Fiji for Another Season

We are back in Fiji. Specifically, we are back in Savusavu, on the island of Vanua Levu. Savusavu is our favorite “landing spot” in Fiji. Suva, Fiji’s largest city, is on the main island of Viti Levu and is closer for yachts coming from New Zealand. But Savusavu, on the smaller island of Vanua Levu, offers a quieter, small-town vibe: One main street, a great market, several good grocery stores, and – of course – restaurants serving delicious Indo-Fijian-Chinese meals. And, Savusavu is just a pretty place with friendly people.

We are at the Copra Shed Marina again, as last year. Clearing in procedures were completed efficiently within a couple of hours. Next came hot showers and a cold drink on the clubhouse deck. We’re settled in now. The salt crust has been washed off, the sails stowed, and the cabin has had its post-passage cleaning. The sun awning is up, and produce has been replenished. Today we refilled the diesel tank and spare jerry jugs, ready to go. All is good.

We will probably be here in Savusavu until sometime next week, enjoying the local restaurants and hanging out with cruising friends. Plus, Rand hopes to get in some dives while we’re here. Then we’ll leave to take a look at some new-to-us anchorages around Fiji. And probably revisit some favorites from last season, too.

We stopped at South Minerva Reef for two days to wait for a low pressure system to move past, which brought unfavorable winds from the north. Some photos from our stop at South Minerva Reef on the passage from NZ:

White Hawk at South Minerva Reef 2018

South Minerva Reef at low tide looking east. Next stop in that direction: Chile, South America.

One of the small irritants we’ve been experiencing on passages has been the noise the anchor makes in the bow roller. As you can see in the photo, the Bruce Anchor makes a good pendulum, rocking back and forth on the roller, creating quite a thunk at each swing. Ideally the anchor would be off the bow entirely for ocean passages, removing weight forward and reducing pitching motion. And with the anchor chain completely stowed, the chain pipes closed water-tight. We tried removing the anchor for offshore passages, but then getting it back over the pulpit and out on the roller and shackled to its chain quickly as we approach an anchorage – after days or weeks at sea – is problematic. So we’ve ended up just leaving it in place, lashed securely to keep it from jumping out. It stays in place, but rocks back-and-forth, creating an annoying “clunk-clunk” in any kind of swell. For this passage, Rand devised a wedge system that grips the shank snugly. This new system is easily installed, easily removed, cheap, and doesn’t require any permanent alterations to the deck. Simple. Effective. We like it so far.

Wood wedges snugly grip the shank, keeping it from knocking against the bow roller’s sides.

 

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Day 13 and counting down

We began Day 13 of our passage at noon today, counting from our departure from Marsden Cove, New Zealand, and including the 3 nights at anchor in South Minerva Reef. Around 4:00 PM on Thursday 26 July (NZST) we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and truly entered the tropics. Cabin temperature is now 24°C (79°F) and we’re barefoot again – the ocean is 27.4°C, or 81°F. We’ll be snorkeling soon!

We expect to arrive at Savusavu sometime the day after tomorrow (Monday). Arrival before noon would be nice. That would allow time for clearance procedures, followed by hot showers, cold drinks on the clubhouse deck, and a nice quiet dinner that someone else cooks. You think a lot about food while on a passage; fresh lettuce salads feature prominently in the imagination.

After over a week of mid-latitude weather, we now have classic trade-wind sailing with stable SE winds and scudding puffy clouds. We’re beam reaching on starboard, heading due North. The sailing is good today and we are reeling off miles. All is well on board. [end]

Minerva Reef Redux

In our second of second tries this year, like the hero Phineas Finn, we have returned – to the Minerva Reefs. Specifically, we’re anchored inside South Minerva Reef. In 2016 we stopped for a few days inside North Minerva Reef. People who have been reading our blog may recall the “Pizza on the Reef” post.

North Minerva Reef is the more frequently visited of the two, perhaps because the entrance is a little easier to navigate. This is our first visit to South Minerva Reef. South Minerva is a bit more remote, a bit wilder.

Experienced cruising friends who departed New Zealand at the same time as we did, and with whom we’ve been in contact over the past seven days on passage, recommended South Minerva Reef as their preferred stop: Fewer boats, and more lobster! John and Lynette provided encouragement and a bit of advice for making our way through the pass, having been here several times themselves. White Hawk and Velic are the only two boats anchored here. After lunch, White Hawk’s dinghy zoomed over with John & Lynette to welcome us and bring us three live lobster for dinner, caught this morning. Also an offer to accompany them on a hunting foray tomorrow. Weather permitting, I think Rand will join in the hunt.

The Minerva Reefs are amazing. There aren’t many places on this earth where you can anchor a small boat, encircled by coral reef, and see nothing other than the open ocean stretching to the horizon. The reef, which is awash much of the time, gives protection from ocean swell and encloses a deep sand bottom (but avoid the numerous bommies!) for your anchor to dig into.

The current plan is to wait out a another low system tomorrow – bringing squalls, blustery wind, and rain. We can see it approaching from the NW. It’s not a large or deep low, and favorable winds should return in a couple of days. When they do, we’ll pull up anchor & start on the next 400NM to Savusavu, Fiji.

Today the sky is blue

Wednesday 18 July – As I am writing, the sky overhead is blue and the sun is shining. A very light NE breeze has been slowly building over the past several hours. We have been motoring since 1800 yesterday afternoon in very light, erratic air. After clearing out of Marsden Cove and motoring past Bream Head, we were able to set sails and give the Aries wind vane a good long test: It is working flawlessly. Wonderful!

We had good sailing for a few hours, but it wasn’t to last. By dusk, the wind had die away to a mere vesper. We had swells coming from NW, W, and SW and the sea state, in combination with the dying breeze, made it too difficult to make any miles under sail, so “on” went our tractor motor, the Beta 28. This gave us an opportunity to try out the new bit of gear, an autopilot-driven windvane. It’s quite a clever set up: The autopilot is mounted on the sternrail with the push-me pull-you working arm attached to the windvane at the airblade bracket (the thin airblade is removed for this). So the autopilot pushes or pulls the bracket to keep the boat on course using electricity instead of wind pressure on the blade. Brilliant! The small “toy” auto-pilot was often overpowered by sloppy seas or light winds. Now it just has to twiddle the airblade bracket, with horsepower coming from the Aires. (This is something we saw on another small boat; we can’t claim invention, just adaptation.)

The sea state today is much calmer. We can still see and feel the residual swells, but we aren’t being knocked around by them as we were yesterday. It is much less tiring. A bit more breeze would be nice, though. The engine is working great and we’ve been using our time under motor to run the watermaker while continuing to motor along at 5+ knots and heading east of due north. We are expecting this light NE breeze to continue building and soon be sufficient to sail on. It’s nice to have the engine, but noisy and we don’t carry enough fuel to motor even most of the way. Sailing on a nice reach while making miles toward Minerva would be pleasant.

We’ve made about 250 NM toward Fiji since leaving Marsden Cove. Another 925 miles towards Fiji, but we won’t sail that rhumb line. [end]

Winter Departure Redux

Round Two.

The past couple of weeks back in Whangarei were used to work on gear, sailing gear. Of course, the major piece of gear – the wind-vane – was the top priority. It’s been thoroughly gone over, given the spa treatment, and is now ready to perform its job flawlessly. We then filled in time while waiting for a good weather window working on those small, not-critical jobs that we’d thought to do in Fiji: Slightly sticky winches have been taken apart and serviced and now spin gloriously. All five snatch blocks on board have been disassembled, cleaned, lubricated, reassembled, and polished. We didn’t get around to polishing every bit of bronze, so there will be something for those lazy mornings in Savusavu.

And as anticipated, a favorable weather window has appeared. We are once more in Marsden Cove Marina, having left Riverside Drive Marina yesterday and motored down. It’s a bit like leaving Portland for Astoria, but only 12 NM instead of 85 NM. The latest front was beginning to blow when we left Riverside, bringing whitecaps and spray on the nose in the bay. We were glad to arrive and secure Velic to the dock before the wind really built up. The front passed over during the night and by morning the wind had died and steady rain set in. By late afternoon now the rain is intermittent and patches of blue sky are beginning to appear. Tomorrow – Monday – should be a nice day for our departure. As local experience dictates, when heading back to the tropics you want to “leave on the back of a low.”

The weather models indicate a reasonably good passage, with early winds from the W to WSW. By mid week, we might run into a weak frontal band and the squalls that come with those, followed by a day or so of light and variable wind. Then we expect to see a shift to SSE to SE by the end of the week. At which time we hope to be anchored inside Minerva Reef for a few days. None of the models show anything to concern us, at this point. We will, of course, continue to monitor the weather on a daily basis.

We will try to post a position and weather report to Yachts-in-Transit each day. You can follow along at: https://www.yit.nz/yacht/velic. If a report is missing, do not panic. It probably means that Rand over-slept and missed the radio transmission window.

Weather and Pressure

What does Rand do while thinking about another offshore passage and watching low pressure systems form south of Australia and cross the Tasman Sea towards New Zealand? Aside from servicing and polishing all the snatch blocks, he fusses about weather and calibrates the ship’s barometer.

This chart plots readings from Velic’s barometer versus readings from nearby weather stations. MSL= global Mean Sea Level.

Warning: Geeky Data Ahead

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Cozy Cabin

We have been back in Riverside Drive Marina for ten days now. Some may be wondering “What are they doing? What are they waiting for?” Well, this is an example of why cruising on a small sailboat is different from traveling on a 747.

The recalcitrant wind-vane has been dealt with and is ready for offshore passage-making again. Other small but useful projects have also been completed. We are ready to sail to Fiji. Any time, now. Just waiting for a good weather window. Which may be in another week, or more.

Warning: Weather wonkiness ahead…

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