Saturday, December 28, 2019

A cruise at Christmas

Merry Christmas from Broughton Island

It has been a long time coming but we finally managed to find the time to take Sarita on a short cruise up the coast and escape the Christmas madness on the water near Sydney. 

We chose to head to Broughton island, which is a few miles off the coast near Port Stephens, as it had a reputation for being not only beautiful but also quiet with a couple of excellent anchorages in both northerly and southerly winds and we were not to be disappointed. 

We loaded Sarita with provisions on Saturday afternoon and slept onboard at the dock so we could make a dawn get away for the 80nm passage north hoping that the southerly winds forecast would eventuate.

We were up at 5am, checked the forecast- 20-25kts reaching 30kts in the afternoon with 2-3m seas- so it looked like we were in for a nice sail with the wind behind us.

As we left the dock the winds were already 15kts, gusting to 20kts so we unfurled the sails a few minutes after leaving. We had a gentle sail for the first 45 mins as we ran down Pittwater knowing that it would get a bit rougher as we went out to the open ocean. As we past Barrenjoey light house on our starboard the seas built as the wind against the tide made the seas steeper but they settled down as we got about 1/2 mile offshore and pointed north.

The conditions were pretty much as predicted with the winds at about 140 -150 degrees apparent, 20-25kts, with occasional builds to 30kts so we made good speed despite the adverse current of about 1 knot. We had the Genoa fully out and the main with 1 reef, sheeted in to reduce the rolling in the 2.5 mtr seas and not to blanket the headsail. Having been sailing in the protected waters of Pittwater and Broken bay it took a couple of hours to settle into the beautiful rhythm of the ocean.

We decided to spend our first night in Shoal Bay, in a Port Stephens, as it was a familiar anchorage to if we arrived after dark, but we had made good time and rounded Tomaree Head just before 7pm and dropped the trusty 33kg Rocna a few minutes later in a pretty much empty anchorage except for three catamarans. Jude made some supper while Katya and her friend Tabatha arose from their slumber and started a new art project.

The following day the winds were forecast to remain southerly at about 20kts with showers so we decided to stay and relax on the boat and have a look around Shoal Bay. We took the dinghy to the beach and the girls disappeared off in search of op shops while Jude and I took a stroll along the waterfront and had a coffee. We met up later in the Country Club (read up market Pub) where we had an early supper before heading back to the boat.

We did not have an early start the next day as we only had to sail about 9 miles to Broughton Island and departed Shoal Bay at around 9.30 am. The wind was again against the tide/current exiting Port Stephens so the seas were quite lumpy for a while but they soon settled down as we turned north once again with Broughton Island already insight. The winds were now north easterly so we were close hauled in pretty flat seas and sunshine and arrived to Coal Shaft Bay before 11am.

 We dropped the anchor in the beautiful bay with clear waters in about 10mts over hard sand. To our immense relief and surprise there was only one other boat in the bay. No doubt they must have wished we had not turned up and spoilt their seclusion.

Kintail. built in 1947
The Island is part of Myall Lakes National Park and uninhabited except for a few small fishing huts in Esmeralda Cove and a small camp site with only 5 sites. The island is an active seabird colony and reminded us a lot of Isla Isabella in Mexico although the anchorage here is better.

While Jude was trying to catch up on a long overdue crochet project (20 yrs) I took the dinghy ashore to see if I could walk over to the other side of the island. To get off the beach I had to clamber up a short cliff and once up at the top you can see the other side of the island.

We all enjoyed relaxing away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney, reading, swimming, kayaking and beach combing and I believe this is our 6th Christmas onboard Sarita, the first being in Victoria, Vancouver island in 2011.

Geode found on the beach 

More geodes 

We departed the island just before dawn on the 27th December with forecast winds of 10-15 kts from the NE building to 15-20kts in the afternoon. We motored for the first 3 hours until the wind built enough for a down wind sail. We decided to try out our new gennaker which worked superbly giving us 6-7 knots in 10-12 knots apparent albeit with just under a knot of southerly current helping us along. The seas were only about 1m or under so it was a very pleasant sail.

As we approached Broken bay we decided to furl the gennaker (Facnor FX continuous line) so I went forward while Jude blanketed the sail with the main and eased the sheet. All went well until the shackle holding the furler to the bowsprit gave way (not sure why) and then all hell let loose. With the sail not attached at is base the furler shot into the air very quickly. I still had hold of the furling line which zipped through my hands before I knew what was happening and the furling line caught around my leg lifting me into the air as the sail started to rapidly unfurl again. Luckily I managed to hold on with one hand and free my leg with the other before I was lifted overboard. Now we had a wild and uncontrollable sail flailing about with a heavy furler on the lower end and the sheets snaking about on deck one of which caught around Jude’s leg which she managed to free before she to went overboard. This is a reminder of how things can go pear shaped pretty quickly. Both of us could have easily been overboard with the boat heading south. Jude has a massive bruise on her leg from where the rope wrapped around it and I have some nasty rope burns on my hands. It took us about 5 mins to get the unfurled sail back onboard and into the sail locker. Now to work out why the furler shackle gave way and refine our furling procedure.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Back-track. Noumea and the passage to Australia

We departed Tanna in Vanuatu in the early afternoon in a fresh breeze, beating our way out back towards Fiji so that we could get a good sailing angle to pass the southern tip of Tanna in a south-easterly wind. We watched the volcano spewing out its regular plumes of ash as Tanna sank into the horizon in the early evening light. 
Route from Tanna, Vanuatu to Noumea, New Caledonia

The winds lightened to around 10 knots or less and I had to head off course, on to the wind, to keep some apparent wind in the sails to stop them flogging. I would have put up the asymmetrical spinnaker but our hydraulic backstay tensioner has been playing up and the back stay is not as tight as I would like it. 

We sailed slowly, and comfortably through the night and then a rather unnerving and familiar alarm sounded: the autopilot had malfunctioned. After having had a closer look the bolts holding the hydraulic ram to the bulkhead had sheared. Of course this happens at night! Jude took the helm with memories of our 18 days of hand-steering coming back. Worst case scenario would be 24 hrs of hand steering this time. 

I replaced the bolts on the bracket but the hydraulic ram mounting bush had been damaged when the bolts sheared. Having learned my lesson last time I had purchased a spare ram so I mounted the new one ( I love it when I have a spare when things go wrong) and after about 1 hour we were back using the autopilot. 

We sailed through the night and arrived at the pass through the reef at the south eastern tip of New Caledonia at dawn, as planned, to get the 4 knot flood tide into the worlds largest lagoon. We sailed at 9 knots through the pass with a light wind on our beam and weaved our way through the smaller islands and reefs to Noumea at a slow but leisurely pace.  

Jude had been bitten by a mosquito on Tanna which had subsequently become infected and swollen and her leg was looking rather nasty ( I won't go into what it looked like) so a visit to the hospital in Noumea would be top of the list for things to do.

Having tied up to the dock in Noumea we all went for a walk around town given that it was too late in the afternoon to check in to immigration and customs. Noumea was surprisingly modern and quite similar to many cities in France, not surprising as it is actually part of France. Having been deprived of a decent supermarket for quite sometime we were delighted to look at the well stocked shelves of the nearest Carrefor and bought some French bread and croissants and French cheese enjoying the sounds of local bands playing in the nearby restaurants and bars.

The following morning we went to check into immigration which was totally painless and then we went to the accident and emergency at the hospital to get Jude's leg examined. The verdict was inconclusive and Jude was prescribed a course of antibiotics and asked to come back in a week for a further examination. The hospital was great, not that new but they were building a new one down the road but very efficient, helpful and friendly in a French way.

The next week was spent preparing Sarita for our entry into Australia, a notoriously rigorous examination by customs with many restrictions on what we could bring into the country. We opened every locker, storage space and cleaned it and through out any items that might cause a problem. We wanted the boat spick and span for our entry. I repaired the hydraulic backstay, albeit temporarily as the seals have worn and will need to be replaced in Australia and I had the old autopilot hydraulic ram mounts replaced, actually having to have new bushes made. Jude's leg did not improve so we went back to the hospital and they performed an X-ray after a specialist had a look at it. Again we were told to continue the antibiotics and com back in another week. 

We were already behind schedule and we were now officially in hurricane season with a 5-7 day passage ahead of us, not my preference but we had no option to stay.

We were pleasantly surprised by New Caledonia and what it has to offer the sailor. It has some great anchorages, albeit somewhat exposed to the winds but sheltered by reefs. The diving was supposed to be excellent. 

Our friends, Neil and a Jessie had arrived in Noumea a few hours after us and we spent a few days together diving including a wreck dive in the pristine waters. This would probably be our last chance to dive for quite sometime. 
Neil (Red Thread) below on the wreck dive

An abundance of turtles in New Caledonia

We visited the Amendee lighthouse again anchoring in crystal clear waters and surveyed the vista from the top of one of the oldest lighthouses in the Southern Hemisphere.

A view up the stairs of the lighthouse

We had been keeping an eye on the weather, trying to see local patterns emerging. Ideally we would depart Noumea on the back of a high pressure system peeling off the coast of Australia and our plan was to make a landfall as far south as possible, Sydney if at all possible or Coffs Harbour. 

Jude went back to the hospital for another check up and although the sore had not developed further it still looked pretty angry. The doctor advised us to double the dose of antibiotics and told me how to operate, or cut out the infection, if it got any worse on the passage to Australia, something a Jude was understandably not too keen on. 

We identified a potential weather window with a high pressure system giving us the winds we needed but there was a rather nasty low pressure system predicated to develop on the equator sometime after the high pressure system developed. I had been watching the weather patterns in this region for a few months and this was the first low pressure system predicted in that time and it could be a potential cyclone. We would have to watch it carefully.

We did our final provisioning which was not that extensive given we cannot bring much into Australia and left the marina in Noumea and anchored in Ilot Maitre planning an early morning departure in a couple of days.

Dolphin wanting his tummy tickled
We departed the anchorage in light winds, drifting slowly under head sail alone headed for the pass into the open ocean. As we exited the lagoon the ocean swell built up and eventually the winds did as well but coming closer to our bow setting us on a close hauled south east course pounding into the waves making a fast pace of 8.5 knots but unfortunately having a 1-1.5 knot current against us. 

Approx route to Coffs Harbour

 We had engaged the services of a weather router who had advised us to head almost directly west until picking up the east Australian current which heads at a rate of up to three knots down the coast. I decided to ignore his advice for two reasons: firstly I hate going off the rhumb line to a destination but secondly I was nervous of this potential developing low to our north and wanted to get as much southing in as possible before it started its track south. 

One last ice cream
We made good speed through the water over the fist couple of days albeit into wind but the current was set against us. Our friends on Red Thread had left after us and had decided to take the less direct route and managed to pick up a good current so although their course was longer they we gaining ground.

We checked into the shortwave radio net and gave our position to the controllers in New Zealand with them replying that they thought we were "brave" leaving a Noumea with the predicted low developing. This made me a bit nervous and we double checked the weather forecasts. One of the predictions was for the low to develop quickly and head south and then west on a direct course to Australia just north of our route, which made me even more nervous. Since leaving Mexico we have sailed pretty much all the time in mostly reliable trade winds and now as we head south we enter the less predictable and somewhat stronger wind patterns that peel off the coast of Australia.
The winds started to lighten as predicted and we ended up raising the spinnaker which we kept up for three days straight mostly doing only only 3 knots but very comfortably, Jude even cooked up a full roast chicken dinner which we ate at the table in the cockpit as flat as if we were in a marina. We were nearing the coast of Australia and wanted to get there as soon as possible but did not want to turn the engine on if we had to. We decided that given the weather predictions we could not make it all the way to Sydney as the predicted low was going to swing to the east of us and then north blocking our route with 30 knot winds from the south and 3-4m seas so we headed for Coffs Harbour.
38 hrs of spinnaker sailing. Slow but very comfortable
Neil and Jessie on Red Thread had meanwhile overtaken us on their longer route but positive current. I should have followed the routers advice! 

We ended up sailing into Coffs Harbour having only motored 2.5 hrs from pulling up the anchor but it could have been quicker. Now to run the gauntlet of Australian customs and border services. 

The Australian customs and Border services don't have a great reputation with overseas sailors, with stories of over officious, rude, strict and expensive processes so we were somewhat nervous of our arrival.
Ariel view of Coffs Harbour

We hailed the authorities on the VHF and were advised to drop anchor and wait in the outer Harbour as the inner Harbour was still being repaired from a violent storm earlier in the year. The outer Harbour was subject to an uncomfortable swell coming from the east so we did not plan to stay long after clearing customs.

We waited to be summoned and after a couple of hours were directed to tie up to the customs dock and "prepare to be boarded" after we tied up to the dock a Jude leapt onto the dock and gave one of the officials a hug as she was so excited about being back in Australia. I don't think he quite knew what to do.  Three officials boarded the boat and gave it a reasonably thorough look over but we pleasant and efficient. They confiscated a few items, mostly food and stamped our passports. We had officially arrived and were relieved to pass the process. It was relatively painless and they charged us A$340 for the privilege (in fact they charged me twice and it took me 2 months to get the overcharge back) but it was OK in the end. We have heard that other boats were treated very rudely in Brisbane and Bundaberg but it's all hearsay.

We spent a bit of a rolly night with 20 knot winds on anchor in the outer Harbour and departed early in the morning for Port Macquarie where we would meet Mike, Irit and Daniel, Jude's family, Daniel would be sailing down to a Sydney with us. It was on,y. A short 70 mile trip down but we had to cross the notorious narrow river bar at slack water. We spoke to the marina office who gave us some advice as to how to cross the bar and told us that there was a web cam to make sure that there were not too high standing waves. The crossing went without a problem although our depth gauge did read 0 feet as we crossed which made me hold our breath for a few seconds. We slowly motored a short way down the river to the Marina where the very friendly manager met us and helped us into the slip.

Arriving in a medium sized Australian town after being so long in remote areas was a bit of a shock. One of the first things we had to do was go to the supermarket and get some food. Walking down the isles seeing the huge selection of food and other goods after having a minimal selection for so long made us question the fairness.

Mike, Irit and Daniel arrived laden with champagne and other goodies and we enjoyed celebrating our arrival in Australia and completion of our Pacific crossing with them, feeling elated and relieved. 

We spent a couple of nights in the Marina, walked around the typically provincial Australian town and had a few drinks with a Neil and Jessie who were soaking up Australia even seeing some kangaroos and Koalas with the local butcher who was generous enough to show them. 

Mike and a Irit departed and we left the marina early in the morning with Daniel bound for Port Stephens, about 100NM. The bar crossing was OK and we headed a few miles offshore to try and pick up the southerly current, not that we caught much of it. 

The winds picked up as we approached the entrance to Port Stephens which is about 0.5 mile wide. With the wind from the NE we jibed and shot into the protected port under darkness, a bit nerve wracking as there were no lights marking either of the headlands and there was a bit of traffic coming out. 

We decided to anchor on the northern side as the forecast showed strengthening NE winds and we wanted a good nights sleep. Sure enough as we approached an anchoring spot the winds and seas died down and we dropped the  anchor in just 15 feet of water and enjoyed a good night of sleep until dawn when the wind picked up from the south and along with it the swell. We raised the anchor, and the sails, and had a short sail across the bay to Shoal Bay where we went ashore and walked along the beach and had a fish and chip lunch, quite a luxury for us. We had our first swim in Australian waters and I have to say it felt quite "bracing", bloody cold in fact. I had forgotten how much colder the Australian water is compared to the tropics.

Our next passage would take us from Port Stephens down to Pittwater which will be our home for the foreseeable future. If we left at dawn the 70 mile passage should still enable us to arrive before darkness. So before the sun peeped its head over the horizon we wee on our way in light winds. There were two other boats heading out at the same time. We motored out of the large Harbour raised the sails and made a slow heading south east to try and pick up some of the southerly current. 

We continued heading offshore for a few hours before heading south towards our destination. The seas were pretty comfortable and the sun was shining so it was quite pleasant.

We entered into Pittwater around 3pm and headed towards a mooring field known as "The Basin" is an area set inside the national park and has probably over a hundred moorings, mostly club owned but some public. We picked one up and enjoyed being back home, a really strange feeling I must say. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


At 14:00 local time on the 22nd November we sailed into Coffs Harbour and made landfall, Australia.

The last two days were slow going and we had our spinnaker up for 48 hrs straight, a first for me to sail through the night with it up.

Clearing Australian customs and immigration was easy enough and the authorities were polite and efficient without being officious. They confiscated a few food items which was expected.

Coffs Harbour was damaged in a recent storm so there are no marina slips available so we are anchored in the outer Harbour which is a bit rolly.

It's wonderful to be here and it feels slightly surreal for the three of us. We now look forward to working our way down the coast to Sydney.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Passage report

Report as at 20:00 UTC 20/11/16 21st (7am in Sydney)
Position 28.44S 155.38E
Course 233T
Speed 3.5kts
Wind speed 9kts Easterly
Seas 1m NE
Distance to Coffs Harbour, Australia 160nm

As you can see from the report above the winds have lightened to less than 10 knots and are now from the east. We raised the spinnaker yesterday afternoon and decided to leave it up through the night rather than turn the motor on. The forecast was for winds of the same through the night and tomorrow so we decided that it was safe to leave the spinnaker up but we would watch the barometer to see if it would drop or rise, signaling a possible increase in wind. We are supposed to be in he middle of a ridge, hence the low wind speeds. We have decided to head to Coffs Harbour rather than carry on down the coast as a low pressure system will effect the Newcastle region on Wednesday bringing strong southerly winds so we will wait it out in Coffs.

Last night was wonderful: the seas were flat as we drifted down wind with the large bright spinnaker dragging us along. We could walk around the boat without having to hold onto the grab rails and Jude cooked a delicious roast chicken supper with all the trimmings which we ate in the cockpit as the sun gently dropped below the horizon. We were going slowly but it was lovely.

We have seen no wildlife since the Dolphins gave us the send off from Noumea that is apart from the growing number of jelly-fish which signals our arrival into the Australian waters and all the deadly creatures it holds.

As we approach the coast of Australia our excitement is building, this day has been a long time coming and mostly it has seem too far off to think about but now we are just a few hours away. We are trying to eat all our food that would be confiscated if we bring it into Australia, basically anything it seems.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Position report

As of 17.40 UTC
Our current position is 25.58S 159.29E
Heading 231 True
Speed 6 kts
Wind speed 17 Knots from the East
Seas 1.5m waves with 3 m long period swell from the east.
Distance traveled: 447nm
Distance to Sydney: 670nm

The last couple of days have been pretty good as the seas have been relatively benign and the winds constant at around 17-22 knots from the SE giving a nice beam reach, the only downside being that we have had a 1-1.5kt current against us and which meant that instead of averaging 7.5 to 8kts we have only been averaging 6.5kts.

The winds have now turned to the east and have lightened so we have slowed down somewhat and a further decrease in wind is forecast over the next couple of days.

We are now heading for Coffs Harbour and will see what the weather looks like as we approach the coast to decide if we check in at Coffs or carry on to Newcastle or Sydney. Should know is a couple of days.

Everybody is well onboard. Jude's leg is recovering nicely and Katya has been crocheting something.

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Position Report

En Route from New Caledonia to Coffs Harbour

UTC 19.40 UTC
Current Position 24.32S 161.38E
Heading 244T
Speed 6.5kts
Distance traveled 300nm
Wind speed 20kts SE
Seas 3m

We departed the lagoon in light winds with dolphins escorting us for a hour, one of which was quite a character, rolling over on his back and smiling at us and then stuck his tongue out! it was great to watch them.

Winds were light to start and we made slow progress at first but then the winds built to 17-20kts from the south with a nice current pushing us along. The seas built and unfortunately the current switched around and came on our nose so we have slowed down.

We are aiming to make landfall in Sydney but the current weather predictions make this unlikely so we will aim for either Coffs Harbour or New Castle.

All is well onboard

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Sunday, November 6, 2016

Tanna. Vanuatu

When we awoke we went up on deck and surveyed the beautiful bay with children and men paddling around in dugout outrigger canoes. Mt. Yassur volcano was just behind us still spewing out ash and steam but luckily the prevailing wind was carrying the effluent away from us. Steam and boiling water spurt out of crevices in the rock surrounding the bay and we watched people bathe in the hot springs at the water’s edge.

View out of Port Resolution
Port Resolution is not a registered Port of Entry in Vanuatu but with prior written permission the customs and immigration officials will travel the 1.5 hours across the island to clear you in for a fee of course which worked out to be about USD$50 in addition to the normal clearance fees of $48. This is a much better arrangement than having to sail around the island to Lenakal to clear in and then either sail back to Port Resolution or leave your boat in a poor anchorage whilst visiting Port Resolution.
Port Resolution Yacht club

Some other friends of ours on Shuti, the only Israeli boat we have ever seen, arrived and we went ashore with Neil from Red thread to try and contact the authorities to tell them of our arrival. This is supposed to be done by contacting a gentleman call Weri who owns the Port Resolution Yacht club, sounds prestigious to me, who will call the relevant authorities and advise them of our arrival but when we landed we were advised that Weri had driven to Lenakal. We searched for Stanley, one of his brothers, who tried to call but the cell phone tower was out of action. I went back to the boat and collected my Sat phone and managed to call them and they said that they would be in Port Resolution in the early afternoon.    

We waited aboard our boats for the call on the VHF from the customs man and sure enough at 1pm we received the call. I went to collect him and bring him to the boat. The customs official was very pleasant and efficient. We had the forms already completed and the process only took about 15 minutes but we chatted for a while before taking him to our friends on Red Thread. Later in the afternoon the immigration official came to complete their forms and collect their money.

We had had a glimpse of the village when we went to call the officials but we were eager to have a look around the village and arrange to go to the volcano. We piled into the dinghy and motored ashore pulling it up on coral and pebble beach and climbing the dirt path to the yacht club and then walking down the dirt road to the village.

All of the houses were made of wooden frames covered in palm or pandanus leaves, normally only single rooms and about 20-30 feet in length. The village has a central park or grassy area with settlement of houses arranged around this park which we later found out were groups of houses of the same families.      

Port Resolution village

We walked the short distance to the beach going along a path lined with thatched houses. Just before we came to the beach we crossed the “Nakamal” which is the meeting area for the men of the villages who meet here every afternoon about 4pm to discuss local matters and drink kava. No women are allowed at these meetings and ladies cannot even walk through this area when the men are meeting. As it was before 3pm we all carried on to the beach.

There is a small restaurant on the beach, if you can call it a restaurant as it is a thatched single room house with one long table and a partitioned off kitchen and sand floor. We arranged for Suzanne to cook for us where we would bring the Mahi-mahi and she would make some other traditional dishes. Cost would be $7.5 for an adult and $4 for children. Not cheap but it would be an interesting experience.

To walk through the village of Port Resolution is truly like stepping back in time but I imagine the people are far more welcoming than when Captain Cook came here in 1774 and I also imagine little has changed since then. We chatted to a few of the villagers who all had excellent English, some telling us that they spoke up to 5 languages. They were so welcoming.

Stanley, Weri’s brother said that he could arrange to take us up to Mt Yassur in the pick up so we negotiated a deal for the ten of us on Sarita, Red Thread and Shuti to go for 1000 vatu each (aboutUSD$10) plus 2 gallons of diesel. This price was just for the transport there and did not include the park entrance fee which was 7,500 vatu - $75 each Ouch!!!! But we were more than willing to pay the price to get close to an active volcano. We could walk the 2.5hrs each way but would have to walk back in the dark, not something we particularly wanted to do in an unknown environment, turns out it would have been fine and we could have probably hitched a ride, probably not for 10 people though.

We walked along the black volcanic ash and sand beaches finding large amounts of obsidian, a volcanic glass rock.

Mt Yassur from above
Chief carrying the kava root
At 3pm we all piled into Weri’s pick-up truck, 5 in the cab and 5 in the back, and bounced along the dirt road to the Visitor center for Mt Yassur volcano. We were greeted by some of the villagers who ran the operation and collected our $75 each for the entrance fee. We then gathered in the Nakamal for a welcome ceremony of traditional dancing and some lucky man was chosen to partake in the drinking of the Kava root. The group then piled into yet more pick up trucks and trundled some more up the dirt road to a staging post ¾ of the way up the volcano. The excitement grew as we drove across the ash plain, void of vegetation or anything else for that matter and stopped to walk up the final 100 meters or so to the crater rim. As we climbed the volcano erupted making the earth shake and gave the sound of a very large train passing. Once at the summit we could look down into the smoke and ash filled crater like a cauldron of pungent smelling rock. There we waited for the next eruption and sure enough the ground shook again and the most tremendous noise battered our ear drums. It sounded like sitting next to an exceedingly large steam engine as the gases and rock exploded out of the crater. I don’t think I am capable of explaining exactly how it sounded but it truly left me speechless as one could feel and hear the sheer power and ferocity of magma being forced up from earth core to the surface. Wow!! Following each eruption there was a very strong smell of Sulphur, sometimes overpowering, worse than smoking 20 B&H I reckon.

Dancing in the welcome ceromony

We stayed at the craters edge and watched multiple eruptions until the sun fell below the horizon and darkness fell illuminating the molten rock being spewed up from the volcano. We all watched in awe, not wanting to leave this place where many people tick off a bucket list item, mine included.

One morning we were awoken by a knocking on the hull of Sarita. I went up to see who it was and found a man in a dug-out canoe beside our boat. He politely introduced himself as Philemon and asked if it was possible for us to charge his phone as his village did not have electricity. “Sure, glad to help” we chatted a while and it turned out he was the chief of a number of villages in the area. He invited us to come and see his village in the mountains, a 1 ½ hour walk each way. We jumped at the opportunity for a guided walk through the forest to a remote village so we arranged to meet him on the beach the following morning.

Jude rummaged through our storage space to find things that would be of use for the village, clothes, food etc and I found some other items like rope to bring along as a gesture of thanks.

Philamon was promptly waiting on the beach at 10am with his horse called Blacky and we commenced our climb up the mountain to his village. The path was a single track through dense forest but passed well cared for food gardens along the way. We climbed up the hill to maybe 1500 feet before we came to a well maintained and raked path lined with neatly trimmed shrubs with flowers and banana trees with the volcano continuing its eruptions in the background.

Philamon had been telling us stories of the area as we walked and we were taken aback by the beauty of the spot when we arrived. Philamon showed us the grave of his father, the previous chief before introducing us to his wife, Rose, and his young daughter. He then showed us the Nakamal, which he told us was the largest in all of Tanna and that once a year on April 1st many of the larger villages of the island meet here to discuss important political and cultural issues.

He told us that his lands extended far and that Mt Yassur Volcano was included in these lands and that he was in a battle to reclaim the rights which had been taken away by the government. He showed us papers of a land survey conducted in 1985 which showed his boundaries and was signed by the department of lands. Clearly he wanted some help in trying to retrieve his rights.

Rose, cooked us a lovely traditional meal of fish, yams, taro root and local cabbage and we ate this in one of the thatched huts in the village, and Philamon told us ancient tales. He then showed us to his collection of stones which he uses to summon spirits to action. These spirits include the Yam, Shark, sea, Sky, Rain, Sun etc and he believes that he can influence nature by working with the stones. Fascinating.

We walked down the mountain a different way to that of our climb, this time walking through dense forest to look at other gardens and sandalwood plantations and eventually down to some steam springs by the edge of the bay. Wat a great day!
The following morning there was another knock on the side of the boat. I came up and this time a man called Patrick in his dug out canoe first gave me a bag of vegetables and fruit and then a bag containing a rather dusty and rusty looking sound speaker. He showed me the problems and asked if I could fix it. I said I would have a go and asked him to come back in the afternoon. I took the speaker apart and soldered some parts and sliced some new cable and found some replacement plugs which I attached. I have no idea if it worked as I needed a 220v connection to test the repair, which we don’t have on the boat. Patrick arrived in the afternoon and looked very pleased when I showed him the repairs. We did not hear any hip hop booming from the village in the evening but I hoped the repairs did indeed work.

Philamon invited us ad Neil and Jesse (Red Thread) to join in a celebration in the village of Yanapai, which we passed on the way up to Philamon’s village. Philamon said that we should arrive at about 4pm and the girls would meet with the women of the village while Neil and I joined in the Nakamal.

One of the houses in Yanapai
We arrived laden with gifts for the women and children, food, clothes carrot cake and popcorn which the children went mad over. I went to the Nakamal and watched as village elders too their turn in standing up and speaking, some following their speech with by singing a parable that supported his speech.

No sure is she is enjoying the carrot cake?

After all the speaking was concluded the men formed a circle and started a traditional dance with clapping hands and stomping of feet. Neil and I joined in (Jude was amazed that I danced) and had a great time. We were told that the song sang during the dance was about when the first white men came they were the devil but now they were their brothers.

Nakamal meeting
After the dancing Neil and I were invited to drink some kava. Unlike in Fiji where the kava root is with a pestle and mortar into a powder in Vanuatu the root is chewed by the men and then spat out onto a leaf in a form of paste. The paste is then put in a piece of coconut bark and water is added so that the water mixes with the paste and strained through the bark before being placed in a half coconut to be consumed. An interesting though that you are drinking a mixture of water, root and spittle.

Philamon speaking at the Nakamal
The rain came down, we drank more Kava and chatted with the men before heading back to the beach to have an alcoholic drink with some of the locals. All in all it was a wonderful evening with lots of new experiences.

We had heard about a village that existed on the island where all of the villagers still wore traditional dress being grass skirts and Nambas or penis sheaths so we arranged for Weri to take us there with Neil and Jesse.

The village of Yekel is truly like stepping back in into medieval times. All the houses are thatched pandanus and the people do indeed wear traditional clothing. We were greeted by one of he local men who gladly showed us around the village and its gardens and met a number of the local villagers along the way.
Nakamal in Yekel

As wonderful as it is I find it a bit awkward walking around these villages, I don’t exactly blend in and feel like I am intruding on their lives but all of the locals were wonderful and did not seem to resent our presence.

When we had finished walking around the village the men and women of the village gathered in main Nakamal of the village that was surrounded by some of the largest banyan trees I have seen, one of which had a house high up in the branches. I was invited to drink kava again and this time its effect was much stronger than any of the previous times I had taken it. I felt quite euphoric.

The locals then started one of their traditional dances with the men in the center of a circle dancing, singing, clapping their hands and stomping their feet while the women ran around the outside with the children. The dance was similar to that seen in Yanapai but on a grander scale with women included.

If you are interested in the village then watch the movie Tanna which is set in Yekel. Well worth the watch.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Vanuatu but left a little sad as we wanted to do so much more for the locals. We had left them with clothes, food and lots of books and stuff for the children but it simply does not seem enough for these wonderful people but yet seem quite content with life as it is.  

Granny with a machete