Golden Moments in Vanuatu

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Experiencing a touch of glamour in a far away isle  (published April 2014)

We were enjoying a quiet afternoon cup of tea below decks, out of the scorching sun, when there was a knock on the hull. Could it be Frank or one of the other friendly locals with a pirogue full of fruit or a massive land crab to trade? My husband Anthony climbed out on deck to investigate and discovered a RIB full of young locals who had run out of outboard fuel on the way back to their boat. Being a kindly soul, my husband agreed to give them enough fuel for their return journey. As he poured the petrol into a hastily found container, one poor lad was constantly pumping the dinghy just to keep it afloat. It was not so much a RIB as a FIB: Floppy Inflatable Boat.

There was still tea in the pot so we invited them aboard for a quick cup. Quick, before their boat sank. While they drank and made complimentary noises about the tea, I hauled up the quarter berth mattress and rummaged amongst my precious fabric store in the deep locker below to find them some vinyl to patch their boat. Anthony meanwhile searched for some suitable glue and decanted it into an empty jam jar. We donated this to the visitors with a few handy hints on how to make a good repair, as we’ve done this a few times to our own elderly inflatable.

The next day, we got a call on the VHF. It turns out that, during their repairs, our new friends had also discovered a large split in the hull. Did we have any fiberglass resin? Indeed we did. So, on our way to explore the village ashore, we popped in with the requested resin.

While we were there, Anthony gave them a few more tips on repairing the RIB/FIB, now upside down on the aft deck, and they asked us if we’d like to look around the yacht.

Now here’s the thing, this sad apology for a tender belonged to the biggest yacht I’ve ever been aboard—a 154-foot superyacht, on the market for many millions of dollars.

Last year, as we’d sailed into Port Vila, Vanuatu, flying our yellow Q flag, tired after a three-day windward passage from Fiji, we’d peered through binoculars looking for the leading marks. It had seemed as if the harbor was full of superyachts, like the ritzier parts of the Mediterranean or the Caribbean during a regatta week. It turned out, as we motored in towards the quarantine buoy, to actually be six masts from just two yachts. One was a huge four-master, Phocea, which we later discovered was embroiled in scandals and court cases reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster. And the second was this two master, Blue Gold. Both yachts added an unexpected elegance and sophistication to the waterfront of Vanuatu’s capital.

Nixon on the foredeck of Blue Moon
Nixon on the foredeck of Blue Moon

We’d just anchored and were enjoying a celebratory beer when a friendly young Nivan motored over in his dinghy to welcome us. He admired our yacht, which always goes down well, and introduced himself as Nixon. We couldn’t invite him aboard as we hadn’t yet cleared quarantine, but we were both impressed by the warm welcome to his country. We promised we’d catch up with him later once we’d been cleared, but the next day we moved on and sadly never did. Such is cruising.

Several months later, after a cyclone season back in New Zealand, here we were, helping this same friendly, charming young man, Nixon, aboard Blue Gold, now providing elegance and charm to beautiful Havannah Harbour, about twenty five miles from Port Vila, Efate.

Most sailing folks that I know learned to sail in dinghies or small cruising boats and worked their way up. I personally started on a 40-foot cruising yacht and have consequently always thought of myself as a bit of a sailing lightweight. Nixon? He started his boating career on this 154-foot mega yacht. No worries.

Over tea and ginger cake, Nixon explained how he’d been picked to be the caretaker of Blue Gold. He’d attended a sailing course in Luganville, on the island of Santo, tutored by an Englishman, “Like you,” he nodded at Anthony. He helpfully went on to give us his suggestions for a detailed itinerary for our second cruise of his country, impressing on us that we should visit his own island of Maewo, where his mother and sister still lived. We were to be sure to visit the yacht club and mention his name. It seemed a shame that he was going to be left behind at anchor on Blue Gold, rather than cruising Vanuatu’s 83 scenic islands.

Blue Gold saloon
Blue Gold saloon

Left in sole charge of the superyacht for many months at a time, we were impressed that Nixon had come to grips with all the systems involved in running it. We found the two engines and array of mechanical and electrical gear overwhelming. Having spent most of the morning scrubbing my little galley, I was mightily relieved that I wasn’t responsible for cleaning the two galleys on Blue Gold, or the many guest and crew cabins—nor the saloon, dining room, spiral staircases, outside dining area, laundry room, or crew’s saloon.

It was a rare treat to see such beautiful joinery and tasteful upholstery in cabins of splendid proportions. To me, she was an elegant lady, like an ageing film star without her makeup, in need of a new leading man to rescue her. Of course, he’ll need to arrive in his own tender, or bring a pump.

Nixon on the bridge
Nixon on the bridge

Anthony admired the unusual rig and modern furling systems and we finished up back on the aft deck, which was designed to be a landing pad for a helicopter. We said goodbye and continued on our way to visit the village as planned, later returning to our own yacht in our elderly but buoyant tender. As we sat drinking yet more tea we looked around at our floating home. It suddenly felt to us very small but also surprisingly manageable. It is, after all, only 55 feet long.

Cobalt at anchor with Anthony and the author waving
Cobalt at anchor with Anthony and the author waving

As we weighed anchor at dawn the next day to head north and visit the places Nixon had recommended, our neighbors gave us a hearty farewell wave. We took some photos, as I hoped that when we returned Blue Gold and her charismatic crew would be off having her own adventures, bringing a touch of glamour to some far away, exotic harbor.