Through our contact person at customs in Port Vila, Stanley, we had organized permission for Frank to take a bus ride from Port Resolution to Lenakel in order to clear out of Vanuatu in person rather than us both have to sail SE2 back to Lenakel against the wind.
Whilst I stayed on board Stars End 2 to ensure we did not drag anchor again, Frank took a 4X4 Ute ‘bus’ 21/2 hours each way with 10 people crammed in the tray outside, plus the 5 passengers inside.
The route across the island followed a atrocious track complete with a river crossing, steep inclines and descents, massive pot holes, tree roots and round the base of the active volcano Yasur, the fine volcanic ash making a compact surface due to the rain, so that the ute could finally reach a decent speed of 50kms an hour.
We had climbed Yasur 2 nights earlier with our guide Stanley (a different Stanley!). I have to admit that treking up the steep incline to the crater in pitch darkness, (just a torch to see), was not an enjoyable experience for me.
On the bumpy ride in the 4X4 to the base of the volcano, Frank had been asking Stanley about tourists who had been struck by splatters of lava being shot into to the sky from the volcano! Then Stanley suggested we should not spend too much time there due to a squall threatening to hit us!
I think that had we arrived in daylight, I could have got my bearings and become accustomed to the height, the sights, the sounds, and the sulfur smells and smoke. As it was, I clasped Frank’s hand firmly in the strong chilly winds, as we made the steep climb up to the rim. As we reached the crater, you could hear the low resonant rumbling of the molten lava far below. The center glowed vivid red and every few minutes there was a loud grumbling followed by an explosion as sparks and lava burst upwards from the crater.
Ok- I’m a pussy, I admit it! I was glad that I had reached one of the world’s most easily accessible active volcanoes, (another tick off the bucket list) but I was more than happy to descend after a few minutes to the safety of the car!! The smell and smoke were very strong and it had taken us the best part of an hour afterwards to stop coughing and spluttering from the sulfur fumes.
Port Resolution lay in the shadow of the volcano and you could see smoke belching from the crater high into the clouds every day. The bay was surrounded by steep rocky hillsides where puffs of smoke drifted into the breeze, marking areas where there was a fissure in the rocks to let steam escape. Near the shoreline, we saw gaps in the rock faces where boiling hot springs and sulfurous gases layered the rocks with an orange/ green color & bubbled into the sea water, causing steams of cloud. The village women used these boiling springs to cook their foods, in thatched huts on the beach foreshores at the far end of the bay with it’s volcanic black sand.
Once Frank had the paperwork signed from customs & immigration, we sat tight anchored in the bay at Port Resolution, watching and praying for the weather to turn in our favor for the next leg of our trip to Fiji.
We had been checking the weather forecasts over many days- both on the ‘grib’ files that we can download on our HF radio on board SE2, and also by asking both of our boys back in Brisbane to send us daily weather forecasts from various websites.
So we can’t blame anyone that we didn’t know what we were letting ourselves in for.
We realized that by leaving Vanuatu on Sunday 14th June, we would be experiencing 20-25 knot SE winds at about 110 degrees- not the least favorable for our point of sail to Fiji! However, the following 3 days of projected forecasts had shown the winds decreasing in strength and for at least one of the days turning 130 degrees that would be from a better direction. Admittedly, the forecast was then for 2 days of easterly winds (coming straight from Fiji!), but we hoped by then, we would well and truly have made the 450 mile passage and be safely moored somewhere.
As soon as we had cleared the protection of the headland at port Resolution, we set the sails to the best point of direction we could make towards Fiji, and thought …!!*^!#!, this is going to be hard work. We were sailing at a 45 degree course beating into the wind, into 5 metre seas, their crests collapsing and steep rough waves, all stirred up due to blowing strongly for several days.
We knuckled down, knowing that today should be the worst of the weather and with the excited thought that in four days time we could be sailing through the reef into the crystal blue waters of Fiji’s lagoon.
We had taken our seasick tablets so we coped with the uncomfortable motion and rough seas, turned on the engine to a lower power to give us a better angle, and resigned ourselves to another rough passage. Unfortunately, it was simply too rough to either read a book or do anything except stare out at this ocean whipped into a frenzy and wonder why the hell we were crazy enough to be out here!
At 8pm the first night out, whilst I was trying to rest inside, a violent shrieking emanated from the engine beneath the floor and became louder and more violent within seconds.
Frank ran in and turned off the motor, and a brief look with a torch confirmed his worst fears that the fresh water pump on the motor had seized. Hoping there was not more serious damage, Frank could do nothing till daylight, and we both had a pretty sleepless night, coping with the rough conditions and worried about the engine.
Morning showed slow progress- we had only made 80 miles in the 24 hours since leaving Tanna, (we normally anticipate 100- 120 nm) and our spirits sunk more when the boys’ weather predictions showed the forecast had changed- the strong 20 knot winds would now continue for the next 3 days followed by even stronger 25-30 knot south easterly.
After having inspected the engine and realized we could not risk using it at all, plus studying the reports, Frank proposed our options:-
We continue to aim for Fiji, with another 350 miles of bashing into 20-25 knot head winds at slow progress (at times our sailing speed was brought to an almost standstill by the huge swells and rough seas).
Or, we could return to Vanuatu, the capital Port Vila, who’s direction he had checked was 175 miles on a direct course with the wind behind us. There we could hopefully get the engine repaired before continuing on.
There was really no choice to be made.
We turned 210 degrees, and immediately the motion improved. With the sails set wing on wing (the two sails on opposing sides of yacht),and the wind directly on our beam, our speed increased phenomenally. Within minutes, we were scooting along at between 7 to 9 knots down those same steep swells we had just been bashing into, and Frank & I both felt a great sense of relief that we had made the right decision.
It was a little disappointing to know Fiji would not be our next port of call, and that we would be faced with planning that passage again, but I think we both realized that we need to pick and choose the weather window more carefully and not feel compelled to ‘give it a go’, in order to get to our destination more quickly!
It was heartening to see the miles count down on the GPS, and watch our progress along the rhumb line route to Port Vila. 24 hours after changing course, we had sailed 166 miles, and though we were still rocking and rolling in the big seas and large swells, it was a far more pleasant experience. Now that I felt able to read, my e-reader slid off the table in one of the yacht’s pitching rolls and landed face down on the floor and broke!
We had alerted customs at Port Vila that we were aborting our plans to sail to Fiji and would need to re enter Vanuatu waters to fix our engine problems, and then we realized that we needed to contact Yachting World (the marina facility) at Port Vila to inform them that we were entering without an engine and required assistance to be towed to a mooring. Thankfully, I knew that our friends Deb & Alan (from Divine Wind II) had recently passed through Port Vila, had just flown back to Brisbane and would have internet access.
We quickly emailed Deb and thankfully she not only emailed us back straight away with the information, but she contacted Yachting World by email for us, and had their son Travis , (who was still in Vanuatu) ring and let them know of our situation and to expect us.
At 11.30 am Frank contacted Yachting World on the VHF radio to request a boat to tow us in, and was informed that everyone was on lunch till 2 pm! We slowly tacked down Mele Bay towards the port and starboard markers that determine the narrow entrance to the main bay of Port Vila, and at 2 pm we rang again and were assured that someone was on the way. Little did we expect the personable manageress, Lemara, to be in the bow of the little dinghy, (in smart work clothes, mobiles in hand, answering phone and VHF radio calls), to throw us a line & help tow us in!
We found, much to our surprise and pleasure as we were towed closer, a number of the yachts we had met both in Noumea and in Vanuatu that had arrived here in Port Vila. – Infinity III, Harbour Lights, Fyne Spirit & Uhambo.
Also our jovial friend, Russian single handed round the world sailor Vladimir, on board his bright yellow steel yacht Anfisa that we had met at Port Resolution. He had just arrived himself and looked quite confused to see us after we had waved goodbye on our way to Fiji!. No doubt there will be a few beers shared at the waterfront bar where all the ‘yachties’ congregate and socialize when we can share all our sailing stories.
After we had re cleared into customs and cancelled our departure from Vanuatu, we dropped by the marina bar. We had a drink with Ron & Deb (Infinity III) and Jenny & Chris (Harbour Lights). When they left to go to a show, we were joined by Mike & Jane from Fyne Spirit and Alain & Anne from Uhambo the Hanse 43 we had seen at Noumea but not met until now.
We have taken lots of photos of their cruising modifications & improvements which have enabled them to withstand 70 knots at anchor (in Patagonia) and the huge swells of the southern ocean. These are for you, Sue & John (who have the same yacht, a Hanse 43)!. We ended up staying at the restaurant and eating our first meal in 3 days, enjoying the company and safe harbour.
How happy we were to be securely tied up to a mooring buoy in front of the busy harbourside waterfront that only 3 months ago was just left with horrific damage after cyclone Pam wreaked her destruction. There are building & repairs in evidence everywhere, and piles of rubble that show where buildings stood not so long ago, and apartments and office buildings with damaged roofs display gaping holes exposed to the elements. A few tarpaulins still add touches of blue to the landscape and the sound of hammers and building can be heard all day across the bay.
The Iririki Resort on the little island near where all the yachts are moored is still noticeably empty of tourists whilst local tradesmen are ferried back and forth all day working on the repairs. There are still two partially submerged yachts wedged up against the Iririki wharf, and whilst we have puttered around the bay in our dinghy completing formalities with customs, there are a number of damaged boats still washed up against the shoreline or buoys marking areas to avoid where wrecks lie in shallow waters. We have been told 90% of the boats at port Vila were damaged or destroyed during the cyclone. We hear that the owners of these wrecks are responsible for removing them or organizing for their insurance companies to salvage or dispose. Unfortunately, the majority were uninsured which is perhaps why they are still there!
Ashore, business continues as usual- taxis, Utes overloaded with passengers, and minibuses, all honking their horns and tail gating back and forth down the busy narrow streets in town. Locals and tourists crowd along the rickety footpaths bordered by bars, cafe’s and restaurants, souvenir & duty free shops, internet cafe’s and ‘digicel’ dealers.
The busy market place (pics to come later) is still buzzing with activity that is synonymous with this colourful city- women sitting on their woven mats next to their wares & produce displayed on the ground or in woven baskets, for sale from sunup to sundown.
The fruit and vegetable growth has been severely compromised due to the cyclone and there is a limited range of produce- mainly quick growing leafy vegetables and wild growing native items like root vegetables, peanuts & coconuts . Still noticeably absent are bananas and papaya, although mandarins and pineapple are for sale.
In the clothes and souvenir section of the market, stalls fight for space, and buyers must duck and weave their way beneath all the clothing hung on display down narrow paths lined with tables displaying colourful wares. The women call out friendly welcomes, invite & encouraging you to come closer and admire their dresses, t-shirts & lava lavas (sarongs), jewellery, souvenirs & shells. Some display intricately patterned woven grass baskets that show amazing dexterity and patience- a basket that takes a skilled women an entire day to weave by hand is selling for less than Au $15- 20. I love talking to these charming ladies, and interestingly found that the time I took to stop and chat plus my friendliness and interest in them lowered the prices significantly!
Frank has taken the freshwater pump out from the engine motor and found an engineering company here in Port Vila that deals in Yanmar motors. After Frank phoned, the owner was kind enough to come out, check the broken part and take him back to his workshop to organize a replacement. This afternoon, he has rung back to say that he could order the correct spare part from Sydney for a quarter of the price Frank had purchased the original part himself in Australia!
We are thrilled that such a tricky situation has hopefully been resolved so efficiently. With luck, the part will arrive here in Port Vila in the next week or so.
In the meantime, we are enjoying calm waters, lots of socializing and internet wifi that allows me to access my g mail account for the first time in a month as well as update my blog with lots of pictures.