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Fiji to Vanuatu

Written by Cathy Siegismund
August 2003

We were finally ready to leave Musket Cove on August 17, but to our disappointment there was a now a low pressure system moving through the area This had disrupted the usual southeast trade winds and replaced them with southwesterlies. As Tanna lies southwest of Fiji, we now had to wait for weather. However, if you want to avoid rough passages, the best thing is patience. We made another attempt at fixing our dinghy floor, which is becoming a regular event, with the increasing number of leaks.

Ken patching leaks in our dinghy floor -- again!

Mid-week we took the morning ferry to Port Denarau. We needed to check out of Fiji in Lautoka, and run errands. We started our errands in Nadi. We went to a hardware store to pick up some rubber to try and stop our leaking companionway hatch. We also tried to find a place to pick up some vatu, Vanuatu currency. We had been told by Nik and Jenn that in Tanna, our destination in Vanuatu,  you couldn't use a credit card or ATM card to get cash, and you would need some Vatu for transportation, tours, and check-in. This proved to be harder than expected and we ended up only finding about 20,000 vatu (about 100 USD) after going to all the banks in Nadi and Lautoka. We did take some Fijian cash, as we had heard you could exchange cash on Tanna. We checked out of Fiji in Lautoka, did a little grocery shopping, and had lunch at the Chili Tree a nice little cafe there. By this time, the skies had opened up and in what we had come to expect as not unusual Fijian weather and we were in a torrential downpour. We took a cab back to Nadi where we visited an Internet cafe. We had a less than cooperative cab driver, who stopped several times to talk to people and finally drove us back to Port Denarau cutting our time very close to make the last ferry back to Malolo Lailai at 1700. We arrived at the ferry at about 1659, but figured we'd make it as most things in Fiji do run on "island time." We were shocked when we were told that the ferry had just left. We were also a little skeptical as what "just" meant as we couldn't even see the ferry in the channel. We later learned from our taxi driver that the ferry had left 40 minutes early.

We had no choice but to spend the night in Nadi. Being fairly wet and muddy from walking around in the downpour and tired and frustrated from running around all day and then missing the ferry, we decided to treat ourselves. The closest hotel to Port Denarau is the Sheraton, so we took a cab there, and basked in an night of luxury, which included a hot bath, visit to the spa, room service and movies. The next morning, we caught he 1000 ferry back to Malolo Laiai, to find our dinghy with the floor flat again and just about full of water from all the rain.

We continued wait for a good weather window, and read books, watched movies and did small projects and chores. Finally, on Saturday, August 23 it looked like we would have a good weather window for the 470 mile passage from Musket Cove, Fiji to Tanna, Vanuatu.

It appeared from the weather faxes and grib files (emailed pressure, wind speed and direction files) that the low had moved through and a high would be in our area. We expected a day or so of light winds from the south, probably requiring us to motor, then the southeast trade winds

Sample grib file

When we woke Saturday morning, it was sunny with very light southerly winds. We ran trash ashore, took showers, closed our Musket Cove account, did a last minute shop in the little market for fresh bread and then returned to the boat to do final stowing. After stowing the boat for passage, which includes setting nonskid on all the surfaces, and making up the sea-berth we were ready to leave. We dropped the mooring at about 1300 on August 23.

As we were leaving Musket Cove, we saw a small supply freighter that had been converted to a cruising boat. Although, we had heard of this, we had never seen one. From a distance, it was indistinguishable from any of the small supply ships you frequently see in the islands. However, as we neared we saw the superstructure was beautifully varnished, and under an awning a couple was sitting having lunch at a real picnic table with a German Shepherd running around. There was an enormous crane on the deck to lift there toys over the side, such as their huge fast tender and a small day sailboat.

Freighter turned cruising boat in Musket Cove

I'm not sure this would quite be for me, but I'm sure they rarely complain about space issues or worry about tying up to concrete pilings on a pier.

We motorsailed south to the main reef entrance, and left Fiji behind, heading to the island of Tanna, on Vanuatu.

Route from Musket Cove, Malolo Lailai, Fiji to Port Resolution, Tanna, Vanuatu

Until a couple of years ago, yachts could only check into or out of Vanuatu in either Port-Vila on Efate or in Luganville on Espiritu Santo. Both of these ports are further north than Tanna, with Port-Vila being the closest check-in port for yachts coming from Fiji. People who went to Tanna raved about it, but few boats visited. With Tanna as a port of entry, we decided to check in there, and then work our way north through the archipelago. This should provide us with favorable winds as we explore Vanuatu.

A few hours after leaving the protection of the reef, we found ourselves with more wind that we expected and to my disappointment it had more of a westerly component than we had expected. This meant we were soon on a close reach sailing into about 20 knots of wind. The seas were not bad, but the pounding was sending quite a bit of water onto the foredeck and making me pretty queasy. We discovered we still had quite a bit of water leaking from somewhere into the v-berth. We ended up sailing to weather for about two days, only averaging between 4 and 5 knots. By the third day, the wind moved more southeast and we were able to fall off onto a more comfortable point of sail. By the end of our third day, the wind was dying altogether. Our ETA to Tanna was going to be at about 1900 the following day, an hour after sunset. This would mean about 12 hours of heaving to outside the bay until daylight. We decided to increase our speed by burning some fuel and motorsailing for the last day.

We arrived at Tanna at about 1500 on Wednesday, August 27 for a four-day and four-hour passage. We arrived to a lovely afternoon of warm sunny skies. Steam from Tanna's active volcano Mt. Yasur could be seen almost immediately, as could multiple steam vents around the coast as we neared the island.

Approaching Tanna

We were welcomed into the bay by a pair of pilot whales, which swam directly to the boat took a couple of passes at the bow like dolphin, then dived under the boat and swam away towards the stern. We had heard 27 boats had been anchored in the small bay so were pleased to see there were only seven when we arrived. We selected a spot fairly far into the bay and set the hook. As we tidied up the boat, a man paddled past in a dugout outrigger canoe. The bay was still and quiet, with the lush mountainous island as a backdrop. We were very happy to be in Vanuatu.

Ni-Vanuatu man paddling in Port Resolution in his dugout outrigger canoe on our day in Vanuatu

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