Walking through the Pages of the National Geographic

Well, I think we can safely say that Vanuatu has been one of our favourite destinations so far. It really is like walking through the pages of a National Geographic Magazine. My only regret is that we must move on so quickly. A month has flown by and we now find ourselves with very little time to make the many thousands of miles that we must make in order to cross the Indian Ocean before the Cyclone Season there gets into full swing.

Following on from where Sarah left off, we sailed North overnight to the island of Ambrym. We’d heard about this island from two sources. The first was Thomson, the gardener who so kindly gave us a guided tour of the ‘closed’ gardens on Efate. He told us that his grandfather had moved to Efate from Ambrym when his village was threatened by a particularly violent volcanic eruption. The second was when we met Philip at the Volcano Centre in Port Vila. He showed us some amazing photographs of a boiling lake of lava on Ambrym. It seemed to us that this might be one of those occasions on which we might have the opportunity to see something truly spectacular – something that people specifically travel half way around the world just to see – on a spur of the moment just because we happened to be in the vicinity. We were not disappointed.

Philip had given us a phone number for a guy called Joses, who is a volcano guide.

“Hello! We would like to climb your volcano please and see a boiling pit of lava. Tomorrow if possible”, I said (or words to that effect).

“Sure! Bring some food, some water and some sleeping bags”, said Joses.

We turned up at an appointed place at the appointed hour the next day thus equipped, not knowing quite what to expect. What followed was an arduous but exceptionally rewarding experience. It started with a 10km hike through a dry riverbed and then a rainforest path up to an elevation of about 750m. Here there was a makeshift camp already constructed in the local style, with a couple of palm-leaf shelters and an open fire for cooking. We dumped most of our stuff and then set out to visit one of the volcanoes, making the most of the fair weather because you never know when it’s going to go foul on you when you are at the top of a mountain. From the camp we climbed a dune of black sand, and when we reached the top we found ourselves facing one of the most incredible landscapes I have ever seen – miles and miles of ash plane. The ground was dead flat, black sand covered in fibres of naturally-produced fibreglass that is regularly ejected from the volcano. In the distance were fumaroles – small vents billowing volcanic gases – and the cones and craters themselves. The wind was a moderate 17 knots that day from the East, but up there there was a fresh breeze and the craters billowed out dense clouds of smoke that would blot out the sun one second and let it through the next, such that racing bands of shadow galloped across the landscape and off into the distance. It was eerie and surreal. We hiked for another 6 kilometres and up another 250m to reach the crater of Mount Marum, across the ash plane, through the shadow of Mount Benbow and then up the cone of Marum itself until we stood on the edge of a precipice and looked directly down 400m to a lake of boiling lava. It was bubbling away quite merrily, throwing huge gouts of liquid rock out onto the surrounding rock face. The thing that really impressed upon me however was the sound. It sounded just like the ocean beating against a rocky shore. Who’d have thought the rock itself could make that sound?

 

Much of the hike to the camp was through forest such as this. Joses and his fellow guides cut these paths several years ago with machetes. It must have been a long, hard job. I wonder who found the route in the first place……..

 

One of the local guys serving as a porter. These guys hike up to the camp and back down again in one day. Barefoot.

 

The ash plain.

 

More ash plain, this time with a backdrop of craters angrily billowing smoke

 

The smoke would collect in dense clouds that seemed not to readily diffuse. This one was nearly stationary. We came prepared!

 

One of many stunning volcanic landscapes.

 

Our reward for all that walking!

 

Sarah was happy to sit perched right in the edge. Meanwhile I crawled up to it and peered over the edge much more cautiously.

 

This is me standing near the edge of the crater, posing as requested by the master camerawoman.

 

And a short video of the boiling lava lake:

 

We slept that night in one of the shelters since we had no tent. Sarah laid out her yoga mat and slept in the sleeping bag while I cocooned myself in a blanket. I don’t remember what I dreamed of but it was probably something fiery.

 

Our accommodation. As we entered to go to bed our torch light revealed a cockroach that quickly scuttled beneath my blanket and a rather large spider perched where Sarah’s head was going to be. For a wildlife enthusiast she didn’t show much enthusiasm for the wildlife! Paul and Monique, you may recognise the blanket. Thanks for that!

 

The next morning we had hoped to visit Mount Benbow but the weather had turned overnight and an ascent was no longer advised by Joses. We had been very lucky just to be able to visit Mount Marum. One of the other guys there had travelled all the way from France to visit the volcanoes. He had visited twice before and had stayed up on the mountain on each occasion for over a week. In all that time he had never seen the lava lake at Mount Marum, and we just toddled up there for one night and took it for granted. These volcanoes are not to be trifled-with. People have died while viewing the volcano on the island of Tanna, and at the moment Luganville is overcrowded with the population of one of the Northern islands which has been officially evacuated by the government as a temporary state of emergency due to volcanic activity.

By the time we got back down we had hiked about 36km in 36 hours, which is the most that either of us have ever managed. My right knee was giving me a bit of grief (I must be getting old!) but it was a small price to pay for that experience.

After a good night’s sleep we left Ambrym the following afternoon and made the short hop to Banam Bay, Malekula. This was a destination that I specifically wanted to visit because my mother visited here about 8 years ago and I wanted to visit the same place that she had been, and meet some of the same people. Another friend had given me the name of a family that lived there and asked me to pass on their regards, so I had some kind of starting point by which to introduce myself and, I hoped, form some kind of relationship.

Well, we certainly didn’t need to try very hard to make friends! From the moment we arrived we barely had a moment to ourselves. Locally-made dugout canoes nestled astern of Bob for the best part of each day, their occupants sitting in Bob’s cockpit drinking coffee while we all exchanged ideas and tried to explain our vastly different ways of life to one another. I’m not sure that either party fully understood what the other was getting at but it didn’t matter – we enriched one another’s lives in a very profound way I think. The people of Vanuatu have an incredible amount to teach us as we run around going about our western lives. Vanuatu has apparently been voted the happiest place on Earth for a couple of years running. It is certainly the happiest country I have ever visited, and it is also one of the poorest. The villagers have very little in the way of possessions. A few items of clothing, a few cooking utensils and a machete. Everything else they make themselves – their canoes by digging out a ‘white tree’, their houses by weaving bamboo for the walls and palm leaves for the roof. They cook over an open fire. They bathe in the sea. They have little, yet they are rich. They own their own houses, which is more than most people in so-called developed countries can say. They need never worry about going hungry – food can be found in abundance, produced by the land. We human animals need only three things to sustain life – food, water and shelter. All of these things are provided free of charge by the environment to the people of Vanuatu. Anything else is a bonus. We have forgotten this in our culture. We get hung up on the most trivial, meaningless and unnecessary problems that we create for ourselves. They are not really problems at all. My grandmother used to say “if it’s not life-threatening it’s not worth worrying about”. The people of Vanuatu are testament to the truth of that statement. They don’t always realise it of course. They see us as rich because we have more money and access to more stuff, but when I pointed out to a new Vanuatuan friend that I had no land – that my boat was only a glorified version of his house and much less sustainable – when I explained that some people in our countries really struggle to feed themselves, and that a minority of people actually own anything meaningful at all (not their own houses, not a source of food, nor a source of water) this man who lives simply in a palm-leaf hut on an island here in Vanuatu actually expressed pity for people in the developed world. And the really shocking thing is that I think perhaps he’s right to pity our way of life. After all, he is one of the happiest people on the planet so he must be doing something right!

 

Here I am ferrying Colin, Estelle and some kids out to Bob in the dinghy.

 

While we gave vast quantities of things to the villagers – things like antibiotic cream, books, fishing equipment and other sundry items that they can use – by far the most rewarding opportunities  were when I was able to actually do something to help them, not just give something. One of their canoes had developed a crack and was more or less unusable in that condition. Here I am putting a fibreglass repair over the crack:

It’s quite a spectacle as a lot of modern materials and processes are completely alien to them. I doubt any of them had ever seen someone working with fibreglass before.

 

A typical rural Vanuatu village.

 

Here is Sarah with the Saitol family, whom my mother has met and who I had a kind-of introduction to through a mutual friend. They invited us over to their house for dinner on our final night in Malekula.

 

Here’s a picture that we really like. Contrary to how it looks these are not members of a child militia, but two very smiley village kids who chose just this moment to wipe the smiles temporarily off their faces. A four-year-old clutching a large knife is not an unusual sight. They learn to use them from a young age as the tool of choice. As the boy gets bigger so does the knife!

 

Our time in Banam Bay was far too short but we are being forced to move on. We left yesterday morninge at 0200 and arrived here in Luganville – the principal town in Northern Vanuatu – at 1730 on the same day. We started provisioning for the 10-day passage to Papua New Guinea today and figuring out what else we need to do to prepare for that passage. I’m also looking ahead to the Torres Straits, which will probably be one of the more tricky navigational sections of our voyage. 200 miles of shallow, narrow channels through reefs in the company of large quantities of shipping traffic. There are also some wicked tides to content with, with tidal streams running up to 8 knots in addition to currents produced by the heaping effect of winds and the fact that the entire Pacific Ocean is trying to squeeze through a narrow gap into the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Indian Ocean, where the sea level is lower. It’s going to be a tiring next few months, with not a whole lot of time for sightseeing unfortunately.

Efate, Lelepa and Nguna – a small taste of Vanuatu

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in Vanuatu for almost a month already. We’ve crammed in so much that time has simply disappeared as though swallowed by a black hole. It’s entirely possible that we’ve done and seen more of this country in the last month than we did in Marquesas over 6 months. I won’t write about it all in this post, I’ve got to leave something for Alex to write about after all, but here’s a small taste of our Vanuatuan adventures so far.

Efate

The tiring sail up to Vanuatu from New Zealand was well worth the effort, particularly because I knew my parents were waiting for me at the other end. They currently live in Thailand where my mum works as a teacher and my Dad is enjoying his retirement. They spent a good portion of the school summer holidays visiting Australia and decided to take the opportunity to fly from there to Vanuatu to visit us. It’s a long way for them to come and we’re honoured they decided to make the trip, particularly as my Dad hates flying with a deep passion! Moreover, he likes to feed his fear by watching documentaries about plane crashes in the weeks leading up to a flight. I have absolutely no idea how my Mum managed to convince him to, firstly, move to Thailand in the first place; and secondly, to spend the summer holidays globe trotting to distant corners of the planet to see his one and only daughter. Despite his impending doom he came along anyway. He must really love me! 🙂 All jokes aside, I think they both had a lot of fun and we thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them. Even though I don’t see my parents as often since I started this voyage, the time we do spend together is of better quality and I appreciate it all the more because of that.

We spent many an afternoon and evening chilling out on Bob. The last time my Mum was on board was in a very rolly anchorage in Galapagos and she got quite ill. This time the anchorage was much more sheltered so it was much nicer for her.

This is the first time my Dad has seen Bob and it was great to be able to show him our home and way of life. He seemed to enjoy the experience and learning more about it.

We made the most of the good trade winds and took them for a day sail, which is a first for both of them I believe. They both took turns on helm which of course made mine and Alex’s job much easier.

We took advantage of the nice beach, snorkelling and paddle boarding offered by the resort where my parents were staying.

We had a lot of fun at the blue lagoon. It’s a pool of brackish water near the coast which is a beautiful vibrant blue colour, perhaps because of the mineral composition in the water.

 

We took a trip to The Summit gardens to see the famous view and enjoy the ornamental flora. We were disappointed to find the place was closed to the public due to damage from a Cyclone back in 2015. All was not lost however! After speaking to one of the local gardeners (a wonderful guy named Thompson) we ended up having our own private tour through the gardens with a very experienced and knowledgable local. This secret gem was definitely one of my highlights of Efate, here are some of the photos:

Lelepa

We bid my parents a heartfelt goodbye before heading to some of the smaller islands just north of Efate. First stop, Lelepa. Lelepa is part of an area with significant historical relevance. It was in a cave on this island where a famous chief died some 400 years ago. He was famous for bringing peace to the region after a long period of suffering and conflict. An entire island just west of Lelepa was dedicated as his burial site and around 40 of his friends and family were killed and buried with him. Whether they volunteered for this or not remains a mystery, but it is a sign of great respect for the paramount chief to be honoured with this type of ceremony and resting place.

This is a bat cave in the north of Lelepa. It may not be the death place of the famous chief but I’m sure there have been dead bodies in here at some point in the past. Bats were everywhere and unlike the U.K., you don’t need a special licence to go and see them. Whether or not the bats were happy about the disturbance we caused is another matter.

We had also heard there was a resident dugong mother and her pup hanging around in the waters just a short walk from the anchorage. We set off with snorkel fins in hand at the hope of seeing this unusual creature. We split up our search efforts and amazingly, I was the lucky one who came across the dugongs first. I say I ‘came across’ them but really they found me. I was swimming with them for a whole 10 minutes before the others arrived and quickly scared them away. At least they got a glimpse even if it was only for a few seconds. The snorkelling in this area is truly fantastic! We also saw turtles, a sting ray, a multitude of other fish and I even managed to get some good footage of an octopus, who surprisingly didn’t seem bothered about hiding himself away in the rocks.

This is the beautiful anchorage in Lelepa. It may look hazardous from anchoring perspective, but at least the coral heads are easy to see!

Nguna

We then set sail a little further north to an island called Nguna. This island is home to a large inactive volcano and we chose to anchor Bob outside a small village at the foot of its cone. This was our first proper exposure to rural Vanuatuan culture – where you must visit the village chief and offer him gifts in return for his permission to anchor outside the village. As soon as the anchor dropped we headed to shore armed with a large bag of children’s clothes and ladies underwear (which we’d acquired from a charity shop in New Zealand) as we’d heard they were sought after in these islands. The locals seemed very grateful and the chief spent many hours that day speaking and drinking kava with us and showing us round his village. This was a huge privilege for us as we’d unwittingly arrived on on their Independence Day and many villages from all over the island were gathered here for the celebrations. The chief had a very busy day and yet he took the time to proudly show us his home, the local school, church and all the food and drink stalls set up for the Independence Day celebrations. We were even invited to watch the local football tournament. My dad would have loved it! We we’re also given lots of interesting food by the locals, many of which I have no idea how to eat and some of which I’ve never seen before in my life. It’s always fun to try the local cuisine.

This is Alex with the chief in the village nursery.

This is probably the most spectacular backdrop for a football match I have ever seen with the extinct volcano towering over the pitch.

This is a coco pod. I was aware that you can grind the seeds to make coco powder but the locals use them in a different way. They open the pod and suck the white flesh from the seeds and discard them afterwards. They taste beautifully sweet, like sherbert. We decided to keep the seeds and have a go at making our own coco powder. Watch this space.

This is the aptly named ‘snake bean’. Some beans are even more curly and look even more snake-like than this one. You remove the inside pith and scrape off the outer white skin. What’s left is something that is a little bit like bell pepper – a mild sweet flavoured food that you can fry or boil.

We got to see a lot of Efate with my parents and it was amazing to spend time with them. When it comes to visiting the country itself, it’s the rural lifestyle and unique landscapes that really appeal to Alex and I and in that sense, the best is yet to come…

Bob Works New Zealand

As promised, this next blog is about all the work we did to Bob in New Zealand after our camper van trip and before setting sail to Vanuatu. This probably won’t be of much interest to most of you but other boat people might be interested and in particular other owners of West Indies 36s. Here we go!

Job no. 1: Compression Beams

Job no. 1 was dealing with two thwart-ship beams, one forward of the mast and one forward of the head compartment. These beams are made from strips of wood laminated together and are bolted through the bulkheads. The after one is also bolted through the deck. As far as I can tell the purpose of these beams is to tie the bulkheads together and prevent the deck from bowing upwards. This is important because, among other reasons, if the hull is flexing then the distances between the chainplates and the mast are not constant. On Bob, these beams were badly delaminated and of little structural value. Having thought long and hard about the rig failures that we experienced last year (you may remember that our starboard lower shroud suffered two fatigue failures, one at each end) I think it highly likely that the delamination of these beams was a major contributing factor. Interesting to note that both failures were on the starboard side, where the bulkhead that the chainplates are bolted to is smaller and therefore less resistant to flex.

We removed the beams, re-laminated them with epoxy, upgraded the through-bolts (two of the old ones were bent, which means they had experienced some serious force at some point) to a larger size and did away with the countersunk heads and pretty finishing plugs. The result is something that should outlast the rest of the boat and which is infinitely stronger. The starboard side cupboards used to move relative to the deckhead by a good 3 or 4mm in a decent sea. The squeaking used to keep me up sometimes. We had some nasty cross-seas coming up to Vanuatu and some spells of strong winds, and I never heard a peep.

Here’s the finished product. The really tricky bit was conserving the correct bend in the beams once they were removed. We managed OK and overall I’m really pleased with the result:

 

Job no. 2: VHF Aerial

This was supposed to be a simple VHF aerial change. The Shakespeare aerial that I bought new before setting sail lasted all of two and a bit years before the plastic cracked from the sun, letting water in and the aerial failed. The replacement that we bought in Tonga from the local cafe was only ever expected to be temporary, and indeed it was, lasting about 3 months before the terminal morphed into a ball of rust. I bought a new one in New Zealand, manufactured by Pacific Aerials.

A very simple test can be done to troubleshoot aerials and cabling for a VHF setup. If you short one end of a coaxial cable between the central conductor and the outer jacket and then use a multimeter to measure the resistance at the other end, it should be close to zero. Likewise, if you measure the resistance between the central socket and the outer casing of an aerial it should be zero. As a unit, you can simply unplug the cable from the back of your VHF and measure the resistance between the central pin and the outer casing. It should be close to zero. Or so I thought. That is true for Shakespeare aerials, it’s true for the one we bought from the cafe and as far as I was aware it was how these things worked. So when I’d finished installing my brand new Pacific Aerials aerial, complete with bracket modifications and a careful application of silicone sealant on the terminal, and I measured the resistance and found it to be an open circuit I was pretty dismayed. Angry even. I’d been sold a duff aerial. So I went back up the mast, un-did all that work and drove the 45 minutes back to the shop. I marched in and announced to the salesman that the aerial he’d sold me was faulty. To illustrate my point I had brought my multimeter along with me and I showed him the readings in the shop. He was quite happy to give me a new aerial. I did have a little niggle at the back of my mind though, telling me that perhaps I wasn’t quite as knowledgeable about these things as I thought I was. I tested a different new aerial. Open circuit. And another. Open circuit. It turns out that while most aerials do have zero resistance, a few test as an open circuit. I felt quite the fool when I explained to the nice gentleman that I was, in fact, a doofus and that his the original aerial he’d sold me was, in fact, fault-free, before I drove back to the boat, climbed the mast and re-installed the aerial. It started to rain while I was up there. It served me right. The new aerial appears to be working beautifully.

 

Job no. 3: Water Tank

Job no. 3 was re-sealing the port water tank. It should never have been necessary in the first place, but some doofus forgot to open one of the valves one day when the water maker was on and pressurised the tank until the seams blew out. I was very, very lucky not to have done more damage. A day with a chisel and some sealant set that right. Plus a strong mental note to never shut off that valve when the water maker is on!

 

Job no. 4: Engine

Bob has a Westerbeke 40 (Perkins 4-108) with a Hurth 100 gearbox, circa 1970ish. Our friends on S/V Calypso had a catastrophic engine failure when some salt water got sucked up the exhaust……… twice. Fortunately their transmission was still in good shape so we bought it from them because it is supposed to be identical to ours and ours was leaking oil like a sieve. I’d positioned a plastic cup strategically under the bit that the oil leaked from and every few hours of run time I’d pour the cup of oil back into the transmission. Switching out the transmissions was a nightmare. The ‘new’ one (not sure how ‘new’ exactly but the manufacturer’s stamp says ‘West Germany’ so that gives us a bit of an idea) was just slightly different from our old one in every way so that I had to spend a lot of time with an angle grinder shaving off a little bit here, a little bit there. When I finally got it installed it kept jumping out of gear under load, so I gave up. I switched out the bit that was leaking oil on ours and put ours back on.

Unfortunately while doing all this it became apparent that the mounts for the engine were in such bad condition that the engine had sunk and was nowhere near properly aligned. So another job was added to the list. Two new engine mounts, different from the old ones of course, and all sorts of modifications and peripheral jobs to make them fit and get the engine properly aligned for the first time since I bought the boat a little over ten years ago. It was a good thing too, because we did more motoring on the passage up to Vanuatu than we did in the whole of last year, by a considerable margin. About 60 hours. Nothing has yet fallen apart so I take that as a sign of success!*

To replace the engine mounts required lifting the engine. The method below worked quite well. It was inspired by the simple yet effective boat hoists found throughout French Polynesia. Other WI36 owners may notice that Bob’s helm is further forward than theirs. I’m told this modification was done at some point in the past in order to give the helmsman better protection from the elements behind the dodger. Seems a bit extreme to me, but it certainly came in handy for this job, because it puts the binnacle directly above the engine:

 

 

Job no. 5: Rigging

This was a big one. You may remember that last year we suffered from two major rig failures. When the top end of the starboard lower shroud broke as we were sailing into Raiatea I initially thought it must be due to poor materials. The company that makes those fittings has a good reputation, but someone has to get a bad apple every now and again. Maybe that was us? I thought we must be the freak unlucky ones. The company that I bought the parts from just a few years ago was excellent. They were suitably horrified that we had suffered such a failure and fedEXed a new part out to us free of charge in Rarotonga. But when the other end of that same shroud broke while we were at anchor in Niue it was obvious that this wasn’t a freak failure, it was a structural problem. I’ve talked above about the de-laminated beams that I think were largely responsible, but I also wanted to re-design and replace the lower shrouds, because the setup we had was really quite poor for an ocean-going yacht.

I didn’t want to replace like for like. I wanted to reduce the loads on the rig and replace the existing setup with something much more robust. I also wanted to get away from stainless steel as a rigging material wherever possible. Everything for boats these days seems to be made from stainless steel. 316-grade stainless steel, which is a particularly expensive variety. It is corrosion-resistant and it is strong. It also work-hardens, is more brittle than other grades and is prone to crevice crack corrosion that eats away at it from the inside and is completely invisible from the surface. A friend of mine (who is probably reading this) replaced his stainless chainplates on his boat. They looked fine but he was planning on sailing a long way so he figured he might as well. He took his old ones off and installed the new ones. Then he set about doing some other jobs and the old chainplates sat on the deck of the boat while it was up on the hard in the boatyard. One day he was walking along the deck and kicked one of them by mistake. It fell over the side of the boat, down 10 feet or so to the ground and broke into two pieces from landing on the gravel. Along the break the metal was completely rusted, but none of it was visible from the surface.

In a bid to escape from the perils of stainless steel I decided to be a bit unorthodox. I contacted a company called Colligo Marine in California and spoke to a man called John Franta there. John was superb, going considerably out of his way to make sure that we got the right stuff and giving invaluable advice. Colligo marine specialises in making fittings and finding solutions for ‘soft’ standing rigging. Basically, using rope instead of wire. The problem in the past has always been that ropes are too stretchy to be used in this application, since an elongation under load of just a few inches could result in your mast coming out of alignment and failing. But a company called Hampidjan now manufactures cordage with incredibly low stretch (and creep, which is another important property of ropes that must be considered). This rigging is becoming popular among high-performance offshore racers, mainly due to the performance benefits of it being light-weight. But it also doesn’t suffer from fatigue in the same way that steel does, it doesn’t corrode, and it is several times stronger than steel wire. We have now split our lower shrouds into two parts – forward and aft. The forward shrouds go to external chainplates that are bolted to the hull and the aft to pad-eyes on deck that are supported by ‘knees’. We’re using all-bronze turnbuckles purchased from a second-hand boat parts shop, because the only new ones you can buy these days are stainless steel. Not because steel is better, but because it is cheaper than bronze so they can make a bigger profit margin. Cutting-edge ‘soft’ rigging meets tried and tested 50-year-old turnbuckles. I have confidence in the old turnbuckles more than I would in their new steel equivalent. Still, it doesn’t hurt to back them up with a lashing. Just in case 🙂

 

Here is a view of one of the internal knees that transmits the load from the deck pad eye for the aft lower shrouds to the hull. They are made from aluminium alloy:

And here’s the finished product with all the trim re-installed:

Here’s the view of that shroud on the deck. The turnbuckle jaw is connected to the pad eye via a loop of dyneema. As well as providing a practical solution for the connection, this method also ensures that the toggle jaw is perfectly aligned with the load. Since the toggle jaw is rigid, this is important. At the top end I still had to use a stainless T-bar and toggle because that was the only way to connect to the Colligo line terminator. Over everything is a dyneema-cored backup lashing. It may not be pretty but it’s very strong. After our experiences last year – and given the number of miles we must cover this year – I didn’t want to take any chances!

 

One of the challenges with the forward chainplates, which were to be bolted to the outside of the hull, was the rub rail that had to be cut through. 10 minutes with an angle grinder managed that. WI36 owners may be interested in the construction of that rail. The total hull thickness is 1/2”. Of that, about 1/4” is beneath the foam that forms the rub rail and 1/4” is over the foam. This supports my theory that the hull was laid up in a male mould in several parts. The first part was 1/4”, then they stuck the foam on for the rub rail, then they glassed over it another 1/4” and then they gel-coated the hull. It seems crazy to have done this but it’s the only explanation I can think of for several of the things I have encountered while working on Bob:

And here (below) is the final product. Again, not pretty but it is strong and will do the job. The aesthetics can be improved the next time we paint the hull. This plate had to be made from steel because of the bend and the location. It is made from 1/2” plate. On the inside I beefed up the hull a touch with 5 layers of double-bias glass. It probably wasn’t necessary to do that in hindsight but I had the time while I waited for the metal parts to be fabricated and figured it couldn’t hurt. There’s also a 1/4” steel backing plate on the inside. As for the rail itself we just removed as much foam as we could and filled the void with epoxy filler to prevent water ingress.

 

There were many other smaller jobs – servicing the head, disassembling, greasing and re-sealing the windlass, end-for-ending the anchor chain and re-painting the marks. Sarah did lots of varnishing in the cabin. I did some routine engine maintenance in addition to the big jobs above. But, those are the major ones and the ones that might be of most interest to other boat owners.

 

Why I am so Disillusioned with Stainless Steel

This is a perfect example of the evils of stainless steel. I bought this toggle at a boat jumble in Tonga as a backup in case we had another failure on the way down to New Zealand. It is second-hand but looked fine to me. Part of the process of installing the Colligo fittings for the new shrouds involves opening up the 5/8” toggles. Since I was planning on doing a backup lashing over the turnbuckles anyway I figured why not use these old toggles? So I opened them up to fit over the Colligo fittings and a whole lot of nastiness made itself apparent. This crack goes 2/3 of the way through the toggle strap and is an accident waiting to happen. It was completely invisible until the toggle was opened up:

 

What’s Happening Now?

We’re currently anchored just off the NW coast of the main island of Efate in Vanuatu, tucked in behind some little barrier reefs about 200m from a beach. We just went for a proper snorkel for the first time since Minerva Reef last year and it was simply beautiful. It’s really great to be back in the tropics. Alas, we have to keep moving. Tomorrow we’ll hop 20 miles or so to the North. Then a couple of days later we’ll make an overnight passage a bit further. We have about two weeks left here before we really have to be moving on so we’re making the most of our time.

 

*On closer inspection it turns out we weren’t so lucky. Turns out the transmission has developed another leak. I guess I’ll have to dig out the one we bought in Tonga and fix that one, then swap them out again :-(. In the meantime we won’t be doing much motoring. I’m out of transmission fluid and the other yacht that’s anchored here doesn’t have any either. The next shop for that kind of stuff is about 150 miles North. Oh well, at least there’s plenty of wind!

Vanuatu!

We have arrived in Vanuatu!

The passage ended up being a very tiring one. After the frontal passage that we were going through in my last post the wind never really settled as it was expected to. We officially entered the tropics the next day when we passed 25 degrees latitude. To mark this occasion the skies clouded over and we entered a period of squalls and rain that lasted for the next five days. It’s a good thing we are using GPS for navigation; if we had to rely on celestial sights we’d have been pretty unsure of our position! Bob is a temperamental old lady and does not tolerate either too little or too much sail for the conditions, so we were tired out with reefing, unreefing, rolling in and rolling out sails. The wind direction was never steady for more than 5 minutes either so we were constantly adjusting David, the wind vane, and trimming the sails to match. Often we found ourselves with no wind at all in the lulls, or light tail-winds accompanied by a lumpy cross-sea, in which case our only option to keep moving and try to settle things down a bit was to start the engine and motor for a bit. In fact, we went through almost our entire 40-gallon tank of diesel, which I think is more than we used in the whole of last year!

The weather broke on the morning of our final full day at sea. The seas calmed considerably and we were given a light breeze on the beam, so we set the spinnaker and spent a very enjoyable day gliding along in fine conditions, making miles while working on re-developing something resembling a sun tan to protect us from the tropical sun.

We arrived in Port Vila at 0330 the following morning and cleared customs just before mid-day. Sarah’s parents are here to visit so we had a lovely lunch with them and went to bed very early for a much-needed rest.

On first impressions Port Vila is much busier than I expected. Tourism is big here and all day there were people whizzing around on jet-ski tours, taking sight-seeing helicopter rides from the air pad next to where we were anchored or lounging in bars and restaurants. It has a very Caribbean feeling about it, except that the people are much friendlier and the atmosphere is somehow lighter and nicer. Apparently one doesn’t have to go far to get beyond the commercialism and into the real heart of Vanuatuan culture, where Prince Philip is a deity, bungy-jumping is done using jungle vines to ensure a good harvest and cannibalistic ceremonies are performed by shamans (using pigs these days…….. or so they say!). We don’t have long here before we must be moving on, but I think we’ll get a chance to see some of that side of things too.

The view of the bay in Port Vila, Efate

Half Way to Vanuatu

The last 24 hours have been very slow indeed. I haven’t totted up our daily run yet (I do that every day at mid-day) but I suspect it will be somewhere around the 50-mile mark, and not all of them towards our intended destination.

The wind has been fitful, with squalls of 30 knots and then lulls of nothing, which makes for a tiring time. We have only a little sail set so that we are OK in the squalls but that does leave us wallowing the rest of the time. The wind has also backed so that it is coming directly from where we want to go. Rather than putting a lot of energy into beating up-wind we are simply waiting for it to back further (which it’s due to do any time now) and then we’ll be able to tack and make for Vanuatu.

As of now, 0900 on Monday July 9th (UTC+12) we are almost exactly half way. Our position is 26 22.7S 171 19.7E. If the wind does what the forecasts say it will
we should be looking forward to a relatively fast and comfortable second half of the passage.

In other news we are pleased to once again have access to fresh fish. It’s something we didn’t know we would miss until we were no longer to get it easily in New Zealand, and which we had become accustomed to eating frequently in The Islands. We caught a smallish Mahi Mahi two days ago and have been enjoying that. I’ll put the lines out again as we approach Vanuatu over the New Hebrides Trench and with luck we’ll get something else. With a lot of luck it’ll be a Yellowfin Tuna 🙂

We get asked a lot of questions about provisions. “How do you provision?” Or “How long can you stay at sea?” Well, the truth is that provisioning for us is not that much more difficult than anyone else’s weekly grocery shop. We have a small fridge so we can’t buy large quantities of stuff that needs to be refrigerated and we don’t have the option of nipping down to the corner shop for another loaf of bread, but in all other respects it’s pretty similar.

The answer to the second question is a little more complex. We tend to stock up on non-perishable goods whenever we encounter them being sold at a good price. We left Panama with about thirty bottles of rum. We left Marquesas overflowing with fruit. We’ve left New Zealand full of canned goods and good-quality pasta and rice that we trust won’t go weevilly as fast as the stuff bought in the islands. At any one time we probably have about three months supply of food on board and enough water at the beginning of a passage for three weeks with no rationing beyond our normal conservational practices. We could catch rain water and we could fire up the water maker while on passage if we needed to. We fish periodically and it doesn’t usually take too long to catch something. One fish will last us for between 3 and 10 meals depending on it’s size. The answer, therefore, is that given the right set of circumstances (availability of rain and fish) we could, in theory, stay at sea indefinitely from a supplies perspective. Staying sane out here is the real challenge. Fortunately we seem to be quite good at helping one another with that.