08-August 2011

Lautoka, Fiji to Anatom, Vanuatu - 458.0 nm

Sometimes you just don't get it right.

The passage from Fiji to Vanuatu is suppose to be a gentle downwind sail. We had been checking the weather for weeks, we thought that we had chosen the right window. -- WRONG!!

It ended up being 450 miles of banging, smashing, rolling and heaving. The wind and waves were much higher than predicted. On day three, the wind peaked at 40 knots and the seas became huge. We were motoring right into and over them. On a catamaran you don't want waves that big hitting you on the beam. We decided that if it didn't calm down in two hours we would turn and head the extra 150 miles to Port Vila where the seas would be behind us. Fortunatley, they did calm down and the wind turned more to the east so the waves were behind the beam, a much better situation. The rest of the trip we had winds from 26 - 35 knots. The seas did eventually moderate so it wasn't so bouncy and we were able to tolerate the rest of the trip.

Two and a half fish

One fun thing is that Chris put out the fishing lines once we were sheltered by the island, as we were going over a shallow spot, we caught three fish. One an exquisite 25 pound blue fin tuna, a yellow fin tuna and a salmon fish which we call a green jobfish or snapper.

Once we were anchored in the nice protected bay, we found out that the other boat next to us had to divert to Anatom because they ripped their main sail, and dragged their dingy underwater for 24 hours as their dingy davits broke and they couldn't do anything about it while underway, now they are busy trying to dry out the outboard so it will work again! The cruise ship that normally comes here once a week diverted to Noumea, New Caledonia because of the weather conditions. I told all the kids to kiss and thank our boat once we were safely anchored as she took a beating and kept us all safe through the whole passage. Our friends on Tahina will be out there tonight so we are all hoping that they will have a decent night and arrive safely as well.

Dad getting creative wtih breakfast:

The check in process here is comical and sweet. One of the locals, Colin, paddles out in his dugout canoe (from a breadfruit tree). He has his paperwork in a waterproof case. He comes aboard and gets you to complete a few peices of paper. However he is only customs, immigration and quarantine are only here when the cruise ship is here which is only once a week so you do the rest of your check in in the next island north Tanna or the island north of that in Port Vila, the main city in Vanuatu. He seemed very appreciative of the fish heads that we gave him and a bunch of fillets as they were lying all over the cockpit when he arrived.

Anatom is a very small island with 500 people living there. It was a change from Fiji where everybody comes up to say Bula and are very interested in where you are going and coming from. Here, they just seem to go about their business and don't seem that interested in visitors.

Anatom has a gorgeous beach, and beautful villagers. We did a lovely walk around the island. The homes they live in are made out of palm fronds and are very basic. The first church in Vanuatu is here. John Geddie, a Presbyterian minister from Canada arrived in May 1848 and that is when this church was built. He converted 3000 people to Christianity. New Zealand Forestries has pine plantations on the island, I had to do a double-take when I saw pine trees. Where did they come from? It gave me a homey kind of feeling. However, it is another industry for the locals, they take care of the trees and ship them to Port Vila.

The other big ticket item is Mystery Island. A beautiful sandy island just a 300 metres from the main island. There is fabulous snorkelling around the island and an airstrip. It is a marine sanctuary. Now, cruise ships come here and the village has set up a market to sell fruits and handmade crafts. There are bungalows and toilets. The day we left Anatom, the Pacific Jewell was heading there with 1200 guests on board, I have no idea how they cope with that many people but they must sell alot of baskets! The villagers beleive that Mystery Island is home to ghosts so nobody will live there.

Because the cruise ship was coming, the officals from Tanna had arrived the day before so we went to shore to see them and did the rest of our check in. Now all we have to do is take a sealed envelope to the customs in Tanna to receive our cruising permit.

We had Mystery Island all to ourselves and we set out there one day when the wind was still quite high, the kids had all their kites and Frank from Tahina had his remote control camera - kite. This is quite the contraption. He has different sizes of kites depending on the wind strength, then he ties the very expenisve camera to the kite and up it goes, then from the ground he takes pictures with a remote. We got some pretty cool shots.


This was a worry for us with the kids, we spoke to several cruisers before we departed about the malaria problem. Everyone we talked to said that mosiquitos so far had not been a problem. When we arrived in Anatom, I asked Colin and he told us that there are not many mosquitos now because it is the dry season and he declared that Anatom is Malaria free. None of the villagers have it and when other islanders arrive at the airstrip they are given a finger prick test. If they have malaria they are immediatley given the medicines. This strategy is apparently working.

Anatom to Port Resolution, Tanna, Vanuatu -- 48.89nm

On the pasasge to Tanna we could see the volcano in the distance looking very ominous:

Vanuatu, and Tanna in particular is shrouded in tradition, mystery and magic.

On our first day we walked around, went to the Port Resolution Yacht Club, and spent some time on the gorgeous beach on the other side of the island. We were told that the men gather to drink kava every single day at around 4:00 p.m. and we were not to walk by them at this time. The villagers live in very basic huts and the amount of pigs that a family has is a status symbol, the more the better. We had some extra kava from Fiji and we offered it and we were turned down! They didn't want it. Turns out that Vanuatu kava is of much higher quality and much stronger than Fiji kava. Who was to know? We also organized our trip to the volcano for tomorrow morning.

The big reason we came to Tanna was to see the Mt. Yassur volcano and boy it did not disappoint. In fact, this has to be one of the coolest things any of us has EVER done.

We organized our trip with Stanely from the village. There were 3 other boats in the anchorage and we all went together. We crowded into the truck, of course the kids wanted to sit in the back, for the bumpiest ride I've ever had. After an hour of bumping and being tossed about, we arrived at the volcano. In the distance we could see people standing up on the edge. As we were walking up the steps we started hearing a very loud thundery sound. There was a black smoke swirling around, it looked very ominous. Once we reached the craters edge we were literally standing beside an active volcano. It was exploding and throwing up red, burning rocks. There are no guard rails or guides - this is the real deal. As it was getting dark, we left to head to the higher rim, we all had flashlights, this was a neccissity, there are no lights, so a wrong step could mean into the volcano with you. Once we arrived at the higher rim, we could see the three different vents, each one taking it's turn shooting red-hot magma high overhead. At one point, the volcano rumbled, made a very loud thundery sound, then exploded, this one went way above our heads, and all we could do is stand there and watch the different peices of molten rock coming back down towards the earth. Do we run? Which way? At this point, we all decided we had seen enough and it was time to head back to the relative safety of the parking lot and our waiting transport got ass killing ride back to the anchorage.

Here is a video that Andrea took, it gives one a better feel for the whole situation than the still photos:

The volcano has been sputtering like this for a long time. In 1774, James Cook seeing a great glow in the sky went to investigate. He landed in a small bay, which he named Port Resolution after his vessel, the HMS Resolution. He wanted to climb the volcano, but the islanders wouldn't let him because it was tabu.

Here is one example of what the villagers believe and how the volcano is a central force in their everyday lives: There are issues between the different villages because of the resources that they have. Port Resolution doesn't own the volcano, the village by the volcano owns it and therefore charges the fees. Stanley beleives that the village is over charging. He says that they better watch out because the villagers in Port Resolution have a direct pipe from the volcano to their bay which produces a hot water spring and if they put certain leaves in the pipe it can change the weather, cause earthquakes and even cause the volcano to erupt which would destroy the village which is charging all the extra money, so that village better be carefull because some day the village will have had enough and will put the village destroying leaf into the pipe and if you don't think they are serious you have not been in Vanuatu where magic is still real.

When you arrive at a village in Vanuatu somebody will attach themselves as the host of the village for your time there. It's not like in the Caribbean where they attach to you to try to empty your wallet. When you arrive in a Vanuatu village, you become part of the village and your host tries to ensure that you don't do anything tabu, for example, walking off the trail into what looks like a uninhabited forest and stumbling onto the women's bathroom section. These villages have been here for thousands of years and untold generations have lived there. Unlike the Caribbean where they were slaves. Vanuatu retains its culture that was developed over thousands of years. On the island of Pentacost, they still to this day build 30 to 40 metre towers every year and then as a right of manhood jump off the tower with vines tied to their legs. On Malakula, men still wear penis sheaths,basically a leaf wrapped around the penis like a burrito and tied with a vine, everything else hanging free. On all the islands, they still cook with wood on a fire. There is no computer, no internet, no TV, no electricty. This is Vanuatu today.

One morning, Stanley paddled over to our boat and gave me three eggs and asked if I could make a cake for his sister Marie for her son's first birthday party. I said I would be delighted to do that. However, the next day the wind switched form the west which meant that the ash form the volcano started raining all over the boat, we had black ash everywhere in no time flat. We decided that we would just drop the cake off and rush back to the boat and leave for the next island - WRONG. She had been working all morning to prepare this feast for us. She gave us gifts of feathers, and a woven pandandus leaf purse. Then she brought out 5 plates overfilled with chicken, rice,and much more cooked in an underground oven. The village children looked dirty because of the ash everywhere, it just covered everything. All the children seem to walk around with knives. We could hear the volcano rumbling and groaning in the background as we were sitting on the mat and enjoying our lunch, as we swatted the flies away. We were really humbled by the generosity of these people.

Port Resolution, Tanna to Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu - 139.4 nm

Beautiful sunset on our overnight sail to Port Vila:

Port Vila is the national capital of Vanuatu. The main road is very narrow and is chock a block with traffic during the week. Every second shop along the main street is duty free and they all seem to sell the same goods. We were very happy to find a charming and exurbient outdoor fruit and vegetable market. Also the french supermarket Au Bon Marche, where we found huge jars of olives, pickles, apple sauce, french cheeses and baguettes.

We were planning to stay in Port Vila for just a few days but as things turned out we stayed for over a week. We ended up getting a lot of boat chores done. We met an Australian boat with four kids on board moored just in front of us. The kids played at the park everyday and had lots of fun together. The big accomplishment for Andrea was that she completed a PADI dive course, she went on five dives and aced the test and now she is a certified diver. Way to go Andrea!

Along with Utopia II, we took a day off school and went on a "field trip" to the Mele Cascades. A dollar each for the bus and we were dropped off at the waterfall. It was beautfiul walk past aquamarine pools, to the 35 metre waterfall, but boy was it cold!

Port Vila, Efate to Havanah Harbour, Efate, Vanuatu - 25.33nm

Bad weather was forecasted for the upcoming days and we were tired of being in the busy, bustling capital. So we decided to hide out in the very sheltered bay of Havana Harbour. This turned out to be a great place to wait out the weather. We met a lovely local family who invited us to their church on Sunday.

We brought them some items from the boat and they gave us a bag of lemons, papaya and coconuts.

Earlier that morning we were awoken from sleep by a rumbling. Is the washing machine on? Why is the boat vibrating? Turned out there were two magnitude 7 quakes. One was M7.1 at 4 AM. The other was at 5:20 AM at M7.0. They were both 40 miles southWest of Port Vila. The first one was 22 miles deep. The other one was shallower (USGS says 17 now, but said 1.2 miles deep when it first happened).

After the church service, everyone was asking us if we felt the earthquake and everybody was amazed that we felt it out on the water. Then it suddenly dawned on us that perhaps a tsunami was heading our way. We left quickly and went to the different boats in the anchorage to see if anyone had any information, then we tried calling friends in Port Vila but nobody knew anything so we figured if there was going to be a tsunami it was probably over by now so it would be safe to go back to shore. Amina had a cell phone and she received a message from vodaphone saying that the tsunami warning had been cancelled so that is how we ended up getting the information. We stayed for the church fundraiser lunch and had a very nice time talking to everybody who was relaxing on a Sunday. The kids played tag with the local kids and Andrea who is a kid magnet had some intrigued followers. I find the children of Vanuatu so beautiful and good looking I can't stop staring at them and taking pictures of them which they don't mind at all. They love looking at the pictures of themselves from the digital camera display.