Sailing Reports | Vanuatu

Sailing to Tanna Island, Vanuatu

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Vanuatu is one of the lesser-touristed countries in the South Pacific.  We had originally planned to spend a few weeks there, but instead found ourselves only spending a few days.  Thankfully, though, we decided to spend those few days on Tanna Island, doing one of Vanuatu’s most popular attractions – the Yasur Volcano.

Where is Tanna Island?

Tanna Island is about 500 miles west of Fiji.  In the Vanuatu islands, it’s one of the southernmost islands, putting it between Fiji and New Caledonia.  The land is lush vegetation, very fertile.  Tanna Island is famous for its coffee (not something we enjoy), cults, and the volcano!

Clearing into Tanna Island

In researching Vanuatu, we discovered that the number one thing for cruisers to do is to visit the Yasur Volcano on Tanna Island. The catch is that the customs office on Tanna is in Lenakel, on the west side, while the volcano and the protected anchorage of Port Resolution are on the east side.

You could clear in on a different island further north, but then you have a beat into the SE winds to get to Tanna.  Or, you can take our boat around the island to Lenakel, and then beat back around to Port Resolution.  Or, take a car the several hour trip from Port Resolution to Lenakel, each way. Finally, you can advise Vanuatu authorities that you are coming in and would like to clear in at Port Resolution, and you can pay $6000 vatu (roughly $60 USD) to have an officer come to Port Resolution.

Guess which sounds best to us.

To request the clear in on Tanna Island, we went to the Customs & Inland Revenue website and filled out the contact us form.  We received a response within 24 hours.

Officially clearing into Vanuatu at Port Resolution on Monday was – no surprise – complicated.  We buddied up with Cheeky Monkey to head into the Port Resolution Yacht Club (PRYC) to meet the officials, only to find out that the Immigrations officer came and went without seeing us.  How were we supposed to know he was there?  Psychic skills, apparently, as he doesn’t have a VHF or other method of informing us he was there.  Customs, however, called us on the radio and we were able to meet with Customs.  Clearing in was $5,000 Vatu per boat.  All the cruisers split the $6,000 for transporting the official.  Sandy Cheeks came into the anchorage about mid-afternoon, so the officials were coming back the next day, thankfully.

Tuesday the customs guy gave us a call – he was back at the PRYC to clear Sandy Cheeks in, and Immigration was on his way too.  We headed back in to finalize our formalities.  Immigration was $4,800 Vatu.  We got to meet 3 other cruising boats that we ended up spending a lot of time with – Cactus Island (you may recall they were in the Musket Cove Regatta), Cruz Control (also in the regatta but I didn’t get any cool pictures of them) and Sea Wolf.  Cactus Island’s crew is Marie and Gerald, Australians, and CI is the FIFTH boat that Gerald has built, and is a fully rotating, dual masted catamaran.  Cruz Control is Dal and Dave, also Aussies, and Sea Wolf is Jonas and Sebastian from Denmark.  Quite the diverse group here in Tanna Island.

Walking Around Port Resolution

While ashore we met Stanley, the chief’s son, who acts as a liaison for cruisers, organizing trips and getting us help when we need it.  Then we took off for a walk through the village and out to the beach on the east side of Port Resolution.  The village is small, and the houses are all very traditional.  The villagers make the houses from woven thatch for walls and roofs with basic touches and furnishings.  We walked all the way to a beautiful white sand beach, home to a future resort.

A thatch roof hut on Tanna Island in Vanuatu.
A traditional (and typical) Vanuatuan home.
Huge banyan trees reside throughout the island.
Traditional dugout canoes.

Chez Leah

Wednesday I went ashore early to arrange a lunch at Chez Leah for a few boats – us, SC and CI, and 8-year-old Liv from Oceana.  It poured rain while I was walking around, but the rain let up by lunchtime.  All three boats met at the beach and walked over together.  Leah served us an amazing lunch.  For $850 vatu ($8.50 USD) we were served about 10 platters, family-style, of local Vanuatu food.

Dishes included a cabbage salad, chicken curry, rice, cucumber salad, steamed choko (what we would call chayote), roasted sweet potatoes, and a platter of cooked produce including two kinds of taro, a banana/plantain hybrid, and cassava.  Dessert was fresh papaya slices and Tanna Island coffee.  Anything we finished, Leah brought out more. Leah served the meal with what she calls lemon juice – basically lemonade, but slightly different – not as strong on either the lemon or the sugar flavors.  David loved it.

Leah with George and Liv.
Chez Leah.
Our lunch group – Gerald in the foreground, to his left, Marie, me, David, George, Liv, and Lindsay. Photo creds to Cathie from Sandy Cheeks.

On our way back to the beach, we stopped at the local school to talk to the headmaster and to drop off some donations.  We got to see the computer lab and a few classrooms.  I met Paul, the new school teacher who will be in charge of the computer skills program.  Paul and his partner are cruisers – they sailed their boat through the Coconut Run this year and decided they needed to stop and smell the roses.  They are volunteer school teachers, getting room and board for their work over the next year while their boat stays anchored in Port Resolution.

Local Show and Laplap

As we were starting to get our dinghy together, a guy approached us – Martin – who said he had a local friend, Mowi, who was putting on a small show and would we like to come along?  We said yes, and Marie and Gerald from Cactus Island joined us.  Mowi is trying to start this as a business.  Martin said her husband left her with 6 kids and no income, so she’s trying to start up a cultural show.

Mowi and two other women were wearing (somewhat) traditional clothes and sat underneath a big banyan tree.  They were making laplap, a traditional Vanuatu dish.  This worked out pretty well because I’d been wanting to try it.  The ladies used sticks to grate the banana and taro, which they then mixed with shredded coconut and folded into a banana leaf.  Then, the ladies put the packets into halved coconut husks.  Then, they put hot rocks on top of the packet and closed the “oven” using the other half of the coconut.  The heated rocks cooked the laplap and 20 minutes later, we tried a taste.  It was very similar to the lovo bread Alifreti made for us in Fiji.  The banana flavored one was a big hit.

The cooked laplap.
Mowi and her friends grating the food.
Anytime a big camera was out, the kids we right front and center.

While the laplap baked, the ladies showed us how to weave the dried plant into bracelets, and their kids ran around playing, screaming, and hamming it up for the cameras.  Mowi asked for a contribution, and we gave her $500 Vatu and then she offered us papaya and bananas.  It was a small little thing, but I enjoyed it!

That night, we had George and Liv over to have a movie night, complete with popcorn and dropping our main salon table.  We watched the Lego Batman movie and served the kids dinner and ice cream before sending them back to their happy parents.

Traveling to Lénakel

Ryan and Ted from Cheeky Monkey organized a ride to Lénakel.  They returned to tell us that the ride was beautiful (they passed the Yasur volcano).  Lénakel is small and there’s not much of anything.  Ryan bought a sim card with 1.5 GB of data for very cheap.  The ride into town cost $3,000 Vatu ($30 USD).

Clearing Out

Our plans for Vanuatu were to make our way from Tanna Island up to Port Villa (the capital) and Luganville (for diving) over the next few weeks.  However, a look at the weather told us that there was a very rare opportunity of north winds coming, making it ideal to sail to New Caledonia.  CM and SC had never planned on heading further north in Vanuatu.  We really wanted to, but the further north you go in Vanuatu the harder it is to get over to New Caledonia, so we joined our friends’ plans to head to New Cal.

Thursday we met the officials to clear out, only paying a split of the cost for the officials to get there ($6,000 Vatu split between six boats).  On the yacht club lawn was quite a hubbub.  We learned about two things we missed out on in Tanna Island that are worth knowing about.  Every Tuesday afternoon there is a village market, where the women sell produce, laplap, and handicrafts.  After the market is a women’s council, where they decide on a community service project for Thursday.  Thursday at 9 am everyone meets at the yacht club to work on the project (whatever it is).  Afterward, the ladies all stop for a picnic lunch, and the day we saw this, the village ladies also provided lunch at the PRYC for the cruising volunteers.  We didn’t know about either of these activities until it was too late.

Hot Springs on the Beach

Afterward, David, Ryan, and I took off for a hike.  We followed the road hoping it would lead us to the beach without having to ford the river but no such luck.  We backtracked and forded the river to the black sand beach.  At the far side, there are hot springs that steam up from the volcanic activity underground.  Consequently, the beach and rocky shore smell vaguely sulfuric and are devoid of life – no crabs, coral or algae survive in the rocks near the spring.  The water is HOT!  On our way back, we popped by Leah’s and she served us lemon juice and snacks for $250 Vatu per person.

Kava Night

That night, Ryan had arranged for the guys to have a kava experience with Stanley.  Ryan bought kava in Lénakel and the men gathered to imbibe – the village does not allow women to drink kava.  I enjoyed a rare night with the boat to myself.

CM invited us over Friday morning to enjoy some of Ryan’s internet.  While there, Ryan graciously made us and the crew of Sea Wolf lunch.  Ryan grilled lamb neck that he served with rice and vegetable curry.  SO SO good.

Yasur Volcano

The absolute best thing we did, and the whole reason we came here, was to hike the Mount Yasur volcano as it was erupting!

David and I as the volcano erupts.

Feeling Sick

We got back to PRYC well after dark.  David and I took off for Chez Leah to have some dinner.  I had talked to Stanley beforehand, hoping that dinner would be waiting for us but that was not the case.  We sat to wait and a bad feeling was creeping up on me.  I thought I was nauseous from the smoke I inhaled at the volcano.  However, even after breathing in a lot of fresh air, I kept feeling worse.

I tried to alleviate it by walking around the village and sitting in the grassy field nearby (in which, by the way, I spotted several fireflies).  Eventually, I told David I couldn’t wait for dinner; we had to get back to the boat.  Leah was very understanding (and we paid her anyway).  She packed up what was ready.  We hustled back to Starry Horizons.  I was very disappointed to not be able to take advantage of the clear night sky.  I wanted to capture some photos of the stars, the anchorage, and the glow from the volcano.

However, I was immediately sick when getting back to the boat.  I hadn’t thrown up from sickness for as long as I’ve known David so I feel like I usually have a pretty iron stomach.  Whatever it was though, I was in and out of the bathroom vomiting (and….) until 3 am.  It was not pleasant.

Off to New Caledonia

That morning shortly after sunrise, David woke me up to get us underway.  Most of our friends – CM, SC, Cactus Island, Sea Wolf – were already gone.  With the anchor up and mainsail out, I went back to bed.  My body was sore and I was exhausted.  We could have stayed in Tanna Island, and we discussed it.  Two things kept us from staying: the weather window would be gone, and if I needed medical attention, it would be much better for SH to be in Noumea versus Tanna Island.

The 36-hour passage to New Caledonia was fairly uneventful, with the exception of David singlehanding almost all the way.  Sunday morning I was feeling well enough to take over so David could get a nap in.  We led the way and were the first to anchor in Baie du Boise, New Caledonia Sunday afternoon.  CM, CI, and SW quickly joined us.  SC arrived later that evening.

Everyone is Sick

Turns out, I wasn’t the only one feeling poorly.  I was the only one that could safely say it was a 24-hour stomach bug.  Ryan started to feel really terrible too and had to seek medical attention in Noumea.  The doctor said he had a systemic infection originating in his leg.  He was down for several days.  Ryan’s crew member Ted had singlehanded just like David did.

On Sea Wolf, Jonas got a similar infection and ended up having to fly to Australia for treatment.  It was rough times for this regatta.

Into Noumea

Monday morning we all upped anchor, and Ryan had Ted follow closely behind us.  SC had left first, but the two Helias caught up to them and David flew Pheonix to try to get a cool shot.  The boats have to be really close together to get anything really cool.

Three FPs in a row.

Monday afternoon was anchor down in Noumea!  So who really won the FP Regatta from Tanna Island to New Caledonia?  Cheeky Monkey won the leg from Fiji to Vanuatu and we won the leg from Fiji to New Caledonia.  I can’t say it was an intense race since our single crew members were really just trying to hold things together.  Honestly, I have no idea how Sandy Cheeks fared.  They should have a handicap, but I have no idea what it is.  I tried to look it up and it’s a complicated calculation with a ton of measurements.  I’m not that dedicated to it.

Watch the Video: Kava and Lava in Vanuatu

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6 Comments

  1. Sooooo sorry to hear that you were sick. It’s always awful, but I have to believe that the motion of sailing is not helpful. You mentioned dropping off some donations. I’d be interested to hear more about that. Is this something you do everywhere? What type of thing are you donating?? Love and hugs. . .

    1. We donated school notebooks, but we also carry around t-shirts to give away. Sandy Cheeks donated a bunch of school supplies and some of George’s old clothes. A lot of cruisers carry around reading glasses to give away too.

  2. Sure is cool that you guys meet up with so many folks and make friends along the way. Sounds like new fun all the Time. Approximately how many hours was Sandy Cheeks behind you in your regatta. Looking to understand the speed difference and don’t care about the handicap. Thinking about buying one of the two boats in the future and the speed is an important factor. Thanks

    1. Hi Jon! While I can’t tell you exactly how much time Sandy Cheeks took, I can tell you that Lindsay says he averages 6 knots on passage while we average 6.75.

  3. I finally have enough internet to read this installment and looking forward to reading previous ones before this while still in Tahiti. We will be following your wake after the Cyclone Season, maintenance and cleanup on Coastal Drifter

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