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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