Adventures in Engine-less Sailing

Oceangybe

Words by Hugh

Lat: 19 degrees 31.5 minutes S

Long: 169 degrees 29.7 minutes E

So after 5 fantastic days exploring the beaches, reefs, and lagoon’s of Aneitym as well as being welcomed into the village of Anagawat, we reluctantly weighed anchor late last night for an overnight sail to the island of Tanna. I’ll leave the full description of the past few days to another member of the crew, as I’m sure my prose won’t do the experience justice. But to give you an idea of the impression that was left on us, as we ate dinner last night and reflected on our first taste of Vanuatu and its people I did hear the words “best place yet” from more than one person.

Now, back to the title of the blog, Engine-less Sailing!?! Well, um, uh, yeah, at the moment we can’t exactly start our engine. A small detail really, since we are in fact a sailboat! Let me go back 5 days to the morning we were approaching the nice protected bay of Anagawat on Aneitym. We were all pretty tired after a week of sailing combined with a fitful sleep the night before because of the excitement of making landfall in the morning. As usual when approaching a new harbour, we doused the sails outside the reef-pass and started the engine to come in under power. This is generally the safest way to approach an anchorage as often there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver around coral heads, rocks or other boats if the wind changes direction or the current is strong, as is often the case. Of course, Captain Jack Sparrow of the Black Pearl didn’t have this same luxury, but hey, we’re not such hardy sailors as that!

So we fired the engine up to motor into the bay. Someone (um, me) did noticed a slight difference in the sound that the engine was making, but with the all the other noises of flapping sails and crew on deck, didn’t think much of it; not my usual mechanically vigilant-self. As we entered the bay Jess came up from the cabin looking worried and said “Something smells like burning!” Yikes! Immediately Bryson ran below to open up the engine compartment: the most like source of ‘burning’ on a boat. The first thought was that a belt has simply broken, but a quick check of all the belts revealed none were. Hmm… more worrying. At this point we’re in the bay and Ryan is up forward spotting for coral, reef and a place to anchor while the engine is still chugging away below. Then Jess says “Smoke!” Uh oh. Fortunately at this point we were in a good place to anchor, so immediately Ryan drops it and we kill the engine. Silence. Bryson appears from below. “There’s smoke coming out of the Starter” More silence. No joyous shout or hi-fives of a completed passage. Well, maybe it’s not broken, so I turned the key to start up the engine. “Click”. Nothing. No starter = no engine. No one looked happy to be anchored. I didn’t think our engine could be any louder than when running at 3,000 rpm, but when I turned the key to try and fire it up again, the ‘click, click, click’ was deafening.

A quick assessment reveled that the solenoid switch that engages the starter motor when firing up the engine had jammed, leaving the Starter ON while we ran the engine, which in turn burned out the Starter. Lame. Anyhow, lets take stock of our situation; we’re 160 miles from the nearest major town with the possibility of a electrician who could fix the starter. We’ve got a zodiac with a 20 hp outboard engine that we could possibly tow Khulula in a push. But we keep the dingy stored on deck while sailing, so if the emergency arouse where we needed to, it would be difficult to deploy it in time. Hmm… on the positive side, we were safely anchored in a fairly large bay, and the weather forecast for the next few days was good. So we were in no immediate danger.

The bigger problem was going to be fixing the Starter. It is not something we could do on board, and the chances of finding an electrician that could in Port Villa, 160 miles away, was low. Even ordering a new one in Port Villa could be a two or three week process. Very luckily for us, Robertson’s parents were flying out to Vanuatu to join us in a week’s time, and could bring a new one from Vancouver, where finding a new one would be much more likely. So we put Mike Patterson (my father) on the case. If there was a replacement Starter motor for our engine available in Vancouver, Mike P could find it. His ability to track down obscure replacement parts (kettle caps excluded) is legendary. So, 3 or 4 emails later, Mike P. had located a reconditioned Starter and made the hand-off to Mike R! Perfect; the last piece of the puzzle is for us to make it from Aneitym north to Port Villa.

Luckily we’re in a sailboat, not a motor boat. Heck, we’ve even met a few folks out cruising who don’t have engines in their boats at all; usual we refer to them with reverence or skepticism: “Wow, they’re nuts; they don’t have an engine”. But in truth, it is more of a luxury than a necessity and to be engineless is exiting. And, we don’t really have a better option. So last night sailed off our anchor to make the 50 miles to Port Resolution on the Island of Tanna, our first stop on the way to Port Villa. It went very smoothly, and we even did some hot reverse-back-out-sailing between another boat and the reef.

We had some great trade-wind sailing over night, and approached Tanna just after breakfast (yum, pancakes!) this morning. With Ryan at the helm, Bryson on the anchor, and myself on Main and Jib, we short tacked into the bay and made a textbook anchor under sail alone! Perfect. It’s a well protected harbour and we’re quite comfortable to be here for a day or two before making the next jump up to Port Villa. There is even a nice looking long-board wave breaking at the entrance…

In the mean time Bryson has already been ashore to sort out a truck ride to the base of the active volcano; the best time to climb to the crater is at dusk so you can see the molten lava flowing in the dark…

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