d 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490
2nd Report for 2006:
Some more Fiji, the incredible Vanuatu and on to Australia
(July 9th-September 6th)
two weeks in Germany celebrating Markus' and Astrid's wedding and sorting out a few things, we
arrived back in Fiji without our baggage. And it was a lot of baggage that we
were missing: Spares
and some really good food like smoked ham and sausages that Harald's father had
brought from Austria. Anxiously, we were waiting for three days, only to hear
that they had "destroyed" all the food before we could even explain
that it would go onto a ship straight away. We are quite sure that had we been with
our baggage, the friendly Fijians would have let us go with the assurance
that it all goes onto a ship. Strangely it seems that we keep suffering from
Kiwi incompetence who in this case misplaced our bags in Auckland and couldn't
find them for two days.
So that was not a good start, and we were a bit depressed, but life goes on and so did we. As soon as we had our bags, we left Vuda Point and sailed out to Navadra, a really beautiful anchorage with some stunning snorkeling. Known to be a beautiful but rolly anchorage, we used our stern anchor to keep the boat into the swell and so had two decent nights there at anchor. Then it was high time to move on to meet with Mahi-Mahi in the Blue Lagoon for Lara's birthday. We had promised to be there and so made the 45 miles despite many rain squalls on that day. These places are all in the Northwestern part of Fiji, in the so called Yasawas and Mamanukas. Most tourism is concentrated on this area and many yachts just visit this part of the really huge island group.
We had extensively cruised the many
remote parts of Fiji and also had quickly sailed through this part with Kiki and
Henry on board. But now we felt we would spent maybe two more weeks in this area
before finally leaving the wonderful Fiji to sail on to Vanuatu. It was nice meeting up with our friends and spending
some relaxed if rainy days in the Blue Lagoon. Then further north to revisit the
exceptionally beautiful Sawa-I-Lau, this time together with Mahi-Mahi.
Again and again we heard from other boats about a very nice resort on the west coast of the main island of Viti Levu and so we all made plans to start heading south and to check out this place before leaving Fiji.
First we moved on to Somosomo which turned out a popular place and many of the boats we had not seen in a
while were anchored there. It has a nice beach and one can hike over the
peninsula to the windward side and dive on a world war 2 fighter plane that
crashed into the lagoon and is now laying in just 3 meters of water- full of fish
and coral. A friendly family that owns the land there showed us around
their well maintained and beautifully situated place.
For the next day we had agreed with Mahi-Mahi, that provided there was some decent wind, we would start early and head south. From Somosomo it is over 70 miles to Likuri, the place with this highly recommended resort. With the currently light winds we wouldn't make it by daylight anyway and would have to stop over, either in Musket Cove or further south in Momi Bay, right at the main reef entrance.
in the morning Mahi-Mahi was on the radio to tell us that they felt it was enough
wind for them to make at least a good distance south. Catamarans like Mahi-Mahi need a bit more wind to move and aren't too happy with very light winds that
would be enough for us to move decently. But aside from sweet spots like that,
when we are faster, or reaching in strong winds, when Mahi-Mahi moves faster, we
had found that on average we travel at almost exactly the same speed.
We both were getting ready to weigh anchor, when we saw the dinghy of "NowaDays", also a family cat with kids of same age, headed for Mahi-Mahi and then a long discussion seemed to go on before Mahi-Mahi finally got moving.
Later we heard of the drama on that morning: These two boats had first met in the Caribbean and the kids are big friends and love to play together. Since they had different plans they would not see each other until maybe in Australia. So the kids had preferred to stay longer in Somosomo and not go on. Topping the drama, Walt from NowaDays came over on that morning to bring one of his kite surf kits as a birthday present for Marco, who's birthday was still over a month off.
To stop the tears, NowaDays then also weighed anchor and all three boats started heading south....
At least in the beginning there was enough wind for us to move at decent speed and we only had to revert to using the engine for the last quarter of the 60 miles to Momi Bay, where all three boats arrived just before darkness. Momi Bay is a good anchorage, but there is not much one can do there and so we moved on at first light for the short remainder to Likuri:
Out through the main reef passage, then some ten miles south and into an uncharted reef entrance. Since we couldn't see the reefs looking into the morning sun, we called up the resort und soon a long boat with two friendly Fijians appeared and guided us in.
Inside the lagoon is an island, now called "Robinson Crusoe Island" which hosts the similarly named resort. The resort is of a low budget type, easy backpacker style and with a fabulous staff of multi talented Fijians. They smilingly do anything from guiding in boats like us, or preparing cava, to putting on some of the most impressive dancing shows in all Fiji. The dancing is so famous, that large numbers of day tourists come in by barge to have lunch and enjoy the afternoon dance show.
the better one is the night show, especially for the fire dancers. Yachties can
join in and have the same buffet lunch or dinner as the regular guests and all
that for just 5 Euros per meal. The resort is owned and run by an Australian
couple, who themselves are cruisers and hence welcome yachts.
Their son owns one
of the bigger butcheries in Fiji and one just has to fill out the form to get all sorts
of meat, pastrami and salami portioned and vacuum packed ready for your freezer
on the next day - all for very reasonable prices. So naturally we stocked up and
filled our freezer to the rim.
Not only did we enjoy the food and the great shows, but the kids of the other two boats became a fully integrated part of the resort, learned to make various artifacts from coconut shells, learned to dance and fire dance.
They really got
along so well with the staff there, that you could have left them there for a
year and they would have been perfectly happy and in paradise. And so it
came; well, not quite for a year, but for almost two weeks. Taniwani was the
first boat to leave and head back north to clear out of Fiji, followed two
days later by Mahi-Mahi who left their kids with NowaDays and the resort. Joao
and Ligia also
headed to Vuda Point to get some mechanical jobs done and to pick up some
parcels with spares that were sent in from the States.
some of these spares were for us, (our water maker membranes had reached the end
of their useful life), we didn't urgently need them and so we were able to leave
for Vanuatu a week earlier than Mahi-Mahi who, for mounting the new wind generator,
had to get a stainless steel
bracket fabricated. We just topped up fuel
in Vuda Point, went to Lautoka to clear out of Fiji and then south again to Momi
Bay from where we wanted to leave at 4 in the morning, having a last good rest
before heading out.
idea was to sail to the southernmost of the Vanuatu islands, called Aneitium,
and then cruise up along the island chain. This is normally not an option, as
there is no clearing port on Aneitium, but we had heard through the grape vine
that officials would be present on those days that the big cruise ships arrive and that we could use this opportunity to clear into Vanuatu down there.
At its southwestern end, the island of Aneitium has a big sheltered bay made up by the island itself, a big reef and a small island called Inyeug Islet. The cruise ship companies call this little island "Mystery Island" and searching for it on the internet, we found out their cruising schedule. Their next call to the island would be on July 29th and so all we needed to do, was to time our arrival for the day before and then wait there.
Strong trades were forecast and so we had to assume some 190 miles per day as most likely. Given our desired arrival time and 460 miles to sail, we figured we could just have a good nights sleep and get going very early in the morning. It was 4 in the morning on July 26th that we weighed anchor and headed out for the main reef passage, the one that is also used by all commercial shipping. Most of the time that isn't much, but somehow this morning there seemed to be a big get together:
Directly outside of the entrance the 185m long "Pacific Endeavor", then the "Pacific Star", a passenger ship that already had a pilot on board, and coming in from the west another small freighter (65m) "Grete Therese", allowed to go without pilot and with obvious local knowledge. We can see all this nicely on our computer screen, thanks to AIS. We talked to the two big ones and agreed that we will be out and gone before they would head in. And so we did, while they continued arguing about their order. Finally the Grete Therese, the one that arrived last went in first.
Our course leads south of west, (251), as Aneitium is further south than most of Fiji, yet most other destinations in Vanuatu would be north of west. We thought that to be an advantage as going straight down wind in the prevailing southeasterly winds is usually not optimal and like most boats, TANIWANI sails faster a bit off the wind. And indeed, we found about 18 knots of wind from 140 degrees on the port side. Nice sailing!
By the afternoon the wind had picked up and was soon blowing 25 knots and TANIWANI was sailing pretty much at maximum speed. But shortly after sunset, it veered further south and went to 40 knots. At this point we had a double reefed main and the Genoa reduced to maybe a third. The wind was exactly on the beam and the sea state was getting worse by the minute. Now it became a rough and wet ride.
It was definitely more wind than predicted, though strong winds had to be expected given a high in the south which was compressing the trade wind belt. Not an unusual situation in this part of the Pacific and we knew it wouldn't get really bad, but it could last for several days and certainly built up huge waves. We thought about our options again: It would be a lot more comfortable if we bore off a bit and not get the waves right onto our beam. But the next port of entry at the island of Tanna would be untenable in this weather. Both anchorages, Port Resolution and Lenakel would be quite doubtful. So we could do what the Scandinavian group of boats that left Fiji the day before did, and sail to Port Vila.
We changed course by some 30 degrees to try it out and indeed we immediately were on a much smoother ride. But there were several down sides in going to Port Vila: One of the must see things in Vanuatu is the Volcano on Tanna and it would mean going to windward for some 120 miles from Port Vila, or alternatively and expensively, make a day trip by plane. The second problem was that with our timing, we would arrive late on a Friday in Port Vila and couldn't clear customs till Monday, meaning we would have to stay on board and anchored. And finally we would miss Aneitium and some sailing in the islands south of Port Vila.
Given all this, we were quick to revert to the old plan, when around midnight the wind backed again and dropped to 30 knots. The next morning things looked nicer, but with all sails reefed from the night we were going too slow to make it into Aneitium before darkness on Friday. We waited for the latest forecast and it suggests some 20 knots of wind for the next three days. We had more than that, but out went the reefs and now we were recovering the lost time quickly, sailing between 8.5 and 10 knots.
In the late afternoon a repeat of the previous days game seemed to start over again, as the wind picked up and veered south. And again the rainsqualls came with the darkness. Again we had to reef the sails, but this time we kept the course and the wind didn't get much above 35 kts. With defensive sail surface we sailed through the second night and despite that we still did 192 miles from midnight to midnight.
The strong wind remained for the rest of the passage and by 2 in the afternoon we were safely anchored in Anelghowhat Bay at Aneitium. It was as well sheltered as we thought, but prettier!
We had not the most comfortable, but certainly a fast passage: 460 miles in 2 days and 10.5 hours, an average of 8 knots. And having arrived, we could relax with a nice meal and some glasses of wine in a place that looks like paradise.
One other yacht was already there and we recognized her as one laying next to us in Whangarei, a Hylas 49 called Galatea. We had only briefly talked to the owner who wasn't living on the boat then, but in his house in Whangarei. When we arrived in Aneitium, Henriette and David, were ashore, but shortly afterwards they came by, brought us fresh bread and offered their dinghy so that we wouldn't have to unpack Dolly. Very nice people! But we had to wait to be cleared first.
The next morning came and with it, right on schedule, the big cruise ship. It anchored in the middle of the bay, dropped four barges and started to unload some 1000 tourists onto the little "Mystery Island". We called the bridge on channel 16 and asked if we could utilize the same officials for clearing in, but were told that only a quarantine inspector was coming to their ship, and customs and immigration had been handled remotely by their agent.
Oh well, just quarantine was as good as nothing for us. So we would have to stay on board and eventually move on to Tanna and clear in there. First we just wanted to relax anyway and the next day we shall see....
In the evening we had David and Henriette over for some drinks. They are a very nice Scottish-German couple, also members of the OCC, who have sold their house in England and for now bought one in Whangarei. Not quite legal, since we were not yet cleared in, we had a wonderful evening with this enchanting couple.
In the morning, right after breakfast, a tiny dugout canoe with outrigger came towards us. It was Joseph, the local community officer. He explained that he had to keep a log of the boats that come to visit and needed to note our boat and passport data. He also brought us some oranges as a welcome gift and we returned the favor with tined tuna and fishing line, which made him very happy. He said that they are working on making Aneitium another clearing port, as it is most logical as the southernmost island and one with a really good anchorage. In the mean time we would be ok and welcome to go ashore and clear later at Tanna. Very nice, so we didn't need to rush it.
had two more relaxing days at this nice place, visiting the village and the then
vacated and cleaned up "Mystery Island", all of course courtesy of
Galatea and their dinghy. Luckily we could return all these favors, including a
wonderful dinner on board of Galatea, by fixing their autopilot and HF-Modem.
had some recent news that two mooring buoys had just been laid at a small resort
a few miles north of Lenakel. He had phoned the owner and heard that we would be
more than welcome and that conditions were currently good and calm. And so we
sailed together to Tanna to check out that place. Tanna is problematic for
boats, as it has no really good anchorages. There is a bay called Port
Resolution on the east side which is fine as long as the wind is South of
Southeast and West of Northwest. But it requires a three hour car ride of all
crew to Lenakel to clear in. Alternatively with enough boats arriving, the
officers may come to Port Resolution for a fee - usually on a Thursday.
anchorage at Lenakel is usually uncomfortable or even dangerously exposed and
all of the reports that we read advised not to go there. Now this new
opportunity was at a place just north of Lenakel, but around a small promontory,
so that the southern swell wouldn't quite get there. Also the owner of the
resort told us that we could clear customs there.
The latest noonsite text now correctly reads: "A more protected mooring (approximately 5nm North) has been introduced (2006) in Whitegrass Cove by Tanna Evergreen Bungalows (see Shore Services for more details). It consists of 2 yacht moorings (19ș26.59'S, 169ș13.29'E). Approach with care and pass on either side of the isolated blind breaker marked by 2 red plastic buoys (the Northern approach should be preferred). It is not possible to anchor here as it is 60/70ft deep. The dinghy landing can be difficult at low tide, but a small boat channel through the coral reef is being planned."
After a day of very pleasant sailing, we found it exactly as described and we were the first boats to use the new moorings. It is quite close to the reefs and there is definitely no way to anchor. The moorings are of excellent quality and close together and close to shore, but with safe distance. Strong gusts came down the hills, but we lay there safe and quiet - no swell whatsoever.
Getting ashore however is a real challenge at almost all states of tide, except full flood. One needs to approach the rim of the fringing reef carefully and then carry the dinghy a long way wading on the reef.
As we arrived, Sam the native owner of the little resort came running to the beach to greet us, he was really excited seeing his first yachties using the new moorings. He had already called customs and since we didn't feel like driving into Lenakel in the late afternoon, they agreed we could do all that the next day. Off course we went through the trouble of landing the dinghy (Galatea's) and have dinner at Sam's place. Sam joined us and told us a lot about life in Vanuatu. He is the second son of the island chief, and seemed very well connected, full of humor and with good entrepreneurial spirit.
The next day was one of the most impressive of our whole journey, yet as it turned out, Vanuatu should have a few more of those days waiting for us. On this day we should travel back into stone age in just 60 minutes. It started with Sam's driver picking us ( the crews of Galatea and Taniwani) and first driving into Lenakel to see customs. But the officer was busy in the morning and told our driver we should do our trip first and come in the afternoon, they seem very relaxed about their red tape.
Our trip was per 4-wheel car deep into inner Tanna, to a village called Yakel. Yakel is a so called "Castom Village" which means in pidgin English a place that kept with the old customs and did not progress into the new age. The people there live in their traditional way according to their tribal rules. Sam told us that we had two options, a place particularly organized for tourists, showing traditional dances on demand, but where people actually live a more modern and educated life, or to the one village that has opted to remain with all their old traditions, but allowed for visitors to come by for a fee. Apparently there are some more Castom Villages, but they do not even want visitors.
We had opted for the later and all we knew was that the people there do not wear western clothing, but that men wear a so called Namba, something that covers the penis and is different on different islands, and women wear a bast skirt and are otherwise topless. But nothing could have prepared us for what we experienced:
driving dirt paths for an hour we finally stopped at a wider place between two
huge banyan trees. One or two huts were visible at the far end and in front of
these, sitting on the black earth, a naked black man not moving at all, just
like part of the surrounding. We could not see anybody else, but were sure that
we were seen.
to our right were the huts, and we should have a look at them before they
assemble. The driver led us there and what we found was the most primitive
village we had ever seen. The huts very dark inside with a cold and wet earth
floor. Very simple little gardens fenced off from the pigs, pigs around and in
bigger, similarly dark hut was shown to us as the place where the women and kids
usually spend their day. The camera flash revealed a few baskets, the same dark
earth floor and two pigs on it. Incredible basic: No Hammocks, no mats, no
furniture, no art no decoration - nothing! We had not expected this and felt a
time machine had sent us back to stone age.
a short while a girl showed up, shy and curious. When our driver asked her to
show us the fruit they use to paint their faces, she quickly climbed a small
tree and brought down a small green fruit, which broken open showed an
incredibly intense red cream.
a rainsquall hit the place and we hid under some roof. We found it quite cold up
here in the mountains.
the rain eased a young women showed up, she knew some English. She seemed shy
and embarrassed and so felt we. She explained that she grew up in a more modern
village which had a school where she learnt her English, then she married into
this village where she since had to live by their rules.
It seemed that she gets sent forward when some foreigners like us appear. We learned that the chief is over 100 years old and wanted everything to remain as it was all the years. His son, who will take over some day has the same vision, if one can call this so, and so it is likely that this incredible place will remain that way for some more time to be.
Slowly a few more women and kids showed up in the village, maybe they were scared of us. But we too didn't know what to think about all this and felt a bit uncomfortable.
Then we were lead back to the village square under the two huge banyan trees with their mysterious looking tree houses and were allowed to see the chief in his hut.
We found a skinny old man, friendly smiling and warmed by a slowly burning log next to him and his son and successor always by his side.
we stepped back out into the light, we found all the women assembling under one
of the banyan trees and the men, back from their ceremony gathered under the
other. Kids playing spread out over the place.
Our driver explained to us that in a short while they would perform some traditional dancing for us and in the mean time we could buy some handcrafted stuff from the women. We found some simple and crude carvings and one could buy their dresses - bast skirts and Nambas. All was quite cheap by our standards and we certainly felt we had to take some.
the dancing started. It was earth shaking rhythmic stomping combined with
marching in circles. It too was from another time and planet and we looked on in
awe as it went on for quite some time.
We left the place not knowing what to think about it. We all agreed that we would not like to have missed this experience, but we would also not want to return and see it all again. It left us all with deep and lasting impressions, much like having peeped into to the early stages of mankind. Are these people happier being excluded from progress? Is it more natural to have no progress? Is it OK for us to look at their life from, well, some different level?
were all quiet and thoughtful, driving back into Lenakel for an hour. There the
contrast hit us big time, when a self assured female immigration officer finally
cleared us into Vanuatu. The customs officer excused himself again, as he
was busy with a basketball game; customs against the police. He would come out
to the resort and clear us in the morning. We tried to track down the quarantine
officer, but couldn't find him in his office nor at his home and gave up for the
day. Amazingly both came out to the resort the next morning and all the
paperwork was quickly and friendly done. Now we were officially in Vanuatu.
Later back at the boat we still kept discussing our impressions and off course the newly obtained dresses had to be tried out on "Castom Ship TANIWANI".
But Vanuatu had more very impressive things waiting for us and for the next day a completely different tour was planned to the easily accessible active volcano on Tanna. These tours are best in late afternoon, so that one can experience the sunset right at the craters edge.
From Lenakel, or the resort where we were moored, it is about two hours per four wheel drive car and from Port Resolution it is closer by about half an hour.
For us it meant to leave at about 3 pm and so we had a relaxing morning after finally clearing into Vanuatu. Yes, they all came out to the resort in the morning, the health, the customs and the harbor guy, and they could not have been more friendly and efficient. All was done in a short time and nobody bothered that we had been already enjoying Vanuatu for a whole week.
the Volcano we had the same driver as the day before, but a somewhat smaller
car, since it was now just the two of us, after David and Henriette decided to
check out the volcano later from Port Resolution.
After driving on poor roads for quite a long time, the sudden view of the volcano is stunning. Especially so when it is erupting, which at that time it did about every five minutes.
driver explained that activity varies and is categorized by the scientists from
level 1 to level 5. At level 4 or 5 one should not get near it and access is
prohibited. We were told it was at level 2 when we were there.
the far, we thought that level 2 was quite impressive: Every few minutes there
would be a deep roaring and then "oomph" and a blast of debris and
ashes would shoot several hundred meters high into the sky. One starts to wonder
how to get close to this without being hit be falling debris - But our driver
assured us not to worry, we would approach from the other, the windward
But first we had to cross a huge lava bed and it turned out to be the only place on Tanna where a car could go fast for a short while. It is like perfect pavement. But there are too many interesting stops along that plane, with fascinating views of the volcano to interrupt the speedy ride. Eventually the road disappears into a jungle and there one looses sight of the volcano for some time. The path through the rainforest is very narrow, but nobody is likely to head down from the volcano at that time.
far from the rim the forest released us to a cobble stone slope and a short
drive later, we were as close to the edge as one could be driven. We climbed up
a few meters and a short slope down towards the chasm, the crater filled with
white steam. Soon we heard a deep roar, some rumbling and then almost like a shot
red glowing rocks were flying up into the air high above us. Frightening. Where
would they hit? Then the thump of the rocks hitting the grounds around us.
Our leader was investigating the site and soon showed us a huge bolder which was still hot. It is obvious one would be quite flat if hit by such a thing and our leader suggested we retrieve a bit as rocks were obviously coming pretty far that day. We didn't argue.
Unfortunately it had rained the previous days and so water was still coming down into the crater where it was readily converted to white steam that for most of the time obscured the view to the bottom of the hell. But both, sound and display were magnificent and awe inspiring and it made one feel quite vulnerable. We had been to various volcanoes, yet this one was the most impressive.
Once the sun set and it got dark, the glowing rocks made for yet another nice show, looking much like emergency flares shot from down in the crater.
that we had seen the biggest attractions of Tanna we were ready to move on,
since Mahi Mahi was now under way from Fiji to Tanna we decided to wait a bit
and go round to Port Resolution to receive them. Still strong easterlies would
make Port Resolution very uncomfortable and so we just went to anchor at Lenakel
all fine and calm and the best anchorage was just north from the stone pier off
a sandy little bay. The food market in Lenakel was excellent and incredibly cheap
by our standards. And so we stayed put for two nights before a weather change
was imminent and then left for Port Resolution to arrive there almost at the
same time with Mahi-Mahi. All that time Galatea had been with us, providing
perfect dinghy service and on the way to Port Resolution they caught a 2.5m long
Marlin, which of course they shared with many other sailors including us.
Soon Port Resolution started to fill with boats trickling in from Fiji and went from three boats when we came in to some 18 by the evening.
Clearing in for them off course meant a 3 to 4 hour ride on a pick-up to Lenakel and we were happy it all was so easy for us.
The weather got pretty rainy by now and we started to do some maintenance work and put in the new membranes for the water maker that Mahi-Mahi had brought along.
We wanted to move on now and were just waiting for less rain and on August 9th it cleared a bit we said good by to our new friends on Galatea and set out for Port Vila. Rain eased, wind set in and we had a quite nice passage through the night.
Next morning around 8 am we were entering the well protected bay of Port Vila and were stunned by the contrast of seeing what looked like a nice first world place.
turned to the nice little marina where the staff friendly boarded and took over the
handling of our lines. What a service!
Port Vila is a tax heaven which may explain why it is doing so well.
And yes, almost every day a big cruise ship comes and unloads 2000 guests for shopping.
For us it means a good place for stocking up with good single malt.
But it is not just alcohol, also the offering on food is superb, thanks to the French half of their past.
After stocking up on pâté and spending a few days in good decadence, we were ready for more of the wild Vanuatu.
short but wonderful sail to Havanah Harbour, a beautiful bay in the northwest of
Efate, brought us a nice Yellowfin Tuna and Mahi-Mahi a good sized Wahoo.
With Mahi-Mahi now having a family from South Africa visiting, we were 10 for dinner on Mahi Mahi and once more were jealous of the big space on the 'terrace' of this nice catamaran.
we went from there to Epi Island into a poor and rolly anchorage. Just to swim
with the famous dugong. But apparently the dugong had decided some weeks ago to
travel abroad and look for a nice dugong girl.
So, no dugong, but a lousy night and a severely bent shaft on our stern anchor. On we sailed in boisterous conditions to the lovely Maskelyne Islands.
We spent some rainy days in a lovely anchorage before moving on to the next highlight.
This highlight is at a village called Nebul at the northwest end of the island of Ambrym. Unlike the "Castom Village" on Tanna, where people really live like in the stone age, these folks have found a way to combine past and future in the interest of progress for their village.
A few years ago they started to organize a cultural festival that goes on for three days of feasting and dancing. Since there is no other tourism on Ambrym, it is the yachting community that they are trying to address. And indeed we had heard about this long before we arrived in Vanuatu and had worked hard on our schedule to be at this place at the right time.
It is an educated village, and most of the initiative comes from the local school teacher. He tries to hold up old traditions and get some money for the village which is then spent to send kids abroad for further education.
The teacher opened the ceremonies addressing his foreign audience in good English and French.
They were in their traditional costume. which is really nothing but the Namba (here a tube around the penis), and a set of status symbols like the tooth of a wild boar or feathers of rare birds.
more of those one has, the higher the rank. And one has to buy these symbols,
usually for a decent number of pigs, that would go into the village pool. Those
who contribute more in return become chiefs. It's quite simple: No 'money' no
joined the festival on its last day, which also included the famous Rom Dance.
It seemed a good choice as we had a full day of all sorts of performances ending
with long and ecstatic set of Rom Dances during which part of the performers
wear very conical masks representing various ghosts. These need to be burned
after the festival so that these ghosts don't escape and overtake the
There was also a lot of nice local artwork on display and for us to buy. We all certainly did.
the festival went along, visiting and local spectators at first sitting in
separate blocks started to mingle as we moved around looking for new positions
to take many wonderful pictures.
we were not the only ones with cameras as the local TV station from Port Vila
had sent a small team for a documentary on this "Back to the Roots"
Festival as the villagers call their invention.
Eventually the festival found its end and a large group of impressed yachties started the hike back down to the beach where our dinghies were waiting.
was time to move on to the next island, one that is called Pentecost. It is
famous for having invented the bungee jumping. Instead of rubber ropes they
traditionally use lianas from the trees which limits their shows to the wet
season and it was unlikely that we could witness such a jump. But never the
less, it is a nice island and we had several anchorages to our choice.
The passage across was very fast as we had one of these compression zones enhancing the trades again. And so Taniwani just required the Genoa to reach downwind with over 9 kts.
Mahi Mahi was spectacular.
the lee of Pentecost we were back to full canvas and continued moving nicely to
an anchorage known as waterfall bay.
Waterfall bay is just another anchorage in paradise: beautiful beach and a nice waterfall just ten minutes up river.
But it is also home to a larger boarding school for kids collected from several neighboring islands.
us it meant taking many pictures of the youngsters and printing them.
place well known to cruisers in Vanuatu is Asanvari Bay on the island of Maewo.
There too the villagers found it beneficial for both sides to host yachties and
they opened a little "Yacht Club" for cruisers to eat and drink and to
show performances on some of the evenings. A visiting yacht from last year, (Jane
und Harry of
returned the favors by collecting some money and buying a small water power
plant, who they brought up this year and installed it at the little waterfall,
next to the village.
It is hard to find such small turbine-generator combos in the civilized world but these folks found a simple and easy to maintain unit made in Vietnam. It delivers a maximum of 500W, which it will probably always do as there is plenty of water available in any season. The unit is very simple and crude, but as such maintainable by the islanders. Regulation is simple a water cooled resistor that burns off whatever isn't used of the 500W - the generator always delivers full power.
it just went into operation a few days before we arrived and we missed the major
party. But, since enough boats gathered again, the chief just put on another
party. And it was good food and a nice performance. Most impressive was the band
with an interesting base guitar that doubled as the container to transport the
One more relaxing day in this little paradise, spent with some diving, hiking and snorkeling, before we had an early start to sail the 61 miles to Espiritu Santo, the largest of Vanuatu's Islands. It was very nice sailing again, with the exception of ripping our spinnaker - big loss as we would not be able to have it repaired until in Australia.
We had just changed our plans during the previous two weeks, and now Espiritu Santo would be our last island to visit in Vanuatu. Then we would have to move on to be in Thailand by the end of the year.
As a result we cut New Caledonia out completely and in Vanuatu we would not be able to visit the Banks Island a bit further north.
we were not done with the fascinating Vanuatu yet and Luganville on Espiritu
Santo is yet another very special place. Until 1942 it was no more than a small
village, then the US Navy chose the place for establishing one of their biggest
bases in the South Pacific and within just a few months they build an entire
Luganville is quite protected behind several smaller islands and at least four entry channels lead in from various directions. This was seen as too exposed during the war and all but one easy defendable entrance were mined in order to keep out Japanese subs. While it seems a good idea, it would have been good to tell the captains of their own ships, but it didn't really happen and two navy ships ran into their own mines. The first was a small destroyer, the second and more spectacular incident was the loss of a then state-of-the-art luxury liner that had 5000 troops on board - "The President Coolidge". This 200 meter long ship sank in just over an hours time and slid down into deeper water from the reef that the captain tried to 'park' her on in the last seconds.
laying in a depth from 18 to 70 meters, it has become a major dive site and a
quite challenging one that had cost some divers lives.
One of the first to open a dive base was Alan Power. He got to Vanuatu for some salvage work, like cutting off the huge props and after that never left. He is now in his seventies, still diving and had some 3000 dives on that wreck. He was smart to buy the property with the beach just off the site where the President Coolidge sank.
so dives with his organization start right from the land. You basically
walk in until the water reaches your shoulders, put on fins and mask, and then
follow a rope in the water down to the coral garden. Soon another rope leads
straight to the bow of the wreck. The first dive always is a test and
orientation dive and doesn't penetrate the wreck. Still it usually ends up as a
deco dive. It was an easy and still very interesting dive, and in the picture
you can see Harald with sword and T-Shirt as he had forgotten his wetsuit on
board of Taniwani. But the water is quite warm, so this never was a problem.
Our second dive on the same day was to the famous "Lady" a sculpture in the wall of the first class smoking room. For Harald this dive was a bit unpleasant, as his dive computer and depth gauge failed right at the start of the dive. That is not really a problem as you go with others, but it makes it a bit difficult to manage air consumption, not knowing how deep you are and how much deco time has accumulated.
At least half of the dive time is spent at the nicely arranged deco stops which also feature extra air in the form of tanks tied to some handle bars that make it easier to hang out there. They are just short of serving beer there.
The next day our third dive went deep into the wreck and was most pleasant and interesting. It started by swimming way out to a buoy and then shooting down into the depth until all a sudden the magnificent wreck appears. The wreck is laying on its side and entry into the engine room is through a hole in the starboard hull.
You need to imagine a 200m luxury liner with 9 decks and on its side, to realize just how difficult it is to orientate oneself once inside. We had a good leader and so went through engine room, down to the controls at 46m depth, then through some dark aisles until the guide signaled us to turn off the lights before entering the next compartment. It was fantastic, the whole area was illuminated by fish with some sort of fluorescent light and once used to it, it was quite enough to see the other divers and the outline of the chambers. On and on it went through holds with tumbled over jeeps and so on.
Hard to top this dive, but really wanted to see it all and Joao discussed with the dive master how we could possibly see many of the attractions in one last dive before we leave Vanuatu. It was an ambitious dive plan: Swimming out to the last buoy, from there in very short time decent to the swimming pool at the aft deck which is in 52 meters of depth. Next we would inspect the soda fountain, then into the ship to the beauty saloon, from there through some decks to the kitchen, then through several dining rooms and down again to some canons and finally up to the 10m deco stop. But we were a very small group with just the dive master and the two of us. (Joao and Harald).
It became a close call. Part one was fine and very nice, then in the beauty shop, Lionel our guide pointed at a hole and down and disappeared in it. Harald followed, but once in the shaft something fell from above, hit the dive lamp and then it was dark all around. Fumbling with the lamp it turned out it was fine and on, but the silt that was stirred up was so dense that one couldn't see the powerful Hartenberger lamp just 30cm from the eye. As visibility improved slowly, Harald was able to locate Lionel a bit below him and followed him through a narrow hole into the galley. But we lost Joao. Lionel used his rattle, shone his light up the shaft, but nothing...
After thinking what to do next Lionel signaled Harald to stay put and he would go and try to find Joao. So there was poor Harald, deep in the middle of the wreck, at 56m depth with no clue on how to get out and the air burning away very quickly at that depth. Staring at the gauge and the clock and reducing breathing to the absolute minimum. Exactly 3 1/2 minutes later Lionel showed up again with no Joao - panic in his face. He and Harald raced through the wreck and out and up to the deco stop. Once outside Lionel was going up faster than healthy, so Harald lagged behind and saw him shortly returning with the spare bottle from the deco stop, hurrying back to the wreck. Joao had at best 15 minutes at the depth we last saw him.
Waiting at the deco stop, Harald was very worried and thought he may well never see Joao alive, but after some while a whole group including Joao and Lionel showed up. What a relief! Joao must have had a black out in the beauty saloon and missed out on seeing us leaving the room. He then tried to find a way out, but the holes he found were too small. Eventually he swam into an aisle that lead to the engine room where he swam straight into the dive master of another group. And later we found out there was an earthquake around the time everything went dark around Harald.
Both Harald and Joao will probably never forget this adventure.
Well after so many exciting things it was time to reluctantly leave Vanuatu and to start thinking about Australia. Our new plan was to sail to Cairns, which is some 500 miles south of the northern tip of Australia. From Luganville this would be about 1250 miles and we could expect strong and consistent trade winds to drive us all the way. Still, we prefer to leave on passages with full tanks and so we organized duty free fuel to be delivered to a commercial pontoon.
On August 30th in the morning we left the anchorage and a strong tide made us race out between the islands. Two hours later we picked up a nice wind that kept increasing to 28 kts. That was fine sailing and the sort of wind we needed to do well without spinnaker. But we actually now carried the Mahi-Mahi spare spinnaker, named "Patchy" for obvious reasons. Ours we hoped to get fixed in Australia. But it only took until the afternoon and we heard that Mahi-Mahi, who left shortly after us had ripped their spinnaker and we felt really bad now carrying their spare. We now didn't even dare to try it - but if the wind kept up like this it wouldn't be needed.
three boats, (Mahi-Mahi, Northern Star and Taniwani), kept radio contact twice a day and in the evening Mahi-Mahi was 17
miles behind and Northern Star, who left 6 hours later, some 45 miles. We were
all sailing in strong trades averaging in the upper 20 kts range. It is quite
typical for this time in the Coral Sea to have high pressure systems further
south build a so called squash zone that greatly enhances the trade winds.
In conditions like this Taniwani comfortably sails in the 190 miles a day range, with poled out Genoa, wing-wing with the main. And with the wind not dead from behind the little cutter sail can also be set and help a bit. If conditions get very rough, a little bit of reefing the main restores comfort. Doing over 200 miles is possible but comfort suffers somewhat and since we broke our spinnaker we got a bit more conservative.
Interestingly, Mahi-Mahi sails so exactly the same speed that we would usually remain within a few miles for days in a row. The two boats couldn't be more different, but amazingly at the end of the day the results were always the same. Not this time though as Mahi-Mahi needs the spi up to 25 kts and with tailwinds below that would start to fall back.
Star (an X-562) is noticeably faster by about one knot, that is 24 miles a day
and adds up quickly. So not surprisingly they cought up with us on day three. The
wind was a little bit down from the boisterous conditions of the previous days,
but it still was good for some spectacular shots. Wave heights are hard to
photograph without reference, but with another boat surfing near by, the true
size comes out clearly.
After 5 days of sailing we had covered 930 miles, but then the wind eased and going became a bit slower.
With wind now between 14-20 kts we still did ok. but Mahi Mahi was suffering badly without spinnaker and now also had ripped their mainsail. It still could be used, but care had to be taken.
Once through the first chain of reefs, some 200 miles from the Australian coast, the sea state became quite smooth and it was pleasant sailing for the rest. Northern Star arrived in Cairns after 6 days and a few hours.
At that time we still had over 80 miles to go and no way to make it at daylight. Instead we gradually slowed down and went with 3 to 4 knots and just the mainsail through the night, to arrive exactly at first light at the buoyed entrance to Cairns.
We were politely asked to anchor and wait for customs and immigration to open. They co-operate with the marina and usually ask you to the fuel dock for the clearing. At 10am they were ready and we were soon tied up at the fuel dock where customs, immigration and quarantine officers took care of us. They thanked us for properly checking in via e-mail three days ahead of our arrival and they could not have been swifter and friendlier. And since we had a copier on board we also got the cruising permit right away. Luckily the marina, which at first told us that we would have to wait a few days for a berth, had now allocated one and soon we were settled in nicely. Cairns turned out as a very nice place, much above expectations, but more about Australia, Indonisia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand in the next episode....