Passage Logs: Musket Cove, Fiji to Auckland

September 15, 2002


Here we are once again, sitting on a beautiful South Pacific Island (in this case, Malolo Lailai, Fiji), preparing to sail to New Zealand for the summer/cyclone season/America’s Cup. We had planned to leave this morning, but a very nasty and fast moving low pressure system that eluded most of the weather prognosticators sneaked up on us yesterday afternoon, packing 30+ knot winds from the south (the direction we want to sail) and driving rain.

Out in the anchorage here in Musket Cove, yachts were dragging their anchors and dinghies had broken loose from their mother ships. The VHF airwaves were buzzing during the rescue efforts. We were all pinned on board “Moonshadow” at the marina, unable to do much outdoors. All in all, it was a shitty day in paradise.

All of the final festivies for Fiji Regatta Week were postponed until tonight due to weather, so we plan to sail tomorrow at first light. The forecast is now for fresh easterlies, which would be perfect for our passage south.

The crew for this passage are Mark Farrell, a yacht racing mate from the Ponsonby Crusing Club, a first time “Moo Crew” and second time passage maker, and Todd Meyer, a fourth time “Moo Crew.” Todd is getting a bit soft in his old age and claims that he won’t passage any more on yachts less than 60 feet. Mark is building up some offshore experience with an eye to doing some cruising in the future. Both are keen racers who know how to keep a yacht moving along, so I anticipate a quick passage.

And of course, MaiTai. MaiTai is rapt with her victory in a recent row with Bill, the local tom cat on the dock. This territorial dispute ended up with Bill swimming in the tide.

The main challenge of sailing between New Zealand and the South Pacific is that the weather can be unpredictable. The weather systems, moving from west to east, slow down and speed up with chaotic irregularity, and occasionally run into each other or do a do-si-do. Passaging in these waters is not unlike trying to cross the freeway blindfolded at rush hour. That said, the weather charts show a “BFH” (Big Fat High) approaching New Zealand which, in theory anyway, should give us reaching (nice fast sailing) conditions for most of the 1200-mile passage and a gentle breeze for our landfall into Auckland.

September 16

We quietly departed the marina at Musket Cove at 0830 yesterday morning. Most of the fleet was still asleep after the big Race Week finale party the night before.

It was a beautiful Fijian morning, clear and calm. We motorsailed out to Wilkes Pass, our onramp to the big blue highway called the South Pacific Ocean. At the pass, there was already a good sized group of surfers riding one of the best waves in the world, Tavarua. The waves were small and the winds light so I thought we were in for some motoring. Wrong!

By the time we were an hour out of the pass and on our course line to Auckland, everything had freshened up. Winds were 25 gusting 35 from the southeast, skies went overcast and seas were 2-3 meters. To prepare Moonshadow for the ride, we set the staysail and took two tucks in the main sail. We reset our course and were on our way at 9 knots.

The winds have been up and down since then, and the seas a bit confused, so we have not exactly had the most comfortable ride. While we are getting our sea legs and becoming accustomed to life on a 20 degree heel, we are pressing on to beat the next low pressure system to New Zealand.

If we win the race, we’ll have the wind behind the beam and comfortable fast sailing the rest of the way. If we lose, our greeting upon landfall to New Zealand will be a cool 25 knot breeze right on the nose.

We’re going OK so far. Since we left yesterday, we’ve put 223 miles under the keel. The wind is backing around, and the seas steadying out, so life is getting a bit more comfortable. We’re humming along at 8.5 to 10 knots. The boys might even have an appetite for dinner tonight.

September 17

Not much to report as things are pretty much the same as yesterday. We are close reaching in moderate (2 meter) seas and about 20-25 knots of wind. Skies continue to be mostly cloudy and we had quite a bit of rain last night interspersed with some starry skies.

We’re making good progress towards New Zealand and covered 205 miles between noon yesterday and noon today. Our noon position was 24 deg. 52 min. south latitude by 175 deg. 20 min. east longitude, which put us about 718 miles north of Auckland.

We’re all starting to get some rest, get our sea legs and think a bit about food. That said, I don’t think any weight will be gained on this passage!

September 18

After a meal, a good sleep and moderating conditions, we are all feeling reborn. Last night the skies cleared, the wind backed a bit and we had a fast and comfortable night of sailing.

This morning, we actually saw a sunrise and have had clear skies and a fresh breeze just aft of the beam all day. We’re moving along nicely toward the North Island at 9+ knots. Appetites have returned and I guess you could say the day is about as good as it gets on passage.

At 0430 this morning, we reached the halfway point of the passage (575 miles to go and as of noon today, our position was 28 deg. 30 min. South Latitude by 174 deg. 42 min. East Longitude. Our 24 hour run from noon yesterday put us 217 miles closer to our waypoint near Auckland.

With the boat a bit more stable and level, we took the opportunity to tidy up and dry out a bit. We cleaned heads, dried clothes and hosed out a very salty cockpit. Quality of life on board seems to have improved by 100%. We’ll even eat three proper meals today!

Our only worry now is if we can beat the front that is approaching the North Island of New Zealand, packing gale force winds and generally ugly weather. At the moment, it appears to be a dead heat, but we are keeping the hammer down in hopes that we may only have to endure a few hours of it at the tail end of the passage.

We started fishing this morning, hooked one and lost it. We’ll keep trying and let you know how we go.

September 19

Last evening, we were reaching along at 9 knots in a gently rolling sea, sipping a glass of chardonnay, enjoying a chicken curry dinner while watching a pink and orange sunset. Passaging just doesn’t get much better than that! Mark, Todd and I were all commenting how bluewater sailing can go from crap to bliss in such a short time. And vice versa.

At 0400 Todd woke me up to inform me that we were taking gusts up to 50 knots and the boom was dragging in the water. I popped up on deck to assess the situation and with the aid of the radar, determined that we were just in the middle of a nasty little squall. We decided to run with it and then take action when it passed and the weather had moderated a bit.

Well, this particular squall seemed to be permananently assigned by the weather gods to harass us, and managed to hang out with us for more than an hour. When it had passed, the winds dropped to the 20 knot range, our heartrates dropped below 100, and it was time to jibe over to starboard and reef the main.

All was going well until I was reattaching the preventer line to the boom just before the gybe. We took a massive wave that rolled us about 45 degrees and sent white water down the side of the deck where I had been standing. The operative words there are “had been.” The best way to describe what it looked like, was me with my right arm hooked over the boom vang, barefoot waterskiing, backwards of course, while this wave rolled down the deck. Fortunately I was harnessed to the yacht and I didn’t lose my grip on the boom vang. I wish I hadda picture!

We mangaged the rest of the process with no dramas and settled into some spirited broad reaching in 20-30 knots of wind and a short following sea.

This is the first time we’ve been on starboard tack (leaning to the left) for three days, so we are all getting use to using the opposite leg for support again and shifting gear to the other side of the yacht.

The good news is that one small front passed over us early this morning, shifting the wind in our favor so that we are now sailing on the course line to our next waypoint 25 miles north of Auckland. Since then, we have had lumpy but fast beam reaching conditions in about 20 knots of wind.

The bad news is that there is another front coming to welcome us. As Todd says, “you know we’re getting close to New Zealand.” After that one passes, the wind will shift to the southwest, or more on our nose for the remainder of the trip. And of course it is sucking up air from the Antarctic so it will be bloody cold! As of this morning, that front was about a third of the way across the Tasman Sea and moving towards us at 30 knots. Doing a bit of quick math, that means we will both get to our waypoint just about the same time. The race is on! We shook out the reef and are heading south at an average speed of 9 knots.

As of noon today, our position was 31 deg. 59 min. South Latitude by 174 deg. 31 min. East Longitude and we had less than 300 miles to go to Auckland. Our 24 hour run was 208 miles and all is well on board.

September 20

Once again, we had a beautiful afternoon of sailing yesterday. The winds and seas we had experienced the night before had moderated into nearly perfect reaching conditions. Watching another beautiful South Pacific sunset, we shared a nice bottle of Pinot Noir for happy hour and had a great lasagna dinner.

We knew however that the nice sailing wouldn’t last through the night as the barometer was dropping faster than the stock market and the weather faxes indicated a cold front was heading our way to test our mettle.

I woke up at 0230 to the sound of rushing water and howling winds, and Moonshadow had a pretty good heel on. Todd and I got to work and once again changed down from the #3 headsail to the staysail and tucked in a reef in the main. That did the trick as we were back on our feet, so to speak, and beam reaching at 10-11 knots. By the time we were done, it was my watch and I was keen to stay up for the forthcoming landfall.

At 0645 the Poor Knights Islands, just off the coast of the North Island of New Zealand, popped up out of the now very cool South Pacific Ocean. Once again, all that electronic technology that we trust to make our way around out here, took us to exactly where we wanted to go.

We had an excellent noon to noon run of 239 miles, or an average speed of about 10 knots. We managed to get to the coast of the North Island ahead of the front that would bring a southwesterly change. The only bad news is that it is friggin cold! Welcome to New Zealand. At the moment, we are broad reaching down the east coast in squally conditions at about 10-11 knots. Moonshadow is heading for the barn.

So, all is well on board and we expect to be tied up to the Customs Dock at the Admiralty Steps in Auckland at about 5:30 tonight. We hope to be cleared into the country in time for happy hour. It’s Friday here!

September 21

We arrived safely at the Quarantine dock in Downtown Auckland last evening at 1730.

We managed to get very close to our destination before the wind backed around to the southwest and made the last few hours of the trip pretty snotty. Our welcome to the City of Sails (and Ales) was a very chilly 25 to 40 knot breeze, punctuated with rainy squalls and poor visibilites.

All in all, the passage was a good one. The total elapsed time for the 1150 mile trip down from Musket Cove was five days and nine hours. The average speed made good was 8.91 knots as the winds were favorable and fresh for the majority of the trip.

A big thanks to my Auckland-based crew Mark Farrell and Todd Meyer for an uneventful trip. Nobody got sick or hurt, we didn’t break any boat gear, and there were no harsh words on the trip. You can’t ask for much more than that!

As usual, New Zealand Customs, Immigration and MAF (Quarantine) were very courteous and efficient in checking us into the country.

We managed to make it into our berth at Bayswater Marina just before being pounded by a squall packing 40 knot winds and driving rain. At least some of the salt is being washed off!

The bad news is that it is friggin’ cold! I had to pull out the h-h-h-heater and put on the f-f-f-fleece to stay warm last night. I hope spring springs soon here in New Zealand.

Louis Vuitton Cup starts in just ten days. That should warm things up in the City of Sails!

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