Passage to Vanautu

A sense of awe and wonder at being alone with the wind and sea returns for these cruisers on a passage to Vanuatu.

After a rough start, conditions during a passage to Vanuatu from Fiji ­morphed into a cruiser’s dream.Corinne Dolci

In August, our friend Jeff crossed the Pacific from Hong Kong to San Francisco as a passenger on a container ship. Not to cruise the islands or swim with the fishies — just crossing an ocean for the sheer experience of being at sea, surrounded by water and wind. I tried to harness that sense of awe and wonder as my husband and I left Fiji aboard our Island Packet 380 for a 450 nautical mile passage to Vanuatu.

Then an hour off the coast of Viti Levu reality hit: The 20- to 25-knot forecasted winds turned into sustained high 20s with frequent periods in the low 30s. Outside Fiji’s protected waters for the first time in four months, we were reminded of the power the wind has to whip up the ocean and found ourselves in three to four meters of swell. Sitting in the cockpit of a boat our size, three- to four-meter swells look like walls of water charging ominously at you. We watched the bubble in the inclinometer oscillate from 40 degrees to 40 degrees. Sounds resembling those from a high-speed car crash echoed as waves collided with our hull. It felt like we were crowd surfing on the back of a cavalry of rioting horses — for 24 hours.

Thoughts of awe and wonder I did not have. Instead, I found myself praying for a ruby-slipper miracle as I lost the contents of my stomach, profoundly understanding that there really is no place like home. But the lesson of the sailing life is one of continuous mutability: Be they hellish or heavenly, the only thing the winds and seas guarantee is change. By Saturday ­afternoon, we were running downwind with 18 knots on our stern quarter and an easy 1-meter rock-and-roll, the agonies of the previous night already a foggy memory. Forecasts, thankfully, were for a further softening of conditions. We fired up the iron jib at 0300 on Sunday morning as the winds died, expecting to motor for the next 30 hours into Vanuatu.

Things were calm enough Sunday ­afternoon for Dominic to toss a line in the water; some 30 minutes later we had a yellowfin tuna on the hook and a serious menu upgrade for the rest of the day. Then around 1400, Aeolus blew a glorious 15 knots behind us, filling our sails and sending us flying through flat waters at 7 knots directly to our destination. Conditions held as the light on the sails melted into gold. We were in love with life, sailing into the sunset toward paradise, feeling the awesome, wondrous bliss that comes only when in harmony with the water and wind.

We arrived in Aneityum, Vanuatu’s southernmost island, at 1000 on Monday, surrounded by bright blue waters, long sandy beaches, and plenty of fishies with which to swim.