All this way and more rain!
06 June 2013 | Port Vila
Day 5 and we are more than half way which feels like quite an achievement. We've found it pretty tough up to now. It's been upwind sailing all the way with some quite strong winds and roughish seas. Anna Rose has been absolutely amazing and has dealt fantastically with all that has been thrown at her.. Including our lack of expertise. We are learning a lot, and it has really good working things out together and helping each other through the difficult bits.
Today is the first day I haven't felt seasick.. hurrah! It is actually a lot calmer than it has been but I guess also I am finally getting my sealegs.. It's taken a long time this time and I have felt pretty rotten and not like doing anything other than the bare essentials.. Simon hasn't been feeling great either, and even if you were feeling great, every single thing is such a huge effort when you are at a ridiculous angle and being thrown all over the place. Mostly we have managed to smile our way though it together, but we have very seriously been asking ourselves what on earth we were thinking of to have spent such huge sums of money and actually be choosing to do this! I remember at the beginning of other sailing trips feeling that I would give any amount of money not to be doing what I was doing... I seem either to have a poor memory or am a very slow learner!
However.. Today it all feels very different. The weather has calmed down, it is warm and sunny and i am sitting in the cockpit listening to music as we saunter along. Simon is snoozing down below, Arabella (the auto helm) is steering the boat. We have had a gentle and companionable morning doing little boat jobs which have been impossible up to now. I actually managed to make us a nice salad for lunch.. And to eat it! Tentatively I confess I am beginning to enjoy myself. Although the whole thing is so complex, there is also certain simplicity about it all..a stripping back to essentials, which is both thought provoking and liberating. We are very aware of how very alone we are, and it is making us appreciate and take huge care of one another (not that we don't usually!) and really look carefully at what each others, and our own needs are at a particular moment, and also at what the implications are of each thing we do... Mistakes or mishaps could cost us dearly.
One of the nice things about there being not nice bits is that we really appreciate the times when all is well, and we are not frightened, cold, worried, wet or feeling sick!
That is how I feel right now (listening to good old Dire Straits) and I have a wide smile on my face. Simon has just surfaced and the sun is beginning to get low in the sky. Another day drawing to its close and as it does we are approaching the 27th parallel. It gets dark early, about 6.00, but we are blessed with a beautiful moon, which is getting bigger and bigger each night and will continue to do so until we get there.
We try to avoid going on deck at night, especially if it is rough, so we will put a reef in the main before dark. Last night we had two as it was very squally. Our foresails are easily managed from the cockpit and we can furl and unfurl them as we need. The staysail gives us great flexibility.. An amazing little sail which seems to more than pull its weight.. I love it! Makes a huge difference to our speed and also seems to keep us safe and steady when we need it to.
We seem at last to be finding some shape to the passage of time after the chaos and just copingness of the first few days. The mornings seem to be good for getting things done, while the afternoons seem either to be more frantic wind wise, or in the case of today, just beautifully relaxing.. We are resting during the day as much as possible as we are awake so much at night. Luckily we have discovered a convenient difference, which in normal life might seem like an incompatibility, but is perfect in this situation..Simon is pretty happy with staying up late, and I am similarly ok with getting up early.. So he takes the first part of the night while I take the second. We sleep in the saloon, so are always within easy earshot if we need each other, and it seems to work well. Apart from one on our first day we haven't seen a single ship, and are probably unlikely to, but nonetheless (sods law and all that) we do set an alarm to make sure one of us has a good look round every 1/2 hr or so.
We are heading just west of North, so lines of latitude are our milestones. We started at 35, and need to get to 21.. (We are currently 13nm from 27) We are not in a hurry tho.. there really is no choice other than to surrender to the process of the journey..we are making choices all the time about our course and speed, but to a large extent it will take as long as it does, and be however it is and we.... we just have to adapt, accept, respond and work with whatever comes our way. Quite freeing really once you stop being scared!
7.00pm 25.06S 172.01E
Weather is settling beautifully.. Motored for first part of the night then had a perfect westerly breeze from about midnight onwards which we kept until lunchtime today.
Now motoring in completely calm sea with only 362 miles to go. Saw a coconut floating in the water.. A promising sign! Also had a visit this morning from an albatross.. It seemed just to come and check us out. Flew round the boat once then off it went back in the same direction it had come from..very nice.. Small things like that feel like real blessings. On the morning we left Opua we got up very early. It was still dark and very damp and still. We were anchored in a small bay and were on the foredeck changing over the foresails when a single dolphin came to say hello and Bon voyage.. We really liked that too!
Leaving Opua all worked out really easily. We had intended to spend our last night in the marina there so as to refuel and check out Saturday morning, but the weather on Friday was so dreadful... (Pouring rain, v strong wind and absolutely no visibility) that we didn't dare go anywhere near a confined, busy waterway with a regular ferry crossing it which we had never been to before, so we anchored in a sheltered bay then set off to do the customs, fuelling etc early Sat morning.. When it flat calm and no one around.. Much safer!
21 08S 170 22E
64 miles to go and we are feeling very excited about arriving, and super cautious lest we let our guard down too soon... No 'phew, we've done it' until we actually have!
We had a wonderful sailing day yesterday.. Did our quickest 24hr run of the trip ..159 mls. Bob, our fantastic weather adviser said we would get easterlies when we got to the 25th parallel, and sure enough, after a flat calm night there they were.. Perfect for a nice close reach to Aneityum. We rocketed along all day yesterday and all night and were beginning to talk about how we would slow ourselves down so we didn't arrive in the middle of the next night (We already had the main double reefed and no Yankee at all.. only the staysail) when the wind did it for us and began to drop. It is now nightfall and we are for the moment motoring, but the wind has just perked up again so hopefully we will have a nice sail for our last night and arrive in the morning tomorrow. It looks like the most beautiful place.. A palm fringed sandy bay sheltered by a coral reef and a small island called Mystery island. The custom officer paddles out in his canoe to meet us!
We've done it! Arrived yesterday morning after what turned out to be quite a wild night..the wind did perk up.. A little too perkily, in fact, and it rained and rained and rained as well. So much for idyllic landfalls and waiting for daybreak to glide on azure clear water into a palm fringed bay .. The visibility was so poor that we literally couldn't see land at all until we were less than a mile away from it! And the water looked more like the English Channel than anything remotely tropical! Thank goodness for chart plotters.. Ours has had the odd dodgy moment on the passage, and we dreaded the beep and the 'no fix' warning, but all was well and at least we could see on a screen where we were and laugh at the incongruity of having come all this way only to be greeted with weather we are all too familiar with! We are anchored in what turned out to be (when it finally stopped raining at about 4.00 in the afternoon!) a pretty little bay, complete with the de rigeur palms fringing a white sand beach. We haven't seen a soul yet, apart from a wave from a passing boat, or been ashore as we have not yet been visited by the customs canoe.. Perhaps because of the rain, or maybe because it was Sunday. But it hasn't mattered.. We were very happy to spend the day yesterday celebrating our arrival with a bottle of fizz, tidying the boat and catching up on some of the many hours of missed sleep! We had been wondering how we would ever stop the boat from feeling sticky with all the salt... That certainly hasn't been a problem ...she has been very thoroughly power washed by the rain (as have we!) and hasn't felt so clean and unsticky for ages!
We did have a fabulous sail the last night... Simon did the first part of the night and I took over just after midnight.. Plan was we would both get up at 3.00 as we got nearer to land. At about 2.00 the wind strengthened.. It was on our beam so we were flying along and with only 17 miles to go and 4 1/2 hours until daybreak we did need to slow down. I bore away a little more which gave us more sea room, and for an hour or so enjoyed letting her race through the waves before waking Simon and working out together our best arrival strategy. It is funny approaching land.. you have longed for it for days, but it is quite alarming when there it is and you are charging towards it at 7 or 8 knots. Thankfully tho this is an island, and as such has a leeward side (which happened to be where we were heading). We crept into its shelter under reefed staysail alone, and waited for it to get light... Not that in the end that made much difference!
We are both feeling a bit overwhelmed at actually having done this.. Everyone has their own challenges and what is an everyday occurrence for one person is a huge achievement for another, and for each of us, managing to do this passage together, safely and in harmony feels definitely more like the latter than the former. We have really worked well together as a team.. Respecting more than ever before our differences (which have been extremely useful to us), caring carefully for one another, maintaining vigilance and awareness of ourselves and each other and what is happening around us. We have learnt a huge amount in all sorts of ways and are delighted that we did in the end manage to find the courage to set out a deux (not that we had a choice really.. We went to all the lengths we could to find someone to come with us!) We are both hugely impressed with Anna Rose.. She sails beautifully and has really looked after us. She feels immensely strong and seaworthy and entirely in her element crashing through the waves with a stiff breeze filling her sails. But more than anything I am immensely impressed with my husband! This is a long held dream of his and he has doggedly pursued it, putting himself on the line in many more ways than one. It really is a pleasure to have accompanied him, and I feel honoured and full of gratitude to have done so.
27th May... Later in the day
Well, we are now officially here! We discovered from one of the other yachts that the customs officer doesn't in fact come out in a canoe, and that we have to go ashore to the police station. So off we went and found the police station in a small building just set back from the beach. The check in was very laid back and easy .. Funny long 6 page form for the Master of the ship to fill in including details of his weight, height and eye colour as well as how much sugar and flour we were carrying on board..! They didn't want to know anything at all about the crew tho... There wasn't even enough room to put my name!
Next we followed the path off to the left which led to the bank, then further on to the shop, which seemed to have very little in it except for a few tins and some sweets and biscuits. We asked about fruit and veggies and were directed to Cyrilene, who went off to her garden to see what she could find for us. We arranged to come back in 1/2hr and when we did she had a basket full of wonderful grapefruit, limes, island cabbage (which I think will be a bit like spinach), spring onions and paw paw. We asked what we owed her and she shrugged and wasn't sure, but seemed delighted with the suggestion that we give her some clothes for her grandchildren. So that is what we will do..we have her basket to return to her and will fill it with a selection of things I collected from the charity shops in Whangerai. What a nice way to go shopping! The whole experience was full of warmth and friendliness and a real feeling of welcome.
We are keen to know what the weather is going to be doing in the next few days as it seems really unsettled, and the policeman directed us to the meteo.. The weather man, in another little building the other way along the beach. Like everyone we have encountered so far he was wonderfully friendly and helpful and fired up his radio to call Port Vila for a forecast... I guess his is a very important job in a community like this which must be very vulnerable during the cyclone season. It is pretty remote and there is no electricity so no radios or TV's. He must need to warn people of bad weather so they can prepare and move to higher ground if necessary. The bank and police station are built of concrete blocks, but most of the housing seems to be very rickety and not remotely cyclone proof or far above sea level.
The village nestles amidst the palm trees on a narrow belt of flat land behind the beach.. There are no roads, just winding paths between huts, gardens and public buildings like the school, police station and meeting place. It feels like a proper community, with people living closely side by side with very little indeed in the way of private space, but with a collective pride in their village.. All the paths are beautifully swept and there are lots of flowers and fruit trees. It's hard to know how many people live here, several hundred perhaps, and they just seem really friendly and content with their lives.. happy to welcome visitors, but not in the slightest bit clamouring for the tourist dollar. Vanuatu is known as the happiest place on earth..from what we have seen so far I am not at all surprised by that.
While I have been writing this Simon has been getting to grips with our HF radio which, to
our delight works fantastically having renewed the aerial connections... The whole thing seems extraordinary .. Not only that you can so clearly hear people transmitting from mid ocean 1000's of miles away, but that there are fantastic mutually supportive nets for cruisers which you can freely join or dip in and out of, which transmit at certain times daily, enabling boats to communicate weather info to one another, exchange positions and generally make sure no one is in any difficulty. I know it's old technology which has been around for years and years... I've just never had cause before to think how wonderfully reassuring it is. Brave Simon (I'm too shy) went on air to ask for a radio check at the end of Drifter's net last night and one of the listening yachts had been a neighbour at Whangerai, now en route to Fiji. Very sweetly they congratulated us on our safe arrival and suddenly we felt a part of a disparate yet very real community of fellow sailors... And oh how good that feeling of belonging is (thank you Ann, if you ever happen to read this!)
Aneityum ... Still!
The weather has been ATROCIOUS! Reminiscent of wet summer holidays in England.. Very very unremittingly wet, and too windy for a couple of days to venture ashore at all. Not I have to say at all what we expected and just a little bit disappointing. Added to this we discovered yesterday that our holding tank wouldn't pump out and so poor Simon had the delightful job of taking all of that to bits, cleaning and reassembling it all. And of course the annoying little leaks we can't quite locate are dripping away like billyo. Somehow it makes it all worse when everyone we know has notions of us having a heavenly time bathing in warm clear turquoise water under cloudless skies! Really I had no idea that greyness and rain for days on end was in the S pacific weather repertoire ... Apparently usually it is not... This is very rare indeed. Terrific!
By this morning we had cabin fever big time and in spite of the rain were desperate to stretch our legs so we donned the oilskins which we had put away and weren't really expecting to use again and off we went. Had fun exploring the various pathways and discovered that hidden in the trees behind the beach are three or four more little settlements. Very simple huts made of woven palm leaves and thatched roofs, with a central cooking and washing area which seems to shared by everyone. Very picturesque, even in the rain, and a lovely smell of woodsmoke hanging in the air. There are goats tethered here and there and the odd cow or horse, and some pigs in a little pen.. All looking very sleek and healthy, not surprisingly.. There seems to be no shortage of vegetation (exceptionally well watered) , either for them or for humans... Although not a great variety of things. Lots and lots of grapefruits, and Manioc, which we are going to try tonight, and island cabbage, which unfortunately we have been put off by reading dire warnings about a particularly nasty little larvae it tends to harbour. Soaking it in bleach for 15mins before you eat it apparently does the trick.. Problem is that after that it looks and smells more like something you'd clean the loo with, and neither of us felt in the least bit inclined to eat it! Haven't quite got the confidence yet to be cavalier about it and ignore the warnings.. possibly in time we will.
Collected a few memento shells on the beach and some pumice stones, and delivered some muffins and clothes to the weather man, and some books and pencils to the school and by then were thoroughly soaked and cold, so went back to the boat and made soup! Again not something I thought I would be doing in the South Pacific!
We are one of 5 boats in the bay, all of whom are anxious to move on as soon as possible. A couple of them can get weather faxes so are more au fait than we are about what the weather is going to do, but everyone is sharing information and chatting about it on VHF.. General consensus seems to be that tomorrow is a good day to make a move north to Tanna.. About 50 miles away, and I guess we might all end up going in a little procession.
Well this is more like it! Weather has improved beyond measure and I am sitting in the cockpit enjoying the peacefulness of the early morning. It is warm and sunny and a gentle swell is all that is disturbing the mirror like water of the bay.
This is a beautiful and fascinating place. A wide bay fringed with luxuriant vegetation amidst which is hidden a really quite substantial village. All traditional reed and thatch buildings, sometimes raised a little above the ground.. Which as we have experienced can be extremely wet at times! As before everyone is wonderfully friendly and it is a very easy place to be. We are beginning to get used to the trading system, and I have an assignation in a couple of hours with Ester and Carolyn with whom I am exchanging T shirts for fruit and veg... Everyone seems to have a garden and in terms of the basic essentials they seem pretty self sufficient, and certainly have plenty of Pamplemousse and paw paw to spare for the likes of us.
We got here a couple of days ago having set off with three of the other boats from Aneityum early morning, in quite squally conditions with a fairly big swell. A slightly frustrating sail as the wind steadily dropped, leaving us all wallowing with sails banging back and forth. All arrived early evening tho and were invited for sundowners with Christoff and Babs on Taurus.. Very companionable, and really cheered us up after our rather isolating and disappointing first few days .. Babs and Christoff are Austrian, Hans and Sylvia from Germany, and Peter from Tassie. All of them are delightful and we have formed quite a merry little band. Very nice indeed to socialise, and hear other people's experiences and stories.
The most extraordinary and unique thing about Tanna is that it has a proper live volcano.. I can hear it rumbling as I write this, and on the shore just off to my right i have just noticed a series of smoking vents. In conjunction with the other boats, we arranged to go to see the volcano close up yesterday late afternoon/evening. This turned out to be a very bonding experience...our transport was an ancient Toyota pick up which we were invited to clamber into the back of. We bumped along the most rutted track, unable to protect our bottoms front the bumps, or to prevent ourselves from colliding into each other. Had we known what was in store we would each have brought a fender with us to sit on! It was a relief when at the first real incline the Toyota couldn't cope and we had to get out and walk. After an hour or so of hilarity and much getting in and out we got to the bottom of the volcano and were told to wait while they found another vehicle as they didn't think this one would make it (nor did we). Out we got yet again and waited, only for them to return after another hour or so with the same vehicle. Ah well.. In we got and we slowly crawled up to the top, all the time getting closer to the rather alarming rumbling and banging explosions which were happening every few minutes. Eventually we got to a place where the edges of the road were smoking (which we all thought at first was our trusty Toyota finally giving up the ghost) and got out and walked across thick black volcanic ash to the very rim of a huge crater with two vents erupting every few minutes. At first it seemed as though it was just rumbling away, belching a lot of smoke and the odd few sparks..which I have to say seemed exciting enough, but as time went on the explosions got more and more violent. The noise was tremendous.. like very loud thunder, and you could feel the shock wave of each explosion under your feet. Red hot cinders were thrown high up into the sky around us, which as it got darker became more and more dramatic. It was really one of the most awesome (and terrifying) things I have ever seen. You could look right down into the red molten furnace. It did occur to me (and I'm sure everyone else) that it was just a teensy bit dangerous to be standing right on the rim of quite such an active volcano, especially when our guide agreed that yes the level of activity could change very quickly from safe to..I'm not sure what.. run for your lives! We all smiled at how the health and safety conscious 'first world' definitely wouldn't have allowed us such an extraordinary experience.
Siddy's 30th birthday ..happy birthday my lovely one.. I wish very much that I was with you to celebrate this special day.
We are back to pouring rain! This time with no wind, but instead we have large quantities of very black, very gets everywhere volcanic ash landing all over us and the boat... Quite delightful. Also it is very humid, so your skin is sticky, making the ash experience all the more intense. We decided to brave the weather and ignore the ash and take advantage of the no wind situation to get our paddle boards up and running, and wobbled our way across the bay to have a walk. Got soaked (but we are getting used to that), and allowed ourselves to get mildly lost amidst the myriad of paths which criss cross the area around the bay, enjoying the luxuriant vegetation, the constant smell of woodsmoke, the traditional buildings (which look totally unsuitable for the quantities of rain we are having) and the friendly greeting from everyone we met.
Wobbled back to the boat for a late lunch and a slight feeling of being trapped in a rather small, rather damp and extremely gritty space with not very much to do, and that recurrent question.. Why on earth are we doing this?!
It is now dark and feels like midnight, but is in fact only 7.30. It gets dark at about 5.30 which makes for a very long evening, but Mother Nature (who does seem to be a bit of a drama queen round here) has just provided the diversion of huge thunderstorm which has wiled the odd hour or so away (melodramatic me thinking of lightning and tall metal masts etc.. Haven't quite got us sitting here in our rubber Wellies, but it has crossed my mind!)
I can see why its important to have a good stock of booze (which stupidly we haven't got) as visiting and being visited by fellow yachties is a very pleasant way of spending the evening. Last night we invited Tassie Peter and Hans and Silvia for drinks and the evening passed very sociably exchanging tales by the light of our (citronella filled) oil lamp. It's an environment in which you get close to people quickly .. (Especially when you have passed a few hours being flung at one another in the back of a Toyota pick up!) I guess everyone is far from home and in some ways missing friends, family etc (or maybe I am just projecting that as I am!)
We are planning to leave here tomorrow as the wind looks good. .. Heading straight for Port Vila, which is about 140 miles away. Think some at least of ' the gang' will be leaving too, so hopefully we will all meet up again, or at least be able to chat en route.
Phew we are safely here! Back to relative civilazation and amongst other things an Internet cafe where I am hoping I can post this.
We are about to meet up with Kif and Anna and Poppy and Theo, so no time to add more news just now. Will write more soon tho.
V much love to everyone.