Passage to Fiji

1730 Hrs, Tuesday 11 May 2004 (UTC +12)

22 degrees 12' S, 178 degrees 17' E, on passage from New Zealand to Fiji

Dear friends and family:

Today we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn headed north and are finally back in the tropics. More importantly to Sequoia's crew, the 20 -30 knot winds (which we have been living with for the last three days) moved forward of our beam, then gently subsided and moved aft, and we are gliding over smoother seas and trading our fleece for shorts and lightweight shirts. Our crew member Joe Carr, a new friend from Victoria, B.C, was beginning to wonder if it was at all worth it, and suddenly, it is!

Sunset on the way to Fiji

2004 route map

Joe & Craig check the repairs made to the genoa after the first tropical season's wear and tear.

To understand the dynamics of a passage, one really has to go back to the start. Joe arrived in Auckland on Monday, April 26th, and found us madly provisioning, fixing things, and finding new things to put on the to-do list. Even though everything wasn't done, we took off the next day to day-sail out of the Hauraki Gulf and up the coast to Opua, Bay of Islands, which would be our departure point for the passage. First day out of Auckland, we slogged through ugly 25 knot winds right on our nose, and bailed early to stop in Gulf Harbour Marina, only 20 miles out of town. Fortunately the winds eased and the remaining sails to Opua were easier and gave us a chance to familiarize Joe with Sequoia. Of course, we never did all of the things on the to-do list, just the most critical items...
Opua is a small sailor's village in the Bay of Islands, a beautiful cruising ground near the top end of North Island. It is well-known as the arrival and jump-off port for passages from and to the tropical islands of the Western Pacific such as Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and even Australia for those heading around the world. This time of year, it is a buzzing nest of cruisers checking the weather faxes, local gurus and each other, looking for the perfect "weather window" to start that passage. For most, the passage will be 7-12 days, and of course it is not really possible to forecast the weather that far out. But it doesn't stop us from trying.

There is also a kind of glue that tends to stick us to the dock, safely tied up with nearby access to the internet, the chandlery, and each other. Although the more macho sailors won't admit it, it is easy to become anxious about starting a passage, with the attendant possibilities of discomfort or even risk to life and limb. But everyone here has made many passages and knows that once on the water, we will remember why we do this, as well as experience some of those discomforts but also the pleasures. (Everyone except folks like Joe, making his first passage -- but if he was anxious he hid it very well.) Sooner or later, list or no, the itch to go gets strong enough to break the glue.

While waiting for the weather window, we rented a car (having sold our trusty '95 Toyota Windom) and showed Joe a little of the countryside in this gentle, pastoral area. You know this isn't Oregon because they grow all kinds of citrus, persimmons, and many unique Kiwi fruits and vegetables here.  We stopped and had a gourmet lunch at the Marsden Estate Winery, where the fall harvest has just finished. Bread, cheese, salmon and spreads platter at Marsden Estate
Kerikeri fruit stand We made some final purchases of fruits and vegetables to supplement our supplies for the upcoming passage.

The highlight was visiting the Waitangi Treaty House. This site commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi ("Te Tiriti o Waitangi"), in which the majority of the Maori tribes agreed to accept the protection of the English Crown. Even to this day there are burning issues of Maori rights and privileges that are argued back to the treaty language and intent.

 In fact, as we were leaving New Zealand, the headlines disclosed that the government currently in power is about to lose its majority over the "foreshore and seabeds" issue. The government wants to take control over the coastline in the name of The Crown, for public access, whereas the Maori believe it is being taken from them in violation of the Treaty. It doesn't help that the treaty was signed in two versions: English and Maori -- and that when translated they are not equivalent.

Interior of Te Whare Runanga (Maori meeting house) at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.  Photo by Joe Carr.

Above:  The Treaty of Waitangi, on exhibit in the Treaty House.  Photo by Joe Carr.

One of the reasons the Maori agreed to the Treaty was probably the lawlessness of the collected European and native outcasts that gave the nearby town of Russell the title of "Hell-hole of the Pacific." The Maori, some of whom were very warlike, had an appreciation of the trouble of being caught between the English and the French, who were also trying to claim New Zealand. For better of worse, they chose the Crown. Today, Russell is famous among cruisers for Russell Radio, two old operators who faithfully check in the boaters on passage, recording each boats position and weather twice a day, and passing along current weather advice. Des and Richie may have had pirates for ancestors but are loved and appreciated by all who sail here.
When we finally departed last Thursday, we had a favorable SW wind that drove us for nearly a day, followed by a day of motoring. Just about the time I was starting to check the level of diesel carefully and count the days ahead to Fiji, an easterly breeze came up and we were off to the races. Our rhumb-line course to Suva is about 15 degrees (true) and the wind forced us to sail a near reach, with mounting seas. For a few days, the gourmet factor in our lives was just about zero, and we all became reacquainted with moving about supported by all four limbs.

We had warned Joe to bring his warm fleece even though we were headed to the tropics, and it was certainly needed. But it was never as cold as going down the coast of Oregon in March a year ago (35F!), and gradually the layers have come off, until today we are finally in full tropical mode. Fortunately, Sequoia has treated us very well, consistently averaging 6 to 8 knots even with the triple-reefed main and staysail that she has flown for the last 72 hours. Brag: Of the ten or so boats that left the same day as us, the nearest was 100 miles back after two days. But now, with a light 10-12 knot wind aft of the beam, we are gliding along at 5.5 to 6 knots under full main and genoa. This is more like it!

Fiji beckons, about 48 hours further along.

Best wishes to all --

Craig & Barbara

S/V Sequoia


Right:  The fall colors we left behind in New Zealand (but we brought along some of those persimmons!)

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Persimmon tree by Kerikeri fruit stand