Surunda to Maewo

August 25, 2009

We ended up spending 4 nights in Surunda Bay. It is a pretty little bay whose main attraction for us was that it had free internet. We took great advantage of that, catching up on some work related stuff for Mark as well as enjoying seeing the NY Times and finding out what was happening in the world( after reading the news we decided it is better not to look).

Our friends Mike and Lynn from “Wombat of Sydney” were at the same anchorage and we spent a couple of nice evenings with them. Mark and I met a pleasant 14 year old local boy named Gaston who was selling soft drinks from his family’s tiny store by the village of Surunda. (The sign outside advertised ice-cream, but we were not lucky enough to find any in stock). He took us on a little walking tour of the town, including a trip to his family’s garden, where he climbed trees to pick us vegies growing from tall vines as well as an assortment of fruits. At the edge of the garden were the remains of a plane from WWII. Surunda was a U.S. airbase during the war.

On Sunday, the 23rd, we decided it was time to go and with a pretty good weather forecast we headed out to our next destination – the island of Maewo – about 60 miles to the east. We had been waiting for the winds to switch around from the prevailing SE to the south so we could get a good angle for our sail. Friends had headed out on Saturday, and instead of finding south to southeasterly winds at 10-15 knots, they found winds coming much more from the southeast and blowing at up to 32 knots. That makes for a very nasty sail. We ended up being quite lucky as we still had an upwind sail, but the winds were much lighter (about 10-12 knots) and we had a good enough angle to sail almost all the way.

The tricky part about leaving Surunda was that the anchorage was inside a protective coral reef opening up to the east. The reef had an opening that was easily wide enough for a boat to pass through safely, but without good light you could not see exactly where the reef ended and the clear water started. There were also many coral bombies sticking their nasty little heads up here and there even in the opening. To leave Surunda and get to the next island before dark you had to leave very early , but the problem was that to leave the reef you had to sail east, directly into the rising sun which blinds you from seeing the reef. In addition, at high tide the reef is totally covered with water so you can not even see breakers on it, and there was a morning high tide for the few days around when we wanted to leave.

We are very cautious with reefs (for apparent reasons), but could see no way to leave Surunda in the conditions we would optimally wait for in that situation: i.e. mid-tide, sun overhead or at our back, so the day before we planned to leave we went out in our dinghy with a portable GPS and mapped out exact locations through the pass that would be safe. We double-checked these marks against our RayMarine Chart Plotter and felt pretty secure about leaving through the pass. At 6:30 a.m. when there was enough light to see, but not too much glare in our eyes, we proceeded slowly out of the anchorage, and safely through the pass (bet you thought we were going to hit it). It was a bit hair-raising.

We ended up having a terrific sail, and Mark even landed a small, but much desired yellow-fin tuna late in the afternoon. He also caught a mahi-mahi, but it ended up snapping itself right off the hook when Mark tried to pull him into the boat. Those guys are hard to catch. We decided to spend the night at the island of Ambae which we had to pass to get to Maewo. Ambae is a huge volcanic island that you can see from Surunda Bay, and is apparently the island that was the model for James Michener’s Bali Hai. Michener was based in Surunda Bay during the war.

There were 13 boats in the anchorage just around the corner from us in Ambae- all part of a rally put on by the Island Cruising Association (ICA) that comes up from New Zealand every year – and they were all headed to the same anchorage we were going to on Maewo. We are actually members of that association, having joined a year ago so we could join them for a sail between Vanuatu and New Caledonia. We decided to get up really early so that we could get to the anchorage early and secure a good anchoring spot. It is the first time this year that we have been with so many boats. We left the anchorage at first light (about 5:45) and had a bouncy ride the 12 miles into the anchorage at Asanvari – strong wind on the nose, big seas. We were delighted to find three boats here already that we know and like very well – Intiaq (Swiss), Cardea (American) and Mondavi(Italian).

There are 3 mooring balls in the anchorage here in Asanvari, put up last year by the ICA and because we got here so early we were able to secure one . Normally we like to anchor rather than tie up to a mooring ball, but the anchorage here is very deep and filled with coral on the bottom, so we were happy to get a mooring ball. There are now about 12 boats in the anchorage. Many people consider it the most beautiful in Vanuatu. We can’t say that, but it is, indeed, beautiful, with very blue, clear water and a waterfall running down the steep cliffs and into a deep pool just behind us.

Both Cardea and Mondavi were planning on leaving first thing in the morning, so we had a small party on our boat with them last night which ended up being a lot of fun. Lorenzo (Italian) and Candia (German), the couple on Mondavi, are extremely outgoing and talkative and very funny and between them and Jim on Cardea we had a wonderful time. I made pizzas and everyone drank wine and told hysterical sailing stories. All of the bad and strange things that happen when sailing end up being terrific stories, especially when told by other sailers, whom, we have learned, all have a tendency to exaggerate!


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