FROM THE LOG
Back to the Tropics
After 18 months in New Zealand it was finally time to head back to the tropics again. The cyclone season over there should be over at the end of April and that was the time when we started to look for a weather window to sail north to Fiji. The rhumb line distance is roughly 1150 nautical miles which takes 8-10 days depending on wind velocity and direction. See map at the bottom of this page.
During the past 3 months we had rented a mooring in Opua, which was convenient while we worked on various boat projects, of which the largest was the installation of a second autopilot. This project will be described in detail elsewhere on this site (pending). Opua was starting to fill with yachts and crews with the same plans as we and some evenings we got together - we met many friends from our previous Pacific crossing in 2005-2006 and also made many new friends.
For a passage of 10 days (through different climate zones) it is impossible to find a weather window which guarantees beam reach and clear skies the whole way, but the general idea is to make sure that you don't get gale force winds in the early stages, the first 3-4 days after leaving New Zealand, and then try to avoid strong northerlies, or even a late cyclone, when approaching the islands (New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji or Tonga, depending on your destination).
During the second week of May we decided that the weather forecast was as good as it gets, and on the 12th we let go of our mooring lines. Our planned destination was Savu Savu on the island of Vanua Levu, Fiji.
The trip is almost due north, which means that every day takes you 120-150 miles closer to the Equator and after half of the trip this fact is making itself noticed: the days were getting much warmer. We had a decent voyage, with 2 bad days (squally cold fronts packing 30-40 knots of wind) and 2 days of little wind. In general the winds were on the strong side with 25+ knots for 80% of the time.
About half-ways we discovered that we had a leak somewhere on the port side, which caused concern for a while. I had to use a reciprocating saw to cut some pieces of the galley joinery (photo above left) to find out that the source was above the waterline. During the whole trip we were constantly taking the strong winds in from starboard and got waves up above the toe rail because of the excessive heeling. We didn't find out the exact source of the leak, but the only alternatives have either to do with a port hole or a ventilation opening. So for the rest of the trip we just made sure that the water went into the bilge and that the bilge pump automation worked as it should.
On the second last day we got gale force winds right on the nose for 12 hours and had to steer a more westerly course than planned and for a while we decided to head for the capital Suva on Viti Levu instead of Savu Savu. But with day break the winds abated and backed again to ENE, so we again resumed on a course towards Savu Savu.
Savu Savu is a delightful one street town with a colorful real tropical feeling. It felt almost as "being home again". We picked up a mooring at the Copra Shed Marina and spent a couple of days enjoying the surroundings and getting the yacht ship shape again.
Apart from the mysterious leak, which we didn't bother trying to investigate further at the moment (as it was a - small - problem only when heeling excessively, which we didn't plan on doing for a while) I only had to pull out the sewing machine one day to restich the sunshield of the genoa.
Curly is a Kiwi who has lived in Fiji for almost 40 years and he is running some enterprises helping cruisers to get around and introduced to Fiji. One evening before we departed Savu Savu to cruise among the islands we participated in one of his seminars explaining local customs.
BTW, looking at the photos above I suddenly got embarrassed because theres 6 of them with my face (which probably is more than in all previous reports together).