It’s now day 5 of our 7 day open ocean crossing. The winds and waves have been behind us most of the time, thankfully, as the blow has been anywhere from 15-30 knots, with wave swells varying between a comfortable 2 meters, up to a very concerning 4 meters high. When the swells are 4 meters, it’s a wall of water the same height as the flybridge. Enormous waves that roll up from behind us, cresting into white water, then picking up the boat as they pass under, and we surf down the face, picking up speed until the wave has passed by. Our speed picks up on the downhill, up to 18 knots. But with the increasing speed, comes the risk of pitch-poling, (doing a somersault), so Gaz is being cautious with our speed, slowing us down when the swells increase above 3 meters. Our speed over ground has been averaging about 9 knots.
Things have started to fall apart, literally. There’s just no amount of glue or screws or wires that can keep it together, with all the pounding, rocking and rolling from the wave action. Before we even left the marina, a small piece of decorative wood molding just randomly fell off the saloon wall, right into Kevin’s lap, as he sat at the saloon table. That should have been an ominous warning.. abort… abort…, abandon ship! All is lost! But we are bold and fearless, and weren’t about to let a decorating mishap stop us, so we cast off the frayed dock lines, pulled in the deflated fenders, and headed out into open sea in the drizzling rain and howling 25-knots winds for the 7 day, 1,200 mile trek from Auckland to Vanuatu.. (All kidding aside, we just spent 2 months on the hard, hours of work and a boat of dollars to make November Rain ship-shape for the crossing).
Within 20 minutes of leaving port, one of the two recently re-conditioned engine alternators dies a sudden death. It is quickly replaced with the spare alternator, leaving us spare-less for the remainder of the trip. 6 hours after that incident, one of the two Simrad navigation screens gets a bit wonky, and begins flickers between day and night view modes. Garry shuts it down after a few whacks on the side doesn’t fix the issue, and we soldier on, using a combined view of Radar and GPS chart plotter on the remaining screen. The combined view makes all the lat/long positions display in a microscopic font on the monitor, which is difficult to read when you are trying to record the numbers every hour in the ship’s log and the wave action is bouncing you out of the helm chair. Jonas solves the issue by suggesting we take a picture of the screen with our cell phones, then blow up the image so that we can read the figures for the log entry. He’s a genius..
A cupboard latch stops working and all my metal bakeware periodically crashes out onto the galley floor. The handle falls off my brand new red tea kettle, and I watch the special screw to repair it roll down the kitchen drain with the next side wave. Duct tape for both.
Garry loses a chunk of a dental filing from a molar while eating Pringles, two weeks to the day from his last dentist visit. I offer to pull out the dental surgery kit from our off-shore medical bag and do a make-shift repair. He decides to suffer it out with the aid of pain killers until we reach a real dentist in Port Villa.
Two days ago, the bathroom door was jamming shut. Inexplicably, now, it no longer remains securely latched when shut, causing the door to randomly swing open while you are mid-stream. It’s too far from the toilet to the door to reach out and shut it, without standing up. I resort to sneaking pees with the door wide open when the guys are on the flybridge or asleep in their bunks.
Lastly, the door handle fell off of the door into the saloon, locking Garry out of the boat during his early morning watch. He banged on the door at 3 am, yelling for someone to let him in, but we were all so zonked out in our bunks and he just couldn’t be heard him over the drone of the diesel engines. In desperation, he began repeatedly honking the ship’s horn, which by the way, is our emergency signal if you ever need immediate assistance at the helm. This definitely woke up the boat, as we all jumped out of bed in various stages of undress, convinced that there was a serious emergency, and we need to prepare the life raft for launch.
Most things have worked remarkable well. The twin diesel 240 HP Yanmars are reliable workhorses that drone on night and day, and sip fuel slowly . The autopilot has kept us on a true course, keeping the rudders nicely trimmed, even with the big wave action. The new satellite Iridium Go allows us to download reliable weather information right to the iPad, for not only our current location, but for projected locations as well. Unfortunately, the weather gurus continue to predict more 20-30 knots winds, with 4 meter swells. Our course is a little bit longer than a straight line from Auckland to Port Villa. We purposely took a wrong turn towards Fiji, to keep the wind and waves at our backs, rather that endure side swells. About 1/2 way to Fiji, a 45 degree turn westward has us now pointed in the right direction, with the wind continuing to be behind us.
The satellite phone also delivered the tragic news of a 20 meter sailing vessel which left Western Samoa for New Zealand 2 days ago. A freak accident with the boom caused one young person to be instantly killed and another person to be thrown overboard, lost at sea. We all are acutely aware of the danger of off-shore cruising. You might as well be on the moon if something happens out here.
Our nights exist of feeble attempts of sleeping in a noisy washing-machine on spin cycle, broken up by a 2 hour watches for each of us. I am fortunate to have the 9-11 pm shift, which affords me 7 hours of broken sleep. Garry posted himself on the 1-3 am shift, so we are literally ships passing in the night. Having 6 people to split up the night watches is a real luxury.
Days are filled with small chores, napping, meals, cards, reading, lots more napping, movies and swapping stories as we get to know each other. While Garry and I have been together for about a year and Swish is a Garry’s long time fishing mate, Kevin, Jonas and Kerry are new to us, and to each other. Kevin is a mature, experienced off-shore sailor, and was recommended to us through a friend of Garry’s, who knew we were looking for crew for the crossing. Both Swish and Kevin will be returning home to New Zealand shortly after we arrive in Port Villa, (the defective Simrad monitor and engine alternator in their carry-on bags).
Jonas and Kerry, coincidentally, are both 24 year old adventure travelers (or maybe just jobless millennials avoiding the real world), each stumbling upon November Rain’s boat profile on crewbay.com. The “Twins” will be with us for the next couple of months, acting as unpaid (but well fed) deck hands, as we fish Vanuatu’s 80 odd islands for blue marlin and other game fish. Kerry is from Christchurch, is a a spear fisherman, champion midnight snacker, and has had previous deck hand experience in NZ that curiously combines Chinese tourism with recreational sport fishing. Jonas is from the Black Forest region of Germany, has a degree in mechanical engineering, speaks 3 languages, is a keen but novice fisherman, surfer, and a semi-professional stump wrestler.
On day 5, while playing cards, I realized that Jonas was missing his left thumb. I felt like an idiot that I had not noticed it before. He explained that he lost it a couple of years ago in a wake boarding accident. Surgeons were able to reattached the recovered digit, but the graft didn’t take well. As he was coping quite well without the thumb, he decided against getting a big toe to hand transplant, which might compromise his surfing ability. He then challenged me to a game of thumb wrestling, which he won hands down with his stump.
Today is our last full day, we expect to see an island or two by this evening, and reach Port Villa early tomorrow morning. The swells have calmed down, and we have now lines in the water. Garry gave the boys an informative session on fishing, explaining to Jonas how to spread the line across the reel using his thumb. Now Gaz is also in the know.
This was the worst night for me in the kitchen. The fridge/freezer has been having fits, and keeps shutting itself off prematurely. Waves are pounding us side-on as I attempt to make dinner, causing quite a few spills. I am literally chained to the stove, cannot leave the pots for fear they will fly across the galley. I’m holding the oven door shut with my knee, as the pan inside keeps trying to escape with each roll of the boat. The oven is caked with slopped over cheese sauce, causing a lot of smoke as it burns off. Garry finally turns the boat down sea to save my sanity.
Gaz took a few passes around the local FAD (Fish Aggregating Device) this morning, but we had no hits on the lures. We finally gave it up and headed into Port Villa. High-fives around for everyone, for a trip well traveled. We dropped anchor in the Quarantine area of the harbor and hoisted the yellow Q flag after making several attempts over the radio and telephone to contact the authorities. They finally respond by radio, and will be out to see us “shortly”.
Hours later, we are still in limbo land, waiting for the Customs and Bio-security to board and clear us into the country. Until then, we are essentially POWs, (prisoners on water), not allowed to disembark. Our rubbish is packed up for seizure and we have managed to eat just about every piece of fresh fruit and vegetable during our crossing, so we won’t have much to be confiscated, save for 2 onions, 3 carrots and 1/2 of a lemon. The remaining 3 eggs went into a bread pudding this morning. Alway good to leave them a bit to confiscate. If the authorities have nothing to seize, they might get suspicious and tear apart the boat looking for contraband. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to catch any fish along the way, as this is a commonly offered as a nice parting gift with the local authorities.
Tonight, we are planning on having dinner in town and enjoy some island life. Jonas and I have worked out a secret code, just in case he needs rescuing from an overly attentive local lady in the bar tonight. If he wants us to know that he is happy chatting with a particular woman, he will give us the “thumbs up” signal and we will let him continue to charm the lady in question. However, if we get the “stump up” signal, he wants us to step in and extract him from an awkward situation.
We’ll hang around the town for a couple of days sorting out some SIM cards, fresh produce and catching up with some local friends, before heading up to Santo. I can’t wait to get back out fishing!