Well, there weren't any nibbles on the fishing lines yesterday afternoon, so that meant there wasn't any sushi for dinner. We did, however, settle for "boerewors on the braai", given the really light winds, accompanied by bacon, mash potatoes and baked beans. It was definitely a much needed "comfort meal" after Elaine got the biggest fright of her life late yesterday afternoon.
She'd decided to go for a nap, but then couldn't sleep. About ten minutes later she went back up to the saloon, but there was no sign of Roy. After checking below deck, then above deck, including the coach roof and still no sign of him anywhere, she started screaming for him. Still nothing. By then, in floods of tears, she realised the only alternative is that he'd gone overboard. It was her worst nightmare come true. Trying not to panic and think straight, she started both engines to turn Paw Paw around and commence the MOB search pattern. It was then that she heard Roy's voice wanting to know what on earth she was doing. Confused as to where he was, she then noticed his head sticking out of the starboard forepeak cabin - He'd decided to run the watermaker, something we never do on passage, and, with the noise, had not heard Elaine screaming his name. The relief was beyond words. Needless to say, it took a while to calm Elaine down. Lesson learnt - Check the starboard forepeak cabin before panicking!
After a stiff gin and tonic, again something we never do on passage, and the panic over, dinner went down like a treat. We were ready for our last night at sea and by 0530 this morning we were entering Mele Bay, where we bobbed until sunrise, before entering Port Vila and heading for the quarantine area.
It never ceases to amaze us the amount of junk information we read in various cruising guides or hear from other cruisers about a destination we have never visited. For one, we were told that the water is so dirty in Port Vila that we would definitely not be able to run our watermaker. Well, we've never seen clearer water than what we saw this morning. In a depth of 30' we could clearly see our chain and our anchor resting on the seabed while peeking over the bow. Then, we had been informed to contact Port Vila Radio to announce our arrival and await a visit from biosecurity before being allowed to head ashore to complete the officialdom process by visiting the customs and immigration offices in town. Well, the actual procedure was to dinghy to the commercial dock and visit the customs and biosecurity offices there, then head to town to the immigration office.
There was just one small problem when we arrived at the commercial dock - There was no way Elaine, the "official" captain, could actually get out of the dinghy to complete the procedures. When Roy went to the offices to inform them of the dilemma and ask whether he could do the clearing process, he was informed that the captain had to do it. They were kind enough, though, to inform him how to get Elaine ashore - We had to tie the dinghy alongside the pilot boat, climb on the pilot boat, then scramble over the pilot boat to access the concrete steps alongside the dock. With that our adventure of Vanuatu commenced.
We were also previously informed about the fresh produce we weren't allowed to bring into Vanuatu, as well as the alcohol limits enforced and that no foreign garbage could be landed here. Turns out biosecurity wasn't even remotely interested in what fresh produce or alcohol we had. They didn't even ask. They did, however, request that we please dispose of our foreign garbage in the specially allocated bins on shore. Sometimes we really have to wonder where these cruisers and guides get there information from.
Regardless, once we'd completed the necessary procedures, we enjoyed a light lunch at the Jungle Café, stopped in at Digicel to arrange our local data service, then headed back to Paw Paw to then move her to our allocated mooring ball. With a 23m mast, motoring under the 27m high cable running from Efate Island to Iririki Island on a rising tide was a little daunting, but we're safely moored now and enjoying a lazy evening aboard.
Knowing we didn't have a downwind sail and knowing the forecast was for light winds, we had originally decided to either sail Paw Paw wing-on-wind or change course and jibe all the way to Port Vila, Vanuatu, if necessary. At one point we even discussed changing our plans to head for Port Resolution on Tanna Island, instead of Efate Island, given the possibility of a better angle to the wind. The one thing we both agreed upon, though, was to take our time, enjoy the ride, do some fishing, etc. Basically take the four days our Float Plan depicted and not rush.
Well, of course, we didn't do that. Paw Paw loves to "fly along" and so do we. So, out the window went all those fabulous ideas. Motor-sailing at an average speed of 6.5 Kts seemed like a far better idea, considering we would shave 12 hours off the passage. The plan was succeeding until Elaine took over the watch at 2200 last night and a 1 Kt counter-current raised its ugly head. Even with both engines running at a higher RPM, we weren't doing more than 5 Kts. That meant a nightime arrival in a strange harbour, which as a rule, we avoid.
By the time Roy came on watch at 0100 this morning, the decision was made - Pull back on the engines to keep enough momentum so that we weren't just bobbing and resign ourselves to another night at sea. This morning we've had the inevitable "coulda, woulda, shoulda" conversation and are frustrated at how badly we miscalculated this passage.
However, this afternoon, under partially cloudy skies, with a following sea and the current back with us, we are enjoying a peaceful sail, albeit at an average speed of 4.5 Kts. We should see "land ahoy" later today and reach Efate Island in the early hours of the morning, following which we will hove-to until daybreak before entering the harbour. In the interim, we may get a nibble on the fishing lines and enjoy sushi for dinner.
For a variety of reasons, including expense, we were unable to replace our favourite sail, our "Chicken Chute", in New Zealand, which is definitely sorely missed on this passage. When the seller of a sail we had sourced doubled his price at the last minute, we took the decision to postpone a new purchase until we are able to bring a new sail back with us from the USA. Well, for another host of reasons, we never made it back to the USA whilst in Fiji, so no sail. We rationalised that, given the strong south-easterlies we had experienced over the past few months and the angle of our destinations until we reach Australia, it was unlikely we would need a downwind sail. With the wind right up Paw Paw's stern, guess we were wrong!
Although we can sail Paw Paw wing-on-wing, it is a very slow point of sail and in light winds, even slower. As a result we have been motor-sailing for most of this passage. The forecast had originally predicted stronger south-easterlies today, but instead, we have light east-north-east winds.
It is a beautiful sunny day, though, in relatively flat following seas and the current has come around in our favour, so we're soldiering on, in the hopes that we can keep our average speed at a minimum of 6.1 Kts so as to make landfall tomorrow while it is still light versus having to hove-to and spending another night at sea.
The highlight of our day was a brief chat to Keenan this morning. Not having a radio net to participate in, since we're emailing our position reports, hearing another voice was a break from the monotony and seeing another yacht pop up on the AIS last night was at least company until we passed them a few hours ago. Unfortunately Chinese fishing vessels seem to be more prevalent than dolphins.
While being on passage is a physical break from the destination which we have just visited, in many ways, it's also a welcome break from life in general. No more officialdom, yacht maintenance and projects, daily chores, touring, dealing with landlubber matters, etc. It takes a few days to get into the routine, but you enter a "bubble" - One that revolves around the watch schedule and includes activities, amongst others, like keeping a lookout, updating the deck log, plotting our position, providing regular position reports, monitoring radar activity and getting sufficient rest.
On this particular passage, though, getting sufficient rest has become somewhat of a challenge. For some inexplicable reason, no matter how much sleep we're both getting, we're exhausted. As a result we've had to "tag team" all day today. Instead of our usual six hours on, six hours off, neither of us is making it much beyond two hours, before a nap is needed. Feeling a little "green" due to a rather rolly sea state is obviously not helping either. Hopefully we'll have our "sea legs" for tonight's watch schedule.
During a watch, there is also a sense of insignificance, vulnerability and loneliness in this vast ocean. Coupled with these feelings, though, is a sense of presence and peacefulness at "being in the moment". This was magnified last night as it was a very dark, overcast, moonless night, with barely a few stars for company.
However, on occasion today, a bird or two has swept down to take a peek or something has popped up on the AIS, but we're still left with the profound sense of being totally alone out here. Enjoying the journey and not getting "destinitis" has been our challenge on every passage thus far and with lighter winds, which translates to "slow", we definitely need a dose of patience on this one. Fortunately we're not running the "gauntlet" or trying to beat a weather system, so we'll just have to sit back and enjoy the ride. Beats the conditions of our last ordeal!
As the Mamanuca Islands faded into the distance, our hearts sank a little lower. We were saying goodbye to Fiji and her beautiful people. Nowhere during this sailing adventure have we encountered such warm, welcoming and friendly people, allows accompanied with a "bula" and a smile. It is clear to see the appeal of cruisers getting stuck in this part of the South Pacific, returning year after year, having spent the cyclone season in New Zealand. We loved Samoa, but Fiji surpassed all of our expectations, in every way. Truly our "happy place"!
There wasn't one thing we couldn't get done or couldn't do. We even got our passports renewed here without an issue. Activities abound. No matter what sport or activity you can think of, Fiji has it on offer. From sky-diving to zip-lining and everything else in between - Diving, snorkeling, sailing, yacht racing regattas, deep sea and reef fishing, jet-skiing, canoeing, paddleboarding, swimming in mud baths and hot springs, hiking including the hash, triathlons, golfing, touring, dining, live entertainment, getting married and enjoying a myriad of customs and traditional activities related to both the indigenous Fijian and the Indian Fijian cultures or, simply, finding a spot on a white sandy beach, lapped by warm turquoise waters, under swaying palms to take nap or read a book.
After clearing out at Vuda Marina yesterday, we decided to spend one last night at Malolo Lailai island, where we enjoyed a late lunch, completed the last of our passage preparations and enjoyed sundowners at the MCYC Island Bar with Knockando (Clair and Darren) as well as say our goodbyes to Twocan (Margaret and Barry). Apparently we had just missed Raya (Ros and Rick), but we plan to see them in Sydney Harbour for New Year. Having a large turtle surface right next to Paw Paw while underway sealed our experience of Fiji.
Under sunny blue skies, light winds and calm seas, it's westward and onward to enjoy all the new experiences that await us!
We've spent the past two days getting through the last of our preparations for our passage to Vanuatu, including setting up all the downwind running rigging and, aside from Niuatoputapu in Tonga, Fiji is the only other place where we had a number of people to say our goodbyes to, as well as drop off a few gifts as a small token of our appreciation for all the help we've received during our stay. Particularly, our thanks go out to Maria, the physiotherapists at Zens Medical Centre in Nadi, who worked a miracle for Elaine and to all the ladies of Port Denarau Marina, who were so patient with all our requests and changes for a mooring ball.
We also took the time to stop at our favourite coffee shops one last time, picked up the last of the fresh produce we needed and got some exercise walks in. We wrapped up our day yesterday enjoying sundowners and dinner with Storm Dancer (Del and Craig), then bid them farewell, after a few nightcaps aboard Paw Paw, with the hope of seeing them again in Australia.
This morning we eventually said goodbye to Roy's "happy place", Port Denarau. We had planned on sailing to Saweni Bay for an overnight stop and to make water before clearing out, but ended up making a u-turn after Roy noticed the water was clearer outside Vuda Marina. After a pitstop there, making the water we needed, heading ashore to confirm our clearing out arrangements and returning to a one metre swell careering through the anchorage, we decided our first choice was definitely the better option. So, tonight, in calm waters, we're enjoying a barbecue aboard, then it'll be early to bed in anticipation of our busy day tomorrow.
Elaine decided to take Sunday off - No yacht chores, no yacht projects, no exercises, but rather a day of pampering, which included doing her nails and getting her hair cut. She started her day, though, in the galley - Making pancakes to enjoy with freshly chopped pineapple, yoghurt and honey, along with a side of fresh paw paw. We did, however, also work up enough energy to enjoy a walk to the Sofitel Fiji Resort and Spa for afternoon coffee and French pastries at La Parisienne - Not that we needed anymore freshly baked goodies.
Yesterday we woke to a very wet day, having rained all night, which then continued on through the day. Fortunately that definitely helped Paw Paw get a much needed thorough washdown after days of black soot descending on her.
While Elaine undertook a final review of all our navigational notes, cruising guides and the officialdom process for Vanuatu, as well as completed all the necessary documentation for clearing out of Fiji and in to Vanuatu, Roy took the bus to Nadi to get some additional provisions as well as some VATUs (aka Vanuatu dollars). Unfortunately, on the latter activity he ran into the most incredulous brickwall.
Although he had gone prepared with all the yacht documentation as instructed previously, he was told that he couldn't purchase any VATUs without an airticket - Yep - You read correctly, he had to have an airticket. It didn't matter how many different ways he tried to enlighten them with the fact that he was actually on a yacht, they repeatedly told him the same thing - No airticket, no money, unless he went to the money exchange at the airport. This was the same feedback he received from all the banks in town.
Completely exasperated, Roy returned to Denarau where he decided to try one last time. His tenacity paid off. A very delightful individual at the Denarau money exchange booth processed the transaction without any fuss. "The mind she boggles!"
Today involved finishing off the rest of our passage paperwork, including our Float Plan, water and fuel management calculations, preparing the deck log, etc, as well as getting the laundry done and installing the new track for the saloon door mosquito net.
At this point we're just waiting for a low pressure system to the north of Fiji to move further east, which will then give us more favourable winds for our departure later this week.