Vanuatu, the world’s happiest place? (Spoiler: it's not)

Well-captured photo of Vila Bay, Vanuatu by Phil Botha
I left Fiji in a hurry as the officials required that we sailed off as they watched. The clear-out procedure was to be done from Lautoka but we did not want to waste time going there, and also did not want to anchor in the industrial area in the harbour and row officials to the boat in the dinghy. So I had to pay an extra fee and a taxi for the officers to come to Port Denarau. But that saved a lot of time and hassle.

While sailing off, I carried out the rest of preparations for the passage. The tropical cyclone thundered over the island but the skies were blue West of Fiji.

Not for long, unfortunately. It came to be a very shakey passage, with gusty winds from 20 to over 30 knots, a lot of rain and squalls, and steep waves of up to 4 meters height. But Tobias held on like a hero and we actually made a small detour to the island of Tanna to watch the volcano there from afar. Mt Yasur is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and we caught a glimpse of it while we were struggling past. Finally, we dropped anchor in Port Vila.

Vanuatu is the world's happiest island according to research (WHO, if I remember correctly). They appear to have a culture that is quite different from the South Pacific islands that we have passed. The people seem to have more African than Maori or Asian roots, and the street fashion is inspired by African cultures. The country is known for the active volcanoes, that are possible to visit up close. More dangerous things to name are: poisonous snakes that are abundant here, malaria which is endemic to the country (we are eating funny malaria pills), and man-eating sharks that make swimming quite a gamble, so we shower on the transom instead. The diving is supposed to be spectacular, and the islands themselves are worth a lot of exploring.

The streets of Port Vila are very lively, and the city feels like a real city. We had a lunch in the Grand Hotel, air conditioned and flashy, and got some coupons to play the slot machines in the casino. Tobias had no luck but I actually gambled back the 10 AUD that the lunch costed! Then, a lot of work awaited as Tobias was to be signed off the boat, as he would be leaving for Sweden the day after.

I left Tobias at the airport, waiting for his tiny plane that was several hours late. To wrap up his visit to South Pacific, he booked a night at a fancy hotel resort with huge golf course, several pools, spa, bars and restaurants and jacuzzis and everything, and treated me to come along. Could not thank you enough! After that stay, I was cleaner than ever, and feeling like a brand new person. It was especially convenient as my back was killing me after manually retrieving the 40 meters of anchor chain + the anchor, several times, as the anchor winch still does not work - and rowing back and forth in the bay (the outboard won't work again).

The boat was now on a mooring near Yachting World. It was quite tempting to single-hand her to Australia and beyond, but the hurricane season was here so that would be close to madness. It takes more than a week to sail and that makes weather almost impossible to predict during the hurricane season. Hitting a cyclone was not in my plans.

Most boats are stored "on the hard" (on land) during the hurricane season, as a cyclone can easily rip off moorings, send anchors dragging, and get loose boats and debris to smash up other boats and cause great damage. So I had booked hurricane season storage here, at the “World's Happiest Nation”. The haul out was scheduled for Friday. This left me a bit of time to do some work and haul-out preparations.

I single-handed the boat to the place where it was to be hauled out. It was easier than I expected, though I got hit by a rain-and-squall area on the way there. Even fetching a mooring by myself was easy, without even backing the boat. Now, all I had to do is prepare for the time to come. Here is a post about the haul-out and what happened next.

Vanuatu water photo (not in Port Vila...) beautifully captured by Stacie Lucas