Passage to Vanuatu

In August, our friend Jeff crossed the Pacific from Hong Kong to San Francisco as passenger on a container ship—not to cruise the islands, not to swim with the fishies, just crossing an ocean for the sheer experience of being at sea, surrounded by water and wind. I tried to harness that sense of awe and wonder as we left Fiji last Friday for a 450 nautical mile passage to Vanuatu.

Then an hour off the coast of Viti Levu reality hit: the 20 to 25 knot forecast turned into sustained high 20s with frequent periods in the low 30s; outside Fiji’s protected waters for the first time in four months, we were reminded of the power the wind has to whip up the ocean and found ourselves in three to four meters of swell. Sitting in the cockpit of a boat our size, three to four meter swells looks like walls of water charging ominously at you. We watched the bubble in the inclinometer oscillate from 40 degrees to 40 degrees. Sounds resembling those from a high speed vehicular collision echoed as waves collided with our hull. It felt like we were crowdsurfing on the back of a cavalry of rioting horses…for twenty-four hours.

Thoughts of awe and wonder I did not have. Instead, I found myself praying for a ruby slipper miracle as I lost the contents of my stomach, profoundly understanding that there really is no place like home.

But the lesson of the sailing life is one of continuous mutability—be they hellish or heavenly, the only thing the winds and seas guarantee is change. By Saturday afternoon, we were running downwind with eighteen knots on our stern quarter and an easy one meter rock and roll, the agonies of the previous night already a foggy memory. Forecasts, thankfully, were for a further softening of conditions. We fired up the iron jib at around 0300 on Sunday morning as the winds died, expecting to motor for the next thirty hours into Vanuatu.

Things were calm enough Sunday afternoon for Dominic to toss a line in the water; some thirty minutes later we had a delicious beauty on the hook and a serious menu upgrade for the rest of the day. Then around 1400, Aeolus blew a glorious fifteen knots behind us, filling our sails and sending us flying through flat waters at seven knots directly to our destination. Conditions held as the light on the sails melted into gold. We were in love with life, sailing into the sunset toward paradise, feeling the awesome, wondrous bliss that only comes when in harmony with the water and wind.

We arrived in Aneityum, Vanuatu’s southern-most island, at 1000 on Monday morning, surrounded by bright blue waters, long sandy beaches, and plenty of fishies with which to swim.