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Passage from Vanuatu to Marshalls

By Sue Richards last modified Sep 07, 2011 08:27 PM

Published: 2011-09-07 20:27:27
Topics: Pacific Ocean South
Countries: Fiji , Kiribati , Marshall Islands , Tuvalu , Vanuatu

From Noonsite Regional Editor: Luc Callebaut & Jackie Lee on s/v Sloepmouche

It is a La Nina year so this may affect the wx we encountered. We decided to head north east before heading West. So our passage would be first to Rotuma, Fiji (to get some Easting!) then along Tuvalu and Kiribati to Majuro, Marshalls. We decided to sail in November/December in the in-between seasons period. We hoped to get SE winds at the beginning to get to Rotuma then Easterly until we got to Tarawa. With enough possible stops along the route, it should make it easier to pick favorable wx windows along the passage. That was the theory!

First leg – Port Vila to Rotuma

This was very frustrating as winds were variable (mostly on the nose) in direction as well as strength! We encountered Northerlies and NE so we ended up making 990nm to cover that 620nm passage. Went thru rain squalls followed by periods of no wind and no matter what tack we took, soon we had to rethink direction as the wind changed direction by 45 deg.

An excerpt from an email to family: “After our frustrating first week of beating our way against the wind trying to get to Rotuma, that we just couldn't get to, we gave up and decided to skip it and go to the next one up, then after a 100 miles of first dodging rain squalls and gusty winds, and then motoring in low winds, the motor died...and then so did the wind. We were just drifting going nowhere. When the wind finally picked up again, it was in our face! I said, let's turn back to the island we couldn't get to, cause now we can. So we did. 100 mi back the way we came! Was good that we did because one piece of the engine really needed welding, and we feel a lot better when we have an engine to rely on.”

Link to Rotuma video

Second leg – Rotuma to Tarawa

This was much easier. Still the wind was mostly NE the whole time, so we sailed close-hauled the whole way. We had planned a first stop in Funafuti, to visit and give us a little more easting, but we could not even lay Nanumea so there was no point in tacking just to get to Funafuti. Wind speed varied from less than 5 kts to 20 kts with higher gusts in rain showers. Sometimes the wind was too light so we had to motorsail. The wind gracefully turned to the East for the last 150nm, which made for a glorious sail at the end of this leg. The last few miles, we had a fun and fast sail in the calm waters protected by the lagoon of Tarawa. But once we entered the west side of the lagoon, we had the full fetch of the lagoon so we got a lively motorsail to Betio, the check in entrance port of the formerly Gilbert Islands, now part of Kiribati.

“…We're bobbing around out on the sea again! The stop in Rotuma was not the most restful (sometimes like a Chinese Fire drill, what with all the dodging of the weather systems and shifting winds), but it was a good stop anyway, and gave us a chance to fix our engine piece, and plug some leaks, and load up on some delicious mangos!

"Once again, we’re trying to get to another island that we can't get to! (Funafuti) At least it's calmer and the seas are nicer. We just keep giving up on the next island and say let's aim for the next! (and 4-5 more days at sea). We WILL get somewhere, but where and when are not so sure. We just go where the wind will let us. Our timing seems to be a little out of sync with nature's plan. When we wanted north winds, we got East...now that we want East, we get North! Sigh, the joy of sailing. The wind has turned a little more in our favor in the last 12 hrs, so we can at least point at one of the islands that we want to go to. Of course, that island is days away, and the wx bulletins say that if we are lucky and go fast enough, we can keep ahead of the wind shifting against us again. If not...well, we get what we get.

“We're almost to Tarawa, the check in station for the Western Kirbati Islands. Right now we are skirting another atoll that's right on the rum line. By luck, we have a full moon and pretty clear skies. I can see the low-lying islands by moonlight at 3 miles away. Can even see either the white of a fringing reef or white sand beaches of the islands. We also have the computerized navigation program showing the boat in relationship to the island at all times, and we have the radar, that can show us the islands, if not the reefs. We've got a lot more advantages than Capt Cook! And we smell better too!!

"Today we crossed the equator into the N Hemisphere....went from Summer to Winter in less than an instant! Not many folks can make that claim! The dogs from the "Land Down Under" are now in the Ocean Up Above! They got a gold earring, some hard biscuits, and a tot of Grog (rum w/ lime). We gave a shot to Neptune for good luck....and it must have pleased him because w/in an hour, we had our first fish of the trip on the line, and it was a Yellow Fin Tuna, just like I mentioned I'd like to get (they aren't very common)! Great day, ending with fresh sashimi and a green flash at sunset! Perfect day!”

Link to Tarawa video

Third leg – Tarawa to Majuro

With stops in Abaiang and Buritaritari was much easier but still close-hauled so do not give up any easting if you don’t have to! Nice day trip to Abaiang and just an overnighter to get to Buritaritari. From Buritaritari, the angle of sail to Majuro is much better and we were almost beam reach. But keep in mind the westerly current that might force you to point 30 degrees more to the East. From the Eastern corner of Buritaritari, it was just about 300nm to Majuro anchorage so about 3 days-2 night of sailing.

Link to Abiang video
Link to Buritaritari video

Notes about the Western Kiribati islands we visited.

We are very glad we spent a few weeks here on our way to Majuro. It gave us some real cruising to agreement our passage. People are friendly and generous even if communication is sometimes not as easy in English. Wherever we spoke with people, we were offered smiles and often a drink of toddy (coconut flower honey drink) or tea. We were offered the use of a motorcycle and we exchanged gifts freely.

We had been put off by articles mentioning beaches littered with trash and human excrement and were pleasantly surprised to have seen almost none of that in all 3 atolls visited! Except for Betio, well overcrowded and dirty, everywhere else was quite tidy and little trash was seen anywhere. So do not be put off by some negative comments you might have read somewhere, just keep your expectations low and you will always be pleasantly surprised!

Checking in and out if staying less than a month was painless and completely free, so why not spend a few weeks by yourselves in peace here, island exploring before getting into Majuro and the active yachting community there? And don’t throw away your old sails … they will make well-appreciated trade/gifts items here in the outer islands!

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