Well what a year that was!
Category 5 Cyclone Pam struck Vanuatu on Friday, 13 March 2015 causing incredible damage. Rireana was on her mooring in Port Vila Harbour. We were in Auckland trying to get on a plane to Vila having just flown in from a scoping trip to India and Bangladesh.
We had left Rireana on her mooring prior to Christmas. As usual, we had prepared her thoroughly for any potential cyclone. The mooring had been checked, a bridle added as back-up security, and chafe protection put in place. All deck gear had been removed, the boom had been lowered, all halyards and sheets had been removed, and down below, everything had been securely stowed.
Rireana was one of about 30 boats moored in the anchorage. On the day after the cyclone, she was one of 5 boats left afloat. Most had been sunk or wrecked on the surrounding coast and reefs. Rireana had sustained some damage when she was hit by another, larger, yacht, which had broken its mooring and now lay wrecked on the beach behind. Rireana’s bowsprit (10mm stainless steel plate) had been bent 90 degrees to starboard and, as the errant vessel bounced down the starboard side, it had broken some stainless steel work and small parts of the rubbing strake. The forestay was also slack as a result of the damage to the bowsprit.
Rireana’s builder, Ian Hyde-Hills, did a wonderful job of constructing her. She is very strong but light. Consequently there was no damage whatsoever to her hull, deck or rigging. If it hadn’t been for the impact from the other vessel, Rireana would have been completely unscathed.
As we worked on cyclone recovery work, Ian came to Vanuatu to help the Butterfly Trust with the re-building, and he also assisted with the repairs to Rireana. At this stage, everything is back in working order, but there is cosmetic work remaining to be done to get her back to her former glory. That will have to be done in 2016 when we have the time to haul her out.
Consequently, sailing in 2015 was minimal. The sheer amount of relief and recovery work required us to spend a lot of time in Vila, flying to the outer islands when necessary, instead of taking the more leisurely approach of sailing. A few day sails and a couple of weekends spent at Mele Bay was all the sailing we managed.
We are now in the 2015/2016 cyclone season. Rireana is again secure on the same mooring. She will be fine!
We re-joined Rireana in early March 2014 in Port Vila where she had spent the previous 3 months on a cyclone mooring. After working in Port Vila we set sail for Noumea, New Caledonia, in early May. Our purpose in going to Noumea was to haul the boat out of the water for maintenance.
We had one of our best ocean voyages, travelling south with a 12 knot easterly on the first day, sunny skies and a slight swell. We took advantage of the conditions to make as much easting as possible and managed to make a landfall at Williams Bay (previously Dillon Bay) on Erromango just after sunset. This was a bonus – another gentle night at anchor. The next day the sea was beautifully calm with a gentle breeze from the ESE and we sailed serenely off towards Havannah Passage at the southern end of New Caledonia. We sat on the foredeck eating lunch and enjoying the smooth waters, something we had very rarely experienced in the open ocean. Another balmy night and day followed and while progress was not scintillating, the peacefulness more than made up for our reduced speed.
We approached the island of Tiga as sunset fell and the breeze dropped, so for the last night it was on with the engine and we reached Havannah Passage as the sun rose, with a couple of light showers thrown in for good measure. The entrance through the passage was uneventful and we anchored in Port Boise for a sleep before heading around to Noumea the next day.
In Noumea we hauled the boat out at Nouville Plaisance. This was akin to boating heaven after spending the last two seasons in Vanuatu. We were spoilt for chandlery and all things necessary to keep a yacht sailing. Our good friend Ian Hyde-Hills (the builder of Rireana) came up to join us and helped with the work on the boat. His expertise is second-to-none and it meant we could do things, such as replacing through-hull valves and the depth sounder transducer, with full confidence in the integrity of the work. We also replaced our anchor winch with a new Maxwell RC10 and have not regretted it. After doing the routine work such as anti-fouling, we launched and spent a few days in the marina at Port Moselle waiting for a suitable weather window to return to Vanuatu.
While in Noumea, as well are being helped by Ian, we received much assistance from our New Caledonian friends, without whom our visit would not have been as enjoyable or successful. Merci beaucoup to Raymonde, Jose and Jacqueline, Remy and Claudine, Eric and Anne-Marie, Christian and Elizabeth and Alex, Stefan and Caroline and Nemo.
We left Noumea with a spring in our mast-step and departed the Havannah Passage in a light to moderate south-easterly breeze. This continued for the first two days but on the third became more easterly and strengthened to 20 to 25 knots. We put two reefs in the main, furled most of the genoa and bounced all the way to Port Vila with large swells breaking on the beam.
The rest of the season was spent sailing around Vanuatu. Our work took us to southeast Malekula, up the west coast of Malekula to Santo, from Santo to Ambae, and from Ambae to Tongoa (sailing down the east coast of Ambrym) and back to Port Vila. A second trip took us back to southeast Malekula and then back to Vila. We experienced a surprising number of north-easterly winds, especially when we were sailing north, and so the season was characterised by reefed sails and water over the decks as we sailed to windward most of the time. In fact, we kept two reefs in the main for about 6 months, not even bothering to shake them out when we anchored. The head winds plus the triangulated seas around the islands of Vanuatu made the sailing challenging, especially around the passages between Maewo and Pentecost, and Pentecost and Ambrym, where the tide and wind produced large seas.
After our last return voyage to Port Vila in early November, we again put Rireana on a cyclone mooring and are now keeping a weather eye on the forecasts.
We launched Rireana at the end of the cyclone season on 30 April 2013. We had spent the previous 6 weeks preparing her for another season of work in the tropics.
After launching we proceeded to a mooring in Port Vila Harbour and lived and worked there before heading north to Malekula at the beginning of June. We stopped at Havannah Harbour and then, because there was an onshore wind causing a rough sea at Revolieu Bay on Epi, we proceeded directly to the Maskelyne Islands and entered Sangalai Harbour in the dark. Modern chartplotters are wonderful things. We then spent a couple of months sailing between the Maskelyne Islands and Port Sandwich while attending to Trust work. There were the usual issues with strong winds in Sangalai Harbour but our anchor held. We also experienced a rough couple of nights in Avock but again, the anchor held well. Each passage into Port Sandwich also seemed to be accompanied by strong winds, rain, and falling darkness.
We left Port Sandwich and returned to Port Vila in August, battling a 20 to 30 knot south easterly at first, which slowly, and luckily, went more easterly as we sailed south. We took as much water over the deck as we have ever done, but made a relatively fast passage, reaching Havannah Harbour in about 15 hours.
We worked in Port Vila until the beginning of September when we again sailed north to Malekula. Our passages were again, relatively uneventful. On the return voyage to Port Vila in early October we made an overnight stop at Lamen Bay on Epi, and another at Revolieu Bay.
We again made the decision to leave Rireana in Vanuatu for the cyclone season. However, this year, instead of hauling her out of the water, she is on a cyclone mooring.
In mid-April 2012 we arrived back in Port du Sud marina, Noumea, and boarded Rireana. Thierry had kept very good care of her and we soon had her back in living order.
On 1 May, the end of the cyclone season, we hauled Rireana out of the water at Nouville Plaisance, also in Noumea. This hardstand area for boats is well run and maintained. It has a travel lift and plenty of chandlery services nearby. By Noumea standards it is also relatively cheap and compared well in price with hardstands in New Zealand and Australia. The only drawbacks are that you have to provide your own water-blasting equipment and ladders.
We lived aboard Rireana on the hardstand for 10 days while we anti-fouled her and attended to the myriad others jobs that are part and parcel of boat life. We had discovered a problem with the depth sounder in the marina and despite many attempts at diagnosing the problem could not get to the bottom of it, even on the hardstand. The issue was that the depth sounder would take anywhere between 10 minutes and an hour to engage when first turned on. In the end we decided to sail with a less than perfectly functioning sounder and use our lead line as back-up if necessary. (The depth sounder is connected to our Garmin 4008 chartplotter.)
We re-launched Rireana in the middle of May and prepared for the voyage to Vanuatu.
During our time in Noumea we were again royally entertained by our New Caledonian friends, all of whom were very willing to assist wherever they could. Jose lent us his water-blaster and ladder and even went to the extent of helping us with the anti-fouling, and Raymonde was, as always, the most generous hostess and organiser. Stefan and Carolyne from Fruity Fruits took us sight-seeing and gave much useful local boating advice, as did Patrick of Proton. Everyone was very hospitable.
On 14 May we cleared out of Noumea and sailed to Port Boise where we anchored for the night. At dawn the next day we made a relatively easy trip through the Havannah Passage and set course for the island of Mare in the Loyalty Islands. We had a rough plan to anchor off the main port of Tadine overnight. However, on arriving at Tadine we found an uncomfortable roll in the anchorage and the south-easterly trade wind was bending around the southern point and putting us onto a lee shore. We therefore kept sailing north, picking our way between the small islands between Mare and the next large island of Lifou. The night was pitch black and the only navigation aid in the area is a light on the eastern tip of Lifou. This was obscured most of the time and so we relied solely on radar and our chart plotter. It is amazing how technology has taken a lot of the stress out of small vessel navigation. By midnight we had reached the northern tip of Mare and with a fair wind from the south-east, decided to head for the island of Tanna, one of the southern islands of Vanuatu where yachts can complete customs and immigration clearances.
By the middle of the next night, the wind had risen and we rounded the southern coast of Tanna under a double-reefed main and heavily reefed headsail. We steered further south, and covered more miles, than necessary to make certain our landfall at Port Resolution was in daylight – well that is what we say anyway. We ran quickly up the east coast of Tanna and surfing on a couple of large swells, entered the harbour at Port Resolution at about 1000 hours.
There were half a dozen other boats in Port Resolution during our stay there. We took a ride on the back of a ute over the hills to Lenekal to clear in, a couple of days after anchoring. No-one seemed to mind this delay. The weather was foul and the ute became bogged down on more than one occasion. It had to be dug out of ruts in the track and hauled and pushed up very slippery parts. By the time we got to Lenekal we were all (about a dozen of us) wet and cold. We cleared customs but the immigration officer was ill and in hospital. We therefore didn’t manage to clear immigration until arriving in Port Vila about a week later. Again, no-one was too bothered.
We stayed in Port Resolution for 4 days and were well looked after by Stanley who will organise/obtain/make/source anything a yacht could need (within the limitations of a remote tropical island of course).
We weighed anchor and sailed north out of Port Resolution on a clear sunny day. As we reached the strait between Tanna and Erromango (the next island to the north) the wind increased and we ended up having to heave to and put 3 reefs in the main. The sea was boisterous, as is often the case around Vanuatu, but once we gained the lee of Erromango everything calmed down and we anchored in Dillon’s Bay in the mid-afternoon. We spent only 24 hours there but can highly recommend the anchorage (in trade wind conditions) and the village.
The next afternoon we set sail for Port Vila. Again, once clear of the lee of Erromango, and it is a long lee, we encountered strong winds and boisterous seas. We had 2 reefs in the main and a heavily reefed headsail and were blasting along on a broad reach at 7 plus knots. For comfort’s sake we should really have had 3 reefs in the main, but it was dark and wet and slippery on deck so we chose to carry on at speed. We raced through the night and just south of Port Vila caught up with a 50 foot ketch that had left Dillon’s Bay before us. We hadn’t managed to sleep but we were clear winners of the race which the ketch knew nothing about. We picked up a mooring in Port Vila as day broke.
We spent time in the Maskelyne Islands and Port Sandwich on mainland Malekula during our work for the Trust. We called in at the island of Epi, and Havannah Harbour on Efate, on our trips between Vila and Malekula. Most of the time we had wonderful sailing conditions with the wind just forward or abaft the beam and blowing 12 to 20 knots. Once on the way from Epi to Port Sandwich we had a scorching blast with 35 knots from dead astern. We try to pick our weather as much as possible for these trips as bashing to windward in the confused seas of Vanuatu against the trade wind is as much fun as having a bath with an alligator.
Instead of taking Rireana outside the cyclone zone to Australia or New Zealand, we again decided to keep her in the tropics for the 2012/2013 cyclone season. And in order to do as much Trust work as possible, we decided to keep her in Vanuatu. So at the end of October we hauled Rireana out of the water at the Port Vila boatyard. This was an entertaining procedure involving many divers chocking the boat level on its cradle before she was hauled out by a winch on the back of a tractor. We then spent three weeks preparing for any possible cyclones, including removing everything from the deck, including all halyards and the solar panel. We lashed Rireana to her cradle and also to concrete blocks in the ground using ratchet type cargo straps. (One half of a foldable anchor ball makes a perfect rat guard for a cargo strap.) We then crossed our fingers and flew back to New Zealand for 3 months of work and fundraising.
Transporting items to the Maskelynes continues to be a challenge with no direct access by road or air. We are very grateful to the captain and crew of Tallship “Soren Larsen” for helping with the transport from New Zealand of donated items of medicines, books and clothing over the past 2 years.
Once again, the Butterfly Trust will need help with transport in 2012. If anyone can help or know of anyone who can, please contact us by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We use our yacht, Rireana, as a base for the work of the Butterfly Trust.
Rireana is an Owen Woolley designed yacht, 10.6m long, 3.0m in the beam, with a draft of 1.9m. She is sloop rigged with an added inner forestay. She is constructed of wood – triple skin, diagonally planked kauri – with epoxy and fibreglass sheathing. She was built by Ian Hyde-Hills and launched in 1990. We took over guardianship of Rireana from Ian in early 2006. Since then Ian has remained an integral part of Rireana’s journey.
Here are some photographs of Rireana.
We returned to Rireana in February 2011 (after a stint in far north Queensland looking after the vanilla farm of Fiona and Matt George-Allen). We then did a lot of maintenance work on Rireana, before heading south through the Sandy Straits to Mooloolaba and Brisbane. We eventually ended up at Scarborough Marina just north of Brisbane to ready ourselves for the sail back to Vanuatu.
We were a bit anxious about the trip east across the Coral Sea, it being against the prevailing south-easterly trade winds. However, in the end, the weather window we picked (with the help of Bob McDavitt) was even more placid than we expected. So placid in fact we motored almost two thirds of the way to Noumea. By the time we docked in Port Moselle we had 25 litres of fuel remaining. Luckily we had Ted Jordan on board for this trip who was great at calculating optimum engine revs and fuel usage.
We had a quick turnaround in Noumea, Ted flew back to New Zealand, and we sailed up to Vila, a trip of about 3 days.
After a month spent in Vila doing the bureaucratic side of Trust work, we again headed for the Maskelynes on an overnight trip. It is about a 17 hour sail and has to be timed so that we can enter the reef at Sangalai Harbour in daylight.
We lived at anchor in Sangalai Harbour for the next 3 months, although had to move anchorage on occasion to escape strong south-westerly winds which put us onto a dangerous lee shore in the harbour.
We returned to Vila, spent some more time on a mooring there, and then sailed again for New Caledonia. This was a relatively fast trip. After two seasons of sailing we had used up a lot of our long term supplies and reduced the weight on the boat. With relatively light winds forward of the beam and a slight sea, we averaged just under 6 knots on the trip to Noumea. That is quite respectable for a boat of Rireana’s size.
Once in Noumea, we decided to leave Rireana there while we returned to New Zealand for work. The reason for this being that ocean voyages, including the time spent waiting for suitable weather windows, take up a lot of time. We believed this time was better spent fundraising and working this year, given the effects of the global recession. So we left Rireana tucked up in Port du Sud marina in Noumea in early November and flew back to Auckland. Our friend Thierry Boujon is keeping close watch on Rireana while we are away. We hope to be back on board in mid-April and sailing back up to Vanuatu soon afterwards.
We sailed from Opua, New Zealand, in June 2010, with Tim Frost as crew, and headed directly for Port Vila in Vanuatu. The trip took about 10 days and was largely incident free. Lynn suffered from bad seasickness initially but in the last 2 or 3 days, when we were being knocked around by 30 knot winds and a very confused sea, she was luckily feeling much better. Tim paid off in Port Vila and flew back to New Zealand.
From Vila we headed north to the Maskelyne Islands. This was an overnight trip in relatively light winds with patches of rain.
We had Ian Hyde-Hills on board for this leg of the trip. Ian had joined us in Vila and spent most of the night helming Rireana. He eventually went below about 0500 hours after relishing the opportunity to steer his creation in tropical waters for the first time. Ian had generously offered his time to come up to the Maskelynes to provide vocational training in building skills and the use of power tools.
We lived on Rireana at anchor in Sangalai Harbour for the next couple of months (with one return sail back to Vila for Trust work). Then it was back to Port Vila to attend to more work there and to prepare for leaving Vanuatu. From Vila, we sailed south to New Caledonia. We cleared in at Lifou, one of the Loyalty Islands, and then made our way through the Havannah Passage in the south-east corner of New Caledonia and on to Noumea. We spent a couple of weeks on mainland New Caledonia, before setting sail for Bundaberg in Australia.
We were joined for the Australian leg of the voyage by Jim Hawke, an old sailing mate from Auckland, now resident in Queensland. We copped a gale halfway across the Coral Sea and at one stage were caught surfing down a wave at just under 14 knots. That’s not bad for a small boat with a maximum hull speed of about 7.5 knots. We made landfall at Bundaberg after about 6 days sailing where Jim left us.
We hauled Rireana out of the water at Bundaberg and returned to New Zealand for work and more fundraising. We were away for the period of the Queensland floods and luckily Rireana was on the hard (as Jim had advised). As a result of the floods, about 60 boats were lost out of Bundaberg, some never to be recovered. Rireana remained high and dry with our mate in Bundy, Judy O’Donoghue, checking on her every so often.