Steve Abley and his wife Michelle, recently embarked on a sailing adventure from Fiji to New Zealand. The following is a snapshot of their journey and an excerpt from the blog written by Skipper Larry Green.
We flew to Fiji and departed from Denerau Marina on Saturday 3rd November, just on the edge of tropical cyclone season. We didn't leave port on a Friday because that’s considered bad luck and usefully, it also allowed for provisioning. We sailed as crew of four on a 52 foot cutter rigged sloop called CAILÍN LÓMHARA.
Going well, it was estimated to be a 7 day sail but could be up to 10 (that’s more than what would be described as an enjoyable sail). Given cooking on a lean can be tricky, the good news is we had 7 days of pre-prepared food. The bad news is some of that food was cold baked beans, because a previous Kiwi crew member left several cans of baked beans behind from a previous trip.
Our yacht position was automatically reported by our GPS system and updated via satellite when a blog post is uploaded. For interest the distance from Denarau Fiji to Opua NZ is 1,975 km (or about 1066 nautical miles). This is roughly the distance from Christchurch to Auckland (return) or Auckland to Sydney (one-way). Yachts infrequently travel in ideal direct routes (rhumb line) because they are governed by the wind and sea so we will travel greater than this distance (potentially far far greater).
02 November 2018 | 17 48.35'S:177 22.95'E, Port Denarau, Fiji, South Pacific Ocean
So, on Monday we expect to depart for New Zealand, which will be our summer home in order to avoid those nasty Pacific cyclones. We are fortunate to have a delightful couple who flew here from Christchurch, NZ yesterday and will be sailing with us. Steve and Michelle with three young kids at home, being cared for by their grandparents. They have some decent sailing experience and we expect they will be a great crew for our short 1200 NM journey to Kiwi land. The best we could expect would be winds on the beam most of the way. That can make for faster sailing, and occasionally a bit more motion on the boat. The other difference is there is no place to stop anywhere near our route. The good news is we have a great weather window starting Monday morning. Two sets of conditions make it a seemingly good time to leave. First a low pressure system with 30+kts of wind and 3-4 meter seas will pass by us Sunday and winds and seas will have diminished by Monday. Unless the forecast changes, there is a large high pressure system sitting just NW of New Zealand. If all goes well we should have a great sail.
Fiji; Bound for New Zealand
06 November 2018 | 20 03.619'S:175 28.192'E, South Pacific Ocean
We are no longer in transition, we are sailing, bound for New Zealand. We have had big seas, about 3 meters or so and wind in the 20-25 knot range. Not at all dangerous or unmanageable, but not a lot of fun. We have been "pooped" three or four times (a nautical term referring to when a wave enters the cockpit) and are presently sailing a course west of New Zealand for comfort, and expect to be turning sometime tomorrow, when the wind and seas ease, towards our destination. We have not gone out of our way in heading more westerly, so hopefully when we do turn we will not have added any miles to our passage
Zero Three Hundred
08 November 2018 | 24 33.91'S:173 53.27'E, South Pacific Ocean
As the title suggests it is the middle of the night and I have just come on watch. However, the sea, as far as the eye can see is empty, it is also empty as far as the radar can see which is about 48 NM. Tonight, like the rest of the passage, warm and dry is welcome. This has been the slowest, most uncomfortable passage I can remember. It is not dangerously uncomfortable, just miserably so. The wind has been pretty consistently at or somewhat below 20 kts. Tonight, for the first time it is down to about 15. The seas are a different story.
When we departed Fiji, the seas were forecast to have a long period swell of about 3-4 m. The long period means that the time between waves was considerable, say 20 to 25 seconds making the seas sort of like driving over rolling hills in the countryside. The bad news, wet part was the 2+m wind driven waves on top of the swell. These were coming from at least a couple of directions and when two arrived at the boat at the same time we had water coming over the deck, nearly filling the cockpit once or twice and soaking everything and everyone in sight. These seas also changed the usual motion of the boat from a pretty comfortable ride to something one is more likely to find in an amusement park; i.e. jerky quick motions in multiple directions at the same time. If one were to think back to their youth and participating in such rides the first thought that may come to mind is remembering how you wish you hadn't eaten that hot dog.
Half the crew is just now beginning to get their sea legs. Speaking of legs, it is difficult to walk in these conditions and we are well equipped with handholds just about everywhere. The net result is you are always walking from handhold to handhold yet even though your hand is holding you upright that does not prevent your body from banging into a bulkhead or something else. We all have a few bruises.
Incidentally, according to the forecasts we are through with all that and should have steadily improving weather. Many readers who are sailors may be thinking why not just bear off for more comfortable conditions then turn back to your course when the situation improves. We did, from the beginning. Some caution is required in that if we go too far west, we will have a difficult time getting back to our course which takes us down the east coast of New Zealand. The weather patterns here are such that you have frequent frontal systems, like one or two a week, which you need to take advantage of or you can end up with strong winds right on the nose for the last couple hundred miles. OK no more complaining about the lousy weather here in the south Pacific and the trials and tribulations of this lifestyle.
A Crescent Moon
09 November 2018 | 26 22.15'S:173 34.491'E, South Pacific Ocean
The weather has been so poor until last night that I never gave much thought to the moon. I am told it harbors a sense of good things to come, so will accept that as, at the very least, a good omen for the weather during the remaining days of our passage to NZ. Also, our New Zealand crew's family emailed earlier today and told us our Tracker had not reported our position for a couple of days. I was able to rectify that from here, and understand it is now working again.
Never a Dull Moment
11 November 2018 | 30 16.306'S:174 08.614'E, South Pacific Ocean
The other day when I wrote excitedly about a Crescent Moon some may recall I mentioned it was a harbinger of new, good things to come. Following that post I find the need to rephrase that a wee bit, namely take out the "good things" part. Let me explain.
Following that post we were motor sailing in very light winds and the engine oil pressure alarm sounded. Certainly not a sign of good things happening. Shut down the engine right away, opened the engine compartment and checked the oil. Seems most of it had disappeared. Also, not a sign of good things. On further examination there appeared to be an excessive amount of oil outside the engine in one particular place. Not a puddle representing the three gallons or more that disappeared but enough to cause a closer look. The oil appeared to be coming from a small canister shaped device, located in a very difficult place to get at. There were references to the oil pressure sensing switch, but no diagrams or photos; process of elimination convinced me it was said sensing switch. We put three gallons of motor oil in the engine and started it to see if in fact that was where the oil had leaked out. It was.
The way the device was assembled; i.e. attached to a copper tube coming out of the engine block with a compression nut attaching the copper tube to the fitting, it seemed we could remove the leaky device, plug the copper tube and be on our way. Easier said than done. This is a part that is never serviced and like all engines, when it was built one of the final tasks is to spray some very hard paint on all the parts. To make a very long story short, the harder we tried to unbolt the fitting the less likely it seemed we would get it off. Steve, part of our crew for this trip and a really good guy was helping and between the two of us we managed to break the copper tube right at the point it went into the block. As all sailors never through anything away I happen to have three large (Costco Mixed Nuts) jars full of nuts, bolts and screws. We found several of suitable size and several hours later we had firmly screwed a self-tapping screw covered with plumbers' tape into the inside of the copper tube remaining inside the block. Presto, no more oil leak and since it was the pressure sensor, initially we had no more oil pressure gauge or any other instruments.
Before starting off again we decided to take a short break during which Steve decided to fulfil either a lifetime dream or bucket list item and swim in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Of course, we egged him on, suggesting he was great chum for sharks and other predators but to no avail. In he went, having as much fun as a kid at Christmas. Michelle, his wife and the rest of our crew, dutifully recorded the entire event. It was quite a sight. Actually, Steve had told me before we left that swimming mid Pacific was something he really wanted to do and I had promised to accommodate him if at all possible. The oil leak was not what I had in mind. Sounds like the successful end to another saga at sea. Not quite.
After the swim and getting under way, I took a nap. A bit later I was checking on things and noticed, with a bit of alarm that we not only had no engine instruments but our alternators were not working. Not a sign of good things. After thinking about it for a bit I recalled the oil pressure sensor was connected to a brown and white wire, and if memory served me correctly, that was used to power the voltage regulator and served as a delay in loading the engine by waiting until full oil pressure was reached before loading the engine with the alternators. Took the ignition switch panel off and shortly found that the regulator had two sources of power, the ignition switch itself and the oil pressure sensor. Just for the hell of it I unplugged the oil pressure gauge and presto, all the instruments worked and the alternators were charging. Now that was a sign of good things happening from a crescent moon
Winter 2018 to Summer
23 November 2018 | Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
We clearly made it to New Zealand, though it took an extra day due mainly to poor sailing conditions and an unexpected oil leak in the engine. The best part of the trip was the delightful couple that flew from New Zealand to Fiji solely to gain some additional offshore experience. Since they have gone back to Christchurch and their busy lives, I can tell a couple of stories about them. The first three days of the trip were really wet, cold and generally miserable. We were standing three hour watches, so there was plenty of time to rest if you could find a place to lay down without having to hold on. Thus, there was little social interaction as everyone was tired, wet, cold, hungry (not really) and simply standing watch then going to sleep. I had the three to six watch, morning and night, and was followed by Michelle.
Around day three Michelle came on deck, harnessed in and cheerful as always and I made the following comment; "this is about the worst passage I have ever been on". She said something to the effect of "Thank God, Steve and I were beginning to think this was normal for long ocean passages, I'm really happy to hear it is not" By the end of the trip they had seen more than many sailors ever do regardless of how long they sail and hopefully they will continue to expand their horizons…
When we first talked with them, Steve played down their sailing experience, talking about some chartering in various spots around the globe and some family sailing in the sounds and bays of New Zealand's South Island. In virtually no time he knew how nearly every system on the boat worked and what it was supposed to do and he had mastered Predict Wind, the weather program I use. They may have been short on their time on the water, but neither was short on skill or experience. There is a requirement in New Zealand that any NZ citizen wishing to take their boat anywhere outside NZ has to have a certain level of experience or they will not be granted clearance. They also must take a certain amount of formal, classroom training in order to qualify to skipper their own boat. Just the weekend before joining us in Fiji Steve and Michelle completed one of the required safety courses which included jumping in to a life raft and going overboard with an inflatable vest so they would know how it worked and felt. That is really great preparation.
For the full blog, visit https://www.sailblogs.com/member/cailinlomhara
Steve wants to emphasise the boat was actually really well maintained and completely safe. It was an amazing initiation into ocean passages. "I was seasick for the first 3 days which was very unpleasant but life is like a box of chocolates, some great, some not so great but overall amazing".