Posted by yachtcamomile
The passage from Fiji to Vanuatu took 3 1/2 days, it was James’s first blue water ocean passage. We motored out of the reef with Norman and Sara on Norsa and Geoff on Seafauke who took some great pictures of Camomile with her sails flying. I ran a net in the evening and had about half a dozen boats to call and take their positions and weather reports.
We had a good wind but unfortunately the sea was a bit lumpy and James took to his bunk. By the third day he was getting really bored but fortunately he managed to catch a yellow fin tuna, he managed to catch a second one but it got away. On the forth day James spotted land first and by 3pm we had motored around the south side of the reef and anchored in Anatom, James jumped straight in the water for a swim.
Anatom is the most southerly island of the Vanuatu group and has for a long time been overlooked by many yachts because it lacked any check-in authorities and the sail back from further up the chain against the prevailing South Easterly would be a hard flog at the best of times. This has now changed so we waited quietly at anchor in the protected lagoon behind Mystery Island and recovered from the passage until the following morning when the local policeman came to process us. We had several local people approach the boat in dug out canoes offering fruit and veggies and James couldn’t resist having a try out in one of the outrigger canoes. It was more stable than he was expecting.
There were enough yachts in the anchorage for the local tribe to roll out their recently conceived welcome evening, which started with a presentation of leis, a welcome song, and displays of traditional skills like making fire with a stick and tinder.
This was followed by traditional dancing, after which we were encouraged to join in, and a banquet of locally prepared food. This was their first and so we were the guinea pigs but it was an honest and enjoyable evening that was a great success.
Mystery Island turned out to be a contrivance for the occasional cruise liner but despite this there was good snorkelling to be had and a pleasant walk around the perimeter of this small sand cay with an airstrip down it’s middle. We found this set up in the middle of the ‘market’ square.
Meanwhile, on the mainland, the village featured a church ruined by an earthquake while, in front of it stood a “reconciliation” monument to missionaries killed shortly after their first arrival in these islands. And, yes, without cast down eyes, shuffling feet or mumbling we were told, “they were eaten”. Interesting if slightly worrying for the casual visitor that there are those in the community who can recount this heritage entirely without trepidation.
After a long day sail we arrived at the island of Tanna and it’s active volcano, which was the highlight of this leg both for Bill and for James who is interested in geology as part of his Open University work.
The anchorage at Port Resolution was thought by Captain Cook to have promise as a harbour because when he named it, less than 200 years ago it was deep. We anchored in good holding in about 7 meters, which due to the land being pushed upwards, is a lot less than the captain found on his lead line. As we approached we observed seawater steaming in some areas and could hear the roar of regular eruptions. Tanna was talking to us at level 3 of 5 where a 5 means evacuate or get hurt.
The trip to the crater is a 40 minute 4×4 pickup ride along tracks which look like something from the set of an extreme off-roader commercial. The ladies swiftly ensconced themselves in the cab, leaving the four men in the back where low hanging boughs swept just inches above our heads, the torrential rain, full of black grit, permeated every crevice of our clothing, and the ride bucked and rolled in a spirited attempt to liberate itself of the human cargo hanging on to it for grim death.
At last, and quite suddenly, the rain stopped, the jungle gave way to a vast black ash plain and the driver pulled over and parked. I don’t really know what I expected, barriers, informative multiple signage, a briefing on how to avoid getting hit on the head by descending molten magma perhaps. None of the above were present, just a solitary sign proclaiming “Think Safety”.
The driver told us to walk up the slope to the crater and then turn right but to avoid the choking fumes we turned left and went higher and higher to the accompaniment of nerve grinding booms which we could now feel through our feet.
Awesome is a word that has been hijacked by generations of comic books finally becoming an adjective applied to the latest and perfectly banal mobile phone or a new ipod case. These things are not awesome but looking straight down into a crater watching lumps of magma half the size of a car being hurled hundreds of feet into the air certainly is awesome.
James was suddenly 5 years old again. Shrieking and yelling he took off at a run, hundreds of feet right up to the highest point of the crater. Sue and I, clinging to each other for moral support with me pretending not to be scared witless, made our way up about half way before we realised that the splodge shaped rocks strewn around the gravelly ash slope we were picking our way through could only have been created in one way. We stood our ground however and, as darkness gradually shrouded us, the explosive emissions of glowing molten rock gave us the show of our lives.
We returned to Camomile in darkness and shed our wet and gritty clothing hoping that the heavy rain would get the black ash out of it. Wrong, the following morning our decks were covered in this abrasive grit, which had got everywhere. We spent 3 hours sluicing the boat down in attempt to get it away from winches and cars. Even the nearly new stainless rigging was showing orange streaks in the acid rain and I could swear that the Treadmaster deck looked even more threadbare than before.
It was definitely time to leave though sadly we had to part company with our good friends Norman and Sara as they made their way back to Oz and a flight home to the UK.
Our next and even more poignant goodbye was to James who picked up a flight from Port Vila three days after we checked in at the capital. He had recharged his batteries, eaten lots and was set for some skydiving in Fiji as he passed through there on his way back to the UK.