Friday, October 7, 2016

Tanna Island

It is difficult to stop in Port Resolution as it is not a regular Port of Entry, so one must organise and pay transport for Customs and Immigration for checking into the country. In addition, there are no banks or ATMs in Port Resolution. Many cruisers found it difficult to obtain Vanuatu currency (vatu) in Fiji, so most of us arrived with no local currency. Stanley, from the "Yacht Club", helped many of us by convincing transport drivers and others to accept USD. 

We decided to travel to the capital of Tanna Island, Lenakel, on the West side of the island to exchange our USD, or take money out of an ATM. The trip involved crossing the ashfields on the downwind side of the volcano. Due to some confusion about whether a bank was open in Lenakel (it was a provincial holiday) or if a large hotel would change money for us, we ended up crossing the island and the ashfields 4 times! Most of them were while riding in the back of a pick-up truck.
Local girls we met while waiting for a ride

Dina heading down the gully to get to the truck which stopped to give us a ride
Ash field view with Mt Yasur adding some more ash to it all


We were unable to change money, so were unable to purchase lunch, and had to convince an older gentleman of the value of USDs to get a ride back to Port Resolution. We arrived back to the boat very dirty, with black streaks of soot everywhere, and too tired to go to the weekly John Frum ceremony in a nearby village. We heard afterwards from Norm and Willie on SV Dream Catcher that the John Frum ceremony was disappointing.

With so much more to explore in Vanuatu, we hoisted anchor and began making our way north.
Looking back at Mt Yasur doing it's thing

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Port Resolution and Mt Yasur

We had a lovely sail for the first 48 hours from Fiji to Vanuatu. On the third day, we hoisted the gennaker and maintain about 5 knots per hour. On the fourth day, we had to furl the sails and motor. That afternoon we anchored in Port Resolution, in the southern Vanuatu island chain, next to the smoke spewing volcano, Mt. Yasur.
Approaching Tanna Island, with Mt Yasur spewing ash

It was so exhilarating to land in Vanuatu. Aside from the active volcano and the steam vents at the anchorage, the mountains were covered in trees and jungle plants and the beaches, both black sand and white, were unspoiled.
Active steam vent at the anchorage in Port Resolution

We awoke the next day to learn it was a holiday in Vanuatu so there was no Customs or Immigration service. Stanley, the caretaker at the Port Resolution “Yacht Club”, assured us we were allowed to go ashore to see the volcano. That afternoon, we piled into trucks with SV Dream Catcher, SV Rehua and SV Second Wind and went to the entrance of the volcano. Before walking up to the rim of the volcano, we were given a safety talk, were sorted into groups with guides and were entertained with local traditional dancing.
Dancers in traditional costume

Then we went to the volcano...
Yikes! We're walking closer??!?

Crater View - Mt Yasur

and we moved to the viewing area near the edge...
Looking down into the crater - Mt Yasur

Small eruption - Mt Yasur

We felt the heat and vibrations with each eruption.
Eruption with ash - Mt Yasur

As night fell, the redness of the rock, sparks and lava spewing from the volcano stood out dramatically.
Lava and crater view - Mt Yasur

Malcolm had the camera on a tripod, but the vibrations from the eruption made the camera shake as can be seen in the wiggling at the end of the light trails in this long exposure shot (1 second).
Long exposure eruption -  - Mt Yasur

Eruptions from two parts of crater - Mt Yasur



Another evening, Stanley organised a fundraising dinner for local school fees. Several mothers of children attending the school cooked a local feast for the cruisers. Aside from a nominal fee, many cruisers took the opportunity to donate school supplies and clothing.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Final week in Fiji

The three boats, Good as Gold, Free Spirit and Roxanne, left Mana Island and went north towards Naviti Island, the place known for Manta Rays. We all decided to anchor part way to Naviti Island, at a little gap between Waya and Wayasewa islands. We chose this place because it was supposed to have good snorkelling and it was close enough to we could make a day trip to Naviti Island the next day. At low tide, Waya and Wayasewa are connected by a sand bar and at high tide the locals drive their boats though the gap. We did some snorkelling and the reputation was well deserved. Unfortunately, the bay seems to have been invaded by Crown of Thorns, an invasive species of starfish that eats coral at an incredible rate and is killing reefs around the world.

Instead of taking all three boats to Naviti for the day, everyone got onto Roxanne for the trip. Once there, we saw several tour boats from the local resorts. The coral and fish here were plentiful, like lots of places in Fiji, but the Manta Rays were nowhere to be found. We talked to some of the tour boats who confirmed that most days there are mantas but some days there aren’t. Well, the snorkelling was nice. Before we left, Tom thought we should check one more time so he drove his dinghy towing Malcolm through the water. Malcolm really, really enjoyed this. It was like the drift dive we did in Fakarava, French Polynesia. It seemed like the fish were not that frightened by the dinghy so Malcolm got a great view. There were still no Manta Rays, but there was a very large octopus – maybe 5 feet long. It was frightened by the dinghy so it moved quickly to a better hiding place as Malcolm and Tom passed over it. Malcolm was amazed at how quickly it camouflaged itself as it settled into a crack in the coral. Just as they were heading back to Roxanne, Malcolm saw a White Tipped Reef shark and he felt like a large lure being towed behind Tom’s dinghy. The shark was sleeping on the bottom, so it was a non-event.

Coral

Dina snorkelling

On the way back to the anchorage, we discussed the Crown of Thorns. We decided to go snorkelling the next day and see if we could remove some of them. Free Spirit left in the morning to head down to Nadi, as Lauri had plans to fly home for a visit. In order to avoid too many tears, we said a quick good bye to our good friends and made plans to see them next season in Vanuatu or New Caledonia. After they left, we got some tongs from the galley and went on a Crown of Thorns hunt.

Tom had a big bucket in his dinghy, while Lynn, Malcolm and Dina gathered as many Crown of Thorns as possible. As the bucket filled, Tom took the starfish to the beach and dumped them in a safe place. In no time the hermit crabs were investigating their next meal. The thorns are very sharp and have a mild toxin. Dina was the first to get pricked when one moved around while she had it in her tongs. Tom is a former ER Doctor, so he took Dina back to Roxanne, removed the spine from her finger and made her soak it in very hot water to break down the toxin. In the meantime, Lynn and Malcolm continued collecting. Malcolm was next to get stung when he tried to grab some coral to help position himself to reach a very large Crown of Thorns. Unfortunately, there was a second one hiding under the coral that he grabbed and he was stung. By this time, the group had probably collected about 80-100 Crown of Thorns so we called it quits and went back to Roxanne so Dr. Tom could take care of Malcolm’s finger.

Pile of Crown of Thorns we dumped on the beach
Photo we found at www.cairnspost.com.au, showing someone else collecting some Crown of Thorns

At this point we’d explored as much of Fiji as we reasonably could, so both boats headed south to Nadi, docking at Port Denaru next to about 7 or 8 mega yachts, 2 with their own helicopters. We stayed at Port Denaru for a few days, bought fuel and provisions, and had some nice meals ashore. We had a really good weather window, so we checked out of the country and started on the three day sail to Vanuatu.

Halfway to Vanuatu