Ocean sailing, Fiji - New Zealand

At the helm of s/y Yinka, October 2017 - Fiji to New Zealand
This October’s main adventure was ocean sailing between Fiji and New Zealand. A 39ft yacht needed crew for the 1200 nM transport from Vuda Point to Auckland, and I made arrangements to come and sail with them as a part of the crew of 4: skipper/owner, me, and two more sailors from New Zeeland. This is a part of the circumnavigation trip that I have done in sequence from Sweden, across Atlantic, and Pacific (to Fiji and Vanuatu), being the next leg of the adventure.

I left Sweden in the early morning of October 1st, to start the long journey to Fiji, on the other side of the Earth. The trip is far from straightforward, requiring over 40 hours in flights and transfer, and involving 4 flights.

I would be passing Australia, and it turned out I needed a visa despite only transferring - not even leaving the airport! Without visa, they refused boarding already in Sweden. The horror. The skipper and the crew were waiting for me – I was the last to arrive, and they were eager to get going, agreeing to wait until the early morning when my flight was scheduled to arrive, but not later than that. Tired from only sleeping for less than 1 hour that night, getting to the airport straight from another event, I was a bit stressed, and frustrated as the gates would be closing soon. By summoning all my ninja skills and some black magic, I managed to fix a last-second visa and finally was allowed to board. Luckily, there were no delays, so in the early morning of 3/10 I landed at Nadi International Airport, and found a car that would take me to Vuda Point Marina.

Sweet Fijian waters, South of Vuda Point
Fiji welcomed me with sweet scents of flowers and coconut oil, bringing back all the memories. The sun, the sky, the mountains, the warm sea. Everyone saying Bula to each other. Everyone drinking Kava. The men wearing skirts, even as a part of uniform. Colourful stripy fish in the marina water. Palms. Tropical birds singing. No stress. Island time. I was here 6 years ago, changing crew. Seems like a lifetime ago, and here I am again.

To be sailed from Vuda Point to Auckland: 39 ft NZ built Ray Beale design deck saloon.
I found the boat rafted to a large catamaran. Took off my shoes and waved to the cat owner, to ask permission to walk on his deck to get to the boat. He rushed up onto deck and informed me that no, they are not taking on any crew, thank you very much. I laughed – must have looked like a hitch-hiking backpacker with that rucksack. As he realized I was not begging to come along with him, he got a bit embarrassed, apologized and told me I was welcome to proceed across. I climbed on deck and walked over to s/y Yinka, the skipper was just getting out in the cockpit to say hi. I unpacked my stuff quickly and was ready to go.

We had to do some waiting to clear out. The officials did not turn up as agreed – they all seemed to be set to Island Time. At least a half dozen boats were waiting to clear out and clear in. When the officials finally turned up and we stepped into the office, they started making a fuss about some paper form. Flashbacks from last time I was dealing with immigration and customs on Fiji - the paperwork was immense. Luckily, everything got sorted at the end. But now the tide was low, and the entrance to the marina was too shallow for the boat to pass.

Following the skipper’s bold decision, we made a run for it anyway. Despite practically grounding in the narrow channel, we managed to get out, motoring at full throttle through mud! That’s what I call an exit. Heading South, we approached the reef entrance channel to leave for the open ocean. The reports were giving 25 knots of Easterly wind, that looked perfect.

Leaving Vuda Point, ready for adventure
Just before we get into channel however, we are hit by squalls up to 45 knots. That’s quite rough for small vessel sailing, most would choose not to head out in anything over 35 knots. Also, hard winds are a bad combination with opposing tide.

While we were beating against the wind to make it through the channel, a piece of rigging snapped as there was just too much load on it. The reef was approaching rapidly! We had to motor off, backing the jib. This was no good. We drop anchor in a protected bay nearby, examined the damage, and decided to let the strong winds pass before going further.

The pause gave us a beautiful opportunity to have a dip in the bright turquoise Fijian waters. Both water and air temperature were over 30+C. Much appreciated after a long flight from cold Sweden! When everyone was done bathing, the wind calmed down to about 30-35kn, and we could continue according to plan. The timing was perfect – the tide had turned. And as we sailed through the channel, beautiful dolphins came to keep us company, playing and racing around the boat.

Heeling slightly on the way out from the reef entrance channel
Dolphins playing on the port side, while we are leaving the reef
Outside of the reef’s protection, the seas were higher and much less comfortable. The windspeed ranged between 20 to 40 knots, and the waves about 2 meters high, swell from the big low further South mixing with waves from the East. Uncomfortable seas caused one of the crew to feed the fishes for the coming couple of days. He was handling it extremely well though, still standing shift.

On the next day, winds calmed down to 20-30 knots, the seas were also a bit calmer but still not very comfortable. The boat was heeling 15-30 degrees as we sailed into the SE wind, and there was a lot of bouncing around because of the messy seas. Apart from that, the sun was shining and we are making speed! The ocean was incredibly blue, and the sunsets and sunrises were amazing. The waves calmed down even more after three days, and it was finally possible to make a cup of coffee without doing circus tricks, and get the food to stay on the plate. A bit of dancing around was still required to move around the boat, but nobody was seasick anymore. 

The view from the aft - a few rain clouds passing by.
The shifts were three hours long, two hours at night, and there were four of us. That’s very comfortable, compared to all the short-handed sailing I’ve done, when we were only two people and got 4 hrs shifts, or even 6 hrs. The shift schedule gave me a possibility to catch up on lost sleep, and cure the jet lag. I think I slept 9 hours in a row a couple of times, barely reacting to the alarm clock.

Sunrise shift, about 5 in the morning

Moon rising in the dusk hour

Night shift, moon over horizon
During the first days, we’ve been sleeping on the floor and on the settee, rotating during different shifts, as only one of the four berths was tenable. On the fifth day, the seas were so calm it was possible to sleep in the V-berth, but only during short periods when the waves and the wind were down. The light conditions allowed some spinnaker sailing, but the wind died out and we had to motor for a few hours. The calm condition also meant some more sophisticated cooking could be done, so we had a BBQ with steak and grilled sausages going that night.

Calm weather, sailing with genoa and main, through the deep blue sea.
As we were making our way South from the Tropics towards colder latitudes, the water temperature was dropping a steady 2 degrees per day. The weather was getting also colder: from the tropical heat, it went to Med sailing, and then to a “good Scandinavian summer day” – and deteriorated to chilly and wet. The moon has been at its fullest during these days, and it made night sailing much more fun, being able to see the waves and the rigging, except for the cloudy and rainy nights. It was so bright during the clear nights that you could almost read a book in the cockpit. The bioluminescence in the water was also amazing, like stardust around the boat, glowing in the dark waves.

Getting chilly in the early mornings, starting to have the rain gear ready. Also wearing an inflatable life vest, AIS unit to activate in a MOB situation.
After a few days, the wind turned to N, just as the GRIB files promised. The waves also came from the North, so we were finally getting them from the aft. We had the spinnaker up and were “kitesurfing” down the waves, with speeds of about 10 knots, reaching 12,8 at one time. Turned out there was a guitar on board, I did some playing, and later cooked the dinner, Moroccan chicken stew w/couscous. Great times, until it started to rain in the evening, wind gone, and we were back to motoring. That night, I saw the first boat since Fiji, a lantern appearing and then disappearing in the haze at the horizon. Otherwise, the ocean has been quite a lonely place, no boats to be seen either by eyesight or on the AIS receiver.

Spinnaker on!
As we were closing in on the NZ coast, we managed to catch 3 Bonito fish, all about half a meter. We let 2 of them go. By this time, we were following another boat on the AIS, and finally got some VHF contact with the,. That’s s/y Manutaki, who left Fiji at the same time as us, but got out from the reef 3 hours earlier than we, because of our unplanned stop. We have been racing them all the time, closing in on them constantly, and finally we were about to see each other. Other signs of civilisation were present, as ships were popping up on the AIS, and lighthouses were visible at night. The wind carried the smell of dry land to the boat. We were very close now.

The 1,000 nM celebration. About 200 nM to go.

Saw a lot of flying fish along the way, one landed in the cockpit at night. We let it go back into the ocean!

We arrived to Auckland on Tuesday 10th, after an exhilarating coastal sailing where we raced Manutaki. It was a close race, both boats trying to max the speed and get an optimal position, crew sitting on the rail, sometimes so close to the other boat we could reach out and touch them. At the finish line just outside of the docks, Yinka was ahead by half a boat length.

Approaching Manutaki, spinnaker on to win speed

Passed Manutaki now, but still close racing until the end!
 In cheerful spirits, we proceeded to the Quarantine dock. The business day was over and the officials had left, so we had to wait at the Q-dock until the next day. Nobody was of course allowed to proceed onto land, so all had to stay onboard.

Manutaki was rafted off our port side, there were in the same situation. They were invited to Yinka for the arrival celebration, we had a BBQ on the floating dock, and tried our best to finish up all the fresh food supply so we did not have to throw food away when clearing in. The rules are very strict in NZ, AU and the islands nations around, any fresh food might contain pests so it’s not allowed to bring it to shore. We also worked hard on the stash of the liquid goods (what’s a party onboard without rum!), and finished off the huge Kava stash, with hand grating, full ceremony and all. There was guitar playing, sailing stories, and a lot of laughter. Great debriefing for both teams!

Approaching Auckland! A completely new horizon after 7 days at sea.

The view from the Quarantine dock
Up at 7 the next morning, we cleared in successfully, and proceeded to Westhaven Marina, the boat’s home port. This is the largest marina on the Southern Hemisphere. After packing up and clearing out the boat, I hurried to the ferry to Waiheke Island to do some exploring before attending the Thursday regatta.

Westhaven marina, with its 1400 boats, and countless dinghies. Delivery accomplished.
An enjoyable trip, together with great skipper and crew, favorable winds, and impressive speed – we made the trip in exactly 7 days. It could have taken up to three weeks, if we would have been unlucky with the weather.