Thursday, June 28, 2012

Across The Coral Sea

     Twister departed Port Vila, Vanuatu around 1430 local time on Friday June 15th. The Great Circle distance to Cairns is 1291 nautical miles, but with the normal zig-zagging (on this pasage, the wind was often directly astern from the direction I wanted to sail (which was directly west), so I was sometimes forced to sail 10-15 degrees off course as it's hard to sail directly downwind with the sails I have) associated with sailing as well as having to dodge a few obstacles (ie reefs), the total distance sailed was around 1350 nm. It was one of the most mellow passages I've had, weatherwise. I became reacquainted with the whisker pole which I use for poling out the jib when sailing downwind in light wind (it reduces the slatting that results from swell combined with light wind and I think also presents the jib at a better angle for downwind sailing). Though the conditions were great, it was still a tiring passage because there were many obstacles--both stationary (reefs--Now I know why they call it the Coral Sea) and moving (shipping). I saw more ships on this passage than any other. I was expecting to see some as I approached the Great Barrier Reef, but I saw several hundreds of miles from land.
Midway between Vanuatu and the Queensland coast, I had a blind passenger two nights in a row. In fact I also saw more birdlife on this passage than on any other. I guess that has to do with all the reefs and associated islets in the Coral Sea.
Blind Passenger (ID anyone?)

     Around 300 miles from Cairns I was becalmed for most of one day. Just as the wind totally died, a pod of dolphins approached. Maybe they were hoping to surf Twister's bow wave. In that case, they were disappointed. They were able to entertain themselves nonetheless, jumping and cavorting in the smallish swells coming from several directions. I grabbed my mask and snorkel and joined them for a few minutes (wish I had thought to grab my camera). The water is an amazing deep blue in the open ocean so the dolphins really stood out. Unfortunately at that time, my brain decided to remind me about something I had read about deadly box jellyfish around the Great Barrier Reef. I was hundreds of miles from The Great Barrier Reef, but other reefs were nearby. So basically after a few minutes in the water, I freaked out and jumped back on Twister. What a weirdo, thought the dolphins.
     On the morning of day 12, I arrived at The Great Barrier Reef and sailed through Grafton Passage and the past the last obstacles before Cairns. I dropped the sails and motored up through the dredged channel into Cairns Harbor and tied up at Marlin Marina to await the Australian authorities. The check-in was relatively quick and efficient, though the quarantine/biosecurity inspector earned the $330 fee (most expensive country to check into so far)  I had to pay for the clearance, looking in every nook and cranny on Twister (apparently termites are a big concern for them, and Twister has a lot of wood in the interior).
     So now on my second day in Aussie, Twister remains tied up at the marina while I continue looking for a dinghy.
     Oh, yesterday was a bit of a reunion. I ran into several sailors I had met along the way--most notably, Jessie whom I met hundreds of miles from land in the eastern Pacific when I passed him and his captain some  jugs of water in May of last year. He now lives in Cairns and captains one of the many dive boats that go out to the Great Barrier Reef.

Australian phone number

+61 0416 610292. Call anytime. (not sure if you should included the first zero)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Arrived Cairns, Australia around midday today (Wed the 27th on this side of the dateline). Had a lovely passage. A few days ago, becalmed, I jumped off the boat and went for a swim with some dolphins. More to come.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Next Stop Australia

The low pressure system has passed and it looks like favorable winds for the foreseeable future (which I guess is about 5 days when it comes to these types of weather forecasts). So, in a few hours (around 1300 local time June 15 on this side of the dateline) I will be departing Port Vila and setting a course for Cairns, Australia. It's ca 1300 nautical miles, so if I average just over 100 miles per day as I typically do, the passage will take 12 or 13 days. This will be the first continent I sail to. Hopefully I will reach another one before year's end.

Some of the expats I have been drinking kava with very kindly chipped in and bought me a new guitar (a fender acoustic with a nice hard-case). Very touching and a nice contrast to the thievery of last week. They thought I might go crazy 12-13 days at sea without a guitar. It will certainly be a more pleasant passage with a guitar.

See y'all in Aussie.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


It's easy to get stuck in a south seas port. The pace of life is slow and pleasant, the climate is great, and the scenery lovely. But I usually get a little antsy after a couple of weeks. I now have added impetus to get going. Two nights ago someone stole my dinghy from where I left it ashore and presumably used it to go on Twister and steal what they thought was valuable including my guitar, binoculars, my old iBook notebook computer, and some random electronic bits. Fortunately they were kind enough not to take the chartplotter or anything else essential to the operation of the boat (although the binoculars are quite handy sometimes). Getting robbed sucks. I was very fond of my guitar and having a computer stolen opens one up to myriad identity theft and fraud issues, but the worst part is the feeling of being violated--knowing someone was aboard Twister rummaging through my things--and the effect it has on my feeling toward the locals (in an intellectual sense I know it could happen anywhere and that it was only one or two people, but it happened here, so emotionally  it leaves me with some feeling of dislike for the Ni-vanuatu which is what the locals are called). Of course, in the big scheme of things, it's only an annoyance and inconvenience (using my surfboard to paddle ashore while I try to find a new dinghy). Like a wise man said, "don't sweat the small stuff, and it's all small stuff.

Anyway, I've more or less decided to head for Cairns in Australia. The forecast looks promising for a Thursday departure. I have run into Mike (whom I first met in Pago Pago, American Samoa last year) from the boat "This Side Up" (one of the better boat names I've come across) here in Port Vila and he is also planning to head to Cairns on Thursday, so we have agreed to schedule a daily radio chat on the SSB (thankfully I still have that) during the passage. "This Side Up" is 45 feet to Twister's 28, so he will probably beat me by several days.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Relaxing In Port Vila, Vanuatu

As there is currently very little wind and a low to the south is forecast to bring westerlies in a few days, it looks like Twister will be staying put in Port Vila for another week. There are worse places to be stuck. Food is good, people are friendly, the water is warm and clear, and good surf is nearby. I was disappointed by how badly I surfed in Fiji in May--I could hardly catch a wave. I felt much better about my surfing after a couple of sessions by Pango Point near Port Vila. One might think that I would do a lot of surfing, sailing across the Pacific. Yes, some of the best surf in the world is on my route, but the breaks are often not close to where you anchor your boat and rowing an inflatable dinghy puts many of them out of reach. Whereas I surfed about twice per week when I lived in San Diego, it's more like twice per month over the last year.

I am leaning towards bypassing Papua New Guinea on this trip across the Pacific. As I am on a bit of a schedule (more on that), I wouldn't have time to see much and by all accounts Port Moresby is not high on the list of dream vacation destinations (it is high on the murder rate list, though). And recently I've been contemplating making Cairns, Australia my next stop. It would be a shorter passage to Cairns than directly to Thursday Island in The Torres Strait, although overall it will be farther to Darwin.

I just go the official word that I have a spot on the upcoming winter (August) AMLR cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula. It's only a one month cruise this time, and that is good for me as a longer cruise would probably preclude my getting to South Africa this year. Found this link with some photos from last year's summer cruise I was on. So, I'm planning to get to Darwin, Australia by mid-July and leave Twister there for the month of August while I fly to Punta Arenas, Chile and board the Nathanial B. Palmer (Here is a site that shows the current position of the Palmer. Will try to remember to post this again closer to August).

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Passage From Fiji To Vanuatu

 After checking out with customs in Lautoka, Fiji, Twister sailed off the anchor around noon on Wednesday the 23rd of May and headed south towards the 4 navigable passes on the southern end of the Mamanuca Islands barriers reefs. With 15 knots on the beam, she was galloping along at 5.5 to 6 knots (and since we were still inside the barrier reefs, there was little swell).  I elected to go through Wilkes Passage and have a last look at the break we had surfed a few days before. Outside the reefs, the open ocean swells began and the wind increased to about 25 knots. I turned westward and dropped the main as we were now going almost straight downwind. I did not use the main again on this passage except for one ill-conceived and short-lived attempt at going wing-and-wing (sail combination for going downwind where the jib and mainsail are on opposite sides) in confused, lumpy seas a few days later.
It was an uneventful passage. With only the jib up, going downwind with swells from several directions, Twister was rolling (rocking left and right) and yawing (going on a zigzag course) quite a bit. One day three, a very determined Boobie tried to land on the mast and then on Horny (the wind-vane autopilot). Like others before, he (or she?) failed due to Twister’s rolling and yawing. Earlier the same day, I sailed within 20 meters of a drifting buoy (perhaps one of the drifting buoys deployed by oceanographic research vessels to study ocean currents).
            On the afternoon of day 4, I spotted Efate Island. I could’ve sailed into Port Vila that night, but decided to heave to (ie park the boat by backing the jib to make the boat drift slowly downwind) until the morning when we tacked though the pass into the harbor and dropped the anchor in the quarantine anchorage. 

Now I've been in Port Vila for 4 days. It's a nice town. Seems relatively affluent by South Pacific Standards. There are a lot of expats. Most seem to be from Australia. There are numerous kava bars (called Nakamals). Well, they don't actually look like bars. They are usually simple structures with a thatched roof. A 50 mL portion is 50 vatu (ca 50 US cents) and 100 mL is 100 vatu. I have found that about 400 mL is about the point when my legs begin to have trouble responding to commands from my brain. The nakamals open around 1530 in the afternoon and many locals and expats attend religiously.

I had originally planned to sail to Tanna Island, and many people have told me it's not to be missed. Alas, I don't have it in me to sail back upwind to get there this time. My goal for this year, is to sail to South Africa, and I won't fret about passing some islands by (this time). 

I expect to be here another week and then set sail for Alotau in Papua New Guinea (PNG). I have been toying with the idea of bypassing PNG and heading directly for the Torres Strait, but that would be a long passage at over 1500 nautical miles.