Unfortunately, what he found wasn’t great. During the Southern Hemisphere Fall, the weather between French Polynesia and Tonga/Fiji can be boisterous. This is because winter is beginning in the Southern Ocean, and those systems make themselves felt as far north as Samoa. This pattern is similar to September in the Northeastern US or the Pacific Northwest, as the winter patterns get established. So, it was bumpy out there and didn’t look like it was getting any better.
According to James and Jennifer on the Nordhavn 52, Dirona, “The waters between French Polynesia and Tonga are known as “”The Dangerous Middle Ground”” because the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) is particularly active here. The SPCZ is where the equatorial easterly winds and the southeast trade winds converge, producing sudden, intense squalls with winds reaching 30 to 40 knots.” That name definitely got our attention, and like Dirona, we would be chugging right across the middle of it.
At this point, Ron got our weather router, OMNI Bob, involved. Bob’s take was similar to Ron’s, it’s bumpy out there. But he has the advantage of knowing the patterns better and said “it’s going to get worse as June advances, not better”. This, while not really what we wanted to hear, helped us sort through the choices we faced, namely go now, or wait until September, if we wanted better weather.
We wanted to spend some time at home over the summer and also reach Australia this season, which meant we needed to get Duet further west in June. We had Sean aboard, which gives us more flexibility in difficult weather, so we figured we would get as far as we could with him and then see what to do next. This is a classic example of why we don’t like schedules when we are cruising. That said, we live with them, as we have to make some accommodations for our part time boating lifestyle.
The general plan was to get as far as American Samoa, at a minimum, with Sean. How he would get home from there was a bit of a puzzle, but Nancy, as our logistics maven, figured she could solve it if necessary. American Samoa was about 600 miles or 4 to 5 days closer than Fiji, and Ron and Nancy could do the rest of the trip from there without Sean, if necessary. A course to American Samoa also put us on a more northerly track and kept us out of the worst of the wind and wave.
Prior to our departure, however, a few things needed to get done. First, of course, was installing the storm plates, which always go on her port side before we make a long ocean voyage. We have gotten pretty good at putting these on while on the anchor, as that means we can keep the port windows open until the last minute.
Once a departure date was set, we checked out of French Polynesia, which was a bit of kerfuffle, and took longer than we had planned. It turned out that, like the Hotel California, you can check out of Bora Bora but you can never leave. Duet needed a Port Clearance, which tells the next country she arrives in that she left the last one without any outstanding debts or warrants. Her crew needs their passports stamped, to show that they too left in good standing. The trick is that Papeete checks out Duet, while Bora Bora checks out the crew. Fortunately, although this isn’t clear anywhere, you don’t have to complete all this in 24 hours, but you do have to leave within 24 hours after it is done.
We tried to check out twice, first unsuccessfully with Papeete (when we sent Duet’s paperwork directly to them), then successfully with Bora Bora (who is supposed to send Duet’s paperwork to Papeete), followed by Papeete (again), followed by Bora Bora (again, to stamp our passports). The gendarmes in Bora Bora were extremely helpful and we should have consulted them first, as they seemed to be the only folks who actually knew how the process worked.
Eventually we had the right paperwork and were able to fuel duty free one last time. The dock in Bora Bora is quite small, Nancy paced it off and guessed it was about 25 feet long. It was definitely the smallest dock we had ever tied Duet to, never mind fueled on. Ron did a masterly job of parallel parking in a narrow space surrounded by moorings. Once we got there, various boats came and went, one even tied off across Duet’s stern to take on fuel, which was interesting, but we managed to load the fuel we needed.
Once we got off the dock, Sean did some driving, while Ron helped Nancy recover fenders, lines, etc., which needed to be carefully stowed for the journey. Nancy has many strengths, but knot tying is not one of them, and we didn’t want anything going airborne while we were underway.
Finally we were off, at 4PM instead of 8AM, but at least it was the same day! Everyone was tired, which was good, as it meant they slept sooner than usual on an overnight trip. The weather the first couple of days was quite benign. Nancy and Ron slowly adjusted, while Sean went through his usual 24-36 hours of feeling somewhat out of sorts. He is then fine, while Nancy and Ron, even though they feel better, are still on medication 24/7 and feel a bit under the weather. Our sea sickness is an ongoing issue for us on ocean passages. It makes the journey, particularly the first 3 days or so, much less enjoyable. Unfortunately, no matter how many ocean miles we do, we do not seem able to shake it. We have learned to tolerate it, but we don’t like it, that’s for sure.
Duet chugged along, at a relatively slow speed to conserve fuel in case the weather improved and we were able to continue on to Fiji. If we were to head to Fiji it would be about 1,800 nautical miles, so our RPM was set to deliver in excess of 1.75 nautical miles per gallon (NMPG) to ensure that we had enough fuel to get there. Filling the fuel bladder gave us an extra 300 gallons, which not only let us increase our speed, but also run the generator 24/7 for air conditioning.
Air conditioning makes it much easier to sleep, especially in the master stateroom, which is right next to the engine room. Duet’s engine room runs remarkably cool in the tropics, but it is still at about 105F with the main and generator running and hot fuel in the big tanks. The main engine burns about 25% of the fuel it draws, so 75% goes through the engine, which is around 185F, and back to the tank from whence it came. This causes the fuel in the tanks to heat up over time.
Sean didn’t run his A/C in his stateroom, and, like Nancy, wore a hoody through much of the trip. He and Nancy both like warm environments, whereas Ron, who is in charge, likes the cold. Ron also wants the generator to run fully loaded, so he turns all the A/C way down. Regardless, it was much more comfortable than the trip from Mexico.
After about 3 days of relatively comfortable cruising, the winds, as predicted by OMNI Bob, picked up, as did the seas. Throughout most of this trip, we saw winds in the mid teens to mid 20’s and seas in the 6-10 foot range on a relatively long period, most of the time. Big waves aren’t, in themselves, uncomfortable, the key is how far apart they are (called the “period”) and where they are coming from vis-a-vis which way the boat is going. Also, if the prevailing swell and the waves generated by the wind are from different directions, it can get bumpy.
Wave height is hard to judge at sea, so we don’t try, we just assume Bob is right, so the seas we saw were 6-10 feet, maybe a bit more. The conditions on this trip weren’t that different than the rougher days on the trip from Mexico, except that the wind and seas were more on Duet’s beam. On the trip from Mexico all the seas, including the big ones, were from astern, which is more comfortable. The other difference was we didn’t have many really calm days, whereas on the Mexico run we had more calm days than rough ones. We also had some times where the swell and the wind wave were from different points of the compass, which tends to roll her around a bit.
At any time you may see a wave up to twice the so called significant wave height, which in our case was 6-10 feet. Fortunately we didn’t, as far as we know, see anything in the 20 foot range. We did have some pretty good rolls, mostly at night, which is when this always happens. There was no question that Duet’s motion was more pronounced on this trip, even though the stabilizers were working hard, whereas on the Mexico leg the stabilizers were off. When things were really cranking, it took two people to get dinner out of the microwave, one to hold the door with one hand and hold on with the other, and one to grab the dinner, before it slid out onto the floor, and hold on. We used rubber and silicone matting everywhere, which helped keep things anchored.
We also had cabinets open that have never opened before. This time though, we had stowed all the contents of the galley that don’t live in a cabinet, namely the coffepot, the salt and pepper shakers, etc., which did reduce the number of flying objects. Actually, it wasn’t too bad, the worst was probably when the cabinet under the sink let go, despite being locked, and distributed it’s contents all over the galley floor. Fortunately, nothing broke, although Nancy was none too thrilled, as she truly hates stuff flying around. As part of the learning experiences from this trip, we will be adding about half a dozen airplane latches to various cabinets and drawers.
During the roughest weather, the fuel bladder, which weighs 2,400 pounds when full, started moving to starboard. This made sense as the seas were hitting Duet’s port side, so she was rolling hard to starboard pretty frequently. Unfortunately, it also put an unacceptable strain on the bladder’s fuel fill neck, where it’s tie downs connect. We were keeping a close eye on the bladder just in case, and caught the move pretty quickly on the exterior camera. Naturally, this happened just before dark, and the seas were considerable.
Ron decided to turn Duet’s stern to the majority of the weather, which is her calmest point of sail, so we could pump the bladder out before it moved anymore and/or the fuel fill broke. We also slowed her down as much as possible, to reduce the miles we traveled in the wrong direction while the pump out was going on. Ron wasn’t sure all the fuel would fit into the integral tanks, but fortunately it did. Emptying the bladder took until just after 1AM and Ron remained awake to supervise it. Nancy and Sean reorganized their watches that night so Ron could get a little extra sleep the next morning.
The day after the fuel bladder event, the big dinghy shifted a bit on it’s mounts, which has not happened before. Ron and Sean tightened up it’s tie downs, and that was that. This happened in daytime, so it was all good.
We had some beautiful rainbows on this trip, as there was a lot of squally weather but not much rain. This is to be expected in this area of the Pacific, as we were crossing the Southern Tropical Convergence Zone (SPCZ).
Ron spent quite a bit time working through and then reworking various courses as we progressed and the weather developed. Bob was spot on with the conditions and provided excellent advice. Nancy, in particular, is much happier if she knows what to expect, than if she is surprised by rough conditions. We also adjusted to the rougher weather, which enabled us to better judge how we would do if we continued on to Fiji, versus stopping in American Samoa.
Below is OMNI Bob’s forecast for June 9. We left Bora Bora on June 7, so this was early in the journey. Our course was mainly West, so anything East is behind us, but South and Southwesterly weather was on the beam or forward of it. The stabilizers do reduce the impact, and they were working pretty hard for a good part of the trip.
To: Captain Ron – M/Y DUET Fm: Ocean Marine Nav Inc. O.M.N.I./USA www.oceanmarinenav.com Tel:302-535-0143 1608UTC 09 JUNE 2018
Thanks for your 12/hr reports. Very helpful.
Weak high pressure ridging to your south will slowly weaken over the next 24hrs as a cold front moves north across 20S160W over the next 8hrs or so, then weakens further as it nears your location. The front is not expected to cross you like a classic cold front, but once it nears/falls apart (or even passes you), increasing S-SE winds will develop around Sun/1200UTC and continue for the next 24-48hrs as high pressure ridging extends north across 20S 165W-160W through Tue/14 0000UTC. Even as the ridge weakens and moves eastward, mostly aft of the beam winds continue through Wed/1200UTC.
A new high ridge develops between 20S-30S/170E-170W through Wed/0600UTC-1200UTC and the high should slowly broad into one broad high center near 28S170W through Sat/1200UTC. The high should remain on the weaker side, which should help keep the winds on the more tenable side to Pago Pago and from Pago Pago toward Fiji through Fri/15-Sat/16 and even during Sun/17
Along the direct route toward Pago Pago (then onward toward Fiji?), at/around 7.0kt, expect:
Sat/09Wind: ESE-E to ENE 08-15kt. Sea: 0.5-1.0mtr Swell: SSW-SW 1.0-1.5mtrs, 11-13sec
Sun/10Wind: Tend to freshen SSE-SE 08-15kts to 12-20kt to as much as 25kt with locally higher gusts possible
Sea: 1.0-1.5mtrs, upto 2.0mtrs possible in the strongest winds. Swell: SW-SSW 1.5-2.0mtrs, Combined sea/swells could reach upto 2.5mtrs late in the day, 11-14sec Highest sea/swells after Sun/1200UTC
Mon/11Wind: SE-ESE 12-20kt, to 25kt/gusty at times. Sea: 1.5-2.0mtrsSwell: SW-S 1.5-2.5mtrs. Combined upto 3.0mtrs at times. 11-14sec.
Tue/12Wind: ESE-ly 15-20kt to as much as 25kts at times. Sea: 1.0-1.5mtrs, as much as 2.0mtrs at times in the strongest winds. Swell: SSW-SSE 1.5-2.5mtrs 10-13sec.
Wed/13Wind: ESE-ly 12-20kts, gusty at times. Sea: 1.0-1.5mtrs, combined sea/swells of 2.5mtrs still possible. Swell: S-SE 1.5-2.0mtr. 11-14sec.
Thur/14-Pago PagoWind: SE-ESE 10-18kt, still the chance of 20-25kts at times during Thur/am-aftn. Sea: 1.0-1.5mtrs, upto 2.0mtrs still possible early in the day. Swell: S-SSE 1.5-2.0mtr. 12-14sec. Combined sea/swells of 2.5mtrs possible
Fri/15-Pago Pago toward FijiWind: SE-ESE 12-18kts, upto 20kts at times with locally higher gusts possible.Sea: 1.0-1.5mtrsSwell: SSE-SE 1.0-2.0mtrs, 12-14sec. Highest sea/swell combinations tending over the more open waters.
Sat/16-Pago Pago toward FijiWind: ESE-SE 10-18kts, as high as 20kts possible at times. Sea: 0.5-1.0mtrs upto 1.5mtrs at times. Swell: SSE-SE 1.0-2.0mtr. 12-14sec. Highest sea/swell combinations tending over the more open waters.
We got within a couple of hundred miles of American Samoa before Ron decided to continue. At that point the remaining journey was about 700 miles or 4-5 days, so we had an idea of what the weather was going to do. There was a low predicted to materialize to the west of Fiji about 5 days out, but Ron was comfortable we could reach Fijian waters before it arrived. Worst case we were expecting some rough seas as we entered the area, but we would be sheltered by the local islands, so we didn’t expect conditions to be much worse than what we already had.
We decided to make landfall in Savusavu, rather than continuing to Port Denarau, as our original planned called for. Not only was Port Denarau further, but it required traveling through several tight passages at night. The charting in Fiji is not the best and Ron felt that this was too risky at the end of a long tiring journey, with the weather worsening.
Our agent in Fiji, Josephine Morris of Yacht Partners Fiji, did a great job sorting out our new arrival port and getting our paperwork to the right place in time. Fiji Customs requires all paperwork to be filed prior to arrival, which wasn’t possible for us using our very slow Iridium Go satellite connection. Jo also got us a marina slip, which was nice given we expected the weather to be windy and Duet was too heavy for the local moorings, so we would have ended up in the anchorage, which is less sheltered.
Upon reaching Fiji, we had traveled 1,766 nautical miles over 11 days at an average of 6.8 knots. Duet delivered 1.7 nautical miles per gallon, and we burned 1,230 gallons of diesel, including fuel for the generator. Interestingly, our speed was very similar to our trip from Cabo San Lucas to Nuka Hiva, but our fuel burn rate was higher and, consequentially, our mileage lower. This was due to higher RPMs to maintain speed in more difficult conditions, and the fact that our stabilizers (which cause drag) were working hard most of the time. Duet performed, as usual, perfectly throughout the journey. We made a video of our passage which provides some sense of the trip.
Sean flew home a few days after we arrived in Savusavu. It was great to have him aboard again, we couldn’t have done this trip without him. Nancy and Ron continued on to Port Denarau, where Duet will spend about 7 weeks dozing while we go home to Lake Tahoe for a bit.
We will include our experiences in Savusavu and the rest of Fiji in the next blog. The photo below was taken on our way to Port Denarau about two weeks after we arrived.
Right now we are home getting ready to return to Fiji, where we will cruise for a few weeks. We’ll then move on to New Caledonia, which is about a 3 day passage. From New Caledonia we will continue to Bundaberg, Australia, arriving sometime in early November, 2018. The trip to Bundaberg is about 5 days. On the Bundaberg leg, Duet will be participating in the Go West Rally, which is composed of about 35 boats going to Australia from New Caledonia or Vanuatu.