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Date: 12 Oct 2012 00:49:00
Title: Cruising Vanuatu - Efate, Epi and Ambrym

Lat 16:19.82S
Lon 168:02.11E

The future Mrs. Briggs; showing off her rock underwater at Aniwa lagoon

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Our stop in Port Villa was fairly brief - it's not the prettiest town although the harbour is quite nice as it's between an island and the shore so it was very sheltered and we got a good night's sleep. The town is a mish mash of shops along a busy road on the waterfront. It's the busiest town we've seen since Tongatapu so it was quite a shock to have to wait for cars to pass before we crossed the road! There is however a fantastic market selling huge amounts of fruit and veg. It's the biggest and most varied market we've seen since Tahiti, and it's open all day every day so we took the opportunity to stock up on everything. Finally we found some mangoes! (We've been waiting for about a month after being told everywhere that they weren't ripe yet.)

Port Villa

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With emails checked, beers and burgers consumed, and a long and very expensive phone call to the Aussie government to find out when my citizenship ceremony will be (still no certain answer) we were out of Port Villa in less than 24hrs. We sailed around the west coast of Efate, where Ewan landed a yellow fin tuna for dinner, and we spent a night in Havannah harbour before heading to Epi island the next day. This was a 60 mile sail, which was an ambitious day sail, but the last night passage we'd done had not resulted in many sleep hours so we elected to do it during the day. The wind was pretty light though, and we didn't get into Lamen Bay until after dark - our first anchoring test in the dark. Lamen Bay is well charted though and is a very safe and easy bay to anchor in with good holding, so it was a piece of cake.

Beautiful sunset from Havannah Harbour

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Epi island is famous for the Dugong's that feed in the bay, and the next morning we tried to find one. A dugong is also known as a sea cow - basically a cross between a cow and a dolphin...somehow! Visibility in the bay was surprisingly good and we saw loads of sea turtles, but no dugong. Jem also had some dolphins swim right by her!

Turtles on Epi in Lamen Bay

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Team Briggsy

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We upped anchor again and sailed the short hop across to Ambrym island. This island was ultimately our destination with Jem and Ewan. Another immense volcano experience loomed! Ambrym has two active volcanoes in it's centre, Mt. Marum and Mt. Benbow, both significantly higher than Mt Yasur on Tanna, at around 1200 metres. They are not as accessible as Tanna - there is certainly no road up to them and reaching them requires a full day of walking up through the jungle from sea level, and across the ash plain. There are two access points to walk to the volcanoes, with the easiest being from the north of the island near a place called Ranvetlam. We had planned to start from here originally, but it was going to be just too far to have another whole day sailing to get there. We also later found out that between October and January, during the yam harvest season, they do not allow anyone to walk up the volcanoes from these northern villages!

Ambrym - the smoke was actually a bush fire, but at the time we thought it was a volcano vent!

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The weather seemed fairly settled and with winds from the east we were able to tuck into a bay at Port Vato that was surprisingly sheltered, on 6m black sand with great holding. Again, 'Port Vatu' is not a port at all, but rather quite a large village. The houses are all made in the same traditional style that we have seen in other villages, from bamboo and woven palm fronds. The boys were keen to get some kiting in, so after checking with the locals about whether there were any of Vanuatu's famous large, hungry sharks in the bay, they set up on the beach while Jem and I walked to the next village, Lalinda, to see if we could arrange some guides to take us up the volcano the next day. Along the dirt track we passed some kids on their way home from school. They hardly ever get yachts stopping here and the few tourists that do come here to do the volcano come by plane and then truck, so I guess we were quite a rare sight! Some of them waved but many were too shy and stopped in the road, staring at us as we walked past. At Lalinda we found a man and a truck. Success we thought, until we got closer and realised that the truck was a rusty heap of metal and the man spoke no English. Luckily he found someone who could, and a whole procession of about 20 men appeared out of one of the houses and came and introduced themselves. Jem and I had to shake hands with each and every one of them. I'm not sure if this is a normal custom or whether they were just excited to have two unaccompanied western ladies in their village! We explained that we wanted to walk up the volcano and needed some guides and we met (again) Ben and Tapit, who would meet us at 7am under the mango tree in Port Vato the next morning.

When we got back to the village, Ewan seemed to have nailed the kiting (going left at least!) and he had quite a fan club on the beach - about 10 kids were watching him kiting into the setting sun. They are such a happy bunch; everyone we've met in Vanuatu seems very happy with their lot and they don't need anymore than they have.

Kids on the beach watching the kiting at Port Vato

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Ewan kiting - hurrah!

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Another nice sunset on the black sand beach at Port Vato

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