October 10

Its already the 10th of October and it seems like it was just yesterday we were saying we would be ready to leave on October 10th. Well, we are ready but we’re not in a hurry to go. We are anchored at Waterfall Bay on the West side of Vanua Lava, an island is the Banks Group of Northern Vanuatu . We’ve been here 2 days and we may leave tomorrow or at latest the day after. However, when we leave here we are not sure where we will go. We may stop at another anchorage a couple of miles up the coast where the most outrageous waterfall tumbles into the sea from a hole in the side of a cliff about 200ft high. We passed it on the way here and have since heard there is good anchorage right in front of it. The bay we are at now, of course, has a lovely waterfall, hence the name, Waterfall Bay . But the other falls are quite spectacular while this one is only beautiful.  

Then there is a spot about 10 miles North of here called the Reef Islands which is really just the remnants of a coral atoll with 2 or 3 low, flat islands and a crescent shaped reef. The diving there is supposed to be fabulous and the views are 360 degrees. It is reportedly well protected even in high winds. On the other hand, we are itching to leave for Kiribati (the Gilbert Islands , our next major destination) so we may skip one or both of those.  

Meanwhile, we are having a lovely time here with all our new friends, most of whom are also heading for Kiribati in the next few days. This evening we had drinks and h’ors devourers aboard with Martina and Christie from “Wind Runner”, Marlee and Louis from “Green Nomad” and Carol and Craig (and baby Moorea) from “Valere”. Of the three only Valere is headed for Australia to sit out the upcoming cyclone season. As I said above, the rest of us are heading North of the equator where cyclone season is just coming to a close (cyclones occur mainly in summer and since summer season occurs at opposite times of the year in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, when it is cyclone season South of the equator it is the season for fine weather and sailing North of the equator).

Today Martin and I went scuba diving at a nearby headland while Kate, Jonah and Christie snorkeled in the shallows. The dive was very nice with a small wall down to about 50ft that was literally covered in all types of coral including soft corals, hard corals, fans, etc. Many nice fish and we also saw one smallish shark. Tomorrow Kate and I (and perhaps Martin) will do the same dive while Christie watches Jonah.

We have also been busy doing pre-departure work on the boat. Today I tightened the bolts holding down the autopilot ram which I do every few months and especially before a long passage. They seem to work slightly loose over time and start making annoying clunking noises which are worrisome. I also adjusted the alignment on our new shaft lock which seems to move a bit when engaged at too high a speed (we will try not to do that again). We also spent many hours performing a cleaning process on the water maker membrane. This process involves mixing cleaning chemicals with hot water and then running the solution through the system for an hour followed by an hour of letting it soak, then another hour of running it through the system, then another hour of resting. Finally the system is run for 50 minutes to purge the chemicals, then you can start using the water it makes. It sounds relatively simple, if time consuming, but the big hitch is that the chemical solution must be maintained at a temperature of 120f. This means every five minutes you have to remove half the solution (into a big pot) and heat it on the stove then add it back to the big bucket in which the solution is being sucked from. And, you have to do all of this TWICE, each time with a different chemical! That’s a total of about 10 hours, 4 of which you are constantly re-heating a big pot of chemicals. The worst part of all this is that the end result was that our system is still producing only about 80% of the water is should be producing (which is 8 gallons per hour). We may need a new membrane.  

The membrane, for those unfamiliar with reverse osmosis desalination, is a long tube like device through which saltwater is pushed at very high pressure (about 800psi). This device permits the water to pass but diverts the salt (and most of the water) which is dumped back overboard. The “product” water is routed into our water tanks and is the most pure, clean water you can get, much more pure then (for example) bottled mineral waters, though it has no minerals in it, at all. The membrane is even supposed to filter out something like 98% of all known viruses. The water thus produced is far cleaner and purer than anything most land dwellers consume even from the developed world’s most advanced municipal water systems. By drinking only water we produce ourselves we eliminate many problems encountered by other cruisers or land travelers who must submit their bodies to whatever microbes happen to exist in the local water supply. No Montezuma’s revenge here. Many cruising boats use RO water makers (desalinators) these days though the systems are expensive. Furthermore, in the old days, before such systems, sailors were often limited in how long they could stay away from places where water was available.  

If your boat has a RO water maker you can literally remain in the most remote places as long as you want, the limiting factor is no longer water but food. Furthermore, the problem of saltwater sores, a  problem endured by cruising sailors of old (and by those who still do not have a water maker) is completely avoided since there is always sufficient water available to bathe in fresh water. In the past, sailors would wash themselves and their clothes in salt water. Doing this is guaranteed to produce salt water sores which are extremely uncomfortable and can lead to infections. In short, the RO water maker is one of the great inventions of the 20th century as far as we are concerned and without it our quality of life would be about 8 notches lower. Enough about the benefits, now we have to decide if we should buy a new membrane which will cost several hundred dollars and is a real PITA to install. We can probably continue with this one for another 10 months at least, we’ll just have to run the machine longer to make the same amount of water.  

Anyway, its getting late and I am exhausted. I’ll try to write more tomorrow, but about a different topic.