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.
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 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.
- 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?