VANUATU HERE WE COME

May-June 2023

Or

How to have an unwanted learning experience, or

It shouldn’t take 3 weeks to get to Vanuatu, or

The Weather Always Wins, or

No, Things won’t get better just because you hope they will.

“This is what you should not do,

Let this be a lesson to you.”

Papa Berenstain Bear to Baby Bear, ‘The Bicycle Lesson’, Dr. Seuss.

In late March, we had ‘Opal Lady’ hauled out at Port Douglas for a hull clean and new antifoul, prior to heading off to New Caledonia with ‘AraRoa’ (Terry and Jenny, on their Nordhavn 60, who we have been buddying with for some time now). 

In April, we moved down to Cairns to prepare for leaving Australia.  Cairns is one of the ports where boats can clear out of Australia, and Taz needed his export papers signed off by the Government Veterinarian who is also based in Cairns.  Then Terry broke the sad news that the ‘AraRoa’ crew couldn’t come to New Caledonia with us this season.  We plan to meet them in New Zealand in November.  Then, at the end of April, ‘Mad Macs’ (John and Tracy, who we also cruise with) declared that they had decided to go to the US across the Pacific and would be going to Vanuatu and doing some diving there; so we changed plans to accompany them across to Vanuatu instead.

Come May and my preparations now consisted of re-stocking pantry supplies. I had been destocking in readiness for New Caledonia (they prefer boats bring in as little as possible).  Now I was re-stocking for at least 3 months in Vanuatu, where as long as it’s not pork or honey, you can bring in your own supplies (more so now, as they were hit by two cyclones in March, so they probably need all their own supplies themselves).  We contacted Border Force and Biosecurity and started waiting for the right weather window.  

Sometimes Peter does get carried away with himself. He went out to polish the car for an appraisal in preparation for selling it and came back saying it was sold and we had best hit the supermarkets before he handed the keys over the next day!  We have put 50 000km on that little Holden Barina and had a ball driving up and down the Queensland coast as we moved the boat around.  But it was now time to really cut ties with Australia for a few years, so the little car had to go.  While we were waiting, we also sold Peter’s electric bike, as we didn’t expect there to be many cycle paths where we were going.

Then we were informed that the Government Veterinarian was leaving at the beginning of June and we were running out of time for sorting Taz’ paperwork (dangerous thinking). [I have/will write another blog entry about the process for exporting the boat, exporting the cat and refueling for export.  Nothing is especially difficult, except the timing, and that is very problematic when you are leaving on a boat]

So, May became somewhat frustrating with the weather not being co-operative at all. For this long trip we were using the services of ‘Met Bob’.  He is a very well-known and experienced weather forecaster and route planner for vessels traveling in this area of the Pacific. When I first contacted Bob about possible windows in May he sent back a link to the music from ‘O Fortuna’ (very dark and brooding) – not very promising.  About this time the Mac’s received some news that would delay their leaving until mid-June, so they would have to meet us in Vanuatu.

Finally in the last week of May we got the word that a marginal weather window was opening up on Saturday 27th.  The weather east of Cairns was still not great but with pressure on us due to the imminent departure of the Government Vet we decided it was good enough.  FUNDAMENTAL MISTAKE. The golden rule we have always abided by on this boat is to not have a schedule (we had done enough prior reading to know that it usually ended in tears). Unfortunately, we forgot this in the pressure of conflicting issues and decided to go with the marginal (this despite my having a list of alternative plans for getting the feline to Vanuatu).

So, it was all out moderate chaos.  We refueled the boat on Friday morning, then spent the rest of the day finalising the paperwork for Taz (involving visiting 2 vets twice in the one day – I got the paperwork incorrectly signed – mia culpa).  While waiting in the Vet’s office we booked Border Force for a clearance on Saturday morning.  Then while I waited in the Government Vet’s office, Peter had our phones sorted for going overseas for an extended period of time.  And then on the way back to the boat in the afternoon, after a month on GumTree,  we received an offer for the purchase of the fire pump (that had been sealed up in a box on the front of the boat for 3 years).  We handed that over in the marina car park on Friday night, after completing the installation of the new Starlink dish onto the pilot house roof in the evening (AustPost had lost it 3 weeks ago and the replacement had just arrived) – oh the timing, timing, timing!  I’m pretty sure we fitted a meal in there somewhere, but who can really recall. It was not a relaxing day and left us exhausted before we’d even started out. Thanks so much to Terry and Jenny loaning us their car for the day.

MetBob had come up with the best plan he could, that required us to go south inside the reef, until we got to the Whitsundays, before heading east.  The idea was to minimise exposure to the worst of the weather – it seemed a good idea.

Bye Bye

In my diary, Saturday 27th May has the notation ‘attempt at Leaving Day #5’. At 9:40am, Terry and Jenny on ‘AraRoa’ waved us goodbye as we left our Cairns berth for the last time (and for those of you who are observant, I did finally remember to pull in that last ball fender from out the back).

We knew the trip south would not be as pleasant cruising as we would like but resigned ourselves to some rough weather. This indeed turned out to be the case as we bashed our way into short sharp seas with the winds at times over 20knots.  But we thought that this would just be for the leg south and worth the effort in the end.

Washing the front deck again?

I would post a photo of Taz, but his seasick drooling would put a St Bernard to shame.  Peter doesn’t get seasick and I don’t get seasick in the conventional way, but I do get incredibly thirsty and very tired.  I recently discovered that this is a form of seasickness, but I think far preferable to the throwing up kind. I just have to work at staying awake when on watch.

On Monday morning (29th May) we got word from MetBob that conditions had deteriorated outside the reef and we would be better to wait a couple of days before heading out.  We had asked the Border Force chappies about how quickly you have to exit Australian waters after being checked out and the response was ‘in a reasonable period of time’.  After the pounding we had endured on Sunday, we were quite happy to stop for a short ‘reasonable’ rest. After a quick look at the charts, we headed for the west side of Gloucester Island out of the wind. We had stopped here a couple of years ago and knew it was a good anchorage and as it was out of the way we thought it should be ok with Border Force.

Here is Taz is catching rays on the other side of a very salty window.  He really likes the boat…when it’s not moving.  The following day was spent just lazing around on the boat and doing some minor resecuring tasks.  We had the Bay to ourselves until a small yacht, that looked like it was also taking shelter from the winds, came in later in the day.

We decided to move to Hook Island on Wednesday, so that we are close enough to get through the reef during daylight hours on Thursday.  The trip to Hook Island would usually be a 5 hour trip. Unfortunately, the winds were well above 20 knots and at times over 30 knots. This meant we were bashing our way head on into very sharp short waves for 7 hours – not fun at all. What was good, was that Taz had found his sea legs and just slept the whole way. With great relief we pulled into Stonehaven Bay around 2:15pm and picked up a mooring. After dealing with a high temperature light that appeared on the inverter when we started the genset in the evening (some of the boxes in the lazarette had moved and the space in front of the inverter was blocked – it needs good ventilation to keep it’s cool, so we rearranged the space and secured the boxes – all good), we had a quick tea and an early night as we wanted to be lifting the anchor as soon as first light appeared to make the most of the next day.

Bye Bye mainland Australia.  06:15 and we are heading for, and then through, the reef.

Thursday (1st June) we finally started our journey eastwards through the Great Barrier Reef. The weather was much kinder with 16 knot winds.  We had some rolling, as we had beam on seas until we got behind the first set of reefs, then everything seemed to settle down – but no, this was just the lull before the storm. Nightfall on Thursday saw us finally outside the Great Barrier Reef and in the open ocean.

Sunset 1st June – nothing but ocean all around.

We had sent our PredictWind link to family and friends and as a result both our Mothers probably knew where we were more accurately than we did at times.  We realised this when a few days later Mother-in-Law sent a text that just said “it must be a bit rough as you are down to 3.9 knots”.  And while trying to reassure them that it was all fine – she was definitely not wrong. And then my Mother mentioned that we did seem to be traveling through a lot of red and she was used to seeing more blue and green – she was not wrong either.

The next 5 days were horrific. We could not avoid the weather no matter how much MetBob had us zigzagging across, and so just had to endure the conditions. The winds were well over 20 knots with large disturbed seas making travelling very uncomfortable. It was literally like riding a bucking horse, with no way to get off.  The boat was pitching 30 degrees up and 20 degrees down at times. To make it worse the boat was also rolling heavily, even with the stabilisers working their little hearts out.  Peter discovered that there is an excessive roll alarm on the stabilisers (we think the fin actually came out of the water). Naff all we could do about that but work out how to turn off the rather pointless alarm. At times we would be in troughs where the top of the next wave and swell were higher than the roof of the pilot house and rising far too close to the front of the boat. We don’t mind this when the swells are long and gentle, but when they are as steep and as close together as we had, it is just not fun at all.

With the boat having to deal with these sort of seas two things happen.  Firstly, you slow right down.  So instead of doing 6 knots we could only manage 3.5 and at times less, so you end up staying even longer in the bad weather. Secondly, things start to move despite being securely tied down. This meant there were a few times when we had to slow the boat down to just above idle while Peter went out on deck (in his life jacket) to re-secure items.

Peter and the anchor again

The anchor was a repeat offender and kept working itself just loose enough to lift up and smash down on it’s roller every time we hit a wave (and we were hitting a few) – I had visions of it shearing the roller axle and then attempting to take out the front of the boat. This external-vehicular-activity culminated on the 3rd night out with both Peter and myself on the top deck, in 35 knot winds and pitching seas, at 2:30am, putting every strap I could find, on over and around the tender.  It had worked itself loose (the force on the holding straps had bent the aluminium crease at the back of the tender and allowed it to start moving) and it had developed a very disturbing bumping sound on every wave and an even more disturbing sliding motion along it’s cradle rails (forward would end up putting the motor into the stack cupboard and backwards would end up with it hanging over the end of the boat – it is amazing what the mind can picture happening). NOT GOOD. On the lighter side, we would have looked quite funny doing our impressions of limpets as we crawled around the pitching deck, while reminding each other to “Hold Fast” and sundry threats about where the marital vows drew lines regarding the perils of falling overboard.

Sunrise on the 4th June.  I am not a morning person (as you should all well know by now), but at the moment sunrises are ok as they mark the end of my night shift.  What I would really like to know is how is it possible that this photo looks so benign? You just can’t show what it was like in a photo (I tried taking some video inside the boat, but it was too bumpy).

Taz stopped talking to me two days ago.  He works on an 80/20 split with the syringes of water (80% on me and 20% in him).  The galley and salon carpet are a mess, but I’ve given up caring, I’ll deal with that if I ever see calm seas again.  I’ve moved the kitty tray from downstairs up to the galley; that way I can just lift Taz into it (it’s also handy in the galley for keeping the pot cupboard from sliding open with every roll – it’s push lock broke).  He is peeing every day and stays on his stool in between times.  Last night I was laughing at Taz as he looked like he was captaining his stool across the carpet as it was inched around by the wave action.  Like a good Captain he didn’t abandon ship and just dug his claws further into the upholstery. 

Homemade Bircher Muesli makes for a nutritious and easy to eat breakfast; it has an excellent ‘stick to the spoon’ quotient and doesn’t need heating.  I’ve given up drinking tea – it’s too hard to make and carry, even in Peter’s covered cup.  He is persisting with his coffee, but isn’t using the coffee machine, as it has removable parts that keep removing themselves.  The kettle is industrial Velcro-ed to the counter and hasn’t moved, but there is still the stress of timing the pour to deal with.  Note the feet position in the photo – I think I have developed extra muscles on my toes from bracing.

Although extremely uncomfortable, we never felt unsafe on ‘Opal Lady’.  She just kept on chugging away until finally, late on Tuesday evening (6th June) we entered the very large lagoon of the Chesterfield Reef system.  This very remote reef is north-west of New Caledonia and about halfway to Vanuatu (who would have thought there was anything out here?). The ocean floor rises from 2500m deep to just 30m over a very short distance. Immediately we entered the lagoon the swell dropped off.  We had an hour run down to a nice anchorage in 10m of water, at the south end of the lagoon.

One of the many islets of the Chesterfield Reef system

The Chesterfield Reefs belong to New Caledonia, so are French territory and usually boats need prior permission to be there.  We didn’t have this permission as we had not originally planned to be there.  Within two hours of our arrival a French plane buzzed us and asked if we were all right and what were our intentions. They were very polite, agreed the weather was ‘merde’ and said we could stay until Friday when it was expected to settle a bit.  We are the only ones here and the French are very protective of this totally awesome area.  They patrol regularly, as I understand there have been illegal fishing vessels in the area.  We can’t fish as it’s a Marine Park or go ashore as we aren’t checked into New Caledonia (so that would be trespassing) so we’ll just have to sleep and eat – ok by me.  MetBob wants us to leave on Thursday, but I’m with the French; wake me on Friday. 

Mum commented about how nice it was that we have the French around; I did feel the need to correct her.  It was nice that the French were friendly; they weren’t there for our benefit.  We aren’t supposed to be here as we haven’t checked into New Caledonia.  But the ‘Law of the Sea’, allows for boats to shelter from very bad weather or to make repairs where they need, on whoever’s territory they are closest to.  You can’t force boats away that will possibly sink and cause more trouble – makes sense.  But there can, and has been, a goodly deal of variation in interpretation by some parties involved.  So, we were very relieved that the French were friendly and understanding. 

[It’s called ‘The Right of Innocent Passage’ and is one of the oldest and most universally recognised rules of public international law.  Article 17 of the Geneva Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III Right of Innocent Passage) states that ships of all states enjoy the right of innocent passage through territorial waters.  Passage is defined under Article 18 to mean; navigation through territorial waters for the purpose of traversing that sea without entering internal waters or port facilities, and shall be continuous and expeditious. However, such passage includes stopping and anchoring, but only in so far as the same are incidental to ordinary navigation or are rendered necessary by force majeure or distress or for the purpose of rendering assistance to persons, ships or aircraft in danger or distress.  Article 19 states that Innocent Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal state.]

Suz summary; Boats can travel through a country’s water space as long as they don’t make trouble and don’t dilly dally.  But you can stop or slow down to allow for eg. tides, Mother Nature chucking a tanty, repairs of an “else we’ll sink” nature, or to help someone in trouble.

The boat got a little wash on Wednesday when some bands of rain went through.  They left behind a lovely rainbow.  Unfortunately, there was not enough rain to clean off the leftovers from 15 perching boobies last night.  They have repainted the bow a chalky white and some of their friends are working on the tender and boat deck in bright glittery green; it looks like it is radioactive.

Suz just hanging with the locals
One of the Locals

Red Footed Boobie Birds; the beak is baby powder blue and they have absolutely no fear of humans. 

Real estate is at a premium out here.

Thursday evening, we dined on steak, bbq’d by a happy Peter rocking out with ACDC.  The birds didn’t seem to mind a bit of good rock music.

And I caught up on some well overdue grooming of the boat cat. Taz usually gets a good brush every morning on one of the fish boards out the back. Neither of us has been inclined to worry about it for the last few days (can’t imagine why?)

On Friday we started the engine in preparation for leaving and immediately a nasty little alarm started screaming it’s head off.  There was a serious hydraulic oil leak on the port stabiliser.  This would have to be fixed before we went anywhere – what a pain.

The wonders of StarLink; 1000km from anywhere (well, Mackay Australia, Noumea New Caledonia or Port Vila Vanuatu) and Peter can ‘phone a friend’ for advice about the f###ing stabilisers.

After careful inspection and Peter’s conversation with Gary from Stella in Brisbane (who deals with our stabilisers) we worked out that a seal on the hydraulic ram had failed. Fortunately, as part of our spares, we carry hydraulic hose caps, so Peter removed the hoses to the hydraulic ram and capped them off. This now meant we would have only one working stabiliser, but at least we had solved the losing oil issue.  And even more fortunate, we had enough spare hydraulic oil to refill the system.  The other good piece of news was that we had caught it early, so all the oil we had lost was contained in the bilge and none had gone outside the boat (you don’t want to be the boat that lets oil out into a Marine Park). Doing the work around took most of Friday.  When we finally got to looking at the weather, Sunday looked horrible and with only one stabiliser we needed reasonable conditions. We decided that based on this we would stay at Chesterfield for the weekend and leave early on Monday when conditions looked much more favourable. I had been keeping the French informed (via email) as we progressed, so they knew where we were at. Saturday was spent tidying up after the repairs and removing the oil in the bilge to a spare oil container (no boat should be without an empty oil drum).  Even after that, I decided not to leave the lower bilge pump on automatic until we were well outside the reef, just in case it pumped any residual oil overboard.

Our small manual oil pump proved to be too difficult to use in the confines of the bilge, so we used a soup ladle – a very slow process.  Unfortunately, it seems Peter doesn’t have a license for operating a soup ladle!

Our last sunset before leaving Chesterfield.

Our hope was that after the dreadful conditions we had encountered on the first half of the trip, the second half would be much better. Again, we were disappointed, with winds averaging over 20 knots and steep seas.  You have to be very careful moving around the boat in these conditions, as it was very easy to get thrown unexpectedly and an injury out here would not be good. I had developed an impressive array of bruises by the time we arrived at Chesterfield – not from impacts, but just from the force of bracing against counters, doors, walls etc.

Taz is not amused and is just over it all.  He has gone to sleep on his chair with notice not to wake him until next Friday.  My nausea has abated (I have to force myself to eat as that does help) but I have found that my legs are incredibly tired when moving, even though they can remain rock solid when bracing.  I’m sure the cruising lifestyle is good for your health, really.

On Wednesday we were passing through the Grand Passage to the north of New Caledonia; not really anything to see as it is very wide between mostly low reefs.  The ocean floor rises from 3.5km to 500m in this area.  There are a couple of pillars that come up to 150-200m.  Fortunately, Peter was sleeping as I’m sure it would have been an amazing area for fishing, if we could have managed to get a line out safely – what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.  As if to prove the point, we passed through 3 flocks of at least 100 birds, fishing and just sitting on the water.  I think they were Boobies; I saw blue beaks and although they looked like little torpedoes in the air, they were hilariously clumsy getting themselves airborne.

Thursday 15th June and we got a respite when the winds settling down to 15 knots, which was almost pleasant.  It was handy too because we had to go up on the top deck and hoist the Q flag.  Actually, we cable tied it to the HF antenna.  We are in Vanuatuan waters.  I did need to explain the Q flag to friends who were concerned that it meant we had contracted the plague out here and were not well.  My sister suggested that it stood for foreigners, which is basically correct.  It shows that we haven’t officially cleared into the country.  When we get to Port Vila, we will do Customs, Immigration and Biosecurity formalities, then we take the yellow flag down and put the Vanuatu flag up in its place. 

We have 200nm to go and my mother swears the little red dot on PredictWind looks happier!

Just another night shift – red curry vegetable soup tonight.  Mind you shortly after this photo was taken we had a tanker cross in front of us – miles away, but you take your distractions where you can.

By Friday conditions had deteriorated again.  But by now we were getting close to Vanuatu and getting excited that the end was in sight. There was however one final twist.  It was clear that no matter how much we slowed down or sped up, we would arrive in Port Vila at night, which neither of us were keen to do. Peter tried to cut diagonals during his morning shift to eat up the time, but there wasn’t any angle that didn’t seem to involve excessive rolling, so reluctantly we turned the boat around and headed back west for 3 hours before turning around again and resuming our course. Running with the conditions behind us was positively delightful. Prior to this manoeuvre, we sent out a message to the PredictWind watchers to warn them what we were about to do, lest they jump to conclusions and contact every emergency service this side of the Pacific. By this time, as you can imagine we were all pretty much over this trip.

OMG it’s real land!

As dawn arrived on Saturday 17th June, the island of Efate and the lights of Port Vila appeared in front of us. What a welcome sight. By 7:15am we were safely anchored near the quarantine buoy in the harbour and the engine fell silent. We knew that Customs did not work on the weekend, but I yoohoo’d them on the radio just in case someone was at the office (and I could honestly say on Monday, that I had tried to hail them as per their instructions).  While I radioed and shut the boat systems down, Peter cooked up a big feed of bacon and scrambled eggs, Taz complained he had been kept out of the bacon distribution, he wolfed down an entire tin of cat food instead, and then we all proceeded to sleep for the next 2 days.

The Takeaways From This Experience:

This was the trip from hell and the first key takeaway is that it was self-inflicted as we broke our golden rule and tried to meet a schedule. We have agreed this must never happen again and if in doubt we will wait.  Cruising is meant to be fun and not the unnecessary ordeal we put ourselves through. 

I’ll put a line in the budget for flights and boarding for Taz, so that no matter how expensive or tedious that would be, the timing restrictions on his travel don’t have to affect our decisions.  Terry had offered to look after Taz for us in Cairns, and I had a list of alternatives, one of which was having a professional transport company clear Taz out of Brisbane and him meeting us in Vanuatu – but it is amazing how you can lose your sense of reality and flexibility when you are stressed and under the pump.

This trip also reinforced our faith in how strong and well-designed our little ship is.  As long as we look after her, she will look after us.

The ‘StarLink’ satellite communication system, that we had hastily installed before leaving, turned out to be a real game changer.  While we know that we have the experience and the boat to do this trip on our own, knowing that we can phone a friend to help with a repair (thankyou John Mac), or just for a general complain (thankyou Terry) or just to keep in contact (thankyou Jenny for the photos of land) it all helps with managing stress.  It also meant that we could keep friends and family updated with photos via our WhatsApp groups.  Good for them to know we were ok, and I found it quite therapeutic working out the wording for each day’s update, and waiting for the replies about how life was going back home. We are indeed creatures that need to communicate.

Provisions and Considerations:

We put the storm covers on the large salon windows, on the starboard side, as we knew this would be the side of the boat that would be getting hit by the seas all the way across.  We did debate whether we should bother with this because while they are simple enough to bolt on, getting the large Perspex sheets out of their hiding places is time consuming. I’m glad we did bother to install them.

Noise contributes to stress – a lot.  The sound of things moving and bumping and smashing sets me on edge.  So, I spent a lot of time at the start of each off-shift hunting down the various noises.  It will take quite a while to find all the toilet rolls, stubby holders, tea towels and bathroom flannels that have been jammed into places to stop rattling, rolling, clinking, bumping, grating and smashing.  I even resorted to using undies for service duty in the drinks cupboard – note to self to get them out before we get inspected at Port Vila as it wouldn’t give a good impression to the Customs people [I forgot, but we didn’t get inspected, so no shocks].  My noise cancelling headphones were a God-send on the night shifts, when it was just holding on for dear life and hoping that the boat kept doing her thing.  I listened to books constantly during the trip (the ‘Phryne Fisher’ series and ‘Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ (excellently voiced by Martin Freeman) just kept on rolling and I fear I may never be able to listen to Rossini again without twitching).

All our main meals were microwaved from the freezer.  I did a lot of pre-trip cooking and freezing; all those old family standbys – Apricot Chicken, Tuna Mornay, Baked Beans (not from a tin, the homemade version is infinitely better), Curried Pumpkin Soup and a supermarket BBQ Chicken made into sandwiches for toasting.  Everything has to be emptied into a tall microwave bowl so that it doesn’t slosh as it is thawed.  And care has to be taken when opening the microwave door just in case the glass turntable has bounced off the axle and you need to catch it as it flies out the door. Those precooked packets of rice were really handy, as they heat in their own sachet and there is no risk of sloshing. Tinned rice pudding proved very popular as were small packets of nuts. Green apples and small mandarins lasted the entire trip! A fresh bottle of water for every shift meant we drank about 3l of water each day, which is more than usual (but that is stress for you).

Taz’ Talk

Just have a look at what Dad sent out when we finally stopped moving.

“Ladeez and Genemems it is with great pleasure we announce the arrival of the Beilby’s in sunny Vanuatu.  We have set a number of records on this trip (which may be somewhat exaggerated).  Firstly, we have the longest passage of any boat from Australia to Vanuatu.  Next, we managed to find the worst weather possible.  Finally, we are firm friends with the French and are always welcome to break down in their territory.  Seriously though, we are very proud of what we have done and I am especially proud of my lovely wife who, as it got tough out there, did not panic and provided the best watch mate ever.  We are now looking forward to cruising the wonderful islands of Vanuatu.”

Touching, and Mum gave Dad a hug when she read it, but NO MENTION OF THE BRAVE AND RESILIENT BOAT CAT!!!!  No way was I smiling for that photograph, although the camera has picked out the colour of my eyes rather nicely.

The Following Week:

After we arrived, we had a number of our boatie friends phoning to check how we were and to find out if it was as bad as it looked.  I had one friend simply text “Don’t do that again” – happy to oblige Nat.

In the week following our arrival, both Peter and myself were just not our normal selves.  I was walking around like the living dead for most of the week and Peter slept fitfully and wasn’t really gung-ho about the boat jobs that needed to be done.  It was like we were forcing ourselves to engage with Port Vila rather than actually experiencing it. We seemed to recover by the following week, but it was very odd.

Boat Bits – The Fall Out and The Bits That Fell Out

1 broken seal on the port stabiliser ram

2 bends in the rear aluminium lip of the tender

1 broken pair of binoculars (they flew across the pilothouse instrument panel and down the stairs)

1 tub of humidity absorber. It tipped over under the pilot house instrument panel.  The liquid then ran down a conduit in the floor and into my wardrobe below, so that the wood paneling is now permanently wet.  All the clothes needed washing and unless I can soak the calcium chloride out of the wood, I can’t hang them back there. I’m thinking of stapling plastic sheeting over it for the moment and just have the paneling replaced in NZ. [Update: the liquid also went through the wall into the front room mattress – that is going to be very problematic]

Salt water in the linen cupboard again.  Peter’s porthole seal leaked and the cupboard is below that.  It has leaked before, so all the contents are in plastic vacuum bags anyway.

Forward ceiling hatch in the front room leaked where one of the handles needs tightening (I don’t blame it, it spent a lot of time covered in water).

Starboard dorado leaked (but not as much as I would have expected).

1 leaking porthole in the front room, starboard side.  The constant pounding of the waves forced water through the sleeves that form the window.

We have just found the usually glassed-in box that holds 100kg of lead in the lazarette, for balancing the boat, had broken free and was sliding into the hot water heater.

A review is needed of the securing system for the anchor and a check needed of the roller and axle to assess any damage.

1 anchor chain splitter bent (again) when raising the anchor at Chesterfield.  We think it happened because the chain bunched up instead of falling cleanly into the chain locker.  The chain-well had been filled with the other contents of the anchor well (water cans, line and the spare anchor all fell in there!) so there was nowhere for the chain to fall.

1 Australian flag in need of re hemming.  It got caught up on a securing pin for the boom lines and tore itself to bits.

1 ring clip for the boom line (removed by the flag).  The pin that it secured fortunately didn’t slip out until after we got into Port Vila and started to drop the tender (I think the rope tension kept it in place).  I would rather not think about what could have happened if it had slipped out while we were moving and the boom started throwing itself around up there.

The pilot house chair needs oiling and the cushions need cleaning of the salt water that kept coming through the top hatch.

Slide bolts needed to the pot cupboard, stair cupboard and electric panel cabinet door (despite having push locks, they all came open (I gaffer taped them closed – a truly wonderful product is gaffer tape). 

Sliding bolt on the pilothouse bunk bed drawer needs to be replaced – it just broke.

Install a bar or straps across the side storage areas in the engine room to prevent the oil drums and storage boxes being thrown at the engine.

Replace a small screw from the railing around the bow – I watched it work itself loose and just fall into the ocean during one day shift

NAVIGATION NOTES:

[This is a record of our experiences and is not intended as a recommendation for others. Phone reception on ‘Opal Lady’ is assisted with the use of a StarLink system. We measure our depths from the lowest point of the hull (add 1.6m for actual water level depth).]

Our route

Chesterfield Reef (Recif de Chesterfield):

The charts have extensive greyed sections of unsurveyed areas, but the access lanes marked on the charts are of a good width, relatively clear of obstructions and easily followed down to the anchorage area.  We came in via the northern entrance, as we thought the southern one looked a bit narrow on the charts.  As we passed it, we realised that it was wide enough to have been safe to use (and would have saved the hour it took to get down to the anchorage area).  It was blowing 26kn, but it was relatively quiet in the lagoon. We only picked up a roll at change of tide and did not need to use the flopper stoppers.  One of the sources of information we read spoke of a 5m tide, but the depth never changed by more than 1.5m while we were there (on a New moon cycle). 

Anchored at 19 57.167S 158 28.487E in 10m water with 70m chain out on sandy bottom. Contact email for the New Caledonian Department of Maritime Affairs; dam-nc@gouv.nc (I used Google Translate to send my messages in French; a little effort to be polite). The French Navy pilot spoke very good English.

Banner image – Moonrise at Chesterfield Reef (to the music of O Fortuna)

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. I knew ‘RED, meant ‘BAD’. But stick to lovely blue… Very proud of you both.
    Love your blog and Pete’s lovely words. And unforgettable Taz and ‘OPAL LADY’ and she can’t sink…. Dotty

  2. Oh my goodness Suz! That was like reading the plot from a horror movie for me. My absolute worst nightmare. You guys are just bloody amazing for getting through that as well as you did and thank goodness for Opal Lady (she’s a legend).

    Next time you want to work to a schedule please read this entry.

    Glad you are all safe and I hope Taz has forgiven you x

    1. That trip was up there as one of my nightmares too, Alana. Taz is a very forgiving cat, especially once the boat stopped moving. Actually, I think he is just so laid back, he can’t be bothered taking the energy to stay annoyed. We have promised each other that there will not be a next time; some lessons you just don’t need to repeat to learn properly (I have pointed out to Peter that this may mean I don’t get to NZ at the end of the cruising season as that is another 9 days often rough sea passage!!). On the plus side though, now we are here, Vanuatu is totally worth it.

  3. Fascinating but a bit frighting reading. Well done

Leave a Reply