Blog, New Caledonia, Ocean Passage, Vanuatu

Sailing Vanuatu to New Caledonia

A sudden jerk on the lines, caused Florence to heel over as rain hammered into her side. Peering out from the companion way hatch, we were able to see that it was just another rain squall blotting out our view of Port Villa from where we were moored in the harbour. Shutting out the howling wind and rain, and pouring another cup of tea, we were thankful to have the luxury of time and no pressing need to put to sea. An out of season tropical storm had formed to the North of us and was pushing torrential rain and strong winds our way. Waiting to leave on the back of that weather system would mean a slow, light wind 300nm passage to New Caledonia, but also we hoped, a safe, comfortable one too.


The sight of Port Villa, Vanuatu’s capital, dipping below the horizon bought an intense mix of emotions. Excitement, freedom and a great sadness hung in the air as we tried to settle into our offshore routines. Our time in Vanuatu’s more remote islands had been like travelling back in time, fulfilling our romantic notions of the south pacific. It was very hard to say goodbye to it’s friendly, smiling people who seem content to live off the land and maintain their traditional ways.

It is however hard to feel sad for very long when you are doing the thing that you love with the person you love. Setting off into the open ocean, destined for a new country, fully stocked with everything needed to keep our little world moving and independent of the surrounding world is the biggest sense of freedom we have ever experienced. One that still brings tingles to our spines, every time.



Having accepted that we were in for a light wind passage prior to setting off, we were able to resign ourselves to the fact that we were going nowhere fast for the next few days. It is when we slow down that we find we are really able to appreciate our surroundings and easily fall into the rhythm of offshore sailing. Cooking, sleeping and general living is all easier in the flatter seas that normally accompany light winds. Instead of counting down the miles, we found we were happy to drift along, content, aboard our own little floating world.


Without the usual cooling trade winds, the heat of the day was stifling. The indigo depths below us were beginning to look very inviting. Just as we were about to throw a line over the side and take turns for a cooling dip, a loud “whoosh” stopped us in our tracks. A huge male Orca surfaced alongside Florence, blowing air as he made his presence known. Slamming his tail on the water, as an assumed warning, he swam away before we were able to react or get a decent photo of him. Even as we watched him disappear into the distance, it was impossible to regain our appetite for a mid ocean swim.

Killer whale
The Orca’s tall fin disappearing into the distance. The tall dorsal fin indicates it was a male.

The light breeze was threatening to die on us completely as we were approaching an uninhabited section of the Ouvea atoll of New Caledonia. Hoping for a swim and a full nights sleep, we dropped anchor in the stunningly turquoise channel between two islets.


Three healthy looking reef sharks took a keen interest in us as we slipped into the water beside Florence. Although we new they were only curious, it’s still a challenge to slow our heart rate and allow them to loose interest. A longer swim revealed our first leopard shark, a giant clam plus lots of healthy coral and fish. It unfortunately also revealed that the light patch we had dropped the anchor, was not the sand it appeared to be from the surface but hard bedrock, impossible for the anchor to penetrate. Although we had satisfied our need for a swim, we would need to move again before we got that full nights sleep.


It was a long drift across the atoll under spinnaker. Amy entertained herself as we crossed the sheltered lagoon by paddling alongside Florence in the kayak and heading up the mast to take some photos.



A brief stop at Ouvea’s beautiful 25km long beach gave us the sleep we were craving and allowed the wind to return.


It was another overnight sail for us to complete the passage to the main island of New Caledonia to check in at the capital of Noumea.

This relatively short passage, reinvigorated our love of ocean sailing. Yes, it took us 2 days to travel this distance that we would previously travelled in 2 hours by car. But the extra time at sea, just allowed us to fully appreciate the beauty of where we were, who we were with and what we were doing. This sail broke what had started to become a habit of counting down the miles and focusing on our arrival. More than anything we have ever done before, this adventure is all about the journey. The journey is the joy.


Blog, Vanuatu

Last stops in Vanuatu

Sandwich Bay


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.

Our friends on Vega, another 37ft British boat

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.

A traditional sailing canoe; the main mode of transport in The Maskelyne Islands
Locals in canoes would drop by the boats each day here on their way to tend their gardens on the mainland

Epi Island

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.

Buying vegetables from Bennington’s garden, how is that for fresh, organic, plastic free produce!
The reef just by the anchorage provided the best snorkeling of our time in Vanuatu. Lots of turtles were hanging out under Florence.

The reef was full of healthy corals and fish

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.


Havannah Harbour

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.

Jim and Linda with Ernest, the owner of the WWII museum

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.

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.


Blog, Vanuatu

5 Weddings and a Funeral Vanuatu Style

After over 2 years ‘on the road’ we have learned that the best experiences often come from unexpected events in unexpected places. Places we would have previously never even knew existed.

Other than the rough depth of the anchorage, we had little other information on Akham Island. From the information on the chart it looked as good a place as any to spend the night, as it allowed for a lunch stop and swim at a neighbouring island that was not sheltered enough to spend the night. Having suggested our plans to friends on their yacht ‘Vega’, we set off sailing in company.

Sailing in company with Vega

Our arrival at Akham revealed that the small island housed a fairly large village. After a couple of attempts both Vega and Florence were securely anchored; the only yachts in the bay. A large crowd was gathered on the beach as skiff after skiff arrived; each loaded to the gunnels with provisions and people. The crowd and provisions both outnumbered the size of the village; something big was occurring.


Landing the dinghy through the surf, we were met with the usual enthusiastic group of young helpers. Making our way past the stacks of bananas, yam and other provisions gathering on the beach, we reached a village elder named Fred. Fred welcomed us into the village and filled us in with what was happening. His son was getting married in two days time, along with 4 other couples. The 20 day mourning period from a death in the village would also be ending, making 5 weddings and a funeral all in one day. People had travelled from surrounding islands and they were expecting a many more over the next couple of days. Cows were being butchered, vegetables chopped and kava ground ready for the celebrations. In true Vanuatu hospitality we were of course all invited.

The buying of a Bride

The following day we were invited to witness the “buying of a bride” ceremony. Gifts and money are passed from the grooms family, to the family of the bride, to compensate them losing a domestic pair of hands in the family. In Vanuatu and the bride leaves her family (and often her island) to move in with her husbands family. In the past women used to be given to neighbouring tribes as brides to create peace between the tribes. The other tribe would then provide a woman, for marriage, in return; a ‘sister exchange’. We were pleased to know that the 5 marriages that we would be witnessing were marriages of love, initiated by the couples.

Announcing the ceremony via shell horn
Along with ‘the bride price’ of 80,000vt (around£500 – £600) woven floor mats and fabrics are some of the traditional gifts given to the bride’s family by the groom’s family

5 Weddings

The weddings themselves were an interesting mix of Christian and Ni-Vanuatu traditions. The day started in style of a British wedding; with a, bail the dinghy and batten down the hatches torrential rain downpour. By the time we braved it ashore, we expected to have missed the ceremonies. Luckily for us the time schedule was in true Vanuatu style; running a couple of hours behind. Ushered towards the front of the church and encouraged to take photos, we took a pew and sat awaiting the arrival of the wedding party. While the elders had donned a shirt and the women their church dresses, most of the guests were decked out in their smartest t-shirts, shorts and occasional flip flops. We sat wondering what the brides and grooms would be wearing on their big day.


It wasn’t long before we were surrounded by a group of smiling, curious kids, content just staring and exchanging grins with the foreign guests. A hymn book was directed our way as we stood to sing. Was it ruder not to sing or to sing badly and mispronounce the words? Our attempts at singing in Bislama provided further entertainment for our growing crowd of young onlookers.

The already full church became fit to burst with the arrival of the five couples and their many bridesmaids. So what do you wear on your wedding day in tropical Vanuatu? A black suit and tie for the grooms and a white dress and veil for the brides of course! The wedding party were also all covered in patches of white powder to symbolise happiness. Beaming smiles covered the guests faces but the couples themselves remained sombre and stern faced. Divorce is very rare in Vanuatu and each couple had it instilled on them that they are doing a very serious thing in the face of god. To smile or show any sign of light hearted joy would have been disrespectful.

Each couple took turns to exchange vows
The white powder on their cheeks and clothes symbolises happiness

It wasn’t until the cake cutting, make that 5 cake cuttings, after the service that the couples started to crack a smile and show signs of actually liking each other.


Elder Fred very kindly invited us to eat the wedding meal with his family. The dishes included; yam, chicken, beef stew, rice, island cabbage and grapefruit.
The previous evening we had been invited to dinner with another family who shared the traditional ‘lap lap’ with us. Meat is sandwiched between finely grated manioc (a potato like vegetable), wrapped in banana leaves then slow cooked in a hole in the ground covered by rocks heated by a fire. It is then sliced before everyone tucks in while its still hot.

A Funeral

The cake cutting was followed by a walk to the houses at the other end of the island for the presentation of the new grave. A speech was given and flowers placed on the concrete grave. This presentation marked the end of the mourning period. Family who had traveled from nearby islands and villages to mourn for 20 days would now return home. The previous day we had sat around with the family for a meal by the fire. Tears streamed down our faces from the smoke as it was explained to us that the fire used to mask the smell of the body during the 20 day morning period before it was buried. Although the bodies are now buried sooner, the tradition of sitting in the smoke has remained.

The evening brought the standard wedding entertainment; a disco. The young guests had been looking forward to this event for months; a rare opportunity to let their hair down. Let their hair down they did. Alcohol is only consumed on special occasions. Kava and marijuana are usually the vices of choice; probably part of the reason everyone is so laid back. With the young men becoming increasingly boisterous we decided the kids were probably the safest company. Matt soon had a crowd surrounding him, copying his every move. Occasionally his inspiration for crazy new dance moves ran out and he resorted to star jumps; all copied by his enthusiastic crowd of followers. An attempt at the conga left them perplexed and unimpressed. As the evening wore on, the energy of the crowd severely outweighed ours, a few fights were brewing and we were thankful to retreat back to the comfort and safety of Florence. We had only ever been made to feel welcome and had not been threatened in any way but felt it was best to say thank you and goodnight.

It was a real privilege to witness such important life events and be welcomed so warmly. The people of Vanuatu had once again blown us away with their hospitality. We left Akham with full stomachs, full hearts and two big boxes of grapefruit to deliver to family members on the next island we were visiting.

Florence anchored behind a traditional sailing canoe. The outriggers are still used to travel along the coast and between local islands.


A real positive to our experience on Akham was the presence of Timo; a Bulgarian PHD student, documenting the island’s unique language. As well as translating anything beyond the ability of the villagers English, he educated us on life of the island and the correct etiquette of the situation; never to refuse food offered to you, whom to give a thank you gift to etc. Timo’s work was fascinating, he was documenting the language of the village, one of over 100 languages spoken in Vanuatu. Without Bislama, the common language of Vanuatu, people here would be unable to communicate with other villages a canoe ride or walk away. Most families speak the language of the village at home, Bislama is used in school and school children will learn either English or French as their third language.

Black Magic

We later found out that this island was the location of two brutal public hangings of men suspected of performing black magic. The hangings were conducted in 2014, only 4 years previously. They were initiated by chiefs and village elders and at least 40 people were involved. Our unawareness of this during our visit was probably a positive as it allowed us to experience the island without any preconceptions.

The sun setting over Malakula (a large island to the north of Akham Island). Villages close enough to see have a language so different that they would not be able to communicate without the common language of Bislama.


Blog, Vanuatu

Custom Dancing on the Magic Island

The beauty of cruising is not having to stick to a strict schedule. There are no planes to catch or hotels booked. This allows us to take advantage of opportunities that turn up at short notice.

Whilst re-provisioning in Port Villa another yacht told us about a festival that was happening in two days time, on the island of Ambrym, 120 miles to the north of us. The festival would include Vanuatu’s famous Rom dance with impressive traditional costumes and masks. We had not intended to visit Ambrym for another couple of weeks but hurried to finish our provisioning and cast off the mooring for the 24 hour sail to get there.


Just as we were approaching Ambrym and reflecting on how pleasant the overnight sail had been, something caused Florence to shudder, as if we had run aground or hit something. The depth sounder showed depths too deep to register, the chart said we should be in 300+ metres and there was nothing to be seen in the water around us. What on earth was that?

A later news report confirmed that there had been an Earthquake registering 6.3 on the Richter scale a couple of miles to the north of us. Luckily it was too deep in the earths core to cause a tsumani and there was no damage or injury to the neighbouring islands.

That night as we peered out at the active volcanco glowing over the anchorage and marveled at the power of mother nature, we could understand why Ambrym is known by locals as ‘The Magic Island’.

The glow of the volcano, taken from aboard Florence in the anchorage

The magical atmosphere continued onshore the following day. The sound of drumming echoed through the jungle as we gathered in a clearing surrounded by intricately carved totem poles. The ground shook in time to the music as dancers wearing penis sheaths stomped their bare feet on the earth. Each dance told a story, the dancers facing inwards, towards the story teller. As well as generating some money for the village, the festival is held annually with the aim of educating young people and keeping traditions alive.


Magic is a large aspect of life in Vanuatu, with black magic greatly feared and anyone believed to perform sorcery severely punished. Even after over a month in the country we have only begun to scratch the surface of what this really means. This aspect of life is incredibly secretive and not something that most visitors are aware of, let alone witness. Information is gained slowly and carefully, bit by bit, like peeling back the layers of a large onion. We have come to understand that black magic is one of the main concerns of Ni-Vanuatu people. It is a big worry that a sorcerer will cast a spell that will kill you, cause the sea/storms to take your home, or place you under a constant curse. Black magic is taken so seriously that ‘cursed’ children (early disease can be seen as a sign of black magic) may be deserted and there have been recent (2014) public hangings of two men suspected of black magic.

The start of a magic show

Good magic is more openly practiced and includes medicine men, weather men or the ‘Yam King’ who must eat the first yam harvested or the crop is ruined. Magic for show is not seen to be real magic so we were treated to a few ‘magic’ tricks, young boys were carried around the circle, held off the ground by leaves, and we were challenged to pull a palm shoot out of the ground that had been planted with magic (it was impossible). Traditional cooking methodswere also demonstrated. Rough sticks were used to grate casava (a potato like vegetable) which was then stuffed inside a bamboo stick a placed over an open fire to cook.

The final day of the festival held it’s highlight, the Rom dance. Specific to Ambrym, the male only dance portrays the old story of struggle between good and evil. The masked Rom dancers portray evil spirits as they move around the clearing en-mass, stopping their feet and rustling their grass costumes to the loud rhythmic beating of the drum and seed shakers. The ‘good’, unmasked men chant the story of the dance. What starts as a slow, methodical chant builds in volume and vigor until a fever pitch of stomping and singing is reached.

Custom dances are sacred traditions, highly regarded and valued by local tribe members. We felt incredibly privileged to witness such a unique and important celebration.


Blog, Vanuatu

Exploring the Cannibal Island of Erromango

We were sad to leave Tanna, as well as our amazing experience with friends Mary, Jimmy and Felda, we had enjoyed meeting Andy and Gemma on yacht Paws. Enjoying sailing the machine alongside their sailing tender, and getting involved with their project of cleaning plastic from the beaches. However it was time to go, so an early start and a relatively easy downwind day sail, had us anchored in Dillon’s Bay on the island of Erromango before sunset.

Sailing in company with Andi from Yacht Paws
Beach clean up organised by Andi and Gemma as part of the ongoing fight against ocean plastics by

Although it’s one of the larger islands in Vanuatu, Erromango is sparsely populated and rarely visited. It’s dense jungle interior is impenetrable and largely unexplored.


The village of Dillion’s Bay is set on the banks of Williams River. The island has a violent history of cannibalism and tribal warring. The river itself is named after a murdered missionary who unknowingly broke a kastom taboo (traditional law) when he stepped ashore. His punishment was to be killed, traded and eaten by a neighbouring tribe. Prior to the trade, the villagers of Dillon’s Bay, measured his body by carving around it’s stout outline on a rock by the waters edge.

Luckily for us relations with visiting boats have greatly improved. Paddling up the river, past the fishing boats and dug out outrigger canoes, we hauled our kayak up the bank to a small crowd of smiles and warm greetings. We were soon introduced to Chief Jason, who welcomed us into the village with a gift of fresh papaya. Upon hearing we would like to go for a walk along the river bank, Chief Jason offered to accompany us and show us the village gardens. The village is much more modern than those we had visited in Tanna. Chief Jason explained that many of the families here aspire to live in concrete houses with flush toilets. Younger members of the family work abroad picking fruit to gain the funds to buy modern boats, engines and materials for their homes. Jason feels a road for the village’s three vehicles is the next major development needed.

The school holidays meant we saw whole families out in their canoes

We continued down the track to a river crossing where women washed their families clothes on the river banks. The fertile soil and easy access to fresh water mean that the villagers gardens thrive and there is an abundance of fresh vegetables. As well as the usual taro, kasarva and banana, Jason pointed out sandalwood and Kauri trees, both major exports from the island. Early white explorers and traders had used unethical and violent methods to fell the islands valuable sandalwood and kauri trees. Now the export is back in the hands of the locals and seems to be managed sustainably.

Chief Jason

Thanking Chief Jason for his time we set off in search of John William’s famous rock. It proved harder to find than we imagined, and we ended up enlisting the help of some local kids.

Having proudly led us to the point, Abel, Brian and Joshua asked in broken English where we would like to go next. It was decided they would show us some waterfalls up the river. With Abel leading the way, machete in hand we followed them through the village gardens and across the river. Several river crossings later, the path we had been following petered out. Our enthusiastic young guides were undeterred, taking it in turns to hack a path through the jungle or choose a route across the river. They never flinched when jumping barefoot from the slippery rocks or trudging through the harsh jungle floor as we struggled to keep up and slid around, despite our tough hiking shoes. Our attempts to hide the fact that we were struggling with the pace must not have gone unnoticed as we were instructed to sit on the river bank while the boys, disappeared into the bush for fruit and seeds before climbing a tree and hacking down a large bunch of drinking coconuts.


Refreshed, we continued up the river in search of the elusive waterfalls. After the 20th “just around the corner” it became clear that the boys were on as much of an adventure as us. They finally admitted that they hadn’t been this far up the river before but thought there should be some waterfalls. With the light fading, no torch, and no easy trail to follow, we persuaded the boys we should turn back. Their easy acceptance that the steep ravine would have been a waterfall if it had been raining a lot but it was too dry, suggested they were also more tired than they cared to admit.

Safely back at the village


The boys approaching in their dugout canoe

Safely back in the village, we invited the boys to come out and see Florence. They arrived via outrigger canoe the following morning after church. Abel, who spoke the best English, was able to translate as we showed them how we live and sail on-board Florence. By this point an uncomfortable swell had started to cause Florence to relentlessly roll from side to side. This teamed with the amount of milk and food the kids had guzzled meant we were soon conducting a major clean up operation.

Josh fascinated by the “long-see-em’s”. He spent all afternoon looking through them, both ways!

The swell continued to get worse over the next couple of days. Despite deploying our drogue as a flopper stopper, to reduce the rolling, life on-board became uncomfortable enough for us to haul the anchor and head north. We poked our nose into a small anchorage at the north of the island but the holding was poor and the swell still present. Much to the disappointment of the kids who ran out to the reef to greet us, we hauled the anchor once again and set off at dusk for the overnight sail to Port Villa, Vanuatu’s capital.

Ancient human bones in one of the islands many caves used to shelter from violence and tribal war
The bones of a Cheif and his wifes
Blog, Vanuatu

Village Life on Tanna

Still buzzing from the magic of the volcano, we took an afternoon stroll around the bay. From this simple walk came one of the best experiences we have had on our travels so far.

A little way down the jungle lined, dirt road we met Mary, whose village overlooks the bay. Mary, a similar age to us and heavily pregnant with her third child was on her way to her garden to pick food for the family’s dinner. After a brief chat she invited us to join her on her walk to the garden. Loading us with unusual vegetables, she explained what they were and how to cook them. Back at the village she asked if we would like to join her fishing the next day. Although we had planned to move on to the next island we were touched by her generosity and gladly accepted.

We arrived at Mary’s house the next day with some fish hooks and a few gifts of supplies which are hard to get in the village. Some ginger nut biscuits made us instant best friends with her 3 year old daughter Felda, the size of her grin was a sight to see as she clutched them to her chest. Armed with our fish hooks, Mary’s bamboo cane rods and machete, we set off to the beach with daughter Felda and their dog Lucky in tow. Little Felda’s bush craft skills amazed us as we watched her stop to pick up a nut or seed for her mum to open or point out beans or berry’s that she recognised but could not reach. When she wasn’t demonstrating what a vast larder the forest is for the family, Mary shared stories with us of her life in Vanuatu.

Using small hooks baited with a hermit crab (minus the shell) with a cane for a rod we were skeptical about whether we would catch anything. Amy asked the best way to kill the fish when/if we caught one. The response “bite it’s head” made her very happy that the tide was too high to wade out to the reef, limiting the number and size of fish we could catch. We were there for the company more than the fishing, we just felt very privileged to share in this regular, day to day activity.

We were very happy to invite Mary, Felda and Mary’s husband Jimmy on-board Florence for coffee and (importantly for Felda) cookies the next day. It was a pleasure to spend some more time with them and show them how we live aboard and sail Florence. Like many young men from Tanna, Jimmy has been to New Zealand to work on the farms, so he has a good understanding of western culture. Like many of the families we have spoken to, they live the traditional live in the village through choice as they feel it is the best way to provide a good quality of life for their family. Jimmy was keen to know if Matt drank kava. He was pleased we had drunk it in Fiji but urged Matt to make sure he tried Tanna’s kava “the strongest and best in the Pacific, far stronger than that Fijian stuff”.

Mary, Jimmy and daughter Felda on board Florence
Coming out to Florence

That afternoon Jimmy approached in his dugout-outrigger-canoe. Would Matt like to come and drink Kava with him? As a male only event, steeped in custom it is a huge honour to be invited so of course Matt said yes. Jimmy promised to look after him and return him unharmed to Amy as they paddled off in his canoe.

The kava drinking is done at sunset in the Nakamal (male meeting place), an area of the village set aside for this purpose. Jimmy first bought some Kava root from the ‘bar man’ and we watched it being prepared (always by the youngest kava drinker). The first Kava we drank was prepared in a similar way to Fiji, just more concentrated. It was measured out carefully from the bucket with a ladle made from an old plastic bottle. The Kava definitely tasted stronger than on Fiji and after only one bowl I felt the effect with a slightly numb/tingly upper lip.

Jimmy’s cousin then arrived with a fresh kava root in his hand. I was interested to see how this would be prepared so crouched with him and Jimmy to watch. Jimmy’s cousin cleaned the mud from the kava root using a coconut husk as a scrubber, before lifting it to his mouth, ripping off a strip with his teeth and chewing vigorously. The chewing went on for some time before the processed mass is spat out onto a banana leaf. To speed up the process, Jimmy picked up the root and joined the chewing and spitting, until the pile was considered large enough. It was then placed into a fine mesh cloth, wrapped up and squeezed over two coconut shell bowls. I was naively watching this thinking that I had drunk my kava and this was all for Jimmy and his Cousin. So I was a little unprepared when Jimmy handed me a bowl (full to the brim) and said ‘drink’. Having lived all my life in a very sanitised world with stringent food hygiene, the thought of drinking what was presented to me was incomprehensible. Perhaps it was because of how much of an honour I felt it was to be offered this, or maybe it was the affect of the first bowl of kava, but I accepted the bowl and stood up to drink. It is custom to stand up when drinking kava on Tanna and, a bit like in an English pub, you gain more respect if you down it in one, so I did. Wow, that was a lot stronger than the first bowl. Jimmy took me to sit by the chief and gaze into the fire as the kava took effect.

The kava drinking experience here on Tanna is very different to our experience in Fiji. Here the atmosphere is very quiet and reflective. Male friends and family members sit around fires, sometimes quietly chatting, sometimes just watching the flickering patterns of the flames in the fire. The kava is prepared in pairs and drunk in pairs and every body was relaxed and friendly.

My evening continued with another 2 bowls of the ‘good stuff’ before Jimmy led me back through the dark woods to the beach where Amy picked me up. I made the mistake of taking the oars for the row back to Florence which probably accelerated the absorbance of the kava into my blood stream. By the time we were sat back on Florence I was feeling pretty unsteady and Amy observed my pupils were very dilated. So I can confirm that the kava on Tanna is MUCH stronger than the kava in Fiji. That was an amazing cultural experience, that I continued to have flash backs of over for the next few days, disbelieving that I actually drank that…! Still, I am very grateful to Jimmy for sharing this important part of his culture with me. If only I could take him down to our local pub at home.

Here in Port Resolution there is no mains electricity. Only a couple of places in the village have a solar panel linked to a battery, and every body goes to them to get their mobile phones charged (most families have at least one mobile phone between them). When we showed Jimmy around Florence we were able to charge his phone as we have plenty of power on board from our two 125W solar panels. So it was understandable that the next day he paddled out with another device to charge. It was a bit of a surprise though when he reached into the hollowed out tree trunk of his dugout canoe and pulled out a laptop computer! We wondered what he could possibly need a laptop for in village life here? To watch movies of course! We happily put the laptop on charge and then Jimmy took Amy for a paddle around the bay in his canoe to see the steam vents and caves, with Matt following along in The Machine. This was Jimmy’s treat for Amy as it wasn’t custom for her to go kava drinking and she had been admiring the canoe. Paddle completed and laptop charged, we loaded his laptop with new movies for him, Mary and the kids. We laughed that they must have enjoyed them when the laptop came back the next day, the battery, flat as a pancake to be recharged.


Mary and Jimmy had said that they really wanted to cook us a goodbye meal before we left and had made us promise to tell them the day before, so that they could prepare. The kindness and friendship of Mary, Jimmy and Felda really touched our hearts. Before we started on the meal, Jimmy stood up and solemnly said a few words. He explained that they felt touched by the kindness and friendship shared in the same way. He and Mary had decided that when the baby is born, if it is a boy it’s Christian name will be Matthew, and if a girl it will be Amy. What an honour. If ever we make it back to this part of the world, we will make every effort to seek out Mary and Jimmy once more, for they will always have a place in our hearts.

Our farewell meal
Cooking an egg in the steam vent Mary sometimes uses to cook the family meal. The rest of the time cooking is completed on an open wood fire.
Another volcanic steam vent in the bay.
Port Resolution Bay
Blog, Vanuatu

Peering into the Centre of the Earth

We had been watching the red glow of the volcano from the anchorage at night and were both excited and apprehensive about getting a closer look.

The glow of the volcano from the anchorage

Mount Yasur is one of the most accessible active volcanos in the world and you can get to within 150m of the crater rim by 4×4. The activity level of the volcano is monitored, and visits stopped when it becomes too active. We had heard rumours of tourists being hit by lava a couple of weeks previously, and its current activity level was the maximum allowed for a visit.

Despite this risk and the 9,750 Vatu pp entry fee (by the time you include transport that is around £90 pp, making it the most expensive activity of our 2 year trip so far), we could not travel this far and miss the opportunity to peer into the caldera of an active volcano.

The ticket booth, concrete buildings, and legal disclaimer at the entrance to the volcano access were a stark contrast to the traditional thatch village we had just left.

A brief ‘volcano’ dance was performed and a distant rumble could be heard above the dancers stomping feet.


Piled into the back of a 4×4 pickup truck, we clung on up the steep deeply rutted track up onto the plains. Lush green tree ferns and palms encroached onto the track. Cresting the summit onto the ash plain was like entering a different world. The vegetation had been desolated and the barren black ash fields around the rim were littered with volcanic rock, which had been spat from the mouth of the volcano.


We left the 4×4 and marvelled at our prehistoric looking surroundings. As we made our way on foot up the steep slope to the crater rim, a huge roar and boom shook the ground below our feet and whiffs of sulphur filled the air. We were soon peering into the crater itself.


As the sun dipped below the peak, we climbed further along the rim for a better view of the vents in the darkening sky.


All would be quiet, then a huge rumble would shake the ground before red molten rock and smoke were fired from the mouth of the volcano. It would then fall silent again before the cooled lava would fall, hissing and thudding against the inside of the crater rim.


The constant glow created the most mesmerising fire we have ever seen, but the air retained it’s mountain chill. Over the next hour or so mother nature reminded us she is not only in charge, but capable of putting on a show more captivating than anything created by man. It’s strange how being so close to such a deadly force makes you feel so alive.



Mt Yasur is only the start of our trip through Vanuatu, this land and its people promise to deliver an experience like no other available in the world that we are used to.

Blog, Vanuatu

Sailing to Vanuatu

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.

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.

Fresh food on passage. The markets in Fiji were excellent.
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.

Waves breaking over the reef
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.


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.


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…