Or How We Ignored Bad Omens
With an eye on clearing out of Fiji and heading to Vanuatu, we moved Starry Horizons over to Vuda Point Marina and anchored outside the entrance. It’s peak season, so we didn’t even bother trying to get a spot in the small marina. Our friends on Sandy Cheeks were already there, and Cathie and I had one big priority – get some Vanuatu currency, called Vatu! With that accomplished, we had lunch together at the food court in Lautoka, and did one last provisioning run. Lautoka has a big shopping center with a Extra supermarket, that had almost everything on my list. Then we popped over to the produce market and I got a few items to carry us over for vegetables.
That afternoon Swiftsure came over to Vuda – they were hauling out the next day for an end-of-season bottom job before sailing back up to the Marshall Islands for cyclone season. The four of us watched sunset from their coach roof and then enjoyed a great dinner at The Boat Shed.
We had been hoping to leave Thursday, but we opted to wait for Sandy Cheeks and Cheeky Monkey, both of whom were waiting on boat parts. Those parts came in, and Friday morning we all cleared out and took off. It was Friday, an unlucky day to leave according to some sailors, but it was also Friday the 13th! And if you listen to sailing lore, it’s also bad luck to have a woman onboard (boo!) or bananas, both of which we had. But we also saw a REALLY bad omen – in Musket Cove, we found a dead black bird in Little Dipper. And then again, as we were clearing out of Vuda, another dead bird appeared on SH’s deck! I may not beleive in omens, but I was grossed out!
Now, this was a very friendly competition between Starry Horizons, Cheeky Monkey (another Helia 44) and Sandy Cheeks, a Lucia 40. As most sailors say, a race is any two boats headed in the same direction. All in good fun!
Sailing near big islands like Viti Levu means you get dirty air. Upon leaving Vuda, with Sandy Cheeks just a mile or so behind us, we were able to get full canvas up and sail nicely along – for maybe a half an hour. Then the wind died, and we had to turn on our engines for a bit, but as we approached Malolo Pass, about 2 miles out, the wind REALLY picked up! We put a reef in the main, and then two. The current was swirling out of the reef and pushing us along at two knots. The waves were a washing machine, tossing us about.
Our first damage happened inside the reef. While my parents were visiting, one of the watermaker pumps started leaking, but David was able to cannibalize parts from spare pumps and get it back working. The same pump went out again! As we were already underway and had 3/8 of a tank of water, we opted to conserve water and repair the watermaker when the passage was over. We always carry wet wipes and bottled water in case we have to ration freshwater, so we had a backup plan!
Once we were out of the pass and into clean air and water, the tacticians took over – David routed us straight on the rhumb line, while Sandy Cheeks followed behind us and Cheeky Monkey veered off to the north slightly. We later found out that of the four crew of Cheeky Monkey, three spent most of the passage vomiting. I will admit the passage was rough, but I was surprisingly not very sick.
The first night out, I was on my watch and at about 9 pm, suddenly we lost steerage. I thought the rudder was stuck, and immediately went to wake David. I was expecting that we would be spinning in circles, but somehow SH was naturally hove to. That was very very good. David got down in the engine room to trouble shoot, and thankfully he was able to identify and fix the issue. What happened is a bit hard to explain – the hydraulic steering connects to the rudder arm via a ball-and-collar system (these are my words). The black collar wears down over time and caused the bolt to fall out. David placed a washer under the black collar and re-connected the bolts. It took about a half an hour, and then we were back on track!
The next day or so on passage was pretty easy – the wind started to die enough that we shook out our reefs and then eventually got the screecher up in near-perfect conditions: a beam reach (winds around 90-100 degrees) and just under 15 knots of wind. We really flew along for a while. We landed two tiny skipjack tunas that we decided to throw back.
Unfortunately the weather forecast we were going on was not as accurate as the one Cheeky Monkey had. Their course ended up being the better one, because instead of shifting north like we expected the wind shifted south, meaning that when it lightened, we had winds coming from behind us while Cheeky Monkey had winds ahead of their beam – so we got squarely beat coming into Port Resolution.
But our troubles weren’t over. Monday morning as we could see Tanna Island, we went to switch our engines from port to starboard, and our starboard engine started up but then wouldn’t give us any throttle. David popped into the engine room to determine that the engine was shifting, and that means the next likely culprit is the prop. We stuck our Go Pro under thee water and sure enough, our prop is gone! We aren’t sure exactly what happened, since David installed it to specs in Tonga, but we have discovered that we bent the washer incorrectly while installing the propeller – so maybe that was it?
When we left Fiji we took a look at our charts and had a panic moment – did we not buy the charts for Vanuatu? The chart on our chartplotter had absolutely no details. Turns out we did have the Vanuatu charts, but the Navionics chart was just really bad.
Fortunately Port Resolution Bay is pretty easy to handle with one engine. CM was already settled in, so I hailed them and Ryan popped in the dinghy and scoped a spot out for us. The big issue with having one engine is that you need to maintain enough momentum to have water moving past the rudder and have steerage. If you slow down too much, and apply more throttle on your port engine, you’ll turn to starboard instead of go forward faster. So, our strategy was for me to keep our speed up entering the big, wide bay, little by little throttle down our engine until we just coasted into the spot. David dropped the anchor, but unfortunately the winds were so light we weren’t getting pushed backwards, so Ryan (in his dinghy Bananas) grabbed a stern line and pulled us back to straighten and dig in our anchor. We held well, and the bay wasn’t very deep, and there were only about a dozen boats in a bay that could probably hold 50, so there was plenty of room for us to anchor away from the pack.
The results of the regatta are as follows: Cheeky Monkey arrived in Port Resolution right after sunrise (around 6 am or so). We limped in at 9:40 am, and Sandy Cheeks arrived later in the afternoon. SH won the culinary award, as we were well fed (I even made chicken parm one night, David’s favorite) while CM sadly was too queasy to cook or eat much of anything. SC won the fishing side – they landed a big tuna.
Don’t worry, this was just PART ONE of the regatta! After enjoying a few days in Tanna Island, all three boats headed west again to New Caledonia together. We rematched!