Cell Phone Service and Internet in Vanuatu – a How-To Guide

July 8, 2017

We’ve heard over and over that there’s very little or no cell phone service and internet in Vanuatu until you get to Port Vila. That’s not what we’ve found. We had really good service starting at Aneityum, while at Tanna, OK service at Erromango and really pretty good here in Port Vila. I think the problem is that no one tells you what you have to do to get your phone to work, so I’ll try, step by step.

1. Buy a SIM card for your phone. There are two companies: TVL and Digicel. The general wisdom that’s getting passed around is to go with Digicel, but I don’t necessarily agree. Locals have told us TVL is better so that’s what we went with and it’s really been pretty good. A sim card is about 500 Vatu or about $5 US.

I’ll detail the steps for TVL since that’s what I have, but Digicel will be similar.

2. Install the SIM card. This shouldn’t have been too hard but it was. When I put the SIM card in my phone, it prompted me for a code. I finally figured out that it was asking for the “PUK” code that was printed on the card the SIM came with.

Each time I entered this number, it said it was wrong. It only gave me three chances to enter the correct number and said after that, the SIM would be inactive and I would have to contact TVL to resolve the issue. I tried three times with no luck. Then I turned my phone off and back on and tried again. It worked. But it also set my SIM password (PIN) to the PUK code so now, if I reboot, I have to enter this number again, but heck, it works!

3. Buy recharge cards. You have to put some money in your account. The way to do this is with recharge cards that you can buy almost anywhere. Even tiny shops on Aneityum had them. There, I bought 500 Vatu cards. In Port Vila, at the big grocery store, I found 2000 Vatu cards.

Scratch off the scratch-and-sniff stuff on the back of the card (don’t sniff!) and that’s your recharge number.

Call 171 on your phone (with the new SIM card installed) and select option number one. It’ll ask you to enter the 14 digit number from your card. That’s all there is to that step.

4. Buy an internet package. You’re not done until you buy an internet package. If you don’t do this, they’ll charge you a ton of money for each megabyte you use, and your account will be drained after reading three emails!

To buy an internet package, dial *183# and follow the prompts. You’ll want option 3 – buy WAO internet package (whatever WAO means!?) From there, you can select daily, weekly or monthly packages. I buy the 600 MB weekly package. Here are the different package options…

If you were to use your “Extra” data (midnight to 6 AM), you can get the cost down to $4.44 US per Gigabyte. Not bad. Here are Digicel’s plans below. Quite a bit more expensive!

Digicel Vanuatu Data Plans

5. Enter the correct APN. (Here’s the step that very few people know about and if you send me $200 and a case of beer, I’ll tell you how to do it. Just kidding. Beer’s too hard to send 😉 )

This process will vary depending on the phone you have. You can always search Google for something like “setting APN on ___ phone” (fill in whatever phone you have). You could if you had internet that is. Catch 22. (Of course, I guess you’re not reading this without internet!)

On a pure Android phone, you go to settings / wireless and networks / more and select “mobile networks.” From there, select “access point names.” If you have an entry for “SMILE” there, select it and change the APN to TVLWEB.NET.VU (for TVL – Digicel is different). Then make sure you hit save and that this network is selected.

(For Digicel, set the APN to web.digicelpacific.com)

Sometimes there are different settings for iPhones. Not so in Vanuatu. Side note: Sometimes you can use the iPhone APN on an Android phone and get better internet speed.

If you leave the APN as is – usually “default” – you might get internet but it’ll be SLOW, SLOW, SLOW.

You may also have to search for available networks and select SMILE or TVL. Sorry for the lack of details here but every phone is different – even Android phones (Samsung has to change things for the sake of change, and we won’t even talk about iPhones).

Sometimes, when you move from one island to another, you need to get your phone to re-register with the network. The easiest way to do that is to power your phone off and back on.

I really hope I’ve given you enough here for you to have the same good internet results we’ve had in Vanuatu. -Rich

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We’re in the Big City (kind of)

July 8, 2017

Legacy and her crew are at a mooring in Vanuatu’s capitol city of Port Vila. Our first impressions: This place is a cross of everywhere we’ve ever been in the South Pacific. It’s a lot like Suva, somewhat like Savusavu, it looks like Noumea on approach and the mooring area reminds us of Neifu in Tonga.

Where is this place? Here’s an interactive Google Map…

We’ll probably hang out here a couple of weeks and explore town, pizza, burgers, fish, drinks, beer, and the like. That’ll be convenient as there’s some strong wind coming and this is a nice protected harbor. -Rich

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Mt. Yassur Volcano

June 29, 2017

We survived! Despite my history of poor dodgeball skills, we were not hit by lava (though it was very close to us!). Here’s the video (no, we weren’t using a telephoto lens!)…

Everyone we’ve talked to says experiencing Mt. Yassur is a lifetime highlight. I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to the hype. It did. This was an amazing experience!

We got a ride in a truck from the “Yacht Club” in Port Resolution to the volcano center entrance. There, we had a blessing from the chief (helps keep lava from hitting you), a little dance show (that was really great) and a safety briefing. Then it was into more trucks for the ride along steaming roads to the crater rim.

We got to the rim about sunset. Our guides observed the direction the lava was falling to decide with way we’d go to view the action. (He chose well. No one died!)

There were about 30 of us in the group, and all of us took a simultaneous step backwards when the first explosion hit. The force was amazing. It was like something from an atomic blast in the movies. It blew our hair, thumped our chests and popped our ears. It took at least twenty blasts before Cyndi and I stopped jerking backwards and were able to keep the camera mostly steady.

It was surprising just how close they took us to the blasting lava. Obviously there isn’t a lawyer overpopulation in Vanuatu. This kind of thing would never be allowed in the U.S..

Below are some stills from the night – a night I’ll never forget. (You can click to enlarge/scroll through photos below)-Rich

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VentureFarther for Satellite Images (and More)

June 30, 2017

Yesterday, while working with Adam on SV Bravo to try to get satellite images to display on his iPad, he showed me a website called VentureFarther. Wow, I’m impressed!

I’m not a Mac guy, but I’m often asked to help those of the Mac persuasion. I know that an iPad app called SEAiq will display satellite charts (KAP files) as charts, but I didn’t know how to get the KAP files onto the Mac. (I’m really afraid of iTunes! I know Steve Jobs is gone, but I’m pretty sure he still wants to delete all my MP3 files!). After a little setup, VentureFarther will make both creating the charts and getting them onto the iPad as simple as a couple of clicks. Us PC types aren’t left out either. You can very easily create and download satellite images and use them in programs like openCPN.

Some Details: Signing up is free. When you do, you get some credits. Each chart you download costs a credit. You get credits for sharing anchorages, routes, position reports and more. You can also subscribe for about $20 a year, which gives you unlimited credits.

VentureFarther is also a cruising community site where you can share routes, waypoints, your position and much more. Besides satellite images, there is a bunch of very useful information available including world tide tables, weather info and free guide books.

This site is created by members of the cruising family – Jon and Heather on Evergreen and they’ve done a brilliant job! Thanks Jon and Heather. -Rich


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Mt. Yassur at Night

June 27, 2017

We made the 56 mile trip from Aneityum to Tanna today and are anchored in Resolution Bay at the foot of Mt. Yassur. It’s the reason we came here: to make a trip up to this very active volcano. Cyndi got this picture from our boat…

Mt. Yassur at night from anchor in Port Resolution.

It actually looks brighter in the camera than it does in real-life, but we can clearly see the glow with our naked eyes. This hand-held shot was taken from the moving boat with our Canon G7X using its night shot mode. Not bad for a point and shoot! -Rich

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Hitting The Wall (Noumea, New Caledonia)

June, 2107

It just happens every so often: we hit a wall. Early in our cruising experience this was a big deal, a potential end to our cruising. Now as experienced (and anti-depressant medicated) cruisers, we have come to accept this as part of the cruising life (although admittedly at the worst of times we debate packing it in and heading for land life).

Basically, while there are wonderful aspects to the cruising lifestyle, much of it is about travel and novelty. These are fantastic things, but only in limited doses. Travel requires so much brain exercise, stress, adjustment, etc., that it’s like burning a candle on a high flame. It burns bright; but the candle goes down fast.

We’ve come to know the signs of burnout. It’s a feeling of lagging behind oneself, of feeling off-track and a little overwhelmed. We can tell we have it when nothing interests or excites us. This time, it happened after arriving in New Caledonia when we found ourselves suddenly losing interest in visiting areas we hadn’t yet seen or cruising the islands around us. We didn’t feel like it, nor did we feel like heading on to Vanuatu, or anyplace else for that matter. In a nutshell: we wanted to sit at a marina, eat yummy food, watch TV, drink wine, and worry about nothing else.

Burnout, for us, has several causes, but it was easy to see what had caused this particular bout. We’ve been cruising constantly this year and haven’t had our customary break: a long stay in a marina where any travel we do is by car and we don’t have to worry about weather. (A storm coming with 40- to 60-knot winds? How interesting! Let’s put out another fender and add another line or two; then we’ll head out to lunch.)

Another cause is something we call Big Project Letdown. It happens when we complete a huge task (finals at school, a huge work deadline, managing some major event, putting up tiresome relatives as house guests, etc.) Once the task (and the resulting celebration) is over, there’s relief, but instead of the expected happiness, life feels kind of empty for awhile, and the blahs set in. In our case, the big project had been getting from Sydney to New Caledonia, not easy this year. In fact getting out of Oz before our visas expired has been a nagging concern since Tasmania and part of the “big project” of getting to the tropics.

Between not having a break this year and accomplishing the task of getting from Tasmania to Sydney then on to New Caledonia in May, I think this burnout was inevitable. Thankfully we were in the city of Noumea. It’s a huge help to have this happen in a place we’re familiar with, where we know our way around town, where to eat, shop, do laundry, what’s special to buy, and where to move if the marina gets full. I can’t imagine going through this in a place that totally foreign.

That’s how we came to sit in two different marinas for 3 1/2 weeks, our only movement being between one and the other. Do I feel guilty for “squandering” this time? Yes. I always feel that “it may be our last time here” pressure to see and do. But I’ve learned that the carrot works better than the stick, and when there’s no carrot, the solution is not to beat ourselves up with the stick but to give just give ourselves a break and take a rest from it all. During our 3 1/2 weeks in Noumea, we didn’t cruise, nor did we travel on land.

We did, however, find some good new eateries, revisited old ones, took full advantage of the best fish market in the south pacific, went to the French cheese festival, helped another couple who were also in a funk (they just needed more information–we suffered the same crisis when we first went to Fiji), made some new friends, and gradually found our feet again. Catching our breath probably took two weeks, getting excited about exploring a new place took three. But in the end, we were ready to head on and excited about an exotic and new (to us) place called Vanuatu.

Below, a photo gallery with some nice moments from our time in Noumea. As you can see, our recovery featured lots of food, but we somewhat balanced all the eating with lots of walking. And it wasn’t completely unhealthy food: after all there’s lettuce on all those burgers and asparagus on the pizza. (You can click to enlarge/scroll through any of the photo galleries to follow.)

When the time came to leave, we headed out to a gorgeous anchorage near the pass to spend the night. Rich asked how I liked it, and I told him we have to move; let’s please find someplace ugly so I don’t feel so bad about leaving after not spending time in places like this. (We’ve actually seen a lot of New Cal in past years but there is so much we have yet to do.)

New Cal kindly helped us along as we had a bloom of flies the next day. We moved to another anchorage closer to the pass; the flies persisted. We’ve been to this area before and the flies aren’t the norm, but sometimes nature just hatches things in big batches. And so that evening, we headed out the pass glad to leave the flies behind. (Below, a few photos of Port de Goro, our final anchorage near the pass.)

In the meantime, I’ve been working here and there on some Tasmania reports and will still post those, then get back to our normal blog.–Cyndi

Update: We’ve since arrived in Aneityum, Vanuatu, where we’ve spent a few days and really fallen in love with the place. Blog posts about Aneityum to come.

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Partir pour Vanuatu

Leaving for Vanuatu to you english speakers (like us!)

June 20, 2017

We headed out of Noumea about noon on the start of our trip to Vanuatu. We spent a black night in Baie de Koube with only the pretty yellow light at house on shore providing any light – oh, that and a billion stars!

We woke to another Kodak-moment…

A hundred million flies chased us out and now we’re at Port de Goro by the pass we’ll exit at slack tide this evening. The fly count is down to a bearable two million here. I guess the weather caused a fly bloom, or maybe it’s the season, but we’ve never seen it like this here before. Even with the unwanted winged visitors, it’s still a wonderful place.

Here’s a map of all this stuff…

It’s about 200 miles to Aneityum, Vanuatu (two nights and a day for Legacy). We hope to be in Friday morning.

We may not have internet for a while. More when we can. -Rich

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Arduino Exhaust Temperature Sensor

May 14, 2017

When we started to have problems with the sea water pump on our engine, I was reminded how important an exhaust temperature alarm is. As our pump was failing, each time we’d take a big wave, air would enter the engine’s sea water intake and the failing pump wouldn’t prime. This happened a few times but I’m sensitive enough to sounds that I immediately caught the change in the exhaust sound. If I’d missed it, there would’ve been problems.

In the event of a raw cooling water failure, long before an engine with a wet exhaust system overheats, exhaust system components like the rubber exhaust hose or plastic water lift can start to melt. This could be a catastrophic failure.

There are commercially available monitors and alarms available. I was looking at the EX-1 from NASA Marine (pictured below)…

They run about $300 or so and I’m not wild about drilling a hole in the exhaust hose for the sensor. I thought I could do better, so I built my own using some readily available Arduino processor parts from Jaycar Electronics. (I probably spent about $100 for parts, and I only spent 30 or 40 hours building and programming the thing. Let me see… at ten cents an hour for my labor, the total cost was only about $140! But really, I did it for fun.) Here’s what I came up with…

Arduino Exhuast Temperature Monitor Installed
The non-contact IR temperature sensor in an improvised housing.
This is the IR sensor I used, made by FreeTronics.
Sensor installed, aiming at the metal exhaust elbow, below the point of water injection.

And as long as I had all that processing power (the Arduino processors are powerful little computers), I added a water and oil alarm. Since I planned to mount all this where it wasn’t easily visible, I used a piezo alarm to sound morse code signals for any failures:

W, dit dah dah, for water temperature high alarm
O, dah dah dah for oil pressure low alarm
X, dit dah dah dit for exhaust temperature high alarm.

If you should be foolish enough to want to do this yourself, here’s all the code for the project. Help yourself. Use it any way you’d like. (Keep in mind that I used some libraries that have their own reuse rules.) -Rich

Here’s the Arduino code: eng-alarm-6

UPDATE: On the way to New Caledonia our exhaust elbow started to clog up (again!). Before there was any overheating, I could see the problem indicated by a rise in my exhaust elbow temperature from it’s normal 100° F to about 130° F. I didn’t do anything about it until we got into Noumea other than run the engine at a little lower RPM. In Noumea, I cleaned out the exhaust elbow (again!) and also found some clogging in the heat exchanger (see this post about our raw water strainer).

Now I wish I’d mounted my little alarm where I could easily see it and not in the lazarette since it’s such a good engine monitoring tool.

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Raw Water Strainer Modification

June 13, 2017

While waiting for weather in Noumea, we tackled the engine overheating problem we’ve been having for while now. I took the heat exchanger core out and found it partially clogged with algae. It seems that the holes in this commonly used raw water strainer are just too big and allow little twigs and leaves to enter the raw water cooling circuit.

Raw water filter basket with holes that are too large.

My solution was a small piece of fiberglass window screen. I cut a round hole in the center of a piece about 18 inches square, pushed it into the basket and trimmed the excess off the top. I used an o-ring to hold the screen down over the inlet tube at the bottom of the filter and a wire tie to hold it open at the top. The modification, including the head-scratching phase, took about ten minutes and I really think it’ll help keep the gunk out of the engine.

Here’s the final result…

Raw water strainer with fiberglass window screen filter.


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