We've had wonderful trade wind sailing as we make our way north up the island chain of Vanuatu- here we are soaring down wind with the Code Zero and the genoa out in full force!
Check out our new photo albums...Our wild ride to Vanuatu from New Zealand, village shots, fixing generators, volcanos and more!
05/15/2012, Mt. Yasur, Tanna Island
How a Volcano can breathe fire into your soul!
Wedged into the corner of the overloaded pick up, my view is limited to a narrow track directly behind the truck. The island's inner secrets and natural beauty slowly slips by behind us as we make our way up the rough dirt road to the volcano. Our skilled driver finesses the clutch to grind the truck into his lowest gear inching his 16 passengers up the steep incline. The heat of the engine wafts in open fumes up the sides of the truck. Massive trees, disguised in twisted vine pass by us on either side, making the trip seem like something out of a Jurassic Park movie. Just where are we going?!
The island of Tanna, one of the southernmost of the Vanuatan island chain, boasts some of the largest Banyan Trees in the Pacific. The bases we pass are easily 20-30 feet across, a tangled majestic mass of trunks and vines, each one a natural playground which could keep a dozen kids occupied for days at a time. Our enthusiasm holds fast even as rain starts to fall lightly onto the open back truck. Behind us, framed perfectly over the retreating forest, hangs a deep and vibrant rainbow. Squeezed as I am in the truck, with no room to fiddle with my camera I take a picture in my memory. Click. Deep forest greens, pure sky blues, strung together with all the colours of the rainbow. I take a deep breath, filling my nostrils with the scent of the jungle around me.
As we climb higher up the side of the mountain, the thick vegetation gives way to dry ruddy brown earth. Finally dark grey sand leads to the lunar landscape at the base of the volcano. Here, heaps of messy lava stone are scattered far down the sides of the steep slopes above us. Our truck passes a very official but lonely looking sign: "Parking Lot 2" sits empty, as if expecting a much larger crowd. Click. Our driver takes us to the front row, up to "Parking lot 1", some 200 feet further and brings the Toyota to a well deserved but lurching stop.
We are parked ON a volcano! We uncurl ourselves and slowly pour out and over the back of the truck; our eyes held fast on the sights above as the volcano busies itself with what volcanoes do. Along with a handful of other travellers we are about to discover one of the biggest attractions in all of Vanuatu- Mt Yasur, the most accessible live volcano in the world. Although a roughly laid cement trail leads the way up, there are no cautionary gates, warning signs, or other words of wisdom, just us and the volcano, and that sign, Parking lot #2!
We climb high above the truck, nervous anticipation racking our bravado the entire way. As we ascend, the volcano comes increasingly alive, imparting its guttural, other worldly, larger than life growls. A 747 passing 50 feet over our heads could not have been louder. We reach the first summit and look over the enormous double cauldron. Click. Click. Click.
We are standing at the edge of an erupting volcano- HOLY MOLIES! Standing beside Michael, I smile into the camera. Just as the camera shutters clicks someone lets off a 100 cannon firing squad. BEHIND US!!! NEVER turn your back to a live volcano... it is now throwing steam, ash and yes, huge chunks of glowing rock hundreds of feet in the air. I look to my right and to my left, and on either side of our ever so cute photo are castaway hardened chunks of swirled lava, just like the ones I am now watching falling, cooling and sliding back into the red hot fires below.
As the sun nears the point of lowering itself behind the rim of the volcano, we trudge up and up to the very top edge of the rim. From here we can see deep into the heart of the volcano. As the sky darkens the red hot hues come alive, and each explosion provides an impressive firework display. We watch as one explosion bursts out of the volcano after another. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. The grand finale seems almost staged, easily three times as high as the other explosions, thrusting red hot fire hundreds of feet above us. The vibration through the souls of my feet shakes me to the core.
On the edge of a volcano you can't help but feel humbled, reminded that we stand only in the very moment that is granted us.
Happy to have enjoyed the moment, we are equally satisfied to distance ourselves from the grumbling giant as we slip and slide our way down the tumbled slope to the relative safety of the Toyota truck, parked in its lurched stop on the side of Mt Yasur.
For this moment anyways, we have escaped the real grand finale.
Arriving in the small village of Anelgoahat., Aneityum* offered us an immediate immersion in Vanuatan culture and village life. Usually we enter countries through larger towns and then search out the more remote places to explore. The small village of Anelgoahat was a mix of traditional thatch buildings, and the more sturdy 'hurricane ' style buildings we have seen across the Pacific. The islands Senior High School is situated here, and all the yachties were invited in for their fundraiser- a sporting day to mark the end of classes for the term. The villagers here are accustomed to tourists, as a large Australian cruise ship stops here on a regular basis. On these days, the typically white pristine beaches of Mystery Island become a sea of color, as 2000 (yes- 2000!) people off load onto the tiny island to enjoy the tropical beach and reefs. The villagers make money by taking their trinkets across and selling them to the tourists. (*Anatom is the French name- the islanders themselves call it Aneityum)
The sports day was highly entertaining as we watch teenagers sprinting around the 'track' bare footed in hot pursuit of each other. Having watched my own children in track and field events, I enjoyed the subtle contrast and similarities with interest. The track was a rough dirt trail which outlined a large field, which was more or less flat. On the second turn, which they ran counter clockwise, the track went around some huge Mango trees, up the hill and then along the main village path. There was no preparation to the track, and the children raced across what ever happened to be there, their feet registering no concern! No fancy track shoes for this crowd. Man were they fast! They were competing for qualification to attend the upcoming Pacific Games in Thailand later this year. According to a friendly villager with good command of English, any one placing first in their event was entitled to compete in Thailand! We forgot to ask how they would afford the trip. Racing around the track, some had incredible racing insight, waiting to kick at the end to pass the leader. Many kids leading made the tactical error of looking back to find their opponents, loosing valuable seconds, and sometimes coming in second as a result! We have some great shots of the beach front track action, but will have to wait for an internet connection to post. We did see some cell phones flashed about, but the police/double as quarantine official admitted that signal strength was very poor.
By the second day of post passage recovery, we had dried out our lockers and were ready to set off. There were seven boats already in the bay by that time, and although we were invited to a yachtie pot luck that night, we chose instead to go around the backside of the island to explore a small anchorage there. The island was a stunning backdrop to our sail as we made our way around to the north side. We actually went in search of time in the water with sea turtles, as the area is toted as a marine sanctuary. The water was very murky, with heavy sediment from slips above the small village, possibly as the result of attempts at forestiy. So no jumping in the water here., but as we entered through the reef system, villagers came down to the beach, with a gaggle of children pouring down shouting and whistling their excitement. It became obvious that we were meant to have our first 'real' experience of village life in Vanuatu! In seconds of dropping the hook, four young men paddled out in their outrigger canoes to greet us and invite us to the village.
We again struck it lucky as the primary school in the village was having their session closing events. Many of the boys were dressed in traditional wraps of leaves and colorful head dresses, with face paint. It was open house, and the teacher gave a summary to the parents and then invited them into the classroom to see their children's work and report cards! A peek around the small classroom showed a strong emphasis on hygiene and health. How to keep your eyes healthy, washing hands before you eat, that kind of thing. The teachers presentation to the parents was lengthy, during which time we watched as preening went on amongst the audience. Adults running their hands through children's hair, and even kids plucking lice out of their neighbour's hair. Some even had a partner in the attack, passing on the tiny critter for it's ultimate destruction between the teeth of their assistant. This is just part of life here, and was as natural to the villagers as picking up a ringing cellphone is to a North American. ( note to other cruisers- a nit picking tool would likely be a very nice gift or trade item to bring along!)
Outside the classroom we had lots of fun sharing our camera with the kids, who were very shy in taking photos with our camera. We like to pass our camera to kids, as they often become more spontaneous and relaxed as a result. We were the first boat here in over a year, and it was very obvious that the kids did not have much experience with tourists of any sort. We enjoyed watching the typical social dynamics, with the young men hanging out by the beach, working the dug out canoes to greet us, setting up their fishing nets and listening to their music played through a boombox! Most of the adults were attending the school function. The preteen boys hung in a loose circle under a tree, a comfortable distance from the smaller kids who all sat on a mat near the teacher. The village has only 100 people living there, and by our estimation about 1/3 were children!
We spent most of our time with Noti, who presented us with a large basket, probably about 15 kilos of freshly picked mandarin oranges, to which we offered in exchange some good quality rope, and other small items. The village had a DVD player and we made a copy of Nemo for the children to watch, and supplied the school with a box set of Planet Earth. They were pretty happy with the exchange. We also took group photos of the school kids and made copies for their teacher.
We are now on our way to the island of Tanna, to see the live volcano of Mt. Yasur!
Any one want an orange?
05/06/2012, new zealand to Vanuatu
As we approached the island of Anatom visibility was poor as a huge dark rain cloud hung between us and our destination. We hoped we would get a good drenching, but were only blessed by a light shower. Paikea Mist is a salt encrusted mess, and would have been one thirsty boat!
We sailed right to the reef we are now parked behind, hardly using a sip of diesel the entire trip! Paikea Mist suffered a torn lifesling fastener, but otherwise is is A1 shape.
What a gorgeous landfall, possibly the most beautiful one we have ever made. Arriving at low tide the locals were out on the reef collecting shellfish, and whistled and hollered to us as we arrived. There are two other boats at the anchorage here. To our starboard stretches the sandy beaches of Mystery Island with it's outlying reef and stunning water visibility. The water is blissfully calm, the beers are open, and we will wait for customs, who apparently will paddle out to clear us into Vanuatu! YAHOO!
Love to everyone following us with their moral support and emails! Thanks a bunch! Gloria and Michael
Miles to Vanuatu: 0 SOG: 0 (true wind speed 15 knots from 17 T)
05/06/2012, new zealand to Vanuatu
We continue to move along in winds that are slowly turning more northerly as we approach the island of Anatom, now 63 miles away. We've managed to keep it on the beam almost the entire trip, and the wind is now coming ahead of us, at about 50 degrees apparent. Our track from NZ to Vanuatu looks like a long archer's bow, not yet pulled back. Seas are moderating a bit, but is still throwing us plenty of punches.
Paikea Mist was covered with water most of the day yesterday, and of course we are finding small ingresses of water here and there. Before I left I used a light coat of vasoline on all of the rubber hatch fittings- as we had noticed they weren't completely water tight in heavy seas. This seems to have really helped.
The weather gods have graced us with a fast passage, which we are very happy about. Smoother rides, yeah we've had those, just not between New Zealand and the islands! We expect to arrive in Aneteiym by around noon today. We left the Opua dock May 2 at 10 am and were sailing out to Nine Pin Rock shortly there after. If all goes smoothly from here, that's five days and change, so no complaints on our side.
We feel for those still in Opua ready to go but waiting out those strong northerlies. Looks like they hang around for a while. We are also thinking of slower boats who left the day before us in the ICA rally, who will surely be caught in the northerlies that we managed to race ahead of. We've been in those shoes last year, so we really feel for you right now! There's just nothing fun about wind coming from where you want to go.
The weather has been overcast the last four days, just a high cloud cover generally. With the waxing moon shining through the cloud cover or shining its face out brightly between clouds,the night passages have been fantastic. This morning as I poked my head out at 3:30 it was like dusk-or is that dawn- all night long. That's great as we haven't had to use our radar for night vision, except for one squally patch. With the auto pilot working hard in this tangled sea any energy consumption equals less time we need to run the generator, which we are running twice daily at the moment to keep up!
The last 24 hours have been wet and bumpy! Winds continue to be strong, averaging around 25-32 knots. Just after dinner we experienced a squall of sustained winds in the high 30's. Unfortunately that sent our leftover chicken enchiladas to the floor!
Our sail plan has been great, we continue to use the third reef on the main and adjust the genoa. Usually in. When we were in Napier we met Tom and Vicky on SV Sunstone. These two have sailed every ocean on the planet, over 180,000 miles. As they were doing the round NZ race at the time we had quite a lively discussion about storm management. They gave us some tips, one of which has made our third reef much easier to put in, and the sail shape seems much better as a result. Great timing! Thankfully, we put the third reef in early, knowing we would see more wind.
We turned the 'corner' and headed more or less on the rhumbline (still a little high) to Vanuatu yesterday afternoon. Winds are still on our beam, so obviously our decision to go north has helped us. Just about 240 miles to go! Spoken too soon, now coming from ahead of the beam- time to adjust the sails!