Z E N I T U D E
Blue Water Dreaming
At Sea - Fiji to Vanuatu - Sailing close to the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ)
Passage - 4 to 10 October 2010
04/10 - (16.46.66S-179.19.87E)
We departed Savusavu after clearing with the authorities. The first part of the trip along the coast was very nice and calm with 15 knots winds but as soon as we turned in the direction of Suva we were facing 15 kn head winds as expected and our progress was very slow.
05/10 - (18.14.88S-178.30.88E) - 108 miles on day 1
It is very uncomfortable and painfully slow. Rather than improving the situation is worsening with stronger head winds and swells. The forecast is not promising, we are expecting more wind and higher seas. We want to make the pass in the south with day light. There is an alternative at night which is to keep going farther south and turn when clear of all dangers but going farther south with this wind doesn't sound attractive. At noon we are still about 30 miles from the turning point where we can start going west again. At this pace we are thinking we might be able to get there just before dusk.
Finally, we are at the turning point, we know once we turn we'll be going at a good pace so we take the chance. There is still some light when we pass the dangerous part. Another 70 miles and we'll be clear of Fiji's coastline.
06/10 - (18.00.00S-176.30.00E) - 117 miles on day 2
Winds have increased to 15 to 20 kn but the seas are still good at about 2.5 m. We have set course to Luganville in Vanuatu. Oscar has a long time dream to dive the Collidge ship wreck site and he is looking forward to our next destination. We are following Bob McDavitt trip plan.
07/10 - (17.35.38S-174.15.45E) - 131 miles on day 3
Winds are a steady 18 to 22 kn and seas have increased to 3.5 mt as forecasted. We are now sailing at good speed. We’ve done another 131 miles. The weather seems to be worsening and forecasts show squalls are coming our way. We request Bob McDavitt to send us an updated plan. He confirms we are supposed to continue as we are going.
Squalls with convection are coming one after the other, it is impossible to get some sleep and we spend the night in a roller coaster. It is hard to keep course as the winds in the squalls keep changing direction, first increasing then dying then increasing again, until the squall is gone. Soon there is another squal and it all starts again.
08/10 - (17.52.83S-172.03.16E) - 131 miles on day 4
Conditions were getting worse by the hour. Our weather guru did not understand what was going on, he said he could not see anything like what we were experiencing in the forecasts and said it should get better further east.
For 24 hours we couldn't sleep and we couldn't eat. We were not looking forward to another night of the same. But what we got was even worst, we got thunders and lightning all around us.
We were so tired and scared that decided to put down all the sails and just keep going with one engine so that we didn't need to go out to change sails with every wind shift.
Oscar spent the night reporting our position every two hours in case we lost our communications with a lightning strike. I spent the night thinking: "I don't want to be here".
It is common when there is a line of squalls that they gather energy as the air gets cooler during the night. Then, every new squall is worst than the one before. We were trying to get some sleep but it was impossible with the non-stop thunders.
Finally it was dawn and we could see the skies. I believe this was the most scary moment of all, we could see a very dark monster squall, growing around us, I was looking at the radar and thinking that this thing was engulfing us.
09/09 - (18.40.40S-170.06.19E) - 136 miles on day 5
It is calm and beautiful, winds are 12 to 15 ESE, no squalls.
Ok, we are not selling Zenitude after all.
We have been talking to Joule in the net, they are still in Fiji waiting for good weather, we have also talked to others in New Caledonia and Port Vila.
They are expecting a front in the next couple of days.
We think on changing our destination to Port Vila which is closer and in our current route. We could be there tomorrow, at this point that is very attractive to us. Going to Luganville from here we would need to head back north and add another day to our trip.
10/10 - (17.44.80S-168.18.66E) - 125 miles on day 6
Everything remained calm and we arrived to Port Vila in the morning. We picked up one of the moorings. Finally we were able to rest after one of the worst passage in our sailing life. On an interesting note, it was during this trip that we passed the 20,000 miles sailing with Zenitude.
Leaving stormy weather behind
When the night comes we can see a display of lightning to the north. We get goose bumps just thinking of being in the middle of it again.
Port Vila is a good choice. Luganville is just one more destination we couldn't make as we are running out of time. The SS President Coolidge diving dream will have to wait.
All of the sudden, very far away, on our port side to the south, we saw a bit of light, a very small patch of blue sky, Oscar and I looked at each other. We didn't need to say it, that is exactly where we are heading. We turned to port, we were in about 40 knots of wind and this black thing was swallowing us.
We realized then that we were not going to make it without the sails up, the engines were not coping. We had no option but to raise sails as fast as we could with lightning all around us, 3rd reef was enoguh, Zenitude gathered momentum and off she went, finally escaping this monster squall.
While we are escaping to the south, we get an email from Bob, saying we should be going north. NORTH? Through the middle of that monster? No way. We know what we are doing now and we are thinking we should have done this 24 hours ago, it seems that we have been riding with a localized system. Looking at charts with the position of the SPCZ, I believe we got a demo of what SPCZ can do when active.
Two hours later we are in blue skies, 15 kn winds and calm seas. We have no courage to turn east yet and decide to put a good distance from that system. We set up a sleeping schedule as we feel we better catch up on sleep while all is good and quiet.
Breakfast was soon on the table as well.