Worrying and wandering
We are anchored in the lagoon at one of the most amazing islands we’ve ever visited: Vulaga. Getting here, however, proved to be a bit of a challenge – at least that was the way I saw it.
Wayne and I are slowly learning the ways we are different and trying to learn how we function as a cruising team. He is the happy serendipitous wanderer while I am a bit more of the planner. Okay, I’ll admit it — the worrier (perhaps this comes from all those years alone as single mom, head of household, not certain that I was up to it). Wayne is always sure that things will have a happy outcome, while I am a bit more of the catrastrophizer. I’m always looking ahead and thinking about what might go wrong, and how I can be prepared for it. Wayne has lots more skills than I do, and he just wanders along feeling confident and deals with whatever happens when it happens.
In the week or so we spent at Vanua Balavu in the Northern Lau islands, we ended up visiting three different anchroages, Bay of Islands, Bavatu Harbor, and the main town of Lomolomo. Each was spectacular and lovely in its own way. We had thought we would be able to get some more food supplies in Lomolomo, but both stores were closed when we visited on a Thursday afternoon. We only saw three or four people in the village which seemed a bit odd. We met one fellow and chatted with him and he told us that he was from that island, but he had moved to Suva as a young man and had now returned to do business on this island. His was one of the two stores and he was just getting it ready to open. It didn’t have anything on the shelves – they were rennovating. The other was locked up. So my hopes of replenishing our meager supplies were dashed.
Friday morning we got up and made our way across the lagoon to the southern pass. The forecast looked good to try to make it the 110 miles or so just slightly east of south. The prevailing winds here are the southeast trades, but the GRIB files I’d been downloading predicted it would go east and a bit north of east. We sailed in much more boisterous winds than predicted all day and night. We could see three other boats on AIS who had left the island out the north-western pass. Around 2:00 in the morning when I relieved Wayne he told me, “This is it, no more easting.” The lighter winds never arrived and it was another slog to weather. One of the boats near us was much faster than the rest of us and she made it to the pass into Vulaga (pronounced Fulanga) about an hour after high tide. The rest of us did not have such luck.
What little information I had about this narrow pass on the eastern (windward) side of the island stated that when the tide is falling there is a 4 knot current in the pass. And when the wind is strong there are very large standing waves like river rapids. While low tide was at 2:20 p.m., the blog I had read also said that slack water wasn’t until 2 hours and 15 minutes after low tide.
We arrived at the corner of the island around 9:30 a.m., but we couldn’t quite point high enough to make it around to the windward side, so Wayne started the engine. We were trying to motor around the reefs when the engine quit. We were blowing down on a reef with only the reefed main up. Wayne jumped down into the engine room and I asked, “Can’t we start the engine for a minute so I can tack her around and we can slowly sail away from the reef?” Wayne said not to worry about it. I sat there worrying myself sick watching the reef get closer and closer. Wayne came out and tried to start it again and it wouldn’t start. I said, “We’ve got to get the headsail out and try to sail off.” We got the sail out and then we couldn’t get enough speed up to tack without sailing even closer to the reef. I swear, I was terrified. Our track on the iPad showed us actually on the reef, and in this case, the charts were quite accurate. Finally, Wayne tacked and I held that jib tight until I knew the sail had backed and we were around. It was far too much excitement for me.
We sailed around and Wayne worked on the engine for the next four to five hours. There were two other boats out there and they both had iffy engines, too. Wayne determined that our issue was bad fuel, so he changed filters and pumped fuel through a minor polishing and into a saddle tank instead of the bilge tank. Wayne was fairly certain the engine would run when we sailed close to the pass just after 3:00. We knew slack water wouldn’t be until 4:30 but we were losing the light, and we needed light to see the pass and the coral heads inside, so we started the engine and went for it. The waves were something! Wayne wrestled the wheel as we went through very close 4-5 foot waves that weren’t just standing, they were breaking. It was like riding the rapids and the pass was only about 100 feet wide. With the engine running full tilt we were only making about 3 knots of headway. We made it through and began searching our way through this incredible lagoon filled with these little mushroom islands, when the engine quite. Fortunately, we had kept the reefed main up in case the engine were to quit, and while Wayne disappeared down into the engine room again, I set about trying to see my way into someplace that would provide us a protected anchorage where we could sail the anchor down. Unlike most lagoons out here in the Pacific, this one was shallow and I was seeing depths from 35 down to 15 feet. But with the low sun, it was very difficult to see through the water. The chart for inside the lagoon is terrible, so I was using a cached image from Google Earth and hoping that what I thought were clouds weren’t really coral bits.
Learnativity has a huge main anchor. It is a 70 kilo Rocna, and we sailed the anchor down with our in-boom furling main which cannot be dropped in a second or two. We were traveling at about 3 knots and when we hit the end of that chain, boy did we come to a nice stop. We got the main down and for the first time in 36 hours, I was able to stop worrying. Wayne shot me that confident grin of his that seemed to say, “See, I told you it would all work out okay.” And as usual, he was right.