Third World Blues
26 September 2010
Aaahhh, "Night Watch." The kids are nestled in their beds, the dishes are put away and the boat is quiet except for the sound of water rushing along her sides and the occasional knocking sound of an errant wave wacking the hull. The auto-pilot is squeaking as usual, but at least it isn't broken as Eric fixed it again this afternoon. It is funny how we become fixated on a random point in the open ocean: in just 15 nautical miles we get to make a 20 degree turn. At that point we still have 196 miles to go, but in the scheme of a roughly 700 mile trip, this little turn is nothing short of a significant milestone. What excitement!
We have had a very smooth passage so far, departing Fiji aside, we have had no weather to speak of and shouldn't before we are nestled safely in the harbor. We sailed dead downwind for 36 hours straight, "wing on wing." This phrase describes how the main sail is let out on one side of the boat, held in position by tension between the mainsheet and a preventer (so it doesn't gybe) and the headsail is poled out on the opposite side. Think butterfly wings or a spatchcocked chicken. It is often a fussy point of sail, you don't want either sail to get backwinded, but with a steady enough wind (we had 12-17 kts) and calm enough seas (9-12 foot swells but 10-12 seconds apart) it can be quite comfortable. I must give Eric full credit for suggesting that was how we'd keep to our course line and I did protest because it takes a while to set it all up right, but that has been the ticket to staying on track.
I've been a little more relaxed on this passage - relatively speaking - and we are moving along nicely toward our goal. Because this was going to be a bit longer passage than we've had for a while (6 days), Eric agreed to my commissioning a voyage forecast (approx $45) from Bob McDavitt the official "Weather Ambassador" for New Zealand. Bob is also the South Pacific sailor's weather guru and sends out a weekly synopsis to the fleet. Sometimes he talks about weather like Alan Greenspan talks about the economy, but his voyage forecast has been quite accessible and helpful. It gives me great comfort to hear from a weather forecaster that we should have no significant weather issues on the passage. Eric was reluctant (we have so much free weather info at our disposal already), but I asked him to consider it a gift, say. a 13th wedding anniversary gift, and that way he'd be getting off rather inexpensively. Who wants a voyage forecast for their anniversary? The lady who got the new toilet for her birthday! Tonight we pass within 16 miles of Aneityum, or Anatom, the southern most island in the country of Vanuatu (van-WAH-tu). We won't sail into Vanuatu because the checkin port is a few islands up and quite a bit further North than we have time for, but I can see it on the radar now and it is so tantalizingly close. Instead, we may fly end up flying to Vanuatu from Noumea. Seems a shame to be so close and just miss it.
We have left Fiji far behind and are now more than halfway to Noumea, New Caledonia. I blogged a while back that Fiji was becoming my favorite place. That was premature - Savu Savu is a lovely port and I could eat Indian food every day of my life, but the rest of the country gave me the third-world blues by the time we were checking out and heading to sea. It's the little things that add up. For example, I went shopping twice to provision for this passage. The first time I had a full cart and by the time I was up next in line the power went out so the check out machines didn't work. Some people just parked themselves to wait it out. I didn't have the patience to sit and sweat in a store while my perishables began to perish before I even paid for them. The second time I went to provision I had a cart full again and when I got to the front of the line, the computer system shut down. That time I was determined to leave with the goods I needed. I spotted a lady working behind the liquor counter, a caged-in box with a little window very similar to liquor store checkouts in Chicago. She apparently worked off a different system so her checkout machine still functioned. One by one I passed my items, a full week's worth of groceries, through the little window so she could scan them and hand them back to me. That incident by itself could be a funny story, but add it up with the 50 other things that happened and it starts to get anyone down.
Eric wrote a bit about how we had to check out from Lautoka, 20 some miles NE of Musket Cove. Musket Cove was just a couple miles from the passage we'd eventually be taking through the reef as we left, but according to the immigration rules, we had to travel to Lautoka first and travel an extra 40 miles back and forth, just to check out. Then, once we checked out, we had to leave immediately; no going back to Musket Cove to spend the night and prepare for our passage. Anchoring in front of the Lautoka wharf was a messy affair. There are two busy factories at work 24 hours a day, one makes molasses from the sugar cane harvest and the other makes wood chips. Combine a burnt sugar smell with a very fine black soot that falls on the boat when the wind shifts a certain way and you really want to move out of there. "Thanks for visiting Fiji, please come again soon."
However, as I consider these annoyances while on night watch, I realize why customs and immigration in a small island country can get persnickety. As we left Fiji, the winds were howling (30 plus kts) and the waves were in a lather. By the time night fell we turned on the radar and noticed two other boats near us, the freighter Maersk Fukuoka and a smaller sailing vessel single-handed by a Swede Eric had met in customs. We heard the Fukuoka hailing Lautoka port control on the VHF, they were requesting their compulsory pilot boat so they could head into port. I hailed the sailing vessel to say hi and commiserate about the conditions and to ask where he was headed. He answered that eventually he'd see us in Noumea, but he was going to first stop off at Aneityum, Vanuatu for a couple days. He wasn't going to sail up to Port Vila to check-in officially. Another boat we met in Fiji planned to stop in the Ile des Pins of New Caledonia without checking in, as they lacked visas. That got me thinking about small island nations welcoming hundreds of boats to their shores year after year. Some visitors seem to ignore the rules and have little respect for sovereignty. After a while, one can begin to appreciate how the rules evolve. It only takes one person to make it a pain for everyone else.