Thursday, November 22, 2012

A trip up the Brisbane River

Tao could have kept on going, but after 15 days we needed a break! Rivergate, where we checked into Australia, is an upscale marina where Customs/Quarrantine has fenced off a dock end. After being checked in, the marina folks graciously allowed us to use their facilities where we took the most luxurious clean, hot water showers that we have had in the last year! Late afternoon with winds up from one direction and current strongly moving the other, conditions at the dock were very choppy and all fenders were deployed and working. By evening, however, winds relaxed and tidal swing mellowed creating a smooth environment allowing for great sleep. Very grateful for a safe night of sleep, we did not want to overstay our welcome, so early the next morning after a cup of tea and a brief chat with neighbors on Barracuda (who had landed several hours after us), we pushed off the dock into the Brisbane River. With knowledge gleaned from other cruisers that have visited before us, our sights were set up river under several large bridges toward the Brisbane City center.

The river was just starting to flood, so we moved up the swirly brown current with no sails and needed very little engine assist to travel at 6-knots. We immediately noticed City Cat motor ferries rapidly darting from one side of the river to the other carrying their passenger loads, their drivers unfailingly waved back. A highway ran alongside the north bank of the river and vehicles (on the wrong side of the road, mind you) raced along. Both sides of the river were overrun by fun colored houses, subtropical vegetation, and large buildings with Jacaranda blooming in front, were built literally at the water’s edge. Heading westward, inland, up the meandering river, boats were moored and anchored along each inside bend. After a brief hour, Brisbane City came into view. Large skyscrapers huddled on both sides of the river connected with large metal bridges. We continued on under what our chart called Story Bridge and finally came to our goal: Brisbane City Botanic Garden where we had heard tale of reasonably priced pile moorings.

Unlike any harbor we have seen thus far, there were four long rows (A-D) of pile moorings, each with a boat tied bow to one and stern to the next, with rows in between just large enough for a boat to pass. Since we had arrived on a New Moon, the river was now flooding quickly (with 8-ft+ tidal swings), so we ferried around with Tao as we scoped out the scene. It was very interesting maneuvering Tao on a fast flowing river. Another larger sailboat had arrived just before us and was homing in on one of the few available moorings. They filled us in that the inside “A” row is for smaller vessels and if there are lines between the moorings, even if there is no boat, they are reserved. After circling the four rows and finding plenty of depth (15-ft at high tide) and one space that we believed was available, we decided it was prudent to put Fatty in the water and attach a line to the up-current mooring to make securing Tao in tight quarters with strong current safer. Seeing our quandary, one of the locals hopped in his dinghy and offered us a ride; we were very grateful!

With approximately 50-ft between the moorings, we picked up our floated up-current bow line, and reversed back to attach a line for the stern on the down-current mooring. Yet another mooring situation tackled, we breathed a sigh of relief and sat back to look around. We found ourselves tied up in the smaller, shore side line of moorings, with a boardwalk along the City Botanic Gardens a mere 60-ft to our port, literally in the center of Brisbane! Turns out we lucked out getting a space here, apparently a man who has disappeared had abandoned a small motor cruiser here and it sank just two weeks ago (and was subsequently removed by the city for $45K). After an introduction to the area by several interesting characters rowing by toward the dinghy dock, we made our way to the city office to pay for our space in what the shore-side sign proclaims as the “Garden Point Boat Harbor”. Intended for transients such as ourselves yet mostly filled by local live-aboards, these moorings and their onshore restroom, shower, laundry, and garbage facilities are a steal for a mere $70AUS per week. It is quite special to be located in the heart of this city with our own personal waterfront apartment!

We were surprisingly efficient that first day of transition. On our initial trip ashore we gaped as we walked among the towering buildings. First stop, yummy fresh and fast Asian food to fuel us. Second stop, local cell company Telstra, to purchase a SIM card with data so we can get connected (HAM radio isn’t working in the busy/noisy city). Third stop, a bank to exchange our left over Fijian dollars, though later we saw plenty of street exchanges that may have been more economical. Next, we made our way through the city swarming with people, many of whom were very helpful when we asked how to find the correct department to sign up for our moorings. Finally, we stopped at a local grocery (Woolworths and Coles, both clothing stores in the US are the grocery options here). Jackpot! We bought kalmata olive sourdough bread, T-bone steak, fresh broccoli and clean white mushrooms for dinner to be followed with yogurt for dessert; all items that have been inaccessible to us throughout our journey.

We are a bit shell shocked to have been dropped in the middle of a huge city that seems like it should be the US, but somehow everything is just different… Cut off jean shorts and quasi-80’s styles seem to be the rage. Aside from a lot of smoking, the city is quite clean and full of fun activities for all ages, with a plethora of gorgeous natural areas. Public transport is well established and user friendly. All the amenities of a big city (4 million Brissie and surrounds vs 10 million in LA and surrounds) seem to be packed in a small area with the Brisbane River right in the middle. Straight away we had several days of thunderstorms. Amazing lightning shows with deluges of freshwater and even balls of hail. Wonderfully less scary when there are all sorts of taller masts, trees and buildings around us then out in the middle of the ocean alone. Once connected, we contacted our families, figured out where the surrounding Bikram Yoga studios are all located, and started to make lists of everything we hope to accomplish while here. Each day we feel more recovered, but there is so much to do and see and take care of now that we are on the sidelines of the fast-paced world again. We are daily trying to streamline to get a little efficient with the short time we will have here, while still enjoying ourselves. Thus far we are doing better at relaxing than at being efficient, with the last 2 to 3 days melting away as we do yoga and catch up on the internet. We plan to spend a second week here in the city center before heading back down river and out to a Moreton Bay marina where we can focus on our next steps. We are both extremely happy and grateful to be here just in time to celebrate US Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Day 15- G'Day Australia!

Time: 0100 Zulu, noon New Cal, 1100 Brisbane (Thurs 15 Nov)
Position: 27*27'S 153*06'E
Wind: NE 12 Seas: calm(!)
Avg. Course: 219-deg T
Avg. Speed: 4.2-knots
Rig: sails nestled in their terra cotta covers
24-hr Distance noon to noon point: 67.1-nm

Surprising us, after noon winds picked up from the NW, in cyclical patterns up and down. We drew closer and closer knowing that land loomed near, close enough already to smell it and attributing the inconsistent winds to its proximity. About 30-nm off shore, the water color abruptly changed from that indescribably beautiful deep off shore blue to a lighter hue with shades of green found in shallower waters. Continental shelf?! It has been since California since we've been on one of those, we are used to deep, deep, deep, then land. The VHF chatter was almost non-stop, filled with "securite" announcements from different Australian Coast Guard stations warning of impending heavy weather. As we got close enough to make out all the words, we gratefully realized not until the next afternoon winds were forecast to be up to 35-knots. This increased our already high motivation to make landfall sooner than later. 1430, our last PacSea Net check-in for a while, we marvelled at how we had checked in with them nearly every day of passage since leaving Mexico. Calculating our progress, we replaced the 100% with the 80% and reefed down to triple-reefed mains'l in an attempt to reach and cross the Moreton Bay Bar at high flood to high slack, if we were lucky maybe with a few streaks of sun left in the sky. "Land Ho!" Chris spotted it first in the cloudless but hazy horizon. Beautiful sunny sailing conditions and soon-to-meet-Australian-officials, it was a perfect time to fit in another cockpit shower. We knew it was likely to be another sleepless night, so Shawn stayed up to allow Chris to catch a few extra moments of shut eye for the upcoming marathon, using the extra time to make pizza (in an attempt to use all food stuff that might soon be confiscated).

All too soon, the AIS alarm was ringing too frequently for Chris to ignore. We were close. And there were already 3 cargo ships on the horizon. We played a small game of chicken with one, turning around assuming he would keep speed and course, then slowly working our way around him as he slowed and turned toward the other cargo ships holding at the NW Moreton Bay entrance. Preparing for the hair-raising but purportedly well lit NE channel bar crossing, we rolled up the shade tarp and readied Yannie. Sunset, pizza, and a radio conversation with Britannia and Convivia and it was time. Shallowing rapidly, seas were a bit strangely rolly. At 2000, we dropped the 80% and started Yannie to assist if necessary. Following very specific waypoints that were cross checked with satellite images, we zig-zagged our way between the promised lit markers just inside of Moreton Island. Chris on deck closely followed the GPS track trying not to crash-jibe the mains'l in the squirrely seas as we moved from waypoint to waypoint being flushed with the tide at near unmanageable speeds. Shawn down below, checked our course on our chart plotter and watched with horror the seemingly never-ending stream of cargo ships working their way down the NW channel and more already located inside the bay. Finally our path met the shipping lane path, and we crossed it as quickly as possible turning off the unused Yannie. After skirting through a section among shoals, we thought we were clear of traffic, but it turned out the route we chose was actually used as a shipping lane as well. Shawn was on the radio over and over with this cargo ship and that. Once we had to turn our on spreader lights to illuminate us so a ship could avoid. Because we were not yet checked in we couldn't drop the hook, less than ideal having to ride one flood in and wait 12-hrs for the next flood to ride up the river. Purely exhausted Shawn was unable to handle even one more ship. Luckily we had made it far enough away from the transiting area and were able to heave-to. Bravo again Tao and Chris even managed to stay awake to continually scan for traffic and drift and there was always the AIS alarm to wake us if we dozed.

At 0500 with the first hints of dawn in the sky, we began progress again toward our river entrance with plans to get there near the beginning of the flood and ride it in to our Brisbane River Rivergate Marina goal. With strict check-in requirements, Shawn spent nearly the entire transit cleaning and organizing down below while Chris rode the flooding river out of the Bay and into a quasi graveyard of cargo ships. In our 5-miles up the river we passed two tugs moving cargo ships and pushing them off, and finally we found the check-in having reached it just after the 0730 local start of their work day. Chris did an excellent job docking Tao against the very strong current and about an hour later two jolly Customs officials joined us. Very nice people, it was actually almost fun to check in and begin to learn little bits about Australia. After we had asked lots of questions about where to go for the night, they very nicely offered us to stay at the Q-dock free of charge for one night- citing, and rightly so, a safety concern that we looked "shattered" and "cactus" and obviously needed sleep. An hour later just as we finished with Customs, three Quarantine officials showed up and joined us aboard. They took pictures of the interior wood for future reference to assure that we do not have timber pests. The Quarrantine official confiscated amazingly less than we had expected, so though we have consumed a good portion, we still have way more than we thought we would and plenty food to work through. So we will stay here in this busy river at the foot of a large bridge to take a first go at catching up on much needed sleep. Besides some rough times in this passage, honestly planets aligned to usher us safely here filled with more amazing experiences we have yet to process. It is hard for us to fathom that we are here in Brisbane Australia, for so long such a lofty goal. Now we find ourselves half way around the world to the day four years after departing SF Bay, pinch us, are we really here?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Day 14- Homing in on Brisbane

Time: 0100 Zulu, noon New Cal, 1100 Brisbane (Wed 14 Nov)
Position: 26*35'S 153*54'E
Wind: NW 11 Seas: NE 4-ft
Avg. Course: 231-deg T
Avg. Speed: 4.5-knots
Rig: 100% jib, full mains'l
24-hr Distance noon to noon point: 109-nm
Distance to Brisbane: 40-nm (to Morton Bay entrance, another 50-nm to check-in point)

Soon after yesterday's noon point, we put up the rest of the mains'l and continued to make decent way in rather light ESE winds on the northern edge of the currently dominating High. As the sun set we discussed our approach options to Brisbane over a jaipur vegetable, quinoa, asparagus and beet dinner. The point that we have been sailing toward for two weeks now is actually the entrance to Morton Bay, which houses Brisbane. To enter the bay, a bar must be crossed, possible at any tide or weather condition, but expected strong currents it would be best to enter as the tide is flooding. Once inside the bay, is a circuitous approximately 45-nm journey to the Brisbane River. The check-in station is another 5-nm up the river, which must be navigated with a flood tide and reached, of course, during business hours. We discussed several options to try to enter and transit Morton Bay in daylight as well as getting another 50-nm to the check-in during business hours. This would only be possible if we heave-to in Morton Bay for an entire night pushing our check-in date back to 16 Nov. All plans depend on how the weather holds, if we can continue making way sailing, or if we need to enlist Yannie's services.

After our powwow, we popped open the sun roof (rolled up the sun cover) to reveal the heavens above. It was celestially glorious, with not a cloud in the sky, light winds pushing us along in the right direction. Stars and planets rose and streaked across the sky. In our cockpit, through both of our night watches we had stadium seating 360-degree views of the night-time skies. This is the perfection that we naively thought that most nights underway would be like, so we savor the moments that it actually happens. As we moved to the edge of the High, winds started to back to the E then ENE so we jibed the mains'l and ran wing-on-wing for a while before it continued to back and we jibed the heads'l as well for a full starboard tack. This morning we were treated to a solar eclipse! The winds continue to back N and even NW so at our noon point we are sailing upwind toward our destination. With mellow seas we are making excellent time even with a strong set to the south from a long shore current. We had forgotten how inconsistent conditions are near a large continental mass, and as we deal with constant variations in the winds, we wonder if we will catch a glimpse of the Australian coast before the sun sets this evening.

Radio traffic continues to increase in frequency and we were surprised to hear crystal clear Australian military aircraft hailing boats on VHF16 requesting their information. Maybe they will hail us today? If conditions hold, with excellent charts and waypoints, we plan to enter and cross Morton Bay tonight to reach the Brisbane River mouth tomorrow early morning and ride the flood tide in to Rivergate Marina check-in. It will be a long night on high traffic alert and navigating under a [hopefully] star-filled sky, as we are in a New Moon phase. Wish us well.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Day 13- from handkerchief to full sails

Time: 0100 Zulu noon New Cal (Tues 13 Nov)
Position: 25*27'S 155*29'E
Wind: ESE 8 Seas: SE 5-ft
Avg. Course: 247-deg T
Avg. Speed: 4.5-knots
Rig: 100% jib, double-reefed mains'l
24-hr Distance noon to noon point: 109-nm
Distance to Brisbane: 150-nm

What a difference a day makes! Conditions began to ease ever so slowly as the sun got closer to the horizon. Just after our nightly contact with Convivia/Britannia in the lengthening twilight, Shawn decided conditions had actually mellowed enough to raise the storm jib. Through her watch until midnight, conditions continued to gradually decrease necessitating preventing the mains'l from flogging as we rolled in the large left-over seas on our beam. Chris' watch saw more decreases in the winds and shaking of reef after reef. As the sun rose, the main came up and was soon followed by a heads'l change to our 100% jib. The front that so recently provided us all the fun weather has moved east and been replaced with a nice stable High. Unfortunately, we are near the center of that High which means very little wind. This is why we wanted to make miles in yesterday's conditions, using the winds while they're here. Too much, not enough, always in search of that perfect balance, we are definitely not complaining. It is a treat to have such calm conditions. We have been eating a ton of food, cleaning up, drying out, and starting to catch up on a backlog of sleep. Every so often we hear distant traffic on the VHF, reminding us that we draw near to a major continent. Time to start making preparations for impending landfall in the next couple days.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Day 12- Blustery and Wet

Time: 0100 Zulu noon New Cal (Mon 12 Nov)
Position: 24*44'S 157*20'E
Wind: ESE 23-27 gusting 30 Seas: ESE 10-15-ft
Avg. Course: 251-deg T
Avg. Speed: 6.0-knots
Rig: triple-reefed mains'l alone
24-hr Distance noon to noon point: 41.7-nm (this is actually the distance traveled since we stopped heaving-to this morning around 0500)
Distance to Brisbane: 256-nm

It has been epic and still continues... After our noon point yesterday we stayed bobbing, waiting for the big wind switch for a little over 10-hrs. We each alternatively got some sleep, watched squalls roll by, and enjoyed nature's energetic sunset together. Bobbing around without a known direction the bow is pointing is very disorienting and even more so in the dark. Around 2000 Shawn pulled out the hand-bearing compass yet again after determining a bright spot was not a star. After a while she determined it was not a cargo ship, but definitely coming toward us and not answering her radio hails. An hour later, worried, as we were essentially a vessel of restricted maneuverability just bobbing, Chris managed to raise them on the radio. It turns out it was sailing vessel Knotty Lady, a boat we haven't actually met, but close friends of ours had. We had nice radio chat with them, en route to Bundaberg also awaiting the weather, and we hope to connect with them once ashore. Small world.

An hour and a half later, Chris again snoring, Shawn was on deck and noted a squall was approaching. From our rather quiet conditions, she could hear it howling toward us and was hoping it was just rain. It did contain a ton of rain, but was indeed the weather reaching us and also contained a ton of wind. Side to the wind and swells, Chris was up and dressed in a flash to check out the scene. Immediately drenched, it was time to go. We decided first to pull up the storm jib and run with it. The storm roared and deluges of water fell upon us. There were no stars, no outside light sources to orient us, we were blind, feeling the weather, and literally racing along at over 7-knots, frequently surfing quickly building seas. Neither of us felt comfortable with this, who knew how much the winds would continue to increase? We dropped the jib and ran bare poled for a moment, still going over 5-knots and surfing. Decision made, we decided to heave-to. Shawn up on deck, clipped in, attached the 3rd reef point at the mast and removed the sail ties, Chris at the helm, used our forward momentum to turn us up into the wind. Up went the mains'l to triple-reef, easier than usual because up into the wind (usually we are taking it up and down as we head off the wind, so shrouds and lazy jacks catch things). Still blind, Chris using the mast head indicator got us in the hove-to position. As the wind whipped by, it took Shawn seeing the numbers on our GPS to believe our forward momentum had basically ceased.

Approximately 30-knots of wind and 9-ft seas it was the heaviest weather we've hove-to in yet. It was quite amazing, really. Both of us stayed awake to monitor. Chris on deck watching the sail set, wind speeds and angle, and cloud movements. Shawn down below pouring over the GPS calculating our drift speed and direction, and chronicling it in the log book. It was our first all-nighter in a long while. Over the next 5-hrs, winds starting at 30-knots continually decreased to 25, then 20, and as the sliver moon rose with the morning star and dawn conditions, had quieted to almost 15-knots allowing us to get a bit more beam to and roll more uncomfortably. It was time to go. Time to make use of the winds and make some miles toward Brisbane. Dawn was stunning the sun lighting the front moving away from us and we were both extremely happy and relieved to be sailing in 18-20-knots under triple-reefed mains'l and storm jib at a fast clip in relative comfort considering 9-ft seas on the beam, but bow pointed in the right direction.

We thought we had made it through the difficult part, but soon realized there were more challenges to come. Chris grabbed a little sleep while Shawn continued on deck. Unfortunately, 2 hours later, she woke him to help with dodging a rather large squall. We were successful, as it mostly crossed ahead of us, but winds behind it filled in quite strongly. Soon winds were gusting to 23 consistently and seas were building, crashing onto Tao into the cockpit every so often. We downloaded weather, and sure enough as we moved from our [gratefully] well placed hove-to spot toward the SW, winds were expected to be strong for another 12-hrs. Chris took over again on deck and sailed us onward to the noon point. Clouds built to cover the sky, reminding him of afternoon skies on our passage en route to Hawaii. Storm jib dropped in the heavier weather, we more slowly make way in the right direction as winds gust near 30 and seas roll by at nearly 15-ft. It has been a sunny (even through the clouds), windy, blustery, exposed, energy sapping day. We are both quite exhausted and really, really hope that forecasts hold and conditions moderate just after the sun sets to more manageable "blind" night navigation conditions.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Day 11- Waiting for the trough

Time: 0100 Zulu noon New Cal (Sun 11 Nov)
Position: 24*31'S 158*03'E
Wind: light and variable Seas: Mixed with ENE 7-ft
Avg. Course: 316-deg T
Avg. Speed: 5.6-knots
Rig: double-reefed mains'l, hove-to
24-hr Distance noon to noon point: 68.6-nm (actual distance traveled approx 107-nm between noon yesterday and 0700 this morning when we hove-to)
Distance to Brisbane: 297-nm

It's been a bit of a stressful 24-hrs for us. When we uploaded yesterday's post, we also downloaded more weather data and it had changed (as it tends to when dealing with unstable weather). It became obvious that a Low was forming; unfortunately, right where we were headed. We did some more downloading of Spot reports in areas that looked less ominous on the GRIBs and decided where to try to position ourselves by the time the trough reached us. So, about we came about and trimmed our sails for upwind and set course back the way we had come. It has been a while since true upwind work for us, but always game, Tao raced on without pause, intent to reach her hopefully safe goal. We only took one 15-min detour, tacking at the "shipping lane" between the banks we had been the night previously, when we crossed the path of yet another cargo ship and 1-nm was a little too close for comfort. This time headed for Brisbane, the captain, though responsive to the radio hail, was not as excited to chat.

About 60-nm later at 0700 we reached our chosen spot and hove to in order to assess. More weather downloads looked as good as we could expect. We hope that we are now well positioned and are preparing for heavy SE winds that will fill in with the passage of the front. The forecast is for 12-hrs of 25-30-knots followed by another 12-hrs of 20-25 and then winds petering out from there, leaving us in the non-windy center of the next High. Our plans currently range from staying hove-to (with triple reefed mains'l), to running with storm jib alone and hopefully making a curving arc toward Brisbane as the winds ease, to our back up plan of launching the Galerider to slow our speeds if necessary. The morning of being hove-to has been almost pleasant, providing us time to prepare ourselves (forcing Shawn, who has been nauseous from the stress, lack of sleep, and worry, to eat) and Tao a little bit more, and Chris even fit in a shower before hitting the bunk. At around 1100 we got some sprinkles and then a heavy deluge and winds decreased and became variable to nonexistent. Just after the noon point, Shawn pulled down the main altogether as there was no longer enough wind to actually keep us hove-to. So currently we bob and wait and we shall see what the scenario actually calls for when it gets here tonight around 0300. We suppose there is no better way to really learn about weather than actually experiencing it. Thanks for all your good thoughts!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Day 10- Nervous anticipation

Time: 0100 Zulu noon New Cal (Sat 10 Nov)
Position: 25*20'S 158*55'E
Wind: ENE 15 Seas: E 9-ft
Avg. Course: 242-deg T
Avg. Speed: 5.2-knots
Rig: storm jib and double-reefed mains'l
24-hr Distance noon to noon point: 109-nm (actual distance traveled approx 135-nm)
Distance to Brisbane: 322-nm

It has been another beautiful day. Tao flying along, sun out, few clouds, life is good. Unfortunately, these conditions are not forecast to stay. Weather analyses yesterday morning showed that we will have to cross a trough between the two highs. That means high winds and squalls. We requested another voyage update worried about this feature and McDavitt has routed us to head south, to avoid a stronger area of high winds to the north and instead cross where it may be wetter but slightly calmer. It is frustrating, as the original routing kept us north, to have a good angle to approach Brisbane with long shore currents. So we followed it between two banks yesterday (hard to believe in the middle of the ocean there are banks shallow enough to anchor on!), frustrating because we could have gained precious mileage south if we had not made the detour... But at least we got to pass a cargo ship at that tightest of moments between the two banks. Shawn had a nice radio conversation; they had just left Brisbane and were en route to New Caledonia. After clearing the banks, Chris turned us south and Tao has been running since. After the sun rose and we downloaded weather showing us again that farther south is better, we put up the 80% and the full mains'l and are moving along averaging around 6-knots. We expect approximately 24 more hours before the trough reaches us and then another 24-hrs of wet and windy. This extra jaunt south will add extra mileage to our voyage, but should allow us to fall off and run with strong SE winds. Anticipation is difficult and again we find ourselves looking forward to being on the other side. Please keep sending good weather thoughts and don't be surprised if we don't post for the next couple days while the weather is rough!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Day 9- a thankfully mellow day

Time: 0100 Zulu noon New Cal (Fri 9 Nov)
Position: 24*26'S 160*36'E
Wind: ENE 15+ Seas: E 6-ft
Avg. Course: 260-deg T
Avg. Speed: 5.1-knots
Rig: storm jib and double-reefed mains'l
24-hr Distance noon to noon point: 122-nm
Distance to Brisbane: 428-nm

A much needed day with sunny skies and mellow seas and winds. Still, we're ticking miles off with our storm jib and mains'l. Chris ended up with a migraine during his afternoon watch, so we pumped him up with broth, tea, and saffron rice and bean quesadillas and sent him to bed. Evening watches were also mellow with a few squally looking clouds that spit a little rain and shifted winds a bit, but nothing big. Winds did start backing to the ENE with our approach to the west end of the High that has dominated our trip. Stars abound with the moon coming up later and smaller each night. Shawn is getting familiar with Taurus, Jupiter, and Orien rising in the E off our stern- even if Orien does come up feet first down here! And the glow of one fishing vessel was spotted off our starboard, though it never got too close. The wind shift has made it difficult to hold our course, so after a stellar sunrise, we jibed to starboard tack to get back to our route line by noon point. It has been nice that some of our cruising friends are underway, so making evening radio contact with them is a comfort. PacSea check ins and upload/downloads in the afternoons and listening to Gulf Harbor Radio in the mornings continue. Looks like we're faced with one more weather feature to get through, a ridge/front as a new High pressure moves in, likely early Sunday. We continue to savor every mellow moment we can and rest up for challenges ahead.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Day 8- Savoring calmer seas

Time: 0100 Zulu noon New Cal (Wed 7 Nov)
Position: 24*08'S 162*53'E
Wind: ESE 16-17 Seas: SE 6-8-ft
Avg. Course: 256-deg T
Avg. Speed: 5.5-knots
Rig: storm jib and double-reefed mains'l
24-hr Distance noon to noon point: 131-nm
Distance to Brisbane: 547-nm

We have spent much of our past day trying to decide whether to shake out another reef, then do, then get overpowered, then pull it back in, then start the process over again. A slight overall decrease in the winds/seas has made life much more comfortable out here. This allows us to eat better, clean up a bit, and catch up on sleep while the going is mellow. In terms of food, things have been a bit different this passage as Shawn pretty much makes whatever she thinks of- no reason to try to save anything or meter it out for months in uninhabited islands anymore. Last night we had a delicious raw sprout salad with roasted red peppers (a la Trader Joes) black olives and chicken. Late this morning we followed with tri-colored Quinoa, raisin, artichoke heart chicken salad. It is fun and delicious to use the precious stores that we have been saving. And mellower seas of course helps the belly be interested.

We each rescued huge flying fish today, Chris after one launched and smacked Shawn's bum as she stood adjusting Moni, and Shawn after one landed on our upwind deck. Our chosen method thus far is scooping them up with a bowl and depositing them back into their watery home. Chris has shaken and pulled reefs in the mains'l more times than we'll count and curses the downwind lazy jack every time as it snags passing battens or wraps outside of the spreader shroud. No system is perfect, but we're pretty happy with how well things are working right now. As we move west, the sun is setting later (much to Shawn's relief as the "schedule" eliminated sunset viewing for her early in the passage) and as we move south twilight lingers longer. We are extra grateful to be in the stable High as this morning we listened on the SSB to the havoc that the tropical storm (downgraded to depression) that spawned in our wake, created on the NZ bound boats over the past night. We are aware that at the same time the US electorate has been choosing a path for the next four years. It is strange to be so far removed and we are keenly aware how much the world continues to march forward while we are out here adventuring. We've heard rumors but look forward to updates on this pivotal event. Out here, we steadily focus on each task in front of us to altogether work us consistently toward our current Brisbane goal.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Day 7- Already Halfway!

Time: 0100 Zulu noon New Cal (Wed 7 Nov)
Position: 23*37'S 165*12'E
Wind: SE 16-19 Seas: SE 8-10-ft
Avg. Course: 256-deg T
Avg. Speed: 4.7-knots
Rig: storm jib and triple-reefed mains'l
24-hr Distance noon to noon point: 113-nm
Distance to Brisbane: 677-nm

It was fantastic to watch the stormy overcast conditions melt away behind us as Tao galloped for the blue skies ahead, then above, then around us yesterday afternoon. Both of us were a bit shell-shocked, exhausted and in need of some mellow recovery time as we continue to process our recent experiences. We each took a short 3-hr watch, Shawn checking in on the PacSea Net during what is normally Chris' watch and Chris uploading/downloading a bit later than normal to get us back to our "normal" watch schedules. A bit gun-shy (Shawn especially), we spent much longer under jib alone than necessary just to ensure a mellow ride through the heavier gusts and our daily mileage reflects that. Still, around midnight, we passed our halfway mileage of about 730-nm ahead and behind in this passage.

It turns out that we what we went through was the genesis of a Convergence/Squash Zone between the building Low and strong High (above 1030 hPa) which has now established and many boats underway to NZ are unfortunately currently experiencing similar conditions (though likely minus the lightning, traffic and land masses). We have made it to the High pressure = more stable weather. It is a large high, so winds are a bit stronger than we might choose, but they're from a favorable direction, so we'll take it any day over unstable weather associated with Lows. The large and not totally organized seas make horizon scans difficult, at times, unable to see any horizon at all from the troughs. In these higher winds we are searching for balanced sail combinations that still allow us to reef down in sudden increases. Winds have been gusty, in the lulls we could use a bit more sail area, but in the gusts we move along just fine with the storm jib and associated amount of mains'l. Tao was obviously made for this, she surges forward unperturbed as she if forced to rock one way and roll back the other in a graceful pattern as the waves roll under us. She, however, is a bit of a wet ride in these conditions. Foul weather gear is pretty much a necessity if you're going on deck. And our foulie gear is sadly decrepit. Shawn wears a pair of thin rain pants and jacket under hers to keep inner clothing dry and Chris just wears his board shorts and no socks expecting to be wet through by the end of the watch. It feels a bit like being bundled up in a snow suit, doubling the length of time necessary to visit the head. However threadbare, the foulies do still provide a bit of necessary warmth insulation with temperatures dropping as we head south and west.

We continue to work at keeping our speeds up but not overpowered and we steadily make way toward Brisbane. Continually scanning the horizon for signs of others- Chris and the AIS saw a cargo ship pass in the dark of this morning and we have both been entertained by flocks of birds masterfully gliding, fishing, and maneuvering in the wind around the peaks and troughs of the ocean waves. There are many moments in this world of constant motion where we feel at peace, in tune, connected with nature as we take a smooth ride amidst the roll, back in the groove.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Day 6- Mid-passage Crux

Time: 0100 Zulu noon New Cal (Tues 6 Nov)
Position: 23*11'S 167*12'E
Wind: ESE 18-20+ Seas: ESE 8-10-ft
Avg. Course: 239-deg T
Avg. Speed: 4.9-knots
Rig: storm jib
24-hr Distance noon to noon point: 117-nm

The past 24-hrs have possibly been the most challenging of our sailing passage-making. Let me set the scene... Overcast stormy day, winds in the 20's already, seas nearing 12-ft. Add to that navigating around land, the land effect on wind and weather (promontory effect, inducing convection, and traffic fears) with less than 30-nm of sea room in each direction. Then sun sets, dark with no moon, and the coup d'etat, add lightning. Shawn has been feeling irrationally stressed about "when the other shoe would drop," and it did. We had been wooed to believe we could get far enough west to avoid the convection and would just see rain, and mostly we did avoid the majority of it. However, the edge still packed some punch. The lightning show started just as it was time for Chris to head off watch. Shawn talked him into staying to observe it for a while to ensure that we were not going to collide with it. We watched for an hour as continuous sheet lightning and random bolts lit the sky every few seconds and undiscernible distance away. Even more frustrating, we could not tell what direction it was moving if at all. Maybe it was happily over Iles de Pin? Not so lucky. Two hours later we were sure we were on a collision course with the storm. So we jibed (very disorienting in pitch black and rain). But this direction we began seeing lightning as well and it was retracing our route. Chris said aloud, "if we're going to have lightning, we might as well at least be going in the right direction." So, we jibed again and were back on our course. Over the next unbelievably stressful 6 hours we counted the space between flashes right next to our boat and rumbling thunder that shook us and both prayed a lot. Nothing like lightning everywhere to make a person feel pretty small and helpless. It was likely the most scary thing we've been through. We are immeasurably grateful to have been allowed to pass safely.

Of course this means our watch schedules are completely off, so once the flashes were less frequent, Shawn offered for Chris who had completely missed his off watch to sleep a bit and covered until 4am. It felt completely blind, cloud cover so thick, no moon light illuminating anything, moisture clouds nearly down to the surface of the water, rain dumping in sheets. Thanks to Tao, our Warhorse, and Moni for taking over, picking a safe line and galloping onward. Daylight was near when Chris took over, but rain still abound and winds picked up a bit. Just after getting SSB word from David (Gulf Harbor Radio weather guy) that we only had a little bit more to go, winds intensified. We both jumped up on deck and pulled the mains'l down completely and gaped in awe at the conditions. Coming around the end of the island must have created a promontory effect, or maybe it was a squash zone between the low and the high. For whatever reason, instead of 20+knots, winds jumped up to 28-35-knots. Seas were more than 12-ft and wind was blowing the tops off of them. Our deck and cockpit were often awash and we finally had to take down our shade tarp to avoid it ripping. Out of the frying pan, into the fire... We just had to make a little more to windward before being able to fall off 20-degrees after passing the southern most reef. Chris stalwartly manned the deck watching Tao surf 14-ft waves. And when our heavy-weather windvane paddle blade was blown off, luckily it's lanyard held, so he easily retrieved and reattached it. Before we made it past the reef, winds abated and no longer was the storm jib alone enough, so we hoisted the triple-reefed main and made to windward just enough in the large seas coming from both SE and ESE at the same time. Winds picked up again after rounding the reef, and when we pulled the mains'l down, we noticed one of the headboard slide attachments needed repair...

So, as the noon point rolled round, Chris was on deck hand sewing a loop onto the mains'l, valiantly fighting and loosing the seasick battle. And Shawn was down below catching up on computer backlog to get McDavitt's new voyage forecast waypoints into our GPS, etc. It was beyond challenging day and so much more intense and meaningful that we can relay with this quick brief post. Hopefully it was the crux of this journey to get around the SE corner of New Caledonia and break out of the low and into the high. Hopefully we're there.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Day 5- Windy and bouncy rounding New Caledonia

Time: 0100 Zulu noon New Cal (Mon 5 Nov)
Position: 22*11'S 169*01'E
Wind: ESE 15-20 Seas: SE 10-ft
Avg. Course: 235-deg T
Avg. Speed: 5.9-knots
Rig: storm jib, triple-reefed mains'l
24-hr Distance noon to noon point: 142-nm

Yesterday this time we were watching synchronized flying fishing birds and schools of purpley-silver fish with pink horizontal stripes surfing in our bow waves. The sun was out and with increased winds Tao was out of the gates like a flash. Chris was pushing Tao, in order to make miles out of the area that will turn into convection alley with the genesis of a depression in the next couple days (which could possibly turn into the first named storm of the season much farther east of here). And Tao seemed to understand, blazing speeds in the 7-knot range. The first 12-hours of the day we actually comfortably averaged 6.4-knots, no wonder we may have just made the record for our longest 24-hr distance yet!

That was all before the seas built and the clouds set in. We had left the 100% on until 1400 when Shawn was headed to the bunk, and donned the 80% jib for the rest of the night. As the sun set Tao rocketed past questionably convection-looking clouds toward clearer star-studded skies. As midnight approached, seas jacked up and became confused and uncomfortable in the 6-ft range. A beautiful, quick, though bouncy night ensued. Morning dawned ominously cloudy and rainy and Shawn was welcomed to her watch with a sail-area reducing squall as we attempted to listen to the SSB Gulf Harbor Radio weather. McDavitt had sent an update, so we had to transfer waypoints and compare old route to new to where we actually are. All of this amid building winds and therefore seas.

Looking at the forecast for the next few days (20-knots average gusting to 30) we decided to to take our usual conservative approach. We put our doused main back up to triple-reef in order to pull the 80% jib down and replace it with our storm jib. Still making upper 5-knot range, with the mains'l up, it was much more stable, with more room to reduce sail area versus the 80% jib alone. Nearing the land masses of New Caledonia may be why the seas are so disorganized, but at the noon point we are sailing amid confused 10-ft seas; not the most comfortable ever- but Tao and Moni are handling it like champs. Though feeling clumsy with the increased motion, both of our stomachs are gratefully feeling fine as well. It does not motivate culinary excellence, however, so we are lucky it feels stormy and therefore a good soup day! 1100 and the AIS alarm went off (what a wonderful invention!). We noted that the tanker Pacific Gas will slowly (only 12-knots in these conditions) round New Caledonia's Isle de Pines as we do and will arrive in Brisbane only twice as quickly as we hope to.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Day 4- Brilliant sailing

Time: 0100 Zulu noon New Cal (Sun 4 Nov)
Position: 20*50'S 171*07'E
Wind: ESE 14-15 Seas: SW 3-ft SE 2-ft
Avg. Course: 242-deg T
Avg. Speed: 3.2-knots
Rig: 100% jib, single-reefed mains'l
Distance noon to noon point: 76.1-nm

If every day was as fantastic as this morning, we could sail forever! After yesterday's noon point winds continued to be light and we Driftered it along in the 2ish knot range for hours on end. We have had some deep discussions/arguments surrounding our lives in general from the stress of this rather large passage to that of the inescapable transition that will occur when we reach Australia. Chris pushing the transition and Shawn digging her heels in unable to think ahead of our present passage. Needless to say, in the mellow winds, we have both been thinking a lot and have come back around to enjoying the present moments. As the sunset we dropped the Drifter and replaced it with the poled-out 100% jib in anticipation of winds filling in. Quite timely, dinner was "Thanksgiving," (we sure can put back a can of cranberries some stuffing and mashed potatoes pretty easily) and we both verbalized our gratefulness for being able to make this journey and for the Universe constantly watching over us.

In the near still night before moonrise, it was hard to tell where the stars ended and flashing phosphorescence began. Around 2000 the waning moon rose lighting the near cloudless though moisture-laden sky. Just before midnight, winds abruptly filled in from the south giving us a good boost for an hour before lulling again until dawn brought a steady increase in the winds from the SE. After such a lull in winds, seas are so calm that the first winds are delightful, Tao slices through near calm seas like a warm knife through butter. Since dawn, we've been flying along, first over 5-knots, and now over 6-knots. This is good since we have miles to make, as we've nearly decided to continue on in this quite good weather window to Brisbane. In order to keep from getting overwhelmed, we have been taking this passage day by day, knowing the window was good enough to get us safely to New Caledonia. Now we are mentally shifting to a bit larger undertaking. Fiji to Brisbane is approximately 1,440-nm so we are already almost one-third of the way there. We're awaiting word from our weather router and another day of weather downloads for the final decision, but keep sending your good weather energy our way!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Day 3- Another Drifter Day

Time: 0100 Zulu Sat 11/3 (noon New Cal Sat 3 Nov)
Position: 20*14'S 1732*19'E
Wind: E 8-9 Seas: SE/SW 2-ft
Avg. Course: 234-deg T
Avg. Speed: 3.2-knots
Rig: 150% Drifter, triple-reefed mains'l
Distance noon to noon point: 76.4-nm

It's been a slow and steady relaxing day. Once the Drifter was up, the flogging mellowed considerably and we ghosted along. After our last canned Alaskan salmon with capers for lunch, Chris relaxed under the shade tarp for some reading. It was so mellow that he completely forgot to check in on the PacSea Net at all. It wasn't until Shawn awoke for her evening watch and asked how check-in went that it was even remembered. So, out went a SPOT and another round of e-mails assuring the folks at the PacSea Net and our relatives who watch for and listen to the check-ins that we are indeed just fine. Still mellow out, forecasts pointed to winds increasing to a maximum of 9-knots peaking around midnight. We gambled, and chose to leave the Drifter up. Although a few rounds of ominous looking clouds gave a bit of worry throughout the night, they were each quickly chased away changing from full cloud to nearly clear starry sky filled with bright moon and shooting stars and gratefully no squall activity. Just as forecast, winds peaked and then ebbed and backed a bit bringing dawn of a second Drifter-worthy day. We hope for winds to fill in a bit more later this evening. Until then, we implement our daily tasks, wait for weather to happen, and continue to move in the right direction. Some squally-low-forming activity is starting NW of us, so we're intent on gaining westing as the system will move SE to fully form over Fiji. We are watching as a super-high (over 1030) forms SW of us and are waiting to see what the next couple days brings to make a decision about continuing on through to Brisbane or making a quick stop in New Caledonia to break the trip in two.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Day 2- Drifter's Up!

Time: 0100 Zulu Thurs 11/1 (noon New Caledonia Thurs 1 Nov)
Position: 19*29'S 173*24'E
Wind: E 8-9 Seas: SE/SW 3-ft
Avg. Course: 235-deg T
Avg. Speed: 4.6-knots
Rig: 150% Drifter, triple-reefed mains'l
Distance noon to noon point: 110-nm

Early in the afternoon, Chris spotted his first traffic- a fishing vessel. No problem, except they did not return his hails. Finally, he tightened up to change our course and the vessel passed within 0.25-nm to our stern, close enough for him to clearly see Asian characters, the name Rituna 3, and even someone on deck throw something into the sea. Scary that no one was listening to the radio. Otherwise it was a gorgeous day of sailing, and as evening approached a blanket of clouds covered the sky. Nervous about the long passage in general and having been rattled by the unresponsive vessel, Shawn was in no mood to cook much, so comfort food it was, mac-n-cheese with diced tomatoes and a can of tuna for Chris after completing updated weather downloads.

The moon is currently waning, so after sunset it is amazingly dark. Two hours later, a pumpkin orange moon could be seen between the horizon and cloud layer, before it climbed to hide behind the overcast sky. The light of the moon could then be seen through the clouds as it climbed, and later a few stars peeked through small openings. A brief increase in winds had us start the night conservatively with a triple-reefed main. The nearly 2-meter seas were forecast to decrease, and that they did, with some strange rolliness which awoke Chris to search our charts for nonexistent seamounts that might be creating the strange seas. With winds down at midnight shift change, we brought the full main back up and poled out the 100% jib to keep it from collapsing with a loud snap with each large roll. The rest of the night was pleasant as seas organized themselves and a single cloud brought some moisture and breezes around dawn, enough for Chris to reef the main once again, but soon gone, the full main was again proudly flying.

We overlapped at shift change/breakfast/weather radio hour (for that this time change has been excellent). Then off to rest for Chris, and Shawn willed the winds to continue. But as winds nearly vanished by 1000, two hours early for his watch she awoke Chris for sail changes. Down came the flogging 100% jib, up went the Drifter, down came the main to 3rd reef (for stability) and the boom's end doubled as a large Drifter-pole. Back up to almost 3.0-knots went our speeds, plenty for us, but apparently not the norm, as our weather router assumed that we would be motoring this section. Speaking of which, our weather router's information has been spot on for these first couple days. Quite amazing, really, he used an expensive but highly regarded (at least by Julia and Jacob of s/v Pisces) routing software package called Expedition. Still, we will have to contact him and have him rework future forecasts for us with our "no motor unless we have to" variable- we do not have nearly enough fuel to motor the amount he estimated for the passage all the way to Brisbane. Is this what people mean by the mellow South Pacific trades we have yet to see (well, no, actually we're in easterlies on the back side of a passing High)? Just in case, we are soaking them up anyway, enjoying the quiet as our newly patched Drifter pulls us along, Chris tends to some small deck tasks, and Shawn might even motivate to make more bread!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Day 1- what time is it anyway?

Time: 0100 Zulu Thurs 11/1 (noon New Caledonia Thurs 1 Nov)
Position: 18*26'S 175*00'E
Wind: SE 10 Seas: SSW 5-ft
Avg. Course: 258-deg T
Avg. Speed: 4.3-knots
Rig: 100% jib, full mains'l
Distance noon to noon point: 113-nm

We are thus far having a beautiful sunny light wind sail, soaking up the relaxing moments. It is refreshing to have our entire mains'l and 100% jib up (though more difficult to scan for traffic under it's low cut) as well. Together this sail combination is moving us along at a quite respectable clip considering the light winds and Moni is steering us true. Seas are steep but spaced far apart for an easy ride though we are making extra miles climbing up and down all of them... The last 24-hrs has been filled with cycles of light wind from S barely moving us along to SE and having to pull a single reef in the main two different times. We have waited out lulls and reefed down briefly twice when consistently reaching speeds in the upper 6's for an overall excellent first day of sailing. It is such a luxury that both of our stomachs are feeling fine, hopefully they stay that way! Shawn has improved her hand-bearing-compass sightings as the official ship spotter all between 1 and 2-nm; first a fishing vessel, then a cargo ship (Lautoka bound and the only one with an AIS signal), then two more fishing vessels. So many people claim to never see ships on their passages, makes us wonder how often they're looking, but then again, Chris hasn't sighted any yet either.

Things are seeming very familiar onboard. Our bodies seem to know the drill even though we haven't practiced in a while and we are quickly getting in the groove of watch schedules. Many hours of this trip have been whiled away trying to decide what time it actually is on board Tao. Of course, we always have Zulu, that time never changes, but it also doesn't fit well with the sunlight and dark hours. You have probably been on at least one timezone changing flight where everything seems a little strange and you continually calculate what time it was where you were and what time it is where you are now. Imagine doing that slowly day after day. After much debate, for this leg of our journey we have decided to shift our local clocks back to New Caledonia time (UTC +11) in order to have Shawn awake at the appropriate meal preparation times and Chris awake at appropriate weather,radio checkin, and good up/download propagation times. We'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Day 0- Full sails and mellow seas

Time: 2300 Zulu Tues 10/30 (noon Fiji time Wed 31 Oct)
Position: 17-deg 59-min S 177-deg 04-min E(!)
Wind: SSE 10 Seas: S 3-ft
Avg. Course: 222-deg T
Avg. Speed: 4.3-knots
Rig: 100% jib, full mains'l
Distance anchor up to noon point: 34.7-nm

Planning for this passage has felt a bit different. We're not exactly sure why, but some mix of:
(1) it's been awhile (nearly 2 months),
(2) food management is completely different instead of packing every nook and cranny, we have bought very little fresh food and are planning to attempt to consume most of the stores that we still have before Australia where much will be confiscated. We have noticed much improved performance in Tao's sailing as provision loads have dwindled (that's less water, food, and souvenirs taken back to the US on our last visit), and
(3) we decided to pay a weather router (Bob McDavitt) to back up our personal weather analyses.

After hemming and hawing about whether we could check out from an outer island with a group of boats bound for NZ, we finally decided to just sail downwind to Lautoka, check out on our schedule, and retrace our tracks back upwind to exit Fiji. This has turned out to be a great decision for us thus far as we've been able to manage our own schedule nicely. Yesterday we were at the Customs/Immigration facility before the doors opened. After formally checking out with Customs, we found that an Immigration Officer needed to come out to inspect our vessel. This meant an extra round trip half mile each way rowing in Fatty. For a moment we thought we may get out of the inspection when the officer found out there was no dinghy engine and the dinghy was "tippy," apparently we are not like most other cruisers... No such luck, however, and he didn't really do much besides poke his head inside... All of this took us until 1000, no longer enough time for us to reach the exit pass during the morning ebb flow.

Instead, after leaving the port within the hour, we holed up in nearby Saweni Bay and prepped. Shawn was a rockstar cooking up several feasts, from homemade pizza for dinner to curry sauce for night 1 dinner, plus a loaf of bread, a half dozen hardboiled eggs, and tending our small sprout farm. Most excitingly, for the first time, she managed to be prepared to relax with every dish clean by 2000. Chris however has been the MVP. Usually he is the one ready by 8pm, but scrubbing Tao's bottom, getting jacklines hung, navigation waypoint management took longer than expected when McDavitt sent a route of over 50 waypoints, and squeezing in one more easy shower took later into the night.

After a brief restful sleep, we weighed anchor from Saweni Bay at 0400 this morning. Initially motoring, we found that our autopilot is still not working- or should we say it is overworking, as it is over-correcting taking us on a wandering path. "Good thing we're a sailboat," was Chris' response to this challenge and we turned off Yannie and put up full sail in the moonlight. Luckily the winds were excellent and the protected bay smooth so we were able to make the 20+-nm transit to reach the pass as the tide ebbed at our planned 1000 on the nose. Chris had gallantly offered to let Shawn sleep a bit and scrubbed our anchor and chain of the clinging Fijian mud (earning him bonus stars) as he sailed close to famous Cloudbreak surf spot. Shawn, up after a brief sleep, made breakfast as we closed in on Navula Pass. We easily managed to sail through, seeing speeds up to 7.2-knots, and rode the current out to the other side of the reef under one cloud spitting rain, saying goodbye to us, and otherwise mostly sunny sky. By the noon point we had replace the 80% jib with the 100% trying to keep speeds up in the beautiful light wind day. Our goal is Brisbane, Australia, but we are fully prepared to pull into Noumea, New Caledonia if the weather requires. Only time will tell, so we are enjoying the present moment with full sails and mellow seas, trying not to look too far into unpredictable future.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mamanuca Islands Fiji and Kauai's North Shore

We have been fond of saying things like, “You are welcome to visit us, but you only get to choose the place OR the date, not both.” Our cruising style firmly requires not to have any set dates, because they tend to create a lot of stress when trying to keep to them amid constantly changing weather. Of course cyclone (hurricane for you northern hemi dwellers) season is one of those dates that is not too flexible, at least it is a month long target. However, there is always an exception to the rule and we found ourselves committed to be in Nadi, Fiji to catch a flight to a close friends wedding on 4 October 2012 (Chris as groomsman for a close undergraduate friend, Matt Gehrke). Since we bought the tickets while in Samoa, our cruise track and timing decisions have been shadowed by a set date putting a bit of a squeeze on our time. So yet again, we continue to struggle with not having enough time to explore as in depth as we would like. Realistically though, if we want to keep our goal of reaching Australia this season, it has been important to keep pushing, and we realize that we have been amazingly lucky to fit in as much as we have. Several times thus far in Fiji, we have both felt the Universe aligning for us allowing safe weather passage, more time than we thought in several areas, catching up with some super fun fellow cruisers, and yes, even making our pre-chosen flight date. We are so grateful for everything we were able to do and see and recently have felt like some guardian angel was helping to align moon, stars, and planets to allow us to see and do so much.

Our trip to Hawaii, though difficult to arrange and expensive, was marvelous and totally worth it! Admittedly it was a whirlwind and we didn’t fit as much in as we had hoped (such as daily yoga, visiting yoga friends in Kapaa or visiting our frequently utilized HAM station that is based there), but it was truly special to be able to part of Matt and Carmen’s beautiful Kauai wedding, and Shawn even caught the bouquet. Of course Chris caught some great Hawaii surf with Matt and all the fun surf friends that showed up from far corners of the world for the wedding. In addition, besides Shawn finally succumbing to a cold, as we laid over in Honolulu we were able to visit Chris’ grandmother and his father Dave, mail 2 boxes of our collected souvenirs back to the mainland, as well as drop a package full of gifts for folks on Fanning Island off at the Kwai (it showed up when we were down there and is headed back again in the next few months). Shawn even managed to fit in a Bikram Yoga class the day before we flew back to Nadi, Fiji.


It sure takes a lot less time to fly from Fiji to Hawaii than to sail from Hawaii to Fiji- 12-hrs and you get a day back versus 6 months and so many unique irreplaceable experiences! Of course, we also lost the day again flying back across the date line. And we were actually lucky to be let back into Fiji, because apparently we were supposed to visit immigration before we left to get permission to come back in with what they consider a one-way ticket. It is so hard to follow all the rules and we really do try. Regardless, they allowed us back in and Tao was fine after her 10-day rest. We flew in just a few days after a beautiful weather window for heading west (which both Convivia and Britannia took to Vanuatu), so we gladly resigned ourselves to enjoy a little bit more of Fiji while awaiting the next window. We spent the next 4-days at Vuda Marina recovering from our vacation from our cruising lifestyle as well as preparing the boat by implementing some sewing projects (including Drifter and weather cloth repair and making a tiller cover), filling propane, and adding diesel for the first time since we left Hawaii in May (only 15-gallons!).

Saturday 20 October we motored out of Vuda, Chris wrestling with our “drunken” autopilot Captain Tilly, and then had a nice upwind sail approximately 10-nm SW to Musket Cove in Malolo Island, during which Chris played with his new GoPro camera and Shawn somehow managed to get quite sunburned in an overcast but summer Fiji day. A week quickly passed by in the safe anchorage, packed with at least 30 boats each night. We met several fun people, talked to other cruisers that also await weather windows (many toward NZ), went to BBQ’s on shore, and generally enjoyed the safety of the deep anchorage as a low pressure system passed south of Fiji. One day, we even adventured in Tao out of the reefy protection to Namotu Island at the outer edge of Viti Levu’s reefs, where Chris surfed a small swell and we both enjoyed some clear water snorkeling. Unfortunately, winds picked up to make the anchorage a lee shore and we had to make haste out of there in the early afternoon back to Musket Cove, but a few days later Chris was invited to dinghy over again for some more stellar surf. 

After spending a few nights anchored in a bit shallower (37-ft versus 58-ft) “secret spot” that Chris found after rowing around in Fatty, we grabbed a mooring for a few days in hopes of being able to check out with a group bound for NZ. We took the opportunity to deep clean Tao and remove Rocky in preparation for offshore passage. Unfortunately the outer island checkout fell through for our time-frame, so we reattached the anchor and sailed 20-nm downwind to Lautoka to formally check out of Fiji on our own schedule, during Fiji business hours of course. Although we would love to visit all of our friends in Vanuatu, we feel the need to make westward tracks to stay ahead of cyclone season. So far the weather window looks great for the approximately week long passage from Fiji to New Caledonia. If the weather window closes, we’ll have the option to duck into Noumea for some protection. If the window stays open, however, though we would love to explore there as well, we may bypass New Caledonia and continue on to our goal for this season: Brisbane, Australia!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Great Astrolabe Reef, Kadavu, Fiji

It felt cathartic to pull the anchor out of the muck and head away from the city once again. Thursday 20 September we sailed out of Suva Harbor under jib alone for a full day (40-nm) passage to Kadavu. After passing through the reefs, we realized the island that we had been seeing on the horizon from the harbor was actually Beqa (pronounced Em-behngha) so we set sails farther south for over-the-horizon places. It was a brilliant sail. The main went up and in the light breezes, we decided to put up the 150% Drifter. After another hour of making hull speed, we sailed out from the protection of Vita Levu into the Kadavu Channel and increased winds. Down came the Drifter, replaced by the 80%, we flew along toward our goal. When Kadavu finally became visible on the horizon, we were surprised how close we already were to our intended goal, Great Astrolabe Reef, located to Kadavu’s north was a mere 3-nm off our port. Horizon scans found the red and white stripped lighthouse (off which we had awaited dawn upon entering Fiji), marking N Astrolabe Reef. The days NE winds were perfect for sailing through Herald Passage into the protection of the Great Astrolabe Reef. We had just enough daylight time to tack upwind toward Dravuni Island, our first intended outer island landfall. Although quite far away from the cigar shaped island, which provided protection from E winds, we happily set Rocky in a nice patch of sand surrounded by sea grass as the sun went below the horizon. We were still having NE winds, so the island was not protecting us, but the outer reef was close enough for relative comfort in the roadstead anchorage. The next morning around 0500 our anchor alarm went off as winds abruptly switched to the SE and we turned 180-deg. All of our forecasts said we should be seeing NE flow, so this was a surprise, but light enough to be manageable we decided to monitor it and prepared to head ashore for our first sevusevu.

Through the cruiser grapevine we were informed of the sevusevu (or "gift") ritual and thus bought 3 yaqona (kava root bouquet) at the market before leaving Suva. The sevusevu ceremony, traditional in the outer reaches of Fiji, occurs as we present the village's chief or spokesperson yaqona and request permission to visit. Confused by this custom, since we had gone through the process of checking into Fiji, it was explained to us that anchoring in waters off someone's village is like camping in someone's backyard. The locals seem happy to allow us to do it, and very much appreciate us respecting their traditions and asking to be here. It turns out that this is a great way to "force" interaction between us as tourists and the local population, as we were invited to walk through each village we visited. Our experiences presenting sevusevu were vastly different at each village we visited. Once we landed Fatty on Dravuni’s western beach, we were pointed toward the chief who looked like any other fisherman busily preparing a boat for something. Rather distractedly, he invited us into a small room where his wife was present. They gestured that we should sit and asked to see our paperwork. As the village chief, Kitione, was perusing the document (all in Fijian), we spoke to his wife Maryan finding out she was from Kadavu Island and their children were currently living in Suva attending school only to visit during the holidays. Kitione then deemed us fine to be there, thanked us for our gift and it was obvious the meeting was over. After the stories that we’d heard, we felt a little let down, but also were happy to be free to explore the island. We met one woman in the water preparing fish for lunch, but otherwise, we were shy and viewed the village from the distance of the beach. 

Back at Tao, winds still from the SE, we decided to move toward a more protected anchorage. We relatively quickly sailed off the hook and headed the short 2-nm to check possible anchorage on a beach on the west side of Namara Island. Surprisingly, we were able to tuck right into a bite in the island providing protection from winds blowing from SE to NE. We anchored in 15-ft depth in a 50-ft diameter patch of sand flanked by beautiful live coral. Adding floats to our chain so there was no chain/coral interaction, we spent the next few days in this private paradise only big enough for one boat. Chris was recovering from a cold and the weather was forecast to be overcast and rainy so we hunkered down for 3 nights. Between stormy weather, we were [luckily] graced with sunny suckerholes that allowed us to explore Namara by foot and surrounding small islands from Fatty. During one sunny period, winds were so non-existent that as we rowed, we could see straight down to the thriving coral below. We beached a fully rigged Fatty and hiked atop Yanuyanu Loma Island, just north of Namara, for expansive windless views from above (we haven’t had such views since hiking from Don Pedro in Bay of LA, Sea of Cortez, Mexico). Continuing our adventure, we avoided two islands to the east as we had noticed helicopter traffic on one (that we later found is privately owned and a 5-star hotel is being built on). Instead, as little breezes filled in, we sailed around to Qasibale a tiny and gorgeous island S of Namara. With the sun shining we enjoyed snorkeling the reef around it. Getting late in the afternoon we hopped back in Fatty to finish our circumnavigation exploration of Namara and watched the sunset over Kadavu Island from Tao’s deck once again. 

With pressure of both a flight to catch and close cruiser friends we were hoping to connect with, we were prepared for that to be our experience, and were pushing to take advantage of a small weather window the next day across the Kadavu Channel toward Lautoka. However, convergence zone and trough activity creating stormy conditions were persisting, and the small window we were hoping to cross in, abruptly slammed shut. With no real choice (unless we wanted to motor through lightning storms), we decided to stay for another several days and hope that what looked like an opening at the end of the forecastable period provided better weather. Although sad that we wouldn’t get to see our friends, and anxious because we had a set flight date to make and needed to procure space to leave Tao safely moored for 10-days, we were at the same time ecstatic to have more time to explore such a beautiful area. In the partly sunny afternoon, we pulled our chain floats and Rocky aboard and sailed the short distance (3.5-nm) to Buliya Island where we had heard tale of huge manta rays. 

We set the hook on diamond shaped Buliya Islands SW edge in a deeper water (45-ft) anchorage with 100-ft diameter patch of sand and added only two floats to avoid surrounding coral interactions. Cool weather dictated hot chocolate as the sun set in our new environs. The next morning after listening to weather and having breakfast, we went ashore to sevusevu. This time we were pointed toward the village spokesperson, Bill and his wife Maggie and their adorable son Little Bill. We presented our second yanqona bouquet and they gratefully accepted. Bill looked over our documents and Maggie, who’s English was excellent, told us about their village and other people who routinely visited their island. Chris requested permission to swim with the manta rays and there was a bit of confusion about how much it was to cost per person and if we could go on our own or if Bill needed to come with us. We worked it out and they told us we could visit the mantas as much as we wanted and invited us to dinner the next evening. Although bad weather was forecast and we were thinking of finding more protected anchorage, we accepted their gracious invitation and hoped for the best. Bill and the young village children (older children move to bigger neighboring islands and only visit on the weekends or holidays), just out of primary school for the day showed us around their village and walked us back to Fatty, helping us to launch her. 

A still windless day, we decided to row to Virolevu, a small island 1-nm south of Buliya, an area that manta rays are known to frequent. A touristy looking dive boat appeared to be searching for the mantas, and they quickly motored away as we and a panga from Buliya simultaneously approached. The panga driver assured us we were fine, just didn’t want the other boat to swim with the mantas because they had not requested proper permission. Crowds gone, we anchored Fatty, jumped in and swam around looking at beautiful coral formations. Around a very large coral head, we had one quick manta sighting though it swam away faster than we could follow. After swiming to land and walking the beach, we got back into the water again and the cloudy conditions [luckily] magically cleared up. This time around the same large coral mound, we were joined by two huge beautiful manta rays. They slowly, gracefully continued on, the late afternoon sun shining through the water providing extensive views, we snorkeled along behind and above them. For 15-minutes, the four of us swam together comfortable in each other’s presence. It was awe-inspiring. (If you’re interested in what they look like, check out our friend Riki on Guava Jelly’s post about his visit here- he was the one who tipped us off to the manta rays). 

The next day dawned overcast with the promise of deteriorating weather so we fired up Yannie and motored around to the NW edge of Buliya and found protection from the forecast winds. Shawn’s bow-watch paid off when we came closer to a near surface coral head than expected, but otherwise, we made our way to the largest sand patch yet anchoring in 30-ft depth and 500-ft diameter patch surrounded by sea grass. We think due to the diamond shape of Buliya, this anchorage (as well as the last) had a roll from a couple of directions, so we set Floppy our flopper-stopper for more comfort. Donning our wetsuits, we hopped in Fatty and sailed out toward Yabu Island (locally known as Bird Island after the nesting shorebirds which we did not see) where we walked the beach and found butterflies, hermit crabs and coconuts. We were hoping afterward to reach the mantas again, but they were upwind and our early dinner plans didn’t end up allowing us enough time to make another visit.  

Back at Tao, we organized fresh baked brownies to add to the dinner as well as fish hooks and a bottle of wine that were items that had been requested as highly sought after. We beached Fatty and walked around the shores edge trying to avoid getting wet with the nearly full moon’s extremely high tide. When we reached the house, we were met by a completely prepared “small” Fijian feast, for the four of us, one “auntie” that helped prepare the feast, and two children. In addition to decorative breadfruit leaves, beautiful Clementine-looking limes and huge papayas, there was an enormous lobster with brilliantly marked shell, crab onion mix served in the upside- down crab carapaces, balls of taro with coconut milk, deliciously flavored slices of cooked eggplant, sweet potato, and several other cooked roots to choose from. They provided forks for us, but we mostly used our hands to eat as they did, afterward rinsing our fingers in a shared bowl of water. For dessert we ate chocolate brownies (honestly Little Bill ate nearly half of it!) and had delicious tea from hot water (warmed on their wood stove) over lemon leaves. We stayed several hours talking during which they promised us all the much left over food would be doled out among family members throughout the village. When we prepared to leave, they insisted on walking us back to the beach and carrying a handmade basket brimming with papaya, limes and lemon leaves. Quite an experience! 

The next morning was still overcast, but with nice winds for sailing off the hook, we gave wide berth to both Buliya and charted rocks off Yabu Island then tightened up to sail south toward the obviously larger Ono Island. We made our way toward Nabowalo (pronounced more like Nam-bou-walu), a deep bite in the western side of the island near Alacrity Rocks that separate it from Kadavu Island proper. Our tide charts were wrong again, and it was [luckily] low tide, so we could pick a decent anchoring spot, far enough away from shallow sections most easily visible at low tide. We were the only boat anchored out in the expansive bay protected by two arms of Ono. Since it was early enough, we went ashore to sevusevu at 1500, hoping it was far enough before dinner. Several youth had just been brought ashore by boat returning from middle and high school (form 1-7) as we pulled Fatty up the beach. A few of the uniform clad teenagers led us to the village chief, and left us outside a small cement one-room building. Poking our heads in, the structure was packed with men and chiefs from around the entire island of Ono, apparently in the middle of a 2.5-hr long church meeting. They invited both of us in and ushered us to the far end of the room to sit next to Tumichi, Nabowalu’s chief. We carefully maneuvered around the gigantic kava bowl in the middle of the room. Most of the men were smoking, with several younger men circled directly around the main bowl, and another in the corner straining and mixing ground kava (previously the sun-dried root that we gifted them) for immediate use. Commonly known as kava, this beverage is called grog in Fiji and is traditionally drunk from the half-shell of a coconut.  

A sevusevu ceremony was performed in the middle of the meeting/kava ceremony, as they graciously accepted our third and last yaqona kava bouquet as well as a powdered packet of dry ground kava root. One of the men, while holding the yaqona said a long bit in Fijian and the chief translated simply that they all welcomed us and appreciated our gifts. Then the whole room, starting with the chief, followed by an older gentleman whose position we didn't glean, then Chris and then Shawn were individually presented and downed full “cups” of grog as everyone else watched. Three claps before by the man that presented the cup and another three claps after consumption from everyone else. The other half of the room was a bit less formal with several cups of grog being downed simultaneously. The big bowl in the center was refilled and the grog was presented and consumed again (though the second time, they genially poured out a bit of Shawn's for only a 3/4 cup which was good since her lips and tongue were already tingling). Finally the chief told us we were welcome to walk around the village and we took this as our cue to leave the meeting. Whoa, we were blown away! We seized the opportunity to walk through the village and met several fun characters along the way as villagers often stopped whatever they were doing to speak to us and answer all our many questions, always welcoming.
The next day was wet and grey with dramatic clouds passing by. We snuggled down, did a little catching up to organize for the following day’s passage, and Shawn recovered from a small allergic reaction of hives that we blame on the grog. We received word that our friends were still in the Nadi area but they urged us not to miss some amazing snorkeling very close to our anchorage. When 1 October dawned with sun peeking out and weather looking even a little better for passage the following day, we decided to stay yet one more day. We prepared Fatty to for the adventure to sail out past the outer reef to some deeper water snorkeling on the outside of the rimming reef. When we found the spot (we had a handheld GPS and waypoint ala Britannia) we saw spectacular columns of rock that dropped down to depths that looked close, but were deeper than we could dive. Chris got in the water and placed Little Rock (our dinghy anchor) on a dead bit of coral atop one of the columns. Below the surface, it was another world with excellent visibility, amid the steep columns topped with colorful reef. It felt very exposed far away from land as we saw a curious white tip shark below us and rainy clouds slowly moved our way. We didn’t get as much time to explore there as the area deserved, but we were happy to have had sunny time there before the clouds again engulfed us. We sailed back across the main reef at a shallow point, and with the centerboard pulled up, we still managed to kiss the reef with our rudder before making it back inside. At least the clouds brought wind, though it was directly upwind back to Tao, we tacked back and forth in our wetsuits as the rain descended.  Through the rain, a beautiful beach beckoned from just outside our anchorage, but the now chilly weather had us pushing on back to the warm embrace of Tao. We reached her just in time to witness a stunning rainbow. 

As predicted, that evening, the weather cleared and the next day dawned perfect for an overnight passage (140-nm). We sailed off anchor- being very aware of the charted reefs around us followed our previously charted route closely under 80% jib alone out of the Great Astrolabe Reef. Our route was headed directly downwind, so we first set the main and then attempted wing-on-wing. However, even poled out, with the lightwinds, our jib kept loosing air and we weren’t keeping sufficient speeds. We decided to set the Drifter alone and let the breezes push us along. Chris headed down below to grab a little sleep and we had a beautiful run across Kadavu Channel, closely following our set route between Vatulele and Beqa Islands (purposefully avoiding Cakau Lekaleka reef between them) in order to be crossing the Kadavu shipping channel for as short a period as possible. Chris came back on deck as the sun neared the horizon and together we raised the main to shadow and then drop the Drifter, then raised the 80% for maneuverability. Sunset and dinner later, Shawn went to bed while Chris jibed between the islands under a full harvest moon. Lights on Viti Levu’s south shore became visible and there was one questionable light on the horizon at midnight watch change (Happy 11 year anniversary to us!). As the watch wore on, it became apparent that the light was a ship, and after finally showing up on the AIS and Shawn hailing to determine their intensions, it turns out that it was an enormous cargo ship, drifting downwind awaiting sunrise to enter the Navula Passage with pilot at 0600. As we continued toward them, yet another container showed up as well and both passed the channel well ahead of us. At 0800 we approached the pass ourselves, and winds bent around Viti Levu in an advantageous way that allowed us to sail through the tight pass with current ebbing out, satiating Chris’ requirement for adventure. 

Instantly we were in another world. No longer offshore, we were in a busy area protected by reefs. Several sailboats scurried around, most under motor or motor sail in the small breeze that made it around Viti Levu. We had thought that Suva was the main shipping port, so were surprised as we slowly made our way north when two huge container ships headed from Lautoka by us and on out the pass. We kicked back and enjoyed the slow mosey in afternoon seabreezes and calm seas toward Vuda Point Marina our hoped for destination. We had tried several times to make reservations, but it is apparently first-come-first-serve for space there, so we both waged internal battles between the need to enjoy the last moments of this sail and anxiety to get there and procure a space during our planned travels. Six hours later just outside the harbor, we hailed Vuda requesting a waypoint for their entrance since what we saw did not match the chart. It turns out they have carved an entrance through the reef that is marked by white flagged stakes. At just before 1500, we pulled the center staging mooring in the circular harbor to await directions to an open space. By 1630 we were secured Med-style between a houseboat and a large currently unmasted sailboat, bow to the wall and stern toward the center of the basin. A quick glance around, determined our friends were not here. However, after checking in with the marina office, while Chris was in the water adding shackles to remove rope to rope connections on our stern line attachments, we were hailed on the VHF. They were [luckily] anchored a mere 2-nm away. Exhausted, we planned a gathering for the next evening in Sawine Bay with Britannia, Convivia, and Piko and headed toward hot freshwater showers with a grateful sigh of relief.