New Zealand to Fiji
Written by Cathy Siegismund
May - June 2003
We finally pulled out of Bayswater Marina on Friday, May 23. After a few last
minute errands Friday morning, which included a farewell trip to Starbucks,
mailing our ADSL modem we had sold, and returning our rental car, Xen and Drew
help cast off our lines at 1130 and we motored in partly sunny, but chilly
weather on our first of a series of hops we were making up to Opua, where we plan
to check out of New Zealand and head to Fiji.
Leaving Auckland after 18 months
We had very little wind and what we had was on the nose, so we ended up
motoring all the way to a small bay across from Kawau Island called Christian
Bay about 25 miles north of Auckland. The days are getting shorter as the New
Zealand winter approaches and even during the day we were wearing fleece in the cockpit. We dropped the hook in the
middle of the small bay, and huddled in fleece blankets and watched a movie.
We have the lazarette tightly packed around our Espar heater for the passage so
we are leery of using it. By 0900, the next day under similar conditions
we motored another 40 or so miles to a small bay at the entrance to the river
that leads to Whangarei. Ken had a small, yet dreaded project of aligning the
engine. The engine had been somewhat out of alignment causing quite a bit of
vibration, shaking hose clamps loose and causing the drip-less shaft seal to
drip - a lot! After we had the anchor down, he worked on the project, which took an hour
or so, but it seems fixed. We shared the small bay
with a power boat. We planned to try and make Opua the following day, which will mean a
dawn or earlier departure. We at least should be able to make it into the Bay of
Islands, if not all the way to Opua.
We pulled up the hook at 0600, just at dawn and again in very light winds and
flat seas motored to Opua. As we were trying to make it before dark and we got a
little breeze in the afternoon, we put up the sails and motor-sailed the last 4
hours or so. This helped push our speed up over 6 knots most of the way and we
pulled into the Opua marina just as it was getting dark. We will consult with
Bob McDavitt, weather guru, tomorrow, but are planning a Tuesday departure.
We had nice hot showers, and
tomorrow we'll give Felicity one last nice fresh water bath and complete final passage preparations. Ken has a few last minute
projects and I have laundry and some pre-passage cooking, as well as a last
grocery shop for fresh food once we confirm our departure date.
By five in the afternoon, Bob McDavitt had blessed our planned Tuesday
departure. I was finishing up laundry, and running last minute errands. Drew and
Vernita had driven up to Opua for the night to see us off. We had dinner at a
nice Opua restaurant and had a girls vs. guys Canasta game rematch, the girls
let the guys win, as we had crushed them in the last game. We continued working
on last minute projects with Drew and Vernita's help. We finally finished up and
cast off our lines at 1500. Jim and Eleanor, aboard Solstice from San Francisco,
whom we had met at Christmas were also preparing to leave for Fiji. They were a
week or so away from being ready, but came over and helped us cast off as well.
It was hard to believe 18 months had gone by since we had pulled into Opua a day
behind Drew and Vernita. We really enjoyed our stay in New Zealand, and will
miss the new friends we made there as well as our very good friends Drew and
Vernita who are calling New Zealand home for at least a few years.
Drew and Vernita with us on Felicity's bow wishing us a bon
We made our Tuesday, May 27th departure, and only missed our planned noon
departure by a few hours. We had hoped to leave New Zealand a few weeks earlier to
avoid being at sea on my birthday, as that really wasn't how I wanted to ring in
my 40's. However, weather and incomplete boat projects delayed our departure.
We couldn't have asked for a nicer day to leave New Zealand. It was a sunny,
mild autumn day. We sailed out of the Bay of Islands in 10-15 knots of wind on a
beam reach in flat seas. We had full main, jib and staysail during a nice quiet
dinner as the sun set over the Bay of Islands. Now if we could only have that
for another 1,100 miles to Fiji - yeah right!
There are certain stretches of water that cause cruisers to take them very
seriously. Granted we're not talking about Southern Ocean here, but the passage
between New Zealand and the tropics has been known to be nasty, so nasty in fact
it has claimed its share of boats and some lives. The most famous of course is
the Queen's Birthday Storm of the mid-1990's, which clobbered a group of boats
making the fall passage to Tonga and Fiji from New Zealand.
Drama of course aside, we don't foresee anything that daunting -- we're just
trying to avoid sailing to weather. The theory is to leave New Zealand on the
middle to back side of a low pressure system, with its southwesterly winds, and get a fast
ride north making some easting if you are headed to Tonga or Fiji. You then hope
to continue to get a boost from the front side of the following high pressure
system, which should provide winds from southwest to southeast. You may have some motoring in
light winds between these two or as the center of the high crosses. For you
Northern Hemisphere dwellers, remember the direction of low and high pressure
systems are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere. You then hope that you are far
enough away from New Zealand and into the predominantly southeastern trade winds
before the back side of the high reaches you and the wind turns northerly
causing that distasteful point of sail in front of the beam.
Our passage route from Opua, New Zealand to Suva, Fiji
We left New Zealand heading northeast. We were trying to get some easting in
and then if the wind predictions looked favorable we would head more or less
directly for Suva. We wanted to keep west of 180 degrees latitude, as east of
it, there start to be reefs, including North and South Minerva, which claimed a
boat last November, and other unfriendly bits of land that are hard to see on
radar and one would rather not hit.
We expected a passage of between 10 and 15 days depending on the weather. The
first 7 days of the trip really couldn't have been better as far as the weather.
We had 10 - 20 knot winds behind us and gentle seas, with interspersed periods
of lighter winds when we motored. The first couple of days of course were still
full of exhaustion for both of us and a little queasiness for me. However,
Stugeron, the anti-nausea wonder-drug for me, remains effective in keeping my
seasickness in check. For the first 3 days we pretty much slept every off watch.
We saw a few freighters heading to New Zealand the first couple of nights. The
third night we spotted a sailboat, which had left Opua a few hours before we
did, and was heading toward Minerva Reef. After talking to them on the VHF, and
confirming they had seen us, they passed within 1/2 a mile to the stern as we
We were very lucky with the weather window we picked to depart New Zealand.
The high, which we had been riding to Fiji continued to grow and produce
moderate winds from a favorable direction.
Our seventh day out of New Zealand, was June 3, my 40th birthday. I really
had not wanted to be on a passage pulling three-on three-off watches as I rolled
into the next decade, but I guess it's better than being stuck in a cubicle at
work somewhere. Ken, knowing I had really wanted to be in Fiji on my birthday,
did a wonderful job of making it as pleasant as possible; though he wouldn't
bite at taking all of my night watches. He had volunteered to bake me a birthday
cake, but as the wind and beam on seas were increasing, I told him I'd take a
rain check and he could bake me the cake once we got to Suva.
When I woke up for my 0000-0300 watch, not my favorite, Ken had decorated the
boat with a big happy birthday sign and streamers. The following morning after
my morning off-watch nap, a celebratory shower in the quickly warming weather,
and finally changing out of fleece and into shorts, I got to open presents and
cards that Ken had stowed aboard from friends and family.
Cath's 40th birthday in route from New Zealand to Fiji
Ken really surprised me with a present of a week-long trip aboard the Fiji
Aggressor a live-aboard
dive boat we'll get to enjoy during our stay in Fiji.
The weather gods had been extremely kind to us for the first seven days of
the trip. However, soon after the birthday celebrations ended, the weather began
to get a little more boisterous. The winds swung around to the east and the seas
moved more to the east as well. This put us on a beam reach, which is my
favorite point of sail in nice flat water, but with 2-3 meter seas smacking
Felicity around it can get pretty uncomfortable. With about 400 miles to go to
our outer way point by the southern Fijian island of Kadavu and another 50 miles
after that to Suva, we hoped to arrive sometime on Friday, June 6. We had
about a day and a half of 20-25 knot winds, and another day and a half of 25-30. We
tended to reduce sail at night to slow the boat and make it a more comfortable,
sleep-conducive ride and to be able to handle the nightly squalls we were
getting, which would occasionally have gusts up into the 30's.
Despite all of our Auckland boat projects, we had a few problems on the
passage, as you often do. About half way through the trip, we confirmed with
each other that we thought the watermaker water tasted a little salty. Not what
you really want to have. We continued to use the water for showers, dishes, and
cooking but moved to juice and pop for drinking. Dehydration can be a very
serious issue at sea; fortunately, we only had a few more days to reach Suva and
it was not too terribly hot. However, this could have been quite serious and if
it had been a longer passage we would have had to consider catching rain water.
We also had various leaks we thought we had fixed. This included the
watermaker, which just ran into the bilge; a mystery deck leak in the v-berth, which
resulted in a good number of my cloths being salty upon arrival; and our dreaded
main companionway hatch leak. We discovered this little gem of leak at the end
of our last cruising season. When a large wave hits us from the side, even with
the companionway doors and hatch closed, a sheet of water flows into the boat
along the edge of the companionway hatch. Fortunately, we were on a starboard
tack most of the time so the sheets of water were just washed into the galley
instead of onto the navigation station and all of our electronics. We now
believe that the leak is coming between the hatch slides when water builds up a
pool next to it after a large wave deposits water next to the dodger. We're back to
square one with this problem, but are going to try and find a solution once
we're in Suva.
We also had problems establishing a reliable email connection using the SSB
radio. The SSB seemed to work adequately for checking into the nets, but was
finicky to unusable for email the farther away from New Zealand we got. This, like the watermaker, had been a rock-solid
system for us during our last cruising season, so we found this very
frustrating. We know our friends and family like to hear from us when we're on
passage and we love the diversion of receiving email during passages. We later
discovered that the wire attached to the backstay was corroded and fixing that
appears to have solved this issue.
We also had some problems with the engine overheating, especially at higher RPMs. We think this might be a missing impeller blade. However, by the time we
discovered this, the winds were such that we really didn't have to motor much,
except for charging. We also seem to have an engine starter issue, but
fortunately we carry a spare, so that too will have to go in the job jar for
Suva. In Suva, we found that the impeller was fine and that the impeller belt
was simply a little loose. We're hoping that tightening that fixes the
overheating issue. The starter was also replaced but the culprit appears to be a
weak starting battery as electrical connections are fine.
There were other small issues, but one momentary mistake in the middle of the
night could have caused some excitement at sea. At our 0000 watch change the
wind had climbed to around 30 knots give or take and the boat was feeling very
overpowered, making it tough to sleep. We had been sailing with a second reef in
the main and a reefed jib. We decided to drop the main, furl the jib, and hoist
the staysail. As usual, all of this drama happens on a "dark and stormy night".
We furled the jib, and then I headed Felicity up into the wind, trying to more
or less heave to with the main while Ken raised the staysail. This did slow the
boat and ease the motion, providing a more relaxing and restful night. However,
during the sail change, with the 2-3 meter seas smashing into the boat a few of
them drenching us and the pitch dark rainy night, Ken forgot to tie off the main
halyard. The next morning when the winds had eased some, we then realized that
with only the staysail we were sliding too far west and would not be able to
clear Kadavu on the way to Suva, we decided to raise the main again. We then
discovered that not only had the loose main halyard had wound itself around the
Blipper, the radar reflector mounted about halfway up the front of our mast, but
that the staysail halyard while being raised was also wrapped around the
Blipper. We now had to worry about chafe and the possibility of breaking these
halyards. The staysail we decided we would risk, but we were reluctant to raise
the main. We decided to try sail with a partially furled jib again and see if we
could hold a more easterly course for Suva. The obvious option would have been
sending Ken up the rig to untangle the halyards, but in the increasing sea
conditions and 25-30 knot winds neither of us were very keen on that. Other
options were to motorsail, which we did for while, but we lacked the fuel to do
this all the way to Suva. The worst option was to head off the wind and go to Nadi instead of Suva going to the west of Kadavu.
Our first option of using the reefed jib allowed us to gain back our easting,
though often sailing at 30+ degrees of heel, with our leeward ports often
looking more like aquarium windows. Needless to say, the quality of galley
cuisine suffered a bit because of this. Finally, after 12 hours or so of this,
the winds eased back to the 20-25 knot range and after clearing Kadavu, we were
able to fall off the wind some and get the seas on our stern quarter. Of course
for the last night as we turned further to the west to head to Suva, we were
running almost dead down wind, which is also not a very comfortable point of
sail. However, with only 50 miles to go it was easily tolerated.
On the more entertaining side, Ken always wears his head lamp when he goes
out to change sail at night. You may ask why he doesn't just turn on the
spreader lights; I think he just looks for any excuse to wear the headlamp.
Earlier in the passage, Ken went up to reef sporting the headlamp and upon his
return noticed a six-inch squid had defied gravity and had leapt onto Felicity's side
deck, we presume at Ken's head lamp.
A few nights later, Ken again went forward to reef, again with headlamp,
while I was off watch. I could have sworn I heard a small yelp from outside,
though the skipper denies this. I do know there was a good deal of commotion in
the galley with the water pump running and some hushed expletives. Apparently,
on the return trip to the cockpit, Ken had stepped on a hapless flying fish we
assume had also been lured onto the side deck by the seductive headlamp. There
are certainly less appealing things than stepping on a very smelly, squishy
flying fish, barefoot in the middle of the night. Without trailing a hook of any
sort, we managed to lure one squid, three flying fish, and one unlucky mackerel
onto Felicity. It is debatable if the mackerel was a victim of the headlamp or
just got washed into the cockpit by a wave.
We arrived at Suva at sunrise on Friday, June 6 for just under a 10-day
passage. We were very happy with this despite a few gear and system hiccups and
a couple of days with the beam-on-sea washing machine motion.
The last few hours of the passage as we motored to the reef entrance to Suva,
we cleaned ourselves up and tidied up the boat, as we expected to be visited by
customs, immigration, and agriculture officials upon arrival.
Ken tidying up the cockpit after our arrival in Suva
Per instructions from Suva harbour control on VHF 16, we anchored in the
quarantine area. We were surrounded by three large Japanese Navy ships and a
couple of freighters.
Japanese Navy ship anchored behind us in Suva Harbor
We were a little nervous about the customs visit, as last year Jason and Tam
had checked into Savusavu and had been given a little bit of hassle because they
exceeded the liquor limit; and after a less than subtle hint from the official
they gave him a bottle of gin and escaped paying duty. We had decided to
be truthful about our excessive wine collection and just pay duty if required,
though we also had a token bottle of gin if a greasing of the skids was required.
This fretting was however, all for naught, as we finished cleaning up the boat
we saw all three of the Japanese ships pull anchor and move to the wharf. We
then got a call from Suva harbour patrol that they wanted the skipper of
Felicity and another boat which had just arrived to come to the customs dock in
I sent Ken in with our liquor list, as liquor, firearms, and tobacco seem to
be the only things that Fiji is that concerned about, and we don't carry
firearms or tobacco. When Ken arrived at the customs dock, most of the
officials where quite preoccupied by the three navy ships and didn't seem to
care less about what we had on board, and no official ever came aboard Felicity.
I continued cleaning up the boat while Ken finished the all the check-in
procedures. We then moved Felicity out of the quarantine anchorage, and closer
to the Royal Suva Yacht Club. We feel a little lost without our usual cruising
buddies to meet us, but hope to catch up with Green Ghost, Velella, and Altair
sometime this year. We also will no doubt meet other cruisers. and regardless
will enjoy exploring this lovely country.