Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Vanuatu Boat Repairs

A last reminder to get your May issue of "Blue Water Sailing" magazine while it's still on the shelf. One of Barbara's articles is in it. They also just bought another one for an upcoming issue.

After ASTARTE's long voyage south to Vanuatu, it's time to take care of some repairs. Michael has been busy working on installing a new alternator (and finding the right belts to fit which meant a trip to town and finding all the auto parts and hardware stores around!) The spare alternator uses a different length belt than the one that quit. He also has done some re-plumbing of water hoses that were leaking and fixed the main fresh water pump that supplies all our water to the faucets. The raw water pump for cooling the main engine has also sprung a leak – but unfortunately the spare (a pump we had rebuilt while in Panama) won't take the impeller. It seems when they rebuilt the thing, they messed up the shaft and the impeller won't go on. So we'll have to limp the old pump through until we get to Port Villa where they will hopefully have a machine shop. We also replaced the furling line that broke under way. The local large hardware store had some nice line that fit – though spendy – it was good to get the right replacement and have that project done. Next on the list is the water maker pump. Whew – the poor guy has been busy.

We are still in the Luganville area, just across the harbor at the Aore Island Resort moorings. We have enjoyed our first "shell" of Vanuatu kava at the resort the other evening. The taste is distinctly different than Fijian kava (that if you remember, Michael got quite fond of). It has a much more spicy, peppery taste – though it still looks like dirty water. It is supposedly much stronger as well – but we limited ourselves to one coconut shell's worth. It did numb the tongue. There was no ceremony with drinking this at the resort.

We will hopefully be off to a new anchorage in the next day or two. We will still be in the Santo island area, but explore a new place. We still have to get all the horse-neck barnacles off the boat – a project not yet tackled. We are both getting back to normal with good night's rest and the old bodies aren't aching quite as much.
Did a fresh market visit the other day and loaded up with the tastiest little tomatoes we've had in more than a year. Plus we got lots of tasty citrus – oranges, tangerines, grapefruit and limes – so we'll avert scurvy! Picked up some avocados and made guacamole last night that we enjoyed with locally made kumara chips. And thanks to the famous "Rosetti" recipe, we had fresh eggplant parmigiano with a delicious 50 cent eggplant! Eggs are pretty spendy here but the bread is freshly baked and very nice.

Vanuatu is known for its beef which is quite prized and mostly shipped to Japan. Supply cannot keep up with demand for the meat. We bought some at the local butcher and will give it a try. We did have some out at a restaurant (in a stir fry) and it was very tasty. Michael also got a $4 meal while out parts shopping that was steak and rice and he said it was very good as well.

One of the great joys of travel is to try the local foods and we have certainly enjoyed sampling the local fare and trying some new things.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Saturday, May 24, 2014

“Alo” From Vanuatu

"Alo" is the Bislama way to say "hello" in Vanuatu, our 29th country to visit as we cruise on "Astarte." Bislama is the main language of Vanuatu which is a "pidgeon English" with words like "gud" for "good" and "naet" for "night." You can sort of figure out signage in the town thanks to the closeness to English. Most people also speak some English. Besides Bislama there are more than 120 local languages here in Vanuatu, the most different languages per capita in the world. Each village has its own version of language. Some children can fluently speak twelve languages!
Vanuatu has a very interesting history and we look forward to exploring this amazing country that is very environmentally conscious as well as diverse in landscape. The country lies squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire and has nine active volcanoes as well as many thermal springs. The land mass actually rises and falls annually based on the activity of the earth's core. That volcanic past has created some beautiful and rich land structure.

In a recent archeological find, an ancient burial spot of Lapita people was found. The find included the extraordinary Lapita pottery along with skeletal remains more than 3200 years old. The Lapita people are the seafaring ancestors of all Polynesian people from Hawaii to Tahiti to New Zealand. The islands had clan-based villages. Regular skirmishes between villages were the norm and the taking of a few people was the result. These folks were invited to dinner with the chief – only they happened to be the main course!

Spanish explorers arrived and of course the various missionary groups came over time. Some were served up as dinner, but over time, the Europeans impacted the country. From more than a million indigenous people, the number dropped to 41,000 after European diseases and "blackbirding" devastated the population. "Blackbirding" is the stealing of people to work on plantations in other island nations. It was finally banned.

New Hebrides was the former name of this island nation and at one point in its history it was run under a strange arrangement between the French and the British. It was known as "the condominium" government and created an endless comedy of errors. The nickname of the government became "the pandemonium" The British and French drive on opposite sides of the road so setting up the rules of the road was challenging. The flags raised over the government buildings were measured daily to make sure one wasn't higher than the other! If jailed, it was better to stay in the French jail as the food was much better!

With World War II, the Americans arrived with ships and crews in 1942. They built airstrips and bases in several areas including here in Santo where we are anchored. The quonset huts used as offices and housing are still around the town of Luganville. As we arrived, we passed an area called "Million Dollar Point. This is where the USS President Coolidge, a luxury liner turned troopship sunk after hitting a friendly mine. It is now the world's largest accessible shipwreck. The point also is where the US disposed of jeeps, airplane engines, crates of coca-cola, bulldozers and other equipment after the war. Now it is all encrusted with coral and magnificent sea life.
New Hebrides became an independent country in the early 1980's after a few rough starts, coups and seccession threats by some outer islands.

In 2007, Vanuatu was named the "Happiest Country on Earth." Who wouldn't love a country filled with happy, smiling, welcoming people. We are excited about exploring it and so far our interaction with these "happy" people has been a very positive experience.

We are still catching up on rest and getting the boat organized. We have lots of horse-neck barnacles growing on the hull after our 24 day passage. So we have to get in the water and do some hull cleaning. We are now on a mooring in front of the Aore Island Resort. Luckily they have not yet "certified" the moorings for the year so they aren't charging us. It is very lovely and the water very calm. We treated ourselves to a nice dinner last night at the resort to celebrate making the passage. The resort runs a ferry across to the main town of Luganville and we took that in yesterday to go to the fresh market and do some looking for line to replace the broken furler line and check fuel availability and prices.

More later on the flora and fauna of Vanuatu – it is really nice to be in this lovely, happy country!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Friday, May 23, 2014


After 24 days, we completed the 1500 mile trip from Majuro, Republic of Marshall Islands to Luganville, Espiritu Santo, in Vanuatu. We probably covered more than 1800 miles having to tack into head winds or drift (sometimes backwards) on the days without a wisp of air across the decks. But we made it. The last few days were great sailing though hard on the wind – so it was life at an angle.

We entered the harbour here on the island of Espiritu Santo at sunrise on Friday, May 23. We anchored and immediately got to work unpacking the dinghy, inflating it, launching it and getting to shore to go to customs, quarantine/biosecurity, and immigration. We had to get to a bank to exchange US dollars for our new currency – the Vatu. We had to pay fees for some clearance.

Now we are going to get more than three hours of sleep at one time and relax for the night. Tomorrow, we'll hit the local fresh fruit and veggie market and restock on fresh goods. After 24 days the boat is a bit bare.
More on this interesting country and its history in a future log. For now, we are grateful to be at anchor and not in rain gear waiting to wake up the other person for their watch!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

New Destination

Toodaloo Tuvalu. Our destination is now Luganville on Espiritu Santo in the island nation of Vanuatu. This passage has been a frustrating one to say the least and the change in destination is a result of our inability to make our way east. There is a strong equatorial current that was sending us one to two knots west (and sometimes northwest). Together with the lack of any wind, or when we got some, wind that would take us south but not east, we were just killing too many hours trying to point high and get that easting. So we decided to throw in the Tuvalu towel. Luckily, we hit the country on our way up to the Marshall Islands and spent almost a month there, so at least we have seen it. It would have been a good stop and rest – but now we have added another almost 800 miles and will head to Vanuatu which was to be the next stop on our itinerary.

After that tough decision was made, it was a bit easier to sail knowing we didn't have 100 miles to make up to the east. That was how far we had drifted off our course line over the almost two week period of time we have been out here. The sailing is a mixed bag – some days we sail beautifully and comfortably and make progress. On other days, there is absolutely no wind so we take down our sails because they crash back and forth, doing both the sails and our nerves no good. And sometimes we avoid squalls, go through squalls or simply stare at big ugly weather around us and listen to the thunder. We are getting so good at putting sails up and down, in and out that we could do it in our sleep and have once or twice.

Today is Wednesday, May 14 and we left Majuro two weeks ago. We left with a very small moon and now it is almost full. We can only imagine what our water line looks like – we are probably a fish aggragating device by now. Our bodies have adjusted quite well to the overnight three-hour sleep patterns – that is when we can sleep. The roll when we have no sails up is quite miserable and every rattle on the boat can be heard. When we are sailing well, it is quite comfortable though warm.

At last we saw some marine life. Two whales came by for a morning visit at sunrise. They were quite close to the boat and gave a good and startling blow so they were easily spotted. They didn't stay on the surface long enough to get a good identification – but our guess is that they were minke whales. They didn't stick around long. A bird has also adopted the boat. He kept trying to land on a solar panel right next to the wind-generator. Another boat that is nearby, "Segura" had their wind generator taken out the other day by a bird and are now deficient on power. So Barbara was waving some red napkins at the bird trying to keep it away. It was a wily critter though and as soon as she gave up – the bird came back. Since then he has sat on our anchor, the rolled up dinghy, the floats we use to lift our anchor line off coral, the outboard, the solar panels on the bimini, the solar panel aft, the back deck – in other words he's just made himself quite at home throughout the boat – even trying for the cockpit. He has no fear of us whatsoever. We've named him "Toro" after Barbara waving the red napkins and him simply coming at them like a bull! He disappears for part of the day and returns to the boat at night – so far for two nights.

We now have 630 miles to go to Vanuatu as of this point. At this rate of sailing (and with the predictions of no wind for the next two days) it may take us another ten days! We celebrate any speed – even three knots gets us excited. So far we've traveled at least 1000 miles – sometimes in the right direction!

We're not alone though. There are several other boats trying to do the same. Some got into better wind pockets or squalls than others – but for all of us it's been a slow and frustrating trip. But the reality is that at this point, we can't do anything but keep trying to move the boat forward in the right direction and get to Vanuatu at some point. Luckily we are good on food supplies – though a fresh fish would be tasty and now there is plenty of room in the fridge!

Sorry entries have been few – just too much of roll to want to spend too much time in the cabin writing.

Friday, May 9, 2014

In the Southern Hemisphere Again

We crossed the equator for the third time on Thursday, May 8, 2014 at 1110. This was the first equator crossing in daylight – so we could actually see the equator! The first was heading to the Galapagos in March 2012 in the early, early morning hours. The next was from Tuvalu to Kiribati last October late at night. It was nice to do it in daylight and we toasted Neptune appropriately. We also sent another "message in a bottle" overboard – and we'll see if it gets found. After finding a "message bottle" in Ailuk, it is even more fun to send a message on its way. So now we are in Southern Hemisphere where we remain windless.

We have 613 miles to go as of this writing (Friday, May 9 at 1030 local). At this rate it will take us another five weeks as we are barely eking out a mile an hour. The predictions don't look too good – the wind may pick up a bit this Sunday and Monday – but otherwise the forecast continues to predict 4 knots of wind. Add to that – the four knots is coming directly from the southeast – the direction we are headed. There is not enough wind most of the time to keep a sail filled so we drift aimlessly like a piece of seaweed. Of course, when we drift or sail off course – we are adding many additional miles to that rhumb line course.

Every so often, we will get a squall line through the area. This is sometimes good because it brings with it some cooling rain and perhaps even a wisp of air. The hard part about squalls is that you cannot predict which ones will simply be rain-makers with light wind – or which will be the nasty ones that are filled with big wind. So we prepare as if each will be a bad one and then adapt. Unfortunately, it often means we have less sail up to capture the ones that have just enough wind to get us moving.

The other night, it felt like we entered the "twilight zone." We actually had one terrific day of sailing – steadily making 5 to 7 knots with all our sails up and Astarte sailing like a champ. It was fun and beautiful as we made good progress. Then we entered the zone. It was after dark and the area was one mass of gray. You couldn't distinguish water from sky – the tone was all the same. As we entered everything got very still – the seas, the wind – nothing. It lasted for hours simply drifting in this void. The gray soon gave way to clear skies but the wind never returned. Since that time, we have been lucky to make a few miles. We did run the engine for a few hours and made some easting. We are off our course by about 24 miles to the west – not able to get any easting in – so when we motor, we go east! The batteries were low without wind and no sun on that particular day. So when the engine is on – we charge batteries, make water, charge computers and toothbrushes and make eastward headway. But we only can run it for a few hours to conserve our fuel.

We are not alone out here though. There are about five boats that we know of, all heading in relatively the same direction. "Segura" is less than 50 miles ahead and we actually chat with them every so often on VHF radio. The others are further ahead and much further west as they are heading to Fiji or Vanuatu which aren't as east as Tuvalu – our destination.

This will be a long 1100 mile trip because of the lack of wind. Michael has already read about 6 books between watches, boat projects and hoping for wind. We have even resorted to "scratching the backstay" in the hopes of wind (all you Patrick O'Brian fans will know about that!)

Luckily we have plenty of food on board to survive a long passage and no deadlines to meet anyone. Also, if anything big happens in the world that we should know about – send us an e-mail – we don't have a clue about what's going on out there.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Still 810 to go!

It is slow progress as we head towards the southern hemisphere. The winds have been very light – at times non-existent. How can it be that in the Pacific Ocean there is less than 1 knot of wind? We don't want to complain though – it is better than way too much wind. But it does make for slow progress towards our destination. At this rate, we're still days away from the equator (currently at 02 degrees/50 minutes North).

Last night was a very strange night. We have never seen a darker night - no moon, no stars, dark clouds everywhere and we couldn't see any horizon. It was eerie. The only light came from the consistent lightning all around us...but it only lit up the blackness. We had to unplug some instruments for safety and put the computer in the stove! It also rained harder than we've seen – a rain that lasted almost non-stop all night long – steady and heavy and coming straight down as there was little to no breeze. The wind, what little there was, would change direction constantly. We couldn't wait until daylight. It came and showed all the clouds around – but at least it was light.

We would often put all the sails in and just drift instead of listening to the sails get beat up as they hung limp smacking into the rigging. Then we would just drift with the current (sending us north, northwest (we are heading southeast!)

Enough whining – today it is sunny and not raining. There is little to no wind so the swell collapses the sails and it is in the wrong direction (oh I said NO whining-oops).

We continue to make our slow progress and we connect with people daily on a few radio nets. We are getting out of range for the Marshall Islands "Iakwe" net and are checking in nightly on the Pacific Seafarers ham radio net.
For those wondering why we don't motor in this light air – well we don't carry enough fuel. We are carrying 90 gallons (70 in the tank and 20 on deck) and we burn about 1 gallon an hour going about 4.5 knots. You can do the math. We ration our fuel by thirds – only using one third for each third of the miles to travel. If we don't use it on a particular third – we put it in the bank for the last leg. Of course, in an emergency – ship or island avoidance, mechanical failure, repairs etc – we would use what we need to and make it up later. We've almost used our first 30 gallons already for this leg and still have 90 miles to go.

At this rate our 1100 mile trip will take us a good 18-20 days! Michael's been good about putting in position reports.

Friday, May 2, 2014

180 Down...

920 to go! That's the nautical miles under our belt so far (as of Friday, May 2, 2014 (our side of International Date Line) at 0900) as we make our way to the island nation of Tuvalu.

We left our mooring ball under sail on Wednesday morning at 1000 at sailed out of the Majuro Atoll, motor-sailed through the reef cut and then made our way back on the outside of the atoll. We had to motor the length of the atoll as the wind was dead on our nose and reefs were all along the atoll. But once we made it to the end of Majuro, the motor went off and we had a pleasant sail through the night and most of the next day. It is sunny, hot with a few cloudy areas here and there. The winds are very light though – barely reaching ten knots so its slow going. But the good news is that the seas are relatively flat so it is comfortable though slow.

Last night just around sunset, a squall was ahead so we were going to pull in some headsail. The furling line parted during this process and jammed. We got the sail in by hand. We managed to change the line after finding one small enough and long enough. This required pulling a line out of a preventer – (the spare preventer). The line is a tad thicker than the old furling line so it is not as smooth. We'll see how it goes over the next day or so and if it doesn't work, we'll put a long piece of spectra dynema on for the time being (this is our safety "jack" line– which we'll replace with the "preventer" line!) Lots of switching to find the right size and length. Something else to purchase! But it happened at a time that wasn't a crisis – so that was good – and in daylight!

We're getting our sea legs back and starting to get into the swing of another long passage. The sleep patterns with our watch system takes a few days to get used to. But it does get easier with each passing night of three hours on watch and three hours of sleep.

The passage should take us at least 12 days at this rate (probably longer if the winds turn southeast and stay light). We've already seen a few ships and this route always seems to have more boats to keep your eye on. Not much moon – but the stars the last few nights were glorious – quite a show. No sea critters yet – but we're always watching. We'll get a fishing line in the water in the next day or so – but first we have to empty the fridge a little.
All is well aboard and we are underway after close to six months in the Marshall Islands for cyclone season. It is getting warmer as we near the equator (our third crossing!) which should be in about three or four days.

Michael posts position reports daily.