One Dazzling Passage
The time has come to leave Vanuatu behind and make our way toward Australia for the coming cyclone season. Making passage in the South Pacific Convergence Zone presents its own type of challenges. Click below to find out more.
This year we have been making up for lost time. It just goes to show you that even the Vid can’t keep us down forever. New Zealand to Fiji, Fiji to Vanuatu and now Vanuatu to Australia. We’re making one dazzling passage yet again.
The time was right as we have come to the end of another cruising season in the South Pacific. It is time to head to a safe area to hole up and avoid tropical cyclones. We are off to a hurricane safe dry storage on the east coast of Australia to put Dazzler on the hard for a few months. We joined one of the popular cruising rallies known as the Go West Rally. The fee to join the rally covers almost all of the cost for the Australian check-in process and helps facilitate contact with the Australian Government Officials for clearance into the country.
Part of those included costs is for a timber inspection. We’ll wait to see how that goes as Dazzler’s interior and exterior has the lion’s share of a teak forest. Additionally, there are marine supplies and services discounts available to participants as well so it’s a very good deal for us.
Time to Say Goodbye to Vanuatu
Every day for the month we’ve been guests in Vanuatu we have experienced rain. Sometimes it seamed like the bottom of a lake in the sky had opened up and dropped buckets of liquid sunshine on top of us. Other times it just kind of misted on you like an incessant and irritating nag. The interesting thing is that the mist dries so quickly that you don’t need to wear a rain shell.
We made all of our Customs and Immigration clearance preparations on Friday morning. In Vanuatu they give you 24 hours to clear out of country. Other countries we’ve visited will literally watch you untie and leave the dock to verify your departure. Saturday morning we were busy onboard Dazzler finishing up last minute details while being treated to more rain. Luckily I completed everything on deck and was ready to go. I had enough forethought to remove the mainsail cover Friday afternoon so we wouldn’t have to store wet Sunbrella down below.
Hoisting anchor in the rain is like cutting grass in the rain. Not much fun, but sometimes the task is not always about fun. We chose to head out of the Segund Channel past the Wambu River. Apparently so much rain had been dumped on Santo Island during the last day that the rich yellow brown color of the soil was so thick in the channel it looked like a coconut bowl full of Kava. I nicknamed it the Kava River.
We cleared the channel and entered the Coral Sea west of Vanuatu. We were on the leeward side of the islands and the Trade-winds had not filled in yet requiring us to motor just a bit further. Motoring, hummm. This passage is just short of 1000 nautical miles to our destination. The weather is favorable for our departure, however we expect to encounter several very light wind days. Including a few days with wind possibly on the nose. Dogs sticking their heads out a car being driven down the street may like wind on the nose, but don’t most sailors prefer winds on the beam or quarter with following seas? We certainly do.
I make this point to mention that we will have to watch our fuel consumption as we may have to motor for several days during this trip. In fact, we bought two extra 30 liter plastic jugs in Luganville and filled them with diesel to increase motoring range a bit.
About six hours into our trip we finally had the silence of the motor and we were sailing again. The wind was predicted to be on our port quarter, but in reality it was on our stern. Night was starting to set in and the clouds looked like more rain was in our immediate future.
The seas were seven to eight seconds with 1-2 meters swells and the wind was 17-20 knots on our stern. We deployed a single reefed main and the staysail and sailed at an angle off our charted course line to keep the sails filled. The first two nights brought several squalls that dumped buckets of sideways rain complete with gusts of up to 25 knots.
There was one thing I did not look at in preparing our voyage and that was the local ocean currents. We fought a 1-2 knot ocean head current until early Sunday morning. Sunday evening had come and the winds had seriously diminished to the point of firing up the Iron Horse or as our dear friends of SV Suan would call it, “Yanmar San.”
Trying to resist the urge of pushing the throttle forward while running at economy mode (1800-2100 RPMs) and only going 3.5-4 knots an hour was painful. But conserve we must and the result was a long slow night. We had dropped the sails to keep them from flogging and prevent any undo wear and tear on our equipment. This action resulted in our rolling side to side through the sea making someone an unhappy sleep camper. Apparently being rolled from side to side while in the bunk just really isn’t that comfortable.
Sunday night about 2200 hours I went down into the dark cabin to put my iPad on the charger. I thought Jilly was asleep on the settee on the starboard side where she was earlier. I didn’t turn on any lights because I didn’t want to wake her. What a nice man for thinking of her. When I put my hand down onto what I thought was a pillow around our table, I immediately realized that it wasn’t a pillow. Apparently, Jilly thought that the Kraken had come for her which resulted in screaming, mass hysteria, startled men, purple apes climbing the mast and even caused the oceanic white tip shark following along Dazzler’s wake to take notice and make a rapid about face.
After a few moments we all calmed down, caught our breath and I went back up to the cockpit to finish the last hour of my watch. Jilly was going to try to get back to sleep. About 10 minutes later, it was agreed that she would come on watch an hour earlier because there was no way she was going to get back to sleep after her near death experience with her husband mistaken for the Kraken armed with an iPad in need of a charge.
Enter the beginning of day three
After trying to sleep on the Tilt-a-Whirl ride I got up at 0300 hours for my watch. The sea state had calmed a bit more and the winds were still MIA (Missing in Action). After the sun started illuminating the cloud filled sky we could now see the squalls that were going to hit us instead of just watching their approach on the radar screen. The unhappy crew has made their complaint known and submitted it in triplicate to the captain, “I’m tired of all this rain. When are we going to have some sunshine?”
I’m sorry, but my crystal ball has been broken for years. I just shake it up real good turn it upside down and try to see the message on the bottom through that purple liquid stuff. The message reads, “Sorry, not enough data input.” Needless to say this wasn’t the answer the grumbling crew was looking for. As a side note Grape Ape sides with whoever is opening the cookie jar at the time. So, there is a fifty fifty chance as to which side he takes.
About two hours later, princess Jilly woke to blue skies, sunshine and 12 knots of wind pulling Dazzler gently along at 5-6 knots without the noise of Yanmar San. Someone was happy now. Grape Ape and I were glad to see someone happier. It’s amazing how blue skies and sunshine can help get you get out of a funk. It even has a built in memory blocker to help you forget what you were unhappy about just hours earlier.
Actually brochure sailing makes everybody happy. Long rolling swells about eight seconds apart, steady trade-winds from the south by southwest, a full set of sails spread out catching the wind, sunny skies, fluffy white clouds dotting the blue sky and the glacier blue color of the ocean. Yes in deed this is brochure sailing.
After another night of mixed weather, sail changes and motor starts and stops we made it to day four. It appears that this area of the South Pacific is heavily influenced by weather patterns, ocean currents and sea temperatures. Apparently this year’s upcoming cyclone season has the potential to be active earlier than normal. The season starts November first. All the more reason to keep moving through the area as quickly and as possible.
Today we made our first fuel transfer into our main tank. We decided to empty the two new 30 liter jugs first. We have a few different ways of siphoning fuel from the plastic jugs without making a mess of trying to pour fuel into a 1.5” hole in Dazzler’s deck to her fuel tank. My preferred methods is the use of a Jiggler valve. Named after the motion you use to start the siphon action flowing. The tip is a metal cylinder that has a clear marble like bead about a half inch in diameter mounted on the inside. The tip is fit into a half inch clear hose that is long enough to reach both the bottom of the jug and slip about a foot and a half down the fuel deck fitting.
Tied to a marina dock makes this fuel transfer relatively easy. Out on the open ocean you need some calm conditions and fair seas to avoid any water contamination getting into the main tank during the transfer. The first jug went smoothly. Once it was emptied I moved the jiggler over to the next tank. I noticed that it was taking considerably longer to siphon. When I looked down into the jug I could see something cloudy near the end of the valve. As I pulled the jiggler out to the jug I could see a pice of clear plastic stuck in the end of the valve. I didn’t know what to think. As I looked down into the tank I could see more silhouettes of cloudy objects. My first thought was I hope none of these pieces of plastic got past the marble. My second thought was how can I get the plastic out of the fuel in the jug without having to try to pour the remaining 20 liters of fuel into the deck fill hole without making a mess.
Enter the grabber specialty tool and Jilly’s favorite tool on Dazzler. It is about 30” long, has a thumb button on one end and four pronged thin metal fingers on the other end that open up to about an inch when you push the spring loaded thumb button. It works great for pulling tools out of the bilge and/or it can entertain Jilly for hours playing Go Go Gadget Claw.
I used the grabber and was able to get enough of the plastic out that the jiggler valve extracted all but about two liters. The only reason I stopped it at that point was I could see more plastic in the bottom. Armed with a large funnel, Jilly’s help and a paper towel for a filter, I poured the remaining fuel through my makeshift filter system and extracted the remaining pieces of plastic from the fuel. Basically, we bought these jugs off a shelf in a hardware store in Luganville, went to the fuel station to fill them and then secured them on Dazzler.
Apparently, someone had placed a plastic bag and some plastic shards of a cup or something similar into the jug while it sat on the shelf. I didn’t even think to look into the jugs before they were filled at the fuel station. I opened the tanks to be filled and watched the fuel attendant dispense thirty liters of fuel into each jug. I guess I’ll have to be more diligent in the future.
Light Winds Continue
The winds were light and we flew the spinnaker for about four hours before the atmosphere became still and very warm forcing us to douse the spinnaker and fire up the motor once again. This lasted for several hours before the winds built up again and allowed us to stop the engine and hoist sails again.
Some passages have predictable winds that are steady and for the most part from one general direction. That is not this passage. This is not the Poppeil Set It And Forget It passage. Lots of sail changes, course changes and slow speeds. Thank goodness we have about a two knot tail current to help push us along. I told Jilly that if our fuel gets too low we can just drift along with the two knot current and get to Australia by December. LOL
Another night of squalls, light winds and a lightening show that passed about ten miles behind us. Not an easy feeling when your Aluminum mast projects about 55’ above the surface of the water. It kind of screams out, “Pick me, pick me, I’m right here.”
All things considered, I’d rather be right here trying to figure it out instead of stuck in six or seven lanes of bumper to bumper stop and go traffic on I405 in Los Angeles. That will be next month.
Stay tuned for the next installment from Captain Dan and crew on Dazzler making passage in the Coral Sea. Grape Ape! Get your finger out of there. We don’t know where it’s been. Kids!