Where The Ocean Meets The Sky

May 26, 2018| 0 Comment

Thursday, May 17th – This last week has been a final dash to the finish line to get us and Avante ready for passage to Fiji. The weather forecasts have held, and Commanders’ Weather confirms our opinion that a departure tomorrow offers us a very smooth weather window for the 7-day voyage to Fiji. New Zealand’s Customs Office has been notified of our intended departure and that we will show up in the morning to complete clearance. That was easy and will be easy tomorrow morning. The same cannot be said for such procedures into and out of Fiji. The other day, The Captain spent more time that he deemed should be necessary filling out Fiji’s C2-C form, its Advanced Notice of Arrival. An incoming yacht must give Fiji several days’ notice of intended arrival. That doesn’t mean you have to arrive exactly on that day. They just want to know to expect you. Many countries require such notification, and stiff fines apply if not followed. Getting cleared into Fiji has always been one of the most lengthy, frustrating experiences we have had throughout the Pacific. As with most bureaucracies, their rules and official forms are convoluted, confusing and subject to change with little or no warning. They try, but the left hand never seems to know what the right hand is doing.

Fiji’s Advanced Notice of Arrival form looks very sophisticated and official. The latest version is designed to be filled out on your computer and then submitted by the press of a button. If only that were truly the case. Each year, these forms get longer and longer. There are 4 departments involved in officially clearing a boat into the country: Revenue & Customs, Ministry of Health, Immigration, and Biosecurity, and they appear to be competing to see who can come up with the most questions. This year, the C2-C is up to 13 pages. As The Captain works away, every once in a while, The First Mate hears him laugh out loud. What’s wrong? Oh, it’s just Fiji bureaucracy at work again! The first laugh: “what is your cell phone number? The phone make? The carrier? The call sign?” For a phone? He types in “Sue”.  A second laugh: How many people are on the boat? He types in “2”. The space is filled in “2.00”. Is there such a thing as a fractional individual? Well, maybe in Fiji. A third laugh: Where do you plan to travel in Fiji? There are 5 lines to fill. He types in “Northern Lau islands” on the first line. All 5 lines immediately fill in with “Northern Lau islands.” Shaking his head, he goes to the second line and types in “Southern Lau islands” figuring that this response will negate the “Northern Lau islands” on that second line. It does not. In fact, all lines are now filled in with “Southern Lau islands”. What happened to “Northern Lau islands?” How does he get around it? He types in “all islands” and as all 5 lines dutifully fill in with “all islands”, he hopes that will satisfy them.

Intrigued, The First Mate leans over his shoulder to view this form. He happens to be on the health area of the form. She cannot believe what she is reading.  Do they expect us to be clairvoyant, read the tea leaves, look into the future? “Has anyone gotten sick or died on this voyage? If so, provide particulars. Is anyone sick upon arrival?” It is the third question seen in the photo above that truly amazes her. “Has plague occurred or been suspected among the rats or mice during the voyage or has there been an unusual rate of mortality among them?” Plague? What century are we in? Maybe ebola, Legionnaire’s Disease, flu? But the plague? The First Mate looks it up. There are 600 reported cases of plague across the whole world each year. Well, she’s learned something. Plague still exists, and maybe Fiji should keep track of cases coming into their country. Now onto rats and mice! The second part of the question assumes rats and mice are de rigor aboard Avante. They want to know if an unusual number of these stowaways have died on passage. What kind of boat do they think we are? Coming to their defense (just a little), huge freighters come and go from Fiji all the time, and though The First Mate had not ever thought about it, those big freighters and cargo ships are bound to have families of rats and mice stowed away in their innards somewhere. But on little ole Avante? The First Mate wonders if she’s missed something during all these years of cruising. How many of her cruising friends’ boats have rats and mice? Is it a problem? Maybe she needs to ask.

Finished with the form, he saves it and clicks the form’s “Send” button to email it off.  Two seconds later, a message is received saying that multiple lines have not been completed properly. Check the form for the red highlighted boxes, fill in and resubmit. Scrolling up from the bottom of the form, he notes the first 2 red highlighted boxes. Paroxysms of frustrated laughter ensue. These boxes require the dated signature of the Fijian official on the receiving end of this document.  We haven’t even set sail for Fiji, and in order to fill out this form of intended arrival, they now want a signature attesting that we have arrived at some future date. How ever does one submit this ridiculous form? To get around it, a PDF of the document is taken and emailed.   Ah, Fiji …. how many days this time is it going to take us to clear into your country?

Today, the new, softer mattress topper was delivered. It’s perfect, and The First Mate is so very grateful. All final work on the engine and the 50 hour service and inspection have been completed. It is purring like the angel it should be. The same applies to the generator. On our recent motoring odyssey, we had checked out other essential components. The solar panels and the hydro-generator are doing their jobs. The water maker was unpickled and shown to be making good, clean water. Engaged, the autopilot held course. The Captain has updated all his weather and navigational files. The First Mate is almost finished with her meals and soups while, in between making them, she is putting together a final dinner tonight with the Burnells.



The Princess is tied every which way from Sunday to keep her ungiving fiberglass bulk from moving when strong waves hit her. The jack lines have been set up running around the boat. The auxiliary fuel tanks are lashed to the aft sides of the boat to be filled when we fuel up before departing. We are ready, and it’s about time!




Friday, May 18th – 0900 – We are second in line at the Customs Office. With this good weather window, many boats are taking advantage of it to set off and head for the islands. This is the height of the cruising season in the south Pacific, and those intending to go want to make the most of it. It’s our turn, and in less than 10 minutes, we are efficiently cleared out of the country. Now back to Avante and on to the fuel dock. Obtaining fuel at this marina is a minor frustration. The unmanned pump takes credit cards, but it will not take any of our US credit or debit cards. The only way we can get fuel is to have an assistant from the marina office come down to the fuel dock with the marina’s card. That is used to fill our tanks. Then while still on the one-boat only fuel dock, The Captain must run back to the office (a good 5 minutes away) to give them his credit card to cover the cost. If there is a line up or even one other boat waiting for fuel, the process is an embarrassment to us and a frustration to them.



We set to work filling both tanks and the four 50-liter auxiliary containers. Friends, Jan and Kevin Burnell, show up for a last farewell hug. A homemade fruit cake is given. “Best eaten with a cup of hot cocoa on a nighttime watch” offers Jan.

Done. The Captain races off to the marina office to pay our bill. We are lucky this time. Only one boat shows up for fuel and that was well after The Captain had headed off to the office. As The First Mate prepares to shout an apology and explain the wait, The Captain walks down onto the dock. Quickly, we exchange final hugs, set lines free and give up our spot.






From shore, Jan captures Avante as she heads out the harbour toward the sea. It is exciting to finally be heading to Fiji, though it is also sad to be leaving New Zealand. That’s true, but dressed in fleece and down jackets and knowing the worst of winter lies ahead for New Zealand, we are not that sad. We are “going to where the butter melts” as our cruising friend, John Martin, says.



A pod of dolphins accompanies Avante as we motor out the bay. It doesn’t always happen that dolphins show up as we’re leaving a country, but when they do, The First Mate always views that as a sign of good luck.






In a short while we will pass Cape Wiwiki with its Nine Pin Island. Then, we will truly be heading out to sea.  Today, we do not pass as close as we did for this photo, and the seas are calmer. At the moment, as we leave New Zealand’s coast, the wind is below 5 knots, and we are motoring with no sails up.

By the end of the afternoon, to our delight, we are able to raise both sails. The thrumming engine is off. We are progressing forward at only 5 to 6 knots, but we are under sail power for the first time in months.  By 2000, the wind is up to 14 – 18 knots from the west, and our speed is nicely over 8 knots. But as if to show us a preview of the remainder of the trip, the wind begins to die.  Within the hour, it is less than 5 knots and coming from our rear. On goes the engine, and down come the sails.

Saturday, May 19th – This is supposed to be a smooth passage. Bring lots of fuel, we are told, because you will be motoring a lot. The First Mate has heard those words many times before and seldom have they ever been true. She holds out hope, though, and as we progress into our first full day at sea, it is calm with very light wind. When there is enough wind in the right direction, we unfurl the jib to give us a little assist. It may only add half a knot, maybe even a full knot of speed, but any little bit helps. Occasionally, we can raise the mainsail and turn off the engine.  We need to cover some of the distance by sailing. Even with extra fuel tanks lashed to the lifelines, we just do not carry enough fuel to motor all the way. The fact that we are able to mostly follow the rhumb line, or shortest distance between our departure and arrival point, is encouraging because, at the moment, with these light winds, it is looking to be a long trip.

The First Mate looks at the aft end of Avante and chuckles to herself. Despite The Captain’s continued refusal to allow Avante to look like the typical cluttered cruising yacht out here on the Pacific, we are beginning to look like one. The addition of the hydro-generator, though definitely an upscale, beneficial boost to our energy system, looks like a contraption to her. From an aesthetic point of view, it is not very pretty. The added propane tanks for the Baby Q and red gasoline tanks for the new dinghy motor add to the cluttered look as do the 2 extra auxiliary diesel fuel tanks strapped to the railings. “Wait until we blow up the 2 new SUP’s at our first anchorage in Fiji,” she thinks. They’ll have to be secured to the sides of the boat, for she doesn’t believe he will want to deflate them each and every time we head off somewhere. We’re turning into a cruiser’s cruising boat! Maybe she’ll even be able to talk him into the dinghy davits on the rear of the boat for which she has been lobbying these last 10 years!

Sunday, May 20th – Laying in bed at 0830 as she slowly wakes up after her nighttime watches, The First Mate is surprised at how very peaceful it is. There is almost no motion to the boat. She is not rocking on her bed like an infant in a cradle. Except for the thrumming of the motor, it is so wonderfully still. Looking over at the monitor in their bedroom, she can see that the wind, showing a mere 2 to 3 knots, could almost be declared non-existent. Up on deck, she is amazed at the view around her. The words to Rod Stewart’s song immediately come to mind: “Where the ocean meets the sky, I’ll be sailing”. Okay, we’re motoring, but the ocean is so calm, it takes a concerted eye effort to actually see the horizon, where this beautiful, blue ocean meets the equally beautiful, blue sky.


Walking up to the bow of the boat with camera in tow, the view across the expanse of ocean is surreal. The ocean is seldom like this. Maybe this is something regularly seen in the Horse Latitudes, where boats of years past, and without motors, were stuck in becalmed conditions for so long that, running out of water and food and forced to conserve, they either threw their horses overboard or ate them. We are, however, nowhere near those latitudes. In all our years of sailing, maybe we have experienced the sea this still twice. Three times? She doesn’t think so. There’s not a wave and hardly a hint of ocean swell. The wake created by Avante is the only thing to disturb this sleeping surface for miles around.



Near noon, looking up from her perch on deck where she is peacefully knitting a sweater for grandson Henry, the sun is at such an angle that it causes bursts of stars to cascade across the surface of the water in front of Avante. Mesmerized, she watches this interesting play of light.






Thus far, though we have yet to shed our long pants and down vests, the sun has been shining brightly in a blue sky with scattered clouds. Looking into the distance ahead of us, we can see a thick layer of clouds. Eventually, we know we are going to catch up with whatever lies in store under them. By the evening, we have entered the cloud layer, but at least it gives us an interesting setting sun.






Tuesday, May 20th – Mostly motoring, we have scattered rain showers around us. The sky above is grey and heavy, and we count ourselves lucky when we see heavy showers in the distance off one side of the boat and are thankful that it is not raining down on us.




The day is spent huddled under the storm shelter. We still have to take a good look around every 15 minutes or so, but we are now far enough out in the ocean that concern about running into a small fishing boat is lessened. With our AIS tracking system, we would be warned of any impending approach by a larger commercial vessel. Other than the occasional squall when winds pick up to a relatively low (for a squall) 18 knots, life aboard Avante is pretty boring. The First Mate almost wishes she did not have all those prepared meals, for with the gentle motion of the boat, cooking certainly would be possible, even easy, and it sure would give her something to do. The good news is that it is definitely warming up. We have shed our long pants and are into shorts and t-shirts, though the extra layers are still needed on night watches. In the afternoon, we even turn off the engine to eliminate any cooling breeze and take quick showers on the aft end of the boat. We love showering outside if only that the last one showering doesn’t have to dry the whole place down upon finishing like we do if showering in one of the bathrooms.

Tuesday, May 22nd –  What’s this?” one might reasonably ask. It’s a Google Earth shot of one of the two reefs that make up Minerva Reef, a mostly submerged atoll located south of Fiji and Tonga. (Editor’s Note: The other reef, which is just as substantial, for some strange reason, does not appear on Google Earth.) See that little break or opening in the circle of reef at the top of the photo. That’s the one and only way into or out of the lagoon formed by the reef. We anchored inside this reef in 2011 on our way to Tonga. It was an amazing adventure and one we would like to experience again. Conditions have to be right to venture there. The submerged coral ring does mitigate the ocean’s waves, but there is nothing to stop the wind. Since you are anchored inside a lagoon mined with uprising coral heads, you really do not want to be there in heavy winds if an anchor were to break free or, if for any reason, you needed to make a quick escape through that one narrow opening. Though we are on the rhumb line to Savusavu, Fiji, a right turn will head us toward Minerva Reef. Our progress has been slower than planned, and it looks like we will not arrive in Fiji until late Friday at the earliest. Because it is best to avoid a weekend arrival in Fiji, The Captain is considering a short stop at Minerva. We are waiting until the last possible moment to make the decision. What is the weather going to do? As fate would have it, it is not looking good. A nasty front heading down from the northwest is going to be sweeping into the area between Fiji and Minerva reef on Sunday. Though winds at Minerva Reef are expected to be in the 20’s, that is doable, for we were in winds like that the last time we were there. The problem is that if we make the stop, the nasty front from the northwest will prevent us from leaving for Fiji after 2 days as planned. If we did, we would be heading into storm conditions with 30 to 35-knot winds. No one in their sane mind wants to do that. We would be pinned down for a while, and a simple stop in Minerva Reef could cost us a week’s delay. With our extended travel plans to spend 5 to 6 weeks touring the fascinating Lau Island group of Fiji, we can’t afford that much delay.

Sticking to our rhumb line, we keep on trucking, but now with this more threatening weather forecast, The Captain wants to maintain an average speed of 6 knots to arrive well ahead of the weather. Predict Wind shows a startling image of what the winds will be like south of Fiji this Saturday when we hope to be securely tied to a mooring ball off Copra Shed Marina in Savusavu. All that red is 30+ knot winds. The blue shows that things are peaceful in Savusavu. Where would you want to be? Predict Wind has another option built into its programming which shows precipitation. The Captain switches to that and discovers, as we had expected, that our first weekend in Fiji is going to be a wet one. Never fear! At least we will be there.

Thursday, May 24th – 0700 – We turn into the wind and raise sails! Engine is turned off — finally! It has been running steadily for the last 45 hours. The only sound now heard besides the wind and the whooshing of the water is the ghostly who-o-o of the little propellor on the hydro-generator and the huffing laugh of the autopilot steering. The First Mate doesn’t really like to hear either.  She came out of the aft cabin after one nap complaining about the noise from “The Ghost” and “The Hyena.” When on a sailboat, it ought to be just wind and water one hears, though she does rationalize that at least it’s good to hear the who-o-o and the laugh because it means that both systems are working.



We sailed all day today which was a relief not only from the constant sound of the engine but also because that meant we were not using more of our valuable fuel reserves. We have already emptied all 4 auxiliary containers into the hungry maw of the fuel tank. We know that at some point the wind is going to die and expect to be motoring the last miles into Fiji. How many of those miles is the concern.




Friday, May 25th – 0815 – We are surrounded by rain showers and the wind is down to 5 – 8 kts from varying directions.  We turn on the engine and furl the jib.


1730 – Land ho!  The island of Ngau is seen in the distance. Fiji! By tomorrow morning, we will be tied to a mooring ball.




Saturday, May 26th – 0850 – Securely tied to a mooring ball off the Copra Shed Marina with our Q flag raised, we wait for officials from Fiji’s various clearance offices to show. We are not particularly concerned about the time of their arrival though we would like to be able to get ashore to hit the ATM, purchase internet time and get to the markets before they close. Tomorrow is Sunday, and we know none of that will be possible then.

We really are in no hurry, though. We have all day, and it is just so good to be finished. Tonight, too, means a full night of uninterrupted sleep. This passage took us almost 8 days. Only a handful of our previous passages have taken longer. After all the delays and angst of getting going and the somewhat pessimistic overtone (maybe we are not meant to be going anywhere this year?), this passage to Fiji turned out to be smooth and easy. We motored 59% of the time. We had no boat problems. Everything worked as it was supposed to work. There were no moments of intense activity or disaster avoidance, as often seems inevitable on a passage of this length. The First Mate only took one seasickness pill as a precaution at the beginning of the passage and never needed another one. She happily points to only one black and blue bruise. Motoring that much meant that fuel was down to a meager 35 gallons by the time we shut down the engine. That’s lower than we have ever had after a passage, but if we had not kept on motoring north, we could have been caught by some very nasty weather. The Captain was bored and frustrated by the lack of sailing. The First Mate, though also bored, was happy with the conditions. As many a seasoned passage maker has told her, “there’s nothing wrong with motoring on passage. The goal is to get there.” “So be it,” she thinks. There is a reason that her nickname is “Nordhaven Sue.”

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