Saturday, August 23, 2014

Off to the Races

A few notes first – there are new photos up on the page and more top come – enjoy. And this entry is a bit "out of order" as the happened before our trip to Tanna and the volcano.

On a lovely Saturday morning, we headed into Port Vila for a day at the racing that is! This is an annual event on the island of Efate. It is considered the "Kentucky Derby" of Vanuatu – or at least that is what we were told. The Kiwanis Club sponsors the event and raises money to support its local charities with this multi-day event. On Wednesday night there is a black tie ball and then the races on Saturday followed by a post race event. We would participate in the races – having left our tuxedo, ball gown and tiara at home!

In town, there were free buses out to the venue. It is about a 45 minute drive out to the "track" so we got a good sightseeing tour along the way. Past a golf course, we were dropped off near the track. One of the sponsors of the event is Tusker beer...and the other, was the local Vanuatu abattoir (slaughterhouse). The track actually runs past the abattoir - that should get the horses moving fast!

On sight, there were lots of food stalls selling Tusker beer and all types of food. The place was packed with ni-Vans (locals) and ex-pats – mostly Australians. The ex-pats get all dolled up for the event – derby style. Lots of fancy dresses, high heels (fun to watch on the grassy terrain), hats and frills were on show. Several tents for the sponsors were set up and one called the "birdcage" was part of the fund-raising activity. You could pay 8500 Vatu to get in and eat and drink and have the best vantage point for the races. We stayed out of the tents and stood by the fence with the locals and enjoyed the festivities.

The races were great! These are local horse and local riders – though they did have pretty shiny satin shirts and jockey helmets. Several of the horses ran in several races. There were some stats on some of the horses – but picking them by name was as good a chance as any for winning a race. The betting was simply for "win" - as some of the races only had four horses. We decided to put a few dollars in the second race on a horse named "Tanna" because we would be heading to Tanna in a few days. It was a good pick – as our horse won and our 200 Vatu bet got us 300 Vatu in winnings! Whoo-hoo! In the next race we placed our money on Jenny (Barbara's mom's name, sort-of) and it was a great race. Two horses as they went past the abattoir freaked out and tossed their riders. Both riders were okay but the horses came to the finish line riderless. Jenny was neck and neck at the finish – so it was a photo-finish. Unfortunately the other horse was bigger and nosed Jenny out – so no win for us! But it was really close.

We enjoyed the day in company of our friends Sandy and Rankin from Gypsea Heart. A few Tuskers, lunch, a little betting and good company made for a really fun afternoon. There was a stage playing music the entire time and the track announcer – from Austalia was very entertaining. A successful outing – though we didn't come back with pocketfuls of Vatu! We caught another free bus back to town. It was one of those events we were glad we heard about. It was a local event with lots of local folks and it was something very different.

There are photos of our day at the races on the sight!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

It Roared and Spit Fire!

At 1600, (4 pm) we met at the Port Resolution Yacht Club for the trip to the volcano. Johnson showed up about 1630 and the truck came soon after that. There would be four of us going up – the other two from the sailboat Segera, Bill and Penny. The pickup also had another passenger, a rooster, tied up under one of the seats. We weren't sure if this was a pet, a sacrifice to the volcano or simply someone's dinner! We loaded into the back of the pickup which had a metal cage over the bed. We headed off and soon found the cage very useful for holding on and keeping the passing trees from whacking you too hard in the head. The key was not to look forward and get an eye poked out! This was when it was a helpful time to be shorter!

Halfway to the mountain, the truck stopped and the rooster was handed off to a young man – guess it's ride was over!

The trip to the volcano park entrance was over some very rough dirt road – with giant ditches, and the driver thought it was good to drive fast! Needless to say, we held on to the cage and got bounced around. We paid our park entrance fee and then headed up the mountain. One small part of the road actually had two narrow tracks of concrete making the drive a bit smoother. We entered a landscape that was all black ash with boulders strewn about. The mountain was rumbling and you could feel the earth shake on the really big belches.

We left the truck to hike a small way up a nice path. The whole time, you'd hear all these strange noises from the mountain. The volcano has four levels of activity. We were told it was at Level Two. Level one is relatively tame, two a bit wilder, three means you can only go so far up the hillside and at Level Four the mountain is closed to all visitors. We got there with enough daylight to see the landscape and the chasm filled with smoke. There is a cone between two large vents that is growing as the lava bombs hit it. We weren't alone as there were about 30 others up at the crater to see nature's show.

As it grew steadily darker, the mountain grew more dramatic. It seems to have come to life with darkness. The noises all seemed more dramatic and the light show phenomenal. The noise is what we didn't expect. There were various sounds coming from the chasm – aloud whooshing noise, a puffing sound, a loud growl and the even louder roar. You thought you start to see a pattern in the sounds and the lava bombs – but then it would change. For awhile, the large roar was followed by an incredible display of lava being shot into the air and then the hot rocks landing on the center cone and surrounding crater sides. Then you'd get a blast of pyrotechnics without any preceding sound. It obviously had a mind of its own.

The ground would also vibrate – not like an earthquake – but you would feel the vibration through your body from your feet up. It was also something, like the sound, that was a bit unexpected. But the multiple senses being touched made the experience very rich.

At one point, Michael was taking a picture of Barbara with the glowing light as a background – and the mountain roared and belched lava bombs scaring her silly. You can see the photo when it gets posted! Fear captured!
One woman from Auckland kept saying we were all "mad as hatters" to be up there so close to an active volcano. Perhaps she is right. But the sight, sound, feel of the experience is truly indescribable. It is so mesmerizing that you couldn't take your eyes away from it. You couldn't stop being excited with every sound and vibration. We were the last four along with out guide to leave the mountain. We could have stayed til sun-up watching it, but our guide was eager to get back home. He gets to do this daily!

The trip back was another memorable experience. The driver went a tad slower making the ride a bit more comfy (just a bit). The stars were out and very bright and riding in the dark through the bush was interesting.

Then BANG! The truck hit something. It was a relatively large pig and now it was dead (or almost dead) in the road. The truck stopped, the back gate opened and now we had a new guest in the truck bed with almost dead pig! We understand if a pig is hit on the road, it is the property of who hit it – though it did seem that our truck was pretty stealthy about loading it and then unloading it at a house along the way! It added to the adventure.

We got back to the PRYC and made our way down a path with flashlights to the dinghy and weaved our way back to "Astarte" over the coral and rocks. We enjoyed a bottle of French red wine aptly named "Couer des Montagnes" (heart of the mountains). We had brought it up to the volcano with us – but were too mesmerized by the activity to enjoy it up at the beating heart of Mt. Yasur.

This wasn't on our bucket list – but seeing the volcano at Mt. Yasur on Tanna was on our Vanuatu "must see" list. We are so glad we beat into the wind to get here and experience it. The world's most accessible volcano is what it is known as and it is that! We'll get pictures on as soon as we can get good internet.


radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Trip to Tanna

We left Port Vila on Monday morning at 0615 for the 150 mile trip to the island of Tanna in the southern part of the Vanuatu chain. Because we were heading in a southeast direction – the same direction of the prevailing winds, we had to wait for either really light winds or a more easterly component. We were supposed to have both – so it was a good window to head southeast. We motored out the narrow channel of Port Vila, under the power lines and into the bigger swells. Then we were able to sail – close hauled and off course, but it was sailing. We got into some wacky water – seas from several directions and very steep and close together. This is probably because the bottom contours go from 6000 feet to 2000 and in one spot 300 feet. This must create all kinds of wave stacking. We just hoped that sailing in this area known as the ring of fire, that none of these 300 foot mounts would decide to "erupt" at the moment we would pass over! Around midnight, we had to change course, more into the wind so we decided to motor sail in order to be assured of getting to Tanna the next day in light and not have to stay out an additional night. We did this for awhile then the wind turned actually a bit northeast, so we could sail again close to the course. We did this until we would hit the the island of Tanna – then had to motorsail again.

We entered Port Resolution around 1500 (3 pm) on Tuesday afternoon and anchored. The bottom is volcanic sand and it took two tries to get the anchor dug in well. There were four boats here already so we found a good place in about 4 meters.

Port Resolution was named by Captain Cook after he landed here. He sure named a lot of places. This one was named after his ship – he must have run out of people to whom he owed money! It is beautiful with beaches and green hills. The famous volcano Mt. Yasur, the reason we trekked south, is not quite visible from the anchorage though you can certainly see the plume of smoke from it over the hills. You can also hear it rumble...a lot! It sounds like a jet overhead.

After a night's rest, we awoke to a beautiful clear morning and went ashore to set up our volcano expedition. There is a small "yacht club" in the village and run by the village, the "Port Resolution Yacht Club." You can arrange for a meal there and they serve cold beers "sometimes." Beer all the time, the cold is the "sometimes" part! We met Johnson, the man who would take us to Mt. Yasur and set up a trip for later this afternoon. We strolled through the very traditional "kustom" village, met friendly folk, got some free bananas and a papaya (pawpaw) and ended up on one of the most beautiful white sand beaches. There are three small restaurants in the village, a soccer field, school and lots of small gardens. Some men were building a hut for the Chief as the women were weaving the walls. Everyone was pitching in and all were friendly, telling us how they built it.

Jimmy came by in his outrigger and offered us all types of fruits and vegetable – we accepted some incredibly fragrant lemons and traded some hooks for them. We also gave his son Jonah some school supplies. The people here are what we have seen everywhere in Vanuatu – smiling, laughing, friendly and generous.

Tonight (Wednesday) the volcano!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Friday, August 15, 2014

=?ISO-8859-1?Q?=93This is Vanuatu=94?=

We go out to dinner one night with Sandy and Rankin from "Gypsea Heart." They are Texans (of an unusual variety) and we enjoy their company a lot. So we head to this "Texan" restaurant here in Port Vila. It is called the "War Horse Saloon." It features ribs, Tex-Mex dishes and burgers. Plus they brew their own beer. Our waitress, a ni-Van (native of Vanuatu) is Elsie and she, like most ni-Vans, has a great sense of humor. She is using a very hi-tech tablet that she types the order on and it texts it to the kitchen. We comment that that is pretty cool and saves her going to the kitchen. She said, "No I still have to check. This is Vanuatu!"
It was a fun night out and we met the owner, a former Texan and major league baseball player. That's a whole story in itself!

We have had several interesting nights and days out around town. There seems to be regular events – this weekend it's the MicroFinance Trade Fair. There are booths set up in the waterfront park, a stage and we saw some incredible dances and heard some good music. The booths sell tasty food (though we did pass on getting the cooked bats). There are booths from various different islands in Vanuatu selling their oils, baskets, pottery, beautiful wood furniture, carvings, even eggs and vegetables. They are trying to get orders for things from the shops in Port Vila and perhaps even Australia and New Zealand. We get to see some cool stuff, snack on cheap eats and see entertainment. The festival is mostly all Ni-Vans all dressed up enjoying the entertainment.

We celebrated two big birthdays this week as well – Sandy (Gypsea Heart) and Simon (Tuarangi) both turn 50 on the same day next week. So we went out to a lovely Thai restaurant for their special buffet on Thursday night and then back to Astarte that we decked out with balloons and banners for cake and champagne. A fun evening with fun folks.
Today, Friday, is a national holiday – not sure what the celebration is though. But most things are closed. Tomorrow is a big charity event – horse racing. It is supposed to the Vanuatu version of the Kentucky Derby where folks get all dressed up and the horses and jockeys are all local. We may have to go check that out.

We are hoping to get out of Port Vila on Monday – the weather looks good to go south to the island of Tanna. Our friends will also be leaving this weekend to head to New Caledonia during this weather window.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

City Life

We are still in Port Vila and doing lots of walking around and picking up odds and ends. There are lots and lots of small shops here – it seems that the Chinese are the "merchant class." All the stores have similar items. They are filled with every type of flashlight, LED light, plastic buckets and bins, and every type of flip flop (sandal, slipper, zorie or whatever you call them) made. In fact, you can get "name brands" like Nike or Adidas sandals for a mere 400 Vatu! Such a deal! It is irresistible to go in each shop! We both were under the weather with some stomach flu for a few days – but are back up to speed. Luckily the stove went on a hiatus from working while we were sick so it wasn't missed too much! Now after going from one hardware store to another, from one end of the city to the other, Michael has the stove (it was the propane solenoid) all restored to working order.

We have enjoyed lots of social time with other boaters, playing games aboard Lady Nada and dining aboard Gannet; inviting folks over for sundowners and coffee from "Good to Go" and "Tuarangi" and sharing Happy Hour beers at the local hangout with the "Anni Nad" crew and meeting new folks. We reconnected with the Dutch couple we met in Peterson Bay, Ben and Astrid from Gaia. And our buddies from "Gypsea Heart" are right around the corner and we hope to see them before we leave the anchorage here. It is time for us to move on – as the mooring is costing us daily and we tend to spend money on things like ice creams and beers when in a town! But it's good to do for awhile...but now back to zero dollar days!

We are waiting for a good weather window to continue south down the Vanuatu chain to the island of Tanna for the Mt. Yasur volcano. But the country right now is in a spell of heavy wind 25-30 knots from the southeast. So we'll wait until it settles as we have to head in that direction and don't want to smash into it for the 150 miles or so. It will hopefully settle down to more easterlies or at least lighter winds over the next week of so. In the meantime, weather permitting, we will head back towards the Esoma Bay/Havannah Harbor area to wait. Unfortunately that means going around Devil's Point at least two more times!

Since we've been here, there have been three large cruise ships that have come into the port. It is great entertainment to watch all the visitors come ashore in the water taxis and see them roaming around town. It is particularly fun to watch them attempt to get the jet skis up on a plane – some have eaten too well at the buffet tables aboard!!!

Weather-wise it is quite chilly – a blanket is required at night. It is winter here after all! We have also seen quite a bit of gusty wind and rain squalls over the last four days. Not enough for collecting rainwater, but enough that we have the new exercise program aboard opening and closing hatches.

There is a small crisis here in Vanuatu. The last shipment of gasoline was bad. There is a chemical in the fuel that is supposed to be a 4% and this batch had something like a 16% concentration and the fuel smells like acetone. The chemical can reek havoc on engines – especially the o-rings and rubber hoses and bits. We feel bad for the country as they aren't getting another shipment for a week or so and meanwhile generators, chainsaws, weed-eaters, outboards and cars are suffering. We need some gasoline for our outboard – but will take to rowing before we buy this stuff and ruin our outboard. We wonder if some other country pawned off this bad stuff on Vanuatu.
We should be underway in a day or two...until then, we'll enjoy the big city.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: