Monday, May 19, 2008

May 18, 2008 - Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu

We left Port Resolution at 8am on Saturday morning for an overnight sail to Port Vila. For the next 9 hours we had an absolutely fantastic sail. It was sunny. The breeze was stiff and coming across our starboard aft quarter. As we sailed in the lee of Erromango Island, the swell flattened out and we were flying along at 8 plus knots. Along the way, we caught a large tuna. Late in the afternoon we were joined by the largest pod of dolphins we've ever had on our bow. While they took turns surfing our bow wake, we noticed that many of them had pink lesions on their bodies, which we initially thought was a sign of disease, but have since learned are more likely the result of fighting during mating season.

At sunset, the wind died just as we came into the windshadow cast by Erromango. We found ourselves in confused seas as the swell wrapped around the northern tip of Erromango. We rolled around in the slop making no progress and flogging our sails. Since the sound of our sails slowly destroying themselves is the single most aggravating noise on board, we furled in the jib, sheeted the main all the way in, and turned on the engine just long enough to get us out of the shadow of Erromango. Once we were back in the breeze, we turned off the engine and threw a reef in the mainsail to slow us down as we had made too much distance during the day and would arrive at Port Vila in the middle of the night if we didn't slow down. We spent the next few hours sailing as slowly as possible towards Vila.

Several other boats were making the same passage on Saturday. Phoenix took the windward route around Erromango. Kaleva left early in the morning and had a nice lunch stop at Dillon's Bay, where they snorkeled with the dolphins. Until sunset, we were by ourselves, then we all converged again on the northern end of Erromango. Since we were all heading towards the same place in the dark, in close quarters, we kept in touch by radio over the next few hours. Three other boats left Tanna on Saturday morning. Two were much slower vessels and they didn't arrive in Vila until the following day. The other was a large, fast aluminum cutter that I will refer to here as The Dude.

We were all getting a large feedback on our radar that looked like The Dude. However, despite repeated attempts by Patty on Phoenix to hail The Dude, they didn't respond. It seemed that they didn't have their radio on. During the wee hours of the morning, as we rolled slowly towards Vila, I could see on the radar and by their navigation lights that The Dude was going to cross in front of us. We were both on starboard tack. Mata'irea was the leeward vessel. Technically, we had right of way. Regardless, I watched The Dude's approach, and determined that The Dude would cross in front of us. However, the crossing was much closer than I anticipated, and they were only a few hundred meters from us when suddenly they seemed to slow way down and alter course as their tri-color changed from red, indicating that we were looking at their port side, to white as their transom came into view. Perhaps it was just a trick of the eye and they continued along the same path at the same speed, but it didn't look like it to my sleepy mind. It looked to me like someone was asleep at the wheel, woke up suddenly, and realized they were too close to another boat and changed course to avoid collision, before realizing that if they continued on their prior course they would be fine. I don't know if that's what happened, but that's sure what it looked like.

When I recounted the experience to Kaleva, they shared a similar close call that they had recently with The Dude in the middle of the ocean. As Kaleva rode out some rough seas and high winds on their sea anchor, The Dude passed within 200 meters of them, screaming along at full speed. They couldn't raise The Dude on the radio that time either. To not have a radio on, whether offshore or on a coastal passage, is irresponsible and potentially dangerous, but to not keep the lines of communication open while traveling in company with other vessels, is just downright rude.

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