New Zealand to Fiji Passage

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We left Opua, New Zealand on May 6th bound for Suva, Fiji Islands.  The open ocean passage took us eight days, and covered some 1,100 nautical miles.

May 6, 2004 - Day 1 - Departure from Opua

Last glimpse of the New Zealand headlandsWe left Opua for Fiji this morning at 11:00am. We loaded up with our tax-free diesel at the gas dock by noon, and then we proceeded through the Bay of Islands on our way to Fiji. This will be the test for me - an open ocean passage for 7-10 days.

I stood my first solo watch this evening - 9pm-midnight. It seemed strange sitting in the cockpit alone wearing a safety harness. I checked our course every five or ten minutes and adjusted Jeeves (the wind vane steering mechanism) to keep us on course. There was a near-full moon tonight, so it was easy to keep a lookout over the water for hazards. At least I had a diversion - observing the stars, planets and the moon. The constellations in the southern hemisphere are so interesting, although the full moon outshone many of the fainter celestial objects this evening.

I had forgotten how rough the open Pacific Ocean is. The first day out is always a challenge to sailor's stomachs. Also, we are close-hauled on a beam reach, which means the boat rolls more since it is taking waves broadside. I'm feeling fine, but I had a light supper just to be safe.

Craig, Barbara and I are doing 3 hour watches, so that gives us about 5-6 hours of sleep. During daylight hours we do other things when we are off watch, so we have to be careful to get enough sleep, because the last thing you want to do is fall asleep while on watch!

May 7, 2004 - Day 2 - Passage to Fiji

I'm on watch 6-9am, then again 3-6pm. The early morning watch isn't bad, but the wind has died to 5-10 knots - not really enough wind for Sequoia.  She really needs 15-20 knots to make headway, and she can handle 20-30 knots of wind - the only problem is after about 25 knots, the crew have problems handling it!  Within half an hour of taking the watch after mine, Craig decides to motor sail since our speed has fallen to 3 knots under sail. At that rate, it would take 2-3 weeks to get to Fiji!

Our course is a rhumb line of 015 direct to Fiji - about 1,100 nautical miles (nmi). This afternoon we are about 200nmi out of NZ, so we are making good progress. We are motor sailing on my watch this afternoon, so the autopilot is on and there is precious little to do except keep watch for other ships and hazards.

I spotted my first Flying fish at 4pm this afternoon - a sure sign we are not far from tropical waters. We are wearing light fleece jackets in the daytime and cruising jackets at night, so we still have a day or two to go before we see the warmer tropical weather.

May 9, 2004 - Day 4 - Passage to Fiji

I have the midnight-3am watch, and around 1am we are running along the edge of a series of squalls, which is mainly to the east of our course.  I'm a bit concerned, however 45 minutes later we are mostly clear of them. Clear sailing ahead!

Crux region of the Milky Way, as observed from Warkworth, New ZealandMay 10, 2004 - Day 5 - Passage to Fiji

There are lots of stars out this evening. It is so dark on my early evening watch before the moon rises. The Milky Way is a brilliant cloud of stars from horizon to horizon such as I have never observed before.  This is the Crux region of the Milky Way.  In the Northern Hemisphere, we see the Perseus region - another arm of the Milky Way.

May 11, 2004 - Day 6 - Passage to Fiji

The last few days have had their moments. With NE winds and our course being 015 to Fiji, we have been close-hauled. This has made for an uncomfortable few days since we left Opua, since the winds are often 20-25 knots and the swells are in the 2m range coming at us off our beam. I haven't felt much like writing in my journal while my body adjusts to the boat motion for my first open ocean passage.

I think Bruno (my sailing instructor before I left on this trip) would be proud of me. Last night and tonight several squalls came up while I was on watchI managed to let the Gib and the main out by myself, and set them up again after the squalls passed by. Craig (my current sailing instructor) was also impressed, although I'm sure he sleeps with one ear cocked when I am on watch.

Tonight I have the midnight to 3am watch. We are now on a beam reach, since our course is the same, but the wind is 90 or so off our beam. This gives us a more comfortable ride, and I'm feeling much better. If our current progress continues, Craig says we will arrive in Fiji within 2 days.  Today we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, and we have noticed the weather changing for the better.

May 12, 2004 - Day 7 - Passage to Fiji

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean - Day 7 NZ-Fiji passageToday was the first day I have worn shorts. We saw a very nice sunset. Venus was so bright this evening - there was a glowing ripple off the ocean as it set in the west. Although there are some clouds, the view of the Milky Way was superb.

My GPS says we are 150 nmi out of Suva, which will take 31 hours at our current speed of 6 knots. I am currently standing my noon-3pm watch. This is the life - stretched out in the shade of an awning on the stern deck. We are motoring because of lack of wind, so there are no sails to fuss with - a bonus in my books.

I made dinner this evening. This is the first time while we have been on passage where I have felt up to cooking. Now I know why Barbara was making up passage food before we departed - food which can be warmed up and eaten while underway. We turned off the engine around 7pm so Craig could have some quiet to check into the radio net run by Russell Radio (Des in New Zealand). When crossing open ocean on passage, sailing boat crews keep in touch with each other using Ham radio networks.  They all agree on a time to check in, and give their positions, weather reports, and report any problems they have encountered during the last 24 hours.  If a boat does not check in or reports a serious problem, there will be help at hand.

It was lovely and warm at 84F as we ate dinner in the cockpit under a beautiful clear sky while observing stars (LVM must be at least 6.0). I finally identified the Large Magellanic Cloud for the first time. We watched Venus set into the west, with its light reflecting off the waves. Later Sirius gave us the same beautiful spectacle.

We are approaching Fiji this evening. Our first landmark will be Vanuatabu lighthouse on Kadavu Island as we pass on our way into Suva harbour. This should happen on my watch near midnight tonight. Craig wants me to wake him.

May 13, 2004 - Day 8 - Arrival in Suva, Fiji

Craig fishingMy first watch is 6-9am, so I see the sunrise with the Viti Levu landmass now visible on the northern horizon ahead of us, as well as Kadavu Island to the west. It is shirt sleeve weather - clear and 77F, and it is only 6:30am as I write this. As it turns out, the Vanuatabu lighthouse appears to be unlit.  Craig has been fishing the last couple of days, but pulls his gear in, preparing for our arrival in Suva Harbour.

We anchored in Suva Harbour at 10:30amWe made it!

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