There’s no passage like a speedy passage. We set off with a good deal of confidence in the forecasted winds, but were blown away (quite literally) by this run. It did take most of our first afternoon to get out of the wind shadow of New Zealand, but by nightfall we had 18 knots of southeast breeze that stayed with us nearly all the way to Fiji. After setting the sails for a broad reach were making well over 7 knots, and cruising right on the rhumb-line, to boot! Who was it that said Westsails were slow? It was shaping up to be a good start, and as we held our speed through the night we were two happy sailors ready for a picture-perfect cruise to the tropics. Of course, this is what everyone was ready for. We’d all waited so long and picked our window so carefully, but little did we know of what was to come.
News of SY Platino broke the morning of our second day, casting a dark shadow over all the boats within range and affecting the entire New Zealand sailing community. We take safety very seriously on board, and do thorough rig checks before all major passages, but at the end of the day there are so many elements that are out of human control and it was a sobering reminder of how things can go terribly wrong. For the following few days we spent night watches looking for the lights of the dismasted ship, and at all hours of daylight we scanned the waters, half hoping for and half dreading the appearance of a body. We were eerily close, but we saw neither. Eventually we picked up the trade winds and they carried us well north of the incident, but the feeling in our stomachs was hard to shake.
With temperatures rising by the day, the Tropic of Capricorn welcomed us with rain so torrential we couldn’t see the bow from the cockpit. As the breeze subsided into stillness, we had no choice but to start the engine if we wanted to keep making miles. Fortunately, though, out with the breeze went the seas, and the flat water let our new tiller-pilot steer us straight and true without much strain on the unit. It was nearly seven hours until the rain cleared and the breeze filled back in, but this allowed us to give the batteries a good full charge, and oh, what a warm tropical breeze we found! With the hot sun directly overhead, we finally chucked the lures in the water and took the first bucket showers of the season. Everything had gotten a thorough rinsing from the downpour, and we found Cavalo and ourselves to be surprisingly clean for being several days offshore. And though it still cooled off in the evening, the cold-weather gear was finally stowed away. At night the bioluminescence would come to life, cloaking dolphins swimming alongside Cavalo in sparkly green and illuminating the world below us.
Our last push had us pointing almost dead downwind, and as the seas built to over 4 meters we rocked heavily back and forth, dipping the rails with each nudge from a wave. It made getting any sleep impossible, finding no way to wedge ourselves with pillows and blankets as we rolled from one side of the bed to the other, but nothing could slow us down. We were anxious to arrive and sailed more aggressively the closer we got, constantly trimming and easing sheets as we raced no one but ourselves. Timing is everything, though, and we have a bad habit of showing up to reef passes in the middle of the night. This usually leaves us hove-to for hours or backtracking until daybreak, and with Fiji in sight and the light fading fast it was looking like we were going to be too late. But, determined and giddy, we made it to Navula Pass just as the sun set behind Cloudbreak and the full moon rose from the mountains of Viti Levu. Once inside the lagoon the seas disappeared and we sailed peacefully under the emerging stars, and being far past office hours for clearing in, we dropped anchor off Akuilau Island and poured ourselves some well-deserved drinks. Fire dancers on an opposite beach spun mesmerising designs to traditional beats, the breeze moved gently through the palms. Just like that, the sounds of offshore were replaced by the rhythmic and entrancing music of the tropical South Pacific. Delirious from our travels but thrilled to be here, we eventually surrendered to exhaustion and tucked ourselves in, shutting our eyes for our first night back in Fiji. The trip, by the way, all 1100 nautical miles of it, we managed in approximately seven days and six hours. So we’re patting each other on the back for that one. Bula!