Sunday, July 20, 2014

Passage to Vanuatu

The date for continuing our voyage was rather hard to nail down. Vicki has been hoping to find someone to crew in her stead, having decided that she doesn't need any more blue water passages on her resume. I wasn't about to singlehand, and I was reluctant even to doublehand, so we needed to find at least two crew.

We put out a call to experienced sailors among our family and friends, but were only able to get one solid commitment, from a thirty-something Australian whom we had met in April. I was a bit hesitant, knowing that his offshore experience was limited, but the clock was ticking, so we finally phoned Ollie and told him we would leave in a week's time if he was still willing and able to fly over to Fiji. He was, so Vicki booked her own ticket to fly in the other direction and began provisioning the boat for the passage. We took another look at the standing rigging, and made a last-minute decision to replace the cap shrouds, lowers, and the starboard intermediate (having already replaced the port one a month ago).

At this point we had a stroke of good luck - just how good we were yet to learn. Vicki saw a young man with long curly hair disembarking from a newly-arrived yacht with his sea bag flung over his shoulder, thought about it a minute, and realized he might be looking for a new crew position. He had disappeared from view, so she asked everyone if they had seen him, and eventually learned that his name was Edward and that he was taking a shower. She went over toward the men's room, called to him from outside the door. He was a bit surprised to be hailed by a stranger while showering, but he eventually agreed to come by our boat after he had finished.

My first impression of Ed was quite positive - he was good natured, strong, and had sailed most of his life. He had spent the past year or so learning traditional boatbuilding skills in NZ and Australia. He asked a lot of questions about the boat's safety equipment, which indicated a high degree of safety consciousness. We were a bit surprised when he agreed to join the crew after only a 20-minute chat. We told him to sleep on it, but he telephoned the next day to confirm his willingness.

After Ollie arrived, Vicki moved ashore for the last couple of days before her flight, giving me time to bond with my new crew. We sailed out to Musket Cove, visited Cloud Nine, and then returned to Vuda to check out with Customs. The weather dictated another few days' wait, so we caught a truck ride up to Abaca village and spent a couple of days climbing Mt. Batilamu and exploring the nearby jungle.

Finally, our weather window arrived and we sailed out Malolo Pass, getting a close look at the "Restaurants" surf break.

Despite a forecast for quartering SE winds and seas, we found ourselves hard on the wind the first day and night at sea. Ollie learned that the Stugeron he had brought was ineffective at warding off seasickness. By the second night at sea, he was better, but only because we were motoring in a relatively flat sea. The wind picked up again on Day 3, still on the nose from our intended landfall at Anatom Island. Finally I made the decision to crack off for Port Vila, not only to ease Ollie's discomfort, but to minimize the chance of breakage. I didn't want to deduct the cost of any further repairs from the sale price of the boat.

Once again, the winds died during the night, and we found ourselves motoring. So the next morning, we again altered course, hoping to reach Anatom or at least Tanna. But the winds and seas cruelly increased, and we altered couse for the last time, still a day away from landfall at Port Vila. All three of us were mightily disappointed to miss out on the charms of two lesser-visited islands and to have to make landfall at a major port. The only consolation was that for one of the last hours of our downwind sleigh ride, we were accompanied by a minke whale, happily surfing alongside us and at times passing a bit too close under our bow. We had terrific views of the whole body of the whale inside the wave, but it was too wet and rough to capture the experience with our cameras.

Port Vila was a snug harbor, and the Customs and Quarantine crew was friendly and efficient. We were soon sipping Tuskers (local beer) at the Yachting World bar, and deciding how to spend our time in port. All three of us took a van ride over to yet another "Blue Lagoon" on the opposite side of the island.

Ed and Ollie continued their adventure by hitching the rest of the way around the island, while I went back to Port Vila to stew over weather GRIB files and enjoy the the fresh fruits and veggies from the local market. I continued to experience strong disappointment over having missed out on Anatom and Tanna, and didn't really allow myself to enjoy Efate.

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