Sailing Fiji to Vanuatu


Last Updated on September 28, 2020 by Amy

Or…The Unofficial South Pacific FP Regatta

Or…How We Ignored Bad Omens

We had been hoping to leave Fiji Thursday to sail to Tanna Ialand, Vanuatu, but we opted to wait for Sandy Cheeks and Cheeky Monkey, both of whom were waiting on boat parts.  CM and SC are both Fountaine Pajot catamarans, just like us, except they are both newer than Starry Horizons.

Those parts came in as expected (amazing!), and Friday morning we all cleared out and took off.  

Bad Omens

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 on board (boo!) or bananas, both of which we had.  But we also saw a REALLY bad omen – in Musket Cove, we found a dead blackbird in Little Dipper.  And then again, as we were clearing out of Vuda, another dead bird appeared on SH’s deck!  I may not believe in omens, but I was grossed out!

The Start of the Race

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.

Watermaker Breaks

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.

Loosing Steerage

The offending part.

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.

Loosing an Engine

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 the 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?

Approaching Tanna Island

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.

Satellite imagery at the top, chart on the bottom, the middle is the two overlapped.

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 going 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 backward, 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.

Regatta Results

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!

Watch the Video of Sailing from Fiji to Vanuatu


  1. After watching your last video about the way you have outfitted your boat, I would like to talk to you both about a very serious proposal. I am a professional Stuntwoman and Stunt Coordinator my husband and I have planned on acquiring a boat in the next 4-7 years to do our own blue water traveling. We plan on getting a used boat that has the Master Suite and the Helia 44 is one of our favorites. After seeing how you outfitted your boat, my husband and I would like to speak with you about purchasing Starry Horizons once you have finished circumnavigation. The great news is we are not in a hurry, we have been saving and planning this for several years. We are both still working and we have a daughter still in school, but we are keeping our eyes peeled for the RIGHT Boat. This plan could allow you to continue your sailing dream but have a wonderful plan of your end game. Lets talk if you are interested. This could be perfect for the both of us.

  2. Never leave on a Friday 🙂
    You really know your boat very well and you seem to have spareparts for everything. Impressive!
    What kind of prop do you have? Need to check mine out…
    All the best!

    1. We have Flexofold props, which we love! I’m glad we are coming off as knowledgeable and well prepared! Sometimes we don’t feel like it! 😉

      1. Thx. Same here. Just ordering spare parts, will ask them about losing the prop
        You replaced a prop, I understand. Did I miss a post about this?
        You are great guys, love to read about the stuff your parents brought, especially the mints
        First thing in the US is to get my hands on some Yorks

  3. Amy, what a fabulous read. So glad you made it especially with so much going on.

    Love and cheers
    Kerrie Hodgson
    SV Sandy Cheeks -Cathie’s aunt from Brisvegas QLD

    1. Aw! So sweet of you! We have very much enjoyed spending time with Cathie and her family. We waved goodbye to them this morning as they head off to Bundaberg. We are very much looking forward to seeing them again, if not in Sydney for the holidays then at least when we pass through Brisbane.

  4. Oh my gosh! All those “omens” and bad luck items struck hard. Those propellers are always trying to excape! Can’t live without them though. Did you have a spare??
    Not at all surprised you won the culinary award!
    Look forward to hearing how you did on the next leg of the “race.”

    1. We did have a spare propeller, thank goodness. But it’s a fixed one and holy cow, is it noisy. We have a guest coming to New Cal and he’ll be bringing a replacement folding prop.

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