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Pendana: 200 Hours To Vanuatu (BLOG)

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For those who have been following along on our Facebook page you will already know that we altered course to Vanuatu instead of continuing direct to Fiji due to Pendana being squashed between two lows and having a very ordinary time of things.

Juuuust a little choppy.

Juuuust a little choppy for our taste.

After about 12 hours of facing short period seas on her forward starboard beam in the 13- to 16-foot range and with the forecast set to deteriorate, I felt that another 48 hours of these short period (6 second) sharp seas was not something I was prepared to put up with. Remember, this is pleasure boating and once the pleasure goes out of this it soon becomes unpleasurable and akin to having root canal work done on your teeth for a very long time. After discussing with both Mark and Claire the idea of diverting to Vanuatu, the decision was quickly made and as we changed course to head direct to Vanuatu the ugly seas that were causing so much discomfort became gentle giants following Pendana as she made way. Ahhhhh now that’s better!

Overall our trip from Sydney to Vanuatu was superb and while we knew the last two days were going to be challenging I guess we weren’t expecting sustained 36-knot winds when the forecast called for 26 knots with gusts to 35, and to be perfectly blunt we were not enjoying ourselves. While, no one felt sick I think that as the hours rolled on there is no doubt that sickness and tiredness would have started to play a part in this for everyone aboard. There is no doubt that there will be times when we have to soldier on but this was not one of those. The decision to alter plans, remain creative and be flexible in this situation shows a certain learning that only comes with time at sea.

So what was the trip really like? Well in a word, fantastic!

Nothing but natural beauty that is.

Nothing but natural beauty that is.

Being in the middle of the ocean with nothing, and I do mean nothing around you is incredibly peaceful, awe-inspiring and somewhat scary. If something goes wrong out there you are on your own so being resourceful, capable and knowledgeable about all systems is imperative, (PS: I for one still have a way to go).

We didn’t see a boat or a plane for the last five days at sea which is a long time, when one thinks about it, in fact, a really long time! I was desperate to see another boat so I could call them for a chat but nothing, nada, zero, zip, zilch and other than the odd flying fish making our foredeck their new home there was not much to see other than more and more blue water.

Because we arrived on Saturday evening and weren’t able to clear customs until Monday we all spent the Sunday doing a list of odd jobs and cleaning the boat. Mark and I spent a long time focused on keeping water out of the boat. As it happens, when in the ocean, faced with towering waves throwing thousands of gallons of water on your decks constantly one soon becomes very aware of the need to keep water out of the boat.

The value of Capt. Mark is insurmountable.

The value of Capt. Mark is insurmountable.

While this may sound a little obvious I can tell you that we copped a fair bit of water in the lazarette which was a surprise. The reason for this was that while our lazarette drains worked perfectly our seals did not. So Mark and I went about replacing both bustle and lazarette seals and ensuring all was clean and tidy as seeing bilge light going off while a sea in some pretty serious conditions certainly focuses the mind.

Monday morning came around and before we knew it the customs lads were here to clear us in. The overall process was very straight forward and simple and they were done and dusted with us in about 30 minutes. Quarantine even let us keep all our cheese and chicken so long as we promised not to take it ashore. That said, I think they were all pretty amazed with Caesar who provided a nice distraction and behaved beautifully.

Seriously though, the process of arriving in Vanuatu could not have been simpler or more relaxed and while it is true I used the services of a clearing agent to help notify the authorities most of the basics I did myself. The clearing agents we used were Jess, Sam and Noella from Kaleva Yacht Service, (Email: here in Vanuatu. Noella was incredibly helpful and it was fantastic to have a go to person for a few things like laundry.

Laundry you ask?

Well our washing machine has never worked properly in the last three and half years and while I keep throwing money at it I have now officially given up. So, I will need to have a chat to the messiah Mr. James Knight shortly to arrange a replacement machine to be installed when we get to Hawaii.

Flir footage of us dropping the hook after 201 hours at sea!

Flir footage of us dropping the hook after 201 hours at sea!

For the statisticians we covered some 1,600 nm at an average speed of 8 knots from Sydney to Vanuatu (remember we were headed to Fiji so a wee bit longer than a normal passage by about 200 nm) in 201 hours drinking on average 7 gallons per hour for a total of 1,407 gallons of fuel burnt. We normally run at about 6 gallons per hour, but bumped up the speed a little as it was a long passage.

Lessons learned from this voyage:

1.) One has to be resourceful and capable of fixing things if they go wrong. Honestly, I don't feel that I am there yet but continue to learn, listen and ask stupid questions so in time hopefully it will come.

2.) The ocean is HUGE and can go from welcoming to a living nightmare in a very short space of time.

3.) Bilge pumps really are important and water finds an uncanny way of working its way in. imperative to replace seals every two years to ensure water tight compartments remain that way.

4.) For those following us on the location tracker will have noticed we went a long way north before heading out to sea to avoid a low forming in the Tasman sea. While we all wanted to depart and clear customs in Sydney maybe with hindsight we should have gone to Brisbane of Coffs Harbour and cleared there. This would have reduced days at sea and potentially saved a few hours in less than ideal conditions.

5.) When faced with conditions that are deteriorating divert and change plans. As it turned out we did just that and to this day I am grateful of the decision we made.

All in all life at sea is going to suit us just fine and other than not being able to get decent internet connection we are all enjoying ourselves immensely. The girls talked and listened to music, the adults talked, slept and kept watch. The cats slept and slept and slept and Ceasar greeted every watch keeper with enthusiasm and love without fail.

There is no doubt that the decision to see the world by private boat for us was a big one as it would be for most and I am pleased to report that so far so good.

Enjoying Lunch Ashore with Pendana far off in the distance.

Enjoying Lunch Ashore with Pendana far off in the distance.

Our plan is to depart Port Vila on the weekend and head directly to Fiji. This will be with just the family as Mark is flying back home to the Gold Coast to continue his full-time role as a superyacht captain. For Claire and I this will be a big test as we work out what works for us regarding watch keeping and what doesn’t and if we truly have what it takes to survive and thrive alone in a big blue world!

Finally, I am sorry to report but the next blog won’t go out until we reach Fiji. For those who enjoyed our daily updates via Facebook, as we made our way across to Port Vila, thank you for all the comments and while we couldn’t reply to many of them we did all read them and were grateful for each and every one.

Vanuatu still has scars from a recent cyclone that ripped through the area.

Vanuatu still has scars from a recent cyclone that ripped through the area.

You can read more Pendana blog here