Thursday, 26 November 2015

Fiji to NZ - Day 7-9 - The Front, The Autopilot, The Smoke, The Propane, The Food, The Arrival ...


In New Zealand and Cleared Customs !

I started this email on Day 7 of our passage from Fiji, was just about to send it during my overnight watch when the seas kicked up, and the next two days did not exactly lend themselves to writing emails ... so let's travel back in time.

Day 7 - We have been watching and waiting for a front to pass for the last couple of days - we were scheduled to sail into it at about 0700 this morning. At 0658, the wind shifted 180 deg, the heavens opened, and the front was upon us!

I shook Victoria to stay with Benjamin, and joined a soggy-looking Max in the cockpit. Thank goodness for wind-hold on the autopilot: when the wind shifted from dead downwind to hard on the nose, the boat obediently followed the broad-reaching wind angle we had set. Other than pointing back towards Fiji, we had no issues :)

Max and I often have our best moments in the cockpit when everyone else is below, the wind is howling, and it is up to the two of us to work together to sail the boat; such was our experience this morning. By the time I came upstairs, Max had already brought the boat up to a close reach and was contemplating how he was going to tack the boat by himself (possible, but tricky and slow); with two of us, we were quickly able to swap the active running backstay, add the close-hauled preventer system in place of the down-wind preventer, furl the genoa (so it would pass more easily between the two forestays), and then tack the boat. We sailed on our new course in the lumpy, post-front seas for a while, but when the speed against the waves came down to 4 kts, and the current was reducing our speed over ground to less than 2 kts, we decided to motor!

The front itself was more like a warm front we would get at home than a cold front [or a big trough]. Here, they don't seem to distinguish between the two. We had building cloud all night, and then in the aftermath of the front, we had grey skies that slowly cleared over the next 12 hours. By sunset, the sky was back to normal, and now (in the middle of the night) I have a mix of clear and cloud. The seas have reduced to a more normal state, and I am close-reaching in 10-15 kts of wind.

The day was an uneventful mix of sailing and motoring until late afternoon. I had just risen from my nap with Benjamin, thinking how lovely it was that, since we had been motoring for a few hours, there would be hot water for a shower before I started dinner. One look at Max's tired face told me that I had better head straight to the cockpit and send him to sleep. We decided that since we had 12 kts on the nose, and very lumpy, random, unsettled seas, we would try motor-sailing a little off the wind, to see if we could make the boat move more comfortably. We are not sure if this was causative or not, but shortly thereafter, the autopilot started to throw up its hands and send error messages to the screens - no rudder data; no autopilot computer, etc. As Max was troubleshooting the autopilot, and I was handsteering, we noticed a nasty electrical smell, and when he opened the engine panels, clouds of white smoke rushed out to greet him. Needless to say, we shut down the engine and put the autopilot down to #2 on the list!

[Note from Max - Before troubleshooting the autopilot, my main project was trying to get the charts to work on the chartplotter. Our B&G chartplotter uses charts on wee little micro-SD cards. We have a card with Navionics charts of the South Pacific which works fine and a card with C-Map charts of NZ. The NZ charts worked fine when we left NZ in May but now they would not load anything but the base map. The likely suspect was a software update to the chartplotter in Suva. Using our sat phone, I called Navico tech support who, after some initial reflectance to think of solutions that did not involve downloading over the internet, did try some creative solutions. This troubleshooting become trumped by the autopilot issues. No charts on the chartplotter is no crisis of course as for the first two years we did not even have a chartplotter. As back ups we have: Garmin handheld with charts, Garmin handheld without charts, three laptops with charts that accept GPS input with charts in three different formats, iPad with charts, two standalone installed GPS units, an AIS with a GPS, three VHF radios with GPS (two handhelds and the base station), satphone with GPS, radar, paper charts and two sextants ... However, the chartplotter at the helm would have been rather nice for the squally landfall into the Bay of Islands...]

With Debbie hand-steering (our new air fragrance having woken her in her cabin), and me holding Benjamin so that the "screaming baby" soundtrack would stop, Max was able to have a look in the engine compartment to see what was amiss. My first thought was that our #2 alternator had melted, as the smell was similar to when our #1 alternator self-destructed earlier in the season. After much looking, Max found a packet of wires near the alternator whose insulating layer had melted. One theory is that the alternator, which was running at high output but low RPM had gotten too hot and melted the wires. We can disconnect it and charge our house bank with the solar/wind/generator combination that we use at anchor until we prove this. Once things had cooled down, we gingerly tried the engine again with the suspect alternator disconnected. No smoke. All well. The only down side was that we had hours and hours of motoring to do before reaching NZ, and our batteries didn't benefit from any of it: Max still had to run the generator to top up the batteries, which turned out to be a bit of a shocking experience in the rain!

The afternoon wasn't over, however: when we went to start dinner, no propane would come out of the burners. It shouldn't be the tank being empty, as we just changed tanks before the passage. It might be that water (from the copious amounts flowing down our deck all day) has entered the propane locker and shorted something, or it might be that the melted bundle of wires has something to do with it. Dinner was cold quinoa salad with pineapple, green peppers, our own jarred chicken, and of course sweet chili sauce! Max figured that propane was something he could tackle in the morning.

Max, Debbie, and I hand-steered all night, taking two-hour watches. As usual, the tricky part for me was planning my watches for when Benjamin would be asleep. In this case, Victoria and Johnathan kept him playing video games (!) on the aft bunk through the evening, and then shook Debbie to drive when it seemed like Benjamin was a few minutes away from melting down and needing to sleep. Although Benjamin was getting pretty vocal (ie shrieking) by the time I made it downstairs, this approach worked well, and he settled quickly to sleep. The three of us had a mix of sailing and motoring through the night, as the winds were both shifty and variable.

Because the weather forecast had been for a front, followed by diminishing winds and seas, followed by a calm during which we would motor, I had gotten it into my head that this would all happen in quick succession. Unfortunately, Day 8 dawned with the same conditions as Day 7 - lumpy seas, winds (+/- 15 kts) on the nose, and the calm nowhere in sight. Max was able to determine that the propane had fallen victim to the burnt wires in the engine compartment, and he used the power at the galley fan to resupply power to the propane switch, so we were back in business. The Autopilot did not seem as easy to resolve: he emptied the contents of our aft lazarette into the aft cabin so he could access the drive, but when he tried to remove the "brushes" from the hydraulic drive, they wouldn't come out. Our options seemed to be replacing the drive with the backup (stored under our bed) or handsteering until we arrived. Since we only had about 150 nm to go, and it was pretty rolly conditions for replacing autopilot drives deep in the lazarette, with the steering quadrant continuing to move back and forth (I believe we were lucky last year, but I wouldn't want to push our luck with changing it enroute two years in a row), we decided that we could hand-steer for another couple of days. This turned out to be a good decision, as Max still had a list of things to fix before we got in!

The noisiest issue turned out to be our high-water alarm. It is possible to get one with a delay (on our wish list) but our current alarm does not distinguish between water slopping around in the bilge when we heel and water reaching flood levels. For some reason known only to itself, the little [diaphragm] bilge pump (that Max installed so we could pretty much empty our bilge of water) chose this moment to stop working, which, combined with the water flowing into the boat from various leaks and fittings, meant that we had more water in the bilge than normal. Every time the boat would heel significantly to port, the high-water alarm would go off. For everyone but Benjamin this is a heart-stopping siren sound (especially when you are sleeping). For Benjamin, it sounded like kitties and he thought it was hilarious! Max managed to take the faulty pump apart, dig some spare parts out from under the v-berth, and get it back in operation again. To give you a visual, this required lifting the floor panel in the saloon, removing several dry bags that are stored there, and reaching way down towards the hull to access the pump, all while the boat was heaving and rolling.

Sometimes when our autopilot stops working, we can give it a rest, and then it will start again. After leaving it overnight, we thought we might be in luck, but it was the same as the night before - a couple of minutes after engaging it, we would get error messages and alarms - the computer was working, but the drive was not responding. The three of us carried on hand-steering all day, thankful that we could at least cook hot meals again (dinner was "Grampy Beef" that my Dad hand-carried to us when we were in Mexico, on rice with veggie sticks on the side: we were trying to use our daily ration of cucumbers & carrots).

Because we were bashing into the wind so much, this trip certainly exposed any areas where we will have to re-bed or re-seal components on the boat. Several of the windows and deck fittings (eg stanchions) leaked, and perhaps of most concern, we had water coming in between the ceiling panel and the ceiling in the forward head (this is also likely a leaky through-deck fitting or perhaps the chain plate). It is fair to say that we have our work cut out for us in NZ. [All rather frustrating as as we had no leaks when we left NZ last season after rebedding many fittings]

It would hardly be a daily report from Fluenta without a description of a child cooking up a storm in the galley. This time it was Johnathan's turn. He had decided that his contribution to using up our butter, etc was to make edible cookie dough (ie safe to eat without cooking). He
only wanted a half batch, which led to some interesting Math questions: he had lots of fractions to think about!

I wrote in my notes "spirits doing fine, but we are ready to be there!" I think this summed up most of our feelings: we were proud that we had handled all the curve balls, but we were ready to be done. The motion of bashing into the seas is not comfortable, so we were back onto sea sickness tablets (for me, this means SeaLegs; for Max it means Kwells). The miles were counting down, but the numbers seemed to be changing really slowly!

The night was a mixed bag. We had been motoring all evening when I came on watch, bashing into the waves, and creating floods of water down the side decks. During my first watch, I decided to try bearing off a little and sailing close hauled. The boat immediately seemed to dig in and sail with a more comfortable motion; it felt like both boat and ocean were happier with us acting like a sailboat again :) This lasted two hours, then the wind died and shifted, and we motor-sailed for a while. When Max came on watch, he was able to sail again, and in fact, he had a fantastic sail, close hauled exactly on course. It seems to me that he deserved it after all his work to get us here.

Day 9 finally dawned clear, calm and sunny. I must admit that it was hard to rouse myself at 0700 after four hours of sleep, but it was so worth it once I did: the wind had dropped to less than 5 kts, so we were motoring on seas that were glassy and becoming glassier. These were the conditions we had been waiting for for two days. Victoria and I had a lovely dawn chat while we were the only ones awake. She is far more of a morning person than I am :)

By mid-morning, the others had descended upon the cockpit, and I headed for the galley. We had carrots, beef, apples, pineapples, bananas, eggs, and butter to use up, in addition to the tiny pumpkin pie that Victoria made before breakfast, so the obvious thing to do was to make apple crumble, banana pancakes with orange slices, pineapple/banana upside down cake, and beef/veg soup. The skies were beginning to darken when I went below, and I managed to miss all the squall activity that soaked the others...

Scenic Bay of Islands
Scenic Bay of Islands
The rest of the day was dedicated to tidying, stowing, cooking and sweeping. After our 2014 experience, where the Customs and Quarantine folks were on board almost as soon as the dock lines were across, we wanted to the overall impression of Fluenta to be a tidy and ship-shape vessel, and we succeeded.

Debbie won the prize (chips and bragging rights) for seeing land first; everyone was excited to make landfall. As directed, we called Customs when we had an hour to go (shortly after 5pm). When we didn't get an answer, we started to hope that this meant that we would stay on the "Q" dock overnight and get cleared in the morning; we were so grateful when it turned out that this was a good assumption :)

With the wonders of a $10 wifi code, Debbie was able to sort out her travel plans - it turned out that she had NZ family who would drive her to Auckland on Friday, setting her up to catch a 7:30 flight on Saturday morning. She was able to go from the airport to the dock and sail in a high-end race in Sydney that she had assumed she would have to miss. This turned our arrival evening into a going-away party, so we doubly had reason to celebrate :) I love perfect timing!

We arrived on the Q dock at 1800, 8 1/2 days since we had left Fiji. We had a lovely evening, eating all our leftover food (beef & veg soup and pineapple cake for dessert...) and enjoyed our cozy, tidy saloon.

Customs clearance on Friday morning was quick and efficient. We printed all the forms they needed, laid out all the fresh fruit & veg that were left (basically some cucumbers and ginger roots) which the bio-security officers took, as well as our small bit of dairy (yogurt and milk), which they did not take, and gave the officers a tour of the compartments of the boat. Even the kids helped with the tour - Victoria showed them around the kids' cabin, and Johnathan showed them the battery compartment under the aft bunk. The inspection went quickly, and before we knew it, Debbie had been driven ashore, and we had picked up a mooring in the anchor field.

We were ready to sleep for days, but in fact, we were just in time for the All Points Rally (Islands to Opua) wrap-up events!

Love to all,

At 11/19/2015 5:49 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 35°18.80'S 174°07.35'E

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Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Fiji to NZ - Day 6 - 16 Nov - Pumpkin Pie and Vangs !


Pumpkin Pie at Sea - note the harness on Victoria so she can come up the cockpit for fresh air
It was tempting to skip writing this evening, as the boat is rollicking along in 17-20 kts of wind, the bioluminescence is surging around the hull, and we are anticipating a front (weather) before morning ... but Victoria baked a pumpkin pie today from scratch, and I forgot to mention that Max fixed the vang yesterday, and this needs reporting!

Yesterday morning, I woke at 5:55 to hear Debbie asking Max to come to the cockpit. A pin had just jumped out of some where, and she had heard it when it landed on the deck (thank goodness). It turned out to be the pin that held the boom vang to the boom. They managed to maneuver the vang back into place, re-insert the pin, and re-wrap it with seizing wire to keep it secure. This could have gone very badly if the pin had fallen overboard or Debbie hadn't heard it fall. We have lots of spare pins, but that one is a special size, and we didn't have more like it. (The whole piece is on the refresh list for NZ, as it looks like the rolly seas have caused something about it to warp or twist, which has put unusual loads where the pin goes) ... This is my low-tech description of what Max did .. he may add more to the blog about it. I do not always feel grateful in this cruising life, but it is these small things that I hang onto when that is the case - daylight not darkness at 0600, smart crew, pins landing on decks instead of in the sea, and a clever husband who could put it all back together. Suffice to say I was very happy as I tucked back in beside Benjamin!

Now onto today ... it was a lovely day of sailing. We gybed in the morning, and our new point of sail was more comfortable - the waves were just rolling under Fluenta instead of rolling us from side to side. Sky and water were both deep shades of blue. The sun was shining. It is days like this that I look forward to :)

Victoria has been scouring my old Fanny Farmer cookbook for several days, looking for something she could bake to pass the time. When she would ask what I would like her to bake, I wasn't very enthusiastic, but finally I told her that, since we had a pumpkin that needed to be used, she could try a pumpkin pie. She found the pie and pastry recipes, and I found a recipe for evaporated milk based on milk powder in my Boat Galley cookbook. The only proviso on the whole operation was that I was not going to help her any more than necessary.

This morning, she made the pie crust (no-fail, with an egg) by herself, and put it into the fridge. Following this, she put the pumpkin into the oven to soften before cutting it, but it was rolling around so much that I took pity on her and cut it into chunks with the big knife. After the pumpkin was roasted and cooled, she scraped it into the Magic Bullet jar and pureed it. By this time, I was heading off watch, and she was on her own ... she mixed the pumpkin, egg, milk powder and a small bit of water together with the spices, rolled out her pastry, lined the Paderno frying pan she was using (given that we have no pie tins onboard), and set her pie to bake. After a quick consult, she used a pot lid for the early stage of cooking so that all the filling would not slop out onto the oven when the boat rolled, and by the time I woke to come on watch again, a pie was cooling on the stove :)

Dinner was lasagne that Debbie made in Fiji and has been biding its time in our freezer, followed by Victoria's delicious pie. She will be allowed to bake again. There wasn't even any mess to speak of when she was finished :)

More news tomorrow night,

Love to all,
At 11/16/2015 7:51 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 30°28.35'S 172°54.21'E
At 11/17/2015 7:51 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 31°40.72'S 173°10.63'E

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Monday, 16 November 2015

Fiji to NZ - Day 5 - 15 Nov - Broad Reach and Bioluminescence


I will keep this note short as my lovely night watch is almost over. Once again, I took the after-dinner watch and enjoyed the evening with Victoria, Johnathan, and Benjamin, until they each fell asleep on their own time. Benjamin slept in my arms for ages, and I was able to read a book (in 15-min increments, between scanning the horizon for squalls, traffic, etc).

The seas have calmed down, and the wind has backed behind us, so we are running downwind on a broad reach. The boat still rolls side to side as the ocean swells pass under us, but the motion is less disruptive than before. We still need to move from handhold to handhold to pass through the cabin, but it is much more comfortable. You can imagine how funny it is to watch Benjamin stumble from place to place :)

We are rocketing along at between 6-7+ kts with the wind behind us. It looks like we will gybe for the first time since Fiji within the next few hours, as the wind has backed towards the north to the point that our course is about 30 deg off our route. We have been on a starboard tack for so long that I will have to look around the boat and make sure that all the things that have leaned themselves against something to the right are not going to suddenly crash to the floor when the boat heels to port!

We are back in the realm of bioluminescence. Even though I know that there are rational, scientific reasons for the lovely points of light that tumble around the wake of the boat, I can't help but think that we are surrounded by fairies and other happy spirits. With countless stars in the clear sky and joyful lights in the water, this is a magical place to be.

Everyone has their sea legs, we had our third meal of fresh tuna for dinner, we are settled onto a watch rotation that seems to work, and we have passed the half-way mark (duly celebrated with a bag of salt & vinegar chips). All is well.

Love to everyone,
At 11/15/2015 6:58 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 27°33.88'S 172°59.97'E
At 11/15/2015 2:36 PM (utc) SV Fluenta was 28°24.87'S 173°16.30'E

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Sunday, 15 November 2015

Fiji to NZ - Day 4 - 14 Nov - Big Seas


If the first few days of our passage were lovely and calm, today was kind of the opposite.

We had big rolly seas from shortly after sunrise until well past sunset. I have to admit to feeling not-very-impressed this morning as I contemplated another week on passage! Thankfully, according to Bob McDavitt, these should be the biggest seas of the week, and they are already abating as I write to you at midnight. For those who care, they were about 3m and quite steep, which caused the boat to roll in every direction.

Debbie had the morning watch today. When I came up after my off-watch nap, she had all three kids by herself in the cockpit, and was actively reefing and unfurling the genoa as the winds fluctuated. As a racer used to sailing between Sydney and Hobart, she is well used to sailing in lumpy conditions but the kid factor is a bit new. Thankfully, she is undaunted by these challenges :)

The trick this afternoon turned out to be slowing the boat down: during my afternoon watch we were really rising up and landing vigourously (ie crashing down with spray going in all directions) into many of the waves, in 17-19 kts of wind, Max suggested further reefing the genoa. We slowed down from 7+ kts to about 5 kts, and the motion immediately became more comfortable. I wouldn't have guessed that this would happen - I had thought we just had to hang on until the conditions improved!

Despite having secured our aft deck for sea before we left Fiji, these seas have done a number on our lacings and lashings. Max had quite a job doing his daily sunset rounds, making sure that all our belongings were secured in their rightful places (there are several other boats making this run this week - I am sure that none of them have a bright yellow plastic motorbike lashed to their stern!).

We are trialing a new Benjamin-based watch schedule: I did the after-supper watch and kept him in the cockpit until he eventually fell asleep Debbie and Max will do the middle of the night watches and I will take over again in the morning. The hope is that I will then be able to sleep from mid-morning until after Benjamin's afternoon nap. It has been hard to coordinate my sleep schedule with Benjamin's, so this is a new attempt. After missing his early afternoon nap (he was almost asleep when the pot cupboard crashed open, so we missed our window), and then falling asleep on my lap at 3:30, I wasn't hopeful for an early night, but he was asleep by 9:30. We'll see how it goes.

For me, the highlight of the day happened in the evening: Victoria and Johnathan were in the cockpit, and we started to sing together as we waited for sunset. We did a decent rendition of "Fire's Burning" as a 3-part round, and both kids had fun participating. Without a songbook, we went by memory, but we came up with a few songs that we all knew, and I believe this will happen again when we are on watch together. I have been envious of the Fijians passing their culture along so seamlessly to their children (with kids as young as three standing with their mothers to sing in the choirs) and this evening it felt like our turn :)

Max has drawn a "motoring circle" around Opua on our chart. Once we are within this circle, we should have enough diesel to motor the rest of the way, if necessary. When I sat at the laptop to compose this email, the little green symbol for Fluenta on the chart had just crossed into it. We don't expect to have to motor much more than a few hours during a couple more periods of light winds, but it is a relief to know that if something should happen, we can expect to have the diesel to make it to port. (Of course, I have included this tidbit because I suspect there are some readers (mothers, sisters, etc) who are also relieved to know that we are this close to NZ!)

Despite the lumpy/rolly conditions, spirits are cheerful, and Fluenta is sailing well.

Love to you all,
At 11/14/2015 5:23 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 25°02.04'S 173°01.52'E
At 11/14/2015 10:53 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 25°31.00'S 172°58.00'E

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Saturday, 14 November 2015

Fiji to NZ - Day 3 - 13 Nov - a little bit of everything


You won't be seeing this Fijian greeting for a while, so I thought I would use it tonight :) Bula, Bula!

Day 3 has seen us continuing our steady progress towards NZ. Most of our weather has been dry & sunny, but we passed a band of rain this evening (just before dinner ... so we had cold seared tuna with cold fried rice after we were through it).

Victoria has been crocheting up a storm - she is working on a toy for some friends of ours, which she is designing as she goes. Johnathan read and played with Benjamin most of the day. As for Benjamin, he divides his time between telling us all the words he knows, playing on his motorbike in the cockpit, and nursing. Thankfully, we have Victoria and Johnathan to translate for us, because sometimes we need them (who else could know that "panka" was pencil??). He likes to go through all his words in categories, with one of us repeating each one as he says it: "taxi" "taxi"; "bus" "bus"; "tar" "car"; "tuck" "truck"; "helico" "helicopter"; "impy" "airplane"; "aggie" "Alex"; "bommie" "Brendan"; "Gecko" "Gecko" (Tim); "Di-aaaan" "Deanne"; "Gigi" "Gigi"; "Fampa" "Grandpa" etc, etc. As you can imagine, this is keeping us busy for longer and longer periods of time as he learns more words. Benjamin's other favourite activity is to draw on pieces of paper. A few weeks ago, Victoria and Johnathan began teaching him to make the letter "B" ("down-up-bump-bump"). Ever since, he has associated the letter B with drawing; we will hear an insistent little voice telling us "B-B-B-B" and we will know that he wants paper and a pencil. We have to react quickly so that he doesn't take whatever is nearest (eg a sharpie marker) and draw on whatever is closest (eg the cushions)!

We had a few periods of motoring through some squally areas throughout the evening/night. The winds have gone from 5 kts to 10-15 kts, and back again, several times. This has kept us on our toes, especially because Benjamin has been hard to settle the last two evenings. As soon as it is my turn to go on watch, it seems like he needs me, and he doesn't want to sleep on the port bench in the saloon. Last night, we lived with some noise (Max/Johnathan on watch trying to entertain him while I was off-watch attempting to sleep). Tonight, we thought we were ahead of the game when he went to sleep at 9pm (early for him) and I was slated for the first evening watch, but when he woke at 11pm, just as Max was going to sleep, Benjamin wouldn't settle, so we ended up switching on the fly: he took the early night, I took the mid-night, and Debbie has just come on for the (slightly early due to Benjamin stirring just as the wind picked up ...) end-of-night. So it goes. The sun will be up soon, and we will be on to another day :)

When the GRIBs didn't match our conditions this evening (forecast was for 13 kts and we were motoring in 4 kts), Max sent for an update from our weather guru, Bob McDavitt. We have already received up-to-date routing that agrees with the conclusions that he was beginning to form from this end. It is nice to have the technology to do this on passage: low-bandwidth and high speed (SSB radio, laptop, and human beings)!

Love to everyone,
At 11/13/2015 12:50 PM (utc) SV Fluenta was 23°26.63'S 173°13.65'E
At 11/13/2015 7:47 PM (utc) SV Fluenta was 24°03.63'S 173°09.14'E

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Friday, 13 November 2015

Fiji to NZ - Day 2 - 12 Nov - A lovely day offshore


The sun has already risen on Day 3 (hooray for Debbie being our third adult - I was off-watch most of the night!) so I will give you a quick note about Day 2 :)

Seas - lovely and calm, with a bit of ocean swell
Wind - lovely and calm (6-15 kts)
Boatspeed/Course - 5-8 kts, within 20 deg of our desired route (which right now is a course of 202 deg M)
Food - fresh tuna from Day 1, marinated and seared on a hot pan, with green beans from the market and cooked-ahead noodles
Cheer - everyone is in good humour
Current - mostly against us, sometimes as much as knot. Oh well

All in all, we are feeling good, the boat is handling well, and the kids have emerged from their day-1 haze to be active and chatty participants in the passage. Benjamin, as ever, keeps us all busy, and doesn't always sleep when we want him to. A big change from last year, is that my sleeping has been de-coupled from his: I can go off-watch while he is awake, and he will play in the cockpit with the kids, Max & Debbie. This is lovely!

Love and thanks for your best wishes to all,

At 11/12/2015 7:04 PM (utc) SV Fluenta was 21°55.94'S 174°08.64'E

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Thursday, 12 November 2015

Passage to NZ - Day 1 - 11 Nov


After days of last-minute repairs, watching the weather, and resting/relaxing at Musket Cove Marina, we are underway for NZ.

I am glad that pictures are worth thousands of words, because Max has been keeping you well updated for the last couple of months; somehow my last "epistle" was in mid-Sep! Since then we have been in Savusavu (so far our favourite Fijian town in which to spend any length of time), Taveuni (the island where Max's parents spend their Canadian winters), and Nadi/Port Denarau/Musket Cove (where we did some critical (and unexpected) last minute repairs, and were joined by Debbie, a delightful and experienced sailor who has come to us from Australia through a family connection in NS. Small world!) Each of these could merit their own email, but for tonight, I will simply bring you up to date on our first day of this passage.

Max has been watching the weather constantly for the last few weeks, analyzing GRIB files, reviewing numerous weather sources/sites, and consulting with our weather guru, Bob McDavitt. This weather window (leaving Fiji on 11 Nov) has looked pretty stable for the last few days (a good sign) so we left Musket Cove and cleared out at Vuda Point Marina in order to go through the pass on Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, we have provisioned, eaten our provisions, and provisioned again. Debbie and I did a big cooking night just before we left, so our fridge and freezer are packed with yummy treats: mac & cheese, lasagne, sausages, boiled eggs, rice, and pancakes, not to mention the oatmeal cookies that Debbie and Victoria had already made :) Even if no one feels like cooking, we will eat well!

It was perfectly calm as we motored towards the pass and entered the ocean; it felt a bit like being the first ones to show up at a party and wondering if we had the wrong date! Thankfully, we only had to motor for a short while before the winds filled in. This would have been too early to be using up our diesel!

Once underway, we quickly fell into a watch routine. One-in-three is so much nicer than one-in-two! After a nap in the afternoon and a sleep through much of the night, I feel more rested than I sometimes do at home :) The sea-state is calm, the winds are 10-15 kts (as forecast) and the boat is happily scooting along at 6-7 kts. We have about a knot of current against us, so it is a bit disheartening to see our speed over ground (SOG) so much lower, but so it goes. The current pushed us out of the lagoon this morning, which was nice.

Thankfully, even a full fridge can always squeeze in some more food: we caught our first fish this afternoon. We didn't immediately recognize it, but it was some kind of tuna with very red meat (skipjack or bonito, I think). We will eat some tomorrow and freeze the rest for NZ.

Benjamin didn't take long once we were underway to add his favourite toy to the cockpit - he has a toddler sized ride-on motorbike which exactly fits into the cockpit-well. When we left NZ, he couldn't touch his feet to the ground on both sides at once, but he has grown enough that now he can. With the movement of the boat, he has a great time, starting his engine (the only motorbike that I know of that has a pull-cord starting mechanism), and driving in place. Victoria and Johnathan, as is usual for the first day at sea, were sleepy but cheerful. They divided their time between reading books, helping with Benjamin, and helping with boat jobs (reefing the genoa and fishing).

We are making good progress, and spirits are happy aboard. We can't ask for much more than that :)

Love to all,
At 11/11/2015 6:54 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was 18°48.68'S 176°29.45'E
At 12/30/1899 12:00 AM (utc) SV Fluenta was <lon>

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Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Adventures in Weather Window Waiting: Halloween, Dingy Surfing, and Maintenance in Denerau and Musket Cove plus Cloud 9

After our nice passage from Taveuni it was time to finish preps for the passage to NZ and get ready for Debbie to arrive.  Debbie will be crewing with us to NZ.  She is from Nova Scotia but living in Australia.  An accomplished racing sailor, she met Liz's Dad in Halifax following the Convoy Cup race and he mentioned that were looking for crew for the Fiji to NZ passage.  And now she is here which is great.

We were pretty much ready for the weather window when I found out that some of the plumbing fixtures I installed in Mexico were totally rotten and were about to let the ocean into the boat.  Not ideal but convenient to be in Denerau where we could get parts machined.  It took a few days to get parts made and for me to install it so we missed that window.  No hardship - we moved over to Musket Cove which was considerably quieter than when we visited earlier in the season.  To liven things up we also went out to Cloud 9 for a chance to play tourist.

Several of the yachts had helicopters.  We were the only ones with diapers drying on the lifelines.
Us hanging out with the mega yachts in Port Denerau - photo from the foredeck of Fluenta

Improving the wiring for the autopilot.  There was a bit of voltage drop in the feed to the autopilot so I routed it more directly and with bigger cables.  More power must be better !

Victoria making jam

More adventures in provisioning.

Victoria helping make a new pole for the solar panel supports.  We of course have spare PVC onboard ... Our friends SV Red across the jetty from us.

Arrghh ... Our little pirate on Halloween. 

Yes, Port Denerau has a Hard Rock Cafe.  Not really very Fiji-like at Denerau.

Reverse Halloween - Johnathan and Victoria gave candy to the mega yachts

Trick or Treat at a mega yacht passerelle.

Victoria teaching rainbow looming to a younger cruiser kid she met that day.

Benjamin helping Debbie with her work.

Can you see Fluenta in the picture ?

Annual family photo

Victoria driving us to Musket Cove

Hardship: waiting for a weather window at Musket Cove

Hardship: waiting for a weather window at Musket Cove

Hardship: waiting for a weather window at Musket Cove
The view from Liz's yoga mat.
The rubber in the outboard prop stripped so ... time to go on the dock until I got a replacement.  Thank you SV Kiapa for the prop.

Hardship: waiting for a weather window at Musket Cove

Hardship: waiting for a weather window at Musket Cove

Hardship: waiting for a weather window at Musket Cove.  Fluenta on the dock.

Hardship: waiting for a weather window at Musket Cove.

We were not getting in enough sailing we rented a Hobie Cat.  Luckily Debbie has lots of experience in Hobies.

Dingy surfing

Even Dads get to play
Hang on !

Debbie being a good sport

Why not have two kids surfing at the same time ?

Cloud 9.  Benjamin somehow changed the camera settings so we get a date stamp ...

The view from Cloud 9.  Fluenta again the only boat with diapers on the line,

Cloud 9

The view from Cloud 9

Sunday, 8 November 2015

A Fishing Frenzy and Tricycles in the Cockpit - Passage from Taveuni to Nadi

Alas, the clock was ticking and cyclone season was/is looming so we left my parents in Taveuni and sailed for Nadi.  It was one of our nicest passages to date: catching the ebb through Somosomo Strait, a nice fast close reach across the Koro Sea and and broad reach past Suva and through the Mbenga passage.  We shot through Navula Passage in the dark with Victoria guiding us through the range and anchored off Denerau just before midnight.

And ... we caught a few fish ... The first day we caught a big wahoo (our first for the season) and then a 43 lb yellow fin tuna (my favourite).  The next day we caught two decent size mahi mahi (one was 35 lb and the other slightly smaller).  We have been eating fish everyday and the freezer is full.

Nice conditions

Calm enough on the downwind leg for tricycle riding.  Benjamin saw the tricycle lashed to the pushpit and insisted it be brought to the cockpit.

Not a lot of room to ride though.

Wahoo !

And tuna !

Pretty high tech kit - we only use hand lines.  I pull in the line hand over hand and one of the kids takes up the slack on the yoyo reel.

Mahi mahi

Mahi mahi

Of course, all this fish means a lot work to process to prepare and store it safely.  The freezer is full.  Each fish is about eight full meals for the family with generous portions that turn into leftovers.

Heading into Denerau the next day to hang out with the megayachts.

Taveuni - The Garden Isle.

My parents live in Taveuni for part of the year so this season we cooked up the plan to meet them in Fiji.  They flew into Labasa and bused to Savusavu.  We had a few wet days in Savusavu as TD02 went far to the west of Fiji.

Once the weather cleared we sailing from Savusavu - motored actually in total calm - to Paradise Resort (already covered in this blog post).  After a very nice night at Paradise Resort we went up the Somosomo Strait to anchor relatively close to my parent's house.

We had a few lovely days at their place, now dubbed "The Plantation".  The kids stayed with my folks and Liz and I (and Benjamin) spent most of the day there and then back to the boat at night.

Hurray ! Granny and Grandpa are here.

Selecting an anchorage near the house.

Everybody eats well in Taveuni.  Even the geckos.

Boats and sharks and stuff. That is normal but trucks are soooo cool.

Arrived at the Plantation and Grandpa pops the bubbly.

A great view over the Somosomo Strait (and their cyclone shelter)

The new house in the foreground and the old tin house they lived in for the first few years in the background to the left.

Grandpa's Pineapples - the best pineapple I ever had.

Benjamin checking out some of Grandpa's bananas.

More sunsets in paradise

Hmm ... seems like  a good idea.

Sliding down the natural waterslide.

Three generations of bookworms

Victoria grating coconut.  The old house behind her.

More diapers in exotic locations ...

Uniform cleaning day,

We had a great evening with my parent's Indo-Fijian neighbours up the hill.  The ladies.

Kava time with the neighbours. A great evening.

We had already said our goodbyes to Exodus in Savusavu but who should happen to sail up the Somosomo Strait for supplies but Exodus.  My parents drove them into town and here the kids help them load up.

Torch Ginger Flower

The driveway ...

Family portrait before we depart.  Not sure what mode Benjamin put the camera on though ...