We had a busy final few days in Fiji. We caught up with some friends who were heading south to NZ and kept a close eye out for suitable weather window for our trip North.
Cyclone season in the south Pacific officially begins December 1st and ends May 1st. Thanks to the insurance companies putting more and more restrictions in place regarding ‘named storms’ and what dates you can and cannot be in a certain place if you wish to maintain your cover, most cruising yachts start to look at heading away from the islands from mid October. The majority of these yachts head south to either NZ or Australia.
Having spent two summers in New Zealand, we wanted a change of scene. We also wanted to get away from the well worn cruising routes and explore some countries and islands not usually visited by cruising yachts.
We knew of other cruisers who had visited the Marshall Islands the previous year and their tales of being one of only two or three yachts anchored off an uninhabited lagoon, in turquoise waters sold us on heading north. Decision made.
We would head to the Marshall Islands, stopping off at Tuvalu and Kiribati along the way.
We had spent a few weeks looking at weather patterns and suitable weather windows for our trip north. We still had plenty of time left on our Fiji visa, so there was no imminent rush, but we saw a good opportunity and decided to take it.
Winds just north of Fiji were ‘sporty’ but this is expected. We mainly were looking at weather after the first 200nm. This was looking to be light with easterly winds. Close hauled but acceptable.
So with our weather window lined up , we picked up a mooring ball in Denarau marina and did some last minute provisioning before checking out and starting our 580 nm trip Tuvalu.
After clearing out with customs and immigration, we headed north west to exit the reef system north of Natia island – between the Mamanuca and Yasawa island group.
The first 36 hours were productive – we had 20-25 knots of breeze and covered 170nm, mostly under sail. The rest of the trip was a mixed bag.
Once above 14 degrees latitude the weather can be pretty unpredictable. The SPCZ (South Pacific convergence Zone) can be challenging and to say we saw a few squalls enroute is quite the understatement.
Sometimes they would pass us by with no ill effects. Sometimes we would be hit by them. As they approach they tend to increase the winds (up to about 25 knots in our case) normally spinning the direction of the wind around onto the nose. Next comes the lashing rain (free boat wash and shower!) and the seas pick up. Visibility is usually greatly reduced.
Once passed, they suck the wind away with them and leave you becalmed, sometimes for several hours.
One of them took us 8 hours to motor through. That was a fun day…
Squalls through the day are easy to see. You can spot them coming from miles away. So upon spying one approaching, we would reef the sails until it had passed.
At night, we use the radar to track them , however just before sundown we reef the sails regardless. It is something we always do at night and means that the person off-watch isn’t disturbed by helping to do sail changes when they should be sleeping. Sure, we go a bit slower , but we are cruising not racing and we are never in a hurry to get anywhere.
Anyway, apart for the squalls keeping us busy with sail changes, we had a pretty uneventful 5 days at sea , making landfall in Funafuti Lagoon, Tuvalu on Tuesday ?? October.
We put the anchor down in the turquoise water, and raced off to complete the check in formalities before close of business.
We then did the customary ‘cracking of a a cold one, watched the sunset and slept for 12 hours. With the fan on. Did we mention how hot is is here?