Friday, April 17, 2009

Opua to Musket Cove

Hello to all, apologies for not communicating quicker,

It's Monday the 13th Fiji date and this is the last day of the Fijian four day Easter holiday. We're on a nice mooring at Musket Cove where all the amenities are available including, just very recently, wifi in the mooring field.

Several friends have expressed interest in the voyage up from NZ since we were one of the first boats going north this season. We were told by customs we were the 14th boat to check in this season (from anywhere) and the second in Lautoka. There are five boats now in Musket Cove. Two long timers, then 'Swan', ourselves and, yesterday afternoon, Alpheratz arrived.

I wouldn't have departed on this passage as we did with just Janet and me aboard. The forecast from Commanders and the gribs from metvuw and sailmail all showed a very rough ride on a beam reach with 15-18 ft seas on the beam in 35-40 knots of wind in the central portion of the rumb line course. So that idea was out the question as far as I was concerned. By falling off a little to the west things were forecast to moderate somewhat. We could have also waited a couple days and had a more comfortable initial portion of the passage but then the forecast later on looked iffy. My guys were spring loaded to go. One has considerable blue water experience and the others are great lakes sailors. It didn't look actually dangerous, just uncomfortable, so we went. And that's pretty much what proved to be the case. We headed due north from Opua and had 25-30 knots on the beam with seas up to fifteen feet for the first three days. Everybody was pretty beat up and a couple guys who claimed never to have been sick, were. We spent that portion of the trip with a double reefed main and the stays'l set on a beam reach. After day three things moderated considerably and we had three days of increasingly lovely sailing, really very nice. The last day we had very light air and some heavy rain. I was hoping for a six day passage but the light air at the end and one day of adverse current in the middle of the course caused it to be seven days and two hours from setting sail in the Bay of Islands to the entrance to Navula Passage in Fiji. A quick and, ultimately, very enjoyable trip with some old friends. It has all been a great pleasure.

As far as trip planning for coming up from NZ goes I would say the gribs proved to be pretty accurate and Commanders Wx was fairly accurate but they were also pessimistic in their general assessment and suggested a routing quite a ways further west than the course we actually took. They seemed pretty sure we would get 40 knots of wind enroute and we only saw 30 a few times. They were forecasting 15-18 foot seas and we had maybe 15 during the worst. We used the Pacific Seafarers Net for HAM check in throughout the trip and they were very professional as always. We had really excellent propagation for sailmail mostly using the Australian Firefly station on 8442 during nights. Things were a little slower but still usable on the higher frequencies during the day. We caught some very nice Mahi after it calmed down and we could fish comfortably. Everything held together and we had no problems except that the clew in the second reef in the main wants to chafe through reefing lines. We didn't actually let that happen but it's eating it's way through some heavy anti-chafe gear and I haven't yet figured out why. The hydro-vane performed beautifully through the trip. The new bearings work very well for this boat.

There is one significant and potentially dangerous omission on our c-map charts. The paper charts and Pub.126, Sailing Directions (enroute) Pacific islands, Seventh Editions. Sec.par 5.2, shows Ceva-i-Ra Reef, called Conway Reef until 1976, at 21.44S, 174.38E. This spot could ruin your whole day if you were falling off to the west of the rumb line between Opua and Fiji AND I CAN'T FIND IT ON ANY SCALE OF MY C-MAP CHARTS. This is the first time I've encountered this and it' s not very reassuring.

Check in at Lautoka went very well but we were very lucky because it was Easter and we might have had to wait for days. Poor planning on my part but a good outcome. Customs etc, were all very nice and considerate but it took a couple hours. You anchor off the wharf in Lautoka and go pick up customs, etc, in your dinghy to come to your boat. In our case they never even chose to come to the boat. It has been mentioned that a rally is leaving Opua on May 2nd that will have customs check in arranged in Musket Cove. I'd recommend jumping on that if it works into your plans. It's at least three hours from Navula Passage up to Lautoka and there's no reason to go up there other than to check in. The town of Lautoka is a typical tropical third world city. The people are very nice but it's crowded and bustling and dusty. There are interesting markets and the Indian culture adds another element to the scene but you can get that by using other forms of transport rather than traveling at six knots in your boat.

The Navula passage entrance is wide and straight forward but poorly marked. The range is hard to see on the distant shore. Navigation inside is easy enough but many marks are missing or different than charted. Despite what I'd heard our C-Map gps charts seem to be very accurate. But I wouldn't go mucking around in the dark here and I'd I make doubly sure I knew where I really was, this area can be misleading.

Musket Cove is very, very nice. About everything a cruiser wants is here yet it's still quiet and laid back this time of year, From what I've heard, even at the peak it's not nearly as busy as Neiafu. We've just begun to scratch the surface but It's been a very good beginning. I'm also very impressed by what I've seen of the Fijian people. They are quiet and nice but a little more outgoing than the Tongans and seem a little more at ease and confident with strangers. And definitely more efficient. The Indian influence, I believe, is a positive factor and adds a nice mix.

So my buddies are leaving over the next couple days and Janet will be here around the first of May. We'll plan on being here until sometime in July. By 'here' I mean Fiji and probably western Fiji and we look forward to seeing everyone we enjoyed being with so much last season. We hope to see you all very soon.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet and crew, Booth Devitt, Bill Norton and Dan Strehlow

2009 Voyage Begins, Auckland to Fiji

As background, Janet had shoulder surgery on late January and didn't yet feel up to the voyage to Fiji. I rounded up some NWA pilot friends. Dan Strehlow was able to come soon enough to do the trip from Auckand to Opua and then Booth Devitt and Bill Norton showed in Opua and we all did the Voyage to Fiji. Janet should be here around the 1st of May. Let the story begin!

Hello to all,

As this is being written it's just after noon on the boat (Fiji time) and we're about 500 nautical miles north of New Zealand three days en route. Everybody has gotten over the sea sickness although I still don't see much reading being done and there hasn't been a hot meal cooked since we departed. Conditions are still a little rough but seem to moderating a little as forecast. At present we're in the middle of an area which was supposed to be 25-35 knot winds with gusts over 40 and 15-18 foot seas. In reality it's more like 10-12 foot seas and mostly 20-25 knot winds. Much nicer. It's been a beam reach since departure and seas on or just aft the beam so it's been rolly and rough but generally sunny and getting warmer as we make progress north. We've had some beautiful clear nights. Spectacular stars. Everybody seems to be having a good time. The trip is basically a week long BS session with four guys who have flown all their lives for a living, most of it for the same company, who have been friends since university, who are all FFDOs(armed pilots)hunters, fishermen, outdoors men, sailors, etc, etc. There's enough variety of individual experience to keep things interesting but we generally have a great deal in common to fool each other with. There is no mercy here. Some one leaning over the rail puking will only getting urging on for more volume, greater range and better vocals.

The boat has been behaving itself with no problems developing yet (nice boat!!)and life is good. With a little luck the winds and seas will swing around a little more to the south over the next 24 hours and we'll head a little further to the east directly for Fiji. We have been heading pretty much true north for a better sailing angle. I believe we should get into Fiji Friday the 10th (on this side of the date line) but depending on the hour we may or may not choose to do the reef passages. We want good visual conditions. So we may not get checked in at Lautoka until Saturday, we'll see.

So, to summarize, so far it's been a rough but fast ride in a very congenial atmosphere. We're hoping for a little smoother conditions soon where we can go even faster and also catch some fish. I've just threatened the crew with popcorn for dinner and gotten a tepid response. For now it's peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate bars.

Love to all,