Tag Archives: fiji

Passage to New Zealand

The passage from Fiji to New Zealand is known to be a difficult and challenging one.  The biggest problem is the weather and the fact that you have to cross through two systems (a high and a low).  Within these systems are storms, high winds, and big seas.  Nothing you want to be in the middle of while on a passage.  So, the trick is picking a window where you can squeeze between the systems.  It is “tricky” and hard to do.

We spoke to many, many cruisers about  picking the “right window.”  Finally, we came to a consensus about a departure date, 26 October 2022.  Now, we are in a rush to finish preparations:

  • Pick up small amount of fresh produce, eggs, tortillas for the passage (small because they will be confiscated when we arrive)
  • Print out all NZ documentation for entry
  • Send updated forms to NZ agent, Craig Roe (RYS) with departure date, arrival date
  • Notify Marsden Cove Marina of arrival date (where we clear in)
  • Notify Town Basin Marina of arrival date (where we will stay for a month)
  • Sign up for Passage Guardian (he tracks our progress and assists in emergency)
  • Prepare ditch bag, medical bag, jack lines, PFD’s, and foul weather gear
  • Put out jack line, stow anchor bridle.
  • Reschedule blog posts to not post until after passage (allows for live posts to post)
  • Prepare valuables in waterproof bag: documents, cash, jewelry, etc…
  • Email family and friends Passage Information
  • Update Facebook (personal and Sugar Shack page) going dark
  • Make and pre-cook passage meals.  Enough for 2 people for 10 days (20 meals)
  •       Matt made: pulled pork, cajun pasta, gumbo, chicken parm, eggplant parm, Roti,               
  •       schwarma, Bahn mi
  • Make bread dough and put in fridge 
  • Make cookie dough: snickerdoodles, gingerbread, and chocolate mint and store in fridge
  • Snack Basket (so we don’t have to go down below)
  • Last thing is to clear out of Fiji

More Preparations

New Zealand requires proof of a clean bottom (not the ones we sit on, but the bottom of the boat).  We have to show proof that there is no hard or soft growth on the hulls, between the rudder and hulls, on the props, seacocks, or waterline.

Since Matt’s ear is still healing it falls to me to do this massive job.  We just did our bottom in May so it was not terribly bad, but it did require me to wipe down both sides and the bottom of both hulls including the water line.  That is 15 meters x 4 = 60 meters of cleaning.  I cannot do it with just a snorkel so we get out the hooka (which is similar to scuba gear, but attached to the boat).

It took me over 4 hours to wipe it all down and I was exhausted afterwards.  But it looks great now!

Departure Day

We arrive for our scheduled appointment time to clear out of Fiji and are surprised to find a huge line outside of Customs/Immigration.  We discovered that one of the agents went to Musket Cove to clear out the Outremer Rally and the other agent was late.  She showed up 2.5 hours later, but they cleared the line fairly quickly.  We were hanging with our friends on Eastern Stream, Rhapsody, and Sea Tramp.

Waiting in line to clear customs/immigration in Fiji

Waiting in line to clear customs/immigration in Fiji

We pick up our delivery of fresh goods from Farm Boy and we head out!  Whoop Whoop!   It is about 3 miles from Port Denarau to the pass.  We hoist the main with 2 reefs and set the jib. 

A friend of ours captured Sugar Shack leaving the pass…

Strangely enough we are surrounded by boats.  We look at our chart and there are 18 boats departing with us.  Not including the other 7-8 boats that are departing later in the afternoon.  I guess this is a good window!  We are the red arrow and the green ones are other boats heading to NZ.

In the Middle of Nothing

A frequently asked question….Where do you anchor while you are underway?  We don’t.  We sail 24/7 for as long as it takes to get from Fiji to New Zealand.  Usually after the 2nd day we lose sight of land and proof of life (birds, fish, other boats).  Periodically, another boat will show up on AIS, but usually too far to see with the naked eye.

This is a screen shot of us in the middle of the Pacific.  Nothing out there, not even charts on Navionics (see gray area)!

One night, this boat popped up on our charts at 3 miles away and yet we could not see it.  In the photo it looks like he is right on top of us…

Personal Best

Sugar Shack is a really amazing boat!  She is comfortable, safe, and fast.  Usually we do not push her as we are both conservative cruisers.  But this trip we had to push in order to get to NZ before a forecasted storm.  Even though we had either 1 or 2 reefs in the main and jib, we were still flying!

We had two days where we sailed over 200 miles – that is like the illusive unicorn showing up in your backyard.  Rare!

Many beautiful nights with a partial moon.  Unfortunately for us, he went to sleep before 10:30-11p each night.

We also had many beautiful sunsets

We went through the closet during this passage.  Started out in shorts and a tank top, wore our foul weather gear (and dry suit), and then to warm weather clothes.

The Passage

We ended up arriving in 6.5 days which is ridiculously fast.  We anticipated 8-10 days underway and grossly over estimated.    But we did have a pretty direct route from Fiji to NZ.  If you start at the center top of the image, Fiji, you will see our red line go south toward NZ.  The yellow marks are storms that we dodged.

Where is Waldo the Wind?

We found the blue hole where there is no wind!  We turn on the motors and continue on.  The strong, yet not too strong winds spoiled us by catapulting us at great speeds toward NZ.  But them they just disappeared.  So, we motor sailed, motored, then motor sailed, then motored.

We ended up with at least one engine on the last 2 days.  Bummer.

What Broke?

On Day 2 during a particularly windy period around midnight, 1:00am, we noticed something flying around the top of the mast.  What the heck?  It appears our VHF/AIS Antennae no longer wanted to participate in our reindeer games.  Matt tried to lasso it with a halyard, but within 3 minutes it was gone into the deep, blue sea!  Crap!  Good thing we have a backup.  It is not as good, but it will still send out our position which is what our passage guardian and our charts use to track our progress.   You can see the ripped cable that used to hold the antennae and to the right the new one on a temporary mount by the helm.

The starboard side wind instrument also decided to stop working.  It showed some of the data, but it lost its little arrow which tells you which direction the wind is coming from.  Grrrrr.

Once we got to NZ we were able to reboot the unit and it came back to life.

Almost lost the pin to a car that holds the main.

Check in next week for more on our safe arrival to New Zealand.

Passage Details

  • Total Miles:  1131
  • Max Speed:  13.3kt
  • Average Speed: 7.2kt
  • Total Time at Sea: 6 days 8 hours
  • Port Engine Hours: 51
  • Starboard Engine Hours: 55

If you missed it, check out Matt’s live blog during our passage. They are really, really funny!  They published October 27 thru November 1.

The events from this blog occurred in early September 2022.  Our blog posts run 6-8 weeks behind actual events.  We visit Yalobi in Waya and are rewarded with many beautiful waterfalls in our last blog

Rescue on the Reef

Sugar Shack is anchored about 2nm from the main town of Denarau and 7nm from Vuda at a small island called Yakuilau island.  We had been here for a few days with our friends Mareike and Thomas (on “Scooter”) when we heard the mayday call.  We were in bad weather conditions which were not ideal for a rescue.

Mayday calls are for life-threatening emergencies where as “pan-pan” calls are for urgent situations that are not life-threatening.  So, we immediately thought the worst.  We listened to the VHF to try to determine where the vessel was to see if we could render help.

Within 5-6 minutes we figured out that the boat was on the opposite side of the island we were anchored behind.  The problem was the weather conditions were miserable.  Winds were blowing 18-20kts and the seas were about 1 meter tall with lots of white caps.  Not a time to be out in the dinghy, but we had to go see if we could help.

As soon as we turned the corner of the island we were smashing against the waves and were drenched.  But, we saw the vessel and quickly approached. 

Not sure what happened as the markers for the reef are easy to spot (as we rounded them to get to the boat). 

As we were trying to make a plan another vessel called “Coral Cats” came to help as well. 

1st Vessel Attempt

Coral Cats could not get close to the vessel because of the shallow depths of the reef so we utilized Sweetie to transport the tow ropes between boats.  Coral Cats has (2) 200hp outboards (much bigger than Sweetie’s (1) 25hp outboard).  They tried 3 times to rescue them from the reef before they had to stop because their stern cleat broke off.  Crap!

Bigger is Better: 2nd Attempt

Another roll on/roll off ferry approached while we were using Coral Cats to get the boat off the reef.  It is called BilliBilli and she had a full cargo load but still stopped for 2 hours to help try to rescue the boat.

This boat was much harder to maneuver, but had a lot more horse power.  We tried at least 5/6 times to rescue this boat off the reef.  Sweetie going back and forth multiple times as the lines had to be dropped each time the ferry repositioned herself.

We were able to turn the boat into the wind which was a huge win.  She no longer was side to the wind and waves which were pushing her further onto the reef. BilliBilli had to go as they were terribly late so we were left with this poor boat on the reef.

An Idea Comes to Mind

Matt has them drop their anchor and most of their anchor chain into our dinghy and we take it out as far as we can and drop it.  We tell them to winch in on the chain during each wave.  This will use the boat’s weight to slowly pull her off the reef.  But they had to wait for high tide at 1:30am to do most of the work.

We get a text at 3:30am that they are off the reef and anchored in front of Denarau. Thank Goodness!

What did not work?

We did not know that this is a ferro cement boat. Yep, you read that right, it is made of cement and super duper heavy.  There is or was no way our little dinghy could have done anything to help rescue her off the reef. 

We did try to use our dinghy to push her sideways while the ferry was pulling her out – that didn’t work.  We also tried to use their main halyard to pull them over and that almost flipped Sweetie – that didn’t work.

More Help

The next day, the owners asked us to help them bring the boat to the haul out facility and to be there to help assess the damage.

Why did they do that?  Well, I had texted my friend Dominique at Raiatea Carenage to see if he had any ideas on how we could help remove the boat from the reef.  He has a remarkably successful track record of rescuing boats in French Polynesia.  He actually knew the boat and the owners and told them that we would be good resources to help them.

Assessing the Damage

They haul the boat out and we were all shocked by the lack of damage!  It is a cement boat after all.  The keel is made of steel and had separated at the joint and curved in to starboard.  From the join down there is a curve but at the end there is a significant bend.  Had the keel been made of cement (like the rest of the boat), it would have shattered. The keel is made of metal because it is heavier.

The rudder also suffered some damage where it separated from the support and bent slightly to starboard.

The shaft and prop were untouched, the engine worked fine, and the hull didn’t appear to have any damage.

Overall, they were extremely blessed to have so little damage.  None of the three souls on board were injured and the boat can be repaired for a little money.

The events from this blog occurred in early September 2022.  Our blog posts run 6-8 weeks behind actual events.  Our last blog is on the beautiful Mana Island explored during low tide.

Manta Ray Escapades

One of the main reasons we wanted to come to the Astrolabe Reef was to see the manta rays.  We had heard that there is a “cleaning station” and a good area where they feed near Vurolevu island.  This is a mere 1.5nm from Yabu where we are anchored.  

What is a “cleaning station”? A Manta Ray Cleaning Station is a location where fish, sharks, and mantas gather to get a regular hygiene check by parasitic copepods and a variety of small cleaner wrasse. Mantas spend some hours of the day here to get their gills, and skin cleaned.

Vurolevu Island and the Manta Rays

The next morning we head to Vurolevu island with the hopes of finding a few mantas.  As we approach the northern tip and slow the dinghy down, we immediately spot a large manta in the water.  Sweet.  In I go!

There is a nice current here with the water flow delivering delicious plankton into the mouths of these gentle giants.  I enjoy the alone time with 2 medium sized mantas (wing span of about 2-2.5 meters).

Within 15 minutes I am joined by 3 other tourists and decide to head to where Matt is which is about 300 yards from me.  SCORE!  He found the cleaning station.  Check out all the little fish having a field day with these mantas!  They swim around, under, and inside the mantas.  Yes, they swim inside their mouth and come out their gills!  Silly or brave, not sure which?

Manta Rays will jump out of the water to rid themselves of parasites (if they are not near a cleaning station).  They also jump out of the water when they want to impress a lady and or to simply play.

A Cleaning Station

There was no current over where we were swimming, so we could literally just hang out and admire these beauties!  Even though these animals are ginormous, they are not dangerous.  Some of the manta rays that we saw here had a wing span of 4.5-5 meters!  We are talking really, really huge!

But, mantas are harmless and can’t hurt swimmers.  We have found them to be very curious creatures and will often swim up next to and below you if you stay calm and still enough.  They really are delicate animals with no aggressive behaviors and are known to not be predatory in nature.

What do manta rays eat?

Mantas are filter feeders feeding on microscopic plankton near the surface of the water.  They glide back and forth high current areas gathering plankton. A manta ray eats 19,200,000 pieces of plankton every week – that’s a lot of plankton!

Did you know that the closest relative to a manta ray is a shark?  Unlike sharks, mantas don’t have teeth.  They sieve plankton out of the water using a row of tiny plates in their mouth, which they funnel in as they swim. 

One manta came so close to me that I actually saw him looking at me – honestly, he was checking me out!

I wanted to show you how very large these creatures were, but Matt was so far away that it is hard to get a perspective.  And, he happened to go below with a juvenile, not a full size manta.

Hurt Mantas

The natural predators for manta rays are sharks and whales.  Despite their large size and fast speeds, they do get hurt.

We saw several mantas with broken wings and bites out of their tail area.  Their wings naturally flow seamlessly to a fine point, but two of the mantas had their wing tips bent down.  It did not seem to slow them down.  Another two mantas had semi circle bites out of their left tail area.

Did you know?

  • Manta rays have the largest brain to size ratio of any cold-blooded fish?  
  • They have huge brains – the biggest of any fish! 
  • Believed to be as smart and highly cognitive as dolphins, primates, and elephants.
  • Studies have found that their brains are especially developed for learning, problem solving and communicating.
  • Some scientist believe that mantas can recognize their reflection, a sign of self-awareness.

The events from this blog occurred in early September 2022.  Our blog posts run 6-8 weeks behind actual events.  We visit many island near the Astrolabe reef in our last blog post.