|Our northernmost anchorage, at Port Olry, 15 degrees south|
First Gonyonda left, racing back to Australia to take up a job offer. Then Dogstar left, heading south to wend their way back through the islands of Vanuatu and then onto Noumea, where they would stay and wait for a weather window to NZ. Then Bella Luna left for Oz, along with two thirds of the Aussie fleet in a perfect weather window a week later. Fifty-four boats all left from Noumea on the same day, someone told us. Paws and Libby left, heading north to the Banks Islands and onto the Sols. Most peoples’ boat insurers demand that they are out of the cyclone belt by 1 November, which is anything less than 8 degrees south, and anything more than 26 degrees south (essentially the equivalent of the whole QLD coast). The anchorage at Luganville, once chockers with boats, felt eerily empty. Of the handful of boats left, another seemed to disappear each night. Curried Oats and Aquabar left together, and we toyed with the idea of joining them, our old passage pals, but Miles had a conference call he wanted to make a few days later, so we watched them pull up their anchors and sail away.
The weather in Santo had grown hotter and more humid, and most afternoons clouds piled up in the sky and thunder rumbled sometime in the night. It was impossible to get anything dry because it could rain – a deluge or a light shower – at any time. When it rained we had to run around the boat shutting hatches and the fans ran around the clock. With so much cloud cover the solar panels weren’t charging the batteries and we had to run the engine for a couple of hours a day. We were literally the last boat heading west still in north Vanuatu.
It was time to leave.
One of the hardest truths we’ve had to face about the cruising life is that you can’t go everywhere and you can’t do everything. My own list of Must-dos in Vanuatu only had four things on it: climb the volcano on Tanna, go to the blue pools on Santo, dive the SS Coolidge and go to Waterfall Bay on Vanua Lava, up in the Banks Islands. Three out of four ain’t bad, but if you’ve been to the Banks Islands, please don’t tell me about it, because it still hurts that we didn’t make it up there.
We did our last provision at LCM in Luganville, jerry canned water from the beachside resort tap out to the boat, baked up a storm, went to the markets one last time, bought one last armful of plantain chips, drank our last Tusker….
On Tuesday the 23rd of October at 3.30pm we lifted the pick and motored out of Luganville Harbour and through the straights of Segund. We knew we’d have to motor for a few hours before we got out to the wind. Just as we left Santo and headed into open ocean, with the setting sun right in our eyes, we saw a NiVan banana boat, bobbing around in front of us. A couple of men were out fishing and as we passed by them they gave us our last Vanuatu wave, standing up, grinning and waving with both arms.
We’d be at sea for the next ten days.