The wind is from the west! The next morning after leaving Havannah Pass the wind switches direction and starts to blow us eastward toward Fiji. Now this is more like it and is what we have hoped for but did not dare dream of happening. The prevailing easterly winds do falter and switch around from time to time: we were held up in Bora Bora on our way to Australia for several days by just such a wind pattern and it is believed that the early Polynesian and Melanesian settlers of the Pacific used these winds to voyage eastward relying on the easterlies to blow them home again if they did not find new land.
We see another yacht behind us and they call us up on the VHF radio and offer us a big piece of the tuna they have just caught. Even motoring, they take a long time to catch us up. I trail a plastic bag on a long rope in our wake so they can put the fish in it and we haul it in. No they don`t have the plague, but it is dangerous for sailboats to come alongside each other while rolling in ocean waves and risk crashing together or tangling their rigs.
Soon our westerly wind fades and the east wind returns. Even so, as we reluctantly turn onto a northerly course we have gained enough easting that we hope to pass to windward of the islands of Vanuatu. As usual, it is the middle of the night when we arrive at the most southerly island, Aneityum. Shiriri has n`t quite managed to get far enough to windward. Perhaps we have been overly optimistic or the west setting ocean currents are messing with our expectations. We turn on the radar on this black rainy night and with the screen showing us the island and the fringing coral reef close to windward, we angle out across the broad passage between this and the next island in the chain, Tana.
The morning light shows clearing skies, Tana and ----what`s that? -a volcano belches a plume of ash just down wind of us. We remember now that other cruisers have come to see the volcano, so it did n`t just happen especially for us. It feels weird to be simply sailing past and eating breakfast while a great geological event is happening nearby. We imagine how it must have been in ancient Rome when Pompey was buried in Vesuvius`volcanic ash. Did folks nearby sip their wine and say "Oh yeah, there she goes! So Octavia, what`s for supper?"
Over the next week we thrash our way north with the islands of Vanuatu clear on the western horizon. The easterly trades continue to freshen (25 knots) and Shiriri rolls rail down in the steep beam seas. Now we are paying for all those sunny months in the Australian marinas: the wooden planks above the waterline have dried and shrunk and are now letting steady streams of water find their way into the bilges. The normal bilge pumps do not work well on water that sloshes back and forth at high speed as the hull rolls and we must regularly use a hand pump to catch it briefly on the vertical and suck the water up and overboard. This will naturally correct itself as the planks swell back tight in the damp but in the meantime I think it would be a good idea to duck into Port Vila just over there to leeward and take a break from these miserable conditions. Anne is stern however and as our navigator, points out to her old dad that we will only get home if we buckle down and keep sailing!