Bookmark and Share Email this page Email Print this page Print Feed Feed

Tough passage to Vanuatu paradise

Nov 1, 2006 There are some people who maintain that they have no regrets and that, given the opportunity, they would not change a single thing if they could do it all over again. I am not one of those people. I have many regrets and, given another chance, I would choose to stay in Erromanga in the Fiji Islands for a couple of more days. Beating into 15 knots of wind is uncomfortable. Fighting against 25 knots of wind is just idiotic. We took a beating. For 24 hours, we were pummeled by an onslaught of fierce winds and enormous waves. Even with a double-reefed mainsail and staysail, we were thrown violently about. Waves continually crashed against the bow, sending gallons of spray flying into the cockpit. The cabin was in disarray. We were unable to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom. Had I been crew instead of captain, a mutiny would have been afoot. Instead, Anna handled the difficult conditions stoically, although I couldn't help but to notice that she regarded me with slightly more disdain than usual.

In Captain Cook's journals, he described the approach to Port Resolution as follows: "On 5th August … we discovered the island of Tana, with its volcano. On the night before our arrival we had seen the glow of its flames, and in the morning, as we drew nearer, we could hear a thunderous roar from the bowels of the earth. This roar was sometimes accompanied by heavy explosions, besides which clouds of flames were thrown high into the air, while columns of fiery smoke reared up towards the sky." Cook went on to describe how the natives appeared on the beach and "everything conspired to make us believe they intended to attack us as soon as we were on shore." Determined to get wood and water, the marines aboard Resolution fired muskets and cannons over the heads of the natives, securing a temporary peace. Later, during their two week stay in the bay now known as Port Resolution, Cook requested permission to climb to the top of the volcano, but was denied by the village chief who indicated that the mountain was holy and that a trip to the rim was considered taboo.

Our own approach to Tanna was less spectacular. On Thursday night, our view of the island was obscured by rain and clouds, preventing us from observing the impressive natural fireworks display above Mount Yasur. At daybreak, as the clouds cleared, the island came into view and we could see clouds of brownish-gray smoke billowing from the volcano. Through eyes searing from the constant salt water spray, we found Port Resolution and came screaming into the harbor under sail before reaching the calm anchorage protected by the surrounding rocky cliffs. Luckily, our reception was more welcoming than the one received by Cook and muskets proved unnecessary. Perhaps the only advantage to making the passage in such horrific weather was that we arrived to find the large and beautiful anchorage nearly empty, presumably because most other boats were smart enough to wait for better conditions. The few boats that were anchored in Port Resolution seemed amazed by our arrival, although I don't know whether they were impressed that we were able to handle the heavy weather or if they were baffled as to why we would venture out into the maelstrom.

Aside from the friendly reception by the natives, the other major change in Tanna over the past 250 years is that climbing Mount Yasur is no longer considered taboo. In fact, Mount Yasur is now considered to be the most accessible active volcano in the world. It is possible to observe the volcano up close from the rim of the crater. Based on our reading and conversations with other cruisers, the visit to the volcano is an amazing experience. Loud explosions are accompanied by flaming boulders soaring skyward as terrified tourists scurry for shelter. Tourists have been badly singed and several have even died. In the upcoming week, we plan to visit Mount Yasur and see the spectacular display for ourselves. Even in the anchorage, the powerful presence of the volcano is acutely felt and several vents steaming sulfuric smoke can be seen emanating from the rocks less than 100 yards from the boat. Further enhancing the experience, I have an expert on board to answer any questions that I have about volcanoes. As a PhD student in geology, Anna has a wealth of knowledge in this area and has provided in-depth lectures on the phenomena that we are witnessing up close.

After the discomforts of the passage, we find ourselves gently rocking at anchor in Port Resolution, unquestionably one of the most attractive anchorages that we have visited in the Pacific and the natural beauty of the island seems to be matched by the friendliness of the locals. The upcoming week promises to be an exciting one and we are eager to explore the paradise that is Tanna. We are happy to be here.