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Vanuatu

Vanuatu

  • Date Posted: Aug 2, 2019

It was around 11pm. (August 16th, 2018) Julie wakes me up and says she’s tired, she needs some sleep. I’m somewhat dazed (what time is it?  where are we?)  “Are we through the Pass?” I said.

“Yes, we’re clear of New Caledonia, and now in open water”

That exact moment,,, I felt immense pride in my wife.  Julie had just piloted us through a convoluted and narrow pass that lasted many hours and was subject to strong currents. It was a pitch-black night and her only references were the radar and chart plotter.    Thoughts of the last 7 years flooded through my mind as I realized just how far my wife had come as a mariner.  I was both impressed and proud.

Time I got my butt out of bed I guess!  By the time I reached the pilothouse, INFINITY was set on her course and all I had to to do was a quick check of the Nav aids, and make my 1st double espresso.  We were transiting at 8 knots, in smooth seas.  HEAVEN!

We are on our way to Vanuatu, having just spent a few months in New Caledonia.  Our ultimate long term destination being Australia.  We’re certainly not getting through this cruising period in quick fashion our we?  9 months in Mexico, 18 months in Hawaii, 6 months in French Polynesia, 18 months in New Zealand, and I know we’ll be spending at least 18 months in Australia!  Jimmy Cornell would have a dicky-fit! (with recommended circumnavigation times of 2 years!).

Vanuatu is a remote destination and we spent all of our time at anchor.  When living this way, you seem to be more immersed in what you are doing, and the camera is always a secondary thought for me.  So, there are not as many photos for this destination as I would have liked.  Funny though, the memories of Vanuatu are burned deep into my mind, and I will never forget.  So, perhaps more writing this time, less visual.

 

 

Our actual route through the Islands of Vanuatu (copied from our track on iSailor)

 

 

This is my view from INFINITY ‘command central’.  It was a pleasant night with calm seas, and the dawn is now upon me.  As the sun is rising, Jay is tucked up safely in bed, and I silently give thanks to God,,, it simply does not get any better than this, and I’m grateful.

 

 

 

Always a spiritual experience for me. These moments are a very major reason why I keep cruising. I love this connection to the universe.

 

 

Approaching Vanuatu, the most southerly Island of TANNA.  From 12 miles out, you can see the active volcano smoking.

 

 

 

As we get closer to Tanna, the sights, sounds, and smell become vibrant

 

 

Entering the small harbour of Port Resolution

 

 

INFINITY at anchor in Port resolution

 

 

Our personal “Welcome to Vanuatu” party.  We gave them a gallon of diesel in exchange for the warmth & good-will we received.

 

 

We are at anchor in Port Resolution, Tanna.  You can’t see it, but to the left of us is the “Port Authority” to officially enter Vanuatu.  Two other yachts were also anchored in the harbour, so I hailed them on VHF 16, and asked them what the ‘go’ was?  I had actually pre-arranged this check-in process from New Caledonia, and after further VHF calls I was made to understand that Customs was waiting for me!  So, I quickly stuffed our passports and vessel forms into our dry-bag, and paddle-boarded to shore to formally check into Vanuatu.  First time for everything!

The check-in process went smoothly.  With our Passports stamped, we were warmly welcomed into the country of Vanuatu.  We were interested in visiting the Volcano, but only local currency was accepted and I had failed to secure any Vatu (local currency) in New Caledonia  😕  Seems the Volcano tour would have to be relegated to another time.  The weather was starting to pipe up too, and the anchorage was becoming uncomfortable even with the flopper-stoppers deployed – so we made a firm decision to press on to Port Villa!

 

∞∞∞∞∞               ∞∞∞∞∞               ∞∞∞∞∞

 

The transit up to the Island of EFATE, (Port Villa) wasn’t too bad.  But we were tired from our journey from New Caledonia, so the relief of our arrival in Port Villa was palpable.  Julie and I secured a mooring ball in the harbour (and hoped for the best! 😜)  Our Nordhavn 62 is 77 Tons, but surprisingly easy to secure to a mooring.  We prefer to use our own anchor of course, but there simply wasn’t the swinging room for this and the anchorage appeared to be well protected.

 

At anchor in Port Villa, this was our view to the south.

 

 

,,, and the view to the North

 

 

remnants from the last hurricane in Vanuatu. (apparently sustained winds of over 160 mph)

 

 

Here’s the proof of what Hurricane Pam can do   : (

 

 

We are always proud to fly the Canadian flag.  Without fail, every time, every location, we always get a welcome comment.  Words like “you’ve come a long way”, or “I have an uncle in Toronto” repeatedly break the ice with locals and fellow cruisers.

 

 

 

Once Julie and I have settled  INFINITY in “at-anchor-mode”, we typically launch our dinghy and go exploring.  Our first order of business was to “check-in” to the Port Villa ‘Marina’, which we paid for a week’s time on our mooring.  The main priority for our first walk into town is usually in search of Internet access.  Once that’s done, we relax a bit, and can focus on our new environment.   The townships are becoming almost familiar to us now, sharing the same level of disrepair, vibrant markets, and warm hearted locals.  I always find myself mentally asking the same question, “could I live here?”  And then I realize there is really no need to go down that rabbit hole when you own your own boat!  My self imposed stress levels immediately subside, and I enjoy the day.  😉

 

 

we certainly felt ‘welcome’ in Vanuatu. 🙂

 

 

A must-do activity for us, a stop at the local markets.

 

 

Julie’s signature flower – birds of paradise!  Worth every penny, and they always add that tropical ambience to INFINITY.

 

 

 

 

Not a care in the world today.  Living the dream.

 

 

Different market, different vibe. Clean floors, new buildings, elevated prices, and note the lack of locals? We are in tourist-ville, but none-the-less a fun experience. (Money stayed in pocket this time though!)

 

 

Back on the boat.  Peace.  Our own private sanctuary.  After the hustle-&-bustle of the markets, scooters wizzing past, and sharing the close proximity of hundreds of people in small closed-in spaces, – it’s always a relief when we come back onboard, and are instantly transported back to our own familiar reality.

After a while spent chilling’ on our upper-aft-deck (our favourite go-to place on INFINITY), it dawns on me that I could be Paddle-boarding!  5 minutes later my board is inflated and I’m off exploring again in a much more intimate way.  The relationships I’ve forged, and the information I’ve gained from the deck of my SUP is amazing.

 

 

(Andy on his SUP) “in my natural habitat, checking the boats out, doing my own thing”

 

 

We’ve planned on staying a week in Port Villa, so we decided to book a few trips to see the Island of EFATE.  Our Infinity bag is permanently on stand-by, ready to go. (Thank you Joy& Steve Drover!)

We usually leave the vessel for no more than 12 hours at a time, so mostly just day-trips.  I’m constantly aware that INFINITY is on a mooring of somewhat unknown security, and of course we have our batteries to think about, which will need a recharge after a days use.  (It’s at times like this that I do consider a Solar power installation, but then end up rationalizing – “do I really want to stay away from INFINITY for extended periods in unknown waters?  🤔 uhm, we’re cool for now!)

 

 

our INFINITY bag, always ready to go with our beach-ware, our tourist essentials

 

 

A day trip to one of the many Falls in Vanuatu.

 

 

You could swim right under these Falls, and into a small cave.  It was cool!  👍

 

 

 

 

Other days, we’d spend just walking around the island, taking it all in, and this day was just outstanding.

 

 

our daughter Chloë is never far from our thoughts – always many reminders.  Based on the name, we indulged ourselves in some impromptu chicken-rice.  Not bad, not bad..

 

 

 

So what do you do when the weather turns to custard??  You go viewing Super Yachts!

 

 

 

 

It all looks so cool, until you think about cleaning it!  (But then you’d probably have crew for that!  😜)

 

 

The sheer size and majesty of these vessels is awesome

 

 

 

 

 

Back onboard INFINITY,,, we continue to watch the weather deteriorate.  So, it’s movie and popcorn time tonight!

 

 

 

 

And when you get bored of movies, it’s back on deck for some daily maintenance.  Our vessel maintenance plan goes like this:  “We do what we can, when we can”.  This time we had an afternoon break in the rains, so we pulled the folding bikes out and gave them some love.  I think Jay likes doing this stuff even more than I do.  I like working on simple mechanical systems, and Julie enjoys giving our gear a new lease of life.  We are a good team.  👍

 

 

 

 

new gear-shift and brake cables required this time. That moist salt environment is hell on the equipment.

 

 

The weather wasn’t improving and we had it, so we decided to press-on to Espiritu Santo.  This way, we could transit up North during the poor weather period, and enjoy Luganville when the weather improved.

 

 

Entering the Luganville channel. On a whim, I tried the VHF radio to see if our friend from New Caledonia, Cheryl Stone (on her sailing Cat – ‘SubZero’) was there. She was!!

 

 

 

Well the weather did not improve a whole lot,  so we kept busy getting the toys out.  😜

 

 

One of my favourite pastimes is sailing, and our MiniCat  certainly scratches that itch!  It takes about 30 minutes to set up, so when we know we’ll be at anchor for say a week or so, we’ll take the cat out of the bag!

 

Setting up the MiniCat.  See Video Link below!

 

Taking the MiniCat out for a burn!   (Video)

 

 

the real Vanuatu

 

 

DIVING

 

We repeatedly kept hearing about the President Coolidge dive site .  The first time was when when we were in Tahiti.  Then it came up again, while discussing international dive sites with fellow boaters in Savusavu, FIJI, and then a third time from our friend (Greg Palmer – who co-incidentally Captains the 30m M/Y ESPIRITU SANTO) in New Caledonia.  Every account mentioned Allan Powers Dive Tours, so our decision was made even before INFINITY’s hook was settled on the seabed.

 

Dive Site Description:  SS President Coolidge

Site Type: Wreck Dive – a big one!   {Shore Access}
Depth: Top: 20M, Bottom: 70M;
Location: West of Million Dollar Beach, just outside of Luganville, Vanuatu

 

The SS President Coolidge was an American luxury Ocean Liner, built in 1931.  She was operated by Dollar Steamship Lines until 1938, and then by American President Lines until 1941.  She served as a troopship from December 1941 until October 1942, when she was sunk by mines in Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, part of current-day Vanuatu.

The Captain attempted to run the ship aground in order to potentially save it from sinking. During the attempt however, the ship hit the reef, listed badly, and eventually slid into the channel, resting in 70m of water.  She had 5,342 troops on board – all but two onboard were saved.

 

 

 

Diving Video Link below!

 

 

Andy & Julie Diving the SS President Coolidge (Video)

 

 

The photos below were taken from Allan Powers’ books.  We spent an hour after the dive going through the texts.  They were a privilege to browse through and incredible historical value.

 

 

 

 

 

We spent our remaining days lounging by the pool with fellow international voyagers at the Luganville Beachfront Resort.   The hotel was only a few minutes’ dinghy ride to the beach, and was ideally situated right off the anchorage, welcoming cruisers from around the world.

 

The pool is nestled in between the thatched roofs.  The pizza here was pretty good too!

 

 

Pool to the left, and the walk down to the beach lis ahead

 

 

the view from the Beach.  My heart always skips a beat when I see INFINITY out at anchor ❤️

 

 

The map below, marks the position where INFINITY was anchored for a week.  We were comfortable there, and having the resort available to us, for swims, pizza & beer, was a welcome bonus.  However, our long awaited destination of Australia awaited us, and it was time to press on.  I think I’ll clearly remember our departure from Espiritu Santo, forever.

 

 

 

 

It was 7pm, and absolutely pitch black outside.  Must have been overcast because there wasn’t a single light or twinkle in the sky, no markers, nothing.  As we were bringing the anchor up, I remember looking around the surroundings and thinking this was probably the most ‘absence of light’ I have ever seen, and apart from the odd anchor light and some scattered lights ashore, there weren’t any references at all.  It was actually kind of eerie.  Even the sound of the hydraulic windless seemed unnaturally amplified due to the stillness of the night.  Anchor up, and threading our way through the anchored vessels, It occurred to me that I had probably not thought this departure through as well as I should have.

Underway, the shore lights disappeared from sight as we left the metropolis of Luganville, and I was presented with a new intensified blackness that I had never ‘seen’ before.  I scrambled into the pilothouse to dim any light I could in order to get some sort of reference ashore.  Nothing.  The only information available to me was the Radar and Chartplotter.  (please do not fail me now),,, my instruments were telling me the shoreline was closing in, and we were speeding down the river at 11 knots with the favourable tide.  I knew we were hustling through the water, but I could not even see it, or feel it, or hear it (I could only smell it),,, it was that still outside.  It was like a scene from Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’.  We were fine though.  And as I glanced at the instruments and got myself acquainted with the new reality, I could hear Julie below in the galley chopping vegetables for a slow-cooker meal for the transit – and a sort of calmness overtook me.  It was like a hand touched my shoulder and said “easy – enjoy!”  So I did.

The final exit through the channel shallowed to less than 500m wide, so I just kept her bang in the middle and prayed for no traffic.  Not to worry, we were certainly the only vessel on that water that night.  An hour later, we were into the Coral Sea, and making our way towards our milestone landmark – Australia!

 

 

 

    16 Comments

  1. Great blog Andy pandy. well done mate…. loved the photos. Talk soon James

    • Thank you squire! And our thanks once again, to you and Claire for hosting us for a few days in your magnificent home. Look out for for a mention in the Australia blog 😉

  2. Brings back great memories of our time in Vanuatu in 2004! Hope you saw the Painted Lady on the Coolidge!

    • Hi Kathy! Great to see you here 👍 Unfortunately, we did not see the Painted Lady this time,,, perhaps next time!

  3. Great to hear about your travels Andy. Inspired to join you

    • Waiting for you John! You’ll soon be out there yourselves, soon enough! Do you have any idea where you’ll take your new N68?

  4. Thank You so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences you both continue to inspire me !!!

    • Hi Stuart, many thanks for the kind words. I’m currently working on our Australian blog now, sorting through photographs. I’ll be posting our first year in OZ, in the next few weeks. 👍

  5. Andy, Appreciating your blogs as we dream about where we will take Wet Wombat. Looking forward to reading about how my home country has treated you in your first year here.

    • Hi Peter! Well this Vanuatu blog probably wouldn’t be published yet if it wasn’t for your ‘encouragement’ 😜 I pressed-on with it, as I always had you and James Ellingford in the back of my mind! Australia has been great, loving the hospitality and the warm weather. We’ve been here almost a year now already!

  6. Thanks for taking me along on this trip…you’ll love the Aussies.

    • Hi Chris, Indeed we do! I’ll show you how we see Australia in the upcoming weeks 👍

  7. Great read, Andy! Hello to you and Julie from Anne & Jim ❤️

    • Hello Anne! You’re too kind 🤗 Please give Jim a big hug from us. We miss you guys!!

  8. Good read Andy, when do you propose to make land fall in Australia and what is you entry port. Benn Hardie

    • Hi Benn, Great to see you here! Julie and I actually arrived Mackay, Australia on our 30th wedding anniversary (September 9th), last year! 🤗 Yes, shamefully it’s taken me almost a year to make the post. No excuses, but more goin’on in our lives than I can keep up with!! Anyway, I have made a correction to the Vanuatu blog (by inserting relative dates), and I thank you for that. 👍 Australia has so far been great, with so much more to see and do. I’m actually working on the Australian blog as I type. See you here soon!

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