Seathan did a final weather check early on Tuesday morning and decided the window looked better than initially hoped so we all got into action and started preparing our departure for midday. We rang Customs (who also handle immigration on departure) and they offered to come to see us in Orakei marina which made everything much easier for us. The whole process was fast and efficient and the Customs officer very friendly and professional. We had one form and four departure cards (similar to the ones used in the airport) to fill out and received our clearance document. We were free to go! Karen, the Customs officer, also mentioned that five other boats were getting ready to depart today too and she would pass us their names and details so we could stay in touch once we were out there. Eventually it was mid afternoon by the time we left and we had crammed a lot of final prep into one morning: stowing, another trip to the supermarket and the ships chandlery, filling up with diesel, …
We were happy to throw the lines and say goodbye to Auckland for a second time. It was a beautiful calm afternoon and stayed that way as we sailed into the night. As we headed further north and lost the protection and cover provided by the mainland, the wind grew stronger and day 1 was spent in a heavy sea with winds forward of the beam which translated into a lot of banging and slamming. Even though the kids and I had taken preventive anti-seasickness tablets I didn’t feel so well and neither did Tyrii. Aeneas seemed fine and was happy playing with Lego. Seathan did most of the sailing, cooking and looking after everyone. I managed to do one shift at night so at least Seathan got a few hours sleep.
Day 2 was even heavier and the wind kept building. At one point (and Seathan only told me this afterwards) we measured 45 knots. The waves were steap and high as walls. We knew there would be some heavy weather for a couple of days but this was much worse than expected. Several big waves crashed over the top of the cockpit and slammed in the windscreen. Once it started raining it came down like a waterfall. The kids and I huddled together inside the cockpit which was still protected on one side from the rain by the plastic clears we had put up. Not a happy morning and I have to admit I felt a bit scared. This was probably as heavy a storm as we ever had in our two years away.
In the midst of all this crazy weather we saw a pod of hunting dolphins, six or seven of them jumping in and out of the huge waves in perfect synchronisation. They didn’t seem bothered by the storm at all. A bit later a very gracious big bird came to check us out and we soon realised it was an albatross. Such a beautiful sight to see it gliding past us using its massive wingspan so effortlessly and elegantly. I remembered that the sight of an albatross is meant to be a good omen and although I’m normally not a superstitious person, one is happy to believe anything if it can help getting out of a horrible situation. Sure enough, soon after we experienced a very sudden and significant wind shift of about 120 degrees which meant we could start running with this heavy weather rather than beating into it. What a relief. And although the wind continued to be strong and the sea state remained extremely confused for the rest of the day, we all understood that the worst weather was over and the promised southerly winds had arrived as per the forecast.
Another heavy night followed and again Seathan did most of the sailing. I took over around 2 am and stayed on watch until sunrise to give him some much needed rest. Day 3 followed and things started looking up. The wind was still in the high twenties to mid thirties and the waves very big but at least we were in a following sea. I managed to cook a hot meal for the first time since we left that night. So far we had managed with rice cakes, snacks and pasta and it felt good to get back to normal routines. The kids even got to watch a movie that evening!
And so the next few days got better and better, the wind calmed down, the temperature kept rising and everyone settled into our usual happy routine at sea we hadn’t experienced for a long time. Not that bad after all. I was no longer enviously thinking of that short 3 hour flight from Auckland to Fiji and happily chilled at last. We got used to the night shifts and routine of sleeping 3 hours on and off. During the day Seathan got on with polishing and other maintenance jobs whereas I preferred to nap or read my book. The kids spent most of the day playing with Lego and the evening watching a movie and then making up crazy stories for their cuddly toys once in bed. We were in perfect harmony and nobody minded that the wind was now quite light and it would take us at least one extra day to get there. How things can change in just a few days.
Rehua had handled the heavy weather really well and we were happy to have chosen this boat to take us around the world. As the weather calmed down we realised we had not incurred any breakages and counted ourselves very lucky. The only problem that propped up in the following few days was some sort of autopilot failure whereby all of a sudden the boat would wander off course and head into the wind, sails flapping loudly. Usually, when there is a big windshift or any other change in circumstance, the autopilot will sound an alarm but not this time. It still appeared as if it was working only it wasn’t. That was scary, and it always happened when I was at the helm and Seathan was inside. Several theories and manuals later we discovered it wasn’t a bad connection or electronics failure but quite simply due to interference of the SSB (single side band) radio we use to send emails and get weather reports and to join a daily weather call with Gulf harbour radio. The fact that it kept happening every time Seathan was using the HF soon made that obvious. Simply using a different frequency solved the problem. Phew. I was happy no to have to repeat our last episode of manually steering across the Atlantic with an emergency helmstick.
It’s impossible to predict exact arrival time on a longer crossing so we basically had a 50/50 chance of arriving in daylight. As the winds got lighter we tried several alternative sail combinations: normal genoa and mainsail set up, goose winged, spinnaker, … Eventually we settled for our new code zero sail which worked beautifully for downwind sailing. It gave us maximum output with light winds and is a a great addition to our wardrobe. We relaxed and enjoyed those perfect few days sailing downwind on a flat sea. We slowed down to avoid arriving during the night (too many reefs) and frankly were enjoying the journey itself too much to hurry. The last days of the trip were so pleasant, I almost didn’t want the trip to end. We still experienced a few nasty squalls but overall the weather was perfect and the nights were lit up by the full moon, which makes nighttime sailing so much easier. And as we sailed back into the tropics, the warm tropical temperatures made a welcome return to our lives!
After nearly 8 days at sea, on Wednesday morning, we sighted land. Luscious green mountainous islands started popping up around us, as did many reefs and lower lying atolls. We still had a fair distance to go to Savusavu, where we planned to clear in, and worked our way past many islands for the rest of the afternoon and the evening. In the early hours of Thursday morning, exactly 8.5 days after leaving Auckland we dropped the anchor just outside Savusavu next to Toucan. Our friends had left their AIS on so we could see where they were on our chart plotter as we approached and anchor safely in the dark. We had sailed 1,200 nautical miles (as the crow flies) and this was probably one of our toughest crossings so a a quick celebratory beer was in order before we caught up on some much needed sleep. The next morning we were very happy to see Bruce and Di and then proceeded to Savusavu, a few miles up a creek, to clear in. On the radio, on our way in, we were asked some very strange (but apparently standard official) questions: Did we have mice or rats on board? Did anyone die? Did anyone have fever? Or an infectious disease?
Clearing in was easy enough. Firstly, we were visited onboard by two officials of the Department of Health. Once they were satisfied all was in order, we were allowed to take the yellow Q-flag down and hoist the Fiji flag. A little later followed officials from Immigration, Customs and Biosecurity. A lot of form-filling and then we were free to go ashore. First stop: beer and pizza at the local yacht club!