Vanuatu: Final days in Port Vila, Efate

Sunday the weather was horrible….rain, overcast, cold and generally miserable. So we decided not to go to the Kustom Karnival after all (as it was on the beach). The wind was howling and the 30 knot gusts were even felt in the anchorage so we were pleased in the end that we had decided to stay onboard. Later on we headed ashore to the Waterfront for sundowners where we caught up with fellow cruisers.

Monday morning we headed out for more food and water. Richard also purchased more diesel which he decanted into the fuel tank on return. He also finished the varnish keepers which will protect the wood for now while I cleaned some of the stainless. We then relaxed for a few hours before heading in for sundowners which was very social again as we were joined by Karen and Cheryl (SV Interlude – Canada) plus Stuart and Sally (SV Blithe Spirit – Australia) and also met Stuart’s Mum Marilyn (a very sprightly 82 year old) who is visiting on holiday. We ended up staying out longer than we planned as we enjoyed watching the World Cup Rugby.

Tuesday we were very busy. This time we went around the boat in dink (holding on for dear life as the latest cruise ship passengers were ferried backwards and forwards throughout the anchorage) and cleaned the stainless on the capping rail (which was particularly bad on the transom for some reason) and also the rub rail. We then input all the waypoints for our forthcoming passage to Lifou into the chart plotter and also marked all the danger areas (I use the skull and crossbones symbol) so that, even if we are zoomed out, the bits to avoid remain visible.

Pretty tired after a very productive day we headed over for sundowners again and were invited to join Blithe Spirit and Interlude for a day out on Wednesday as they had hired a van and driver. This was really nice of them and we were very happy to be included. We then returned to Morphie for an early night.

Wednesday morning and we were up bright and early and headed ashore to meet up. Sadly Sally wasn’t able to join us as she was poorly. And, of course, it was raining again despite the sunny forecast. Grrrr…..never mind… least we won’t be sitting on the boat all day! So we drove through Port Vila and headed up towards Port Havannah which we had wanted to visit by boat but were not able to as this was inside the rhinocerous beetle exclusion zone. We went to Francesca’s (an Italian restaurant) and wandered the beach (which was broken coral rather than sand) and I was particularly taken by the tree roots that dotted the shore.

We kept out of the rain on the deck and fussed over the dogs (who loved Richard). The others went snorkelling but we didn’t bother just enjoying the peaceful surroundings and the views when the weather brightened up briefly.

Later on we had a very leisurely lunch (which was delicious). We stayed on the deck watching the finches eating the papaya (known here as paw paw). After lunch we had a group photo and Richard even decided to let one of the dogs pose too LOL.

Returning from Francescas we stopped at the Tanna Coffee factory which roasts the coffee that is organically farmed near the volcano. It was interesting to watch the process and of course we had to taste the end product in the little cafe.

In the same building they also make sandalwood oil. Interestingly, they can only make 500ml out of 40kg of raw material, which makes you realise why this natural product is so expensive. They didn’t seem to be selling a lot of it in the little store but I guess it would be different on a cruise ship day.

Moving on we then headed to the distillery where the gang tried the limoncello and rum tasters….but I declined, having had a few glasses of wine over lunch. The kava flavoured rum was not a hit LOL. I enjoyed checking out all the different vinegars, oils, jams and jellies on offer. Arriving back at the Waterfront we had a quick drink before heading back to Morphie. Had been a lovely day.

Thursday morning we ran the weather models again and were delighted that they finally agreed. The wind was going to be more easterly than expected (giving us a better sailing angle) and the seas had calmed down from the 4m swells earlier in the week. So we are finally going to be leaving Vanuatu. Woo hoo!

We got all our paperwork together and headed to Yacht World to pay our mooring fees and got some more cash out of the ATM. We then headed over in dink to the main port to visit customs first. All forms were in order (phew). We then returned our cruising permit and the guy retained our passports for the documents to be completed. We then went to the Harbour Master in the building next door and paid our departure fees which came to just over VT9,000 (around £75). Receipt in hand we returned to customs who gave us our clearance document. Then to immigration to fill in more forms and get another clearance document and stamps in the passport. Wasn’t too onerous really but I would hate to think how long it would take if there were numerous yachts wanting to check out at the same time…..

Coming back around to Morphie in the anchorage we checked out all the wrecks on the foreshore. You have to wonder why they don’t clean these up…….

Later on we headed over to the Waterfront for our final sundowners here in Vanuatu and said our farewells. We have thoroughly enjoyed Vanuatu (despite the weather!) and maybe we’ll return one day to see more of the islands.

This morning, Friday, and we were up early and started preparing the boat for sea. I cooked our dinner and stripped beds getting our passage stuff ready. The grab bag is packed and things have been stowed away properly as we will be heeling over a bit on this 200+ mile passage as the wind will probably be forward of the beam (although we hold out hope for a beam reach). Richard has also done his engine checks. While I’m blogging Richard went ashore to spend our remaining Vanuatu currency on some bread and coke and then we’ll get the outboard on the rail and dink up on the arch in preparation for our afternoon departure.

We will leave the anchorage today around 4pm (so that we can clear the island before the sun goes down) and expect to arrive in Lifou Sunday morning. We will then be quarantined for the day until Monday when the officials will turn up from Noumea for the official check-in process. We will not get a chance to get a SIM card until Tuesday so we’ll be offline until then. If you want to check up on us visit the ‘Where are we now?’ page and watch our tracker. We are very excited to be moving on and it certainly looks very beautiful!

Bye for now


Vanuatu: Still in Port Vila, Efate

Sunday morning (15 September) and it rained again, hard! So we just stayed on board down below before heading ashore for sundowners with Chris (SV Sea Bear). We were all feeling a bit miserable and were definitely fed up with the weather. But at least we were safe and secure in a sheltered harbour with access to facilities. The sunset was so beautiful it almost made up for the dismal day.

Monday morning and it was time to make some decisions about our proposed Tuesday departure as Customs and Immigration clearance needs to be done 24 hours in advance. So we ran the weather models again only to find out that the weather window had closed down and we would now be looking at arriving at the Havannah Canal in 25 knots of sustained wind with higher gusts. This area is known to be particularly challenging in high winds so we decided not to risk it. The Go West Rally (which we are participating in from New Caledonia to Australia) had made a special arrangement to check into Lifou in the Loyalty Islands instead (which are not usually a port of entry) and means a shorter passage and the opportunity to visit more islands rather than by-pass them. So we signed up and made special arrangements with the officials to clear out of Vanuatu on Saturday for a Sunday departure. Lots of paperwork to complete but at least we now had a plan. Whilst I was busy doing all this Richard took himself off to get some diesel – the fuel dock is not open on a Sunday so an alongside fill up before departure wouldn’t be possible. Jobs done we later had sundowners on board Morphie with Chris.

Tuesday morning and the sun came out. Hurrah! I worked hard cleaning, waxing and polishing the cockpit whilst Richard did some mechanical jobs and also swapped out our ensign. He also found and repaired our French courtesy flag. During the afternoon Sea Bear left the anchorage but sadly we were down below so failed to wave him off which was a shame. Safe sailing Chris! During the day we had received an email from the Go West Rally organiser who articulated concerns over the updated weather forecast for scheduled departures from both Fiji and Vanuatu but promised to stay in touch. It certainly looked pretty feisty to us! Unbelievable how things change so quickly.

Wednesday morning and I did the washing using the spare 10L jug of fresh water we had stowed in the lazarette. Richard was on a mission for refrigerant gas again. He had found out a few places where he could buy it (allegedly) and walked the town, and walked, and walked only to be turned away from all stores that he visited despite the locals telling him that it was definitely available. Fed up from being given the runaround he returned to Morphie but at least he didn’t come back empty handed as he had filled up the jug with fresh (potable) water. The harbour water here is surprisingly clear and looks clean but, near the main street, there is a warning not to swim because of ‘health risks’ (although they do actually swim off the casino beach near our mooring). Not sure what those risks are but don’t fancy making water (just in case) so we are going to fill up every time we go ashore and use that to top up our tanks. During the day SV Mezzaluna and SV Bla Ellinor turned up in the anchorage having had a rough and bouncy sail down. We all headed ashore for sundowners and ended up in a big crowd having a few cold ones. Was very social.

Thursday morning and the rally was confirmed as postponed with the new date for checking in pushed out to Monday 30 September. This is really cutting down our available time to explore New Caledonia but what can we do?!? So now we are going to be here in Port Vila for another week. As we had virtually emptied the freezer in preparation for entering into New Caledonia (which has strict bio-security rules about food) this meant that we now needed to go shopping. So we headed up to the Bon Marche supermarket for a provisioning run. Back on board we unpacked and stowed our goodies before returning ashore for more water and happy hour sundowners.

Friday we had a lay in and relaxed. At 4.30 pm we headed ashore to meet the gang and bundled into a bus to take us to the Beach Bar in Mele who are the original hosts to the Vanuatu fire show as the performers come from the nearby village. So we took our seats and enjoyed the view along the beach and out to sea as the sun went down.

And here’s Richard with our supplies LOL. Spotted the name tag?!? Yes, Asa decided we should fit in and look like a proper tourist group rather than a bunch of cruisers so made us all wear name tags and even had a little flag to jolly the 10 of us along.

The fire show was amazing and we thoroughly enjoyed it!

Saturday morning and it was cloudy and grey yet again with a bit of rain in the air. A cruise ship had come into the port overnight so there were lots of local boats buzzing behind our stern carrying tourists to and from their various activities. Wish they would observe the no-wake zone though as we get rocked and rolled around a bit LOL.

As we are stuck here waiting on weather we are using our time to get on with boat jobs (today it was varnish keepers on the rail). Was a pretty windy day so looks like the forecast might actually be correct for once! We had a quiet night on board before having an early night.

This morning, Sunday, and I’m blogging very early before the internet speed slows down as more people come on line. Then I’m going back to bed for a while. This afternoon we are returning to the Beach Bar to see their Kustom Karnival which includes live music, kustom dancers from the Banks Islands (remember the snake people from the festival in Malekula?) and even clowns. So looking forward to that.

Bye for now


Vanuatu: Aore Island to Port Vila, Efate

Sunday morning (8 September) we had a lazy start and went ashore in the afternoon for our final visit to the resort. We enjoyed a bottle of wine sitting on the deck overlooking Morphie in the anchorage and just chilled for a while. Then we paid our bill and went back aboard for dinner and an early night, having secured everything ready to go to sea the following day.

Monday at 4.30 am in the pitch black we headed away from Aore Island and out into the channel towards Port Vila, Efate. The weather window for going south was very narrow so we had abandoned the idea of island hopping on the way as we realised that we would probably get stuck again. The sea was calm and there wasn’t much wind so we just motored gently along. By the time the sun started coming up we were moving away from the islands. Goodbye Espiritu Santo and Aore, it had been fun.

When we cleared the islands the seas just went completely flat and it was like a mill pond. The wind was very light (around 6-8 knots) but with flat seas and a current in our favour we were making more than 5 knots with all three sails deployed. Was a nice day at sea although Richard lost one of his lures to a very big fish who just hit it and chomped it off – the speed and strength of the take was amazing and we were both grateful that this one got away LOL. The sunset was just spectacular and there was very little boat traffic apart from one ferry and two other yachts also making the most of the calm conditions to run south.

Tuesday morning it was cloudy and cold with rain in the air. The wind picked up to 21 knots on the nose. But we managed to sail into it with just our main and staysail deployed and continued to make good progress. This change, of course, was not forecast yet again. By 6am it was pretty horrible and we had an adverse current so our speed dropped to an average 3.6 knots but we just pushed on. By noon we were approaching the cut into Port Vila having avoided the extended Blue Exclusion Zone because of an infestation of rhinocerous beetles.

We arrived into the outer harbour having completed our 170 mile passage and couldn’t raise Yacht World on the radio (who manage the moorings) so we came through into the inter harbour and stooged around. Eventually we got a response but were told to wait…and wait…and wait. So we anchored until they were ready to assist us. The moorings here have sunken ropes and no pick-up buoys so you have to get help to pick one up. The anchorage is over coral so not good holding and the moorings pretty much dominate the bay here. Eventually, by 4pm, we were securely tied to a mooring. We got ourselves cleaned up and headed ashore for a Jumbo Tusker at the Waterfront pleased to be back.

The Waterfront bar and restaurant is part of Yacht World and have boats med-moored to the wall. It was absolutely rammed and all the moorings were full (we got the last one!) as the Pacific Cruising rally is in town. Was a nice social evening and it was good to catch up with Chris (SV Sea Bear) again. The temperature took a real dip during the evening and we were both pretty cold when we got back to Morphie.

During the night the rain started….it was torrential…..and made a horrendous noise hitting the coach roof above our berth. In a break in the rain on Wednesday morning we went ashore to the big Bon Marche supermarket and re-provisioned. The upside to the overnight rain was that Morphie no longer needed a wash down to get rid of the salt from the passage.

Having got everything stowed we headed back to meet Chris and Craig (SV Crocus) in the rain again. We enjoyed Happy Hour but it was so cold we resorted to wearing jeans ashore and dining down below on our return.

Thursday and it was still raining. So another day down below although Richard did service the generator in the cockpit during the day. This is getting us down a bit but I made myself useful stripping the bed and doing a bit of cleaning then completing the outward documentation for Vanuatu and the inward documentation for New Caledonia (we just need the dates completed once our plans firm up). Apparently the South Pacific Convergence Zone has moved a bit and it is the reason why we are getting unsettled weather and stronger than normal trade winds. This dire weather restricts our movements and has certainly been a major feature of our season this year. Despite the rain, we met Chris and Craig again for Happy Hour and then went on for dinner at a local Thai restaurant (which bizarrely has a massage parlour inside). Was very good food.

Friday morning and it was still raining….. Getting fed up with this that’s for sure. I’m also struggling a bit with my hip and back as the damp seems to seep right into the bones. So Richard kindly left me to rest up while he headed out into town. First stop was a propane fill. We can fill our original US bottles here in Vanuatu but know that is not possible in either New Caledonia or Australia so we needed to make the most of this opportunity. He also purchased some oil and hunted high and low for some refrigerant gas but sadly didn’t find any. When he came back he looked like a drowned rat!

Later on we headed ashore for sundowners again, this time in our Musto foulies as it was raining so hard. We met up with Craig and some other rally members who are heading out on Saturday to the Lifou islands. It was really nice to see Nigel and Amanda (the rally organisers) again too. And, of course, we got soaked getting back to Morphie to have dinner. Look how much water we collected whilst we were out for just a couple of hours!

This morning, Saturday, and it was still raining but by noon it had started to ease. It still remains very cloudy and grey reminding us of sailing in the UK when everything just feels damp and cold. Richard has been very industrious having done an engine oil change; replaced the oil filter; changed the primary and secondary fuel filters; and cleaned out the engine bay. He has also done the engine checks for when we get moving again. He has just gone ashore to top up our internet credit while I’m blogging. I desperately need to get some washing done too when it is possible to get things dry!

Looking forward there is a possible weather window to depart on Tuesday. It will be a shame to leave Vanuatu without having visited many of the islands that we had planned to see but the weather has just made life difficult. And we certainly need to move on if we are to arrive into Australia by the end of October. So the next stop is going to be Noumea, New Caledonia, a passage of around 370 miles. The timing of this passage requires a bit of thought as we are going to be going around the bottom of the island inside the fringing reef so we need to be on a rising tide (to avoid strong adverse currents) and well as arriving at the cut in daylight so we can eyeball navigate through this area. Fingers crossed the weather window holds.

Bye for now


Vanuatu: Espiritu Santo and Aore Island

Sunday afternoon, having got ourselves anchored and settled in Luganville Bay, we headed ashore to the Beachfront Resort. We were pleasantly surprised as it didn’t look much from the anchorage and were particularly impressed that they even had a yacht information pack for us when we registered at reception. We had a couple of cold ones before heading back for an early night.

Monday morning we had a lazy start and I stayed on board while Richard headed into town for some petrol. And the rain just kept on coming through in waves. We eventually made a dash for it ashore where we were joined by Aso, Dan, Jeff, Katie and Mark for our (23rd) wedding anniversary meal and had a fun time together. Aso had been to the market during the afternoon and introduced us all to her crab friends who were facing a boiling pot of coconut milk later in the evening. We did tell her off for playing with her food LOL.

Tuesday morning and we up very early as we had organised to go diving on the SS President Coolidge. This was an ocean liner built in 1931 which served as a troopship in the second world war having been converted in 1942 and assigned to the US Navy. Many of her civilian fittings were removed or boarded over for safe keeping at this time. Guns were duly mounted and she was painted grey. She was sunk by American mines here in Espiritu Santo which was then part of the New Hebrides (two ships were lost to friendly fire as, allegedly, the authorities did not inform the captains of the newly laid minefields). When the Coolidge hit the mines Captain Henry Nelson beached the ship and evacuated the crew leaving all their personal belongings behind, with the expectation that they could undertake a salvage operation in future days.

However a coral reef was in the way and ripped through the hull of the ship and within 90 minutes the Coolidge slipped down the shelf and was completely submerged. When Vanuatu won independence in 1980 they declared that no salvage or recovery of any artifact would be allowed from the wreck of the Coolidge. Since then the ship has been used for recreational diving and it is possible to swim through numerous holds and decks. There are guns, cannons, jeeps, helmets, trucks and personal supplies still left on board.

At 8.15 am we were collected by the dive company and driven to their private site on the shoreline. We were delighted to find we were the only divers that day. We were given our (heavy steel) tanks and proceeded to kit up before having our briefing. We were going to penetrate holds 1 and 2 but no further on this first dive. So ready to go and the dive guys carried my gear into the water for me (as we had requested to avoid stressing my back). Richard had to walk in carrying all of his own gear. Our dive leader was impressively kitted out with side-by-side double tanks and he also carried a spare tank and regulators for safety reasons.

This was important to us as some of the dive operators here have a reputation for taking people into dangerous scenarios with deep penetration of the wreck to decompression depths without ensuring that the divers have the appropriate experience/skills to do such technical diving, and there have been deaths as a result.

We carried on walking out across the reef until it was time to descend. The visibility was not particularly good (because of the recent rains) and, at around 30m, the bow of the wreck came into sight……it is huge! We had a look at the variety of objects (including armaments) scattered around and our dive leader decided to shoot us with a gun and try on a gas mask for good measure. We did penetrate the wreck but not deeper than 33m. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

The safety stops were a bit longer than was strictly necessary on the ascent but again, safety first, and we are certainly not complaining. While we were hanging around in the shallower water on the ascent we hovered around a colony of clown fish who were very protective of their nursery. Have never seen such tiny Nemos!

Back ashore and, again, the guys carried my gear out of the water. They realised that I was good on air (having returned with 120 bar after 41 minutes) so they promised to provide me with a smaller tank for the next dive so that it would be more manageable for me. We were taken by minibus back to the dive operation’s resort, Coral Quays, and enjoyed a very leisurely four hour surface interval having lunch overlooking the rain forest.

Early afternoon we repacked our stuff into the trailer and took off again back up the road for our second dive on the Coolidge. This time we took a different route and penetrated slightly deeper to the medical quarters. Really good diving.

The safety stop intervals were even longer this time and to pass the time we fed the fish while sitting on the sandy bottom.

Arriving back at the surface we cleaned up all our kit and was returned to the Beachfront Resort. We made use of their fresh-water showers to clean ourselves and all our gear up and then had a few cold ones with some fellow cruisers waiting for the torrential rain to pass.

Wednesday morning and the forecast was for more settled weather and for the wind direction to be more westerly – perfect for getting to Vao Island which sits at the top of Malekula. So we weighed anchor and headed out through the western exit of the Segond Channel to get a better sailing angle once we were clear of the island. Well, as we neared the exit the wind was not coming from where it was supposed to be and the sea was building and building and we were getting nowhere into the large breaking waves taking green water over the bow. This was stupid – and at the speeds we were making – it was clear that we weren’t going to be able to make the 30-odd miles to arrive in daylight (which is necessary as Vao is surrounded by reefs and we need to eyeball our way through). So we decided to cut our losses and aborted the attempt. As we neared Luganville we realised that there was a spare mooring ball at the Aore Island Resort – somewhere we had wanted to go to – so took the opportunity of picking that up.

Disappointed not to have left Espiritu Santo but, never mind, we’ll enjoy a few days R&R here. We dinghied ashore, registered ourselves, and had a few hours chilling by the pool before having a pizza supper and retiring onboard for the night. Had been a frustrating day but this lovely interlude more than made up for it.

Thursday evening the resort was providing a show by the women from the northern island of Gaua. They are famous for their water music and dancing. So we had a productive day on board doing boat jobs and the laundry before heading ashore about 4pm. We bobbed in the pool and lazed on the beach before having showers and getting cleaned up in preparation for the show and dinner.

We had reserved a table and they had given us one right on the deck over the sea which was prime position for the show. So we settled down to watch. It was fantastic! How they make the sounds by virtually drumming the sea was just amazing, but it was difficult to get photos as they move so fast! This was then followed by a lovely candlelit dinner, all very romantic.

Friday morning and we were up very early again. We had run the weather models late the night before and there was another weather window to move south. So at 7am we slipped away from our mooring ball saying a fond farewell to the resort, and proceeded out towards the eastern exit of the Segond Channel. The wind was on our nose (as expected) and we knew it was going to be a close hauled sail once we turned towards our destination but all was looking good. Slow going but we knew we could make up time once we were under sail away from the local island effects. Anyway – we turned into the channel between two smaller islands – and the wind increased to 25 knots (forecast at 12-15) and the seas built and we were now punching into the waves hard and our boat speed suffered significantly. OK, local weather effects are often felt in close promixity to the islands and we also anticipated an increased fetch as the sea is channeled through small gaps. But the sea state deteriorated and the wind increased and it was just plain horrible. By now we recognised that we couldn’t possibly make Vao before dark (again!) so we took the decision to return once again to Luganville to await another window. The forecasts are just rubbish here and until you physically get out there it is difficult to gauge what you are going to face. Although we are very keen to move south again now it is not at any price!

So we turned around, pulled out the genoa, and had a lovely sail back towards Luganville. By now the wind had swung SE (again not forecast) and when we got back to Luganville Bay the chop started to make the anchorage very rolly. But we got our anchor down and then rerun the weather models only to find that the wind was now going to increase signficantly during the night. As we had had to run for cover from this anchorage before in those conditions it looked like we needed to move on again. We got out the binoculars and realised that our mooring at Aore Island was still available so we quickly weighed anchor and rushed over there to claim it again as it is protected by the island from the trades. Phew….19 miles….and we hadn’t been anywhere yet again. Frustrating but at least we are safe and sound and will enjoy just being here for a few more days until this latest unsettled weather system clears.

This morning, Saturday, and Richard is relaxing while I’m blogging. We’ll go ashore and visit the beach later this afternoon…. So I’ll leave you with my favourite picture of Morphie from the Aore resort.

Bye for now


Vanuatu: Exploring Espiritu Santo

Saturday night (24 August) the winds picked up and we started nodding into the increasingly large chop in Luganville Bay. By the time we had got up and breakfasted on Sunday morning the wind was still increasing and the anchorage was quickly becoming untenable. So we stowed everything away and weighed anchor. We headed out into the Segon Channel which runs along the bottom of Espiritu Santo. It was horrible, large seas of 2m and wind on the nose. We couldn’t punch into it and make any sort of speed without running the engine very hot so we just had to put up with it and at times couldn’t even make 2 knots. The wind was now howling at up to 30 knots. As we rounded Million Dollar Point the wind thankfully moved behind us and we were able to pull out a reefed genoa and make better way in the rough conditions.

By 13.37 we had worked our way in through the reefs and were anchored in Surunda Bay which was a delight. The bay was large, protected, and with lots of room and good holding in sand.

We joined SV Bla Ellinor and SV Macluska in the anchorage and were followed in by SV Mezzaluna who had just arrived from Malekula. We enjoyed the relative calm of the anchorage and had a quiet night on board.

Monday morning we headed to the beach as we wanted to go into Luganville to re-provision. We asked permission of the landowner, as the beaches are public but the land fronting them is private and we need to go through their grounds to reach the main road. You can see how seriously this particular one takes his privacy – check out his welcome sign LOL.

At the main road, we hitched a ride with a chatty woman who lives on one of the local huge cattle plantations and she informed us of where to find everything in Luganville and refused any petrol money. (Vanuatu is famous for its organic beef and Espiritu Santo is where most of the cattle are reared.) It was very kind of her to take us into town. We wandered the main street and we headed into a local butchers. They had a great selection of beef but not much else so we just bought some steak. Then it was on to the large market for some fresh fruit and vegetables which were all priced up so we knew we were paying the local price and not inflated tourist ones.

I had a look at the local food being prepared by women in the market but didn’t try anything as there wasn’t much that appealed to be honest. The women were quite shy but I managed to get a few smiles out of them in the end.

Moving on we headed to the town’s largest supermarket. We found most things that we wanted including some special goodies as we were hosting sundowners on board Morphie in the evening. Fully laden we got a taxi to take us back to the beach and then dinked back to the boat. The taxi driver wanted V1500 (just over £10) for the 15 minute drive and we haggled him down to V1000 which was fine, especially as we had got into town for free earlier in the day.

Back on board we put everything away, tidied up, and prepared for the gang to descend on us at 16.30. We did an Indian vegetarian platter of snacks plus some cheeses and fresh vegetable crudites with dips. We had one person with a wheat allergy and one vegan so it was a challenge to do an evening which catered for all and luckily the supermarket had a range of suitable products we could offer. We had a lovely evening with Jeff and Katie (SV Mezzaluna – USA), Mark (SV Macluska – UK) and Aso and Dan (SV Bla Ellinor – Sweden). Was fun.

Tuesday was a lovely day with the sun shining (which we haven’t seen much of this season). But sadly the wind was still too strong and in the wrong direction to head back to Luganville. We also found out that the diving on the famous sites is shore diving which is probably too difficult for me to do with my dodgy back – walking across the reef carrying all the weights and equipment would not be a good idea – so we are looking into whether we can find a company offering boat diving. We found one but weren’t able to fix a date in advance as this is so weather dependent. We will continue with our adventure and hope to sort this out for another time later.

In the afternoon we went ashore to have dinner Vanuatu style. We had received permission to use the ‘picnic’ area from the local village and so we gathered wood (with some help from the kids) and built a fire on the beach near the local fishing boats.

We got it going and then put our dishes on the flames. We had good fun and were entertained by Jeff so we had a camp fire sing along. The local kids were enjoying themselves too and stayed the evening chatting and entertaining us. Quite a few other cruisers came over from anchored boats so it was all very social. Before we returned to Morphie at the end of the evening we fed the kids the remainder of our pot luck dishes – and they loved it. The only downside to the evening was that I had forgotten my glasses (as I was wearing my sunnies) so had to stay mysterious wearing sunglasses in the dark like a right plonker LOL.

Wednesday morning and the gang decided to do a six mile dinghy ride to a nearby blue hole but we had decided we were going to take Morphie into Peterson Bay (which was too shallow for the others). So we went back into town for a final provisioning run as we expect to be on anchor for a while now. We managed to hitch a ride again, had a wander around, stopped in a local cafe/bakery for a cold drink and respite from the blistering humid stormy heat of the day. Shopping completed we returned by taxi, this time only paying V500 so that was a bargain!

Later in the afternoon (having done some hand washing) we headed to the beach and went bobbing. This is a lovely bay with sandy beaches and protected waters – definitely the best we have been in for a long time. The village kids were there to join us again and we had catered for them this time by providing chocolate bourbon biscuits. This went down a treat and we had fun with them. They also showed us their climbing skills by sitting in the trees above our heads while we were in the sea. More turned up – so additional biscuits handed out – and Richard really liked the little boy with the wild hair. What a fantastic bunch of pikininis*. They entertained us with their singing so we sang some songs and got them to join in with the actions too (“if you are happy and you know it clap your hands” etc).

[*Before getting criticised by the PC crowd, let me explain. Pikinini is found in Melanesian pidgin and other languages such as Bislama of Vanuatu. This is the usual world for ‘child’ of either a person or an animal and may refer to children of any race. It is not a derogatory or racist term here unlike its potential usage in the UK.]

Thursday morning and we checked the weather again and it was looking good for the run to North Peterson Bay. The entrance pass through this area is very shallow and can only be attempted at a minimum of one hour before high tide. So we checked the tide and double checked our navigational waypoints. Quite daunting but we had an alternative anchorage once through the outer passage if we didn’t fancy navigating through the inner one. So we picked up anchor at 1pm and headed out.

Having travelled just over 5 miles we headed towards the outer pass and then decided to continue through the inner pass with Richard sticking to the route while I eyeballed the coral bombies all around (which wasn’t that easy as the visibility was reduced by heavy cloud cover). It was quite nerve wracking as the route meandered and the reported navigational aides were missing apart from two scaffold poles at the entrance. At one point, we only had 4ft under the keel. By 14.30 we had anchor down in the bay (having travelled a huge 6.86 miles) and were delighted to be here. The anchorage is one of the most protected yet is still open to receiving the breeze – lovely!

Having settled we dinghied ashore to the Oyster Island resort only to find it was closed for refurbishment – which was disappointing. Never mind back on board and we watched three other boats come in although not all of them came through to the upper lagoon. We had a nice dinner (keeping the vegetable peelings for the dugongs that supposedly live in this lagoon) and sat in the cockpit enjoying the surroundings. We spotted two boats further north of us and there were lights on the beach so, on further investigation using Ovitalmap (where satellite images are available offline) we found Turtle Bay Lodge so may try and visit that tomorrow. We had a lovely night on anchor and barely moved despite the strong winds.

Friday morning and we had breakfast watching the local traffic come and go. There must be villages hidden behind the waterside foliage as we have seen many boats turn up with locals laden down with shopping. Our plan for the day was to visit the Mateluvu Blue Hole up the windey river. But we had to wait for the tide to come in a bit to get over the sandbar at the entrance and we took off in dink for our exploration leaving Morphie sitting pretty in the lagoon surrounded by jungle. Just such a shame about this permanently grey cloudy weather…..

We eventually managed to get over the sandbar and were first greeted by cows on the river bank who watched us go through into the river entrance. We were glad we had come through as early as possible as there were lots of hazards (particularly rocks and tree roots) that would not be so clearly visible when the tide came up. We meandered through slowly admiring the scenery and watching the water turn from muddy silty brown to beautiful clear fresh water with a layer of plants moving with the motion of the water.

At the blue hole we were greeting by some locals who asked us to pay an admission fee of V500 each. That’s fine, someone has gone to a lot of trouble to do some landscaping and put up picnic areas etc. We then wandered around and took some photos, chatting for a while with an English family who were both GPS and had been working in Luganville for a couple of months and the kids were in the international school. They were now coming to the end of their stint here. The kids were fearless jumping from the rope swings but came back a bit blue as the water was freezing! We enjoyed the transquility of the place but didn’t fancy getting that cold…..

We headed back just as it started to rain. Back on board we picked up anchor and edged our way carefully up the lagoon (which is uncharted) staying close to the centre where the depths are deeper. It was quite deep all the way and we dropped our anchor again in 10m and got ourselves settled. The cloudy weather was doing our battery bank no good as the solar gains were so limited so we ran the engine for a little while to give them a top up.

Then we headed ashore to the Turtle Bay Lodge and settled in at the Salty Dog Bar and Restaurant. Lovely little place and very cruiser friendly. But getting ashore was challenging with the incoming tide and we had to tie dink off to a fallen tree in the water (with Richard doing his monkey impression on the trunk) while I tied the stern off to some rocks on the other side of the inlet. Finally ashore (a bit soggy) we enjoyed a few cold beers and had a late lunch. Was very nice.

When we left at 5ish the tide was almost at its height and the tree was partially submerged….it was pretty dangerous to get dink back to the shallows without him surfing onto the rocks either side of the inlet – and, of course, we got completely soaked. Richard was concerned because his tree trunk was now underwater and every time the surge took the dinghy the knots got tighter and he struggled to get it untied without falling in! Back on board (somewhat relieved) we had a nice quiet evening in the cockpit before having another early night.

Saturday morning we debated our options. The high tide here is getting later each evening so we decided to leave that afternoon so that we could get through the shallow pass and back to Surunda before dark.

So we had a lazy day (and no internet access) just reading and relaxing. Then at 15.45 we picked up anchor and motored slowly towards the shallow pass. The first bit was relatively straightforward and we saw 10 ft under the keel. The rest was more challenging and, of course, the clouds returned just in time to make eye-ball navigation more difficult. But we made it through although a bit confused by the depths. On the way in, on a 3ft tide, we saw 4ft under the keel. Following our path back out exactly on a 4ft tide, we saw 3ft under the keel. Go figure!

We motorsailed back to Surunda Bay and got anchored before dark. Had a nice quiet evening on board although had to retreat down below in the torrential rain.

This morning (Sunday) we ran the weather again and the relatively settled weather that had suddenly appeared the day before looked like it was going to persist for about three days. So this could be our chance to go diving! Woo hoo. At 7.50 we picked up anchor and motor sailed out through the reef systems and between a couple of small islands (with a couple of wrecks on the reefs to remind mariners of the hazards). It was still grey and a bit rolly as we came out from the shallow water into the deep blue but it soon settled down and the sun even tried to come out.

We rounded the bottom of Espiritu Santo at Million Dollar Point

and then went through the channel to Luganville Bay (which we had been forced out of last week due to dangerous conditions). It was flat calm with people on the beach fishing in front of the small resort. We’ll be going ashore later to explore and ever hopeful that we may see some sun today.

If the current weather forecast is correct (and that will be a first) it looks like we have an opportunity to start moving south to visit some more remote villages on Wednesday but will obviously keep running the models just to make sure, as we are potentially going against prevailing winds and tides.

In the meantime, I’ll finish with a picture of Richard’s favourite pikinini LOL.

Bye for now