After finally clearing out of Vuda with Fijian Customs officials, who were four hours late, Phil, my friend visiting from Los Angeles, Travis, and I readied the boat for departure to Vanuatu. Just as we were about to cast off the lines, the marina staff appeared in front of our boat and serenaded us in their native language, which was most touching. Everyone was incredibly kind and accommodating during our week’s stay at their marina, and while we were anxious to resume our cruising, now that our boat was 100% operational, it was sad to leave such a lovely, friendly place.
We had hoped to leave well before noon, which would have fit nicely with our passage plan to arrive Vanuatu, 560 NM distant, by mid-day the following Monday, enabling us to clear customs upon arrival. Alas, Fiji Customs had other plans, so we sailed at 1600. While the weather report was not great, showing some low pressure zones in our path and perhaps 25 knot southeast winds, we figured on having a fast, albeit lumpy, passage. Phil is an avid sailor and owns a Swan 44 like mine, but he limits his sailing to coastal jaunts in relatively benign Southern California weather. With that in mind, I suggested he apply a Scopolamine anti-seasick patch a few hours before departure, rather than risk becoming seasick and staying that way for the three-day passage.
While we were right about the weather, our prophylactic measure for Phil backfired, as he felt horrible almost immediately, in spite of initially moderate seas, and confined himself to the port side berth early on. As wind and seas built, as predicted, he felt no better, but no worse, even with steady 30-40 knot winds and breaking seas around 4.5 – 5 meters high for the next 48 hours. As for Travis and me, we are accustomed to this sort of abuse, but I had picked up some food-borne illness in Fiji two weeks previously, and felt somewhat nauseous whether on land or sea. Phil and I subsisted on oatmeal, soup, and an occasional apple or orange. Travis and I took 3-hour watches, so nobody ever got more than 1.5 hours of sleep at a time. It was not pleasant, but not horrible, either. Driving was fun in those seas, and there were no “rogue” waves this time, just the occasional greybeard that would smack into our hull and dump a lot of spray into the cockpit.
When the weather finally moderated Monday morning, the boat was covered with salt from being continuously inundated by big waves, my forward cabin bunk had a damp spot from a leaking hatch gasket, but otherwise nothing was broken or damaged. Phil ripped off is Scopolamine patch, immediately felt human again and began taking serious nourishment. While he was confined to his bunk for the first 48 hours, his sunny disposition never flagged, and he was a great shipmate. At least he enjoyed the last 8 hours sailing before we arrived at Port Vila, Vanuatu.
Upon arrival, we anchored at the “quarantine” area, and the Customs launch appeared almost immediately. Forms were processed, money changed hands, and we were free to lower our yellow quarantine flag and fly the Vanuatu pennant. We proceeded to a mooring at Yachting World Marina, which is owned by the eponymous company. The Waterfront Restaurant at the marina is superb, and we enjoyed many meals there before Phil had to fly home. After starving ourselves during the three day passage, we were ready to indulge.
Travis left us the day after we arrived, met up with his friend Pauline , and flew to Luganville, Vanuatu’s northern island, where they were taking a free diving course and going to just travel for a week “or so.” Phil and I had two days together, during which we enjoyed numerous restaurants, saw a bit of the island, and relaxed and read books on board. My Fijian stomach ailment was slowly improving, so I actually appreciated those amazingly good meals. Vanuatu beef is grass-fed, free range, and delicious. I eat it almost daily, along with Thai food, fresh local snapper, mahi-mahi, and the ubiquitous “fish and chips.”
Once Phil left, a slip became available in front of the Waterfront Restaurant, so I moved in and, after a week, still haven’t left. Finally kicking my Fiji bug, I badly needed time to relax and gain some weight, but did spend one day cleaning the salt off the hull and deck and polishing the stainless. Nor’easter looks like she’s ready for a boat show. I have fun sitting in the cockpit and meeting various restaurant patrons, who are curious about the boat and how someone as old as me can be sailing around the world. When I step off the boat into the restaurant, the wait-staff always asks, “would you like your usual table?” That’s fun. I feel like a character in a Jimmy Buffet song, either Banana Republic or A Pirate Looks at 40, not sure which.
There are a lot of great places to which I could sail nearby, but I’m happy to stay put for now. Today I played 18 holes at Port Vila Country Club, which has been around for 50 years and is an excellent track. After a delicious lunch at the Club’s grill room, I caught one of the many vans that ply the roads ($1.50 gets you anywhere you want to go), got back to the boat by 1430, took a 3-hour nap, got up and had fresh mahi-mahi at the Waterfront. I met a nice couple from Aukland who joined me for dinner and later some Mount Gay and pineapple juice on Nor’easter. Yesterday I did 2 exceptional scuba dives in the morning, then got a massage. This is my idea of world cruising!