Vanuatu (with photos)

JJMoon Diary
Barry and Margaret Wilmshurst
Wed 6 Aug 2008 04:12
When last heard from we were pottering along delaying our arrival in Port Vila until daylight.  This worked according to plan and we have just come to the end of a most enjoyable three weeks chilling out in and around the capital of Vanuatu on the island of Efate.
Vanuatu is interesting and of course we knew nothing about the country before coming here and even now are woefully ignorant.  The people speak English better than the Fijians (one is greeted with "alo" by everyone , rather than "bula").  Everything is very south-seas English except that they drive on the right, most official signs include a French translation and the goods in the supermarkets and food in the restaurants carry a very beneficial French influence.  Not too bad then!  The country had a rather complicated history during the years leading up to independence in 1980.  Before that the islands were known by Captain Cook's name "The New Hebredies".  From 1926 the country was a condominium administered jointly by Britain and France.  There were two languages, two sets of laws, two police forces and two of quite a bit else.  The locals  knew it as a "pandemonium" but it doesn't seem to have soured their sunny natures.  Having thoroughly enjoyed "city" life we are now anchored in a quiet bay about twenty-five miles away, still on Efate, but headed towards some of the other islands where we are told there will be interesting experiences amid traditional culture. 
The passage over from Lautoka, Fiji, comprised 4 days of Force 6/7, over the quarter so no problem in itself but enough high swell to throw everything about much of the time which resulted in water in the bilges (I think it backs up through the discharge pipes and eventually blows the fuses on the pumps - interesting!), broken crockery and very interrupted sleep.  We didn't think too much about it while at sea but we later learned that other boats had had a very miserable time of it, trying unsuccessfully to turn back, diverting from original destinations and so forth, so that then we felt quite sorry for ourselves.  However, it was very comfortable in Port Vila on a laid mooring in the sheltered inner harbour, said to be safe in all but the severest cyclones.
On arrival there we called up to announce our presence and arrange customs clearance and a berth.  Our call was overheard by a fellow yachtsman who turned out to be the Ocean Cruising Club's Rear Commodore, Australia.  He said he had been looking out for us and after an initial chat on the radio he and his wife turned up half an hour later with a loaf of bread.  "Ah", he said "the famous JJ Moon".  Eh, what?  Famous?  Where, why?  It seems that he keeps his boat in Sydney just a few metres from our friends  Norrey and Richard who took us out on their very impressive power boat last Boxing Day.  They are good mates and the Rear Commodore had been asked to look out for us.  Excellent people - serious sailors with a light touch.  As they left the moorings and motored down the habour waving to friends on the boats and in the bar they were observed to be followed at five metres' distance by a life sized duck bobbing in their wake. 
One cause of slight discontent is that we have been caught up again and enveloped by both the ARC World Rally and the Blue Water Rally.  Several of the Blue Water boats were being hauled out at Vuda Point when we left Fiji and on arrival in Port Vila big ARC boats were taking up nearly all available space.  Once they had left part of the Blue Water arrived.  We understand that there is no love lost between these armadas.  Some of the ARC skippers were so pushy as to be obnoxious.  We chatted to the owners of one the smallest (according to the skipper) of the Blue Water boats in Vuda.  They seemed to be rather disillusioned.  I should like to have met them a second time so that I could advise them to duck out despite the substantial sums already spent.  After getting half way round in their 30 year old Laurent Giles motor sailor they realise that they could have done it on their own.  What they perhaps do not quite appreciate is that once they were on their own they would soon build up a community of friends doing much the same thing, travelling in much the same direction, who would be a great source of moral and practical support.  On the other hand we later had a couple of chats over evening drinks with the owners of a Contest 48 who gave a very positive picture of the Blue Water Rally.  Their only gripe was with the rapidity with which they were being hurried along but they pointed out that it was this very speed which attracted many busy people in mid-life to take two years out and "do the world".
It is a tradition out here in the south seas to entertain holidaymakers by taking them for a short flip in a seaplane.  We decided to give this one a miss.  It has a mooring close to where Y-Not was tied up and Ross observed the owner carrying out essential maintenance.  Five times he taxied to the shore, threw the engine cowling on to the beach, applied himself to vigorous spanner work, replaced the cowling and taxied off.  Each time he revved up, the engine faltered and he returned to the beach.  In between sessions with the spanners he was bailing out the floats with a hand pump.  Bearing in mind the fickleness of the engine and the power lines stretched across his flight path we came to the conclusion that a gale in the Tasman Sea offered us better odds.
Yellow seaplane
Not that we have anything to crow about on the maintenance front.  As ever we are beset with minor problems.  A few days ago we were running the water maker when the pump started to race.  I quickly saw that there was no sea water reaching the machine and after finding the coarse strainer clear of debris suspected a plastic bag caught in the inlet.  I popped over the side and could see the inlet in the clear water but could not get close enough for long enough to probe with a suitable piece of bent wire.  The mate got ready her sophisticated scuba gear but before undoing all the good of her early morning shower and hair wash I undid the relevent pipe joints inside the boat.  Here I discovered this ugly little critur.  He had swum into the skin fitting, through the sea cock, turned a right angle and reached the end of his road with his nose in the mouth of the strainer.  He was such a perfect fit in the pipe that not a drop was getting past.  We also have trouble with the bilge pumps; an intermittent fault at start-up with the generator......................
Ugh!  It was this chap that gummed up our water maker.
We have managed to accomplish some interesting sight-seeing.  The local water falls were very attractive in a low-key way and the studio and exhibition of a couple of local south-west Pacific artists was well worth a visit.  Not so worthy, but just as enjoyable, have been some great meals, for example the Sunday lunchtime mud crabs illustrated.  What a mess we got into!  Memorable!
We learn that the first American landing in the SW Pacific during the war was very close to the Port Vila moorings.  As it turned out the Japanese hadn't arrived, so the Americans decided it was a practice run.  They then created a huge base to hide submarines and planes and disguised the latter with a very fast growing creeper.  In order to direct their own planes to the air strip they bull-dozed 3 huge sand dunes in the shapes USA and of course these are still there as is the rampant creeper which has obliterated whole tracts in impenetratable jungle.  Local taxi drivers point these things out with grim disatisfaction.
Having spent the day here in Sema Bay on Efate we intend to travel overnight to the island of Epi where there is to be a race of local outrigger canoes on Friday.  The distance to Epi, 65 miles, is just too far for us to be sure of reaching the anchorage in daylight so we leave at 1700, which should give us a hour's daylight to get through the pass and then we shall have to slow down a bit in order to reach the anchorage just after first light.