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Solo Passage From Fiji to Vanuatu - October 2000

Fiji, Vanuatu,

Sunday dawned with no wind in Musket Cove and Meniscus swung lazily at her anchor chain. A quick visit ashore to find that the latest weather fax was still not there. Then back to the boat, dinghy up, sail cover off and anchor up by 10.30. By 12.30 we were up Wilkes passage (they didn't seem to mind) and heading for the ocean still with no wind. A hundred yards or so out there was a ripple on the surface and it started to set in - right on the nose at first but slowly it swung round onto the beam as I got further away from Fiji. It wasn't long before I was romping along with an average speed of 6.6 knots, surfing at over 8 and maximum 10.6 knots, all under second reef! I snoozed a bit in the afternoon and tried to rest up before my first solo night passage. The new moon was up and waned at about midnight. As it was dead ahead it lit my path with a soft white light.

It really is an alarming regime this solo sailing! I had my alarm clock set for every half hour to wake me for a quick look about, the radar occasional alarms when it detects a large breaking wave and the autopilot alarms every time it gets slightly off course. Needless to say I didn't get much sleep but I lay on a mattress on the lee side of the cockpit and just kept popping my head up for a look see. This seemed to work fine but it was a bit cold and damp. At about 03.00 I awoke to complete silence. "Something's wrong!" I thought - then realised that she was sailing herself George had decided to snooze too. He was given a sharp reprimand and told to do its watch properly and I was soon asleep again.

Sailing solo Sailing solo

The wind died and came round onto the port quarter during the night and we slowed to about 5 knots average. I made myself a great bacon and egg breakfast to get me going and by 08.00 I felt energetic enough to launch the spinnaker pole to windward and get the full genoa out. It took me 2 hours, methodically stringing out the knitting, to get the poles down and erected. It was worth it though the average speed went back to 6.2 knots.

By midday on Monday I had made 168 miles and finished my last ever James Michener book! The day was also bright and clear with just a few white tradewind puffies wafting along. A ship passed 6 miles away mid morning and a few boobies and a tropic bird have swooped my wake. That night was much the same and I lay dozing in the cockpit in the moonlight looking out every now and then. A couple of rain squalls passed about 2 miles away, one to the south and one to the west.

Tuesday and the wind has dropped some more and my average speed is down to 5.7 knots. The sky has slowly clouded over so I am not sure whether to hoist more sail or wait. I spent most of the morning pulling out passage planning books and reading them to research a route for next year. Should I go to Indonesia or should I go to Micronesia. Its all gets very complicated and I cannot make up my mind. By lunch time I have made 303 miles and Jeeves tells me about 220 still to go - well it doesn't look as though I will manage it in 3 days! The afternoon sees the wind dropping out even more and speed really drops off so up with the full main - that doesn't often happen! The moths were glad of the fresh air though. The night is still fine but the cloud structure is changing, becoming more dense and with the wind decreasing a few knots I can guess that the weather is going to get worse soon but it does not look like a real blow. Around midnight I put the engine on to charge the batteries and soon noticed some water on the saloon floor. Instantly wide awake I hit the stop button, open the engine cover and there is the engine sat in 100 gallons of water. "Oh dear" I muttered and strolled off to pump it all out!!! Once it was gone I started the check for leaks but soon found to my relief that it was just the stern gland packing. I spent some time with half upside down and with my head jammed up beside the toilet bowl repacking it and getting it tightened down enough. I managed to drop a screw driver down the bilge too and then spent an hour completely upside down using a selection of gynaecological instruments to try and retrieve it - in the end I gave up.

Wednesday arrived and there is still a lot of cloud, the wind increased slightly, but the barometer is steady. It looks like my prediction about the weather will be correct but it does not look as though it will hit quickly and I hope to out run the worst of it. By midday Jeeves the navigator tells me I have made 450 miles and the average speed for the whole trip is back to 5.9 knots. Slowly the wind increases during the day and Rudolf spots one or two rain squalls about five miles away off to port and then ahead. As the sun starts to fall we have fairly dense cumulus all around and I still cannot see land even though I am now only about 35 to 40 miles away. Its time to put in first reef as we are having a very boisterous sail. I was beginning to fret quite a bit as I had no indication of my landfall at all. I checked my position and the waypoints several times. Rudolf was also looking out for land but was only reporting rain and plenty of it. It wasn't till after midnight that I eventually made out the land shrouded in cloud. We were around 8 miles away by then and rain squalls were beginning to hit thick and fast. There was no moon getting through but I could dimly make out the loom of light from Port Villa and eventually George brought us round the headland into sheltered water and heading for the harbour. I started pulling the sails down and got the motor going once I could make out the entrance buoys. We passed between them and George again altered course for the anchorage. I am amazed as I had done all the navigation and entered waypoints from a chart dated 1892. I fully expected to have an error of a mile or more but Meniscus is guided in automatically by GPS and autopilot. It was pitch black and I motored up to the town lights. I was looking for other yachts and could not see anything against the bright lights from shore. It wasn't till I was 100 yards away that I finally made them out and got the hook down at 04.00 hrs after 95 1/2 hours, 545 miles at an average speed of just below 6 knots.

It wasn't long before I was in my bunk for the first time in 4 days and slept soundly till about 10.00. When I awoke it was pouring down just like a monsoon. Well I wasn't going ashore in that so I made the most of it filling the water tanks did the laundry, washed the floors and had a shower in the rain whilst putting on the sail cover and launching the dinghy.

I had a tremendous sail and felt a great sense of satisfaction as a result. I often can't help wondering if life will ever get less challenging or even get boring but it seems to me that it only ever gets better - but how good can it get? The crew were marvellous, never had to cook for them once, they did most things I asked perfectly, never winged once and never, never argued back - Thanks George the autopilot, Jeeves the GPS, Rudolf the radar you were outstanding!!!

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