Where are we

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!

Monday 7 August 2023

Tanna Part 2

One of the highlights of visiting Port Resolution was the chance to meet a local family, Reena, Noel, their children and some their community. It is very much thanks to Thant Zin that we are able to meet local people. He is often taken in as one of their own, clubbing with the locals and the like, and we very much benefit from his contacts.

The beach where we land the dinghy. 

There is a path up to the village, the ‘yacht club’ and only road out of the village. A shorter route around the bay is to wait for low water and walk along the beach.

As displayed by Gerry and Richard, Colin’s friends and crew from New Zealand. 

Gerry is a doctor, who has sold her practise in near Christchurch, NZ and in the company of her husband Richard, was now involved  involunteer work in medical establishments where is would do the most good, like Lenekel, the main town on Tanna. They flew to Fiji to meet up with Colin and sailed to Port Resolution. After a rambunctious sail from Fiji, they arrived the day after we did.

One of the local dugout canoes used for fishing in and outside (in better weather than we’d been having) the bay. 

They fish in a group with nets.

From the beach, we took a path inland, which eventually lead up to the Noel and Reena’s homestead.

The extended family.

Acting silly is universally understood.

All the side-eye going on makes me wonder if they were humouring me.

When we first arrived Reena welcomed us with a plate of boiled cassava in a coconut cream. It was lovely and I think it might well have been a simple version of this Cassava and Coconut Curry. There was a hint of garlic and the cassava root was so soft.  I haven’t cooked it before and how to cook it safely is described in the recipe . We ate it all between the four of us, which was a good thing as unbeknownst to us, we had a long walk ahead of us.

Next we were to visit the local village. As well as many houses there was a parade ground and a sturdy school building. Sturdy is important as this is where the families evacuate to when a cyclone is imminent. 

Last year,  two of the most southerly Vanuatuan islands, Tanna and Erromanga, took direct hits from two cyclones and suffered a lot of damage. Many of the food staple trees like papaya and banana were destroyed in the strong winds and torrential rain. Mango is their ‘Christmas’ fruit as that’s when the fruit is ripens. 

This year, an El Niño year, seems very cool and often blustery to us. Last year, a La Niña year, was really hot in September and mangos abounded. Last year Fiji saw no cyclones at all while Vanuatu was hit harder and more frequent than normal.

Reena lead the way.

During the walk, Reena mentioned her toddlers weeping eye and an older child’s skin condition.  Gerry had a look at both and sent drops and salve up the next day with Thant Zin. 

A typical village house.

There was to be a ‘drill Sargent’ or such who was expected to drill the children in marching, but while we waited for him to arrive, ‘could we please look at a broken sewing machine?’ Of course.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t an ancient Singer hand powered machine. The only manual machine I’ve seen was Grandma Lillian’s foot pedal singer.

Between Tim and I, we figured out some of the fixable issues and under Reena’s experienced hands, we got it stitching to her satisfaction.  We’re not sure how much was down to our actions or down to the moral support we offered Reena. The latter I suspect.

Before we left the village we were ladened down with fresh vegetables from the gardens - Pak Choy which takes only 6 weeks to mature, spring onions, limes and christophene which is a vegetable we ran across in the Caribbean. They were very generous.

On the way back we passed Noel and Reena’s calf. We could honestly say it was the prettiest cow we had seen.  I wish we’d had more time to think as I would have liked to know what they were going to do with the calf.  

We have learned since that Vanuatu is famous for its beef.

Reena showed me how the coconut rasp worked. It’s a rough-edged loop of metal attached to a board you sit on.  You then scrape the meat from the shell. The chickens approved.

My favourite photo of the baby.  This is the cook house. 

On the far side of the area is the sleeping and living accommodations where Reena has her sewing machine. The day before we left, I went through my sewing things and brought things I thought might be of use - spools of thread, sewing machine needles and machine oil, needles and some fabric.

If we were to come back again, I would be better prepared.

The walk back was longer as with the tide in we had to take the high road. The walked we did to the village and back was between 6 and 8 km and we were rather foot sore by the time we got back to the dinghy on the beach.

It was an excellent a day and gave us very much food for thought on the way of life in this corner of Tanna.

Now over to Tim.

The best time to see the volcano is just as it’s getting dark so you see it in both lights. A tortuous drive up the hill from the base reception for about 15minutes with a group of about 20 tourists from all over the island, some of them had had a tortuous drive for over 3 hours in the back of a pick up truck.

A short steep climb from the car park to us to the precipice of the crater.

Surprisingly it was cold up there, very windy and very smoky.

It genuinely was the precipice, we stood right at the edge of a vertical drop in loose ash. We did sign some kind of waiver at the reception.

This is looking almost vertically down. All the action is about 200m horizontally and about 500m vertically.

About once every two or three minutes there was a big booming explosion of various magnitude.
Glowing boulders were flung high in the air, almost to eye level, and then they crashed down onto the inner slopes of the crater. Once in a while there was a big one. Everyone was constantly pointing their cameras like a Taylor Swift concert.

Good photographs and video were hard to come by, you had to be lucky.

After an hour we all retreated back to Resolution Bay. Our pickup was also dedicated transport for the volcano staff going home. I estimate each of these journeys probably takes a year off the life of your joints. We picked up a couple of fellows who could hardly walk, they had been on the Kava all day.

Thank you, Tim. 

More to come soon as we are a few islands up the chain now and there are still a few things I’d like to mention about Tanna.