Monday, May 30, 2016

Fiji, Suva: Arrived At Last! (~1100 miles ~7 gallons fuel)

One of many spectacular sunsets on our New Zealand to
Fiji passage.  We call these “bad religious postcard” or
Power of God (POG) lighting.
Suva, Fiji, Friday, May 27, 2016 5:15 pm
Whew!  Less than an hour before dark we dropped anchor in Suva,Fiji, 2 weeks plus a few hours past our starting point, Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand.  While not our longest sail*, we traversed 17 latitudes, 4 longitudes, over 1,050 “crow fly” miles. Amazingly, we’re still on the same time zone as New Zealand.

*over 3,000 miles, from Galapagos to French Marquesas, roughly a year prior, which took us over a month; 32 days to be exact.

This new custom-fabricated
stainless steel drip pan did its job
well capturing goo when our
engine fuel pump leaked.
Summary:  Slowww, Serpentine Passage
In case you were wondering… no -- that is not fast. 

Worse, Suva’s a bit closer – 100 miles or so -- than our originally planned Fiji destination, Savusavu.  Embarrassingly, we averaged only 3 ¼ miles/hour on track (“rhumb”), not taking into account a path that periodically was more akin to a slalom course mating with a loop-the-loop roller coaster than a mostly straight rhumb line from our start to our finish point.

Our foresail mast; the ring flopping off to
the side of our jib sail is supposed connect
to the top of our mast via a shackle, which
is missing in action.  Now that we’re 
anchored, we can fix it.
Deceptively Good Start from Opua New Zealand….
We left Opua well topped off on our fuel, with 65 gallons of diesel. In totally calm conditions, that would allow 4 1/3 days of motoring, enough to cover about 520 miles, about half our passage, if we used every drop (never prudent to do!).

Ok, we left on a Friday, May 13th, but we’re not superstitious.  In fact, that was a great day. 
Close up of our disconnected jib sailpoint.

  1. Miraculously, we got the part we were waiting for from the USA first thing in the morning.
  2. Despite a veritable armada of 30-40 boats leaving for their long Fiji passage within 24 hours of when we were, we slipped into the dinky one-pump marina fuel dock at slack tide as planned without needing to queue up.
  3. We even left 2 hours ahead of schedule; we’d figured between getting the part, making the fix and fueling up, we’d be racing the dark before making it to sea.  Instead, we were on our way at 1:30 pm.
  4. The winds were far better than what was forecast.  They were largely in that nirvana zone of 11-20 knot winds, on our beam.
  5. Our first 24 hours, we logged 117 miles, nearly all of it sailing.  We’re generally happy with just about any day multi-day passage when we log 100+ miles in our 1977 Pearson ketch sailboat.  We knew when bought her, our boat was built for comfort and safety, not for speed.  So, 117 miles – we were stoked.

Sunset over calm, glassy water, between
New Zealand and Fiji.
Then It Went to S---
The next day, though, the winds got light, less than 10 knots.  And for a substantial portion of our passage, they remained light. 

Challenge #1:  Fuel Leak
On our second day after a few hours of motoring, Wayne decided it would be wise to see our fixed fuel injector pump was performing. 

We’d been plagued with minor fuel leaks for some time.  It’s not an uncommon issue with our otherwise very reliable engine type, a Westerbeke.  We spent a significant chunk of change and time getting it fixed before we left, including some last minute additional work.  And for that hour Wayne tested it before we left, it ran like a champ – the best it has since we’ve owned our boat, for 4 years, logging 16,000+ miles.

Arg!  The engine was leaking worse than ever!  Wayne was concerned if we ran it much, we could cause the engine irreparable damage.  Thus, our plan was to avoid using the motor as much as possible, revising our first Fiji stop to Suva, Fiji’s big city. Nor only did it offer better diesel repair services, Suva was about 100 miles closer than Savusavu, our originally planned first Fiji stop.  Besides, after logging over 100 miles on our first day, we figured the rest of the passage would be a breeze. 

Our first Fiji sunrise.  We were passing outside
Astrolabe reef on our way into Suva.
Challenge #2:  Doldrums, Light & Contrary Winds
Instead, we were plagued with light winds, even doldrums (0.0 knots of wind).  When we did get wind, for most our passage, it stubbornly resisted the normal trade wind flow, which would’ve naturally eased us along most of the way from New Zealand to Fiji.  We didn’t expect that, as about 2/3 of the way through our passage, my Iridium Go satellite wifi hotspot decided it would not communicate with the network needed for me to fetch our updated PredictWind passage weather reports.

Challenge #3:  Disconnected Jib Sail
As with most of our long passages, again found ourselves “sail challenged.”  This time, the squirrely force from a 30-knot wee-hours squall stressed a shackle holding in our foresail (aka jib or genoa) to the top of the mast, disconnecting it.  It also created a small tear.  As we had to keep a portion of the jib wound (“reefed”) in to hold it in place and prevent further damage, that ruined its aerodynamic capability.  Instead of tautly funneling the wind, it inefficiently flapped (luffed).  Our jib is the sail we normally use the most.  It’s fixable, but playing mast monkey to fix it while underway was not wise; we figured we’d make due until anchored in Fiji.  After all, our sailboat’s a ketch.  Our temporarily lame jib could be supplemented with our main sail, and if needed, our miniscule, rarely-used mizzen sail.

Close up of the surreal tangerine sunrise over Fiji.
Challenge #4:  Unhappy Autopilot
Our autopilot was not too happy with our need to just find something, anything we could that didn’t take us backward. Often it meant continued pinching as upwind as we could in lots of light, fluky wind.  The autopilot would adjust and adjust and adjust until it ran the wheel out of wheel.  Then the autopilot would stop, and our boat commenced with slow, lazy donuts or sailing backward across the water until we could regain enough helm control to get at least kind of back on track.

Challenge #5:  Insufficient Power
Plus, the particular arc of the sun relative to our sail’s shadows kept us from getting much (solar) power, needed to run all things electric on our boat… refrigerator autopilot, navigation instruments, laptops….

Normally not getting enough solar power wasn’t a big deal; our Honda 2000 generator filled that gap.  We’d run our generator maybe an hour our two a day, if needed.  Except having just replaced our corroded generator in New Zealand, we were loathe to run it on passage, figuring that’s what killed our last one.  Alternatively, our boat batteries recharged whenever we motored.  Except… we were trying to not motor. 

We kept turned our fridge down or off to conserve.  I greatly reduced my use of the oven and stove, whose proximity prompted to the fridge to suck power as greedily as a stray dog gobbles food.  We also minimized the use of our laptops.  And we ran our engine, a little.  And we ran our generator, a little.

Even on the calm day we entered Suva Harbor,
the waves breaking at its fringe were impressive.
The photos I took don’t do them justice.
Eek!  Then, Ahhh ... At Last!
Finally, on our 14th day, after first getting pushed uncomfortably close to Fiji’s enormous boat-eating Astrolabe reef at 5:30 am, the wind finally decided to resume its normal trade wind pattern, giving us an easy ride into Suva, Fiji.

Arriving after 5 pm on a Friday meant we were too late for regular check-in with customs and immigration.*  

*Saturday check-ins cost significantly more - even though the officials, nice as they were, didn't complete any of our check-ins.  Today I visited all 5 offices Monday, which are scattered across Suva.  I spent the day walking,waiting and paying with our newly required Fijian money.  

But after two weeks with all-too-much aimless drifting, we’re just darned glad to here, and to arrive and anchor safely in this shipwreck-littered bay before dark.

These rocks highlight the importance of entering
Suva Harbor in good light.
Putting Our Passages In Perspective
One of these days, we’ll have a long passage again as smooth as our 1,000 mile passage from Panama to Galapagos, or from Huahine, French Polynesia to Suwarrow, Cook Islands, or Suwarrow to Pago Pago American Samoa.  We don’t have many more long passages left before we’re all done. 

This wreck is not that many feet from us in Suva
Harbor anchorage.  It’s not the only wreck in the harbor.
Whoever buys our boat when we’re all done is going to benefit nicely from all our persistent troubleshooting! I like the way the manager at Burnsco, New Zealand’s West Marine-like chain (whose whole staff got to know us on a first-name basis) described the need to invest in boat maintenance and repair….

  1. First, you gotta float (to the tune of about $2500 NZD to repair the honkin’ big hole in our hull – that at least held well).
  2. Then you gotta be able to go (sails, rigging, engine – oy – our long passage track record on that is not that great.  We believe this time the sail and the fuel leak will be easy and not that expensive fixes).
  3. Then you gotta be able to get where you’re going (steering, wind, current – we’re at the point it takes particularly contrary conditions for that to be an issue – just – this time that’s what we got). 

Still, spending two weeks in mostly sunny, calm, 70-degree (F) temperatures in the tropics isn’t all bad.  We didn’t spend a dime.  Using a mere 7 gallons of diesel (12.7 hours motoring at .6 gallons/hour and a few more for our fuel leak) plus a bit of gasoline to run our Honda generator makes for a pretty tiny carbon footprint.

This dilapidated harbor building is rises up in Suva
Harbor’s anchorage.  Not sure its original purpose.
Still, Wayne periodically pines for the far greater simplicity of his Dad’s cruising boat of 30 years ago in sunny, affordable Mexico. There laundry service was just a couple of bucks.  There was no refrigerator, just an icebox. No GPS navigation system. No autopilot. No expensive double-subscription service for satellite weather reports (satellite time + the weather data).  No laptops. No mobile phones. No Kindles.  No need for wifi connections.  No hot showers.  Then again, I remind him…. He didn’t travel halfway around the world through 24 countries. And, there was also no woman aboard. 

Regardless, Wayne and I agree on this….

  • Some cruisers love sailing. 
  • We love arriving.

Suva port at night.  It’s an industrial harbor,
active all day and night.
Location Location

As of May 27, 2016, we’re anchored off Suva, Fiji’s capital city (S35.18.772 E174.07.485), after traveling 1056 “crow flies” nautical miles from Opua, New Zealand (S18.07.366 E178.25.482).  Our passage took us 14 days, 3 hours and 45 minutes.  We hope to spend less than a week in industrial Suva on repairs, provisioning, etc. as our intent is to explore Fiji’s natural wonders.  We plan on spending no more than 2 months in Fiji, to allow more time for our next country, Vanuatu.  After Vanuatu, we’ll stop briefly in New Caledonia, then proceed to Australia by November, where we plan to sell our boat.

Friday, May 20, 2016

NZ: 2 Whanga Good Anchorages: Mumu & Ruru

Sunset over Whangaruru.  Sweet anchorage, North of Whangarei, between Tutukaka and Bay of Islands.
North island, New Zealand.  Surprise!  These scalped hillsides really did harbor a lovely wooded hiking trail!
This bull let us know he was the boss when we had to
pass by his herd on the way back to the anchorage in
Whangaruru, New Zealand.
Whangaruru - Excellent Hiking!
At Whangaruru, Christmas week, we never got off our boat, despite Rich and Cindy of Legacy's excellent "favorite Bay of Islands" anchorage recommendations.  The shoreline was chock-a-block with campers.  
Cindy and Rich raved about Whangaruru's trails, but given what we saw from the boat looked like pastureland, we were skeptical.  Besides, we were hustling to get to Whangarei, to tie off on a pole mooring and get in some serious road-tripping before tacking far more serious boat work.

Whangaruru anchorage overlook from the loop trail.

We're so glad that missing our first weather window to leave for Fiji provided the perfect opportunity to give Whangaruru another go.  

We couldn't ask for better weather.  When we pulled in, we had the anchorage to ourselves -- late in the day a few other boats anchored, but it was hardly "crowded."  As well, the campers were also few and far between.  The skies were clear, sunny and pleasantly warm.  And Cindy and Rich were right on about Whangaruru's trails.  

The name may be "Bland Bay;" it's a name not
a descriptor!  Whangaruru, New Zealand.

After a short climb past pastureland, the trails amble over ridge lines with fantastic views, down to beaches, if you so choose, through birdsong-filled ferny woods, across wetlands, and a few other terrains I'm not quite sure how best to describe.  

Sweet as, as they say here in New Zealand, "land of the long white cloud."  Oh, and there was even free wifi!

Whangamumu - Beautiful, Historical Stop & Great Protection, Except....
Panorama from our Whangamumu anchorage.  Northland, New Zealand.
Note the brick-eating tree roots?  Nature at last
resumes her dominance at the former Whangamumu
whaling station.  Northland, New Zealand.
Whangamumu, a lovely deep bay with a former whaling station was also on Rich and Cindy's recommended list, with excellent protection for everything except North-Easterlies.  As luck would have it, we parked there in precisely those conditions.  The water looked flat, but the gentle North-Easterlies kept us rockin' and rollin' all night long.  Not a big roll, but an annoying one.  

Whangamumu's many small jewel-
toned sea caves invite kayaking.
Even more annoying were the mosquitos and no-see-ums,  There weren't a lot, but we offered about the only readily available nummies for them and so they feasted upon us wherever we weren't sprayed or covered, including several bites on some tough parts of my hand, when we first came ashore.  Guess they survive by biting the hand that feeds them!

Still, Whangamumu is a beautiful spot.  

The water is very clear, and quite pleasant for kayaking, which I did, nosing into the little sea caves scattered across Whangamumu's rocky shoreline.

We checked out the decaying whaling station memorabilia.  I don't believe in reincarnation but pray if I'm wrong, I never offend the powers that be so greatly to come back as an perceived merely as a vessel to stab and slay for the boiling of its oil.  I am grateful today we use other sources of energy to light our way.  We didn't take the Whangamumu trail off of the whaling station, which does lead to a nice little waterfall.

Journey from Whangamumu overlook.
Northland, New Zealand.
Wayne and I did walk a little ways up the the deep grass hill off the main, signed beach, far enough to get a fantastic view of the bay.  After being spoiled my Whangaruru's trails the previous day, and getting a good workout on my kayak, we settled in early to enjoy Whangamumu from our boat, where there were less mosquitos and no-see-ums.

Wayne finds a comfy spot in the
oh-so-thick, tall grass on Whangamumu's
hillside.  Northland, New Zealand.
Despite the rock and roll and even the buggers, we're still glad we got a chance to eheck Whangamumu out.  Other than one other boat who settled late, on the far opposite side of the bay, we had the entore anchorage to ourselves.

We're so glad we took our time making our way to Opua, to restlessly wait for the weather window with Southerlies to open for Fiji.  Gentle onshore Northerly breezes here in New Zealand make for some mighty fine fall weather, ideal for enjoying the best of what New Zealand has to offer.  A long sweet goodbye for an incredible country we hope to return to someday.

Location Location

Wayne, enjoying the cockpit of our Pearson 365 at
the end of a good day on Whangaruru,
Northland, New Zealand.
This was written and scheduled for posting while we were still in New Zealand anchored off Opua (S35.18.772 E174.07.485), waiting for a good weather window to our first major cruising stop this year, to Savusavu Fiji.  Our anchorage at Whangaruru was S35.21.945 E174.21.480.  Our anchorage at Whangamumu was S35.15.035 E174.17.698.By the time this posts, we expect to be about two thirds through the two weeks it will take to sail to Fiji,  at 1170 nm, our 2nd longest ever passage. 

This year's 4,500 mile route:  Fiji, Vanuatu,
New Caledonia, Australia.

Sailing by the Numbers

Last year, between December 2014 and November 2015 we sailed from Florida USA to New Zealand, over 10,000 miles.  This year, from Fiji, we’ll go to Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Australia.  After we arrive in Australia in around November, completing another 4,500 or so miles this cruising season, we plan to sell our boat.  Then, it's back to work, somewhere. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

New Zealand: Time to Leave When...

10 Reasons I Know It's Time to Leave the Long White Cloud
(aka New Zealand)

Cape Reinga, New Zealand's Northernmost point,
where the South Pacific and Tasman Sea meet.

  1. The boat work yards are nearly empty.
    Martin (Kiwi pronunciation "Mah tin"),
    at Whangarei's Riverside Marina
    sporting a Minerva Reef Yacht Club
    shirt.  Ohhh we wanted one (and
    earned the right to ear one, too!
  2. We've traveled from Cape Reinga, New Zealand's northernmost point to Bluff, its Southernmost and a whole lot of points in between, putting 10,000 km on our car in 3 1/2 months.
  3. We automatically drive on the left side of the road, don’t even cringe much on right hand turns anymore, Wayne's decided he loves roundabouts, but we don't want to find ourselves joining in seeing how many points we can get taking out a very pregnant woman crossing the street with another baby in her buggy.* Besides, we sold our car.

    *We found Kiwis to overall to be incredibly nice, though not so much when behind the wheel.  We were appalled when no one in the small town of Paeroa would stop to let a very pregnant woman pushing her baby stroller complete her crossing of the road.
  4. Everyone at the naked BBQ is wearing jackets and our tan lines are gone because our tan’s gone.
  5. No see-ums (sand flies) and mosquitos are thick but finding few places warm enough to expose flesh to bite.
  6. It takes a supreme act of self discipline to not hurl my mobile phone into the ocean (I keep reminding myself it’s not the unlocked Android’s fault New Zealand has the clunkiest, most confusing, most expensive phone and wifi system of any 1st world country we’ve visited.
    Our New Zealand courtesy flag's
    seen better days!
  7. We understand nearly everything said to us by Kiwis, that "beah" is "beer" (but we'll be drinking NZ dry cider instead), that we're messed up because we say "wadda" instead of wah-ter (for water), and how to pronounce Whangarei, politically correctly (Fa nga ay) or old school (Wang ah ay).
  8. We've spent two years of our cruising budget during our six month stay in New Zealand -- we're broke!
  9. Our NZ courtesy flag is shredded.
  10. This Friday the 13th, we're not too superstitious to go when the weather window kicks off with Southerlies, without getting too much higher than 25 knots or lower than 8 knots between here and Fiji in a 12-day period.
Bluff, New Zealand's Southernmost point, South Island.

All ribbing aside, we loved our time in New Zealand, heartily recommend it, and hope to return someday.  

Location Location

This was written and scheduled for posting while we were still in New Zealand anchored off Opua (S35.18.772 E174.07.485), waiting for a good weather window to our first major cruising stop this year, to Savusavu Fiji.  By the time this posts, we expect to be about two thirds through the two weeks it will take to sail to Fiji,  at 1170 nm, our 2nd longest ever passage. 

Our planned route for this final year of cruising:  Fiji, Vanuatu,
New Caledonia, Australia.  ~4,500 nautical miles.
Sailing by the Numbers

Last year, between December 2014 and November 2015 we sailed from Florida USA to New Zealand, over 10,000 miles.  This year, from Fiji, we’ll go to Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Australia.  After we arrive in Australia in around November, completing another 4,500 or so miles this cruising season, we plan to sell our boat.  Then, it's back to work, somewhere.