Thu 12 Nov 2015 23:09
17:44.656S 168:18.753E 

The Shepherd Islands, which we didn’t expect to see again.

Bum, bum, bum and bugger.

We spent most of the day fault finding. It was the windlass relay. The windlass motor worked, the remote control worked, but the relay wasn’t doing it’s job. I mean, I ask you? It’s been doing it’s job happily for 17 years, it’s a bit much for it to give up on us now! 

We didn’t want to have to go back. We’d had to turn back twice already - first for bad weather, then to go get the radar. It’s late in the season, we need to get North. And we’d just managed to sail up, we didn’t want to have to turn into the wind and swell and bounce our way back down again. 

So we went to talk with Kami. Was there a way we could get it up to Wala from Vila? He said yes, we could have it put on a plane to the airport then have it sent to him at a post office in a town 30 km away. We could then get a water taxi over to the mainland, find a Public Transport (basically a passing car who takes passengers for a fee) and go get it. We’d be welcome to stay at the island for the week or more all this would take, we could go for walks and see the sights, and he’d make some more kava for the evenings. Very tempting. But there were some worries. Would DHL send it on to Kami without it being signed for in Vila, as it’s addressed to Phil, just on the strength of a phone call? What about customs? We had to go to Customs, get a stamped form and pay Vt 2,000 for the other parcels. Could we just phone customs and pay DHL the 2,000 Vt by credit card?

But more significantly we weren’t happy on our anchor. The anchorage is good sand on a shelf, next to a steep drop off. I’d snorkelled to check after we’d arrived and found the anchor not properly dug in: there seemed to be some cloth caught over it’s point, a shirt or something, stopping it from digging in, so it was on it’s side only half dug in. We’d figured we were only staying one night and the winds weren’t strong so we’d keep an eye and leave it. But now we’d have to stay for a week or more. I swam again to check on it and we’d started to drag, what’s more we were dragging down the slope into deeper water. That meant with every meter we dragged the anchor got less efficient - less chain on the bottom and a steeper angle of pull on the chain, so it would only get worse. 

We had no choice, we had to lift the anchor and either re-lay it or sail down to Port Vila. We could lift the anchor by bypassing the control box and simply directly connecting the electrical cables, turning it on and off at the main breaker below deck. And, with 10 minutes re-wiring, we could swap the cables over to make it so we could drop the anchor. But it wouldn’t be practical to keep swapping if the anchor didn’t hold on the first try and we had to re-lay it, bringing it back in and letting it out again. We’d had to re-lay it twice when we’d arrived before we had half decent holding. 

That decided it: we’d lift and head South to Vila, sailing into the wind and waves, doing it in a oner as we’d not be able to anchor on the way. My worry was, with one of us below at the breaker and the other on the fore deck watching the chain, we’d never hear each other over the sound of the winch pulling the chain in. To rectify this problem I ran a rope between us, the idea being I’d pull on the rope to signal Phil to turn off the winch. With this cunning piece of communication technology in place we successfully got the anchor up, re-hoisted the sails and got on our way.

Goodness, such a change from the chilled downwind passage we’d had the day before. Bumping into each wave, with water over the fore deck and down the side decks, windy on deck (upwind you get the wind plus your boat speed in your face, like a dog hanging out a car window, but when you go downwind you have the wind minus your boat speed as you’re travelling with the wind) but boiling and sweaty below deck as you can’t open any hatches and there’s no following wind to blow down the companionway. It’s tiring having the boat moving so much all the time. You get so horribly salty - not salty like having had a swim in the ocean but layer on layer of salt because the spray lands on you, evaporates, then lands on you repeatedly building up layer on layer. For me the world is continuously blurred because I either have my glasses on, with a layer of dried salt on them (how ever many times you wash it off another fine layer appears), or I have them off so I can’t see properly. Don’t even mention my hair. 

But there were some good bits. Boobies circled us as we went and a wonderful Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin came and joined us, bow riding for about half an hour. We went and stood on the bow, soaked with spray, our feet dipping under the water occasionally as the boat pitched into an oncoming wave, the dolphin right alongside us. He kept turning sideways and looking at me with his lovely big eye, then delighted me by turning upside down riding the bow wave with his white tummy showing. Soon after a False Killer Whale, with his tall black dorsal fin and bulbous nose, passed us heading North. So beautiful.

A Booby circling us.

As usual flying fish were our constant companions and entertainment. I have never been able to catch a flying fish on film, though I’ve tried many times. A blue grey fish on a blue grey sea, when he’s small and maybe 40ft away, flying at up to 40mph and you don’t know where he’ll pop up nor which direction he’ll go in, makes for a very tricky shot to snap. So, when we got in the lee of Efate, so the wind and swell had dropped a bit, and we had a better angle to the wind, going more South than South East, I settled on the side of the bridge deck, in the lee of the pilot house and finally got some pictures of these talented clowns to share with you.

He gets his speed up under water then breaks through the surface, at which point he begins to taxi, leaving the bottom of his tail in the water and beating it from side to side to pick up speed.

And he’s off! He can glide like that for 100m or more. Notice the elongated lower tail.

Here he’s dipping his tail into the water, to change direction, his blue back catching the light, but they also use it to push themselves back up at the end of a glide.

Here a different type beats his tail tip, he is a little bigger, silver grey with pinkish wings.

So here we are back in Vila, tied to a mooring buoy, waiting for the windlass part to be flown in from Auckland. You never know, the tonic water may have been flown into town before we leave again. There’s always a silver lining.