A Memorable Stop at Port Resolution
July 17, 2012, 7:35 pm, Port Resolution, Island of Tanna, Vanuatu
We arrived at Port Resolution on the Island of Tanna at about 3:00 am on July 10th. The trip over was very difficult in that we had 10 - 15 foot seas most of the way and at times it was gusting 30+ knots. The good news is that the trip was a quick one, lasting less than three days. I struggled a bit on the passage, broke a plate while trying to get the dishes done, and ended up sitting on the galley floor crying. Not my finest moment. I think I was just tired of getting knocked around. Mark and I have begun to discuss getting extra crew in the future. We have determined that the passages up to now have been very manageable but the seas we will be crossing are going to be more challenging moving forward. We agree that we could do them with just the two of us but we are starting to think that our emotional wellbeing would be better served with a bit of help. We are still in discussions about the extra help and this passage to Australia should convince us one way or another.
A funny thing did happen at the start of the leg to Vanuatu. The first hour or so of the leg was through several reefs. We even had a lead boat (a local motor boat) to make sure we exited the reefs safely. During this time the wind was favorable so everyone was sailing through these reefs. Very thrilling. At Last was sailing quite well and we found ourselves passing quite a few boats. This is unusual in that we are about the forth from the last in our handicap. As we were doing some sail trim, the wind took Mark's Texas Long Horn Hat (his favorite) and sent it into the ocean. We called to the boat behind us to see is they could retrieve it and shortly thereafter, they called to say they got it but whoops David (s/v Peat Smoke) dropped it. They radioed to the next boat behind them and shortly thereafter Mike (s/v Wind Dancer) announced that he had caught an orange fish. Amazing!!! The hat was saved.
We arrived in Port Resolution in the middle of the night and anchored in the dark. Not ideal especially since the walkie talkie that Mark had been using to anchor ended up in the water at some point during the process. Whoops!! We did anchor safely but the bay was quite rocky and we had a rather uncomfortable sleep that night once we settled in at about 4:30 am. We spent the next day trying to find a better spot to anchor but with 29 boats in the bay things were tight so we needed to stay put. We did decide to deploy our flopper stopper (a device used to stop the boat from rocking while at anchor). Of all the equipment that Mark purchased before we left, this was the last thing that we hadn't used. The flopper stopper was helpful and made sleeping a bit easier. We did have a bottle of Vermouth fall over from the rocking motion of the boat one evening. Luckily, Mark doesn't mind a very dry martini.
Our first introduction to Port Resolution was a walking tour of the village. Our first stop was the school. There are 122 children in school at this one village. We got to tour their classrooms and talk to them about their studies. They also sang several songs for us. The children spoke Bislama, the national language, but also spoke English. At times some of the teachers would translate what we were saying for the children. Mark and I brought them some gas for their generator which they use to run a laptop. Mark ended up spending quite a bit of time with the headmaster of the school helping look over his laptop. S/V Matilda also donated a laptop and Mark also helped set that up for them. They were incredibly grateful for the help.
Most people in Vanuatu live in this type of village. Most of the clan based villages are small and have about 50 people in them. Port Resolution's village would be considered large. A chief heads the village and speaks on behalf of his village; his word is accepted as law. There are about 30,000 people on the island of Tanna. The people here hold firm to their traditional customs and culture (called kastom). We have truly been amazed at how authentic our experience was at the village and how little it has been affected by more modern ways. Everyone was extremely welcoming and the children would often follow us around as we walked through the village. They loved having their picture taken and looking at the picture on the cameras.
Later in the day we were taken to another village to see a traditional Vanuatu dance ceremony. Most villages have a traditional area called a nakamal where the men go to talk, manage village affairs and drink kava. Kava is a traditional drink which is made from a root. We (the women) were not able to walk through the nakamal area while we toured the village because the men were meeting there. The area is also used to practice their traditional dances like the one we saw. After the dance, we went to the Mount Yasur volcano which is an active volcano. It is easily accessible in that we were able to walk right up to the rim of the volcano. It was cold, windy and sandy there but the sights we were able to see were amazing. The pictures really don't do it justice.
The next day we went to a gift ceremony at the Port Resolution Village. We saw another traditional dance and then all of us walked to the Yacht Club together. Once at the Yacht Club, each of us received a handmade hat, necklace and coconut drink. Then the people from the village presented us with gifts of fruits, vegetables, and handmade gifts (baskets and jewelry). Then each boat also had gifts for the villagers. We were instructed what was needed by the villagers. I had a bag full of school supplies for the children, a bag full of clothes and some household goods. Many people gave large cooking pots and utensils. Others gave rope, fishing line, food, etc. I wish we could have given more and we were overwhelmed at how generous the village was with their gifts. It was an incredibly moving ceremony.
That evening the entire village put on a dinner for us, another very generous gesture. We were well fed with many unfamiliar things. The main course was fish and pig. And I do mean a whole small pig, split down the middle and grilled (head and feet still attached). I did skip that part of the buffet. I tried to find out what each dish was but was consistently given the name of a fruit or vegetable which I had never heard of. It is also difficult to find out what it is like because people in the village have never eaten most of what we usually eat. We did eat taro which is like a potato. And many of the vegetables were like squash. I did recognize a dish which looked and tasted like cole slaw. For dessert was fruit - bananas and grapefruit.
We had a pot luck dinner with a handful of other boats the final night in Port Resolution in order to say good bye to s/v Glamorous Galah and s/s Serendipity. We then had two full day sails with an overnight stop in Dillon's Bay on the Island of Erromango. Luckily, Dillon's Bay was calm and quiet and we had a great night's sleep. That is until we got up at 4:00 am in order to get to Port Vila before dark.
We are currently in Port Vila and making the mad dash to get the boat and ourselves ready for passage to Australia. We leave on Thursday morning for what will be about an eight day passage. We have been getting quite a briefing on customs and immigration rules and regulations for Australia. They are very particular about food entering the country. We cannot bring any meat, dairy, fruits or vegetables. The only items of this kind we can bring have to be canned or in original packaging that shows they are from New Zealand or Australia. We have been cleaning out or freezer and eating quite well since we got here.
Another first for our trip - I made a visit to a doctor today. I have been sick for the past week with a sinus infection and sore throat. Mark and I were very concerned about leaving on the passage when one of us is sick. So we went to the local health clinic. I gave my name and date of birth to the receptionist and within ten minutes I was in the doctor's office. He did a quick exam, asked a few questions and sent me off to the pharmacy with a script for an antibiotic and nasal decongestant. Mark paid the receptionist the equivalent of $48 US dollars (the local currency is the Vatu) and we walked next door to the pharmacy. At the pharmacy we had the two prescriptions filled for the equivalent of $69 US dollars. We were done with everything in about 25 minutes. If only I would feel better that quickly!!
Mark and I are very much looking forward to arriving in Australia. We are hoping that it will be easier to get items we need (boat parts and food). We are also hoping to get better internet access for the rest of the trip. But most importantly, we are looking forward to a visit from Eileen, Tony and their son Jake when we get there. They will be sailing the Whit Sunday Islands with us for over a week!
One last thing...interesting thing about our trip from here to Australia. We will actually not be able to sail in a straight line there. We have fourteen waypoints set in our chart plotter marking a route from Vanuatu to Mackay, Australia. These waypoints will keep us well clear of the reefs that we will be passing along the way. Two of the reefs are literally in the middle of our trip, in the middle of the ocean. The last 100 or so miles of the trip will also be a winding path through reefs into Mackay. Luckily, these route are well documented and we have it all programed into our chart plotter. And we have a backup of it on Mark's IPAD so as they say in Australia "no worries!"