We have been in Opua for 5 days now, after aborting our initial effort to sail to Fiji. We have been keeping tabs on our friends Risho Maru and Vera – via e-mail and SSB radio reports – to track their progress – as they head towards New Caledonia and Fiji respectively. Risho Maru left here a few days before we did in what was expected to be a “perfect weather window”, but it apparently was nothing perfect at all – they had a few days of too little wind ( and their boat carries a tiny engine and very little fuel, so they have to try to sail no matter how slow it is) – followed by 4 days of very high winds coming right on the nose – making for a wet and difficult sail up to New Caledonia. They had to heave to one night – meaning they turn their jib so that it is actually facing the wrong way into the wind (backwind), but leave their mainsail in the correct position – and lash the wheel in one direction. By doing this you prevent forward movement of the boat by balancing rudder and sail (although in the ocean of course you never stay in one postion). It is what you have to do when the wind is too strong (in the wrong direction) to allow you to follow your course . We have never done it, but probably will at some point. It is a nice manoeuver to do to allow you to get some rest and stop smashing through the rough seas. They have reached New Caledonia and we are very glad to hear it.
Our friends on Vera are having an even more difficult experience. Just a day after we separated at sea with us turning back to New Zealand, and they deciding to continue on to Fiji, their autopilot failed. The autopilot is one of the most important “comfort” features on modern boats – it allows you to set and follow a course without having to hand-steer the boat. This lets you basically sit back and rest and watch and listen while you sail, always watching for changes in wind direction, but allowing you to make adjustments in boat direction by just pushing a button occasionally. You don’t have to handle the steering wheel and continually watch the compass which can be tiring after a few hours- and extremely exhausting after a few days. It is especially difficult when it is dark – and it is dark from 6:00 P.M through 6:30 a.m here. Without their autopilot Michael and Britta have to take turns steering which means that no-one can really sleep more than a couple of hours at a time. They can not fix the autopilot while at sea because they are missing the spare parts for it. We will be bringing them the parts they need – but of course we can do nothing until we meet up with them in Fiji. After 4 days of hand-steering through very rough seas and lots of rain and wind they just arrived at Minerva Reef – a famous spot just a few hundred miles from Fiji – that has a shallow lagoon protected from the open ocean by just a coral reef.
Sailers sometimes stop there for a few days, dropping their anchors and resting. For the Veras it must be an incredible relief to be able to drop their anchor and close their eyes and have a good long sleep without worrying about steering the boat. They will have another 2 to 3 day sail to arrive in Fiji.
So, after all that, we have been very contented to be here at the nice dock in Opua arranging the boat as best as we can in order to have a comfortable passage. We will be better prepared both mentally and physically when we set out again – possibly as early as this week-end.