The sunrise was beautiful this morning creating a red rim across the eastern horizon. Although it begins to get light around 6 am the sun does not fully appear until 7 am. That makes for a long night out here on the ocean. We've been lucky to have clear mostly clear nights on this passage with lots of stars. The occasional squall will come through with higher winds and rain. We need to watch out for those and reduce sail but they usually don't last long. Generally the hardest thing about these ocean passages I find is getting enough sleep. Norm & I take turns being on watch at night so with only 2 people on board you're up half the night. We then take naps to catch up but somehow the body doesn't like its sleep interrupted. I keep telling myself it's only for a few days until we arrive at Minerva Reef and then we anchor for the night and get a good night's rest. Meanwhile our routine here at sea on passage is very simple - we sleep when we can, eat (usually only small amounts), read, go on watch, adjust sails and repeat - not necessarily in that order. Adjusting the sails usually happens several times per day.
Yesterday there was quite a flutter of VHF radio chatter. We had planned a daily "talk" with Mark on "Merkava" with whom we are buddy boating. He is only 8 miles behind us. After he and Norm spoke on the radio, several other boats in the area who heard us called us on the VHF to have a chat. One boat was a catamaran from Switzerland we met last year in Mopelia. We can't see the boat but they are only 6 miles ahead of us. When I sit in the cockpit watching the waves I wait until Sarah Jean is lifted up high on the crest of the wave and then I scan the horizon for boats. There may be other friends out there! At 5 pm in the afternoon I do 2 radio nets. The ham net is with Peter from our Bluewater Cruising Association. He is located in San Francisco about 6,000 miles away so it's amazing that we can hear each other. Following Peter I check in on a local SSB net of boats currently sailing from NZ to Fiji. On our last night in Opua an informal net was put together with all the people who were in the Cruising Club for their last dinner before heading out to sea.
The SW winds we are currently enjoying have been very consistent and are perfect for taking us to Minerva Reef. We're really excited to see this anchorage in the middle of the ocean. We should arrive there on Tuesday or Wednesday, NZ time.
It's just after lunch on Friday, the sun is shining on sparkling deep blue seas, sooty shearwaters are wheeling and circling around the boat - skimming over the wave tops, a fair wind is at our back and we are en route to the warm waters of Fiji! Life today definitely does not suck!
We left Opua at exactly noon yesterday and enjoyed a gentle downwind sail out of the Bay of Islands to the coast. We were in a fleet of boats, most going to Fiji directly, but some going to Minerva Reef first, like us. AS we pulled away from the protection of the coast the wind picked up and the seas became a little rougher - winds in the 20-25 knot range from the SW and seas in the 2-3 meter range. We had a few squalls pass over. The worst one was on Beth's watch. The wind peaked at 38 knots, according to Beth. I wouldn't know - I was snoozing throughout the episode. It's nice to be not needed!
We are traveling in the company of our friend Mark on Merkava and his 2 crew members. They left about an hour behind us and are currently about 7 miles behind us. So we are moving along at about the same pace. We just had our noon VHF radio net and were surprised to be joined on the radio by 3 other nearby boats that are also en route to Minerva Reef. It seems we have lots of company out here!
The big excitement for the night came on my watch about 1:30 a.m. I was completely engrossed in my book on the life of Steve Jobs of Apple. Excellent book by the way. Anyway, there was suddenly a huge whack followed by loud banging. My first thought was a line had snapped and something loose was now flying around banging the boat. I peered out along the deck and turned on my headlamp. There on the deck was a giant flying fish - maybe 14" long. Certainly the biggest one I have ever seen - the mother of all flying fish. He must have hit the cabin of the boat like a bullet and then been flopping around on the deck. Had we been the starving crew aboard the lifeboat of the ill-fated Essex it would have been game over for the fish. My stomach was full so I nosed him over the side to fly again another day.
Sarah Jean is working perfectly, zooming along at 7-8 knots with a triple reefed main and poled out jib. All the repairs we did in Opua seems to be holding up well. Our plan is to sail at a comfortable pace of about 150 miles per day which will get us to MInerva Reef around noon on Day 5, provided the wind stays reasonably strong. Time will tell.
So all is well! Thanks for listening. Talk to you tomorrow!
It is hard to say goodbye to the beautiful Bay of Islands!
New Zealand has been our home for the past 6 months. We've enjoyed living in Opua in the Bay of Islands. This country is beautiful and the people are so very friendly and hospitable. We explored the North and South Islands in our campervan and have some wonderful memories and a ton of photos. Winter is now approaching in the Southern Hemisphere and so it is time sail north to the tropical islands. This cruising season we will explore Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia and then we'll return to NZ again in late October or early November to escape cyclone season in the South Pacific.
We plan to set sail tomorrow on Thursday, May 17 - New Zealand time. There is a good weather window opening up and about 25 boats are leaving with us tomorrow, including our friend Mark on "Merkava". The wind will be from the SW so it will be behind us and will push us up to Fiji. The passage is about 1,200 nautical miles so it should take us 7-8 days. We may decide to stop at Minerva Reef if the weather is suitable. This is a circular reef where you can enter through the pass anchor in 30' of water. It apparently feels like you are anchoring in the middle of the ocean! Cool!
Norm will write an update each day while we're on passage so you will be able join us on our adventure. The weather is cooler now in NZ. We're wearing jeans and jackets and there have been frequent rain showers. We're looking forward to sunny weather and warm tropical breezes in Fiji. We plan to make landfall at Savusavu on the island of Vanua Levu.
This would be our most ambitious tramping day yet. We really wanted to experience this famous great walk on the shores of Golden and Tasman Bays in Abel Tasman National Park. When we were here a month ago at the beginning of our South Island adventure we kayaked in the park. Now we would enjoy the views of the golden beaches and azure waters from the trails on shore.
The nice lady at the i-site in Takaka suggested a route for us on the coastal track. She looked particularly fit and I hoped that I could do as well as her. I am certainly feeling more fit now after all our hikes in NZ than when we first stepped off the boat after our passage from Tonga last October.
Whew! Norm and I both had tired feet at the end of our day, 28 km and 8 hours later! But wow, it was a wonderful hike. Amazing views, some steep hill climbs and a few moments of relaxing on golden sand beaches. You can catch a water taxi to various places in the park to begin hiking but opted for a full circle loop. We hiked from the carpark in Wainui, up Gibbs Hill to Totaranui, along the beach at Anapai, out to Separation Point, past the Whariwharangi Hut and back to Wainui. The sun came out in the afternoon and yes, Norm took a zillion photos.
Abel Tasman Park is one of my favourite places in NZ. At the west end of the park there are fewer people. We passed only a handful all day on our hike. The town of Takaka is very funky and you can access Cape Farewell from here which is wonderfully remote. I could easily come back to this area of NZ again someday.
Nowhere in the world do glaciers come this close to the sea. The Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers are awe inspiring, both long and steep rivers of ice. As we hiked up to the edge of the glacier helicopters buzzed overhead. It was a picture perfect sunny day and the tour companies were doing a roaring business. Just over the mountain range is Mt. Cook, the highest peak of the Southern Alps. For a price of course, you can fly over Mt. Cook as well. It was tempting being such a glorious day.
The views from the Top 10 Holiday Park at the Franz Joseph Glacier were impressive. Sitting in our lawn chairs with a glass of wine, a good book and a great view was a nice way to end the day.
Beth and Cinda hiking near Wanaka.
They are everywhere. Hiking or tramping as they call it here is so easy in NZ and the tracks are all well marked with signage. When we met up with our cruising buddies Fred & Cinda, in Lake Wanaka it was easy to find a hike to do together. We chose Iron Mountain not far from the town center. We walked and exchanged stories of our respective road trips in New Zealand. Cinda and Fred are both trained outdoor guides from Alaska so they were tenting but staying in the same numerous holiday parks as us with our campervan. We needed more talking time so we hiked the river trail next and watched the fly fisherman catching trout. Fred and Norm reminisced about their fly fishing days.
New Zealand's natural assets entice many to come here. Enjoying the outdoors in ingrained in Kiwi life from family camping trips to elite mountaineering, wandering into the wilderness is a national habit. Tramping or hiking or trekking is the perfect way for an encounter with NZ's natural beauty. There are thousands of kilometers of tracks, many with huts where you can stay the night while completing multi day tramps. The trails and huts are all maintained by the Department of Conversation and they do an amazing job. If you want to stay in the huts you need to book ahead and pay, particularly for the Great Walks, including the popular Milford, Abel Tasman, Queen Charlotte and Tongariro Northern Circuit.
Day hiking is free, even on the Great Walks. We found it's a wonderful way to stay in shape and enjoy NZ's spectacular scenery.
I hope we can continue our "hiking habit" when we are home once again in Beautiful BC.