Saturday 25 November 2017

A Bit Wet and Bouncy Onboard

[A further letter home from Liz as the passage progresses]

Date: 23 Nov 2017 13:47:41 -0000


This time last night, Fluenta seemed to be climbing mountains of white, then crashing down in torrents of water on the other side: it was windy and rough and the bioluminescence was extraordinary. Somehow the numbers don't seem to tell the whole story (20-23 kts/2-3 m seas) but we were sailing pretty much close hauled, which made everything more extreme (when we turned downwind this afternoon for Max to do his foredeck inspection, it was sooooo much more comfortable!) Nobody's sea legs appreciated these conditions. [as usual with conditions offshore, it is the sea state rather than the wind that has a greater effect on comfort. In this case the wave height was pretty normal for this part of the world but they were very short period and we were hitting them pretty much head on. With the wave's speed combined with Fluenta's and then the steepness of the wave it resulted in a uncomfortable motion and a lot of water on deck (and, thankfully to a lesser extent, in the cabin). Max]

We had set the staysail just before sunset last night, so the only adjustment to be made in the sails was to reef the main a little more or a little less. There seemed to be a sweet spot at 18-20 kts of true wind (20-25 apparent), but if we got much over 20 we had to reef and if we got under 16 we had to shake it out or we would just wallow in the big waves. The winds were steady and heavy enough last evening that I didn't have to touch the sails (or shake Max) at all during my watch, but this evening, it seemed that I was waking him to change the main hourly. The saving grace is that we have been pretty much on course for most of the day, with wind-hold set (and cooperating) between 50-65 deg (much more comfortable than 45!)

It was bad enough in the cockpit, and it seemed worse downstairs without the benefit of the horizon - Fluenta was rolling and lurching and crashing down as we met the peaks and then the troughs of the waves, making loud creaks and groans as a result. Everyone had trouble falling asleep until we got used to the motion - it is just not natural to be on an amusement ride while lying in your bunk. To be clear, the conditions weren't dangerous, but we sure didn't like them! It is no fun to have your home shaken and stirred, with water coming in all manner of new leaks, for hours on end. A day later, we seem to be through the worst of it, and we now have winds in the mid-teens with a much calmer (ie normal) seastate. Thank goodness!

As usual, Victoria and Johnathan have been maintaining their upstairs/downstairs watches and Victoria has been cheerfully handling daytime duties, giving us time to recover from the night watches. The lovely thing of all of this is that the parent on watch with her gets some pretty nice one-on-one time. Benjamin appears to be totally unaffected by the seastate, and cheerfully gobbles down crackers, peanut butter, and cheese or (his new, on-passage only, favourite) rice crispies and milk, while enthusiastically singing the Christmas songs and nursery rhymes that Victoria has been teaching him; when he was not allowed to come upstairs when I was on watch tonight (with water coming into the cockpit with every wave I didn't think it was the place for him), he happily played video games with Johnathan downstairs (and as a special Mom-on-watch treat, he got to use 'Mom's iPad' which bought me some extra time).

We will celebrate coming out the other side of these conditions tomorrow regardless of the distance to New Zealand, and we will all be glad to see the last of the dark grey skies that hovered over us most of last night and today. They seem to have cleared into a broad expanse of stars tonight :)

I thought you might like to know that it isn't all calm turquoise anchorages and sunny skies with light winds ... still, all in all, we are well and glad to be getting closer with every wave to NZ.

Much love to all,
At 2017-11-06 1:39 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 29°51.12'S 172°57.72'E

Friday 24 November 2017

Turning Right

[Oops, it appears I managed to post the last half of Liz's last letter several times. The joys of trying to do blogs remotely with the Iridium Mail app. I will fix the blog when we re-enter the world of Internet. Here is the next in the series of Liz's letters home]

Date: 22 Nov 2017 07:02:41 -0000


This is a quick update after my last epistle - partly because there is not much more to say, and partly because it is no fun to sit at the chart table at the moment!

After several leisurely days of sailing/motoring eastwards from New Caledonia, the winds filled in yesterday afternoon pretty much on schedule at the 'point in the ocean' to which we had been heading. We celebrated with a 'right turn party' as we hoisted the sails for the first time in the new direction and our chartplotter waypoint was in the Bay of Islands. It seemed appropriate that our snacks were a combination of stale-ish treats from earlier in the voyage and new treats from New Caledonia. The next milestone will be half-way down the long leg (or about 300 nm to go).

The last 24 hours on this leg have been boisterous once again (thus the short email). Winds have not been too bad (+/- 12 kts) and we have actually had pretty much full sails to keep our forward motion in the building waves, but Fluenta's motion has increased significantly. You heard about FISH TV in my last email; today we have been watching "WAVE TV": the only entertainment is watching the bow disappear into the waves and listening to the sound of the water sloshing by on the side decks. (Our other choice is "AIS TV" but we have only had one contact so far since Saturday, so it is a quiet channel at the moment.)

We expect the wind to build tonight, and are standing by to hoist our staysail, but so far, we are seeing pretty steady 12 kts. Our southerly track is frustrating to watch: the same current that slowed our eastward progress continues to push us west at >1 kt, so we are over 30 nm to the right of our desired track after a only day on this course. Our weather guru (Met Bob) has indicated that this current should reduce and we should run into a southerly current soon which will help our progress in the right direction; we can also anticipate lighter winds at the end if we still need to correct our course. We expect to spend the rest of the week sailing as close to the wind as we can (close hauled to close reaching); I spent all of last evening 'hand steering' with our autopilot remote, changing course a few degrees each way with the wind shifts, as 'wind hold' was oversteering (thus slowing the boat, and overworking the autopilot, with wide rudder movements), but thankfully, Max
was able to adjust the settings during his watch, and we have been holding 45 deg all day with minimal inputs.

UPDATE: The winds built just before supper, so we were able to hoist the staysail in the daylight (crew: Max on the foredeck, Victoria on the halyard, myself on the helm and the sheet, and Johnathan downstairs on Benjamin duty - it was a smoothly-tuned family affair!)

On the suspicion that I might feel even less like sitting at the chart table later tonight, I will send this off now :)

Love to all,

Thursday 23 November 2017

Going East to go South

[Part two of two on a recent letter home]

Our Friday 'staging' passage was a lovely sail in the lagoon. With the boat heeled, it was easy to see which items needed to be better lashed before we went offshore, and after an early morning start, we had lots of time in the afternoon/evening to put things to rights :) We anchored with one other (beautiful but unknown to us) boat at Iré, switching roles from our usual positions: I drove, and Max operated the windless. It was a simple scenario, but it was educational for both of us to do the job the other normally does with ease; we will do this more often! It was very windy, with gusts coming from all angles over the hills, but by the morning, there was hardly a breath of wind, and the bay was totally still as we took up our anchor. I always enjoy unusual connections with wildlife as we are entering or leaving a place; on Saturday, we had a curious dugong come by as if to wish us 'fair winds', and some kind of creature has seen fit to deposit jelly-like 'fingers' (egg sacs?) on our anchor chain, which Victoria bravely removed for us. The bay was as different from Gadji as one could imagine, and it, too, was beautiful in its own way. Perhaps it is simply good for the soul to notice the beauty of any location, rather than pining for a particular one.
We had two choices of passes to leave from, and we chose the one that gave us the longest transit of the lagoon, which was ideal for final food preparation and tidying (and even for testing our storm staysail, which we have prepared and ready, which hopefully means we won't have to use it). It was nice to get my entire list checked off!! Once outside the lagoon, Victoria and Max had a fun, if somewhat boisterous, father/daughter afternoon sail, while Johnathan, Benjamin, and I laid low on the aft bunk. No one had their sea legs yet! Once we put a larger reef in the main sail, the motion of the boat calmed down somewhat, and eventually the winds came down from the high teens to around 10 kts which is lovely.
At dawn on Sunday, Victoria and I were on watch to pass a bleak island that not many eyes have seen - Ile Walpole was sitting pretty much on our track just over 100 nm from Ile des Pins, so we gave it a wide (+/- 5 nm) berth. It was flat on top and surrounded by cliffs, giving it a rather menacing impression.
I prepared many of our meals for this passage before we left NZ in May 2016 ... yes, really, this is not a typo: I canned pork and chicken in advance of our trip to Fiji, and we have the last half-dozen jars to use now. Dinner on Saturday night was a pork shepherd's pie using a large jar of canned pork and fresh veg from New Caledonia. As it turned out, there were no hearty appetites on Saturday, so the shepherd's pie became dinner on Sunday as well :) Dinner tonight was a similar concoction of chicken pot pie (complete with pastry crust). I am really glad Max was able to replenish our propane in New Cal by gravity filling from a French tank, as I am glad to be able to use the oven like this!
By Sunday morning, the winds had diminished quite a bit, to the point that we were alternately motoring and sailing. We are spending these three rather light days heading mostly east from New Caledonia to give ourselves the best point of sail for when the forecast wind fill in from the East on Monday/Tuesday. We expect to be hard on the wind in the mid-teens for most of the rest of the trip.
Victoria has been standing the early morning (0430) watch and then entertaining Benjamin with songs and games and colouring all morning. As for Benjamin, he plays a mean game of checkers, Connect-4, and chess (when he is not playing Minecraft or making 'skins' for that game), and is quite happy to be on passage, as it means that his birthday (3 Dec) is getting ever-closer. We haven't seen much of Johnathan yet, as he has been laid low by a cold (and a good book - he found a 1400-page Sherlock Holmes compilation on the Kobo today, so I don't expect to see much of him til we arrive!) Our weather is good (mostly light winds, some heavy grey clouds yesterday and last night but clear today), but even with the rain enclosure we are already finding it chilly to be sitting in the cockpit overnight (of course, there is lots of banter about how well-dressed we will need to be for the passage to Alaska in 2019!)
As I wrap up, it is my favourite time of day - the rest of the boat is sleeping, the stars are out, we are riding on a carpet of bioluminescence, and alternating sailing right down our course in 6-8 kts of wind with motoring in 3-5 kts, floating on the lazy left-over swell from last week's storms south of here. I enjoy the feeling of being alone under an expansive sky, while at the same time using this satcom technology to stay close to family and friends.
Love to you all,

Last few weeks in New Caledonia

[Part one of two from Liz's letter home on the last few weeks in New Caledonia and the first part of the passage to New Zealand].

It has (as usual) taken a couple of days at sea to gather the courage to sit at the chart table and write to you :) It is hard to say which day of our passage this is - officially, we cleared out last Thursday, and left the following day, but in fact, we used Friday as a 'staging' day to position ourselves nearer to the pass and to do our last preparations before setting out for at least a week offshore, and actually started our voyage on Saturday morning. As I write this, it is Monday, and we are nearing out 'mythical turning point in the ocean' where we will stop going east and start sailing towards NZ. The winds are expected to fill in from the East, and without this early jog towards Fiji, we would have had trouble aiming for NZ, and would have found ourselves struggling at the end of the trip to reach Opua.
You haven't seen many emails from us this season; I always thought I would write my note "tomorrow" and it has taken being on passage for "tomorrow" to come!
After our friends on Honey left for NZ in September, we pretty much moved to Ilôt Maître for the month of October, kiting every day and returning to Noumea for a rest (and provisions) on the days when the winds dropped. Victoria and Johnathan even spent a week learning to windsurf when Greer and Russ (and kids Jaiya and Kai) on Tika arrived and offered to teach them - it was like a watersports summer camp! Kiting has a demanding learning curve, and I found it humbling to be climbing it; even with the help of various cruising friends who offered suggestions and moral support, the only way to progress was to continually return to the water and keep trying. On the one hand, it was exhausting, and on the other, it was exhilarating to experience the evolution of new skills. It strikes me that there are life lessons hidden in this experience as well... I knew I was making progress when I shifted from being relieved to be not kiting on super windy days to being disappointed. Max literally came along by leaps and bounds - one of our friends gave him a quick lesson on jumping the the kite, and he was off :)
When a week of light winds were forecast towards the end of October, we left with Tika to explore the Baie de Gadji, which is to the north of the famous Isle of Pines (Ile des Pins). We had hesitated about going, as we have admittedly become a bit jaded about travelling two days to see beautiful anchorages, when we have already seen so many. All I can say is that la Baie de Gadji was worth the effort, and I am glad we went! The shallow waters of the bay were a constant shade of turquoise, that seemed to offer a physically soothing sensation ... Gadji was a destination that was good for the soul.
There are two anchorages at Gadji, an 'inner' and an 'outer' one, with the inner being notoriously shallow, generally only recommended for swing keel monohulls and shallow draft catamarans. The outer anchorage was very crowded, with minimal swing room, when we arrived on Sunday afternoon, and after getting the soundings report from Tika, we elected to give the inner anchorage a try on Monday morning. This was admittedly the most nervous we have been traversing a channel, but we had good light, a rising spring (new moon) tide, and good waypoints, so we took it very slowly, and never saw less than 2.8 ft under the keel. We joked that we would need the spring tide to leave again, and as it turned out, we got it - we stayed two weeks and left on the high tide at the full moon :) Even within the anchorage, Max and Victoria went around in the dinghy with a portable depth sounder and GPS to select the deepest point in the basin to avoid Fluenta bottoming out with each low tide. We took photos of the kids swimming under Fluenta at low tide, and there was just room for them to squeeze under the keel; we also took a photo of Max sitting on the bottom with the keel on his shoulder.
As it turned out, we had a beautiful two weeks in an idyllic location, snorkelling, swimming, swinging from spinnaker poles and halyards, and socializing. The snorkelling was especially beautiful, and we went several times to the nearby pass where the coral was colourful and shallow. For me, the highlight was practicing yoga every day with Greer, sharing my favourite (Eoin Finn) podcasts with her, and learning Ashtanga yoga sequences in return. Victoria and Jaiya spent several days preparing treats for our Halloween party (gooey eyeballs and bloody fingers), and both kids participated in three days of 'Baie de Gadji all-comers regatta' fun: Russel set up a course between the anchored boats and a windward mark, gave a quick briefing on time keeping and rules of the road, and we had two windsurfers, Trickle, and Tika Taka (their 14-ft sailing dinghy) competing against themselves for personal best times, mixing around the teams every few rounds. Even the parents got out on the water! It was delightful to see all the kids' skills improve over the course of a few afternoons, and heartening to see 7-foot Trickle holding her own against the larger Tika Taka; Victoria and Johnathan each took their turn to single-hand Trickle, and Johnathan and Jaiya were a force to be reckoned with in Tika Taka :)
After our 'holiday' at Gadji, it was time to prepare Fluenta and start watching the weather for the passage to NZ. We spent a week in the marina in Noumea while we had an injector hose replaced in our Perkins diesel (we are all for using Rescue Tape when we are far from a marine center, but it seemed foolhardy to set off on a challenging voyage with a known leak... we have already spent one passage to NZ changing out a tin can of diesel in the engine every few hours ... and Max has already discovered another leak, since we left).
Our week on the dock also lent itself to spending a day as tourists: we passed a memorable few hours at the Noumea Aquarium, which we loved: even the kids commented that even though there weren't a lot of exhibits, the ones that they had were worth the visit. Highlights included the "FISH TV" room (ie a big tank containing sharks, rays, an enormous turquoise Napoleon wrasse, several kinds of groupers, a few sweet lips, and many other smaller fish: one wall was entirely made of glass, with a darkened sitting area and soft music playing. I could feel my heart rate and breathing slow as I entered, and all we wanted to do was stay there and watch the fish. I had a similar peaceful experience watching the Nautilus swimming. Their shells are popular beachcombing finds (in fact, we finally have some on board after Max and Johnathan found one on Victoria's birthday at Ilôt Kouaré, and Max found two large ones on a paddle boarding trip at Gadji) but they are rare to see alive, as they live several hundred meters below the surface. The Noumea Aquarium is unique in not only having developed the technology to pressurize the tank to keep the Nautilus alive, but also to have a breeding programme. I had expected them to be like oversized snails, stuck to the glass and moving along the bottom, but in fact, they swam gracefully around the circular tank, shell-first with their soft bodies trailing behind, bumping into each other (imagine aquatic bumper cars) when their paths crossed. We were even privileged to see two of them joined in the 24-hour mating embrace, shells facing each other and bodies gently entwined. It was dim in the nautilus exhibit, but it was totally dark when we went into see the fluorescent coral. There were bioluminescent and phosphorescent varieties of coral and fish, and it was quite fun to catch glimpses of them.
It may have been an unusual year, or this my be typical of departing for NZ from New Caledonia (rather than Fiji, as we have done twice before), but it seemed to take a long time for anything resembling a weather window to materialize. We even managed two more days of kiting at Maître, where we were pleasantly surprised to find that we had retained some of the muscle memory we had developed earlier in the season, but finally a Sat 18 Nov departure seemed to be opening up, and here we are - 'Tomorrow' has come, emails are somewhat caught up, and we are enroute to NZ. [Actually tomorrow came and went a couple of days ago, and I am finally dispatching my Monday morning email on Wednesday afternoon!!]
As I think back over the season, I am again amazed at the generosity of our cruising community, and a few seem to merit special mention in acknowledgement. When our friends Matt & Annie on Cavalo learned that we hadn't gotten a 3G (internet) chip for our iPad (which seemed to be more complicated than for a phone) they showed up one night to lend us one of their two smart phones, as they realized they could function with one. When our Canadian friends James and Chantal on SV Q learned that we could only get cartridges for our printer in Central Americal (where we had bought it) they brought us their printer (and cartridges!) as they had just bought a new one (oh, and they invited us for a beautiful dinner and laundry and pool facilities at their Air BnB before they flew home). Our friends on both Bleu Bie (Philip) and Shenanigans (Carolyn and Rob) were a big part of our learning to kite at Maître. They always had a supportive word or a concrete suggestion when we congregated on the beach. These particular examples don't even begin to mention the hours of hospitality sitting in various cockpits or beach locations sharing stories and wisdom and keeping each other sane. I have always been grateful for the spirit of camaraderie amongst cruisers, and I am particularly so now.
[Part two to follow shortly ]

Monday 6 November 2017

Whales !

On our way across the lagoon on our way to Ilot Amedee, Victoria thought she spotted waves breaking on a reef.  According to the charts (the incredibly accurate charts as compared to the rest of the South Pacific) there was not supposed to be a reef there.  It turned out to be the humpback waves we had hoped to see !

We tried to keep our distance but a mum and calf surfaced half a boat length from us.  Too surprised to get a photo.  Good practice for our intended trip to Tonga next season.

Different marine life ...  These guys blasted by us after seeming to having trouble deciding whether to pass behind or ahead of us.  We were the 'give-way' vessel but hard to do much at 6 kts when the 'give-way' vessel is doing 20 kts and maneuvering all over the place.