Winds are changing

This voyage was always a race against time. The right weather window to sail to the Solomon Islands ends in May, that’s what they say. The northwest monsoon gives way for the southeast monsoon in the southern hemisphere sometime between April and May. March to April is the transition period where light winds are prevalent. This is when we were motoring along the north coast of New Guinea with no wind. My goal was to make it to Madang before the winds turned, and we did! I was wondering how far we would make it from Madang until the southeast monsoon would start, and I believe I have my answer: nowhere at all.

Basically, the day we left, winds started blowing from the east. The forecasts were telling us that the winds would turn to the southeast once we pass the tip of the Morobe Peninsula. And as I know from previous experience, the weather doesn’t read weather forecasts. Instead of turning to the southeast, it stayed mostly east. On top of that, what I didn’t check but quickly discovered, is that the currents would also be against us.

We have been spoilt so far on our voyage. Our average speed has been between 4.5 and 6 knots, with or without the engine, and with or without wind. So naturally, I am planning for the future legs of our voyage based on the same numbers. That turns out to be a bit optimistic. Now that the wind is directly in front of us, the waves smash into us from the front as well, significantly slowing down our progress. And on top of that we have a constant current fighting against us. Our average speed is dwindling down to between 3 and 3.5 knots. Miserably slow.

On top of moving slow, the motor is also using significantly more fuel! Fighting against the conditions takes a lot more work than dancing with the elements. I was shocked to discover that we had spent 50 liters to make it to our fist anchorage, only 78 miles! Usually that distance would cost us around 20 liters. Now we may be in trouble. Do we have enough fuel to make it?

Thankfully, due to the robbery where they stole one of our fuel cans, we have bought three vegetable oil cans, giving us an extra 25 liters compared to before. We are going to need it. I realize we won’t make it to Kimbe on the fuel we have, which was the plan, but I hope they have fuel on Unea Island which is on the way, 100 miles from Kimbe. This is a big gamble, but the village looks big and they have a wharf. They should have fuel there.

We motorsail for two full days and one night to get to Unea, fighting the current constantly. We are monitoring our fuel usage closely, and we should be able to make it there comfortably. But on the second day, the wind is strong straight against us and we are forced to tack, still using the motor due to the current. Once the wind dies down enough we are able to go straight to our destination at 3 knots.

Just as the sun sets, the motor dies and we are down to our last 5 liters of fuel. We have 11 miles to go, the current is 1 knot straight against us and we are pushing it. Based on previous consumption of fuel we will barely get there, or not. We have 4 liters of oil mixed fuel for the two stroke engine and we consider using this but decide against it. We will squeeze every drop of what we have and if we are not able to make it, we will resort to the oil mixed fuel.

We start motoring into the night, and soon a breeze starts filling in from the southeast. We are getting help! Soon we are chugging along at 5 knots – a new record for this passage. We now have internet coverage too, and I see on the wind forecast that there is a corridor of wind coming up from the south just where we are. We keep our motor on to help keep the speed up, but the wind is making it light work for the engine. At 9 o clock we arrive at the bay where we end up anchoring at 30 meters. No point of messing around in between reefs in the dark..

Next day, we are perfectly placed, surrounded by a massive reef. Satellite image charts are so, so good! We made it, just! And we are really hoping to find some fuel on this island. That turned out to be a big adventure in itself. Big enough to warrant it’s own post 🙂

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