April 24, 2002
We are getting ready to head north for the winter and do a bit of cruising in Fijian waters for the next five months or so. We plan to depart midday Sunday with the Ponsonby Crusing Club Rally to Musket Cove, on the island of Malolo Lailai, just west of the town of Nadi (pronounced Nan-dee).
For the 1100-odd mile passage, I have the company of three former Moo-Crew passage makers, Nick Bullock, Graham Jones and Todd Meyer. Oh, and of course, MaiTai ~(^..^) All human crew plan to return to New Zealand after some sun, fun and a week-long regatta in Musket Cove. I will be mostly single handing around Fiji and look forward to some visits by my yachtie friends.
We’re on our way to Fiji in a big way! After a light-wind start off of Westhaven yesterday at noon, the breeze filled in and Moonshadow has been charging north with a bone in her teeth ever since.
By last evening, the wind had gone to at least 25 knots and up to 35 knots for a few periods. It’s been on the beam, just how we like it!
Our position as of noon today was 33 deg. 22 min. South by 175 deg. 26 min. East. This leaves us 927 miles to our waypoint off Navula Pass on Viti Luvu and we’ve put about 215 miles under the keel in the 24 hours since we left Auckland. Since the breeze picked up we have averaged better than nine knots, with a peak of 11.5 knots, with just our working sails.
Our first day has been otherwise uneventful,as we are just getting our sea legs and becoming accustomed to life on a 20 degree angle with an occasional 40 degree tip when we are greeted by a large wave on the beam.
MaiTai has been her usual (nasty)self on the start of a passage. She always seems to get nervous when I start flicking electrical breakers and turning on electronics. Maybe it’s the high-pitched beeping that stirs her up. She camped out in Nick’s berth until he tried to come in for a sleep where she repelled him with a nasty hiss.
Otherwise, the weather is reasonably warm, the company great, the sailing fast and wet, and the destination drawing closer by the minute.
As for the rally, we are slowly closing in on the boats that departed Thursday and Friday, and lead the fleet that departed with us on Sunday. Our main opposition, Moonblue II, a gorgeous 65-foot Warwick sloop, has been playing leapfrog with us from the start. At the moment, she is in sight and a few hundred meters behind us.
It’s a bit lumpy for fishing, but we plan to trail the line tomorrow when the breeze moderates and is expected to swing back more to the south.
Well, I guess that it was too good to be true. The fresh breeze that had us on the fast train to Fiji has run out of steam.
Last night saw beautiful reaching conditions and this morning the wind backed around to the South and eased, giving us a few hours of beautiful running with our light air spinnaker.
The wind dropped to about seven knots so we are now sailing in “diesel breeze.” While we hope and expect to get more breeze, the boats ahead in the rally are reporting light air and it may be a day or two before we get out of the “Horse Latitudes” and into trade winds.
The good news is that we are now in motorsailing range of Fiji, it is an absolutely gorgeous clear day under a South Pacific high, and we are bathing in the sun as we are gently nudged along by a 3-4 meter following sea. All on board are well, barring a few scratches that have been dubbed “MaiTai tattoos.” Todd is thawing stew in case we don’t catch a fish for dinner.
MaiTai has taken a new interest in the radar screen at night. When it comes on, she wants to chase the targets on the screen. Only problem is that my laptop computer sits right under the radar so the computer protests with all sorts of beeps and alarms when she is standing on the keyboard. I guess we are never short of cheap entertainment with a cat on board.
Our noon position today was 30 deg. 03 min. South by 175 deg. 39 min. East and our 24-hour run put us 218 miles closer to Fiji. As of the 0603 radio sked this morning, we were 33 miles behind the lead boat. We lost sight of our main opposition, Moonblue II, last evening just after sunset. She was behind and to windward of us, and did not report in on the morning sked. We may not know till this evening’s sked if she did a stealth maneuver on us or if we left her on the horizon.
Moonblue II was in sight for nearly half the race
A great big thanks from the crew to Karen, Nick’s wife for the great lasagna we devoured last evening and for a snack this morning. Precooked meals rock!
Moonshadow crossed the half-way mark on the rally to Fiji at about 0600 hours this morning. It seems as if we have gained momentum on the blue highway since we reached the top of the hill, and are coasting down the other side.
After motorsailing in light breezes and calm seas for most of the night, the breeze freshened at first light. Graham and I set the spinnaker at 0500 this morning and started quietly sailing again. The wind gradually came forward on us so we changed from the kite to our new #3 headsail which is driving us along on a beam reach at 8-10 knots in 15-20 knots of breeze. At this rate, we should reach the finish line at Navula Pass late Friday night.
The Sea Gods have been kind to us so far on this passage and donated one of their own children, a 20-pound mahi-mahi for our half-way party dinner this evening. The biggest decision of the day for the crew is how to cook it. Or weather to cook it at all. Sake is chilling!
Our noon-to-noon run was 201 nautical miles and our midday position was 26 deg. 44 min. South by 176 deg. 18 min East is what our chart calls the South Fiji Basin. A stationary front has clouded up the skies and dropped a few showers on us, but even on morning watch it was shorts and T-shirt weather, and getting warmer as we go.
As for our position in the rally, we are improving daily. As of this morning’s radio sked, we were 60 miles ahead of Moonblue II. Today at noon we passed (two miles to leeward) Risque Affair, a 45′ Gary Mull-designed ex-IOR racer, that left the day before us. Ahead of us are two more boats that we are gaining on and hope to overtake before the finish line.
For the past 24 hours we have been sailing through a “squash zone,” which is where a low pressure system and a high pressure system do a sort of slow dance together, creating some strong breezes and spirited sailing conditions.
The difference between miserable sailing and pleasurable sailing, I suppose, depends on the direction in which one is traveling. We have been on the wrong end of these squash zones in the past, and it has been miserable. In this case the winds, which have been 25 to 42 knots, are on our starboard quarter (more or less behind us), making it an E-ticket ride. As Nick puts it, we are “chewing up the juice.”
This fresh breeze has kicked up some nice swell, 3 to 4 meters, which has made for some nice surfing conditions. It’s hard to believe that a yacht weighing in at 25 tons can surf off a wave like a 30 pound fiberglass board, but it can.
Last evening the boys had a trick on the helm, seeing who could get the best speed surfing off of a wave. Nick got 12 knots, and Todd later took top human driver honors with 14 knots. “Wilhelm” (the nickname for our autopilot), was not to be shown up. He held the previous record of 17 knots two seasons ago. Throughout the evening, Wilhelm kept bettering the boys numbers As the seas got up, and while the boys were snug in their berths, he hit fifteens and sixteens. Then late this morning, on a very large and well formed wave, he set a new Moonshadow record of 17.6 knots. For you earthlings, that is about 20 mph or 33 kph in your car. Don’t try this with your home!
Nick “chewing up the juice” in big breeze and swells
Needless to say, this has not only been about as much fun as four guys can have with their clothes on, but has propelled us into the lead position on the rally fleet. As of 0700 this morning, we were 12 miles ahead of the next yacht in the fleet.
Our position at noon was 22 deg. 38 min. South latitude by 176 deg. 44 min. East longitude and our 24 hour run toward the finish line was 246 nautical miles. We now expect to be in Fiji tomorrow (Friday local time) for happy hour.
As of noon today, we had less than fifty miles to go to the finish line at Navula Pass. With the breeze still in the 25-30 knot range, Moonshadow is charging along like a horse that can see the barn. We have an ETA of “happy hour” at the finish line and plan to anchor this evening at Momi anchorage, just a few miles inside the pass. Champagne is cooling.
Our noon position was 18 deg. 40 min. South latitude by 177 deg. 11 min. East longitude. We had another nice noon-to-noon run of 237 miles, keeping our average speed over the rally course to slightly more than 9 knots. The next yacht behind us is now nearly 2 degrees or 120 miles to the south of us, so we are taking things pretty easy today.
Even though we haven’t made landfall, the boys reckon that they can smell the palm trees at Musket Cove and hear the bottles tinkling at the $3 bar. I suppose that all the senses, including thirst, become more acute with deprivation.
We continue to be under a thin cloud layer, which probably keeps us from burning our white skin and perspiring under the dodger.
The skipper took a trick at the helm during one of the windy periods yesterday, looking to beat the surfing speeds acheived by two crack helmsmen. After about an hour of frustration, meaning surfs of just 12 to 13 knots, the mother of all surf waves appeard in my peripheral vision and we were off to the races. Just about the time the knotlog was registering 17, the spray from the wake completely drenched me. It was quite refreshing, if not humorous. At 17.4, I am still 2/10ths of a knot off of Wilhelm. Oh well, he has lots more practice.
Nick is on the helm at the moment making a last ditch effort to defend his honor.
We crossed the finish line in Navula Pass yesterday afternoon at 4:42 PM local time, five days, four hours and forty two minutes after our start off Westhaven in Auckland. We were the first boat participating in the rally to cross the finish line, the next yacht, Moonblue II, finished this morning, more than 12 hours later. Our average speed made good for the passage was 9.2 knots.
As is customary after any Ponsonby Cruising Club race, the crew enjoyed a refreshing rum and coke (OK, maybe two) as we sailed in calm protected waters to a calm anchorage off of the town of Nadi. After five days of rocking, rolling, surfing and the constant sound of water rushing past Moonshadow’s hull, it was a pleasant respite from the excitement of the sail.
As soon as we were in the lee of Viti Levu, we could smell the rich aromas of a tropical South Pacific island. We had arrived in Fiji! Unfortunately, we had gotten here two days before our organized Customs clearance in Musket cove, so we will be quarantined on board till tomorrow (Sunday) morning.
As far as passages go for me, this would rate as one of the best. It was fast, none of the crew so much as stubbed a toe, we all enjoyed each other’s company, and we didn’t break any gear. MaiTai is even starting to warm up to the boys. Yes, and it’s always nice to be the first one to finish.
We had an easy sail over to Musket Cove this morning and while we are awaiting Custom’s clearance, we’re hanging out, listening to some Jimmy Buffet, tidying up the yacht a bit, and enjoying some cool bevvies.
Musket Cove on the island of Malolo Lailai
After we finally got checked into Fiji, we made our way to the world famous $3 Bar off the end of the marina pontoon where we had a few celebretory drinks.
The $3 Bar is world famous to yachties.
Moonhadow got “the double” on the Musket Cove Rally, getting line honors and finishing first on handicap. After all the yachts had finished and our friends from the Ponsonby Cruising Club in Auckland had arrived, the Musket Cove Yacht Club hosted an awards dinner.
Todd and George hold the Mamanucas Trophy