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Well, we did start off as planned bound for the Loyalty Islands in New Caledonia, a trip of 120 miles. But it seemed that finally the winds would be in our favor so we decided instead to make the run all the way to Tanna in Vanuatu, a trip of 220 miles. But no sooner had we made that decision and altered our course did the the wind decide to change its mind. The result was yet another trip almost dead into the wind with choppy seas to boot. After 30 hours of beating into the wind we were ready to be there and our anchorage, Port Resolution was nearly in sight. Just at sundown, when the light was waning the seas became extremely choppy due to the confluence of currents. Our dinghy (the small inflatable boat we use to get around after anchoring the big boat) had been contentedly following along behind us secured by two long tow ropes. Although the dinghy can be disassembled and stored on the deck for longer passages, on shorter trips we normally just tow it behind us. Usually not a problem. But just as we were thinking about anchoring and having a nice hot shower - BAM - we were hit by a nasty wave and there was a loud WHACK. I looked back to see the dinghy (which is named Insanity!) upside down with one of the tow ropes broken. We quickly devised a plan and put it into action. First, we slowed the boat down - easy to do since we were motoring and not sailing at the time. Next, we connected the remaining tow line to a winch and winched the dingy close to the boat. Then Ron (with his safety harness on and securely fastened to the boat) attempted to grab the end of the broken tow line using our boat hook. The result - one lost boat hook. We needed to get that line so Ron tried again, this time using the gaff we use to pull large fish aboard. Success! Now we had the tow lines secured but the dingy was still upside down. It weighs several hundred pounds and is nearly impossible to manhandle. So the plan was to attach it to a halyard (the rope used to raise sails up the mast) and to raise the dinghy out of the water, allow it to right itself and then lower it back down. Sounds easy and it would be on a stationery platform. But throw in dying light, waves crashing, and 25 knots of wind and it's just a little challenge. Bradley and Ron finally got the halyard attached and I winched it up. All went fine and as the dinghy rose out of the water if flipped around just as we planned. But it was now perilously close to the boat and in danger of smashing against us like a wrecking ball. So we had to get it back down very quickly. This involved both easing the halyard as well as the tow rope we had used to winch it close. Whew! Soon the dinghy was righted and the only damage was a slight ding in the wood toe rail on Shear Madness. Since we were close to our anchorage, we shortened and secured both tow lines and reduced our speed allowing us to make it safely into Port Resolution. As I had not taken my Dramamine at the start of this trip, it had been a little rough for me and I don't think I've ever been happier to arrive at a destination! By 9:00pm we were safely anchored and into the showers!
So what exactly is Vanuatu? It was formerly called The New Hebrides Islands and was jointly governed by both French and English before gaining independence in 1980. Of Vanuatu's population of 182,000, all but 3500 are made up of native Melanesians who still live predominantly in rural villages with each village being governed by a chief.
Our first day was spent making repairs and doing various jobs on the boat. We heard that the local village was putting on a dinner for all the visiting yachts and we were invited to attend. It sounded like fun as there was to be local food plus singing and dancing. It was being organized by Stanley, the son of the village chief and the manager of the Port Resolution Yacht Club. I was very surprised to hear that there was actually a Yacht Club here - it really did not look like there was much development on this island. So we went ashore and walked to the village to see if we could meet the chief (which all visitors are supposed to do). We were told he was at the yacht club so we proceeded there and met the Chief (named Ron) and Stanley. The Yacht Club was wonderful. It is a large open air hut with a dirt floor on top of a cliff overlooking the harbor. We then went to the beach to join about 25 other visiting yachties and were treated to a real feast. We were met at the beach and escorted by a band of villagers to the yacht club at the top of a cliff overlooking the harbor. A huge table of local food including taro, goat, whole roast pig, and many coconut based dishes was laid out for us. As we ate there was more music and soon dancing. It was a great welcome and really made us feel at home. I had a great time dancing with several of the local girls. The villagers are incredibly friendly and most have some understanding of English. Each village has a local dialect and the national language is Bislama, a kind of pidgin English, but the children learn English in school and most seem happy to practice it.
The next day we had to check in with customs and immigration, which is on the other side of Tanna Island. A family, Guy and Pam and their kids Ruby and Jack from a boat called Castille also had to check in so we shared the cost of hiring a car and driver. It turned out to be a 4WD pick up truck with benches in the bed of the truck. It was an hour and a half drive to cover about 15 miles across unpaved and often washed out roads. But what a great trip! We passed through many villages where a wave always produced a smile and a return wave. We arrived in Lenakel and went throught the check in process with no problems. We ate lunch at the smallest restaurant I've ever been in - a small hut on the beach where the menu was fish and rice. It was great! We visited several shops where we bought some fresh bread and then headed back to Port Resolution.
The highlight of Tanna is Mount Yasur, reportedly the world's most accessible active volcano. We were told it is best to arrive there in late afternoon and stay until after sunset to experience a true display of nature's fireworks. It is a three hour walk from Port Resolution which sounded like the best way to get there. Guy and Pam had arranged a truck to drive them (and their friends Malcolm and Joan from the boat Sarau) and said there was room for us to ride back with them which meant we wouldn't have to walk three hours back in the dark! So we set off at 1:30pm for a leisurely walk that would put us there before sunset. We were sure we knew the way as we had passed the entrance the day before on our way to customs. After 2 1/2 hours of walking we still had not reached the entrance and we knew we had gone too far. So we turned around to head back. Half an hour later we arrived at the entrance. We got an hour's worth of extra exercise but now we still had a nice one hour uphill climb while sunset was on its way! We finally made it to the top with a good half hour of light to spare. WOW! What a sight. You literally walk right to the edge of the volcano and watch mesmerized as it spouts steam and sparks. Every now and then there is a boom and a small eruption, spewing sparks everywhere. And if you are patient, you will see some large ones too - I can't even think how to describe what it is like! Explosions, steam, sparks, lava shooting hundreds of feet in the air, all just a mere couple hundred yards from where we were standing! The volcano is monitored regularly and the last large eruption was in 1991. When it is detected that an eruption is imminent the local villagers are evacuated to safety and the money that is raised from the visitor's entry fees to the park goes to help them in years when their crops are destroyed by the lava. We were very happy to catch a ride home where we adjourned to the Yacht Club to celebrate Guy's birthday.
Our final days in Tanna were spent exploring the local village and beaches. We had a chance to talk to some of the villagers and to learn more about their way of life. Their way of life is very simple. They live in small huts and grow vegetables and raise animals for food. This village numbers about 400 people who seem to strike a good balance between preserving their traditional way of life while interacting with visitors from all over the world. They seem happy and healthy, always ready to smile, and seem to enjoy meeting new people. There is a village school which all children attend. Every village is different - some are much more traditional in both dress and customs, others have been influenced by various religious missionaries. But you get the sense that overall it is a happy place - certainly that is the impression we got from the people we visited. We are now lifetime members of the Port Resolution Yacht Club at a cost of 500 vatu. Sound expensive? There are about 100 vatu to the US dollar, so it cost US$5 for our membership and another $5 for a special flag made by one of the villagers.
Finally it was time to move on to our next stop, the island or Erromango. We said goodbye to our newfound friends in the village as well as to the people on other yachts we had met during our stay. It's always hard to leave a place where you have friends you know you may never see again!