We've enjoyed some spectacular sunsets in Savusavu. This shot was taken from Sarah Jean's cockpit looking west out into Savusavu Bay.
We arrived in Savusavu this morning at first light. We had an uneventful night last night motor-sailing in a light breeze under the stars. Savusavu is on the island of Vanua Levu. Luckily I had emailed ahead to the Copra Shed Marina to reserve a mooring as it is very busy here with all the boats that have sailed from NZ. There must be over 50 boats in the mooring field. Tons of palm trees on shore. It feels a lot like the Marquesas here - very dense rainforest.
We are on a mooring now. It's nice and peaceful compared to the strong winds blowing at Minerva Reef. We have a light rain shower coming down but very warm and tropical. The customs people should be out to the boat soon to check us into the county. We may have a short nap and then this afternoon it will be time for beers on the deck of the Savusavu Yacht Club. We were here in 2009 when we sailed from Samoa on Mahina Tiare II with John & Amanda Neal so it's good to be back on our own boat now. Sarah Jean is getting the salt washed off her with this rain shower.
All is well on board with both VERY happy to be here! There are lots of boats here that we know from when we crossed the Pacific last year or who we know from Minerva Reef or Opua - so it should be fun here! Mark on Merkava is here too. We'll be in touch in a few days to give you an update on the town of Savusavu and let you know what's happening here in Fiji.
BREAKING NEWS: Dorothy, we are no longer in Kansas - we are in the tropics! The cabin temperature has now hit the magical 30 degrees C mark. It is hot. It is humid. I am perspiring. Beth is glowing. We have finally arrived in the land of jumping into the water without hesitation, where jeans are bagged and stored, and fast-dry togs are the order of the day!
It's now about 1:00 pm on Monday afternoon. The past 24 hours have offered some awesome sailing as we streaked up our course line towards Fiji, broad reaching in 20 kts of steady SE wind. Sarah Jean sliced through the dying swells like a hot knife through butter, surging forward with every puff of wind, careening joyously down the occasional monster swell that would pick her up and fling her forward into the deep trough ahead, frothy, hissing water spraying about us in all directions! What a rush!
Alas - such fun is usually short lived and it was last night. We wind died at about 2:00 am. A quick calculation showed that we needed to maintain a boat speed of about 6 kts to make our planned dawn arrival at Savusavu. So out came the key and on went Mr. Yanmar, turning us into a slow, pointy motor boat for the rest of the trip. Oh well - motoring means gobs of power, hot showers and full water tanks on arrival. It's all good!
As we approach Vanua Levu, the smaller and most eastern of the two major islands of Fiji, we have been cautiously threading our way northward through the islands and reefs that populate this treacherous area of the Koro Seas. For the sailors out there, we are navigating with a new 2012 Navionics chart chip. We've found it to be remarkably accurate and very detailed, at least so far. We are also using Google Earth with live GPS input that places our boat position onto the Google Earth photos in real time. Google Earth is very accurate. When you see an island or a reef at a certain latitude and longitude, and see it with your own eyes you can believe it's actually there in that location. We now use Google Earth continuously to verify our position and check chart chip accuracy. It's also great fun to zoom in on the little coconut islands and marvel at all the reefs and enticing lagoons that beg to be explored. Unfortunately we can't stop at any of them before we clear customs at Savusavu.
We just held our noon VHF radio sched with Mark on s/v Merkava. He is about 11 miles behind us and expects to also arrive at Savusavu on Wednesday morning. Most of our conversation today was about the great scuba diving sites in the area and, of course, enjoying that first cold Fiji Bitter beer on the deck of the Copra Shed Yacht Club. Can't wait! One more sleep!
It's Monday afternoon at about 2:00 pm. I've just awoken from a little after lunch snooze. Beth had a long nap before lunch. We are both somewhat sleep deprived after a bouncy first night at sea. That first night always seems to be the toughest - no passage rhythm yet.
Since leaving Minerva Reef on Sunday morning we have knocked off about 195 miles on our trip to Fiji - a good first day! The wind has been blowing a steady 25 kts and has only recently started to ease off at bit to about 18 kts. The seas remain large, steep and lumpy - pushing Sarah Jean around quite a bit. THe autopilot is doing an awesome job keeping us pointed in the right direction! We have been staying quite comfy in our plastic enclosure - managing to avoid the spray that deluges the boat when big waves break against the hull. That is until the wee hours of last night when a particularly big wave crashed into the aft quarter of the boat. Salt water squirted up under the enclosure as if a fire hose had been turned on for a few seconds - instant soggy clothes and a very soggy book! Everything dried out quickly and now I know our enclosure is far from storm proof!
We are still in the midst of a fleet of northbound boats from Minerva Reef. It reminds us a bit of the Baha Ha Ha - the rally from San Diego to Cabo in Mexico. We watched masthead lights all night - making sure to keep safe distances between boats. There has also been quite a bit of VHF chatter back and forth and even a few jokes have been exchanged. There is safety in numbers and it's nice to know that others are around.
At the moment we are broad reaching with a full genoa and triple reefed mainsail. This is working well in the lumpy seas. The mainsail reefs will come out one by one as the wind drops over the next day. By late tomorrow we may be motoring - according to the forecast.
Our plan is to continue northward to a latitude of about 19 degrees 20 minutes and then turn northwest towards Totoya Island and up into the Koro Sea south of Fiji. We will make a big westward arc around the other islands in the area and expect to arrive at Savusavu at dawn on Wednesday.
It's Friday morning and the wind continues to howl across the lagoon at Minerva Reef, whipping the normally placid water into rows of small whitecaps, a tiny tempest in a teapot set in the midst of a vast, heaving ocean. The wind has been blowing a steady 25 knots since we arrived and is forecast to continue unabated for at least another 4 days. Our anchor is well dug in and we are holding well but the constant drone of the wind in the rigging, combined with the side to side movement of the boat as Sarah Jean weaves back and forth on her long rode gets tiring after a while. Sleep is intermittent due to the sound and motion. Last night I woke in the middle of the night and read for a while before returning to bed.
Minerva Reef is filling up as more and more boats en route to Fiji seek shelter from the high winds and big, uncomfortable swells in the open ocean. And nobody is leaving. Minerva offers a much needed respite to weary sailors. Last night a boat came through the pass just as darkness set. At that moment a nasty rain squall hit, obscuring the anchorage area from view and no doubt soaking everyone aboard the incoming vessel. We could hear the strain in the skipper's voice as he called on the radio for directions and for anchoring advice. It's no fun - no, make that scary - to enter a strange anchorage in the dark and in a squall! At last count there were 17 boats here in the lagoon.
If it sounds like I'm whining, I'm not! This is just life out here - part of the program. Offsetting this mild discomfort are many unique experiences. Yesterday, for example, we had a blast. A couple named Bruce and Alene aboard s/v Migration, a large red trimaran, invited a number of other cruisers over for a dive excursion outside the reef to site known as Sea Fan Wall. It is a big boat with a huge deck area, an ideal diving platform. I think there were 14 people aboard. They were all ages and from all over the world. We trailed 4 dinghies behind us as we sailed across the lagoon and anchored just south of the pass. From there a group of us took the dinghies out through the pass to the dive site while others snorkeled near the mother ship. Despite the big winds, once through the pass, we found the water outside, in the lee of the reef, to be surprisingly calm.
This is when Beth and I learned another cruising lesson. It seems we are always learning - usually the hard way! As we prepared to dive we discovered failures in both sets of dive gear. My regulator was leaking air continuously and Beth's buoyancy vest would not hold air. Oops - I guess we should have had things serviced in Opua before leaving the dock. While a bit disappointing it was hardly a disaster. We were sitting in about 20 feet of water above a beautiful coral reef! So we just jumped in and went snorkeling for an hour while the others dove. We swam out to the wall and hovered there above the divers. They were easily visible despite being at a depth of about 90 feet. Incredibly clear water! We followed them for a while, the coral reef to our right and the deep blue abyss to our left. Bubbles from the divers rose up in sparkling ribbons like long strands of silver kelp. It was quite beautiful and we were not unhappy to be on the surface rather than down below.
Back aboard the trimaran Bruce and Alene offered us hot showers on the deck, cups of tea and fresh fruit. A young gal from Scotland named Mercedes baked an endless supply of cookies and walked around the boat with a plate heaped high until all were gone. This was better than any commercial dive boat we'd ever been on! We had fun visiting with everyone on the way back to the anchorage across the lagoon. It's incredible how a group of total strangers with a common love for sailing and diving can instantly bond and form friendships. It is also incredible how generous people like Bruce and Alene can be to a random group who just sailed into the lagoon. They were exceptional hosts and created a special day we won't soon forget!
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 . . .
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 . . .