Vanuatu 19:32S 169:30E

Mon 4 Mar 2019 01:16
Fire and Brimstone

After an enjoyable break spent at home, it was time to return to New Zealand
and Sea Flute to start the second leg of the Oyster world Rally. Dave and
Tom had already returned to Auckland to finish the maintenance on the boat
and to sail with Dave's old friend back up to Opua, where I was to meet them
a month later. Opua would be the gathering point for all the Oyster fleet
and our departure point for Vanuatu some 1,000 miles north. Again there was
a lot of boat and weather discussions interspersed with parties and
drinking. Soon the weather window we were waiting for arrived and we were
off. Unfortunately nature doesn't always do as it is supposed to and we had
everything from sunshine, no wind, good wind, strong wind, squalls and heavy
rain with a sometimes very bumpy ocean. Our friends Charles and Nicky's boat
Calliope suffered a catastrophic rig failure only a few days out of Opua
which left their mast vulnerable to falling, sensibly they diverted to New
Caledonia to get it fixed. So after six days of sailing, it was a great
relief to see the Island of Tanna on the horizon. As we drew closer we were
welcomed with a spectacular light show from the islands active volcano,
Mount Yassur, making this arrival one to remember.
The archipelago of Vanuatu was originally inhabited by Melanesians with
England, Spain and France claiming it over the years until 1980 when it
became an independent republic. Originally The Islands were named New
Hebrides by Captain Cook and interestingly cannibalism was practiced in the
Islands until as late as 1969!
Untamed Tanna is one of the most southern islands of the many which make up
Vanuatu and as we dropped our anchor in Port Resolution Harbour we could see
the fishermen in their dugout canoes and the many children waving to us from
the beach. Tanna is a special place, partly due to its isolation but also
because it has maintained a strong traditional tribal culture. The Island
has a very temperate climate and a rich volcanic soil which encourages the
islands abundant vegetation and it seems anything you choose to plant grows
here. With productive farming and a bountiful supply of fish, nobody goes
Occasionally the islands are hit by devastating cyclones. There is evidence
of some international aid here, however the locals were very grateful for
all the clothes, fishing gear, ropes, fuel and medical supplies we could
spare and their resilience as a people and strong community spirit enables
them to bounce back from these disasters and to thrive. The villagers were
very grateful for anything we could offer them, the village chief was very
happy to receive one of Dave’s Polo shirts and wore it for the duration of
our stay!
The fleet had set up a special arrangement with Vanuatu customs to let us
clear in here and we were to meet them in the 'Yacht club’ on the hill
overlooking the bay. I must explain here that the yacht club was a wooden
and palm frond structure with a sandy floor, gaily decorated with flags from
all over the world, that had been donated by the many visiting Yachties over
the years. No Blazers or Gin and Tonics! It was also here where we were able
to organise a welcome party and tours to the main town and to Mount Yassur.
The Yacht club was also the venue for an eye clinic that we ran with Rob and
Jeannette from Tianelle where we managed to make quite a number of the
village elders very happy when we gave them their free glasses.
The village itself is very basic with no roads but has a school, a church
and a 'restaurant' where the owner cooks over an open fire using kerosene
lamps for lighting as there is no electricity. The menu of chicken or fish
with various vegetable accompaniments was delicious.
The journey to mount Yassur was one to remember, we jumped with our friends
into the back of a pickup truck that bounced and slid its way along a narrow
dirt track through the dense rainforest, arriving at our destination in the
late afternoon. We were welcomed by our guides who told us about the history
of their people and about the active volcano we were soon to ascend. There
was singing and dancing by the local tribe where we were invited to join in
and the brightly coloured face paint they wore was transferred to us as they
pressed their foreheads and noses to ours in welcome. As the sun was
setting, we began the dusty climb over the black lava sand to the gaping
mouth of the active volcano. Our guide told us where to stand so as to be
away from the eruptions and drew a line in the black gravel with the heel of
his boot, with strict instructions not to cross it or we could die! No
health and safety here. The explosive boom as the volcano erupted,
reverberated through your body, you could see the sound waves as the molten
rock was blasted hundreds of feet into the air lighting up the night sky.
The most amazing and awesome demonstration of nature’s incredible power,
truly frightening and absolutely unforgettable!
The following morning we went to the nearest town of Lenekal to see if we
could get some local currency. Our guide drove us through the extensive
Laval ash plains in the centre of the island which looked eerily just like a
moonscape. Having driven all that way on the dirt track roads in the back of
the same pickup, we were only able to draw out the equivalent of £15 from
the only ATM there. Anyway we had a great lunch in town which cost about £1
including beers, so that £15 actually went a long way. After a few glorious
days spent exploring and snorkelling on Tanna, we sailed with some of our
friends to Erromango, the fourth largest island, where we anchored in
Dillons Bay, also known as Williams Bay after the Martyred Missionary who
was murdered there, the site of which is popular with visitors as they had
carved the shape of his body into the stone where he was murdered, then just
for good measure they ate him! We were taken on a tour of the village and
their swimming hole up the winding river by William, the chiefs Grandson who
spoke very good English. He was very inquisitive about the boats so we
invited him aboard for lunch and a tour of Sea Flute, he seemed suitably
impressed. As a thank you for showing us around we gave him a mask and
snorkel and a cap, you would have thought we had given him the crown jewels.
That afternoon William and his Grandfather took us to some ancient caves
where all the bones of the Chiefs and their wives were kept. It was quite
spooky entering in the dim light and seeing all the skulls grimacing at us
from their resting place.
An overnight stay in Erromango then we headed off to Port Vila on Efate,
Vanuatus’ capital. The Marina is conveniently situated right in the centre
of this developed and bustling town with shops and businesses all along the
waterfront. There was an amazing market here that sold an abundance of fresh
fruits and vegetables which stayed open every day, with whole families
literally sleeping under their trestle tables till all their goods were
sold! It was my birthday while we were in Port vila so ten of us went off to
lunch guided by Maryann, Tiggy and James friend who has properties on the
island, to a beautiful hotel right on a white sand beach. An idyllic spot
and fabulous food! That evening I had a joint party with Nicky, and all our
Oyster friends, we were royally spoiled by everyone.
For a break from all the hustle and bustle of Port Vila, a few of us sailed
around the corner to a quiet anchorage in Port Havannah where there was a
great bar and a nice Italian restaurant. From here we had arranged to be
picked up and taken to the airport to fly to the island of Pentecost to see
the famous land divers do the original Bungee Jumping! The flight itself was
fabulous albeit in a crotchety old plane with a crotchety old lady pilot, we
got there and back safe and sound. We later found out that Vanuatu has the
worst air safety record in the world!
On Pentecost, as a rite of passage young men and boys, some as young as ten
years old, climb up huge wooden structures, tie vines to their ankles, say a
prayer and then hurl themselves off to come crashing down to the softened
earth far below. All the while being encouraged by the loud chanting,
dancing and clapping of the rest of the tribe, the women topless in grass
skirts and the men in their Nambas, or penis sheaths. An amazing experience.
We then hopped back on the plane and flew to Epi where we were to have lunch
and snorkel with the Dugongs. Unfortunately no one had told the Dugongs we
were coming, so they were nowhere to be seen. Back on the plane for our
flight back to Efate and as we approached the island, the pilot flew over
our boats anchored in Havannah bay.
Another quick sail a few days later to Malo bay where we anchored off a
really run down resort, but where the snorkelling was superb with myriads of
colourful fish and a beautiful Leopard Eel. The following morning we walked
with Rob and Jeannette and their crew Josh and Henry, and Angela from Oyster
Blew, up to The Cascades, a pretty group of waterfalls and rock pools high
in the hills overlooking Malo Bay. All the boys swam in the freezing cold
water, while we girls cooled our feet. A delicious lunch in the local
restaurant then back to the boat. All too soon we had to return to Port Vila
to clear out with customs and Immigration from Vanuatu. Our visit to these
beautiful and interesting Islands was far too short but very sweet. Next
stop Mackay Australia, some 1,250 nautical miles away.
See you over there!
Lindy (the skippers slave).