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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.