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We had a lovely 60 mile sail from Port Resolution to Dillon's Bay on the island of Erromango where we joined six other yachts at the anchorage. Most of them were friends we had just met in Port Resolution. Our welcome was not exactly friendly as the weather took a turn for the worse. The winds whipped up, gusting to more than 35 knots and accompanied by very heavy rains. Our first day was spent on board baking bread, making cookies, and doing other boat projects as the rain continued to pour down. We invited Kari and Michael from a boat called Rainbow Dreaming over for dinner and games and had a great time with them. When the rain finally stopped we ventured ashore and met up with our friends Colin and Janice and their kids Nick and Scott from the boat Kaya. We all arranged a hike for the next day with a guide, a young man named Joshua. Some more friends, Craig and Carol from the boat Valere decided to join us too. They have been cruising for six years and have a 14 month old daughter named Moorea who is named for the island where she was born! As we set out for the hike, we came across a group of young men leading a reluctant calf into the village. They explained that the calf was being sent to Tanna, the island we had just left. Apparently the islands exchange stock periodically. We hiked up a very steep road which was OK but not too interesting. There was a nice scenic overlook and an interesting old plantation that had apparently been abandoned when the country achieved independence in 1980. We returned via a more interesting trail and stopped to eat our lunch next to the river.
It was a big day in the village as the supply boat was due to arrive. It usually comes every two weeks but for some reason it had been three weeks, so supplies in the local stores were a little low. As we returned to the village, we saw what must have been the entire population unloading supplies. Bags of flour and rice were stacked everywhere. And as we boarded our dinghy and headed back to the boat we realized that the calf we had seen that morning was leaving on the supply boat. But the water was too shallow for the large boat to get close, so everything had to be transported to and from it in a smaller vessel. And just as we passed by it was time to load the calf. To do this, he had been tied up by his legs to a log in order to facilitate lifting him and to keep him from struggling. Several men then lifted him into the small boat where he began his journey to Tanna (we presume he was for breeding rather than eating).
We had asked for and received permission to snorkel and spearfish nearby the village but we apparently misunderstood the boundaries. After we had spearfished unsuccessfully for about an hour, we were approached by a man in a pirogue, the local canoe which many villages use. He told us we could not spearfish where we were so we left. When we checked again in the village it turns out we had gone to the wrong side of the bay. Unfortunately we had no better luck on the other side of the bay!
One of the "things to do" in Erromango is to visit some caves where there are some human remains. The caves are only accessible by water and you have to seek permission first. So we arranged a visit along with our friends from Kaya. Three local villagers joined us and we fit seven adults and two kids into our dinghy for the 15 minute journey. The beach is guarded by a reef so we had to row into shore. From there it was a short hike to the caves. One of our guides, Joshua, had brought his razor sharp machete which he had to use to clear several parts of the trail. It clearly is not heavily used! Upon reaching the cave, our host, Jason, said a short prayer to the spirits inside before we could enter. He explained that the cave is like a cemetery. The remains inside were just people who died - they weren't eaten by cannibals or anything gruesome like that. It's not clear how old they are (people's sense of time here doesn't tend to be very accurate anyway!). We ventured inside what turned out to be a very large cave. Various bones, clearly human, we arranged at several locations within the cave. It's hard to say how many people are at rest there, but it is probably ten or so.
Our final adventure in Erromango was an attempt to help a villager, named Jonathan, fix a problem with a solar panel. Somehow the village had acquired a solar setup to power a freezer but had never been able to make it work. Jonathan was dead set on getting it working and apparently pestered every boat that came into the anchorage to help him. Jonathan is a very smart guy but doesn't have any training so he doesn't understand the technology. We don't know anything about solar panels, but agreed to go ashore and take a look. The setup involved two large solar panels connecter to a regulator connecter to a bank of batteries which power the freezer. Someone had previously determined that the batteries were nearly dead so Jonathan had procured some new ones. We were able to determine that the solar panels were generating power but that there seemed to be nothing coming out of the regulator to the batteries. The new batteries were fully charged but if they did not get the juice from the solar panels they would soon wear down too. Our tests seemed to indicate the regulator was bad. Jonathan said there was another regulator somewhere else in the village so he went to get it. By the time he came back and we got it installed, the sun was setting so we couldn't really tell if we had fixed it. We gave Jonathan instructions on what to do the next day and wrote up detailed notes on what we had done for him to give to the next helpful yachtie in case it still doesn't work. We were scheduled to leave early the next morning so we'll have to wait and see if we hear any news on the radio network about whether someone gets it working.
Next it was on to Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu. We had a wonderful sail, a broad reach with winds of 20-25 knots. Couldn't have been better! But we arrived in Port Vila to three days of rain. We explored the town and met some new friends on boats in Vila Harbor. There was an internet cafe so we were able to catch up on emails, shop, and do miscellaneous errands. Then it was off for some nearby dive sites. First was Hideaway Island where we visited two shipwrecks. Both were boats that had been intentionally sunk to create dive sites. Mildly interesting, but not too spectacular. Then we headed to Paul's Rock and Hat Island, two dive sites that are supposed to be the best in the area. They were pretty good. At Paul's rock we saw a turtle resting on the bottom. When he swam away, we noticed he was missing a rear flipper and part of his shell, probably after an encounter with a shark. But he (or she) seemed to have healed quite nicely. Hat Island had an interesting reef, with many little canyons to explore and plenty of great fish.
We moved to Havannah Harbor for a peaceful night. After a nice swim along the shoreside reef, we headed back to Port Vila where we dined at and I got my first taste of coconut crab - highly recommended! Now it's time for me to head home for a few weeks before returning to continue our travels in Vanuatu. It's a great place, full of friendly people and great things to see and do!