After doing another six weeks work in New Zealand from November to the middle of December it was time to get back to Spirit. I had left her on a mooring at Port Denarau where I had a local Fijian guy looking after her and cleaning her bottom every week. There’s nothing worse than trying to get 6 weeks of growth off the bottom!
Even though we were leaving our sail to Australia late from Fiji, we had a good plan of attack and a lot of places where we could pop into should the weather decide we needed to do that. We planned to sail to the South of New Caledonia and from there to Brisbane direct. If we had a good forecast from New Caledonia to Australia we would continue on, not stopping at New Caledonia. And again if the winds were strong from the SE we would head to a more northern port of Australia running deeper and decreasing our apparent wind and if they were light or from the SE we would head to a port further south sailing higher on the wind and increasing our apparent wind . We tried to be as flexible as possible as this was cyclone season, this way we could work to the weather we were given and hopefully have a more pleasant passage.
After clearing with Customs and Immigration in Lutoka we sailed off through the passage bound for Australia. I had onboard two very good friends Murray Kelman and Robert Luxford. Both very experience sailors with heaps of ocean miles. I thought if there was one journey where things could go wrong it would be this one so it felt good having the extra help with us.
As it was so late in the season a cyclone had started to develop to the northeast of us over the Solomon Islands called Evan. It was due to arrive on the Saturday and I had Murray flying in on the Tuesday before. That left us Wednesday to clear out and get going giving us three days advance, which is around 800nm if we had to push things. The only worry is that it left us very little room for anything to go wrong. If we hit a submerged object or broke something we could be sitting there with nowhere to hide while the cyclone was boring down on us.
It played on my mind, as I know this is when things do go wrong. But what do you do? Do you wait it out in Fiji? Do you go for it and hope things will be ok? After weighing up all our options I felt it safer to get out of there. The forecast was for it to track well south after Fiji and to head to New Zealand. I had watched the forecast and it didn’t change much for the week prior and the track was similar each day giving me confidence in the accuracy of the forecast. We had to cover just over 600nm to New Caledonia and I know Spirit can do this distance easily getting us there before the cyclone had even hit Fiji. Should the Cyclone change track and head west we decided we would put into New Caledonia, wait it out and then head onto Australia. If it hadn't changed it’s track when we got to the bottom of New Caledonia we would go on.
Our forecast for the first day was a fresh southeast breeze about 20-25kts that was going to swing further to the north over the following days as we got closer to New Caledonia and as the cyclone approached Fiji. From New Caledonia it was going to go light and to swing back to the southeast where it would remain for the trip across the Coral Sea to Brisbane. This suited us fine as long as it stayed like this. We blasted out of Fiji with the wind staying strong until we were about 120nm to the East of New Caledonia. It took us two days to cover the first 510nm. From here we had to pass through a trough that was stationary before we’d find light airs from the southeast. The forecast ended up being incredibly correct with us passing through the expected trough during the early evening with lightening all around like I have never seen before. It was incredible to see the sea and sky light up like fireworks all around us for hours! It cleared early the following morning where we found a full day of no wind while we motored past the southern end of New Caledonia. We passed so close we could see Ils de Pins and the southerly swell breaking on the reefs edge.
Just before sunset the wind increased from the south to about 8-10kts. With the flat calm sea and light airs Spirit sprinted off doing wind speed. It’s a surreal feeling when the sea is flat calm and there is just a breath of wind on your cheek and the boats doing 8-12kts! I liken it to being on a magic carpet as when you go and sit out on the windward float it’s really like your floating above the ocean gliding above the sea at such speed with very little wind and effort…………. It’s pure bliss and these are the moments I truly savor and love.
We carried on like this for the next two days. With dead flat seas a little ground swell of a meter or so with a very long period that we just slowly rose up and over and a sea void of any wind waves. The skies were totally clear each night with not a cloud to be seen and the stars were so bright you felt as though you could touch them. We made good time for the first two days doing over 200nm a day in the light airs. About halfway across the Coral Sea we found a very light patch of air and the direction changed to east giving us a deeper and slower angle. So for two more days we pushed on with the light airs and made only 140-160nm a day not bad really but slow going for us compared to our normal progress.
It was blissful sailing so the slower pace didn’t both us and we enjoyed the fact we didn’t have waves coming over the bow and we were dry and able to enjoy our night watches with stars abound and the glistening sea gliding beneath us.
On the 7th day out of Fiji we spotted the northern tip of Moreton Island. It was about midday when we first saw land and the closer we got to it the more the wind swung north and increased. It was the perfect end to an amazing crossing from Fiji. The wind steadied to about 15kts from the north and we took off into the east channel into Brisbane. We had a beautiful clear day and the boat sat on 12-16kts as we entered Moreton Bay.
We rounded east knoll and the wind died right out. Up ahead we could see the wind on the water and a large storm cloud approaching. There was talk of reefing but we couldn’t help but feel excited to be sailing into our own waters so Spirit was left with a full rig up. The wind then slowly increased but had swung to the southeast and off took Spirit up the Brisbane river channel and into Brisbane doing constant 15-17kts all the way up the channel. We sailed right up to the River Gate Marina where we had organized to meet Customs and Immigration at 1700hrs.
Once along side we were met at the dock by the relevant authorities and cleared in quickly. They allowed us to stay at the dock overnight and were all very welcoming. I have had many reports during the trip about entering in Brisbane and Bundaberg and which is best. I have to say that our experience in Brisbane was really wonderful. The guys were all incredibly helpful and it was all done with great efficiency. I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending Brisbane as a port of entry.
Spirit was promptly cleaned out and put onto a mooring on the Brisbane River where she now sits patiently waiting my return. I flew to Airlie Beach to have Christmas with my parents before flying back to New Zealand for another two-month contract on MY Aquarius with whom I’d worked for in Fiji. So far Spirit has had to weather the floods on her own in the river, and she’s been doing fine.
I’d really like to say a big thank you to everyone that has made my dream of sailing Spirit halfway around the world a reality. It has been an incredible two and a half year journey. We have met some beautiful people and had some amazing experiences. Thanks to you all! I’ll be sure to write more about our travels up the east coast of Australia and beyond into Asia where we plan to race and cruise during 2014.
If you have a dream of living on the sea and sailing all I can say is what are you waiting for?
After doing the TPR regatta in French Polynesia and having so much fun we decided to look for other regattas where we could do some sailing meet other yachties and have a blast.
One such regatta we had heard about was the Musket Cove Regatta. It's really just a lot of fun, not all that serious with mainly cruising boats involved and of the heavier variety with a few nice little faster ones that were cruising up from New Zealand. There was a few other multihulls that had entered along with a Hobie 16, which was great to see.
Well before we got to Fiji we had decided to partake in this regatta and we had been looking forward to it for a few months. Only on arrival and after seeing the regatta race instructions and daily activities did we find out how much fun it was going to be. Musket Cove Resort has everything really well organised and they do an awesome job at it. The prizes are amazing for a regatta of this size and it really shows how much they put into looking after the cruising yachts in the area.
Spirit took part in the two more serious races that were held. One was around the buoys and the other was the famous around Malolo Island race. It was a great vibe during the races and they were both organised well, with clearly marked out courses that were easy and fun.
Spirit won the first race around the buoys but was followed closely by a few of the more performance based monos. It was a great race up inside the reef and luckily we had two friends join us for the race from New Zealand Mark and Kent. They proved to be great sailors and with their help we had a smooth run around the cans.
The next race was the around Malolo Island race. It was a perfect day a nice light Northerly wind about 12-16kts. Water was flat and the sky was clear and blue. Spirit took off from the start and with the smaller reacher up we took off doing 14-16kts up the side of the Island. It was a blast we were just able to hang onto the reacher having it up for the most of the first leg.
After doing a few tacks up the back of Malolo Island Spirit tight reached down the back of the Island until we could bear away a little more and put up the big reacher. It was then that she really flew doing 22kts around the back of the Island before gybing and sailing across the line 20mins in front of the next competitior. Spirit not only won line honours she also broke the race record!!!
We won the race well and thanks again to our great crew from New Zealand we didn't have any issues along the way. Amazingly the big reacher hung in there during the bottom leg as we were tight on the breeze and the wind had piped up a little pushing the sail to it's maximum and making me a little nervous.
The race was followed by a prize giving gala that had local dancers, ceremonies and musicians all taking part. The food and service supplied by the Musket Cove Resort was second to none and everyone had an fantastic time. If your in the area during September I highly recommend taking part in this regatta it's a fantastic way to meet other cruising yachts while taking part in some fun not so serious racing.
From Tonga to Fiji was bliss. There was a few days where the wind was a little light but most of the way we were able to sail along at about 8kts. Most of the other yachts we departed Tonga with had to motor most of the way with the winds being to light for them.
We made it into Savu Savu in just over two days and with a freshening breeze from the SE the last few hours were fast. It was really nice being able to sail along the Lau Group of Islands to the East of Fiji during the day and we managed to tack right up the coast of some those islands and along the reefs making for some awesome scenery. As we'd never been to Savu Savu or Fiji for that matter we had no idea of what to expect. It turned out to be a super protected anchorage in Savu Savu and the matter of clearing-in with customs and immigration turned out to be painless. Although there is a lot of paper work to be done if your organised and just happen to arrive the prior night you'll find that first thing the next morning they are onboard and within an hour you should be all done as we were. It was great!
We had a few days looking around Savu Savu got the boat cleaned up and did some provisioning. We also caught up with all the yachts that arrived in the following days and had some nice cheap meals at the local restaurants. It's a very cheap place Fiji but the northern Island is even cheaper than the southern Islands where most of the tourism is located and the prices are higher.
John's birthday was celebrated while we were there with a few beers had at the local yacht club.
Ollie departed Spirit and headed to New Caledonia onboard another small trimaran while we were in Savu Savu. It's a great place to swap crew the local Immigration and Customs agents are awesome and helped us a lot with info while we were there.
With Savu Savu being on the east coast we found it rained quite a bit. It's also the exposed and windy side of the Island so getting in and out can be fun as you can experience a lot of wind against tide in the local costal areas. When we came in it was at around 2000 and we found that none of the lights worked. We used the radar and iPad and found the electronic charts we used to be very reliable and correct, which is something other yachts had complained about.
There's a lot of talk about the reefs and how hard sailing can be in the area. We found it to be no worse than anywhere else we'd been that has fringing reefs and shallow waters. After waiting a few days for the wind to drop we headed out to an Island on the top of Viti Levu called Nananuira where the kiteboarding is known to excel as the wind gets squeezed between the two Islands. With the help of google earth we found a great looking route through the reefs with a much more direct path to Nananuira. It cut about 20nm off the normal path yachts use and meant we could do it in good conditions in about 6 hours instead of the 2 days that most yachts do it in. We left early in the morning and headed straight out. With a nice fresh 15kts of breeze we took off sitting comfortably on double figures. With the sun high we glided through the reef area and were happy to find nothing in our path that wasn't charted. After a great sail to Nananuira we stopped off for four days of relaxing and kiting. It was well worth the stop as the area and Islands around offer great protection and some beautiful beaches and walks. With our good friends on the big 55ft Outremmer "Kappa" we enjoyed some nice walks ashore and enjoyed a few meals at the local restaurants.
It was time to depart Nananuira and as Kappa were heading South to Port Denarau we decided to leave together. We had an awesome breeze from the SE and with a full rig up we took off. I imagined it dropping off as we got around the Island and into the lee. I wasn't correct with my forecast. And we found that the wind really bends around the Island and for the whole 60nm trip down we flew with good pressure all the way. We were able to sail until we were about 5nm from Denarau and again we had the sun high and found the electronic charts we had to be incredibly reliable even when we passed close to the reef edges.
From Denarau we went out to Musket Cove where we hung out for the next three months. I was able to find some work doing a weeks charter on a motor yacht. After this we headed up to the Yasawas with a couple of friends for two weeks.
Musket Cove was great they really make the cruising yachts feel very welcome. Sophie at the yacht club is incredibly welcoming and helps with anything she can even taking over the importation of my new solar panels, which she did with pure efficiency!
The scenery around Musket Cove is to die for and it's easy to see how people keep coming back to this place for more each year. I would have been happy to spend the cyclone season here but with more work being offered I wasn't happy to leave Spirit in the water while I wasn't there to keep an eye on her.
My parents popped out to Musket Cove for the regatta in September and had a ball while there. We took part in some of the races and I'll follow this up with some photos and a report in it soon.
After the charter on the motor yacht I was asked to delver her down to New Zealand. While we did this we put Spirit into the marina in Musket Cove. It's really well protected and with some friends on boats in the area to keep an eye on her she was fine.
The four months we spent around Fiji was not nearly enough. It's such a huge chain of Islands and as they stretch over 200nm from the NE to SW it would be a couple of good years before you could say you'd seen Fiji. I hope to be lucky enough to get back here sometime soon.
John had got away safely and it was time for me to start thinking about our next leg and some plans into the future. Making plans is something that I've slowly been able to live without, even though others might not like your lack of plans it's the best way to be, especially if your waiting for good weather or get job opportunities.
I was in contact with a guy called Ollie whom was day-working for us onboard Ethereal in Tahiti. He was super keen to join me as he wanted to sail onto New Caledonia after a few years of living in Tahiti. He had some multihull sailing experience and so booked a ticket on the ferry up to Raiatea.
Once Ollie was onboard it was just a short hop over to Bora Bora where we bought some fresh provisions and planned to clear out the following morning and head to Fiji direct. We sailed into Bora Bora and picked up one of the moorings in front of the Yacht Club there. We were on the mooring for all of ten minutes before another friend from Tahiti popped past in his fathers boat. They were heading over to a Motu for a family BBQ and invited us to join. As we'd just pulled up we passed on the invitation but decided to join them later at there home for dinner.
Later that night we joined John and his family for dinner at his fathers home, which was located right next to the yacht club. After dinner Johns father asked me if we had room for another person onboard. I was happy to take someone else so it was with this quick decision that we had a third crew member onboard, his son John. John had also dayworked with us in Tahiti so we knew him well. It was great and ended up working really well having to two French guys onboard for the trip to Fiji.
The weather report for the next day was for 25-30kts but quickly dropping off to 15-20kts from the SE. As the wind was from the stern it meant a quick few days were in order for the start of the trip. Spirit loves the heavier airs from the stern and she handles big seas well so we decided to head out first thing the following morning. The wind was going to lighten up a few days out so we thought it best to make some miles while we could.
The first few days were awesome 240nm to 260nm days and we were flying across the charts. It would only be a few more days and we'd be in Fiji! It wasn't to be though and about three days out the wind really started to drop off and head East. We had made some Northerly ground with the strong winds from the SE over the first few days so we then had the wind astern when it swung east, which really affects the boats speed. After a consultation with our weather guru the iPad and my father it was decided to head South to the Vavau group of Northern Tonga.
This lessened the distance and put the wind just after of the beam. We had made about 700nm and this new destination gave us about 600nm to go. Over the next four days we managed to average about 150nm a day, which is very slow for us. Given the super light winds though it was pretty good going. It's times like this that I really love having a boat that sails well in light airs. Spirit is still able to average good milage even though we had well under 10kts of wind and even less most of the time. Being able to do wind speed in light airs is a godsend.
So it ended up taking us just over 7 days to Neiafu in Tonga from Bora Bora. We arrived around 2am in the morning once we got moored up. The sail into the Island was incredible. We had about 10kts all the way into Neiafu and with the full moon it made for one of the best night sails I've ever had, tacking up in between the small islets and reefs. Super flat smooth water a light breeze and bright sky and surrounds lit up by the moon! incredible and a moment we'll never forget.
Once in we easily found a mooring to secure Spirit too. The following day we cleared in at the local dock then set about checking out the local area. The Tongan people are very happy to offer advice and help where they can. We had a great time in Tonga over the following weeks and after a few days in port we decided to head out around the Islands for a bit to explore.
We met up with our friends on the yacht Evangaline to check out the local Islands. Each day we would spear fish and then at night we'd raft up and cook up a feast of local fish and veggies. Tonga is an extremely cheap place to live and cruise and catching your own food each day makes it even cheaper. The seafood here was abundant and after sailing around the Islands we were so glad we had the opportunity to pop in here and do some exploring.
I found that there's not a lot of talk about Tonga within the sailing community. Some people go there but you don't read much about it and there aren't many good guides on the area, which is probably a good thing. But I would head back there at a heart beat. The people and the Islands and scenery made it one of my favourite places so far.
The most Whales I think I've ever seen at once was in Tonga. We left a small anchorage where we were for a few days and sailed down South to Lape Island. One the way down we spotted more than three different pods of whales. It was awesome just drifting along with the jib out and seeing whales all around the boat. It seems to be a growing industry here and it's one of the only places where you can jump in and swim with the whales. Not sure how much longer you'll be able to do it but what an experience swimming with these great majestic creatures would be.
We had been in Tonga for over two weeks and it was time to depart. We took part in the Friday races twice that are held in Neiafu and had a ball taking some of our friends from other cruising yachts out for the race. We got to make a lot of new friends while in Tonga and also ran into a lot we had met earlier on in Tahiti. It was a very social place and lots of fun.
There was a nice forecast for the following few days with light airs and from the ESE. Another nine yachts departed on the day we left so it was a full flotilla that headed up to Savu Savu in Fiji from Tonga.
Well after a few months of sailing it's time to get my bum down and fingers typing. The writting doesn't come naturally too me as anyone can tell after reading my blog a little. But I'll try and make it more interesting by posting more photos and less words! So after a few months hanging around Tahiti, Raiatea, Huahine and Moorea it was time to head back up to the Tuamotos. On the way past last year in August we totally missed the Tuamotos so on the return this year I felt it was a must to head back and check these massive group of atolls out. And we were stoked we did.
We got off to a great start once we headed out from Tahiti. There was heaps of breeze and we were sitting on high teens. The rhumb line took us just to the North of Tahiti where there is a huge area of no wind. We struggled thru it in light airs with the big reacher up and then after about 40nm of slow going we were off again for an awesome nights sailing.
The next day brought light airs just on the beam and with it we made great time. We covered the 220nm in just over 24hrs getting into Toau just after dusk with a full moon. It was an easy entrance into Toau as it's a false entrance which means you don't get the massive flow of water exiting the lagoon. As being like a small cove it's also really sheltered and calm once inside.
There are two local families that live on the motus here and from what we learnt they are both sister whom live there with their families and their children. Valentine and Gaston have a small home with a jetty and welcome yachts to there shores. They also hold dinners every few days where yacht crews can come ashore for a very reasonable fee to have dinner. We found it a great way to meet the yachts in the bay and to also try some great local food.
Valentine and Gaston have also put in some moorings that your more than welcome to use. We love moorings on Spirit as we have no anchor winch so were happy to sit on one of there moorings. We had heard nothing bad about them and after a quick swim to check the condition we felt fairly safe. We'd never leave the boat though should there be imminent weather on the horizon or forecast.
Gaston was an awesome cook along with Valentine the best host and chef in the Tuamotos. They caught fresh catch each day and this comprised of mainly parrot fish, lobster, and anything they caught outside the lagoon at dusk when trawling like GT's and Barracuda.
After a few days hanging out in Toau it was time to head south to Fakarava, which we renamed ratherfaka ;-) the weather looked nice and light to sail there. And it was from the NE and light, which isn't so often at this time of year. So we made the most headed out early in the morning and had another awesome sail down along the coast sailing close to the reefs edge as we were sailing along in the lee of the reef, nice flat and fast conditions for Spirit. She reveled in the conditions and we made such good time we decided to head straight down through Fakarava and to the south pass where we wanted to do some diving.
The sail down inside the lagoon was very cool. We had super flat water and about 10-15kts of breeze. It died out about two thirds the way down and from there on we motored filling the water tanks and enjoying the view.
Once we had arrived we found a little motu and snuck right in behind it. It was just about full moon and we had an awesome dinner and a few nice cold beers to top the day off.
The next day we were up early. We had made plans to meet some friends that we meet during the TPR a few months earlier. They had told us about the south pass in Fakarava and how once a year the cod here spawn and it's an amazing sight to see.
John and I weren't disappointed one bit. It was awesome! fish all over the place and sharks trying to eat them non-stop. Crazy and if your ever there it's a must to see. We spent a few days here relaxing and taking things in. As we had such a great time in Toau it was decided to head back there and not to go onto Rangiroa as we earlier planed.
We took off from the south pass sailed up to the northern end of Fakarava where the main town was to have look around a bit and see what we could find. It's a pretty sleepy little place with not much going on at all. There is some small hotels and pensions but nothing much at all. Great for getting away from it all!
Early the following day it was a blast out from Fakarava and onto Toau again to stop off for a few days with Valentine and Gaston. Sitting on 12-16kts John's face was just a huge smile. I couldn't get him off the tiller it was so cool. Spirit sprinted past a few monos that had departed earlier, with water going over head like we were about to dive like a submarine it was a wet and wild ride up the western side of Toau.
Once back in the safe and calm anchorage of Toau it was time for a hard earned beer and some laughs with our new friends Valerie and Gaston. A late night ashore and plans to head out the following day with her sister and their family meant we were a bit bleary eyed the next day.
Valerie and Gaston also showed us how they farm pearls. We bought a few as well while there. On the main Island of Tahiti they are far more expensive for good quality ones. It was nice to get some from our new friends, which gave them a little.
We spent six hours the following day snorkelling around the atoll edge looking for sea cucumbers. It was one of the highlights to spend the day with Valeries sister swimming up and down the atoll edge where it drops off to nothing hundreds of meters down. We had sharks, large pelagic fish and all kinds swimming along side with us. Turtles often swam past in the crystal clear water just meters away, it was surreal and so cool to see how the locals lived and fished.
After another three days relaxing and chilling out it was time to head back to Raiatea where John had a date with a plane and had to fly back to Spain for the upcoming regatta season where he worked racing yachts. I was sad to be seeing him go but the nearly three months he had onboard were some of the best sailing we had had with Spirit and it had been great to have him with us for such a long period.