Sailing, Storms and Safety in the Solomon’s

We made it to the island of Ghizo, Western Province, Solomon Islands just before Christmas, as was the plan. It took us four very windless days to sail the 250NM from Honiara, by far our slowest passage in years but that is typical in this area for this time of year. We were thankful that our previous passages-Vanautu to Ndende, to San Cristobel to Guadalcanal to Honiara-had gone so smoothly. Sure we hadn’t broken any speeds records but we put a solid 1000NM under the keel while averaging 4kts, the wind aft of beam and only flying a poled out headsail. The boat was comfortable, the skies clear and the weather warm enough to sit night watches in shorts and a light shirt-a far cry from our wet/rough/windward passages earlier this year. The 50NM days, the drifting for hours at a time, having rain squalls dump on us then steal our wind and see us tacking back on our own track when winds did set in again were frustrating, but they were offset by the night we had dolphins playing in our bow wave, shimmering with phosphorescence as we blasted along for a few short hours at 7kts, and the hours spent gazing at stars and watching some of the biggest, brightest meteors streak across the endless sky.

The reason we pushed so hard to get here is because we are now above 10* south and far enough west to be considered in a safe zone for the South Pacific cyclone season. We read recently that Ghizo has not suffered a cyclone in recorded history, a statistic that has to be taken with a grain of salt as who knows how long people have been keeping records. But comforting none the less.

However this is considered an area of cyclone genesis, an area where cyclones form. Which means the season will still be punctuated by low pressure systems that will bring wind and rain. These systems can then move further east where they may deepen into a tropical depression and then intensify further into a tropical revolving storm, or cyclone.
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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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“Safety never takes a day off.”

During the first few months we lived on board I would often find myself awake in the middle of the night, my mind swirling around worst-case scenarios, wondering how, or if, I would cope if something bad happened. Sometimes I was worried about the big stuff but as often it was knowing that a chipped tooth, a sprained ankle, a small infection or a high fever can quickly become life threatening when you have no chance of getting proper medical attention for days or even weeks. The myriad of little things that could, in the blink of an eye, go horribly wrong was down right over whelming. When I started to think about the unthinkable, a time when things went so bad we’d have to abandon ship, my fear would almost drown me. Eventually I learned that the only way to control my tsunami of worry was to do as the Girl Guides taught me; Be Prepared.

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