Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Port to Port

I slept badly on Sunday night listening to the wind, worrying about having all these passengers on board and imagining all sorts of things going wrong. As soon as it was light I pulled the dinghy out of the water, dried it off then rolled it up and stowed it, took the sail covers off, forced myself to have coffee and some cereal, put the hydrovane rudder back on and the Vane as well and then as I was finishing, about 7am, Nelson arrived alongside with the first passenger. He clambered on and soon Nelson had delivered the other four. There were two young women and three young men, one of who had his phone playing funky music and in his hand a small portable speaker. Clearly he thought he was coming for a fun jaunt across the sea, and I knew he had miscalculated because looking out from the Port to the open ocean outside the horizon was bumpy and irregular as large swells continued to roll by, and the wind remained around 20 knots. They sat around the cockpit and I gave them a little talk saying they must remain seated in the cockpit or if they wanted they could go inside but no-one was going up onto the foredeck and I warned them about the boom. I showed them the buckets. The they helped me raise the main to the first reef, I pulled up the anchor and we swung round and sailed out past the other yachts and waved and shouted goodbyes as we headed for Aniwa. For three hundred yards it was smooth sailing and they all looked pleased, the funky music played and we were on our way - it was 7.30. Half an hour later it was a totally different scene - we were sailing with the wind and the sea coming to us from the side, so there was a lot of rolling, as well as bouncing up and over some of the irregular waves, and every now and then a good swell would smack the side of the boat and splash and occasionally completely soak everyone in the cockpit. The music had long stopped and three people were vomiting over the side, or into a bucket, hoiking and spitting continuously,one was down below seeming to be OK and the guy with the music was silent and grim faced. I stayed at the helm to try to negotiate the swells a bit better than the hydrovane would and allowing for the effect on our course of the wind and waves driving us sideways tried to steer so the trip would be as fast as possible. There was no danger but it wasnt comfortable for anyone. I tried to keep reassuring them and offered water and biscuits. No body said a thing! Aniwa is a very flat island and wasn't visible for the first 45 m minutes but inevitably it slowly emerged on the horizon and I pointed it out to them but nobody looked. After three hours we at last were on the leeward side of it, the sea was much calmer and we could see people and thyen a village only half a mile along. "That's our village" the group spokesman said, " Go in, we can get off here" - and I looked and saw a flat coral reef with an abrupt edge falling away into deeper water. A small spur of sand and rock acted as a tiny breakwater, and then I noticed three or four canoes being paddled furiously in the far from quiet waters heading our way. Where exactly did he intend for me to "go in" I wondered, and my first thought was 'this is crazy, I have no idea what coral outcrops and obstacles there might be." Fortunately the sun was shining and it was possible to make out clear gaps of sand so after dropping the main we motored cautiously closer to where the canoes were coming from. I ended up as close as 10 meters from the coral ledge and circled round and back and forth as the canoes came bouncing and rolling along side and first the sick passengers then the cargo and the other men were taken off without mishap. It took about half an hour as we had to wait for the canoes to go ashore and return several times. As soon as the last man was in his canoe I motored back out to clear water with a huge sense of relief, shouted goodbye as they all turned and waved from the shore and then after pulling the main back up, headed for Port Vila, 120 m miles away.

I laughed half an hour later thinking they would never believe how things were on the boat now : it was another scene altogether : I was going close to downwind very steadily, it was very dry, very comfortable and I was sitting back under the dodger as the Hydrovane took over the helm, relaxing and having a cup of orange juice and reading my kindle!

And that was more or less how it continued for 24 hours till I arrived in Port Vila on Tuesday around lunchtime. I still didnt sleep too well because we had to gybe around Eromango Island and the wind was now dead behind me, the boat was upright but tending to roll again. I tried to sleep on one side of the boat and then the other. At dawn Efate was in clear view amd as I sailed in I could see the red roof of the big church in the Village I had stayed in with the kids a few weeks before, and the Resort where Janet had stayed, and the 10 2-bladed power generators of the wind farm along from Mele Falls and the Zip lining place we went to. Turning into Mele Bay, the wind became gusty and fluky but the water was flat and we idled up towards the Port where after calling them up on Ch 16, the yacht club gave me a mooring right alongside the American solo sailor I had met in Port Resolution. He had departed just after me and got in an hour before.

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