A brisk sail from Ambrym brought us to Sandwich Bay, one of the most sheltered anchorages in Vanuatu. The mangrove lined bay houses a small, friendly village. This was the only village that we visited in Vanuatu where the second language was French rather than English. One of the families runs a small cafe/shop where we were able to order fresh bread, fruit/veg from their garden and benefit from their free book swap.
We deemed the dirt road through the village to be compact and smooth enough for our folding bikes, so we took a cycle in the heat to the next town and then back on ourselves up the river. There have been several shark attacks in the bay so swimming was not an option. Fishing boats process their catch and dump the remains in the already cloudy water of the bay, attracting big sharks. The upper section of the river can be explored by dinghy. We enjoyed a down wind sail then paddle upriver before our friends on Vega caught us up and kindly offered a tow back against the tide and wind.
The Maskelyne Islands
Friends Andi and Gemma on ‘Paws’ had arrived in the Maskelyne Islands, 12 miles around the corner, so we shot out of Sandwich bay to catch up with them. The tides can cause awful seas in the entrance to the Maskelynes but our early start and arrival at slack tide gave us a smooth entrance. Things changed when we reached the anchorage Paws were in. The wind was against the tide which was now ripping through the anchorage and they were skating about on their anchor, not good in an anchorage littered with coral bommies. After a quick hello their anchor was up and we were sailing in company to Awei, an anchorage with better holding, less tide and more protection from the wind. We spent a great couple of days in excellent company, enjoying a fire on the beach, and walks ashore.
Bennington, a lovely local lady is setting up a small restaurant by the beach and welcomes sailors into her gardens to choose their own fresh, organic produce. We enjoyed a fire ashore one evening with her and a couple of friendly sailing families.
A walk up the hill took us past the school and school gardens. School children are responsible for tending their own gardens. Large groups of teenagers passed us carrying huge machetes, meat cleavers and catapults. Vanuatu must be one of the few places on earth where this is both normal and completely safe. Instead of intimidating stares, we received heartfelt hellos, big beaming smiles and if we were lucky, the offer of some freshly harvested fruit.
We would have loved to have spent some more time on Epi and visited some of its other anchorages but a weather window appeared for us to easily get back south and we didn’t feel we could miss it.
Situated on the island of Efate, Havannah Harbour is the most sheltered anchorage within a day sail of the capital of Port Villa. This made it a good spot to wait for our friends on Bright Moments to arrive.
Having spotted a huge super yacht aground on the reef, we sailed the dinghy up for a closer look. We had heard that it had blown ashore on the reef during a major cyclone 3 years ago but were surprised to find that the crew still work to look after it. We spent a morning with one of the crew who kindly showed us around. He was on board along with 2 others during the cyclone. They were all understandably terrified. As the yacht was impounded by the Vanuatu government at the time, it has taken a long time to be resolved. Things were starting to sound more positive for her future; the nearby village (a stones throw from the yacht) have been receiving some remuneration and there are plans in place to get her moving. They hope to drag her off and get her floating on a super tide later this year, then she will be sold, refurbished and then put back to work in charter.
Sailing Florence to meet Jim and Linda, we spotted another yacht on a reef. They had just clipped the outer edge of a reef but were firmly aground, trying to use their sails to heel the boat over and free themselves. As the conditions were calm we were able to take one of their halyards from the top of their mast, out to Florence. We then motored off to one side to heel them over far enough for them to skirt over the reef into deeper water. It’s likely that they would have floated off on the next high tide but they were grateful of the help and we were happy to try out the theory we had read about and enjoy the bottle of wine we received in thanks.
In the company of Jim and Linda we hiked up the nearest hill, checked out the local WW2 museum (an eccentric local’s collection of coke bottles and other memorabilia) and checked out the local snorkeling spots. Despite being one of the main snorkeling areas advertised for tourists visiting Port Villa, we found the reefs to be in poor shape, in both the lack of live coral and number of fish.
As both ourselves and Bright Moments were running out of provisions and things to do in Havannah Harbour, we moved round to the capital of Port Villa.
Although extremely developed in comparison to the rest of Vanuatu, Port Villa still lacks the major traffic jams and general craziness of your average capital. There is a great fruit and vegetable market and a couple of good supermarkets, both of which we visited on multiple occasions. The weather had turned for the worse so we got on with boat jobs, broken up by playing cards and eating delicious food in the good company of Jim and Linda. It was especially great to spend time with Jim and Linda as from here we were parting ways. Without the same time restraints or stupid ideas of sailing all the way around the world, they were heading back to New Zealand while we were continuing West to New Caledonia and then Australia. Having spent time sailing together in four different countries, they have become like family, which made saying goodbye difficult. This life involves a lot of goodbyes but it doesn’t make them any easier.