There we are, 20 days in Vanuatu waters so far. Three girls have left us, it’s just Ben and me at the moment. A German girl will join us later today for the passage into Indonesia. She used to crew with Chris with whom we departed New Zealand, but he is stuck in Port Villa for a couple of months waiting for parts, so his crew left for other countries, boats and adventures.
It was the 30th of May when we saw the shores of Tanna. A welcome sight after seven days at sea. We made good time and were eager to get ashore for some home cooked food and a famous Tanna coffee. But first there were the formalities to attend to.
As per protocol, we hailed the customs and or immigration on channel 16 of our radio to announce our arrival. As expected there was no response. So we pulled out the dinghy and went ashore, in search for the officials that were to stamp our passports and boat papers.
We navigated the rocks of the reef paddling the last bit ashore. Here we found a very friendly fisherman who offered to hang our dinghy of the back of his small fishing skiff on his little mooring, save from the tide changes.
We made our way to the village market where we found an ATM machine and a tourist info ‘shed’. The lady in the tourist office called the customs officials for us and asked us to wait around the village market. The Market is the center of the town, there were only a few sellers of Chinese bok Choi, some taro roots, and occasional lime. The typhoons that tore over Vanuatu earlier reaped havoc. Most farming soils were decimated. Vanuatu was greatly dependent on foreign aid and quick growing vegetables.
It was not long before we saw a customs truck on the Main Street. The officer kindly brought us up the hill to the government complex. Here our passports were processed by the immigration department and the boat papers by the customs department. There was no visit to the boat necessary’s, so al our great care not taking to much alcohol and meats was for nothing. We were handed a sealed envelope for us to hand over at the customs department in Port Vila. This was our cruising permit for the southern province.
The whole process tool no more than thirty minutes, and soon we were on our way walking down the hill. Soon a friendly pickup truck driver offered to drive us back to the market and village square. I found a restaurant where we all sat down to enjoy a chicken and fries lunch. It was not great, but after 7 days at sea, it was good. After lunch we headed to another eatery for a cup of famous Tanna coffee as the first restaurant did not have coffee.
With a cabbage and some lemons from the market we headed back to our dinghy. We found a little boy struggling on the shore line with his dads fishing boat and our dinghy. They had come off the mooring. With a little team effort and wet clothes, we managed to put the line back on the mooring ball.
Back at the boat we were rolling back and forth in the tide. We decided to move on and not spend another night at this rather uncomfortable bay. So with the yellow quarantine flag put away we hoisted the our anchor and pulled out our sails for a quick sail to the neighboring island of Eromango
We arrived just after sunset, but had enough moonlight to guide us to a good spot to anchor, tucked away behind a breaking reef. The anchorage was calm and we all had a comfortable night sleep listening to the waves crash a couple of hundred meters away.
The next morning we were greeted by David. An enterprise local in his little dug out canoe. He invited us to visit his yacht club. A little hut with flags of all visiting yachts countries or yacht clubs. We read about this on other people’s blogs and decided to go see for ourselves. David also offered to take us on a tour of the village, which we accepted. It was a hike along the river seeing some local architecture, woven roof huts. Further down the road there were some trees that had some importance. Then we passed the school complex which was remarkably big. The final stop would be a pool in the river where we could take a dip. An uncomfortable hike over loose boulders and bits of fly-invested bush. Not particularly my cup of tea.
On the way back the enterprising side of David came to light. He surprised us with the ‘fee’ for the walk through his village. It wasn’t much, but it would have been fair to mention this beforehand. Belinda offered to pay for our ensemble in Kiwi dollars, which was of course more than the ask, but we were planning on giving him such an amount anyways. This was accepted, but during the walk back David tried to get more from Ben, me and Linda individually. All this hagling sort of spoiled the experience. But it didn’t stop there. Back at the ‘yacht club’ and later at our boat, David kept asking for things, first some sugar, flour and rice. We gave him some flour and rice, but no sugar, as we do not carry that on the boat. Not a singly shred of appreciation was returned. Then he asked for lines, nails, hinghes, fuel and eventually a chainsaw. It all became kind of a shakedown, so we kindly asked him to leave the boat so we could prepare for departure.
Our next stop was Port Vila, where we had to drop of Belinda for her flight back to New Zealand. We were also to pick up a replacement crew. An older lady from Australia that seemed to be a good fit for our boat and seemed to have experience. Little did we know..
We entered Port Vila in the pouring rain. As per Marina instructions we made our way through the southern entrance. The boys from the Marina came to help us pick up a mooring ball for the time being, until the tide was higher for us to enter for a spot on the Marina wall. All went well and without incident. Later in the afternoon, after some back and forth on the radio we were guided to our spot on the wall, where we would remain for the week. A classic stern-to Mediterranean style mooring.
We had our last crew dinner ashore at the yacht club and we said our goodbye’s to Belinda, who would depart the boat in the very early morning to catch her flight back to New Zealand. She was an absolute joy to have aboard. She had little to no experience sailing, but dove in deep, learning as much as she could absorb in the short time she had. Enjoying every moment. We were sad to see her go.
We stayed at the wall in Port Villa for a couple of days to resupply. Finally we saw Dani pull in to port. Chris had issues with his autopilot among other things so had to hand steer the 60 foot Ganly for most of the way to Port Villa. It was good to see him arrive in good health. His crew was very happy to be on land again after the long and slow passage from NZ. Dani stayed in the mooring field just across from the marina restaurant.
After a couple of days we were done in Port Villa. It isn’t one of the most inspiring places in Vanuatu. The streets are filled with potholes. Garbage everywhere and run down buildings from the typhoons that struck the capital of Vanuatu.
We rented a car for the day to travel around the island we thought. We didn’t get any further than around 30km out of town at Havanna bay. The roads were horrid and we were afraid we would damage the rental car beyond repair. We did manage to visit the Tanna coffee factory where I picked up a couple of bags of black gold.
With diesel refueled, a new crew member aboard, food and drinks replenished, we set sail to havannah bay further down Efate island. Havannah bay used to be a deepwater port for American Naval vessels during the Second World War. And deep it was indeed, it took some doing finding a suitable spot to drop the hook, all the way at the end of the near the south entrance.
Linda and I took the dinghy out to head to the Havannah resort for a nice dinner. Because we had to anchor so far down the bay, the dinghy ride took a good 15 minutes. But the water was flat and calm, so we could go full speed down the bay. At the resort they showed a fire dancing show for the resort guests. We ordered a bottle of wine and caught a bit of the show from the sidelines. The dinner was alright, service was island style, slow and forgetful. But it was nice to be alone together for an evening without the crew around us.
Another day had passed, and aboard Ah Ma all was well, we had visitors from another yacht for sundowners and potluck dinner. They were also participating in the Indonesia rally. An ‘American’ couple from the Cuba and Puerto Rico with their two girls. Lovely people with great stories to tell. They brought some lovely dishes as I grilled up some of the magnificent steaks from the Port Villa butcher.
The meat in Vanuatu is exceptional. Lean yet tender and cheap as chips. Who would have thought an island nation with very little space for intensive agriculture like herding cows would produce such great beef. It is up there with Japan’s finest steaks.
Our next stop was the island of Epi, a day sail, half way down to the Maskelyns. We found ourselves a lovely bay to anchor off in, Lameh bay. It was easy to find a good depth in a calm corner. The day sail running with the wind. During the sail it became clear that our new crew member had little to no experience sailing a boat and was not fitting in. Glued to her phone for most of the time, showing little interest in what’s happening sailing wise, and every other sentence coming out of her mouth implying her money or someone else’s money. It all became quite tiring.
We all went ashore to see what was in the village and possibly find a shop that would sell some refreshments and supplies. The village was simple, the people wonderful. Shy kids laughing as you said your hello’s. It seemed everyone was in church as we heard the singing in the distance. We found a little shop that had a couple of cans of cold soft drinks and a bag of chicken. That was great, as we could use that for dinner.
We found a little restaurant place called bennies near our dinghy. The people just came back from church but we’re ready to cook us up some lunch. They prepared a simple yet tasteful island style lunch. An omelet with a little fish, some sweet potatoes, some local root vegetable wrapped in cabbage and very nice giant cucumbers. Not really my sort of food, but it tasted good and was quite filling.
After lunch we all headed back to the boat where I marinated the chicken for dinner the next day.
The next morning it was time to move on again, off to the Maskelyns. Another perfect sail, running at 7 to 8 knots. We arrived in the Maskelyns just before sunset and tried to find a spot to drop anchor in the deep Gaspard bay. This didn’t go without incident, scraping the bottom on a shoal or coral rock that was not on the map. But eventually we got the chain out in around 20 meters of water. The bay was pitch black, nothing but mangroves surrounding the boat. The water was rolly from the swells coming from the southeast and the weather was gloomy. I didn’t feel comfortable in this bay and both me and Ben had little sleep, watching the anchor like a hawk.
At first light we pulled out of Gaspard bay and motored towards Awei Island. This was a completely different story. Still a very deep anchorage, but lovely calm waters. A couple of small villages surrounding the bay made for a lot of dugout traffic. We were the only boat in the bay, so the locals all came to check us out. We got a nice lobster delivered for dinner which Linda converted into a beautiful pasta dish. We exchanged gifts and charged their USB devices. There was some lovely snorkeling along the mangroves. Young new yellow corals teaming in all sorts of colorful fish, recovering from the typhoon damage. We would have stayed longer if it was not for Linda having to return to Hong Kong.
Our next stop would be Norsup. Not a particularly interesting bay. But this was the nearest airport for Linda to catch her flight(s) back to Hong Kong. First from Norsup to Villa by small propeller airplane. Then the next day Villa to Auckland and the day after that Auckland to Hong Kong via Melbourne. A trip around the world. But this time not an Uber to bring her to the airport, but me and Ben in the dinghy landing on the beach, hauling the small suitcase through the bush to a grass field with a shed, called an airport.
It was sad to see Linda leave, but I’ll see her again in a couple of months’ time,with the boat nicely parked up at the marina in Lombok. We would also part ways with our Australian crew. We had a chat with her and told her she would not fit in for the rest of the trip. She probably kind of expected this as a couple of days earlier in one of her drunk slurry evening moods she kinda mentioned this. In all honesty she would be a liability aboard, as she would not be able to keep the boat safe when necessary.
Ben and I prepared for a night sail up to Espiritu Santo, our next port of call. We hoped that our Aussie crew member would sleep through the night after consuming her usual bottle of hard liquor, but unfortunately that was not the case. When Ben and I woke up around midnight to hoist the anchor and make way out of Norsup, our crew member came out of her cabin full of joy, claiming night sailing was her favourite sailing. Ah well,can’t win them all.
As we pulled out of Norsup, Ah Ma did what she does best, running at astonishing speeds in light winds. We were ripping along at 8 to 9 knots. We had to slow her down otherwise we would arrive in Santo in the middle of the night, not preferable.
We took the long way around to enter Santo and parked at a mooring ball out of Aore island. Here we dropped off our Aussie crew member and enjoyed a nice breakfast on shore.
We will stay at Santo for a bit to pick up supplies and to bring another crew aboard, before we head off further North…