We left Malua Bay, Malekula early in the morning and headed to the northern island of Santo. It was a great sail. We spotted a shark fin so we knew there were sharks nearby and we caught a very small tuna on the lure we were towing. We returned it to the sea as it wasn’t worth taking.
We had planned to anchor close to Ratua Island where there was a nice little resort. I was ready for a little resort visit and enjoy a nice meal off the boat. There wasn’t enough room to properly anchor but we were told by a Catamaran that there was a boat leaving within the hour. We waited and waited and then decided to radio the boat that was supposed to leave. Unfortunately, they were having engine problems and had decided to stay so our planned outing had to wait. It was getting late and we had a couple of hours to go before we would reach the next anchorage which would actually be near the main town in Santo, Luganville. There were standing waves as we traversed through the East pass and it seemed a little daunting but luckily we had timed it right with the tide so we moved along quickly. It was a long way from the Segond channel to Luganville but we managed to get there just before nightfall. The dated cruising book we were using said that this was a calm anchorage. That must have been a joke or written with some sarcasm. We didn’t sleep well that night at all, as we rolled back and forth. Early in the morning we blew up the dinghy loaded with our shopping bags and our empty propane tank and set off for shore, but it wasn’t to be. The dinghy motor would not start and the rolly bay was not a place where Denny could work on the motor nor could we safely row to shore. We really did not want to spend another night at this anchorage so we off loaded the dinghy, deflated it and set off for the next bay that according to the cruising guide was going to be protected, although by this time we were seriously doubting the information provided in the dated guide.
The Guide was kind of right, Palikulo Bay was a beautiful anchorage, but their waypoints to entry it were off, we ended up snaking in between the coral heads on our own. It was wonderful to have a nights sleep with the boat sitting still. The only other boat there was from NZ and left early in the morning so we were left to explore the area on our own. While Denny worked on the dinghy motor, I kayaked the bay and found a nearby golf course. Once back on the boat I googled the golf course and found pictures of the locals playing on the course in bare feet! Once Denny had the dinghy back in action we made it to shore with garbage, backpacks and the empty propane tank. We found the road and a truck stopped and offered us a ride to town. The passenger in the truck turned out to be a chief from one of the villages in Ambae. Ambae is a nearby Island that has an active volcanoe that just erupted requiring all the people living there to be evacuated. The chief was driving around getting a census count of the people living near Luganville so that he could get aid for the families from the Red Cross. People were living in temporary tents and were hoping to go back to Ambae by the end of the year. We were a little skeptical about that considering that some of the villages on Ambae were covered in 3 to 4 feet of ash.
We made a few stops before going to Luganville and they offered to take us directly to the propane tank fill station, waited until the tank was filled and then took us back to the market. As they were planning to make several more stops in the
surrounding areas they offered to take us back to our anchorage in the afternoon. The generosity of the Vanuatu people continued to amaze us.
We had a simple lunch at the meal stand and replenished our fresh fruit and vegetable supply and made our truck rendezvous for the 20 minute ride back to our boat anchorage. We spent 4 more days exploring this bay which had World War II relics and white beaches.
Peterson Point was our next anchorage and we used the waypoints in the guide to enter the narrow, shallow channel. Well, surprise, the waypoints were off. All I could see was reef all around as we entered the bay and heard Denny talking into our headsets that all we had was 2 inches below the keel and no option but to keep going. We made it through without scraping bottom although our nerves were a little frayed. We did use the dingy before we left to find a way better route to escape the bay.
Peterson Point was a very protected little nook and there was a boat here that had been anchored here for the past 10 years (it’s there in the google map picture if you look closely). They had floated a 500 kg ( about 1000 lb) anchor from World War II remnants left behind, dropped it to where they wanted to be anchored and just chained the boat to it. They were a wonderful German couple in their late 70s with no plans to ever sail again. Many of the surrounding islands, including the one that the Octopus Resort mentioned in our trusted cruising guide have been bought by China and then soon after closed. The Islands are now “private” and had security guards ensuring nobody set foot on the shores.
We kayaked or dinghied to both of the blue holes, Riri and Matevulu. The entrance fee was $500 Vatu which was about $5.00 US. It is appropriately called blue hole as the water is an iridescent blue.
We had some fun swimming and taking pictures of floating leaves with our underwater camera trying to capture the colours surrounding us.
We did find a little resort on the main Island where we had a nice lunch with a couple from Australia that had arrived a couple of days after us in their Catamaran.
I celebrated my birthday in Peterson Bay and Denny splurged on a $100 taxi and took me to Champagne Beach as it was something I wanted to do. The beach was nothing like what I had imagined it would be. It was overrun by cattle and there were some run down stalls permanently set up but were probably only occupied if there was a cruise ship nearby. It was a beautiful, pristine white sand, teal blue water beach. Service men came to this location with bottles of champagne to celebrate the end of the war and that’s where the name ‘Champagne Beach’ originated.
Our last anchorage on Santo was in Surunda Bay. From here we caught a ride with the manager of the cattle ranches. They grazed 6,000 head of cattle on 6,700 acres. All the cattle went to markets in Japan. The beef in Vanuatu is very good, some of the best. We were headed back into Luganville to re-provision as we had our friends Pete and Mel from NZ coming for a visit in a couple of weeks. Luganville is the largest town in the neighboring islands so that’s where we had to go again. Once we had filled our backpacks and had lunch at the market we filled our Gerry can with gasoline for the dingy. We then sat at the side of the road and managed to flag a taxi for the trip back to the boat. The taxi driver was happy to take us to our anchorage as he lived nearby there but had a couple of stops to make. First, put a few liters of gas in, with appeared to be one of the only two gas stations in the town. It was Grand Central Station at the pumps with cars strategically positioning themselves in a line for the next fill up. Some cars seemed to have skipped the line but nobody yelled or honked the horns. Very civilized despite the chaos. From there it was to next station to fill the tires with air and that was as chaotic as the pumps. Replacing well-worn tires didn’t seem to the norm here, just keep adding air. Once we were on the way and about half way to our destination the taxi driver asked if it was ok if he stopped at a Cava bar that belonged to his cousin. He would be our host and buy us a Cava drink. What could go wrong with that idea. We did stop and Denny bought all of us a drink. We met his “cousin” who owned the Cava bar and also had some property in Australia. He seemed very well read, articulate and knowledgeable and Denny was bold enough to ask him what he thought of all of the property in Santo being purchased by China. He had some strong opinions and was troubled by what was happening. They gained their independence in the 1980s and were slowly losing it now to the Chinese in debts to be later paid and in property being purchased. He pointed out that the Prime Minister of Vanuatu had been invited to China and given the red carpet treatment almost annually but countries like NZ and Australia had only invited him twice. (this is not a fact that we did any research on so cannot vouch for it being true). He found it disconcerting and really had no solution to what was happening so long as the Vanuatu people had a short lived, short sighted economic benefit from this arrangement. We talked about this for quite some time and he offered us and his ‘cousin’ the taxi driver another Cava shot ‘on the house’ before we left. It was strong Cava and I could feel the effects and so could the taxi driver who drove us back at a snails pace with all other vehicles passing us. Luckily we made it back alive.
But the highlight of this anchorage were the children from a nearby village that we made friends with.
They had waved me over to say hello while I was on one of my kayaking explorations. I knew there was another ‘blue’ hole nearby so I asked if they could take us to it. We brought the dinghy over, loaded it with the 5 kids and we made the slow trek to the nearby blue hole. It was really a concrete swimming hole fed by some fresh spring water. Denny was quick to jump in but the kids just hung by the edge and wouldn’t go in. It took me a while to realize that swimming in the ‘blue’ hole was forbidden. The kids wouldn’t break the rule but were afraid to tell us about it until I asked a direct question as to whether it was ok to swim. They said we had to make a cell phone call and ask for permission and probably pay a fee. The kids visited Landfall and we gave them Coke popcorn, cookies and they watched a movie. They were amazed at all our storage lockers and the canned goods we had and they were amazed at the great tasting fresh water that our watermaker made from seawater. After their visit to our boat they were anxious to give us a tour of their home. They showed us every tree, bush, garden that offered fruit or veggies that they could eat, in contrast to our canned food lockers. Their little sister kept collecting flowers and giving them to me. We got a tour of their playground which were the remains of an old house/café. It had some local drawings on the walls which they proudly showed off. Everywhere there was shattered glass and they walked around in their barefeet without a care. They promised to drop by the next morning with some fresh coconuts and Navale nuts that they had skillfully peeled and it tasted like almonds. It was their way of thanking us for the popcorn and coke. They were energetic, fun children and we swam and hiked with them. They had lots of free time as they were on a 2 week school holiday and were basically left on their own while their parents worked. They referred to me as the ‘Queen’ as instructed to by Denny and they loved it and were always concerned for my welfare during the hikes and swim. They found us a harvest of wild lemons that looked like oranges but tasted like lemons.
Denny even managed to convince them it was oranges and their expressions were hilarious as they bit into the sour fruit. I told them his nickname was the ‘menace’ for a very good reason. It was sad to have leave these resourceful, amusing, amazing, kind, happy, generous kids. It was an amazing 5 days surrounded by white beaches, turtles and happy children.
Our friends from NZ Pete and Mel were flying into Malekula to visit us for 10 days so we had to leave Santo and head back South. It was a sail against prevailing wind so we had to pick a weather window. And we picked a great one that allowed us to go all the way to south east Malekula, Port Sandwich. It was a very protected anchorage and there were 7 sailboats there when we arrived, the most we have seen since we left Port Vila. We were only there for 2 days and only got off the boat to have happy hour with a Canadian couple on Katie M II, a boat that was in Riverside Marina NZ while we were there. From here we could easily sail in a northern direction to Lakatoro to pick up our friends who were arriving in a couple of days.