End in sight updated 6-11-19
04 October 2019
Johan & Francina Botha
My visitors visa is only valid for 4 months. Before Francina left for China we enquired at Immigration regarding the process to be followed. They told us that Francina is in the fortunate position that she is flying out and back and do not need to do anything. I was advised to come back on the 28th, but fellow cruisers extension took 4 days to process. I therefore decided to tackle the beast on the 24th to be on the safe side.
When I arrived with the application form supplied earlier, I was told that they also need certified copies of my passport, boat papers, entrance stamp in passport and a bank statement as proof that I can support myself for a further 2 months. It was a mission to find a lawyer to certify the copies. But what drained all my energy was trying to get a balance of my bank account in a foreign country. Requesting a balance at the ATM charged me $1, but the balance returned is a round zero. Eventually I found an ANZ bank where I have a savings account in New Zealand. I was able to get a balance whilst drawing money. I went to town on the 8:30 bus and all the running around saw me returning on the 12:10 bus. The whole day spend with Immigration, and I have to go back for them to stamp my passport next week.
In the meanwhile Francina had challenges boarding her plane in China. She was able to board the plane from Beijing to Hong Kong, but they refused to issue her boarding ticket from Hong Kong to Nadi, Fiji. Arriving in Hong Kong, the transfer desk staff member did not want to issue the boarding ticket without an onward flight to New Zealand. It did not help explaining that she is only returning to her own yacht, showing the departing ticket and previous trips. After a lot of discussions and sadly, some tears, she was allowed on the plane. The saga did not end there. In Nadi she was taken into the customs office where she was questioned on the reason for the "one way" ticket. It is not allowed and everybody coming to Fiji should have a return ticket. Needless to say, she eventually got through the gate with the instruction to report to Immigration to sign her back onto the yacht.
On Monday morning we took the bus to Lautoka and the waiting Q at Immigration. Whilst we were at the officer we also requested him to process the permission letters for our crew that will be joining us. This process was also different to the process explained by the previous officer. We had to supply copies of the joining crews passports and other personal information that they need for security clearance. In the end of the day, Francina was legally part of Ntombi crew and we were told to come back for the letters for the joining crew, as well as the stamp in my passport. They are still processing my extension application. The wind was again strong, gusting 28. Three yachts with plough anchors started dragging. We were busy inside the yacht and when Francina got up and looked out the window, she saw the one yacht a metre or so from our bow. Luckily the owner was at the steer and his partner started the engine for them to move away. God kept us safe from any damage that could have been severe. It was Francina's Mother 83 birthday on the third. We are so greatful for technology that allowed her to talk with her to celebrate the milestone.
We went back to Immigration on Wednesday to collect the letters for the new crew, but my visa extension was still not approved. We had to go back today, Friday to collect the extension. We are now eagerly watching for a weather window to depart on our voyage back to New Zealand. At first it looked good for the beginning of the month. The weather changed and it looked promising for a departure on the 8 th, but in the blink of the eye, the weather changed again. We are now looking at the 15 th as a possible departure date. But anything can change and we might be sailing either earlier or later. This is the period in the cruisers live where you are tested on your patience.
The wind forecast was for yet another blast of northerly winds. We decided to move to Lomolomo beach in Nadi bay for protection. On our way, we anchored off Vuda Point Marina to visit some of our friends, but they had left the marina already. The yachtie special is also not offered at the Boatshed on a weekend. We therefore took a nice hot shower and left for Lomolomo beach. It is a beautiful beach where they are busy with the development of a very big hotel and marina by the Chinese. The caretaker informed us that we are the first yacht to anchor off this beach. It was also very convenient to catch the bus which passes every 10 - 15 minutes to either Lautoka or Nadi. We spend a couple of days in this anchorage until the winds changed to south easterlies and we decided to go back to Saweni beach.
Fiji is in the trade wind belt, the wind is mostly from the east or south east. The high mountains divert the wind to the outside instead of going over the mountains. The western side of the main island is therefore in the lee. Because of the lee, the wind forms a vacuum and therefore the winds divert completely and come in from the west, northwest, south west or south. It is very unpleasant to be caught in a storm due to the shallow water. Most of the yachties keep an eye on the weather and find hiding places from the different wind directions.
When we arrived back at Saweni beach, I serviced the engine in preparation of the journey back to New Zealand. I drained and refill the engine oil, replaced the oil filter and changed the gearbox oil. I found that one of the screws keeping the alternator bracket in place has been broken off. I knew this is a possible weak point in future and had to devise a different way of tensioning the fanbelt. I spent an afternoon taking out the broken off screw and manufacturing and fitting the new bracket with limited materials. We tested the new system and it worked perfectly.
It is funny how parts that works for years, suddenly decides to give up the ghost. The on/off switch for the drinking water pump has corroded through and stopped working. Although the water tanks were full, we were unable to get to the drinking water. I went back to my magic electrical box and the only possible alternative was a push button switch that will sort of fit in the position of the previous on/off switch. After a few modifications and soldering, we were able to pump the precious drinking water into our glasses. The new switch is working a lot better than the previous, because you do not waste as much water when you switch the pump on. By pressing the button, you can release less water at a time and have better control of the amount of water you let through.
Our small generator that we use for the sewing machine and small hand tools was running fine. The next moment it stopped working. When I pulled the rope to start the engine, the recoil system stopped working. It took the best part of the day to try and fix the generator, but I had no success. Will I be able to fix it? I do not know. It is a Chinese generator and I do not know where to get another recoil starting unit.
The weather is looking good for a departure on 16 or 17 October and we advised the crew to book their flights. Whilst waiting for the crew to arrive we wanted to go ashore to get some food. Before we lowered the dinghy we discovered that the plug keeping the water out is gone. What now?
We cannot use the dinghy without the plug. Francina went looking in the dinghy spare locker for a spare plug, but found none. My eye caught the sp60 sunblock stick that I use on my face. Luckily the cover of the sunblock fitted in the hole. Vula! I found a new plug for the dinghy! We were able to visit West meats in Lautoka to buy some meat to prepare for the crew.
We went to the airport on Sunday to collect Lee Ann and Jeff. On Monday we had to visit Immigration to sign them on as crew on Ntombi. We bought a few items and visited the market in Lautoka for the last time. The wind was a bit stronger on Tuesday and we decided to stay on the yacht. We fitted the jacklines, sorted out safety harnasses and other tasks to ensure Ntombi is ready for the sail back to New Zealand. Francina was particularly concerned about the loose items in the saloon, but she found spaces to stow away all items. Lee Ann found a gecko in the heads. When we were on the hard in Vuda Point, the bow was buried in the trees. I sawed away the branches, but this little guy must have found his way into our yacht. Jeff caught the gecko and we called him Andy. They contacted their son who has his doctorate in conservation and expert on New Zealand geckos for advise. He confirmed that it is a gecko from Fiji, and not New Zealand as we suspected in the beginning. Jeff and Lee Ann took Andy to shore and released him at a prominent tree on the beach. Hope he finds a mate to keep him company.
We motored to Port Denerau and anchored out with all the yachts waiting for a weather window to sail back to New Zealand or Australia. In the morning I dropped Lee Ann and Jeff at the jetty, filled the jerry cans with diesel and went back to the yacht to deliver the diesel and pick up Francina. We went to customs to inquire about the process for clearing out. They are very friendly and suggested that we fist do our last shopping in Nadi before we do the final visit to them. We also dropped the gas bottle at the Marina Office for a refill. We went to Nadi to buy the last few items on the list and enjoyed a meal at our favorite eatery. Where can you buy 2 pieces of chicken with chips for Fiji $6? Francina enjoyed a curry dish and she bought a few samosas which she enjoyed the next day as well.
On our return from Nadi, we went to the customs office for clearing out of the country. They requested us to bring Ntombi into the marina's A dock for inspection. Lee Ann waited at the customs office whilst Jeff and Francina came along to assist me to pull up the anchor and bring Ntombi to the dock. The customs officer boarded and spend an hour talking to us before he left. The gas bottle was however still at the Marina office and Francina and I went with the officer to collect the bottle, buy something from the supermarket and returned to the yacht to leave. At this time our dear friends from Gigi spotted us and came aboard for a chat and a drink. We left the marina and anchored outside to enjoy the last sunset in Fiji.
At 6:30 am on 17 Octobr 2019, we left the anchorage, motoring to the pass to exit Western Fiji. A very big cargo carrier passed us as we approached the pass and we followed behind them.
At 9:30 a. we were outside and started sailing in very strong winds of 28 - 32 knots, gusting mostly above 30 with a few into the fourties. We reefed down to second reef. The wind kept on gusting to 35 knots during the night and it felt like we were inside a washing machine. Luckily, we have the experience of rough seas and did not get seasick. Our crew was however seasick, whilst Francina took medication as a prevention. In the morning we saw two other yachts, Trixtr and Northland passing by. Northland was on a more western bearing whilst Trixtr was sailing parallel to us. On Sabbath morning the strong winds subsided and we were able to let the full sails out. The sea state was however still not pleasant after the strong winds.
The wind died down shortly after midnight on Saturday and we started the engine in 6 knot winds. On Monday morning the engine died from fuel starvation. I replaced the diesel filters which was blocked terribly. I also checked each tank to see how much diesel we have for the remainder of the journey. Whilst I was busy, the crew took turns to swim in the middle of the ocean. It was Jeff's birthday and we tried to make it a special day for him. He was still a bit off the weather and did not want Lee Ann to bake a birthday cake. He agreed to enjoy a cake when he is back in Whangarei. He got his birthday present from Lee Ann, and I gave him a piece of biltong (South African dried meat), which is very precious almost 600 miles from New Zealand.
We were able to sail for most of the morning on Tuesday before the wind died down again. The sea was beautiful and the waves not too high. Shortly after midnight the wind came through very strong with gusts into the 40's. Trixtr notified us that his engine does not want to start and advised us not to wait for him, but to continue to Whangarei. It was sad to leave Trixtr behind, because we got used to regular weather discussions with him. The low was supposed to move away from New Zealand and we would be able to sail straight to Whangarei. Unfortunately there was a blocking high stopping the low to move out of the way, which caused very high southerly winds. We were not able to stay above 30 degrees any longer because we could also see there was a very short gap of 2 to 3 days to get into New Zealand before the next low will hit. We passed the 30 degree longitude on Thursday, still waiting for the wind to change direction.
The waves were unpleasant, high and the wind gusted into the late thirties for most of the time. Day 10 and we were looking anxiously at the horizon to see who can spot New Zealand. The skyline was very murky and it was difficult to spot the land. We made contact with Trixtr and informed him that we are getting low on diesel. He offered to transfer 2 x 20 liter jerry cans to us incase we run out of diesel. We agreed and got alongside him. He through me a rope and then he let the jerrycan into the water for us to pull it onto our deck. We repeated the process twice and he sailed away towards Opua. We also made the decision earlier in the day to change course to Opua because I was worried that the diesel might not last to take us to Whangarei.
Lee Ann had Whales on her bucket list and Francina was very skeptical on this item. She also stated that she would prefer not to see them because they might cause harm to the yacht. Well, to our surprise, we saw Whales and Lee Ann could tick off the last item on her expectations for the trip. Francina had dolphins on her list and we got to see some as the sun was setting close to the entrance into the Bay of Islands. Whilst navigating the unfamiliar sailing grounds of the Bay of Islands, we got a radio call from Trixtr asking for a tow to Opua. The wind died down and the water was like glass. He waited until he was able to see us passing him before he made contact. I agreed and we circled his boat. We started the towing process to Opua and let the line go for him to put out his anchor before we moved onto the Quarantine dock at 01:00 am on Monday morning. Bio-security used a GoPro camera to take photos of the haul to ensure we do not have any growth. Customs and immigration came aboard, as well as bio-security. They also brought a very nice dog on board, wearing very interesting socks. She was there to sniff through the boat to find illegal drugs. Luckily our yacht was clear and bio-security could do the last collection of items that is not allowed in New Zealand. We handed over beans, honey, fresh vegetables, etc. After we were cleared, we moved to a spot close to Trixtr to drop our anchor. Francina took Lee Ann and Jeff ashore to meet up with family to take them home to Whangarei. Whilst she was away, I checked the latest weather update for a window to sail back to Whangarei. I decided that it was actually a good enough window to sail back immediately and Francina agreed on her return. She however went ashore to fill the diesel jerry cans and returned Patrick's still unused jerry cans to Trixtr.
We enjoyed such a beautiful sail back to Whangarei. At first we wanted to anchor out at one of the beautiful bays on the way, but we enjoyed the very pleasant sail with mild wind and low waves that we could not get it over our hearts to interrupt the sail. At last we decided to drop the anchor in Tutukaka if it is not too dark when we get there. It was however about half an hour after sunset and we felt not confident enough to go through the pass with water flowing out of the pass, so we decided to continue to Whangarei harbour. There was a number of very big ships at anchor outside the harbour entrance. Two other yachts were also on their way to the entrance. As we got to the entrance, the one yacht passed us and we could spot their whereabouts in the dark. The other yacht, Loki, seems to be slowing down to follow behind us. We continued to Perua Bay and dropped our anchor at 02h00 am on Tuesday morning. At 7:30 am I woke up and saw that Loki has dropped anchor very close to us. They have a draft of 3 meters and got stuck in the mud in the entrance to Marsden Cove marina to get to the quarantine dock. They were therefore forced to put anchor out in the bay. We motored to our berth in Whangarei Marina in rain and cold weather conditions. Renate from Renahara, handled our lines when we got the the dock. It was very nice to be back home, especially to see her familiar face. We started the heater shortly after arrival to heat up the yacht and our tired bodies. We only had appetite for a very good bean soup, prepared with the last beans that we brought over from Fiji. We will be in the marina for a while whilst Francina travels to China, and I will join her in Guangzhou in December.