July 20-August 9 2022
We left Denerau, Fiji Saturday afternoon July 16 2022 with the hope of beating a nasty low forming off Australia’s east coast. Plan B had us pulling into New Caledonia to wait out weather if needed. Twelve hours out we ran into 2 days of unpredicted weather; winds in high 20’s gusting to low 40’s and very lively 3-4 meter seas. Daniela was sick and in bed for the better part of 2 days and virtually every other boat on the rally had crew sick and in bed. Fabian and I were OK and spent the next 2 days trading watches. It was no fun.
Four days later we were approaching Vanuatu, the weather settled, and we were in need of a rest. We called an audible. Vanuatu had been on the original rally itinerary but had only opened their boarders a week earlier. Oyster was still uncertain how they were handling immigration and recommended that we avoid Vanuatu.
Vanuatu is a small independent country previously controlled by the British and French. Vanuatu is a series of small islands running north – south just north of New Caladonia and 1000 miles east of northeast Australia. Their Independence Day is July 31st and we arrived during their national election. Not the same level of fuss and celebration we have for July 4th but still actively involved in the election results.
We along with several other Oysters decided to set sail for Resolution Bay, Tanna, named after Cpt James Cook’s ship , HMS Resolution, used on his historic second Pacific exploration. A wonderful, if slightly rolly anchorage . There we met Warri who had started a yacht club in his small village to attract yachties. We were the first boats to visit Resolution Bay since COVID shutdown in March 2020. As such we received an enthusiastic reception from this small village in Resolution Bay.
The community usually sees several hundred boats a season and depends on yacht visitors as a source of supplemental income.
Warri was able to get immigration to come from the other side of the island as well as arrange a tour of the island’s famous active volcano, Mt Yasur. Travel on land is by foot or 4WD. That afternoon 10 of us piled into to Warri’s well worn Toyota and made the 7 mile drive to Mt Yasur . Three hours later we were peering into an active volcano spueing volcanic sand, sulfur fumes and glowing red hot…..It is this islands only tourist attraction. Mt Yasur has been active since Cook first discovered Tanna. He initially thought that their was a fire onshore later to discover it was a volcano. We finished off the evening bringing beer to the Resolution Yacht Club and helped Warri toast his reopening after 2 years of COVID shutdown.
My book recommendation :
“Further Than Any Man The Rise and Fall of Cpt James Cook” by Martin Dugard
This is a revealing insight into the bravery and hardships that the early explorers endured . Cook having sailed the Pacific from the southern oceans to the Arctic did more to further the world’s understanding of the Pacific any single explorer. He lead in the early treatment of scurvy, discovered the Hawaiian islands, mapped the east coast of Australia, most of New Zealand and led England’s search for a western route to the Northwest Passage mapping the west coast of British Columbia and Alaska.
A good read for those interested in early exploration of the Pacific and vivid depiction of life at sea in the late 1700’s. I’d give it a 9.
Next day we visited the local 1-8 English school , there is a “French School” in the next village 1 mile away, kids pick whether they want to learn English or French. Sabine, a professional violinist, from Irene IV brought her violin on this trip. She along with Louis, her drummer brother, entertained the school’s 60 students much to everyone’s delight.
The school on Tanna and other islands we visited functions as the social hub of the community. There are happy, laughing kids everywhere in this village of 4 generations.
The local nurse helped us setup our “eye clinic” and soon we were fitting dozens of people with eye glasses. We counted this as a very rewarding day.
Our nights are filled with pot luck dinners on neighbors boats. A great way to form friendships with the other Oyster owners and crew…..it also lets us scope out the other models Oyster makes from 54 to 725.
Next morning we sail north 50 miles to Dillon’s Bay on the next island, Erromango. Here we meet another friendly village on the bank of river Nu Orongo and another “yacht club” started by David one of the island elders . David paddles out in his outrigger and invites us to a tour of his village and a lobster lunch that his wife and friends will make. How can we refuse?
A few takeaways on these 2 village visits:
-These people are very proud and extraordinarily friendly. They appear to receive little support from the government or the cities and are very poor. Despite their conditions they are happy and very resourceful.
-Dental hygiene appears to be nonexistent and everyone over 30 is missing teeth.
-Happy kids are everywhere. A sign on the medical clinics door,the only evidence of government assistance here, announced classes in birth control…. Attendance must be low.
-The Chinese have an active “belt and road” program going in Vanuatu…..The locals do not like the Chinese for some reason I was not able to determine….But It is easy to see why the Chinese are interested in Vanuatu. It is strategically positioned in the southwest Pacific and the capital Pt Villa has an enormous well protected harbor.
-Chinese fishing boats dominate the waters here.
Next, the capital Pt Villa, an overnight sail. Here we get our exit papers needed to enter Australia, find the weather window we have been waiting for and depart for Australia Saturday morning July 23rd. Pt Villa is clearly where most of the country’s wealth resides with nice homes,hotels,restaurants and casinos……Las Vegas has nothing to fear but it is clearly a step up from the simple villages we were introduced to on our arrival to Vanuatu . A land of contrasts.
On our 7 day sail to Australia we enjoyed 10-20 kn winds from the southeast with following seas…..until we entered Hydrographers Passage through the Great Barrier Reef . Here the winds built to 25 kn on the nose with waves and current against us we spent 5 hours averaging 1-2 miles SOG pounding into the waves. Our 100 miles through the GBR to MacKay we thought would take 12-13 hours dragged on for 19. We finally arrive at 04:30 the next morning.
Immigration came on board at 07:30 along with their dog patrol and a very thorough and knowledgeable BioSecurity officer. The Australians take their boarder security very seriously. The team was the most professional we have experienced on our journey so far. They understand and value the importance to their country of a tight immigration and bio security program and have highly trained professionals filling these roles. One reason for the bio security it was explained to me is the rising incidence of “Hoof and Mouth” disease in Malaysian cattle. If this were to enter Australia they have such a high concentration of wild indigenous animals it would be impossible to irradiate decimating their livestock industry.
Gail meets us in MacKay and after a day’s rest we set sail for the Whitsunday islands and Hamilton Island where we enjoy 3 fantastic days of sailing . The Whitsunday islands are a popular cruising destination for Australians and home of Whitehaven beach, consistently voted one of the best beaches in the world.
It is winter in Australia and the water and air temps have dropped since Fiji. The waters here are also much less hospitable with transition from benign reef sharks to Tiger and Bull sharks, deadly Box jellyfish and salt water crocodiles. In short we plan on spending most of our time here above the water. Still lots to see from breaching Humpbacks , they come here to calf in the winter, to a myriad of beautiful islands , hikes and beaches to explore.
After the Oyster World Rally midway party on Hamilton Island Gail and I leave Infinity for a special 2 week tour of Australia. We will explore Sidney, The Blue Mountains, Adelaide and the Barossa wineries, Melbourne, tour some of Australia’s most breathtaking ocean scenery including the Twelve Apostles and explore Tasmania.
Gail and I are recently engaged.
We have decided to do our tour of Australia in style; we call this our “Premoon”. Taking a page from kids these days that have mini moons, honeymoons and post moons.
As given to me by my friend David Forstadt; I will leave you with words from the late Vin Scully : “May God give you for every storm, a rainbow; for every tear, a smile; for every care, a promise; and a blessing in each trial”
See you in OZ…