And Now, The Real Story

So, we left you last night, exhausted but happy to be tied up at the Q-Dock for the night awaiting customs, immigration and bio-security in the morning. Even though they work on Sunday checking boats in, we didn’t get here until almost 8 PM – they go home at 5PM on Sunday.

But, that was OK, since there were other boats we knew who also got in and we had an impromptu celebration on the dock. Beer and chips abounded. Then back on our boats to eat what food we could since bio-security would be taking all of the fresh goods from Fiji away the next morning. New Zealand is very serious about not letting any food-borne pests into this pristine island nation.

For our part, we made a four egg scramble with Italian sausage, tomato and cheese and washed it down with a nice bottle of Kiwi sparkling wine (i.e. Champagne) that we bought in Fiji to toast the completion of the voyage. It’s not every day you sail 1200 miles.

So, what about our last 24 hours?? You know we ran out of fuel, but that’s not the whole story.

I’m sitting in the cockpit at 0500 listening to the engine strain as we’re slamming into waves trying to keep some semblance of our course. Without the engine, we would have been 30 degrees further south and would have missed New Zealand. In a perfect world, we could have waited for a wind change and then tacked onto a better course. But…this would likely have taken another couple days and recall we were racing some storms. Anyway, about 0515 I’m thinking, hmmm, the engine has really been straining, maybe I had better recheck the time we’ve been running and do another fuel calculation. I checked the hours on the tach, got out our log book to see the hours at which we last filled the tank (70 gallons) and did the calculation. We’ve run 73 hours…rrrr, rrrr, thunk. Right as I saw the hours on the calculator the engine quit. As they say, the silence was deafening. Oh, Crap!

I just wrote the "3" and silence...

The good news at this point is that we always keep 10 gallons of fuel in two jerry cans tied on the deck. The bad news is that we are 50 miles from Opua and still have 10 hours of motoring since the wind is still smack on the nose. The other bad news is that the fuel lines are now full of air, not fuel. I won’t bore everyone with details of our fuel system, but it’s not easy to get fuel to go BACK into the lines once they are empty. Anyway, I looked at the Raycor filter and while it wasn’t that dirty, the fuel in the housing was filthy. Evidence that the last “slurp” was pure muck, but that it likely didn’t make it into the engine. So, change the filter and…now what? I knew I had to “bleed the air” out of the lines. I hadn’t done this before, so technically, we were exploring new territory. Out comes the engine manual. OK, there’s a bleed screw on top of the fuel filter. Unscrew that, blah, blah, pump the fuel lift pump until you have a blister on your finger, then gingerly cross said finger and turn the starter key. Started immediately. Whew! Now we just need to get closer to the coast.

At this point I did some more calculations. At the fuel burn we had been experiencing we didn’t have enough fuel from the jerry cans to make it in. BUT if we could get to smoother water and run at a lower fuel consumption (no slamming into big waves) we might just have enough. We set a new course that put us into the northern cape and the plan was to then motor sail south along the coast in the hope that the water would be smoother closer to shore. Turns out that worked. It took another 13 hours for us to get into Opua (at about 2000 hours). At our “passage” fuel consumption we should have run out, but since we were able to get into smoother water and even shut down the engine for a few hours and sail the final leg down the bay into Opua, we stretched what we had left – hoping we would not run out as we approached the Q Dock. I think there’s about one gallon the diesel left in the tank (Orcinius John, you should be proud of us for finishing with nothing left!) and we’re not moving Charisma at this point until we dump another jerry can into the tank in the fear that even running the engine just to get to the fuel dock we may run out.

So, that’s our adventure for the last 24 hours. We were in good company with about a dozen other boats who were doing exactly the same thing. One of our other friends also ran out of fuel and didn’t have any cans on deck and were fortunate to make contact with a boat who gave them a couple cans while they were still 30 miles out. Everyone agreed it was a tough ending to what started as a fairly nice trip.

All in all though this was our fastest passage at 8 days, 10 hours – of course due to running the engine. Previous trips with almost zero engine use went 10, 12 and 13 days. Other than really unfavorable wind angles, there weren’t any “scary” winds like we’ve seen in the past and only a little rain and lightning. The bottom line for everyone we’ve talked to was– “not a bad trip, but not a great trip”.

OK, we’ll take that and move on. Next up: Some car touring the north island above Opua (Keri Keri, Whangaroa and beyond), maybe a boat cruise up into the fjord-like passage inside Whangaroa Bay and then take some days to cruise south down the east coast to Whangarei where we’ll leave Charisma for a couple months as we journey home for the holidays to see family and friends. Stay tuned, we’ll have pictures up when we get a good internet connection and more stories between here and Whangarei.

Arrival Opua!

Well almost…we are in the channel and headed for the Q dock…sailing in because we ran out of fuel. Details to follow when we have had some champagne and sleep…at the Q Dock, of course.


Land Ho!

Getting ready to enter the bay at Opua.

Approaching Q-Dock (quarantine) where we spent the night waiting to pass customs in the morning.

The very nice and professional customs and immigration officials.


Heading For The Barn

Position: 33 degrees, 29 minutes south; 173 degrees, 30 minutes east

We’re down inside 24 hours (knock on wood, tap, tap). As of 1900 local time, we’re done with dinner and 104 nautical miles outside of the bay that takes us into Opua. Another 8 miles or so “up river” and we’re there. If the weather holds (a big “if” around here) we’ll tie up sometime around this time tomorrow at the customs dock where we’ll spend the night “in quarantine” until customs comes and clears us into the country Monday morning. They work on Sunday, but only until about 1700.

We’re still motoring. I took down the main last night as we’re just heading straight into the wind and it was just producing drag, no lift. We’re not even pretending to sail at this point, just want to beat the weather up north – which is now well “above” us- and the front that’s coming in Monday night.

Motoring is not a panacea when you’re driving a 25,000 pound boat with 44 horsepower. Charisma is a sailboat, so the engine is on the small side. If the wind and waves are against you, you still have to sail and we have been very close to that for the last 24 hours. In fact, for a good part of today, we had to head off 30 degrees or so because we were slamming into wind and waves and not moving forward. Tacking with the engine on so to speak. Anyway, we’re now (1900) back on course as the wind has dropped to 10 knots and the waves are down to 0.5 meters. That’s about the maximum we can tolerate, and I hope it holds for the night. It should because tomorrow is supposed to be “light and variable” wind.

Just 24 more hours. Hope the weather holds…

Albatross Sighting!

Position: 31 degrees, 14 minutes south; 173 degrees, 10 minutes east (127 NM day)

It’s always a magical day when you see an albatross majestically soaring across the waves. These birds are almost prehistoric in appearance. They don’t seem a long way from a pterodactyl with their huge wingspan. This one looked to be close to 10 feet, which is almost as wide as Charisma! I think it is the type called the Great Albatross. In any case, he soared right next to us, close enough to clearly see the distinctive bump on the beak and see that he was giving us the old once over. Amazing birds!

Last night we were blessed with a perfect moon. It was just beautiful as it rose above the clouds just after sunset. All night it moved gracefully in and out among the clouds, playfully watching over us. One moment nothing more than a “glow” behind some dark clouds, then it suddenly reveals itself blinding us with its brilliance.

The last few days have been nice sailing if a little frustrating not being able to go in the direction we need/want to go in. Last night at 0330 that ended as the wind died to the point we needed to turn on the noise maker. I don’t like to use the engine, but given the issues with the weather, promised if our boat speed dropped below 5 knots, we’d make the move. Actually I cheated a bit and waited until we were in the 3’s when it was clear the wind was going away. We’re racing the weather on this trip, so on came the engine. No waiting around.

It’s not just the wind either. In this neck of the woods (according to the Pilot Chart) there’s actually a current running east to west across our course that will affect us until we’re below almost 32 south, so in the light air this current was also conspiring to push us further west than we need to go. Not a big deal when there’s enough wind and time, but we’re running out of both as we’re racing the weather systems.

OK, I know that at least of few of you are anxiously awaiting a report on Ann’s lime seed spitting progress. She is working furiously at developing her technique. It is indeed getting better, but sadly far too many seeds are ending up in the scuppers as her attempts to launch said projectiles over the solar panels have been falling short. One seed did just make it to the top of the solar panel and lost its momentum and is now unceremoniously sitting on the panel.

So close, yet still so far.

Day Six

Position: 29 degrees, 05 minutes south; 173 degrees, 33 minutes east (119 NM today)

It turned cold last night and is turning seriously cold tonight as the south winds are bring arctic air this way. Last night’s attire included breaking out the thermal underwear, jackets, long pants, neck gaiters and wool caps. Tonight will be that and more. The wool blanket was deployed as well. Can gloves be far behind?

Today has been a little frustrating from a sailing point of view. We have a strong south wind, which is nice since we can sail instead of motor, but it forces us further west than we want to go. We’re heading about 210 degrees magnetic, but our course direct Opua is 166 degrees magnetic. We’re just at that place where we can’t tack over to the other direction because we would be going away from Opua, but this direction takes us west. Arghhh! Hopefully the grib I pulled last night is right in that it shows the wind changing from south up to east over the next couple days which will allow us to angle in. We’ll see. The weather is very unsettled so I don’t really trust the gribs, but they are agreeing with what we hear on the radio, so cross fingers.

One especially fun part of this trip has been the serendipitous buddy boating with Don and Deb on Buena Vista. Turned out we left about the same time and have actually been within VHF radio range almost the whole way (that would be about 10-12 miles since our VHF is weak). We set up a schedule and chat three or four times a day. A couple days ago we crossed close enough to take pictures of each other’s boat.

And I can’t finish this until I mention John and Lisa’s prepared food again. We had John’s spaghetti sauce last night. Absolutely the best there is and we were loving it. We ate the second and last of Lisa’s curried chicken in coconut milk this evening. Oh, we are going to miss that now that it’s gone. Spectacular! Thanks guys, the conditions on this trip have made cooking really difficult, but having these vacuum-packed meals has been a life saver.

And…I can’t sign off tonight without saying what a gorgeous (full) moonrise we are seeing right now. Most of these nights, we have had clouds, so now that it’s full, it’s nice to see a brilliant white moon rising above the sea throwing it’s powerful searchlight our way over the water. Stunning and dramatic.

Motor Sailing

Position: 27 degrees, 38 minutes south; 175 degrees, 06 minutes east (135 NM day)

The distance of 135 miles we covered today included a “detour” left 90 degree turn for 12 miles as well. More on that below.

We’ve been motor sailing since 2000 last evening (it’s now 0300). Yep, we’re finally having to use the engine. The wind has dropped to nothing and there are two weather systems that we need to deal with. One is south of us, the other to the north.

The one to the south is going to bring headwinds making it impossible to go directly to Opua. We’ll have to tack 50 or 60 degrees to one side, then the same to the other. Why up to 60 degrees you ask? Most sailboats can easily tack 45 degrees each side of the wind. So can Charisma in calm water. But with 6-9 foot swells and two foot wind chop on top of that, it’s impossible to sail so “close” to the wind. The waves just stop Charisma dead in her tracks. So we have to bear away an extra 15 degrees to gain the power we need to punch through the waves. Anyway, the further south we go now under power – direct to our destination, the less tacking back and forth later.

The system to the north of us is further away, but more concerning if we dawdle. There’s a strong chance of a tropical depression forming south of Fiji by Saturday/Sunday. This will bring storm level winds and seas – well north of us, but the influence will still be felt almost all the way to NZ. Gale force winds down to 30 degrees south and strong winds and rain even further. We’d like to put as much distance between us and it as we can.

So, motor it is. Sigh. To add to the indignity, we’re not even getting our full speed due to an adverse current in this area. We’re showing up to one knot slower due to current.

Oh, was I just complaining about the current? Neptune must have heard. Now I see lightning. We’re getting near that frontal system I guess. Oh, now it’s started raining. Time to suck it up and break out the foul weather gear.

That’s one thing about distance voyaging. You take what you get. You can’t just close the door and decide to go back to sleep because it looks like a tough day. You have to deal with whatever.

Happy Birthday Christine


It’s my older daughter’s 27th birthday today. Have a great one, Christine!

Position: 25 degrees, 28 minutes south; 175 degrees, 11 minutes east (145 NM day)

It’s just after dinner and the wind has dropped waaayy down. Our boat speed is down to 4.5 knots. We are likely to have to start motor sailing tonight. Bummer – but this trip is about “delivering” Charisma south, not just cruising. This time of year you just want to avoid the storms and if you run out of wind, you motor. In fact, there’s a predicted topical depression south of Fiji this coming Sunday which will bring gales down as far as 30 degrees south, so that gives us some extra incentive to get tied up at the dock in NZ sooner than later.

Tonight’s dinner was courtesy of John and Lisa on Orcinius. They prepared us some wonderful vacuum packed dinners. All we need to do is heat and add rice. Which I did. Tonight we had Lisa’s famous curry chicken in coconut milk. I can’t tell you how delicious it tasted! Tomorrow we’re going to open John’s equally famous spaghetti meat sauce. I’m told it’s a bit spicy, so good we saved it until we have our sea legs. John and Lisa were kind enough to make us four of these meals and I can tell you they are soooo appreciated! Wow!

So onto the news: The aches and pains of a voyage are now setting in. Aches from using muscles we haven’t used for stuff like hanging on for dear life. Pain from the “boat bites” you inevitably get when Charisma is going up and down nine foot waves while being thrown from side to side and you’re trying to do normal stuff like put your clothes on or go to the toilet. Slam, bam, wham! You get bumps and bruises. Oh well.

I had a great sleep last night. I slept my whole watch. No calls for sail changes or anything. Nice five hour sleep. Ann had a great watch in the meantime. Nice smooth sailing breeze, moderate waves, dry, and a bright moon with few clouds. We are presently happy campers although that is likely to soon change as we’re due to sail through a “front” in the next day, which means clouds, rain, etc.

I pulled a revised grib last night and it looks like the weather is changing. We’re going to have to figure out how to thread our way through headwinds that are coming our way over the next half of the trip. Stay tuned for progress on that.

Lime seed spitting update. I’m still working on Ann’s technique. I’ve explained Bernoulli’s theory and the Venturi effect, but I don’t think it’s sinking in. I’m thinking it’s time to move on from pure academic theory to motivational training. Ann: “I just want to spit the damn lime seed as far as you do!” Me: “OK, pretend you are at a Fijian feast and they just fed you a live hermit crab!” Ann: “PPPFFTTBLT” Me: “OK, we’re making some progress here, you just launched one over the lower lifeline. Tomorrow we’ll working on breathing technique”.

So, here we are on one of the great ocean passages of the world and our focus? Spitting lime seeds for distance (or in someone’s case, just getting them over the side). This practice is good though because you know what? It means we get to drink Charismas!

Day Two

Position: 20 degrees, 52 minutes south; 175 degrees, 55 minutes east

We made about 135 nautical miles today. It continued blustery with short tall waves so it was wet and we stayed reefed down to the third reef with just the stays’l most of the day. Finally in the afternoon it eased a little bit and we put the jib back out, but now (dinner) have it furled back in as the pots were tipping over on the stove and the Charismas were in danger of spilling. Maybe we’ll put it back out when we’re done.

The excitement today was trying to teach Ann how to spit lime seeds.. Yes, those irritating little things that end up in our Charismas when we squeeze limes into them. Best way to take care of that is to spit ’em over the solar panels into the deep blue. We’re still working on Ann’s technique. So far she can’t get them beyond the cockpit seats. We’ll keep you all apprised of this important development.

Other than that, it’s been a pretty gray day. Lots of wind – which is nice to help make progress south – but there’s not much sun. We’re expecting the same for at least another day. At least we have Buena Vista who is just about ten miles away so we talk a couple times a day on the radio. Little things keep us entertained out here.

We Will Call It Boisterous

Position: 18 degrees 42 minutes south, 176 degrees 51 minutes east

We left the calm, peaceful anchorage of Momi at 0900. We are currently averaging about 6 kts with a triple-reefed main and the stays’l. We were making 7 -8 kts before the third reef went in but it feels like the winds are increasing a bit. The wind in the lulls is about 25 kts but gusts into the low 30’s. Before the third reef we were burying the rail pretty often. Now it only happens every once in a while. We have two meter seas. Everything is from ESE.

So while it’s not the quiet, idyllic cove, it is not horrible either. We think is should calm down in a day or two. Short but sweet and we are getting’ her done!

Checked Out of Fiji (by Ann)

We are currently anchored in Momi Bay for a quick passage out of the reef around Viti Levu and the beginning of our trip to New Zealand. Two other boats that we know checked out right in front of us but did not stop for the night in Momi Bay. We decided we wanted to start fresh. There is a lot of stress that goes with moving in and out of docks to check out. Do you have the right paperwork? Is the Customs Dock clear? Where is the wind coming from? Turning around in tight locations. Lots to be stressed about.

At least our voyage checklist is complete!

Add to this stress add the heartbreak of leaving our best cruising friends,
Orcinius, John and Lisa. Rumor had it that Lisa cried as she woke up. I only cried when I allowed myself to think about the pending separation which was from my first opening thoughts of the day. We did not think we would cross paths with Orcinius as we waved good-bye to them in early June but we were blessed with a fabulous month-plus as we left Fulanga. We have had a blast with John and Lisa. So lucky we are.

And then add to that the fact that Lisa made a double batch of her wonderful chicken curry and John made a double batch of his famous spaghetti sauce to stock our freezer and you might understand how wonderful our friendship has been. Oh, and did I tell you that as we tearfully pulled away Lisa remembered the chocolate chip cookies she made for us? Yep, two cookies per day for the whole trip plus a few to cheat with. Oops, she forgot to give them to us on the dock. So after we pulled away Bob pulled one of his famous “Spin Charisma on a dime moves” and got us close enough to a dock for John to toss the cookies aboard. And we just had one and they are fabulous!

So tomorrow morning, after a restful night’s sleep and relaxing breakfast we head to New Zealand again. While we can’t wait to get there we first must pay the piper and make the crossing. Please offer prayers, cross fingers and a send good vibes our way. We will be out of Internet touch other than posting the blog for the next ten or eleven days.

See you in New Zealand! Happy Halloween!