Diary of a Passage, #2.
Fiji to Vanuatu.
Day 1. Monday 30 July.
After a mad day of rushing around trying to get last minute things done we threw off the lines to the marina berth in Denarau and headed to the fuel dock to fill up before departing for our next destination, Vanuatu!
It had been a mission of a morning on one of the hottest days we had experienced in Fiji, with not a breath of wind to break the oppressiveness that hung over the marina.
The second hand asymmetrical that had been purchased and flown over needed to be stuffed into its tiny sausage like sock again, as I hadn’t ended up buying one in a snuffer sock, (which has made it extremely difficult to use, more on that another day…) along with final shopping for bread and milk and a last wash of the boat. Currency was also needed for Vanuatu, which was impossible to find at any of the banks, so we ended up having to get US dollars instead and are hoping this will work for check in and our volcano visit when we arrive.
We waited at the fuel dock for about 30 minutes while the guy was located to start the process, Fiji-time baby!
Once fueled it was passage time for real. We had checked 4 different weather forecasts, plus had Kiwi weather guru, Met Bob, send us a report. All was looking fine for a relatively calm passage with very light winds. Perfect. My kind of a trip. Maybe the hoodoo voodoo that has haunted me for any night sailing we have done will be broken. I still find it pretty overwhelming being on watch at night in anything a little wild.
We hoisted the sails as we left the shadow of Denarau, a cloak of familiarity for us, on the way to the passage out of the main barrier reef and started with a lovely sail. 12 or so kts of wind and perfect angle to have us skipping along at a brisk pace.
We had met a lovely Kiwi couple at the market several days previously and they had decided to leave Fiji at the same time as us, a nice coincidence. We sailed out of the passage together, eagerly awaiting the next few days of calm weather that was predicted.
And then the fun started….
What. The. Heck.
Winds went from an easy 16 knots to gusting 30knots, with the waves leaping from a gentle 1 m or so to at least 3 m!. All in the space of an hour.
This was not what we had planned for. This was not cool.
Being daylight, I was OK and could see what was going on, but we needed to reef the sails and so that meant me heading up the mast area, clipping my teather on to the boat while Chae turned her into the wind at 25 knots and 3 m waves is not my idea of a good time…. where was all the nice weather that had been forecasted?
There was no other option but to keep going forward. It would drop. With both sails double reefed we slowed down to a more controlled speed and just ticked along. Chae was at the helm as I couldn’t deal. Great.
The motors ended up having to be turned on as we were going into the troughs of the waves and slowing down too much between each wave which causes our boat to wallow around too much. It also helped the poor auto pilot with a power boost as it sounded like it was struggling to keep us on our heading.
Things continued along like this until well past dark.
Dinner was re heated pizza from the best pizza shop I’ve ever been to in Denarau. Kids asked what else was for dinner. Ha ha, nothing tonight little homies, it was movie time and then bed. No one wants to be making food in that kind of get up.
After the kids went off to bed I dozed on the couch as best as I could. Waking each time we surfed down a wave sideways with the motion of the boat giving me a good jolt. It’s a blessing that Chae is so unfazed by this kind of weather
As the night drew on the winds did calm and so did the seas. He woke me around midnight for a watch which was manageable for my frayed nerves, as things had settled.
It was a looooong night.
Day 2. Tuesday 31 July.
The epic moon slowly sank in front of me while a huge burning sun rose behind. It was the week of the full moon and the blood moon was coming up so we had an unbelievable view without any light pollution. The winds had dropped right down and we had motored most of the night. Will, the boat that had been with us had been able to power through it all and she was a good 5 or 6 miles ahead. Being a much bigger power boat and capable of faster speed than our motoring she was heading the right direction much faster than us. We lost sight of her on the AIS as the sun rose.
The kids were cherry as usual when they woke. Chae was still sleeping so I opened the toast factory for our bottomless pits. The amount of toast they can get though is incredible! Luckily, I stoked up on bread in Denarau and so I won’t have to bake any for a while… hopefully.
When Chae woke up, he wanted to try the new to us downwind sail again.
Dread filled my stomach.
The day previously, we had attempted to fly it. It had gone all kinds of wrong, especially when trying to bring it down. Without a snuffer (a big sausage like cover for the sail that you use to hoist it up the mast and then smother it again by pulling it over the huge silky sail when you want to bring it down, taking all the air out of it effortlessly- essential with a sail this big) getting this giant billowing nylon sail of 200 or so m sq. in on the boat again can be a challenge!!
Emelia and I had managed to get it into the sock it came with for launching, which was a basic zipper type of sausage thing, on the dock at the marina so at least we could get it up easily!
So up it went.
They are incredibly impressive sails. This particular one was made for a Whitbread Round the World race about 20 years ago for a boat called Merit Cup and has their big logo on it.
Sails like this are super expensive, so when we found this one that was almost the right size, we bought it as it was a very good price.
It flew beautifully. Waterhorse skipped along behind it, it was truly a sight to see it fly.
Life was good with it up in the calmer winds and moderate to low sea state.
We flew it for several hours which meant no motoring. It was nice to have the stillness of no engines and the swishing of the water flying by our hulls.
Eventually the wind backed round too much and we had to bring it in.
Not so fun again…..
It went much better than the first time as at least we knew what we were up for, but trying to pull in a giant, silky, flapping, billowing piece of cloth, while on a moving boat, in shifty winds that made it fill and deflate erratically was fun times!
I lay exhausted, wrapped in sail on the trampoline once we had got it onto the trampoline. This sailing game is more of a work out than I ever expected. From the winch grinding putting in the reefs in the mainsail yesterday and raising and lowering this giant beast of a thing, I felt like I had been for a giant workout.
With the wind directly behind, we tried to wing on wing the main and genoa. Putting them up meant turning into the wind again, which means big bumpy times again. I had myself clipped on with my tether and life jacket up by the mast to work all the lines. It’s like a roller-coaster, thrashing you around while you are trying to make sense of what you need to do to make the sails do their thing.
There wasn’t really enough wind for it, which sucked after we had spent all that time and effort getting them up. I guess in a situation like this all we have is time, so at least it helped to pass some of it.
Back into the wind. Back up to the base of the mast to work the lines and winches. This time I made a stupid amateur mistake when dropping the main of not waiting until Chae had turned the boat directly into the wind. I thought he had and tried to slowly let out main halyard around the winch to lower the sail and managed to jam my fingers in the halyard (the rope that pulls the main sail up and down!) Man did it hurt. Then when I tried to get them out I got the ones on the other hand jammed, plus scraped up my arm trying to lock off the clutch that stops the halyard from flying out of control.
I was almost in tears.
Sailing just wasn’t doing it for me today.
Once both sails were packed away and the engines on, we re-set our course for Anatyom and I went inside to make lunch.
The kids had been very industrious and had made a hut from their sheets over the saloon table and were playing Lego under it.
We have been so amazed at how they have just taken to this life at sea. They seem unfazed by the goings on and it does make it so much easier that they are so calm and comfortable with it all.
Lunch was the last of the fresh tuna we had caught up by Taveuni. Poke bowls. Everyone’s new favorite and with the amount of Tuna we have caught it is always big chunks and lots of rice and veggies!
Lunch restored the balance in my head and picked up my mood.
Chae had headed back to bed to catch up on some well needed sleep, his head had just hit the pillow when ziiiiiiing went both fishing lines…..! Double strike again!
We grabbed one each and started reeling like crazy. Unfortunately, when I had stopped the boat I had managed to knock one of the throttle controls into reverse slightly rather than neutral and when I put the rod into the holder on the rail to pop us back in neutral my fish managed to get off with the lack of tension on the line. Any bit of slack and they turn the other way and get the hooks out of their mouths.
Chae had his on though, and it was giving a good fight.
Hilariously we landed a new Yellow Fin just as we had eaten the last of what we had in the fridge!
It was a decent sized fish and gave a good battle. It always makes me sad to kill them, but we live from the ocean as much as we can and respect the food we get from it.
Back to bed for him after all the excitement and back up to the helm for me. The kids headed back to the documentary they had been watching. They do get to watch a lot more TV than we thought they would on the boat. On passages or long day sails when Chae and I need to be either napping or on the helm or are both busy with actual sailing they get to take the hard drive and sit quietly.
We prefer them not to come out too much on passages. They do come and sit with us in the helm from time to time if the weather is decent and safe, and always with their lifejackets on if out of the cockpit. Emelia has started to help more with the sailing side and little things around the boat when underway, always with her lifejacket!
I sat at the helm for the rest of afternoon and watched the light fade behind the dusky clouds up ahead. It is quite a lonely feeling being in the middle of the ocean, miles away from land or any other people. I watch the flying fish skip across the water, hitting it with a splash and sometimes jumping back up for another run. They amaze me at the distance they can travel. I wonder if they lose their pack or school when they do their flying leaps, and if they too are swimming all alone in the middle of the ocean.
We shared the night between us and it was calm, motoring was our only option at this stage, the wind was not full enough to do anything more than to flap the sails annoyingly so they were brought down for the night.
Day 3. Wednesday 1stAugust.
Well. What a difference to wake up to this morning. All the calm from the 4 hours before had gone. Bam, back were the waves and the wind and the worst part about it was there were 3 different wave directions all trying to get themselves established, yet none were succeeding, making for a super lumpy ocean. Literally the most uncomfortable space to be in.
I started the toast production line again for Chae and the kids. It’s always an interesting experience trying to make toast and boil a kettle in lumpy seas. By the time they were all fed I was feeling sick and started to get pretty unhappy about the outside situation crashing around me. Chae, in the nicest possible way, told me to go back to be bed and chill out. So, I did.
Several hours later I emerged and it had settled slightly but the lumpy confused sea state was still making it tough going.
Chae was knackered so he took off for a sleep and I went up to the helm. We had the Genoa out, motor sailing along and that had lifted the bows slightly and so made progress slightly better. We mooched along in these conditions until around lunch when he came back up and we decided to put the main up.
It’s an interesting experience putting up the main in moderate seas. One of us has to go up to the mast -usually me as I prefer not to have to keep the boat into the wind – and the other steers the boat to the wind, and into the waves so she jumps around like a carnival ride.
Man did she fly with both sails up. 9 to 10 kts which made the miles fly by as the water streamed and bubbled beneath our hulls. It was not the most comfortable wave angle but at least the miles were getting ticked off.
Fast forward several hours and entering the game were 2 big squalls. Squalls mean the wind picks up significantly and we have to reduce the sail area. When the wind picks up, you guessed it…so does the wave height.
Boat into the wind again, me up the base of the mast again and do the whole procedure backward to put in the 2nd reef (reefing the sails is when you reduce the area of sail that you have out. This gives more control over the boat and is safer in higher winds, too much sail can be a bad thing. It generally reduces your speed too).
Even with both sails on their 2nd reef we were still flying along at 9 to 10 knots. It got so funky for a while that I had to call Chae back up out of bed as it all felt too out of control.
Waterhorse was handling it beautifully but it was my perception of the situation. It didn’t help that the sun was almost set and along with the setting sun comes the ‘hairy-scary-nincompoops’ (the heebie-jeebies, the terrors or whatever you know them as, this is what they have been jokingly been named) for me. Something about the dark and not being able to see the whole situation just tips me over.
Chae was back up again and I was sent back down to bed.
The kids had been oblivious throughout the whole day. Watching movies and playing Lego, reading and making paper planes. Dinner was meant to be super exciting hot dogs that they were looking forward to but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, so I chucked them a packet of biscuits and told them it was their dinner and not to get too many crumbs into the bed.
The look on their faces was shock? Biscuits for dinner? Who is this woman that they call their mother??
They were pretty disappointed about not having their hotdogs but they happily ate the bikkies and then headed off to bed. I promised the hotdogs tomorrow.
Chae stayed up on watch until around midnight. Doing way longer than he should have so I didn’t have to deal with the demon nincompoop night time waves.
I came back up at midnight. The situation had settled significantly. The sea state had reduced and the wind, even though only around 15 knots, was at a nice angle to have us still going along at 7 knots.
Things progressed well. The wind did drop to the stage where sails had to come in so Chae got up to help with that, both engines were turned on again and he went back to bed for some more much needed sleep after his long day and evening.
The moon was incredibly bright, laying a glittering trail as we ventured along. I am literally counting the miles until we are at the anchorage.
Sitting in the helm, with the music on helps to pass the time. Its moments like this where you are all alone in the middle of nowhere that you think.
All kinds of things.
Tonight was about my family. I miss them all dearly. This is the longest I have been away from them all. Being on the water also makes me incredibly aware of how much I miss my brother Paul and how I often wonder what he would have to say about his little sister heading off around the world.
Both my brothers are/were true sailors, far more capable and competent than I am at the moment, and I know for both of them that a life at sea was always a happy one.
Day 4. Thursday 2nd August
My night shift went smoothly. Wind and waves were down and so it was an easy 4 hours. Chae came up to take over at around 5.30am and I gladly took off downstairs to bed. I had started to feel sea sick again and it may have been the cloudy sky giving me no visibility of the surrounding water.
Sleep was short lived and I ended up waking after an hour and lying there unable to doze off again.
When I got up, we were tantalizingly close! Land was in sight!!!! The island of Anaytiom, which is the lowest island in Vanuatu group. We had made it!!!
I had been able to see it in the half light of almost dawn when I went to bed but to see land in daylight after several days at sea is special.
It was green and mountainous. There were red gashes of soil showing where slips had happened and coconut palm fringed beaches.
Libby said it looked like Rangitoto, which it did have some similarities to, just much bigger and much warmer looking!
The process of putting the boat back together started. It was a mess. Emelia was on dishes, Noah and Libby were sent to sort out their rooms and tidy all the books and Lego that had been scattered around the bedrooms and I started on packing up all the lines and mainsail that had been brought down in a crumpled heap into the lazy bag in the darkness the night before when the wind had completely died.
Salt was covering the boat and right up in the cockpit. We try to keep the boat as salt free as possible, especially the back cockpit and deck area where we constantly walk as otherwise the inside ends up gritty and damp.
It all needed a wash. Luckily the water looks incredibly clear so when we stop we will be able to run the generator and water maker to fill the tanks again.
Excitement was building!
The day after we had left we got a message from some friends who were already in Vanuatu that they were headed to this very bay! Now they were in sight! The timing was perfect as we hadn’t seen them since Kadavu Island in Fiji.
Rounding the corner of the reef into the bay of Angelhowhat we gave them a drive by, cheering and blowing the air horn as we headed in close to the village. We needed to go ashore for check in and clearance.
The kiddies and I sat up the salt crusted front of the boat and soaked it all in as we entered the bay. The water was pristine and we could see straight to the bottom in 10m. The reefs looked beautiful, shimmering different colors under the water ahead of us, we saw turtles swimming and solid looking buildings along the grass behind the beach. This was paradise found.
Anchor dropped, and a large sigh of relief was had by all! Chae and I looked at each other and grinned. It had had its moments this passage but here we were.
We gathered the necessary paperwork and passports, dropped the dinghy and headed ashore, slowly over the shallow reefs to enjoy the beauty that lay below.
We were greeted by 2 men on the beach who told us where to go and then helped pull the dinghy up.
The police office was just above us so we headed up and found an immaculate small building but no one there. Several people came by but they just said ‘Oh he will be around somewhere, just wait.’
Our man came back soon and was the friendliest police officer you could meet.
He said that they only really do the check ins when a cruise ship is in the bay and one isn’t due for a week or so, so just hang out for a couple of day and then head to the nearby island of Tanna to do a more formal clearance.
He checked over our passports and paperwork to make sure we were who we said and then gave us a little info on the village.
There was a shop down one end that sold sim cards and a bank that changed money. We were stunned. We are literally in the middle of nowhere and this is all here?
It turns out it is all set up for the cruise ships that come in to visit Mystery Island, which was across the other side of the bay. It is a marine reserve and a picture-perfect postcard type spot. We can see why they come all the way down here.
We wandered along down the clean swept pathways in the grass, meeting friendly face after face. You wonder what they must think of a random family of 5 suddenly appearing in their village!
The bank was found. It was not what we were expecting! Inside it was like any other bank you would find in any city, with a most helpful teller who happily changed the USD that I had got in Denarau. I needn’t have worried so much about not being able to get Vatu there!
The kids then headed down to play by the beach and Chae and I walked into the village to find this shop. We were given directions by a man near the school, ‘down the path and turn by the mango tree’ he said. Cool. Off we went.
The roads were packed red dirt, swept clean. There were huge trees everywhere and tidy well planted gardens with borders of flowers decorating the edges of each persons’ house and garden.
The houses were made from a mixture of materials, some being intricately woven, solid looking panels with thatched roofs. Others were more modern, concrete block with thatched roof, a mixture of a time gone by and modern technologies.
Turn we did at the mango tree, which was in full flower. Poor Emelia is desperate for a mango and seeing these in flower made us laugh that we had again missed mango season in this country!
This shop didn’t have sim cards but they said to go down the path and turn at the bamboo to the next shop. How many shops are there we thought!
This one was closed and so we headed back to the beach where we ended up meeting a man named Phillip who had a shop and he would take us to.
He was 80, he told us. He had raised 4 children with his first wife, who had then passed away, so he married again, 15 years ago, and now has a 14-year-old and an 8-year-old! We were amazed to say the least! The force is strong in this village obviously!
He took us on a wee journey to his little shop and we found the aforementioned sim, as he dotted the journey along the way with some history and information about the island and its village.
We re-joined the kids on the beach who had been chasing large geckos up a huge tree by the school, and we all wandered slowly back to the dingy along the beach.
The tide was going out and the water was gently lapping the shore, there were new types of shells to find and flowers to play with. We all were enjoying stretching our legs after the 3 and a half days on the boat.
Back on Waterhorse there were 3 children very eager for their hotdogs that had been missed yesterday. Chae and I were fading fast from lack of sleep and I ended up making a silly decision to put some tissue on the part of the bbq that usually has a wee cup to catch any grease.
After I finished cooking the steak and sausages for the hotdogs and had turned off the bbq I went inside to do the buns. I could smell an odd smell of burning plastic almost. Weird, I thought, until I went outside and saw the paper I had put the catch the grease on fire! Crap – I threw it in the sea quickly and then realised the plastic knob of the bbq was on fire too!!! Oh no! I grabbed a tea towel and tried to smother it while simultaneously trying to turn off the gas bottle.
Luckily it finally went out after the 3rd attempt to wrap the damp tea towel around it. Chae was just about to grab one of the fire extinguishers. It just shows the silly mistakes you make when so tired.
Lunch was delicious. Anything is extra delicious when sitting still at anchor after several days at sea, but the steak, mustard and onion rolls went down an absolute treat!!
By the time we had finished there was little more energy left to do more than to head off to sleep. We all did. Everyone went to their rooms and I ended up on the couch as Chae had spread eagled himself over our entire bed!
Heavy lids were closed, silence on the boat was only broken by the occasional laughter tinkling across the water from the school on shore.
We were so tired yet so happy to be here.