Chilling in Port Vila


Sophie is currently on the wall at Port Vila, Vanuatu. It’s a rainy Friday and very warm. Jenna is doing Sophie school in the main salon with both air conditioners running, courtesy of some nice shore power. The girls are off at a bar somewhere. I am writing this at an internet café.

Here’s a quick update on our last week. Apologies for the lack of communication. After a year of continuous Internet service in Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand, it’s a little weird to be off the grid.

We cleared customs at Vuda Point, Fiji a week ago Friday. On board were me, Jenna, Leo, Hazel, and our new best friend Lauren Bowes. She has joined Sophie for a month or two after quitting her job as a professional chef on a luxury catamaran. So far she has cooked stuff like mahi mahi cakes; a mahi mahi stew (using the face and spine) with beans, corn, sausage and ono; eggplant quesadillas; plaintain chips; and a plaintain mash. She also likes to take watches, detail the boat, drink beer, fish, and chill out. Consider her a female version of Karl Riebling.

My daughter Sara had flown ahead of us on the Friday we left in order to join her partner Julie on her flight to Vanuatu, and my cousin Birgit decided to do a tour of the Yasawas in Fiji because our water maker repair-induced late departure from Fiji made it impossible for Birgit to make the passage with us.

So the five of us did the 465 mile passage to Port Resolution on the Island of Tanna in Vanuatu in 2 and a half days. We had planned for a 3 night, 2 day passage with an arrival in Port Resolution on Monday morning. The first 2 days were easy and slow, but then on Sunday morning we saw grib weather files showing a black, icky-looking front over Vanuatu on Monday morning. Jenna and I decided to step on it and try to beat the front by running both engines at 2800 RPM for 12 hours. We failed, but the wind never got above 25 knots.

We anchored in Port Resolution at 2:00 AM Monday, which was our first nighttime arrival in a new harbor in the tropics. The harbor entrance was pretty open and we had some good waypoints, so we thought it was worth the risk. It was. There were 3 other boats anchored there, and we could see their lights as we approached. But it was raining and windy when we set the hook, and we were tired and happy to be there.

During the passage we had 5 fish strikes and got a 10 pound mahi mahi and a smaller ono into the boat. We released the ono but ate ALL of the mahi mahi, thanks to Lauren and her creativity in the galley.

We hung out on Sophie in Port Resolution for most of Monday, waiting for officers from Customs, Immigration, and Biosecurity to clear us into Vanuatu. They finally showed up after a 2 hour drive over a rutted jungle track from Lenakel, the main port on the other side of Tanna. They were delightful and joked with each other a lot. Once we were cleared into the country, Sara and Julie were able to join us on the boat.

On Tuesday, we had a couple of locals come up to us in their dugout outrigger canoes. One asked if we could charge his cell phone for him and offered us 8 lemons in return. Deal! Another told us that his daughter was celebrating her 10th birthday that afternoon and wondered if we would be kind enough to bake her a cake. Jenna and Lauren whipped up something from bananas, coconut, flour and sugar. We got a pumpkin, papayas, and a LOT of bananas in return.

At 4:00 PM Tuesday we set out on the adventure that brought us to Port Resolution in the first place. The 7 of us from Sophie, along with 3 people from other boats and a surfer dude, climbed into the back of a diesel 4 wheel drive pickup for the 45 minute drive through the jungle and up to the rim of Mount Yasur, an active volcano that spews lava up into the air 100-300 meters away from you stand.

It was pitch dark. The ground trembled under our feet as the earth spat fire into the sky and howled in a way that sounded like a cross between surf crashing and a large jet taking off. We sat there for an hour and a half, posing for photos. Jenna had her big gun on a tripod and was very, very happy.

Needless to say, we have some of our Christmas card photos in hand.

We got back to Sophie later that night and had a bit of a volcano party. Two of the other boats in the anchorage the next day described it on VHF as “carousing.” But hey, we just stood on the rim of a volcano and survived. With Hazel trying to cartwheels, no less.

We left the next morning for the 60 mile sail northwest to Dillon’s Bay on the island of Eromango. Our overall plan for Vanuatu is to cruise the islands in the country from south to north as we make our way to the Solomons and beyond. Dillon’s Bay was on the west side of the island with good protection from the easterly trades. It was a lovely 7 knot sail in bright sunshine and gentle seas. No fish, though.

Yesterday at Dillon’s Bay we visited the village, met the chief’s wife, and toured the school. Jenna brought a small bag of school supplies to give them. In the afternoon a local named David took Jenna, Leo and the girls on a tour of some caves where local chiefs were buried with the skulls of their brides and families. Hazel and I stayed behind on Sophie to fix things and practice our ballet moves.

Last night we departed Dillon’s for the 80 mile sail up to Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila on the island of Efate. It was pretty much the easiest, most gentle night sail we’ve done in a long time. If anything, we had to slow Sophie down, but she politely refused and was doing 8-9 knots in a 15 knot wind slightly ahead of the beam with a reef in her main. I had the 3:45 -8:00 AM watch and had 4 lines in the water while watching bigeye tuna swimming among our lures but there were no takers. I think at that our 4-5 knot boat speed at that point was too slow to troll.

So here we are in Port Vila, a very large and clean city filled with polite and warm people. We plan to do some major provisioning, top off our diesel tanks, and then head to the north side of Efate to enjoy beaches and snorkeling until Sara and Julie leave us next week.

Then it’s north, north, north. We are currently at 17 degrees latitude south, and we plan to head to Kavieng PNG which is at 2 degrees south before hanging a left and heading west to Indonesia.

Overall I have to say that we’ve finally escaped the resorts and partying part of our Pacific trip and are back to Adventure. Sophie is running well, nothing major has broken, and we are SWIMMING in fresh water from our new water maker. I couldn’t be happier.

Have I told you lately how lucky we are?


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