First impressions of Vanuatu
We are inside, but it sounds like hell let loose outside! Everything that is not secured is falling over. We are both a little bit seasick. When will we arrive? When we look outside, we see a beautiful tropical island. It's Anatom in Vanuatu and we arrived here four days ago. Because of an enormous depression and waves rolling into the bay we are being shaken up and Happy is pulling the anchor. There is no place for us to escape these waves and we'll just have to wait it out. Tomorrow will be better.
Yesterday we took a long hike to a waterfall with Fitz en Trish from the "Columbus". They said it was only 4.5 kilometres, but after three hours of walking and climbing we still hadn't reached the waterfall. After having crossed the umpteenth river, Trish and Dory gave up, despite the fact that our guide Elisa was convinced we were nearly there. The men continued for another fifteen minutes and then gave up as well. We didn't see a waterfall, but we did have lunch on huge rocks in a fast flowing river with wonderfully cool drinking water.
After two nights of rolling about in our beds en struggling with seasickness during the day the wind is still as strong as ever and the waves even seem worse. The depression is stuck in the same place. Then Rubin visits us. He has lived his whole life on the island of Anatom and as a biologist he keeps track of the coral in the area. He wants to take us to the other side of the island, which is called Mystery Island. Officially, you're not allowed to drop anchor there because it's a nature reserve, but the storm will only get worse, so it's just not safe in the bay. In the howling storm we lift the anchor and along with the Columbus we sail to our new anchorage, guided by Rubin. Slowly but surely the water gets flatter, but also shallower, sometimes even less than two metres. When we drop our anchor the water is only 90 centimetres deep. The wind is still howling, but we are anchored on an almost smooth surface and our stomachs get the chance to calm down. We do get a little bit worried when our depth gauge indicates just ten centimetres under our keel during low tide, but fortunately we are not touching the sandy bottom.
The next day we walk to the other side of Mystery Island to check on the situation in the bay. The waves are huge with white crests which are blown away by the wind. We are grateful for our beautiful shallow and calm anchorage. After two days the storm is over and we sail on.
It has gone dark, the earth trembles and emits a loud droning and rumbling noise. So much violence inside the earth and then suddenly a fountain of fire, glowing red stones fly into the air and fall to the ground several dozens of metres from where we are standing. We are at the edge of 'Yasur', the active volcano on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. You are allowed to go really close, but we do think that is a bit of a risk. The only safety measure offered is a sign that says: "Think Safety".
It's very impressive to see the boiling red lava bubbling in the enormous crater. On our way to the volcano, packed in a truck with too many people, we had already seen a lot of steam at the side of the road. The weight of the truck pressed the steam out of the ground. It's an amazing experience, but we leave Tanna soon, because Happy is bobbing up and down again at the anchorage.
The third island we visit is Erromango. We spend a couple of days anchored in Dillons Bay, a nice bay with a river flowing into it. David has been working on building a yacht club for over a year and Hans is trying to repair a generator, but to no avail. We are invited to come and drink kava one evening. The kava here is different from the kava in Fiji. Here they grind the fresh root and add just a little bit of water, which gives it a much stronger taste and effect. After one cup our mouths are numb and we are already starting to feel a bit high. It tastes horrible, but after the second cup you no longer taste it. Later we hear that in some areas women chew on the roots and spit them out and then use them to make kava. We're not sure what exactly we have been drinking...
After a couple of days we leave for Port Villa.
Port Villa is the capital of Vanuatu and it's on the island of Efate. Here we can replenish our stocks, meet other sailors and of course use the internet. One weekend we drop the anchor a few miles further down, behind Mele Island. It's a beautiful place, but with a lot of tourists. The fire dance they promised us is performed by young children and it is very primitive. A waste of money. You have to pay to go snorkelling and to walk to the waterfall. It's all very disappointing. With our limited budget we stick to spending quality time with other sailors.Back in Port Villa we have our laundry done, buy some more food, diesel and petrol and then we leave for Havannah Harbour, on the west coast of Efate. It is a natural harbour, almost entirely enclosed by the main island of Efate and a couple of smaller islands. As a result, it is sheltered from the wind from all directions. This is where the US Navy kept it ships during World War II.
We walk along a river and talk a lot to the people who live here, they often offer us fruit and vegetables. When we ask what they grow, we are invited by Tjerry and his sister to come and help them out on their piece of land one morning. Hans helps with burning palm leaves to get rid of insects and Dory removes the weeds from among the tomato plants. We arrive back on our boat laden with fruit and vegetables. It is often difficult to explain that we don't want to take too much with us.
We visit a Coca Cola museum, a small open building filled with old Coca Cola bottles from World War II and a couple of other objects of interest.
We have to wait a long time for the wind to subside and end up maybe leaving a little bit too early for Nguna, an island to the north of Efate.
The weather is terrible, the current is unfavourable and the last three miles we have to tack against the wind using the engine, which allows us to approach our destination at a measly 1 knot per hour. Even when we are nearly at our anchorage it still seems as if the water is really rough, but at last, once we are just half a mile from the anchorage, we find that the water is becoming calmer. We drop the anchor and things finally calm down. It took us three hours to complete the last three miles. The next morning we leave for Emae. The weather has improved considerably, the trip is beautiful and we find a shallow anchorage where we can drop the anchor chain neatly between the coral on the sandy bottom. The wind doesn't shift during the night, so the next day we can lift the anchor without even touching the beautiful coral in this bay.
We then sail on to the Revelieu bay on the island of Epi.
We are calmly anchored in Revelieu bay. Next to us is the "Etosha", a sixteen metre long sailing boat from Australia, with Sue and Rod and their three children on board. We go on shore to stretch our legs and we easily make contact with the local population. We meet Lucy, who speaks English reasonably well, and we ask dozens of questions about her life. At the "village square" we see how the kava is ground.Pieces of the root of the kava plant are put in a large hollow tube. The root pieces are pounded with a stick until the juice flows out. A bit of water is added to the juice and that's it. Hygiene doesn't seem to be an issue. We are invited to come and drink the stuff in the afternoon. When we come back, Dory and Lucy enter the cooking hut to see how the evening meal is being cooked. Lucy grates a huge carrot and her children, four and six years old, bring nuts which they take out of fruit by pounding on it with a stone. The nuts are delicious and very nutritious. Hans and Rod from the "Etosha" have joined the men on the village square to drink kava. Drinking kava is not as ceremonial as in Fiji and the women drink it too. Dory only has one small cup and we arrive back at our boat feeling slightly high.
The next day Hans is ill and we hear that Rod is ill too. Both suffer from diarrhoea and nausea. Fortunately this only lasts a day.
Weeks ago we read in a travel guide that Lamen Bay on Epi is the best place to see manatees and this bay is not far from where we are. The weather isn't great, but we still prepare the boat and sail for just a few hours. We drop our anchor in Lamen Bay. Unfortunately, our search for manatees turns into a huge disappointment. In the evening there were still eleven boats in the bay, but by the next morning the last one is leaving again. We've never seen the sea this restless. We haven't been able to lie still for one moment during the night and by now Dory is suffering from diarrhoea caused by the kava. We hear that the only manatee in the bay is hardly ever spotted and we decide to leave. Sailing while you need to go to the bathroom every hour doesn't sound like a very good plan, so we stay for another day. Tomorrow we leave for the Maskulines, south of the island of Malakula. More about that in our next story.
(Translated from dutch to english by Percy Balemans)