Heading South

Ambae, Maewo, Ambrym, Emae and Efate Islands

August-September 2023

Due to the oil cooler repair, we had lost a week of cruising time.  Mind you mooring off Aore Island is not a hardship posting. So instead of heading up to The Banks and risk having to make a run south in bad weather for Taz’ approaching appointment with the vet, we decided to start making our leisurely way back to Port Vila.  We’ll have to come back to visit The Banks another time.

Vanihe Bay on Ambae Island

Tuesday 29th August, we left our anchorage behind Aese Island bound for Ambae Island.  We aimed for the middle of the island and then followed the coastline of Ambae north-east to our anchorage at the northern-most point of the island.  It is delightfully calm because we are in the protected area behind the island – it is not calm on the other side.

A lovely day for cruising with calm seas. And there was just us and the flying fish.

Lovely and calm… Unless you think too much about the plume of gas/steam coming out of the side of the island.  The mountain hidden by clouds is a 1500m high active volcano on the island of Ambae.  Close as we are to the coast, we are still in 2200m deep water.  This thing really has been pushed straight up from the ocean floor like a pimple.

It’s currently burbling away at volcano activity level 2 (I explained those in the volcano blog about Tanna).  It was not that long ago in 2017 that the whole island was evacuated when the volcano got a bit grumpy.

As we cruised along the coast, we could see some lovely western style houses built into the slopes.  They are associated with the coconut plantations – volcanoes and fertile soil go together.

At the end of today’s choogle – the totally awesome anchorage of Vanihe Bay. 

We are 120m from these cliffs, which are over 100m high, anchored in clear water that looks black because the bottom is black sand.  It was breathtakingly beautiful and serene.

Relaxing for an evening drinkies on our ‘patio’.  The storage boxes work well as seats and with the fenders for a back rest it is quite comfy.  And the view was pretty hard to take… until it started to rain (and rain). 

The cliffs look to be yellow sandstone, so I’m thinking it started life 2.5km down on the seafloor and got rudely shoved up when the volcano made its move to become an island.  I know my brother-in-law would be at the cliff face with a geo pick, but it is pouring rain, else we’d drop the tender and head over to check them out.  There was a boat coming and going all morning, taking bags of the black sand off the beach (not sure what they do with it, but it is beautiful stuff and would make a delightful substrate in the fish tank market).  Even with the rain there was a boat that appeared to be taking tourists to see the cave in the dark of night (or maybe it’s THE spot for young adults from the village).

From this lovely anchorage we intended to visit a bay on the Island of Maewo, which was apparently quite popular with yachties.  We were looking forward to this stop, as it would be the last touristy visit before we made our way back to Port Vila.

Asanvare Bay on Maewo Island

Anchored up at Asanvari Bay at the southern tip of the Maewo Island.  According to the Rocket Guide there is a large waterfall, which we will visit today after checking out the village.  You can just see the village running parallel to the shore-line, behind the first row of trees.

We landed in the middle of a game of soccer (despite the young age of the players, they were very serious about it).  I did my best for Australia, but those jolly cute kids won most convincingly.

We discovered that the information in the guide was very out of date.  The locals mentioned are no longer here and the bar is gone – anything that isn’t concrete has gone.  The chief spoke about getting things back up and running now that boats have started coming back.  He introduced us to Carl, a young man who is working up a tourist business.

That very afternoon Carl took us up to the waterfall.  Now that is not a walk for the faint hearted, especially in the slippery mud. 

The view from the top was amazing. 

Once at the top we had to cross the rapidly flowing water dropping into the cascades below before starting the loop back to the beach.   Carl looked like a mountain goat tripping across the 6 bamboo poles that had been laid across the banks.  I looked more like a determined heifer and Peter just threw all dignity to the wind and crawled across on all fours (he said it was commando, but it looked more like wombat to me).  The bamboo was slippery and a fall would have definitely resulted in some broken bone type injuries.  Carl did offer for us to turn back before the aspiring bridge (good tourist operator call on his part).

but we are only going to live once.

The next day we headed back in to shore for a rather different snorkel.

To get to the coral reef you have to walk down some concrete steps into a cave and swim out to the ocean.  There was a big surge on the day we went snorkelling, so to get out it was best to dive down and swim along the bottom of the cave rather than take on the wave action. 

I mis-timed a surge and got carried off down another arm of the cave.  Not as dramatic as you might imagine, as the cave has openings to the sky along it and the kids were looking down laughing at me.  We didn’t stay out very long as the surge made conditions uncomfortable.

Drinking green coconuts and eating fresh fruit after our snorkel.  Green coconuts are the islands answer to bottled water [It is so sterile that the water was used for IV fluids during the war].

3rd September saw us begin our powering south.  We will be travelling all day today, and again tomorrow and the day after that.  There is a week of bad weather coming and we don’t want to risk Taz missing his Vet appointments (so much for the leisurely passage south).

So, the next day we waved at the west coast of Pentecost Island as we choogled past on our way to Ambrym Island.  There are so many places we will have to visit next time.

Dip Point on Ambrym Island

The passage across the channel between the islands was very choppy and we were very glad to finally get behind Ambrym and anchor for the night.  We had a happy group come out to offer to bring back fruit in exchange for school books.  I packaged up the last bits of primary stuff to give to the kiddie and his eyes nearly fell out of his head.  We told them not worry about the fruit as we were heading back to Port Vila, and it would have meant them coming back out in the dark, but it was good of them to offer.  I told the kiddie I was happy to trade the school stuff for his promise that he would work hard to learn to read the more difficult books.  He and his Dad were chuffed and hopefully there is another dedicated young reader out there.

After a full day cruising the next day, we anchored for the night at Sulula Bay on Emae Island (same place as on our way up). The following morning we lifted anchor for the last major run to beat the weather conditions, which were starting to get uncomfortable (20+knt winds with a very noticeable current), so we decided to push on to Port Havannah.   After an uneventful days cruise on the 5th of September, we pulled into the anchorage just North of Port Havannah for a well-earned rest.

Port Havannah, Efate Island

This anchorage is just around the corner from Port Vila – and we have finally found some other boats (six all at once!).  It’s supposed to be the busy season, and we know there have been two rallies arrived in the previous month, but this is the first time that we have seen multiples of boats outside of Luganville or Port Vila.  Vanuatu does have 83 islands though, so I guess they get spread thin.

During our cruise to Port Havannah we had been trying to work out why the power monitor had been showing a high power draw all day.  Once we were safely anchored up, we tried turning off the fridges and the various circuits to see if we could isolate the problem.  We finally sorted it out, and it wasn’t that big blue box in the lazarette playing up again! It was the other small blue box in the lazarette working its little heart out.  We are a bit embarrassed to admit that this was entirely our fault.  One of the other niggling problems we have had is that sometimes when starting the engine in the morning, the engine battery doesn’t feel up to it, so we parallel it with the house batteries to give it a boost (like using jumper leads between cars).  This is a simple procedure (the boat has a specific setup for it, so that you know you can always get the engine started. But you have to de-parallel the circuit after the engine starts, else (have you guessed) the little blue box that keeps the engine battery charged from the house batteries, is left trying to charge the engine and house batteries, from the house batteries (like a logic loop in computing). The poor little blue box sounded so happy when I turned it off for the night and put the batteries back to normal. One of the things we have had to adapt to is that sometimes issues arrive and you have to work around them until you can either solve them or get back to somewhere with technical expertise to help. The issue with the starting of the engine is a good example where Peter has checked every circuit, cleaned every contact, checked the battery is ok but the problem is still there and will need a bit more advanced troubleshooting.

As we were taking this photo on the last night, Peter was reciting the adage “red sky at night, sailors delight’.

Here is the following morning.  I’m thinking those sailors and I have a very different definition of delight!

We were welcomed back to Port Havannah by this whale.  We never get tired of seeing these guys and it seemed a fitting signoff to our cruising in Vanuatu.

We are returning to Port Vila feeling far more confident than when we first headed out.  People here in the islands are genuinely friendly and happy to see cruisers.  They are easy going about trading and are generous about sharing their reefs and waterfalls and volcanos.

The shape of volcanic islands is delightful.  Black sand is beautiful. And the smiles are huge in Vanuatu.

I can do LOW, but …

I really like hanging 8…


Research Ravings:

The old sailor’s adages were iffy at best in the northern latitudes of the northern hemisphere where they originated.  But those patterns were pretty much all the old meteorologists had (meteorologist in this instance is anyone looking to the sky to work out what the weather was going to do – no training required).  In the southern hemisphere, while fronts still travel from west to east, the air spins in the opposite direction around Lows (clockwise) and cold weather comes in from the south not the north.  Even if you just ‘reversed’ your thinking, there is still the difference in equivalent latitudes; England is further towards the north pole than Australia is to the south pole (although you don’t get that impression on our Eurocentric maps of the world).  So, the old folklore might work better if you are cruising south of Tasmania (there are not many of us as do that).

Red skies at night are the result of the sun’s rays reflecting off high clouds (water vapour or dusty air to the east of the setting sun).  We get to marvel at the range of shades of red because the more energetic blues just punch through instead of bouncing off like the more sedate reds.  These high clouds are associated with High pressure areas of stable air heading our way from the west.  So theoretically bringing nice weather.  (Unless you are in the northern climes of Australia where the local weather patterns dominate everything, red skies not withstanding).

Boat Works:

Replaced cracked water filter canister on watermaker

Ongoing issue with the engine battery

Our route South

Banner Photo: ‘Opal Lady’ anchored at Asanvari Bay, Maewo Island

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Wow that black sand sounds like something else! Bringing school supplies with you is such a brilliant idea and I’m sure you’re making huge impacts at each stop, ones you will never know the full extent of but I’m sure are significant.

    1. Greetings Alana, The black sand is indeed beautiful and adds an ethereal quality to some of the anchorages. Unfortunately, none of my photos really gives the impression of how different it looks to what we are used to in Australia. Suz

  2. Your individual crossing techniques might not have been as elegant as some but I’m very pleased to hear you survived the waterfall’s ‘bridge’. It sounds to have been a bit of a hairy experience to say the least!

    1. Greetings Bec, Apologies for the very tardy reply. The visual on that one was definitely not elegant. I’m sure in our younger days we would have bounded over the bridge like lithe ninjas; well maybe not lithe exactly and probably (definitely) not like ninjas, but the end result would have been the same – an incredible view. Suz

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