For my time in SW bay, the weather was not good with strong SE winds and very rough seas with a bIg swell. It was better to stay and wait for better conditions. Eventually the forecast was for the wind to ease and go Easterly and the seas to calm a little. It was around 100 miles to Port Villa so at least a 24 hr passage. Weighing anchor early one morning I headed out of the bay and rounded the end of the reef of Ba Arum point before shaping a course for Efate. Grey at first the seas still fairly rough but throughout the day conditions eased some. I couldn’t quite make the correct course due to wind and waves so had to tack eastwards at some point. The night passed quietly with the wind having eased to easterly 15 – 17 knots, but shortly after dawn with Efate in sight I was virtually becalmed. Actually this did me a bit of a favour as under engine I could set a direct course which probably saved me a couple of hours. Rounding Devils point I crossed the bay and soon could pick up a mooring in Port Villa.
Port Villa mooring field
Here I could shower, drop of my washing, do some much needed shopping for supplies and have a coffee and a meal. I also needed some time to rest and then prepare for the passage to New Zealand. One of the chores was scrubbing the hull so that I might comply with NZ strict bio-security laws. I took 2 long mornings to do this, diving under the hull in a face mask armed with scraper and scotch pad, it is quite exhausting work. Checking the forecast it looked like there was fairly decent weather window coming up so I decided to leave on the Monday. First thing Monday then I took a bus up to the customs wharf to complete my clearance papers and pay the harbour dues. A bit of last minute shopping for bread and fresh veg and then it was time to pack up and stow the dinghy and cast off from the mooring.
I knew for the first couple of days I would have headwinds so would have to tack but was lead to believe by the forecast that the wind would go easterly then fall light maybe even calm before getting into westerlies near NZ. Trouble was as I was to find the forecast was nothing like the conditions I found. I did have to tack quite bit those first few days as I was getting pushed westwards and my rhumb line course was towards the SE/SSE. All this of course adds to the distance to be travelled and the time. 4 days out and I was close to the reefs and banks of the SE end of New Caledonia and my course was heading straight for the Banc de L’Orne forcing me to tack to the East to clear it. 8 days out and a ran into a calm patch so I motored for just over 24 hours to get through this. During this time I had the only rain of the passage. I had spotted a nasty looking rain cloud dead ahead so had altered course to try and skirt it. Looked liked I might succeed at one point but I either didn’t skirt it enough or there was no avoiding it anyway. Still wasn’t so bad, a brief increase in wind than torrential rain for 20 mins. Still it will have washed away some of the salt coating of Sea Bear.
Relaxing on a benign day on passage
The wind returned so sailing again. The latch spring on the servo paddle of the wind vane steering gear broke so it was disengaged. It say something for Sea Bear’s sailing abilities she kept on her close hauled course no bother and that I only noticed that the tiller was steady whilst the wind vane altered. Peering over the stern the paddle was trailing uselessly in the water. I managed to re-engage the latch and lashed it shut.
10 days out and I was passed by another yacht and we had a chat over the vhf, mainly about the weather. We were less than 300 miles from New Zealand by now and should have been getting SW or W winds however we were faced with relentless strongish SE’lys. These persisted for some 5 days
My worst day was having logged 101 miles noon to noon I had only made 37 miles net gain towards NZ, next day 88 miles noon to noon but just 35 miles gained in the right direction. It was pretty depressing and I was feeling pretty low.
Eventually however just after dawn 15 days out I came within sight of New Zealand, at first the coast had coyly hidden its-self behind a bank of haze but it was gradually revealed. A big pod of dolphins came swimming around the boat, leaping out of the water as if to say welcome to New Zealand.
Just past Tikitiki rock at the entrance to the Bay of Islands a NZ customs rib came by for a few words. They said they were expecting me as they had picked me up on AIS and the customs would be ready for me at the quarantine dock. Some I was tying up at the dock and clearance into New Zealand proceeded.
It had been a tough passage, 1557 miles logged as opposed to rhumb line course of 1,100 miles and just short of 15 days, I was glad to get in and felt in need of a rest.
I had meant to leave Vahine Bay early for the passage to 48 miles to Espiritu Santo but I was awake very early indeed and failing to get back to sleep thought I would get up and leave anyway. So by 3.30 I was underway, still dark of course but no problems or dangers leaving the anchorage in this bay. Following the coast westwards I just needed to keep far enough offshore to avoid the Minerva reef. I had put a waypoint in the plotter to assist here. Later as the light grew I was joined by a group of dolphins, always a delight this. It had started calm and so motoring but gradually the wind filled in SE 12-15 knots. It looked like I might be in for some rain squalls as we were heading for a line of them. Somehow though we managed to slip though, one passing in front and the next just passing behind. Much later I was approaching the Diamond passage which gives access to the big lagoon between the outlying islands and the main island of Santo itself. The passage was hard to make out from a distance but became clearer as we neared, helped by the prominent rusty wreck of a freighter on the reef of the southern point of Aise island. Diamond passage proves no difficulties at all it being wide and deep. Inside I turned south, thinking to anchor at Palikula bay. The approach was complicated with a narrow and shallow entrance between unmarked reefs, just the water colour to guide you where the reefs lay. I got through the first set and anchored in the recommend outer position. I could see a boat at anchor in the inner bay but I didn’t fancy the way through without a spotter on the bow. I didn’t like where I was, it was calm but a long way from shore and surrounded by reefs I felt trapped. I made a cup of tea and had a bite to eat to recover my composure then weighed anchor and very carefully retraced my path in. Out clear I could breath a sigh of relief and head up to anchor north of the Diamond passage in the lee of Aise Island where I had a very peaceful night.
In the morning I decided to visit Hog harbour and Champagne beach apparently the finest beach in Vanuatu. Exiting through the Undine passage I headed north up the coast, it turned out to be a sunny day with barely any breeze to help us on our way so we motored for a large part.
Turning into the large bay of Hog harbour past Lathu island I anchored off Lonnock beach. There were a 4 boats anchored here already and it took a while to find a suitable clear patch of sand between the coral to anchor. I spent a few days here, swimming, a walk to the village, a visit to the very low key resort ashore where I treated myself to a meal.
Of course I visited champagne beach in the dinghy. I found it a bit spoilt really with buildings by the beach built to cater for the tourists and jetty for the cruise ship launches.
When I left I had a hard beat back against strong SE’erlys to Aise island. This time I anchored south of the shallow patch and this was a better spot than previously. I could could creep further inshore, there was more sand , fewer bommies and I found a good spot in 6m.
There was a small (but still bigger than Sea Bear) yacht inshore of me inhabited by a French man from New Caledonia, a true “vagabond du mer” he was. We had a long chat.
There was a strong wind warning out which persisted fro several days so although I wanted to keep on moving it would not have been good to go to the anchorage at Luganville which is quite exposed to SE & E winds. I did move across the lagoon to anchor at Surundu bay. Entry was through a fairly narrow passage in the reef but the seas were breaking heavily on both sides which at least gives you a good indication where they are. The deep water in the pass is fairly close to the northern reef so it was a little alarming passing so close to the breaking waves. Inside was lovely and sheltered both from wind and waves.
I dinghed to the beach and hitched a lift in a pickup truck into Luganville, the second biggest town in Vanuatu where I could but some much needed supplies.
Luganville was the centre of American operations in New Hebradies during the 2nd world war and that legacy shows in the broad paved main street and a number of surviving consett buildings.
A few days later with the weather just a little not so rough I sailed around to Luganville via the Segond channel. The anchorage was a bit choppy but not too bad. I wanted to be here as this was around 14miles closer to my next objective of Malakula. This was about 35 miles away so an early start was in order. Dawn was just breaking when I left, a little way back up the Segond channel and I could turn round the tip of Aore island and head for the Diver strait between the islands of Abokisa and Tutuba. Here the wind seemed to be funnelling through the gap blowing had with a big swell so it was unpleasant for a while but through the strait conditions thankfully eased. With the wind from Se I couldnt quite set the course I wanted so I knew I would be in for a far bit of tacking. One tack S was sort of in the required direction but it gradually closed the coast so I had to tack E, not where I wanted to go to gain clearance. After several tacks I could clear the SE corner of Malo island and I know had a better slant on the wind as I headed out across the Bouganville strait towards the NW corner of Malakula. The only fly in the ointment was that it meant passing through the overfalls off Malo, but they looked worse than they turned out to be and I was soon through. Just after reaching and passing the North cape of Malkula the wind died, this wasn’t just because I was now in the lee of the island and it started to rain too, but it didn’t last long. A few more miles which seemed to take forever and I could head into Malua bay where I anchored in 7m off a brown sand beach. A fisherman in his dugout came to say hi and gave me 3 mangoes so I gave him some fishhooks and a lure.
It had been a tough day 48 miles logged and 10 hours sailing time.
Next day was another tough one tacking first S the E with a strong SE wind 20-25 knots and a big southerly swell running. I’d left at 6 but it was after 4 when I got into Lamboubou harbour. Distance logged 41 miles I was quite sure what conditions inside here would be like as it struck me that the swell would be running straight in, but my options were limited as if was about 20 miles to the next anchorage.
As it turned out although there was some swell running in it was much diminished and the bay was completed sheltered from the wind. In consequence Sea Bear swung on her anchor to align herself at first bow on to the slight swell and then later in the night when the tide turned stern too. There was no rolling just a gentle nodding to lull you gently to sleep.
That 20 miles to the next anchorage turned out to be 30 miles after all the tacking necessary and took me 8 hours. The tacks S were particularly unpleasant straight into a big S swell with the strong SE wind generating waves on top. The only small consolation was a group of dolphins playing around the boat for a while. Eventually however we gained the shelter of Metenover or SW bay, that is shelter from the waves and swell but not the wind. I dropped the hook in about 6m. I had been feeling grumpy about this hard passage as I hadn’t eaten or drank anything since the morning but I could now remedy that.
Ambae from Loltong bay
Morning dawned, although overcast it looked suitable for moving on so I weighed anchor and motored carefully out between the shallow patches. Once clear I hoisted sail and set course for Maewo the next island to the north about 10 miles away. The forecast was for an E wind 10-15 knots but oh how wrong this was. It wasn’t long before the weather closed in and I was hit with a vicious rain squall 25 knots plus of wind, torrential rain and almost no visibility. Fortunately I had clear water all around. The squall eased after a while but then I was hit by an even fiercer one perhaps 30 -35 knots. I was down to just a triple reefed main at this point but the seas were building with breaking crests, it was far from pleasant.
Eventually it passed and the weather looked to be improving. I passed two yachts exiting Asanvani bay my next objective. Entry to this was fairly straightforward as long as good offing was given to Teterigi point and its off lying rocks.
A fairly deep anchorage this I dropped the hook in 14m in sand and rocks. In consequence the anchor chain spent my stay here grumbling over the rocks as the boat swung to the tide and breeze. Nevertheless it was a pretty spot with sea caves, a waterfall that tumbled almost into the sea and a white coral sand beach. I explored the sea caves by dinghy but they were dissappointly shallow, but nearby there were some nice corals amongst the rocks and some brightly coloured fish.
I visited the waterfall and had a long chat with the owner of the little bar at it’s foot. It was closed at present but he told me of the place and off the dramatic views from here when Ambae erupted in 2018 and off all the ash that it deposited.
Waterfall Asanvari bay
I walked through the village and to the other side of the point for a fine view back to Pentecost.
Pentecost from Maewo
Some Ausies in a big Beneteau were anchored here too, They came over for a couple of chats and seemed quite intrigued oh now I managed on my own.
Sunset Asanvari bay
Leaving Asanvani I sailed a little way northwards up the coast of Maewo. This was partly to get a better slant on the wind for crossing to Ambae but also to see some of the waterfalls for which Maewo is renowned and there were lots. It was tempting to go further North but I was aware that time was running out and beside there was a bit of a SW swell which would have made any anchorages up the coast uncomfortable.
Heading over to Ambae I had a very pleasant sail, wind about 12-15 knots on the quarter and light seas. Oh if only all sailing could be that pleasant!
The entrance to Lolowai bay, which is a drowned old volcanic crater, is a little tricky. You have to skirt closely a steep cliff, once a crater wall then cross a coral flat across the remains of part of the crater wall. My depth gauge read 3m and the boat draws 1.5m so not much water under the keel. There are some leading marks to give you the right line but it is worrying stuff all the same. Once in the depth increases and you are in a wonderful calm circular basin protected from most directions. I anchored in about 12 m in black sand and could recover my composure with a welcome cup of tea.
Ashore there was a shop and wonderfully they had bread and some beer, I had been dry for days.
Over the next few days I took some walks, SE along the track towards the airport, W up to a lake over the ridge and S steeply up the back wall of the bay to a ridge and followed to a viewpoint looking far down to the bay.
At the boat one afternoon I was visited by a group of swimming children who delighted in climbing aboard (at my invite) and leaping off from the pulpit.
The French couple who I had first meet in Aneityum turned up and anchored in the bay.
I was ready to move on again, a fairly long leg to Espirito Santo for which I would need a very early start. I planned to exit the bay, which you can only do after half tide and anchor just around the corner in Vanihe Bay. All packed up, dinghy stowed and ready late afternoon but a check on the forecast showed a strong wind warning for next day 20-25 knots of wind and rough seas so I put the move off.
Next day was better on around high tide in the late afternoon using the leading marks I motored out over the coral flat and around the cliff headland to anchor off a black sand beach in 7 m. A lovely spot this too, the beach was backed by steep cliffs and there was no access by land so it was unspoilt.
My last few days on Ambrym were bedevilled with rain and strong winds and i didn’t achieve much. With the wet weather I gave up on trying to get to Fanla and thought it time to move on to the next island in the chain, Pentecost. At last wind wise we had a reasonable forecast, that is not too strong although showers were promised for the afternoon. It being about 12 miles across to Pentecost I could do that in a morning and hopefully be safely at anchor before rain. It was not to be. It was drizzling lightly when I weighed anchor in the morning, little wind at first but it soon picked up and I set a double reefed main and the yankee. With a strongish wind on her stern quarter, this is a combination that Sea Bear seems to like and she was going well. Unfortunately the wind speed indicator instrument had stopped working, the sensor cups at the mast head were not rotating at all. A bit of a blow this.
I passed a large school of what I thought must be pilot whales, adults and young. They were too large for dolphins and had a more leisurely motion, a pleasure to see.
A few miles short of Homo bay it came on to rain very heavily and the wind died too. visibility was appalling. Fortunately the approach to anchor in Homo bay is very straightforward with no offshore dangers. Just a matter of heading for the beach until you reach a suitable depth to anchor. I dropped the hook in 10 m about 100 m from the beach, the rain continuing to pour down. The rain didn’t deter two locals from the village paddling out in their dugout canoes to see me. Later in the afternoon it stopped raining and they returned with fresh prawns, grapefruit, bananas, & water cress for me to buy.
I went ashore and watched them prepare Kava and had a couple of glasses with them before returning to the boat to cook the fresh prawns for my dinner. Delicious cooked with garlic and ginger on a bed of rice.
Next day I went ashore and took a walk with chief Sam to a huge Banyan tree and then dug up some water Taro.
Back at his hut he prepared what he called laplap. Basically boiled Taro and Yam then mashed with a little fresh coconut milk and rolled out on a special slab of wood and more coconut milk puddled over the top. It was OK but hardly a gastronomic wonder.
Mashing Taro & Yam
In the afternoon I walked along the beach and track as far as Cook’s rock (yes that man again).
I moved anchorage to the next bay, Wali bay. Pentecost is home to land diving, Bungi jumping is derived from it. I had hoped to see one of the land diving towers here but it had fallen down. They are temporary structure from trees & branches bound together with vines. They only land dive in April & May when the vines they use for “bungies” are green and pliable enough. However they was apparently still a tower standing at the next village Rangusuksu so I walked along the coast to see it.
Land diving tower
Back at the boat I moved further north up the coast, anchoring in Waterfall bay. After asking permission at the village I walked up to the waterfall. The plunge pool was a bit difficult of access and not so good for a bathe but to stand in the cool spray was very refreshing and I did bathe in a pool just a little way downstream.
Moving on next day I sailed up the coast and entered Loltong bay. The entry was between two shallow reefs which supposedly dry, there are leading marks to help you in but they are difficult to pick out and see until you are reasonably close in. It was one of those heart in mouth approaches taking it slow and steady. inside I anchored in 5m on sand. The holding is good but you do feel a bit surrounded by reefs.
I saw turtles here and also what I thought was probably a dugong.
I had a walk ashore through the village next day, visited a cave and a fresh water spring on the beach, the water just bubbling up through the sand and pebbles.
Fresh water spring on beach
It rained hard in the afternoon with very poor visibility, that laid to rest any half formed plans of moving on in the afternoon.
I weighed anchor and left Lamen Bay at first light, at first there was no wind but it soon kicked in. I settled on a double reefed main and yankee setting course one through between Lamen Island and the NW tip of Epi for Sangorpitu point on Ambrym. There was some good scenery, to the East was the perfect conical active volcano of Lopevi with a little closer the island of Paama.
Away to the west was the island of Malakula and ahead to the North Ambrym itself with the twin volcanoes of Benbow and Marum.
Benbow & Marum volcanoes, Ambrym
With a good wind I soon made the 27 miles to Craig Cove, but although I ventured into the bay as far as the anchorage I didn’t stop. To my mind it was not sheltered enough , its a deep anchorage too so getting a suitable depth to anchor looked too close to the shore and besides it is said the holding is not good. Since it was still before midday I carried on, rounding Dip point to the lee of the island. I did investigate the anchorage at Baoumi point but there was a little bit of swell here and again it didn’t feel sheltered enough. Carrying on soon the wind increased and I had 30 knots close hauled. I eventually anchored off the black sand beach at Ranvetlan in 7 m. This felt right, more sheltered although the wind was still very strong with williwaws, causing the boat to sheer about quite wildly at times. Miles run 45 in 9hrs 45 mins. I had seen only 1 yacht all day, that anchored in deep water just past Baoumi point.
The wind remained strong with a strong wind warning for the next two days. A NZ boat arrived next afternoon and they later reported that they had had 37 knots of wind. I stayed aboard all day.
On the beach, Ranvetlam
Next day although still windy it wasn’t so bad so I ventured ashore. I met a group of school kids walking back along the beach to their village from school. I walked along the beach and then the track to the village of Ranon. I was greeted by a boy sitting under a huge mango tree who handed me a mango to eat, delicious it was too. The older boys came past fresh out of school and chatted with me. Almost all of them carrying machetes and catapults. The machetes or knives because they are such an essential tool of life here, for clearing tracks through the woods, harvesting fruits and yams, breadfruit and such, the catapults for shooting down mangoes from the trees. Most people, even women & quite young children here always carry a machete or knife all the time
I thought of the situation in England where they wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near school let alone out on the street carrying knives. But there is no violence or stabbings here and it made me think that it is our politicans and police that have it wrong. It is not the carrying of knives that is wrong or the problem, it is the hatred in peoples hearts that begets the violence.
I had a walk through the village and ate a plate of rice and meat at a sort of fundraiser. Saw some wood and stone carvings.
Samuel & his carvings
Boars tusk pendant
Another day I walked along the coast past what I took to be the the ruins of a copra plant to the other village Ranveltan, returning a little way inland by the track.
Unloading stores at Ranon
Leaving here I sailed back to Baoumi point to investigate the hot springs there. However with it being so far into the dry season, they were dried up. There was just a slight sulphurous smelling pool of still water behind the black sand beach. I pressed on inland up the course of the river but it was dried up too.
Beach at Baouma Point
Returning to the beach a bit of a swell had started so it was time to clear out quickly. Back past Ranon I anchored at Nupol.
Ashore next day I walked along the track past the village of Magham to Olal. Here I was lucky as they were sacking up the copra, carrying it down the beach to a lighter to tack out to a freighter anchored offshore outside the reef.
I was a given a new fruit for me a Ningauvung or Rose Apple- a bit like a pear in texture. Here by the stamped earth ground of what looked liked a meeting place by the kava shack were some of the wooden carvings that are distinctive off the island. Ambrym is a centre of magic in Vanuatu and home to the Rom dance. Unfortunately it is the wrong time of year for me to see any.
Carvings at Olal
Magam notice board – can you translate the Bislama?
Another walk took me along the coast and then inland into the hills. I was hoping to get to the village of Fanla, a kastum village but I took a wrong turning. Back on the main track I met a man just returning from his garden in the forest carrying what turned out to be nuts in his turned up t-shirt. He said if I had time he would take me to his house and crack some for me. We walked into the village and outside his hut he had a special stone with a depression in, the nut was stood up on end and crack with a hammer. Tasty they were. His brothers all came around to say hello. When I left he gave me 2 fresh bread rolls still warm from the oven and a pawpaw.
House in village
I am just continually knocked out by the friendlyness of the NiVans. They have so little but are so generous