A passage to Fiji
We were at anchor in the Bay of Islands when the local cruisers radio net started talking about a possible weather window to leave New Zealand on the 28th of February. It wasn’t that clear, but we decided to return to the marina to be ready to leave if it did materialise. Over the weekend there was a lot of discussion among the waiting boats as it looked like leaving would mean starting the passage with some strong winds, but the alternative was probably to wait more than 14 days for a series of depressions to cross the counrty before the next possible opportunity. On Monday we decided that we knew Serenity could cope with the forecast and that the discomfort would be limited to less than 24 hours so we gave customs notice that we would leave at midday on Tuesday. This was when the wind was due to turn North West and allow us to make our course.
At 1215 on Tuesday, bang on schedule, the rain stopped, the wind shifted and we slipped our lines, together with half a dozen yachts from the Pacific Circuit Rally who were heading for Tonga. Once out in the Bay of Islands we got sailing with 2 reefs in the main and our working jib, but once we cleared land we reduced the mainsail to the smallest size we could by pulling it down to the 4th reef (we had the 4th reef put in the sail while we were in Auckland last year), then we headed north east at around 6 knots with winds of 20-25knots, gusting over 30 knots. The seas were quite big and we regularly took waves right over the deck, which inevitably found a way in and we had drips from around the hatches and windows. We didn’t feel like cooking or eating so the meal Sarah had prepared before we left stayed in the fridge and we managed on snacks through the night. By 0600 the next day we were able to shake the reefs out of the sail as the wind eased. By 1100 we were motoring.
We pushed on under engine for the next 30 hours as the first of the depressions was due on Saturday and we needed to be as far north as possible to avoid its worst winds. This was a lovely day with blue sky and sunshine and stars and moonlight by night. Sarah even saw the green flash as the sun went down.
At 0400 on Friday, just as we were changing watch, the wind began to pick up from the north east and then it began to pour with rain. Suddenly we had 30 knots of wind and Phil struggled to get 3 reefs in while Sarah tried to hold the course as the wind slammed round to the north west and tacked us. A frantic half an hour later and we were sailing again – not quite making our course but still heading in a generally northerly direction. During the day the wind backed to the west allowing us to head more directly for Fiji at 6 – 7 knots. This set the pattern for the next couple of days: the wind backed further to the south west as the depression chased us north and we rode the winds on its north west side (because the wind circulates the opposite way around a low pressure system in the southern hemisphere you get the south westerly winds on the north west side rather than the south east). We made good daily runs – close to our best – but it was hard work as we had to reef and unreef frequently when squalls added 10 knots to the wind speed.
On Saturday morning we had the contrast between the sunshine ahead..
And the squalls of the approaching low pressure behind
We didn’t take our waterproofs off until well into the tropics
On Sunday night we crossed into the tropics and began to loose the effects of the New Zealand weather. The wind went round to the south and began to push us off course, until it went far enough that we could gybe to get the wind on the other side and start pointing to Fiji again and on Tuesday with hot sunshine and an easterly wind at last we felt we were nearly there.
The last couple of days were a bit frustrating – the forecasts were giving east or south east winds, which would have been ideal, but the reality was closer to north east pushing us towards the more southerly of the Fijian Islands. Eventually we had to tack to avoid Mabulia Reef, just south of Gau island and found ourselves being carried south by the current. Finally, at Midnight on Wednesday, the wind finally died and stayed away, and we motored the rest of the way to Savusavu. We were met by Bill from the Waitui Kelekele marina who put us on a mooring bouy a short boat trip from the town in the pretty Namaka Creek
Approaching the island of Vanua Levu
The passage through the reef into the bay at Savusavu, marked by the small beacon just off
centre with the breakers on the reef to the right.
Breakfast time for a flock of birds as we enter the bay
We had chosen Savusavu on Vanua Levu as our destination rather than the slightly closer Viti Levu because it puts us in a better position to explore the islands of the Lau Group to our south east. It had also been recommended by other cruisers because of the ease of dealing with the officials here. Sure enough within an hour of our arrival the first of the 4 officials we had to see had been transferred to us from another yacht and by 1300 we had seen them all and were free to go ashore
The small town of Savusavu
Throughout our passage we were in contact by email with Jan and Richard on Morpheus of London, who left Opua a few hours after us. We travelled at similar speeds and were, at most, 40 miles apart (it would have been less but Morpheus had engine problems and so had to sail through the calm patches when we were able to motor). Its always good to know there is someone else out there and it was comforting to see their navigation lights to our west the night we were closest. We also checked in daily with Peter at Northland Radio to give a position report, and he will check on the satellite tracking systems if he doesn’t hear from you and take action if needed for you – a great service.
We have spent our time here swapping passage stories with our fellow cruisers, stocking up on lovely tropical fruit from the market (everything fj$1 or 2, fj$1 =40p) and drying out the forepeak, which got a bit damp on the first night. Phil has also been looking into solutions to the problem of salt water getting into our water tanks and will be working to fix that. We have a couple of days of wet weather to come and then will set out to explore Vanua Levu.