Tuesday, November 14, 2017

EXTREMELY GLAD TO HAVE ARRIVED

We are back in New Zealand. This was our ninth passage to or from NZ. Number nine will go down in Astarte history as the worse passage yet.

We left on Thursday, November 2 just after noon from Vuda Point Marina. We sailed, then motor sailed until we cleared out of the Navola Passage reef. We finally were able to sail but seas were extremely rough in 18-22 knot SSE winds. Day one we made 120 miles and were eating seasick meds like candy.

Day Two: Not having much fun with winds picking up to 22-28 knots SSE. We were hard on the wind much of the time so we would bang incessantly into the 2 meter sea swell and wind waves. Progress was only 115 uncomfortable miles in cloudy weather. The only good news is that it is still warm.

Day Three: a better day (or we were finally getting our sea legs back). The seas settled some and the wind was down to 15-20 knots with more east in the direction so more of a beam reach – less crashing into the waves. We made good progress, the sun was out and we ate something other than seasick pills. Day three was 120 mile day. Still warm outside.

Day Four: Watching the low start to form off NZ. Changed or destination to Opua instead of Marsden Cove to save 30 miles. We need to get into NZ by Saturday morning or get hammered by the big bad low. Luckily we still have a good easterly component to the wind and the seas have remained more settled so we are making 6 plus knots most of the time and even seeing 7 knots on occasion. Go fast. That's the goal. 135 mile day.

Day Five: 125 mile day – motor sailing and sailing and motor sailing and sailing. Engine on. Engine off. Engine on. Added fuel to tank with relatively flat seas – but still an adventure offshore. The weather is getting cooler at night but the sun is nice. We can't motor the whole way – not enough fuel. But still trying to maintain 5.5 knots to get in ahead of the storm.

Day Six: Lots of engine time but making good progress. We are hopeful that we can get in before the low. Lots of help and support from weather guru David of Gulf Harbour Radio. He and Patricia are being very encouraging and sending us lots of e-mail weather info. Made 130 miles.

Day Seven: Winds have died making slow progress against bigger seas. Add to that a current of probably 1 to 1.5 knots against us. We need to get miles under the keel to make it to Opua. By late day, the winds are building quickly along with the seas. David's late evening forecast is not good. "Can you get to Opua by Friday?" That's 190 miles to go in one day – in great conditions not a task that Astarte has ever accomplished. In these conditions simply impossible. The low has sped up.

Day Eight: We can't beat the low...we are just about in it. Seas are now easily 3 meters along with chop from all directions. Winds are well over 20 knots and very southerly. We can't make much progress and we are tired and the boat is getting pounded by the seas and wind. We make the decision to "heave to" or "forereach" as best as we can. Astarte is not an easy boat to heave to and get her bow into the wind and seas. We can slow her down to about 1.5 to 2 knots, but end up with the seas more on the beam than is desirable. We spend several hours trying to get the best and safest ride we can. Progress is stopped – and we start slowly heading more west. Winds are a steady 35-40 with higher gusts. Not happy campers.

Day Nine: Friday is bad and Saturday is worse. We are taking a lot of waves on deck and into the cockpit. Thank goodness for the wind curtains Michael built last season. A game changer. The winds are now 40 plus steadily and occasionally at 50. Around 0230 we take a huge wave over the side that just about knocks the boat over. Michael is on watch. The cockpit is full of water. Barbara is thrown out of bed below and everything is everywhere. She gets to the deck to make sure Michael is still aboard (we are living in our life vests and buckled in when in the cockpit.) Luckily he is there. But the bimini (cockpit shade) which has very sturdy stainless tubing has been torn and the actual stainless tubing has been badly twisted. It is flapping in the breeze. Our wind instruments no longer are working – neither direction nor wind speed. The wind generator has started when in the off position and burnt itself out (sounding like a helicopter landing aboard in the process). We look back and also see that the solar vent in the aft cabin hatch is also missing so we manage to quickly cover that hole before too much water gets below decks. We can't wait for daylight. Luckily it is only a few hours away. We manage to get lines around the bimini to keep it and the two attached solar panels from taking flight in its weakened state. We deal with the flapping canvas after daylight. It is exhausting and frightening. The winds and waves don't seem to be settling at all and we continue to take water over the sides. Add to that the chill factor – we are now at 33 degrees and it is downright cold. We are layered up but as clothes get wet, we have to change.

Day Ten: Just waiting in the awful weather for it to pass. Finally we turn back on course and start to make our way back south and east. The promised south westerlies never materialize so we sail, motor sail, tack, sail, tack...etc. The wind dies a bit and we even see some sun. We change our course back to the original destination of Marsden/Whangarei. No need to go to Opua now.

Day Eleven: We are now rechecking our fuel and counting hours, miles and wondering of we can make it. We decide to put the last 20 liters from deck into the tank. But for safety sake we also tack back and forth until we are less than 60 miles away. It is like staying in place. We can barely make a mile an hour toward our destination. We finally turn the engine on and motor sail into the Hatea River. We have notified customs multiple times about changes on our destination and arrival time.

At 1810 (6:10 pm) we tie up to the Q dick in Marsden Cove. As we enter the marina we are greeted from the docks by friends from "Avalon" and "Barefoot" which was really nice. We called customs to let them know we were tied up and they told us they would come at 0800 the next morning - "get some rest." That was great. We could clean ourselves, the boat and get a good night sleep before the formalities. We ate a great meal, opened a bottle of wine and went to bed early. We made a huge breakfast the next morning to use up some bacon and some eggs before having to give them to the biosecurity officer – so that was treat as well.

By 1030 we were all cleared in with customs and biosecurity. They are very efficient and do it in a polite, friendly way. We had planned to stay in Marsden but had the opportunity to get some estimators aboard the next morning so we motored up the river to Whangarei Marina.
We are now on D dock. Ready for hot showers and another good night's sleep.

We broke our cardinal rule of booking plane tickets in advance of being in the country from which you will be departing. We tell everyone not to do it … and we did. Rookie mistake. We paid the price. By saving a few dollars by booking tickets earlier, we ended up taking a weather window that was bad. Now we'll spending more on repairs than a later booked ticket would have cost. When will we learn to take our own advice!

We are glad this trip is over. The new bimini we put on in May is trashed so that needs to be replaced along with the stainless frame. We have electronics to replace. We have fiberglass repairs to make. A wind generator needs to be repaired (hopefully it can be). We need a new solar vent for the aft cabin hatch and some side hatches to reseal or replace.

Thanks to all our friends who sent notes of encouragement (though we didn't see them until we got in) and for all the help and "watches" from Gulf Harbour Radio, YIT, and Tony's Maritime Net. We are safe. Astarte is a magnificent vessel that kept us safe through some very nasty weather. The damage we got was not structural to the hull or rig. She stayed wonderfully dry below decks. After all that water, there was very little in the bilges. We're grateful for such a hearty boat.

We made it – it just wasn't fun.
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At 11/13/2017 7:42 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 35°50.21'S 174°28.12'E

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

LEAVING FIJI TODAY

Keep your fingers and toes crossed for us. We have decided to take off from Vuda Point Marina today to make the trip south to New Zealand. It is not a great weather window – so we are rolling the dice a bit. So as much positive thoughts, prayers and help will be much appreciated. Two different weather models show two different scenarios and our weather guru David has warned us off a bit as well – but if we don't go today, we fear we'll have to wait another week or ten days to leave. That then may force us into a worse scenario of having to go in something even worse.

We ALWAYS tell people, when on a boat, never book plane tickets before you are in the country from which you are departing. We have broken our own rule and have plane tickets from NZ booked.

So we will take our chances and hope for the best. We can always heave to and wait for something to pass if it becomes untenable. We have lots of food aboard that we may end up giving to biosecurity in NZ because it will probably be a good weight loss passage. Lots of seasick pills and no dinner!

Wish us luck...off after we clear customs. At least we're not leaving on a Friday!

Thursday, November 2, 2017
Vuda Marina: The Waiting Room
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At 11/2/2017 2:41 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°50.12'S 177°16.40'E

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Vuda Marina: The Waiting Room

We are in Vuda Point Marina waiting for a weather window after November 1st. We did something we have promised ourselves we would never do. We booked airplane tickets from a country in which we are not yet anchored. Hmmm. Now we have a schedule – a bad thing on sailboats -especially in this part of the world.

But we hope to get safely to New Zealand before December 6th (but not earlier than November 10th). Juggling all these dates gets confusing with all the immigration rules. Now, we are in the oval marina of Vuda. Check it out on our location at YIT.nz. It is a very interesting marina set-up. They keep putting more and more boats against the oval shaped wall. It all works. It does provide good entertainment watching the comings and goings of the boats as they maneuver around all the moorings that come from the center.

We have gone by bus into Latauka a few times for some shopping runs and getting the boat provisioned for passage but not loading up too much for arrival in New Zealand where they have pretty strict biosecurity regulations.

It is mighty warm in the marina and as summer starts approaching in Fiji. You can't jump in to cool off – so long cold showers have to suffice. They have put in a nice barbeque here – so we often go up to cook on the hill overlooking the water and get a good evening breeze. It also doesn't heat the boat up with cooking aboard.

We've run into some old friends here and have met some new folks so that is always nice. The staff at Vuda are especially friendly and because this is our third visit here – it feels like home. Today (Thursday) is cheap fish and chips lunch so we always partake of that. Tuesday is half price pizza night and that is a must as well. This week we lucked out with someone else picking up our pizza tab! Michael helped the boat next to us with some large bolts and washers and smaller parts, so they gratefully picked up our tab.

We're getting the boat ready for the passage with lots of checks on the rigging, oil change (which ended up also requiring the water pump to be changed – glad to discover that here and not offshore) and lots of organizing. We pulled out the cold weather clothes and aired them out for the passage and arrival in cooler New Zealand.

So its just waiting for the days to pass to November 1st and then looking for the first good weather window for the 1200 mile trip to NZ.

Thursday, October 26, 2017
Vuda Point Marina
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At 10/25/2017 11:02 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°40.82'S 177°23.17'E

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Great 30 Mile Sail

We enjoyed multiple days in the bay we learned was called Drata by the locals. It is a well protected and not very populated spot. We stayed to the front of the bay but found out you can go quite a way into the inlet where you get even better protection.

We met Nesu and his son who were setting nets from their canoe. He told us that at one point their were ten boats in the small bay – that would be a bit crowded. He told us we could have come in much further. We were fine where we anchored though every afternoon a sea breeze (or wind) picked up and blew into the bay. One night we had some squalls that lasted quite awhile and blew a good 20 plus for several hours. The holding was good for us (another boat that came in did drag – but they didn't put out much chain). We were in 20 or so feet.

Nesu and his son came to the boat for a visit – they always say the kids want to see the boat – but we know it's the adults! They say its a "Once in a lifetime experience." Later in the day, he came back with two boats – his canoe and a kayak and his five kids and wife! They all wanted to see the boat and take pictures. The baby was only 6 months (look for the picture of Michael holding a baby – a "once in a lifetime" capture!) Good baby though, never cried or threw up which is what we usually get! They had a cell phone and were taking tons of pictures aboard. They posed in every area of the boat – galley, bathroom, chart table, etc. What they take pictures of is funny to us – things like the small LED push on light in the walk through or the galley foot water pump and a box of Weetbix (a dry cereal popular in the islands and NZ).

We left on Wednesday as there was some bad weather expected starting on Thursday. The visibility was great so we took advantage of going through the reefs in good light. There are some pretty narrow areas with S-turns. We put our head sail up as soon as we got out of the bay and sailed the entire way. It took less than 7 hours to make the trip and we started pretty slowly but picked up speed as the wind built through the day. Sailing inside the reef is sometimes pretty scary but it is also terrific with good light. The seas are flat calm in the protected water so it is very smooth and comfortable. The wind was directly behind us so every time we had to turn 10 or 20 degrees we had to jibe.

We arrived in a crowded Saweni Bay – a popular anchorage near Lautoka and Vuda Point Marina. People stage here prior to checking out of the country from one of these two spots. There was one big problem though when we came in...all the boats were facing out of the bay with a lee shore and it was blowing a good 15-20 knots kicking up a big fetch. You could surf on the waves crashing in the bay. It looked incredibly rough – but we had no other options at this point and would have to drop the anchor and hope the wind subsided soon which would then make the waves disappear as well. A few hours – yes hours – later that happened but it was pretty uncomfortable until we turned to shore. Nothing like getting seasick at anchor. We have this great 30 mile smooth sail to come to an anchorage and get beat up!

It settled for the night. The anchorage is quite large and there are about 20 boats here now. We watched a Canadian boat come in at dusk and hit the reef in front of us. It is deceiving if you haven't done your homework as there is a reef about 200 meters from shore but some boats find the cut in the reef and do go close to shore. So you see these boats anchored close to shore and think you'll join them. And then, BANG you hit this reef you can't see because by now it is too dark. Luckily they weren't going to fast and a nearby boat sounded a horn trying to warn them.

We know a few boats in here so it will be nice to have some social times with yachties. We do enjoy village time, but sometimes it is a bit of work. There is also internet here so we can get some planning done as well as paperwork for our return to NZ. We will start looking for a good weather window in mid-October – earlier than we would normally go. We usually luck out with better weather later in November.

We'll have to make a trip into Lautoka at some point (a bus runs by here) and pick up some provisions. The last run was Ovalau, several weeks ago and there is a "Hot Bread Kitchen" in Lautoka so Michael can get his meat pie! Vuda Marine is totally booked up – so we'll try to get on a list to get in there at some point to fuel up and get laundry done before passage (and a much needed cook's night out!).
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At 9/25/2017 3:27 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°23.36'S 177°47.65'E

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Nananu-i-Ra and Beyond

We spent almost a week near Verevere village in Toba Basaga Bay. It was a friendly village and Simi took us (along with Karen and Cheryl from SV Interlude) to a nearby waterfall and swimming hole. It was terrific to get a nice swim in cool fresh water. A little natural jacuzzi and massage was had thanks to the pools and waterfalls.

At one point there were three boats in the bay – Interlude, Del Viento and us. Interlude left after one day and we had the pleasure of meeting Del Viento aboard their boat the following evening. Windy, Michael and their two daughters Eleanor and Frances hosted us to sundowners. It was a fun evening getting to know new folks. We learned that Michael is the editor of the boating magazine "Good Old Boat" so that was fun to talk articles and ideas with him. Perhaps we'll be lucky enough to get something published in that magazine! They were nice folks and Frances, the younger daughter made some killer fried plantains. We had a visit from a local boat asking to check our cruising permit – something we heard from customs and immigration. They have asked the local villages to do more checking to make sure all boats in Fiji waters are there legally.

"Del Viento" left the following day, leaving the bay all to us again. We took a nice walk along the road towards the point giving us a beautiful view of the bay and beyond. It was a great walk and on our way back through the village we met a nice family who offered us a piece of property to build a house on! They are generous here. Then going through the village there was a police officer who took a lot of information from us. That was a first for us. It really does seem Fiji is getting very conscious of checking on foreigners on their shores. They all do it in a very friendly, non-threatening way.

We finally left the comfortable bay and made a 20 mile trip to an offshore island, Nananu-i-Ra. It was through lots of reefs with s-curves and hard turns. We had no wind and good sun, so it was a great day to do it. We anchored near some pretty flash vacation homes against a sandy beach. It was a pretty deep anchorage surrounded by some reefs. It was certainly different scenery than the villages; with these large fancier homes with lots of solar, wind generators and landscaped property. Most looked empty except for the Fijian caretakers.

We went ashore near some of the smaller resorts and dock and learned there were not many guests on the island at the time. We took a long walk along the island's sandy beach and went around to the windward side as well. There were a few sunk boats there – sad to see. Winston did a fair amount of damage here as well. Though most of the vacation homes either suffered no damage or were already repaired.

We left on Saturday morning and aimed for a bay about 18 miles away. It was great sail with the heady only. Once we got there, the afternoon northerlies kicked in with a vengeance and the bay was very uncomfortable. It was only 1230 so we decided to up anchor and move on again. On leaving the bay, we went over an unmarked shallow spot (not on charts nor on google earth maps). We went from 50 feet to 4.5 feet ! Frightening! We moved another 17 miles west along Viti Levu's north coast. It was blowing about 15-20 knots so we sailed pretty quickly with a very reefed headsail negotiating carefully through the reefs. We were approached, when going through a very narrow cut in the reefs just past a sharp turn, by the New Zealand Royal Navy's black fast inflatable again. It was loaded with probably eight folks all geared up. Because we were sailing through the reef, we split duties – Michael would only pay attention to the boat and Barbara would deal with the authorities. As they got close, they were taking many pictures of the boat and us. We told them that they had boarded us already in Rukuruku a few weeks back. That it was Jordan and Frasier who came aboard. Frasier happened to also be aboard the inflatable and he gave us a big thumbs up. They told us to have a nice day and they moved on without reboarding us. They are checking everything!

We got to the new little bay that doesn't have a village nearby and anchored behind a nice sandbar near the mangroves in about 20 feet of water. It looks like good muddy holding and we are protected from everything but NNW or due W winds. That's good because last night just after dark the wind really picked up to 20 plus knots for a few hours. We let out a bit more chain and soon after we did that it settled down again and was a very flat night.

We met a fishing boat yesterday that stays in a house on a nearby hill on weekends. The three folks (Lani, Jim and Joshua) asked if we wanted a fish. They had a couple good sized sweet lips in the boat. Again their generosity always amazes us. We thanked them and passed on the offer.

Today, we'll do some dinghy exploring. Perhaps at the end of the bay there is a small stream with some laundry water! It is a breezy day but sunny and a comfortable temperature. We'll probably stay a few days here – though there is no internet. We are about 25 miles west of Latoka.
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At 9/25/2017 3:23 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°23.36'S 177°47.65'E

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

North Coast of Viti Levu

After a fun evening watching some local guys play rugby in Rukuruku, we left the following morning for the 30 mile trip to the northern side of the "mainland" which is what the locals call the biggest of the Fijian islands – Viti Levu. This is an area we have never visited and thought it would be a fun new adventure for the last few months in Fiji. Like the northern coast of Vanua Levu that we visited earlier in the season, this is a coast few yachts visit or if they do, they pass through quickly. We had a very nice sail across with headsail only and doing about 5.5 knots on average. Very comfortable – and a small tuna caught along the way that we released. We were even able to sail once we got inside the reefs along the coast.

We settled into a place called Toba Basaga near the village of Verevere. The bay has a narrow entrance with long rocky spits that come out from the land on each side of the entrance. Then there is a large rocky "island" in the center of the bay. We nestled along the eastern side in about 35 feet of water. It looks like a good sandy/muddy bottom.

There are three villages around the bay – two near the shore and one quite a way up a hillside. We were surprised at how much damage there was here from cyclone Winston. There are still several tents and many homes being rebuilt. The sound of chainsaw competes with the roosters! We didn't think that Viti Levu was that hard hit – but it seems this northeast corner of the island certainly had a lot of damage.

We were visited by a fishing boat with Simi, Tom and young Tom and "boy" (that was his name). They came aboard and we learned about the villages and the area. We were invited ashore the next day to the village of Verevere which is a bit hidden from where we are anchored.

On Saturday, we went ashore and met Simi again, who happens to be the "Toronga ni koro" or headman. We did our "sevusevu" with him in his home. We learned lots more and got a nice tour of the village from Ben. There is much rebuilding still going on and still a lot of bare foundations left standing(albeit a little crooked) from the cyclone. This village was very lucky though because their water supply is from a deep spring and the dam remained intact and they were never without fresh water. They have lots of well built concrete sidewalks throughout the village and pretty gardens right in the village. In fact, there was even a horse and an few goats in the village. The horse looked like he was looking through one of the windows in a house. We were told of a waterfall nearby – so we may head there on Monday. We had hoped to do a snorkel today – but the wind has picked up again.

We will work our way along the north coast and slowly make our way around the northwestern corner to get towards Vuda Point where we will clear out of the country. Don't expect to see many boats along here, but you never know.

It is a pretty bay with lots of bird song in the morning. Many people (mostly women) fish from small rafts and boats in the afternoon. This is a nice spot and even with the wind there is little to no roll and good holding.
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At 9/17/2017 2:14 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°32.56'S 178°22.75'E

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Monday, September 11, 2017

New Photos

Two new albums have been posted including an album of underwater pictures...including the giant clams.

Still in Rukuruku and enjoying our time here. We visited the school yesterday afternoon to bring them some books and a computer (from Sandy and Rankin). We got entertained by the children. They sang us some songs, asked some questions and just hung out with us. One of the books in our bag of books we brought was a Harry Potter...and it was one the kids were all eager to read. We had tried to select some newer books and reading material for various age levels and reading capabilities. Our timing was pretty good as it is "Literacy Week" here.

It is interesting how in all the schools we visit, the children have school chores at the end of the school day. This includes sweeping the classrooms, organizing the books, taking down the flag (to a drum beat and everyone respectfully stands up from whatever they are doing as the flag is lowered) and even includes cleaning the toilets.

Upon our return to the boat around 5 pm, we were visited by a large inflatable with five uniformed, helmeted men from the Royal New Zealand Navy and Fiji Customs. They were doing boat inspections. Two came aboard and checked our paperwork and passports and the Fijian Customs officer went below for a quick inspection. They were very polite but formal. The big Navy ship was just out of sight around the bend. They then went to the neighboring Kiwi boat for a quicker stop (they had already been checked out in Kioa a few weeks previously). They were checking local boats as well as foreign vessels.

It looks like we dodged Irma in St. Pete though we are still waiting to get word about our home. The folks in Rukuruku were praying for Irma to not harm our home – they really are nice folks. Also many thanks to the many friends who sent us hopeful thoughts and offers of assistance should they be needed...you don't know how much they are appreciated.
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At 9/12/2017 3:31 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°38.35'S 178°45.16'E

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