Tanna and The Mighty Yasur

“Never go to windward!!” Jess of Alliance had warned us, several weeks earlier about the perils of moving the boat into the wind. But with the island of Tanna and it’s unmissable live volcano lying south of Port Vila, we had little choice. Besides, the wind was light and from the East, how bad could it be?

Our new friend Cam would be joining us on this leg, continuing on until Noumea. We were excited to have him aboard, and spent a lovely calm evening aboard Portal in Havannah Harbor before setting off the next morning. What followed was easily this trip’s worst passage. 50nm became two days of constant slamming, beating and grinding as we tried to aim for the west coast of Tanna. Getting swept off the shore by West setting currents, a fierce SE wind and decently sized swells, Portal bravely pushed on. Our tiller-pilot broken, our engine over-heating and our batteries too low for comfort, the trip seemed to drag on endlessly. Unable to point up at all, we followed the coast south, getting soaked and tired through squall after squall. A new plan was set for the East coast anchorage at Lenakel, and finally, on the third morning, we were 5nm away.

Then the wind died. Typical. With our engine out of action, Charlie and I started getting creative. We rigged our 8ft oars up on either side of Portal and tried to make way in the now calm but rolly seas. Surprisingly, this didn’t really work. Our exhausted bodies ached for rest, and the now chaotic cabin cried out for a clean. At last, after 2 hours, a squall came through with winds from the NE and we were able to coast into the somewhat protected anchorage at Lenakel.

This exciting adventure was about all the sailing Cam could handle, so he jumped a flight back to Vila the next morning. We tried to convince him it wasn’t usually so bad, but with a deadline to get back for, the verdict was made. He treated us to an absolutely divine meal at The Tanna Lodge – a haven for three weary sailors.

With Cam gone and our friends Alliance over on the other side of the island, we began our mission to join them at the Volcano. What began as a hitchhiking journey through the heart of Tanna, became a 5 hour hiking escapade, often taking us in circles; but with the mighty Yasur booming close by, we were in good company and thoroughly enjoyed the adventure. By nightfall we were reunited with our good friends, and recounting our horrendous sail over tea and cookies. We slept a sweet slumber in their spare cabin, ready to take on Yasur the following day.

This live, spitting volcano is best seen at night, and in it’s current Category 3 state (there are only 4), we were treated to a seriously awe-inspiring event. I won’t even try to describe what it’s like to stand precariously on the edge of a lava filled crater that’s shooting red-hot boulders high into the sky… suffice it to say that I’ll never appreciate fireworks again.

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