Passage to Vanuatu

We were finally ready to leave from Marsden cove up to Opua for the New Zealand check out procedures. But the weather was not agreeing with us. We had to wait for the winds to turn southerly to carry us up. A high pressure system passes by New Zealand every 7 to 10 days. Or at least it should. These systems revolve around the arctic between 35 and 0 degrees and usually swirl upwards past and over the New Zealand islands. We would have to wait for one of these to pass over and leave on the tail of it. This would give us a slingshot up North and hopefully enough speed and distance to clear the unhearty weather and enjoy the solid and dependable winds of the trades. But there are also cyclones forming in the Coral sea to contend with. Around this time of year, end of May, they should diminish in frequency and intensity. At least theoretically, as it all seems a bit confused in the air nowadays.

It all seemed to come together on the 12th of May. We left Marsden Cove with the four of us, Linda, Belinda, the French girl, and myself. It was a very calm sail up to Opua. Light winds allowed for us to see how much speed we could muster with the big red thing (code 0). We played around with all sorts of sail configurations and managed a solid 7 knot average speed over the 50 miles up to Cape Brett. Dani left a couple of hours before us, but by the time we entered the Bay of Islands we were side by side again.

In the bay we found a mooring ball to ‘borrow’ outside of Rusell town. We had pizza on our mind, so we launched our dinghy and went for a feast at the Honest Pizza place. A lovely pizzeria with a traditional wood fired oven and an Italian dude who knows what he is doing.

The next morning we met with Steve the mechanic at the Opua fuel dock. He was bringing back our trusty four stroke Honda outboard which had been given a complete makeover. We fueled up all our jerrycans and the main fuel tank for the journey ahead.

nasty dark red bits spoiling the fun

The weather predictions turned sour for the onward journey towards Vanuatu, so I decided to wait it out and stay in the Bay of Islands for the time being.

Our French crew left the boat again to see her friends and go camping and possums hunting or something along those lines. On one of the calm days we went cruising around the bay, we had a lovely lunch on anchor at the three islands. There was little to no wind so we floated around the bay a bit before motoring back. We anchored behind pine island for a couple of days, but yet another storm was about to hit New Zealand. For ease and comfort we brought Ah Ma back into Opua Marina for a couple of days. It was like being sucked back into a black hole, or so I imagine. On one side, it is comforting to see all old friends again at the yacht club and in the yard, but it also gives me a feeling of going backward.

Pine Island

The storm passed without any damages, I made use of the opportunity to do some more jobs around the boat and 4 or 5 days later the weather was looking good again. We reconfirmed a date to depart with the customs agents and planned for departure together with the crew of Dani.

The French girl had returned to the boat, but as it turned out, only to collect her backpack. Two days before departure she casually, in passing me in the marina, said she was leaving the boat, leaving us one crew short. Ah well, it all turned out for the better as her mood and attitude had a profound negative influence on the boat. And I was thinking about asking her to leave in Vanuatu anyways if things did not improve at sea.

I asked an old friend from the yard, Ben, what he was doing next Tuesday. And within 48 hours he had his affairs in order, locked up his own boat and climbed aboard Ah Ma for an adventure of a lifetime. The atmosphere on the boat was great. A relief that the French girl had left and an instant camaraderie and friendship between all aboard.

It was now the 23rd of May. The crew of Ah Ma had a 13:00pm appointment with the customs officer to clear out, and 45 minutes later we threw our lines off and headed out the Victoria channel for the very last time.

Dani left about 30 minutes before, but by the time we hoisted our Genoa to reach up to the sharkfin rock, the point where you leave to Bay of Islands behind you, she was already a good mile or two behind, choosing a different course to find more favorable winds.

The sea quickly became rocky and folly, with confusing wave patterns of the Tasman swells bouncing off the northern tip of New Zealand. But Ah Ma was plowing through like a champion. Averaging 7 knots, running down the waves at 8 to 9. She was in her element and as we headed into our first night at sea, the silhouette of the north island disappeared into the darkness. This was the last of the land we would see for the coming week.

The first couple of days were a bit rough. 5 meter seas, cold and 25 to 30 knots of wind on the rear quarter. But as predicted by the Predictwind app it all calmed down into a beautiful run. On the third night we kept our Genoa and main going through the mild breeze and ran away averaging 8 knots.

I had to enable the priority data feature on our Starlink for it to keep working in the open ocean, but after I did it took only 15 minutes to get the interweb back. This allowed us to check on the progress of Dani and send messages back to the homefront. The progress of Dani caused us great concern. We saw that during the night, when we were ramping up the miles, he had gone around in circles, floating. We feared for the worst and tried to contact Dani through the Iridium satellite phone. When we finally got a hold of them, they assured us that everything was ok aboard except for some seasick crew.

As the days progressed we were doing great mileage per day, and the predictwind predictions were mostly spot on. On the 26th of May we were sailing parallel to the Norfolk islands with nothing around us. We passed an occasional cargo ship in the far distance, but no yachts on the AIS. 500 miles to go to the island of Tanna in Vanuatu.

We headed into a patch of no winds. We could float around waiting for it to pick up again or make some diesel wind to keep our progress. We took the advise Steve gave me back in Opua. Don’t wait around for wind as you might get more of it than you care for, so keep going and get out of the danger zone. So that is what we did, we motor-sailed through the night.

The next morning winds were back and favorable, and service resumed as normal. 7 to 8 knots speed occasionally tipping 9 to 10 as we surf down the following seas.

Just before sunset on the 31st of May the anchor touched the bottom in the rolling anchorage of Tanna island. A good passage making roughly 1100 to 1200 miles and taking no more than 7 ½ days port to port. A wonderful average of around 6.5 knots. We popped the cork of a bottle of bubbles and had a little private party in the cockpit. We are all happy to have arrived without any serious damages, even if we have to sit on a rolly anchorage to wait to go to shore the next morning. But we all hit our pillows shortly after sunset for a wonderful full night of sleep.

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