Unnerving! - the reef break at Lenakel by the anchorage.
We're heading back to the Loyalties after a pleasant, but brief, stop in Lenakel, Tanna's somewhat decrepit main centre. We are taking advantage of a nice beam wind to make the 130 mile hop back to Marè in the Loyalties where we will stop for a few days while a big fat high (bfh) rolls by below us, strengthening the trade winds to an uncomfortable strength.
Our main purpose in going to Vanuatu was to extend our customs limit on Saraoni in New Cal. By leaving and re-entering we are allowed another 6 months before an import tax of 18% is payable. We don't need an extra 6 months, but we do want enough time to choose when to make the hop down to Aotearoa rather than be forced out by the Douanes
It's a bit of a culture shock going to Vanuatu. New Cal. is an affluent western country, albeit with an indigenous 3rd world layer. Kanaky in New Cal. is like Vanuatu, but bolstered by an economic subsidy from the French state. Is Vanuatu poor? In many ways, it is, but the ni-Vanuatu are a resilient, self-reliant lot. The majority of the people own their own land, build their own homes, grow all their own food, have few problems with crime or violence and have retained a strong identity with their family, tribe, language and culture. There's no easy economic value to place on all that, otherwise they would probably be considered a lot wealthier.
We'll be back in Vanuatu on our next trip up to the islands, whenever that is. It's not such an easy country to visit, as the chain of islands stretches South East / North West. Any progress along the chain makes it agonising getting back against the trades. It's easier to head on to the Solomons, then PNG and Australia.
Tanna, in particular, is a popular, but tricky place to visit. It's the second island in the chain from the South after Aneityum, where we stopped last year. The only safe anchorage is Port Resolution. This is close to Tanna's famous active volcano, Mt Yasur, but there is no way to clear Customs and Immigration there, no bank and no fuel unless you pay someone to take you over to Lenakel, an expensive 1 and a half hour ride on a rough road. Lenakel has the services, but it's not close to the volcano; its 'anchorage' is pretty hairy at the best of time and has to be abandoned quickly in any onshore winds, or big southerly swell. We must have had two of Lenakel's calmest days, but the rollers crashing on the reef that gave the anchorage some shelter, were still quite spectacularly unnerving!
Another difference between the close neighbours of New Cal. and Vanuatu - it's a lot warmer further north! The southern winter sailing months in New Cal. are more like a NZ summer. It's great for walking and cycling, but a bit on the cool side for swimming, snorkelling and diving. Tanna was a lot warmer; the water off Lenakel was crystal clear and significantly warmer than New Cal.
Thanks must go to Iau and Willie, Lenakel's Customs and Immigration officers. Iau kept in touch with us all the way from Kuto in the Isle of Pines. What bureaucrat anywhere in the world would send you a personalised email after leaving a country thanking you for visiting and wishing you a safe trip? Can you imagine that when flying into and out of somewhere as an ordinary tourist? Vanuatu Customs is up there in our estimation for general niceness, with Fiji and Yemen. Maybe Yemen is still ahead! The Port official in Aden actually burst out in song after welcoming us on radio when our yachtie convoy of 20 arrived off that country's troubled port city back in 2010. More was to come when we checked in, when all we got were smiles, and 'Salaam Aleikums!' Poor Yemen and the Yemenis, now devastated by a forgotten but deadly civil war, sponsored and subsidised by the U.S. and the Saudis.
Coastal supply boat at the Lenakel wharf
Coastal supply boat leaving Lenake
Outrigger with a Mercury outboard