Sailing from Fiji to Opua on Te Whio

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At 05:00 on Friday 17 November Te Whio docked at Opua in the Bay of Islands to complete the last leg of its passage from Trinidad in the Caribbean to New Zealand via the Panama Canal and the Pacific Islands.  The passage from Fiji had taken 7 ½ days.

Craig Ryburn and Morgan Sissons who have a long association with RPNYC and sail with Phil Bishop on Helter Skelter bought the 43ft Benetau Oceanis they renamed Te Whio in Trinidad at the start of 2017.  They travelled to Trinidad early this year to prepare and provision the boat before setting off on their journey to NZ in February.  By the time Terry Steven and I joined them in Fiji in early November they had chalked up 9300 nautical miles and overcome a few challenges along the way, including a badly damaged rudder.  But that episode and others are best kept for a full report from Craig and Morgan on their adventures.

Terry and I joined Te Whio in Fiji at the Vuda marina where Craig and Morgan were preparing Te Whio for the final leg of the passage to NZ.  While November is the official start of the cyclone season, we had until December until the risk really increased and insurance exclusions kicked in but we were keen to get away and back to NZ shores in good time.  Craig was looking at the forecasts and getting advice from Bob McDavitt to pick the right weather window.  Initially we planned to get away on Monday 6 November but decided to delay due to the likelihood we would coincide with a low-pressure system passing slowly across northern NZ.  This wasn’t all bad news as we spent several nights in the Mamanuca islands off the coast to pass the time.  We finally got away on Thursday 9 November in moderate conditions.

This was my first experience of ocean passaging, so I didn’t really know what to expect and I was both excited and felt trepidation in equal parts.  One thing I didn’t apprehend is once we cleared the reef and were on port tack we would stay largely on the same tack until we dropped the mainsail as we approached Opua.  For most of the passage the wind was on the beam or forward of the beam which made for a comfortable ride.  When we had a day with the wind on the nose it was hard work bashing into the oncoming sea.  A benefit of not racing is when the wind dropped which it did for a day and a half we fired up the engine.  Two days out from Fiji after sunset we struck a dramatic thunderstorm, we put all the electronics in the oven and enjoyed the light show.

Craig had an iridium phone and he was able to pull down regular updated forecasts.  A few days into the passage the forecast started to show a low developing to the north and travelling down behind us.  Based on the forecast it looked like we should make Opua before the low arrived but we became very focused on making the best progress we could. Several other boats didn’t make it before the low, with 2 rescues happening a few days after our arrival and several other boats limping in to Opua.

After a few days on passage, we settled in to a routine of being on watch, sleeping and cooking and eating.  The days and nights blurred and then we were within a day of making landfall.  The coda to our passage was as we were motoring up the channel to Opua there was a loud bang, the boat shuddered, the auto-helm disengaged and the steering didn’t respond. This brought back memories for Craig of the previous rudder failure, but given the light conditions this was unlikely.  After we stopped the boat everything quickly rectified itself.  The likelihood is something had gone through the prop and once it cleared the prop and rudder it was okay.

Once we’d tied up at the quarantine wharf at Opua we broke out the rum for an obligatory celebratory drink (or two) as the dawn broke.

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