On the morning of the 3rd May we ghosted under full sail from our anchorage towards the gap in the encircling reef leading to the open sea, commencing our 3000 nautical mile (5400km) passage to Indonesia. We set our course northwest, to skirt around the more southerly islands of Vanuatu and then onwards to the Torres Straits which separate Australia and Indonesia. As our crossings have always been accompanied by light winds, we allowed thirty days for this leg to Indonesia.
Our first few days brought variable conditions – some good SE breeze but also very little wind and some of that from ahead. Not good for a sailing boat! On the 5th we heard female Kiwi twang calling Moondust’s name on the VHF radio. New Zealand’s Air Force Orion, not visible to us, was querying our well-being as they had picked up a faint emergency signal from an EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon).
On the morning of my departure for the Southern Lau Islands thankfully the anchor came up from amongst the coral heads easily and with one reef in the main, I set sail for the passage through the fringing reef. Once clear of the island I found the wind was just south of east, meaning I would have wind forward of the beam all the way. However, having waited 27 days for these less than perfect conditions I was determined to go ahead.
Shortly afterwards I heard the chink of steel on steel and glancing up, saw that the bungee cord on the starboard fishing line was stretched to its limit and a big blue dorado was jumping and thrashing from side to side. Slowing the boat, I gathered the things needed to land it, but possibly being foul hooked, somehow it just slipped the triple hook and swam off.
The overnight passage was straightforward with about 15 knots of wind. That night, or rather early next morning, I finally tired of playing my uke, having worn through the skin on a finger and decided to catnap, after being alert and on my feet since departure. I managed about an hour of broken rest when it started to get light, then brewed some coffee, went out and was dismayed to see that the mainsail was showing a very full ‘belly’, caused by the reefing line at the clew (rear bottom corner) of the sail parting in the night.
Fortunately, there was a second reefing line rigged and my speed picked up with a properly set sail. By now it was 08:00 and the entrance to Fulaga was just six miles away, but directly up wind and up current. It took me three and a half hours to sail my way to just off the entrance pass, where I dropped sail and started both engines; happy that I had thoroughly tested them for fuel air blocks after the servicing I had done at Avea Island. I felt that I needed full manoeuvrability for my first effort at negotiating that pass which is only 50m wide and quite shallow – around five metres at places – with coral heads in the channel showing clearly. I had a route marked out on the satellite chart and after the first 300 metres or so, where I cautiously crawled my way in, straddling the obstructions, I finally anchored at midday in 4m of crystal clear water over sand off the village landing.
Following my arrival in Fiji from New Zealand and the completion of onboard quarantine at the end of June 2021, I was keen to sail away from the exposed anchorage off the main island of Viti Levu, out to the smaller islands to the west. Just as well I did, for later I learned that if I had stayed in there for more than 72 hours after clearing in, I would not have been able to move on because of Covid restrictions.
Being in the wind shadow area of the main island, I sailed 9 miles with just a zephyr of breeze out to Musket Cove, where I spent several days before catching intermittent puffs of wind to sail further north west up the Mamanuca Island chain and into the Yasawas.
The weather fortunately was kind whilst on the hard and after 36 very full days, with only two off for rain, I was ready to go back into the water. In the meanwhile Ulla and Pelle flew back to Sweden, notifying me from Dubai that they had learned from fellow travellers that it was now possible to get Covid vaccinations in New Zealand. I called a fellow sailor who had access to a car and he secured us appointments for the next day.
My favourite destinations have been the lightly inhabited offshore islands, notably Great Mercury and Great Barrier Islands.
These are mostly bathed in clean ocean water and some areas are covered in pristine forest. The whole of Great Mercury Island is owned by prominent businessmen Sir Michael Fay and David Richwhite who both generously permit the public to come ashore. Through a sustained program of pest eradication involving bait stations and ongoing monitoring, the rat and feral cat populations have been eliminated, enabling indigenous birds to flourish. During one of my runs through parkland-like surroundings I met the woman who monitors the 600 odd bait traps on the island and began to appreciate the scope of her never ending task.
September 2nd 2020 saw Karin flying from Auckland to South Africa to fulfil her long stated intention to attend her daughter’s wedding towards the end of that month. After years of close quarters and 24/7 companionship, I knew that being alone would be a huge adjustment but I was determined to make the best of it, as I knew with the conservative Kiwi approach to Covid, that Karin wouldn’t be back for a very long time.
Covid-19 has certainly touched everybody’s lives, in different ways. Some lost their lives, others their livelihood and many are suffering the hardships of lockdowns. We were certainly fortunate to have been in New Zealand during these unprecedented times, but even we have not escaped the challenges of this pandemic.
Enduring the cold NZ winter
We certainly did not expect to still be in New Zealand, in fact if it wasn’t for Covid we would have been snorkelling in warm tropical water much further north right now. Instead we have to brace ourselves against the cold, wet weather and accompanying storms.
Flying back to Whangarei in mid March, after a delightful 10 day jaunt spent touring South Island, the Corona storm clouds continued to gather. Repeated airport announcements advised travellers from overseas that they were obliged to self-isolate for two weeks and quite a few passengers were wearing face masks. I had already decided not to risk the trip I had booked to South Africa at the end of March.
We arrived back on Moondust that evening amidst chaotic evidence of earlier uncompleted tasks and the next morning commenced frenzied activity to get ready for re-launch in 10 days’ time. Days coalesced as we made slow but steady progress, focusing on the most important tasks first. Continue reading “Locked Down ‘On the Hard’”
It was Monday when we pulled up the hook in Tongatapu and, with scant breeze, ghosted west across the inter island waterway, luckily aided by the current. We had delayed our departure waiting for the right weather, as this passage is well known for its challenges and we’d heard that a sailor had just lost his life close to New Zealand after getting it wrong.
We chose to set sail despite the wind being forecast to be forward of the beam, but, as it was calm Karin would not get seasick. For 36 hours it was delightful and we averaged over 5 knots, using the time to stitch in some much need patches on our dinghy’s sun cover.
From the forecast we knew that the wind would turn a full circle back around the compass and my slumber was curtailed at 01:30 on the second night as Moondust reacted to the new wave and wind direction which reached 25kts at 03:00, forcing me to reef down and roll in the genoa a bit. Now we were moving well through the water at around 5-6kts but into adverse conditions of current, waves and wind, thus only making 4 knots over the ground. At dawn we approached Minerva North (there are two reefs about 20nm apart) and finally neared the pass at around 15:00.
It is 03:30 as I write this on my night watch. We are running before 20 knots of wind with an almost full moon casting its bright track on the ocean. I’m trying to make sense from our diary and log book of the confused blur of the past fourteen days.
Finally our visa time had expired in beautiful French Polynesia and it was time to sail on. Early on Monday, 2nd September I was woken by the sound of the water taxis passing very close, and was surprised as we had anchored well out of the small craft channel across Uturoa in Raiatea. I got up to start the day only to find that we had inexplicably dragged our anchor, were now right in the channel and within 10m of a rock on which the small boat channel marker was erected, with a reef behind it.
With some quick work we got the anchor on deck, where after we sailed across the lagoon and out of one of the western passes. Once beyond of the lee of Raiatea we had 3m swells and about 23 knots of wind which gave us a good start on the 1300 nm passage to Tonga. Sadly Karin’s seasickness kicked in and she needed to remain lying down to prevent vomiting, although with her determination, she always does her share of night watches and sail changes.
Tuesday saw us with more good wind and 4m swells, which aggravated Karin’s condition. Nevertheless we made good progress until at 15:00, when the genoa suddenly started flogging. I grabbed the wheel but felt no resistance and immediately knew that our steering had failed. A trail of hydraulic fluid in the aft lazarette confirmed this. Stunned, we dropped the main sail and rolled in the genoa, dug out the emergency tiller and I wasted quite a bit of time trying to figure out how it worked.