A Wild Journey Home – 2017

Weather windows out of Fiji for New Zealand are always treated with circumspect. Within the ten day passage, we can be guaranteed a front which won’t be in the predictions before we leave Fiji as the predictions are really only good for 3-7 days. So, it’s always a risk when making a run towards Aotearoa. We weren’t expecting the wild seas as we left Fiji and we were taking a pounding. Thomas noticed that one of the front shrouds was swinging wildly in the wind and waves and was horrified to see that the chain plate had snapped at deck level. For those non-sailing readers, the chain plate is what’s holding the shroud to the boat and the shroud is what’s holding the mast up. It’s kind of important.

Our journey from Fiji to New Zealand took a detour to New Caledonia.

Before leaving Fiji, we decided that we would invite a young German lass who was keen to crew to New Zealand. Our friends off another yacht had met her in Bunnings in Darwin changing their gas bottles. Our friends mentioned that we might take someone. After years of not having any crew, other than my brother, we decided it might be good to get those extra hours sleep each night. So we were joined by Toni, a very experienced young sailor, eager to engage with everything about cruising life. She was a joy. After the chain plate broke, Thomas decided that we had better head to New Caledonia for repairs. We had enough fuel to get there, but not New Zealand.

Toni smiling before we left Vuda Marina. Pizza night with the crew off Family Circus.

Things happen in threes and on this occasion, we weren’t to escape that omen. About 5 hours out of Noumea, I asked Thomas to change the water tanks over because we had run out of water. Within half an hour, the other tank was empty too. Over the noise of the engine, we were unable to hear the water pressure pump continually working. A hose had split and it was pumping the water into the bilge!! Thank goodness we were nearly in port.

Toni as we left posing with all our beautiful fruit.

As we arrived in the marina, we turned the autopilot off and needed to manoeuvre in close quarters, and it was only then that we discovered that the steering was only allowing us to move ten degrees in either direction. A few French words were spoken and the captain regained his demeanour to safely park the boat in a double berth. It was only 5am, so we hadn’t been allocated anywhere to stay yet, but we weren’t going to leave there in a hurry. We were fortunate enough that the other boat that usually had that spot was out for a week or so.

Within an hour, we had a dinner invitation with our good friend Pete off Haveachat and the flow of well wishes continued into the morning until we’d been cleared through customs, as friends from all over called into the dock. (Unfortunately, we couldn’t eat through all our fruit from Fiji and we lost some). Toni had never considered the social aspect of the cruising lifestyle. She’d imagined the engagement with local people and their customs, but had never realised the loyalty of our cruising family. It excited her even more about the prospect of sailing around the world.

Toni and I headed off to explore parts of New Caledonia.

Several failed attempts at finding tradesmen who could fix the damage in time, led us to contemplate alternative action. Thomas needed to be back in New Zealand by a given date, due to travel restrictions on his residency application. We were under pressure. We considered leaving the boat and flying back to New Zealand. After receiving expert advice from New Zealand riggers and hard-core old salties, we decided to sail without the repairs. We jury-rigged the shroud onto the boat and left port. We’d offered to fly Toni so she wouldn’t need to take the risks, but she was insistent on staying with us, explaining that she was learning so much about how to deal with all these crises. Thomas had taken the water pump out of the system for the time being and we had fresh water via the foot pump in the galley only. We just put bottles of water in the bathrooms. The steering had been quickly fixed. So off we went, but not before all three of us came up with the idea of putting a huge strap around the hull holding the shroud down and had encouraged Thomas to purchase such a device. But, we didn’t put it on at first. Extra diesel was loaded in second-hand jerrycans and we set off.

Three days into the passage, as we were sailing in a gentle breeze, I noticed that the shroud was loose again. Out came the strap. Thomas and I took it to the front of the boat and we walked it back along each of the sides. Fastened it onto the shroud and once tightly secured, we were set. We sailed on. It wasn’t much time later when nature called and I went to use the loo. We were down to one functioning loo so I wasn’t happy when the contents of the head wouldn’t budge. I called for the skipper. Not one of the favourite pass-times of skippers, I might add, and explained the situation. Ready to lose his cool, I remembered the strap! We’d covered the through-hull that pumped out the waste. Oh dear. It was quite calm outside so the Captain ordered me in to unblock the obstruction. “Your poop, your job,” and I couldn’t really argue that. (no photos required here).

After the deed was done, we all had a swim in the ocean. It was beautiful and bright blue. We were a bit overdue for a dip. Refreshed and clean, we went on. The remainder of the journey was fraught with complications as the front moved through. Winds were higher than predicted and were constantly changing. I found that if I adjusted the course slightly, I didn’t need to keep trimming the sails. It was back and forth and ended up being the right action over the long run. Trimming the sails at night disturbed the sleepers because the winches are loud. The seas were wild and Thomas was concerned for the safety of the mast. We were trying to sail conservatively and we’d got weather routing off Met Bob and he’d put us along way west, so the journey took nearly 10 days when it should only have taken 7 or 8. But, we were safe and the boat didn’t undergo anymore damage.

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