28 Sep Fiji to Vanuatu passage and Vanuatu visit
We left Port Denarau, Fiji on Saturday, September 7. Our passage was quite boisterous to start, with late afternoon & evening winds in the 20-knot range. We had SE cross swell that was in the 6-9-foot range, and it was rocky and rolly. Not our favorite, but as always, we endured!
On day two, the West winds eased and were in the 14-17 knot range, the swell quieted and we had a beautiful sail. At 0100 the winds had diminished, and the motor went on. When I awoke around 0900, there was a strong onion-like, burning smell, when Dick opened the engine compartment the smell became really strong. We turned off the engine and sailed under partial main and genoa.
Dick went into full investigation mode and found the start battery cover dripping acid and battery too hot to touch!!! He disconnected the battery and smothered it in baking soda. The engine compartment seemed extremely warm before the battery was disconnected. We switched to the house batteries, so the engine could still be started. All seems to be ok!? Luckily, a fire was averted!
For the rest of the passage we continued to have light winds, varying between 4-9 knots, we sailed whenever we could, but in reality, we motor-sailed for the rest of the trip.
On September 11 at 0800 we arrived at the southern-most island in Vanuatu; Aneytium and dropped anchor in Anelghowhat Bay. In the bay is Mystery Island, which is a Cruise ship destination. Vanuatu, formerly New Hebrides, is an archipelago of 83 islands and is around 1,750 km east of Australia. We had received permission via email to check-in to Vanuatu at Aneytium, however, there were no cruise ships stopping in the near future, so we were told we needed to check-in at either the island of Tanna or the capital of Port Villa. We had our quarantine flag flying for several days while we chilled and explored the area. One afternoon we dinghied to the beach and scouted the local village, Keamu. We found the visitor’s center (that was mostly there for cruise ships), a bank, and a couple small shops. Luckily one of the villagers gave us directions to an out of the way shop, where we could pick up a local sim card for cell service access. We also enjoyed snorkeling and walking around a quiet Mystery Island.
We took our time getting to the Island of Tanna, as we were enjoying the peace and quiet of Aneytium (we were the only cruisers in our anchorages). When we arrived in Port Resolution, on September 17, there were several other cruising boats. We launched the dingy and contacted the Port Resolution Yacht Club on the radio as they were to arrange our check in to Vanuatu. As it was late afternoon, we stayed aboard Maia and enjoyed our evening in the cockpit, watching the sunset and then seeing the glow from the Mount Yasur volcano, light up the sky!
Our week in Port Resolution went quickly with our walks around the area, close-up visit to Yasur (what a surreal experience), a bumpy and beautiful drive into the large town of Lenakel, boat projects, including our Go West Rally application and a few gatherings with other yachties. Now that we had joined “the Down Under, Go West Rally” we had a timetable to depart Vanuatu in about a week and continue our sail West.
On September 23, we enjoyed a brisk day sail to Dillions / Williams bay on the island of Erromango. Our max speed for the day was 11.8 knots! & we were sailing with reefed sails for most of the day. As we got behind the Island, we thought the wind was calming, and un-reefed the main, but soon there-after the wind picked up with force. We reefed the main again, (have we mentioned how much we like our Leisurefurl – in boom roller fulling with electric winch?)!
We were anchor down in the large beautiful Williams Bay at 1714. Early the following morning we were welcomed by Davey, a “older” gentleman who paddled out to us in his newly built dugout canoe with an outrigger. He brought us papaya, bananas, and a large lemon. He asked for rice, flour and sugar and offered to take us on a walk on the island. We met Davey on the beach at 10:30 and walked us up a beautifully landscaped path to the “Yacht Club” that he had built himself! Davey introduced us to his wife, and we presented them a few “gifts”. Then Davey took us on an engaging walk through the small village, beautiful forest and to the river where we had a lovely dip at the swimming spot. He was a good tour guide and explained about this and that as we walked. That afternoon he stopped by Maia to pick up some diesel and came aboard for a chat and a cup of coffee.
At 1700 we had the engine on and as the sun set were leaving Williams Bay. We had an ok overnight sail to Port Villa with winds 16-24 knots and rolly swell that increased as the night wore on. We were happy to arrive at 0800 to the Port Villa Harbour.
Whew, we had a blur of a visit to Port Vila. Upon our arrival in the bay (on Sept 25), we called Yachting World marina on the radio, trying to find out if there were any mooring balls available. Otherwise, we would anchor on the outside. We got no reply, so we slowly made our way into the inner harbor, going through the narrow red and green markers, only 5 feet deep! and then under the low wires, whew, we made it! We scouted around for free mooring balls and saw some white, yellow, and black, which were the correct ones? We hailed a dingy, loaded with other cruisers, they said find a free yellow one, and there should be a guy coming to help. As we looked around, we saw the marina guy coming our way. He helped us tie up to a mooring ball and said we could check in at any time. Once we straightened up on deck, it was nap time. When we got up from the short nap, we hauled the dingy off the deck and put the motor on. Then gathered laundry, shopping bags and packs, as we were heading into Port Vila to check a few things off our list.
As we dinghied in, we noticed Shamata at the fuel dock, (a boat we had met in Mexico and had seen occasionally as we cruised around the Islands). We stopped by and chatted with them and they gave us a quick synopsis of Port Vila; where to go, the best stores, restaurants…. After our quick hello, we registered with the marina, dropped the laundry at the office, and were on our way to start exploring the Port.
We decided to wander up the hill to the grocery store and Indian Restaurant (run by a southern California couple!) that was recommended. Our trip was successful, as lunch was yummy, the grocery store had just what we needed, and we found a well-stocked hardware store that had the dinghy motor oil that was also on the list. While I grocery shopped, Dick went to the cell phone counter to top off our local sim card. The woman at the counter was not able to help (because of a language difference), but the security guard stepped in and found that we had already paid for additional time, so he updated the phone. Angels are everywhere!
We walked back to Maia with full packs. We stopped and picked up part of the laundry that was finished (luckily the sheets had just dried). BTW, it was fantastic to drop the laundry off while we were out getting other things accomplished, especially since we were cramming a lot into a short visit. We stayed aboard for the evening, had a granola making session and enjoyed a quiet evening in the harbor.
Friday was check out of Vanuatu day, which did not go quite as planned. We stopped by the office on our way in and were told the electricity was out, so the Port would not open until 1:00. We decided to take a walk around town and enjoyed the sights of the city. We walked past the happening farmers market, there were beautiful flowers and lots of fruits and veg inside the open-air market. We took a long walk along the waterfront and then enjoyed a nice relaxing lunch at lovely restaurant.
After lunch we took a dinghy ride across the harbour and tied up to a Customs & Immigration boat. As we walked into the building there was a group of others appearing to also be checking out of the country. We were handed forms to fill out and once those were complete, they were handed in and we were told to go to Immigration, and to Ports & Marinas to pay our fees. As we were finishing up with Customs, I noticed we were the last yachties in the building. I realized we just made it in time to check out before the offices closed! As we arrived at the Fuel dock, they were closing but told us to quickly get our fuel containers and they would fill them. Next time we will be timelier with our check-out procedures!!!
September 28 at 0430 the engine was on and we were on our way to New Caledonia!