Monthly Archives: December 2023

Passage: Dodging a Cyclone

Trying to find a weather window from FIji to New Zealand requires a lot of patience and faith.  This passage is known to be one of the most challenging and difficult passages in the Pacific.  Why do you ask?  It is because you have to cross 20 degrees of latitude forcing you to go through several weather systems.  

It takes a lot of strength to prepare myself for a passage – mostly because I know I get so sea sick and it just is not fun for me.   Picking the right window is imperative to having a safe journey.  So we rely on a lot of sources and professional help.

Matt constantly checks 5 weather sources including Predict Wind which has 4 models and Windy.  Our friend Donald is checking on Maxsea and we are working with a professional weather router and hired a passage guardian.  This is on top of the assistance that we get from being a part of the Island Cruising Pacfiic Rally.  

So, we are comparing a lot of resources and information to determine when we should depart on this passage.

Time to go, NOW

We started noticing a rather ugly system forming to the NW of us.  It looked like a cyclone formation but it was way too early in the season so we were flumaxed!  After watching this formation for a few days our weather router advised us to leave immediately as this system was forecasted to go over Vanuatu and then head straight to Fiji.  Hmmmm

The problem was that another, smaller system was forming to the west of New Zealand which would make for a difficult arrival.  So, we watched for another day, talked to all of our experts and made the decision to depart.

The Plan

Depart Fiji as soon as possible and push the boat hard to ensure an arrival by the 26th of October. It is doable, but not ideal.  So, we cleared out of Fiji on the 19th of October at 1330 with a few other boats.

If you remember, our passage last season from Fiji to New Zealand (click here to re-read it) took us 6.5 days and we had a fairly decent journey.  We left with 50 other boats and were very comfortable in the weather window we selected.

So, leaving with only a few other boats in between two systems was extremely nerve racking!  The plan is to “hammer down” and just get there.  The weather models were showing a slight detour to the east before continuing on the rhum line (direct shot from point A to B).

First 48 Hours

The first 48 hours were miserable. We were bashing into the waves making it pretty uncomfortable.  We reefed the sails and pushed onward into the 3m seas.  Yuck.

We headed more east than we wanted because the winds were taking us there.  We ended up going 90nm out of our way to keep the wind in our sails.  Great, love adding more time to an already long passage.

A sunny spot during our gloomy days.  Two birds landed on Sugar Shack and enjoyed a bit of a rest.  It is really unusual to have birds land on the boat when you are hundreds of miles away from land, but it has happened.  I think this is maybe the 3rd time it has happened to us in all of our travels over the last 13 years!  

This little bird landed first and just sat at the helm.  I think he wanted to take the helm from Matt.

The second bird came a few days later when the weather eased up a bit.  It was a red foot boobie and he/she stayed with us for well over 16 hours.

On the one hand it is cool to have proof of life but on the other they poop everywhere!  We tried to shoo him away, but darn if he didn’t keep coming back.  So, we just left him there and hoped the big seas would wash his poop away.

Burning a Lot of Diesel

After two crappy days, we covered 330nm. Not a horrible start, but nothing to brag about that is for sure.  Then we were blessed with a couple of nice sailing days.  The sun was out, the seas were more consistent and came at longer intervals (still 2.5m) and we were pointing closer to the rhum line.  The down side was that we had wind on the nose which meant we had the motors on.  We fully anticipated motoring a lot on this trip as we needed to arrive before the system.  We motor sailed a lot trying to get the most out of each power source.

Matt doing a jig because the skies are blue (he is wearing his dry suit!).

During one of our particularly nice sailing periods we had a breakage.  One of our rail cars for our jib sheet decided it was done and popped off.  It made a horrible noise which forced us to jump up rather quickly.  Luckily the sheet was on the wench and Matt was able to secure a “fix” using dynema.  Not a permanent solution, but it will work until we can get a new part.

The top left is the working rail car on port side and the rest of the photos are the damaged and temproarily fixed starboard car.

A Few Good Sailing Days

We had several good sailing hours which helped lift our spirits.

And a few really beautiful sunsets and sunrises while at sea.

In the mean time we are constantly watching the two systems.  The larger system on the NW got a name…cyclone Lola.  Her trajectory is over Vanuatu and then moving over Fiji.  The lower storm (not called a cyclone yet) is still being called a Tropical Storm.  But as you can see, lots of boats have decided to leave Fiji, Minerva Reef and Vanuatu to get to safer territories.   Keep in mind that the boats are miles apart – we cannot see any of them.

Cyclone Lola

Cyclone Lola is a little brat. Even though the main system is pretty far away from us it was causing some really weird wind shifts.  All we could do was hammer down and push the boat as fast as we could.

The top images shows how the cyclone forms, the wind strength and the direction.  The bottom two photos show how truly dangerous this cyclone is.

Cyclone Lola decided to head more SE and looks like it will converge with the Tropical Depression that was forecasted to hit NZ.  Wonderful!  I am sure you know, but red is bad, black is worse and gray is horrible.

Lucky for us we were able to skirt the outer edges of the storm and make it in to port without too much trouble.  We arrived in NZ on Thursday morning and were rafted up to our friends on Dandelion by 0900.  Thank God!


We patiently waited for the officials to come onboard including bio security who took a ton of food, customs and immigration.  They even brought a dog onboard (that was a first for us) to sniff for weapons, drugs, and cash.  Look at his little booties…so darn cute.

New Zealand has very strict biosecurity rules.  We are not allowed to bring in shells, wood carvings, feathers and lots of foods.  Prohibited foods include all meats (cooked, uncooked, canned), dairy, cheese, nuts, produce, vegetables, fruits and more.  We had provisioned for three people to be at sea for 10 days.  Since it was only 2 people at sea fo 6.5 days we had a lot left over.  It is hearbreaking to watch them throw away perfectly good food.

But….we are super happy to be back in NZ and safely tucked in a berth.  

Pasage Summary

  • Total Miles, on rhum line: 1097
  • Total Miles Traveled:  1179
  • Total Time:  161.36 hours / 6.5 days
  • Total Engine Time:  72hours (YIKES)
  • Average Speed:  7.3kt
  • Max Speed: 12.1kt

Just some of our Tasty Passage Meals:

Matt prepared loads of tasty meals.  I was a little distracted and only got photos of a few dinners.  Below we have seasoned pork chops with grilled onions, grilled pineapple and mashed potatos.  To the right we have seasoned chicken fajitas with bell peppers and onions.  Bottom left is Matt’s famous bahn Mi and pulled pork over a baked potato.  Yummmm.

Our poor Island Cruising Pacific Rally 2023 Flag took a beating during our trip from New Zealand to Minerva to Tonga on to Fiji and back to New Zealand.  She deserves a rest.

All in all it was not a horrible passage and it certainly could have been a lot worse had we gotten caught in either of the storms. I am so grateful that we have such a strong and well made boat and a captain who takes care of both of us.  It would not have been such a favorable passage without the help of Donald, our weather router, the passage guardian, and Viki with Island Cruising.

My favorite shots…look at the sliver of a moon in the top photo.

Our blogs run 8-10 weeks behind live events.  This blog occured toward the end of October.  Did you catch our loast blog where we do all the prep work for this passage?

Port Denarau Marina Preparations

We head into Port Denarau Marina for provisions, laundry, a shipment, and to meet my cousin Jeff who is visiting for a few days.  Lots to do in a short amount of time but it always seems like it becomes a hurry up and wait situation.

We made a reservation for a mooring ball from 12-16 October with the hopes of completing all of our errands and projects.  Hope being the operative word.  However, when we arrived they had no space for us on the moorings so they put us in a berth.  Wow, ok.  Scramble to get the lines and fenders out and in we go with 20+kts pushing us around the tiny slip.  But, we made it safely with no issues with the marina’s help.

Early morning on the dock at Port Denarau Marina.

The good news is we are on a dock which makes it super easy to do a lot of our projects.  Matt starts off with washing down the boat using the marina’s fresh water (yeah, not our hard earned fresh water from the watermaker).  While he is busy doing that I take 3 loads of laundry in and make good use of their industrial machines.

Bring on the Heat

Yes, it is super hot and humid in Fji, but I am talking about actual heaters for Sugar Shack.  No, I have not lost my mind (well….).  It is darn cold in NZ and our current heaters onboard no longer work.

Matt had been in communication with Espar Michigan/Espar Parts in MI and with Heatso in CA (both in the U.S.).  Heatso responded with information on the wrong part at first so Matt sort of wrote them off.  Espar responded, but then went radio silent for months.  When they finally responded we were in a red hot rush to get the parts shipped to Fiji while we were here.  Why do you ask?  Well it is easier to import parts into Fiji than it is into NZ.

Long story short, Espar didn’t have all the parts and pieces.  They wanted to ship a partial order and then ship the rest to my cousin Jeff who was flying to Fiji to meet us, but even then they couldn’t get the order together to make it work.  Their communication was less than stellar and their stock was horrific.  They just couldn’t get it organized.

As a last stitch effort, Matt contacted Heatso again.  It was a thursday afternoon.  The owner said he had all of the parts and could ship everything out the next day.  He answered all of our questions, called to confirm all the measurements and pieces, and offered us a 10% discount because we were buying 2 kits (without me even asking – which you know I would have done).

Heatso sent the large box overnight to Fiji Freight in California, our freight forwarder who received it on Monday. Fiji Freight then put it on a plane and sent it to Fiji. It arrived Tuesday, cleared Customs Wednesday evening and was delivered to us on Thursday!  The delivery from CA to Fiji within a week of contacting Heatso and Fiji Freight!  Now how about them apples!  Whoop Whoop!  Talk about amazing service from both Heatso and Fiji Freight.

This will have to be a project for another day, but at least we have the parts!

Errands & Projects

We brought in our propane bottle and got it refilled, made several trips to the trash and recylcing and picked up my cousin Jeff. All made easier being at the dock.  But alas, all good things come to an end and we had to move out to our morring.

We had loads of preparation before our passage.  Matt prepared pre-cooked meals and froze them; we stowed a lot of stuff; got out the jacklines, ditch bag, first aid kit, PFDs, foul weather gear, and priority bag (for computers/phones/paperwork); refilled both diesel and gasoline, tested systems (Iridium, PredictWind tracker), re-scheduled our prewritten blog posts, and prepared our Fiji departure paperwork & our NZ entry paperwork.

Help on the Passage

We did not have much time with Jeff so we tried to make the best of it while still preparing for our passage.   

We enjoyed many tasty meals, but this one at Bone Fish stood out as truly delicious.  I had grilled prawns and the boys had Wicked Wahoo.

Overlooking the marina where we are staying…can you spot Sugar Shack on the mooring?

Hiking Mt. Silo

As we wait for a weather window we take Jeff on a few hikes.  The first weas a walk around Malolo island during low tide.  Super easy, flat walk that is about 4.5 miles.  The next hike is shorter but has a lot of elevation (up and down and up and down).  It is the ridge hike or the hike to Mt. Silo.

Many beautiful views on the way to the peak. I just love the variation in colors in the water.

I tried to capture the boys as they were on the trail, but they are so small and hard to find 🙂

And more gorgeous views.

We made it to the bunker and the top of the highest peak.

We reward ourselves with some great snorkeling along the outer reef and see some marvelous fish, soft and hard corals.


We were starting to see some weather activity and decided to head back to Port Denarau.  Jeff was heading to New Zealand by plane and Matt and I in Sugar Shack.  

Super fun time showing Jeff around Musket Cove and Port Denarau.

In our last blog post we share our adventures on several different islands.  Our blog posts run 10-12 weeks behind live events.  This blog occured mid-October.  Did you read our last blog “So Many Islands, So Little Time?”

So Many Islands and So Little Time

We leave our beautiful little spot at Mana Island and head to Qalito Island, to the lovely resort called “Castaway Resort.”  The funny thing is that this resort is not actually located on the island called “Cast Away.”  But it is a super nice place to visit and they serve yachties which is an added bonus.  All of these islands are within 12nm of eachother. 

They are located on the corner of the island and have a beautiful white sandy beach.  They offer all sorts of activities for their guests including, SUP, kayaks, hobbie cats, multiple pools and restaurants, tennis, basketball, volleyball and I am sure a lot more.  We made our way to the restaurant for lunch and some colorful, tasty drinks.

I’m telling you the frothy drink on the left was so tasty, but what a pain in the you know what to drink!  It melted so fast that I had to guzzle it which is never good with an alcoholic drink.

These islands are pretty remote so it can be challenging for guests to get to and from the resorts.  So, what they do is ferry them close to the island and then long boats come out to collect guests and luggage.  It is really a spectacle to watch.

Malolo Island – Musket Cove

Our friend Sharron from Town Basin Marina (Whangarei, NZ) comes to visit us for a few days.  She was participating in the Tonga Blue Water Festival and stopped over in Fiji for a short stay on Sugar Shack.

Unfortunately we did not have the best weather.  It was a little cloudy and rainy a few days and super duper windy the entire time.  But we made the best of it and went snorkeling and hiking.

Our first walk was just around the Musket Cove Resort and the Plantation Resort.  But we saw loads of beautiful flowers. 

Sharron makes best attempts to emulate the local tree climbers.

On our second hike we walked the ridge line to an old bunker. We took the dinghy over to Funky Fish Resort which is on the end of the island.  Can you read their name on the hillside?

Super cute surf / backpacker resort. They have a swimming pool, heli-pad, restaurant, and bar.

And then the hike uphill begins.  They installed new signs which led the way to the mountain top.

After about an hour we arrived to the bunker.

The good news was that it was overcast so it was not terribly hot, but we still managed to work up a sweat.  Gorgeous views from a top.

Seventh Heaven

Not technically an “island” but it is a floating barge.  We visited Seventh Heaven 6/7 times last season because we had so much fun and the food was spectacular.  Last season they charged a $50F ($22 USD) per person to board, but that money went towards your food, bar, or shopping tab.  So, we had no problem paying that since we always spent way more than that!  This is for those who do not come by their ferry.  We came withour personal boat.

However, this season the were charging $50F landing fee per person and it was NOT applied to your tab.  We were oturaged and completely bummed out.  There was no way we would pay that on top of our bar/food tab.  I contacted them via email and facebook and was able to get the landing fee waived for 5 people so we went with an additional 2 guests for a total of 7.

When we arrived, at 12 the staff could not let us board because their ferry had not arrived yet.  For goodness sake!  Seriously?  So, we waited 15-minutes for the ferry to come.  After that initial snafu we had a great time.  

We enjoyed lots and lots of tasty and colorful drinks, amazing food, and super fun staff.

The barge is beautiful, especially around sunset.

Unfortunately this will be our last time at Seventh Heaven as they are pricing themselves out.  Cruisers or private boats just won’t pay a $50F landing fee.  Their competitor Cloud 9 does not charge this fee so we will have to go there.

You may ask what’s the difference?  Well Cloud 9 is a party barge for younger people.  It is loud dance music, no servers or wait staff, and nowhere to sit.  They serve food, but it is not nearly as good as Seventh Heaven but there is nowhere to eat it.  It is just a very different atmosphere.  Not bad, just different.

It was a great day and we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset once we got back to the boat.

Matt is progressing really well on the foil board!

I am on a mission to try every fruity cocktail in Fiji!


Our blog posts run 8-10 weeks behind actual live events.  This blog post occured in late September and early October.  Did you read about our last blog Mana Island: A Refuge?