Shirley has left to visit friends and family in various parts of the world, so I’m now left in Sydney to sell the boat. The last few days have been very rainy, so I’ve had a chance to reflect a bit on the past six months, and I’ve put together a litle collection of lessons learned from crossing the Pacific on a sailboat:

  • Have local cash before you leave, as a number of islands don’t have ATMs, and you often have to pay a clearance fee immediately upon arrival.
  • Don’t expect lights and navigational aids marked on your charts to actually exist, or lights and navigational aids that exist to be marked on your charts. Fiji was especially bad for this.
  • Don’t expect your charts or their datum to always be accurate. Use your eyeballs, and stay away from unlit obstacles at night.

    Two miles? At least they're honest...

    Two miles? At least they’re honest…

  • Be prepared to deal with your anchor not wanting to come back up from the bottom.
  • Noonsite and other sources of information regarding clearance procedures & fees are often inaccurate. That’s not a reason not to check them, of course.
  • People have very different opinions of how interesting, boring, pretty or unpleasant anchorages, cities, islands, countries and other places are; one person’s paradise is another’s hell. Take advice with a grain of salt.
  • It’s really easy to spend your whole time somewhere catching up on email, weather, news, facebook, blogging, planning your next stop, etc. Get out of the boat and explore!
  • Island time starts at 05:00, sometimes earlier. Lots of things are over by 10:00. The market in Niue is empty by 08:00.
  • Many islands have very limited resources, and their people often live in fairly precarious conditions. For the most part, there’s no bargaining or tipping in the South Pacific. But there is plenty of trading.

The closest call we had was in Fiji. We were just leaving an anchorage. We threaded our way past some reefs, and when I thought we were clear I put the autopilot on to help Shirley get the sails ready to hoist. I was keeping an occasional eye on the water up ahead, and I got a bad feeling, and thought I could see a tinge of brown in the cobalt-blue water about thirty feet in front of the boat. I ran back to the tiller and gave it a big pull, then watched us sail over rocks and coral as we passed by a big bommie. If we’d been three feet to the right, we’d probably have hit. We also spent a sleepless night at anchor in Fanning. A gale hit the atoll in the middle of the night, and we found ourselves about 200 feet off a lee shore in 30+ kt winds and heavy rain, with the anchor lying on flat stones and broken coral in an area with notoriously poor holding. Luckily the chain wrapped itself around a coral head and the boat didn’t budge. I was too sleepy to be really worried at the time, but in retrospect this was a very delicate situation to be in, and in a very remote place.