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Voyages of Sarah Jean II
We've Arrived at Minerva Reef!
Norm
05/22/2012

At about 10:00 a.m. this morning we traversed the pass from the deep blue see into the protected lagoon of Minerva Reef, the famous circle of coral that sits in the middle of the ocean. We crossed the lagoon to the southeast corner, which seem to offer the best protection from the swells, and dropped the hook in about 50 feet of water. Off the bow of the boat there is a is shallow turquoise bar of shallow, backed by a jagged reef that is getting pummel by a line of huge breakers. The wind is blowing about 20-25 kts from the southeast so the swells hitting Minerva are significant. That being said we are very comfy and secure at anchor inside the reef.

There were 5 boats here when we arrived and 5 more boats came in more or less the same time as us - all part of the good weather window gang that left New Zealand last Thursday, heading to Fiji and Tonga. It seems we all took about 6 days to get here. Mark and the gang on Merkava just took off on a dive drip to the PASS within a few minutes of getting anchored. Talk about keen! One of the other boats organized an excursion, so off it went full of people with a gaggle of dinghies trailing behind. Beth and I decided to just chill out and enjoy being stationary. A good brunch is underway in the galley.

We're not sure how long we'll be here - hopefully 3 - 4 days but that will depend on weather. We'll let you know.

If you want to see where we are, and you have Google Earth loaded on your computer, go to our blog site and then go to our map link. There is a Google Earth map below the regular map. Anyhow, if you look there you should be able to zoom on the atoll and see our position. It looks pretty cool - a blue coral bangle laying in the middle of the sea!

We'll keep in touch with more info when we go exploring . . .

New Zealand to Fji - Day 5
Norm
05/21/2012

All is well on Sarah Jean - no new dramas to report. The last 24 hours have been pretty uneventful - sailing or motor-sailing downwind in light air and flat seas. At noon we were about 100 miles SW of Minerva. So it looks like we will now arrive mid-morning tomorrow - carefully planned so we have good overhead sun for going through the pass and crossing the atoll to the anchorage. We hope to stay there for a few days - just relax and get some sleep, do some snorkeling on the wrecks in the lagoon and maybe hunt for reef lobster after dark. We learned that lobster hunting is done in the middle of the night, walking along the reef at low tide with a powerful flashlight. Friends have caught some big ones so we want to give it a try! Our friends on Merkava are now a few miles behind us owing to our slow down during yesterday's repairs. We have been watching the white sparkle of Merkava's bright new sails getting closer and closer for several hours. We are now in VHF radio range and plan to arrive at Minerva together. Then it will be time for a swim and a cold refreshments! That reminds me - I better check the fridge for beer!

The plans for repairs of yesterday's woes began evolving in my head last night as I listened to tunes and stared off into space. And I just want to point out that staring off into space, particularly when that space full of stars, is a legitimate activity on a boat, especially on night watch. The radar dome is drooping down like one of those tired and forlorn gooseneck desk lamps that have lost the will to shine anywhere but straight down. The break in the support tube is high over the bimini so the repair will involve building some sort of suspended scaffold, climbing onto it, and then an attacking it with a bunch of duct tape and hose clamps. Better strategies may develop when Mark and I, consume beers in Sarah Jean's cockpit tomorrow, in the shadow of the droopy radar dome, studying it for inspiration. Fixing boats in exotic places is what we do so now it is just a matter of choosing the easiest and most elegant solution.

The jammed gearbox on the new autopilot drive was a surprise. Oh well - at least we had a spare. My analogy of the autopilot repair process, done yesterday in a very cramped space, is this: Climb into the trunk of an old MGB. You are carrying a spare car battery as you step in. Your mission is to change the battery - replace the old one with your spare. Close the trunk lid. Now it is dark. Very dark. Have a friend drive the car along a bumpy and winding road. Fast. Make sure it is a hot sunny day and make sure you leave the tools you need on the passenger seat of the car. You do have a headlamp but the batteries are failing. May the force be with you! All joking aside, other than the disappointment of the failure, swapping it over was not a big deal. Once we get to Fiji we will send the broken unit to Auckland for repair and pick it up somewhere down the line.

Breaking News: We just sailed across 180 degrees longitude - the international date line. Gee - what day is it now?

More breaking news: We just started up the water maker after it was moth-balled in storage for 5 months. And it actually works! Yahoo!

Our next update will be from Minerva Reef! One more sleep to go! Until tomorrow . . .

New Zealand to Fiji - Day 4
Beth
05/20/2012

This message is a little late getting out today. We've been busy, Norm in particular. We've had a couple of things to fix on Sarah Jean (after we said how she was working so perfectly!. Yesterday afternoon we noticed our radar dome hanging precariously. Upon closer inspection the metal rod supporting it had cracked. Norm rigged up a suspension system made of line to keep the radar safe for now. We'll figure out a more permanent fix when we get to Fiji.

Today we noticed the steering was quite stiff. Norm investigated which involved crawling down in our lazarette (storage compartment under the cockpit). Luckily the wind had died down today so it made the job more manageable, although certainly not easy. After troubleshooting for some time he determined that our autopilot gear box was shot. Disappointing as this was a brand new autopilot that Norm had just installed in NZ. Luckily my husband plans ahead and we had our old autopilot serviced and with us as a back up. So Norm spent a couple of hours down in the lazarette in 2.5-2 m seas installing the spare autopilot. I think he's amazing! He's excellent at troubleshooting and also has the ability to fix problems as they arise on the boat. I helmed the boat while he was working and fed him a late lunch when he was done. That was my contribution!

We're continuing on our way to North Minerva Reef. Our progress has slowed with less wind and fixing problems. We expect to arrive in Minerva on Wed, NZ time. We're looking forward to a cold beer and a good night's sleep at anchor in Minerva.

Hope everyone is enjoying the May long weekend at home in Vancouver.

New Zealand to Fiji - Day 3
Norm
05/19/2012

The stellar sailing conditions continue! On a passage that is so often an endurance event of high winds and rough seas we have been blessed by the winds gods with blissful smooth downwind sailing. Beth and I have both commented that our trip thus far is reminiscent of trade wind sailing, in particular our passage from Mexico to the Marquesas.

As of noon on Sunday the wind continues to blow a steady 15 knots from the SSW, propelling us along downwind towards Minerva Reef at a comfortable speed of about 7 knots. If this speed holds we should get there by early afternoon on Tuesday. The forecast is for lighter winds, shifting more to the south so time will tell.

Sarah Jean continues to perform flawlessly - surging effortlessly across the endless swells. Our cockpit enclosure has been up the entire voyage and is keeping us very cozy - a secure plastic bubble to protect us from the wind and occasional rain squall. We open up the windward side of the enclosure during the day to let the warm air blow through, and then button it up at night as the temperature drops.

We have been visited by quite a few albatross. The sight of these magnificent birds skimming over the wave tops, disappearing into inky blue canyons between the swells and then suddenly emerging, some distance away in a blinding flash of white, is stirring. We never grow tired of watching their graceful and effortless flight. When in Sydney we attended an exhibit that showed the stomach contents of many of today's sea birds, including the albatross. The collection of plastic objects that these birds scoop up, thinking they are tiny squid, was sad and shocking. Our discarded garbage, that is afloat in the ocean, is killing these birds in a slow and often agonizing manner. I wonder if the next generation of offshore sailors will enjoy the spectacle these seas birds as we do today. I guess it is up to us.

Last night was another one of those idyllic moments at sea under a blanket of stars. Those who have been there know what I mean. There was no moon and so the brightness of the stars was amplified. Perhaps it was the cool southern atmosphere that made the stars seem so crisp and vibrant. The milky way was creamy and intense, a dramatic swath stretching across the sky, populated by millions of solar systems. As I gazed up, I wondered if anyone was looking back at me. My mind wandered. Perhaps there was an alien sailor on a far off ocean, also looking up at the stars and marveling. My mind wandered further - maybe his ocean was pink and not blue, making him a pink water sailor, and maybe he had four arms and not just two. He would have two for hanging onto the boat and two for tying knots. Now that would be cool, especially in rough conditions! As I said, my mind wandered!

Anyway, it is good to be back at sea again. I enjoy the simplicity and the focus of a passage. It contrasts sharply with our typical busy lives ashore that are full of multiple tasks and priorities. Out here we have time to really look, not just glance, at the twinkling stars, at the lumbering roll of the ocean swells and at the sublime beauty of wheeling seabirds. When it comes to enjoying life's moments, I often find that simple is better and less is more.

Until tomorrow . . .

New Zealand to Fiji - Day 2
Beth
05/18/2012

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.

New Zealand to Fiji - Day 1
Norm
05/17/2012

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!

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