Posted by yachtcamomile
After spending a week in Port Vila re-provisioning, re-fuelling and a false start because of the weather we finally left on the 3rd of August. A little heavy of heart we sailed the 16 mile hop around Devil’s Point, where the trade winds kick viciously at the opposing current twice a day, and into the shelter of Port Havannah for an overnight stop and a pre-dawn start the following day to sail the 65 miles north to the island of Epi. We anchored up in Lamen Bay after an easy but long day sail. This sandy bottomed bay is a good but rolly spot but we had been here before and knew that by putting out a stern anchor we would be much more stable. We spent a couple of days chilling, snorkelling over sea turtles grazing on the sea grass below the boat that could not have been less concerned by our presence. Dugongs inhabit this bay but they are shy creatures and failed to make an appearance for us much to Sue’s disappointment.
The volcanic island of Ambrym is the next large island and will forever be remembered to us as the place, last year, where Camomile nearly succeeded in running away from us when she dragged her anchor at Ranon while we were ashore with a local man’s broken generator in pieces trying to repair it for him. The fine, light black sand simply let go and she was ¼ mile out to sea when the alarm was raised by Silver Fox, a rally boat, who wondered how we could be anchored in 200 meters of water!
We were also lucky enough to see a traditional Rom dance with the men dressed in small Namba’s, which is a penis sheath attached to their belts, and nothing else! It involves a lot of foot stamping and shuffling.
Woman aren’t allowed near the Rom site but they made an exception for the cruisers.
We sailed past to Pentecost Island stopping at the village of Batnavni. The next day we went ashore to discover a really friendly village. There was a tiny store selling a few essentials along with delicious freshly baked bread. The chief offered to show us his village, which we happily accepted.
The village contained the senior school for the whole island. Many of the children boarded because it was too far to return home each evening. Their facilities were basic to say the least.
The bunk beds were very close together
and the school kitchen consisted of an open fire with a few pots and pans containing some strange liquids bubbling away in them.
On the 10th we continued on to the southern tip of Maewo and the picturesque village of Asenvari where Chief Nelson and his tribe live. The way of life here is untouched by western influence as testified to by an out of commission hydro generating plant and a “yacht club” which was also not in operation i.e. bring your own everything and they provide a table. The Chief encourages yachts to come to his village and treats them all like VIPs. The villagers enjoy trading their fruit, veg and handicrafts for every day goods.
Nelson soon established that I knew what a generator was and suddenly a broken one appeared. After an hour or so of tweaking it was working but when I asked to test it on an appliance nothing could be found that was not already defunct, not even a light bulb. This just goes to show that if the very few modern gadgets are removed from this environment village life simply goes on as it has since time immemorial.
In the evening we enjoyed our sundowners listening to the children frolicking in the sea, naked, without a care in the world.
On the 13th we made the 16 mile passage west to another volcanic island named Ambae and anchored off the black beaches of Vanihe Bay for a couple of nights visiting the village of Lolowai.
From here and onto our favourite resort in Vanuatu, “Oyster Island” on Santo. A small but very yottie friendly place with a western style restaurant, cold beer and a lovely still “hurricane hole” anchorage. The little over water bungalows were charming, the surrounding coral is colourful and there are a number of WW2 aircraft wrecks that are interesting to snorkel. A kayak trip up the nearby river to swim in a “blue hole”, the deep limestone sink that feeds the river with fresh clean water, is a great way to spend an afternoon.
The resort was the first and only place we found a limited wifi signal north of Port Vila, and Sue was amazed by the loos!
This anchorage is about
20km from Luganville, the regional capital where we had to check in before moving north, do some shopping and sniff out some nice coffee (Sue has a talent for this type of detection). We decided that, instead of using an expensive resort taxi we would walk to the main road and thumb a lift. Most of the road traffic will stop for a hitchhiker as it is understood that you will pay 200 vatu each (about £1.50) the equivalent of the bus fare (if you can find a bus). Riding in the back of the ubiquitous pick up truck worked really well on the first day when we made the return journey in a Taxi loaded up with shopping. The second day a Toyota crew cab pick-up pulled over with four burley men in it. Sue took one look in the back and blanched. There was a very large and very dead cow in it with its severed head and guts all over the place. Apparently it was on the way to be butchered. Those of you who know her will also know that Sue is infrequently lost for words however this was one of those rare moments. The driver, perceiving the imminent loss of a fare however, promptly turfed two of the lads out of the cab and we were saved. I have rarely regretted more the absence of a camera in my hand to capture a tableau such as this.
Leaving the luxury of a resort island behind us on the 21st we headed 25 miles north to Hog Harbour and a visit to Champagne Beach, so named because the white sand is so fine that it bubbles each time a wave washes its way up the beach. A further 8 miles to the North we dropped our hook for the night in the shelter of Port Olry where we shared the anchorage with Quicksilver a yacht from Poole in Dorset and had a nice time nattering and drinking tea with Mike and Hilda, the last English boat we would see before Australia.
Next a 45 mile passage to the first of the Banks archipelago and the island of Santa Maria where we tucked ourselves into the west side of the island away from the increasing south east trade winds and chattered to the locals who were preparing for a festival in a few days time.
Sadly we did not have time to stay with them because we needed to make our way to Port Paterson on Vanua Lava to check out before our 28 day visa expired. While in Port Paterson we came across the wood built square rigged ship the Soren Larsen which was used in the filming of the Onedin line in the 70s. We had been invited aboard her for a tour the year before when we were anchored near her in Port Vila, then she was in Opua and now again here.
The following day we moved to the shelter of the west side of the island to Double Waterfall Bay and the village of Chief Kerely, an urbane, educated and intelligent man. He greeted us warmly and explained that we were free to anchor, swim, snorkel and generally were to make ourselves at home. If we were bothered by too many visitors in canoes then just ask them to come another time and that he preferred that any spare goods we had were traded for something useful to us rather than just given away. We felt well at ease anchored in the bay with the distant roar of the twin waterfalls in the background.
Later that evening who should arrive at the anchorage but the Soren Larsen. The next day the village set about organising custom dancing, water music and all the other things that were normally done for them. This led to a great day’s entertainment ashore with the passengers and was really capped off when we were invited aboard the square-rigger for a pasta supper.
By about this time our laundry bags were bulging so we needed to find plentiful fresh water to have a washing day. We moved to Single Waterfall Bay an uninhabited bay just a few miles up the coast and took our washing, our shampoo our shower gel and a picnic lunch to the base of the waterfall and spent the afternoon getting clean. Best washday ever!
20 miles north Ureparapara was the last of the Banks islands we visited and is an extinct volcano with a flooded caldera forming it’s anchorage. It is a special thing to drop the hook knowing that at one time this bay was a vast version of Tanna’s inferno.
The Torres islands are the most northerly islands of Vanuatu and about 50 miles down wind of Ureparapara. We headed to Hayter Bay on Tegua. A quintessential tropical beach, palm fringed, white sand, jungle backdrop and multicoloured coral reefs under the softly lapping crystal clear water. Best of all, uninhabited so we had it all to ourselves until the following morning when our friends on the Soren Larsen hoved into the bay and dropped their anchor.
That evening, the 30th, we left Hayter bay and Vanuatu to head ever further north to the Solomon islands.