July 2015 - Vanuatu to Indonesia

1 July 2015   Ratua Island, Santo
I feel like we’re in a time warp.  In our first six weeks in Vanuatu we were totally immersed in the daily lives of the ni-Vanuatu people, going to traditional villages and seeing extraordinary things.  In contrast, our past ten days have been in and around Luganville, mostly anchoring next to tourist hotels.  I haven’t been on land or talked to a local for a week.

Tropical Depression TD17F is still forecast to intensify over the Solomons tomorrow and should then loop down past the Louisiades as it dissipates.  We’ll have to keep an eye on it, but it looks like a trough will pass over Vanuatu on the 3rd July, then we could leave with good South-east winds as long as the depression follows the forecast path.  If we leave and it heads more south then we could get some horrible weather.  All we can do it watch and wait. 

The contents of our aft lazarette

It was a nice sunny day, so I emptied the aft lazarette and spread everything out on the foredeck to dry in the sun.  When we came up from New Zealand, I neglected to close the locker lid tightly and we had so much water going over our decks that the lazarette filled with water.  This water then sneaked through a hole in the wall of the locker (where wires pass through to the stern arch) and down into our bilges.  Having cleaned the locker, I squeezed loads of silicone sealant into the hole and between the wires, so hopefully that little problem will be fixed.

Glenys continued working on the bimini panels.  She’s put clear plastic windows in the aft panel and one of the side panels, but then realised that we use the side panels as a sun shade and now the sun will (errr) shine through the window directly where we sit in the cockpit.  So she’s now had to install a flap that will cover the window - she finished the port side and only has the starboard one to do now. 

In the afternoon, we went on a mini-expedition with the other three boats to the “Blue Hole” on the nearby island of Malo.  It involved dinghying across the windy, bumpy, one-mile wide channel and into a small river.  I was glad we have a big AB dinghy and a 15hp engine - “Deese” and “Red Herring” only had 3.5hp engines and struggled against the 2-3 knot current.  

We meandered our way up the river, dodging low hanging branches, until it opened up into a large lagoon.  It wasn’t blue and it wasn’t fresh water, so we were a little disappointed, but the delightful trip up the river made it worthwhile.

2 July 2015   Ratua Island, Santo
The Tropical Depression has intensified and is now called Tropical Cyclone Raquel with sustained winds of 55 knots gusting to 70 knots.  It’s the first cyclone in this area in July since records began.   At the moment, it’s 750 miles to the north-west of us and is forecast to head south-west across the Louisiades, so we’d be very unlucky if it headed our way.  Unfortunately, the weather looks very unsettled for the next two weeks, so we’re not sure when we’ll get away from Vanuatu.

The new rain panels

I had a lazy day pottering about, looking at Indonesia, doing a couple of small jobs and I went snorkelling.  Glenys carried on with her sewing projects and has finally finished the rain protection panels for the bimini, which look good.  

While we’ve been waiting here in Ratua, we’ve been watching a movie each night and have just finished working our way through all seven Harry Potter movies - it’s time to leave before we’re tempted to watch all twenty three James Bond movies.

3 July 2015   Ratua Island, Santo
Cyclone Raquel is still hanging around over the Solomons, but the maximum sustained winds have been downgraded to 45 knots gusting 60 knots.  Interestingly, this Cyclone was spawned by “equatorial westerlies”.  This burst of upper level west winds started off from the Asian monsoon and produced eddies, helping create tropical lows.  At the same time that Cyclone Raquel was created, there were another three tropical lows in the northern hemisphere - two of these have turned into full blown Typhoons (Chan-Hom and Linfa) which are building to have sustained winds of 130 knots and 70 knots respectively.

There’s been a lot of discussion about this year being an “El Nino”, when the sea temperature is higher than normal.  During an El Nino episode, weather patterns tend to be drawn closer to the equator and the South Pacific Convergence zone tends to be tugged north and east of its normal position.  I wonder if El Nino is helping to spawn these Cyclones because there’s more heat energy stored in the atmosphere.


“Deese” are heading to Indonesia and are under time pressure to get there before their visas expire on the 23rd July, so they left today hoping that the cyclone behaves as forecast.  Theoretically, they should have good winds for a few days, but could then encounter the remnants of Cyclone Raquel - I hope that it disperses as predicted.

There were heavy showers for most of the day, so we had a quiet day pottering about then went for a snorkel in the afternoon.  As soon as we entered the water, I spotted two Octopuses having a fight, their colours flaring impressively as they wrestled.  One shot off leaving the victor standing proud on a coral head.  I started  to take photographs, but it was a challenge because the water was very murky and the octopus slunk into a hole or jetted off when I approached.  I did manage to get a couple of reasonable photos.

We invited Graham and Karen from “Red Herring” over for a few beers.  They’re heading to Indonesia and have been there before, so we picked up some interesting information.

4 July 2015   Ratua Island, Santo
The cyclone is now starting to weaken and it’s expected to be a Tropical Depression by tomorrow.  We’re now thinking going around to Luganville on Monday (6th) to clear out and probably leave in the afternoon.  The forecast is not ideal with rain at first then light winds later on, but we can’t wait any longer otherwise we won’t have any time in the Louisiades.

I managed to get a good internet connection (for a change) and spent practically all day, reading blogs on future destinations.  When I find a good blog, I print the entries as a PDF file, so that we can read them off line.  It takes a lot of time to organise and rename the files, so that they make sense on our iPad and allow us to do research while we’re sailing on long passages. 

The unpleasant Beachfront anchorage

Glenys made courtesy flags for Papua New Guinea and Indonesia and then chilled out.

5 July 2015   Ratua Island to Luganville, Santo
The weather looks reasonable to go tomorrow, so we pottered about in the morning tidying up, getting ready for sea and using the internet to do more research for the future - mostly looking at what we’ll be doing in Malaysia and Thailand next year.

We’re planning to be in South-east Asia for 15 months and then, in February 2017, expect to be sailing to Sri Lanka and across the Indian Ocean to South Africa.   In November this year, our son Craig and his girlfriend Kristen are meeting us in Thailand and our other son Brett is getting married in June 2016, so we’ll be flying back to the UK, but we’re not sure what we’re going to do for the rest of the time.  We have the South-west Monsoon to contend with between June and October which brings heavy rain, so it’s complicated.  

In the afternoon, we motored around to Luganville and anchored off the Beachfront Resort, which wasn’t too bad although it’s still a lee shore and choppy.  We carried on tidying up and, by nightfall, the boat was all ship-shape and we’re ready to clear out and do our final provisioning in the morning.  After so long lurking about in Ratua Island, we’re both a bit nervous about doing a long seven day passage.

6 July 2015  Luganville to The Louisiades (Day 1)
We were up early and on the beach by half past seven, clutching four, 5-gallon fuel cans and four bags of rubbish, which we've accumulated over the past four weeks.  Graham and Karen from "Red Herring" shared a taxi into town with us.  Our first stop was to drop off the rubbish.  There's no proper place to dump garbage in Luganville and the hotels want to charge $3 per bag to take it.  The locals seem to dump bags on certain street corners, so we did the same on a corner near to the vegetable market.

I dropped the fuel cans off at a garage to pick up later and then the taxi took us to the customs office to start the out-going clearance.  It was fairly painless apart from having to pay $110US for port fees. The process was: customs for form filling; port office to pay fees; customs office for issue of clearance; then immigration for more form filling and passports stamped.  

Nice sunset on the first day

Despite our worries about having illegally drunk 18 bottles of the duty free wine that we bought in Port Vila, the customs officer simply asked if we had the bottles of wine on board.  I truthfully told him that we did have the bottles, but neglected to tell him that some of them were empty...

I went to the garage to fill the jerry cans then caught a taxi back to the boat, while Glenys went to the market and supermarket to buy food.  By midday, we were both back on board and quickly had the food stowed away; the dinghy stowed on deck and were motoring down the channel just behind "Red Herring".

We were a little bit late with the tides and hit a 2.5 knot current against us at the south end of the channel, but were soon clear and following the southern coast of Santo.  After a couple of hours of motoring, we'd escaped land enough to get some wind and had a good downwind romp for five hours, sailing at 7 knots.  Unfortunately, the wind started to drop just after sunset and, by half past nine, we were only doing 2-3 knots.  The seas were still quite big, so our sails were slatting and banging, which sounds horrible, so I cracked up and turned on the engine.

By dawn, we were still motoring, but we don't have enough fuel to motor all the way to our destination, so we pulled out the sails and bumbled along at 2.5 knots.

7 July 2015  Luganville to The Louisiades (Day 2)
After breakfast, I dragged our asymmetrical spinnaker on deck and rigged it up, but the fickle wind wasn't enough to inflate it properly.  The swell was still 1-2 metres, so we were rolling causing the spinnaker to collapse and plaster itself on the shrouds.  I decided to leave it up for a while but, while I was down below getting our daily weather forecast, the trip line caught on the pulpit and released the tack, so we dropped the spinnaker and started the engine again.

This morning's GRIB file forecasts that the wind should be from the north-east for the next two days with speeds of 5-12 knots and then we should have winds up to 20 knots from the south-east.  For some strange reason, we had very light south-east winds and, despite trying to sail several times, we ended up motoring for most of the morning.  

Sailing upwind

In the afternoon, the wind veered to the west and picked up to 7 knots, allowing us to sail upwind for an hour, then dropped below 5 knots again  - engine on.  The wind then veered further to the north-east, but stayed too light to sail.  Very strange weather, but I guess that a low pressure cell has passed to the south of us  - probably a remnant of Cyclone Raquel.

By five o'clock, I was feeling very frustrated and worried because we've already used 1/6th of our fuel in just over a day with 10 days sailing remaining before we get to Port Moresby - there's no diesel for sale in the Louisiades.

After dinner, the wind picked up to 7 knots from the north-east, which was good enough to sail, but we still had a 1 metre swell causing the sails to continually collapse.  I put a tight preventer on the main boom and rigged up our spinnaker pole to port for the genoa, which helped a lot and got us moving at 2.5 to 3 knots - sailing at last!  

By ten o'clock, we had 9-12 knots from the north-east (as forecast), which allowed us to sail on a very pleasant broad reach for the rest of the night.  In particular, my 1-4 watch was lovely, gliding along at 4-5 knots with the moon and stars to gaze at.