Thursday, September 13, 2012

Day 4- Bula from Fiji

Time: 2244 Zulu Wed 9/12 (1044 Fiji time Thurs 9/13)
Position: 18-deg 07-min S 178-deg 26-min E
Wind: calm to squally all directions Seas: flat
Avg. Course: 292-deg T
Avg. Speed: 4.9-knots
Rig: sails nestled in their terra cotta sail covers
Distance noon to anchor point: 71.3-nm
Total distance traveled Tonga to Fiji: 491-nm

A *few* words about the "weather" phenomena we have been discussing throughout this passage and hoping to avoid. Backing up, the main weather features that we are watching at this latitude are the parade of rotating High and Low pressure systems that spawn over Australia and move eastward in a near clockwork cycle. According to this we selected the perfect weather window, just after the last Low (with its stationary front consisting of rain and variable often high winds, highly developed thunderheads or cells with heavy convection, i.e. lightning) moved past, the initial strong and consistent winds of the following High filled in. We jumped just after this as the High moved eastward and therefore its associated winds were mellowing and backing, yet still with plenty of time to reach Fiji before the next Low and its associated fronts and/or troughs passed over our destination. Unfortunately, the weather is never that simple. What we did not anticipate (and is nearly impossible to forecast) is South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) activity dipping southward. Sometimes, despite predominant wind conditions maintained by the Highs to our south, atmospheric conditions at the surface and aloft create a situation where the warm, relatively humid tropical air mass to our north mixes unevenly with the cool, dry air mass from the High to our south. This can suddenly, sometimes overnight, create a CZ or trough (which is an elongated area of low pressure at the surface or aloft) at the surface, which is what happened directly along our cruise track before the next Low ever made it to Fiji. To further complicate matters, the CZ was assisted by upper level troughing to supplement the development of the surface trough, full of convective activity. What started as a small rain cloud steadily and quickly developed, with magnified winds to its south and backing lighter winds to its north, into an entirely new Low which is now forecast to join those weather systems we were initially watching between the original High and Low. Not being professional weather forecasters ourselves, we find it difficult to read the signs not evident in the models we use, in order to predict if/when our passage in consistent winds will suddenly become a storm dodging endeavor. Phew. This, in addition to the navigational nightmare of a cruise track with very little room for divergence and therefore very little sea room to ride anything out, is why our recent passage has been filled with anxiety.

That said, the final day of our passage was quite wonky. It started with Chris coming on watch at 1300 and upgrading sails from the slow mosey we were doing to replace the storm jib with the 80%. Although forecast CZ activity was ahead which we did not want to catch up to, his solid theory was to efficiently utilize the wind we had to be closer to our destination when we got becalmed in light backing winds associated with the north edge of a Low. Shawn diligently spent that time writing up the daily blog so she missed a few warning signs. Usually Chris is ushering Shawn to get to sleep by 1400 so he can be on top of utilizing our last moment of open propagation for weather download at 1430 before the PacSeaNet. However, things weren't getting done, because he was spending all his energy fighting off an impending migrane (for him, a severe headache associated with nausea). He needed sleep and TLC so Shawn stepped up and took the rest of his watch without complaint. Almost immediately it was time to check into the PacSeaNet. Once the station had cleared (the Kauai Kapaa station used for the PacSeaNet is the one we've had best luck with), it was important to download the most recent weather data as unsettled weather forecasts change quickly. The newest forecast brought a huge sigh of relief as the near-term forecasted the center of the convective trough to move south of us late in the night to come. The rest of the afternoons heavy cloud cover brought passing sheets of rain, light E winds, and we continued to slowly sail our way in the protective lee of so many islands.

Chris valiantly tried to motivate at 1800 for what is usually Shawn's night watch, but having been unable to relax passage anxieties yet, his migrane was still debilitating. Providing Chris with good weather news, some warm gatorade and a head massage, Shawn's mega-watch continued. Talking on the 2000 radio check in with fellow cruisers awoke Chris. Thankfully, surprisingly rested and head no longer aching, he was back in action for the night. Finally after nearly 13-hrs being on watch, Shawn hit the bunk, but knowing that we were to experience the edge of the storm that evening, she mostly tossed and turned. On deck, feeling rejuvinated, Chris reduced sail to triple-reefed main alone to slow us down in order to stand off a safe distance from the quite busy shipping port of Suva. At 0300, just entering the Kandavu Passage, Shawn again relieved him and spent the first hour transfixed by the HUGE amount of lightning convection going on just south of us- right where the recent GFS model had predicted. Far enough away that thunder couldn't be heard, it was close enough to feel the electricity. We are eternally grateful to the Universe for allowing us safe passage, it was truly a lucky roll of the dice that we did not encounter the center of that stormy weather in our path last night.

All of a sudden there was a flurry of shipping activity and after a mere 1.5-hr nap, Chris was back on watch at 0430 as the lightning storm marched off into the distance. We tacked away from Suva and some traffic, then winds diminished not allowing us to tack back under reefed main alone so we put up the jib to add to our sail area. Of course, winds then completely vanished. At this point, nearly sunrise and only 14-nm out, we decided it was time to call upon Yannie. Motor on, sails down, across the Kandavu Passage to Suva we went. Skies were still gray and rainy as Chris organized on deck and Shawn down below for check-in to a new country. Although SW swell was up so it was quite a rolly motor in the near windless conditions, we decided to spruce up with freshwater showers in the rainy cockpit. C-Map charts were right on and though overcast conditions made spotting range markers difficult, the 10-deg T bearing took us through a slot in the reefs big enough for cargo ships and into Suva Harbor proper. Both of us were quite worn out from the overall rather anxious passage, so at 1044, we wearily but happily set Rocky in 15-ft of mud to prepare for and await the reportedly strict Fijian check in procedures.


  1. Happy to hear that you are safe and sound and anchored in Fiji. Enjoy! There are lots of Puddle Jumpers still there - hope you find them!

  2. Welcome to Fiji, and the peaceful serenity waiting after you recover from this leg of your journey. Unfortunate weather and uncharted reef challenges made things a bit stressful, but as hard as you both continuously work at avoiding surprises, I don't need to worry. Grateful that you keep all we 'followers' in the loop so well while you're under sail. Bravo Tao Crew!!! Dad

  3. Glad to hear you're safely anchored in Fiji. Am sure you'll explore and enjoy right after you recover from your stressful passage. Best.