02 June 2019 | Suva, Fiji
Johan & Francina Botha
We finally got the yacht ready for an ocean crossing. It only took 6 years to reach this point. On the morning of 17 May, a small group of friends helped to loosen the lines. It was with mixed feelings that we left Whangarei Marina and our familiar environment behind. We motored down the river to Marsden Cove marina for customs clearance the following morning. Thanks to a dear friend who gave us a chart plotter - it helped that we were able to enter Marsden Cove Marina at low tide. I found the boats original jack lines whilst sorting through the pack of flares. The stitching was however UV damaged. When we arrived at Marsden Cove marina, the captain sewed the jack lines, whilst the crew stowed away all the remaining loose items.
On 18 May, we met customs officer shortly after 8 o 'clock to complete the formalities leaving New Zealand. Fellow yachties cancelled there appointment because one of the weather models predicted strong winds with high waves at the time we would reach Suva. We decided to continue with the voyage and trust on God for a save passage, as we had done in the past.
We left around 10:30 am in low winds. It gave us ample time to redo the reeling lines. By reefing the mainsail, you reduce the size of the sail to suit the strength of the wind. The stronger the wind, the more reefs, or the smaller the sail. The stack pack is a sail cover with a zip at the top. It is held up with ropes and the sail will be stowed away inside the stack pack whilst not in use. The starboard top rope on the stack pack broke when we pulled the mainsail up. It was necessary to go up the mast to put a new rope through the block on the mast. The captain felt sorry for the crew member with weak muscles to pull him up the mast. So, I had to get up the mast in the middle of the ocean to pull the new rope through. I was very glad to be back on deck after this ordeal. With my part accomplished, the captain had to wire the new ropes through the various wheels and blocks to secure the stack pack. The job was done just in time when the wind came up. Luckily, the crew could focus on installing the jacklines. The jack lines are ropes, or rather webbing that is strung from the front of the boat to the back. We were wearing safety harnasses every time we went outside, clipping onto the jacklines to keep us safe on the boat.
When the wind finally came up, it was gusting up to 40 knots. We fell in love with Ntombi's ability to handle strong winds. She sailed like a swan.
Early on day 2, we started the generator to run the watermaker. There was no wind, so we did all the washing. The stainless steel clothes pegs are fabulous to hold the clothes on the line. Although somewhat expensive, the bonus is that it will not rust. On day 4 we observed the clouds with a message of strong winds. Captain secured the floor boards in case of a roll. At night of day 5 we decided to Reef down in anticipation of the change in wind. The port stackpack rope broke. There was no way that captain or crew will risk going up the mast in 3 to 4 meter waves. We tied the sail with stackpack down. The wind came up, gusting mid 30 and once 40 knots. The sail was too small and it caused a very uncomfortable sail. The captain got a brainwave on the possibilies to pull up the sail and secure the stackpack. That is what we did and the sailing was very good. On day 9, the wind died down and the sea was like glass. Crew went up the mast to fix a rope for the port stackpack. Captain replaced all the stackpack ropes to prevent any further incidents. Somewhere along the way, we realized that the waves were too big for a save entry to Minerva Reef. We made the decision to change our course for a direct sail to Suva. The wind changed to be on the nose on the last night. The wind kept on pushing us towards Beqa island. Crew got on her knees to ask for guidance. We changed tack to sail towards Kadavu island. After about an hour, a cruise ship came past us on the course we were on previously. God is great and saved us by forcing us to change tack. When we arrived at the entrance to Suva, we were unable to find the leading lights that help you to navigate past the coral reefs. Crew was also unable to make contact with port control via VHF radio. The phone calls via the satelite phone went through to numbers that is not in service. Again crew were on her knees to ask for guidance. Suddenly the Port Control officers voice came over the radio. He informed us to wait outside the harbour for a fishing boat to exit. We were able to follow the route the fishing boat was taking. Once the fishing boat were outside the Port Control officer suggested that we follow the pilot boat back into the harbour. The pilot boat accompanied the fishing boat to exit the harbour safely. The first thing you see when you enter Suva harbour, is a shipwreck. Inside the harbour is another two shipwrecks and a few very shallow patches. It could be nerve wrecking if you do not have electronic charts on your chart plotter. Electronic charts of Fiji became top on our list of things to buy in Fiji. We anchored in the area where Health quarantine officers visit the yacht to ensure we are safe to enter Fiji. It is a very small island and they cannot afford for viruses to be spread to the island nation. We had to fly a yellow flag to indicate that we are not cleared for Fijian Waters yet. The officers at the Royal Fiji Yacht Club make arrangements with the necessary officers to visit the yacht, at a fee, of course. The first to arrive was the Health officers. The were lovely woman who were very friendly and helpful. When the left shortly after 1 o'clock we were cleared to remove our yellow flag. After lunch, we were honoured with the presence of the bio security, customs and immigration officers. There was a lot of paperwork to deal with, and again, we received a very friendly
service. When they left at 4 o'clock, we were cleared to set foot aground in Fiji. We lowered the inflatable boat, fitted the Yamaha and went ashore. We could not wait to feel ground under our feet. It was however a very interesting experience. The world were moving, or was it us moving and ground standing still? There was no time left to go to town, so we settled for a cold drink at the yacht club before returning to the yacht for an early night. The following day was spent walking to the various offices to make the payments, and to get a cruising permit. This permit allows us to sail in Fijian Waters for the next 5 months.