The route from Suva, Fiji to the island of Anatom (aka Aneityum) took us southwest about 550 nm. The going was slow and it took us five days to make the passage with light winds sometimes and gusty winds and squalls other times.
Originally named the New Hebrides by Captain Cook because they reminded him of the Scottish islands, Vanuatu is probably the most culturally and linguistically diverse country in the Pacific. The country is comprised of 83 islands, of which 65 are inhabited. Though English and French are spoken, more than 100 local Melanesian languages prevail, plus Bislama (or Bichelama), aka Pidgin, making communication between islands and tribes sometimes challenging. We were fortunate that most folks we met spoke some English.
We landed near the village of Anelgawat, one of three villages on Anatom Island. The community center, built cooperatively by the locals, is the village meeting place and offered a fresh market and a kava hut. We bought raw peanuts, papaya and mandarins and shared some with the kids on the beach.
Though David had partaken of kava in Tonga, it was not allowed for women and thus Marcie had never tasted it. In Vanuatu, where the national drink is kava, everyone can sip it. We decided to give it a try. Kava is a gray, dirty dishwater colored liquid served in coconut shell halves. It has a distinctive bitter, peppery taste. Marcie's lips, tongue and throat were immediately numb. This will never be our drink of choice.
We tried another Vanuatu favorite during our visit ... laplap. The village got together at the community center for a school fund raising event which featured laplap, the national food. We might not have liked kava, but the laplap was good!
The best thing he did for the village, however, was to teach several of the men how to fix solar panels. He made up a test jig, documented the procedures in a booklet, taught a class at the local school and then went house to house with several men overseeing the repair processes until the men felt confident to repair the panels themselves. The booklet was subsequently kept under lock and key at the school's tiny library. Teach a man to fish ...
While on the island, a major event occurred and we were invited to observe. In 1841, Samoan missionaries arrived at Anatom. They were butchered and eaten. For 170 years, the islanders have felt the shame of their ancestors' actions and attributed any bad thing that has happened to the island to the massacre. A group of Samoan religious leaders visited the island and we witnessed the re-enactment and a subsequent Reconcilation Ceremony where the islanders begged forgiveness and were forgiven. It was an extraordinary event and, as honored guests, we had a front row seat … with chairs. We weren't quite sure what to expect. When we heard the pounding of feet and the screaming of the warriors as they raced to the approaching Samoan boat, brandishing spears and war clubs, our hearts were pounding. If it was us, we would not have anchored! Don't forget ... you can click on the thumbnails to enlarge the pics!
After 10 days at Anatom, we sailed along the island's west coast and headed north about 50 nm to Port Resolution on Tanna Island. Tanna has several interesting things to see, but #1 is Mount Yasur, the most accessible active volcano in the world. We were, of course, keen to see it and we tolerated Port Resolution's notable rolly anchorage in order to make the trip up to the volcano's rim. The village is very organized and Stanley, the self-proclaimed yachtie coordinator, arranged a trip to the volcano via the village's 4-wheel drive, 1/2 ton Toyota truck, for us and another cruiser couple. As we neared the volcano, we could hear it rumble. We climbed the path to the rim and felt the earth tremble beneath our feet ... quite an unsettling feeling. The volcano belched thick brown smoke, heaps of steam and blue sulphurous vapor.
The 54 nm trip from Port Resolution, Tanna to Dillon's Bay, Erromongo was downwind, fast and pleasant. After Tanna's rolly anchorage, Dillon's Bay was calm and serene. We were the only yacht in the anchorage and when we met Chief William to ask his permission to stay for a few days, he said "Stay a month, you add flash to the harbor … and we like flash."
We moved on to Efate Island and Vanuatu’s capital city and big smoke, Port Vila. With a population of about 46,000, it's one of the South Pacific's largest and most attractive towns. We were looking forward to well-stocked supermarkets, fresh market fruits and veggies and showers and internet. The town is lived up to expectation. Port Vila is busy and bustling and provided everything we needed. The French influence was noticeable in the fresh baguettes for 60 cents each and Au Bon Marche, grand, well-stocked supermarket that was so tidy and had so much variety, we're nearly overwhelmed.
As wonderful as the city was, the season was dictating the length of our visit. We needed to provision, do some chores and get moving as quickly as possible if we wanted any time to visit the rest of these enchanting islands before heading to Australia before the onset of the cyclone season.
We island-hopped, stopping briefly at the island of Epi, then made our way Ambrym ... the Black Island because of its twin active volcanoes, Mounts Marum and Benbow, responsible for the island’s black volcanic soil. Or is it the black island because it’s considered the most mysterious island of Vanuatu with strong witchcraft, sorcery and traditions of "men blong magik"?
On to Malekula in the Mascarene Island group where we stayed a week to make repairs for both Nine of Cups as well as the local village. Once again, David was in great demand and we were rewarded with local produce from the village gardens and fruit trees.
We headed to Espiritu Santo Island and Vanuatu’s second largest city, Luganville. We were under the gun now to get a move on across the Coral Sea to Australia. A few days spent at nearby Oyster Island afforded us the opportunity to complete pre-passage maintenance and then we were off to Bundaberg, Australia with a planned stop at uninhabited Chesterfield Reef.
Stay tuned … more to come as we cross the Coral Sea.