[110617, 2256 UTC, Port Resolution, Tanna, Vanuatu, 19º32' S / 169º 30' E]
When we last wrote we were hunkered down preparing to depart for Vanuatu. As our visa expiration date approached, we had no trouble getting ready for our passage but weather did not cooperate. A large trough which was generating a series of deep lows formed in the Coral Sea and headed east. This, combined with adverse conditions in the southern ocean, created strong winds and seas to 17 feet, winds and waves from different directions.
These were not conditions in which a prudent sailor would go to sea, though many did as directed by authorities. That being said, the officials we were dealing with weren't making the rules and they are operating under a military dictatorship, so sticking to the letter of the law, rather than logic, is understandable. We decided not to go to sea under these potentially hazardous conditions and waited quietly for six days for conditions to improve. Even so, we had less than perfect conditions our first night at sea.
During our passage, we had a mixture of strong wind and 3 meter seas but also periods of calm and spent one long day making 37 miles to good and many miles backwards, even as Carina pointed her bow diligently towards Vanuatu. A couple of days out of our destination of Tanna Island, the weather forecast again predicted deteriorating conditions with strong NE winds. Since the anchorage is shallow and north-exposed, Resolution Bay would be untenable in such conditions, so we decided to change course for Port Vila, Efate Island, the administrative center of Vanuatu and a large and safe harbor which lies 130 miles north of Tanna Island.
Port Vila is a bustling town with influences from both the French and British elements of the previous condominium government, a shared and not too successful governmental experience. The inner harbor is filled with moored boats, most of which were empty but which promise an active yachting season ahead. Port Vila, though filled with shops bursting with selections of goods both useful and frivolous and that will delight all foodies, will quickly empty your wallet if you don't pay careful attention; prices are astounding! The public market, however, is a delight and runs six days per week in a large open structure where islands of tables surround pandanus mats upon which families of women and children (no men) camp out with their fresh produce. Comfortable sitting on the ground, as they do at home, you find yourself negotiating vatu (the currency) with a face that barely clears the table in front of you. Represented are the usual woven palm baskets of root vegetables - yams, taro, cassava - and also ugly (but tasty) cucumbers, pin (pronounced "peen", a type of squash), lettuce and other delicate delights like dill and coriander.
As in Fiji, women who come to town dress in bright colors and tropical floral patterns. The typical dress seen here is loose-fitting with two scalloped hip pieces that look a bit like aprons but which in some cases appear to function as pockets. Gathered balloon-type sleeves come nearly to the elbow. All dresses fall below the knee and most almost all the way to the ground as it is not considered appropriate that a woman's thighs are exposed. You will never see a ni-Vanuatu woman in shorts or even trousers.
Port Vila is filled with Kiwis, Aussies as well as people from New Caledonia, many sunburned and hair corn-rowed as a result of their tours to villages and resorts. Three cruise ships visit every week and the bay is filled with every type of floating recreational vehicle imaginable, including at least one semi-derelict "sail" boat that puts up the tattered remnants of its canvas and motors out a few miles and turns around and motors back, much to the glee of its clapping clients loosened up on wine and cheese during the "voyage". Every third shop on the main drag is a low to mid end Chinese run gift and sundries shop offering a wide range of souvenirs, from tasteful to typical t-shirts. Galleries overflow with tamtams, or slit gongs, that are the signature carving of Vanuatu (and originate on the island of Ambrym). French seems the predominant language though most officials we dealt with spoke excellent English, too.
Vanuatu is an independent island country (having gained independence in 1980) of peoples descended from the Lapita people who arrived from the west about four thousand years ago. Typical pointillistically-decorated Lapita pottery shards have been found throughout the islands. Formally called New Hebrides, the 80 islands of Vanuatu stretch 900 kilometers on a NW slant in a rough Y formation. Interesting here is that clans living in individual valleys or bays or even separate villages, were previously isolated from each other and, as a result, over one hundred thirty different languages are spoken throughout Vanuatu. As the result, Bislama, a type of pidgin English, is an official language along with French and English. Along with individual languages are unique cultures that are being fastidiously preserved in "kastom" villages where "wantok" or clan alliances are supreme and the chief's word may as well be that of a god, as it's indisputable. What this translates to is communal ownership of land on which crops are grown and homes are built. In difficult times everyone struggles and during times of abundance, everyone benefits.
Staying in Port Vila wasn't exactly our idea of experiencing Vanuatu, so as soon as we got a break in the usual SE tradewinds and associated seas, we sailed away from Efate with NE winds and booked back against the trades (if you will) to Tanna Island, our original destination. Tanna is a lovely mountainous island with a pristine climate and virtually no nasties (accept for the occasional mosquito and some pretty irritating houseflies) and all food is grown organically, including Tanna coffee which is making a name for itself in the finer establishments in the capital. Too, Tanna possesses one of the world's most accessible active volcanoes, Mt. Yasur, a visit to which is reputed to be "unforgettable". Access to Mt. Yasur is easiest accomplished from Port Resolution (charted by Captain James Cook and named after his vessel) where there is also a pleasant village that runs a "Yacht Club" and Guest Cottages.
Now at Tanna, we'll write again of our experiences here in our next dispatch within a few days. As we'd previously heard, Tanna IS amazing.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake