ‘No’ it would have been 50 and she would have handed over the toilet paper). 

Once in the cubical there was no seat. Fair enough.  As I was getting some tissue out of my bag a glanced up and there, on the wall between the cubicles, were balanced two toilet seats. I left smiling.

3) The first time we went to town we walked - hot, dusty and farther than expected, but as we left the resort there was a private house that shared the road. There were two little girls with their Dad and I think I must have talked to them as we went by.

Ladened down with groceries we got a taxi back. As we drove past their yard, the girls looked up squealed with excitement and waved furiously as we went by. I waved and laughed out too.

4) The last day of shopping we bought all the really heavy stuff, got a taxi back, but still had to get everything through the resort, down the beach and into the dinghy. Tim made two trips and I made one.  While I was waiting by the dinghy for him, two boys walked by eating cookies from a packet.  We said ‘Hi,’ and they carried on.  A minute later one boy ran back and offered me two cookies. I laughed and took them.  Nibbling the cookie, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t take a photo, so I shouted, held up the remains of my cookie (the other was for Tim) and took the photo.

So on that happy note I will post this and get to work on Part 3 because I didn’t know how good the coming days were going to be. :)


Tuesday, 22 August 2023

Tanna to Port Vila - Part 1

This is our cruising area in Vanuatu. Due to the prevailing winds from the southeast and that the country runs from northwest to southeast, it is very easy to go north, but it is a lot harder to go south. 

I find the shapes of the Vanuatu islands a little odd - not like any combination I’ve noticed before. Roundish volcanic islands and the odd long and thin islands shaped by who knows what forces - maybe a convergence zone for oceanic plates?

Before we arrived, we heard Gulf Harbour Radio advise other yachts to expect lumpy seas around the islands as the norm. They were not wrong. The sea state is almost always bigger and rougher than the conditions seem to indicate.  Currents, their direction and strength affected by unseen valleys and ridges along the relatively shallow depths between islands, can kick up a short tall sea in the blink of an eye.

‘Short’ refers to the time interval between peaks. For example - Seven seconds between peak to peak is quite a short interval.   The shorter interval, the more vertical the wave face, the stronger the effect of the wave when it catches you up. With waves from behind, you can get a lot of rolling and some surfing. With waves on the beam, they may be approaching from an angle that lets you sail along them in reasonable comfort across them on the diagonal.  In any wind direction, one is never surprised prepared for the rogue wave possibly coming from a different direction or Ben taller than most. 

On the short passage from Epi to Malekula, I’m pretty sure Larus had a personal best in horizontality. A box of reading glasses bits and pieces was flung from the port bookshelf to the starboard berth and that hasn’t happened before. On the same passage, the currents swung round from west to south to east to north. You only notice when your speed drops and the seas get rougher and rougher as the wind blows the surface in the opposite direction the current is the taking. 

Clinging like a limpet, but okay with it. It was a gorgeous day for sailing and we haven’t had that many.

Erromanga, the next island up from Tanna. We left with Capall Mara -  well, we left first and they cruised passed us just over halfway there - and anchor together in Dillon’s Bay. Erromanga, like Tanna was badly damaged by cyclones in 2023. 

Tim, John and Sal went ashore the next day to visit the ‘yacht club’ and have a tour with the village with the yacht club owner. It’s more of a meeting place than a club.  He also took them up to house and pointed out areas and flora of special interest.

It was a baking day for me as we’d run out of bread, granola and muffins so I stayed onboard; I like to make best use of a hot oven. I planned to go the next day as it sounded like a lovely walk.

A local in a dugout canoe came by to chat and ask for any spare rice, flour, oil and yeast that we might have.  I was able to supply a little of everything expect the oil. Our visitor also went away with a little bag of sweet potato bhajis that we were nibbling in the cockpit.

The next morning, we woke at about 0200 when the wind direction changed and started blowing into the bay.  Larus rolling from side to side made sleep near impossible. We waited till morning and then upped anchor, headed to the island of Efata and the bustling capital city of Port Vila.

Port Vila 

We arrived after dark to Efata but we were advised that navigation to the anchorage off Port Vila was very easy, and it was. The only incident of note on the whole passage was motoring past a sleeping whale. We became aware of the long black shape in the water on our port side when it cleared its blow hole twice. We were just outside the bay and very close to land so it was unexpected.

We picked up a marina mooring ball in the inner basin.  It was very sheltered with a dinghy dock and restaurant with really good live music. 

Port Vila was a shock compared to simple way of life for many in Port Resolution. Dusty, dirty and full of cars. The roads, particularly along the sides were deeply potholed and full of rain water.

It is so strange when you can distinctly remember taking photos but they are just not there. *sigh*

The National dress for women. Here - Women in Vanuatu - you can find more information about issues particular to affecting women in Vanuatu.

Tim buying very fresh peanuts at the market.

Prepping the very dusty peanuts for washing and eating.  Raw they taste like peas; roasted they taste like peanuts.

Vanuatu was hosting the 7th Melanesian Arts and Culture Festival while we were there. We only saw a small amount of the 11 days of activities but if you want to see the Melanesian Arts & Culture Festival Facebook page. It is well worth a look and listen.

As well as dancers there is also elements of humour included in the display. The two figures, a man and a man dressed a woman next to the dancers are comedy performers. They seemed to have nothing to do with the dancers. They walked across the field with the ‘woman’ ladened down carrying a huge bundle on her back. He would help her down to rest, fanning and fussing over her, then he would help her up and then help secure the bundle on her back and off they’d go. The crowd loved it.

These dust covered men made a meal of topping two poles with a cross beam. Again, the crowd loved it.

Spot the difference with the next two photos.

 The umbrellas sprouted up like mushrooms when the rain started.

We had plans to head further north but with several days of strong winds and rain expected moved from Port Vila to Matapu Bay. We anchored near a young Kiwi/Aussie couple, Rachel and Dion, who have been in Vanuatu for much long than we have. They had just come down from the northern islands and were an enthusiastic wealth of information.

Tim and I walked to Port Havannah which is the next anchorage along. It has a jetty and a small settlement.

Colin and Thant Zin came by dingy and met us there.

It was a long hot walked under ‘mackerel skies’, the harbinger of bad weather.

The banyan trees are the scene stealers.  

It is hard to appreciate how impressive they are from a photo. If you look closely, you can see me sitting at the base of the largest trunk.  

It’s seems that the path between the road and our anchorage is maintained by burning unwanted growth. Any open space showed burned patches.

After days of rain, we finally got our weather window to head north.  It rainbow leading us out of the bay seemed like a very good start.

More to come soon!