Thursday, May 26, 2011

The passage, Raoul Island and arrival at Vanuatu

We departed NZ in 15-20 knots of north-west with a sloppy swell. Cape Brett disappeared behind us and we had a relatively uncomfortable first night at sea. The wind increased to 30 knots before changing to SW and dying away before we reached Raoul Island after four nights at sea. We arrived after dark and were anchored off Fishing Rock, to enjoy a very calm night at anchor, by 2300. A research vessel "Braveheart" was already at anchor there with scientists from several museums and DoC, searching for new fish species, among other things.

The next day, Mike (a friend doing the passage to Vanuatu) and I went ashore. We had got a permit from DoC which allowed us one day ashore. Jim got to be the one to stay on board as he has been to Raoul Island before. The landing is interesting, a pick your moment, jump and hope for the best scenario. The trick is to pin the nose of the dinghy on the rocks which is not an option in an inflatable! We eventually got to walk part of the track to Denham Bay which gives good views down into the crater and lakes. Mist and light rain gave things a very prehistoric feel. Lots of damage evident from a recent cyclone. We were accompanied by Jess, the DoC team leader on the island and various people from the 'Braveheart' including a botanist who was a mine of interesting information about the flora (and fauna) of Raoul. DoC have eradicated rats on the island and the bird-life is starting to come back and plant life is also recovering from damage from goats. DoC is slowly weeding the island of introduced species but there is debate over what to remove. There are orange trees here which have 'historic' value but also have the potential to get out of control. Sadly there were no oranges when we were there. We had a mad dash to get back to the boats by dark and after a meal we picked up anchor and headed off.

Originally we were headed for Minerva Reef but the weather was against us. With constant SE 30 knots with large swells, Minerva was out of the question so after a couple of days we altered course for Vanuatu. We had a fairly windy and bouncy passage. Mostly downwind with a bit of headsail poled out and a treble-reefed main doing around 6 knots. We saw a pod of small whales (pilot?) to add to the dolphins and large whales we had seen before Raoul. There were also lots of flying fish around, several of which ended up on deck, but very little bird life. On Wednesday the 25th we sighted land, a small island called Futuna and we slowed the boat down for the night to time our arrival at Tanna for daylight.

Tanna was a spectacular landfall. Jim woke us up just before dawn and we could see the red/orange glow of Mt Yasur erupting in the clouds before we could really make out the island. As the light improved, Tanna emerged and we identified the landmarks for the entrance to Port Resolution. Another boat was heading in just before us. The entrance was easy to negotiate and soon we were anchored and enjoying breakfast. There was quite a swell rolling in which would have classed this as a marginal anchorage in the Gulf but it felt lovely and calm to us!

We went for a walk ashore to inquire about customs etc and arranged to go across the island to Lenakel, the official port of entry, the next day. We walked through the village to a very tropical white beach with turquoise water. The water in the anchorage is more green. On the way back we called in at the Port Resolution yacht club, a small shack hung with burgees from visiting yachts which serves as restaurant and bar. There were three cats curled up on the table, so of course we had to stay for a while to stroke Mum, a tiny kitten and what appeared to be a ginger 'teenager' still stealing drinks from Mum who was skinnier than him.

Back on board we watched the evening fall, put up the mosquito nets and watched occasional flashes and orange glows from from Mt Yasur, not itself visible from the anchorage. The next day, Jim and Mike hopped on the truck to go to Lenakel and I stayed on board. Lots of thunder-like rumbling from the volcano. I was outside listening to what I thought was rain falling but curiously I couldn't see it on the water. Eventually I noticed the decks were turning black and raced below to shut the hatches in what was obviously an ash shower! Despite my best efforts with a bucket the boat is still covered in black grit! Its now a constant battle with opening and closing hatches against rain and ash showers although the first ash shower was by far the heaviest. We want the hatches open as much as possible to get air through the boat, a luxury we couldn't have at sea due to the risk of getting waves down below. The last couple of days things were getting very hot and sticky so it is very nice to have the hatches open as much as possible.

The anchorage is starting to fill up and at last count there are 19 boats here. A wide range from another heavy cruising boat we saw in Opua to several light racy boats, most of which are flying the French flag (New Caledonian?) and a launch. Seems odd to be surrounded by the likes of Young 11s. Is this Vanuatu or Waiheke?!


Post a Comment

<< Home