Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Ambae and Maewo and a return to Pentacost Is.

Sunday 19th July Ambae and Maewo Islands

An end to the light winds is forecast on Tuesday so we decided to make the most of the light conditions and head East over to Ambae and Maewo Islands. We could then run back to Luganville later next week in the stronger ESE Trades that were forecast. This proved to be a good move with a fantastic 50 mile windward leg with full main and No.3 on relatively flat water to the eastern tip of Ambae, where we shared the spectacular anchorage at Loloru Bay with one of the Island trading boats.

Monday 20th July
Our intention was to go ashore here at Loloru Bay and but a sleepless night for the skipper due to a stomach upset plus a noisy anchor chain dragging over the rocky bottom convinced us to leave early  to beat the strong headwinds forecast for today. It’s only a short 10 mile hop to the little village of Asanvari at the Southern end of Maewo and we motored across in a couple of hours which gave the refrigeration a big boost for the day.

This little village of 170 people boasted a “yacht Club”  built with Aus Aid but little remains of the building. I suspect it was ratted by the locals for the timber for use in their own houses. This has been a popular stop for cruising yachts in the past but we were only the 20th to visit since the cyclone, according to Alex, the custodian of the little waterfall that tumbles into the Bay. We haven’t seen another yacht since leaving Santo and even then there would have only seen about 20 other boats at any one time in the Santo area.

Our guide for today was Nisha, an 11 year old girl who is the niece of the chief. There is a little primary school here with 3 teachers for the 97 students, (once again children under 12 outnumber the adults by 50%) but her teacher had gone away for the day so she was free to roam. We met chief Richard who gave us permission to roam at will. Under nishas guidance we wandered the village and ended up at Alex’s waterfall complex for a swim.

He is a remarkable guy who used to be a radio announcer in Port Vila but decided to leave the rat race and moved here to be with his brother leaving his wife and sons behind in Port Vila as they didn’t want to move.

Alex has reclaimed the bush on the foreshore where the little creek runs onto the beach and built a small hut and level area where he can entertain (and charge) visiting yachties. All up through the waterfall area he has planted many exotic plants and lives on site all alone waiting for the boats to come in. Sometimes it’s a long wait between boats!

However he turned out to be an excellent guide as he walked us through some of the highland villages above the anchorage. This part of southern Maewo is very isolated with no airstrip or roads connecting it to the rest of the island.

The early people here wiped each other out due to inter village rivalries and the area was unpopulated for a long time until a group of familys from Northern Pentacost resettled the area in the 1940’s Today they live a very subsistence lifestyle and have little contact with the outside world. Any medical emergency involves a long boat ride to either Pentacost or Loloru on Ambae. Another family we met was Erica and her husband who are building a 3 room guest house (with a hammer and bush knife as tools!)so they can cater for visitors. I admire the effort they are putting in but suspect there won’t be many visitors wanting to do the long ride to the village in a long boat!

We dropped off the last of the Coles Bay baby clothes to Olivette, the local nurse/midwife who looks after the 450 people living in this village and the surrounding hill people.

As with most of the islands we have seen the jungle on this island is covered in a very fast growing creeper which apparently was airdropped as seeds by the Americans during the Second World war to hide their installations from the Japanese. This makes many areas impenetrable and the gardens hard to keep clear.

Wednesday 22nd July

We had heard of Loltong Bay at North Pentecost Island and as it was only about 10 miles further south across the 3 mile wide passage between the two islands we decided to take the opportunity to check this area out.

The village anchorage is behind an extensive reef with a narrow passage marked by a set of leads. We anchored in a sandy patch in about 4 metres of water close to the main beach. This is a very busy little village and once ashore we were greeted by Mathew, the brother of the chief. Mathew and his wife Mary have built a “yacht club” and restaurant catering to visiting yachts. Once again very few yachts have visited since the cyclone and they were keen to cook a local meal for us, which we agreed to. This turned out to be a 9 course meal, and covered most of their root vegetables and local fruits with a tuna salad the main feature. Quite tasty.

We were delighted to hear the village drums start up just before dark and went ashore to watch the spectacle. All of the drums are hollowed out logs of various sizes played by the men and boys of the village. There had been a death in the village recently and the drums sound out just before dark and early after dawn as a mark of respect.

This village has a huge nackemal which is the “men’s club” where they get together late in the day to make and drink their kava (a local drink made from the roots of the kava plant that makes the drinker verrrry relaxed!) and to discuss the business of the village. Every village in Vanuatu has its nackemal and it is the centre of village life.

We also spent some time with Mary in her garden and touring the village which is on the foreshore at the base of some very steep terrain with only one very rough 4wd track out

As our 30 day visitor’s visa is due for renewal on the 26th we had to cut our visit short after one night and make the 50 mile sail back to Luganville on Thursday to catch the immigration office on Friday 24th. We picked up a mooring at Aore Resort again and renewed our acquaintance with Anne and her very friendly staff. Apparently Friday is International Children’s Day and it’s a public holiday so we won’t be talking to immigration until Monday!

Espiritu Santo

Monday 13th July Espiritu Santo

This proved to be a very quiet day to make the crossing to Espiritu Santo Island with the motor running for most of the trip. As usual we had the fishing lines out but nothing…again. This is becoming very frustrating but fairly typical at present with no fresh fish available to buy in the supermarkets and only a few parrot fish in eskies at the local markets which we avoid as they looked fairly old.

Good beef however is plentiful and about half the price we pay in Australia, and the veges are excellent and very cheap. Santo was spared by the cyclone so bananas are back on the menu! I overindulged a bit on the first lot and paid the price during the night!

Luganville is the capital of Santo and it’s basically one long street with little shops, lots of little taxis and plenty of dust and heat and not much more. The main anchorage is polluted and rolly with nothing going for it.

We chose to pay for a mooring on the other side of the mile wide channel at Aore resort on Aore Island and loved every minute of our time here. The resort is run by an Aussie lady (Anne) and has good food, friendly staff,  a free pool and a regular ferry service to Luganville.

As a result we decided to base ourselves here while we explored the sights of Santo.

Tuesday 14th July

Today we spent some time enjoying the resort and planning a full day touring Santo. One of John Poynters friends brings diving groups here every year and stays at this resort. He is well known and liked and the staff couldn’t do enough for us.

Wednesday 15th July

The “must do” points of interest include the Million Dollar Point dive, Champagne Beach and Blue Hole swim, so we had booked a driver (Stephen) and his mini bus for the day to take us around the sights. I also wanted to check out a small anchorage at Oyster Bay before we took the boat up the East Coast. Million Dollar Point is an underwater graveyard of equipment which the Americans dumped at the end of WW11 and consists of trucks, bulldozers, field guns, truckloads of Coca Cola, you name it and you can see it laying in 10 metres of water. A very interesting snorkelling spot.

The rest of the day went quickly as we played the tourist for a day. We finished this very pleasant day with a farewell dinner at the resort for our visiting crew.

Thursday 16th July

A leisurely morning including a walk to find some WW11 bunkers then a beach walk to check out the beach houses built by Aussie and NZ expats who spend their winters in Vanuatu. After lunch we saw our visitors off then did some shopping.

The resort put on a great night this evening with people from the Banks Group of islands providing the entertainment with a Bamboo band and women making “water music” by slapping the seawater in unison. A pity the crew missed this.

Friday 17th July

Chores day- spent most of the day making water and a few other boat maintenance jobs.

Saturday 18th July
A change of scene was in order so we motored 8 miles to the Southern side of Aore Is and picked up another mooring off Ratua Island resort. We had heard of a “blue hole” on the adjoining island of Malo so we took the dinghy across the channel and up the little river which eventually led us to this very secluded spot. The river became a fast flowing creek in spots and was just wider than the dinghy in places which made for a lot of fun on the return journey as we sped downstream with the current trying not to get snagged by the overhanging branches. After a late lunch we wandered around this old style Indonesian resort where most of the 200 year old bungalows had been transported from Bali!

Pentacost Island

Sunday 12th July Pentacost Island

After a quick run ashore to drop off a few bits we set sail for Pentacost Island. This island is world famous for the land diving which happens in April, May and June and is done to ensure the yam harvest is successful. We were sorry we were too late to see this but the people and the magnificent waterfall at Betara (waterfall Bay) were worth the stop. A local lady (Jessie) looked after us and took us up to the waterfall and to the local laundry pool. A very picturesque village with lots of rules for visiting whites as the tourists fly in here to watch the land diving and the locals don’t like you straying off the approved tracks until they work you out. By the afternoon we must have received the tick of approval because Jessie told us we were free to move about on our own…

Ambrym Island

Saturday 11th July Ambrym Island

A full days run to Ambrym Island Is with a good trade wind breeze and sheltered run along the North coast of Ambrym. We looked in at the anchorage at Craig Cove on the North West corner but decided there was too much swell for comfort so continued on to the villages of Ranon and Ranvetlam. This was a good decision as the villagers were very friendly and welcoming.

 They stocked us up with fresh fruit and veges and we were able to help a few with bits and pieces, especially rope for tethering the family cattle in the bush.

some reading glasses and a "cow" rope for the local chief. He was delighted!

We bought bread from a little “bakery” which one enterprising lady had set up in her hut. It was very good!

 The local kids walked with us wherever we went and were keen on the hairclips and ballons Di and Aileen were handing out.

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We picked up a few souvenirs including this stone statue being held by the carver


About to go for a bath - in the sea!


Epi Island

Thursday 9th July Epi Island

After the anchor exercise we had a great sail to Epi Island (Lamen Bay) which took most of the day--all downwind for a change.

Friday 10th July
After a look around at the local village and airstrip in the morning we spent most of the afternoon walking to the top of the island to take in the view and lush tropical gardens the locals were tending. Another friendly village with many locals commuting in small (overloaded!) boats to Lamen Island after school had finished for the week.

Photo by Sue Dall
This is a well known dugong grazing area, but we didn't spot any this trip

The main jetty here is a wreck so all cargo has to be unloaded by hand onto the beach in front of the village
The airport "terminal"

Its a long walk to the top of the Island

Port Vila (Efate Island)

Wed 1st July Port Vila (Efate Island)

 After a sleepy start we spent the day moving onto the marina wall, organising customs and quarantine. Port Vila is the nation’s capital and the port where all of the cruise ships visit.

All around us were signs of the damage caused by Cyclone Pam. The harbour is still littered with damaged yachts and fishing boats

Thursday 2nd July

We were keen to start unloading the boat so hired a car and went and found the Paama Seaside school and church where we were to deliver the 5 computers from the Uniting Church in Castle Hill. After meeting the headmaster and looking around the school we decided they would benefit from some of the school supplies we had on board and they were keen to get the Grade 7 maths books donated by Launceston Grammar.

This school was started by some Aussies who recognised the kids from the local slum wernt going to school and over the past 10 years volunteers have been coming out and building a new classroom every year so it is now a very tidy school and the students here are very keen to get an education.

Friday 3rd July

Library books from Friends of the Library Launceston
Drove around the island. The villages on the East coast were worst hit by the cyclone and 4 months later little has been done to repair the school buildings. We dropped off library books, school books and children’s clothing to several schools and towels to the local regional hospital.

The government school of Manuur has lost the roofs of more than half of classrooms and these are now covered in tarps and some lessons are conducted in tents.

Staff at Manuur School, Jimmy on the left

Most of the teachers have been living on site in local huts but all of these have been destroyed and the school principal Melizabeth Steele and her family are living in one of the classrooms along with 2 other teachers and their families! They are doing it really tough and to make matters worse the Vanuatu Government is broke due to corruption so these buildings won’t be repaired/ replaced unless some foreign aid is supplied by Australia, New Zealand or similar.
Main Road around Efate still covered with sand
The Chinese Government is doing a lot with infrastructure aid such as roads, wharfs and public buildings but they bring in their own labour and materials and don’t employ the local people.

Saturday 4th July
One of the teachers (Jimmy) drove in to Port Vila and picked up the 70 school shirts and some other gear we had on board. Rainy day so most of the day on board.

Sunday 5th July
John and Aileen arrived on the evening flight

Monday 6th July
Another lap around the island with our visitors and Pete in the car, mainly sight seeing and to drop of the remaining linen to the clinic near the Manuur School.
abandoned resort near Port Vila

Tuesday 7th July

We escape Port Vila for the great little snorkelling area at Hideaway Island of underwater post office fame. In fact we were greatly entertained watching the locals loading a new post office onto their little barge and offloading it into the water. We spent the night at anchor here and said goodbye to Haven 111 who was staying in the Port Vila area a bit longer.
Wednesday 8th July
In the morning it was a short sail to Havannah Bay, where we managed to drag anchor when the anchor foul a large rusty iron lid. There must be heaps of debris from the war here as the next morning it was a huge struggle to pull the anchor up as it was caught under a 1” (very old) wire cable! We slowly winched this to the surface and eventually managed to untangle ourselves much to our relief.

Erramango Island (Vanuatu)

 Monday 29th June. Erramango

We made our farewells early in the morning and set sail to Erramango Island, 45 miles to the North west, once again in the company of the Bavaria 42 Haven 111. This was another bouncy ride in the strong trades but fortunately on a broad reach this time with our usual conservative rig of 3 reefs and No4 headsail.

Our arrival at Dillon Bay didn’t go unnoticed and no sooner was the anchor down, we had David in his red canoe alongside inviting us to visit his village.

The village is known as Port William and has a population of 500, of which 300 are children!

The cyclone in March knocked this island around a lot and the scars are everywhere. They are slowly getting back to normal and there is a lot of rebuilding and garden planting happening.
One of the many new gardens with "leafy" vegetables

selecting Tarro for replanting

Ausaid at work

Jason, the chief was very happy to see the donations we were able to leave and spent some time telling about his village. These people were very tough on the early missionaries and a few ended up on the lunch table, but now they have seven different churches to choose from!  David was keen to show us the skull cave at the back of the village but we declined (saw some of these in the Louisiades!)

They are much more advanced here than at Tanna with many huts having solar power with battery banks and mobile phones but they have no idea on how to maintain them so much of the infrastructure doesn’t work. They appreciate the visits they get from passing yachts as many bring in items to make their life a little bit easier, but these visitors have been rare since the cyclone with most yachts bypassing the Southern Islands in favour of a landfall at Port Vila.

David is keen to attract tourists and most of the villages are working towards lifting their profile and providing basic accommodation in the form of guest houses (huts) for future visitors.

David is building a very grand structure which he also calls his “yacht club” and we spent some time with him discussing his plans for the future. A remarkable man, and anyone reading this who is planning to cruise this area should make an effort to call in.

Tuesday 30th June.

We delivered 5 bags of donations to the medical infirmary and school before departing in the late morning. The plan was to sail to the top of the island and overnight in one of the small bays mentioned in the sailing guide, before heading to Port Vila.

However as we sailed north we found the South East swell was wrapping around the Northern part of the island. The anchorage we had selected was basically a narrow partially uncharted fiord and although we had google earth images of the spot we decided there was too much wind and uncertainty so both boats decided to bear away and make a night run to Port Vila as this was a much safer option.
This proved to be a good decision and we had a quick run over the 70 miles to Efate. The anchors went down at about 1.30am 

Friday, 3 July 2015

Tanna Island


 Thursday 25th June, Tanna

We left the marina at dawn in company with Haven 111 bound for Port Resolution on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu, 160 miles away.

This was another bumpy and wet passage, best forgotten, and hopefully the last windward work of the trip. An easier route would have been to make our entrance at Port Vila further to the North but we wanted to go to Tanna to drop off most of the donated goods to the locals who had been hardest hit by Cyclone Pam in March this year and to visit the volcano.

Friday 26th June

There are two anchorages where you can clear customs at Tanna. The main one is Lanakel, the Capital on the west coast but this is normally a very rolly, shallow bay.

We chose Port Resolution on the NE tip of the island as this is a deep bay with good protection from the trades with little swell. It is also closest to the volcano. We had been emailing customs and had arranged for a customs agent and emigration agent to come to us. Willy from Immigration and Tiun from customs made the 2 hour trip over on the back of a truck to do our clearance.

Locals netting the jack Mackerel schools

Di with a one day old local
 Later in the day we had our first look at the village and were shown around by Johnson and his brother Stanley.

We were impressed by the persistence of the locals who spent many hours each day casting nets from their canoes into the bay to catch the small Jack Mackerel. These fish turn up for about a month each year but this year fortunately had been around for two months and are a great source of protein.

When cyclone Pam went through this island it not only destroyed a large part of their village buildings but also the slow growing root crops and bananas that they rely on for their basic diet. The Vanuatu government had been supplying basic food items such as rice, flour and sugar but this was to stop on the 30th June. As it will take many months for their traditional foods to regrow they have been supplied seeds for fast growing leafy vegetables such as beans, cabbages, Chinese style veges, tomatoes, corn and chillies. These have been planted under supervision from people from the local agricultural department in Port Vila and have grown like wildfire; the local people have taken to this new style of food supply with enthusiasm and even had enough to bring some as gifts to us. The rebuilding of their village is progressing well but the local guest huts built for the occasional tourist have all been destroyed and this source of income is sorely missed, as tourism has virtually stopped.

remains of the guest houses- just a slab and a hand basin!

damaged house -still being lived in
slow progress cleaning up
a new house under construction
We dropped off supplies to the local school and medical dispensary as well as some children’s clothing. Peter had a treat for the local kids with a big supply of old surfboards and boogy boards.
Surfboards donated by Haven 111
There is a white sand beach on the East coast near the Port Resolution village which has attracted a number of international surfers in the past and the local boys are getting into this sport so the boards were an unusual but very acceptable gift to the village.

Saturday 27th June

The day started with a long walk through two other villages to the hot springs which bubble up onto the beach in the SW corner of the bay. This water is so hot you can cook your veges in the rock pools and the local ladies also do their washing here. The bay has many hot water and steam vents compliments of the local volcano and the area is subject to violent seismic activity.

In 1928 the floor of the bay rose from a depth of over 10 metres to less than 5 metres and now prevents trading vessels from entering. The recent erosion of the surrounding hills during the cyclone has further reduced this depth and we could only access about the first third of the bay in Allusive.

Sunday 28th June

We pottered around the boat in the morning and made a couple of trips ashore in the early afternoon.

We had arranged with Stanley to visit the volcano (Mt Yasur) and in the late afternoon spent a bumpy 40 minutes in the back of a local truck driving over a bush track to get to the ash plain. It was then a steep hike to the rim of the volcano following our local guide Phillip. This was a once in a lifetime experience with the volcano rumbling underfoot and the lava being thrown up to 100 meters in the air not far from where we stood. The glow of the lava in the gathering dusk was better than any fireworks display we had seen.

The long walk up to the top
 This is a fairly popular natural attraction and people fly down from Port Vila regularly to see this awesome display. The OH&S is non-existent and it is a steep drop from the inside edge of the rim into the volcanoes maw on one side and just as steep on the outer side which is a long steep slope down the side of the mountain.

the viewing edge


The volcano is quietly erupting all of the time with the occasional big bang when the larva is thrown up higher than the top where we were standing but drops down safely inside the crater.
This guy had a drone with camera which he was flying over the crater. Luckily it wasn't shot down by flying larva! Note the long drop to the valley floor

Di and I were very impressed by the experience.