Monday 23 September 2013

Port Sandwich, Malekula Island

With a forecast of a strong NW change in the order of 30kts, plus rain and SE gusts all night, we were packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Over breakfast, we once more gave thanks for the wonderful cockpit canvas covers that both kept the rain out and enabled us to sit around and relax in comfort.  In the end, with no sight of the NW change, we headed off around the east of the island, putting in one tack after another, all the while waiting for the wind shift that would push us to our final destination of Pt Vila in double quick time.

Before leaving around 7:45am I called Rose and explained our situation – that we’d love to have spent the day in the village but conditions wouldn’t allow it.  Rose completely understood the situation and said that she may well see us in Pt Vila on Friday when she has a meeting with the Education Dept regarding her vocational training centre.  I got the impression Rose would have jumped aboard Chimere for the trip south in a flash, but she has her work cut out for her getting the buildings ready for the school.

Back on the water, progress was very slow around the east coast, and after about 2 hours we somehow came to the consensus that we should turn around and go back – along the north coast and down the west coast.  There was also the thought in the back of my mind that we should be a bit conservative with the use of fuel, given that it’s now about 3 months since we tied up at the fuel wharf and are on the last tank full.

Whilst we really are a sailing boat, Chimere’s best work is done when the wind is well off the bow.  Tacking, or sailing close to the wind, is not something she likes doing, but is made more bearable with the engine ticking away in the background – even at 1200 revs, it makes a big difference – particularly when there’s a sea running against us.

So we turned around and headed the other way.  Instantly, the sea became calm, the kettle went on and everyone started to smile again. Most importantly, the speedo started topping 7 kts plus.

It took us all of 15 minutes to pass our morning’s starting point and last night’s anchorage and as we glided past I could almost feel the locals ashore, who might have been observing our ‘progress’, chuckle to themselves and sagely say … “I knew they’d be back”.

It was late morning before signs of a wind change were apparent – the rain kept falling but now it was stronger and came in squalls.  The wind moved progressively from SE to the much publicized NW and continued for about 10-15 minutes by which time we’d set the sails and were enjoying the ride; at 7-8 kts.

A change of watch and within a few minutes the wind moved again, this time to the south and south west and it blew with amazing ferocity. The sea, which had previously been flattened by the rain, was now whipped up by the wind into short waves whose white tops were being blown into white streaks.

Getting a second reef in the main and furling most of the jib was a testing experience.  It was hard to believe that we were still in the lee of the eastern tip of Ambrym – relatively sheltered waters – and that once we rounded the point it would be worse.

A quick check of the northern coastline on the chart revealed a possible anchorage close inshore and so we plugged on.  Progressively the waves reduced in size and we inched forward to find a nice spot to drop the anchor in 10m of water.

The stillness was certainly a welcome relief as we started to clean up and restore some order to the chaos.  The strength of the wind, at the height of the storm, had actually caused the front canvas awnings – the ones that stop the wind and rain from blowing in your face – to unzip and make like they were going to blow away altogether, but some swift action by Cathy quickly brought them under control and stuffed down the companionway for future sorting out – later inspection fortunately revealed no damage.  But without the front covers, things were a bit wetter in the cockpit than we’d become used to and at this stage Vanuatu was feeling quite cold and wet, not quite the tropical paradise in the brochure.

With the stillness, talk soon turned to the matter of lunch, it being at least 1:00pm by now, … would it be spaghetti, cup-a-soup, toast, maybe baked beans – and was that on the toast, or toast on the side – exciting stuff to be sure.  You’ve got no idea how important a piece of toast and cheese can be at times like this – it’s all about context.

By 2:00pm the white caps in the distance seemed to have subsided somewhat, the wind gusts had died down and we began scouring the charts and cruising guide for a suitable anchorage closer to Pt Vila that we might reach before dark.

In the end we settled on the eastern coast of Malekula and felt that the southerly wind which was now blowing might just enable us to get there with a minimum of fuss.

Underway again, with reefs in the main and jib – just to be cautious – we soon discovered there was very little wind to catch.  It seemed all the wind had blown away earlier and in its place, when we came out from behind the lee of the island, was a confused sea and a 2-4 metre swell.  Just horrible.

With the aid of the motor (at low revs) we managed to just make 5 knots and seeing a few small fish breaking the surface and a few birds circling, we thought it was time to get the line over.

A few minutes later we landed a small tuna (enough for 5 lovely fish steaks tonight) and then a short time after this a large Mahi Mahi – just like the one caught the other day – was it 25 kg?  always hard to tell with these things.

Now with enough fish in the fridge and freezer to last us a week, we kept the line aboard and set about sailing the boat and cleaning up the blood.

Our arrival at Port Sandwich, on the SE coast of Malekula, was a welcome relief, and our policy of arriving at an anchorage in daylight was reinforced tonight as we narrowly avoided dinting the coral with our keel as a result of Matt’s keen eyesight; standing partway up the mast.  I suspect the words FULL REVERSE have not been spoken so loudly on this mission, but Cathy at the helm was quick to follow orders.

Some weather forecasts still have the wind coming from the NW, but others say it’ll blow from the south tomorrow.  Either way, we’ll be underway by 5:00am with the intention of getting as close to Pt Vila in the day as possible; keeping use of the engine to a minimum.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and ending the day with a Sandwich
Rob Latimer
www.msm.org.au