I had given myself until Sunday the 8th June to head out to Musket Cove, a perfect island 15 miles from Vuda Marina and a great base for sea trials. From there it is only about 3 miles to Malolo Pass and the open South Pacific Ocean beyond. There is literally nothing between that point and New Zealand 1260 miles to the south (1120 nautical miles).
Saturday was spent largely on the final rigging, setting up new reef lines, checking the shape of the main, installing new battens (fiberglass ribs that help keep the shape of the mainsail) and stowing gear. Sunday was spent cleaning the fuel system, more stowing gear and a another cursory look at the refrigerator. Although not essential for this trip, the thought of no ice-cold water, no pre-cooked curries, no fresh cheese or meat for 10 days was bugging me. Also, on principle, the thought of no cold beer bugged me even more, but once at sea, some physiological change takes place and I cannot stomach any alcohol at all. It's a Brit's worse nightmare, but probably a good thing. Even so, the thought of not having a cold beer, just in case I somehow manage reverse this oceanic physiological malady, is a terrible thing. So off to work I went - stuffing myself in a 4 X 3' lazarette with a flashlight and tools. I poked, prodded, measure voltages, checked connections and was determined to get this thing going. I could hear the compressor motor trying to start, but each time it squealed to a stop.
The worse thing you can do to a fridge is not run it, similar to a diesel engine, and this one had been dormant for 12 months at 100 degrees plus and 100% humidity. By poking around, I found a couple of loose connections which, when tightened, allowed a bit more current through, but still it wouldn't run. After about two hours of being stuffed in this 110 degree box I was past the point of safe return. Either I got it going and produced a cold beer, or I would die of dehydration. So I swapped from "just trying" mode to "survival mode"; any Aussie on earth would understand exactly what I mean. I then found that by tapping two connections together and waiting, I could get the motor to turn just a few milliseconds more. A cold beer now seemed like a distinct (although distant) possibility. So there I was with a flashlight (torch) strapped to my head, loosing about a quart of sweat every 15 min, tapping these connections together and praying out loud. Eventually the thing kicked into life and the sound of the compressor running was like a voice from heaven. A huge "Yeeeha!" emanated from the lazarette and my marina neighbors only 5 feet away must have wondered what the muffled squeal was that came from Sojourner. I extricated myself from the box (which is only possible with a gymnastic twist half way through, since my arms and legs must come out at different angles), then I loaded the fridge with beer. Waiting for beer to cool is like watching paint dry - except the latter is hardly worth it. Within two hours, I pulled a cold Fiji Bitter from my home-built fridge, popped the top and replaced some critical body fluids. It took a fair few more to completely re-hydrate, so it was a close call. Any longer in that box and I could have succumbed, but once again Sojourner didn't let me down.
I was ready to cast off for Musket Cove by the end of Sunday. Cyclone Gina was still hovering over Vanuatu and some serious anxiety had begun to creep into my mind. The trip to New Zealand is fraught with enough problems even without the possibility of encountering a cyclone. Before I planned this trip I had studied the cyclone tracks for the last 20 years in this area. Only in extreme El Nino years were there any cyclones in June, and this season was not an extreme El Nino. In fact, the index only slightly swung toward El Nino, and the previous year was even slightly La Nina (the opposite). But from the tracks I had seen, I knew that if it was going to re-curve toward Fiji, it would do so close to Vanuatu and follow the inter-tropical convergence zone toward the southeast, otherwise it would carry on toward Brisbane or Cairns. It was at the turning point and, sure enough on Monday, it stalled and started to creep south, then southeast toward Fiji. Dammit, I couldn't believe that after waiting a year there is a freak cyclone the day I decide to set out for Musket Cove. I decided to go anyhow, since the system was at least two days away and Musket was only 3 hours from Vuda. Besides, this was just an anomaly - one in ten thousand or more, so it would be the last one of the season - right? I then began to think about the Queen's Birthday Storm in June years ago, and realized that although it did not have the necessary physical structure to be the same type of cyclone, it was by all intents and purposes as bad, probably much worse. Goose pimples covered my body.
Monday, exactly at noon, I cast off from Vuda Marina and headed out. Most of the marina gang waved and shouted goodbye, as I chugged out the channel fighting back the tears. There's a special place in my heart for Fijians and these people had been good friends and a fun bunch - I dearly wished this was not the last I would see of them.
It is just 15 miles to Musket Cove. The sky was blue. The sun was intense. The ocean was glassy calm, fish jumped in shoals from the water, huge blue jellyfish slid by. Sven was purring along. The radar showed every boat and palm-covered island within 24 miles. I sat back and relaxed for the first time in 10 days. At last, Sojourner was in charge, her autopilot steered, the computer drew our track on the chart, and I was blissfully redundant. It was time to check the fridge… just in case….
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