May 2015 - Vanuatu

1 May 2015   Opua, New Zealand
After breakfast, I did some running around buying a few more spare parts and doing some errands.  Meanwhile, Glenys did a load of washing at the laundrette in-between working on the bimini. In the middle of the morning, while the tide was slack, we went to the fuel dock and filled up with diesel.  By waiting until the day before we leave we were able to buy fuel at duty free prices.

Glenys finished the bimini in the middle of the afternoon and it looks great. I lashed the dinghy on the front deck and made us ship-shape on deck.  

The rally heading for Tonga while we go north

Our front cabin has become a dumping ground for bags of supplies for Vanuatu, so we emptied it, so that I could get our spinnaker and series storm drogue from under the berth, in case we need them during our passage.  We then carefully repacked the space with the supplies for Vanuatu and dumped the spinnaker on top. The storm drogue weighs a ton and has been dumped on the floor.

The saloon still looks like a bomb has hit it, but we called it a day at six o'clock and went for a few drinks with Bob and Sue on "Mawari" - they are planning to go up to Vanuatu in a week's time, so we should bump into them again.

2 May 2015   New Zealand to Vanuatu (Day 1)
We were up early doing the last minute jobs.  We cleared out just after nine o'clock; had the duty free booze delivered; paid the marina bill; filled up with water; made some lee cloths to hold supplies under the saloon table; stored all the booze away and checked the engine.  By the time we motored out of the marina at eleven o'clock, we were exhausted.

There's a rally of 30 boats sailing to Tonga and they've picked today to leave, so there was a constant stream of yachts motoring out of the marina and out to sea.  Many yachts now have AIS transponders, so we could see the rally boats on our chart plotter all heading north-east, while we seem to be the only yacht going north to Vanuatu.

The weather was beautiful with blue skies and sunshine, but as forecast, there was no wind, so we were forced to motor in the mirror-smooth water.  The afternoon went quickly (especially for me because I went to bed for three hours) and we had a fabulous sunset, reflected on the calm seas.

By eight o'clock, we had an 8 knot ENE wind, which was a teaser - not quite enough to sail.  I pulled out the sails, but we just slowed down to less than 4 knots.  An hour later, the wind picked up enough to sail.  It was lovely and peaceful for a few minutes, then I heard a strange knocking.  

I discovered that the carbon bearing for our PSS stern gland was knocking against the propeller shaft.  This was very annoying because I'd gone to the trouble of refitting it and aligning the engine to get rid of this problem.  There was nothing that I could do apart from tying a piece of 3mm cord to pull it to port, which has at least stopped the irritating knocking sound.

Bashing North

Unfortunately, the knocking started again while I was in bed during Glenys's 10-1 watch, so by the time I got up at one o'clock, I'd come up with a plan.  The PSS gland has a rubber bellow that pushes the carbon bearing against a stainless steel ring, so I reckoned that I needed to increase the pressure by sliding the ring aft and compress the bellows.  

We hove-to and I spent 30 minutes lying head-down across the engine to sort it out.  It all went well, but it was a bit scary because I had to make sure there was always pressure on the seal otherwise the sea would come rushing in.  By the end of the job, I was feeling a little nauseous, so I'm glad that the waves had only built to 2-3 feet.

The rest of the night was lovely, sailing along at 5-6 knots on a close reach under a full moon.  It was pretty, but also damn cold.  By three o'clock, I was wearing four layers including a down gilet, thermal trousers and a wooly hat.  I'm looking forward to getting to the tropics.

3 May 2015   New Zealand to Vanuatu (Day 2)
First thing in the morning, I downloaded a weather GRIB file via our satellite phone and the forecast for the next few days is for 20-30 knot winds continuing from the ENE. Our rhumb line course would be 345 degrees, but we're trying to head directly north in case the wind backs.  This course puts the wind at 60-70 degrees off the starboard bow, so we're just knuckling down and accepting that we have to endure going upwind in the building seas.

Most of our day was spent adapting to constant motion and life on three hour watches.  After five months without any real sailing, we've lost our sea legs.  We're not in any danger of throwing up, but both of us are a bit under the weather and feel the need to stare at the horizon every so often.

During the afternoon, we had 25 knot winds, gusting 30 knots and confused 2-3 metre seas, so the motion was horrible.  After nightfall, a mini weather system went through giving us gusts up to 35 knots.  I turned downwind for ten minutes and put another reef in the main and the staysail.  Once the system had gone through, I turned back onto our northerly course. The rest of the night was very unpleasant and cold, but at least we have a full moon.

4 May 2015   New Zealand to Vanuatu (Day 3)
We had a miserable morning.  The clouds built up and we had a few squalls that gave us 35 knot gusts and confused seas.

Every ten minutes or so, we get a huge wave thundering across the deck, smashing into the windscreen and exploding into spray.  We zipped a side flap onto our bimini that is supposed to keep water out of the cockpit, but it's not working with this amount of water, so everything in the cockpit is soaking wet through.  We now have to wear waterproofs all the time.

Getting Worse

The skies cleared a little in the afternoon, but the wind increased to 30 knots and the seas built to a 3 metre swell plus wind waves making it a real roller coaster ride.

After a very grey dull sunset, the full moon came out and it would have been a beautiful night apart from the howling wind and crashing waves.

5 May 2015   New Zealand to Vanuatu (Day 4)
It's all turning into a blur now.  The 30 knot winds continued all day with the remorseless waves knocking us around.  There seem to be bands of clouds which we pass under for a few hours giving us gusty conditions and then the sun comes out for a few hours.

We've fallen into our normal routine, where Glenys has a nap in the morning and I sleep in the afternoon.  The motion of the boat has been so horrible and the cockpit so wet, that neither of us want to spend much time sitting in the cockpit, so we've both been sleeping as much as we can. Consequently, we only see each other for 30 minutes at meal times and for five minutes at the change of our three hour watches at night.

The weather forecast is another three days of 20-25 knot winds from the same direction and then we'll run into a low pressure trough as we approach Vanuatu.  It's a bit early to be certain, but I'm hoping that the trough will be weak and we won't be hammered too much.

By the evening, the wind had dropped to 25 knots and the seas looked a little less scary, so I let out a couple of wraps from our heavily reefed staysail.  Within an hour, I was rolling it away again as the wind picked up to 30+ knots and off we went again. By one o'clock, it had dropped again, so I let out a bit more staysail.

The wind continued to be frustrating for the rest of the night, dropping as low as 20 knots, then picking up to 30 knots.  We only have a small amount of sail out, so this 40% variation in wind speed has been radically altering our boat speed - sometimes we're hammering along at 7 knots and then ten minutes later, we're underpowered and only doing 4 knots or even less when we get stopped by the big waves.

Off watch

6 May 2015   New Zealand to Vanuatu (Day 5)
We passed the halfway mark this morning and it's getting noticeably warmer - there was even a flying fish on the deck which is a good sign.  The wind remained inconsistent for most of the day at 18-28 knots and there were no squalls.

The GRIB file forecasts that the low pressure trough is going to be stronger than I would like and we may be in for a rough ride in a couple of days.  This trough is being formed by the SPCZ bubbling southwards and covers a huge area about 500 miles wide, so it's difficult to avoid it.  Even if we hove-to where we are, it would come down and get us.  

Vanuatu is on a bearing of 335 degrees from our current position, so my current strategy is to keep heading as near to north as we can and then head west when the NE winds hit us.  I just hope that it's not too bad and there's no lightning, which always fills me with dread.

I had a bit of a scare in the afternoon.  I found about a gallon of water sloshing about in the bilge under the engine and another gallon in the main bilge.  At first I thought that the pipe that I'd replaced on the engine sea water strainer was leaking, but eventually traced it to water coming out of another bilge in the back of the boat.  

The mattress on my bed on the port side was wet and it looks like we've taken so much water over the decks that the aft lazarette has flooded and the water is slowly draining through to the bilge and also into a cupboard above my bed.  I've tightened the hatch for the aft lazarette and will keep an eye on it.

After dark the wind dropped to 18-23 knots, so I unfurled the main sail a little and let out all of the staysail.  We mostly had a very nice night because the waves reduced to 2 metres in the relatively light winds, but a couple of squalls came through giving 30 knot winds and forcing us to run downwind for ten minutes.  Glenys had a fright when a Flying Fish flew into the cockpit and flapped about - it made a right smelly mess of the cockpit floor.

7 May 2015   New Zealand to Vanuatu (Day 6)
I think that we've finally settled into this passage.  It was sunny in the morning and the seas were only a couple of metres high.  Despite being 20 degrees heeled to port all the time, we had a very pleasant day.  It was totally overcast in the afternoon, but warm enough that it didn't matter.

It's getting better

I checked the engine compartment this afternoon and there was about a litre of water in there, which I'm hoping is just some existing water in the aft bilges filtering through.  I'll have to do some more detailed investigations when we get to our destination to sort out this irritating problem.  The good news is that the adjustment that I did to the PSS seal a few days ago seems to have worked because it's not making a knocking noise any more.

The latest weather forecast shows the low pressure trough hitting us around dawn tomorrow, so we're continuing to follow a course 50 miles to the east of the rhumb line.  This will allow us to head west when the wind backs to the north-east (or even north).  We're expecting 12 hours of rain and gusty winds and not looking forward to it.

The weather stayed pleasant up to midnight with steady 20-25 knot winds although it was very dark with the thick covering of cloud.  A few rain showers passed over us giving a little more wind, but nothing too bad.  The worst thing about the night was waiting to see what the trough will bring.