Vanuatu Cruising Notes from August 2001 (Partial)
**IMPORTANT NOTE: The information below is NOT intended to be complete, but rather is selective, opinionated, and reflects our own particular experience at the time.**
Entry and Exit
We entered at Port Vila, Efate. The cruising guides are out of date for entry at this port. On approach, do not call Port Control, but rather call Yachting World on Channel 16. Yachting World is a helpful and friendly private company that has taken over control of yacht traffic in Port Vila Harbour. YW will dinghy customs & quarantine officials to your boat at the quarantine anchorage marked on the chart. After clearing customs, you must visit immigration, obtain a cruising permit, and pay all fees ashore. YW will point you in the right direction, with no charge.
Customs & Quarantine: Be prepared for officials to board the boat immediately upon anchoring, and sometimes — as in our case — even before the anchor is down!
No overtime: Vanuatu is a port that will not check yachts in or out on the weekends or evenings, even for overtime fees, unless one has so arranged well in advance. Even with notice, there is no out-of-hours check-in at Luganville, Santo, the second most popular port of entry after Vila.
It is still possible, as of this writing, to check in or out at Tanna, a southerly island famous for its live volcanoes, but one must arrange in advance to fly officials from Efate to Tanna to do so. The cost may be borne by any number of yachts, and many check in here in groups.
We checked out in Luganville, Santo. You may leave your boat at the convenient Aore Resort moorings across the bay and either dinghy in or take the resort ferry to town. Customs and Immigration are both on the “main wharf.” If you have bonded liquor or firearms on board, a customs official will accompany you back to the boat to check the seals, and you must arrange his or her transportation back to town, either by dinghy or inexpensive ferry. Check-out was quick and friendly. I would not recommend checking in here, however, as one must anchor off the wharf in an unprotected area (plus then most of the islands are upwind).
- Yacht Miz Mae’s Guide to Vanuatu (2nd ed.), written and published by Nicola Rhind. Available from New Zealand book stores or directly from Rhind at PO Box 8, Papakura, New Zealand or c/o Miz Mae, Aore Resort, Luganville, Santo, Vanuatu. This guide is excellent and detailed, and we used it constantly.
- Vanuatu: A cruising yachtsman’s notes and drawings, by Bob Tiews and Thalia Hearne. Also good. Available from most US marine bookstores.
Be sure to check GPS offsets on the charts for this area. Unlike most places, the discrepancy makes a big difference here. For a list of Vanuatu charts that we used, click here.
The official languages are English and Bislamic (a fascinating pidgin English). US West-coasters drive me crazy by incorrectly pronouncing the capital Port Vila as “vee-ya.” It’s “vee-la.” with a single “L,” which would not be pronounced like a “Y” even if this were a Spanish-speaking country, which it isn’t.
Money and Prices
As of August 2001, US$1 equals about 141 Vatu. In other words, 1,000 Vatu equals about US$7. Note that you cannot exchange the Vatu in any other country besides Vanuatu. Souvenir items bought in Port Vila (t-shirts, crafts) will be twice as expensive as elsewhere.
In Port Vila, Yachting World stands by on VHF Channel 60. Otherwise, call on 16 and switch, as usual.
Port Vila, Efate
Quarantine Anchorage: As marked on the chart, this anchorage is in 20-60 ft near the large yellow buoy. It has very bad holding, with parts of the bottom feeling and sounding like poured concrete. Fortunately, one need not stay there very long, as official clearance is fast.
Main Anchorage: After check-in, call Yachting World on Channel 60 to assist you in anchoring or tying up to one of their excellent moorings. Alternatively, you may Med-moor at their cay. To anchor or use a mooring, you must pass underneath a power cable that stretches across the harbor. With regard to the height of this cable, the otherwise excellent cruising guides are out of date. It has been raised. At mid-tide, the cable’s height is 25 meters (80 feet) in the center of the channel and 28 meters (89 feet) at the highest point, which is on the port side of the channel by the red buoy next to the cay With a mast height of 75 feet, and even at high tide, we passed underneath near the red buoy with plenty of clearance (although it looked very scary indeed upon approach). The mooring area is extremely well-protected from wind and swell.
Facilities: Facilities for voyagers in Port Vila are quite excellent, especially considering the remoteness of this tiny, undeveloped country. In addition to the moorings, YW has a laundry service, fax, etc., and will run a tab for all items until you leave. They can also arrange an island tour. Good fuel is available from the BP dock near the Waterfront Cafe (and I think you can get water there, too). There is a good Internet Cafe and a large post office in town. Telephone communication (phone card only) is no problem, but astronomically expensive.
Food Excellent provisioning is to be had at the Supermarche on the main drag just past Jill’s Cafe on the opposite side of the street. In addition to the usual South Pacific fare, the store carries western goodies like apples, hothouse tomatoes, Romaine lettuce, and broccoli. They have many American and Aussie items on the shelves, including Diet Coke and Heinz ketchup! In short, if one will be entering Vanuatu at Port Vila, there is absolutely no need to do any heavy provisioning at the previous port of call. Moreover, if you will be in Vanuatu for some time, Jill of Jill’s Cafe will for a fee allow you to order your favorite American-brand foodstuffs to be shipped with her monthly container of provisions for her American restaurant. In addition, there are many very good restaurants in this tiny town. The most popular among cruisers seems to be Jill’s and the Waterfront Bar & Grill.
Bottom Line: This is by far the best place to clear into Vanuatu and get a blast of creature comforts before heading to the outer islands. We enjoyed our stay.
Aore Island Resort, Espirito Santo (across from Luganville)
Safety: The water is quite deep here, and the resort maintains moorings at a reasonable rate. Contact them on Channel 16 for mooring assignment, as they are differently rated for vessel weight. The closer in you get, the calmer the water. There can be a moderate swell at the outer moorings.
Ashore: Don’t miss the Island Buffet, with local kustom-dance band. A ferry service is available several times per day for transport across the channel to Luganville. No facilities here, except for laundry, telephone, and jerry-jugged water. Provisions, Internet, a chandlery, and hardware stores are available in Luganville. We did not see a place in Luganville to get diesel fuel or water.
Contact: Aore resort can be contacted at PO Box 306, Santo, Vanuatu; 678-36705; fax 678-36703; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.aore.net.
Water: We didn’t swim, but the water looked fine. This resort and Luganville have the primary dive shops for diving the famous Coolidge wreck, which cannot legally be dived without a guide.
Bottom Line: If you come up to Santo, particularly to dive the Coolidge, this is a good place to stay.