Click HERE for slideshow
We’re packing our bags and Monday afternoon Mike and I will fly off to Vanuatu for our first real cruise aboard AVATAR. Vanuatu, located approximately 1,000 miles from New Zealand and Australia, is an archipelago of over 80 islands in the Southwest Pacific with active volcanoes, traditional culture, pristine coral reefs, forests, and beaches. Ambrym Volcano is famous for the lava lakes which regularly appear in the summit craters.
Rod & Nick sailed AVATAR to Port Vila (the capital and largest city in Vanuatu), arriving a few days ago. They are currently awaiting our arrival. Nick is the newest member of our crew. He has “babysat” Raven for us for several years whenever Rod was on vacation. Now that Rod has adopted a six months on-six months off schedule, Nick will become our substitute captain, taking care of AVATAR in foreign ports in the absence of Rod and ourselves. Welcome aboard Nick!
The day before Rod and Nick’s departure from New Zealand en route to Vanuatu, the weather and calendar gods cooperated and the helicopter “shoot” we had been trying to accomplish since mid-March finally came together. Ivor Wilkins, one of the world’s premier boat photographers, was finally able to photograph AVATAR being put through her paces. His mission was to capture action shots of the FPB 64 for future publicity on behalf of the designer (Steve Dashew and Dashew Offshore) and builder (Circa Marine). Getting the right mix of weather conditions to mesh with human schedules was a problem but at the last moment Ivor pulled it off, coming up with dramatic shots of AVATAR plowing through big seas offshore of the Bay of Islands (New Zealand’s North Island) in 35-40 knot winds and 15-20 foot waves. Ivor says these photos will go into his list of all-time favorites just for the action. And with any luck they will show up on the cover of some yachting magazines covering the debut of the FPB 64 series of passagemakers, the “new paradigm” in offshore cruising motor vessels.
Here are Ivor’s comments regarding AVATAR‘s performance in these extreme conditions:“
“The waves were confused, with some big sets coming through at times. Wind speed was gusty and I don’t have any quarrel with 35 knots. In terms of the helicopter: It was one of the more precarious rides. Flying out to rendezvous with the boat, we got hit by some pretty vicious gusts, which had me clutching the door frame (there being no door on at the time). Our original plan was to shoot closer in to the cliffs to get some backdrops, but it was very clear that there were some very strong downdrafts and the turbulence was too unruly. Even over open water, the pilot had his hands full trying to keep on station and there was no way he could hover downwind — the tail would just spin out. He did a great job in working in close at times – maybe a bit close for Rod’s comfort. He said he was about to get the fenders out at one point!”
“The boat was impressive. Punching upwind, you could see the bow working very well, driving into the waves but very quickly shrugging off the water. It never appeared to stagger or lose momentum, even with some short, nasty seas. When it was running across the seas, the stabilisers were clearly doing an excellent job, because it all looked very docile (almost too boring to photograph) with minimal side roll. Running downwind looked very comfortable with the boat holding a very steady course and showing no inclination to slew or wallow. She would pick up on a wave and just accelerate forward, with the bow occasionally popping out. Looked like a nice spinnaker ride, the kind that chews up big daily mileages.”
“I would say that some of these shots will be added to my all-time favourite boat pics, just for the drama of the action. Incidentally, I would include the spinnaker shot of Beowulf in that list as well.”
Steve Dashew, AVATAR‘s designer, has posted a blog and slideshow with photos and his technical analysis of the boat’s performance in heavy weather as illustrated by Ivor’s photographs. Click HERE for the slideshow, and HERE for part one of a three-series blog documenting his observations. Or click HERE for the portal to the entire series of three blogs and three slide shows.
The result is that Mike’s and my confidence in AVATAR has grown by leaps and bounds as it is obvious that she can shrug off serious weather conditions and stay afloat with aplomb! We’ve enjoyed receiving emails from Rod documenting his conversion from sailboat skipper to his current position:
“Well I must say AVATAR gets 100% for adverse weather cruising….. Last nite a very large low passed over the North Island. The actual wind speed on the NOAA forecast was 72 knots this morning at Gt Mercury and a steady 65 + at Channel Island and Tiri Tiri.”
“Back to the 100% score. It was (is ) freezing cold , raining, windy 35 knots….we were inside, heater going, a very comfortable trip to Kawau !!!”
“This is by far the most easiest passage NZ to the islands I’ve ever made…..just so relaxed and simple, could be called really boring, but I dont find it boring at all…..”
Last May Vanuatu experienced a 7.2 earthquake which generated tsunami warnings. At the same time Mount Yasur, one of Vanuatu’s largest volcanoes, got active and generated an ash cloud that threatened South Pacific air travel and precipitated the possible relocation of 6,000 villagers! Hopefully all is quiet now. Mike and I are just looking forwards to some low-key cruising around a tropical island, volcanoes glowing (but not erupting) in the distance, great diving including the world’s largest shipwreck and an underwater post office. More details as we experience them in person.
PS – A side note: AVATAR‘s sister ship, christened SARAH-SARAH, launched last week in Whangarei. She is the 2nd of the FPB 64 series to splash into the water. Hull number 3 is scheduled for a January 2011 launch.