Day 16, Year 2: Eighth Day of Passage from New Zealand to Fiji

Day 16, Year 2: Eighth Day of Passage from New Zealand to Fiji
Date: Thursday, May 10, 2007
Weather Today: Clear Blue Skies, Winds Just E of N 12-15 Knots
Temperature: Air 81 degrees F; Water 78 degrees F
Latitude: 19 degrees 31 minutes S
Longitude: 177 degrees 25 minutes E
Miles to Go: 105
Location: Passage from New Zealand to Fiji

I entered the eighth day of passage wearing shorts and a tank top, and I’m still hot. But no complaints, mates. We are motor sailing even though we have 12 to 15 knots of wind. The problem is that it is coming directly at us, so we are using the motor to push us forward. White Swan and Scott Free II are the only boats we know that are still back in the squash zone, but they should be coming out of that soon. Scott Free II has an autopilot problem and I sure hope they don’t have to hand steer all the way to Fiji. Donna and Jerry, we are thinking about you. Ranger’s autopilot problems have settled down and they think they were caused by getting water in the autopilot computer. Ours is under our bed, so if it gets wet, we are in more trouble than not having an autopilot! The group headed to Tonga has had rough going, but Procyon will be there tomorrow. Fatty Goodlander on Wild Card is in his third day of sitting out there in 35 to 40 knot winds. As I said yesterday, he deployed a sea anchor day before yesterday and was happy that he could sit still and drink a glass of wine without spilling it. Conditions would have to a lot worse than they have had for me to sit still for three days in Windbird waiting for the weather to pass, but then I’m not familiar with his boat. Since it is smaller and an aft cockpit, and has 20 year old sails, I guess I can see the logic. Hope he has lots of wine onboard. Ohani Kai’s sails are back up after 4,000 pain staking hand stitches and their motor is running smoothly after switching to a new fuel tank and changing the fuel filter twice. Safina barely has enough fuel to make it to Suva, so Ranger is trying to close the gap between them and will follow them in–ready to transfer fuel if necessary. It looks like we are all going to make it just fine, but we have all had to battle some nasty weather on this passage. There will certainly be a celebration at the Royal Suva Yacht Club (RSYC) tomorrow night if we all make it in. Our ETA is around 1 PM in the afternoon, and after getting checked in, we’ll certainly head to the RSYC for Friday Happy Hour.

As we near Fiji, I figure it is time for a language, history, and geography lesson. We are going to the island of Viti Levu to the city of Suva as our first. Suva is the largest city in the South Pacific and some people don’t go there because of that. We enjoy visiting the cities as well as the villages, so we will start there. Half of the population of Fiji lives in Suva. The indigenous people of Fiji were the Lapita people from southeast China mixed with people who arrived from Melanesia. The people called their land Viti and were known as Vitians. That is, until Captain Cook asked the Tongans what the name of the islands to their west were called. The Tongan pronunciation of Viti sounded like “Feegee” to Cook, so Fiji was born out of a misunderstanding of pronunciation. Today Fiji is comprised of over 300 islands. Those islands are divided into nine or ten ifferent groups. We are hoping to visit all nine groups, but that will depend on getting permission while we are in Suva. Fiji’s goverment is a democratic parliament, but they have had four coups since 1987. The most recent coup was just this past November, so we will have to test the waters carefully upon arrival in the capital of Suva. As far as we can tell from our internet research, tourism has not been affected by the coup, so we should be fine. But going through the bureaucracy to get permission to take our boat into remote places might be challenging. About half of Fiji’s population is Fijian and the other half is Indo-Fijian. These are the people who originally were brought in by the British from India as indentured laborers, but these people worked hard and now almost outnumber indigenous Fijians. There is always tension between these two groups. The Indo-Fijians are mostly Hindu, some Muslims, and the Methodist Church is the most influential religious group representing the indigenous Fijians. One of the highlights of visiting Suva is attending Sunday morning church service at the Centenary Methodist Church. They say the singing is spectacular. Maybe this Sunday.

In Fiji, the greeting for hello is “Bula!” Pronouncing such a simple word becomes a trick however. Most of the English alphabet is used except for ‘x’. And ‘h’ and ‘z’ are only used for words that are borrowed from the English language. Of the remaining twenty-six letters, there are variations for eleven of them.

‘b’ is pronounced as ‘mb’
‘c’ is pronounced as ‘th’ in ‘this’
‘d’ is always proceeded with an ‘n’
‘g’ is preceeded with an ‘n’ and pronounced as in ‘sing’
‘j’ is pronounced as ‘ch’ as in ‘charm’ without the ending puff of air
‘k’ is pronounced as in ‘kick’ without the ending puff of air
‘p’ is pronounced as in ‘pip’ wihtout the ending puff of air
‘q’ is pronounced as ‘ng’ as in ‘angry’ not as in ‘sing’
‘r’ is trilled as in Scottish English
‘t’ is pronounced as in ‘tap’ without the ending puff of air, and is sometimes pronounced as ‘ch’ before an ‘i’
‘v’ is pronounced with the lower lip touching the upper lip, not the lower teeth

Wish us luck. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to pronounce much, but we can at least learn to say hello. We just have to put the ‘m’ before the ‘b’–‘mbula’. And if it is like Samoa, you also say hello when you say goodbye, so we can do that as well. Bula!

PS–Land Ho! Just as I started to close this log, I spotted land–the island of Kadavu. This island is south of Viti Levu, our destination. When we reach Kadavu, we turn east in a channel between Viti Levu and Kadavu. After our stay in Suvu, we plan to head back across the channel to visit Kadavu. The Great Astrolabe Reef is there and they say it is great snorkeling. So we are getting close.

070510 Day 16–Passage to Fiji 8th Day

Day 15, Year 2: Seventh Day of Passage from New Zealand to Fiji

Day 15, Year 2: Seventh Day of Passage from New Zealand to Fiji
Date: Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Weather Today: Finally Clear Blue Skies, Winds N 12 Knots
Temperature: Air 78 degrees F; Water 78 degrees F
Latitude: 21 degrees 17 minutes S
Longitude: 176 degrees 22 minutes E
Miles to Go: 222.5
Location: Passage from New Zealand to Fiji

It is close to sundown and Mark is below on the radio. By the way, he has on shorts and no shirt. The temperature is rising. There has been a 5 PM net that has been run by Paddy on Zafarse but this evening Paddy has his engine running and has interference that is keeping him from hearing most boats. He could hear us and asked Mark to take the net. So Mark is taking the check-ins to make sure we know everyone’s location in case of problems. We are all getting close to Fiji, but different boats are starting to have problems. Ohana Kai with Bruce and Lisa and their two beautiful little boys, Tristin and Matthew, are struggling a bit tonight. They have tears in both their main and headsail and their engine is giving them problems. They are working hard this evening to repair the sails in case the engine goes, but they are two days out of Fiji. We are close to them and we will check in tomorrow morning to see how things are going. I’m not sure what we can do, but I know we will think of something. Kelly and Kelly of Moorea and Ranger are also nearby, so between us all I’m sure we will be creative and find solutions to their problems. Safina is further ahead, but they are losing ground. They are short on fuel and they have only their main sail as their genoa blew out a couple of days ago. This trip has been tough on a number of boats but most of us are now above the squash zone and out of danger. White Swan and Scott Free II are still behind us, but things are starting to calm for them as well. Now we are having to contend with headwinds. At least the seas are fairly calm and the headwinds are fairly light. Windbird is barreling through. This is when Windbird’s large fuel capacity and ability to simply plow forward through wind and waves come into play. She is a good boat.

This morning’s radio net was interesting. The group of boats headed to Tonga have had to slosh through the same squash zone that we have and they are still in it. We talked briefly with Randy on Procyon and he said they are doing fine but it has been a wet trip. With their brand new bullet-proof cockpit enclosure, I was surprised to hear that. But they are an aft cockpit boat. I will have to email to find out the details. We have not heard anything about Endangered Species or Wind Pony, but I’m assuming that Procyon is in contact with them and all is well. Fatty Goodlander on Wild Card is also on the way to Tonga and he reported this morning that he put out a sea anchor last night to steady things. Winds were only in the 25 to 35 knot range, so others on the net were a little surprized at the action. We will be interested to hear tomorrow morning how things went for him. Wild Card is a smaller boat than many out here. It is either a 36 or 38 foot Sparkman-Stephens aft cockpit design. In the seas that we have had, the aft cockpits have been much wetter than our center cockpit. I’m definitely a center cockpit sailor. I often think of Tom Linskey when I talk about liking to be dry when sailing. He and his wife Harriet circumnavigated a number of years ago, and when we were having dinner and talking about our upcoming voyage, I was concerned about getting wet in our little dinghy. I wanted a bigger one (which we did buy). All Tom said to me was, “Judy, didn’t anyone tell you that sailing is a water sport?” I now know it is, but I still prefer the high and dry center cockpit on Windbird. Sorry, Tom.

070509 Day 15–Passage to Fiji 7th Day

Day 14, Year 2: Sixth Day of Passage from New Zealand to Fiji

Day 14, Year 2: Sixth Day of Passage from New Zealand to Fiji
Date: Tuesday, May 8, 2007
Weather Today: Mostly Overcast, Winds SSE 20 Knots
Temperature: Air 76 degrees F; Water 78 degrees F
Latitude: 23 degrees 03 minutes S
Longitude: 175 degrees 13 minutes E
Miles to Go: 374
Location: Passage from New Zealand to Fiji

After 18 hours of 30 to 40 knot winds and high seas, and then 6 hours of 25 to 30 knot winds and high seas, at about 3 PM this afternoon we came out on the other side. Whew! As I said yesterday, the sailing was challenging and Windbird is a little worse for the wear, but actually we are fine. Others have had problems as well. Ranger and Safina had water in the cockpit that went pouring down into their cabins and Safina blew out their headsail. We are minus a solar panel and only one cockpit
enclosure panel as we did a makeshift repair on the other. We did get some water in the cockpit which is very unusual on Windbird, but we are dry below. We can now see the sun and blue sky and that is comforting. We still have lots of clouds, but they are white, not gray walls. We were in a squash zone and then at about 3 PM I think we emerged on the north side of a front. We had a monster squall at about 1 PM and that started the final passage to the other side. It is nice and calm now and
all is well. If those sailors that are out in front of us are any indication, sometime during the night or early tomorrow, we will lose all wind and have to motor, but I don’t think any of us are going to be upset about that. As long as it is calm, we will be happy. Right now we are sailing along at about 6.5 knots with a double reefed main and we just rolled out the full headsail. We are back on track.

We had a number of squalls today and a couple of those ended with beautiful rainbows. That was the visual highlight of the day. My job tonight is to start seriously studying the various options for islands to visit in Fiji. When we arrive we have to hand the Customs and Immigration folks our Fiji sail plan and get permission to visit the various islands. It has been hard to think about that during the heavy weather, but I am very hopeful that those days are over for now and we can focus on our
arrival in beautiful Fiji.

070508 Day 14–Passage to Fiji 6th Day

Day 13, Year 2: Fifth Day of Passage from New Zealand to Fiji

Day 13, Year 2: Fifth Day of Passage from New Zealand to Fiji
Date: Monday, May 7, 2007
Weather Today: Totally Overcast, Winds SE 33 Knots
Temperature: Air 76 degrees F
Latitude: 25 degrees 36 minutes S
Longitude: 175 degrees 00 minutes E
Miles to Go: 508
Location: Passage from New Zealand to Fiji

It was a challenging day on the high seas, and I literally mean high seas. Winds during the night were 25 to 30 and during the morning they started building slowly. By 2 PM, the predicted 20 to 25 knot winds were a consistent 33 knots with gusts to 38 and the seas had built to at least 12 feet. A weather map is a little like a topographic map. On a topographic map, when the lines are close together it indicates rising heights in the land. On a weather map, when those lines or isobars are close together, it means high winds. And when you get caught between a low and a high, the lines get close together. Some call this a squash zone, and I can tell you first hand that I definitely feel squashed. When you have heavy weather like this, you just can’t afford to make mistakes, but we did just that today. We are okay, although Mark’s arm is a little bruised, but Windbird sustained a little more damage. At 10 AM this morning, we were running with the double reefed mainsail and the staysail. The winds had not started to seriously build, and we decided to put out a bit of the headsail to give us a little more speed. That was the mistake. By 2 PM, we knew we needed to bring in the headsail, usually not a problem. So without thinking through the complications in such windy conditions, we started trying to bring it in. One thing led to another, and the sheet or line to the headsail started flogging wildly. There was so much force behind it that it bent one of the stanchions or stainless steel uprights that hold the life lines in place, it shattered the solar panel on the port side, and it destroyed the plastic and zippers in two of our cockpit enclosure panels.

While all of this was happening, we were continuing to try and pull the sail in. Mark’s arm got in the way a few times and he has some pretty ugly bruises on his right forearm. In addition, he lost both of our good wench handles overboard. We only have two more, one old stainless one that doesn’t lock in place, and the one we leave on the mast to use when raising the mainsail. I was protected by the plastic enclosure, so I didn’t get the damage, they did. For about half an hour, it wasn’t a pretty picture here on Windbird. And of all the luck, at this same time, another boat was hailing us as it passed by. After our ordeal was over, we called back. The boat’s name is Halo and the captain sounds British. We will be traveling close together tonight and have promised to hail each other if we have problems. We were close to Arctic Fox last night, but they dipped out of sight by 7 AM this morning. They have tried to call us this afternoon, but they are too far away and we can’t connect. We will talk on the 5:30 radio net.

Halo called a few minutes ago to inform us of their course for the night and to tell us that they took down their staysail and were much more comfortable. We did the same, and we are riding much smoother now. We are no longer going 8 and 9 knots, but we are moving at a comfortable 6.5 knots. So we will sail through the night with just the double reefed main up. Sometime tomorrow, we should be far enough north to be out of the squash zone. At that point, the winds should subside, but we still don’t know exactly what is going to happen with the low. At worst we will have more 30 knot winds, but at best, we will be far enough north and it will pass behind us. Right now, that sounds really good.

070507 Day 13–Passage to Fiji 5th Day

Day 12, Year 2: Fourth Day of Passage from New Zealand to Fiji

Day 12, Year 2: Fourth Day of Passage from New Zealand to Fiji
Date: Sunday, May 6, 2007
Weather Today: Mostly cloudy, Winds SE 25 Knots
Temperature: Air 68 degrees F; Water 68 degrees F
Latitude: 28 degrees 05 minutes S
Longitude: 174 degrees 45 minutes E
Miles to Go: 648
Location: Passage from New Zealand to Fiji

Good news. That low that has had us worried is currently staying at 180 on the Dateline for now. We are between 174 and 175 E and by the time it moves to this area on Thursday, we will be well north of it. That means we shouldn’t get the heavy winds above 30 knots. However, the beautiful conditions we had yesterday were a one day affair. We are still sailing at about 6.5 knots, but with winds in the 20 to 30 knot range. That means the seas have kicked up so it is not a smooth ride, but it is certainly safe. The latest weather report tells us that we will have a thick cloud cover from here on to Fiji and will probably have rain once we get there. We got our first squall on my watch around midnight last night and will continue to get occasional squalls with rain, but nothing terrible. The water and air temperature are getting warmer, but with the cloud cover, it actually feels cooler. So far the water and air temps have increased by about two degrees per day.

Last night at about sunset, we had more unexpected bird visitors. Other boats were reporting the same. Last night’s visitors were Saddlebacks, but as dark descended, they flew away. There’s not much else to report. I’ll finish a Tom Clancy book tonight (I’m deep into the Middle East). Mark finished reading Dava Sobel’s The Planets and is now reading a Robert Ludlum book, The Ambler Warning. Clancy, Ludllum, Grisham, and DeMille books are great for passage. Alan Kanegsberg left The Planets for Mark to read and he really enjoyed it. Sobel has an interesting way of interweaving mythology, science, astrology, and current space exploration. I’ll wait until we are in Fiji to read that one as I need to start reading about Fiji.

070506 Day 12–Passage to Fiji 4th Day

Day 11, Year 2: Third Day of Passage from New Zealand to Fiji

Day 11, Year 2: Third Day of Passage from New Zealand to Fiji
Date: Saturday, May 5, 2007
Weather Today: Clear and Sunny, Winds ESE 15 Knots
Temperature: Air 66 degrees F
Latitude: 30 degrees 46 minutes S
Longitude: 174 degrees 47 minutes E
Miles to Go: 797
Location: Passage from New Zealand to Fiji

Yesterday, and through the night, we sailed with a full main and Yankee headsail poled out. We used the newly rebuilt Monitor windvane most of the time. Winds were variable and sailing was good. Today, however, was one of those sailing days you dream about. We are sailing with a full sail configuration–main, poled out Yankee, and staysail. We’re on a broad reach and sailing consistently 6.5 to 7.5 knots. That’s as good as it gets on this boat. Add to that a totally clear, blue sky above with white puffy clouds on the horizon all around and seas under 3 feet coming from the same direction as the wind. It has been a picture perfect day for sailing.

Of course, there has to be a caveat with such perfect conditions. We have a new player on the scene. Late yesterday we learned that a low is forming near Fiji and it is expected to deepen and head south and then west. That means we will probably have to cross its path at some point. We are gathering every bit of weather information we can get. We listen to a German named Christian who is giving weather recommendations to Zafarse and Shoestring. We also listen to another German named Winfred, usually getting that report second hand from Jean-Pierre on Safina. We listen to the Rag of the Air every morning at 7 AM to get a full weather picture, and then we get daily weather faxes and grib reports that we analyze. Of course, no two sources agree on what is going to happen, so you have to assimilate all of this information and make your own decisions. We could have winds of anywhere from 30 to 60 knots depending on where we are in relation to the low and how it develops. It is at least three days out, so we are moving north toward Fiji as fast as we can and staying a little to the west. That means we will have to come back east to our destination, but by that time the low will have passed and the winds should be light. The hope is that we can get far enough north to be on top of the low. It is very confusing but right now it looks like we will be fine. These lows are like cyclones except that they circulate in a clockwise direction. In this part of the world they are called anticyclones. In certain conditions they become hurricanes, but that is not predicted with this one. We are all just being super watchful and careful. Boats have been lost on this passage by not heeding the weather, so we are making sure that we are listening and are ready to change course or do what is necessary to avoid serious conditions. We will give an update everyday in our log. For those of you wishing to track our postion, we are checking in with the Pacific Seafarer’s Net every afternoon and they post our position on their website, plus you can go to Yotreps through a link on this website. Just go to ‘Where We Are Now’ and follow the directions.

We have two boats in sight this afternoon. Arctic Fox called on the VHF earlier and asked it we are to their starboard. We checked positions, and found that they are our traveling neighbors. There is another boat ahead of them, but neither of us is sure who that might be. Not all boats check in with the nets with their positions, so it is sometimes hard to tell. Ranger is further east but with the weather predictions, I think they are heading back our way. Since the winds were predicted to be from the SE most of the way, they thought if they got further east they could then ride the winds back to the west closer to Fiji. The weather gurus are saying to stay to the west, however. They keep reminding us all that we don’t want to be on the east side of the low. That is where the winds will be stronger. I’m noticing that white caps are forming and the wind is increasing slightly. That is good as it will carry us north faster. We had to motor all the way from Tonga to New Zealand, so it is a real treat to have the current sailing conditions.

070505 Day 11–Passage to Fiji 3rd Day