A squalliday, seabird flybys, a chat with the Prudent Mariner, and a diversion
29 June 2018 | On passage from NZ to Fiji
We've had lots and lots of wind and big waves since we turned Y the M off after our second day at sea. Of course, that's what we were expecting, and it does make for a fast trip. (Remember: one can have a fast passage OR a comfortable passage, so there you are.) By going fast, we've managed to slip around some nasty weather and still make good progress down the line. SCOOTS has done everything we've asked of her, particularly in living up to her name, and keeping us as comfortable as is possible in the sea conditions. Also a shout out to Bender, our autopilot, who has done a yeoman's job of steering SCOOTS through all the waves, so we didn't have to.
Most of our days have been sunny, and our nights starry. But the other day, we found ourselves in a veritable minefield of squalls, popping up suddenly here and there, like a game of whack-a-mole, the likes of which we hadn't seen since our travels through the ITCZ during our trip from Mexico to the Marquesas. The squalls got bored with us by dinnertime and went to see what other yachties they could pester; after that it was sun and stars again.
One sunny day a few days ago, a big black-and-white albatross (I'm leaning toward a Laysan albatross) circled around and flew right behind our boat, maybe ten feet off the transom. After our experience with booby poop on our solar panels, we weren't thrilled at the prospect of a huge albatross doing the same. But it didn't actually want to land on SCOOTS. After a couple more flybys, it landed in the water behind us, and let us travel on.
Yesterday, I kept hearing a scratchy, screechy sound that I attributed to some boat part complaining (sailing is a noisy proposition, especially in wind and seas; everything that can make noise, does). When I kept hearing it, I decided to investigate Looking up from under the bimini I saw a pair of white-tailed tropicbirds circling over SCOOTS, screeching. I was so happy to see them; tropicbirds are my favorite tropical seabird, and when I see them, I know I'm someplace warm and tropical. The last time I'd seen a tropicbird was last year, on our trip to Fiji, so it had been awhile.
Though we'd been happy with all the wind we've been having, there can be too much of a good thing. We'd been keeping an eye on the weather in Fiji, and as the week progressed, the amount of wind in the forecast for the time that we would be arriving in the islands went from 20 to 30 to 35 knots, gusting to 40 knots, with rough to very rough seas. Which is a lot of weather, more weather than we want to be in. As we were still two days from our intended destination of Savusavu, on the northern large island, this meant that we'd have to sail in this weather for two days, and then navigate the anchorage in Savusavu in those same conditions. Hmm.
So yesterday morning, Eric and I had a chat, in which we discussed our options, not all of which carried equal weight. The options were (1) continue on to Savusavu and hope that the conditions wouldn't be as bad as predicted; (2) continue on and just deal with the conditions; (3) divert to a hideyhole somewhere until the winds and seas died down, and hope that a Customs boat wouldn't happen upon us since we won't have cleared into the country (BIG and expensive No-no) , (4) divert to Suva, on the southern island, which is a Customs port, and is about a day closer than Savusavu, but where we'd been already and didn't really have any desire to return to.
(There's another component of all this that I haven't shared with you, which adds another element to the equation: Yanmar the Magnificent has a problem: his salt water cooling system isn't working at the moment, which means that if we run our engine, it will soon burn up. Not a good thing. With all this wind, it hasn't been an issue. We've done all the diagnosing we can do out here in these conditions, and have narrowed it down to some parts that can't easily be accessed, which will have to wait until were at anchor. We can anchor under sail in a big open place, but we can't navigate any tight spots or places with wind shadows.
At this point, we invited the Prudent Mariner (PM) to join us. The PM is focused only on safety; he doesn't care about whether you actually want to go to Savusavu or Suva or a hideyhole or not, or whether you'd have to pay a penalty to Customs if you got caught someplace you shouldn't be, or whether you think your crystal ball is more accurate than the meteorologists' models. He impartially weighs all the options and tells you what he considers to be the most prudent plan.
Here is what the Prudent Mariner recommended: forget Savusavu for the moment; you can always go there later. Head for Suva. Quickly.
So that's what we did. We turned north, and SCOOTS sailed FAST overnight, getting us within kava spitting distance of Suva by the next morning. As I'm writing this, the wind is only up to 25 knots so far, and the waves are two or three meters high, which isn't much different from what we've experienced for the past week. In a couple of hours, SCOOTS will enter Suva Harbour under sail, and we'll anchor her there before the big blow starts. By the time you read this, in fact, we will most likely be anchored...and taking apart the engine to fix it.
PS. Radio propagation wasn't good at the time I wanted to send this, so I'm doing it much later. We did sail SCOOTS in through the pass at Suva Harbour, and had enough wind from just the right direction to sail (without tacking)to the spot where we'd planned (hoped, really) to drop our anchor, Eric doing a great job of getting us there. It was quite exciting at times, but I'm too worn out to tell you the whole story right now. Maybe later.
Anyway, everything went fine. SCOOTS is anchored in Suva Harbour, her crew is relieved and tired, and after a good night's rest in a stationary bed are going to tackle Yanmar the Magnificent's fluid problem tomorrow.