Vanuatu to Australia – the early part

A passage of thirteen hundred and twenty nautical miles should not be undertaken lightly however after all the sailing Temptress has done since January it is a mere skip across the final section of the Pacific Ocean. More of an issue to her crew were the preparations required to ensure we pass muster on arrival with AQIS ( the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service) whose strict requirements and paid by the fifteen minute period inspection are viewed with terror by most yachties. The stories are legion and we didn’t want to become another.

The other item on our minds as we prepared to leave was our uninvited “passengers” who stowed away in Fiji, German cockroaches. The small pesky insects had been found walking as bold as brass across the galley worktop one evening, another scuttled away into the space behind a shroud plate at the head of our bed whilst I was dusting and yet another had taken up residence with the oranges. All three were dealt with but as they say there is no smoke without fire so roach traps have been deployed in strategic places down below and cupboards cleaned more thoroughly than usual.

On deck meanwhile we discovered several more hiding under the life raft and behind the cockpit seat-backs when cleaning the accumulation of boatyard dust that had blown in during our few days in Vuda Marina. They and the last few remaining ants who had boarded via the warps in Savusavu were swiftly exterminated with bug spray. The roaches we presumed had dropped from the overhanging palm trees onto Temptress’ decks before finding places to hide or had crossed between the wall and the fenders. I live in hope they are all gone as we’ve not spotted any more since but I know they are far too crafty to be rid of that easily.

We made our departure early in Saturday afternoon having pulled the dinghy up on deck and given that too a good scrub inside and out. There will be no soil, dirt or weedy growth to give AQIS any cause to extend their inspection. Our shoes, bikes and Temptress waterline have also been cleaned.

At sea the Pacific was performing as usual that is to say winds higher than forecast, rough seas with swell from various directions. At least the sun was shining. At night the wind was chilly, long trousers, jackets and even oilie bottoms were required to keep warm. Sunday was chilly all day with a short rain shower in the morning and cloudy most of the rest of the day. On Saturday we hung out our trolling line once more despite the large amount of skipjack in the icebox. Another sizeable skipjack catch resulted in Kevin hanging rather precariously on the back step filleting fish whilst Temptress charged along at seven or eight knots under reefed main alone. Time to stop fishing for safety reasons as well as logistical ones, there is no room in our little freezer cum icebox. The tuna is now being cured in sugar and salt, our first attempt at this. We’ve often enjoyed eating other people’s efforts so thought it was time to try it ourselves.

Monday the sun was back and the seas flatter despite the wind still blowing F5 or 6 from the south east. Swell is often a mystery to sailors as what you get locally has usually been set in motion by weather systems hundreds of miles away. A storm in Antarctica can cause huge ocean swells many thousands of miles north. The further they travel the longer the period between the swells. Windy weather closer to our track can often result in rough short, choppy seas and when the two motions combine the crew’s lot is not a happy one. Ocean explorers of the past like Cook and Bougainville in whose footsteps we are following, would know they neared land even if there was none shown on their charts by the changing motion of the waves.

I was on the last watch of the night (4am -7am) so set some bread to rise before pondering how to cook tuna for supper tonight. Fish cakes made from instant potato? Or another curry? We’ve also a small tub of poisson cru from yesterday’s catch which will go nicely with coleslaw, tomatoes and fresh bread for lunch. Two hundred and fifty miles done, just over a thousand to go. Our next waypoint is to the north of Sand Cay some eight hundred miles away, west of the Great Barrier Reef, northwest of Cairns. After that there is at least day and a half’s sailing (two hundred plus miles) into Cairns via the Grafton Passage.

Currently Temptress is north east of the atolls that form the very tip of New Caledonia. The wind varies from SE through ESE to E and with the sails goose winged (the jib is partly furled and poled out) the crew has to keep a close eye on things to ensure the wind stays on the port quarter. It’s a constant task, ten degrees here, ten back as the wind fluctuates over the watch but thank goodness for George the auto helm who steers without complaint as long as we keep the batteries charged. The engine had to be run at 4am for an hour as he had been using a lot of juice during the night but now the sun is up the solar panels will more than keep up. Usually we run the engine at dawn and at dusk for an hour to ensure the batteries remain over ninety percent charged.

We know we aren’t far from land all day we have seen boobies, frigate birds and tropic birds sometimes in flocks sometimes just a solitary bird. The boobies come by again at dusk eyeing Temptress up as a potential roost. Their antics are amusing but our speed and motion defeat them despite the convenient spinnaker pole perch mounted to windward on the port side.

Ships Log Monday 5 Sept: Noon position 16 56.65S 163 25.79E 290NM