Monday, August 12, 2013

VANUATU passage

Time to leave Fiji. But first we had to backtrack from Vuda Point Marina to the town of Lautoka (S17°36.108' E177°26.456') on Sea Turtle for the officials to check us out for departure on August 5th.

One last trip to the market for fresh produce and to find something to blow our last Fijian money on, then to Customs. Just as we finished up, friends on SV Water Musick [sic] arrived to also check out. We weighed anchor at 16:50 for an expected 4-day passage to the islands of Vanuatu. Little did we know.

Dinghy dock by Customs

We had to make it through a narrow pass between reefs but the late start put us there well after dark. Navula Passage, which was well marked with lit channel markers, waypoints on our digital charts, and ranging lights to keep us on center made for a safe but tense exit. We were out to the wide open Pacific Ocean once again with a good breeze on a comfortable point of sail.

We were surprised at how windy it was because we had been expecting to motor into a predicted windless high. But we had a great first 4 days with a good wind from behind pushing us along nicely - and Jordan had a line out and landed a 15-kg beautiful yellow-fin tuna.

Fish for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners!

Then, 25 nautical miles (5 hours) from our intended landfall (Island of Aneityum), it was like King Neptune put his hand up and said, "No you don't." What did we do to annoy him?

There was a huge squall line across our path with lightning and gale force winds now on our nose, tough to sail into. We slogged with winds and high seas making virtually no "make-good" headway. Then all of a sudden, while directly under a towering cumulus cloud, we had torrential rains and no wind! The seas flattened out under this so we started the motor to make some valuable distance but the motor slowed and stopped. Did we pick up a line in the prop? Would Jordan have to dive to cut and untangle it and fight off sharks in the sea?

We decided to heave-to and rest until it stopped pouring rain. After we drifted a bit, we got out our GoPro (small underwater camera) and attached it to a pole and sent it down to investigate the prop entanglement. Surprise, surprise - the prop was clear of everything. So we tried the motor again and it came to life. Strange! But relieved.

The gale winds returned on our nose, so we decided to skip this southernmost island (Aneityum) and head north to the next island (Tanna) where we knew some friends were but again found it near impossible to make any westing. We found another small island so we ducked behind it to go out on deck and secure and tidy up loose ropes, etc. When we resumed, the wind abated enough so we decided to motor-sail to make some better headway, but after only an hour, our motor suddenly stopped. King Neptune must have really been annoyed!

Okay, change course again. Under the circumstances then, it was an obvious wise move to head north further to Efate Island to the main town in Vanuatu with a better point of sail and where we could sort out the motor problem. 120 nautical miles with a good wind on the beam - but a little over half way, the winds almost completely died, so we ghosted along trying to use puffs of breeze.

The last 50 miles, which under normal conditions would take Sea Turtle about 10 hours, was a 24-hour endurance of patience. But we finally got to Port Vila, after a 7-day passage that should have only taken us 4 to 4.5 days.

We dropped sails at daybreak just at the mouth of the entry to the inner harbour and Jordan towed us in with our launched dinghy at 07:00 where we set anchor (S17°44.264' E168°18.626'). Amazing how easily such a small dinghy can handle a much larger sailboat. Maybe we don't need our motor fixed!

Come along, Sea Turtle

No comments: