Some things just seem to go together.

Edgar hummed softly, almost to himself. Edgar did everything softly, with a quiet, dignified self assurance that belied his barefoot, tee shirt and short trousers presence. Early on a sunny morning with just two other people in the tiny but well respected Vanuatu National Museum, Marce and I eagerly rushed from amazing mask collections to twelve foot tall wooden drums, intricately detailed pottery urns, head to toe grass costumes with long pointy snouts, but Edgar, Edgar was the man. He’d said to take a look around and while there were no cruise ships in the harbor and he hadn’t planned on a demonstration he might show us a few things.   

A wooden frame, one meter square, containing a light layer of sand lay on the floor in front of him and he softly began to give a small talk about…well I had no idea because at first I couldn’t understand a word he said. 

Marce looked as if she understood everything so I determined to concentrate more intensely. Slowly words I recognized began to rise up out of Edgar’s gentle lilt. He knelt and began to slowly trace intricate patterns in the sand, never lifting his finger, never stopping, quietly, constantly relating an ancient story which seemed in sync with the ellipses, loops, and circles.


Just when it seemed he’d drawn himself into a corner and there was nowhere to go he’d swoop around with a graceful figure and continue. Turns out that it’s not really sand drawing, it’s a form of writing. It’s how they write the story down. Breathtaking. 

When it was time for another story he held the frame by the sides and with a well practiced flick of his wrists, the sand jumped and the whole story disappeared like a huge Etch-A-Sketch. Edgar did three stories, the first was an incredibly intricate design, the second revealed a turtle just before he Etch-A-Sketched the frame and the last became a multi masted sailboat, in honor of how we arrived here in Vanuatu.

Next he picked up a long wooden flute and played a slow haunting melody while circling around the wooden story frame.

He played the Vanuatu national anthem on a gamelan kind of instrument. 

I guess you could say that Edgar is a kind of Renaissance Man, all of which makes it hard to imagine his ancestors of not very long ago “eating the man.” Yes, there are still Vanuatuans alive today who have eaten humans but I guess like Hannibal Lector says, it’s not bad when paired with fava beans and a nice Chianti.


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A formal welcome

The day we arrived in Port Vila we spent a few hours tidying up, as you do after a passage, then followed the other cruisers into the nearby bar for happy hour. We probably should have made a beeline to customs where we needed to complete our entry paperwork and pay a fee, but tomorrow’s always another day and the beer ashore was cold and cheap. The next day, it turns out, was Constitution Day and a national holiday. Great! we said, and how is it celebrated? We got the lowdown from various locals at the bar and made plans to get up extra early the next morning. 

We were following the stream of Ni-Vanuatu towards the central market by 7:45 and stationed ourselves on the forward edge of spectators. Beyond our position were men in uniform who tacitly made it clear we’d gone far enough. Shortly after 8:00 the military band marched down the street playing a rousing 19th century style number that had Jack commenting the you can always tell when the English have been around. The French, too, I said. The band was followed by a color guard who stopped directly in front of the government office building, while the band marched to the end of the block, did a fancy inside-out turnaround maneuver, and finished off in formation right in front of us. The band and the color guard showed their stuff for another upbeat number, then they all stood at ease as the uniformed guards kept their eyes trained down the street in front of us. We were obviously waiting for something, but what?

Just when we were about to ask what was happening, a woman crossed the street with printed programs and we did our best to decipher the Bislama, with the help of our fellow spectators. We learned we were waiting for the arrival of the prime minister and the president — they’ve got both! — and they arrived in due time in heavily guarded black SUVs.

After a musical fanfare and military salute for each dignitary the president inspected the honor guard and the band, then took his place on the dais with the other bigwigs for the singing of “Hae God, Yu God Blong Mifala” or “O God Our Help in Ages Past.” This was followed by the reading of the preamble of the constitution, which includes a passage about “cherishing our ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity.” Gotta love that it’s baked right in. 

The president spoke for about 15 minutes during which I tried my best to get the gist, but managed only to understand a few words here and there but did come to recognize some verbal patterns in this very interesting creole. 

The ceremony concluded with the traditional kava drinking, then more salutes by the band and the honor guard, followed by refreshments, to which the spectating public were invited. 

We had a date for breakfast with friends so we decided to forego the chocolate cake and kava, but I did take the opportunity to get a photo with two of the Supreme Court justices, who graciously obliged. 

On our way to breakfast we passed the second parade of the day, this one celebrating International Teachers Day, complete with a village chief or two. 

I’d say we had quite the welcome to Port Vila, and Jack topped it off with a high five from his favorite tennis player. 

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The boneyard of Iririki Island

Lacking chicken bones to decipher the coming weather, we were reduced to trusting the hundreds of tiny animated arrows representing wind and current on a GRIB file from NOAA. We found it strangely tough to leave beautiful Port Resolution Bay even though every moment spent at anchor meant more and more black volcanic grit would have to be hosed off with our salt water wash down pump in an attempt to clean off the decks, solar panels, and truth be told, everything else including us. 

Gambol got off at first light but our friends on Pacha decided to stay another day. The passage to Port Vila on the island of Efate is an overnighter so about the only mistake you can make is to arrive in the dark. Light spotty winds and currents that haven’t read the sailing directions can really complicate the timing issue. What I’m trying to say, dear Escapees, is that it was a sail, and a motor-sail kinda day.

Why is it that lately, if the conditions are beautiful, I get a feeling of foreboding like we’re going to pay for this later? We passed Gambol by noon and continued to sail slowly in a dying breeze. We watched the orange orb of the sun drop below the horizon. Mostly motoring now, we were fighting a two knot counter current that was supposed to be aiding us instead of impeding us and Sweet Jesus it was dark. Erromango Island was supposed to be out there somewhere off to our port side where a tiny pinpoint of light could be seen, and Gambol was, well, I had no clue. Profound darkness. Navigation to Port Vila looked pretty straight forward but the only thing on my worry list was something my chart called “tuff rk (9)” which was right on our course line. We had to clear Veluruwa Pt. by Cooks Bay, and an inconvenient islet that was marked “91 MT.” We ran the pros and cons of whether to duck inside of “91 MT” or stay the course outside and around and decided to cut the corner. I’m not normally a cut the corner kind of guy especially around these reefy waters but progress was slow and getting slower as the sun went down and the arrival math was getting ugly. Do we really want to motor for the next 18 hours? 

That’s when a call came from out of the black ether. It was for Doug on Gambol. Kindred Spirit could see us struggling up the coast on his AIS set. He suggested stopping at Polennia Bay for the night to wait for better wind tomorrow and he would guide us in. Beats butting our heads into this damn current all night and probably arriving in Port Vila in the dark and out of fuel. First I had to find Gambol. I asked him to flash his masthead light. Turns out that single point of light on shore was, in reality Gambol hugging the shore. We slowly followed the VHF directions from Kindred Spirit looking to anchor between two prominent reefs but there was a small complication of a Polish yacht in the anchorage not displaying any lights. Kindred Spirit flashed a light in that direction so we could avoid them, and we tiptoed toward land, eventually dropping the hook blindly in what Kindred Spirit said was a good spot. 

First light in the morning revealed that our courage ran out two hundred meters off a beautiful seaside village. With one third of the passage to Port Vila in the can we had a leisurely breakfast and planned a mid-day departure. 

Once again timing our arrival in Port Vila was complicated by the potential of fluky winds and adverse current but we found the breeze to be a little stronger and yesterday’s nasty current was not a factor so we had a pleasant overnight sail into Port Vila and picked up a mooring ball by mid morning. 

I still find it disconcerting to enter a harbor and see a dozen wrecked boats of all descriptions beached in an expensive tangled pile on shore. This particular mess on Iririki Island was courtesy of last year’s cyclone Pam. Other than this bone yard it was all very civilized and bustling, as a capital city should be.



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Fire and brimstone

At the appointed hour we four gathered at the yacht club for the truck ride up the mountain. The driver invited the two women to ride in the cab, while Jack and Maurice made themselves comfortable on sofa cushions in the back. Along the road we picked up a few people on their way back home up the steep and rutted track, including this beautiful woman and her child, who wasn’t quite sure what to make of the white-haired Maurice. 

At the base of the volcano we were welcomed by park attendants and joined a couple of dozen tourists from the various resorts and pensions on the island. Local villagers performed a welcome dance and two women greeted us each with a floral protection amulet. 

The group then performed the custom dance, a version of which we’d seen on Mystery Island on Aneityum, but whereas the dance on Aneityum was performed for the cruise ship passengers, this one was more insular, performed for each other. It was interesting to see the difference in focus, but as dancers stamped and whirled we became more aware of the mountain rumbling ominously behind us. 

As almost always happens here in the South Pacific, kava is offered to the village chief by way of asking permission to visit their land, and for this Jack was chosen to present the kava. We suspect this was because of his superior age but we’d rather think it’s his natural good looks and quiet assurance that made him stand out. 

With the kava presented and accepted, we were now allowed to make the final ascent to the rim of the volcano. The attendants divided us into groups of 6-8 by language and gave us a safety talk, then led us up the steep and rocky path to the top. 

We were unprepared for how cold it was up there and glad we’d brought jackets. Soon the rumbling intensified and as the sun sank lower in the sky we were treated to a spectacular fireworks display that exceeded our expectations. Finally, after years of getting close but not close enough to volcanos in Sicily and the Caribbean I got to experience the demon that lurks just beneath the surface. And I want more. 


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Just like Polamalu

Like Steeler Footballer Troy Polamalu sliding between the gap of two big lumbering offensive tackles to put the big hit on some aspiring quarterback, we’ve had a rare north west wind push an unusual nasty rolly Pacific swell, shooting the gap between Mystery Island and Aneityum’s anchorage at Anelghowhat to put the hurt on us. A quick glance at a chart would convince anyone that this ought to be a very quiet anchorage. However the dead pig has most assuredly drifted past the boat. There’s not much wind but we gotta go, so we’ll be giving the temporary exhaust repair and our dwindling fuel supply a shakedown cruise. It’s not much of a float plan. Even someone as mathematically challenged such as Yours Truly can wrap his brain around this one. Some fifty-odd miles at five knots should put us into Port Resolution, Tanna Island, in about ten hours. We left in company with Pacha and crew, Amelia and Maurice, retired French Tahitian restauranteurs, only to watch their big sloop power over the horizon. 

On our approach to Tanna we could clearly make out the column of smoke belching from Mount Yasur. Yikes, this thing’s for real. It turns out Port Resolution is a beautiful harbor and why would you expect anything less from Captain Cook who named the bay after his own trusty ship?


In the morning crews from all four yachts in the harbor turned out swabbing the black gritty fallout from Mt. Yasur off their decks. The stuff was everywhere and after two hours of cleaning I found that I could turn around and do it all again. But we’re on a mission. High on Marce’s bucket list is peering down into an active fire-belching volcano. Yeah, I know, but you gotta love the passion.

We climbed the steep path up the cliff to the Port Resolution Yacht Club overlooking the bay with the Pachas and made arrangements for a volcano date with Stanley, then wandered through Ireupuow, a beautiful, authentic and vibrant Vanuatu village. Beautiful people. 

When you find yourself in Port Resolution, try Chez Leah’s place. Tasty, but Leah’s relaxed serving pace left us little time to prepare for the big show as we rushed back to our boats past several dugout fishing pirogues. You know, it’s one thing to see an old dugout pirogue in a museum but quite another to see old and newly carved pirogues out fishing and being used every day for transport. There are no aluminum jonboats in this bay. 

In the meantime, Marce began to vibrate in anticipation.

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It’s a mystery┬á

It’s come to Yr. Hmbl. Skpr.’s attention that it’s been awhile since the crew enjoyed a team building exercise and it wouldn’t it be better off the boat? Escape Velocity was wobbling a bit with this unusual north west swell. What better way to build team pride and efficiency than to have a spot of kayak paddling across the pass to explore Mystery Island. Yours Truly was disabused of that notion tout de suite and in very firm language caught the mood of crew who announced that our conveyance would be via motorized inflatable RIB. Ah, we have one of those, warming to the idea immediately. We launched Cat Nip and approached the massive shiny-pants aluminum pier. The concept was to check out all of the preparations the Islanders would undoubtedly be making to ensure maximum profit from the cruise ship that would show up tomorrow. 

The cruise ship showed up early and suddenly the island came alive with music and dancing and souvenirs and pale determined vacationers soaking up what little sun showed up that day. Just as suddenly the ship bolted at sun down and disappeared like they stole something.

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Low bandwidth angels

While Jack alternately rewrote The Big Book of Swear Words and scratched his head to problem solve our broken thruhull, I tried to connect with the usual sources of boat parts. No go. Our brand new SIM card was not going to let me access a website, and would barely send or receive email. We had returned to the days of dial-up data speeds and sometimes not even that. But a tiny message on top of the tiny phone screen told me I have free Facebook. Great, I thought, I’ll message a few friends and ask for help. But Facebook messaging didn’t work either, just the regular newsfeed. Ok, then, we go public. I posted our problem as a status update and asked for advice. I initially failed to specify that it was the exhaust thruhull that broke, not the intake, setting off worries that we were taking on water and prompting breathless warnings that we needed to beach the boat and plug the hole. Once I cleared that up, two Manta whisperers suggested almost simultaneously the fix that Jack had already thought of, modified by the fact that the hose itself wouldn’t actually fit through the hole. 

So immediate problem solved, we still wanted to get a new thruhull installed because we’re not comfortable relying on a jury-rig all the way to Australia. We were overwhelmed with offers from cruising friends to send a part to us from the States, from Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. But since we couldn’t get to a website to arrange payment, we asked if it was possible for our friends on Rehua to see if one was available in New Caledonia. They’ll be sailing up to Vanuatu in a couple of weeks and we could just pay them directly, if they have the time. On the day they planned to check out of the country, Seathan made a special trip to the chandleries and, miracle of miracles, found us a thruhull. This is the second time Seathan pulled our asses out of the fire, the first time in Tonga when he generously “lent” us seals and bearings for our leaky raw water pump, making our long passage to New Zealand leak-free. It took us months to find replacements to return to him because we neglected to save the old seals and bearings to show to the parts stores and had to spend many hours trying to find cross-reference numbers that anyone recognized. Lesson learned: save the old parts. 

But I digress. With EV fixed and a new thruhull on the way, Jack and I turned to the hardest part of the break, the cleanup. We faced a similar one years ago on a friend’s boat we’d borrowed for a long weekend sail in the Chesapeake Bay. The exhaust system must have been on its last legs and gave up the ghost while we were motoring at low speed through the pass at Tilghman Island. The engine was in the center of the boat under a badly gasketed cover and the entire cabin filled up with oily exhaust and carbon monoxide, not just a mess, but a dangerous health hazard as well. We lived, but we spent the rest of the weekend scrubbing the sooty mess from every surface of the boat. Apparently our effort didn’t pass muster because the owner pretty much never spoke to us again. I know how he feels. 

Luckily in our case the mess was largely contained in the engine room under our bed, but a fine soot did leak out onto every surface of our bedroom, which as luck would have it, I had just spent a few days deep cleaning. For the next three days we degreased and scrubbed and vacuumed and wiped.

It’s tough to be in a magical place and have to spend time head down, nose to the grindstone, but in the end we feel lucky that our problem was fairly easily solved, and of course grateful for the cruisers who instantly pitched in with advice, encouragement and offers of help. We’re especially thankful to Di and Bruce on Toucan, our communications clearinghouse, and to Seathan and Audrie on Rehua, our personal sag-wagon crew. Together they are guardian angels and we’re proud to call them friends. 

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Muffler talk

I may have pushed it too far. I was busy photographing the tidy village life ashore in Aneityum when Marce said, “That about covers it.” I was of two minds. I’d gone over and over in my mind the sequence of events leading up to our automatic engine shutdown. Of course it was at the worst possible moment of the night before. Then again they never quit at a convenient time, do they? Marce calls this muffler talk, but I have a plan. That plan always involves busted knuckles and oil. In Mexico they have a saying that mixing blood and oil is good luck. I’m not so sure about that but I was betting on an overheating problem so the first order of business when we get back to Escape Velocity is to bump the key just to reassure myself that nothing had seized up. It’s great to have two engines.

She was purring away before I could take my hand away from the key. Nothing obviously wrong on further inspection. Oil and coolant levels were good with no evidence of water where it shouldn’t be but lots of evidence of smoke and soot in our cabin. In El Salvador I had installed a raw-water impeller quick-inspection cover called a Speedseal on both engines. Aha, one impeller vane was cracked and about to break off. A problem easily rectified. It may be a contributor but there must be more going on to overheat that badly. There’s nothing for it but to start her up and watch. She started right up and ran perfectly but a lot of water was running down each side of the engine. I shut it down and followed the exhaust, closely inspecting every inch all the way to the impossibly tiny space far in the stern where the anti-siphon exhaust loop should be. No loop. The hose isn’t even connected to the exhaust thru-hull fitting. Just a lot of sunshine where a fat hose should be. Closer inspection revealed a piece of broken hose barb from the exhaust thru-hull fitting still clamped inside the exhaust hose. Nobody carries a spare exhaust thru-hull fitting. At least I don’t.

However, within the first week of owning Escape Velocity I replaced all of the exhaust hoses and while at the chandlery I saw a piece of heavy fiberglass tube the perfect size to fit our new exhaust hose and I thought that in a pinch I might fashion an exhaust hose join someday. Someday has arrived. Hose clamped to the tube, it now fit through the smaller hole in the hull with lots of 5200 and a hose clamp on the outside.

Now who do we know and where are they? It’s a bad time to only have 2g edge cell service. Then again, it’s never a good time for 2g.

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Ground work

Vanuatu, like most island groups in the South Pacific, lies roughly along a line running southeast to northwest. That means if you want to visit the southern islands you want to hit them first because the trade winds generally blow from the southeast. Fiji insists you clear Customs at ports of entry well to the north, so you’re forced to sail nearly 200 miles past one of the most desirable destinations, the unique Falaga. We waited for weeks for a weather window that would take us back south against the prevailing winds and seas to the island we had sailed so close to on our way up from New Zealand, but for us, and for many Fiji visitors, it never happened and we had to reluctantly scratch Falaga off our to-see list, something we’ll always regret.

Vanautu’s official ports of entry are also well north of the southernmost island but they’ve made a small concession, allowing entry at Aneityum with prior written permission and an additional fee. We requested permission and after four tries finally got an official letter granting it.

The morning after our night entry into the anchorage we hailed Customs on the VHF radio but the only response we got was from a nearby yacht who told us Customs doesn’t have a radio but would come to the boat in their own time, probably later in the morning. All we could do was wait onboard and hope they came soon. After 3-1/2 days at sea we were eager to get ashore, stretch our legs and get a local SIM card for the phone so we could access the internet and retrieve our email.

By and by we were visited by a friendly local in a beautiful newly-crafted outrigger. We had a long conversation during which we mentioned we were waiting for Customs to come clear us in. After a while he paddled away but returned not long after to tell us Customs didn’t have a boat that day and said we should meet them ashore. Our new friend Jesse pointed to a spot across the anchorage where we could land and ask someone to guide us to the guesthouse where the Customs and Immigration officers were staying.

We dinghied in, pulled the boat up on the beach and followed a man along a path to a small house where, without a word, he pointed toward an open doorway and then disappeared. Inside we found the Customs and Immigration officers, here temporarily in anticipation of the arrival in a few days of two cruise ships. We filled out the usual paperwork, paid some fees, and were granted permission to take down our Q flag. We need to complete the entry procedure when we get to Port Vila in a couple of weeks but at least for now, we’re legal.

The yacht we’d spoken to earlier told us to ask for “Esta” ashore and she’d sell us a SIM card. We asked the Customs man where to find her and he told us there was another shop right next door where we could also get a SIM card. Ok, I said, but thinking the other yacht had already scope it out, asked again where Esta was. “She’s Samoan,” he said, I thought just by way of conversation.

We found Esta by wandering down the beach and asking anyone we met along the way. She was supervising a gathering of women and children, most of whom were sitting on the ground eating food served on broad leaves. She told us it was a women’s day of prayer and we’d arrived at lunchtime. I said we were after a SIM card and offered to come back later, but instead she offered me a leaf laden with cassava and pumpkin cooked in coconut milk, while Jack darted away before she could give him some. When she asked if he didn’t want to eat too, I leaned forward and whispered, “He’s a picky eater.” She nodded knowingly, and glanced in his direction. He’d suddenly found something about a nearby tree very interesting. Smooth.

Esta told her helpers she was taking us to the shop to get us a SIM card and as we followed her further down the beach she told us she was indeed Samoan and that she’d married a man from Aneityum who worked on the cruise ships — I think that’s what she said — and that they had traveled all over the Pacific before retiring back here. Like many Pacific Islanders she has grown children in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere because eventually they leave for higher education and better opportunities.

Her shop is surprisingly well-stocked but we didn’t want to keep her from the prayer gathering any longer than necessary and quickly completed our transaction. On the way back along the beach she told us her name was actually Marinessa but that the nuns in Apia where she went to school decided she would be called Esther instead because they felt she embodied the qualities of the biblical Esther. “But it’s not my name,” she said solemnly, and I could see that she felt something had been taken away from her a long time ago and that it still grates. “Marinessa,” I repeated. “It’s a pretty name.”

We said goodbye and returned to Escape Velocity, eager to get the SIM card installed and check email. Jack wanted to get started on diagnosing the port engine, too, assuming an overheating issue and a relatively easy fix. The weather was fine. More exploration of the island could wait for another day.

Back on board, after getting the phone up and running, and while Jack was making his usual engine work grumbling noises below, it dawned on me that the Customs man may have told me that “Esta” was Samoan by way of encouraging us to patronize a Vanuatan rather than someone he considered an outsider. I have much to learn.

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On cloud nine

True confession. At my age Yours Truly is no surfer dude but I’ve seen a surfer film or two, and even read a few books. It’s a strange culture and it seems to attract some real characters like that Doc who traveled around to all the famous surf spots in a bus with like nine kids and an amazingly compliant wife who he says changed his life when she taught him how to give good head. I don’t know, I guess it couldn’t hurt, but my point is that they have names for all of these surf spots and here in Fiji we kept hearing about something called “Cloud Break”. While strolling through the tourist shops of Denarau one soft quiet evening I saw it. Cloudbreak! It’s a tee-shirt, surf, beach, resort wear shop that featured a small round table table filled with $9 Fiji, all cotton, loss leader tees just inside the front door. Always on the lookout for trendy tees at a discount I breezed in. Mine is done up in Escape Velocity blue with FIJI emblazoned, in Helvetica, appropriately across the chest.

But that’s not my point. My point is that only after checking out of Fiji at Lautoka and running into friends at Saweni Bay did Yours Truly learn that the only decent pass through the formidable reef protecting Viti Levu was right up close and personal to Cloudbreak. Aha! It’s a surf wave and the shop is named after it. At a certain point, dear Escapees, even I get the picture. I just dummied up. No need to open my mouth and confirm what they’re probably already thinking.

Looking over the chart it seemed that Navula Pass was just another serpentine pass around a break in the reef. In reality it was frightful, awesome, and mysterious, all at the same time and although the size of the surf was huge I still didn’t get this Cloudbreak business until we rounded the first turn to starboard. We were up close to this monster when just ahead I could feel a huge comber impact the reef, through my feet, sending a curtain of spray straight up into the air, like a mammoth calliope playing a bad-ass gothic chord which magically turned into a straight line of puffy white clouds hanging suspended far above the break. The break makes clouds! They shimmered there in the sparkling noonday sunshine for quite a while, strung end to end, like puffy iridescent cannoli, before the next roller pounded the reef. Remarkable. I noticed an aluminum jonboat idling off to the side, I guess to pickup what’s left if things go pear-shaped at Cloudbreak.

Yr. Hmbl. Skpr. was fully occupied at the time giving low priority to photography. 

The massive surf was a precursor to the seastate we would have to face on our way to Aneityum, Vanuatu, home of Mystery Island, for at least the first couple of days but we’d have 20 knots of wind more or less in the right direction. It was rough enough to put Marce out of commission for a while but we made good progress pounding through the huge washer machine waves, some of the biggest waves I’ve ever sailed through. But it’s still good to be on a passage again. We knew that the wind would steadily drop for the next few days so our philosophy is to make hay while you can.

It can get lonely out here in the briny blue Pacific. One lone frigate bird and a booby fought over the same bits of flotsam for an afternoon but eventually the frigate flew away and the booby spent an hour finding a way to land on EV’s pitching lifelines to spend the night crapping all over the skipper’s decks. Boobies are a social bunch.

At 0300 with the beautiful harvest moon hidden behind cloud cover, loom from a large well-lit ship came over the horizon but without response to my radio calls we managed to pass port-to-port about a half mile apart. On the third night grave digger’s watch, that’s Yours Truly’s, the wind dropped and we began to motor sail.

At 1600 Marce won the toaster again with a hearty LAND HO! somehow picking out the faint outlines of Aneityum from the wall of cloud cover that seems to conspire to hide any land mass out on the ocean. No need to hurry, there’s at least ten more hours of motoring. And that would still require exacting navigation around the reefs of Mystery Island at around 2am. But a least we have that full moon to light our way.

As we approached our last tricky turn into the pass, I punched a 70-degree turn to starboard into the autopilot and at that moment the moon disappeared behind some dark clouds. I turned around to see what happened to our light, muttering something that starts with effing and was confronted with near total darkness. When I turned back to check on our 70-degree turn, the chart plotter showed that the autopilot had overshot the turn by some forty odd degrees. Could have been operator error.

Nervously scanning the darkness ahead, we might as well have been in outer space. No visual references, just the pounding surf and a chart plotter that swears we’re heading back toward Mystery Island instead of around its reef. That’s when the engine alarm sounded with flashing lights, and the port engine shut down automatically. I started the starboard engine and with a noticeably elevated heart rate, brought Escape Velocity back to the magenta course line and the harvest moon finally peeked out from behind the clouds.

Two yachts were peacefully bobbing at anchor in the moonlight as we slipped into the anchorage. I was wrung out. I’m sure it was really beautiful in the half-moon bay but just having the hook down was beautiful enough for me. Tomorrow will be soon enough to diagnose the engine problem. I need some sleep.

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