My Life on the Leeward Rails

Dec 01, 2011| 0 Comment

Monday, October 31st – It is time to head south to New Zealand.  The days are getting hotter, and the South Pacific cyclone season is not that far away.  We are back in the marina at Port Denarau to provision and refuel for the passage and to see the dentist.  Our goal is to complete our tasks and leave Fiji this upcoming weekend. 

The 1100nm passage from Fiji to New Zealand is not particularly long, 7 days, but we have learned that passages to and from New Zealand can be difficult.  The Captain has checked the Weather Window around our hoped-for date of departure.  According to the GRIB charts, winds should be moderate, 15 – 18 knots, and as one gets closer to New Zealand, they should drop so much one should expect to motor.  The First Mate knows these GRIB charts and has little faith in them.  While The Captain calls Fiji a 4-letter word beginning with the letter “R” for REEF as in unmarked and uncharted, The First Mate calls the GRIB charts a 4-letter word beginning with the letter “L” for LIES as in untruths and falsehoods!  Whatever they say, add 5, no — add 10 knots to the wind prediction.  Never ever has she experienced winds even a knot less than predicted.  Always they have been very much more than shown.  The Captain says that is because they are only approximations.  Since there are no weather stations out there in the middle of the Pacific, the best they can do is an intelligent guess about what is going on based upon what is going on in general all over the planet.  Does that make sense?  They talk in generalities.  They are not Gospel.  “Generalities?” she questions.  Upon generalities she is basing her hopes?

The Captain has new software displaying the GRIB files on his computer.  Arrows point in the general direction in which the wind is expected to move and the number of little slashes along the length of the arrow indicate the general velocity of wind expected, but now we have an added dimension:  color.  Light blue is light winds.  Green is moderate, 10 to 18.  Red is danger.  Avoid! 

The Captain shows her the GRIB files from Lautoka, Fiji to Opua, New Zealand.  It is all green with 1 to 2 slashes heading south for the first few days.  Winds should not be higher than 15 – 20 knots.  That’s fully manageable as far as The First Mate is concerned, though 10 – 15 is more her speed.  The main problem we have is that winds are going to be on the nose.  “Why is that?” she wonders.  No matter which direction we head to or from New Zealand, the winds are always on the nose!  This she does not understand.  She has begun to think that the downwind passages they enjoyed when they first started across the Pacific are gone forever.  Like the halcyon days of one’s youth, real or imagined, they are a thing of the past!

Fiji may be a third world country, but they do have well-trained and competent dentists.  We learn that vacationing Australians and New Zealanders plan visits here around their need for dental work.  Talk about “killing 2 birds with 1 stone!”  The Captain is going to have his offending tooth attended to by a highly recommended dentist, and we are pleased to learn that a new cap can be done in only 48 hours.  Dental work will not delay our departure.

To our delight, Kornelia and Joseph Szuecs, a young Hungarian couple we had first met in Tahaa, French Polynesia last season, pull their s/v Epiphany into a slip near ours.  We had not seen them since Opua last December.  It was fun to reconnect with them and share information as boaters invariably do.

Friday, November 4th – Dental work completed, and the boat provisioned, all that remains is a quick stop at the fuel dock to fill up, a short sail over to Lautoka to get our Fijian clearance papers, and then we’re off.  We’re almost “history”, as they say, but not quite.  Since it will most likely be late afternoon by the time these 2 tasks are accomplished, we plan to tuck into Saweni Bay for the night.  Here in Fiji, one is required to leave their shores within one hour of obtaining clearance.  They even put one’s departure time on the paperwork, but after a day of running around, one does not always feel up to hitting the ocean road for a lengthy passage.  One prefers a good night’s sleep followed by an early morning start.  That is what we intend to do feeling fairly certain that no one on the sleepy, mangrove-lined shoreline of Saweni Bay will be looking for Avante.

In the morning, The Captain walks over to the fuel dock office to confirm our fueling time.   There are several boats ahead of us, and boats are still at the fuel dock when our time approaches. The Captain walks over to see what is going on.  Our 11:00 time is moved to 12:00, and we are told to stay in our slip until we see a big catamaran now on the dock depart.  Then we are to bee-line over there before somebody else pulls into the space.  The First Mate, working happily below, is put on stand-by.  The dock clears.  We spring to action and move into the vacated spot.  Here we discover that they are having a slight problem with the fuel pump.  (Note the lack of the plural on the word “pump”.)  It is not working.  The Captain remains ashore walking the docks.  The First Mate returns below to the sanctity of her galley and listens to a horrendous amount of hammering and clanging going on outside.  She recalls a saying that “when all else fails, use a hammer.”  This is not sounding good.  The Captain eventually pokes his head below to tell her that the pump is now working, but we have another unexpected delay.  There is a big motor boat ahead of us in for a topping up:  12,000 liters!  It will take several hours to pump all that fuel.  We look at each other in dismay.  Now we have a problem, two problems really.  Customs closes at 5:00, and this is Friday.  If we do not arrive at Customs by 4:00, we will not have enough time to get our clearance completed before they close, and the Customs office will not be open again until Monday morning.  It will take us two hours to sail from the marina to Lautoka, anchor the boat, and launch the dinghy to shore where customs is located.  It is now nearly 1:00.  Our quick 30-minute fuel stop bungled.  One delay after another — we are not going to make it.  The Captain returns to prowling the dock.  The First Mate remains in the quiet below deck.  Suddenly, The Captain yells down to get moving.  We can fuel.  How did all that 12,000 liters get pumped so fast?  It had not.  The captain of the motor boat took pity on us and decided the measly 350 liters we needed was not going to greatly effect his schedule.  Go ahead and fuel now while they switch tanks.  We do so, and now it is almost 1:45.  We are cutting it close, but we can still make it.  The Captain dashes off to the fuel office to pay the bill.  He returns totally exasperated.  The office is closed, and the one and only person who collects payment for the one and only pump is not there.  What about the person at the pump?  He cannot leave the pump to go to the office.  He calls his co-worker by cell phone and learns that he has gone for a late lunch and will not be back for an hour. That’s an hour in island time!  We have been stymied by a malfunctioning Fiji fuel dock and are stuck in Fiji until Monday.


After finally paying for our fuel and with no further reason to remain in the marina, we decide to sail across to Musket Cove Resort.  Making the best of our jinxed plans, we tell ourselves that it will be nice to spend a last weekend in Fiji anchored in this pleasant bay.


The First Mate is honestly not that dismayed by this turn of events.  We have not lost our weather window.  It is still holding, and with things to do, she is content to be gently rocking in this peaceful bay for one last weekend. 


We have a new 3-D internet connection onboard which (alleluia!) works on her Apple.  For the first time in months, she has time to check her email and update their blog.  We are able to Skype our sons and granddaughter, Berlin.  We Skype our friends, Marian and David Paul, on Kilkea.  They are in Isle of Pines, New Caledonia also looking for a good weather window to head to New Zealand. With a nice French restaurant on the beach and French bread available at the baker, they are not in much of a hurry.  Still, we all should be leaving around the same time, give or take a day or so.  We agree to radio check-in with each other each evening.

In between computer activity, The First Mate decides to add a few more meals to her passage stock.  The more pre-made meals she has, the easier meal preparation goes, especially if she is under the weather, as can happen.  (Never does it happen to The Captain.  Always to her.  A constant source of exasperation.)  Musket Cove is one of the few resorts here in Fiji that encourages yachties to come ashore and use their facilities.  We head ashore to procure a few food items in their small but very well-stocked market

By Sunday afternoon, she is delighted with her list of meals:  Mom’s Beef and Veggie Soup, Hearty Fish Chowder, Stir-fried Beef with rice, Snapper Ravioli with Saffron Cream Sauce, Chicken Alfredo and that good old favorite:  Cream of whatever Campbell’s Soup with grated cheese mixed with cooked chicken and poured over noodles.  Some of the meals will go for 2 dinners, and all will be enough for a re-heated lunch.  She is truly set for the passage and as eager as The Captain to be on the way.

Sunday, November 6th – We sail back the 3 hours to Saweni Bay to position ourselves about 45 minutes outside of Lautoka.  Wind is up, and we enjoy a delightful sail.  Several other boats in the anchorage at Musket Cove had already left, and we feel that at least a few of them have the same plan in mind as we do.  We debate anchoring in Lautoka Harbor which would put us practically right on the dock in the morning, but upon remembering that industrial shoreline and our arrival experience with the soot-laden winds blowing from the smoke stacks, we decide that the mangrove-lined quiet of Saweni Bay is by far the better choice. 

There in Saweni Bay, The First Mate thoroughly enjoys her last night in Fiji.  She has discovered that she really loves going for a swim after dark, especially if the moon is shining which it is tonight.  No one can see her, and she can see no one.  She figures by 2100, all those bigger fish must be asleep.  She knows that is not true, but the thought is a reassuring one.  What she loves the most about her nighttime soaks is the quiet of the evening and the feel of the water.  The peaceful aloneness is truly special, while the ocean water feels softer, smoother, more like velvet.  Even the taste and sting of the salt water is lessened.  It really is a heavenly experience.

Monday, November 7th – By 0800, we are up and on the move.  Leaving the bay, The First Mate’s camera is drawn to a solitary mangrove tree that has found a foothold in the shallows off the point.   Such determination!

Less than an hour later, we are motoring into Lautoka Harbor where we see about 10 other boats at anchor.  Are they all checking out this morning?  This could be a long morning because we already know that our man at the desk does not move faster than a drawn-out yawn.  On closer inspection, we note that most of the boats still have their dinghies attached.  Looking ashore, we can make out one or two dinghies tied up to those slimy concrete steps.  We may be in luck. 

Working quickly, we lower the dinghy, gather our papers and head ashore.  Another dinghy heads out as we do.  Looking directly shoreward and ignoring the other dinghy, The Captain eases up the speed.  For once, The Dingbat does not fail us, but to The Captain’s acute frustration, his plans are foiled from another quarter.  Looking down at her feet, The First Mate sees that she is barefoot.  Her shoes are back on Avante! As everyone on any boat clearing out of the country must personally show up in the customs office, she knows she must make an appearance, shoes or no shoes.  The Captain is in a controlled simmer.  He tells her that she can go barefoot.  She declines the offer telling him that barefoot is okay for native village life, but it does not fly here in a big city office.  Also, she is not putting one naked foot on that slimy dock.  She tells him that she will drop him off so he can stand in line while she collects her shoes.  Not trusting her to be able to tie up to and navigate the concrete dock on her own, he puts The Dingbat into a water-spraying arc back to Avante.  She waves to the people now going to get ahead of us in line.  What else was there to do?

There is a small waiting area inside the entry.  Three people are sitting on the three available chairs.  The First Mate takes a seat on a wooden table and offers The Captain an edge which he declines.  The couple now ahead of us in line prove to be an interesting Austrian couple who are checking in, not checking out as we are doing.  The third person seated has already received his clearance and is waiting for his friend who is in the office at the moment.  We engage in the usual cruiser talk about who has been where, going where and doing what.  It turns out that our Austrian couple first have to be seen by Quarantine before they can be cleared in by customs.  So, there is only the one person presently in the office ahead of us.  The First Mate now feels better.  Shoes or lack there of have made no difference.  Thus, all is again right with her world and her position in it.  The Captain even smiles.  Next in line, yes, but it is still 45 minutes before we are finally ushered in to sit in front of the desk of the man with the long yawn. 

This is the fourth time we have been seated before this man with our forms, and we have learned from past experience that nice as this man is, he moves at a glacial pace.  He does remember us.  We are the ones who gave him the picture of Avante in front of the icebergs.  We have handed this photo out all across the Pacific.  A conversation stimulant, it has “broken the ice” on many an occasion.  Ice cubes they can understand, but icebergs? — well, that’s another matter!  

We discover quickly that though he may remember us, his paper work does not.  We are asked the same questions we have answered on the previous 3 visits.  He does have a computer.  They do have us cross-referenced from our check in at Savusavu.  Why then does he ask us the same questions?  Tonnage of boat, color of hull, material of mast, make of radio, et cetera.  On and on it goes.  Is he cross-checking us or just verifying that what he typed into his computer the last three visits is correct?  We do not know, but The Captain patiently answers his questions.  Finally, we are cleared out, papers signed and stamped front and back, passports returned.  We are out the door with wishes to come back soon. 

Back on Avante, the dinghy is quickly stored.  As The Captain secures the anchor for the passage, The First Mate motors out of the harbor.  In light winds, we sail slowly south toward the final reef passage out of Fijian waters and into the ocean.  Sailing along in 8 – 12 knots of wind, The First Mate thinks this is absolutely delightful.  Maybe the whole passage will be like this.  Maybe the GRIB files will for once err toward the lighter side of the winds.  The Captain just rolls his eyes.

The reef is barely discernible in the distance.  Winds are beginning to pick up.  At first, we think little of it.  Winds commonly pick up in the afternoon.  As we near the reef passage, winds are up to 20 knots and climbing.  The Captain decides that even though this particular reef channel is supposed to be both wide and deep, we have never been through it. We are going to double reef, pull in the jib and turn on the engine for backup before sailing out through this passage.  At the helm, holding the boat into the wind in the churned up seas, The First Mate wonders angrily what has happened to her world.  It was not supposed to be like this.  The GRIB charts did not show winds at 30 knots.  Reefs in, jib furled, we enter and cross the passage.  Clearing the reef, we turn south, unfurl the jib, and with 25 to 30 knot winds and much rougher seas, we set a course for New Zealand.

We both are thinking and hoping that this wind is just the usual afternoon winds intensified by wrapping around the southern end of Fiji. The Captain had wanted to check out on Friday and depart Saturday morning to avoid the afternoon winds here but with our checkout delayed until Monday by the problems with the fuel dock, we did not want to wait until Tuesday to leave. The weather window has been open for a while, and weather windows for passages to New Zealand do not stay open forever. We need to keep moving. Still, the wind is much higher than predicted on the GRIB files.  GRIB files be damned!  We are in for a rough ride.

Cowering behind our dodger,  we are both soaking wet within the first hour.  Crashing seas break over the bow and dash headlong into the dodger.  The narrow openings at the bottom of the dodger through which the lines pass have leather flaps over them to protect against water surging in over the cabin roof, but they stand no chance in these seas.  The ocean explodes through like a burst from a fire hose, and we get it full in the face.  Caught by surprise the first time, all that sea water roils across the cabin roof, down the companionway stairs and onto the floor below where it is now as wet as it is on top!

Belatedly, we close the cabin roof, but as we need access below, we cannot completely seal off the entrance itself.  Water still finds a way down the sides to the floor below — just not as much.  Hunkered down on deck, it’s a game of Dodge Ball for The Captain and The First Mate.  Anticipating the next explosion, leaning this way, ducking that way, trying to avoid the full in-your-face shower, we bash on down the coast.  It is a good thing this water is warm, but it is still a misery to be endured.  “Only the most foolhardy could enjoy this!” fumes The First Mate.

1700 – Captain’s Log:  “Wet and wild sailing!  Wind is 25 – 30 kts, and the seas are up.  We have the companionway hatch closed and the boards in!  Water is frequently blasting the dodger.”

The First Mate loves her J/160.  It is an impressive boat.  Admitting to a touch of vanity, she does like the many compliments they receive.  She appreciates the many fine qualities of a J/160.  Those who know sail boats immediately recognize her for what she is — a “high performance racer/cruiser”.  Sleek in design, with low sides, this boat was built to cut through the water and keep on speeding.  Let that water run over, down and through.  A true racing crew is unconcerned about such unpleasantness as being a wee bit wet.  Speed is what is sought.  Comfort is secondary.  No, comfort is not even part of the racing mindset. 


The Captain, who was born with jet fuel in his veins, is of that mindset.  He wanted a boat that was going to get him across these oceans with a speed and power to match his jet fueled body, and he has it in his J/160. 


If it has not been made obvious by this point, let it be stated now that The First Mate is not of this mindset.  Speed is not a big factor in her life, but comfort sure is.  She does not like being wet unless she intends to be wet.  She does not like being exposed to the elements unless she wants to be exposed to the elements.  She does not like being thrown about at the whim of a tempestuous sea and a merciless wind.  To her mindset, if it is miserable outside, one gets oneself inside.  Common Sense 101.  On a sailboat, however, that is not an option.  The inside, or down below, can be every bit as disastrous to one’s system as facing the onslaught above and out in the open.

Responding to the demands of racing, the exterior configuration of the J/160 is what makes her “high performance”, but it is the interior that transforms this high caliber racing boat into an elegant blue water cruiser.  The First Mate totally enjoys the living conditions below and could ask for nothing more.  Well, of course, she could ask for more.  She’s a woman, but the changes she would make are inconsequential.  

Below decks, the satin varnished woodwork and deep blue ultra-suede create a luxurious and relaxing atmosphere.  The galley is well-appointed and roomy enough for two to easily work together in meal preparation or clean-up;  yet it is a secure, compact space in the roughest seas.  The saloon can easily seat 6 with its two full length sofas and large dining table.  On a rough passage, these sofas serve as sea beds where a weary sailor can wedge himself securely for his short hours of sleep.  The Owners’ Cabin with its roomy pullman bed is one of the nicest she has seen on a boat of this size.  The vanity with swivel stool serves as her own private desk and retreat, separate from The Captain’s at his Nav Station.  With the addition of such little extras as surround sound, TV/CD/DVD, air conditioning, heat, microwave and vacu-flush toilets, there is little more she requires.  Below decks, she is a happy camper. 

It is up on deck, out it the open, where she is challenged to make her changes.   Wistfully and enviously, she eyes the boats that were built with the cruiser, not the racer, in mind.  These feature high sides that channel water down the length of the boat to cascade off the aft end with minimal inundation to the cockpit and those souls in it, but the item she longs for the most is a canvas and plexiglass enclosure like many boats have ingeniously crafted onto their cockpits.


Here is shelter for the crew out of the wind, the wet and the cold. 


The silhouette of these boats may not be as sleek and elegant as that of Avante, but, in sacrificing sleekness and beauty, these cruisers have come to grips with the realities of cruising and passage making.  Function and practicality rule here.  Keep the crew as comfortable, dry and warm as possible.

The Captain is not immune to The First Mate’s discomforts and longing.  Together, they have puzzled over possible alterations that could be made, but the solution evades us.  Well, that is not exactly true.   The First Mate knows what needs to be done.  So does The Captain, but the construction of an enclosure to meet her requirements does not meet The Captain’s pre-requisites. His is a sleek, uncluttered racing boat.  It is a passage-maker, but not a cruiser.

To The Captain, a cruiser is a sailboat whose lines have been obstructed by the unfortunate attachment of such ungainly items as wind generators, solar panels, auxiliary fuel cans, kayaks, bicycles, stern-mounted dinghy davits and those ugly, boxy canvas and plexiglass structures such as The First Mate so desires.  The boat thus pictured is a fine example of what The Captain disparagingly calls a cruiser.


On the s/v Avante, there are conflicting opinions.  As The First Mate sees it, we are not racing.  We are CRUISING, and we are spending months doing this cruising with significant miles of uncomfortable passages.  With each inundation of ocean water dashed onto her body and with each tremor of chill she feels, her resolve to grin and bear it lessens.  From talks with friends who own boats blessed with these enclosed cabins, she knows now that there is another way to cruise.  Nothing can be done to smooth out an ocean on a rough passage, but something can be done to keep the crew dryer and warmer.  (Note:  She does not say completely dry or fully warm.  She knows that is impossible for crew on a sailboat in a tempestuous sea.  She just desires to be a tad more dry and a tad more warm.)  Some of the inspiration that went into the J/160‘s luxury below deck is needed to transform the minimalistic conditions above deck.

To be perfectly honest, The First Mate does not want the look of a cluttered cruiser any more than The Captain does.  She loves her sleek, fast J/160, but she feels there must be a compromise here where he can keep his streamlined look and she can enjoy an exhilarating ride in relative dryness and warmth.  The question now is how to work the addition, but she knows that before anything will ever get done, she must first deal with The Captain.  Will that even be possible?

Alas, she had much digressed — back to the sailing, back to the bashing, back to the wet, back to the misery …. Ah, she cannot help myself!  These were not The First Mate’s finest hours!

1800 – Dinner time.  Descending below with thoughts of dinner, The First Mate quickly realizes that dinner is not going to come from her quarter.  Green-faced, she scrambles above and stands with hands grasping the rails of the dodger to thrust her face full into the wind (and spray) hoping that the blast of air will calm her heaving stomach.  After a while, the queasiness abates a bit.  Hair and face now dripping from the ocean spray, she sinks down and wedges herself as tightly as possible into a corner behind the dodger. 

Arms wrapped around her offended mid-section, she agrees with The Captain that it would be best if he attend to dinner.  Even talking about the already prepared meal is upsetting to her system, but He-of-the-Cast-Iron-Stomach understands and proceeds with dinner preparations.  She should eat something, he insists.  Ugh … He is right.  Just a little, a very little.  Tiny bites.  Chew it well.  If it’s half digested by the time it reaches the stomach, maybe it will stay there.

Wedged into the cockpit nibbling her meager dinner, The First Mate is not so far gone that she cannot appreciate a fine sunset.


2000 – He-of-the-Cast-Iron-Stomach suggests that he take the first watch of the evening and that she go below to sleep.  She agrees and lurches below where she grabs blanket and pillow before collapsing onto the sofa in the salon.  Insane idea.  The minute her body is prone, her stomach tells her otherwise.  She is not prone.  She is standing on her head.  She is upside down and falling.  Dizzy, she is spinning.  She has got to get out of here — now!  She struggles up from tangled blankets, grabs her lifejacket and lunges for the steps.  The Captain wisely moves out of the way.  Snapping lifejacket to tether, she quickly crab-walks down to the leeward lines.  Assuming the half-sitting posture by now unhappily familiar to her, the seasick stomach prevails.  Her head between the lifelines and, in what seems to her in this leaning over position, a mere foot or two from the ocean surface roiling below, she is withheld from King Neptune’s depths by the slim wires of the lifelines and the umbilical tether between her lifejacket and the boat.  If one of them were to fail, she herself would be fish food. The crabs could fight over her bones.  “Ho, ho, you’re feeding the fish,” announces He-of-the-Cast-Iron-Stomach over the roar of ocean and wind.  “Smart comment!  Really smart comment!” splutters The Suffering First Mate.

Hanging out on the leeward lines!  A photo does not do justice to the real-life experience.  Just imagine the dark of night with nothing to be seen but the foamy ocean racing by below and much closer than one would ever like to see it.  Hanging over the low side of the slanting deck, those skinny life lines are all that separate you from the ocean’s depths.


Deciding that below decks is off limits to her, she remains above half lying, half sitting, half dying on the bench in the marginal shelter of the dodger, but noting that her legs are getting wetter and wetter with ocean spray, she pulls into a fetal position seeking what little comfort and warmth can be found.  Time passes.  Feeling somewhat better and by now uncomfortable on the hard surfaces of the cockpit seats, she longs for a softer sleeping perch.  Realizing she cannot spend the night up on deck and knowing that she also needs to get some sleep, she decides to try the salon again.  This time she does not lie prone.  She wedges her pillows and upright body into the corner of the sofa.  Hoping for recovery, she finally drifts off into sleep.

2200 – Awake after an hour, which is all she usually can sleep at one time at the beginning of a passage, she lies there assessing the current state of her world.  How does she feel?  Cannot quite determine.  Not as bad, at least not right now.  What is the boat doing?  Heeled over acutely and bashing into the ocean.  The wind sounds like a freight train barreling down on us.  Obviously, nothing has changed.  Slowly, she hoists herself upright with stiff neck and shoulders.  Lifejacket snapped on, she checks the Nav Station instruments and then climbs above to relieve The Captain.  Nothing has changed topside either.  Wet, uncomfortable and miserable.  Sitting on 2 wet deck pillows which somewhat cushion the 2 X 6 board that runs across the top of the stairs, The First Mate wedges herself into the opening of the companionway.  It is not the best of seats, but it is the only one that allows the person on watch to face forward.

The Captain states that winds have abated somewhat.  They were 25 – 35 at the beginning of his watch.  Now they are 22 – 25.  Big deal, but at least it portends a downward trend.  Her eyes are riveted on the wind velocity indicator.  Like a backwards auctioneer, she chants, “22, aha!  A 22!  Who will give me 21?  There’s a 21.  What about 20?  Come now, winds, don’t be shy!  Oh!  A 20!  There we go.  Can we do 18?”  On it goes, 4 hours worth of monitoring and mumbling.  A very infrequent 18 does show itself, but not often enough for her to close the auction.  Dispirited, grumpy and sick, she is relieved of watch, changes into dry clothes and reassumes her half-sitting sleep position.

Along with all this nastiness, air and water temperatures begins to drop within 24 hours of leaving Fiji.  Returning like a drowned rat from a check of the bow, The Captain readily confirms both.  The First Mate does not need The Captain’s confirmation of decreasing heat.  Hunkered behind the dodger on her watch, she can feel the wind as it whips around the dodger chilling any exposed body part.  Oh, for an enclosed cockpit!  Without the warmth of the sun, night watches are the worst.  Initially, it is merely cooler, but after an hour of sitting still on her 2 X 6 blank, the damp chill begins to penetrate.  A jacket and a blanket are added to her arsenal.  Eventually, she resorts to a watch of 15 minutes above deck monitoring the ocean followed by 15 minutes below deck eyeing the instruments.  15 minutes above deck on her perch in the chilling damp is enough for her body. Fifteen minutes below deck wedged into the Nav Station is as much as her stomach can stand.

To add to her torment, The GRIB files show deteriorating conditions, but she should be used to this by now.  Lies, all lies!  Once those files saw us committed to the passage, they began unfolding their true colors.  With each check of the GRIB file, the calm blue area near the coast of New Zealand shrinks, and the green area expands with winds definitely in the 18 to 20-knot range.  There is even a nasty area of red moving up the coast of New Zealand.  It is not, fortunately, in our direct path, but its outer edges of higher winds will eventually hit us meaning that instead of light winds in the day or so before we reach New Zealand, we should expect even heavier winds.  Where is that calm blue area a day or so out of New Zealand?  Disappeared, vanished, gone.  Now, even The First Mate is cursing the over two day delay caused by the malfunctioning Fiji fuel dock. It looks like we will not see calm until we are tied up on the Q dock in New Zealand.

And so the days drag on.  We sail in and out of cloud layer for most of the time.  The full moon is a comfort at night, and even with the cloud layer, it is able to brighten up the dark of night.   Conditions remain turbulent, and though we are not getting the rough bashing we received in the first 48 hours, it is still wet on deck with hardly a dry place to sit.  We did just under 200nm on our first full day at sea, but now we are only going about 150nm each day.  The wind direction is not favorable, and we are sailing with the wind 35° off our bow.  Good thing we have a boat that can sail upwind.

Unfortunately, The First Mate’s malaise will not go away.  She never strays far from that leeward rail, and, to her dismay, finds herself a frequent visitor there, hanging on for dear life.  He-of-the Cast-Iron Stomach proclaims that the next blog should be entitled “My Life on the Leeward Rails.”  Clever, he thinks he’s clever, but the title holds, for she cannot think of one more appropriate.


Sunday, November 13 – The skies offer us a more benign and comforting look than that offered up by winds and ocean.  Though winds and seas have dropped somewhat, for The First Mate, it is still not a comfortable ride.  The really great news is that we only have one more day to go.  The Captain has set the ETA at 4:30pm tomorrow, and he is usually right on!


Into the waves, we bash.  Avante rises up the sides of each wave she meets head-on.  Bow pointed upward, she easily climbs.


What goes up, must come down.  Cresting the top of the wave, she slams down into the ocean.  Seen from the shore or any possible stable platform, it is thrilling to watch a sailboat surge forth into the ocean like this.  On board said vessel, it is a wild, demonic ride.  Each crashing slam of the boat into the ocean resounds and rebounds through the boat.  Time and time again, vibrating through the boat.  No wonder electronics fail and parts break! 


The Captain sets out the fishing pole determined to catch one last fish before we leave for the season.  The First Mate cannot understand why he is doing this, for she knows positively that she could not stand all the fish smell and gore.  Just the thought of it sets her on edge, but she humors him while hoping that King Neptune will withhold his fish. 


Fish or no fish, The Captain is enjoying this last sailing day of our 2011 season.  He assumes the helm and sails under blue skies, bright sun and puffy clouds.


Monday, November 14th – 0000 – We are going to make New Zealand today, but it has really been an uphill battle.  We have been motoring for the last 11 hours, not because the winds have died as the GRIB files first showed at the beginning of our passage, but because the winds are dead on the nose.  If we want to get to New Zealand in this life time, tacking back and forth is not the way to go.  We did try, but the closest that we could point to our destination was over 50 degrees away from it.

0030 – Now that we are closer to New Zealand, the possibility of collision with other cruisers and freighters has increased.  The First Mate on a night watch from 2200 to 0200 scans both the horizon and the radar.  A huge sweep of red commotion is seen on the radar about 12nm out.    It is too big to be a boat of any kind.  It cannot be a land mass for there are no islands out here, and we are still too far out from New Zealand for it to be showing up on radar.  This huge thing has to be a cloudburst (Captain’s nomenclature).  Looks like a storm front (First Mate’s appellation).  Heading up on deck, she peers into the night sky.  In the distance is a menacing line of solid black.  It is a massive amalgamation of water and wind.  She wants nothing to do with it.  Returning quickly to radar, she sees that if she veers 30° to the right, we should be able to skirt it as it blows past.  We avoid most of the rain, but the increase in winds to 25 knots is enough.  Even with us and the storm running toward each other, it takes 20 minutes to leave it in our wake.  Then and only then does she return to course, so very thankful that they had not motored right through the middle of the thing.  It is not that there would have been any danger.  It just would have been another pelting of wet and cold, and she has had enough of that on this passage.

0200 – Captain’s Log:  “New Zealand is rejecting us!  The wind is 17 – 20 kts on the nose, and we have an adverse current.  We have only gone 27nm in the last 5 hrs!  On top of that, it is cold.  Watch standers are in their foul weather jackets at night.  Outside air temp is 58℉.” 

We are now approximately 70nm from New Zealand and catching some of the winds from the mass of red that the GRIB files have been showing.  All previous light blue has totally disappeared.

0900 – Under cloudy skies, Cape Brett is sighted on the horizon.  We are 35nm from the Q Dock in Opua. 

1030 – The day is beginning to look better, brighter, more hopeful.  The clouds are thinning and more blue is showing.  Winds are down to 10 – 15 knots (The First Mate’s ideal), but they are still within 15° of our course.  We motor on, but at least the seas are also becoming more quiet.


1045 – Zing! Fish on!  We haul in a very nice albacore tuna.  The Captain has his last fish of the year, and herself, reviving in the calmer conditions, is even able to think about sushi with no adverse effects.


1215 – We have crossed the 12nm limit and entered New Zealand waters.  Cape Brett is clearing visible in the distance.  Our Q-flag is now flying.


Her body returning to normal, her spirits lifting, The First Mate thinks a much neglected shower is in order.  Oh, to feel human again!  A short time later, one finds her sitting out in the sun, enjoying the day and attending to a few poor, passage-beaten nails.


She is even feeling good enough to joke about the seat she wants to create for herself high enough to see over the cabin roof and facing forward in the direction we are going.  Adding deck pillow to deck pillow, she finally builds her perch high enough to see over everything.  Now — how to make it stable?  A back rest would be nice, too, but one must not ask for too much!


Marveling at the green hillsides of the New Zealand shores as we motor down the channel toward Opua, it feels great to be returning to this country.   We really do like New Zealand.  In fact, there is nothing about New Zealand that we do not like!  The people, the land, the sailing — all of it is wonderful.  Ah … New Zealand!  It is good to be back!


1630 per The Captain’s ETA, we are tied to the Q Dock waiting for Customs and Immigration. It took us just over 7 days to cover 1144nm from Lautoka to Opua.


Our clearance into New Zealand is smooth and efficient.  We soon leave the Q dock and motor toward our assigned slip in the marina.  Marian and David Paul (s/v Kilkea), who had cleared in this morning from New Caledona, see us and hurry over to help with the lines.  We find out that we are just in time for the opening cocktail party of the All Points Rally, a gathering of cruisers arriving to New Zealand from the Pacific.  It will be a week of seeing old friends and making new.  We are both eager to join the fun.

Though The First Mate is in better spirits, she has not forgotten the trials of this passage.  Number One on her “must-remedy” list is to find something that works against her bouts with seasickness.  The Captain feels that by now one should be acclimated.  Well, maybe that is true for some people, but it is not true for her.  If anything, her inner ear imbalance has gotten worse with each passing nautical mile.  It has not acclimated to anything out there!

Number Two on her list is the design and fabrication on some kind of shelter on deck for use during passages.  She wants to be out of the wet and the wind as much as possible, which right now on Avante is pretty much impossible.  When we first bought Avante 5 1/2 years ago, The Captain gave her a book written for women by a woman.  It’s title:  “It’s Your Boat, Too!”  It is her boat, too, and the two of us do sail it together. The First Mate has had some input with a few creative ideas of her own, but they have been below deck.  Up on deck, in the sailing domain, her desires and modifications have mostly been ignored.  “Too expensive, not needed, wouldn’t work, ghastly idea.”   The Captain has finally agreed to study the matter, and that is enough for now to put a smile on her face.

A week of partying passes quickly, and now the clean-up and storing of all things Avante begins. 

Tuesday, November 29th – Sails, rigging and canvas removed, insides fully scrubbed clean, and everything stored that must be stored, Avante is now nestled in her cradle on land where she will patiently wait our return. 

Thursday, December 1st –  Flight to LAX.  We will be in the States until April 1, 2012.  Four months in our wonderful San Juan mountains and four months to come up with a workable compromise.  Can we design a shelter on deck that will work?  For The Captain, it cannot detract from the J/160’s sleek racing lines.  For The First Mate, it must protect from the wind, the rain and a tempest-tossed ocean.  Is it possible?   A 50/50 chance?  Who knows?  Check future blogs!

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