Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Fiji Passage: The Lows and Highs

The weather lows and highs in the Southern Pacific Ocean and Tasman are what you watch for when planning the passage from NZ to Fiji. You wait until a low passes over NZ and ride it out – and then the high kicks in and gives you good sailing direction and you hope that another low won't get in your way! We had two good fast days to start. The seas were more raucous than we would have liked – but we made good speed in the right direction.

Day three was slow – 83 miles covered and we started the engine for two hours to charge batteries, make water and give us 12 miles forward! Then the wind picked up enough to sail, albeit slowly. Seas also remained very confused so we rolled back and forth and up and down.

Day four we noticed one of those nasty lows building – right on our track towards Fiji. It wasn't a low low (not below 1000 hectare pascals) but it looked to hold 30 knots of wind and 3 meter seas. We decided to make a detour and head more west to try catch the back end of this weather system instead of getting into smack in the middle. We thought this would limit the exposure time-wise we'd have in it, and the winds would be more favorable on that side of the storm. So we headed on a more westerly heading and we made good speed. We got 100 miles off our course line. But it wasn't quite enough to avoid the storm. It was cloudy, rainy and windy all day – but the direction was still okay.

We thought we had passed through the low – winds were in the mid 20 knot range and it was very squally – wind fluctuation, gusty and raining hard. But no...we were just getting the leading bands.

Day Five: Around midnight, we hit the big stuff (how come they never happen in daylight?) Winds grew to a steady 30 plus knots and gusts to 45. We had the boat ready – only flying a small handkerchief of a mainsail. We had pulled the reefed headsail in earlier when the winds hit 25. The rain was sideways and the waves were crashing and coming from all directions. But Astarte sailed smartly through it – hitting a speed of 8.6 at one point! Michael went below in the storm to download an updated weather file off the SSB to see which way we should head to get out of the system as quickly as possible. We headed north and three hours later we started to see starry sky ahead. The winds settled for awhile as we went through the center and then we we got the other side which was windy – but only in the low 20s. We made it through and everything held together – including us. We were tired but we were past it. The rest of the day we started to head back towards our course line – now heading northeast – but we had good winds to do that...and the skies were clear.

Day Six (today): It is lovely sunny day with a steady 10-15 knot southwesterly breeze and we continue to make our way back towards the course line. We are now passed latitude 24S and it is finally getting warmer (though we are still layer up). We covered 134nm in 24 hours noon to noon. The weather forecast has us heading right into a high with NO wind. We will ride the wind as long as we can and get as many miles under the keel towards our destination. We are more than halfway there – with less than 450 miles to go. If the seas are flat, we won't mind drifting for a day or so and we can do a good check on the decks, the rig and sails to make sure there was no damage. We also need to tidy up below decks as things did fly around a bit as we changed tacks and everything was battened down on one side of the boat … new loose stuff was discovered on the new tack.
The highs and lows of passage making – the weather systems are just one of them. As we heard on the radio net the other morning, some friends Mark and Ann on "Blue Rodeo" (also heading in the same direction as us at the same time – but a faster boat) said, "we just gave each other that look and then reminded ourselves that this is what we have to pay to get to see paradise." That's how we feel. The passage making has not been great for us for the last several trips...but we are getting to Fiji!

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