Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

In Port Resolution, Tanna

Good morning from Port Resolution ( 19:31.5S/169:29.78E) on the island of Tanna. Don't forget that you can see out latest locations at https://www.yit.nz/yacht/maunieofardwall We had a superb sail up from Aneityum yesterday with the Parasailor flying the whole (50nm) passage so arrived here about 3.30pm; we were 'racing' the whole way with Iolea and arrived just ahead of them. Port Resolution is just a long, shallow bay open to the north-east and with a reputation for rolly conditions if a easterly swell comes. At the moment it's pretty calm with just a gentle rise and fall but a stern anchor to keep us pointing into the swell might be needed if it increases.
The main attraction here is Mount Yasur, an active volcano a few miles inland. The locals do a roaring trade taking visitors up to it in 4x4s, with a final climb to the summit just as dusk arrives – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to look down into the crater of a volcano and to watch the fireworks of lava explosions. One suspects that anywhere else in the world the health & safety police would have none of this! At the moment we have sunny skies so we are hoping that the clouds will stay away this evening for our tour.
In the meantime we are enjoying the spectacle of ten dug-out canoes, each with one man aboard, fishing with nets around us. Laura has promised to bake us some shortbread and Graham is about to embark on the no-fun job of sticking his head and shoulders into the anchor chain locker (accessed from the forecabin) to replace one of the windlass foot-switches which is causing problems. What with that and yesterday's job of replacing the water pump impellor in the generator, the 'boat maintenance in exotic locations' nature of blue water cruising continues.

Monday, 27 June 2016

A Brexit-free update

We are sure that you are all (especially in the UK) thoroughly fed up with the media coverage following the dramatic referendum result so here's a blog update to take your minds off it all...
Aneityum continues to delight us, especially as we've had unusually light winds for the past few days; we are becoming increasingly less surprised when the weather 'isn't normal for the time of year'. Light breezes plus sunshine have made things a tad warm below decks but the conditions are perfect for swimming in gin-clear water.
Our hike around the coast on Friday was superb. 10 yachties were transported by boat around the coast to the next village to begin the 5-hour walk back to our anchorage. We were led by the wonderful Chris, a 29 year old guy who was born and raised here, spent 16 years in the capital Port Vila but returned to his island last year. He guided us along the narrow muddy path, sometimes along the beach and sometimes climbing a few hundred feet into the bush, all the while telling us about his island. We worked out that English is his 7th language – he speaks his own dialect and three others (pretty much completely different languages) plus Bislama but was taught in a French school so has only learned his amazingly good English relatively recently.
Vanuatu must be the most linguistically complex country in the world – there are over one hundred distinct and separate Vanuatu languages spoken by the 250,000 inhabitants and, before independence, Vanuatu was governed by a coalition of the French and the British. Even today, there are French schools and English schools and the village we visited at the beginning of the hike is French-speaking; the men sitting in the shade of the banyan tree in the centre responded cheerfully when Graham greeted them with a "Bonjour! Ca va?".
When European whalers and sandalwood traders first arrived in 1820, incidentally decimating the population of many of the islands through the introduction of European diseases, they developed a 'jargon' pidgin-english language which gradually became Bislama, a common tongue across the whole of the country. From 1900 a written version was developed and, in 1981, was adopted by the church here. It's fairly easy to be able to decipher when it's written down; for example, "Good morning, how are you?" is "Gud morning, oslem wanern you oraet?" to which the reply is "Mi oraet, be yu?"
During the walk we learned that Chis runs snorkelling tours for the cruise ship passengers and he offered to take us out, promising Laura that she'd meet some sharks, so, the following day, we picked him up from the beach in our dinghy and he guided us over to the reef which was just teeming with tropical fish. The strong current made swimming a bit of a challenge but, sure enough, there were three or four white-tip reef sharks snoozing under coral overhangs. We moved to three other locations then motored over the reef in about two metres of water, seeing perhaps a dozen turtles swimming below us. Chris laughed and said he'd catch one and, after a brief chase, he suddenly dived off the boat and surfaced holding a Hawksbill turtle, about 80cm long. He held it for a few photos then released it to swim off again. All in all it was probably some of the best snorkelling we've done and yesterday the three of us re-visited one of the sites at low tide and spent a wonderful hour watching the fish. This was a great opportunity for Laura to add to her fish id photo guide and she also plans to produce a guide for Chris to use on his tours.
We're wanting to move north to Tanna, an island with an active volcano that you can climb, but guess what, we're waiting for weather again! There's a 'quasi-stationary front' slowly approaching us which will bring cloud and drizzle and northerly winds in the next couple of days so we'll have to wait for that to clear and the SE trade winds to return before we move. In the meantime, more exploring and snorkelling...
Of course, it's not all plain sailing. We've discovered a leak in our water maker so Graham is trying to create a temporary fix; it looks as though we'll need to get a part sent out from the UK to resolve it completely.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Adjusting to Vanuatu Time

We'd hoped to be able to post a few photos on the blog today; the SIM cards eventually arrived on yesterday's flight so we are now connected to the Digicel network but, unfortunately, the data speed here in Aneityum is soooo slow it's virtually useless. Things should improve as we move northwards, apparently. In the meantime, words will have to suffice.
It's already the morning of our fifth day here and it's hard to know where the time has gone; we're feeling properly recovered after the voyage and we've been sharing tall stories of towering seas and rolling boats with the crews of the seven other yachts here. More importantly, we are getting to know the locals a little and are liking them immensely. Activity in the village seems to start with the ringing of a bell (actually an old oxy-acetylene tank suspended from a tree) at about 05.30 and then there comes the noise of the children going to the primary and secondary schools; throughout the day we hear snatches of singing and laughter. Laughter comes easily to both adults and children and it sounds like a very happy community.
When we step ashore, however, the people we meet are more subdued, almost shy. They will let us walk past them on the beach without looking at us or offering a greeting – there's certainly none of the effusive 'Bula!' shouts of hello that we always experienced in Fiji. However, catch their eye and say hello with a smile and their faces light up with a returning smile and a 'How are you?' in pretty perfect English.
We learnt a lot more about the locals when a fellow called Keith (they have very anglicised names – we've met Grace, Estelle, Kenneth, Wesley, Tom, Roger....) organised a 'cultural show' for the visiting yachts on Wednesday. It began promptly at 2.00pm Vanuatu time (so actually began at about 3.30pm) and was a hugely engaging mix of dance, explanation of their culture and beliefs, a demonstration of traditional fire-starting skills and an enormous feast. Difficult to describe so you'll have to wait for the photos!
It's clear that this village maintains most of its traditional ways – many of the houses are built of wooden poles, woven matting and thatch and fishing and small-scale agriculture occupy people's days – but they take advantage of huge influxes of tourists every couple of weeks. The nearby uninhabited Mystery Island has a new and very impressive concrete and aluminium pier, funded by cruise companies to allow their ships to disgorge their passengers ashore for the usual round of snorkeling, boat tours, food stalls and massage booths; together with the landing fees that the cruise ships pay, this all provides very useful income but we really don't want to be here to witness it all! The island is also the home to the airstrip, where twin-engined Air Vanuatu turbo-prop planes arrive twice a week, and we used the wide decking of the pier yesterday to lay out and un-twist the Irish Flag spinnaker after we tied an impressive knot in it at sea.
Our impact is, we hope, a lot more low-key but we're still contributing to the economy a little. Today we are renting the services of a local boat to take us around the island to a village on the SE side and then we'll hike back (about 4 hours, apparently). Apart from the shore-side activities, we are enjoying the snorkelling on clear waters over some good and well-populated coral reefs and the weather has calmed and the sky has cleared so it's all pretty lovely. We'll move north to the next island, Tanna, when the SE trade winds return.
This is all very removed from the excitements of the EU Referendum at home; following what sounds to have been a pretty unedifying 'debate' filled with emotion, wild disinformation and even, tragically, the murder of an MP, the great British public will have cast their votes by now. We hope that common sense will have prevailed and that the country isn't going to be propelled into the great unknown of Brexit....

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Arrived, shaken but not stirred

Just a quick update to say that we have anchored safely in Aneityum at 20 14.27s 169 46.54e
We arrived in rain squalls and 22 - 27 knots of wind, with a minor drama of a fouled headsail furler requiring Graham to scale the mast in 25 knots to clear a wrapped spinnaker halyard that was stopping us from rolling up the sail. However, that was sorted successfully (and there's nothing like a drama to finish off a bit of an epic sail) and we are delighted to be stationary for the first time in a week!
We're celebrating with our first beer and wine since we left Opua and something tells us we'll sleep well for the rest of the night!
Happy fathers' day to Brian, Geoff and Mark from Dianne, Graham and Laura

Day 7 - On the Home Straight (with a kink);

Hello from 21:17S/170:23E at 15.00 ship's time.
Mmm, so much for putting the brakes on! The wind built yesterday evening and we ended up with two reefs in the mainsail overnight so, together with a favourable 0.7 knot current, we've been making good speed. Our 24 hour run from 14.00 yesterday was 168nm, an average of 7 knots, which is not too shabby. The downside of the increased wind was the arrival of increased waves so Graham found sleep impossible during the night and Laura and Diane didn't do much better. Luckily Graham managed a couple of hours sleep this morning so is feeling relatively ok and the girls are trying to snooze as I write.
We now have 70nm to run so at current speeds we should be arriving in Aneityum at about 01.00 ship's time or midnight Vanuatu time. Kate and Paul on their 46ft yacht Iolea (a fast Hylas 46 with hull design by the legendary race boat designers Sparkman & Stephens) set off a couple of hours ahead of us and should have arrived late this morning, about 13 hours ahead of us, so we'll get some information on the anchorage from them via SSB this afternoon. It's full moon so, if the sky isn't too cloudy, we'll look to do a night time arrival; we have good Google Earth image and reliable waypoints and the entrance to the anchorage is very easy. Unlike Fiji, there aren't fringing coral reefs with scarily narrow entrance passages here so it should be fine but, if we have any doubts, we'll heave-to (effectively parking the boat at sea) until dawn.
Whilst we are definitely on the home straight, we've just had to put a definite kink in our course to avoid something called Monts Gemini. It's an underwater volcano and the chart shows that it rises dramatically from a seabed at about 3000m deep to a peak at just 40m deep. Clearly that's plenty deep enough for Maunie's keel but these seamounts often cause confused and steep waves as the current gets defected up towards the surface and, let's face it, we've had enough confused and steep waves on this passage already!
We are SO looking forward to a still anchorage!

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Day 6 - Thinking about putting the brakes on

Hello from 23:54S/171.17E at 15.00 Ship's Time.
It's Saturday afternoon on Maunie and, with around 230 nm to go, we anticipate an arrival in Aneityum, Vanuatu to be very late Sunday or early Monday. Indeed some key points of passage planning are when to set off, when you're going to get to the other end and in what conditions (plus all the bits in between). A quick calculation of different boat speeds sees a range of ETAs; the fastest would give an arrival at midnight on Sunday whilst our current 6 kts would get us in at roughly 05.00 on Monday morning. Thrown into this equation is the slightly increased wind speed forecast by our weather router, Bob. Normally on Maunie we'd be going for speed and grabbing the chance to fly the Parasailor at every perfect opportunity. We've developed a bit of a reputation with our 'posh sail'!
This morning presented that perfect slot and the Maunie crew weighed up all the pros and cons. A safe arrival in the dark is definitely feasible as we have almost a full moon, the area is well charted with lots of information and waypoints plus our friends on S/Y Iolea will have arrived ahead of us in daylight so will be able to offer helpful hints. On the other hand if the winds are going to increase we'd end up taking the Parasailor down (possibly in the middle of tonight and involving all three of us). So staying with white sails it is and a nice steady 6 kts....for now!
Meanwhile our 3 hours on, 6 hours off watch system continues to work well. The daytime watches are a little more relaxed with off-watch crew grabbing a snooze if they want. That's getting more of a challenge during the day as temperatures increase – the fans are going in the cabins (or is that snoring?) At night, the watches roll on so we all get a variety of times over a 3 day pattern. The favourite one always tends to be the 04.00 to 07.00 slot as it includes the dawn. This morning's was clear blue sky! No doubt we'll all be there on that watch to look out for land fall on Monday morning so perhaps another reason not to rush to get there.
No whales to report today but thank you to Graham's Mum for suggesting the possibility of a pygmy-beaked-whale. If this was the sighting, they are rare but certainly seen in these waters. To the other extreme, Laura experienced her first flying fish today. It was tiny in her hand.
Finally, our main prepared meals are finished and we now need to prepare from scratch. But lunchtime saw a hearty and warming home-made soup with Graham's famous bread rolls. Maunie remains the boat that likes to eat so we better get that fishing line out!

Friday, 17 June 2016

Day 5 - The Wind is Playing With Us!

Hello from 25:49S/172.29E at 16.30 Ship's Time
"The wind is playing with us!" said Laura, rather plaintively, at the end of her night watch. She'd spent most of her watch hand-steering as the slowly-decreasing wind meant that Winnie was really struggling to keep Maunie pointing at Vanuatu. As forecast, the breeze continued to drop so, at 04.15 we started the engine and motor-sailed for 7 hours. The upside of this was that there was hot water for showers and hair-washing, which was a good thing after 4 days at sea!
The clouds and rain squalls all around us brought some interesting conditions but by late morning we had the Parasailor flying and were making good progress until a couple of hours later, more rain squalls in the offing made us decide to drop it before it get soaked (it lives in the forward cabin when not in use so we didn't want to get that damp) or we got hit by strong winds. Both hoist and drop went perfectly so we were pleased to have given the sail another airing, possibly its last on this passage. The other change of note today was that, for the first time, we are feeling warm! The southerly breezes are coming up from the Antarctic so it's been pretty cold at night but now we are beginning to feel that the warmer waters beneath us are winning the battle with the colder air. Shorts and t-shirts replaced long trousers and fleeces for the first time.
The major excitement of today – yes, even more exciting than the novelty of clean hair or the opening of a new jar of Claire Murtagh's wonderful Spiced Peach, Mandarin and Chilli Chutney, was a close encounter with three whales. We'd just finished lunch when we all commented on an unusual squealing noise in the boat. Graham had just uttered the words "Could it be whales, do you think?" when Laura spotted one less than 20m off our starboard side! They were heading south so, unfortunately, we didn't get a photo or a definitive identification but it was a wonderful encounter all the same. If anyone could Google "Grey brown small toothed whale South Pacific" and email us with any likely-sounding information, that would be great!

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Day 4

Hello from 28:05S/173.11E on Thursday at 13.30 ship's time (01.30 UTC)
Both Laura and Dianne had interesting night watches last night! Both experienced the arrival of rain squalls from behind us which accelerated the wind from 20 knots to nearer 30 knots; Graham was called from his bunk to help reef down the sails but, of course, shortly after the squalls gave us a brief power-wash, the wind dropped back again and  the reefs had to be shaken out. It all went smoothly, however, and the benefit of having three of us aboard to do 3 hours on and 6 hours off watches means that, even with such interruptions, we're all feeling fine.
We get a daily update from Bob McDavitt, our weather guru, as well as downloading our own GRIB weather files via the satellite phone so, apart from the micro-climate events such as the rain squalls, we know pretty much what to expect of the coming days' weather. It looks as though tonight will become a bit windier (20 knots with gusts up to 30 knots) but then in the early hours of the morning it'll drop to maybe only 5 knots for a few hours as an 'upper level trough' passes over us. At least the period of calm should also coincide with the swells flattening down a bit; last night the waves were over 3m and pretty confused so it was a bumpy ride and those kinds of sea conditions with no wind would be horribly rolly.
Aside from our daily email from Bob, we have no shortage of contact with the world outside Maunie. We listen to a daily weather briefing from Gulf Harbour Radio from 07.15 to 08.00 (David and Patricia are ex-cruisers who now provide an amazing service to sailors in this are of the pacific from their radio station just north of Auckland) then we have the Southern Cross Net on the SSB radio at 08.15 where we chat to, typically, 8 or 9 other yachts who are on passage or already enjoying the warm waters of the Tropics. At lunchtime we tune into Radio New Zealand's Pacific News and World News Bulletins to keep abreast of world news. Finally, in the afternoon we have another radio sched with Peter at Northland Radio at 18.10 where we log our position, course, speed and weather conditions and get to chat to a couple of boats on passage who are also using Peter's excellent service. Oh, and  of course, we are delighted to receive emails from friends and family, too.  Thanks to Simon for his message and a belated Happy Birthday to Tom and Jasmine – we can't believe they're 17 already!
So, do let us have any other news you may have to give us something else to talk about on board, aside from weather and waves!

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Day 3

Hello from 30:05S/173:33E at 17.45 ship's time.
We are glad to report good sailing and that the Maunie crew is enjoying the passage, now that we've all managed to catch up on some sleep. This morning had us worried, though, as the weather files showed a patch of light winds on our tail and, sure enough, the breeze began to falter leaving us rolling in the swell. Happily that only lasted for an hour or so and since then we've had around 20 knots of wind and big (3m) seas. So we are making good progress in the right direction and getting used to the motion of the boat.
It looks as though these broad-reaching conditions will be with us for the next 24 hours so we have tweaked our sails for best speed (regularly reaching up to 7 knots with the odd touch of 8) and Winnie is coping very well. Laura talks to Winnie nearly as much as Rich Fetherston did on the Atlantic crossing, but the on-going motivational talks seem to be working!
We are still working through the stocks of meals in the freezer so food preparation is very easy (chicken curry tonight) but we'll throw the fishing line out in the next day or so to see if we can add something interesting – we'll have to remind Laura the Marine Biologist that it's for eating, not dissecting!
Cheers from the Maunies!

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

On passage, not entirely smoothly

Hello from 32:21S, 163:57E – you know, the place where that huge Albatross circles effortlessly over the waves. It's late afternoon on the second day of our passage and we are slowly settling in to our routines on board.
We left Opua yesterday at 10.30 in a cold shower of rain but the sky quickly cleared, the sun shone and we hoisted the Parasailor spinnaker in the Bay of Islands and flew it until dusk. By then the wind was building to about 20 knots and Maunie was beginning to feel over-pressed so decision to drop it and hoist white sails whilst we still had sunlight was definitely a good one. The early night watches were bathed in moonlight from a half-moon which rises into the sky at about 3.00pm in these parts, so the early morning watches (we do 3-hour stints) were rewarded with wonderful starscapes in an otherwise inky-black night.
Today started well, with radio chats to other boats on passage and in Fiji but then fell apart into a series of frustrations. The wind swung to the SE so we began broad reaching rather than running so we decided to hoist the Irish Flag spinnaker; the hoist went well and we were making over 7 knot when the boat rolled heavily and the sail tied itself into a very neat 'wine glass' knot. We just couldn't get it untangled so stuffed it into its bag to sort in quieter conditions (on a level piece of grass in Vanuatu, most probably). After that we decided to go for the Parasailor again but, just at a crucial moment, the wind piped up from 14 knots to over 20 knots so the 20 minute process was aborted. We have decided that, since we aren't racing and we are making steady progress, we'll take things easy; we are all tired after the typically broken sleep of the first night on passage and we are sure that things will be easier tomorrow.
Otherwise all is well on board – oh apart from the expensive new autopilot that gave off a 'maximum compass deviation' alarm this afternoon and is now showing very inaccurate headings on its display! All our sea trials after it was fitted were done in fairly flat seas so we are wondering if the electronic compass is get affected by the 2-3 m waves out here. Very annoying, whatever the cause, so we are sending emails to Hans, the engineer who fitted it. The good news is that Winnie our windpilot self-steering gear is working very well, with out compass or electronics of any kind.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Monday's the day.

We are definitely, no really, yes, absolutely, going to leave New Zealand tomorrow morning. Honest.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Oh, well, the best laid plans..

Hey, ho, another couple of kinks in the weather systems....

This morning dawned calm and sunny, with a fog lifting off the water:

Unfortunately the little ride of high pressure that's moved here means that we'd have absolutely no wind for the next 20 hours and, with a 2m swell left over from the last few days' winds, it'd have meant a rolly ride under engine.

So we scrubbed today's departure and enjoyed the sunshine, getting Maunie properly aired after all the damp conditions, and instead planned to go tomorrow. However, the latest of the oft-changing forecasts now has a front heading our way to give 25 knot winds and rough seas! Aaargh! 

So it now looks as though Monday will be our day... Here's hoping.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Escaping to warmer climes

This was our first glimpse, yesterday evening, of any kind of clear sky in several days. The wind has been whistling through the rigging and the rain lashing us so it's a delight to be back in more gentle conditions.

The various weather models that we use to try to pick the best time to leave have been changing pretty dramatically over the past couple of days but we have decided to leave (along with lots of other boats) tomorrow morning. It won't be a perfect passage but good enough and, most importantly, safe. 

So we have a little flurry of activity ahead of us - final stowage of things so they won't fly around the boat, filling the water and fuel tanks and clearing out with NZ customs. The first day or so looks fairly gentle so that'll be good for us to get our sea legs before we get some stronger breezes on Monday.

We'll aim to update the blog each day (but don't worry if we miss a post) and will also update the chart with our position and conditions each morning - you can find it at https://www.yit.nz/yacht/maunieofardwall

It should take us about 7 days to reach Aneityum, the most southerly island of Vanuatu.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

The Waiting Game

The pressure peaked at 1033hPa

The huge high pressure system over NZ brought us beautiful, settled and sunny conditions for a couple of days at anchor, whilst boats who'd decided to leave last Monday were experiencing some 'interesting' weather further north. We enjoyed the chance to give Maunie a good clean and polish (above and below the chilly waterline) and watched a magical sunset on Friday night.

Paraonui Bay anchorage


Laura detail-cleaning the decks.... 
... with a toothbrush

We were back into Opua for a hugely-entertaining birthday party for Kerry (from Sel Citron) on Saturday and we're hoping that our waiting game is very nearly over. After a final NE gale tomorrow, it looks as though the end of the week should deliver a weather window for the escape to the warmth.