We slipped through Malolo Passage just as the sun was setting. It was exhilarating leaving Fiji and embarking on our first offshore passage, especially departing so quickly! Once we had dinner and the sun set, everyone tucked into their bunks, the sun sets early in Fiji, around 6:00 pm which often meant everyone was in bed except the person on watch by 7:30 pm. I was first on watch until 8:00 pm, and I was happy I didn’t have a full watch into the night, during that first night. Emmanuel relieved me, and I tucked into bed in the aft cabin. I woke up to the sound of pounding into the wind; a 30-knot squall had come up with lightning all around. I was rolling out of bed, and before I could get out, I heard Jimmy on deck to lend a hand. Good man.
We settled into our watch rhythm quickly. Jimmy had set-it up, and it was awesome.
The first couple of days were focused on reaching the fabled fishing grounds of Ceva-I-Ra Reef that Jimmy had been told about. We were close-reaching as much as possible, which was a good test for Emmanuel and my sea legs. We arrived at the reef, and it was game on. We could see flocks of birds that pointed out where the fish were feeding and headed straight to those spots to drop our lure. Immediately we had a FISH ON!, and having no clue how to reel tuna in, we broke the line and lost the lure. A quick replacement and another fish on the line! And another broken lure. We repeated this one more time, and with our final lure, the guys put on a wire leader and fish on again! We played out the fish a bit more this time, and it was all hands teamwork to get the fish onboard, filleted and vacuum sealed. We were STOKED. It was hands down the best tuna I’ve had. Guy and Jimmy nailed the quick-seared, salt and pepper tuna, and we had tuna steaks for at least seven meals for all five of us.
Checking off our fishing goal, we were able to bear off a bit, which made for a more comfortable heading. What followed were the two best sailing days of our lives. It was a dream. We had 15-18 knots of wind on the beam, sunshine, with lazy, gentle swells coming from the southwest. Those are the days where it’s easy to explain the draw of offshore sailing, and you don’t have to say anything at all; it’s self-explanatory. We lazed in the cockpit, still close enough to Fiji that it was nice and warm, everyone reading or napping. I remember stealing looks with Emmanuel that essentially said !!!!!*)#)*THIS IS A DREAM! LOOK AT OUR BOAT(*$#@()!!!! It was surreal and by far the most lovely sailing I’ve done so far. Minds blown.
Eventually, the wind dropped as we got to the centre of the high, and we had to fire up the engine. Having the engine running meant diligent engine room checks, temperature gage checks, but it also gave us a chance to get sorted in other ways. We did some deep water ocean swims, showered, had a spa day, tidied up, played some games, and Annie made EPIC Captain’s Hour platters (chutney from Fiji chutney is TASTY).
Motoring through the high, we had been tracking the weather closely, and we saw a big low with 45-50 knot winds predicted to hit the Northern tip of New Zealand and we wanted nothing to do with that. After calling in the war council (Jimmy’s dad and a friend of his from the North Island), we decided to heave-to for roughly 18 hours to let the front pass in front of us. Two whales and a shark came by to say hello while we were hove-to, and after polishing a bottle of Fijian dark rum and some good rest, we were ready to get moving towards NZ again.
The wind built, and we sailed heavily reefed into building seas. After 12 hours, the cabin was strewn with wet clothes, and there were more than a few leaks identified. I don’t’ think any of us had a dry bunk, but when you’re tired and after a few minutes and a bit of body warmth, it would get cozy enough for some shut-eye. The v-berth where Annie and Jimmy slept was…..less hospitable….the movement of the boat and the building ocean meant there were a few times where they were weightless as ALULA pounded forward. They are built of tough stock and were still in high spirits. The most coveted berth was what we called the ‘engine berth.’ We pulled one of the mattresses from the aft cabin onto the floor on the passageway between the salon and the aft cabin, tucked right against the engine access. It was a small space, low in the boat and at mid-ship, and it was the best.
It was awesome to see ALULA sail through these conditions. She handled it with ease. We had our third reef in the main and were sailing with our staysail through 4-5 meter waves and consistent 28-34 knots. It was wet and cold, and I decided to take a “paihia bomb” as a precaution against sea-sickness. Whatever the non-drowsy ingredient in paihia bombs, it’s FUN, and I felt great, for a while anyway! 🙂 We were glad we waited and missed some of the stronger winds. It was fun to see the seas built up to 4-5 meters and build trust in ALULA and the way she sailed. It was helpful that the sun kept peaking out, and we had some fighter-pilot-like bird keeping us company. We think they were frigate birds.
Something interesting for me was realizing how much you just have to go with what you’ve got when you’re sailing. There’s nothing that you can do to change anything, not the weather or wind, so you just accept whatever you’re given. The sea has a lot to teach us about life in general.
On Day 11, we sighted New Zealand, and it was a lovely moment. I was on watch for the 5:00 am-8:00 am, and as always, I relieved Emmanuel. He stayed up with me because we knew if it was clear we’d see New Zealand. It was a beautiful sunrise, and we saw the coast of the North Island! Our first landfall after our first offshore passage! The rest of the crew were still asleep, so we had some time to take it in and celebrate together. It was a real feeling of accomplishment after all the planning, thinking, prepping, and nerves. It was a great feeling.
I started thinking about a hot shower, fries and cold beer. We started calculating what time we’d arrive at Whangarei for customs (which was a bad call). The last day was the longest day of the whole trip for me and was a SLOG.
Part III coming next week – New Zealand – Landfall!