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.

Finally Finished!

We’ve been working flat out on Bob for the last couple of months to get her ready for sea again. I’ll write more about that work in a future post, but here’s an overview:

– Thwart-ship deckhead support beams removed, re-laminated and re-installed. – Windlass re-conditioned
– Lower shrouds re-designed and replaced
– Various overdue engine works
– Port water tank re-sealed
– New VHF antenna installed
– New spreader lights installed
– AIS transponder installed……. I think. It’s un-tested as yet – Lots of varnishing and painting, and some interior woodwork

Wow, looking over it that looks like a really short list! I’ll explain why it took so long later, but for now I’m pleased to report that we are operational once again. As I write this we are about 200 miles North of New Zealand heading due North as fast as possible. It’s getting warmer day by day which is a wonderful relief, but there’s also quite a strong low pressure system creeping up behind us and the front is due to reach us some time around Sunday, in 3 days time. With that front come 30-knot head winds and probably lots of rain and lightning and other nastiness if we were to stick around here. There’s no wind at the moment so our faithful (knock on wood) old engine is being put through it’s paces once again and chugging us along at 5 knots. Looking at the forecast we might have to keep motoring for another twenty-four or even thirty-six hours. Then we might get fair winds for 12 hours or so and then the wind is due to back rapidly to the NNW and build ahead of the frontal passage. Bob’s not much of a beater so there’s a good chance we’ll just heave-to when that comes and wait it out.

Life on board is pretty relaxed at the moment. Of course, I’m always on edge (is that a new sound emanating from the engine, announcing its imminent demise? Or have I just never noticed it before?) but we’ve both managed to get two good nights sleep and have had plenty of time for sitting and doing nothing. We don’t even have to cook yet because we made lots of stews before we left and froze them for the passage. Beef tonight. The pot is bubbling away nicely on the hob, so I’m going to go over there and get myself a bowl.

Alex’s Photo Picks from the Last Two Years

As you are probably aware Sarah and I have been in Thailand for the last 6 weeks or so, bar a one-week side-trip to Cambodia for the sake of getting our Thai visas renewed inexpensively. It’s been wonderful spending time with Sarah’s parents and exploring places by land. There have also been moments of nostalgia. I’ve spent this morning looking through our photographs for the last two years and there are a few that really stand out for one reason or another, so I thought I’d share them with you here. Many of them you will have seen before but there are a few that we either didn’t have (because they were taken by someone else and we only acquired them later on) or which didn’t fit in with the subject matter of whatever blog post we were writing at the time.

We’ve had so many incredible experiences that it was hard to cut down my selection (it’s probably still a little long- sorry about that). There are also one or two that I would have liked to have included here – some videos from the first passage from Bermuda to St. Maarten – but which I don’t have access to at the moment because they are on an ipod that I left in New Zealand. I will post these later; they give some insight into my mental state during that passage and why I don’t think I’m well-suited to single-handed sailing.

So, without further ado, in chronological order:

 

 

Leaving the Las Perlas Islands on the way to Galapagos we caught our first fish of the voyage! Unfortunately, something else got there before I could pull it in…………….

 

 

This view was a welcome one –  making landfall at Pitcairn Island after three weeks at sea. At the time we assumed that this view heralded an opportunity for a rest. Little did we know we’d soon be trundling off to Mangareva at full tilt on an emergency medical evacuation!

 

 

Pitcairn’s reputation for less-than-ideal anchorage conditions is not ill-deserved. We woke up one morning during our second visit to the island and were excited to see another yacht in the vicinity. AIS identified them as S/V Maya. We hailed them on the radio but for some reason they seemed reluctant to stop by for a visit, so they sailed on without anchoring. These pictures of Bob taken by Asma give some inkling as to why they may have decided on that course of action, and why they sounded so baffled on the radio when we told them that we were comfortably re-anchored at Bounty Bay. We have since become very good friends with Herbert and Asma and have laughed merrily over our first encounter with one another. Apparently Asma turned to Herbert and said “I’m sure they were very nice people but now they must be dead, so we’ll never know!”

You can just see Bob’s mast beyond the breaking wave 🙂

 

And here we are nonchalantly raising the anchor:

OK, that was a lie. It wasn’t nonchalant at all. I couldn’t actually stand on the foredeck so I had to do everything braced against the pulpit railing and supported on one knee. Despite my best efforts to control things, the windlass and bow roller came under tremendous load as the anchor was torn from the sand by the rise of a particularly large swell. There are other pictures of the situation above where you can only see the boom and the tops of our heads, but I like this one because you can at least see that there is a boat in there somewhere!

 

 

Now we move on to the Gambier Islands. Below is the stunning view from the peak of Mount Duff. You can see the capital town of Rikitea in the bottom left. The tiny strip of land in the upper right of the photograph is the airport island. The Gambier Islands were truly spectacular. Sarah and I have already discussed that if we were to do a similar trip again we would prefer to sail direct to Marquesas from the Galapagos Islands and then head South to spend the bulk of the cyclone season here in the Gambiers instead of the other way around.

 

 

 

Provisioning in the Gambier Islands was sparse. Being Bermudian, I have a physiological NEED for mayonnaise. So, we decided to try to make it. Below is one of the earlier attempts. Since it wasn’t working by hand-power alone I decided to try an electric whisk………. which we don’t have. So, we improvised!

Note the not-remotely-mayonnaisish gloop in the jar in my left hand. I was not a happy bunny, as you may be able to tell. Fortunately, later attempts were much more successful.

 

 

A typical afternoon scene from the island of Taravai, where we ended up spending the majority of our time in the Gambiers. Complete with grumpy, sneaky horse who attempted to steal lunch, dinner, or rum whenever possible. The problem with being a horse is that one struggles to be inconspicuous, but Dior put in a good effort and was sometimes successful.

 

 

 

We spent a day clearing away the brush from beneath the coconut palms, and made several big fires to dispose of it:

 

 

Unfortunately the heat of the fires produced an unforeseen hazard – spider rain. It literally began raining spiders as they leapt from the trees to the ground. This one landed on Jesse, and Sarah somehow managed to convince him to remain motionless for long enough to snap this shot. He wasn’t taking his eyes off it though, and was poised for some quick action in the event that it should have decided to make a run for it upwards!

 

 

During a sail from Taravai to Rikitea to pick up some supplies, David from S/V El Nido got this shot of Bob. Sarah particularly likes it because if you zoom in on us in the cockpit you can see a lovely bit of impromptu romance 🙂

 

 

Finally for the Gambier Islands, a beautiful shot of Bob lying to a home-made mooring on the South Coast of Taravai, on a wonderfully calm evening.

 

 

 

We both love this shot, taken during a hike in Marquesas. We are on the island of Tahuata. In the distance is the big island of Hiva ‘Oa, and between the two runs the Ha’ava, or Bordelais Channel.

 

 

In Nuku Hiva Sarah took a few dance classes in the local style, and was honoured to be invited (well…… to be honest it was more of an instruction than an invitation!) to perform with the dance troupe in front of a crowd of a couple of hundred people. Here she is in her dance regalia.

 

 

Better yet, for the first time we are now able to offer you a video from one of the performances (yay for fast internet!). Along with some other cruisers and the troupe of local girls she performed two dances, of which this was the final section of the second. I apologise for the shoddy standard of the work on this one. The reason for it is that Sarah is dancing and I have been tasked with capturing the moment. The sound is particularly poor, because it seems I had my finger over the microphone for most of the performance.

Sarah has stipulated that I must make it clear to you here that she only had two days to learn both of the dances, and wishes it to be formally noted that she is opposed to the publishing of this movie in the first place. Ah well, win some lose some. For the greater good, here it is:

 

 

This spectacular waterfall is located on the island of Fatu Hiva. We were fortunate that it hadn’t rained for a little while when we visited. If it had we would not have been able to get anywhere near it. It was a beautifully refreshing swim after a hot hike.

 

 

 

Down to the Tuamotu Archipelago now, to the uninhabited atoll of Tahanea. Sarah snapped this beautiful shot of a yacht that was anchored astern of us as a small squall came through. I love the misty effect caused by the rain pelting down onto the surface of the sea, and the yawing and slight heeling of the boat as the first gust of wind hits.

 

 

 

The squalls soon passed, and we sailed across the lagoon accompanied by a pod of dolphins to a spot known as ‘7 reef’. It was probably the most spectacular spot that Bob has ever anchored. When this shot was taken we had nipped over to a motu about a mile from the anchorage to collect coconuts, and stopped off on this spit of sand for a snorkel. Bob is just out of frame to the right.

 

 

The diving at the South Pass of the atoll of Fakarava was the most spectacular we have done. The site is famous for having a particularly high density of sharks – a sign of a healthy reef ecosystem.

 

 

This shot of a friendly rooster in Rarotonga cracks me up every time. Doesn’t it look photo-shopped? I promise it’s not!

 

 

Leaving Niue we were a little nervous, as the rigging had just broken and been repaired for the second time. As we came out from behind the island we were greeted by a large black cloud. Fortunately we managed to outrun the worst of it and were treated to this beautiful backdrop:

 

 

A day of ‘racing’ with our friends Rick and Jasna aboard their boat ‘Calypso’. At the pre-race skipper’s meeting Rick warned the other skippers that anyone overhauling Calypso was liable to be mooned. One skipper complained and implied that his children would be psychologically damaged by such an experience. Rick responded that he was terribly sorry but he could not afford to be discriminatory and that for moral reasons he was obliged to treat everyone equally. Fortunately for the family with the delicately-dispositioned children they were out of range, but these guys, one of whom was our friend Asma, ended up in an unfortunate tacking battle with us and were subjected to the view not once, but several times. We were dubbed ‘Team Los Culos Blancos’ (why Spanish I have no idea – we were in Tonga!) and awarded a special prize at the prizegiving! Let’s face it though, we weren’t going to win prizes for anything else……….

 

 

At the ‘Coral Garden’ in Tonga we met this incredibly brazen anemonefish. Perhaps a male guarding the eggs, it had no qualms about challenging a creature many, many times it’s own size. I was not intimidated……….. but then I did swim away, so I’m pretty sure he’ll chalk that up as anemonefish 1, biguglyungainlything 0. Fair enough.

 

 

Also in Tonga: Sarah must have taken a hundred shots of the fruit bats trying to get a really good one. I think she managed it with this:

 

 

And finally! Videos can never do justice to actual, real-life experiences but I really like this one. It is a short video of a swim-through at a reef in South Minerva. We spent hours exploring these channels and caves. It was the best snorkelling either of us have ever done. Here’s a small taster of why:

 

Finally, just a quick note to say that we will (I promise!) do one or two blogs soon about our travels in Thailand and Cambodia. Until then, stay warm and enjoy yourselves!

Nearly There

As of noon today, Sunday November 26th, we are 200 miles from Opua, the most northerly customs port in New Zealand and our destination. It’s a lovely day – the sun is shining for the first time since we left Minerva. We shook out the 2nd Reef this morning and are plowing along at nearly 6 knots under a single-reefed mainsail and full 110% working jib on a lovely beam reach. The seas are considerably diminished compared to what they were a few days ago and the motion is gentle and agreeable. Despite Sarah’s scopoderm anti-seasickness patch having expired beyond it’s 3-day lifespan two days ago she’s bounding around the cabin doing such productive things as making bread with the last of our flour and has even hidden the last of our olives in the dough. We’re down to our last half a courgette, a third of a cabbage, two small potatoes and two small onions as far as ‘fresh’ provisions go, so it looks like we got it just about right and won’t have to relinquish too much to the New
Zealand biosecurity officers upon our arrival. Maybe a coconut or two. Then again maybe we should make the effort to eat them before we arrive. After all, we might not see coconuts again for quite a while.

We’re looking at a night-time arrival in Opua, perhaps some time around midnight tomorrow (Monday) night. Subject to the winds of course. We have been exceptionally lucky on this passage not to have needed to motor at all. The mast is still pointing up. Spirits are high. It’s been almost three weeks since we saw land and we can almost smell it.

Bob’s Progress Report

As of 1000, Friday morning, November 24 (UTC+13) Bob is at 28 17 S, 177 37E heading SSW at about 4.5 knots under deep-reefed mainsail and a sliver of jib. Conditions have been considerably rougher and windier than forecast. Our friends aboard ‘Local Talent’ to the South reported sustained winds in the high 20s and ‘Serengeti’ to our North reported high 30s gusting into the mid-40s two nights ago. We are somewhere in the middle of those two – I was estimating about 30 knots sustained. Bob has taken a bit of a beating from having to crash her way through Southerly swells but is performing admirably. Spirits are good on board. The motion is much better today with the swells diminished and on the beam, and the wind is showing signs of reducing permanently rather than coming in fits and lulls as it is at the moment. We’ll be able to shake out a reef then and speed up a bit. Sarah is making bacon and eggs for breakfast, with chips and beans. Yum 🙂