New Zealand to Vanuatu

May 9, 2016

Date:May 9, 2016, 4:09 a.m.
Position:19 32.11 S, 169 15.06 E

May 9, 2016
We’re entering a curious area of the Pacific Ocean many mariners call the “devil-devil” zone. Kelsey and I can feel it—the ocean has a spooky quality about it. Last night was calm but on the horizons we could see intense lightning storms. The fire-bolts lit the clouds into weird yellow and orange tints. I saw one spot where a lightning bolt zapped the same spot on the ocean about once every two seconds, for hours and hours. “Good thing we’re not over there!” I said to Kelsey.
There are intense undersea volcanic eruptions in this area as well and some sailors have reported an “otherworldly glow” emanating from beneath the ocean surface. We sailed over the New Hebrides Trench today, a canyon over 20,000 feet deep, but by nightfall we sailed just west of the Gemeni Seamounts (underwater mountains), their summits just below the waves by about a hundred feet. Most of the area is poorly surveyed and constantly changing due to undersea earthquakes and eruptions. The geography is so complex here it is hard to imagine the colossal scale of the underwater landscape that we are sailing over.
Around noon the most remarkable thing happened. I caught a reddish-tint in the waves out of the corner of my eye. At first I thought it was the polarizing tint from my glasses, but then I noticed that the entire ocean surface was covered in volcanic dust! The dust grew thicker like a soup, and soon we were sailing through bands of floating pumice-fields. The surface of the ocean looked like an Arabian desert, and the air smelled like burning electrical wires. We had to shut down our water-maker and head to prevent piston damage. We are monitoring the seawater strainer carefully on the engine as well, as it silts up with rock and dust. We can only guess that this ash has been blown down to us from the Mt. Yasur eruption, 100 NM to the North. Amidst the pumice fields we proudly hoisted the flag of Vanutau! Only 100 NM to go and we can already feel the spell of this place.
The ocean really flattened out today and Taz practiced his acrobatics in the cabin today and had his first on-deck time as well! We all watched as the blood-red sun dipped below the waves, and for the first time ever Kelsey, Taz, and I saw the mysterious green flash just as it disappeared below the horizon.

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May 8, 2016

Date:May 8, 2016, 4:08 a.m.
Position:23 28.70 S, 169 49.05 E

May 8, 2016
After coming through the rain yesterday we were becalmed, and got under way using the engine. Soon, however, a nasty 25-30 knot wind on the nose developed! We sailed into it for several hours until I’d had enough, and we hove-to under storm staysail and double-reefed main. Heaving-to is where you back the headsail and lash the rudder hard over, and it stops the boat. Privateer is an extremely capable boat for heaving-to, with her full keel underwater. She creates a nice slick on the windward side which knocked down any waves that might otherwise slap up against the boat. We were effectively “parked” in the middle of the ocean.
We stayed hove-to through the night and caught up on some much needed sleep after all the excitement of the gales. It was wonderful, and to have the option of heaving-to is so important. In our case, we could have blasted on to windward, but I was just too tired! I got up around 10am and we had a nice brunch. Finally, around 4pm we got under way again, just as the contrary winds died out. We had been parked for 10 hours and didn’t even drift more than 5 NM, in 30 knots of wind. The decks stayed dry and the motion below was comfortable.
We’re using the “Iron Genoa” again for the final 2-day push to Vanuatu. Intense lightning storms are lighting up the distant horizons and we’re hoping they stay far, far away, as we’ve had our share of weather on this passage. Now we can focus on putting the ship right for port, top up our water tanks, etc. We gave Taz a hot bath in our laundry tub and he loved it. He fussed every time we tried to pull him out and he stayed in until the water got cold (as cold as it can get in the tropics anyway) and his toes were all shriveled.
I cleaned out my ship’s papers locker today and threw all of the NZ Immigration paperwork into the sea! I’ve been looking forward to doing that for quite some now. Of all the countries paperwork we’ve navigated so far, NZ has been the biggest pain in the butt! As it turns out, NZ is not the carefree, relaxed nation it claims to be. They take rules to a frustrating, hair-pulling level of ridiculous. We had entire binders full of Immigration forms, that are now safely behind us and turning to pulp in our wake.

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May 7, 2016

Date:May 7, 2016, 4:05 a.m.
Position:24 51.76 S, 170 0.34 E

May 7, 2016
The gales & squalls intensified throughout the night and the gray dawn found us beam-to-broad reaching in sustained 35 knots, gusting higher. Privateer surfed beautifully down the 4-meter waves, and the highest boat speed I observed on GPS was 13.4 knots. These are the conditions that Privateer’s hull is built for—there’s magic in the shape of her lines that makes her slip through extremely rough waves with an easy motion. Without a single pounding on her hull she opened up the ragged waves and threw them aside in a wake of foam 100 feet wide. Down below Taz was giggling and enjoying his leisurely Saturday morning breakfast and you could (almost) hardly tell we were at sea, while above-decks looked like something out of the Bering Sea. Gobs of seawater were lifted off the bow before the wind ripped them away over the leeward rail.
I sat under the dodger watching the scene unfold, wave after wave. Soon we passed through what I can only describe as the “eye” of the low, a broad horizon with towering clouds all around and sunny blue skies above. But then the squalls came in from the west, about two dozen of them over the course of the morning and afternoon. The squalls gave us a fantastic lift and we pointed our bow right at Tanna Island throughout! It was fantastic sailing.
There’s something I enjoyed about this gale. It was good to get knocked around a bit to get our sea legs back. And every speck of dust and grit we’d accumulated on deck in NZ went straight out the scuppers! The teak decks got a good seawater polish.
And finally, the wind shifted and the skies turned a yellow-gray and dumped the most torrential downpour I’ve ever experienced at sea. Cresting along at 7 knots under full sail it rained so heavily that the whitecaps got hammered back into the waves. The sea took on the same aspect as a snow-swept highway in North Dakota. I lathered up in Dr. Bronners and stood under the mainsail as sheets of water poured over me. The scuppers were running full-bore and still the decks flooded—you could almose watch the ocean level rising! I became alarmed and wondered if I should shorten sail… but then the sky opened up and we sailed out the other side.
Suddenly we found ourselves in an oceanic tide-rip. It was as if the ocean didn’t have a place to go. In zero knots of wind we were carried along at 5 knots in one direction for a few minutes, then 5 knots in a completely other direction. Wave-tops jumped vertically off the swells which were smashing into eachoter from 3 or 4 different directions. But the wave faces themselves were the weirdest thing. I can only guess that there was so much water dumped from the sky that the fresh water formed a solid layer on top of the swells, pushing outward against the ocean seawater. We sheeted the sails flat to stabilize the motion as best we could, fired up the engine, and got the hell out of there!
We are 299 miles from Tanna now, with a little contrary wind in the forecast. We’ve got enough fuel to motor the remaining 2-3 days, but are hoping for some light trades to develop after this low moves south. It was a great 600 mile tack from NZ out the backside of a high-pressure system, and we are just a day away from the Tropics now!

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May 6, 2016

Date:May 6, 2016, 4:04 a.m.
Position:26 59.97 S, 171 8.44 E

May 6, 2016
We have entered the leading edge of the low. It’s giving us quite the ride, as promised! We’ve cracked off to let the wind come over the stern at a 120 degree angle to the boat. It’s blowing us further west than I’d like, but the comfort is worth it! I just poked my head out the hatch and the comparison of the world above and below decks is shocking. Below, it feels like we’re sitting in a somewhat rolly anchorage, but no major complaints. Above, the waves are cresting up over the stern pulpit and the wind is shrieking through the rigging. It is a godforsaken night at sea. Thankfully Privateer is such a great boat and Kelsey & Taz are sleeping peacefully & comfortably in their bunks. I’m on Captain’s watch tonight, and will probably remain on station here until the winds abate tomorrow (hopefully) late morning.
Earlier in the day we had a very close pass with an Asian fishing trawler. Despite repeated attempts to hail them on VHF radio, they continued altering course toward us for one hour! We were under full sail and somewhat limited with our maneuvering. I got a bit spooked, as we are in international high-seas waters (the lawless kind). Eventually the 150-foot trawler came within 1/3 of a nautical mile of us—way too close for an ocean pass in my book. Kelsey and I are always on the lookout for fishing ships any time we’re sailing outside of the 250-mile shore limit. The Pacific Ocean is crawling with these dirty vessels, many of which keep slave labor as crew and often fish illegally. And just an hour ago a sister ship came up on us in the same way! It’s hard to imagine that given the multi-millions of empty square miles out here, that two boats would chance to occupy the same spot of ocean at the same time.
Also on the subject of occupying a random point on the ocean, Privateer crossed over her southbound-to-NZ track line today, meaning that there’s one place out of infinite places out here that Privateer has been to TWICE now. It’s common knowledge, perhaps, but sailing out here on the ocean day after day makes you realize how impossibly vast the ocean really is. It’s not just a patch of blue on Google Earth, reduced by technology. The ocean is still as infinite as it always has been.
I just realized that on my first night out of NZ I wore my woolen long-johns on the night watch, but I soon put them away and haven’t worn a thread of clothing since then, except for my underwear! I’m going through the extra-ratty pairs on this trip and tossing them into the ocean when they get salted from the spray. Saves on laundry, and creates space in my clothes locker ? We’re headed for the tropics anyhow…

4am May 7
We’re passing through the squall field associated with the low pushing toward us. The Monitor decided this was the moment to act up a bit! We rounded up in some 30 knot gusts and took major water over the decks, filling the cockpit like a swimming pool. I quickly jumped out and re-adjusted the wind vane leads to get us back on a 120 degree wind angle. We’re screaming along now at 8-9 knots under storm staysail. It’s a great angle of sail and we’re making way on a direct course for Tanna now.
The bigger squalls bring torrential rains, giving the rigging & deck a much-needed freshwater rinse! The decks smell sweet. Taz thought the whole episode was pretty entertaining. When we do deck work at night we flood the boat with LED spotlights. Taz excitedly pointed up at the arch light, saying “Moon, Moon, Moon!”
I certainly wish we did have a moon tonight. It’s right around the new moon, and with the squalls, the ocean is inky black tonight. Morning light will come as sweet relief. By afternoon the winds are forecast to blow through, and we may have to get under engine power for a while.

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May 5, 2016

Date:May 5, 2016, 4:02 a.m.
Position:29 25.80 S, 172 9.76 E

May 5, 2016
We are flying along on a beam reach, making 7 knots in 15-20 knots of breeze. We’re still flying double reef main, storm staysail, and double reef Yankee. The boat is well balanced and the Monitor has us pegged on course. There isn’t a day at sea that goes by that I am not extremely thankful for the Monitor! Steering us mile after mile after mile…
The boat has flattened out a bit now with the wind coming over the beam rather than forward, and we tried to resume semblance of a normal routines today. The days are growing warmer and we enjoyed fresh cold showers in the cockpit! I literally had chunks of rock-salt crystals on my shoulders and back from all the spray. The freshwater wash felt so nice! I also tidied up the decks and checked rigging & sails, and prepared for stronger winds that will come ahead of the front.
Kelsey can cook the most amazing meals under the most adverse conditions! I don’t know where she comes up with the motivation to cook a gourmet meal or homemade baby food when the galley is pitching over at 30 degrees, but she does it every time without fail or complaint. Taz seems to be enjoying himself despite being confined to his bunk for the past few days. He’s very interested in all his books and hands them to us in a particular order. When one book ends he gets upset and immediately snatches another one out of the pile. We had a lot of fun tying ropes to his animals and swinging them around the cabin today.
With Taz on board, our watch schedule is very fluid. We all seem to be getting enough sleep (especially Taz!). Kelsey likes the sunset watch and usually handles the boat until about 1 or 2am, then hands it off to me & I’m on until sunrise & after breakfast. I try & take a nice afternoon nap when conditions are settled and Taz is on his nap time too. Then the cycle repeats itself again… the days and nights blend together into an equilibrium-continuum, defined by sail changes and wind shifts.
It was a nice day today watching the miles click away on a beam reach, over the endless blue. Several shooting stars tore across the night sky tonight, burning bright lingering trails.

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May 4, 2016

Date:May 4, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:31 30.36 S, 173 20.07 E

May 4, 2016
All day yesterday, today and last night we were laid over “on her ear” as we pressed into the 25 knot NE winds, making as much northing as possible. Around noon we cracked off a bit to ease the ride, and have been sailing at a pretty good clip with the winds coming 60 degrees over the bow. This sailing angle also gets us further to the west--which is a good thing--because an ugly little low is forecast to spin down from the tropics over the next few days.
Our strategy is to benefit from the strong easterly flows ahead of the low, while at the same time being far enough north and west of the low so that we are on the tailing edge of it when it passes over us, and in lower latitudes (around 25-27 degrees) so that we don’t feel any of the gale-force winds generated as it intensifies toward NZ. Already we are able to get more on a beam reach and are flying to the NW. We can expect a pretty lively beam reach in 20-25 knots or so, and we fortunately have the option of running off on a sleigh-ride when the easterlies kick in hard. After the low passes through it will kill the wind and we will probably have 3 days of motoring in light variables until the SE trades re-establish themselves again.
Playing this weather window and developing a sailing route has been satisfying. I had my doubts when we went offshore and into the Northerlies, but our hard work of sailing close-hauled for a few days is now paying off. Like money in the bank.
Taz has really found his sea legs after the first day or two! We’ve been spending almost all of our time below with him, as the cockpit resembles more of a water park splash ride than a nice place to sit. The one or two times I stuck my head around the corner of the dodger I got smacked so hard by waves that my ears were ringing! We’re content to play games below with him—one of his favorites is finding Daddy’s belly-button. He’s really starting to use his imagination and loves hanging out with his stuffed kitty, kangaroo, and kiwi. Nothing makes him laugh harder than watching them go flying across the cabin! He stands up on the cushion like a surfer riding a wave, arms low and palms down. I must admit that he’s got better balance and poise than his Dad!

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May 3, 2016

Date:May 3, 2016, 3:58 a.m.
Position:33 17.37 S, 174 35.37 E

May 3, 2016
We’re off! And we’re bashing through the Tasman once again. We fought our way to windward getting down here, and now we are fighting our way back into the Tropics. Privateer is clipping along at 5.5 knots with 22 knots of breeze over the starboard bow. Although this trip is much drier (relatively) than the last, as I have recently renewed the caulk seal under the bowsprit—the culprit of a previous nasty leak!
Yesterday I was too preoccupied to write a log. I spent the day fiddling with this and that aboard Privateer as we motored out into a glassy ocean. It always takes a day or three to settle into the rhythms of the watch and being at sea again. Taz adds a new dimension to our watch-keeping duties as well. Basically, we break it down like this: Kelsey’s job is to maintain 24-hr safety of Taz, and my job is maintain 24-hr safety of Privateer. And we all look out for the safety of each other.
We are currently at latitude 32 degrees and can already feel a noticeable rise in ocean and air temps. Once we reach the Vanuatu latitudes the seawater is predicted to be a whopping 88 degrees F! We’re on a beat right now, which is not ideal, but we are able to lay a course right down the rhumb line (shortest distance between two points on a sphere). Our strategy is to sail north as fast as possible to get away from the incessant fronts and lows that are sweeping the NZ latitudes, and hopefully into some light trade winds.
We are flying a double-reefed main, storm trysail, and single-reefed yankee sail. The Monitor wind vane, as always, is doing her superb job at allowing us to do better and more important things than sitting in the cockpit, amidst torrents and waterfalls of seawater! The ocean is a deep electric-purple color. We’re heeled at about 20 degrees which makes for difficult typing… Taz is getting a good lesson about gravity! He’s doing a great job muscling himself around and practicing one hand for the ship, one hand for himself.
Yesterday as we were leaving the Bay of Islands and heading out to sea, Taz got seasick for about 4 hours. We were running the engine and getting knocked around by some pretty uncomfortable swells—the same conditions that made him puke on the way up from Nelson in January. And he had eaten some mushrooms at breakfast, which seems to not be the best food when about to put to sea. Still, we were pretty distressed. We came very close to turning the boat around and re-evaluating our sailing plans! We gave him some Pedialyte which he loved—never tasted anything sweet like that before!—and set a time limit on how far out to sea we’d go in case the sickness continued. Fortunately after 4 hours he stopped getting sick, and went back to his regular smiling self again.
I’ve seen a lot of seasick people in my sailing career and it seems that Taz might be one of the people who get sick at the outset of the voyage for a few hours, and then are totally fine. Kelsey and I hadn’t even imagined that Taz could get seasick, because neither of us do. The gods are laughing! Poor guy… Well, it’s good to have him back again, and he seems pretty pleased with himself now.

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Weather windows...

Date:May 1, 2016, 3:21 a.m.
Position:35 13.58 S, 174 8.17 E

We've just completed an extensive bout of boat projects during our last few weeks here in NZ--painting the bottom of the boat, fixing an oil leak & replacing the engine raw water pump, re-sealing deck hardware, tuning the rig, and endless other tasks...

The chore list always grows longer the closer you get to departure, however we've ticked off all the major ones related to boat safety, and we're feeling very good about the state of the ship! Privateer is in top form again and ready for the open ocean.

We are currently undecided on the weather window...we may put to sea tomorrow morning, or we may wait until (hopefully) next week, depending on the winds. As with everything related to sailing, patience is the name of the game. The best we can do now is remain in a state of constant readiness, and go when our gut instinct tells us to go.

We missed an ideal window last week but weren't quite ready for sea. It was very frustrating to feel the southerly winds blow through the harbor as I worked on the rig & the engine. The weather was so nice that I couldn't sleep! Oh well, there will be another window...

Our minds & hearts are dreaming about Vanuatu, possibly one of the most exotic places remaining on this earth! Our first planned landfall is the island of Tanna, dominated by the world's most accessible active volcano. We've read that you can hear it booming from 10 miles out to sea! Many inhabitants of the island are of the John Frumm cult, one of the strangest religions on this planet. We cannot wait to visit this mysterious land!


Talia: Happy Voyage on your next leg. Love you guys. <3 Talia May 1, 2016, 5:16 a.m.

Justin: Vanuatu is a coveted post for Peace Corps Volunteer assignment, almost as coveted as Madagascar! Safe travels bud May 1, 2016, 1:30 p.m.

Cheryl B: Safe Travels when the weather window opens!! May 1, 2016, 1:32 p.m.

Vicky: Safe sails! I made an offering at the Stupa for you last night. xoxo May 1, 2016, 10:56 p.m.

Dawne Dougherty: Words of wisdom and envy of your voyage because you are doing it! "Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." — Mark Twain, Great American Writer Safe travels:) Dawne May 1, 2016, 11:55 p.m.

JessieMae: Yo Yo! Many wishes for lovely travels your way from Vermont! Think about you often and looking forward to reading more of your posts! Miss you! May 4, 2016, 12:33 a.m.

p templeton: Just completed viewing 100 photos of the Marquesa Is. I feel as though I have been there! May 14, 2016, 7:47 p.m.

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