November 1 – December 19, 2012

The first half of the month of November was filled with chores that needed to be accomplished to make the boat ready for passage to New Zealand.  Our checklist included checking the rigging, readying the series drogue, checking the EPIRB and the life vests and the man overboard life tag system.  All breakables were safely put away.  Mary spent quite a bit of time preparing a final shopping list for the groceries that she needed to prepare passage food. 

We spent the days at anchor near Savusavu.  On November 12 we moved onto a mooring at the Copra Shed Marina in Savusavu for final preparations.  But first, before going on the mooring, we moved to the fuel dock to fill our fuel tanks.  There are no fuel pumps at this dock and Paul thought that he would have to make thirteen trips to the petrol station across the street to repeatedly fill our two jerry cans and then pour the fuel into our tanks.  Thankfully, the staff at the petrol station informed us that they would deliver two 200 litre drums of diesel to the boat and help us pump the contents into our tanks.

This system worked very well.  Here are two staff from the fuel station pumping the fuel into our fuel tanks through the Baja filter being held by Paul.  We did have to turn the boat around to fill the starboard tank as their hose wasn’t quite long enough.  This proved to be a bit dicey as it was low tide and we were barely floating in the shallow water.  We managed to tie up again to the dock and completed the fuel fill.  We know now that next year we will book the fuel drums ahead of time and plan it around high tide.
November 13 was Dhiwali Day in Fiji, a public holiday.  Since Dhiwali is a Hindu festival of light, we were treated to several hours of beautiful fireworks in the harbour that night.

Mary spent all of Tuesday and most of Wednesday preparing our passage food.  Because she (and sometimes Paul) suffers from seasickness when at sea, all meals are prepared ahead of time in order to limit the time spent in the galley.  Our favourite passage food has proven to be hamburger soup, spaghetti pie, potato salad, chicken and vegetable wraps, hardboiled eggs, pizza, tomatoes, carrots, celery, muffins, and lots of bread.

James, our friend and crew from New Zealand, was due to arrive on Wednesday at 1530.  Paul had been closely following the weather and declared that an excellent weather window was presenting itself and we should leave that night at 2300 in order to avoid a front that was forecast to cross the North Island of NZ in eight days.

Paul met James at the Marina office and they walked over to the Customs and Immigration offices to add James to the cruising permit and to check out of the country.  We left the marina shortly thereafter and went to the Cousteau Resort anchorage for final preparations.  After dinner we rested for a few hours and at 2300 we hauled up the anchor, took down the Canadian and Fijian flags, and set off on a course for New Zealand, some 1200 nautical miles SSW of Fiji.

We anticipated an eight day passage and we were very pleased to make landfall in 7.5 days.  For the first day and a half we motor sailed close-hauled at 7-8 knots.  Unlike last year when we left Lautoka (farther south and to the west), there were no big seas or confused seas to contend with and consequently no seasickness aboard Bella Via.  For most of the passage, the seas were less than two metres and in the middle when the wind died we had less than one metre of swell.

Late on the second day the wind shifted slightly and we were on a close reach until the third day when the wind shifted again to aft of the beam.  We wanted to maintain an average speed of 7 knots to get to New Zealand before the expected front came through so we turned the motor on when necessary.

Early Sunday morning, November 18, the wind decreased to 5-10 knots, which had been forecast.  We had two to three days of the lighter winds.  In fact, Mary was able to go into the galley and make a beef and vegetable stir fry over rice for James’ birthday on November 19.  This was the third time we have celebrated James’ birthday aboard Bella Via.

The big event of Tuesday, November 20, was catching two big eye tuna at the same time.  A double hit!  (James took home half of that catch and we still have some tuna in the freezer.)

A few days before, we had set an interim waypoint slightly to the east.  This would give us a better angle if there was indeed a southeast change at the end of the passage.  Early on Wednesday, November 21, with the wind out of the north/northeast, we altered course 30 degrees to head straight for Whangarei.

Surprise, surprise!  We encountered thick fog for the first time at sea in the South Pacific.  Visibility was very poor and the wind was all of a sudden coming from the southwest – dead on the nose.  The fog continued on and off for most of the day.  We turned the radar on and kept a close watch.  We could hear sailboats all around us reporting in to each other on the VHF radio.  On the ham radio that morning, a weather expert that we had been listening to reported that we were experiencing a “wannabe cyclone” and that it was just for this area and would not develop into anything.  He was right, because at 1800 on the Wednesday the fog disappeared and the wind came back from the east/northeast.  We slid in to New Zealand at 0830 on Thursday, November 22, with 15-25 knots of wind behind us.  An excellent passage overall.  Well done Paul!

At some point in the passage Mary took this picture of Paul on watch in the cockpit.  We knew that we had definitely left the tropics when we had to keep pulling out the warmer clothes and fleece blankets!

We had a pleasant few hours with Customs and Quarantine at Marsden Cove and then an excellent lunch at the cafe.  We had been talking for the last few days about eating at that restaurant and we weren’t disappointed.  After that, as we were booked in to the Town Basin Marina, we headed up river and were tied up at the dock by mid-afternoon.

We were greeted at the dock by Paige, a ‘little pirate’ who was visiting on the boat behind us.
Here is Paige with the rest of her family, Riley and Oliver (twins on the left), Dan and Amy, the parents, and Paige.  We first met this lovely liveaboard family when we arrived in Nelson, NZ, in 2009.  Our paths have crossed several times and the kids are well behaved and great entertainment.

This was the start of a very busy two weeks.  We’ve reported before about how busy it is when we are in a town.  It wasn’t just boat repairs and shopping that needed to be accomplished.  We now know so many people in and around Whangarei that we had lots of socializing to do.  Our Kiwi friends, Dave and Margaret (Dave has done two passages with us), arrived at the marina at the same time on their launch (12 metre power boat), “Freespool”, and they planned on staying for two weeks as well.  Di, James’ wife, came down from Whangarei to pick up James and we celebrated both their birthdays and their wedding anniversary at The Killer Prawn, their favourite Whangarei restaurant.  Bob and Leonie, owners of All Marine Chandlery and a future crew member (Bob), had us out to their home in Tutukaka for dinner and an overnight stay.  And of course there was the Tuesday evening spent at the Irish pub with Dave and Margaret to listen to live Irish music (something we started doing last April).

Mary looked at the calendar and determined that there wouldn’t be much of an opportunity to grocery shop over the next few months – we would be spending more than one month at Great Barrier Island where provisions are scarce and expensive and then we would be on a hardstand at Norsand Boatyard in Whangarei from mid-January until the end of March where there is not a nearby grocery store.  We would also be going back to Canada during that time for two months for a visit.  So she decided that we needed to provision the boat for three to four months and then would only have to find fresh produce periodically.  She felt like we were heading off on another long passage!  She hauled out her ‘4-6 month provisioning for the tropics’ lists and made countless trips to the grocery store.

The day before we were ready to leave the marina, we were visited by a Swiss friend, Rosie, who brought us a little bread man that she had baked that morning.  It was St. Nicholas day in Switzerland and this is a tradition in her country.

Finally, it was time to leave the marina on Saturday, December 8.  Our friends on Great Barrier Island (GBI), Tony, Carol, and Des, were waiting for us and we wanted to be there before Christmas.  Dave and Margaret were interested in going over to GBI on Freespool and they left the marina at the same time.

We headed down river to Munro Bay, one of our usual anchorages in Whangarei.  We had a very pleasant night.  We always breathe a sigh of relief when we cast off the dock lines and swing at anchor.  The next morning we headed out for GBI but first we needed to make a stop at Waiheke Island just north of Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf.  We intended on stopping for three nights at Waiheke and then crossing to GBI on the Wednesday.  Dave and Margaret headed for Kawau Island for a few days before joining us at GBI.

The forecast was for very light winds from the southeast.  We were heading south to Waiheke and planned on motor sailing. Unfortunately the wind was directly out of the south and 15 knots and we had current against us.  We were not making much headway and after a few hours we decided to forget about Waiheke Island and head east to GBI, a much better wind angle for sailing.  Shortly after we changed course, we noticed that friends of ours were out as well and they looked like they were heading to Kawau.  We hailed them on the VHF and they stated that they originally were heading to GBI but had changed their mind.  We saw them again later just before we headed into Whangaparapara Harbour at GBI and it was obvious that they had changed their minds a second time, something to do with an intermittent engine issue.

December 9 – 19, 2012

We had a wonderful reunion with our friends in Whangaparapara Harbour.  It has been a time of light winds which means that we have been playing badminton just about every morning at 0630.  The first one on the court rings the bells that Tony has hanging from a tree – old propane gas bottles with the bottoms cut away then hung up-side-down.  Tony is quite creative.  As these are quite loud, it isn’t long before we all show up wearing our Whangapara Racqueteers t-shirts and the fun and games begin.  We have also enjoyed showing Dave and Margaret the sights of GBI, tramping a few of the walks, watching the dolphins, lots of fishing, and just having fun in general.

One of our favourite walks on Great Barrier Island is the track to Kauri Falls, a very picturesque spot.  Dave and Margaret had never been to Whangaparapara Harbour so we enjoyed introducing them to this spot.
Tony and Carol told us that there had been orca whales in the bay; something that we had never seen before.  We heard splashing one afternoon and we looked out and saw three orcas playing near the boat.  Paul was on his way out fishing and he jumped in the dinghy and followed them out of the harbour.  At one point he saw one of the orcas spinning around and around and leap out of the water and throw up a large brown... could it have been a seal???... That’s what it looked like to Paul but he had never seen nor heard of seals in Whangaparapara.  We later heard from Tony and Carol that they had also seen a seal on the shore near their boat recently.

It’s December 19 and we are preparing for Christmas.  We hope to join Tony, Carol, and Des and a few of the other residents in this harbour for the annual Christmas on the Green (Christmas lunch in the Department of Conservation park land) on the 25th.  Unfortunately, Cyclone Evan is heading New Zealand’s way.  Right now, it has just finished doing devastation in Fiji and is heading south.  It is forecast to be less intense by the time it hits NZ and meets up with cooler air but we may have to move our celebration indoors.  Never mind, we’ll have a good time!

We wish all of you a safe, healthy, and happy Christmas season from the South Pacific.  May you appreciate every moment you spend with your loved ones!


    Journal 2011