Boat Writers International Writing Contest 2018 Winner: Boating Travel & Destination

Exciting news! This arrived in the mail this week!!

Heather Francis, Boat Writers International Writing Contest Winner, Travel & Destination


It seems appropriate that my submission was an article about Vanuatu, a place I have described as my “unicorn of the South Pacific”, as I had to wait 8 long years before we finally sailed into Port Villa Harbour. The wait, however, was certainly worth it. Vanuatu and it’s people captured our hearts.

Published in Cruising Helmsman, Black Sands, Black Magic; Vanuatu by Sail was described by judge Gary Beckett as, “A compelling, detailed and at times riveting first-hand account of the writer’s adventures cruising waters of the Vanuatu Islands chain.”

You can find the complete listing of winners for all 17 categories in the Boat Writers International Writing competition HERE.  (You’ll also find me under Seamanship, Rescue & Safety, Merit Award.)

And you can read my winning article Black Sands and Black Magic, Vanuatu by Sail  here.




Top Ten Ways You Know You’ve Been Sailing in the South Pacific for a Long Time 

  1. You can communicate a whole range of greetings and emotions with your eyebrows alone.
  2. The smell of rancid coconuts rotting in the midday sun doesn’t bother you anymore.
  3. When you ask a local a question and they answer “YES” you know that A. that does not mean the answer is actually yes, or B. that they understood the question at all.
  4. You usually ask a local if a fish you caught is safe to eat – free of ciguatera, a highly toxic and very localized fish poisoning. And when they say “Yes” you know to see above.
  5. When provisioning or looking for hardware store items you expect to visit at least half a dozen stores and only find half of the items on your shopping list.
  6. You no longer trust the accuracy of your charts and consider sticks and rebar acceptable navigation beacons.
  7. Limes and coconuts are considered staple foods onboard.
  8. You can self-diagnose and treat fungal infections, staph infections and cellulitis and know the difference between the symptoms of dengue fever and malaria.
  9. You’ve eaten over 25 varieties of bananas, probably in 25 different ways.
  10. You consider cyclone season the perfect time to sail around the islands; better winds and a heck of a lot less boats! 

To make a Brummel Splice in Dyneema

This time last year we were bashing to windward with our newly installed dyneema inner forestay and staysail flying. It made the three day trip from New Caledonia to Vanuatu a whole lot easier. Read about how to splice dyneema in the June issue of Cruising World Magazine!

Brummel Splice CW copy.jpg

Markets: Food for the Soul

Amidst the unfamiliar countries and uneasiness of travel the markets are where I find a connection to the people, to the landscape. Although I have a deep and passionate relationship with food this is not why I seek out these places. It is the everyday-ness of the market that I crave.

Disconnected from family, country, home and all that is familiar the markets are a constant in our travels. The world over people grow food and make goods and sell them in a common space. The produce sold, the faces smiling back at me and the colour of the money changes but the routine is always the same. People coming together to sell food, buy supplies and socialize. Unlike the tourist I am not looking for the exotic, I am searching for the familiar.

On the remote island of Nuku Hiva in French Polynesia I would wake at 5am, before the dawn, and dinghy across the harbour to go to the Wednesday morning market. You had to get up that early, at 9 degrees south business is done before the wilting heat of the sun brings island life to a halt. After weeks of long passages and limited fresh vegetables I was excited by what might be there to buy.

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El Nino and the Watermaker

Every year meteorological experts around the globe weight in on how they think the upcoming storm season will play out. Analyzing data such as sea surface temperatures, weather patterns and past weather events they are able to predict how many cyclones or hurricanes will occur. (Cyclones and hurricanes are both tropical revolving storms one occurring in the southern hemisphere, cyclones, and the other, hurricanes in the northern hemisphere.)

With the South Pacific cyclone season officially underway (beware the magic date on the calendar) there has been lots of chatter about this year being an El Nino year.

And a strong one at that. What does that mean?
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Sailing to the Solomon’s

We stopped for the last time in Vanuatu at the small town of Sola on Vanua Lava island in the Banks island group. We thought it might be an opportunity to pick up a few veggies to replenish the stocks that we’ve eaten through over our last week of delays.

It is a pretty little town, much more organised and tended than a lot of the outer island towns we’ve visited. As usual there are several small stores along the stone and dirt road but we missed the market where veggies are sold by a day. When we inquired at one store if they had any tomatoes or kumala (sweet potato) to sell the old lady who ran the tidy little shop said no then asked us if we’d come by boat. When we replied yes she called to her husband in the back and a great flurry of activity and conversation ensued and she produced a small bag of tomatoes from her garden, a little cabbage, two choko, and two large hands of green bananas. They insisted we take them, free of charge. We couldn’t possibly eat that many bananas before they spoil so we settled on only one hand and insisted we pay, something. All they would accept was 300 vatu, or about $3.50.
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Expectations and Reflections

I realize this space has been pretty quiet for the last few weeks.

We’ve been moving a lot and there has been a fair amount of exploring; us trying to squeeze as much of Vanuatu in before we leave. And then there is the endless everyday-ness of living and travelling on a sailboat; equipment failures, provisioning, clearing out with government officials, doing laundry in a bucket by hand, watching weather, trying to arrange parts to be shipped to remote locations, stressing about arriving at a new anchorage without suitable light, keeping up with writing assignments. Such is the ebb and flow of life.

The problem is that there has been so much flow recently that during the ebb times I am content to sit watch the local fisherman paddle around in there dugout outrigger canoes or enjoy a quiet beer in the company of a sea turtle or a dugong. I have been content to be in the experience.

I also realize that even though we’ve spent almost 5 months in Vanuatu I haven’t written too much about the place.

The thing is I don’t know what to say yet.
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Lukim Yu / Goodbye

Sometimes it feels like this voyaging life is nothing but a long string of emotionally draining good byes.

People often like to say that it isn’t really “goodbye” but more of a “see you again” but that is nothing more than a play of words to pacify the heart. Sure the world is a small place, and yes we have managed to run into/find again some of the great folks we made friends with. But for the most part when I watch a boat full of people I consider friends sail off into the horizon chances are it will be the last time we ever actually see them.

The last drink with Connie and Graeme from S/Y Inti in Port Vila

Goodbye drinks with Connie and Graeme from S/Y Inti in Port Vila

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Cooking Outside the Pot; Breakfast at a Volcanic Vent

A big complaint about cooking on a small sailboat in the tropics is how hot the galley gets. Sure you can bake on the stove top, use a pressure cooker to cut down on cooking times and barbeque almost everything but sometimes that is just not enough.

Whenever possible Steve and I like to make a fire and cook on the beach. We’ve made popcorn, roti, hotdogs, roasted whole chickens, baked loaves of bread, cooked sausages, steaks and fresh caught fish. We’ve even made desserts over a hot coals; nothing beats eating caramelized bananas with chocolate while watching a tropical sunset. But while we were in Tanna we had the opportunity to try another form of cooking al fresco; cooking in a volcanic steam vent!
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On Watch

I am writing to you from Port Resolution, our anchorage at the island of Tanna. Tanna, well known for Mt.Yasur, an active volcano, and delicious coffee grown on the island, is only 135NM south east of Efate. On paper that would be an easy overnighter on Kate. In the real world it took three days of hard sailing to get here.

The delay was a combination of things; light winds, contrary currents, shitty sea state, no winds at all, fresh winds, bad tack angles. The usual bunch of suspects for a windward passage really, but frustrating none the less. While we sailed back and forth, tacking almost back on our own track and making very little headway, I had some time to think. It occurred to me that many of you may not know much about what goes on onboard underway.

On Kate we stand a 24 hour watch. That means that regardless of the time of day or night, conditions, location or length of passage one of us is always awake and in the cockpit “watching.” We don’t rely on AIS or set radar alarms off shore so that we can both get a full night sleep. If I am seasick I don’t make Steve cover my watch I simply accept that I will be puking and try to get most of it over the rail. And most importantly we don’t sleep in the cockpit when we are supposed to be watching. Ever.

We prefer the classic 4 on, 4 off schedule and we keep the same hours on every trip. Here is what our watch schedule looks like;

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