Heading North for the Winter
|Sailing north to find the tropical weather again!|
|Opua, NZ on the morning we checked out|
|Michael getting the fresh eggs stored for passage|
|Elizabeth taking inventory as I dig through our stores in the bilges below|
We wanted to pick a weather window carefully. During this deciding time there were a lot of false starts, creating a bit of confusion for provisioning and preparing on my part. I decided to go ahead and make some meals to freeze - beef stew, dahl soup, chili, curry - which allowed me to feel like I could progress toward leaving despite the weather uncertainties. I also continued adding to the produce and refrigerator shopping list. I wouldn't actually do this shopping until the day before we left in order to ensure the longevity of the food stores we'd need, but I wanted to be as ready as I could be.
Finally, the weather said it was time to go. Checkout was seamless. We mounted the outboard engine on deck and raised the dinghy. Then we gathered in the cockpit for our safety briefing and pre-passage prayer. It was time to set off. We would travel from 32 degrees South to 17 degrees South and find ourselves in an entirely different world. Fiji is about 1,100 miles from NZ, which would normally take us about one week, but we hoped that the weather would allow us to stop in at one or both of the Minerva reefs along the way.
|The other woman|
We all fell into our passage rhythm easily, with movies, podcasts and an afternoon Harry Potter story hour over the cockpit speakers to keep us entertained. I opted to take seasick meds (Pahia "bombs" from the local NZ pharmacist) for the first few days, just as a precaution, and gave some "Sea Legs" tablets to the kids as well. A few of our boat friends left at the same time, so it was fun to be in VHF range. Before we were out of cell tower range, we talked on our NZ cell phones, just to use up our remaining prepaid minutes.
That first night out, I was on watch and had a close encounter of the lunar kind. On my starboard side, I suddenly saw a deep red, glowing light. Was it a cruise ship? Or a container ship? Nothing was showing up on radar and my heart was racing. How close was it? Should I wake up Mark? As I continued to watch, though, the clouds parted and I realized that it was a magnificent full moon rising and I could do nothing but stare as it emerged and lit up the water's surface. My heart calmed instantly and I giggled at my overactive imagination.
|Quick phone call to grandmas!|
The days ambled on and the winds died out, so we had to motor for a day and a half before we could put the Code Zero sail out again. On day three, we used the IridiumGo to make phone calls to our mothers back in the states, wishing them a Happy Mother's Day. The following day I ran the morning net and enjoyed hearing many boaters check in with their positions and weather conditions. People who had already arrived in Fiji taunted us with tales of 28 degrees Celsius and warm waters! Winds picked back up for a day, so engines could cool down and we had some quiet again. We were all in a good rhythm by now. The kids were passing the days easily, although secretly wishing for a few more waves so that schoolwork would be cancelled!
By day five at sea it was calm again. We were faced with a decision. Would we stop at South Minerva Reef or go on to the northern reef and hove to during the night to avoid a nighttime arrival at the reef's pass? Based on our weather and estimated arrival time, it made more sense to go to the southern reef. We could get in before sunset with our engines running, and check it out for a few days.
|Brenden shot a monster coral trout!|
|Snorkel trip with Elizabeth's friend, Luna from Spain|
|Beautiful spot to sink below and check out|
|South Minerva Reef Anchorage|
|Field Trip South Minerva Reef|
|Wing-on-wing sail configuration - trying to catch as much wind as we could!|
|Another boat navigating through the pass after the winds and seas picked up|
|Photo taken by SV Lumbaz last November in North Minerva Reef. Notice the blue bottom paint on the shark's nose from where he'd 'investigated' their boat's hull with a nudge!|
|A vibrant marine environment, for sure!|
|Mark taking a deeper look while snorkeling|
|Mahi Mahi for lunch and dinner and lunch...|
In total, we spent 8 days exploring both reefs. Then, a good weather window appeared on our GRIB files, and we headed northwest to our final destination - Fiji. It was another great passage of comfortable seas and light winds. Mark and I kept our regular watch schedule, and we got back into the sailing rhythm again quickly. On our way in, the kids got out their inflatable kiddie pool for a pool party on deck after we all worked hard to wipe all the saltwater off the boat's stainless steel with a water/vinegar mixture. By this time, we were melting in the hot, tropical sunshine. Gone were our fleeces and raincoats, and out came sunglasses, swimsuits, and sunscreen! What a difference two weeks of sailing and a few degrees of latitude can make!
|What 7 year old boy doesn't love a powerful hose to play with??!|
|The view out of the galley porthole - stillness all around us|
We pulled into Savu Savu, Fiji late that afternoon. I regrouped and prepared for our check-in to the country. On VHF channel 16, we called the Copra Shed Marina to request permission to enter the harbor. The woman asked the typical questions - our last port of call, captain's name, how many people on board - but she also asked a few other questions which were new to our check-in experiences. Was anyone ill on board? Had anyone been ill at any time during the passage? Was anyone currently taking medicine for an illness? Thankfully, we could answer 'no' to all of these, but it made me wonder what diseases they were checking for? Were they having problems with some illness that I needed to protect us against once we arrived? I never found out, but made sure we washed our hands extra carefully and more frequently while we went ashore.
The marina receptionist instructed us to tie up to a tiny, 30-foot dock so that the customs, immigration, biosecurity and health officials could come aboard. While I worked to fill out the tedious customs forms with passport numbers, previous ports, goods to claim, and intended destinations, Mark handed them our boat documentation and answered a number of queries. The biosecurity officer asked if we had any fresh produce or frozen meat on board, and I rattled off the few remaining fresh foods we had left - a few eggs, garlic, onion, rubbery carrots, potatoes, and frozen chicken and beef. He made sure it was all purchased in New Zealand, and allowed us to keep it on board as long as we consumed it aboard and didn't take it on land in Fiji. And that was it. We were officially in Fiji now!
It was as if we had sailed to a different planet. The air was heavy, hot, and sticky. The land was lined with palm trees. Old buses painted purple, pink,yellow, and blue picked up and dropped off local people along the narrow street that followed the shore. Roosters crowed from littered yards. Time slowed. The breeze barely blew, carrying the conflicting scents of trash fires and tropical flowers. I breathed deep and said a prayer of thanks for our safe passage and solid ground.
|Waitui Marina in Savu Savu, Fiji|