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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Port Vila
11/08/2008, Vanuatu

Our passage from Fiji to Vanuatu wrapped up today. We had planned the 510nm trip as a triple overnight for several reasons.

The first and foremost is that the cyclone season has officially started and we want to be out in the open ocean for the shortest period possible. Three day forecasts are very accurate these days and in early November during a neutral southern oscillation year it is pretty easy to get a week long window free of tropical disturbances. In fact the long range forecasters are suggesting that mid December is the likely first opportunity for a cyclone.

The second reason is that we will arrive on Saturday and the officials are around in the morning from what we had heard but they shut down until Monday thereafter. No fun sitting on the boat for two days when you really want to see the island, and have to move on quickly anyway.

It was a light wind trip. We had a stint or two with the wind coming up to 20 knots but for the most part it was 5 to 15. The majority of the trip was dead down wind. We did a lot of motor sailing to keep pace.

We arrived at around 1PM, a little late. As we came in we hailed Port Vila Radio several times with no response. The cruising guides and sailing directions suggest that Port Vila radio should be called before entering the harbor and that they will dispatch the officials. No such luck.

Next we tried Yachting World. Yachting World rents moorings in the inner bay and they can arrange stern too hook ups at the little wall that runs along the bay near by the Waterfront restaurant. Hideko heard someone on the VHF with them but it seemed they needed a relay (maybe using a hand held?). No one answered when we hailed.

We followed the transit into the harbor and located the quarantine buoy. Sailing directions and cruising guides suggest you anchor here while waiting for quarantine. This also appears to be a primary anchorage as many yachts that are already cleared are anchored about. After anchoring and raising the Q flag we set about dropping the dink so that I could make a run for customs should they fail to show up.

Suzanne from Cheshire stopped by to let us know that things are pretty shut down on the weekend officialdomwise. She is from Olympia Washington, near Margaret's home town of Pacific. There was a large freighter on the dock back in the bay though so I decided to try the main shipping port since usually there's someone official around when big freighters are in port.

After a short trip across the bay I tied the dink up in the shadow of a 300 meter freighter. We were in luck. The customs guy was in the office and he was very friendly and helpful. He cleared the yacht in and gave us permission to go ashore as long as we left everything on the boat until Monday when Quarantine could arrive to inspect things. You couldn't ask for more. On Monday we'll also have to go ashore to clear immigration.

Back at the big boat we packed up our 80% deet and sunscreen and went out to explore the bay and find a nice place to eat. The Waterfront Restaurant has a nice dinghy dock so we tied up there. We set out to find a Japanese restaurant that Hideko had identified but they had moved and when we finally tracked them down they were not open until 6PM. Our plan was to try to get back to the boat before mosquito prime time so we passed on the Japanese. We ended up eating at Le Cafe du Village, a little cafe just down from the Waterfront (the Waterfront also opens at 6PM). The cafe was ok but I wouldn't recommend it.

The Waterfront was happening as we returned to the dink. They were burning mosquito coils all over the place. We'll have to give it a try. As we motored back to the big boat I tried to gauge the height of the power wires over head. These lines run from Port Vila to the little resort island that forms the west side of the inner bay.

The wires are listed in some of our guides as 70 some feet over the water. Our stick is 72 feet off of the water so without some specific local knowledge we're staying on this side of the bay. I think I might like it out here better anyway. As long as the wind doesn't come strong west the out bay is perfect. Still close to things but with more space and breeze.

After the two week crossing from the Galapagos to the Marquesas, no other passages seems long. All the same it is nice to get a good night's sleep at anchor after a few days at sea.

Day Three to Vanuatu
11/07/2008, Coral Sea

It was as event less a day as you could have. Perfectly fine weather, light wind and mild seas. All wonderful except the wind speed and wind angle. The wind came all the way astern in the afternoon so we were back to motor sailing dead down wind with an apparent wind of 5 knots at night fall. Lots of sleep and lots of reading accomplished. Starting to see more sea birds as we get closer to land.

Hideko Says: I'm looking forward to visiting this country that I had never heard of until we found it on our route.

Margaret Says: Less than a day to Vanuatu!

111 nm to Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu

Day Two to Vanuatu
11/06/2008, Coral Sea

We had wind yesterday from nowhere and everywhere but as soon as there actually was some wind over 5 knots it was from where we were going. This was as forecast but when you're crossing the Coral Sea in November you can't be too picky or shy about running the motor. At the end of the day we were motor sailing under main alone and making about 6 plus knots with the engine in 1,750 RPM max fuel for knots mode.

Hideko made a yummy pistacio crusted mahi mahi last night. It was delicious, I felt like I was at a restaurant. We still have a lot of fish in the freezer but we're making progress with Margaret's help.

We found a lot of different nuts and dried fruit at the market in Denero. They were expensive for Fiji but fair for the rest of the world. Nuts and dried fruit make great boat snacks. They stow easy, don't go bad and are healthy.

At around 11PM we hit a little squall with 25 knots of veering wind in it. We had the full main up (the forecast said no squalls until tonight) so we reefed just to be safe. As expected as soon as we stepped out from under the Bimini it poured. Squall rain is cold. The seas went from placid rollers to a little choppy after the squall but not too bad.

It was a lovely night all in all and cleared into a bright morning. I spotted what I think was a fishing boat at 3AM. I heard two guys on the VHF but I couldn't tell what language they were speaking. Maybe Korean or something in that neighborhood. If you can hear them on VHF they are typically within 20 nm of you. I only saw the one boat and he headed off to the south pretty quickly.

We pulled the jib out before dawn and shut the motor down in the afternoon. We had a nice sail at 7 plus knots with 10-15 knots of wind from 150 to port true (apparent was a nice 120). We are missing the genset (which is down until we get the new fresh water pump and heat exchanger). We have to run a motor to keep up with the power consumption of the fridge, freezer, auto pilot, running lights, cabin lights and radar. The Yanmar alternators are only 60-80 amps so if the inverter is on (which it is as I type) you're barely charging.

As forecast the wind has come astern at 5 knots so we are motoring almost dead down wind. We put the jib up and reefed the main at sunset to tuck in for a quiet evening of motor sailing. The wind is supposed to go back to the southeast tomorrow so hopefully we'll be able to sail in the rest of the way when not charging bats.

The boat is on Fiji time (UTC +12 hours) until we anchor in Efate. We're looking good for a Saturday arrival in Port Vila.

Hideko Says: Yeah less than 300 miles to go!

Margaret Says: I love fast boats.

283 nm to Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu

Day One to Vanuatu
11/05/2008, Coral Sea

We were sad to leave Muscat Cove. It was perhaps the coolest place we visited in Fiji. Savusavu was great too but in a totally different way. Savusavu is very quiet. Muscat Cove is mellow but has more going on. We followed our track back out of the reefy cove and then headed out Wilkes Pass. The pass was pretty obvious though unmarked. Curly's waypoint for the pass was right on. As we exited the Fiji barrier reef we saw lots of boats in the area. Then we began to see little pink things on the waves. It was a perfect surf day and lots of folks were taking advantage of it.

On one side off the pass there is a little resort island. I think several of the surfers originated here.

We had the main up all the way and are leaving it full up overnight. The conditions are calm and the forecast is for gradual reinforcement from the southeast. So if the forecast works out we'll be able to sail tomorrow. We had the motor running all day today with real wind well under 10 knots all day, usually under 5. We did get the fib out a few times but at sunset we had the wind on the nose so the jib is rolled up.

Hideko Says: I see big clouds over Fiji with lots of flashing inside them. This is great entertainment if you're far away! It is actually pretty from here.

Margaret Says: Happy to be here.

453 nm to Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu

Muskat Cove
11/04/2008, Fiji

It was time to leave Vuda Point and make way for Vanuatu. Past time perhaps but we had spent it well, investigating mechanical maintenance issues and getting repairs lined up. Our genset is disabled until we get the new water pump and heat exchanger (with shipping this will be around $1,000 US). Not what you like to find in a 2,000 hour 3 year old genset. That said it should be in top condition when we get the new parts installed. We hope to get the parts sent to Gizo in the Solomon Islands but we have not been able to get a hold of the yacht club there so we don't have a place to ship to yet.

We have a long list of minor projects but the only thing that is possibly significant over the short run is the minor oil leak in the port sail drive. We'll be keeping a close eye on that and favoring the starboard engine for locomotion.

Hideko and Margaret did last minute laundry at the dock (no genset means no washer/dryer on board). We filled the starboard tank with dock water which seems to be of pretty high quality (I might drink it in a pinch). We grabbed a final late and blueberry muffin from the wonderful little cafe and said goodbye to all of the nice folks we've met here. To wrap up I went around and paid all of our tabs and said goodbye to the Baobob Marine folks. Brian there runs a great shop. He and Kent from Just Catamarans in Ft. Lauderdale are two of the very few folks I would trust working on my boat unsupervised. They're both South African and so is the boat, maybe there's a connection?

We had a hand on the dock and one in a dinghy to head out. Getting out is almost as tricky as getting in. We dropped all the lines except the windward stern line and the windward bow line. Once set to go I had the girls bring in the bow and the stern at the same time with the guys from the marina helping on the other end. I gave it a burst of forward to get steerage way and to drive out of the port-ways slide the wind was dishing out. Then back to neutral as we drifted over the moorings (and rather close to the bow lines of the boat we were sliding down on). Once clear of the circle of bow moorings it is a simple task to drive on out. We waved goodbye to everyone again as we motored out of the narrow reef cut that leads to the over sized Fijian lagoon.

Once out in the deeper water (70 feet) we put up the main and pulled out the jib. We promptly passed another sail boat who had left a bit before us and headed for Muscat Cove. The rhumb line takes you directly over two little sandy islands that are below water at high tide. Keeping to port as we left them to starboard we homed in on the south point of Muskat Cove. It is easy to follow the markers in but nice to have a good chart and some way points your first time because there are reefs everywhere.

The Cove is the loveliest place we've been in Fiji. There are sandy beaches and coral around the perimeter and a couple resorts on the island with restaurants, pools, water sports and scuba shops. The anchorage is triple protected by the outer Fiji barrier reef, the island barrier reef and the inner reefs in the anchorage. Needless to say it is flat. The depths are 50 feet plus but the Muskat Cove Yacht Club has moorings everywhere for $15 Fiji a night ($8 US). The yacht club also has a nice little stern to dock with power and water. If you are on a mooring or the dock you can use all of the Yacht Club and Resort facilities including the pool. It would be a wonderful place to spend a week.

Once tied up I hooked up a scuba rig and quickly checked the port sail drive. I was hoping for clear water but the water here is a little murky with lots of clumps of algae floating by. Vis was about 30/40 feet max. The sail drive leg looked secure. I was hoping to be able to tighten the bolts underwater to see if additional pressure on the three O rings in the sandwich would sort things out. Unfortunately Yanmar provides a template for the drive leg hole that is rectangular and the drive leg has a circular ring that it attaches with. So you can not really reach most of the bolts from below nor can you drop the leg down through the bottom, it must come out the top. I am going to email Yanmar and find out what the reason for this is. A small one inch crescent at the mid point, coming to a point three inches from the one inch center, cut from each side of the hull (maybe 8 square inches of total material) would allow you to get to the bolts and drop the leg down. Everything was very secure and I left it at that.

We saw Enki as we came in and chatted with Christoff on the VHF. We have been running into Enki on the route since Panama. Christoff is going to NZ but then West to Patagonia! The mooring collector came by and we bummed a ride from him to the shore so that we wouldn't have to drop the dinghy down. He was a nice guy and everyone at the resort was very friendly. There's a cute little bar out on the point and they fire up a BBQ nightly. Cruisers can buy chicken, salad and a potato at the shop and BBQ their own food while taking advantage of the bar (very cost affective). This was a popular option. We decided to hit the resort proper though so that we could get back to the boat before dark. We did, after all, have to swim or bum another ride.

The resort is a nice collection of individual bungalows back in the palms. We made our way down the beach to the pool which has a small sail boat wrecked in it. Nice touch for a Resort and Yacht Club. The main restaurant wan not open at 4:30 but we got a great cheese burger from the snack menu and finagled some chocolate cake and ice cream out of them as well.

Back on the dock we met up with Spectacle, a yacht with folks Margaret met in sailing school. She also line handled for them going through the canal. The bar was lively and packed with folks from the anchorage. We had a nice time mingling as the sun set.

It was no problem catching a ride home with all of the friendly cruisers about. A young couple from Hawaii, Amber and James on Mai Miti Vavau, dropped us back at Swingin' on a Star. They were delivering another yacht to NZ and then coming back to spend the season in Fiji.

Back at the boat we brought Roq forward and spread out on the trampolines to watch the clear starry night revolve overhead.

Final Prep Day
11/03/2008, Vuda Point Marina

It often takes us a day with no activities planned to get the boat ready to go. So it was today. We paid all of our bills, cleaned up the boat, caught up on weather and internet and said goodbye to all of the wonderful folks we have met.

Island Dancing
11/02/2008, First Landing

We are planning to clear out tomorrow so we spent today taking care of lots of little things. Internet, email, paying bills (unfortunately these follow you even when you go cruising in remote places), coordinating with contacts at future ports, malaria planning and the like.

The Malaria research has been very interesting. While Africa is the source of the vast majority of malaria cases and deaths in the world, Vanuatu is also an infected area. When reviewing the south pacific malaria regions earlier in the season I noticed that the only place rated worse than Vanuatu was the Solomon Islands. I have talked to cruisers who have been through both without catching Malaria and I have talked to those who did catch malaria. Both groups loved the Solomons anyway. The only people we have talked to that didn't like the Solomons were folks who have never been there. We have a two month supply of Malaria meds so hopefully we'll stay clean. The US Center for Disease Control has been by far the best reference for us on health matters while traveling. The World Health Organization is ok but all references I have come across pale when compared to the CDC's Yellow book. ( )

Our batteries are having a hard time over the past few days. It has been cloudy so the solar is not kicking in. Running the engines for a few hours does not do much with the marginal 60-80 amp alternators pumping out on 13.4 volts. We really need a good charge with our charger but the genset is down for a couple weeks and the shore power is 220 (we need 110). We are trying to line up a transformer so that we can get a good absorption charge before we take off.

The weather is looking pretty flat for the next week so we will probably motor most of the way to Port Vila. This will give the bats enough time to top up. They are getting to the middle/end of their life span though. They cycle almost every day and they were installed in September of 2005. That's approaching 1,000 cycles which is the low end of the range you can expect. We try to only discharge to 80% which might give us as much as 2,000 cycles but we will have to see. Deciding which batteries to install next will be a big decision, for another blog.

We went to the First Landing resort for dinner tonight. A little path leads from the marina to the resort. For $5 Fijian a day ($2.50 US) you can use the pool all you want. Our friend Margaret has been spoiling us and bought us passes today so we enjoyed the pool during the hot afternoon. The restaurant is nice and seats outdoors by the water on clear days. Food is pretty reasonable (expensive for Fiji). They had some brilliantly colored lobster. Tonight we got lucky as they had a dance show. The dance troop did dances from all over the South Pacific including Tahiti, Tuvalu, Kiribati, The Solomon Islands, The Cook Islands, Fiji, and Tokelau. The big finale was Samoa with their well known fire dance. It was a lot of fun.


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