We were escorted out of Savu Savu bay by a dozen dolphins jumping alongside and swimming in our bow wake. Seas got extremely rough as we sailed south around Koro Island, then pointed NE to Nanuku passage, out exit path out of Fiji. Today begins day 5 of our passage from Fiji to Samoa and we are currently sailing on a fast, close-reach moving at 6.5 knots with full genoa, reefed main, and full mizzen sails. We are 250nm away from Samoa and a nice wind shift is allowing us to point more east. Seas have flattened some from what they were the past few days. Weve only motored for 6 hours over the past 96 hours and we should be able to sail the rest of the way to Samoa. Denise is starting to feel better now after 3 days of seasickness. She was able to take watch last night which gave Dave and I a break from a 2-person watch schedule. I really miss Karens galley skills. Since Im the only one able to go below without getting seasick, Ive been galley rat so weve been eating cup noodles, tuna salad, canned beans, hot dogs, fried eggs, fruit, and lots of snacks! Dave has gotten good with learning to sail Apropos and manage Ian, our self-steering wind vane who has steered us 95% of the way. Night watches have been amazing. We left on a full moon so every night has been lit up. We get about 2 hours of darkness to stargaze before the moon rises. The Southern Cross, Orion, Cirius, planets, the occasional satelliteall are fun to watch and help pass time at night. Then seeing the orange moon as it breaks above the horizon and watching it slowly climb as it lights up the ocean is one of the things I love about ocean sailing. Funny story about last nightDenise took her first solo watch starting at 6pm. As I handed off the helm, I told her to wake me if any problem came up. About 7pm she called for me to come on deck because she saw lights from a ship that didnt appear on the chart plotter AIS, and it was getting bigger and closer. I looked where she was pointing and couldn’t see ship lights. She must have thought I was blind and kept pointing. So I told her all I saw was the moon coming up. I think that was Denises first moonrise at sea!
Our final few days in Savu Savu were spent provisioning, re-fueling using 20 liter jerry cans, and tracking former Tropical Depression 17-F, now Tropical Cyclone Amos, as it moves east towards Samoa. Following behind the low pressure system could bring us some favorable southerlies to get us to Samoa faster. Of course we will watch it closely and be prepared to turn around if it does a 180. We will keep at least a 3-4 day separation from it. We’re planning on a 4-6 day passage. Found out today that Fiji Customs Regulation #WTF requires us to depart within 1 hour of clearing customs and immigration, so a daybreak departure isn’t possible. Good thing both offices are a 5 minute walk from Copra Shed marina, and they will open at 7am if we call ahead.
We found crew for the Samoa to Kiribiti passage, so we are back on schedule! Departing Savu Savu in 3 hours. Our planned route is to head south and go around Koro Island, then tack NE and point to Samoa. The Koro sea is still rough today but is expected to calm down some by tomorrow, so we will be moving slowly for the first 24 hours. Nanuku passage is wide so ok to go through at night.
Another Tropical Depression
Well, it is still the rainy season in the South Pacific, but I’ve been in Fiji 19 days now and we’ve had 3 Tropical Depressions and 1 Tropical Cyclone! We had planned on leaving Makogai and sail to Savu Savu, about 50 miles north. After getting outside the reef, the wind, seas, and rain told us to go back to the protected harbor. We later received weather reports over the HF radio saying a strong tropical depression was headed our way. It was reported to have an elongated spiral, one step away from forming a tropical cyclone. We put out 125’ of chain and the 75 lb CQR anchor held well on the sand bottom. During the next 12 hours we filled 8-gallon buckets numerous times with fresh rain water running off the bimini and poured them into the water tanks. Wind gusts were about 40-50 knots overnight so we paid close attention to our GPS position to make sure we weren’t dragging anchor. Things finally settled down some at daybreak but the forecast was still for strong winds and showers so we stayed another day at Makogai.
We finally left Makogai and had a nice downwind sail to Savu Savu, 50nm north. Sailing under a reefed main and genoa, we averaged around 6.5 knots under mostly sunny skies with a few brief squalls. It’s great being back at the Copra Shed marina. Unfortunately, many boats were lost here during the cyclone. We were running low on food, so after a much needed shower, we went our for Indian food.
Motoring clockwise around Viti Levu and beating into the wind, we took 3 days to get to Makogai. The destruction was obvious as we approached the anchorage–most of the coconut trees were just sticks, the wharf was destroyed, and only a few structures remained. We went ashore and joined the men there who had just started drinking kava. Most were from Na Sau village on the south end of the island and were there helping to rebuild the government’s Fisheries program. At the kava ceremony we heard fascinating stories about how they survived a category 5 cyclone by running from houses as the winds ripped the roofs off. After most of the houses were destroyed, they ran up into the hillside to get some shelter from flying debris. Amazingly, there were no deaths or serious injuries on the island. Most of the people at Na Sau ended up under the foundation of their houses, which was all that remained after the cyclone passed through. It was dark by the time we left the kava ceremony and we made plans for them to pick us up the next morning in their long boat to deliver the aid supplies to Na Sau. The half hour boat ride to Na Sau was rainy and windy. They tied up the longboat and we carried the supplies along a muddy trail to the village. There were lots of women and children at what remained of the village, some of whom I recognized from my visit last year. The school was completely destroyed and the 20 families shared what was left of their houses. The youngest there was a 10 month old girl, and the oldest was an 82 year old woman. Some of the kids that Karen, Jacintha, and I played frisbee, volleyball, and rugby with last year remembered us when I showed pictures of them on my camera. One of the village elders showed us around as the women divided our supplies up into 20 neat piles, starting with the food, then clothing, then toys. A prior Sea Mercy delivery vessel brought a portable Spectre watermaker unit (desalinator) which he turned on while we were there. It took about 2 hours to divide up the supplies, and by the time we left, some of the kids were running around wearing probably their first pair of Nike sneakers. There were lots of questions about some of the food we brought since they werent familiar with much of the canned food. The living conditions there are harsh, especially during the rainy season while they are still rebuilding their houses. We asked what they were most in need of so we could report back to Sea Mercy. A chain saw, more food, re-building the school (their makeshift school was a dozen or so desks under a torn tarp, making it difficult to have class during the rainy season) and more kids clothing were at the top of their list. We also left them with 8 LuminAid solar lights that we brought from Seattle. We took lots of pictures and heard stories about the cyclone during the 3 hours we spent there. They were very appreciative of Sea Mercy and thanked us for bringing the supplies.
Sea Mercy (www.seamercy.org) is a non-profit organization whose vision is to be the most effective preventive, curative, promotional and rehabilitative floating health care provider and service delivery mechanism to support the remote citizens of the island nations. I found out about Sea Mercy while back in Seattle when I was tracking the cyclones in the South Pacific. Since I returned to Fiji early in the season, I decided to sign on as an aid delivery and assessment vessel. Prior to our arrival, a couple of 1st response yachts went to some of the hard to reach villages that got hit hard by tropical cyclone Winston. One such place, a small island called Makogai, took a direct hit. We spent several days on the island last year and it was one of the places I wanted to return to. Sea Mercy has a warehouse at Port Denarau, not far from Vuda Point marina, so that was our first stop after getting Apropos back in the water. The warehouse was full of donated items such as clothing, canned food, diapers, bags of rice, plastic water containers, and some larger items like tents, shovels, pitchforks, boxes of nails, and building materials. It looked like most items came from New Zealand and Australia. We filled the entire aft starboard berth with 3 large bags of clothing and shoes, 1 bag of toys, 4 bags of canned food, a sack of rice, and a bag of empty plastic water bottles (kids take these to back and forth to school for drinking water). Sea Mercy staff gave us the go-ahead to take everything to Makogai and asked us to report back as to what else they were in need of.
A quick trip to Lautoka for provisioning, banking, and renewing a cruising permit was followed by a flurry of activity back at the marina. We finally got the boat out of the pit and into stands to do the bottom paint. With 4 of us working, we sanded and scraped, then rolled on 3 gallons of Interlux Micron Extra bottom paint and changed the zincs, then were launched into the water at the end of the day. Here’s a short video showing just how fast we worked!
Two days ago a tropical depression formed north of Venuatu and was predicted to bring gale force winds to Fiji, mostly along the west coast where Apropos is still sitting in her “cyclone pit”. Yesterday it was upgraded to a category 1 cyclone and named Zena, making it the 26th cyclone of the season. Early this morning is was predicted to stay cat1 until it passed Fiji, then go to a cat2 as it moves SE. About 2 hours ago, Zena went to a fast moving cat3 and is expected to pass by us between midnight and 3am. The eye of a cat3 cyclone has winds between 111 and 129 mph and it’s expected to pass within 50 miles of us, so we could see winds close to 100mph. I think I’ll go out on deck to see what it feels like!
The bigger concern for Viti Levu is the rainfall. The ground is already saturated from the last couple days of rainfall–nearly 20″–from the tropical depressions that passed through 2 days ago. The road from Vuda to the airport in Nadi was flooded and closed today. Things will only get worse as Cyclone Zena is expected to add another 12 to 18 hours of heavy rainfall tonight and tomorrow.
Update: Cyclone Zena went further south than predicted and started breaking apart as it passed more than 50 miles off Fiji’s west coast. All we got at Vuda Point marina were 30 knot winds and zero rain. Great for sleeping–no mozzies and great ventilation while on the hard.
After 6 months in Seattle, including the rainiest Dec/Jan/Feb ever, I returned to Fiji with a suitcase full of boat parts—new halyards, pump re-build kits, shackles, wind instruments, dinghy parts, watermaker filters, vhf radio mic, stern light, flags, charts, etc. Another checked bag held a few clothes, some favorite foods, and 4 cans of Fremont IPA. We filled the remaining space/weight limitations with items to give to the villages that were hard hit by Cyclone Winston—the biggest cyclone in the southern hemisphere that hit Fiji in February.
Lance and I arrived on the same flight to begin preparing Apropos for passage-making. Lance is 1 of 3 crew flying into Fiji, and will be aboard from Fiji all the way to Hawaii. We have a long list of chores: bending on sails, putting the dodger and bimini back on, reconnecting the solar panels, clearing out the cabin, re-commissioning the water maker, painting the bottom, and repairing a number of items. The biggest repair will be to replace the wind instrument atop the mast that was lost during Cyclone Winston. New wiring and a conversion device need to be added to make the new wind anemometer running on NMEA 2000 compatible with my NMEA 0183 system.
4 Days later—
Lance and I got lots done our first 2 days, working in sweltering heat and humidity. Then, just like that, the weather changed as a tropical depression moved in bringing high winds and torrential rains. We then focused our tasks to those inside the cabin and continued doing small outdoor tasks during the lulls in the wind and rain. A second–and larger–tropical depression is following and will hit in 2 days. These 2 systems will delay our departure date by a few days since we need to wait for sunny weather to paint the hull bottom and have some welding done on the wind vane. I’m also waiting on a wind vane part that was shipped from Australia to arrive.
Dave and Denise arrived early this morning, showing up in a taxi during one of the biggest downpours. They are my 2nd and 3rd crew-members and will be sailing from Fiji to Samoa. The four of us continued cleaning and preparing the cabin for passagemaking. During the biggest downpour and highest winds, we all went out on deck in 40 knot winds. The horizontal rain stung but the shower was refreshing! Check out the wind speed where we are in the panel to the right….