17 April 1997

The Last Cruise

After Billy left, Micheal and I moped around the boat for a few days as we always do when our friends depart. And then it was on to a new country, Vanuatu - land of cargo cults, penis sheaths and volcanoes where on some islands people are living much as they did hundreds of years ago. The passage was great with 20-25 knots of wind from behind us most of the way. We saw lots of sea life along the way, in and out of the boat. Besides catching a really nice Wahoo, every morning the deck was littered with flying fish and a few even managed to make their way down below. Who was it that stepped on the fish in the galley, barefoot, in the middle of the night?

We experienced our most exciting landfall to date on that passage. Sailing in 30-35 knots with the seas running to five meters through the Selwyn Passage between the islands Pentecost and Ambryn as the sun was setting, we were treated to Humpback whales jumping out of the water. And after the sun set, and we turned the corner around Pentecost to head north to Luganville, Micheal spied the red glow of active volcanoes on Ambryn reflected in the clouds. It was awesome.

Yup, awesome is how I would describe Vanuatu. We only had a couple of months to spend there so decided to get to know the area briefly and return another season for a more extensive adventure. After cruising the islands for about a month, we ended up staying in Port Vila for another month. Micheal got plugged into the local music scene, again. It seems that our old friends from Ambler, Stan and Cora had a steady job at the Waterfront Bar and Restaurant and got Micheal a paying job playing with their blues band. We caught up with a few old friends and made a lot of news ones while we were there. Then it was time to sail south to New Zealand, once again.

Near the end of each cruising season in the Southwest Pacific, as cyclone season approaches, the weather service reports it's prognosis for cyclone activity in the area. This year the weather guys best guess was that the season would start early and there would be more cyclones than usual. So we were torn between leaving early and beating the cyclones but arriving in New Zealand while the weather in that region was still a bit unsettled and cold, or staying on in the tropics a bit longer to wait for the weather down south to settle down and warm up but running the risk of getting caught in a cyclone. Most every day for two weeks Micheal and I trudged up the hill in Port Vila to the weather station to take a look at the four day prognosis, generated out of Bracknell, England. We finally departed the third week of November, just a little later than normal. The day before we left I noticed a large area of low pressure north of Vanuatu and asked the guys if it was significant. Their reply was that it was nothing and that the best thing to do was to sail south to New Caledonia and stay there for a few days before sailing to New Zealand. Imagine what I was thinking when one day out of Port Vila that low pressure area of no concern turned into a tropical depression! Well, we put the pedal to the metal and sailed south as fast as we could. The depression hung around for a couple of days only to reform north of New Caledonia (and closer to us) and turn into the first tropical cyclone of the season, Cyril. Luckily we weren't affected by the cyclone and checked into Opua, New Zealand nine days after departing Vanuatu. It was good to be back in New Zealand again.

With the prospect of a major boat project to be undertaken while in New Zealand for the summer, we decided to spend our holidays based in New Zealand's premier playground, the Bay of Islands. And boy did we have fun. In between the cyclones, that is. The weather guys were spot on this year in their predictions and two cyclones managed to make their way south from the tropics to lash New Zealand and ruin the holidays for a lot of Kiwis. Two cyclones in two weeks, I couldn't believe it! We rode out the first one, Fergus, while in the Bay of Islands all the time wishing we were up north in the most secure place for a cruising boat in New Zealand, Whangaroa Harbor. The next one struck New Zealand while we were at Whangaroa Harbor. Ha!

The first week of February found us sailing south towards the big smoke, Auckland. We stopped along the way at Kawau Island to visit our good friends Dick and Chris. Even though the hot tub was out of order we managed to have a great time. Then we sailed by downtown Auckland to the Upper Harbor and our ultimate destination, Westpark Marina. Which brings us pretty much up to date. We've been here about two months now and have another month or so to go before we're through. I won't go into detail here about the project but will say that it's a major refit. We've had to move off the boat and have been living aboard various boats in the marina.

Being back in civilization has had it's advantages. One is access to a lot of news regarding the Americas Cup. It's a pretty big deal here in New Zealand. If anyone is interested, I could pass along all of the scuttlebutt about developments in a future article.

This article is long enough! I left out lots of detail from our cruising season. Oh, I just remembered. We timed our return to Musket Cove this past September to coincide with the Musket Cove Hobie Challenge held in conjunction with the Cruising Rally. We felt that we had to have the opportunity to defend our title from the previous year. There weren't as many teams this year but the competition was keen. We started the first race with somewhat of a handicap when one of the teams we raced against last year chained a drogue to the side stay of our boat! We made it into the finals and raced for the title against a cruising couple from Australia who had a lot of experience racing 16's. They beat us in the best two out of three races. It was great fun to be back on board a Hobie Cat once again and we didn't mind losing to a team with greater ability, but not without a fight!.

Many thanks to everyone who sent Christmas cards this year. And thanks for the Dallas Regatta and Mid-Americas T-shirts that were sent along with Billy. They have been much admired in this part of the world. We miss everyone back in Dallas.

Cheers for now....

Micheal and Trude
s/v "Vela Dare"

Cruising April 1997

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