From New Zealand to Fiji
Waiting, waiting and some more waiting
In May, we want to leave for Fiji and since there are a lot of depressions around New Zealand, it is very important to wait for the right “weather window”. On 1 May, the weather seems to be just right. We prepare for our departure, but we still need to wait for a spare part for our engine and this takes longer than was promised. The weather window turns out not to be as good as originally predicted, so we simply wait for the next opportunity. As a result, we have plenty of time to do some more chores. At least our engine is now perfect again.
Another good window is predicted for mid-May and again we prepare for our departure. We have of course finished all our fresh fruit and vegetables in the last two weeks and we decide to stock up again in a huge cheap supermarket in Whangarei. We notify customs that we will leave the next day. After a mostly sleepless night, we have another look at the weather forecast. Within a week, a huge low-pressure area with very strong winds is expected. The forecasts aren't always right, but we don't want to take the risk, so we decide to cancel our departure again. We wait again and do some more chores. Our boat is looking better and better and more luxurious. After a couple of other options, we finally decide to leave on 28 May. We stock up on fresh vegetables again and make all the arrangements. Again, it's not a perfect window, but at least no storm is forecast for the next ten days, although a lot of head wind is expected.
Things are going well at first
We leave with a strong tail wind and sail at a very decent speed. As always, we struggle with seasickness during the first few days. Everything goes well, although we have some problems downloading the weather forecast via our satellite phone. On the third day, the wind subsides almost completely, which helps us recover from our seasickness, but we would prefer to get on to get further away from New Zealand to avoid the new depressions, which are at their worst around here. We start the engine and want to start Bob, our automatic pilot. Alas, Bob remains utterly silent. After having steered manually for an hour, Hans rummages around in the lazarette to see why Bob doesn't want to start and he finds a loose contact. What a relief! We also fix a small hole in the sail, tighten a couple of bolts on Wendy, our wind vane, and fix a shackle that keeps the mainsail in place and which had fallen on the deck. All in all a quiet, successful day. In the evening, the wind slowly rises again and with Wendy at the rudder we sail at a nice course and speed.
Then the trouble starts
The next day, the wind gets a lot stronger and we set the second reef in the mainsail, which makes the boat feel a lot calmer. Suddenly we realise that Wendy is no longer steering. Hans rushes to the back and sees Wendy's pendulum rudder swinging from behind the boat, attached by only one of its four bolts. Like mad he puts on a life vest, leans out from the stairs behind the boat and barely manages to save the rudder. With his boots filled with salt water he hauls himself back on board. We check the damage, but it doesn't look good. The wind remains strong, so we decide to switch Bob back on. Bob works fine until three in the morning and then he suddenly stops steering as well. Now what? Steer manually for the next ten days? We won't survive that. With the course we are currently sailing and with the right sail positions Happy can fortunately sail on its own, but things are obviously not going to stay like this. We start the next day with our heads full of worries. First we try to repair Wendy's pendulum rudder with an epoxy bandage, but we are not convinced that this will be strong enough. It's still wind force seven when we heave to so we can calm down a bit. Despite the rough sea, Happy lies relatively calmly on the waves, so we can disassemble our steering wheel to see what's wrong with Bob. As soon as the steering wheel is loosened, we put a pair of vice pliers on the ax so Dory can still steer a bit while Hans disassembles Bob. Fortunately, as we had hoped, the drive belt has broken and we have a spare one on board. After about half an hour we have managed to fasten the steering wheel again and Bob is steering like never before. But for how long??? Bob isn't that sturdy.
The end is in sight
The next couple of days we only have head wind, so we can't sail the right course. Fortunately, nothing breaks down and when we are faced with more strong head wind and lots of rain, Bob doesn't flinch and steers as straight as a die. At some point, you try to calculate when you will arrive. According to the weather forecast, there's going to be little wind, so we will definitely not make it tomorrow during the day, it will probably be around 10 in the evening. Since we don't want to arrive in the dark, we have to slow down. On Wednesday, there is no wind at all and for a couple of hours we float back and forth on the same spot. We leave the second reef in the mainsail. In the evening, the wind unexpectedly picks up, which gives us a good push in the right direction. That wasn't what we had planned. It rains all night and when we want to close the saloon's hatch to keep the rain out, the GPS stops working. Now what!? Since Dory gets seasick when she stays inside, she spends her watch outside and after three hours, her skin is wrinkled and drenched. The next day, we find that we would easily have made it, but we have resigned ourselves to arriving on Friday. At last, the weather is nice and the last day and night we sail a perfect course on a beautiful, calm sea in the direction of Suva, our final destination. That's how we would all like to sail! It's a pity that the best 24 hours of the trip are also the last 24 hours of the trip.
We slide inside the reef and find an anchorage for sailing boats near the Suva Royal Yacht Club. We call Suva Port Control and are told that customs will board our ship at 10 a.m. or at 3.30 p.m. At exactly 12 noon, customs knocks on our boat. There are four of them: customs, immigration, health service and agriculture. Because of the beautiful weather, they are sweating in the cockpit, they quickly fill in all the forms and don't even check anything. It always remains to be seen whether we can keep our remaining vegetables, eggs, meat, honey and other food, but this time we can keep it, as long as we don't take it ashore. Later in the afternoon we have to stop by to fill in more forms and to pay the health service fee. The next morning, we walk into town, with stiff legs from having sat still for two weeks. We are overwhelmed by the noise, the liveliness, the colours and the smells. The market is big and varied, the supermarkets are relatively well-stocked. We enjoy the tropical feeling.
(Translated from dutch to english by Percy Balemans)