Day 105, Year 2: Arrival in Vanuatu–Rough but Safe

Day 105, Year 2: Arrival in Vanuatu–Rough but Safe
Date and Time: Tuesday, August 7, 2007; 1900 Fiji Time
Weather: Winds SE 20 Knots; Rainy, Squally Morning; Some Sun in the PM
Latitude: S 19 degrees 31.564 minutes
Longitude: E 160 degrees 29.728 minutes
Location: Port Resolution, Tanna Island, Vanuatu

Friday–Leaving Fiji with Hefty Winds and Rough Seas
Saturday–Great Downwind Sail, Wing and Wing
Sunday–Another Great Sailing Day with Unexpected Moderate Winds and Moderating Seas
Monday–No Wind; Motored All Day on Flat Seas
Tuesday Morning Beginning at 5 AM–25 to 30 Knot Winds on the Nose, Seas Building, Very Little Visibility, Basically Yucky

That’s the run-down on our passage from Fiji to Vanuatu. We had a bit of everything, but talking with those who left two days before us and those who left the day after we did, we definitely had the middle ground and the best sailing conditions. La Vie left two days before us and had the roughest conditions on their first day that they have ever experienced. Maggie Drum and White Swan left 18 hours after we did, but they were hit with the front this morning and are having to endure it all day
today and through the night tonight. So maybe leaving on a passage on a Friday wasn’t such a bad idea. A squash zone is developing out there right now, so the next few days will not be good for a passage. Short of waiting for another week or two, I think we picked the right time to leave Fiji. The challenge of sailing is getting it right with the weather, and that is not an exact science by any means. Enduring a bit of “yuckiness” just goes with the territory, but a splendid territory it is.

As we approached Tanna Island this morning at sunrise, you could hardly see the island–but you could smell the volcano. I felt like I was sailing in Maine in a good fog. No visibility in reef country is never a nice thing, but we did have tested waypoints and a track into Tanna sent to us by Dave on La Vie. So as long as we could keep the boat on the track we would be fine. But before entering the pass, we had to lower the mainsail, and that is when I go into panic mode. What if the engine
should fail? Would we be able to raise a sail in such strong winds fast enough to keep us off the reef? I was sharing my panic with Ranger on the VHF when Jan on Christina called from inside the anchorage. I think he could hear the near panic in my voice and he assured us that it was an easy in and that it was much calmer inside. We have only met Jan and Christina of Christina recently, but more than once they have been there to help guide us into questionable anchorages. That’s what the cruising
community is all about–people from all over the world pitching in to help each other when needed. I love it.

About an hour out of Tanna, we could smell the volcano. It was pouring rain and the wind was blowing directly over the island and in our direction. Wet volcano smell is sort of like wet dog smell–not pleasant. Once we were in the anchorage, however, the smell went away completely. We couldn’t see anything beyond the shore until mid-afternoon, but as evening approached, we could see mountains to our west. We think one of those might be Mt. Yasur, the active volcano. Anchoring here was fairly
easy. Port Resolution has gotten shallower and shallower over the years as it has been uplifted from the sea. Such is life when you live where two major tectonic plates are competing under you. We anchored between Christina and La Vie, with Blue Marlin slightly in front of us. Christina is a boat from Sweden and Blue Marlin is a boat from Norway with Idunne, Runae, and their twins, Marita and Hedda aboard. We haven’t seen them since New Zealand, so I look forward to getting together with them.

Late in the afternoon, we put the dinghy in the water and Mark went to shore to check out the situation here. He followed Jan and Christina of Christina in and shortly afterward, I saw the Runae and Idunne on Blue Marlin head in with their two girls. I kept thinking that Mark should be back, but I was working on naming pictures and didn’t poke my head out of the boat. Finally, I went up into the cockpit to see if he might be returning. What I saw was Mark furiously trying to row our dinghy against
the 20 plus knots winds. I feared that he could be swept out to sea, but then I saw that Dave and Kathy on La Vie were putting their dinghy motor on so they could assist. Mark was holding his own, but thank goodness that Dave was able to tow him in. He worked on the dinghy motor once he returned, but he is not sure what the problem might be. We had planned to go over to Ranger this evening to talk about plans, but we will have to do that another time. Mark did return with new information. Ten
of us will be meeting on the beach in the morning at 7:30 AM to ride across the island to Lenakel to check-in. It is a grueling two-hour ride in the back of a pick-up truck, but we will take boat cushions that will help insulate us from the bumpy ride. While we are doing this, Maggie Drum and White Swan will be coming in here. The winds are supposed to stay strong and turn to the East. If that really happens, we might all have to vacate to Port Vila on Efate Island, an overnight sail from here.
Evidently this anchorage can get a little rough with East winds. I’m really hoping we don’t have to leave before we get to go to the volcano. Right now we are slated to visit the volcano on Friday. Samuel, the village chief’s son, met with Mark and gang and made the arrangements for tomorrow and for Friday. On Friday we can go to a kastom village (the naked people as Samuel calls them), go to the volcano around 4 PM and stay until sunset to see the fireworks, and then go to a Jon Frum (the cargo
cult) village to witness the Friday night dancing. Sounds like a great day, so I sure hope the weather allows us to stay here.

070807 Day 105 Tanna, Vanuatu–Arrival in Port Lenakel

Day 104, Year 2: Day 4 of Passage to Vanuatu

Day 104, Year 2: Day 4 of Passage to Vanuatu
Date and Time: Monday, August 6, 2007; 1800 Fiji Time
Weather: Winds SE 5-7 Knots; Another Sunny Day with Temps in the Upper-70’s
Latitude: S 19 degrees 20.872 minutes
Longitude: E 170 degrees 26.733 minutes
Miles to Go: 53.9 (We have come 428.)
Location: Passage from Lautoka, Fiji to Port Resolution, Tanna Island, Vanuatu

We have certainly had a mix of sailing conditions on this passage. We had a blustery start, followed by a great downwind run yesterday, and today almost no wind. We are motoring on flat seas, and although we would rather be sailing, we are enjoying the quiet time. We are anticipating arrival in Vanuatu tomorrow morning, but already we can see one of the out islands–Futuna. It looks like a volcanic cone with the top flattened and it is just a few miles ahead to port. Sometime while we were in
Fiji, a boat that we had met in Tonga was lost on the reef off Futuna. The captain and crew survived, but the boat was lost. We are giving this island wide berth. One little mistake out here and you can lose it all, so you have to be constantly vigilent.

The more we read about the culture in Vanuatu, the more we are intrigued. We will arrive in Port Resolution on Tanna Island tomorrow. This is one of the southern most islands in the chain. Captain Cook arrived in Port Resolution in the 1700’s and named the bay for his ship the HMS Resolution. He was drawn to Tanna because of the active volcano there, Mt. Yasur, but he was never allowed to climb to its rim. I would say that he was just lucky not to be eaten. Cannibalism was rife in Vanuatu at
that time, but somehow he and his crew got away. Today there are more than twenty languages spoken on Tanna, with the pigeon English/French Bislama being the equalizer. I’ll just have to keep saying, “Me no save.” That means “I don’t understand.” Somehow I’m sure we’ll figure out how to communicate. Tanna’s population is divided into thirds–one-third Presbyterian, one-third cargo culture, and one-third kastom (custom) culture. The John Frum culture is most interesting. Sometime in the 1930’s
a man named John Frum (from the United States) visited Tanna. He was a black man and he told the people to reject the teachings of the missionaries and return to their original lifestyle. During World War II, black US soldiers in Luganville became the ideal for these people. The black soldiers had all of the things that come with modern life, and the John Frum villages still fly the US and Naval Ensign Flags and are awaiting the second coming of John Frum. The kastom people live according to
old traditional culture. Some say kastom means that the people run around naked, and that is basically true. The men wear a leaf penis sheath attached to a highly decorated belt. The women wear only a grass skirt. And then there are the Presbyterian women in the Mother Hubbard dresses. Add to this that we will be able to visit the world’s most accessible active volcano that nightly throws up car-sized boulders, and Tanna sounds like a most “interesting” destination.

We just finished talking to White Swan, Maggie Drum, and Ranger on the radio. White Swan and Maggie Drum will arrive in Tanna 24 hours after our arrival. We will arrive early tomorrow morning and then the explorations will begin. I have been spending a great deal of my time today cooking fresh vegetables in the hopes that they will not be taken from us if they are cooked. We are not sure about the frozen meat. Hopefully, they will not take that. I’ll have a full report tomorrow night on what
it is like to check-in in Tanna. Check-in means taking a truck across the island to Customs, and that in itself should be quite an adventure.

Day 103, Year 2: Day 3 of Passage to Vanuatu

Day 103, Year 2: Day 3 of Passage to Vanuatu
Date and Time: Sunday, August 5, 2007; 1800 Fiji Time
Weather: Winds E 15 Knots; Another Sunny Day with Temps in the Upper-70’s
Latitude: S 19 degrees 11.96 minutes
Longitude: E 172 degrees 29.45 minutes
Miles to Go: 171 (We have come 311.)
Location: Passage from Lautoka, Fiji to Port Resolution, Tanna Island, Vanuatu

Today was a wonderful gift. During the night, the wind died and we had to roll in the headsail and motor. We were both pretty certain that we would have to motor all the way to Tanna Island, but sometime mid-morning Ranger called on the VHF and said they were going to put out their genaker. They had been watching the winds carefully and they were starting to build. We had just tried sailing and were going a whopping 2.8 knots, so we had given up and rolled in the headsail. When Ranger called,
we examined the winds again carefully, they were indeed building into the lower teens. We rolled out the headsail once again, and we have had a wonderful day of lazy sailing downwind. We have up the full main and the headsail poled out and we have moved along between four and five knots all day. After the rough and tumble start to this passage, today really was a gift. According to the GRIB files this should continue through tomorrow, but then that could change. We are just grateful for today.

Ranger is still within sight, although they had a great sailing day with their genaker out. This is like a spinnaker, but it is asymmetrical and much easier to handle. We could have put ours out, but our Yankee headsail poled out seems to give us good speed speed. And it is a lot less trouble, so we went the lazy way today. It was a little difficult watching Ranger pull out in front of us, but I just talked to Marie on the VHF and they will be rolling in the genaker for the night and trying to
sail with their headsail which is a full genoa. Our headsail is a Yankee and it is cut much higher which allows us to pole it out. In downwind sailing without a pole the headsail often flaps with every wave. Hopefully there is enough wind so that we will not have to motor tonight.

We talked to Maggie Drum and White Swan this morning and found that they left Fiji yesterday afternoon. So they are only a day behind us. We sure hope they are having the same gentle winds and calm seas that we are experiencing. Dave and Kathy on La Vie arrived in Port Resolution today and Dave just sent us his track for the entry. I love email. It is great to get up-to-the-minute information like this. We are anxious to arrive and see Dave and Kathy again, and wait for the arrival of Joe and
Cindy (Maggie Drum) and Bob and Dianna (White Swan). Hopefully we can all explore Tanna together. The more I read, the more it sounds like the best of Vanuatu.

We spent part of today reviewing the information on malaria, which is a problem in Vanuatu, and trying to decide whether to take the preventative medication or go without and just be really, really careful not to get bitten by mosquitoes. Even if you take the medication, it is no guarantee, so you still have to be careful. We are going to sleep on the information and make our decision tomorrow. I have emailed our son-in’law’s father (Jed’s dad Donald), to ask for his advice. He is a physician
that worked for the National Institute of Health until he retired last year, so we are hoping he will have some sound advice. Every doctor we have consulted has had a difference of opinion, so in the end, we will have to make our own decision and live with it. It is not the rainy season, so maybe the mosquitoes are not the problem they can be in wetter times.

Once again, the sun is about to set and it is time for me to prepare dinner. I’m working furiously during the night watches to name as many photos as possible and get them ready to upload to the internet. Not in Tanna, but in the next island north, Efate, it looks like we should have good internet access and that we could get the pictures posted. It looked like that in Fiji as well, but that didn’t happen, so we shall see. Until tomorrow . . .

Day 102, Year 2: Day 2 of Passage to Vanuatu

Day 102, Year 2: Day 2 of Passage to Vanuatu
Date and Time: Saturday, August 4, 2007; 1730 Fiji Time
Weather: Winds ESE 20 Knots; Sunny Day with Temps in the Upper-70’s
Latitude: S 18 degrees 42.845 minutes
Longitude: E 174 degrees 29.439 minutes
Miles to Go: 287 (We have come 188.)
Location: Passage from Lautoka, Fiji to Port Resolution, Tanna Island, Vanuatu

When I booted my computer to start writing this log, the first thing I saw was the screen saver picture of our beautiful grand baby Sam. That always makes me smile. And then the little pop-up at the bottom of the screen came up that says “wireless network unavailable” here. Now that made me laugh. I talked back to the computer and agreed that indeed, there is no wireless connection out here. Then I got worried. Maybe I’ve been out here too long. Talking to a computer doesn’t seem quite right!

At 2200 last night, the bulging half moon rose giving us light for our first night of passage. When it rose out of the sea, it was right behind us and I kept thinking someone had left the back porch light on. With the rising moon, the winds settled a bit. They went from thirty-something to twenty-something which gave us a much smoother ride. I’m using the word “smoother” only to indicate that we were no longer wildly rockin’ and rollin’. The bucking bronco had been tamed just a little. Our
boat speed was reduced from 7 plus knots to 6 plus knots. When we first exited the pass leading out of Fiji waters, we were going so fast the GPS was saying we would arrive in Vanuatu in 58 hours. As the evening went on, it went to 68 hours and settled out at 72 hours to go. Of course, that was last night. We have slowed down a bit and are now sailing head downwind with a double-reefed mainsail and full headsail poled out to starboard. We are now averaging about 6 knots, and at this current speed,
we now have 68 hours and 28 minutes to go to reach Port Resolution on Tanna Island. You might ask, just where is this place? I have been asking myself the same question. So I started reading last night.

If you want to read a funny travel book about Vanuatu and Fiji, get a copy of J. Marteen Troost’s “Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu.” I think I mentioned this when Mark was reading the book a couple of weeks ago. I started reading it last night and you really can’t read a page without a good laugh. I keep checking what Troost is saying against what is written in the Lonely Planet guide and both seem to agree. Vanuatu is a country of 80 small islands,
altogether the size of Connecticut. It sits right on the Pacific Ring of Fire where two major tectonic plates meet. Right now, the Pacific techtonic plate is being forced up and over the Indo-Australian plate resulting in frequent earth quakes and volcanic eruptions in Vanuatu’s nine active volcanoes. Vanuatu’s 83 islands stretch from near near New Guina in the north to New Caledonia in the south. Many people here still live according to kastom (custom) where grass skirts and nambas (leaves) are
the only covering. I love Troot’s description of the big nambas and little nambas. You’ve just got to get the book and read it. Vanuatu is also a land of magic and sorcery and kava. Not kava as we know it from Fiji, but really, really strong kava. It still tastes the same, so I guess I’ll avoid that like the plague. Every village speaks their own language, so they have devised a pigeon English language mixed with French called Bislama. Do you have . . .? is “Yu gat . . .?” Thank you is “tank
yu (tumas)–very much.” Excuse me is “skiusmi.” Learning Bislami will be fun or maybe just funny. And pigs are still money here. This is the land of the pigs with curved tusks. Still today a boar with a full-circle tusk is worth up to 40,000 Vatu or about $600 US dollars. There are even magic rocks in Vanuatu. This is going to be quite an experience.

Day 101, Year 2: Flying Out of Fiji

Day 101, Year 2: Flying Out of Fiji
Date and Time: Friday, August 3, 2007; 1820 Fiji Time
Weather: Clear Skies; Very Windy, SE 28-33 knots
Latitude: S 17 degrees 55.758 minutes
Longitude: E 176 degrees 54.980 minutes
Location: Passage from Lautoka, Fiji to Port Resolution, Tanna Island, Vanuatu

The rule is to never, ever start a passage on a Friday, but we defied that little bit of knowledge and started our passage to Vanuatu today. And contrary to the GRIB files and New Zealand Metvue reports, the winds out here are NOT 15-20. They are 28 to 33 with occasional gusts to 40. Where did this come from? The seas are rough–a very large swell coming in on the beam. We are going WSW and the seas are coming from the S. The wind is from the SE and just a little behind the beam. All of this
means we are rockin’ and rollin’ our way to Vanuatu, traveling at a speed of 6.8-8 knots. That is the equivalent of flying for Windbird. It is just after sunset and Ranger is out in front of us. There is not a cloud in the evening sky. It is a dusky red-range sunset and I see the evening star in the sky just above the spot the where the sun went down about an hour ago. The only other light I can see in the red-orange sky is the light atop Ranger. It is beautiful out here, but certainly rougher
than we expected. Once again, I can’t sing the praises of a cockpit enclosure enough. We are sitting in the cockpit and we are dry even though a wave every few minutes hits the side of the plastic enclosure. When we talked to Marie just before sunset, she said she was down below attempting to cook and Paul was in the cockpit getting wet. Sailing in rough waters is really no fun, but doing it while you are soaking wet is no one’s idea of fun.

While I’m writing the log, Mark is below heating up a spaghetti dinner. I cooked the sauce and the noodles yesterday, so all we have to do is heat them up. I had envisioned a leisurely dinner with salad and wine, but those additions will not be happening. This is definitely a one-dish night.

I’ll backtrack just a bit to this morning. Bob and Dianna of White Swan, Joe and Cindy of Maggie Drum, Paul and Marie of Ranger, and Mark and I all went in to the Custom’s Office to check out at 8 AM. We all needed to go into town to buy things before leaving, so the first thing we had to do was get the official form that would let us out of the commercial wharf complex. We did that and walked to town. The only stop for Ranger and for us was at the liquor store to buy beer and soda. While there,
we decided that we would go back to the boats and leave as soon as we got everything secured. White Swan and Maggie Drum decided to go further into town and leave tomorrow. Marie and I loaded the dinghies while Mark and Paul checked out. Just before noon, we were on our way. There was almost no wind close to the islands, so Mark and I took showers while the conditions were calm knowing that it could be a day or so before we might get the chance again. I used the shower water to do a laundry
which I had to finish once we were outside the reef–not smart, but it is done. It wasn’t until we went through the outer reef that the winds hit us and things got rough. We talked to Maggie Drum and White Swan and warned them of the unexpected rough conditions. They will check carefully and not leave tomorrow morning if it is still like this.

It’s time for dinner and time for me to go to bed. Night watches begin at 7 PM. I have many thoughts that I want to share about our wonderful three months in Fiji, but that will have to wait until tomorrow.

070803 Day 101 Viti Levu, Fiji–Check-out and Off to Vanuatu