New Zealand to Fiji
Barry and Margaret Wilmshurst
Sat 31 May 2008 05:24
A couple of days out of Opua I settled down to write a quiet, reflective piece about the pleasures of New Zealand as a venue for a six-month stopover including gentle critical comment on some aspects of life and the environment. But the wind was piping up, I was wedged into one end of the navigator's seat and there was danger of water splashing on to the computer. My heart wasn't in it.
We were heading north, the wind was increasing from the north-east and soon we were hard on the wind at the top end of force 7. We were sailing through a depression and associated trough of low pressure and for four days we struggled with winds of 30 to 40 knots with fairly frequent gusts of up to 45 knots (a gale, force 8, has winds of 35-40 knots and sustained winds of 40-45 knots are represented as force 9). Our canvas bimini cover (sun shade) was shredded in 40+ knots but we managed to salvage sufficient pieces to provide a pattern for a new one and to fold down the stainless steel frame so that it could do no harm. The port navigation light was washed off its bracket and smashed and a block on the boom burst apart. We also took quite a bit of water aboard – it seems to find any number of ways to get below if the weather is bad enough - but with good foul weather gear we managed to keep warm and dry and to keep going, which was more than many boats in the area who hove to to take the pressure off and give the crews some relief. As we passed through the system the wind backed into the north-west so we tacked but the change created chaos in the wave pattern. At the same time the barometric pressure started to fall “like a stone” and was soon outside Bob McDavitt's parameters. Gulp! I asked the weatherman for an up-date but to our relief he remained fairly optimistic. Eventually the wind moderated, the chaotic swells reduced in height and gradually conditions became pleasant. We have since heard several tales of brilliant repairs carried out in terrible conditions.
At midnight in the height of the gale the satellite phone rang – a most unusual occurrence. Mags was on watch and having un-hitched and struggled down below she found a polite young man on the line asking whether we were “all right”. Each party asked to identify the other and it turned out that the New Zealand Maritime Safety Service had received a couple of e-mails from our good friend Ray Brown in Switzerland. He follows our progress closely and had noticed that we were in an area of force 9 winds and that our blog positions were not being progressed across the ocean (we have not yet found out why). He e-mailed NZMSS who replied that as our Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) had not been set off and they had received no emergency call by radio there was little they could do. After twenty-four hours Ray was still concerned so sent another e-mail telling the Safety Service that he was sure we had a satellite phone but he did not know the number. The NZ authorities did; hence the call. Almost the subject of an “incident” then, but we were greatly comforted that people out there in the warm, dry world were sufficiently on the ball to keep an eye on us.
Having dealt with her young man Mags was moved to check the number of pre-paid minutes on the sat-phone. Only 4! We must get it topped up by e-mail but if we used the remaining minutes doing that and failed to extend our balance before 0800 Y-Not would call (more trouble with the SSB radios somewhere), get no reply, and might conclude we were in trouble! Fortunately Ed. our sat-phone supplier was in his office, efficient as usual and we were up and running again in good time. Once again we were grateful to be doing this in a period of excellent and improving communications.
On reflection I made a mistake. We should have waited another 4 or 5 days. Like others I had previously been sniffily critical of I got a bit carried away by the bustle of departure and a bit too dismissive of the gloomy prognostications and warnings that always swirl around fleet departure points. We had a detailed passage plan from McDavitt but I forgot that he is not a sailing man and cannot quite relate his wind strengths and swell heights to real conditions in a small boat at sea. In addition, his forecasts are written in meteorological code. The key is provided but I should have spent more time deciphering and studying the details and not relied so much on his introduction and my first impression that it would be “not the best of passages, but not the worst”. One hopes to have learnt a lesson but fears that it is all too easy to fall into the same error. It was notable that some boats that left several days before us, in the very middle of what was supposed to be an ideal “window”, fared just as badly.
We were really not quite ready to leave. For one reason or another we never fulfilled our firm plan to have a short cruise in the Bay of Islands to make sure everything worked. After 6 months it took us twenty-four hours at sea to remember what to do and where everything should be stowed.
One big consolation was the full moon. It is astonishing how good it is for morale to be able to see the horizon and where the boat is heading.
Anyway, at last we have a ready answer to the question that is so often put: “but surely you must have had some bad bits?”
The new wind generator is fulfilling its promise. As the wind rose in strength it was able to cope with all our electrical needs and we were just beginning to pat ourselves on the back when it caught its own braking line, suffered a complete wrap around and stopped with a clunk. It was too dangerous to climb the slippery pole until the weather calmed down but then it was soon cleared and suffered no lasting harm. A small adjustment should prevent the same thing happening again.
So we are back in Fiji. We have dealt with the mountain of paperwork aided by the most courteous and helpful officials, remembered how to use carbon paper and are set up, administratively, to cruise the islands. We must now get a new bimini made and import a replacement nav. light. We have started these processes and it is no hardship to spend some time on the business in and around the Royal Suva Yacht Club. We shall probably be at anchor here for a week or so.
Like everybody we have spoken to we were sorry to leave New Zealand. We were made most welcome by people who seem, on the whole, to cherish their British connections, however distant. The climate is not dissimilar and the way of life includes many reminders of life back home, if more relaxed. Perhaps we should return one day?
We left Opua after lunch on Saturday 16th May and arrived in Suva at 0930 on Monday 27th having covered 1125 nautical miles. Over the last 2 days we regulated our speed so as to pass through the reef in daylight - not essential at Suva, but sensible.
Our new aluminium bottomed inflatable dinghy hanging from the spinnaker halliard where it is stowed at night.
This method of stowage has several advantages:
it keeps the dinghy from filling with rain (we take out the plug);
it keeps it secure (2 tenders were stolen from anchored yachts just before we arrived);
and it keeps the bottom clean.