Dodging lava bombs, passage to Erromanngo, very fresh sushi, and Mercedes Sosa

Click on the image above to play video of Mount Yasur eruption.

July 22, 2008

It is morning in Dillon’s Bay on the island of Erromanggo, Vanuatu. We arrived yesterday afternoon after an 8 hour (55 mile) sail in near perfect conditions. As we left Port Resolution and headed north, we could see Mt. Yasur puffing black clouds into a clear blue sky.

Two days ago, we made a trip to the cone of Mt. Yasur to have a look inside. We were accompanied in the pickup truck by Michael and Britta of Vera, plus “the Italians” (two interesting couples on two boats), and three Aussies from two boats. One of the Aussies left earlier to walk up the volcano. Everything in Vanuatu is owned by one “family” or another. A family owns the volcano and charges 2000 vatu to ascend to the top ($1 = 88 vatu).

Mt. Yasur erupting at night
Mt. Yasur erupting at night

This is not an experience that would ever be permitted in a Western country. You hike up the cone and look down into a boiling cauldron of lava. There are no railings or viewing platforms of any kind. The only safety instruction is “do not turn your back on the volcano.” This instruction has nothing to do with offending the spirits. The volcano has a mini-eruption every few minutes in which it throws out flaming balls of lava (“lava bombs”). It is said that 99.99 percent of these fall back within the cone (500-750 meters in diameter). You have to be prepared to dodge the 0.01 percent that do not. As you walk up the cone you can see the congealed remains of lava bombs littering the slopes. In principle, it should be much easier to dodge a flaming lava bomb than it is to catch a pop fly to center field in the Minneapolis Metrodome, for example. It just that the ill consequences of misplacing these fly balls are so much more severe. Fortunately, our abilities to track flying objects was not sorely tested on this evening.

Mt. Yasur belching smoke
Mt. Yasur belching smoke

The volcano is the main tourist attraction on Tanna. There are a number of very simple resorts near the base of the volcano that shuttle their guests up to Yasur for the view. There were about 40 people,including some children, at the volcanic cone the evening that we were there. The volcano put on a spectacular show for us. I juggled three cameras and have some great photos and video. Each eruption is preceded by a roar and then the fireworks begin. As night fell, the sight of bright red plumes of lava being thrown high into the sky was a “National Geographic” moment.

Mount Yasur tosses some lava boms
Mount Yasur tosses some lava bombs

I tried my hand at fishing during the sail to Erromanggo. It was too rough on the trip from Fiji to even consider fishing. I hooked a very large fish just off the north cape of Tanna. Unfortunately, we had not prepared my “fighting belt.” In fact we did hot even know where it was since we had not used it since Tonga last year. As Laura rummaged around below, I tried to reel the fish in with the rod still in the rod holder. I had to tighten the line brake quite a lot to keep the line from unspooling, and grabbing the rod without the fighting belt seemed unwise. Even then, I got the fish almost to the boat before he broke the line (70 pound test) and headed off. Ninety minutes later I got a bite on my handline. The handline uses 200 pound test and the only equipment required to haul in a fish with it is a pair of gloves. I landed the heaviest fish in my short history of fishing. It was a 20 pound tuna that was more than one foot around.

Marks tuna
Mark's tuna

As the sun set in beautiful Dillon Bay, we enjoyed very fresh sushi and sashimi and two bottles of cold white wine with the Veras. Britta is expert at preparing sushi and sashimi and brought over pickled ginger, wasabi,and sushi rice. We had the tuna and soy sauce (but, alas, no chopsticks). After dinner we listened to songs from Mercedes Sosa, our favorite singer this sailing season, and watched a million stars, including the Southern Cross, shine in a crystal clear night. As Michael and Britta dinghied back to Vera at the end of the evening, their dinghy left a brilliant trail of photoluminescence in its wake.

Tuna steaks
Tuna steaks

There is a strong low pressure system headed our way. The plan is to leave Erromanggo at about 3:30 am (local time) tonight (actually tomorrow morning) and head for Port Vila on Efate Island. We should arrive there before sunset tomorrow. Port Vila offers protection from all directions of wind and wave. It is the capitol of Vanuatu and has real supermarkets (French), internet access, fuel, and restaurants. We hope to upload photos and video to our web site from there and also fix our blog.

Sabbatical III (and another boat) at anchor in Port Resolution
Sabbatical III (at left) at anchor in Port Resolution

Satellite photo showing Mt. Yasur cone (red icon) and Port Resolution anchorage (yellow icon)