Vanuatu

Left Pt Vila an hour or so before sunset, making for Lamen Bay on Epi Island. Was surprised to find myself having a pleasant, if rather sedate, sail under bright moon, in fairly calm seas and none of the showery conditions there had been all day up to, and including, leaving - clouds cleared away completely. Boatspeed just 4-4.5kn (was 2.5 not long before!) in 10-12 kn of E wind, but SOG only 3-3.5 - clearly a strong S-going tide/current. A little later - things improved - heading due N on a beam reach, wind got up a bit & boatspeed around 5kn, SOG 4kn... But later still was back down to 4kn or less...! Seemed to vary a lot. NW Efate coast is quite low & has no lights - including one (Fl 2 (10s) supposedly) on a tiny island I skirted well off the coast - no light seen! Later still (around 10.20pm), it got quite 'bumpy' again & the wind got up quite a bit also in the open water between the islands.... & stayed that way for most of the night. I put one reef in the main & that worked quite well until morning when the wind died, so I let out all reefs..... only to find a strong NE wind gusting from time to time as I approached the anchorage in NW of Epi. Lamen Bay turned out to be very green & very big - plenty of space and the reefs well off to either side were perfectly clear to see. In fact, a French boat just leaving told me I could have found good sand & holding close to the beach anchored in 4-5 m... instead of the 9-10 m where I'd stopped well astern of two Australian catamarans (the only other boats here).

Pt Vila was a pleasant & interesting stop. Came in on Monday morning, after a 'bumpy' fast sail from Fiji, to anchor near the quarantine buoy off the town just as the sun rose over the hill behind (good timing!). One hour different from Fiji here - GMT+11hrs (PST+18). Had to wait for Customs, after calling "Yachting World" who organize check-ins here - very pleasant, helpful people. Around 9am, Moses turned up to ferry me, with several others who had arrived over the weekend, over to Customs (LOTS of repetitive forms to fill in!) and then back to our boats to await the Quarantine officials' visit - not too long to wait before the two came on board to check on a long list of items - all went smoothly and they took away some (very sour!) mandarins from Neiafu market and my rubbish - to be burned. They allowed me to keep several items of fruit & veg (also eggs) which I was about to cook or eat that same day, so long as any waste went into their yellow quarantine bins... Total cost so far.... 3000 vatu (~US$30)... then I was helped in picking up a buoy (necessary with the deep water & poor holding in most of the bay) before being taken ashore to get some cash & visit Immigration - another 2000 vatu!

Wandering around town was interesting, despite being very 'touristy'. (Loads of 'Duty Free' shops aimed at the many visiting 'kiwis' - NZ is only 1000 mls away & cruise ships call frequently in season) But frequent showers... The locals are Melanesians, not Polynesians, and look very African to my eyes - crimped hair, not straight, and very dark, unlike the locals in the islands I'd been to further east - all very friendly, with lovely smiles! The covered market was great - lots of fresh fruit & veg, sold mainly by women in their 'Mother Hubbard' dresses, introduced to the island by the missionaries of the 19th century. I was fascinated by the large baskets used to bring the produce to market - made from a single palm leaf plaited & intertwined beautifully - cheap & effective but eminently disposable & degradable! While the women were waiting for custom, they sat on the ground on mats also made from plaited palm leaves. They don't seem to wear flowers, as the Polynesians routinely do. I've been enjoying giant 'pamplemousse' and papaya since my visit to the market.

There's a good dinghy dock in Pt Vila by the 'Waterfont' restaurant/bar close to the mooring field and the 'Yachting World' office & I met quite a few cruisers there - serves good food & it's a good meeting place!

I was given some very useful anchoring & other info on Vanuatu by a boat ('Drumbeat') here in the Lamen Bay anchorage - have been busy copying it all to different places so I don't lose it..!

As a result, I've just discovered why Vanuatu is so rainy and has rather unpredictable weather - it is 'permanently' in the Convergence Zone! I was lucky to see blue skies & sun this morning! Tonight, the wind is still up and there are lots of rainclouds around. Tomorrow I'll make for an anchorage on Malekula Island -54mls so have to get up early!! Then Friday, I hope to get to Luganville, ready for checking out to Cairns... we'll see how that goes!!

Been reading up on health hazards here - mosquitoes commonly giving malaria & dengue fever, sea snakes with fatal bites, many water-borne diseases caught from ice, water-cress etc, several different poisonous/spiny fish etc to step on or touch by mistake, aggressive dogs, sharks, man-eating crocodiles.... etc, etc. I'm not over-inclined to go swimming/paddling & not feeling very comfortable here....!! Even going for short walks on the islands can cause problems - need to check OK with locals so as not to offend or intrude onto certain sites by mistake.

Deep ocean sailing has none of those problems!

Written by : Mike

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