Port Vila to Fiji

This is a belated update as we have been so busy since arriving in Fiji, and I have not wanted to spend the time on my computer. However, my sense of organization means that I cannot continue writing about our adventures here in Fiji, before mentioning our sail across from Vanuatu.

I had predicted it would be a unpleasant passage with the sou’easterly trade winds. I hate to say (yet again) that this was the worst ever trip so for fear of sounding like a worn out record, so let us say that it was everything we were expecting and more!

Morning and night, we had radio skeds with our friends Isabelle & Dave on board ‘Periclees’, who had coincidentally left New Caledonia bound for Fiji too, the same day as we left Vanuatu. A couple of hundred miles south of us, they had a slightly different weather pattern, but it was good to check in with each other each morning and night, give our position reports and encourage one another when the going got tough.

The first day out from Port Vila gave us slightly more easterly winds, so we motor sailed to help give us a push south a good 60 miles, knowing that the inevitable sou’easterly winds would kick in soon and make the point of sail even harder.
By the end of day 1 we had therefore only sailed eastwards towards Fiji some 10 miles and showed we had actually increased our mileage towards Fiji – not a good feeling.

It’s a fact I am sure all ‘yachties’ would agree with, that when the sun is shining, you can cope so much better with rough seas and bad conditions.

That ‘bad’ feeling was exacerbated next morning when the low pressure system (from dissipating Cyclone Raquel up in the Solomons) brought overcast skies, continuous squalls & drizzly rain.

Nikki found a snug dry spot on the floor of the aft cabin!

Nikki found a snug dry spot on the floor of the aft cabin!

We ploughed into large confused seas that often saw a foot of water over our bow. Waves constantly dumped water across the decks & the almost constant drizzly rain, managed to find any crevice or gap to trickle through where we sat, so we had sponges and cloths soaking up pools of water in the cockpit to try and keep the area & ourselves dry.
Inside the yacht, the air vent above the galley was no match for the force of the water, and salt water sprayed over the benches and floor when the waves crashed onto the deck above.
For the next 4 days, we pounded into south easterlies- the winds were consistently 20-25 knots but during the squalls would increase up to 35 knots. It was most uncomfortable on board with the motion & the wet conditions; the damp and moisture inside the yacht made everything feel clammy.

Wedged into the sofa reading

Wedged into the sofa reading

During conditions like this, Frank & I feel too sick to read books, and have little incentive to try and cook food, so we mostly take turns cat napping or gazing out at the ocean from the cockpit and watching the miles slowly slip by.
We tried to eat something hot at nighttime, (a couple of nights we didn’t even do that!) though generally only noodles or cuppa soup. Other than that, we nibbled on dried crackers & fruit, and both lost significant weight during our passage.
Once night fell, Frank would generally take the first watch whilst I tried to have a few hours sleep. I would take over for the middle part of the night (my strategy was that the wind would often die down then so I felt I could cope easier in the darkness), then Frank would take over again before dawn.
After the morning sked, Frank would take another nap, and then we would generally keep each other company during the daytime. When the weather closed in, and it was too rough or wet to be in the cockpit, we would find places around the yacht where we could wedge ourselves most comfortably against the rocking & rolling motion of the waves buffeting the yacht.
Frank sent his daily position reports (Findu site) and we enjoyed the emails that still came in from family & friends onto our winlink site. My father in particular has been on a huge learning curve since we left Australia, sending emails for the first time in his life (and using Skype to contact overseas friends). A skill still being developed, he complains that he constantly ‘loses’ entire paragraphs and emails by mistake, but I am really proud & thrilled at how well he is coping and it certainly gives me great peace of mind knowing that I can maintain constant contact with him from wherever we are, whether in port or at sea.

A beautiful sunset brightens the uncomfortable trip

A beautiful sunset brightens the uncomfortable trip

On day 3, we decided to shake out one of the reefs in the mizzen sail and found that the sail track had come adrift on the first few feet on the mast. Frank managed to tie rope around the mast to prevent further damage, but we were reticent to put more pressure on the track by raising more sail.
On day 4, the wind eased off slightly and came round to the south a little, so we made one long tack towards the entrance of the reef opening to Fiji. It became exciting to watch the miles countdown, and once we had less than 100 miles to go, the GPS starts predicting our ETA. It becomes hard not to keep checking whether the ETA has moved forward or back, and we adjust sails and position to try and improve our speed and arrival time.
Day 5, and dawn finally presented a sky devoid of the threatening black storm clouds that had followed us since Vanuatu.
Frank & I started to really feel excited knowing we were approaching the coast of Fiji. The sun poked through the clouds and the seas grew less confused. The wind finally decreased and we needed to push the motor to help fill the sails.
It was at this point, that we embarrassingly ran out of fuel! We had plenty of spare jugs of diesel on board, but the rolling movement of the yacht & waves splashing across the yacht meant that we could not risk salt water leaking into the fuel openings on the yacht’s flush deck.
We shook out the reefs from the foresail, and sailed as best as possible. The wind was flukey and so light, we were only making about 3 to 4 knots so we tried hard to enjoy a gentle sail without stressing too much that we would miss our time schedule of arriving at the reef entrance at dusk. It meant we had to tack in order to make
A couple of hours later, the wind dropped to a balmy breeze and we were virtually becalmed on a long ocean swell with not even a ripple to break the surface. Frank carefully transferred a couple of jugs of diesel into the fuel tanks before we continued motoring directly towards the main entrance through the reef- ‘Navula Passage’ was about 20 miles distant.
We had been so busy getting the yacht refuelled & back on course that we suddenly noticed the distant peaks of Fiji had appeared as a series of jagged peaks dotted across the horizon.
As night fell, we found ourselves surrounded by lights, and it was quite disconcerting figuring out which were navigational aids and which were the lights of vessels coming and going through the leads. There was no moon to guide us, and I felt nervous, so I made Frank take the helm as we lined up the leads and turned in pitch blackness towards the two red lights that defined the wide entrance through the Navula Passage into Moni Bay beyond.
We slowly made our way through the entrance and followed the leads to the foreshores where we dropped the anchor in 10 meters in water. It was around 8pm and we had taken 5 long days to travel 549 nautical miles. It had been another uncomfortable passage but I know that Frank & I both felt both a sense of accomplishment that we had finally arrived at our destination for the remainder of this cruising season and excitement & exhilaration that we were finally in Fiji. A trip that takes 41/2 hrs in an aeroplane had taken us a total of 15 days of sailing, plus all the weeks in between!

Awaiting customs at Vuda Point Marina

Awaiting customs at Vuda Point Marina

Next morning, we motored the 12 miles or so to Vuda Point Marina, where we had organized to clear into customs and take up a marina berth until Paul & Jenny arrived from Australia. We had managed to arrive just 4 days before they were due to fly in!

Tied up to the moorings at Vuda Point

Tied up to the moorings at Vuda Point

Periclees arrives from New Caledonia 2 days after us!

Periclees arrives from New Caledonia 2 days after us!

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