Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fiji to Tuvalu: The Passage

You probably noticed that there were no log entries during the passage aboard Astarte from Vuda Point in Fiji to Funafuti Atoll in Tuvalu! We departed Monday, September 9th around 1130 from Vuda Point Marina after doing the official clearing out with customs and immigration. With our clearance papers in hand, the marina bill settled and spending the last of the Fiji dollars on ice cream, we pulled out of our tight quarters in the berth and started on our passage. The first several hours we had to motor into the wind to get through a passage in the reef and out into the "big" water. As we made the turn northwest to get around the Yasawa group of Fiji, the wind simply died. That was not the forecast. This was not a stellar start to the trip. We turned the motor back on and motor sailed until around midnight when the wind picked up enough to shut down the "steel drum band."

The wind for the trip was predicted to be southeasterly in the 18 to 20 knot range. We knew it would be a bit boisterous, but we thought it would be a nice beam reach. Unfortunately, there was little to no south in the wind and, in fact, for the first few days a bit of east northeast winds were what we experienced. Because of this, we couldn't keep to our course line. Instead of a nice reach we were fairly hard on the wind, heeled over and taking water over the bow steadily. It was a wet ride...and unfortunately, we discovered it was also getting wet below decks as well. We realized that in all our cruising over the last several years, we have had downwind runs or at least wind aft of the beam. This was the first time we had five days of being upwind. Several of our overhead hatches have leaks as do some of the side windows. The cockpit floor also somehow drains water into the galley. And taking so much over the bow meant a lot was getting down the anchor locker and working its way into the shallow bilges of Astarte. This meant we had lots of drips, puddles and salt water in lockers, on walls and on the floor. Add to the dampness of the boat – we were getting soaked in the cockpit when the waves would decide to slap us on the hull and splash aboard. We were finding it difficult to stay in dry clothes and find places to hang the salty wet ones. This time it was Michael who was having the harder time. Barbara's new rain gear was doing a better job. We know what we'll be buying at the next opportunity!

Because the wind didn't quite have enough of a southern component, and there is a big western pushing current, we struggled to make the easting we needed to to stay away from some sea mounts. Now these are deep sea mounts – nothing we would "hit." But going near them or over them, does make the water "crazy." The seas get bigger and come from various directions. We hit a few of these areas on our way north. As it was, we had a good 2 meter sea the entire time and the swells were close together, often causing the boat to crash down one wave and get hit with next making a horrible noise. We tried everything from speeding up, slowing down and changing course to settle the boat into a more comfortable ride.

There was good news though! We were making pretty good time, covering more than 100 miles a day. On Friday morning we had 150 miles to go and had hoped we could make it in on Saturday afternoon and save an extra night at sea. We had to maintain 5 knots to do it and it became the challenge aboard. Luckily the wind finally went east-southeast and gave us a great beam reach. Astarte liked it and sped up, the ride became more comfortable and we were ticking off the miles through Friday night. We gave ourselves the time of "1430" to have to be at the pass to make it in with good enough light to see the reefs. We cheered with every ten minutes we gained when we sped up! We made it to the southwestern pass by 1230 – BUT the squalls started. We lost all visibility. We had several squalls over the last three days, and we learned that they did pass quickly. Some brought heavy rain – others just an increase in wind. But they went by quickly. This one didn't. We had a break and started to make our way to the pass and another squall hit – this one with 30 knots of wind. So we backed off again and circled. Time was ticking away. It started to clear again and we made another run for it and the third time was the charm. Unfortunately though, the tide was now running more strongly against us and the wind was still blowing a steady 20 knots on the nose. We made it through the pass, but Astarte had a hard time making headway through the narrow part – slowing to less than 2 knots. Waves were breaking over the bow and then we were inside the atoll. Whew. We made it on Saturday – we wouldn't have to spend another night out.

We made our way across the atoll which is about 10 miles towards the main town where we would have to clear in. The good news is that the government offices close down at 4 pm on Friday and re-open Monday morning. We would have a few days to get the boat in shape and rest up. Another boat we had chatted with on the radio net, "Barefoot" was already here. They were very nice about contacting us on VHF radio and giving us some great info. We joked with them asking if there was room in the anchorage. This is not exactly a hot spot and the atoll is very large. We arrived at the anchorage around 1530 on Saturday, September 14 making the passage in 124 hours. After anchoring in 45 feet of water, another squall hit giving us a great fresh water rinse. Roz and David from "Barefoot" came by after the squall and brought treats from the local bakery – very nice welcoming! A few hours later, another bigger squall hit – this one with torrential rain and 35 knot winds (Barefoot says it recorded a 45 knot gust). Astarte started to drift a bit at anchor so we had to let out more scope which was challenging with two tired people in heavy wind. But we managed and now feel well anchored.

We made it to Tuvalu. More on this interesting, small island nation later. We are glad to be settled in a nice place with good protection as long as the wind doesn't come out of the west.

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