23 Jul 2019

24/7/2019: Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu

We've been in the capital of Vanuatu for 3 nights and it's so very different from Erromango and Tanna ... solid buildings, mains electricity and water, tarmac roads, shops, cars, the list is endless. It really feels as though we're back in civilisation, good for provisioning (one of the best markets we have seen for months), wifi, restaurants etc but not the cultural experience we've been enjoying. But on a practical note we've bought what we need, enjoyed internet connectivity and got a few boat jobs done before the sail on to Australia. Yesterday Paul repaired the companion way door and chain counter while I did some food preparation and this morning we've stitched the bottom of the genoa where it was coming loose. Always something!

Last night was the dinner and prize giving for the leg from Musket Cove to Tanna. We obviously weren't in contention for a prize as we left early but it was still a fun evening. A bit bittersweet as we say goodbye to another 8 boats and so only 12 of us will continue to Mackay together.

The official start for the leg to Australia is midday tomorrow but we've decided to leave a day early to get ahead of the pack ... we're one of the slowest boats left on the rally now so will get a head start. So no updates now until we arrive in Mackay in Queensland on around the 1 or 2 August depending on the winds!

22 Jul 2019

20/7/2019: Dillon's Bay, Erromango, Vanuatu

We set sail early in the morning to head over to Erromango, a journey of just under 50 miles from Port Resolution. With the winds being somewhat variable, we had to motor sail for half the trip, but when the breeze picked up a bit we turned the engine off to get some peace. Sailing at a sedate pace, we were overtaken by all the boats that were flying their spinnakers but it didn't matter, we got to the anchorage in good light and dropped the hook in about 7 metres of water.

Overnight, the swell picked up and all the fleet were rocking and rolling. This means that we don't sleep well, if at all, and we woke this morning feeling rather tired but with another action packed day ahead.

The day kicked off with a dinghy trip two bays away to visit the skeleton caves. The caves had many uses, they were a refuge for the women and children during times of war, where they would be kept safe from the battle, away from the enemy who, if they found them would feast on their bodies. Cannibalism was the norm, and prisoners would also have been stored in the caves, awaiting their death and subsequent consumption. In times of cyclones, the caves were also a safe haven for the villagers to take shelter, safe from the high winds.

The Erromangans were very tall people, about 2.5 metres tall until about 100 years ago, around the time when cannibalism started to die out, and now, presumably owing to a change in diet, they average 1.7 metres in height. Apparently, during the cannibalism times, white flesh was considered something of a delicacy! Apparently wars between villages were rife, and raids would result in the capture of one or two high ranking people who would then be eaten. This brought about reprisal raids, and so it continued for centuries.

The villagers have been putting their dead into the cave for many years and the length of the bones support the height claims. The bones are randomly spread around the floor and on some rocks, and their only company now is a family of bats that flit around the ceiling above your head.

Their chiefs' remains have been placed into a smaller recess in the rock, higher up the face in an elevated position as befits the rank. We were allowed to take photos as long as we didn't disturb the spirits of the ancestors and bring their wrath down on the community.

After visiting the cave, we returned to Tumi for a late breakfast bacon and egg sandwich which made the other crews very jealous, bacon has been in short supply for some time! And then it was time to head into the village for the official welcome and gift exchange.

The village here in Dillon's Bay is on the banks the Williams river, named after the first missionary who was subsequently eaten! Pulling the dinghy ashore on the rocky riverbank we were greeted by a group of young children, shy at first but soon chattering away as they helped us carry our gifts to the community centre. We were a little early arriving and so as Paul wandered back down to the river to help other dinghies get ashore, I stayed behind, chatting with the local ladies. One in particular was fascinating. She is the women's representative in the village and works to help women in finding themselves in violent relationships. Such is her success that she received an award a couple of years ago from the Australian High Commission in recognition of her work. Good for her!

We were invited as a group to enter the community hall where the local ladies and children greeted us with singing and dancing, different again from the African tribal influences we saw in Tanna. After a welcoming speech from the chief's son, David, we enjoyed al buffet luncheon the ladies had prepared for us alll. Predominantly fruit and vegetable based, they had however shared some of their small stocks of fish and meat, such is the importance of our visit. 

After eating our fill we wandered around the village, noting how well maintained it all was, and on to the 'yacht club'. Built by David, it is one of the few solid buildings in the village and he is justifiably proud, having by had to manually hack the area out of solid rock. Credit to him, he has a vision that the island will become more attractive to sailors and the 60 odd yachts that visit each year will increase in numbers. He already provided food for yachties, if he only sold beer too it would be far more appealing!

We couldn't have been feted any better than by the residents of Dillon's Bay village. Again a rather humbling experience.

18/7/2019: Port Resolution, Tanna, Vanuatu

We'd been told that Vanuatu, and in particular Tanna, would be one of, if not the, highlight of the trip so we arrived with high expectations. Would it just be another tropical island with dramatic scenery and a friendly welcome from the locals, or more? Read on and draw your own conclusions!!

Named by Captain Cook back in the late 18th century, Tanna is the local world for soil and folklore has it that when he went ashore to meet the indigenous people for the first time, he picked up a handful of earth and, pointing at it, determined it was called tanna, and hence the island's name. As for the name of the actual bay and village, Port Resolution, this was apparently named as Cook declared it 'the solution to my navigational challenge', or words to that effect. The reality today is a deep and sheltered bay surrounded by high cliffs out of which steam/smoke vents from the very close, neighbouring active volcano spout and with several vents and hot springs making the water feel surprisingly warm - stepping down into the aluminium hulled dinghy we were both aware of how warm it felt under our feet.

This is the furthest south we have ventured at nearly twenty degrees south, and it is noticeably cooler, especially overnight when blankets have been dug out for the bed! Given it is technically winter in this hemisphere, the sun is as far north as it goes (the Tropic of Cancer is at 23.5 degrees north) and so we are over forty degrees of latitude away from it. That apart, daytime temperatures are still very pleasant but, as in many of the Melanesian countries, it is traditional to keep shoulders and knees covered and on this occasion this didn't make us overheat!

Despite not owning a yacht, nor apparently having many other types of boats themselves, the villagers of Port Resolution have built a yacht club! Set in well maintained gardens with flowering shrubs, swept roadways and a view over the bay, the structure is little more than an open sided shack but is the centre of activities for visiting yachties, of which the World ARC probably brings in the largest group. 

Our arrival was obviously a big event for the villagers with the dirt tracks freshly swept and lined with flowers. Flags had been raised in the open area in the centre of the village where the locals play football (not rugby like most of their neighbours) and volleyball. The locals live in small dwellings with walls made from woven coconut palms and roofs thatched in the palm leaves themselves. They obviously take pride in their village and keep the small gardens well maintained and their homes freshly swept.

Stanley, one of the heads of the village, walked us around pointing out the school, church and other community buildings and took us along to a development site where volunteers from first world countries, especially Australia and New Zealand, come along to help build more substantial properties. At the moment a large group of NZ architecture students are on the island lending a hand. Tanna was devastated by a cyclone in 2014-15 and so projects such as this are key to the regeneration of the village. 

The World Cruising Club, operators of the World ARC, also support the village. Every year we, the participants of the rally, are asked to make a donation and they match this and give the money to the village to spend on defined projects. In the years the rally has visited Port Resolution, these donations have built three school buildings, contributed to the yacht club and supplied several water tanks and solar panels. As the village has no electricity (only the capital of Tanna on the west coast has mains electricity) nor running water, such donations are very greatly appreciated.

The big event on Wednesday was the visit to Mount Yasur, one of the most accessible active volcanoes in the world. We had seen the plume of grey smoke rising from it on our approach to Tanna, and noticed the various smoking vents around the bay, and were both excited at the thought of climbing up to the rim of the bubbling crater. So at 3pm we all climbed into a motley selection of 4wd vehicles and set off along the rutted mud roads through the jungle. Most of the roads on the island aren't paved at all, and to say it was a bouncy and uncomfortable ride was an understatement, especially for Paul riding in the back of our truck sitting on an old cushion! We passed several small villages on our journey and arrived at the visitor centre some 45 minutes later where we swapped vehicles to ascend a couple of miles up the slopes of the volcano, hanging on for dear life in the back of another open truck. No health and safety regulations here!

The final half mile or so was on foot, starting off up a concreted steep slope (which interestingly had an operational post box at the bottom of it!) bringing us to the rim of the crater. Our guides advised we needed to climb higher for a better view so off we trekked ascending an ash path up the side of the crater. No safety rails or handrails in evidence, we plodded up the steep slope, our leg muscles screaming at the exertion after 8 months afloat with little hiking. Just as we crested the summit, we were greeted with a jet of molten lava shooting up into the dusky air, our first experience of a really active volcano. 

We remained at the top as night fell, witnessing many lava firework displays, an incredible sight, and inhaling the sulphurous odour which made our eyes sting. But what a spectacle against the night sky! The whole crater glowed an eerie red as smoke and ash billowed relentlessly from it. The highlight had to be the regular eruptions throwing sparks and red hot lava skywards. Definitely a tick in the box for us both! 

The journey back down the steep ash path in the pitch black of evening wasn't for the faint hearted! Thank goodness for lights on phones, otherwise we would have been stumbling around in the dark in a rather dangerous location!!

Yesterday was a very full day. The programme started off with a visit to the school where the 128 children sang beautifully for us all, and were so welll behaved. The Principal explained about the special relationship between the village and the World ARC and outlined the future projects they need assistance with … paying for an expert to train the staff and children in the use of the PCs donated by Rotary International, and also extra school rooms to be able to teach lessons in French and bring in children from outlying villages where French as opposed to English is spoken.

We had all been asked to take gifts to the school of pens, crayons, paper etc. which we happily did. We also donated an electric kettle for the staff room (they have solar panels and a generator feeding large lithium batteries) and a spare first aid kit. After the official welcome we were free to wander around the school grounds accompanied by excited children keen to show us their work. It was a very heartwarming experience to see how happy and enthusiastic the children are, all wearing their white shirts, some of which have probably been passed down from elder siblings. Kids from our fleet joined in an impromptu volleyball and football match, and Paul spent fifteen minutes or so throwing a rugby ball with some of the school kids.

At midday we grouped around the village meeting place to watch the local villagers dance. Unlike their Polynesian cousins where the Hakka is the cultural dance, the style of dancing here was more reminiscent of Africa, with the grass-skirted women jumping up and down and the bare-footed men stamping the ground. It was fascinating. Once the dancing and formalities were over we all progressed along the flower bedecked pathway back to the yacht club where we were presented with hats (woven, you've guessed it, from coconut palms!), a flower necklace and fresh coconut with a reed straw. We were asked to sit on one side of the garden as the chief welcomed us and the children sang. We had then to introduce ourselves boat by boat, all being clapped enthusiastically by the villagers.

The primary purpose of the gathering was to exchange gifts and as each boat brought out their offering (we gifted spare towels and bedding, crockery and cutlery, lanterns, ropes, footwear and clothes, fishing tackle etc) the locals brought forward their gifts of woven baskets filled to the brim with fruit and vegetables (from the men) and intricately woven colourful bags (from the ladies). Everything was beautifully presented with flowers and feathers …. it made our offering in a selection of carrier bags and boxes, look rather scruffy. But the yachtie's pile of gifts was large and generous and the villagers seemed very pleased with the exchange. 

The chief closed the gifting ceremony with thanks and a long-standing welcome for us all to return before the ladies of the village came forward to distribute the goods between the sixteen different tribes (families) that made up the local villages. Interestingly the men weren't involved in this exercise at all and as the women opened the various bags and boxes it was fascinating to watch how they equitably shared it between piles for each of the local villages. A spoon here, a fork there, lantern on this pile, fishing reel on that. All done calmly and without the mad dash and clamouring we see at Boxing Day sales in the UK.

After a couple of hours back on our boats, we were back ashore at 6pm for the village feast at the yacht club. Two pigs had been roasted in our honour, along with fried fish and chicken wings, with myriad side dishes of yams, taro, breadfruit and leafy greens. A veritable feast of local flavours all served with a beaming smile.

We retreated back to Tumi around 9pm overwhelmed by the generosity and welcome of the Port Resolution villagers. Definitely a highlight of the whole trip and an experience we will never forget.

16/7/2019: Musket Cove, Fiji to Port Resolution, Tanna, Vanuatu

Day Three

We should comfortably arrive in Port Resolution, Tanna, Vanuatu by the end of our third day at sea. After the first 24hrs with high winds and big seas, conditions have remained calm and sleeping has been much easier. Fortunately the winds returned at 8.30pmlast night and we have been able to sail until 5am this morning. So overall 28 hours of motoring out of a total 74 hours at sea … not bad at all given the forecast.

Paul decided to fish again yesterday. We have found out that we can import fish into Australia so any more we catch can stay in the freezer. Amazingly he caught another Mahi Mahi, a bigger one this time measuring about 1.3m! So we enjoyed Mahi Mahi again for dinner last night and have frozen enough for another 7 evening meals. A lot of fish on our horizon!

We're now only 5 miles from Port Resolution. Tanna looks a reasonable sized island but is shrouded in dark clouds on our approach. We're looking forward to investigating on shore over the next few days.

Day Two

The winds held until 8.30pm on the second day and we have motored ever since! 14 hours and counting as I type and possibly another 20 or so to go. That said with little wind the sea is calm with only the slightest of rolls so much easier to move around and get things done. 

As usual we are following the shortest route, caller the rhumb line and several others in the fleet are doing similar. We have been in sight of TinTin since we departed Fiji and have two other boats in sight too. Lots of radio banter, especially when fish are caught. And yes, this afternoon Paul managed to catch a Mahi Mahi, something he has been desperate to land since losing one off the line in the Bahamas in 2016. It was a beautiful specimen, about a metre in length, and iridescent blues/greens/yellow. Enough fish for 8 portions so we ate two yesterday and froze the rest. Delicious!!

Day One

We're nearing the end of the first 24 hours on the passage from Fiji to Vanuatu and the winds and seastate are both calming after a rather boisterous and lumpy ride. The good news is that we have covered 180 miles in the first day, up there in our top 10 daily distances of all time!

Having taken a two hour/fourteen mile lead on most of the fleet, we were discussing how soon we would be overtaken by one of the bigger/faster monohulls or catamarans. We both imagined it would be 10 hours so imagine our surprise that after only 5 hours Resolute II, something of a racing cat, passed us by. We'd been averaging almost 8 knots and a quick calculation showed they had averaged around 11 knots, not a speed we would ever achieve. Three hours later Sky, a 57' long monohull, stormed by followed Peikea a fast trimaran several hours later still. There's been a six or seven hours gap since Peikea but we now have four other of the 'big boats' hot on our tails but we're still doing pretty well all things considered!

12 Jul 2019

13/7/2019: on our way to Vanuatu

We had to be up early this morning to exit the marina a couple of hours before low water when a sand bar would have impeded our passage. Several boats with deeper drafts were also doing the same thing, some reanchoring in the bay to await the official start of the race at 10.00, others heading straight off to make the most of the good winds. We decided to head off too, meaning immediate disqualification from this leg of the race but with the winds forecast to die down over the next couple of days it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. We're currently flying along at around 8 knots speed over ground with double-reefed sails ... we'll be in Vanuatu in no time if it stays like this! Great sailing.

Vanuatu sounds as though it will be fascinating. We make landfall in Port Resolution on Tanna, an island with two active volcanoes. It looks like Paul will finally get to see an erupting volcano as the World ARC organise a tour to it for us. The locals also host a feast for us where gifts are exchanged, a real cultural experience. Friends who have done the rally before said it was one of the highlights for them.

Vanuatu has a high risk of malaria so we will start taking medication two days before we are due to arrive, not something we like doing but the sensible option. Being a poor country we gather the communication systems are not great so we may not be able to post anything else until we arrive in Australia but we'll try our best. So all for now!

10 Jul 2019

10th July 2019 - Musket Cove, Malolo Laili, Fiji

We are in the marina here getting ready for our next leg of our odyssey which takes us to the islands of Vanuatu. We haven't been in a marina since Papeete and it is a good opportunity to charge the batteries fully ready for the next period until we get to Mackay in Australia. As usual when the rest of the fleet are together it is party central. Last night we had a drinks reception, followed by a BBQ (we were almost the last to leave the party, and our table at the end of the evening consisted of 1 Austrian, 3 Aussies, 1 Swiss and us). A truly international gathering!

Today, we have been for an early morning hike around the island with some stunning views of the neighbouring island of Viti Levu (the largest of the Fijian islands and the seat of power/government with about 75% of the population living there), we have beach games at 11am, and a traditional Fijian Meke feast tonight (a hog roast cooked in underground ovens on hot stones). Debra just about has time to fit in her massage between it all!

When we arrived in Musket Cove, we anchored off the reef for the first night so that we could get some breeze (sometimes in marinas, it becomes somewhat airless and the inside of the boat can get very stuffy) and we took the opportunity to go snorkelling on the reef. Surprisingly, it turned out to be really good, with many varieties of fish that we had not seen before. Also, the wind picked up in the night just in time for our entry into the marina which is very tight and makes manoeuvring a bit tricky, especially when we have to do a stern-to mooring which involves dropping the anchor as we are reversing up to the dock, and tightening the anchor chain to stop us drifting backwards into the dock. Well, we managed it OK, not quite in the spot we were supposed to end up, so they moved us sideways by hand to allow space for Chanto to slide in between us and Chao Lay. Ho Hum!

The resort here is very laid back and feels rather cosmopolitan after the remoter places we have been in recently. We have availed ourselves of the fuel dock, swimming pool, shops, eateries and bars, all without the need for currency: it's all charged to our account so I hope it's not too much of a shock when we get the final bill! And that's not forgetting Debra's spa treatments of course!

We have really enjoyed having good internet access again all the time we have been in the Fijian islands. Apparently the Prime Minister has made it his mission to ensure all Fijians have a good service wherever they live in the islands. It rather puts our service back at home to shame: Chagford is still rather hit and miss for mobile reception. The 30GB of data we bought here to be used in 30 days has been a challenge, even for us! We probably will not have anything like this access again until Australia when our home from home service from '3' kicks in, so apologies for any delays that we might have before our next blog.

Tomorrow we have to clear customs and immigration, get our skippers briefing for the next leg and on Saturday we leave Fiji.

6 Jul 2019

6th July 2019 Waya Island, Fiji

We sailed down here this morning after spending three nights in the Blue Lagoon. Those of you who are of a certain age will probably remember the movie of the same name starring Brooke Shields. Well, we can tell you, it is simply beautiful scenery there so we can see why it was chosen. We anchored off the reef and the beach in 15 metres of water (quite deep, but everywhere around these islands seems to be deep) in the company of a few other boats: the Yasawas don't get a lot of visiting yachts despite being so beautiful.

It was Debra's birthday on Thursday and she and Nicky (from Chanto) both fancied some spa pampering at the resort and opted for two hours of massage and facial treatments. We also ate out in the restaurant in the evening to round off her happy birthday, enjoying a cocktail or two as the sun set.

One of the highlights in the lagoon was the frequent landing and take-off traffic of seaplanes ferrying guests to the resort. Surprisingly they need only a very short landing distance, which is just as well because they landed very close to our stern! We both fancy a flight on one ... something else for the bucket list!

We had some surprise visitors yesterday, a couple from Plymouth we last saw in Lanzarote in October 2014! They did the World ARC in 2015 and are now going around again, this time under their own steam. What a small world the cruising community is!
After a great sail down this morning, we are now in Waya island, a mountainous island that vaguely reminds us of the Marquesas with its pinnacles of rock jutting vertically above the landscape. It's stunning! We are anchored in Octopussy Bay, a very nice anchorage in which there are two other ARC boats besides us and Chanto. No doubt happy hour ashore at the resort will be quite lively!

Tomorrow, we will head on down to our  of last port of call  in Fiji -  Musket Cove where we will rendezvous with the rest of the fleet ready for the next leg of our odyssey to Vanuatu. We have already started gathering gifts for the Vanuatans as they don't have much, so whatever clothing, food, tools etc we haven't used for some time will be gifted when we get there.