Tuesday, 25 November 2014

"Charter Holiday" at North Minerva Reef and Passage to NZ

Hello!

I have a few moments tonight that I took for granted earlier in the season, but have been rare in recent memory: it is quiet aboard, the boat is happily sailing itself, and I am feeling well enough on passage to sit at the nav table and send a little update!

We have a lot of catching up to do! It felt like we had a "charter boat" holiday in North Minerva reef, and now we are into our third night of our passage to NZ.

We left Tongatapu (Tonga - Big Mama's Yacht Club) with a convoy of kid boats, and we all converged near the pass at Minerva Reef within about an hour of each other. After our friend the Tiger Shark broke the ice, we spent the next few days as a group of family boats, enjoying clear calm water, snorkelling, lobster picking (ie walking along the reef in the dark using a bright flashlight to find lobsters, then popping them into a bag; we did our bit for the health of the lobster population by putting back the ones with eggs). One of the ladies was celebrating a birthday, so that offered a chance for us all to socialize on one of the boats while the kids played together.

These first few days at Minerva were incredibly calm and warm. Max was able to go diving on the reef with our friend Hans (SV Nautilus), and the rest of us snorkelled. There was no wind to speak of, which meant that the water was was smooth and clear; it was amazing to think that we were snorkelling on a beautiful reef that can only be visited by sailboat. Our friends on SV Nirvana took some lovely pictures of Fluenta and the rest of the fleet from the top of their mast - watch for these when we have internet again :) Once again we were anchored in a postcard.

Most of the kid boats left on 20 Nov; we elected to wait for a different weather window and left on 22 Nov. As the fleet left, the weather changed and the wind came up - the lull in the trade winds was over! We stayed one more day in the anchorage by the pass in anticipation of a last snorkelling trip, but it was too bouncy & cold for anyone to want to venture out in the dinghy, so we moved upwind to the other side of the lagoon so it would be less bouncy. The move proved fortuitous because it gave us the chance to explore that reef on foot during the low tide; it was like a moonscape surrounded by turquoise water. The surface was the colour of light brown sand (from a distance it looked like a beach) but up close, it was rough & bumpy, and a good place to wear sturdy shoes! It was unlike any other place we have been, and it was well worth the visit.

One of Benjamin's favourite games is putting one thing inside another. Usually this is reasonably harmless (eg clothes pins inside an old spice bottle), but this week he found that he could fit a fork inside the scupper outlet in the cockpit. Thankfully the forks are magnetic, but just reaching the magnet down the opening wasn't enough to dislodge the fork. It took a magnet on a string in one hand, a long piece of seizing wire in the other, and a flashlight in the teeth to coax the fork back to the surface. In the same vein, we have taped up the finger-latch openings on the doors to the engine compartment after finding a toothbrush (his) and a comb (Victoria's) just inside the door!

With our fridge stocked with rice, soup, cooked chicken & turkey, mac & cheese and pancakes, we weighed anchor just before noon on Saturday. Max had suggested a noon departure the previous evening, and I had said that we should aim for mid-morning. Turns out that we were both right ... I aimed for mid-morning, which meant that we left just before noon :)

Saturday was sunny, fast and bouncy (our average speed was 6.7 kts). Max has been wishing for another yellow fin tuna all season, we were hardly through the pass when "Fish on!" meant a yellow fin on the deck! Big grins all around, because fresh tuna means sashimi :)

Max, Doug, and I each took a 4-hr watch over night, and we seemed to be getting quickly into our groove when (in between catching two mahi mahi), our autopilot started giving us an error message on Sunday. We are used to it overheating and giving us a particular message, but it turned out that this time it was a different problem, and the usual solution of cycling it on and off and giving it a few minutes to cool down didn't work. Soon the contents of the aft lazarette were all on display on our bunk, and Max was troubleshooting the drive mechanism itself. It turned out that the hydraulic fluid was all black and nasty, so we decided to hand steer overnight and change out the drive while underway today. So much for 4-hr watches and lots of sleep! We took 2-hr shifts (which is still lovely - 2 hrs on and 4 hrs off), and Max changed the drive this afternoon. We are back on 4-hr watches :) I have to tell you that the aft lazarette is an awkward place to get into at the best of times, and it is much worse while the boat is moving. Once inside the lazarette, the autopilot driver is off to the left, with four bolts (complete with backing plates under the floor) holding it in place. I was surprised when Max wanted to keep our old driver after we replaced it in Mexico, but I was glad that he did, and doubly glad that he was able to do the troubleshooting and repair while we were underway.

I must tell you that it is getting cold! We are all wearing full sets of foulies (not just because of the cold, but also because of the rogue waves that have a nasty habit of dousing all and sundry in the cockpit) and I am wearing two layers of fleece (and Benjamin, my little heater). We are not in the tropics anymore! We are also not in the Western Hemisphere anymore, either - we passed the 180th meridian just around midnight on Saturday, so the lines of longitude are decreasing now. We didn't wake everyone up to celebrate, the way we did when we crossed the equator, but we had a bag of chips to celebrate on Sunday (I provisioned generously for a bag / week earlier in the season, but now we have pretty much enough for a bag / day, so we are having fun making up excuses to celebrate :)

Anyway, we are well and happy (and grateful for Doug to be with us - I kept imagining how the hand steering and autopilot replacement would have gone with only the two of us aboard ... and it wasn't pretty) and making our way to NZ. We have been making good speed, despite a pesky current which has been +/- 1 kt against us for much of the passage. It looks like we have another day of good sailing, then we will motor through a light patch before sailing (we hope) into Whangarei.

Love to all,

Elizabeth
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At 24/11/2014 12:34 PM (utc) SV Fluenta was 27°51.41'S 176°10.10'E

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