06/07/2012, Coral Sea
Our obvious obmission after the send button was hit yesterday to the things we saw: the transit of Venus! We have the special glasses on board that allow you to look directly into the sun. They are left over from 2010 when we sailed a couple hundred miles off our rhumbline to Rarotonga to be on the path of the total solar eclipse. Without a telescope Megan and especially Kai (with his brand-new-lasered-in- Mexico eyes) confirmed that the suggestion of a dot over the sun that my old eyes were sensing was indeed there! All of this might have been a bit more interesting if we had a telescope on board as it was really just a speck! In Bora Bora we visited Venus Point, where Captain Cook sat in 1769, as a very young man and became the first person to successfully measure the transit of Venus across the Sun. His measurements allowed scientists of the time to calculate the distance to the sun. Cooks measurements were pretty good, and showed that the earth was 150 million kilometers away (sure glad I'm not sailing there!) Measurements today are of course more exact, but he was only off by a scant 41 million kms!
Easy miles! The last 24 hours winds have been on the beam between 16-23 knots and we are averaging 7 to 8 knots over ground. Over all seas have been pretty calm, just a bit of increase late yesterday from the storm to the south of us. The current is a dog's breakfast, some times carrying us north, sometimes south, and sometimes against us. If it has ever switched to behind us, we haven't noticed!
602 nm to go to first way point outside the reefs!
06/05/2012, Coral Sea
Big excitement at 1'oclock in the afternoon- we finally had enough wind to motor sail! With a low RPM (what a nice relief in sound) and winds in the 4-6 knots range we made steady progress 5.5-6 knots. Twelve hours later the anticipated winds finally arrived and we turned iron genny off and have been enjoying a gentle, fast sail ever since. Winds are consistently just ahead of the beam at about 15 knots, one of those sweet spots for Paikea Mist. Seas are really soft, like moving through butter, albeit with a few swirls! We are expecting seas to pick up a fair amount today. Those of you who are weather junkies might know that there is a huge low well below us in the Tasman Sea. It is squashed between two highs, making almost vertical skinny isobars north to south. Glad I'm not there, but apparently there is a NZ race making for safety at Norfolk Island. Got to love those Kiwis. Okay, well that storm spews waves out pretty far north and we will see the tip of those waves today.
Once we moved through the front last night the skies clouded and we even had a drop of rain. The moon is still doing its lighting theatrics through the clouds- great visibility.
It's sure nice having Kai and Megan aboard, we are enjoying their company and the extra hands on deck, and of course watches. Ahhh... so great to get a bit more sleep on a passage again- I may not let them leave!
Sightings yesterday: Dolphins, man of war jellies, a piece of styrofoam and a French sailing vessel, headed for Thursday Island, Australia, and then also to Darwin. We will see who gets there first I guess!
We had a great start to our passage with a beautiful down wind sail using both the code zero sail and our genoa poled out in 15 knots of wind. As expected the winds petered out around 7 pm, leaving us motoring along in the rolly polly sea. The winds are too light to even motor sail at this point, so iron genny is giving us our forward momentum, however we are loosing about a knot to a knot and a half to a current. The moon is very bright overnight, with no need for radar or even binoculars. Sun is about to rise over a clear sky with some clouds hanging over the horizon. We passed a Japanese cruising yacht Harmony VI on our way out of Santos, they are on their way to Papau New Guinea, then to Darwin for the same rally we are in. We chose not to go the northern route through Papau New Guinea due to what looks like a huge wet system that clouds the area in the forecast. I guess we can swap weather stories once we get to Darwin! We've heard we can watch Venus transit the sky today, so we will be on the lookout for that! That will put the binoculars to good use.
06/04/2012, Luganville, Espirito Santo, Vanuatu
Kai and Megan will be joining us on our passage to Australia- Welcome aboard. Don't they look great in their matching face paint?
One month in Vanuatu isn't nearly enough, but we've made the most of our time here. We have sailed up the island chain, as far as Santo Espirito enjoying beautiful anchorages, friendly people and marvellous adventures along the way. Today we capped our month long trip with a totally awesome excursion to the Millennium Caves. This is one of Vanuatu's best kept secrets, but it won't be for long.
Our driver met us at the ferry dock early in the morning, and drove us up to a village behind the hills of Luganville. On the way we passed by enormous bamboo trees, graceful banyans and miles and miles of 'American Leaf', the creeping vine the Americans used to hide their weapons during World War 2.
From the first village we walked about 30 minutes along a muddy path to the second village where the tour proper started. From the village we dropped down a few hundred feet into the opening of a huge cave, large enough that we spent the next 35 minutes wading through the refreshing water which wore its way through the depths of the cave. We used flashlights to help make our way, water reaching up to our thighs at times. The 'spelunking' was a wet and slippery scramble, but the guides from the village were very professional, always offering an extra hand for stability or shining their own flashlight so that you could see your way more clearly. The cave was enormous. Along the way we passed a waterfall which tumbled from above. A waterfall in a cave, Disneyland couldn't dream up a better ride than this! I stand under the water, which provides the perfect pressure to the tops of my shoulders. A water massage! Somebody could make a fortune from this idea alone! Probably someone already has!
Once outside the cave, we sit at the lush green exit of the cave eating our packed lunches, with the river sliding gently by us. With child size inner tubes we enter the river and start the second phase of the adventure, canyoning down the beautiful gorge, a cornucopia of jungle falling from the steep walls we glide by framing our picture perfect view. Later we scramble and squeeze through boulders the size of an SUV, interspersed with gentle floats as we made our way down the huge gorge that lowers itself towards the sea. As we swim, fish dart amoungst us, until finally, we pull ourselves out onto smooth water turned sun heated rocks at the river's edge. From here it is a steep ascent to the village, but the adventure continues as we climb up out through a rocky waterfall with amazing traction and a series of ladders to the village.
Totally amazing Vanuatu, totally fulfilled crew, ready to set sail for Australia!
Tata Vanuatu! Tank yu tomas!
06/02/2012, Luganville, Espirito Santo, Vanuatu
Remnants of life on board the SS President Coolidge
Loaded down by my dive gear, my steps are heavy as I walk across the stretch of reef that leads to the ill fated SS President Coolidge, laying at rest directly in front of me. My brain flashes to the photos I have seen on the walls of the tourism office. The black and white photos were taken from where I stand now, showing hundreds upon hundreds of service men walking to safety from the huge, beached ocean liner.
It's wartime, 1942, and the SS President Coolidge, a 22 tonne 654' luxury line turned troop transporter is headed for the huge American Navy base in Luganville, Vanuatu. Luganville is well sheltered, and is surrounded by islands, with a choice of three channels to gain entrance. To keep enemy ships and submarines out, two of the main channels between the islands were laid with a double line of mines. Due to some slip of communication, the Captain was given no information about the mines. He was told to come into port through the middle (narrow) channel, and to line his ship up with a large white rock standing on the beach in order to get through coral heads in the channel safely. This white rock stands just to my right, a clear marker even today, over 70 years later. Had the Captain entered the narrow channel and lined up with this rock, we would not be standing where we are at this moment, entering the water to dive on the world's largest, most intact and accessible wreck.
From the surface there is no sign of the behemoth resting just a short swim in front of us.
The Captain, looking at the narrow width of the channel and lining up his huge ship to the white rock, balked and decided it would be much safer to take the ship in through the much larger pass to the north. Looks can be oh-so-deceiving! One blast took out the engine room, and instantly killed the man working there. After the second blast hit to the stern moments later, the captain took the boat full throttle and beached it. Over 5000 men got off the boat in an orderly fashion over the next 90 minutes. Realizing there were men still trapped in the infirmary, an army Field Captain went back on board to rescue them, allowing all these men to also get off the ship to safety.
Shortly after that rescue, the boat suddenly lurched and slid back down the slope, breaking the huge anchor chain holding the vessel to the reef, and was swiftly swallowed by the sea. It came to rest on its port side, with the bow lying in about 20 meters of water, and the stern in 70 meters. The Field Captain went down with the boat. I can't help but think of his bravery, as well as that of the many, many other war heroes, as I walk by the memorial for him at the water's edge.
As we descend, the water visibility is just okay; good enough to look at the huge structure, but not clear enough to see the entire show. On the bow we turn to the right to swim along the top of the boat. As we descend, the depth is tricky to gage, due to the optical illusion of following the topsides, one might thing you are swimming level, but the ship is actually lying on a very steep slope. I keep an eye on my depth gage as we explore the wreck, and watch as I reach a max depth of 110 feet.
Before the vessel slipped back from the reef, the service men thought they would be back to clear all the goods out. Wrong again. The ship is full of every detail, including artillery, canons, rifles, jeeps, and even dishes. All of these items are now covered in growth, but easily recognizable. We did very minimal penetration into the wreck itself, but for me this was the most enjoyable part, weaving our way through and around various obstacles in order to view a beautifully appointed bathroom, complete with sink (now lying sideways) and tiled mosaic floor. Even the taps on the sink were still intact!
The wreck is also host to all sorts of underwater sea life, including a beautiful moray eel who greeted us as if on cue when we swam past her hiding place. We watched as divers who are familiar with this eel actually stroked it's 'chin'. I came so close to trying this, but thought better of it in the end!
Many divers will return to this wreck again and again, there are over 15 dives, and the dive companies ensure that you will never see the same thing twice. The Allan Power Dive company who runs dives onto the wreck seem to be running a very professional show, and use very conservative tables for decompression for the deeper dives. Despite the lure of 'seeing more' we are completely satisfied with what will be our one and only dive of the famous wreck.
As I explore the corals at our safety stop, I realize I'm much happier diving gorgeous reefs and swimming with fishies than picking out unused artillery inside such a vivid reminder of wartime. Never the less, she lies at rest here as a present day reminder. Lest we forget.
05/29/2012, Oyster Island, Espirito Santos, Vanuatu
Paikea Mist is anchored inside the reef system that defines Oyster Island, with the famed Oyster Island resort welcoming us with free wifi, cold beers and delicious foods. Ahhh! Cruising life has it's perks from time to time, and this place is one of them.
This morning we took our dinghy up the river to swim in the crystal blue waters of the Blue Holes. Here mother nature pours super clear water from her depths, and as it mixes with calcium carbonate, the mixture dissolves into a gorgeous blue hue is cast into the water. The result is breathtaking, these sparkling waters find their way a mile and a half out to the ocean creating a slow flowing super clear gorgeous blue river. To top it off, the jungle hangs into the waters, draping thick vines which we carefully manoeuvre the dinghy around. We putz along slowly, allowing the beauty to unfold around us. Birds call from the huge overhanging trees and we spot kingfisher and parrots, along with an array of otherwise unidentifiable birds which sweep through the thick foliage. Monarch butterflies flutter past and dip into the water. Water cress floats gently on the surface, sunlight reflecting off the shiny green leaves. That is the Kodak moment I am looking at from the front of the dinghy, camera clicking merrily cramming this amazing place into the camera's memory. Of course I know that I am surrounded in this photo, and there is no chance a photo will ever capture the beauty that is surrounding me.
Once up the windy river we arrive at the blue holes where the bottom at 30' looks like you could touch it. We tie the dingy up, and enjoy ourselves playing Tarzan from a platform of a nearby tree, swinging out on a long swing rope and plunging into the refreshing water. I don't have a bucket list, but if I did, I have to say, swinging like Tarzan into a perfectly clear pool in the middle of a jungle would be high on the list. Tick!
During WW2 the US Navy used this area as a base, and I just can't think of a more clashing thought- fighting materials, guns, and ammo in this pristinely perfect place. As we navigated up the river we saw evidence of bridges dating back to war time. Of course having the blue holes nearby provided ample drinking water for the thirsty men. At that time the US introduced the creeping vine to Vanuatu, in an effort to camoflauge all their war goods. Oops! Turns out this vine grows incredibly well here, and is now covering many of Vanuatus huge beautiful trees, draping them like heavy death cloaks. We've heard that some tree loving folks from New Zealand are trying hard to kill the vine off, but it really looks to be an impossible job.
After the swim, we headed out for our next adventure with our dive gear, exploring the outer reef. We stayed in about 30', and enjoyed a very healthy and lively nursery reef boasting a huge array of baby fish. The very first part of the dive was poor visibility, until we got down under the layer of fresh water which pours out of the blue holes. As we went further down the reef, the fish seemed to get bigger, and we spotted a turtle along with some groupers that would be enough for breakfast lunch and dinner if we were inclined to spear fish! Personally, I find the fish just too amazing to watch, and could never spear them as I would be too mesmerized to remember!
What a fantastic day- now its time for a cool drink at the Oyster Island bar, where we will catch up with the other cruisers in the anchorage and take advantage of their wifi to post this blog! Cheers!