Sunday, May 31, 2009

Inside Capricorn Channel

As so typical with sailing, conditions went from too little to too much. Winds were very light or from slightly the wrong direction for days, so we were forced to motor sail on Thursday, Friday and most of Saturday. Made very good progress and everything was comfortable. Then Saturday night conditions picked up considerably as predicted. We knew before we left Noumea that we would be looking at 20 to 25 knot winds for Sunday and Monday. But we figured since the direction would be from the SE that the wind would be behind the beam so that was no big deal at all.

What we did not figure into the equation was the southerly setting current all along the eastern side of Australia. When the strong SE and SSE winds picked up, so did the disturbed seas. And in a big, big way. When we had 380 miles left to go the winds picked up to sustained 30 knots and gusting 40. That was early Saturday evening. It is now Monday morning and winds have finally dropped back to 20 sustained. But it was not the strong wind that was the problem; it was the horribly disturbed seas. Waves 4 and 5 meters high and swirling close together. It was awful and Bill and I were both gulping down seasickness meds. It was like being inside a washing machine on heavy-duty agitation cycle with 15-18 foot waves tossing you about.

Goodbye to our nice long night watch schedule. It was all either of us could stand just to sit tucked up in the forward corner of the cockpit for 3 hours at a stretch while holding onto whatever we could grab to keep from being thrown across the cockpit --- while the other person held on tight while lying in the passage bunk. Really couldn't stand to lie down longer than 3 hours either. So we have been switching between these 2 hells every 2 or 3 hours since Saturday night.

Now we are about 75 miles up into the Capricorn Channel and are hopeful that the outside reef will begin to break down the disturbed seas. Any time now would be fine with us. The swirling large waves have stopped and now we have rolling large waves but without regular timing so the boat surfs and rolls a lot. We have out just a patch of jib (no main sail or mizzen sail) and are sailing at around 7 knots SOG. Don't want to go any faster because the motion becomes uncomfortable with more boat speed. It is 163 miles to our destination of Mackay Marina.

Saturday night as this nasty weather began during my watch and all I could think of was that I am tired....tired of boat movements and boat noises...tired of sitting...tired of reading...tired of eating whatever happens to be available and easy at the moment...tired of having salt-air-and-slept-on-too-much hair...tired of having to sit in an uncomfortable place in the cockpit...tired of being cold in the cockpit at night (thanks again Donna & Bruce for those cuddle blankets; they are wonderful)...tired of encountering incorrectly lighted fishing vessels in the middle of the night...tired of my nip and back hurting with the jerking/rolling of the waves...tired of everything. A long shower with good hair conditioner, scented body lotion, clean crisp sheets and 8 straight hours of sleep sound like heaven right now.

Bill and I are both very much looking forward to arriving at the marina tomorrow and are very thankful that there are no more tough passages in our near future.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Mother of all Spreadsheets (MOAS) from the Chief

As Chief Engineer, I am required to keep proper records. As an ex-CFO, I am probably slightly manic about this responsibility. So I have devised "The Mother of all Spreadsheets" (MOAS) which takes very little input and gives an extraordinary amount of output.

Here is the Daily Input:
1. Main engine hours
2. Generator hours
3. Fuel onboard

Here is the passage specific Input:
1. Destination
2. Miles to Destination
3. Date/Time of Departure
4. Daily Miles Made Good to Destination
5. Daily Lat/Lon at 10:00AM Local

Here is the Output:
Main Engine
1. Hours left on Fuel Filter and yellow light when getting close; red light when due
2. Hours left on Oil Filter and yellow light when getting close; red light when due
3. Hours left on Oil Change and yellow light when getting close; red light when due
4. Hours left on Impeller Change and yellow light when getting close; red light when due
5. Average % of engine use vs. sails
6. Daily Liters Fuel/hour
7. Average Liters Fuel/hour
1. Hours left on Fuel Filter and yellow light when getting close; red light when due
2. Hours left on Oil Filter and yellow light when getting close; red light when due
3. Hours left on Oil Change and yellow light when getting close; red light when due
4. Hours left on Impeller Change and yellow light when getting close; red light when due
5. Daily Liters Fuel/hour
6. Average Liters Fuel/hour
7. Average daily hours of use
Dual Racor Fuel Filtering System
1. Hours left on Port Fuel Filter and yellow light when getting close; red light when due
2. Hours left on Starboard Fuel Filter and yellow light when getting close; red light when due
Passage Information
1. Miles completed
2. Miles to go
3. Fuel Consumed to date
4. Fuel Predicted to be consumed
5. Fuel Predicted to be on hand at arrival
6. Average Daily Miles Made Good
7. Average Daily Velocity Made Good (Average Speed)
8. Daily Lat/Lon
9. Predicted Arrival Date/Time GMT
10. Predicted Date/Time Local
11. Table reflecting average passage speeds from 4 to 8kts in 0.2kt increments and the expected Date/Time of arrival GMT and the Date/Time of arrival Local. This table is continuously updated and reflects the remaining passage miles and helps me with "what if" situations when we are trying to speed up or slow down to achieve a certain arrival time. As example to arrive before dark we need to maintain X.0kts for the next 24 hours.

The MOAS also has several tables for converting liters to gallons and currency converters to help me with how much I am actually paying for a liter converting to US dollars and US gallons.

I also record oil, fuel & oil filter changes and impeller changes for the main engine and generator when they occur.

There are a number of smaller tables in the MOAS and about the only thing the MOAS does not have is a table to predict best fishing times, although I have some ideas on how to do this.

Oh, one more thing, the MOAS requires a little alcohol to understand its subtle inner workings….Beer-Thirty…Bye for now!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Back in flying fish latitudes!!

Tuesday morning dawned sunny and clear and beautiful. Finally a pretty day to see New Caledonia and we were leaving. What little we did see as we motored out of the enormous lagoon was very pretty. This is a place where we could have enjoyed 90 days sailing around the main island. There are so many day hops and tucked away anchorages - at least according to our charts. We did not have the opportunity to see any of these places. Sorry that we missed what looks like a great sailing destination. That lagoon ranges from 8 miles wide to 22 miles wide and the island is about 200 miles long, so that gives you an idea of the vast day-sailing area. And they have the cutest little red-topped white lighthouses marking the reefs. Wish we had more time to enjoy this place, but we must get on over to Australia to meet our grandson Zachary soon.

We left the marina slip around 1000 and went to the fuel dock. Didn't think we really needed diesel but figured we might as well fill up since it was so convenient. People had warned us that diesel is expensive in New Cal but we did not find that to be true. Duty free diesel is available after you have cleared out. We had the agent clear us out on Monday and you then have 3 days to depart. Duty free price converts to 83 cents USD per liter. That is not expensive compared to pther places we have bought diesel in the South Pacific. We topped off the tank and Bill went with Eva back to the agency office to pay. Soon he returned and we headed off. Only to receive a VHF hail 5 minutes later telling us that we had forgotten our credit card in the agent's office. Quick turn-around and back to the visitors dock where the agency owner met us and handed over the credit card. Whew!! That was close. That would have been darned inconvenient when we arrive in Australia.

It is noon Thursday, May 28, 2009, starting day 3 of our passage to Mackay, Australia. We are definitely back in the latitudes of flying fish and bioluminescence. (That is probably spelled wrong but I am typing this on a laptop in the sunlight and cannot see the screen.) The first day was wind almost on the nose and we sailed close-hauled for 24 hours. Then the wind switched direction and was directly behind us, although we were still able to sail okay. During the middle of the second night the wind died so low and the seas were so disturbed and we were rolling a lot so we are now motor-sailing at a comfortable 6 knots. According to our weather guy it will remain like this for a day and then the winds will start to pick up. Should be 25-30 knots during our final 2-4 days.

We are now approaching the area south of the Chesterfield Reefs. We are going well south of these reefs. Many people like to stop there for a few days to break up the long passage - similar to the Minerva Reefs en route to New Zealand and the Belveridge Reef en route to Niue. For some reason lots of people get a kick out of anchoring in the middle of reef in the middle of the ocean. Frankly, I would rather get on with the passage. The first 3 days of a passage are always the hardest physically; after the third day/night you have adjusted to the schedule and everything becomes routine. So why would we want to stop after 3 days and then start the adjustment process all over again? Not for us.

Tonight we will be approaching the area where S/V Sambaluka sank last year when she hit a reef. Our route takes us 30 miles south of that accident. Then much farther SW is another reef where S/V Hot Ice sank last year. Also, much farther NW of our route is another reef where S/V Asolare went up onto the reef and was lost last year. S/V Sambaluka and S/V Hot Ice went on the reefs because they had their chart plotters zoomed out too far and the reefs did not show up at that chart scale. Pure operator error. S/V Asolare was a new Amel 54 and their accident had a different cause. They had a different version of C-map charts and a well-charted reef was omitted from their particular C-map charts. There was a big hullaballoo about this and a notice was posted on warning everyone to check their C-map charts. We have checked our C-map charts and all 3 of these reefs are correctly charted. Still, I will rest a lot easier once we have arrived in Australia.

Note added July 27, 2009: Here are a few screen shots of our Maxsea C-map charts indicating where S/V Asolare hit the reef. As you can plainly see, this reef does not appear when the charts are displayed in the larger scale; but the reef is very obvious when you drill down on the chart.

And here are a couple of screen shots indicating where S/V Sambuluka hit the reef. Again, the reef does not appear on the larger scale chart but is very evident on the smaller scale chart. We checked all 3 versions of C-map charts that we own and these reefs appear in all 3. We also checked our raster charts and both reefs are also indicated on those electronic charts. BTW, these reefs are also on the paper charts.

We will be entering the Capricorn Channel and sailing northwest up to Mackay. It is about 220 miles from the Cap Channel entrance to Mackay. This channel is extremely wide and supposedly well marked with buoys and lights. This will take us up behind the Great Barrier Reef and we will probably remain behind the reef for the entire distance up the eastern coast of Australia. Mackay is just south of the well-known Whitsunday Islands, so we have a lot to look forward to and hope Zachary enjoys this special experience of sailing the Great Barrier Reef.

Last night I could hear flying fish hitting the deck and flying into the upside-down dinghy on the mizzen deck. Haven't heard that since we left waters of Kingdom of Tonga early last November because they did not have flying fish in the colder waters of New Zealand. And the bioluminescence for the last 2 nights was especially thick and vibrant. I noticed last night that when the stars are bright the green and yellow specs in the water shown very brightly as they flowed down the side of our hull. But when the clouds darkened, so did the bioluminescence. Never noticed that before.

We have sailed well over 20,000 miles at sea and are still learning.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The photo at left is a local statue of a Kanuk.

We pretty much stayed inside the boat during most of our stay in Noumea because of rainy weather. Walked around the city of Noumea a couple of times; saw the new Star Trek movie in French and did not understand a word except “Live long and prosper” so we will have to see it again in Australia to understand the plot; visited the market almost every day; and found the McDonalds for a fast-food fix. Weather looks good for departure for the 1000 miles passage to Australia this week, so we cleared out of New Caledonia today. Tomorrow we will visit the fuel dock for our duty free diesel and be on our way.

From what little we have seen, New Caledonia is probably very pretty – but the weather has been so dismal and dreary that it is really difficult for us to make a judgment. The ITCZ has been very active in this area during our visit. We hope to get a bit south of all this dreariness for our passage to Mackay, Australia.

Today I pulled out the dried cranberries and raisins that Australia quarantine would take from us. Cooked those with a bit of sugar-water and cornstarch and added the open jar of apricot jam that I think Australia quarantine would also take and baked some great filled pastry. That takes care of breakfasts while at sea for the next week. I went through the freezer one last time and determined what we might eat during this passage and Bill distributed the excess sausages and chicken breasts to other boats here in the marina. Rather give it to strangers than throw it away in Australia. Should be on our by mid-day tomorrow.

This posting below was taken from the Hacking family website. They did such a good write-up on New Caledonia that I didn’t see any reason to try to improve it. Much of this also is verbatim from various travel guides we have onboard.

Language: French and 27 distinct Kanak languages
Religion: Catholic, some protestant, some Kanak religions
Population: Indigenous peoples, Kanaks, about 87,000. French/European colonialists, about 68,000.
Money: French Polynesian Francs. About 100 CFP to 1 US$.
Landscape: Grande Terre is 250 miles long, and 30 miles wide, forested, hilly. It is surrounded by the world`s second largest barrier reef with numerous motus. There are 3 significant offshore islands called The Loyalty Islands, plus another significant southern island called Isle of Pines (Ile des Pins).

Pre-History –

During the Pleistocene period, about 50,000 years ago, people were able to spread out from South-East Asia and migrate into the islands now known as Indonesia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. Here their travels were blocked by subsequently greater distances of ocean to cross. Austronesians from the west, now called the Lapita people or pin-hole pottery people, eventually moved into the area and intermingled with the Papuans, forming the diverse group of peoples known today as Melanesians.

The Lapita were excellent sailors, and by 1500 BC had crossed over from Vanuatu to New Caledonia. They quickly spread to inhabit the islands of Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa as well, where they preceded the Polynesian arrival. For the next millennium the Lapita dominated the southwest Pacific waters with their navigation and trade. On land they were agricultural and very talented at making pottery.

Polynesians, threatened by overpopulation of their islands, migrated from Samoa, Tonga, and Wallis to New Caledonia starting in the 11th century AD. The Lapita apparently welcomed the Polynesians, and joined their culture and people together. New Caledonian tribes were widespread and frequently isolated along the coasts, giving rise to the many different indigenous languages. However, all these tribes made a complete living off of terraced crop-farming, fishing, the hunting of flying-foxes, and cannibalism. As in Fiji, the ritual of eating your enemy was a powerful one in New Caledonia, believed to enhance the power and strength of your clan.

New Caledonia, like islands farther north, was discovered by Europeans purely because of the search for Terra Australis Incognita, or Australia. In 1774 James Cook was the first to land on Grande Terre, and named it New Caledonia because he believed it resembled the highlands of Scotland (to the Romans, Caledonia). His few days of interaction with the locals left him with the impression that they were “robust and active, courteous and friendly, of honest nature and the women modest.” The only other impression Cook got of New Caledonia was of the fine timber that covered the Isle of Pines – his carpenter assured him that the timber was good enough quality to be used in shipping.

The French, when their interest got piqued by the economic potential of New Caledonia, found the locals to be very different from the way Cook described them – in short, aggressive thieving cannibals whose women were not at all modest. There are several theories as to the difference of opinion, from the naivety or criticalness of the two explorers to the possibility that they encountered two very different tribal groups. The French were the first to sight Ouvéa, the northernmost Loyalty Island, but in the same year (1793) an English captain sighted the southernmost, Maré, and noted the presence of sandalwood. The Loyalties were never correctly charted until a French explorer did so in 1827 (but, being French, he used Paris as the prime meridian, zero longitude).

New Caledonia was initially used commercially by British whalers from Australia. There was an oil extraction station in the Loyalties but the Europeans weren’t appreciated and this led to skirmishes between them and the locals. Sandalwood-traders were initially better-received and had more of an impact on the local people. In return for stripping the Isle of Pines, the Loyalty Islands, and parts of Grande Terre of sandalwood, the Australian-based Europeans traded metal tools, tobacco, and alcohol to the natives. They also brought diseases that the local medicine men weren’t able to deal with, and as the sandalwood market expanded but supplies dwindled, the Europeans became more desperately threatening and abusive. As hostilities escalated, the locals retaliated in their traditional way – in 1849 the crew of an American ship were massacred and eaten.

Later in the 19th century, many New Caledonians were taken as slaves to work on foreign plantations. This happened all throughout the South Pacific. The islanders that were kidnapped by blackbirders were tagged with the name of “Kanakas,” and apparently in New Caledonia the label stuck. For a while it was considered insulting, but after French possession of the area, local New Caledonians took back the racial name of “Kanaks” and now bear it with pride.

Two main missionary religions factions operated in the South Pacific – the French Catholics, and the English Protestants. Besides their national differences, their religions were against each other as well. This made for very competitive missionaries. The London Missionary Society, having learned throughout the other Pacific islands the best way to approach a different culture, sent two converted Samoan Protestants to the Isle of Pines in 1841. Unfortunately for them they were driven off by inflexible natives, but they established themselves on Lifou a year later. The French Société de la Propagation de la Foi (Society to Propagate the Faith) maintained a missionary on northern Grande Terre for four years, until it was demolished by angry, starving and diseased locals. When the French missionaries returned in 1851, they brought military protection with them.

Like what occurred in most other Pacific islands, the missionaries did their best to eradicate the New Caledonian culture. Nakedness and polygamy were labeled as offensive. Cannibalism was staunchly stamped out. Cricket was introduced, and traditional games were left behind. Even more ignored were the traditional Kanak rules and customs, which were passed down verbally through generations. A main part of these customs are the customs of gifts, and sharing. The missionaries believed they had bought land from the Kanaks; the Kanaks assumed the crops on the land were communal, and when they harvested them they were accused of thieving. But as the missionaries became more successful in their conversions tribal wars broke out over religions. The French military only suppressed these “holy wars” in the late 19th century.

From French Annexation –

As France and Britain continued to divide up the South Pacific, France was worried they would get the short end of the stick, and in 1853 Napoleon III annexed New Caledonia. Britain, busy with new possessions of New Zealand and Australia, largely ignored this annexation. France established a military base and began importing over 20,000 convicts. Many were political prisoners, including artists and writers. Well-behaved prisoners did public works, like the building of St Joseph Cathedral in Noumea, while others were sent to violently repressive prisons in the interior or to isolated Iles of Pines where they died of illness, mistreatment, starvation, or the guillotine. Only a few were pardoned after decades of incarceration.

Nickel was discovered in 1864, bringing with it more settlers and increased conflicts between farmers, miners, and indigenous peoples. The Kanaks, forced off their farming land onto unfertile rocky reservations, and not allowed to move freely or continue trading with outer islands, revolted in 1878, killing thousands. The repression that followed insured destruction of the Kanak way of life. While the French settlers prospered, the Kanak population declined from 42,000 to less than 22,000 by 1901. During World War I, Kanak chiefs were pressured into sending men to serve the French; this forced conscription lead to more revolts. The legislated discrimination continued until the end of World War II when they were finally declared French citizens.

Finally, during WWII, as new Caledonia chose to side with De Gaulle and the Allies, American set up a military base in Noumea from which attacks were launched against the Japanese in the South Pacific. The Kanaks were well treated by the Americans who offered fair wages for their labor. It gave them a glimpse of another way of living, and soon Kanak leaders and soldiers (followed much later by common people) were allowed to vote and form political parties.

The population of New Caledonia changed radically in the decades following WWII, as a nickel boom brought in workers form SE Asia and Polynesia. A strong movement for independence was lead by Kanak students who had studied in France and seen other Pacific islands such as Papua New Guinea and Fiji gain independence in the 1970’s.

With the election of socialist French president Mitterand in 1981, the Kanaks believed that their bid for independence would materialize. But New Caledonia’s radically conservative multimillionaire leader Jacques Lafleur held the territory firmly, and continues to do so to this day. In the 1980’s there were sporadic outbreaks of violence between the Caldoches (New Caledonian settlers of long-standing) and the Kanaks, usually over land rights. As pro-independence movements became stronger throughout the 1980’s there was constant political upheaval in the territory as voting boundaries were changed. A massacre of 10 Kanaks by mixed-race settlers further fueled the upheaval. In December 1986 the UN General Assembly voted in favor of independence for New Caledonia. A referendum for independence was held in 1987 but with the French still determining which New Caledonians were allowed to vote, the Kanak parties boycotted the election and independence was soundly defeated.

As the land was once again re-distributed, leaving the Kanak peoples with the least arable land, a young, charismatic Kanak leader Tjibaou reluctantly moved the people towards civil war, stating “We are on a battlefield and we are just dead people awaiting our turn to die. The balance of power is such that if we didn’t have international support, the colonial power could wipe us out.” The socialist government in France moved in to negotiate an end to the bloodshed. Political accords were signed between Lafleur and Tjibaou giving autonomous rule to the Loyalty Islands and northern Grande Terre, with the promise of another referendum on independence (with acceptable voter eligibility) to take place in 10 years. When both Tjibou and his second in command were murdered in 1989, the Kanak political parties splintered and drastically disabled the movement for independence. A poet and visionary, Tijabaou had hoped been determined to achieve independence but with the least sacrifice of his people. He is now revered as one of the great Kanak chiefs. A modern cultural center near Noumea is named in his honor.

In the 1990’s the French government has made good on its promise to improve the infrastructure, education, and life of the people of New Caledonia with an influx of more than US$750 million in 1998 alone. Three thousand new mining jobs have opened up, and electricity and water have been taken to outlying villages. Today’s New Caledonian people are encouraged to devise a name, flag, and currency design in anticipation of another referendum for full independence to take place in the next 10 to 15 years.

NOTE from Judy: The officials who cleared us in last week talked with me a bit about this push for independence. They think it is a terrible idea as these islands do need the subsidies from France. Independence would be a fiscal disaster.

Just before leaving the marina dock Bill went up the mast to replace our forward deck light. We need this light if we have to do anything on the foredeck at night during passages and it had burned out during our last passage from Vanuatu. Here is a photo looking back down at S/V BeBe from half-way up the mast. A photo from the top of the mast would be more impressive, but Bill only needed to go half-way up to replace the light.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fed the homeless & the sinking of friend`s boat

Yesterday morning Bill ventured out in search of an ATM to obtain local currency of francs; they don`t accept Euros here in New Caledonia. The first ATM machine would not accept our debit card and Bill could not figure out whether the message on the little screen was saying that the machine was out of order or that our card would not work on their system. Since the next ATM machine was farther away and we had been advised that it was not the safest place to walk around, this time I accompanied him on this trip. We also wanted to look at the local market.

There is a fabulous seafood market right next to the marina and I wanted some of the great looking fresh tuna, but we have too much food on the boat already so we passed on the fish. There is a separate produce market where those fabulous French pastries are also sold. This is a wonderful daily market; prices are a bit high but the quality cannot be beat.

We walked the few blocks to another ATM. A vagrant street person followed us half a block and stood a few feet from us as Bill did one ATM withdrawal and I could hear him submitting a second withdrawal. I stood with my back to Bill and faced the vagrant, making it obvious that I was watching him. He kept glancing at Bill and the ATM machine and started whistling and making hand motions to other vagrants down the block, motioning them to come to where we were standing. I told Bill that I thought we should hurry up and get away from there. Bill said he was finished and we walked away. The vagrant stayed at the ATM machine.

After we were half-block away Bill told me that only the first withdrawal had worked. The screen said something about "impossible" on the second withdrawal attempt. Remember that this is all in French, which we don`t speak or read. We walked around a few blocks and then returned to the ATM to try another withdrawal. The vagrant had moved on by this time. We put in our card and punched the button for another 8,000 francs and the little screen again said something was impossible. But for some reason I thought it was telling us that it would be impossible to print a receipt. Sure enough, we waited about 10 seconds and out came our money but no printed receipt. Uh-oh. That meant that the previous transaction probably had worked but that we hadn`t hung around long enough for the machine to dispense the money. No wonder the vagrant had hung around the machine after we walked away. Sure enough, once we got back to the boat and got internet access to check our bank account we learned that all 3 transactions had been processed.

Oh well, it could have been much worse. We had just given the vagrant about $90 to drink his day happy. We should expect mishaps to occur when we don`t understand the language. Sort of suprised that we haven`t screwed up before now. We decided to return to the boat before we got into more trouble. On the walk back we saw that the new Star Trek movie is playing just down the street from our marina. Of course it is in French. We are seriously considering going to see it anyway, just to see the special effects even if we can`t understand the dialog or plot.

Now that we had internet access it was time to update the websites and catch up on some of the news. We were very saddened to learn that a boat we know sank last Friday en route from New Zealand to Fiji.

We had met Wendy and Steve on S/V ELUSIVE in Tonga last October; didn`t get to know them well but did socialize with them several times. ELUSIVE was one of half-dozen boats sailing from Opua to Fiji, all scattered well away from one another. They were about 500 miles out of Opua when they received news of impending bad weather and diverted course, heading south again. At the same time John and Renee on S/V SCARLETT O`HARA had also diverted course and were heading west. These 2 boats were not too far from one another and heading in opposite directions, one headed south and one headed west and closing the distance between them. ELUSIVE began taking on water quickly. ELUSIVE is a fast J-44 and had extensive refitting work done in New Zealand. Steve could not find the leak, but did verify that water was not entering at the prop shaft or packing gland.

Wendy and their adult son got into their dinghy and Steve continued to try to find the source of the leak. SCARLETT arrived and John (who is a marine surveyer and very knowledgable about boats) went aboard the rapidly sinking ELUSIVE and attempted to help Steve find the source of the incoming seawater. Apparently the water was entering somewhere in the forward half of the boat. Unfortunately, the water was rapidly filling the boat and it soon became apparent that Steve and John must vacate the boat because to stay longer would endanger their lives. Wendy, Steve and their son were taken aboard S/V SCARLETT O`HARA and watched their home sink. The cause of the leak will now never be known because the boat is at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. One thing that is for certain is that this sinking was not caused by bad weather or by collision; it was some malfunction on the boat. Our thoughts are with Wendy and Steve as they recover from this traumatic event.

Wendy and Steve are so fortunate that they were sailing this passage with so many other cruisers nearby. If they had been alone on this passage the outcome could have been far more tragic. And this rescue is even more interesting because John and Renee on SCARLETT O`HARA had also once been rescued at sea. Several years ago they departed from Mexico en route to French Polynesia. They were 750 miles out of Mexico when their rudder fell off. The rudder literally fell off the boat!!! They were very fortunate that the Mexican Navy came to their rescue and towed the boat back to Mexico, where they spent 2 years replacing the rudder and making other improvements.

The crew of SCARLETT O`HARA were rescued once and now they have paid forward by rescuing the crew of ELUSIVE.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Denied entry to port due to fear of H1N1 flu

On Saturday, May 16, we received an email from the our new weather router in Australia telling us that a LOW pressure system is likely to form in the Coral Sea between New Caledonia and Australia and last maybe until May 23; so his recommendation was for us to get over to New Caledonia before this system formed and moved in our direction. It was just as well because the wind at Port Resolution had changed to the north and the bay was becoming pretty rolly. Figured we might as well be at sea because we couldn’t sleep at anchor with the increasing swell rolling into the bay. So on Sunday morning at 0730 we weighed anchor and set off.

Our initial destination was the port town of We on Lifou Island in the Loyalty Islands, about 160 miles west of Port Resolution on Tanna Island in Vanuatu. Boats can clear in with Customs at Marina de We via fax to Port Moselle and then have 3 days to get to Port Moselle at New Caledonia to finish clearing in with Immigration and Quarantine. says you have 7 days but that is not correct; you have only 3 days.

We departed Port Resolution and went south beneath Tanna Island and turned west; and were immediately greeted by a large pod of porpoises. They didn’t play with the bow wake like porpoises normally do. These guys swam straight at the side of the boat and turned around and swam straight southeast. Maybe they were trying to tell us to change course because it turned out that we should have followed the porpoises. This passage was doomed from the beginning.

By the time we reached the western edge of Tanna Island we were hit by the first rain squall – high winds and lots of rain. This was the first of several and our overnight passage was lively. It was rough and we could not point far enough south as we would have liked, but at least we sailed all night instead of having to motor. Shortly after daybreak we turned on the engine and motor-sailed southward towards the entrance to the port of We. We were greeted by one of those full rainbows over the sea.

As we were lining up for the entrance to the port the Marina de We hailed us on the VHF radio and informed us that we should not enter the port. The port was closed to all vessels arriving from outside New Caledonia or the Loyalty Islands because they feared contamination by the H1N1 flu virus. This seemed a little extreme to me since they still accept arrivals by airplane passengers and those people are far more likely to spread the virus than us slow-moving yachties. But there obviously is no room for discussion in this matter. If the port control tells you not to enter and to turn around and head back out to sea, then that is exactly what you must do. He instructed us to proceed directly to Port Moselle at Noumea, New Caledonia; and that we would be met by a Quarantine inspector and our health verified. Well, okay; if you say so.

We turned around and headed towards New Caledonia – directly into 20 knot winds that rapidly increased to 33 knots. The strong winds were directly on our nose so there was no way to sail or even motor-sail. We tried pointing off to try to motor-sail but to zig-zag in order to motor-sail would have more than doubled the distance we needed to travel. So we resigned ourselves to motoring the entire 111 NM distance pointed directly into the high winds and directly into large rough stacked seas. This truly was a miserable trip. Normally I do the first 8-hour night watch from 1800 to 0200 and Bill does the second 6-hour night watch from 0200 to 0800. For the first time since we started cruising we were not able to follow this watch schedule. It was simply too exhausting to sit at the helm or in the cockpit very long. I did the first watch from 1800 to 2215. Then Bill took over from 2215 to midnight. Then we rotated 2 hour shifts for the rest of the night. The boat was rolling and twisting so badly that by morning all muscles in our bodies felt worn out. Sometimes the bow would be raised way up and then slam down with a loud bang; reminded me of a whale broaching and slamming back down into the sea. This pounding was brutal. Other times the bow would be pitched through a wave and a couple feet of water would come pouring over the deck back all the way back to the mast. We powered the engine 600 rpm higher than we normally would do, and still could not go faster than 2 or 3 knots. A completely miserable 24 hours. And we are doing this because the weather router says this will AVOID the upcoming bad weather. If this is the better weather then I don’t ever want to experience what he calls bad weather.

Eventually we did reach the southern tip of New Caledonia and turned west. Once we were inside the reefs conditions improved dramatically. Not having to fight our way directly into the stacked seas made a huge difference in comfort level. By the time we had crossed the bottom end of New Caledonia (with the wind on our beam instead of on our nose!!) and turned northward up the western side the weather improved to become a beautiful day. By the time we arrived in Port Moselle at 1500 the sun was shining and the breezes were gentle. What a difference!!!

We had previously contacted Noumea Yacht Services by email to act as our agent in Noumea. When we were turned away from the port at We, we emailed Eva Dumas at Noumea Yacht Services ( to notify her of our new arrival date. Eva did a marvelous job. We would recommend her highly and we are very, very glad that we utilized her services. Eva arranged a marina slip for us and met us at the dock with the Immigration officials, and she even took our dock lines as we backed into the berth! She handled all our paperwork and questions with the officials, speaking in French to them and speaking English in to us. I don’t know how we would have managed this clearance by ourselves since we don’t speak the language and the Immigration men only spoke a couple words of English. Eva, you ROCK!

Then the Quarantine official arrived --- wearing heavy-duty face mask and surgical gloves, which she did not remove until she was well away from our boat after finishing our clearance. There were health questions and she removed the few remaining fresh produce items and the eggs. She allowed us to keep all meat and poultry in the freezer because it came from New Zealand. The laws state that all meat will be removed, regardless of origin; but she said meat from New Zealand was okay. She also let us keep all cheese and butter and yogurt. That was a relief. We really did not want to throw out all the perfectly good food. There is a strange rule here regarding Customs. Once you are cleared in by Immigration and Quarantine, then Customs has only 2 hours to arrive to inspect your boat. If they do not come within 2 hours, then you take down the yellow Q flag and consider yourself cleared in. Customs never showed up, so we removed the Q flag at the appropriate time.

Didn’t plan to come to Noumea, but here we are. There is a holiday on Thursday. The officials are taking a 4-day holiday and boats will not be allowed to clear out until Monday. So we know we will be here at least that long.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Walked the crater rim of an active volcano

We really should have better sense!

But this was such a unique experience that we just had to do it. Mt. Yasur on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu is an active volcano. Sometimes it spews boulders the size of vans or pick-up trucks, but during the week we visited Mt. Yasur "he was asleep" as the locals said. Asleep is not really asleep. The volcano was constantly belching and roaring and spewing red-hot rocks about the size of basketballs on the evening that we visited.

It was a steep drive up the side of Mt. Yasur, again bouncing on the wooden bench seats in the back of a small pick-up truck. They take you up there while it is still daylight and you stay well after dark so that you get to see the volcano under both aspects. On the ride up we could see steam venting along the sides of the dirt road. Really cool. There was a somewhat level area where the trucks could park fairly close to the top. It was an uphill walk from there. The tour operators had marked off several paths and wise people stayed on those paths. More adventuresome people walked off into unmarked areas, but I overheard another guide saying that it was dangerous to go over to the right side of the crater so we opted to stay with our group. I was not able to make it up the final 20 feet to the pinnacle because it was too slippery in the loose volcanic ash on the steep grade, plus my heart was beating ninety-to-nothing and I couldn't breathe well. But Bill took the camera and had no problems getting to the pinnacle. I decided the view was just fine on the lower rim level, so I headed back down there and watched the volcano for a long time. Really a unique experience.

On Friday night we were supposed to attend a "religious" ceremony of the Jon Frum Movement but it rained so we canceled. The Jon Frum Movement (a/k/a John From Movement) is also known as the Cargo Cult. In 1936 it was claimed that the brother of the god of local Mt. Tukosmera came from the sea and announced himself to some kava drinkers. His name was Jon Frum. He told them that there would be an abundance of wealth and no more epidemics - so long as all Europeans left Tanna. Remember the pandemonium of the Condominium governance of France and England over Vanuatu. Also remember that kava in Vanuatu is a really strong drink.

I mentioned in an earlier blog how the primitive tribal society of Vanuatu was catapulted into the 20th century during World War II when the American troops moved in for several years to repel the Japanese. During WWII a large number of men from Tanna were rounded up and taken to the major islands of Efate and Espiritu Santo to help build numerous buildings and air strips, etc. that were needed for military use. The men from Tanna were astounded to see black servicemen and were convinced that these men must also have come from Tanna. Guess they had never seen black people other than their own tribe members. The Tannese men saw huge quantities of transport equipment, refrigerators and radios and endless supplies of Coca-Cola and cigarettes.

Keen to hear the message of Jon Frum, some supporters made imitation radio aerials out of tin cans and wire. Others built an airfield in the bush and constructed wooden aircraft to entice his cargo planes to land. Others erected wharves where his ships could berth. At that time The Red Cross sign meant free medical treatment. Small red crosses were erected all over Tanna and remain a feature in Jon Frum villages. This movement has at times been vigorously opposed by missionaries and officials. Even now, some cult villages refuse to pay taxes or use government schools.

So, will Jon Frum, the brother of the god of Mt. Tukosmera, ever come? The cargo cult members say "How long have Christians waited - nearly 2000 years. Yet we've waited only 65 so far."

The only thing I was interested in seeing at this weekly "religious" ceremony was the dancing. Sorry we missed that. And those are the 2 tourist attractions at Tanna - the active volcano and the cargo cult. We've finished everything we came to Tanna to see. Really glad we visited here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Halfway to halfway

Port Resolution, Tanna Island, Republic of Vanuatu
19°31.4221 S 169°29.7752 E

We arrived at Port Resolution on Tanna Island of the Republic of Vanuatu on Monday, May 11, 2008, after a 7 day passage from New Zealand. We experienced southwesterly to westerly winds for the entire passage, which is very rare. None of the normal southeast trade winds materialized during our entire passage. Good thing we weren't trying to sail directly to Australia because that would have been very frustrating and uncomfortable. Two other boats arrived at Port Resolution on the same day, so all 3 crews needed to go across the island to the official clearance port of Lenakel and do the paperwork dance. The chief of the local village made arrangements for transportation for all of us for 0630 the next morning. This check-in turned out to be an all-day deal. Lenakel is the main town on Tanna Island and is located on the western side of the island, but the tiny "harbor" there is very rough and normally not safe for anchoring and leaving your boat even for the time required to clear-in. Port Resolution is on the eastern side of the island and is normally quite calm except during due-east winds or northerly winds, when the shallow harbor can become untenable with large crashing waves and boats must weigh anchor and get out quickly. Since we arrived the bay has been very calm and we are checking weather gribs daily watching for any forecasts of easterly or northerly winds.

A small pick-up truck picked us up right on time Tuesday morning. Our seats was a 2X6 board which lined all 4 sides of the back. The Kiwi people who have made this trip many times grabbed the best seats (the woman in the passenger seat of the cab and the 3 men on the wooden bench directly behind the cab). A Frenchman from New Caledonia, Bill and I sat farther back along the sides and the village chief sat on the rear bench, which was the bounciest place on the truck. We had been warned to bring something to sit on because it would be a very bouncy ride over roads that are nothing more than half-washed-out dirt trails through the jungle. Bill was able to sit on his backpack but my pack was too thick to sit on, so my amply padded butt was bouncing on bare wood with no padded protection all day long. Bill's skinny little butt would never have been able to stand it. I don't know how that poor village chief stood all that bouncing because he had no padding on his skinny little butt either. Bill was able to sit on top of his backpack and hold onto the top rail of the truck bed. I could not do that. I had to sit on that hard bench and lean forward so my hands could grab onto the bottom of the 6-inch wide bench; you absolutely had to hold on with both hands or be thrown across the truck as it bounced along. This bent-over position was murder on my lower back and every time we would jerk sideways and the top of the truck bed side would jam into my lower back it hurt so much that I wanted to scream.

The road/trail from Port Resolution to Lenakel goes through heavy jungle and across a mountain ridge. The views are spectacular. For several miles the path goes around the top of an active volcano and across an immense volcanic ash deposit. There were large rocks and boulders strewn about that had been spit out from the volcano. Luckily "the volcano--he was asleep" while we were driving across that area. I cannot find the words to describe this terrain but can tell you that it would make a fantastic location for a movie, especially a movie depicting the moon or Mars or another planet. We could not get any good photographs because of all the truck vibration as we sped across this eerie scene.

After almost 2 hours of this hard bouncing and jerking I asked Stanley (the village chief) if we had much father to go. He said we were "halfway to halfway." Oh God, that was bad news! I wasn't sure my back would be able to stand it if we really were only halfway to halfway.

But Stanley was just kidding and we arrived at the bank about a half-hour later. We converted New Zealand dollars into Vatu currency. It was a short drive to Customs where they graciously allowed us to check-in and check-out on the same day, thus saving us from having to do that God-awful round-trip across the island again when we are ready to leave. They allowed us to clear-in and out at the same time because we said we would only stay one week and then would be departing for Australia. Don't tell them, but we might stay here 2 weeks. Our drop-dead date for departure is May 26 in order to arrive in Australia well before our 8-year-old grandson arrives there to sail with us for a few months. We figured that if we said 2 weeks that they might require us to make a second trip, so we guessed our stay at 1 week. Really depends on weather as to when we will actually leave.

After Customs it was a fairly long drive to Immigration and then a shorter drive even farther out of town to Quarantine. And that finished our clearance process. You definitely need transportation in order to handle clearances at Lenakel. Stanley suggested lunch at a restaurant (there appeared to be only one) but none of us felt up to eating anything, so he took us to the local market so we could all shop. Available to buy were: brown roots of some sort, more roots, more unknown brown roots, several types of bananas, coconuts with outer husks removed, taro bulbs and stalks and something that looked like huge long cucumbers except they curved every which direction. I bought a small bunch of those short, fat bananas that Bill and I like so much. Definitely nothing else there that we would eat. We found the one "grocery store" that sold fresh-baked bread and bought a loaf of that. Bill bought a package of cookies and distributed them to some local kids. On the roadside we notice a large snail. Probably the largest snail either of us had ever seen.

You know how things grow differently in jungles. Made me wonder what else was out in that jungle that we needed to be careful about. One good thing is that there are no venomous snakes on this island.

Then we sat on the side of the road and watched the waves crash into the Lenakel harbor and thanked our stars above that we had wisely chosen not to come over here in our boat. There was an inter-island transport ship trying to unload but the waves were bouncing it everywhere. Waves were crashing over the concrete wharf. The ship almost landed on top of the wharf on one particularly large wave, so he pulled anchor and moved out to sea. Then they continued to unload the ship to a small boat from out at sea. The harbor was simply too dangerous. The small boat would maneuver between large rocks to a beach and could land there without too much surge. What a job.

There was a small yellow sailboat anchored at Lenakel that was being thrown about like a toy. The owners were not aboard. Nor could they have managed to get aboard if they had wanted to. Stanley said this boat was anchored here last Friday with no one aboard and it was still here on Tuesday. The waves surging across the reef were tossing that boat and yanking of the anchor chain to the point that we all thought it was going to break loose at any second. The local folks were sitting around watching and they all thought it was going to be washed onto the rocks at any moment.

The language of Vanuatu is called Bislama and is sometimes referred to as Pidgin English. Many people also speak French and/or English. We got a kick out of some of the signs in the town market area. Both Bill and I could read most of the signs even though we could not understand anything when the local people talked among themselves. The phrase I liked best was: Wat nam blong u? Or, what name belong you? That is how you ask someone his name. The sign on theleft obviously says that smoking in that location is taboo or forbidden and also in other places like the hospital, etc. And the notice on the right says that if anyone finds Doctor Lisa's scuba mask they should please give him back, thank you too much.

On the 2 ½ hour trip back across the island we stopped several times to stand up and relieve our aching backs and butts. Once several of the men stopped to "wash the vegetables" as Stanley put it. Hadn't heard that euphemism before. Beside one of the enormous trees alongside the road there was a produce market with a couple dozen villagers sitting beneath the tree. We stopped so the Frenchman from New Caledonia could buy some kava roots, and Bill again distributed cookies to the little kids. The trunk of the tree was as big around as a jumbo jet fuselage. There were thousands of these large trees in the jungle all across the island. They appear to be centuries old.

Kava is popular in Fiji and Vanuatu, but there are 2 different kinds of kava. The kind in Fiji is dried and is called "brown" kava. It is very mild. In Vanuatu they use "green" kava and it is supposed to pack a whallop. Kava is absolutely forbidden to women. Women are not even allowed near where kava is prepared or drunk. Fine with me; the men can definitely keep this joy all to themselves. For those who don't know, kava is prepared by first chewing the root and spitting into a bowl. Then water is added. Then men drink this nasty stuff that supposedly tastes like ditch water. (Sound familiar to anyone who read "Clan of the Cave Bear" by Jean Auel?) Two bowls of the Vanuatu green kava will put a large drinking man flat on his back, so we are told.

On the final stretch back to Port Resolution a man was riding a horse down the road. This was the only person on a horse that we had seen all day. Bill shot a short video of the guy and horse galloping up behind our little truck. A cowboy in Vanuatu?

There is a group of 30 Romanians currently at Port Resolution. They are camped out at the Port Resolution Yacht Club, which is basically a large hut on the hilltop overlooking the bay and is run by a man named Weery. The Romanians are here to build a new church for the Seventh Day Adventist religion. These Romanians are from all parts of the world - Australia, Italy, and Canada, among other places - and they paid for all the building materials themselves. The building materials were delayed 2 weeks in shipment and just arrived the same day we arrived here. So the Romanians were sitting here waiting for 2 weeks and they only brought food supplies to last a scheduled period of time. Since the butcher in New Zealand screwed up my order and we have more meat than we can possibly eat, we are giving our surplus to them. Any fresh or frozen meat onboard when we reach Australia will be destroyed; so rather than waste perfectly good food, we are giving a lot of it to the Romanians. Guess this time they will believe that God does indeed provide. They are almost completely out of food and we arrive with a surplus. I gave them about 7 kilo boneless chicken breasts, 4 kilo round steaks, and 4 bags of freeze-dried ground beef along with cans of tomato puree, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, and 4 kilo of dried spaghetti noodles. I also gave them a huge bag of instant potatoes, butter and dried milk.

We were exhausted after our 5-hour round trip ride to Lenakel on Tuesday and just wanted to get back on the boat, get a hot shower and relax. But we arranged with Stanley for the truck driver to return on Wednesday night to take us to see the active volcano. There were 8 of us scheduled to make the trip. Unfortunately the driver did not make it back to Port Resolution on Wednesday night, so this excursion is rescheduled for Thursday night. We are apparently back on Island Time, I guess. Things happen when they happen. I mentioned earlier that Stanley is the village chief. Actually each village has 2 chiefs. One stays in the village and works with the people and settles and disputes among the villagers. I think this chief is called the yemen'a. The other chief is called the yemen and his job is to be the spokesman for his village. Stanley is the yemen for the village at Port Resolution. His father was the yemen until his death earlier this year; he was called Rodney. Upon his father's death, Stanley assumed his father's name of Rodney and assumed the duties of spokesman for his village. That is why he accompanied us to the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine offices. By law, the officials must accept Stanley's word about our arrival and boat location. We would not have been able to clear in at Lenakel unless our boat was physically anchored at Lenakel unless we had the village chief there to vouch for us and say that we arrived at his village. Stanley is only 31 years old and seems young to be a village chief, but as mentioned earlier Vanuatu has a very young population. Some of the villagers now call him Rodney and some of them still call him Stanley. I would be willing to bet that as the years go on he will become known simply as Rodney.

Now our short geography and history lesson: Vanuatu is a country comprised of 83 little islands, situated between Fiji and New Caledonia, north of New Zealand, and southeast of Papua New Guinea. This area was named the New Hebrides by Captain Cook and in 1980 the name was officially changed to the Republic of Vanuatu. The total landmass of these islands could easily fit inside of the State of Arkansas but they are spread over 700 miles of ocean. Vanuatu lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire and has several active volcanoes, one of which is located on the island of Tanna and we plan to visit it tonight or tomorrow night.

Vanuatu has a multicultural society. The people are predominantly Melanesian although there are a few Polynesians and whites. Melanesians are black, whereas the Polynesians are light brown or almond-colored. Vanuatu is the only Melanesian area that we will visit. Some of the Polynesians arrived in these islands via outriggers in the 11th century. The first whites to arrive were the usual mix of European explorers followed quickly by traders who realized how valuable the native sandalwood trees were, and blackbirders (slavers) who realized how valuable the native people were. On a few of the islands there is presently an effort to again grow the valuable sandalwood trees. The best sandalwood trees are the old male trees and the smell is only detected when cut deep into the main trunk. I had hoped to smell one but the only ones we have seen are too young to have developed the distinctive scent. By 1839, Protestant missionaries arrived to try to convert some souls. The islanders wisely dealt with this latest threat by eating them. Vanuatu was one of the last regions of the Pacific to accept Christianity. The last officially reported act of cannibalism in Vanuatu was as recent as 1987.

Unfortunately, the explorers, traders and missionaries brought with them a collection of germs and diseases that wiped out whole villages: cholera, measles, smallpox, influenza, pneumonia, mumps, scarlet fever, and the common cold. The population of these islands is estimated to have numbered 1 million in the early 1800's. By 1935 there were fewer than 41,000 ni-Vans left.

Early European settlers hailed from England and France, the latter usually via the penal colony next door in New Caledonia. In 1906, the two countries set up a Condominium government in Vanuatu, which granted both of their nationals equal rights. During the Condominium, there were two sets of laws - one applying to the French, one to the English and both to the ni-Vans (it pretty much sucked to be a native). There were two sets of courts, two police forces, even conflicting rules about which side of the road to drive on. One wag referred to this time as the Pandemonium.

During World War II, 500,000 Allied Troops passed through Vanuatu. James Michener wrote Tales of the South Pacific based on his experiences in Vanuatu during the war. The island of Bali-Hai was entirely mythical but there actually is an island called Vanikolo about 175 miles north of the island Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu, a name that strongly resembles the mythical island of Vanicoro in Michner's book. The Allies hired the ni-Vans to work on the military bases. The disenfranchised ni-Vans were surprised to receive good wages for working on the U.S. military bases and were astounded by the seemingly equitable treatment of black and white soldiers. Not surprisingly, after the troops pulled out, an independence movement developed that resulted in the establishment of the Republic of Vanuatu in 1980.

The population of Vanuatu is now estimated to be around 200,000, fifty percent of whom are under the age of 15. It is a young country in so many ways. But it is also full of people practicing very old ways of life, particularly on the out islands.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Second half of passage from New Zealand to Vanuatu

Friday, May 8, was an excellent sailing day! It was a beam reach in WSW winds of 10 to 18 knots. Seas had a very large swell spaced well apart. Often it looked like a wall of water the height of a 2-story house coming straight at us. That swell would extend as far to the left and right as we could see. Then our boat would be quickly moved up the steeper forward side of the swell and when we reached the top it seemed like we could see to infinity. Then our boat would slide comfortably down the more sloped back side of the swell. It was all so peaceful and comfortable. What a difference it makes when there is ample time between the swells. There were no wind waves so this was just a perfect day of sailing.

Of course this did not last longer than one day. You shouldn't expect 2 perfect days in a row. By Saturday the seas had built some wind waves and the swell had decreased substantially. Seemed to have swell from the west and also from the southeast and this disturbance made for an uncomfortable day of sailing in very light winds. Perhaps if the winds had been greater than 5-10 knots we would have been able to sail faster and been more comfortable. This was the first day of our passage that we were not deliberately trying to slow down. For the past 5 days we had triple reefed the sails attempting to slow down the boat. But from Saturday until we arrived on Monday we continued to experience very light winds.

At one point Bill was watching the depth gauge and it suddenly swept up to only 30 meters depth! This was alarming because we were in 4487 meters depth. We checked both charts to verify that there was not an underwater mountain or something in that location. Nope; supposed to be 4487 meters deep. Then the gauge slowly moved to indicate only 20 meters depth! What the heck was going on? This had lasted almost 2 minutes and we didn't know if we were approaching an uncharted reef or what. The ocean surface didn't look any different; we couldn't see any reef. There had been an article in the news several months ago that geologists have determined that New Caledonia and New Zealand had at one time been connected by a series of mountains/volcanos; but that the mountains had sunk back into the sea eons ago. But you would think that all these old submarine mountains and volcanos have been charted by now. Our charts do indicate a line of these but they are all very deep; like the top of an underwater mountain might be 2500 meters deep. Deep is all relative out here in the very deep Pacific Ocean. Then just as suddenly as it changed to the shallow depth readings, the gauge needle swept back to peg straight down, which is what it does anytime we are in depths greater than 200 meters. The only thing we could figure is that a whale or a whale shark or giant squid or something quite large had been swimming directly beneath our boat for several minutes and had decided to veer away.

Saturday afternoon we looked at one another and said "why don't we just turn left and keep on going to Australia?" Each of us had the same idea. The sailing conditions were so nice that why not just go on over to Australia then. But we had not checked weather for a passage farther west so we obviously weren't prepared. Besides, we wanted to see at least one island of Vanuatu. This will be our only stop in Melanesia.

On Sunday we removed the cold-weather cockpit enclosure and put up the bimini extension and side shade panels. Bill had shifted into shorts and tee-shirts on Friday, but I didn't make the change until Sunday afternoon. No more jeans and long-sleeved shirts for a long time. Now we look at the blankets and wonder how we every stood to sleep under those things! This isn't really tropical weather by our Caribbean or Texas standards, but it is so nice to be back in sunny warm weather. Last Christmas our friends Donna and Bruce gave us a couple of snuggle blanket things that zipped up. They had seen the video of me huddled under everything I could find trying to keep warm during our passage from Tonga south to New Zealand last November. Those snuggle blankets really came in handy during this passage back north. We kept one in the cockpit for whoever was on watch and kept the other one in the passage bunk. Thanks again Donna and Bruce; we thought of you every day during this passage.

We arrived at Port Resolution on Tanna Island of Vanuatu at 1330 on Monday, May 11. Total passage was exactly 1000 nautical miles of "miles made good." We don't keep track of any extra sailing miles veering off course due to weather or whatever; we only record the miles traveled directly to our destination. So, 1000 NM sailed in 7 days 3 hours and 45 minutes; for an average boat speed of 5.82 knots. Temperature this afternoon in Vanuatu is 81F. It is a gorgeous sunny day and we are anchored in a small bay looking at volcanos, steaming vents in the jungle and black volcanic sand beaches. Loving it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Hello from the Chief Engineer!

I do not post to this blog very often, so I guess it is about time. That, and the fact that we have been at sea for 5 days and I am getting bored as we sail at about 4 knots in 7knots of wind with large, rolling, and well-spaced swells. It is the conditions which prompt one to write or sleep and since I have already done the latter, I will bore you with the former.

Ah, you ask yourself, "Just what is a Chief Engineer?" Well it is not easy to simply write a job description. When I was inducted into this job, I was not handed a job description. So let me see if I can describe the job, its duties, and responsibilities in a way that will make you understand.

Mostly, I know what I need to do by listening to observations made by the Captain. You all know the Captain; she writes most of the stuff in this blog. As an example of an observation the Captain might say, "That seagull just did something on that stainless tubing you just polished." Or, the Captain might say, "The toilet does not seem to flush right." Yesterday the Captain said "We need to adjust that so that it will be easier to turn." Just a few minutes ago the Captain said, "I think the sail would fly much better without the pole you rigged earlier today."

As a Chief Engineer you also need to be self motivated and keep good records. You need to know when you last changed the oil and when you should change it again. Sometimes you will announce that you are going to change the oil, when you just want to relax for awhile…the Captain does not follow the Chief Engineer into the engine room.

The Chief Engineer is a mechanic, a painter, an electrician, a mechanical engineer, a rigger, a navigator and a plumber. Just the other day the Captain observed that the toilet was not flushing correctly. The Chief Engineer had to take apart the macerator pump on the base of the toilet and clean it. Do you know what a macerator pump does to stuff that is flushed through the toilet? I am going to get me a professional respirator and it will get used for more than just painting bottom-paint on the boat…know what I mean?

A few days ago, another example occurred of the required resourcefulness of a Chief Engineer. We were about 150 miles into a 1,000 mile 7-8 day ocean voyage from New Zealand to Tanna, Vanuatu when the autopilot went to alarm status and stopped working. More specifically, the electric linear drive stopped working. The drive is connected to a course computer and the course computer to a display and user interface at the helm. You set the course you want the boat to go on the user interface and the computer delivers commands to the drive unit which moves the rudder the necessary amount either right or left to maintain the course you wanted in the first place. So that you better understand this and how important this is, imagine driving your car non-stop, 24 hours a day for 8 days, on a road that curved every 100 feet or so. No, our course does not curve every 100 feet, but the swell, waves, wind and current are moving the boat at least every 100 feet, probably every few feet. This constant movement requires constant correction so that the boat maintains a relatively straight course. Get the picture; this failure is a BIG deal.

So it all started with an observation from the Captain which was, "Hey what is that alarm…don't you hear that alarm?" Actually I didn't hear it. It is at a frequency best heard by dogs and Captains, of course. Anyway, after hearing the observation, I frantically started looking where all of the previous alarms had occurred. Everything was fine…nothing found…then I noticed that the boat was turning dramatically and the Captain was still observing that there was an alarm. When I went to correct the course, I noticed that the autopilot interface at the helm had this message: "drive turned off." What to do; what to do?

This is when you are really glad that you are a Chief Engineer on an Amel. I went to the A/B selector switch and changed the "active drive" from the failed linear unit to the rotary unit and everything was fine again. Amel includes 2 independent drive units connected to an A/B switch which is connected to the course computer on all sailboats manufactured by Amel today. I do not know of any other pleasure yacht that has this as standard equipment. Another fact is that the A/B switch is not offered as an option by Raymarine, the manufacturer of the autopilot…this is something that Amel sourced independently of Raymarine.

You see Henri Amel cruised on Amel sailboats and he raced them as well. I am sure there must be a story of when Henri was on an ocean crossing and a drive unit failed. It is just another of the hundreds of examples of ole' Henri "having your back." Or as we Chief Engineer's say, "Saving your butt."

As another example of my resourcefulness, I emailed our friend Bruce and described the situation to him. I assume that the clutch is worn out in the linear drive because the motor works, but the arm does not. Bruce is going to find out if it can be rebuilt or if we have to buy a new one. If we have to buy a new one, it will be one more thing for Zachary to bring in his checked luggage.

I have got to go, I hear an observation and as a good Chief Engineer, I have to react…or…maybe change the oil.

The Chief

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Halfway between New Zealand and Vanuatu

It is Thursday noon as I write this. Hard to type while holding onto the monitor! We are past the half-way point and all is well on board.

Left the dock in Opua at 0945 Monday morning, May 4, in light SE winds. We motored for a few hours until winds increased enough to sail. There was a large swell rolling up from the SE but not too uncomfortable. Seas became more disturbed as it darkened into night. Around midnight we came upon a fishing boat lit up like a Christmas tree. He hailed us and said that his fishing lines were 8 miles long, so we had to deviate course to avoid becoming entangled. We deviated 5 miles east and then 3 miles due north before coming back and resuming our original course. No other boats have been seen on this passage.

I take the first night watch from 1800 to 0200; then Bill takes the second night watch 0200 to 0800. This enables each of us to sleep a long period and not become too tired on long passages. During Bill's watch on the first night I was awakened 3 times for a beeping alarm which he could not hear. He couldn't figure out what it was and I didn't want to get out of my bunk since the alarm stopped each time. Later on Tuesday morning during my first day watch, I discovered what this alarm was all about. The autopilot displayed "Drive Stopped" --- not something you want to learn on a long passage. I woke up Bill and told him about the problem. The linear drive on our Raymarine ST70001+ was overheating and stopping. So he switched to our chain drive and we were instantly back in business. Amel builds these boats so well. Just flip the A/B switch and keep on trucking. We wonder how many other pleasure yachts of this size are built so well. Bill thinks the clutch in the linear drive is probably worn out. We very rarely use the chain drive because it is noisier, so we shouldn't have to worry about the clutch wearing out on it before we reach Australia and can obtain repair parts.

Tuesday night gale conditions arose and lasted 14 hours until mid-afternoon Wednesday. Nothing serious; just uncomfortable. It was funny talking to friends in the Opua to Fiji passage and hear that they were in no winds and flat seas when we were in solid 35 knot winds and very disturbed seas. Amazing that weather conditions can be so different just a few hundred miles apart.

Wednesday night the winds began to die down. Finally late Thursday morning the seas began to display some semblance of order and rhythm. Unfortunately, that rhythm is a very large swell crossing our port stern. That large swell, along with light winds from the south, are creating quite a bit of roll. I did manage to make chicken nachos for lunch so you know it isn't too bad. But I do have to hold onto the monitor here at the nav station in order to type this log. So, enough for now. Our trip computer indicates we will arrive at Port Resolution on Tanna Island at 2000 Sunday night. Too early to worry about it now but looks like we will either need to speed up a bit or slow down a lot. We will let the weather decide that for us and not get serious about arrival time until Saturday afternoon; then decide what to do so that we can arrive during daylight.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Leaving Opua tomorrow morning

Well, the time has finally arrived for cruisers to depart New Zealand. The Island Cruising Association sponsors the Opua to All Points Rally each year. They held a party at the yacht club Friday evening for the rally participants. We are not part of the rally; but the club was also open to the public for dinner so we joined in the festivities. It provided a fun evening to say goodbye to some of our friends.

The rally participants cleared out with Customs on Friday and were supposed to depart New Zealand on Saturday morning. But yet another LOW system was passing across the area and the sea conditions were pretty nasty and rough. So Customs sort of turned their heads and allowed the rally participants to wait until Sunday morning to depart. There are been several mayday calls over the past few weeks and 2 boats have gone down. Thank goodness all persons have been rescued thanks to the excellent response of the New Zealand medi-copter. So everyone is especially sensitive right now about boats venturing out in bad weather.

Luckily, Sunday morning dawned sunny and clear and gentle winds. A perfect day to sail away. Bill downloaded the latest grib files and used Maxsea to run the polar for our boat over the gribs. The results indicated that it would make no difference if we left Sunday morning or Monday morning; we would arrive at the same time. So we are waiting until Monday morning to clear out and depart.

Sunday morning we helped several of our friends with the dock lines as they headed off for Fiji. Some were in the rally and some were going on their own. We were a bit sad to say goodbye to so many friends because this is probably the last time we would see them. These boats will arrive in Australia in November or December. We will be in Thailand by then. So it is highly unlikely that any of them will catch up with us later. Safe voyage, everyone.

Curtis & Heather on S/V Halo --------------------------------Mike & Sheila on S/V Ere We Go

Alan & Kristin on S/V Charisma ----------- Don & Anne on S/V Harmonie, an Amel just like ours

--------------------------------Frank & Barbara on S/V DestinyBill and I will clear out with Customs at 0830 tomorrow morning and set sail for Tanna Island of Vanuatu. We made a sudden change in plans a few days ago and decided that we would rather visit Vanuatu than New Caledonia. We will only have time to visit the one island of Tanna because we must arrive in Mackay, Australia by Friday, June 5. Our 8-yr-old grandson Zachary is flying to Australia to sail with us for several months. We are proud of him for being brave enough to make this long flight by himself. Bill will fly from Mackay to Brisbane on Monday, June 8, in order to be at the airport to meet Zachary at 0600 on Tuesday, June 9. So it is absolutely imperative that we arrive in Mackay and clear in on June 5. Everyone tells us not to clear into Australia on a weekend because they charge a stiff fee for overtime.

I went a bit crazy at the butcher shop and bought too much meat. Our freezer locker is almost full and I doubt we will eat all that in one month, expecially considering we will have 2 long passages during that month and we usually eat lightly on passages. I kind of lost track of how many meals to plan and what we already had in the freezer, plus the butcher shop screwed up on my order and gave me some things that were not ordered. If we have too much when it is time to set sail for Australia then I will give some of it to the local people at Tanna.

The boat is all prepared and we are ready to leave. Looks like perfect weather tomorrow to start the long passage north. Thanks to Danny & Yvonne for the delicious lemon cake they brought as a going-away gift. Hope you enjoy your new Amel as much as we have enjoyed ours.

As you can see we have put up our cold-weather enclosure on the cockpit for the first few days of this passage north to warmer climes. Time to get out of the cold!