In my mind this was suppose to be an easy passage. Reaching north on the Pacific trade winds. However we were a month earlier than normal. For weeks prior to our departure from New Zealand Morgan studied the weather. The trade winds hadn’t really kicked in and the Pacific Cyclone season was still pretty active with Cyclone Pam doing massive damage and destruction to Vanuatu in mid March and even reaching as far South as New Zealand. We could only hope that this was the last blow of the season.
Our original departure date was suppose to have been with light southerly winds and light conditions. However with two false starts and a week delay when the time came to leave it wasn’t looking promising at all. However with a specific date to arrive on the next end we had to leave. The forecast showed we would have North West winds to start and then a shift to the North, then North East. Not at all what we wanted when heading North.
We motored away from Auckland with a flat sea on the morning of Thursday 9th April. Just before sunset we put up the main sail as the wind was suppose to full in by mid-night. It was our first night back at sea on passage in nearly three months. The wind was all over the place and my night watch was a dark one. The temperature dropped slightly as night fell, but it wasn’t as cold as I had expected. I guess that was one advantage of not having southerly winds. Just after mid-night the wind steadied out and we could open up the head sail and finally cut of the engine. Of cause there was no beam reaching. The light winds there were was right in the noes. By the next morning it started to strengthen. We headed on a easterly course to make the passage a little more comfortable. It stayed like this for two days. 20 knots of wind right in the noes. We were heeling a fair amount, and I was not a happy camper. Trying to do the smallest of tasks was not easy.
Morgan was studying the weather continuously. A small Tropical depression had been forming South of the Solomon Islands and West of Vanuatu. The predictive path had it coming towards us. There was no time to waste. Not knowing what route it was going to take, we had to push on.
The days were grey and overcast with the odd showers. On the third night it finally started to ease and by the next morning the wind shifted to the North and dropped. By this point the Tropical Storm was named Solo and it was continuing towards us. If we kept up our speed and continued on a more Easterly route it looked like it would miss us to the South by a fraction. The engines came back on and everyone was relieved to be able to do things normally again instead of holding on tight at an angle. We frantically took proper showers, did laundry and got the boat looking clean and tidy and in order again.
With the calm came the fishing. It had been months since we had last caught a fish and we were all looking forward to having some. By late afternoon the lines began to sing. A Mahi Mahi was on. We were all delighted with our catch. However about an hour later there was a school of Tuna jumping to our Starboard. It was too much to resist, we quickly altered course and motored through the school of frantic tuna. The water was white with their excitement. Instantly the line went of and we knew it was a big one. Morgan jumped into action. It took nearly 45 minutes to bring it close, all the time trying not to break the tensioned line. Whilst this was happening the tuna was still on a feeding frenzy behind us. Once we got the tuna closer we could see that it was really quite big, bigger than we had expected. However after all this time we had to continue our fight to the end. It took three of us to haul the massive beast on to the deck. It was for sure an impressive catch. Probably one of the biggest tuna’s we have caught on passage, we estimated that it was about 45-50kg. We spent the next three hours, cleaning and processing, it was like a mini factory operation everyone was involved. The freezer was overloaded again.
On our forth night at sea as the weather forecast predicted the wind started to pick up again from the North. By early hours the engine was of and we were beating into the sea and wind once again. We were bouncing of waves, the noise inside was horrendous. Once again it was not very comfortable at all. Our short respite was over. The barometer was dropping pretty quickly as Tropical Storm Solo got closer. At this point we were of course and heading more for Tonga. At our closest point we were 30 miles west of South Minerva Reef which belongs to Tonga. This continued for a day and a half before it showed any signs of easing and we could change tack and head more for our destination. Slowly the conditions started to calm down.
Our last full night and day at sea we spent motoring once again. The night was lit up with stars and for the first time we could appreciate the night sky. At day break we could see the first few Islands of to our Port. It was a sweltering hot day with the occasional rain storm. A sure sign we were back in the tropics. As the night fell a head of us we could see small twinkling lights coming from the darkness. It was a pitch black night but the smell of land hung heavy in the air. The trip was coming to an end. The last six hours of navigation was done completely in the darkness as we rounded the reef and made our way up the deep channel to the small town. As we dropped anchor of the town the sights and smells from ashore greeted us. The smell of fire so common to these Islands hung in the air and the dogs began to bark. At 00:30 on the 16th April after a six and a half day passage we had arrived.
BULA (Hello) Fiji.