Our Last Long Distance Passage
11 November 2014 | 35 18S
We had a very quiet cruising experience in Fiji this season. We chose not to do any passages to Vanuatu or New Caledonia as we traveled back to the US twice in the last few months. Each trip to the US required about 3 to 4 weeks to arrive in the marina early, travel, return, and recover so that our actual time cruising for the whole season was about 2 ½ months. We enjoyed Fiji. The weather was drop dead beautiful for the first 4 months with no rain and cool evenings. The snorkeling was exceptional and I regret that I didn’t do more of it. The scenery is lush and the water is color coded and clean. Many of the harbors felt remote and cozy.
When we came back in October we slowly started to get ready to head out of the cyclone zone by going back to New Zealand to primp and sell Always Saturday. We started looking at the weather seriously about the middle of the month but were told that the rally would start looking for a window about the third week in October. We read a lot and were very lazy and then to our angst were notified that the weather window just opened up and since we had been in no hurry we weren’t ready. We ran around half crazy for a day trying to catch up but in the end realized that it would be foolish to leave unprepared. Our bottom was so fouled that it required 3 days of diving and scrubbing to clean.
Disappointed, we moved the boat to a pleasant bay where the water was clean enough to dive on the boat and to await our departure. It took another 2 weeks fighting boredom before we could leave.
Since we hadn’t been doing any hard passages, and since this trip to NZ had a reputation for being nasty and even dangerous, our general level of anxiety was far greater than what we experienced last year (Maybe with the exception of the three week passage to French Polynesia.) If there were any way to avoid this passage we would have been happy to pass on it but we summoned up our courage and gritted our teeth.
To get to NZ one must traverse 1100 miles of nasty ocean. The first 4 days or so the weather is usually predictable (and favorable) but after that it becomes a crap shoot. Finally, what looked like a tame and pleasant opening arrived and we checked out of Fiji on Oct 31st.
We knew we would have to sail the first 3 days in 25 knots on the port beam but we’ve done that before so no problem…..Wrong!
Not having sailed for over a month we were land -lubbers and I quickly got seasick despite medicine. The 25 knots turned out to be 25 to 35 knots and the seas were short and confused with a swell from the opposite side of the boat. The net result was that despite our heavy sea-kindly vessel we were thrown around mercilessly. Fortunately for us, our boat is strong and doesn’t pound but some of the other boats were brutalized and we were concerned for them. For about three days I was sick like never before, weak from not eating and miserable. Nancy was wonderful and fortunately she didn’t get as sick as I did so we got through it. By the fourth day the wind abated some and the seas calmed down and life started looking better.
We left with a few other boats and communicated on SSB each morning. That was when we found out that the weather forecast had changed and that now we were going to face headwinds of 15 kts to 20 kts. We now had to rely on our engine like we never have had to do in the past. We had to run her hard to make reasonable progress against the seas that continuously slammed into us slowing forward progress. We fell off some so that we could get some power from out reefed sails.
When under power at sea it is important to do engine room checks every hour or two. It’s inconvenient especially at night but needs to be done and every now and then you find a problem. Soon we discovered air bubbles in our racor fuel filter indicating air was being sucked into the engine intake fuel line. If left alone eventually the engine would die from fuel starvation. I couldn’t find any obvious loose hose clamps to tighten so we had to periodically for the entire trip turn the engine off, lie a hull to bleed the air out of the fuel filter. Later that day, I discovered our alternator bracket was wobbling so much that the alternator was almost thrown off the engine along with all of the belts! I found a loose bolt on the bracket and tightened it up and re-tensioned the belts. All was well for about 5 minutes and then the alternator stopped generating electricity. Apparently the positive pole bolt was fatigued by the vibrations and broke off thus burning out the diodes. We were very fortunate not to have a fire. From the hot lead being loose.The next day when I was feeling up to it we hove to and I installed the spare alternator. Voilla,it even worked!
With the change in the forecast the amount of fuel necessary for the trip became critical for many boats. We carry a great quantity of diesel and didn’t have to worry about running out but several of the boats sailing with us weren’t so lucky.
For the next five days we slugged it out Inexorably making about 120 miles a day. Fortunately, sometimes the wind dropped down to 10 to 13 kts but at no time were we able to sail without falling off our rhumb line at least 35 degrees which would take us out of our way. Finally when we got in close we were able to sail for about one hour before the wind died and then we had to motor again!
A day after we arrived there were several boats still beating to windward to get in after having run out of fuel. We felt very sorry for the beating they took.
Through out the passage since the engine stayed on we were unable to send or receive and email. Sorry if we worried anyone. Our trip took 9 days and was an apt way to finish our long distance passage making. It was clearly to worst experience we had since we passed through the Panama Canal.
We have found new leaks and we have a couple of weeks to clean up before we can truly put this trip behind us. We have already done 8 loads of laundry!
From the crew of Always Saturday