Chapter 102

They say all things come in threes

We had left this mooring 20.00 hrs. Thursday, 15th May and returned 1900 hrs, Thursday, 26th June. In that period of five weeks we covered approximately 2,400 miles to Vila and back and experienced as close an encounter with a cyclone as I ever wish to have. They say “things come in threes”; in our case the first thing was changing from “cruising” to “arbitrary” division to satisfy Dale Smith who did not even start.

Then number 2 thing was the wind dropping out after the start, missing the outgoing tide and ending up near Hope Banks in the morning in effect losing a day. Number three thing could be the screech in the generator; when started it screeched its head off so we could not use it and had to run the Perkins diesel to charge the batteries and keep the refrigerator working.

Then there was cyclone NAMU. Everyone was ducking for cover. Sea Safety Canberra knew where we were and the conditions we were experiencing and their advice “seek sheltered waters”. The Courier Mail, 22/5/l986 headlined an article “Yachts ignore plea to avoid cyclone NAMU” and ‘Yachts ignore plea to avoid cyclone NAME’. Being the yacht closest to the cyclone I did not ignore their warning and was fully aware of the random path they can take and when in the middle of nowhere sheltered waters depends upon which sector you are in when the cyclone heads for you. We did not need to be reminded what we signed in the race entry form . Y

ou can imagine the concern this caused for our families. We were monitoring the position of the cyclone and when it looked like changing course, in spite of the relatively cool weather we were experiencing, we turned back for a day during which time it curved away across the top of New Caledonia. At no time can I remember hearing that it wiped out large areas in the Solomons, not that this would make any difference, but ‘phenomenal’ seas was something else that we did not want to experience. I had seen what cyclone Tracey did to Darwin in 1974 and remember the small yacht Dove which was one of the three yachts purchased for making the film of Robert Lee Graham’s trip around the world in Dove being half buried in sand and completely wrecked by Tracey in Fanny Bay and there is nothing more forlorn than seeing a wreck, of any size, washed up on a reef.

My idea of sheltered waters is based on my belief that the land is the biggest danger to a well founded yacht. As skipper the final decision was mine, and we were all is agreement it was prudent to turn back when we did.