Call for Assistance

We’ve been within AIS range (~20 miles) of Blue Wind for two days. We would start to leave them behind, then the wind would change a little and they would start to catch up. At one point we had almost no wind, and we could see on the AIS that they were going 8 knots. Of course we concluded that they were motoring. And later in the day we got a fresh breeze, and went from about 5 knots to 10, and Blue Wind called on the VHF radio asking if we had just started our engines. (That’s a little funny, because our top speed under engines is about 7 knots.) Apparently they were watching us as closely as we were watching them. We each assured the other that we were not, nor had we been, motoring.

Then the conversation turned more serious. James (skipper) said that Ruy (his only crew member) was very sick. He asked about our medical knowledge and medications on board. Our “ship’s doctor” (Tim) of course is not aboard. We tried to call Tim on Bob’s satellite telephone, but without success. We sent an email via the SSB radio, and were pleasantly surprised to see a reply by the time we had rummaged through Tim’s collection of medications. Via satphone Tim then spoke directly with James. Although Ruy had already taken an antibiotic, Tim recommended a different one. (Broader spectrum? More powerful? I don’t know.) Blue Wind did not have the medication, but I did. So we made a plan with James to get it to him.

When the medical issue first arose we had altered course to gradually converge with Blue Wind. We knew we might be transferring medicine. We also discussed transferring a crew member to assist (in spite of the potential nightmare with the immigration authorities if we arrived with a different crew than left Vanuatu). Transferring a person would be much trickier than transferring a package. With ocean waves it is dangerous/impossible to bring the boats directly alongside — they could be pushed into each other, or the rolling could case the masts/rigging to collide.

James considered it, but declined the offer of crew. So as we were closing the last mile to Blue Wind…we cleaned out an empty peanut butter plastic jar…put the medicine in a sealed plastic bag in the jar…added a hunk of just-baked bread in another sealed bag as a nice gesture…tied a small line around the lip of the closed jar…tied the small line to a larger/heavier/throwable line…found a small water bottle that we half filled with water to act as a throwing weight…tied a small line around the neck of the water bottle…and attached that to the other end of the heavier line. We agreed that Blue Wind would hold their course at a slow speed, while Bill conned No Regrets under power and approached from astern, passing alongside about a boat-length away. I would then heave the weighted end of the line (while Bob takes pictures). If unsuccessful we could retrieve the line and try again. But I threw a strike — right into their mainsail, so the bottle slid down to James on deck. James then pulls the entire line to his boat, with the payload on the end. We’ll ask for the line back in Australia.

The transfer went without a hitch. Blue Wind is now motoring at top speed toward Mackay, some 300 miles away. We’re trying to stay within radio range in case any further assistance is needed.

Any offshore sailor would do as much to assist another boat if they could. But this experience points out a benefit of sailing in a rally — having another boat close enough by to help!

200 Plus

We have flirted a couple of times with the 200 miles/day goal, but finally today we have definitively and unequivocally broken through that barrier! Our noon to noon 24 hour run was 225 nautical miles. Yeah! Our average speed for the past day and a half has been an awesome 9.5 knots. Rides down the waves are routinely 12 knots, sometimes 14, occasionally 16, and twice 18. We left a couple hours behind the other boats because we had to complete a repair aloft, but we have passed them all. Blue Wind is the boat to beat. They were 20 miles ahead of us when we got out to open water, and they are now 15 miles behind. It was gratifying of course to sail past Tahawus last night — they’ve shown that they can sail pass us upwind, now we’ve shown what we can do downwind. But of course this is not a race…

We are sailing with a reefed mainsail and working jib. Winds are in the low 20’s, though it was blowing 30 just before dawn. That was a wild time, with the roar of the water rushing past the hulls, and the anticipation of the next wave lifting the sterns in the utter darkness. Then the push of the wave accelerating the boat, and guessing from that initial push what the speed would be in the seconds that follow. Can everything withstand the immense forces at play…? Mostly the sailing has been “smooth” in the sense of not crashing into waves, though occasionally one smacks under the bridge deck and shakes the boat with a lurch that would have seemed terrifying months ago, but which I would merely call nerve-wracking after what we have sailed through to get here.

I do not expect to be the first boat to Australia, because the wind is predicted to go light before we get there, and both Blue Wind and Tahawus go much faster than we do under power. (And they will switch to power much earlier than we will.) But we are very happy to have shown what we can do under sail! Six hundred miles to go to the passage through the Great Barrier Reef.

Departing Vanuatu

After the big Back to My Roots festival, we had an afternoon of rest, and got underway just before dark to sail back to Santo. This time the destination was Oyster Island Resort, which cannot be entered at night. So our plan was to sail as slowly as we could, to cover the 70 miles and arrive after sun-up. This worked out fine. The resort is beautiful and offers good food and laundry services and showers and live music and garbage removal and wifi. All appreciated.

But I found I couldn’t upload photos via the wifi, so Bob and I decided to head into town. We were told it was a 20 minute drive. After a short walk to the main road we put out our thumbs, and the first vehicle to approach was a flatbed truck with half a dozen young men on the back yelling to the driver, “Stop! Stop! Pick them up!” The back of the truck was loaded with huge bags of copra, plus there was about half a butchered calf and a couple of plucked birds, and feathers blowing about. Plus some coconuts, which they proceeded to open for us with their machetes as we bounced down the road. It was a wild and fun ride, and more than 20 minutes because the truck could barely make it up the hills.

Our mission was safely completed, the blog updated. Next day we were scheduled to do a tour, but I am coming down with a cold — I slept all day. I’m glad I did. My first day of solid rest in a long time, and the others came back raving about the beautiful tour, but completely exhausted. I’m not looking forward to dealing with a cold on our passage to Australia, but oh well…

We depart tomorrow. This afternoon Luc gives us our sailing instructions and then we have a farewell dinner. In the morning Luc takes the skippers to clear out with the authorities, and takes the crews to a market for provisions. Expected passage time is about 7 days. Much anticipation about Australia…a major milestone…hauling the boat for new paint…lots of repairs…Hallie coming…Jesse coming…going exploring in the Northern Territories…Bill leaving…Bob leaving…Tim returning…sailing with Jesse…Great Barrier Reef…Torres Strait…and then…but no, I can’t think ahead to Indonesia just yet… Still a lot to be done just to get underway by tomorrow.