"Arctracer" Letters

Tauranga, NZ to Savusavu, Fiji, May-June 2000

We picked up a mooring at the Savusavu Yacht Club this morning, but we can't go ashore since it is the Queen's Birthday Holiday and the customs, immigration, and agricultural people are on holiday. No fear, we have plenty to do without going to shore after being at sea for so long. The following is from our daily notes of the trip:

25th of May 2000: We left the Tauranga Bridge Marina, New Zealand at about 38 degrees South and 176 degrees East after getting some duty-free goods delivered and checking out with customs. I was unable to do last minute grocery shopping as I had to be on the boat to sign papers to check out, and our wonderful New Zealand friends, Pat and Jan, got groceries for us. We sure did enjoy that fresh produce on the way north! We did take one more long, hot, pressurized shower that morning. We left at noon, at slack high tide so our small engine could cope and the currents would be helpful. The weather forecast was good, with a large high pressure system just west of New Zealand promising moderate southeast wind for the next few days. After we got out the pass I read 6 emails that we had just received. Our good friends on Ballerina (Marilyn and Roger) had been kind enough to collect this email for us and put it on a disk. We were too busy with last minute details to get the email ourselves. They also sent an email message to Hilary telling her when we left. We called Norwich and left a message on the answering machine, but now as I read our email we found out that Mom and Dad were on their way from Vermont to Wisconsin, so guess they won't get the message for a while.

Outside in the open sea we found very light breezes, so we hoisted our topsails and moved slowly northward. We weren't going fast, but at least we were going, and it was good to be heading back to the tropics. As always happens for the first few days of any passage, we didn't feel like doing too much or eating too much while we were getting our sea legs.

26th of May: Shortly after midnight the wind got stronger, so we took in topsails and then put the first reefs in both foresail and mainsail. When we heard on the 9 a.m. weather report that there were going to be strong winds (Northerlies 35-45 knots) we turned West and headed to Great Barrier Island, north of Auckland. This is where we spent New Year's Eve. We didn't think it necessary to sail in such strong winds since we had a choice, and an anchorage sounded great. We were just approaching the island when we listened to the 9 p.m. weather. After this forecast we decided that we could get north before the strong winds arrived, so we turned our bow toward Fiji again. This was another demonstration that meteorology is not an exact science. Since the weather prophets change their predictions often, it is difficult to plan a voyage of any significant length.

27th of May: There were lots of squalls so our sails stayed reefed. When a squall came, we reduced sail further by rolling up our jib, unrolling it again after the squall passed.

28th May: Today there was 40 knots of wind just to the south of us, but we were moving north away from it. We had to run our engine to charge our batteries to be able to run our running lights and compass light. We had difficulty getting it started so Jerry checked it later to find a leak in the fuel line. He made a few attempts to jury-rig a solution to this problem, but had no luck. The following couple of days we had to soak up the leaking fuel every 8 minutes with paper towels. What a pain!

I made bread for the first time on this trip and we had our first flying fish land in the cockpit (at 33 degrees S latitude). We hadn't expected to see them so far south. We heard on the weather forecast that a front was approaching us. (This was to become a familiar forecast as the days progressed!) Our breeze dropped to only 10 knots, and we unreefed in the afternoon. One squall brought our boat speed up to 8 knots for a while, an exhilarating ride. The sky cleared in the evening, for the first time on this trip.

29th May: New Zealand is getting storms and gales! There are 40 knot winds to the east, south and west of us, but we are still in gentle breezes. I finished reading my first book of the trip. We saw albatrosses, storm petrels, and velella velellas (jelly fish). The sky was weird looking all day. The wind gradually backed around to the north, right in our face, so we were forced to sail either mostly west or mostly east. Nothing for us to do but wait for more favorable winds, (and make occasional appeals to Aeolus, god of the winds).

Today martial law was declared in Suva, Fiji. The army has taken over! They had a curfew on last night, but have now lifted it. We don't plan to go to Suva with the coup on, but we still plan to go to Fiji if the reports outside Suva are favorable.

30th May: Light rain started soon after midnight, along with stronger north winds, so we reefed. We went through a STRONG squall while I was on watch. I got concerned enough, after it lasted over half an hour, so that I woke up Jerry to see if we should further reduce sail. Going barely off the wind Arctracer handled beautifully. The wind was REALLY blowing off the tops of the waves! We saw albatrosses and had LOTS of rain. During the Russell Radio broadcast (out of NZ) we heard that a boat in Suva had just checked into Fiji there. They walked around the streets and found the people and officials friendly. There were some stores that had been burned and looted around town.

The wind let up to only 10-15 knots after about 2 hours, but stayed squally and rainy all day.

31st May: After midnight the north wind strengthened, and we put in second reefs. Jerry figures the wind was consistently 25-30 knots, with higher gusts. We went through a front and the wind was more northwest, so we could go more north. This was the front we ran towards Great Barrier to avoid, and it did bring gales south of us, but it had moved slowly enough for us to get north of the strong winds. More albatrosses were around and four great-winged petrels followed us today and for several days after this.

We had a problem with our toilet overflowing for a few days, so with the bad weather we just closed the seacock on the throughhull when we weren't using it. Today Jerry found a small piece of wood in the intake hose which sometimes kept the valve open, so our problem was solved. (It is wonderful to be married to a "jack-of-all-trades!")

There was very little wind today, after the front passed, but we finally got above 31 degrees South. It has taken days to get this far north with all the contrary wind we've been having with fronts going through. When I went to sleep this evening Jerry was sailing with both the fore topsail up and the main topsail up, but it wasn't long before we were double-reefed again. Jerry couldn't decide this time whether to put in single reefs or double ones. The double ones proved to be right!

1st June: We were getting near another front and the rain really came down again. We had a succession of squalls with winds over 30 knots, all from the north. It was so windy that Jerry ate his muesli while sitting on the floor in the main salon (in a mug of course, since things don't stay on plates or in bowls these days). All of our foul-weather gear (raincoats, rain pants, boots) are soaking wet now and there has been no weather to dry the stuff out. Today the rain slowed to sprinkles for a while, but came heavy again in the evening. The great- winged petrels are still following us. The electric bilge pump was staying on much of the time and draining our batteries, even though there wasn't that much water in the bilge, so we took its fuse out. Water is coming into the forepeak today around the hatch. The waves coming across the bow have loosened the clay I had put around it to keep out the water. (We never have found a proper gasket for that hatch. We've tried all kinds of rubber, but with no success.)

Jerry saw a gannet today. When I came on watch for the afternoon he told me that the only sail change that he made all day was to put the topsail back into the back locker and get out the storm jib and storm trysail!? (Luckily we never had to use these sails.)

2nd June: At 1:30 am, just after the start of this day, we finally got past this front. We had really heavy rain and strong winds, then the wind shifted to being from the west - a good direction for us finally, but dropped to only about 5 knots so we couldn't sail too fast. The topsails went up today for a while.

We've run out of milo (a drink recommended by our friend Jan in NZ). We still are drinking lots of tea, hot tang and hot chocolate though. It has been cold with all the rain and fronts, even though we're gradually getting further north. We saw more albatrosses today and storm petrels. The great-winged petrels are still following us.

While listening to the 9 a.m. weather report, we learned that a front is approaching us. This certainly is the passage of "the fronts!" Jerry patched the fuel line with a section of rubber hose, hydraulic sealant, and hose clamps. We have no more leaking fuel. This is wonderful - no more paper towels every 8 minutes when we have to run the engine to charge the batteries for the tricolor light and binnacle light!

3rd June: Today we learned that there is a lot of satellite debris over the Pacific Ocean. It took the computer voice over 10 minutes to list all of the way points involved. We sure are glad we don't have to deal with that! The coordinates given went from about 7degrees N to 19 degrees S and from 178 degrees E to 95 degrees W. We are about 178 degrees east, but we aren't far enough north to be affected.

About 2 a.m. when I went on watch Jerry decided that we should put a reef in each sail. He already had the topsails down. After we got single reefs in, the wind seemed even stronger so we decided to double reef both sails again. While reefing, the boat drifted backwards and a control wire to the Autohelm broke. This happens occasionally, but our 3rd crew member, "Tracy" the wind vane, is a huge help, especially in strong winds when we think she may steer better than we could ourselves. Jerry injured his chest when the boat lurched while he was leaning over the back rail to repair the wire. It was getting REALLY windy and wavy again at this point! We had 25 knots from the north most of the time, with gusts over 30, and it rained. At least it wasn't too cold. From this day on we used only one quilt when we slept. In New Zealand we'd been using two quilts and at least one wool blanket! Today we finally got north of 30 degrees of latitude. We think this will mean the fronts won't be coming as quickly since we are so far north. Many of them don't get up this high.

The albatrosses were around as were the four great-winged petrels that had been following us for days. We crossed 180 degrees longitude, so now were in the West longitudes. I finished reading another book - the 2nd this trip. At about 5 p.m. it got VERY windy. The wind was screaming and we were heeling over quite a bit. Jerry took to the floor again for his evening meal. Our strobe light that we keep on deck for an emergency overboard came loose. When we first saw the flashing light we were scared for a few minutes. We had both been inside (looking around outside every 15 minutes) for dinner. The rain let up in the evening, and the north wind dropped to only 20-25 knots. The direction varied slightly, so we tacked a few times to keep moving north as much as possible.

4th June: After midnight we finally got through the front, and the wind backed around to the west, with the forecast calling for southwest winds. There was still a lot of wind around, so Jerry decided to take down the mainsail and run downwind with just the double-reefed foresail, a very safe configuration. I stayed inside during my watches today. While Jerry slept I checked the horizon every 15 minutes. My clothes were all wet and I was very cold. I made bread for the 2nd time, but it was much more difficult this time with only the foresail up. We always have a bumpier ride with just that up, but there was too much wind for the mainsail too. We've managed to have at least one hot meal a day. It is important in this weather!

During the day we were getting 15-25 knots of wind while boats just south of us were reporting 30-40 knots. We were glad we were getting further and further north. The sun came out for the first time during the trip. At 3 p.m. we put up the double reefed mainsail again and discovered a 6" rip in one of the seams after we got it up. Lots of water was coming in the forepeak hatch again. We put the fuse in for the bilge pump to get the water out of the bilge. Russell Radio told us that boats were getting 35-45 knots just south of us this evening. It was very windy for us and we were getting very large swells and waves, but it certainly wasn't 45 knots. About 9:30 p.m. a large fishing boat passed very close to our bow. Half the time he was hidden in the waves. Jerry had been watching it and attempting to listen to the 9 p.m. weather forecast when he bumped his head. The commotion woke me up, so he went back outside to watch the fishing boat while I listened to the rest of the weather - the Islands forecast put out by Fiji, but on the New Zealand weather channel.

The weather report today was interesting because of the area affected by a low pressure center at 44S 179W. There were 40 knot winds within 540 miles of the center and 25 knot winds within 900 miles. To put that in perspective, if that low had been off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, then there would be a gale blowing from Portland, Maine to Miami, Florida and the 25 knot winds would blow as far north as the Gulf of St. Laurence and down to Haiti. Now that's a colossal low!

5th June: It was still blowing SW20 in the wee hours, so Jerry took down the mainsail at 2:30. In the process the boat REALLY lurched and threw me out of bed onto the floor. On the way down I slammed into the table and hurt my back, hip, left elbow, left shoulder, and right heel. I was VERY sore for the next 2-3 days. Thank goodness for Tylenol!

The bilge pump had to be turned on again today. Boats below us are still getting SW winds of 35-40 knots. We had SW10-15 - great for us to go north to Fiji. Jerry mended the mainsail before we put it back up. The jib is out for the first time in a long time, and we are sailing at 6 to 7 knots. We had a little sun today, but there is still lots of spray coming aboard from the leftover large waves. Overall this was a really nice sailing day (one of few). We sure did have lots of northerly winds with all of those fronts. Sometimes the wind stayed out of the north even after we'd gone through the fronts!

I saw a yellow-nosed albatross, a juvenile black-browed albatross, and lots of flying fish today (at 28 degrees South). With the sun out, the water is a beautiful blue color. In New Zealand, where the water was much cooler, the water was always a greenish color as in Maine.

6th June: I saw my first airplane of the trip - headed south. There were some clouds, but it wasn't totally overcast. I also saw shooting stars and a meteorite (I think). According to the weather forecast a high is approaching us - this is a first. The wind dropped way down below 10 knots, so we unreefed and put up the topsails in the morning. About noon we saw another sailboat on the horizon and later saw another one gaining on it from the south. We learned on the VHF that they were the boats "Salacia" and "Sea Witch" on their way from New Zealand to South Minerva Reef.

Our mainsail rope with sail ties (to tie up the main sail when it is down) chafed through, so Jerry spliced rope for a new one. We're still using the ties we've had since we've owned the boat. I finished reading my 3rd book of the trip. (As you can see I read while Jerry does all the work!?)

We listened to a Honolulu weather channel (the computer voice of NMC - November Mike Charlie) for the first time today. It gives the weather from the equator to 25 S and from 160E to 120W, while New Zealand only gives the weather up to 25S (except for the Fiji "Islands Report" which isn't as detailed as NMC). By evening the wind was only SW5, and we slipped peacefully along at about 2 knots.

7th June: I finished reading a 4th book (It was a short one and the weather wasn't bad.) We discovered that a front is 10 degrees west of us and approaching. It was great to have a clear enough sky and to be far enough north to see all of the Big Dipper for the first time in months. We've seen a lot of the Southern Cross though (not this trip, but...). This was the second really sunny day (for a while) of the trip. At 23:20 hours we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn at 23 degrees 27 minutes South. We're in the tropics again and we like the idea. Wind was a gentle NW8 almost all day.

8th June: At noon we'll have been at sea for two weeks. This is a record for us. We've made 3 other trips between the islands and New Zealand and they have all been two weeks or less. I guess we didn't have as many adverse winds on the other trips either though. Now that the weather is allowing us to see the sunrise, we've noticed that it rises by 6:45 am - much earlier than it rose in New Zealand. We'll have longer days now even though the days are still getting shorter until the sun reaches the Tropic of Cancer.

We got winds of NW12 knots in early morning, and encountered a squall about 7:30 so took down the topsails again. We got through that weak front by 11:00, and the wind went to WSW 12 so we could go NNW again toward our first Fiji way point. The way point we had chosen was just east of the Great Astrolabe Reef. We saw a nice rainbow, and white-tailed tropic birds for the first time this trip. Two flying fish came aboard just before dawn and Jerry used them for bait later in the day. They were deftly devoured without any other fish getting the hook. No fish this trip. Most of the time it was too windy to fish anyway. Jerry ate the last banana that was aboard today. He REALLY likes bananas on his muesli. (I didn't run out of gingerale this trip!) There were LOTS of flying fish around today - flying out of the way of our bow. We crossed the 180 degree longitude line again today, so we're back in the East longitudes and with no sun.

9th June: Bread was made again today - much easier than the last time I made it! The wind was a fairly steady SW10. We were starting to wonder if we would ever get the SE trade winds. We saw red-footed boobies (an adult and two juveniles) for the 1st time this trip. The bilge pump had to be turned on again. It was warm enough to wear a T-shirt with no foul weather gear today on my watch before dawn! We're losing the New Zealand weather reports now. They come in very faintly and we miss half of the information. We put the square sail up today - the first time this trip. We certainly haven't been going downwind much before this, and when we were the wind was too strong. In the afternoon the wind backed through south to SE10. Jerry even did his laundry - but it didn't get completely dry until we got to Fiji. I finished reading my 5th book. This life at sea is wonderful - one can get a lot of reading done as long as one doesn't get seasick. The wind picked up and got a bit squally after dark, and the square sail got a tear underneath its cross, so Jerry took it down. We need to mend it before we put it away so that we don't forget to do it. We got above 20 degrees south. We're really getting into the tropics now.

10th June: We had planned to check in at Levuka, Ovalau Island in Fiji, but it was going to be on a Sunday and we wouldn't be able to check in, so we decided to sail farther north to Savusavu where there are more amenities. Since we had about 20 knots of wind all day, from the SE (the trades?) we had good wind to continue further north. We started seeing lots of large seed pods and algae floating in the water. Jerry used a big green double-squid lure that Dad gave him today, but we didn't have any luck with it. At one point there were lots of birds getting bait fish too, but... Perhaps if Tom had been with us he would have been able to entice the fish that were apparently around us. We saw frigate birds for the first time since leaving Fiji last November.

We went through a 5-mile wide place between a large reef and an island. It seemed like a small pass after having the whole of the Pacific Ocean to deal with. (I prefer the ocean and got rather nervous at going through this place.) The wind was probably 20-25 knots and we were really moving. By 10 p.m. we had reefs in each of our sails and were continuing to sail quite fast. Although we were going fast I had left the back hatch open for some air while sleeping and one rogue wave came aboard and soaked the entire bed in the aft cabin. Needless to say, that woke me up abruptly! After that the hatch was closed again, as it had been all the previous time during the trip north.

11th June: By 5 a.m. on this Sunday morning we were within 3 miles of the light (which was not working) on the reef at the entrance to Savusavu Bay. I hove to until 6:15 when it was light enough to see the reef. I woke Jerry as I'm still not confident about approaching land by myself. (Actually, I HATE approaching land and especially when there are reefs around!) The bilge pump needed to be turned on again after the night sail with strong winds. Since it was Sunday we anchored near the Cousteau Resort since we wouldn't be able to check in with the officials. We were so tired that we didn't do much, but it sure was nice to sleep on a level bed, be able to pump the sinks completely out, and sit on a level toilet without the top falling off (as we weren't heeled) and be able to relax with a drink in our hands at sunset after an absolutely gorgeous sunny day!

12th June: After going to bed about 7:30 last night I was wide awake at 5:30 this morning. I had the last two eggs with toast by 6:30 a.m. At 8:00 we weighed anchor and headed into the town of Savusavu where we discovered that we can't check in today either since it is a holiday. As I said earlier this is no problem since I was able to get this letter written to all of you, get my laundry done so that I can put away my long underwear, wool socks and mittens, and turtlenecks and sweat pants, and cook the last of our fresh vegetables so that the agricultural official won't take them. I also need to deal with all the mold that is appearing inside Arctracer because of all the damp weather we've been having.

Trip Summary: 17 days, 1578 miles: This was quite a low average miles/day for "Arctracer," but we had no major problems and arrived safely. This trip would have been just 1277 miles in a "straight line" which we know is really an arc traced on the curved surface of the earth. We managed to climb up the ladder of latitudes from 37S at Tauranga to 16S at Savusavu, and climbed up the temperature scale from winter clothes to swimsuits. It was a good trip.