Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

Known simply as "Santo", this is the largest island (landmass) in Vanuatu – covering 4000 square kilometers. Not named by James Cook, but rather by Spanish explorer Queiros who thought he discovered the Australia continent and named it "Terra Australia del Espiritu Santo" back in 1606. It is the home of Luganville, the "northern" capital of Vanuatu and the second largest city. Santo island also is well known for its World War II history. This was a huge American and allied force base – and the old TV show "Black Sheep" always had the squad going to headquarters on Espiritu Santo. One of the best wreck dives is right here as well – the sunk US ship SS President Coolidge. The ship was a cruise ship converted to troop carrier and at the time it sunk it had 5000 men aboard. It is a sad story - it was sunk when it hit friendly mines and the captain managed to get the boat run to shore very quickly to avoid massive deaths. Only two people died – but the destruction of the ship wreaked havoc on the war's movement of men and supplies for some time. The other claim to fame is the "Million Dollar Point" - the place where the US dumped millions of dollars of equipment after the war into the sea. You can still see jeeps, trucks, forklifts and loads of construction equipment. Now a popular snorkel site.

We made our way from Port Stanley to Ratua – a small private island off of Santo – having a "boistrous" sail. We made great time hitting 7 plus knots much of the way with head sail only. The seas though were pretty rough, so we also took some waves over the boat – but made the 40 mile trip in great time. We also caught a nice tuna as we were about to enter the cut to get to Santo. We got it aboard but had to wait to clean it until calmer conditions. But it was a nice 12 meal size.

We went to a small anchorage near the island of Ratua, near another island of Aore. It was a pretty spot and protected with lots of turtles around and a pretty fancy resort on shore. It was out of our price range for a "cook's night off" - so we enjoyed fresh tuna instead (who's complaining about that!).

We spent a few nights there then made our way thanks to a sunny day to Peterson Bay around the north east side of Santo. It was a 20 mile run and the first 6 miles or so, we had an outgoing current doing battle with the incoming swell and wind creating some pretty nasty standing waves through a narrow passage. Then it was relatively smooth going. Getting into Peterson is a bit tricky – you need a high tide and good visibility as it is shallow with lots of coral bommies in the cut. We had a nice incoming tide and made our way in at about 2/3 tide.

This is a very protected anchorage with good holding. There is a resort on an island called Oyster Island that has a "Happy Hour" and a nice restaurant and they welcome "yachts." It is a pretty island to walk around and it is also relatively easy to get into Luganville from here. So we'll settle here for about a week and work on a few big projects. Michael is tackling a major sewing project – designing and making a cover for Pukapuka – our new dinghy. It is a huge project and he'll need a good solid chunk of time to get it done. We went into Luganville yesterday and that entails taking the dinghy to the "mainland" side and then walking up a side road to the main road. Here you hail a PT (public transportation) or B (bus) vehicle. That designation is on the license plate. It is 200 Vatu per person to town (about $2 US). You usually ride in the back of a pickup holding on around the corners. On the way in we had the back of the truck to ourselves – which was good as there wasn't a lot of "clean" seating area nor places to really hold on. On the way back Barbara got the truck's cab and Michael shared the back of the truck with six giant tires and three other passengers.
We did a bit of fresh veggie and fruit shopping and finally scored some bananas. Since the Cyclone, there hasn't been a banana to be found until now. Santo didn't get badly hit by the storm so there is plenty of citrus (grapefruit, tangerines, oranges and limes)as well as bananas, soursop and pawpaw (papaya). The tomatoes here were 100 Vatu a bag compared to the 500 Vatu they were asking in the Port Vila market. We went a little late to the market though as it was pretty slim in the lettuce and veggie department.

We met our friends Brian and Sue from the yacht "Daramy" for lunch. He did a two tank dive on the Cooliidge the previous day and said it was fabulous.

Today the projects begin!

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