peaceful night set us up for an earlyish start and we left under engine at 07.30
a.m. for Havannah Harbour a span of water between Efate and and two of its off
lying islands 25 miles to the north. This would give a good departure point for
going to Epi the next island up. Havannah Harbour was full of neat anchorages,
we chose one near a passage out to enable a quick getaway next morning and
anchored Gryphon in about 7 metres depth off a white sand beach fringed with
coral heads. It was calm and beautiful, just right for a diving lesson with the
newly acquired oxygen tank and weights purchased from James and Lucy from Snow
Leopard. We rowed to the beach just a short distance away and spent half an hour
messing about with Chris teaching me how to use the equipment. We met two men in
a dugout canoe going ashore to gather wood for cooking. They were difficult to
understand so we had limited conversation.
suddenly felt chilly, the trees rustled and leaves started to fly, the wind came
up fast and strong, we were taken completely by surprise. We threw the stuff
into the dinghy as we watched Gryphon II start swooping and dipping around the
anchor in a worrying way. Wishing we had the outboard motor we both took an oar
but the wind was too strong for us, I jumped out getting a rope burn in the
process and swam to the beach, Chris rowed like a mad man and eventually got
back to the boat. The nice calm anchorage had turned into a monster and the
waves ripped through, there was nothing for it but to swim as the boat could not
be left amidst the reefs, it was hard work, I got there but rather exhausted. We
waited a few minutes as we both felt this was a freak wind which would pass
over, a local man came to the beach waving and shouting to us, pointing to
another anchorage around a small sand spit but it didn't look
wind increased, it howled at 40 knots and we seemed to be driven in toward the
beach and coral heads. With much manoeuvring we got the anchor up and put on
full throttle to take us away from the immediate danger and into the middle of
the harbour. The fun, however, was only just beginning. We were lashed and the
wind kept on increasing, 45 knots, 48 knots..... Chris identified an anchorage
on the chart which he felt would give us shelter. The wind kept coming as water
was hauled over the boat and us, the dinghy went flying and ended upside down.
It flipped and flipped behind us. We thought the bimini and spray hood would be
ripped off but everything held, nothing was swept off the deck, we had on our
foul weather jackets not worn at sea for a long time but our legs and the
cockpit were soaked.
vast calm harbour had turned into a nightmare within 30 minutes and the wind
topped 51 knots as we pressed down the middle to get somewhere sheltered. We
have never experienced anything like this before it was like a baptism of fire
and frightening to think what it must be like outside
on the open sea, we hoped no one was having to deal with
Finally we found an excellent anchorage in the lee of the land. Just as
we were negotiating our way in we passed a yacht that previously hadn't made it
and ended up on the beach in the mangroves; it was deserted but hadn't been
stripped, it still had it's short wave radio whip aerial, its radar and wind
generator all in tact. Eventually the extended un-forecast squall blew itself
out. We believe it was just another facet of the South Pacific Convergence Zone
that has been dogging our path ever since we returned to the tropics. This is a
zone where different air masses are causing unstable conditions: cloudy weather
and, now we know, occasional but sudden vicious and protracted squalls. Not
ideal weather for navigating or for that matter enjoying reefy areas.
had a good sail northward to Epi in much better conditions and stayed for a day
close to the beautiful village of Lamen.
route we caught a large barracuda but we do not eat them as they can sometimes
carry ciguaterra from the reef fish in their diet. The locals, who eat barracuda
without worry, are reputed to be able to test the fish by putting it to their
lips, if the lips tingle then its not good. We wish we were knowledgeable enough
and brave enough to test the fish as we often catch barracuda and throw them
back, they are said to be very good eating. We therefore decided to offer what
was an excellent fish to the crew of a local coaster collecting sacks of copra.
When we offered it to them about 10 men piled in their lighter and came across
to collect it with much thanks. They anchored nearby and in the morning we were
awoken by a cockerel crowing ...from the coaster...presumably given a reprieve
thanks to our catch. Oh and no ill effects on the crew from the fish.
Ashore we chatted to a number of locals who were happy to describe the
island plants and wildlife. In one area amongst the coconut palms, shrubs and
trees the recently deceased chief had been buried and was surrounded by a
structure much like a four poster bed strewn with flowers. Many of the villagers
were out for the day on another island where there was a youth convention in
progress but we still had a pleasant wander around.
of many Poison Fish trees which have gorgeous blossom strewn on the ground.
locals didn't know the origin of the name but it must have had its
of the women we met was a teacher at the local primary school so we offered her
the collection of children's clothes we had brought donated by various
nephews...many thanks from Vanuatu. We were really pleased that they had gone to
someone who could distribute them according to need, we also gave her a blow up
globe and some bits and pieces for the school, she was delighted. The locals
look well fed and seem very happy. No telly or electricity here, but the odd
mobile phone and with excellent coverage. However, their houses are sparse and
their clothing is often very poor so no doubt there will be some happy kids and
returning to the beach we met 4 American sea kayakers in 2 double foldboats.
They were very well equipped with everything they needed for a month's paddle.
They were planning a number of quite hazardous crossings between islands but
they seemed experienced and fit. They too had encountered the 50 knot winds but
were safely ashore at the time.
also met a Danish medical student working at a local centre researching malaria.
Apparently there is a new drug they are using and they were running some trials
with it. Happily one of the problems with their trials was that there has been a
big take up of impregnated bed nets that are given out free by the hospitals and
are making a dramatic impact on reducing the number of malaria cases. This, of
course, not only kills the mosquitoes and stops people being bitten but more
importantly breaks the life cycle of the parasite and therefore reduces its
individual we did not meet was the local dugong. According to Lonely Planet and
a number of their sources there was a dugong here that had become tame and was
happy to swim with snorkellers. Sadly it has disappeared and the Dane told us a
rumour that it had been killed by a jealous local from another village, there
having been some dispute about the tourist revenue that had accrued from the
increased number of visitors. It did not seem very likely given the peaceable
nature of both the locals and the dugong....but who knows what intrigues go on
below the surface. Perhaps Vanuatan village life is as full of factions and
disputes as that of a Norfolk village!
is Philip delivering yaqona roots for making Kava to a neighbouring
village. He had made his dugout canoe which was nearly new and he was very happy
to pose for a photo especially as we gave him an old football shirt for his
following day we got up early hoping to sail to Pentecost Island where the land
diving was happening to celebrate the yam harvest by the men proving their
manhood with one ankle tied to a woven liana whilst diving out from a wooden
tower into a landing of soft earth! It is said that this spectacle provided AJ
Hackett with the inspiration to develop the modern bungy jump. Sadly the weather
was against us again and our quick sail northward was turning into a really hard
slog to windward in a Force 7 to end up at an exposed anchorage. This was so
frustrating as reluctantly we turned tail and took another route in the lee of
Ambryn, a very active volcano, complete with its summit wreathed in sulphurous
clouds . If the conditions are right an 8 hour return walk to the summit is
possible to see into the bubbling crater. However, others who have done it have
been disappointed to have walked all day in smoky conditions only finding a
smelly cloud obscuring any potential view. We decided against that especially as
the boat would be coated in grime after anchoring there.
continued sailing fast to Malakula Island and a safe lagoon for the night before
continuing north to Luganville the following day.