Illywhacker - Tuvalu to Vanuatu


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Author Peter Aston
Date 21 Aug 2003
Map Ref Pacific Ocean , Tuvalu to Queensland



A sad event in our family back in Sydney necessitates an urgent flight back to Australia for Lyndall from Tuvalu. Illywhacker's Pacific Ocean passage now becomes a delivery trip to Australia without my cruising buddy.
I was very happy when our eldest son James saved the day and took 3 weeks off work to help me sail back to Townsville, his home in North Queensland. He has travelled extensively around the Pacific Island States and making a quick flight to Tuvalu was no trouble for him - it took less than a week for him to arrive!

Daytime departure via the western pass of Funafuti

Passage Plan

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The sail from 8S to 15S during the southern winter in this part of the world is a fairly safe bet. The SE Trades should prevail but are affected by the South Pacific Convergence Zone, SPCZ. Forecasts from Fiji, NZ and Melbourne give detailed coverage of the position of this 100nm wide belt. Low pressure systems to the south also produce north extending troughs which may influence the Trades, either weakening or reinforcing them.

The SPCZ had to be crossed regardless so we expected a few days of unsettled, squally weather. A change in latitude of 7 degrees was also expected to bring a welcome temperature drop.

Navigation was "interesting" as the area we were to traverse is shown on the chart littered with banks and shoals noted as - "rept'd 1930", "breaks", "pos'n approx" - that sort of thing!

The Crossing

On day 1 James and I motored out of Tuvalu's Funafuti Atoll then set our sails for a beam reach. It wasn't long however that the wind increased to 25kts and swung to the south - we were beating, definitely not what we ordered. Illywhacker wasn't troubled though and with a double-reefed main and half-furled jib we made 2 good day's run of 145 nm each. The skipper and crew weren't pleased though as the motion was yukky and the waves over the deck managed at one stage to create a leak below via the main hatch. We quickly taped around the hatch but the leak was discovered to be from a badly dogged handle. Water anywhere near my computers is treated as an emergency!

The wind swung back to the SE on day 3 and we broke out our fast-reaching rig of jib, reefed main and mizzen. This is fine until the wind shifts just a few degrees aft, the main then blankets the jib causing that annoying collapse-then-fill routine. We then drop the main and run a preventer to a full mizzen which allow us to travel very easily - we yaw less and the autopilot soon tells us if we've too much weather helm requiringa few turns of the jib furler.

There were a few days and nights of rain squalls but we sailed the full distance with the exception of the last 50nm motor into Luganville. Vanuatu. The passage of 887nm took us 5 days 15hrs, an average of 6.6kts. (This turned out to be the best average for any leg).


James at the helm as we motor into Luganville Fresh food markets at Luganville

Luganville, Vanuatu

A really nice Melanesian town, Luganville, formerly Santo, has all the attractions a cruising yacht needs - fresh food and vegs, great places to stop for a coffee or beer and on the doorstep of a cruising paradise. We were disappointed to have to move on so quickly. We determined to see as much as we could while we waited 2 days for James' friend David Haynes to arrive as an extra crew. We took a bus tour around Santo for a quick historical tour (mainly of war wreckage and disused airstrips). We were taken to the Million Dollar Point, where after WWII, the Americans offered the Santo Government all of the unused vehicles and plant rather than ship them home, for some $15m, an unaffordable sum then so the offer was turned down. The Americans then bulldozed the lot into the sea causing the environmental disaster still visible today. US Foreign policy has improved since - or has it?

On the morning of our departure, David and James managed a dive on the famous wreck "President Coolidge" adjacent to downtown Luganville.

James and Gail (SY Native Dancer) at B47 wreck Million Dollar Point dumped war surplus

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