Tradewind Trama

Thu 10 Jul 2008 07:18
Position: 17.44 S  168.19 N
Storyteller's current crew: John, Sue, Tony and Annette Black, Rigel.
This is Rigel writing now - and now to fill in the past four days events.
We last posted just as we were leaving Musket Cove, Fiji, for Tanna, Vanuatu this past Sunday. Most of the Arc had left a day earlier in the pouring rain, and we thought we were being very clever by staying an extra day. The beautiful weather the next morning - warm and sunny with soft breeze - seemed to further confirm that waiting a day had been very wise. Bruce the weatherman reported favorable conditions with a steady 20-25 knots from the South East, perfect for a broad reach to Tanna, bearing South West of us in Fiji. And having passed safely throught he daunting maze of reefs leaving Fiji, we were all very optimistic for the coming 2 days passage on the pacific to Tanna.
This all quickly changed, however, within only a few hours sailing away from Fiji. The wind picked up and 20-25 knots turned out to be more like 27-30 right off the bat. It wasn't so much the speed of the wind though, so much as the chaotic, confused nature of the sea. The typically kind easterly trade winds seemed to be arguing with huge swells coming from an old storm system in the south, resulting in a very choppy, unpredictable sea.
With the exception of a little bit of deep-sea fishing, I've never been out on the ocean, and with these angry swells I quickly found myself quite seasick, despite the anti-seasick pills we all took. Sue and Annette even found themselves sick that further in the evening, and even John only had crackers for dinner while the Lasagna remained in the fridge. I was vomiting every time I tried to ingest anything, and miserable. I ended up spending a lot of time lying down - in my cabin, on the couch, up on the benches in the cockpit, and eventually, prostrate in the middle of the lounge floor, cluching onto my vomit bowl (also the rice cooker bowl, incidentally). I guess the little reasoning ability I had left in amongst the sickness told me that the closer I could get to the keel, the less the the rocking movement would be. So I lay there for most of the middle of the next late morning (monday).
We did attempt several things to make the ride more confortalble. We began with the headsail all the way out, and we eventually furled some of it in, and that actually did make things a little smoother. Before we furled t were doing constant on 9.5 knot, and after still 8.5-9 knots. The other thing we ended up doing was turning away from the wind a bit as a squall approached, just so we wouldn't smashed by swells straight from the side so much. But as the squall passed we found that there was no way we wanted to turn back on course for Tanna as it certainly would have been far more uncomfortable. We ended up setting course for Port Vila which was going to be our destination after a few days of mucking about in Tanna. This would ensure that our we would have the swells a little more around on our stern for the remaining 40 hours of sailing.
Before we left I had asked Sue why I should take the anti-seasickness medecine and she had replied with a stern (and convincing) "There's nothing more annoying that having someone sick on board; everyone needs to do their part." She was right, of course, so I took the pills. Nonetheless, just some 12 hours later, I found myself vomiting everytime I tried to ingest anything. Both of my parents sailed around the world for nearly 10 years, and, alluding to this, Sue added, "Well you won't be much of a world sailor, will you?" I was very disappointed in myself. Then, on monday evening, after about 24 hours of hell, I came right - as if someone had flipped a switch. You'd think you'd slowly get less and less sick, but it was almost instantaneous: all of a sudden, the motion below my feet and around me just sort of went on without my body caring. It was a huge relief.
The weather was relentless for the whole passage. There were hours where the wind was consistently in the upper 30's, gusting well over 40 knots. That's over 70 kph. Because the sea was so chaotic, we rarely found ourselves neatly at the bottom of a trough, but when we did, the next wave towered well over us, at with at least 20 foot swells. The odd wave would surprise the hull and wash right over the deck, some which soaked the cockpit (and John/Sue's cabin in which one of the hatches had been left cracked). One wave even poured down the hatch. John and Sue said that was the worst swells (and sustained weather, for that matter) Storyteller has seen. The whole lounge was strewn with wet weather gear, odd bits of fruit that had flown from its basket, charts that had slipped from the table, and tons of pillows having flown from the couches. Only the pivoting oven/stove seemed happy in the sloppy ocean, swingingly peacefully while the spices above it banged back and forth noisily in their rack.
John and Sue were heros with the night watches, going 2 hours on, 2 hours off all three nights, although Annette would sometimes sit with Sue and I with John for the watch. (Tony was on Southern Princess helping out since John Hunt had just injured his hand). As it turned out, lots of people found themselves sick amongst the various arc boats doing the passage. But seasickness was the least of problems for the passage. Northern Sky, Captained by Jerry, had an overheating engine which coupled as the generator resulting in a loss of power. This meant they couldn't use the auto pilot and had to hand steer all the way. It sounds simple, but if you saw how our pilot was working to keep us on course in those swells, you'd see how difficult doing it by hand would have been. And Calle Due had terrible rudder problems which we still don't know about. So we were pretty lucky with our limited seasickness.
On Wednesday (yesterday) morning we finally rounded Pango Pt, and moved into the shelter of Meli bay. It was very relieving to escape that constant bombardment by the swells that had been eating at us for three days. Waiting for customs anchored in the quarentine area, we enjoyed an epic breakfast of eggs, bacon, tomotoes, toast, beautiful coffee, pineapple and papaya. We were pretty happy, grins on everyones faces... the fervor of relief in the air. We have excellent mooring right on the sea-wall here in the middle of Port Vila. There's a restaurant/bar right in front of where we're moored that we ventured to for dinner last night. It's owned by an American couple that we later met, who, in the middle of a circumnavigation, abrubtly stopped here in Port Vila and bought the place 20 years ago. Now its thriving with live music, great dancing, and a lot of customers. The owner is very friendly, especially with all the yachties having been one himself, and since his place is right on the sea wall. All in all we had a big night as everyone was very relieved to have survived the seas.
In the weeks to come we'll be cruising the various islands of Vanuatu, but not before we spend at least a week here in Port Vila. Annette and Tony sadly fly out this tuesday, so we probably won't sail anymore before then. We've hired a driver for tomorrow and we're going to tour the island. Then, Saturday, it turns out is the day of the the once-yearly horse races here. They'll be a big night with auctioning of horses tomorrow night, racing all day saturday, and a formal ball following the days races on that night. We've also been looking into all the information on anti-malaria medicine - that is, whether to take it or not. As we'll be crusing the islands way north or here, where malaria is a lot more prevalent, we'll probably start on that any day. Anyway, I think that's all for now, but we'll sure to keep everyone dated. Hopefully when we venture back out of the beautiful natural harbour here, the seas will be kinder to us.
Until next time,