Passage from Opua, New Zealand to Fiji, April/May 2013

Day 1

We eventually left Opua in company with Victory in a light breeze at 10.30 on 25th April. We're hoping for about a seven day passage to Savu Savu. The gribs tell us we should have a good steady beam reach on port tack for the first day. The winds will then die as we traverse the high pressure area separating the roaring forties from the SE trades. So a couple of days of light winds from the south expected before the wind picks up from the SE. We don't want to be too quick as there is a low with some strong winds that should pass ahead of us as we approach Fiji . Well that's what the gribs say!

As we cleared the bay of islands and pulled away from the land, the breeze steadied to around 20 knots from the west – with gust of around 25 knots. We reefed the genoa then the main, the seas were only around 1.5 meters but a bit choppy which made for a bit of a bumpy ride. As the day progressed the layers of clothing went on! We had a very fast beam reach up to around 4am this morning. The moon was out and the seas quietened down a bit later on so we couldn't have asked for better conditions. Around 4am the cloud came over and the wind got up and went ahead – put another reef in the genoa and bore away 10 degrees until 8am when the wind started to drop and go behind. We're now sailing with the genoa poled out in a very sloppy sea with about 10 knots of wind from the south west. Just had a bowl of porridge and about to have our coffee.

24 hour distance: 191 miles

Day 2

Another glorious day but with light winds. Spent the day changing from poled out genoa to 2 sail reach – many times! No sighting of any other ships, cetaceans but a couple of small birds – 1 finch and 1 pretty red-faced bird. Spent the day catching up on sleep!

A full moon lit up the night and the sea was relatively flat so a slow but lovely night. This morning we discovered 3 little red-faced birds had made a pit stop under the solar panels. In SSB contact with Victory, La Luna (on passage to New Caledonia), Astarte and Chapter 2 who are both still in Opua. Downloaded a ‘big picture' grib file which shows a nasty low forming south of Fiji so the current plan is to continue on our course but as slow as we can and depending where it goes, try to scoot round the westerly edge. We'll keep a close eye on it. So it's a bit rolly but fairly quiet sea and we're doing about 5 knots in 10 knots of wind from the south.

24 hour distance: 151 miles

Day 3

After looking at the grib files and downloading as much weather information as we could, we decided that we needed to slow down to try to avoid the low which was shown as moving south east of Fiji . The winds were light anyway and eventually we were sailing under main only. Ironically when we downloaded another grib file last night, the story was somewhat different and we needed to speed up! As the wind dropped away to almost nothing, we ended up running the engine for 6 hours during the night to keep going! This made for little sleep for either of us. I'm just reading a book by Les Powles who sailed single-handedly around the world 3 times – the first being in the 80's – who would have had no weather forecast but would just have been able to enjoy the perfect sailing conditions we had most of the day yesterday! Which is worse I wonder – knowing that you're heading for something potentially nasty or just taking what comes with no preparation? Think I'd prefer to be prepared.

Another perfect moon lit night with flat-ish seas with only the drone of the engine to keep us awake. No little birds this morning. We have just downloaded another grib file and again the forecast has changed slightly – we need to get a move on otherwise we'll end up with no wind as we near Fiji ! It now looks as if the low will pass a little quicker and then potentially form to the south east of us as a cyclone. This will likely leave a swathe of 30 knot winds and big seas for us to pass through a few hundred miles south of Fiji . This must be one of the most difficult passages to plan weather-wise as there is so much happening with the weather in the tropics that the models struggle more than a few days ahead. Anyway we prefer understandably dodgy info to none at all.

We're now sailing on a beam reach on starboard tack in around 10 knots of wind doing around 6 knots. There's a little more cloud today but so far the seas are still fairly quiet. Just had a chat on the SSB radio to some boats on passage and back in NZ. Main topics – weather and engine oil leaks!

24 hour distance: 136 miles

Day 4

Had a quiet day with light winds as we neared the northern limit of the high pressure ridge. Around 4pm we were through and into stronger winds – around 14 knots as predicted on the grib files but more from the east rather than south east which meant a close reach on starboard tack – boat heeling significantly for the first time this trip. As the evening wore on the seas picked up and the wind strengthened to around 18 knots. We put a reef in the main and a couple of rolls in the genoa and spent a reasonably comfortable night but averaged around 8.5 to 9 knots. This morning we had an email from David and Patricia of Gulf Harbour Radio confirming what the grib files were telling us and no need to rush. So we now need to go a bit slower so as to avoid the tail end of the stronger winds. We are sailing at a longitude of about 176E some 240 miles from the date line. We had a thought last night, that if the low developed into a cyclone and passed east over the date line, then it would have formed yesterday – so that would be ok – wouldn't it?

This morning brought confirmation of us getting back into tropical waters – a haul of flying fish and a gunnel full of pumice (but old pumice which is probably the residue of the stuff we saw on the way down from the eruption on the Keramadics). This old pumice is complete with mini ecosystems and even has goose barnacles growing on it! Amazing where those little critters can grow! Before breakfast we put away the genoa and brought out the stay sail with Matt's new configuration of running the sheets through a barbour haul block to give the sail a better shape. We're now sailing at around 7 knots in 18 knots of wind with 2 metre seas, which is about right for where we need to be tomorrow (knock on wood).

24 hour distance: 193 miles

Day 5

Wind got up all day. Scrap of main and staysail. 40 knots in night with huge seas – staysail only. Back down to 25 – 30 but still v rough – have just put main back up.

24 hour distance :177 miles

Day 6

First of all Happy Birthday to my sister-in-law Colleen. Have a great day.

What a day and night! After the previous night's uncomfortable trip, the winds abated to around 25 – 30 knots, so set a small bit of main again, to continue our westerly detour around the low sitting ahead of us. Unfortunately in the process we managed to get into irons, so turned on the engine to kick us round. Later we discovered one of the mainsheet traveler lines was bar tight over the starboard quarter – yep it was round the prop. So while Jean started the engine and engaged reverse, Matt pulled the line and hey presto it unwound. It looks like there is a bit at the end missing, so will need to check it all out before maneuvering into the customs dock at Fiji . A very wet day followed with squally showers with just a bit of a mainsail and the staysail. Seas building all the time. Little did we know the worse was still to come! As night fell, the wind started to get up again and at around 40 knots we put the main away. Still doing OK with just the staysail until the wind suddenly picked up to a sustained 45 knots (we saw a maximum of 50k). We were going far too fast careering down the huge waves so the staysail had to go. For the rest of the night we were in uncharted territory doing around 7 – 9 knots under bare poles! The boat (and Matt) coped beautifully with it all. There was so much phosphorescence with so many breaking waves (we took quite a few) and to watch a huge wave approach from behind knowing that it's about to break when suddenly it slides underneath the boat and lifts it up in the air then breaks under and alongside is quite scary. At one point the gas bottle was knocked down by a wave and Matt had to go out on deck to retrieve it before it could do much damage. We downloaded another grib file at 3am and the low which was supposed to move off to the east had not moved but intensified and we were just to the west of it where we had obviously got a bit of isobar compression. Fortunately the forecast was for the wind and seas to die down a bit at daybreak and sure enough we are now back to sailing dead downwind under genoa in around 20 knots.

24 hour distance: 185 miles

Day 7

What a difference a day makes! We had a balmy 20 – 25 knots all day with the seas continuing to calm down too. The sun was out and we had a relaxing day sailing downwind. Very pleasant. We even managed to eat 3 meals – with lots of snacks in between – as Matt said – it's either feast or famine on this boat! We settled down to our normal watches through the starlit night with a cooling breeze and gentle sea. So different from the previous 3 nights.

This morning we are 2 sail reaching with only 140 miles to go to our destination of SavuSavu so we need to average no more than 6.5 knots to arrive in the morning as the Fijians are very strict on boats not anchoring or stopping anywhere other than the ports of entry. We are showered and in shorts and tee shirts enjoying the warmth of the tropical sun – this is more like it!

24 hour distance: 165 miles

Arrival in Fiji

We're now safely tucked up ‘a creek' on a buoy awaiting customs officials etc to clear us in to Fiji . It's been a pretty rough trip but fortunately with a couple of good days. We're in SavuSavu. Total miles for the trip 1344 in 7 days 23 hours – average 7.03 knots. We had forgotten how hot it is in the tropics! Will put the duvet away again! Looking forward to getting in the water.

24 hour distance: 136 miles




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