Passage to Vanuatu – part 1

We finally slipped away from Vuda Marina, Fiji, at around 14.15 on Friday 10 August bound for Vanuatu. We wouldn’t usually leave on a Friday (superstition and all that) but this is a tricky distance. It is 545 miles to Port Vila on the island of Efate, assuming you could sail directly in the direction you want to go. That equates to four and a half days at our usual cruising speed of 5 knots. We want to avoid arriving at night (so we may need to slow down as we get closer); we do not want to check in at a weekend (lots of customs overtime fees); we need to get there before Thursday which is a public holiday (more fees); and we want to make the most of this benign weather window. So practicalities won over superstition in the decision-making process.

The sea was flat and the sky was blue but the minimal forecast wind was on our nose as expected. We motored down the coast towards the main shipping channel – the Navula passage – hoping to get through before dusk. We arrived into the cut as the sun was going down and we watched a spectacular sunset along with a green flash. Woo hoo.

As we moved away from Fiji, Richard retired and I did the first watch. The (almost full) moon showed me the way and the conditions were great with moderate airs and flat seas and we were sailing nicely along on a reach at five+ knots. Richard stood the next watch and came across two large fishing boats. Then I took the midnight to 3am shift and spotted lights to port. There was no AIS signal so I checked the radar and acquired the target. As I closed in on the vessel the AIS signal finally appeared and the large Chinese ship travelling at 5 knots was on a collision course with us. I left it a while to see if he would change course but nothing apparent so I radioed Yuan Wang 5. Main questions: are you a fishing vessel? Do you have lines or nets? No reply. Eventually they responded and it turns out he was a 722 foot cargo ship and wants to know my intention. So I told him I would pass behind his stern and turned 20 degrees to port. He replied that he was going to hold his position and speed so all was well. Once he was comfortable with our courses and relative positions he decided to have a chat – amazed we were sailing – apparently we are so very brave LOL. As I passed his stern he turned and ran parallel for a while then crossed a couple of miles behind my stern, so it would appear he was going around in circles for some reason.

By the time we had swapped shifts again we were sailing along in about 14 knots of breeze running downwind. The sea state, however, had deteriorated as the wind swung behind us and it was very rocky and rolly. Richard had a large gin palace come close by on his shift and by the time we saw the sun come up there has been another couple of tankers. Wasn’t really expecting quite so much traffic on this route.

Saturday 11 August the sun came up and it was turning into another lovely day.

There were lots of birds of paradise flying around us and we enjoyed being at sea again – just wish it would stop rolling! During the day the wind decreased and Richard decided to start fishing…..and, within half an hour, he had caught a lovely little tuna which he promptly gutted and filleted with the fillets going into the freezer. Lots of clearing up to do so he decided one fish a day was enough LOL.

Later on, just after we had eaten dinner, we decided to run our engine to charge the batteries. Almost immediately water stopped coming out the stern. Bloody hell – not again! We have spent two months in Fiji without any problems since the engine was serviced and the system was thoroughly checked out on our arrival. But nothing we can do in the hours of darkness when the engine is too hot to work on. So we went into our normal shift patterns overnight and used the portable generator to top up the batteries.

This morning, Sunday, 12 August and we were sailing slowly downwind only managing 3.5 knots speed over ground in 8 knots of breeze. Richard had his head down the hole taking the engine apart while I stayed in the cockpit keeping the boat moving forward. Thankfully the sea state had reduced with only about a 1.5m swell right now.

Within half an hour Richard had identified and fixed a water leak as it came into the system; had removed and reinstalled the impeller (just in case) and topped up the oil and tightened the fan belt (while he was there). We cautiously started the engine and voila she started first time, good water flow out the back, and we are back in business. Phew!

The wind reduced to 6 knots so we are now gently motor sailing towards our destination (only 339 miles to go). All is well on the good ship Morpheus.

Bye for now