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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fiji > Vanuatu – Arrived! (Hitch-hiker Abandoned Ship)

Booby’s first stop after much circling, on our spreader at sunset.  Fiji > Vanuatu passage.
Seriously shredded Fiji courtesy flag,
removed for our Vanuatu arrival.
Just under 5 days and 525 “crow flies” miles,* we grabbed a customs mooring in Port Vila, Vanuatu.  Civilization!  Once we left Fiji’s reef system, we didn’t see another boat until we entered Port Vila’s harbor!

*We’re guessing we “sailed” closer to 550 miles, given we were blown 12 miles off course when we hove to (dropped sails, and with no engine on, simply “bobbed”) for 8 hours.  The only sailable options at that point would’ve taken us opposite the direction we wanted to go.  We’re not keen on motoring against 20-35 knot winds (forecast was 4 knots!) when we can simply wait them out.  We did.

PredictWind.com forecast into Vanuatu.
Our PredictWind forecast glowed with the bright red-orange siren-song of 20+ knot winds for our arrival. We did indeed rock & roll our way in.  Wayne commenced to hand steer when he came on for his last watch, whilst the waves sashayed our boat’s autopilot with gleeful abandon. For the first time in over 16,000 miles of sailing, our welcome mat washed overboard! 

Balancing on our dinghy wasn’t always
easy. Fiji > Vanuatu passage.
With two only us two aboard and the 24/7 need to keep a constant watch* on conditions makes a shared slumber a much-missed comfort while passage-making. We were grateful at last for a calm anchorage and a chance to sleep together again.

Still, after a little adjusting, the booby decided our dinghy wasn’t a bad place to hang.  Fiji > Vanuatu passage.
*We maintain an unusual passage watch. I’m on midnight until whenever Wayne wakes up; Wayne generally owns the rest of the watch.  We try to minimize sail changes on my shift and attempt to give Wayne a big, unbroken stretch of sleep.  Most cruisers we know tend to alternate every 3 or 4 hours each per watch.

Maybe the booby stopped to groom properly.  When not sleeping
or scoping the action, that’s what he did en route to Vanuatu.  
I confess, considering up until our last few hours in, I was thrilled to complete a shift comprised mostly of forcing myself out into a moonless, starless, midnight-black maw of howling wind, into our rocking water-slicked cockpit every 15 minutes or so. In between checks, I gripped my cabin settee perch tightly to avoid getting launched.   Throughout the stormy night, waves soundly smacked our boat, adding to the incessant cacophony of clanking rigging.  At unpredictable intervals, seawater sloshed over our bow across our cabin’s hatches or up our hull’s side, spraying into our cockpit. Upon arrival in Vanuatu every inch of our boat’s outside sparkled, encrusted in salt.

“Whatcha lookin’ at?!?” the red-footed booby seemed to ask
as it gazed at me with apparent irritation.
Fiji was hard to leave, especially after the Yasawas.  We even snuck in an additional stop after check-out, at Mamanuca’s Musket Cove aka MaloloLailai Island (also known as Leeward Island).  There, serendipitously, we bumped into our friends Mina on Koros and Steve and Patty on Armagh, all of whom enjoyed Musket Cove for several days.


As technically we were due to leave without stopping anywhere within Fiji waters within one hour of our Vuda Point Marina checkout, we spent less than 24 hours in Musket Cove, never lowered our dinghy (thanks Mina & Steve & Patty for letting us hitch a ride) and didn’t spend a cent (thanks to deliberately blowing every last Fijian dollar and cent just before exiting in Vuda Point Marina’s little grocery store – buying out their gluten-free pasta, among other little luxuries).   We weren’t sure if caught in Fiji after checkout if we’d simply be told to leave immediately or fined.  Neither was an appealing option. 

“What’s that?  A bird in the sky?” – hitch-hiking
red footed booby en route to Vanuatu.
One of the reasons we stopped at Musket Cove is we wanted a good daylight run through Fiji’s treacherous and often poorly marked reefs.  After getting our belated customs clearance around noon, we wanted to make some headway through Fiji’s reefy exit and finish the last bit of it with plenty of good daylight to spare. Musket Cove got us partway through Fiji’s reefs, and the day we left Musket Cove gave us sunnier, easier to read water than the prior stormy day leaving Vuda Point.

Overall, other than the strange and periodically blatantly mis-forecast and sometime blustery weather (usually we find PredictWind far more accurate, and truly wanted it’s beam-reach forecast instead of the close-hauled winds we got to be correct!), our passage was mostly uneventful. 

“Hey!  That’s one of my peeps!” Observed the red-footed booby, its head cocked.
We saw no whales, no dolphins, and few flying fish, though we did enjoy an afternoon of weather good enough to sail naked.  There were a few nice sunrises and sunsets.  Amazingly, our only passage “casualty” was the aforementioned welcome mat; our rigging, sails and autopilot behaved perfectly despite a night of frequent 30 knot winds, topping out at 35 knots (admittedly, we were hove-to for a portion of it) and lots of 20+ knot winds beyond that. Other than what we tracked in from our wet cockpit, boat cabin even managed to stay dry though rain and sometimes raucous waves.

There was one notably entertaining exception this passage.

Around sunset of our 3rd day of sailing, several red-footed boobies circled our mast.  Two landed on our spreader bar, briefly.  They then moved atop the slippery solar panel mounted over our davits, squawking as they tried to establish purchase and territory. 

One won.

Getting wings ready to fly?  Not yet.  We didn’t actually see when the booby finally did take off….
It resettled atop our hoisted dinghy and stayed with us, to our amused surprise, hitch-hiking for about 75 miles.  It slept, shit (on both solar panels and our dinghy), groomed (and groomed and groomed) itself, even watched other birds of the same feather pass by until about 9:30 the next morning.  We’re not even sure the exact time it took flight, any more than what made it finally decide it was time to move on.

We appreciated the 15 hours or so of entertainment we got in an otherwise humdrum passage, even if it meant scraping its calling cards off our dinghy in Vanuatu.  The storms took care of cleaning the solar panel for us.

All in all, not that bad a long passage.  Still, while our sailboat may be called Journey, to us, when it comes to sailing long passages, it’s more about the destination – arrival -- than the journey. 

Booby or not, we are darned glad to be here, anchored, in Port Vila, Vanuatu.  Until, of course, we’re ready to move on to our next destination.

Location Location
This blog post was written anchored at Vanuatu’s Port Vila quarantine anchorage, S17.44.230 E168.18.594 and posted once we moved to Port Vila’s Yachting World Marina at S17.44.230 E168.18.594.  There are still some catch-up Fiji posts as wifi was periodically sketchy and we were too busy having fun and watching “Black Sails” at night.

This last-minute hitch-hiker, a flying fish, the “deer-in-the-headlights
of the sea” was down for the count.  We found him after we anchored in Vanuatu.
Cruising by the Numbers

Our sail from Fiji to Vanuatu was 525 miles.  Our Fiji passage was 1090 miles.  We’ve cruised just under 440 miles in Fiji, and 100 miles this cruising season in New Zealand.  That brought our New Zealand cruising total to 280 miles.  Since our December 2014 – November 2015 10,000+ mile passage from Florida to New Zealand, we’ve sailed just under 2150 miles, though most of it in just a few months.  While there will surely be an overnighter or two, we have two long, multi-day passages left this cruising season, from Vanuatu to New Caledonia, and from New Caledonia to Australia.  We expect to arrive in Australia by December.  There, we’ll sell our boat and return to work somewhere in the world, eventually, doing what, we’re not quite sure yet.  We figure successfully sailing a smallish, 40 year old without killing ourselves or each other to about 30 countries in 20,000+ miles should qualify us for something.