Blog, Vanuatu

Sailing to Vanuatu

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Denerau Marina

A sense of excitement and relief overcame us as we left Denerau marina, having checked out of Fiji. The ‘pirate’ tour boats, super yachts, hotels and Hard Rock Cafe here in the marina felt a world away from the rural parts of the country that we loved.

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Motoring out of the Marina

Our destination was Tanna an actively volcanic island in Vanuatu, 500 miles away. The huge main island of Fiji blocked the wind for miles and we had to resort to using the engine to motor out of it’s wind shadow and get into the trade winds. The trade winds themselves were lighter than usual so the confused seas continually slammed the wind out of our sails. This makes for frustrating sailing and difficultly sleeping, although Matt took advantage of the lack of progress and jumped over the side for a swim.

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Fresh food on passage. The markets in Fiji were excellent.
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The breeze filling in briefly

The slow progress gave plenty of time for debate; where were we actually going?! We had requested permission to visit the most southern island before checking in but the authorities had lost our first emails and then after a couple of phone calls had returned our permission paperwork with the wrong boat name. This left us unsure of what we were actually allowed to do. It was difficult getting any clarity on this or the additional cost to check in at Port Resolution; usually the best anchorage on Tanna but not an official port of entry. The wind was also switching to the NE, a direction the sailing instructions say can make the Port Resolution anchorage untenable. With this in mind we made the decision to check into Lenakel, the main port and location of the customs office, even though this had been described by friends as “the worst anchorage we have ever stayed in”.

The wind died as we rounded the island, allowing us to safely anchor in a tiny spot by Lenakel wharf. Despite the calm conditions waves were crashing on the reef beside us and we spent an hour finding a clear patch for the anchor before sunset.

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Waves breaking over the reef
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Our track, attempting to find a good spot to anchor without snagging the chain. We eventually successfully anchored at the third attempt. The first had snagged an old wreck and the second just dragged through a thin layer of sand over rock.

Forgetting to bring the fishing line in that night had landed us an unusual catch; a 1 foot long squid. We have a rule onboard Florence that if we kill something, we eat it. Cue a very slimy, inky, messy prep for Calamari, a dish we have both eaten but never prepared. Although battered and flash fried it was edible, we resolved to remember to bring the line in at night in future. The effort to enjoyment radio was not high enough to warrant trying to catch more squid.

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The next morning we tried to raise the authorities repeatedly on the radio as we are not supposed to go ashore without permission. Eventually we decided that we would have to risk a telling off and go ashore to find them. Not wanting to leave Florence alone in the poor anchorage or tie the dinghy against the concrete wharf, Amy dropped Matt ashore to visit the customs office. Despite having agreed a date to check in via email, both the customs and immigration officers were out for the day. Desperate not to stay any longer than we had to, Matt accosted a tax collector in the next office along. He then showed him how to use his printer and politely persuaded him to provide us with a cruising permit, allowing us to legally move around the islands before checking in at the better harbour of Port Villa, two islands up the chain.

Our advice to any yachts visiting Tanna would be to get permission to check in at Port Resolution (we were just unlucky, normally the permission is straight forward). It is well worth the extra 6000 Vatu required to transport the customs officer to you, a cost which can be shared between any yachts arriving on the same day.

With our cruising permit in hand and the wind forecast to switch back, making Port Resolution sheltered again and Lenakel unsafe, we rushed to up anchor. Short chop made the 30 mile sail, partially upwind, uncomfortable and slow. Frustratingly we reached the anchorage just after the sun had disappeared behind the mountains. Knowing that the charts were not actuate, we didn’t want to risk a night entry, so headed back out to sea to spend the night, hove to, drifting back and forth as 25 knot rain clouds passed through.

Below you can see the how the chart in no way resembles the satellite image on which you can also see our actual track. We ignored the chart, concentrated on the satellite image, and also used some GPS way-points that we had from a pilot guide. We never fully trust any one source of information.

The dawn was a welcome sight and we made our way into the beautiful calm of Port Resolution.

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The unpleasant start to our time in Vanuatu was soon forgotten as we left the dinghy on the beach, beside the traditional outrigger canoes to wander around the beautiful and friendly village. The ni-vanuatans still live a very traditional life here, subsistence farming, living in thatch huts and cooking on open fires. With an active volcano glowing above the anchorage we were excited to meet the locals and explore the island. An island which turned out to be one of our most memorable stops yet…

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2 thoughts on “Sailing to Vanuatu”

  1. Hello Matt and Amy … Recently came across your travels on the internet and soaked up all your posts and videos. You guys have done really well and congratulations on sending out such interesting and informative posts – they are so professional! Must be heaps of yachties out there enjoying following your travels. For me, Florence was what drew me to your travels after googling Oyster Heritage Yacht… I also own a Oyster Heritage 37 called Lady Grey. This boat was sailed out from England during the early 1990’s by an English couple who sold it to us back in 1998. We sold her a couple of years later but regretted that decision soon after! However we followed Lady Grey and her subsequent three owners and were fortunate to have her offered back to us last year. She is now berthed back here in Picton with the beautiful Marlborough Sounds on our doorstep. I am a little sad we did not own Lady Grey or know of you when you toured NZ … we would have been very happy for you to have had the use of our boat to explore the Sounds – if you come back let us know! Lady Grey was built in 1984 and is a mirror image of Florence – everything is the same inside and out – even has the Aries vane on the stern. I have recently retired after 35 years selling yachts and launches here in Picton – our business was Vining Shipbrokers Ltd, now renamed Vining Marine Ltd. If there is anything you want to discuss regarding the Oyster Heritage just drop me an email. No doubt like you I know them inside out. All the very best with your travels, have fun and stay safe.
    Kind regards, Phil and Wendy Vining, Box 314, Picton, 7250, New Zealand. Email:
    philvining25@gmail.com

    Liked by 1 person

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