Start of the cruising season in Vanuatu: Advice and recommendations

Ex-cruisers Pete & Sue Wederell run Total Marine Solutions in Port Vila. After 5 years of living in Vanuatu, the past 12 months have been the toughest both for local businesses and the Ni-Vanuatu people. Here Pete gives a run-down of what Vanuatu has been through and how the islands are looking forward to a healthy cruising season ahead.

Published 8 years ago, updated 5 years ago

Champagne Beach, Port Vila

A Testing Time of Late

In the 5 years since we have been in Vanuatu, firstly as cruisers then as investors, we have come to truly love our adopted home. The Ni-Vanuatu people are extremely happy and resilient which have been important attributes that have stood them well since March 13th 2015. On that date, Vanuatu got a direct hit from one of the strongest storms in recorded history, but strength, determination, ancient wisdom and outside help saw the country very quickly back on its feet again.

We then got hit by a drought brought about by a very strong El Niño event. Sam and Jess Bell of Kaleva Yacht Services in Port Vila, who has done so much to develop yachting here, swung into action and formed With Aid with a barge and watermakers to deliver water and storage to the hardest hit Shepherd Islands group. It was with immense relief that the drought finally broke in early April and the nation is now lush and green again.

Next on the list of disasters was the withdrawal of two international airlines citing concerns over the safety of the international airport runway. Emergency repairs have now made the runway fully serviceable, with funding available for a complete revamp in the near future. Tourism reliant businesses are now breathing a sigh of relief.

And just in case that wasn’t enough excitement, last year the Supreme Court jailed 14 members of parliament on charges of giving or receiving bribes. That event sold a lot of newspapers and has shown to the world that the judiciary here is solid and incorruptible, not something a lot of other countries can say.

Yacht Clearance

The cruising season in Vanuatu has now begun and we are starting to welcome international yachts into the country. Arriving yachts will find that the authorities here are very firm but very fair. If you want to clear into a non-gazetted port of entry, then simply contact them in advance to give them an opportunity to make a risk assessment. The answer is invariable yes, but don’t be tempted to do it without permission. They will find out and they will find you.

This innovative approach to yacht clearance allows boats to clear inward or outward at Aneityum or Port Resolution, two very popular anchorages – but not clearance ports.

Bringing Aid

Many yachties want to bring aid to villages and this is commendable, but needs to be managed well to ensure it doesn’t have a negative impact. If you have a box of nails to give away, have a walk round to make sure they don’t have a container of nails out the back as they will always accept them, even if they don’t need them. For those with technical skills, don’t just fix the village generator but find a likely person and work with them to fix it so you can pass on some knowledge.

If giving food, please no white rice, sugar or highly processed food. Vanuatu has a very high incidence of diabetes and the number of processed foods available has decreased the reliance on traditional root crops, legumes and fresh fruit, to the detriment of people’s health. This problem was exacerbated post-Cyclone Pam by a massive influx of tinned food and rice, far more than was needed to ensure survival.

And please, no lollies (popcorn is better), no tobacco and no alcohol.

Local Customs

A word about kava.

For those approaching from the east, Vanuatu kava is like Fiji kava on steroids. We’ve seen a few cruisers have a little too much of a good thing and temporarily lose the ability to walk, talk or even stand. The best part is that there is no real hangover, but our recommendation is to take one shell and then wait at least 20 minutes to gauge the effect before trying another one. Don’t drink kava after having a few beers or a meal as the effect is not a pleasant one.

Kava bars or “Nakamals” in the urban areas are welcoming of females, but on the outer islands, it always pays to ask someone if females are welcome. There is still a lot of custom and tradition in the outer islands which is one of Vanuatu’s greatest appeals, but it’s always best to avoid awkward moments by finding out what is and isn’t welcome.

The idea of entering a Nakamal for the first time can be a bit intimidating for some. If you want a local introduction

in Port Vila then give us a call on 7722564. As regular imbibers, we will introduce you to

our regular haunts, some of which even sell cold Tusker beer and wine as well as the local version of

Tapas for those that want something more.

Once again Vanuatu throws open its doors to welcome our cruising friends from the four corners of the

Globe. Come and see what we have to offer. Experience Vanuatu.

Pete Wederell

Total Marine Solutions

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