Vanuatu to Mackay, Part 1

David & Valerie Allen
Tue 24 Aug 2010 03:27
19:25.65 S     153:14.02 E

Saturday, August 10, 2010

Just before everyone left Vanuatu, Elsie and her husband, who operate Yachting World Marina, invited all rally members to a fantastic cocktail reception and dinner at the Waterfront Restaurant.  What a treat!  The food was delicious and rather decadent.  There was live entertainment as well.  Everyone had a wonderful time.  This was certainly the most posh welcome we have yet received.

We even had tablecloths at this wonderful reception!

The rally banner with the roster of those boats remaining in the rally until Australia was hung from the rafters.  We each have one of these banners to display in port from our port stays.  It is about the size of a tablecloth itself!

Since most of the rally boats were badly beaten up by the stormy weather from Fiji to Vanuatu, no one was really eager to take off for the 1200 nm trip to Australia.  The weather off Australia is noted for being unpredictable and storms can be quite destructive.  We sent away to Bob the weather guru in New Zealand for his advice.  He recommended we delay our departure a bit as a TROF was to develop en route and by delaying we could avoid the severity of its initial appearance.  We waited a couple of days and departed on Sunday, August 8 with ASPEN and FAI TIRA.

This was to be a most interesting passage!

It felt so good to be out sailing again and within radio and visual distance of friends.  As we got used to the motion and freedom again, we noticed that FAI TIRA, a larger but much heavier boat than ANGEL was travelling much more rapidly.  We tried letting out a bit more sail (we always seem to over-reef) and ANGEL took off!  We were amazed at how much difference it made- and the ride was smoother too.

As a result of being a bit bolder (although still reefing more than FAI TIRA) and because the winds grew higher and higher, not to mention the seas (up to 5-6 metres), we began to make record time.  We normally cover 120- 130 nm per day.  Suddenly we were making 174- 180 nm per day!  According to the GPS we even skied down one wave at 17.02 nm per hour- unheard of!

We were not far from Vanuatu when we learned that the Allen family curse still existed.  This was noticed during our years of spending March Break in Mexico.  Three years in a row we had a wonderful vacation and three years in a row the spot where we had been so happy was hit by a hurricane.  This time Vanuatu was hit with a 7.5 earthquake 22 miles beneath the ocean.  No one was killed, but the was property damage.  One of our boats, LUCY ALICE, sailed within a few miles of the epicentre!

Meanwhile, ASPEN was experiencing a power loss.  Her batteries were not charging.  Her engine was running and she was carrying enough fuel to get to Mackay under motor, but was requesting that other boats in the area join them as support in case anything else developed.

At 0830 on Thursday, August 12 we found out what it is like to meet a TROF.  I was alone on deck and saw the sky ahead becoming very dark.  I decided to centre the main sail and to take in some head sail in case of a sudden squall.  I was halfway through the reefing procedure (3 minutes after sighting the clouds) when the wind shifted 180 degrees and rose from 9 kts to 35 kts!  Fortunately the movement alerted Dave to problems and he even heard me shouting.  Together we managed to quickly rein in the jib and that was the extent of our difficulties.  We also radioed to the rest of the fleet to warn them what to expect(as did FAI TIRA).

The Trof seemed to suck all the wind out of the air and we were unable to sail for the rest of the passage.  Leaving the main sail up seemed to add a bit of extra speed, but we were not going to beat any records!

During the night on Saturday the 14th we met up with FAI TIRA again.  However, they were behaving erratically.  We were overtaking them to port when they suddenly altered course and headed straight for us.  No worries.  I altered course to the north and drew up behind them.  Then they straightened out again and I decided to return to my original course.  Again, as we drew abreast of them, they turned towards us.  When you are only half a mile apart this can be very dangerous.  A radio call to them elicited the reply that their engine was losing power and they were hand steering to conserve power.  They were also dismantling the engine and trying to remedy the situation.  ANGEL was to become the light they could steer towards.  This is far easier than trying to stare at the compass.

By daybreak it was evident that the engine was not reparable under way and there was no longer ANY wind to sail by.  BLUE MAGIC, a 55-foot Discovery, agreed to come back and attempt a tow.  Since FAI TIRA is a heavier steel boat, this presented many risks, especially to the tow boat. ( With our 56-hp engine, we could not even contemplate towing a 23 tonne boat.)
Fortunately, FAI TIRA had had practice towing LUCY ALICE earlier in the circumnavigation and the link up went without a hitch.

(To be continued.....)