Friday, December 11, 2015

A few pictures from Fiji

Everything is going well in New Zealand.  I stayed in Opua for a little over a week and then left for a visit back to some of my favorite anchorages in the Bay of Islands.  What a beautiful area!  I'm enjoying the easy access to such nice walking trails and have started to work on my fitness again.

As is often the case lately, I had a little computer-related project while I was at anchor.  This time, the project was to make a web-site for my Mac app, LuckGrib.  Check it out:

Aside from working on that, now that I have easy access to having parcels delivered again, I have been ordering items online, which have started to arrive.  As a result, I've switched my diet to that food I mentioned briefly earlier - the food that I'm hoping will become my new sole source of nutrition while on passages, and from time to time when I'm not on passage as well.  I started 'eating' some today, and will come back to this in a month or so, after a little experimentation...

Part of all the online deliveries was a mis-delivery, and part of resolving that involved taking some photos, and part of that was that I downloaded my camera's memory card for the first time in months - I found a few pics of Fiji I thought I would pass along.

At anchor, Viani Bay
Vain Bay was quite nice - a pretty place to stop. was around 80' deep with the bottom being a mix of sand and coral.  Dropping your anchor into sand/coral when the depth is 20 or 30 feet deep is completely different than when it is 80'.  At 20 or 30', when the water is clear, you can place your anchor with some accuracy into sand.  At 80 feet I was basically dropping my anchor and hoping for the best.  I ended up staying here twice, as from here Savusavu is a long day sail away which makes it convenient.  Both times, when I left the anchorage there was some negotiation with the coral below about who was going to keep my anchor and chain.  I've learned to hate anchoring this deeply when the bottom is so mixed.

A random sail between anchorages.  Beautiful blue water

The anchorage above is more like it, although it was quite rare, in my very limited experience.  Anchoring in a wide sandy area with clear water with the depth being around 15'.  Sweet!

Enjoying this tropical living!
As part of the same photo download were some photos from my passage from Fiji to NZ, but nothing worth posting.  I also took some video, but again, its very underwhelming.  I've had a hard time capturing the conditions while on passage.  I'll try to work on that next year, when I should have a lot of practice as I plan to sail back to Seattle, roughly 8000nm.

So far the areas I've been to in New Zealand are the same as last year - so no photos worth posting yet.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of  you!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Passage to NZ: Done

35° 18' S  174° 08' E - Opua

As I mentioned in my previous post - I have arrived in New Zealand.  Yay!

A little more sailor talk...

In my last post I had just tacked and was starting to head West, with the expectation that the winds were going to back around to the SE and then East - as the winds make this change Luckness and I would end up pointing from West to SW - toward our destination.  I'll show this progression with a few images, now that I have internet.

The first picture is typical of my conditions for two days after crossing the previous front.  I am keeping Luckness as close to the wind as possible, sailing roughly ESE.  The bottom of the red line is where I want to go, Luckness is located at the top of the line, heading ESE - notice I am sailing away from my destination!  Oops - but don't panic yet...

Nov 18, 7pm.  Wind flowing from SW to NE.
Here is the situation 12 hours later.  Luckness is again at the top right of the line, but now the wind has gone from SW, through S to SE and then to East (sailors say, its backed, i.e. gone the opposite direction a clock moves.)  Now that the wind has backed, we are sailing directly toward Opua, with the wind a little ahead of the beam, making excellent progress.  Luckness and I are in an area of wind which is around 10-12 knots, the skies are blue and its warm - perfect!  However, there is a wall of stronger wind arriving, look down and to the right of the top of the line...

Nov 19, 7am
When you are sailing along, in beautiful conditions - in this case, blue skies and moderate winds - the last thing you want to see on the horizon approaching you is a solid wall of cloud.  I had expected stronger winds to arrive but I hadn't expected a wall of clouds.  As the wall of cloud overtook me the area became very squally, much colder, with rain, changes of wind direction and changes of wind strength.  So much for my easy final leg into Opua - but there was good wind all the way in, it was behind me and I was making fantastic progress - hard to complain about that.

The final image is 12 hours after the previous one.  The forecast winds were low, I was actually experiencing low to high 20s, but with the wind so far behind me it was a sleigh ride in.  The timing worked out perfectly, with my not having to slow down at all to time the entry for daylight.

Nov 19, 7pm.
As I approach the entrance to the Bay of Islands the wind started to fall and by the time I was inside the Bay of Islands the wind was down to below 10 knots.  At this point, with the wind behind me, I was slowing down and as I hadn't motored at all for the previous 10 days I want to exercise my engine a little - so turned it on and motored the final two hours to the customs dock.

When I left Fiji I thought this was going to be a slow trip, possibly with a lot of motoring.  In the end, aside from 5 hours on the second day out of Fiji where I lost steerage and bobbed around for a while until the wind came back, I had good wind the whole way.  "good wind" should be clarified a little - a "good wind" is a wind which allows me to sail towards my destination.  It isn't necessarily a "comfortable" wind.  When leaving Fiji I had a few doubts about the weather window I had chosen - thinking it may end up being slow and tedious, but this turned out to be a fabulous weather window.

Point to point, Savusavu Fiji to Opua is 1140nm.  However sailboats never sail in a straight line.  On the second day out of Fiji my knot meter stopped working, so I wasn't able to track my distance by measuring my progress through the water.  My chart plotter has a GPS log built in and before leaving Fiji I had recorded its value.  According to my GPS, I traveled 1409nm.  This is the first time I had used the GPS log to measure the distance traveled - I traveled almost 25% further than the straight line distance.

I completed the passage in 10 days 19 hours.  This averages out to around 5.5 knots, on average.  Or around 130nm per day, on average.  This is only ok, not fantastic numbers.

I used the engine for an hour after leaving my mooring in Fiji and then for two more after arriving in the Bay of Islands to get to the customs dock - 3 hours is roughly 1.5 gallons.  I'm pretty happy with that.

I arrived at the Opua Customs dock at 7:40am and so I had a little over an hour before the Customs staff would arrive at work and start processing the 11 boats waiting for them.  With all the rain I had before arriving I managed to arrive with clean decks - normally everything is covered in salt water and salt crystals - arriving with a clean boat is something I could get used to.  I was cleared in after having to give up all my fresh vegetables, eggs, dried beans - all the things I expected to lose - and was off the dock by 10:30am.  I motored over to the anchorage area I had been using last year, dropped anchor and shut the boat down.  Yay!

I had plans to get to shore, and brought the dinghy up on desk, unrolled it and got ready to start inflating it when I yawned and I realized that I wasn't going to make it.  I lashed the dinghy down, cleaned the boat up a little, and made myself a large lupper (lunch/supper?).  As I was eating at 3pm I watched a video on my computer and couldn't stop yawning.  By 4pm I closed my eyes "for a brief moment" and woke up at 11pm.  I cleaned up a little, went back to bed and slept for 15 hours all together.  So nice.

Since arriving, the winds have picked up.  It started blowing 20-30 knots and I haven't left the boat yet.  Tomorrow is forecast to be light winds, which continues for a little while.

Its nice to be back in the Bay of Islands, and I'm looking forward to getting out to the local islands again to revisit some of the places I spent time last season.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Passage to NZ: done (short post)

Just a short note to say that I'm in Opua, at anchor, starting to rest comfortably.  I'll fill in a few details in the next day or two - everything went well.  It strange, when I arrive after all my passages I always feel just fine - alert, coherent, able to make decisions.  Shortly after arriving, I start to slow down, and once that happens, the crash is not too far away.  I'm looking forward to sleeping a solid 8 or more hours for the next few days.

I finished the passage in 10 days 19 hours.

All is well aboard!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Passage to NZ, day 10

33° 18' S 175° 12' E
Water Temp: 64.5
Distance to go: 123nm

I'm on my final leg into Opua, New Zealand. The last two days have been bumpy and physical sailing.

I crossed the front two days ago. It started to rain lightly at 5am on the 17th and I decided to look more closely at my weather files. When viewing the weather as wind barbs (arrows) it was hard to identify where the front was, it was somewhere between two points, 60nm apart. So I switched over to streamline view and the front popped out. As an experiment I measured how far away from it I was and when to expect I would cross it - and it turned out to be very close. This front was very distinct - I was sailing along, minding my own business, when the wind started to fade away. Within 10 minutes the wind had picked up in the new forecast direction - the front was pretty sharply defined.

My goal after crossing the front was to sail as close to the wind as I could while making my way SE until the winds again backed and would take me into Opua. The weather model was forecasting that the wind would back from being SSW to S and then through SE and E where it is now - although it took two days to make that change. After crossing the front and setting Luckness up to sail as close to the wind as possible, I didn't adjust anything for almost two days. The sails were reefed for the conditions, which remained pretty constant and Luckness followed the wind, always heading up as far as I had asked. In this case, I set the Monitor up to sail at around 45 degrees apparent, which means I sailed around 38 to 50, given the waves I was sailing into. This was a comfortable range as if I head very much above 35 the genoa starts to luff and shake, which is hard on everything.

The weather forecasts were showing that the winds would start to back sharply last night which would allow me to tack and head towards my destination, rather than SE past New Zealand. The forecast was again accurate, and last night at around 10pm I tacked and started heading almost due West. This gave me a positive VMG (I was making progress towards my destination again) and as the wind started to back the VMG got better and better. I've now gone from sailing close hauled, through close reaching to a beam reach where I am now. Yay!

The sky is blue, the winds are around 12 knots which is giving me around 6 knots of boat speed and a nice ride. This is a drastic improvement over the last few days.

I mentioned food briefly in my last post - the last two breakfasts have also been from cans. Dinner has been Dinty Moore stew (from a can) with added rice. I'll be able to make myself a proper breakfast today, which will be nice.

I also mentioned air temperature in my last post, expecting that as soon as I had crossed the front it would get much colder. Its cooled down a little, but its actually very pleasant sailing conditions, nothing like the cold I expected.

If everything goes according to plan, I should be into Opua tomorrow, Friday.

All is well aboard.

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Passage to New Zealand: Day 7

28° 5' S 172° 39' E
Water Temp: 67
Distance to go: 385nm

Well, here it is, the evening of my sixth day out from Fiji. I'm writing this note in the evening, trying to avoid hastily typing something up quickly tonight when I make the SSB connection to send/receive my email and weather GRIB data. I've found that for this trip, if I connect to the Australian Sailmail station at around 5am I get a fantastic connection, and that's what I've been doing.

At the moment Luckness and I are sailing along, downwind (we sailors call it 'running') in seas pretty suitable for the conditions, with the winds at 12-15 knots and no real squally activity. Its a bit rolly, as you would expect, but I'll take that over pounding into the waves. I've only eaten one meal out of a can so far this trip, which was on the morning of the day I was sailing hard on the wind into a rough sea - sometimes its just easier to open a can (spaghetti in this case) than try to organize a hot meal (which, for breakfast, has been onion, bacon, green pepper, beans, eggs, cheddar cheese, and a little hot sauce. yum.)

Aside from food, the other big topic onboard is weather. Actually, weather is the big topic, food is a necessary inconvenience - if I could be fed via an IV all trip, I might go for it (more on this later as I think I may have found my 'perfect passage food' which I want to try out on my next passage...)

We (Luckness and I) are currently sailing down the western edge of the high, where I have been aiming since leaving Fiji. There is a little more west in my course than I was hoping for at the moment, but that should be fixed overnight as the winds become more northerly, and I think that my ending up a little more west will work out well for the weather I expect in a few days. Tomorrow we should be making our way more southerly with still some west. Tuesday will bring the front which is behind the high (and in front of the next one.) Todays forecast for the local Wednesday (Tuesday for many of you, three days from now) is roughly the same as yesterdays, which gives me a little more confidence in it. The two forecasts disagree about the following day, Thursday, which is unfortunate, as that is the forecast for the time when I am hoping to be approaching my destination. If I can know, reliably, what happens with the weather on that day, I can work backwards to place myself in a favorable position to take advantage of it. Doing that requires knowing the previous days weather so you can plan a day ahead for that - that's the game. Work forward and backward along the forecast, trying to make the best decisions about which direction to sail in order to have favorable winds all the way into your destination. The trick, to make the game harder, is that close forecasts are fairly reliable but anything three days and further start to become much more unreliable. Fun eh!

Today's forecast for the 19th (the questionable Thursday mentioned above) is fairly similar to that two days ago. Yesterday's forecast for that time is different - I'm hoping tonights forecast will be similar to todays, and then remain consistent. (Although I've found that my 'hoping' for some weather to play out the way I want, doesn't always make it happen. Weird, eh.) Another part of the positioning-yourself-with-respect-to-the-weather game is hoping that you don't plan for a move several days in advance, only to see the forecast change in a way which makes your current position unfavorable. (when this happens, you lose a turn and have to go directly to jail. You get out when the weather lets you...)

The current forecast is showing the winds behind the front, in two days, at around 15 knots briefly from the SSE and then the S and following over to the SSW where they stay for a little while. I'm hoping that by being further west I'll be able to take advantage of this SSW to approach New Zealand.

The other weather related topic is temperature of course. The water temperature keeps falling, however the air temperature today has been quite nice. When there is some more north in the wind, as there has been today, it brings in warmer, topics air. Yesterday the east wind was bringing colder winds and I was wearing a toque and three upper body layers. Today I've shed the toque and its been a short and 2 t-shirts day. I expect tomorrow to be quite nice as well, as the winds are again from the north. Once I cross the front, I'll be adding layers quickly - south winds bring winds from the antarctic - brrr!

One last topic - the first few days of my trip were pretty much along the rhumb line between Fiji and New Zealand. I came across four freighters in those early days. I saw them all on AIS at least 20nm away and the closest approach was 8nm. Their speeds were: 14kts, 12kts, 14kts, 19kts. Now that I've moved off the rhumb line, West, I haven't seen any traffic at all. This will probably change as I approach NZ.

Its too early to make a prediction on when I'll be arriving - the forecast is showing that a ridge may be forming on Thursday, four days from now, which will bring light winds to a large area around where I want to be. Depending on my progress, I may get stuck in that ridge, or I may be able to make my way around it and sneak into Opua.

Sailing between the tropics and New Zealand is certainly not as predictable as some of the downwind sailing I've done getting here, but I'm enjoying my passage. Although, its much easier to enjoy this passage today (downwind) than a couple days ago (hard upwind.)

All is well aboard.

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Passage to New Zealand: day 5

25° 14' S 174° 54' E
Water Temp: 74
Distance to go: 597nm

Up until yesterday evening, this had been a beautiful, easy sail. I had been sailing along, in easy seas, upwind in light wind and gentle seas. It was almost like I was sailing inland waters, there was negligible swell and the wind waves were small, making the motion very easy.

Yesterday evening I saw squalls ahead, and for the first time in over 24 hours had to adjust the sails by reefing them, preparing for the strengthening winds. The squalls lasted until around 8pm at which time I was left in a uniform area of stronger winds and larger waves. I continue to beat upward, and the motion has gone from being gentle to a beat. Moving around the cabin is once again a chore, with Luckness continually rising and falling rapidly with the waves. I expect this to continue at least for another 24 hours, at which time the winds should have backed around to the north and I will be able to sail downwind for a while. This will be followed by a front and then west, south west and south winds for my approach to New Zealand.

Its become hard work, but all is well aboard.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Passage to New Zealand: day 3

21° 44' S 177° 25' E
Water Temp: 78
Distance to go: 825nm (from start, 1140nm)

The trip has been generally full of beautiful sailing so far. Luckness is currently sailing upwind at 4 knots in around 8 knots of wind in a gentle sea. The wind has varied from 4 or 5 up to around 15 knots, as I expected, the start of this passage has been generally light wind - all upwind sailing so far.

Last night at 1am the wind dropped from 8-10 to 4-5, which left me going slow enough to lose steerage - which is rather annoying. I reduced sail thinking I would raise the spinnaker when it got light the next morning, but by 6am I woke after a sleep cycle to find Luckness making our way toward New Zealand at 4 knots in light wind again.

The sun is just starting to peek out of the eastern horizon in a clear sky, it has been a beautiful night full of stars.

All is well aboard!

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Leaving Fiji - for real this time

I'm about to depart Savusau, Fiji for New Zealand.  I'm expecting this to be a relatively slow trip, but I don't see anything serious in the forecast and I would rather get out of here and start my journey than wait for the 'perfect' weather window - which may never arrive.

I'll try to send a few updates along the way, maybe.  As always, if there are no updates, nobody panic.  Ok?

I'm looking forward to being in New Zealand again!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Leaving Fiji ! Someday.

I try not to edit old posts in my blog in any major way.  One example of this is that I leave spelling and grammatical mistakes in posts I make while on passage - on a passage you get tired and spelling takes a hit.  I also try not to edit old posts when I change my mind - this blog is a peek into my cruising life, not a complete one, but still a little view of what its like "out there."  Or what its like for me, anyway.  So, while I was tempted to delete my previous post, I'm not going to - I've changed my mind.  It happens.

Yesterday I had convinced myself that I would leave Fiji today for my passage to New Zealand.  I also mentioned that this would have been my first passage where I didn't really like the weather window but was planning to launch into it anyway.  I was feeling some schedule pressure - there is a Cruisers Rally in Opua, New Zealand from Nov 16-22.  I was there for it last year and it was a fun social time.  If I leave today, I would be there for the rally, but likely after a slow and possibly frustrating trip.

Todays GRIB files (weather forecasts) for both GFS and CMC are showing a nice weather window if I leave next Monday, 6 days from now.  The winds become much more uniform over the whole area between Fiji and NZ.  Also, the spinning low what has been deepening with each new forecast, a little east of my track, appearing on Friday would no longer be a concern.

I'll leave Fiji eventually - but not today.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Leaving Fiji for NZ. Maybe.

Well, after almost four months in Fiji, I may actually leave tomorrow (Nov 3rd local, 2nd in North America.)

Its been a good stay and I've enjoyed the country, but after four months I feel like its time to move along and am looking forward to being back in New Zealand for a while.

I've been watching the weather lately, trying to find a good opportunity to leave - and while the opportunity with my leaving tomorrow is by no means perfect, I think its reasonable.  This departure is a little unusual for me though.

Normally before departing on a passage, I like to study the weather and develop a strategy for how I'll play what I'll see - trying to time my departure so that I at least have a good initial sail with an expectation that what follows will be reasonable.  So far, this has paid off for me - I've sailed all of my passages so far, only motoring for very short periods.  This is the first passage where I'm leaving and basically just hoping for the best.  I don't see anything to worry about in the forecast - no strong weather systems, no cyclone.  Rather, the wind looks very light and this could end up being a very long passage.

Normally, the systems between Australia and New Zealand are migratory - there is a steady stream of high followed by low, followed by high, etc, over and over.  Last year when I sailed between Tonga and New Zealand that was the pattern - and I played the game where I tried to time my departure so that I arrived on the back side of a high, took the following front above 30S (where its not as strong) and then sailing into New Zealand on the back of the front.  It worked out pretty well.

This year, there is a large area between the tropics and New Zealand where a large high has basically filled in and is not budging.  For those that know him (or of him) Bob McDavitt describes this as:
STR= Sub-tropical Ridge 
The axis of the STR is strong along 30S from north of NZ to south of Pitcairn Island. Strong enough to provide a zone of light winds for yachts heading to NZ from the tropics. Nothing much can be done about this except for motoring in light winds. The pattern seems to be in place until at least mid-month.
It looks to me like I can either leave now, or wait until the middle of the month or so - and then take whatever comes.  i.e. there is no guarantee that I'll like what I see after the middle of the month any better than what I have now.

Leaving now looks like it may be annoying, slow and long, but it should be nice to be out on the big ocean again.  I hope.

So for this passage, basically I'm going to launch myself hoping to clear land before the wind runs out, bob around in calms for a while and then sail where ever and whenever I can, making the best time possible toward New Zealand.  I have lots of food and water.  I'll find out what the limits of my patience are: do I end up motoring and burning most of my fuel or taking a long time to get there, having sailed most of the way...  stay tuned to find out

Right now, it looks like I will have ok wind for the first 36 hours, and then pretty much nothing for at least 24, and then it'll be scrappy, sailing here and there looking for pockets of wind to fill in.  The first 36 hours should see me clear of all land, and after that, I can bob around until my patience runs out or wind arrives.  If the forecast changes in the morning such that I won't be able to sail out of where I am, I'll probably delay - as I don't want to start an 1100nm passage by motoring for the first 24 hours...

These are the types of problems I have to deal with these days.  I wait around in a beautiful and friendly country hoping the weather systems south of me get organized.  A cruising friend of mine has a category for this type of thing: high class problems.

As always, I'll try to blog along the way, from time to time.  If the blog updates stop - nobody panic.  Things happen with fragile electronics in marine environments.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Pictures from Savusavu

Here are some pics:

Luckness, on a mooring, Savusavu, Fiji

My other vessel, the unnamed dinghy, on the left, dinghy dock, Savusavu.

These pictures are a little misleading.  They all show sunny blue skies!  That has not been the norm here.  Its been rainy and grey for long stretches - but the sun does come out from time to time.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Fiji, food and money

Before arriving in Fiji I kept hearing how friendly the Fijians are.  I wasn't sure what to make of those comments.  But its true, as I walk around town, with very few exceptions, whenever I make eye contact with a local they immediately smile and nod, or smile and say Bula!  (Hello!)  And big smiles, not little smirks or half-assed smiles, but welcoming smiles, "welcome to Fiji!" smiles.  Its really nice.

Another thing I had heard before arriving is that the local food is very good and inexpensive.  This is absolutely true.  There is a large Indian population here and there are very good curry's around.  There is also good Chinese food, 'western' food and semi higher end stuff, although I'm tending toward the low end of the eating out market - inexpensive and delicious.  I haven't cooked a meal for myself since arriving.

Some people cruise and make a point of living as cheaply as they can.  Its true that while cruising you can live on a small fraction of what it takes to live in America (as long as the boat doesn't break down and need a lot of attention).  When cruising you can live inexpensively and also, sometimes, eat very healthy food and be surrounded with astounding beauty and engage in lots of interesting activities.  I say 'sometimes eat healthy' as in some countries it was harder to do that than in others.  Fiji seems to be a country where eating well is going to be easy.

Living cheaply hasn't been a goal for my cruise.  I like to save a penny as much as the next person, but often the penny I save on one thing is spent on a good quality beer, some tasty snack food or some other non-essential purchase.  I rarely eat out at expensive restaurants, rent cars, stay at fancy hotels and I'm not flying around the world while my yacht is safe in some marina - so I save money that way, but I don't mind spending money on things that I enjoy.

That was all a preamble to the start of my trying to pass along how astounded I am at how inexpensive it is here.  I had a friend in Tonga who has spent many cruising seasons in Fiji, and he was constantly complaining about how expensive everything was in Tonga.  I didn't think that it was, Tonga seemed pretty reasonable to me.  Now that I'm in Fiji, I'm starting to understand what he means.

My typical breakfast is the 'full breakfast' at the cafe attached to the marina.  Normally this type of place would be the more expensive option, often you need to leave the marina to find good deals.  Scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, sausage, and fried tomatoes for $4.25 USD (all prices will be in $USD, which is roughly $2 Fijian = $1 USD.)  Bottle of water, $1.50 so breakfast is $5.75.

I skip lunch and then have a large dinner.  I normally order two dishes, so at the Chinese restaurant I'll have something like Chicken in Black Bean sauce with rice and a vegetable side dish like Ginger and Onion Fried Eggplant.  Its a lot of food, and very, very tasty.  That comes to $8.  If I add a beer, the total is $10.

There are several places I've been going to for curry, all of them excellent.  At one of my favorites a typical meal is Chicken Curry which comes with a choice of Roti or rice, I'll have Roti.  That comes with a small vegetable side dish, a little dahl soup, mixed pickle and a poppadum.  Then I'll add a vegetable side dish, maybe Stir Fried Vegetable.  Again, a lot of food.  Total?  $8.

Luckness isn't anchored out in Savusavu, you generally rent a mooring here.  (You can anchor, toward the mouth of the creek, but its deep, around 80'.)  Moorings are $6-7/day.

Internet is fast and...inexpensive.  I have a Vodafone wifi dongle which I was using in New Zealand.  Vodafone is a provider in Fiji as well, so my dongle works here.  A new sim card cost me $5.  My first data package was $25 which gave me 5 GB expiring after 30 days.  I burned that up in about a week as I had a lot of downloading to do related to my app.  I recharged it for the same price.  As I plan to leave Savusavu soon I wanted to start with a fresh data plan, 30 more days, so I burned through the rest of my data doing downloads of operating systems and large apps like iPhoto, iMovie, etc.  I was seeing download speeds between 500Kb to 1Mb/sec.  That would be average in America probably, but if you're in the South Pacific that is absolutely top of the line.  Seeing a 1MB/sec download speed made my jaw drop.  After burning through that package I again recharged it.  This time there was a special on, $25 local ($12.50 USD) for 8GB, again expiring in 30 days.  Try matching those prices in the first world countries.

As I'm planning on leaving Savusavu to go cruising I've been buying actual food to provision the boat.  This is closer to what locals would be doing.  The local market is good - large with lots of fresh produce.

15 green peppers = $7.50USD.  3 kilo's of oranges = $1.50 USD

4 kilos of onion = $3.10 USD

2 kilo's of brown rice = $1.10 USD.  Jumbo raisins = $7.50/package
The jumbo raisins aren't inexpensive by any means, but I love those things and was happy to find them.

Living inexpensively but poorly would be unfortunate.  Living well, inexpensively, seems to be easy here.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Catching up...Luckness is in Fiji

I haven't updated this blog in quite some time.  I'll post a couple of articles to bring it up to date.

I've mentioned before that I have been working on a software project, a new GRIB (weather file) reader and viewer for the Mac.  Its called LuckGrib and is now available on the Apple App store.  Its name is pretty unique, so if you google for LuckGrib almost all of the hits you find will be related.

There are YouTube video's posted which showcase a few things in the app.

Towards the end of the app's development I was enlarging the Beta program and decided to invite someone who to me is a weather guru, David Burch, the author of Modern Marine Weather and many other books.  It turns out that he has a Mac and has been very supportive of the app, offering suggestions and encouragement.  He posted a review of the app here:

It was quite a lot of work to go from having nothing at all to a working product, in around 8 months.  I'm really happy with how the app turned out, and if any of you buy a copy, I think you will be too.  I'll be doing some more enhancement to the app over the next year, but I'm going to also start cruising again - so, with that out of the way, on to more cruising related topics.

In my last post I said that I had arrived in Tonga.  Of course, I arrived there from Minerva Reef but had not yet posted any pictures of my stay there.  Here are two:

While I was there, I remember thinking to myself "Pretty nice, but the blues aren't as beautiful as they were at Beveridge Reef."  Everything is relative.  It might not be the most beautiful reef in the world, but it was still an astounding place.  Anchoring in what feels like the middle of the ocean is something that should be on all sailors bucket list.

I've already talked about the trip from Minerva to Tonga.  What I didn't really get into was the circus which was the checkin procedure.  Non-sailors may want to skip ahead to the picture of coral and start reading again there...

The docks that are available for you to tie up to as part of the Tongan customs checkin procedures are less than ideal.  The officials require you to go to the dock.  I've heard of one or two boats which anchored out, but that is really frowned on, the officers really don't want you to do that, they want your boat beside the dock.  Last year when I checked into Tonga I knew a little about the dock but arrived fairly unprepared, hoping that it would work out ok.  Luckily there were a gaggle of boats already on the dock and I was able to side-tie to a large monohull, which made the whole process very easy.

This year when I was arriving, I had a real plan in place.  I had noticed that the weather was blowing from what I thought would be a favorable direction to blow me slightly off of the better of the two docks, the fisheries dock.  As I approached Neiafu, I called into the local VHF net asking when high tide was that morning and had several boats reply.  So I slowed down and arrived around 1 hour before high tide with high expectations - I'll just motor slowly up to the large empty dock, at high tide, and have no problem at all.  (At low tide on that dock, Luckness' caprail is below a concrete lip and with the surge, the dock would basically batter Luckness.  Damage for my boat is guaranteed there at low tide, and boats had taken damage at that dock while I was there last year.  I know of one sailboat that needed to replace parts of their standing rigging after an encounter with that dock...)

As I got into sight of the two docks I noticed that the one I wanted to tie up to already had two large steel fishing boats tied to them, leaving two short spaces between them - it would be something of a challenge to get in there.  Also the wind direction wasn't quite right, it would be pushing me onto the dock, getting out of those short spaces would be something of a challenge.  The other alternative was the cargo dock - this thing is massive, its designed to handle small freighters and ferries.  As I was heading past the long dock with a frown on my face I noticed a sailboat tied to the side of the freight dock and they offered to have me side-tie to them.  Perfect!  I circled once to adjust the dock lines lines and fenders and headed back to them.  As I headed back, they cast their lines off and left the dock - apparently they had just finished their checkin and it was time for them to leave.  This left me and my small boat contemplating a side tie to this dock.  There was some help on shore, and they appeared to be sailors.  So I went for it and ended up tied up there.  A boats length behind me is a concrete wall.

I realize non-sailors will find this all very tedious and if you haven't skipped over this section, you're probably wondering why you didn't.  This docking is far from ideal.  If I was to step off my vessel, getting back on would be very tricky.  I could pull a line taught to bring Luckness close to the dock and have the officials take a large step down and out to me, but if I went ashore I would need to leap across to the boat.  Anyway, the side tie worked out pretty well.  I was being blown off the dock and was in no danger there.  With a different wind direction, this would not be a place a small boat would want to be.  The officials had a bit of a challenge boarding, but none of them fell in.  Once again, after all the paperwork was done there was a round of the officials asking for gifts.  Unlike last year, I was prepared for this and got by very lightly, giving up a couple bottles of beer.

When it was time to cast off the lines, the helpful folks who were there to get me onto the dock had long since walked off and I was basically stuck until someone came along.  There was no way for me to get onto the dock and free my lines without having Luckness blow off downwind, which I really wanted to avoid.  Eventually someone came within shouting distance and I was able to talk them through what I would like them to do and I was out of there and heading towards a mooring and a good nights sleep.

It was nice to be back in Tonga.  I stayed there until early July and spent my time between Neiafu and the local anchorages.  Cruising is very easy in this area, and this is a theme I'll come back to when I start talking about Fiji.  Unfortunately I took very few pictures while I was there.  Here are a couple:

The coral in Tonga isn't fantastic.  I hope to be posting pictures from Fiji of its local coral...once I get out and see some.  More on that later.

A new marina is being built in the Vava'u group, close to Neiafu.  Think of this as a baby-picture, of the infant marina that's in the process of growing up.  This was from mid June, 2015.

I left Tonga in early July and sailed over to Fiji.  It was a nice passage, the hardest part was going slow enough to arrive at the points I had picked to be there in daylight so that I could verify the locations of reefs and land - wanting to avoid both.  The entry into the Fijian waters turned out to be very easy, and my next problem was to continue going slow enough to arrive in Savusavu in the morning of the next day.  When the biggest problem you have on a passage is having to slow down, that's pretty good.

I arrived in Savusavu expecting there to be customs mooring balls to tie up to as that was what all the cruising guides mentioned.  It turns out that there is now a customs dock that the Copra Shed Marina where I was arriving is using instead.  Check this out:

A customs dock that floats!  As I arrived, two of the staff walked over and accepted my lines and tied me up, as they have been doing for all the arriving boats.  Checkin was very simple, part 1 is aboard the boat and then in part 2 you walk around the town paying a couple of fees.  No gifts were requested.  This all left a very good initial first impression, which has been building since being here.

I'll cut this post off here, more to come.   (and to avoid any dramatic buildup, as they say, "its all good.")

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Arrival in Tonga

Sometimes plans change, and my arrival in Neiafu Tonga is a case of that.  When I left Minerva Reef I had every intention of arriving in Tongatapu, Tonga, which is the southern most group of islands and the group which holds the capital, Nuku'alofa, of Tonga.  While I was underway I kept reevaluating my reasons for arriving there and comparing them to the reports I have been hearing from boats currently in Fiji, and made a Captains decision to change my destination.  I now plan to stay in Tonga for less than a month and then head over to Fiji where I'll finish this cruising season, followed by a return to New Zealand.

The passage went well.  This is something most people say as a way of getting the "how's it going?" question out of the way.  Ask most cruisers "How did your passage go?" just after they finished, and most will say "it went really well!"  More detailed answers can take a long time to finish.  Nothing major broke, this makes it a good passage.  I was able to sail to my destination without too much trouble, which also makes it a good passage.  I sailed the entire time, aside from entry/exit into Minerva reef and Tonga and leaving New Zealand, which I like, and makes this a good passage in my mind.  It wasn't exactly 'smooth sailing with winds at my back' - but I was able to cope, mostly ate well, slept enough to stay functional, which all makes it a good passage.  I have to say that some of the magic of doing passages that I experienced earlier on on this cruise is starting to fade.  There were days of absolutely beautiful sailing which anybody who sails should envy, just glorious.  There were other days which weren't like this - but nothing extreme, no storms, no big waves, I was able to head to my destination, no heaving to, no drogue, no storm sails - I really have absolutely nothing to complain about.  But being on passage can be hard work, people who read this blog shouldn't be fooled into the life always being easy.

Now that I'm in Tonga, life is going to be absolutely easy and glorious.  The ARC fleet is in the area. This is a fresh version of the fleet I met while in the Marquesas last year.  They were there in early April and now they are already in Tonga.  They sail around the world in 18 months.  Crazy people.  The IAC rally is also here, which is a much more leisurely rally which is from New Zealand, to Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Calendonia and then back to New Zealand.  Compared to the ARC rally, these people are slow pokes, sailing leisurely around the islands.  In contrast, my plans are totally lazy - Tonga, Fiji and back to New Zealand.  I plan to be in Fiji for around 5 months.  I'm looking forward to it.

I'm sitting in a cafe, yards from the edge of the water, cool beer next to me dripping moisture off the glass due to the warmth and humidity, looking out at Luckness on a mooring blowing back and forth in the light wind like she wants to get going again.  The sun is starting to appear after two days of light rain.  The wind looks like its going to die off for the next week or so and after a little more sleep here I'll reprovision and then head out to revisit some of the beautiful local anchorages.  Life is good.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Passage to Tonga

Date: May 24, 2015
23° 26' S 177° 32' W
Water Temp: 77.0

I was planning on leaving Minerva Reef this morning, which would have been ahead of a front. The plan was to leave ahead of a front in NW winds, make my way east, take the front at sea and then in the SW/S/SE winds turn toward the north and Tonga. It was a good plan I think. However yesterday afternoon I was sitting in Luckness having done all I could to prepare her for her next passage and suddenly decided to leave rather than spend another night at anchor in Minerva. So here I am, on my way to Tonga a little early. I'll need to sail slowly in order to arrive in the morning on Tuesday.

Minerva was nice. Its a beautiful spot to hang out for a while.

While I was there I managed to make my way through the list I had accumulated of things I wanted to fix and alter. The big item was that the UV cover on my headsail had started to come apart toward the last day heading into Minerva. I had reinforced a lot of the stitching on the UV cover in New Zealand before leaving and from the deck where I was watching it come apart I wasn't sure if my reinforcement had failed or what was going on. The forecast when I arrived in Minerva last Monday showed light winds on the following Thursday and Friday. So on Thursday I lowered my genoa to the deck and examined it. There was some stitching on the sail which looked strong in NZ which I hadn't bothered to reinforce, and it was this area which had come apart. The other areas I had already attended to were doing fine. Phew! So four hours later I managed to reinforce the stitching on all the remaining important areas (I think), the sail was raised again and it was ready to go.

The other project I was hoping to fix was my knot meter. Its stopped working. In the past this usually indicates that something is stuck in the paddlewheel. I left NZ with the knot meter perfectly clean and I was surprised when it stopped four or five days into the passage. After diving the boat in Minerva, I discovered the knot meter was spinning freely - so there is something else wrong with it this time. There may have been an area of chafe on some wiring - I noticed my water maker, which is still in its manual mode, had moved from where it was stowed and a board was in contact with the knot meter wiring. I'll look at this in Tonga, it would be nice if I could get it working again, but not critical.

I'll post again sometime after arriving as its only a few days to my destination, Nuku'alofa.

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Day 9: arrived in North Minerva

Date: May 18, 2015
23° 39.695' S 178° 55.027' W
Water Temp: 73.4

I'm anchored on the south side of North Minerva Reef. Yay.

Minerva Reef is a small circular reef. There is a passage into the reef on the NW corner, 150m wide. The pass is deep, I believe the shallowest I saw was 75feet. One you are inside, the depths in the middle are roughly 80 feet which shallows slightly as you approach the edges. I'm anchored in 50 feet of water, on a sand bottom with coral bommies scattered around.

There is a fringing sand shelf, however unlike Beveridge, it doesn't look like you can anchor on the shelf. The guide I has talks about the shelf being a thin layer of sand on coral and from what I see, I agree with that.

When I was starting my cruising in New Zealand after my time in the tropics last year one of the memories I have is how easy anchoring became again. You would pick an anchorage, move up to it, look for a space away from other boats, drop your anchor, back up to set it and you were done. There was no coral on the bottom. This is much like the PNW, or much of higher latitude cruising. I'm back in coral again and my first anchoring attempt was a bit of a gong show. I motored around for 1/2 an hour until I thought I had found a good spot. I dropped my anchor, backed up, letting out more chain and after letting out 160 feet realized that the chain was now draping across a bommie that used to be behind me but was now ahead of me due to the length of chain I let out. Oops. So I started to bring the chain back in to try over and realized the chain had snagged something down below - 50 feet down below, much deeper than I can free dive. After a number of tries motoring in various directions trying to unhook the chain, it got free. Yipee! As I brought the rest of the chain in it again got stuck - the anchor had become set against another short coral outcropping. This one was trickier and getting it unstuck took 20 minutes. I was about to call to the other boats to see if anybody had dive equipment when I tried one last time and the anchor came free. There are large sand patches here, and now I'm anchored in one, comfortably.

Two days ago I sailed through the front that I had expected. The front had 30 knots of wind with rain and there was a very sudden shift from NW/WNW to SW. I felt so lucky to have access to all the weather information that I do, I was able to see this front days ahead of time, plan for the shift and be in a good place for the steady winds which followed it. Thanks Sailmail, GFS and all the other people who make this possible!

The last two days at sea were in pretty steady 20-25 knots of wind, on my beam - a bit ahead or behind depending on the wind shifts with waves increasing to 3 to 4 meters. It was a pretty wet ride with lots of spray all over. I ended up with needing to slow down in order to arrive in daylight and for much of the last night I was sailing under staysail alone, making 3-5 knots. With my double reefed main up, I would be making 4-6 knots - too fast, it had me arriving at the reef at 5am. Both of these setups were bomb proof in the conditions. Both evenings and mornings were quite squally. A squall would approach and the wind would back or veer and increase in speed by 5 or 10 knots. Flying a staysail and double reefed main meant there was no worry about reefing for squalls - I would just speed up for a while and the boat felt fine - not stressed, no pounding, quiet.

I'll probably spend at least 4 or 5 days here, and then look for a good weather window to move along.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Day 7: NZ to Minerva/Tonga

Date: May 16, 2015
26° 20' S 178° 49' E
Water Temp: 73.4
Distance to go: 200nm

I've been becalmed twice, had beautiful sailing conditions for a while, been bashing upwind in 25-30 for a few days and am currently on a broad reach in 25+ knots, 3-4m seas making good time to Minerva Reef. The last few night I've been reducing my sails to only a double reefed main and staysail - which keeps me moving in the 16-22 knot normal wind and is able to cope with a squall coming through with winds in the low 30s. I'm currently sailing with double reefed main (which is fully reefed), staysail and a little genoa making 6.5 knots north. I'm expecting the winds to back some more tomorrow, so I should be able to jibe in the morning and then start trying to finesse my speed to arrive on monday during daylight.

I'm my last blog post I said that nothing had broken - that's changed. I found the toilet roll holder that is mounted on a door beneath the head sink has fallen off. If that's the extent of the breakage I'll be feeling pretty lucky.

All remains well onboard.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Day 4: NZ to Minerva/Tonga

Date: May 13, 2015
28° 50' S 176° 57' E
Water Temp: 70.7
Log: 17114
Distance to go: 370nm

As I expected, this has been a very changeable passage. My second night out was in wind so light all I could do was ghost along at around 2 knots - fast enough for my wind vane to steer which was nice. The following day was mainly light wind all day, sailing upwind in 6 and 8 knots at 3 and 4 knots of boat speed - very nice gentle sailing. During the third night, I expected some more wind to arrive and from there to build, which is more or less what happened. At around 11:30pm on the 11th I went for a sleep cycle with the boat moving slowly and then woke 20 minutes later with Luckness hove-to, pointed south in 8 knots of wind. The wind must have faded, become variable, swirled around and then filled in again during those 20 minutes. Once I steered out of being hove to and got pointed back in the right direction, the wind stayed steady and got stronger. Call this the first phase of the passage, fair wind followed by light dwindling to nothing.

The next phase was for NW wind to fill in, increasing to 25-30. The seas went from gentle rolling to a seas appropriate for the conditions - short, steep occasionally rolling wind waves. Sailing upwind, close hauled, was a wet, bumpy, fast ride. This type of sailing is physical - I wasn't reading anymore, but would instead sit in the cockpit dressed in waterproof clothing, tucked in behind the dodger but still getting splashed when the waves would hit the hull on the windward side and send a cascade of spray across the boat. Sleeping in these conditions is challenging, as is doing anything else aboard.

Phase 3, which is where I am now, has the wind slowly fading away again. The wind is forecast to fade away completely tonight - the center of a high and I are going to meet. The calm spell is likely to last for a while, followed by phase 4, a weak north wind which gradually gets stronger and backs around to the NW, W and finally SW. These final winds should be the ones on which I sail into the reef. There is also likely to be a front in there, between the NW and SW winds, so add a little more chaos to the 20+ knots and that's what is in my short term future.

But for tonight, I will probably bob around, in gentle seas. When there is no wind at all, I'll reduce more of my sail and increase my sleep timer to an hour - luxury! A whole hour of sleep at a time. This should help set me up for the bouncier conditions that will follow the following night and until I arrive.

Once I'm in the reef, if I don't abort and head elsewhere, I'm expecting fairly calm seas, clear warm water and beautiful conditions. I'd like to stay for a few days before heading onward.

Nothing much else to report. Nothing has broken yet! I did wake up last night with the distinct sound of something falling off and hitting the floor - I woke up out of a sleep and wasn't sure where it came from. I searched the entire boat interior for something that had fallen, followed by the cabin top forward, the side decks, checking all the blocks and fittings - and couldn't find anything that looked wrong. This morning, I went to check the chart plotter and happened to look down at the cockpit floor and spotted the nut which attaches my wheel to its axel sitting down by the scupper. I gave a little tug on the wheel and it slid back and forth pretty easily. There is a keyway connecting the two, so the wheel was still steering and with the monitor drum on the wheel tugging sideways I don't know if it would have actually fallen off - but its better when the nut is attached! Either by design, or luck, the nut is just a little bit larger than the scupper is, so it didn't fall and vanish into the great blue beneath me (I have a spare anyway, just in case.) I reattached the nut and have added it to my checklist of things to check regularly - I used to do this, but since I haven't sailed a passage for a while I've managed to get a little rusty in some areas. Its all coming back now :-)

Its warm, sunny, peaceful and I'm enjoying being out sailing again.

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Day 1: NZ to Minerva/Tonga

Date: May 10, 2015
33° 50' S 175° 12' E
Water Temp: 66.2
Log: 16889
Distance to go: 670nm

I left New Zealand yesterday, bound for Minerva Reef. Depending upon the conditions, I may skip the reef and head directly to Tonga, but hopefully I'll be able to get into the reef on this trip.

Its currently sunny with patchy cloud. There is a light wind of 12 knots from the south and I'm making around 5 knots heading north - single reef in the main to keep it quiet, full genoa and the wind on my port at 130° apparent. The seas are a little confused but small. These are really nice sailing conditions at the moment. A large pod of dolphins found me on my way out of the Bay of Islands and played with me for a little while.

I'm expecting the trip to the reef to take something like a week. The weather window I left on wasn't ideal, but it looked like it would be manageable. I'm starting in generally light wind and am expecting it to get lighter and more variable by tomorrow. Then some strong NW wind will fill in - the further north that I am the less strong it will be, and that's my plan - head north. After two days of what I hope will be a fast beam reach I'll run into another light patch, followed by a front which will be followed by SW winds which should blow me the rest of the way to the reef. Or at least that's the way it looked when I left. I'll be downloading weather along the way and will adjust. I expect this trip to be a little 'scrappy' - I'll need to be flexible and sail as the conditions allow.

I really enjoyed my stay in New Zealand and found that a 6 month stay was just about right. It was cold when I first arrived, and it was cold when I left. The weather in the southern summer where I stayed was beautiful but I'm looking forward to the warmer weather and clear waters of the tropics which await me. A little more sun would be nice as well - as the days have gotten shorter here, energy onboard has started to become more of an issue. For tech-sailor-geeks, my batteries haven't been in float (completely full) for 55 days. In January they were regularly in float by early afternoon - time to move along!

I'll try to update this blog from time to time. As always, if my updates stop arriving, please, nobody panic. Electronics onboard a boat at sea can be finicky.

All is well onboard, I hope the same is true with all of you.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Diesel Bug

This is a project post.

When I first left Seattle, in 2011, I had a new diesel tank, with two inspection ports and everything was shiny clean.  After my first year of traveling through California to Mexico, Hawaii and back to Seattle I ended up without any diesel problems, everything was still clean.

After leaving again in 2013 and heading down the California coast, again, to Mexico and then to the South Pacific, somewhere along the way I picked up a bad load of fuel, or a series of bad loads of fuel and my diesel tank ended up contaminated with the dreaded diesel bug.

I had no idea what 'diesel bug' was, or what to expect when I had it.  I've learned a little since then.

While in New Zealand, one of my chores I had on my boat project list was to inspect my diesel tank.  I had been noticing that the diesel I could see in my Racor filter was more opaque than usual, but it just seemed like it might be a different type of dye being used.  I couldn't see through the glass bowl of my Racor the diesel was so opaque.  (oh, for non-sailors, a Racor filter is a fuel-water separator along with a filter that is the first line of defense getting clean diesel into the engine.  There is a secondary filter closer to the engine which removes smaller particles than my Racor filter does.)

When I opened my diesel tank and shone a flashlight into the tank, my strongest flashlight couldn't penetrate the diesel to see any of the aluminum walls - it was clearly more opaque than I had thought.  There is a chandlery close by in Opua, Cater Marine which has a little display of some fuel additives. One of the displays has two glass jars, one with the fuel contaminated and one with the additive.  The interesting thing is that the contaminated sample looked a lot like my diesel - opaque, and in my case, reddish diesel.  There was also a brochure showing the same before/after comparison of a different additive - again, diesel being so opaque you can't see through it being bad.

Now I knew what contaminated fuel looked like, and knew that I had it, and I was standing in front of a display which advertised a product that you add to the bad fuel and over time it becomes good again!  Yay I thought to myself, how easy is that!

So I bought some, added it to my tank and waited a day.  After a day I started feeling like an idiot and doing more web 'research.'  After speaking with a few experts, it turns out that the best thing to do is to remove the bad diesel, clean the tank and lines and start again with fresh fuel.  This seems entirely obvious in hindsight, but its a somewhat ugly job and I was hoping for an easy shortcut.  Alas, it was not to be.

It turns out that the additive might kill the bug, but it remains in the tank.  The diesel bug is mostly water - its a bacteria and the bacteria is mostly water - and that it would end up possibly clogging my filters or going through my injectors as bacteria is tiny.  Sending stray amounts of water through a diesel injector is not good.  One of the things that a diesel engine likes is clean diesel fuel, burning through 1/2 a tank of bad, dead, diesel bug seemed a little reckless and possibly expensive if the high pressure pump or an injector was damaged.  Although, having said that, my engine seemed to be running just fine for all the time leading up to my cleaning the bad fuel out.  The Racor filter was obviously in need of replacing when I saw it.

Anyway, I ended up removing the diesel fuel, cleaning the tank until it was spotless, adding some clean diesel, running the pump on my engine to circulate it through the filters and lines, replaced both filters, removed the tainted fuel and called it good.  Its good to know there is clean diesel in my tank again - if I'm good to my diesel engine I'm hoping that it will be good to me in return.

During the latter part of this cruise when I started meeting people who had been cruising in different parts of the world I stated hearing their opinions on how to add fuel to the tank.  In America and Mexico the fuel seemed clean, it didn't seem to be an issue.  Cruisers I had met who were finishing up a circumnavigation had been through this process and had learned their lesson.  The general consensus is that if you don't filter the fuel going into your tank, you will get diesel bug eventually.  Its just a matter of time.  The people I met who were filtering their fuel didn't have the diesel bug problem, and most of them have pretty strong opinions on needing to filter the fuel.

The first time I left Seattle, I actually had the West Marine fuel filter on board, which seems to be very common and entirely adequate.  I bought it at the last minute and threw it in without ever trying it.  Along the way I had brain freeze when I tried to think of how to use it.  A Pacific Seacraft has high bulwarks, so the caprail is three or four inches off of the desk.  The fuel inlet is close to the caprail, which interfers with the filter.  I couldn't figure out how to use the filter and ended up giving it away in Mexico.
It doesn't fit!  Impossible!
After realizing I had diesel bug and that I needed to clean my tank and replace my fuel I started thinking again about the filter issue - and almost immediately came up with the obvious solution.  I feel like an idiot offering this to others as a solution, as its entirely obvious.  Anyway, I bought a short length of hose, a hose clamp and fashioned a way to fasten the filter to a stanchion and now it works perfectly:

Yeah, I know.  Its an amazing solution, right?

To add the fastening loop, I created a loop of 'small stuff', twine, in my case a thin dyneema.  I punched a pair of holes in opposite sides of the filter just below the top lip and whipped the dyneema loop to the filter using seine twine.  I then added a bungee and hook which I attached with a couple of hog rings.  It seems to work.

To use it, rig it up as shown, and then add fuel.  Its pretty easy.  If the fuel contains water, which the diesel bug needs to live, the water is caught by this filter and doesn't go into the tank.  It also stops bits of debris, which seems like a good idea.  

Its the water that is important for diesel bug to live, this filter stops water going into the tank.  There is a caveat though.  I used to add an additive to the diesel after buying it, so treated diesel sat in my diesel jugs.  It turns out that some additives will cause water to break up into small particles, rather than pooling together.  If you add one of these additives to the fuel before pouring it though the fuel//water filter, then the water will pass through - so I've stopped treating the diesel before it goes into the main tank.

After using the filter, you end up with some diesel at its bottom that is just stuck, it pools at the bottom.  I'm finding that one large fuel diaper, cut into 1/4's cleans it all up.  I use two of the quarters cleaning the diesel out, then one to clean the filter up, and one more to clean whatever else.  It all fits into an extra-large ziploc and stows forward in my chain locker.

I'm posting this in the hope that there is a sailor, somewhere, who might be able to avoid contaminated fuel and having to clean their tank out as a result.


I'm hoping to leave NZ bound for Tonga in a few more days.  This will be my last post until I'm underway.  As usual, if my blog posts stop while I'm on passage, nobody should panic, electronics are sensitive and a saltwater passage is a harsh environment.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What I did on my summer vacation

I've been in New Zealand for over five months now.  I like it here!

In my last blog posting, in December of last year, at one point I said:
"I've only been to a few of the anchorages now, but it is a beautiful, easy area and I think I'll be here for several months, at least."
Its been a little over five months now, and I have yet to leave the Bay of Islands.  I'm currently prepping Luckness for our passage back to the Tropics.  My visa expires in early May and so I'll be looking for a weather window starting in around a week or so.  The current, longer range forecast is showing what might be a nice pattern developing in a little over 10 days - I may hop onto that system and head north again.  Its about time - things are starting to cool down here, autumn has arrived.

I won't go into an event-by-event rehash of my time here.  NZ is a fun, easy, friendly, beautiful place to hang out.  Some of my cruising buddies explored NZ extensively, buying cars and traveling around.  This is somewhat typical I think and was one of the possibilities I saw for myself when I arrived.  My stay has been somewhat different from that however.

I've been wondering a little to myself "what is cruising anyway?  am I still doing it?" and have decided that cruising is whatever we want it to be.  Some sailors I know did the traditional thing sailors do when arriving in NZ: fly back home for a while; head back to NZ; buy a car; travel around seeing the island(s); return to their boats and see some more of the area.  They had a great time.  Some other friends left their boat in Fiji for cyclone season and flew to NZ and pretty much followed the pattern above except that they visited their friends who had their own boats in NZ rather than exploring on their own boat (s/v Estrellita.)  Carol and Livia were kind enough to visit with me for a week and we explored the Bay of Islands "Charter style" as Carol said, moving daily.  So, these two didn't even sail to NZ but I would say they were definitely still "cruisers" while away from their boat in a different country, exploring.  I stayed within about 12 miles of the town where I arrived into NZ for the entire time I've been here - what kind of cruising is that?!  I'd argue, its a good form of cruising.  I've had a good time, seen some beautiful areas, and feel my time was productive and am looking forward to the sailing I have in my future.

So, ok, I feel a little defensive about my not seeing the rest of the country.  Lets move on.

In answer to the question: What I did on my summer vacation - it was to find beautiful anchorages in the Bay of Islands (mainly two or three), hang out at anchor until my food ran out.  Head back to Paihia, reprovision, stop at Opua, do laundry and boat chores and then head back out until my food ran out again.  It was a nice pattern and I repeated it over and over, like a kid who can watch the same movie a dozen times.  While I was at anchor I was exercising - walking and swimming - as well as working pretty much full time on a software project which is now nearing completion.

I could say that I've always enjoyed software development, that's almost true.  There were a few years there where I grew more and more burned out and by the time I left my job at Autodesk/Alias I was ready to not see any software again for a long time other than as a user.  I thought I might be done with software development.  That gradually faded away and my enjoyment of creating something from literally nothing is back.  Developing software is pretty unique - in late November I started with an idea for a new GRIB viewer and a blank screen, and over the next five months I created something, piece by piece, which now looks like I imagined it would.  When you sit in front of the app and use it, its real - something has been created out of nothing.  Its a cool process - you start with a blank screen and then start researching/designing/implementing/testing.  There is some trial and error, a lot of satisfaction in seeing the pieces start to work together.  There were lots of little puzzles to solve along the way and it turns out that the project I chose touches a lot of interesting domains.  I've had the opportunity to implement a new data model which supports incremental update and undo; work with math again (cubics!  derivatives!  yay!); interpret the GRIB standard and implement an importer that can read GRIB1 and GRIB2 files; design and implement a simple framework for data visualization; create a UI (sorry, UX) for the app using a bunch of new stuff Apple released in their latest version of OSX.  This is now my third app on the Mac, its a nice platform to work on.  The app isn't perfect, I'd like to speed up its graphics by using OpenGL along with some other things I'll change at some point in the future, but I think its a pretty good effort for just under five months work.

The app is going to be called LuckGrib, it can download GRIdded Binary (GRIB) weather data from NOAA and then visualize it.  Its able to download hundreds of different weather parameters, many of which have no meaning to me at all, as NOAA's weather models are enormous.  These are the GFS models that are used world wide by many (most?) weather forecasters as one of the pieces of data they use to interpret and then forecast the weather.  The familiar parameters such as wind, waves, barometric pressure, rain and so on are present of course and they are what most sailors would use.  The app is fast enough to animate reasonably sized GRIB files in real time - this will be improved in future versions of the app.

For those that don't know me very well; yes, I'm a bit of a nerd.  I love this stuff.  There is a bit more on the app at the very end of this posting.

Anyway.  Cyclone Pam passed by NZ around a month ago, that was a little freaky.  At the time it passed I was thinking that I had to leave this area and return to the tropics in 6-8 weeks - and wondering if that was safe.  The official end of cyclone season is the end of April.  Of course that's not a law of nature, just a statistical guideline.  I had been planning on returning to Tonga and making my way up the island chain back to the Vava'u area I left last November and then heading over to Fiji.  My current loose plan is to head north to Vava'u a little faster so that I can be close to what I think is a very good harbor if some strong weather was to pass through.  After a month or so, sometime into June, I'll think about heading over to Fiji.

A few photos follow.

This is a "Christmas" flower, the islands were full of them during December and into January.

Here are a few LuckGrib screen shots:

LuckGrib beta testing:

If you've read this far, and have a Mac which runs 10.10 (Yosemite) and are willing to try out my new app, send me an email and I'll send you a link you can use to download it.  The beta is time limited, it will expire in 6 months, but I expect to have the app up on the Apple App Store  way before then.

If you download the beta, please realize that this is unreleased software.  If there are things you don't like, things that don't make sense, things you can't figure out, things that you really like - please let me know!