Our Ever-Changing Backyard--Sailing with Scoots

05 December 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
01 December 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
30 November 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
29 November 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
28 November 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
26 November 2018 | Port Denarau Marina, near Nadi, Fiji
18 November 2018 | Makogai Island, Fiji
27 October 2018 | Rukuruku, Fiji
22 October 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
21 September 2018 | Leleuvia Island, Fiji
23 August 2018 | Levuka, Ovalau Island, Fiji
20 August 2018 | Nukobuco Island, Fiji
25 June 2018 | On passage from NZ to Fiji

Arrival in NZ, including an unappreciated free boat wash and light show

05 December 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
Vandy
Dec 3-4.

After a day and a night, the fast, noisy, rolly, splashy beam reach was beginning to wear on us. Yes, we were making great time, but trying to live aboard with those conditions was somewhat sporty. Though it was a whole lot better than bashing to windward! The forecast indicated that northwest winds would eventually fill in, moving the wind angle (which was now west) behind SCOOTS' beam, making a broad reach, which is a more comfortable point of sail, than this beam reach.

A couple times an hour, Eric would tease me, �"When is the northwest wind coming?�" My answer was always the same: �"It'll be here by this evening.�" At which point he would give me a �"yeah, right�" look. I'd studied the forecasts; the wind was going to turn northwest eventually.

Sure enough, just as we were finishing dinner, the wind slowly began to clock around, ever so slowly creeping away from west, toward the northwest. Three hours later, when I woke up for my first watch, the first thing I noticed was the silence. The second thing was the steady motion of the boat. Yes! The wind had come in from the northwest! SCOOTS was on a broad reach! Cue the angels' singing. When I poked my head up into the cockpit, where Eric was finishing his first watch, I was surprised to find that SCOOTS was screaming along at 8-9 knots, with hardly a sound or a bump. Excellent!

We enjoyed this lovely broad reach all night long and into the morning, making great progress toward New Zealand without all the noise and shenanigans.

One of the absolutely delightful aspects of this passage has been the unexpected company of our cruising compatriot, Dave, who was single-handing on his lovely ketch Rewa. We left Denarau Marina a couple of hours apart, each with our own plans. Cruisers usually expect to be out here on passage alone. Even if we hoped to travel with another boat, the problems inherent in trying to maintain similar speeds in all conditions over the course of several days would make it prohibitively troublesome. But through some quirk of fate �- and probably also some complicated mathematical equations having to do with boat speeds and such �- our two boats managed to stay within one to ten miles from each other, for the entire passage. Without either of us making any changes to our own plans. It just happened.

And it was so much fun! Several times a day, and even in the wee hours of the night while we were doing our watches, we chatted on the VHF radio, about all sorts of things. When I wasn't able to get Grib forecasts over the HF radio, Dave, who has an Iridium sat phone, called over to give us a synopsis of the latest weather that he'd downloaded. For fun, Dave came up with some contests �"Guess what time we'll arrive at the entrance to Whangarei Harbour.�" It's been really great, having someone else to interact with, out here on the ocean.

During our passage �- which I've already admitted earlier wasn't ideal from a weather standpoint, but was doable and was the best we could hope for in the coming weeks �- we kept a very watchful eye on the progress of the Low pressure systems and their associated fronts. In order to have a safe �- and maybe even a comfortable �- passage to New Zealand, we needed to be at the right place at the right time, with regard to these weather systems, for the entire week.

For instance, that Low that formed and spun in the Tasman Sea while we were on our way did, in fact, move south and weaken as it was forecast to do. But then it got sneaky. On the day that we were scheduled to arrive in northern NZ, the Low was forecast to re-strengthen in its new position in the south and, like a spiteful brat, throw three or four new fronts up north toward us. One of them looked like it was going to form an arc over the top of NZ, just as we arrived. If we were fast enough, we might be able to get underneath it before it formed. Go SCOOTS go!

As the sun rose on our last day, and NZ was in our sights, it looked like we had successfully outrun the final front and threaded all the necessary weather needles along the way.

And yet...

As dawn was approaching, I noticed that, every once in awhile, some of the clouds to the west of us briefly lit up. Was it the beam from the lighthouse on North Cape reflecting off the clouds? No, that was too far away. As I continued watching, and more clouds lit up, a sinking feeling came over me. That was no lighthouse; that was lightning.

During all our time in the South Pacific, we've seen very little lightning; and had none around us. Now, here, in New Zealand, were we going to sail through a lighting storm?! Yes, apparently we were. I'd expect this in Panama, but in New Zealand?! I woke Eric up a few minutes early and together we readied the boat for the possibility of a lightning strike: we disconnected our HF antenna from its tuner, attached a pair of jumper cables to the main shroud and let them dangle over the side in the water, put our various portable electronics into our green metal �"lightning�" box and the oven, and girded our emotional loins for the storm.

Had we been at anchor, we would also have disconnected our VHF antenna, but since we were sailing in an area of relatively heavy boat traffic, with decreased visibility, we left it on not only so we could communicate with other boats, but also because the antenna also carries our AIS signal, which sends our position to other boats, and allows us to see them. Already, before dawn, I'd had three communications with the helmsman of a Chinese cargo ship that our AIS was indicating would come too close to us. We eventually sorted out our respective courses, and passed about a mile apart.

With rain bucketing, and lightning streaking down to the ocean in every direction �- sometimes quite close by, the thunder shaking us only a few seconds after we saw the bolt �-Eric took a position under the dodger near the chartplotter, where, with the radar going, he monitored the storm's position and tried to steer SCOOTS around it or, when the storm grew to engulf us, through areas that weren't as dense. I couldn't watch, and since there was nothing I could do, to help Eric or to guarantee that SCOOTS wouldn't be struck by lightning, I went below and took slow deep breaths, trying to be calm. Eric would occasionally call down, to tell me what the storm was doing. We each weathered the storm in the way that suited us.

We eventually emerged from the storm, our nerves frayed but our electronics intact. A few miles to our west, Dave and Rewa had also emerged from the storm untouched. I had never been so close to lightning; Eric told me afterwards that some of the lightning strikes had been so close that he could hear them �"sizzle�" as they streaked down to the water. Yikes.

Once the storm was behind us, the wind turned from the southwest, which was in front of us. We sheeted our sails way in, and turned on Y the M to help out. With only about 20 miles to go, and no significant waves to pound into, as the wind was off the land, the ride was pretty comfortable. Dave brought Rewa close and we took photos of each other's boats and chatted on our handheld radios. He even tried to send us a message via paper airplane. Alas, it ditched in the ocean.

At 7 pm, Eric slid SCOOTS over to the Quarantine dock at Marsden Cove Marina, I jumped off with the spring line, and just like that, our passage was over. We had arrived! A few minutes later, we caught Dave's lines when he brought Rewa into the space just behind us. With our Customs clearance scheduled for the next morning, the rest of the evening �- for the few hours that we could keep our eyes open �- was spent on board SCOOTS, the three of us sharing a celebratory drink and creating a dinner using meat and produce that the Biosecurity people would certainly have confiscated in the morning.

The next day, after clearing in, Rewa and SCOOTS made the trip up the Hatea River, to the Town Basin Marina, where many of our friends �- some whom we hadn't seen in a year �- were waiting on the dock to catch our lines and welcome us home with hugs and champagne. I love this life!

Position: 35* 43.49's 174*19.64'e

Fiji to NZ- Day 5

01 December 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
Vandy
Dec 1.

The strong winds that told us we were still traversing the cold front continued through last night and into this morning. We had sustained winds in the low 20s, all from behind us, which is much nicer than winds in the low 20s from either the front or the side. The waves were all following seas, too, which was nice.This was the weather system that I'd been worried about since leaving Fiji, not knowing how much oomph it was going to pack. The answer: not that much.

Looking at the succession of NOAA satellite photos that began coming in at sunrise, I could see that while we were located at the outer edge of the bulk of the system, a small area just in front of us had filled in with pretty colors. In these pictures, pretty colors are bad: they indicate different amounts of convective activity, i.e, potentially stormy conditions. Behind us, the front had split into two, and was growing in size and intensity, The whole thing, including the area between the two fronts, was ablaze with large swathes of pretty colors. We were glad to have gotten across most of the front, before it grew.

As we traversed the small area of convective activity, we got a lot of rain, and the wind increased. We saw some gusts of just over 30 knots, but mostly the wind stayed in the upper 20s. About two hours after it began, we seemed to have emerged onto the other side: patches of blue sky appeared in the clouds, and the wind dropped to 13 knots and backed to the west. Of course, we put our mainsail up. Our friend, Dave, on s/v Rewa, who was still a couple of miles behind us, put his up as well. Off we sailed along a lovely beam reach.

During the night, Eric went on deck to attend to a line (rope) on the foredeck. While he was up there, I kept an eye on him from the cockpit. He was wearing his harness, and clipping to our jacklines, but we still always spot each other when one of us is on deck, especially at night. SCOOTS was rolling and tilting a bit, so he sat down on deck so that he could use both of his hands to tie the line. When he got back to the cockpit, I smelled a very strong fishy odor. Sniffing around, I discovered that it was coming from the seat of his pants. When I shone a flashlight at the source of the smell, there, on the back of his pants, was an outline of either a squid or a flying fish. Eeuw. Ah, the glamours of the cruising life!

The wind died a little while later, so we fired up Y the M. We ended up motoring for the rest of the day and into the night, making our way across a large zone of light air, left behind when the front passed, hoping to get to the other side, where there was wind.

Position at 430pm 1 Dec: 27* 01.94's, 175* 09.17e Miles gone: 578 Miles to go: 486

We're more than halfway!

Fiji to NZ - Day 4

30 November 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
Vandy
Nov. 30 Another beautiful day! We're still motoring, as the wind has dropped to be of no use to us for propulsion.

Since we started using Backup Bender as our autopilot, I've been having to hand steer during the time that Eric attempts to send and receive our messages, and download our weather forecasts, over the SSB radio. This is because Backup Bender is more sensitive to the frequencies we use for these purposes, causing him to steer all over the place while we're transmitting. I liken it to tickling him under the armpits, while he's trying to drive.

We took regular Bender out of duty after he began driving with twitchy movements, a day or so ago. It's good to have two complete autopilots. Other than his sensitivity to our radio transmissions, Backup Bender has been doing a great job.

What all this means is that if I wanted a chance to have fresh forecasts in the morning (I did), I'd have to hand steer immediately after coming off my 4-7am watch, rather than doing what I really wanted to do, which was to take a snooze. The propagation in the morning has been so awful, that it's taken more than an hour to get the forecasts, if they come in at all.

After two days of this, I decided that I could live without fresh forecasts in the morning, and just use the evening forecast instead, since we're both up and fully-snoozed at that time of day. (Forecasts are updated four times daily, but propagation is best in the morning and evening.) We started that schedule today, and I like it already: propagation is better in the evening, so I don't have to steer as long, and I don't miss my nap.

We had a couple of fly-bys today: a masked booby and a red-tailed tropicbird each did some laps of SCOOTS, checking us out. I was particularly pleased to see the tropicbird. They're one of my favorite sea birds, and I only see one or two of them as I travel between NZ and Fiji; never once I get to the tropics.

Conditions were light enough today that we were able to play cards in the cockpit this afternoon. Five games of Spite & Malice. I won four of them, giving me bragging rights as �"Queen of the Universe.�"

We took the mainsail down this morning in preparation for the north winds that are predicted to pick up today and tonight, so that we could run with two headsails. Sure enough, the wind began to fill in from the north in the afternoon. It was almost immediately too strong for our Code 0 sail, so Eric rigged up our jib and staysail, wing on wing, which allowed us to give Y the M a rest, while the wind blows SCOOTS south.

Noon position: 24* 20.05'S, 177* 30.52'E

Miles gone at noon: 415 Miles to go: 649

Fiji to NZ Day 3

29 November 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
Vandy
Today we enjoyed another lovely sunny day. At night, the sky was full of stars, and the bioluminescent critters in the ocean made the surface look like liquid diamonds. The weather is definitely cooler now: we're both wearing pants and shirts during watches now, no longer sailing as Captain and Admiral Underpants. During my second watch tonight, I even put on socks. Socks!

Dinner tonight was a salad, and some of a lasagna that I'd made and frozen, back when we were in NZ. I wanted to make sure that we ate at least some of it before we arrived back in NZ, as the Biosecurity officials would certainly make us dump it into the big black garbage bag. And what a waste that would be!

Yanmar the Magnificent has been moving us along smartly during this period of light wind. We expect the wind to fill in from behind us throughout the day; we should be sailing by the next update. Also by the next update, we should have crossed though a front at the edge of that Low. We've been watching it, and it looks like it will be mostly wind (behind us, yay!) with maybe some rain thrown in. Nothing that looks too boisterous. I'll let you know how it went, tomorrow.

I'm really enjoying the gentle conditions we've had so far on this passage. In previous years, we would have been doused, shaken, and stirred for three days by now. Of course, the trip was faster. This upholds the sailing adage: you can have a fast trip OR a comfortable trip. After two fast trips to NZ, I'm really enjoying this comfortable one!

Position at 530am local time 30 Dec: 23 39.29s, 175 35.09e Miles gone: 374 Miles to go: 691

PS. We haven't had any critters on deck.

Fiji to NZ Day 2

28 November 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
Vandy
We had another beautiful day of sailing, with sunny skies and warm weather. All kinds of pelagic seabirds flew nearby, many of them chattering, which is unusual...they're usually silent as they swoop by. We're moving through a LSH �- a Little Skinny High, the opposite of the BFH that I've talked about here �- which means that we're encountering winds moving around a narrow, vertically-elongated circle. As the day progressed, the wind diminished and slowly moved from behind us to in front of us: first a broad reach, then a beam reach until, after dinner, just as Eric began his first watch, we turned on Yanmar the Magnificent to keep us moving in our desired direction. The seas have been less than 1 meter high throughout our trip, which has made things very comfortable.

For most of the trip, we've been two or three miles from our friend, Dave, on s/v Rewa, who's making the trip single-handed. After a night of motoring along slightly different courses, we're about ten miles apart now; not within view anymore, but easily within VHF range. So we have a little chat from time to time, just because we can. We're traveling in a very loose flotilla of about half a dozen boats, spread out over the thousand miles between Fiji and New Zealand. Some, like us, have HF radios, on which we're keeping a twice-daily radio net, so people can check in with their positions and weather, and anything else they might want to talk about.

We're all keeping our eyes on the progress and strength of the Low that I mentioned yesterday, figuring out where to cross the cold front that it's flung out in front of it. Should we slow down more? Speed up? Has it weakened enough that it doesn't matter? Out here, thanks to Eric having set up the technology, I receive graphical forecasts and weather faxes over the HF radio once a day, when propagation is good, and real- time photos from NOAA weather satellites, so I have my ways of finding out. Though I miss the smorgasbord of online weather materials that are easily available to me when we're near shore, I must admit that I when have access to them, I have a tendency to over-indulge, especially when we're planning a passage.

As I'm writing this, it's 430 am, and I'm on my second watch of the night. The sky is still dark, and filled with stars, but Venus is just rising in the east, the bright Morning Star, bringing with it the promise of the coming dawn. Soon after, Eric will get up and I'll lie down for a snooze.

You can follow our progress at Sailblogs or at Yachts in Transit www.yit.co.nz <http://www.yit.co.nz/>. I plan to post an update there each day.

Miles gone: 231 Miles to go: 833

Fast Forward

26 November 2018 | Port Denarau Marina, near Nadi, Fiji
Vandy
During the time that I was sharing stories about our fun times in Makogai and Rukuruku, SCOOTS was berthed in the Port Denarau Marina, near Nadi, while we waited (and waited and waited...) for a good weather window to sail to New Zealand.

Having passed on a so-so opportunity at the beginning of November – thinking that we could get a better passage if we waited another week or maybe two– we've been here for three more weeks, waiting, as the weather between here and New Zealand went completely off the rails.

For much of that time, I was consumed by all manner of meteorological forecasting models, poring over them several times a day, sniffing for even a hint of a weather window. A few times, I thought I saw one developing, waaaaaay down the pike, in the “imaginary” part of the long-range forecast, just to have it slam shut a few days before it was to arrive. I wasn't the only person obsessing about the weather though; pre-passage planning brings out the weather geeks in the fleet. You can be sure that whenever two cruisers meet, the subject of weather will come up. We even convened a few “weather confabs” (a term suggested by our friend, Randy, on the sailboat Velic), to share forecasting tools and meteorological websites. It gave us a chance to obsess about the weather as a group, instead of by ourselves on our own boats.


The confab of weather geeks: (from left) Ron from Duet, Randy from Velic, Vandy from SCOOTS, Douglas from Tumbleweed

I have to say, though, staying here the extra three weeks was not all bad. In fact, in hindsight, it was a really positive experience. We met some new cruisers, reunited with some old friends, and had fun with all of them; we saw our Fijian friend, Sam, from Rukuruku, a couple of times, as he had relocated to Nadi; we enjoyed a small potluck celebration of American Thanksgiving with some of the other cruisers who were also waiting to leave; we visited the lovely orchid-draped Garden of the Sleeping Giant near Nadi; we enjoyed the restaurants at Denarau; we had SCOOTS washed and waxed, and her hull cleaned below the water line; Eric had the time to learn and practice some new songs on his bass.


Our friend, Moses, translating the words to the songs in Vandy's Fijian music video collection.

As if to reward us for remaining, the weather here in Fiji during the entire time has been spectacular: blue skies and lots of sun; meanwhile, down in New Zealand, the weather was awful: cold and rainy, with storm after storm after storm.

To poke fun at me, every morning, as he walked through the main cabin past where I was obsessing about weather at my computer, and had been for awhile before he got up, Eric would say, grinning, “So, are we getting out of this hell hole today?”

Well, I'm happy to say that it now looks like we will. We just cleared out from Fiji and will be underway in a little while.
Vessel Name: SCOOTS
Vessel Make/Model: Able Apogee 50
Hailing Port: San Francisco, CA
Crew: Eric and Vandy Shrader
About: We've been living aboard full time since September 2014. We sailed to Mexico with the 2014 Baja Haha and had fun exploring Mexico until April 2016, when we turned SCOOTS west and headed to the South Pacific. As of late Nov. 2016, SCOOTS and her crew are exploring New Zealand.
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