After a year living aboard our sailing boat, Fat Susan, in French Polynesia, during a global pandemic, it was time to move on. We had made the tricky decision to sail down to New Zealand, a mid-ocean passage of three to four weeks in an unpredictable Pacific ocean. We weaved our way to the island paradise of Bora Bora to prepare for a long and potentially tricky passage.
This is the daily blog of SV Fat Susan. While at sea on long passages, Fat Susan can be tracked using our Iridium Go satellite phone and a subscription to PredictWind. Friends and family (and anyone else who fancies a look) can follow our track while sitting in the comfort of their lovely warm homes. And while we are on passage, we scribble down a daily blog, which is slowly uploaded to the internet via the satellite phone.
So here we are, on 18th May, 2021, ready to set sail. We’re one year into the Covid pandemic. Cases in French Polynesia are rising rapidly. Most other Pacific island nations have firmly closed borders. Cook Islands, Nuie, Tonga, New Caledonia. All Covid free. All closed. Nowhere to stop on the way to New Zealand other than Fiji, which we had discounted due to the cost and the lack of time before the weather worsened. What could possibly go wrong??!
The countdown timer to NZ-Day stalled over the weekend as we struggled to jump through the paperwork hoops blocking our exit from French Polynesia. We finally received all of the clearance documents yesterday and, having accidentally drunk all of the remaining beer on Susan last night, we’ve woken up full of excitement and anticipation for the adventure ahead.
Tea and coffee will be drunk. Sea sickness tablets will be taken. Lines will be slipped. And sometime within the next three weeks we’ll be safely tied up alongside the quarantine dock in Opua having officially sailed over halfway around the world. Fingers crossed that the flat-earth society haven’t been right all along…
Stats for Nerds
Distance to go: 2,500 nm
Distance travelled: 0 nm
Pre-departure uses of poo knife: 1 (so far)
The day started like all of our days in Bora Bora with a heavy, overcast sky and plenty of rain. This didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the adventure ahead though, and we slipped the lines and headed for the pass just after first light. Well, actually it was closer to 9 o’clock which counted as “first light” as far as the teenage members of crew were concerned. Having cleared the pass and got the sails up we cruised straight into what could poetically be called a rainbow factory, but was, in fact, a seemingly endless train of squalls and showers. Beautiful to watch from a safe distance whilst drinking coffee. A royal pain in the arse if you’re sailing through them. Still, they only lasted 16 hours, and they did give us the most spectacular lightning show while we were having dinner.
The upside of the squalls was that they brought plenty of wind with them, so we’ve had a productive day’s sailing knocking our first 150 nautical miles off the total. Which is nice. The downside of the squalls (apart from the annoying rain that they dump on you) is that they block out the sun and stop the solar panels from working. Most of today’s engine hours have been to get the batteries filled back up. We’re hoping for more sunshine tomorrow as we should have got far enough south to avoid the clouds.
In disaster news, Susan has once again been heinously sabotaged by the evil Polynesian Boobie Mafia. The PBN struck again late last night whilst the crew were occupied dodging yet another lightning filled squall. The little feckers had been circling Susan all day, clearly eyeing up our new and very sexy windex at the top of the mast, which I guess they think looks like a suitable perch. Unfortunately, it’s made of very cheap and very nasty plastic which shattered as soon as they got their filthy webbed feet wrapped around it. This is the second windex that they’ve buggered in as many months, and means that we’ll be relying on our not terribly reliable electronics for the rest of the journey. Grr…
Stats for Nerds
Distance Travelled: 152nm
Distance to Go: 2348nm
Engine Hours: 5
Sail Changes: Too many to count
Uses of Passage Poo Knife: 0 (its first use was avoided by some extremely persistent and slightly desperate toilet pumping action)
Vomits: 0 (it has been a bit touch and go for the crew though, the swell out here is murderous)
Things Broken: 0
Things Maliciously Sabotaged: 1
18 13.326s 158 41.143w
The second day of any long passage is usually a low point in the journey. After the exuberance of setting off, you wake up from what feels like a bad dream, sporting a monster hangover, only to realise that reality is way worse than your darkest nightmare.
And so, day 2 started with all of the Fatties suffering from severe sleep deprivation but needing to crack on with some serious sail faff to deal with the changed conditions. Soon to be followed by even more serious sail faff (and associated bad language). And then, some truly nerve shredding sail faff as we were caught running downwind with our biggest and bestest low wind sail (the cruising chute) going berserk in 18 knots of wind. The language at this point plummeted to new depths, but luckily, Sam who was instrumental in wrestling the bastard sail down onto the deck had spent two years at a Portsmouth comprehensive school, and had heard it all before. In an art class apparently. Phew!
The day settled into one of sunshine and showers, happily with no reappearance of the Polynesian Boobie Mafia. In fact, I don’t think that we spotted any wildlife at all for the day. Which is the way I like it. Tricky stuff, wildlife. You can’t trust it. Fact.
Stats for nerds
Distance travelled today: 138nm
Total distance travelled: 290nm
Distance to go to NZ: 2210nm
Distance to the first island that we can’t stop at due to Covid: 225nm
Uses of poo knife: 1
Things Broken: 0 – huzzah!
Things Maliciously Sabotaged: 1
Timezones crossed: 1
Well, I should absolutely have kept my mouth shut about how difficult day 2 generally is on a long passage. Day 3 has been a battle, not with the weather (which has been gorgeous), not with Susan (who’s running like an absolute machine) but with exhaustion. I’ve managed to pick up a teeny tiny infection which has completely floored me. As I write this, the antibiotics have kicked in and I’m feeling much perkier than yesterday, which is nice.
Floss has had an upset stomach which has wiped her out. And the boys are suffering from severe interruptions to their teenage sleeping patterns. Evan was on the helm at 6am for goodness sake. No teenager should have to suffer that sort of indignity.
All things combined, everything we did felt like a huge effort. So much so that we made the foolish decision to try running with the hateful cruising chute up all night as we couldn’t face taking it down and re-rigging the headsail pole. A decision that bit us royally on the arse at 8pm when the wind and the swell got up and Susan was screaming through the surf at over 10kts; utterly out of control and lighting up the sea with her beautiful bioluminescent wake. Sam and I clipped on, clambered our way to the mast and braced ourselves to bundle the evil chute back into its bag. Keen to avoid a repeat of our last battle with the chute we luckily applied more brains than brawn, and managed to get the downhaul onto a winch and the whole thing was over in seconds. Evan scampered forward and tidied up all of the lines and we were all ship shape and back under control within 15 minutes. Floss suffered a minor injury when the chute sheet (try saying that when you’ve not slept for three days) bit her, but that required nothing more than a dab of savlon and a big hug.
Huzzah for teamwork!
Boo for cruising chutes!
A gold star for antibiotics!
Stats for Nerds
Exhaustion levels: 100%
Ability to think clearly: 5%
Desire to work out any proper stats: 0%
18 19.094s 160 34.052w
Guess who’s back
The Fatties are back
Tell a friend
Hallelujah, day 4 has arrived and we’ve cast off the shambling moronic zombie like stupor of the first few days and have turned back into normal communicative human beings. What a difference a day makes. The sun has been shining gloriously, the beautiful cruising chute has been poled out wing on wing with the trusty headsail and Susan has been cracking through the miles like the thoroughbred that she is. Oh yes, if we’d washed, we would have looked like an advert for long distance cruisers.
And then the email arrived from Bruce, our stellar Aussie weatherman and new best friend. It can be summarised thus:
“Hi Fatties, you’re making fantastic progress but it might be best if you made less than fantastic progress. There’s a thing that looks like a mahoosive hurricane over New Zealand, and there’s a similar looking thing right behind it. Any chance you can stop in Fiji and wait for them to pass? Love and a hug, Bruce.”
And so, as our observant nerds will have spotted, we’ve put the brakes on. As far as we know, we’re not allowed into Fiji due to the Covid restrictions so our current plan is to drift slowly west and hope that the bad weather has blown itself out by the time we arrive at the point where we need to head south to NZ. We’re also going to ask Fiji really nicely if we can have temporary safe harbour until the weather blows through. It’s frustrating, but we’ll just have to see how things develop.
The high point of today was hearing real people on the VHF. We suspect that we were party to a conversation between a yacht sailing too close to the Cook Islands and the Cook Islands’ Coastguard. In normal times, the Cooks would have been our first stop-over on the journey to New Zealand, but they’re closed to everyone, so we’ll just have to sail slowly past them tonight and imagine all of the adventures we could have had there if only someone in China hadn’t eaten a bat, or something. Niue is the next island paradise we won’t be visiting. Sigh…
Stats for Nerds
Distance travelled today: 113nm (sob!)
Total distance travelled: 545nm
Distance to go: 2114nm
Distance to the next island we can’t stop at due to Covid restrictions: 533nm
Uses of poo knife: 1
Exhaustion levels: 20%
Ability to think coherently: 85%
[This post was published so that family and friends following our progress on our PredictWind blog didn’t worry about our random change of course. See Day 5 for details]
Our most eagle-eyed nerds may have spotted that we’ve made extreme efforts to slow our progress towards Fiji. In fact, we’re currently heading away from Fiji. There’s no cause for concern, it’s all just part of the soap opera that is life aboard Fat Susan.
In a bizarre twist of fate, we are yet again temporarily unable to use the engine. And even more bizarrely, this has coincided with being becalmed. So, just as happened in the armpit of Panama, we’re drifting along with the current, in a flat calm sea, bathed in light from the almost full moon. It looks like we’ll be here for a couple of days until the wind picks up, and then we’ll be bashing out those miles and heading west yet again.
All is good. We’re perfectly safe and are taking the opportunity to get a bit of rest.
17 53.512s 164 33.992w
Imagine the situation. You’ve had a pleasant day of slow motion sailing, gradually increasing sail as the wind steadily drops. You’ve had time during the day to fix a couple of minor annoyances – the backup bilge alarm that has started making a low volume, high pitched screech despite a lack of water in the bilge, the clippy thing on the sail for reef 2 which fell off, the flickering lightbulb in the living room. You’ve even spotted that the main bilge alarm wasn’t turned on. Ooops. Obviously we won’t need it but better turn it on, eh? A good day’s work. The wind has finally dropped to the point where you have no option but to motor and you can look forward to a quiet night motoring under a bright moon, not having to worry about squalls, or power consumption or anything at all.
As you chug towards the sunset, your mind drifts towards writing a funny post about our current worries about how much toilet paper we’ve got onboard when your calm serenity is pierced by the high-pitched squeal of the bilge alarm you turned on earlier in the day. Suspecting that it too is knackered like the backup alarm, you are amazed to find that the bilge actually is full of water and the pump has kicked in but is struggling to keep pace with wherever the water is coming from. However, a quick 20 seconds on the hand pump and all of the water is back on the outside of Susan, which is where we like it best. Phew!
However, over the happy rumble of the engine, it’s possible to hear the unhappy sound of cascading water coming from somewhere at the back of the boat. More bad language comes forth as the sole boards are lifted and the source and scale of the problem becomes apparent, just as the bilge alarm goes off again. High pressure water is gushing out of the prop seal, flooding the bilges and without the sole boards in place to contain it, soaking the captain of the soon to be sunk Fat Susan. Much bad language makes the video that Floss is taking completely unusable for YouTube.
Luckily, we’ve been here before. Way back on the island of Bequia in the Carribbean, the prop seal failed and tried to sink Susan. So it doesn’t take long to get the seal reseated, turn off the seawater fountain, and re-empty the bilges. Phew!
Relief at averting immediate disaster quickly turns to concern about what are we going to do going forward. We know that as soon as we restart the engine, the flooding will also begin again. In order to fix this problem, we have to take Susan out of the water. In the Caribbean we were quite easily able to hop from island to island down to Grenada where we could fix the problem. Where we are now, we are many hundreds of miles from land, all of the Pacific Islands are closed due to Covid, and haul out facilities are pretty thin on the ground. Bugger.
So, we’ve spent an uncomfortable night rolling around in the swell with zero wind and no sails up, emailing the various Pacific Island governments asking if we can be allowed in for emergency repairs. Hopefully we’ll get some wind in the morning and we’ll be able to start pushing west again.
That “Breaking News” post yesterday should have been entitled “News of Things Breaking”.
Huzzah for sailing though, who wouldn’t want this sort of adventure in their life?
Stats for nerds
Working engines: 1
Engines we can use: 0
Distance travelled today: 51nm
Distance made good today: 34nm
Disasters averted: 1
17 52.502s 164 40.692w
After the white knuckle excitement and adventure of day 5, day 6 brought a welcome air of calm and control. The wind had completely died overnight, and we’d taken the sails down and spent the night drifting slowly eastward with the current. This gave us all a welcome break from sailing and allowed us to recharge our batteries for the next leg of the journey.
Without being able to use the engine for fear of restarting the flooding from the prop seal, everything we do from here to wherever we make landfall is going to have to be done under sail. Fat Susan is a sailing boat so this isn’t a disaster at all. But it impacts several things.
We won’t be able to motor out of patches of no wind which could really extend our journey time. Those big ole weather systems over NZ are forecast to be sucking the wind out of our sails for a while.
We’ll have to be ultra careful when we get close to any of the numerous atolls and islands that are scattered throughout this region, ensuring that we’re always on the “safe” side of them should the wind fail to stick to the forecast.
All sail changes become more difficult as we can’t use the motor to take the wind out of the sails and depower them.
When we do eventually have to use the engine we’ll be setting up a “pumping rota” to keep the bilges empty.
And most importantly, when we reach land, the “Engine shut down procedure” will need to be updated to ensure that we reseat the seal and stop the water coming in well before we reach the “Get the parents a beer” step.* Sigh…
Significantly earlier than forecasted, the wind filled in and we slowly managed to get Susan moving again. Huzzah for sailing!
Once we got moving I discovered that there are a surprising number of agencies involved in trying to gain entry to a country that’s shut, and my day was spent in email prison. Very slow and frustrating email prison as we are using a satellite connection from the middle of the ocean… It felt suspiciously like my previous life in the real world, but thankfully without the need for PowerPoint or Excel.
It currently looks like Tonga is our best bet. They’ve got the facilities to haul Susan out of the water and are less than a week away. We considered turning back east, but the Cook Islands don’t have the facilities we need and the weather would be against us all the way to French Polynesia. We’d be in New Zealand before we got to Tahiti. The Tongan borders are firmly shut though. We’d be the first foreign flagged vessel to arrive in the country for over a year, so we’re not overly confident that our application will be viewed favourably.
No stats for nerds today I’m afraid, I’ve been way too stressed.
*I should make it clear, for the avoidance of any doubt whatsoever, that whilst on passage no booze is drunk by anyone on Fat Susan. She’s a completely dry boat (the only exception ever has been a swig of rum for us and Neptune when crossing the equator back in July 2020). I might keep a list of how many times we’ve run the “engine shut down procedure” and therefore how many beers I’m owed once we arrive however…
17 51.424s 164 47.753w
The big focus for today has been trying to secure access to Tonga. I’ve again been locked in email prison, where I was excited to discover that our case was going to be discussed at the Government of Tonga’s National Emergency Management Committee meeting today. I thought that this was a good thing, and that surely they’d understand our urgent need for repairs and welcome Susan in with open arms. Alas, no. Tonga is shut, and Tonga is staying shut. Until 2022. They’re covid free, and that’s the way they like it. They have well over 11,000 residents that can’t come back home for fear of introducing the disease to the community, and politically there’s no way that we can be allowed to enter. Disappointing but totally understandable.
Our hopes now are pinned on Fiji. They’re several hundred miles further west which will add maybe an extra 5 days to our journey, but even though they’ve got their own covid challenges they do have a process for allowing boats to enter. We’ve got an agent working for us and have kicked off the process of seeking approval to enter for emergency repairs. Fingers crossed please nerds. Fingers crossed.
It’s been a difficult first week and the Fatties were in need of a little R&R to perk things up a bit. There was an emergency meeting of the Fat Susan executive committee and the decision was made to allow the whole crew to take an actual shower in place of the usual rub down with a damp rag that normally constitutes our personal hygiene routine whilst on passage. As an extra special treat, we even allowed the use of hot water. Such luxury has never been known!
As a second treat, we were just at a low enough latitude to enjoy the lunar eclipse. I think that we would have benefited from being a degree further south, but the sky was completely free of cloud where we were and we had an awesome view of the two hour long spectacular.
All in all, after a week at sea, we’re doing well, We’ve abandoned Plan A (sail to New Zealand). We’ve scrapped Plan B (fix Susan in Tonga). We’re feeling good about Plan C (fix Susan in Fiji). We haven’t got a Plan D, but it might look like Plan A, but with much higher levels of anxiety. I need to see those fingers crossed people!
And finally, here are some stats from what has been a very barren week for all of you nerds out there. These are based on the assumption that Fiji lets us in…
A good day of progress today. We’ve had some glorious weather and a fine lick of wind on the starboard beam has seen us cruising comfortably at around 6 kts all day, and crucially, all night too. This has put a very healthy 140 nautical miles under Susan’s keel, which is where we like them best.
We knew that we were approaching an area with no wind though, and sure enough, just as we thought we were easily going to break the 150 miles a day barrier, we got mullered by a massive squall that soaked us to the skin and then sucked all of the wind out of the sails. The last three hours of the day were spent with an increasingly desperate set of sail changes, but to no avail. Once again, Susan is becalmed. If this weather continues, brace yourselves for a very low scoring Day 9 report.
In other news, the torrential rain has highlighted a new set of leaks in the boys’ cabin. Not nearly as severe as those we found leaving Panama but certainly something we want to look at when we get to Fiji. Assuming that they let us in. No news on that front I’m afraid.
As part of our entry requirements into New Zealand during the COVID pandemic, we have to monitor and log everyone’s temperature every day. You’ll be pleased to hear that everybody is super healthy, but there’s a surprising range each day. The current low score is 35.3°C with a high score of 36.7°C
No stats again today I’m afraid nerds, there’s just been no time to get any calculated.
17 37.583s 166 56.271w
We’ve had a couple of emails (always lovely to get them, keep sending them in, please) from some of our lovely nerds regarding our current predicament. There seems to be some mystery surrounding just why we’re having to go so slowly, so I’ll use this post to try and clarify stuff.
The problem is that we have no wind and we don’t want to use the engine. We are mostly in extremely light wind or completely becalmed. There is not enough wind to fill the sails so they just flap around, being noisy and threatening to break something. We are also stuck in an ocean current going in the wrong direction.
Susan’s engine is actually fine and dandy at the moment. The problem is with the prop seal. This should stop water coming into the boat where the prop shaft exits the hull. However, whenever we spin the propeller we get lots of seawater flowing through the seal and back into the boat. So we can run the engine, just not turn the propeller. The seal is made of two parts that rub against each other when the propeller spins, and is designed to have a working life of about 4 – 5 years. After this time the parts have worn away and the seal needs to be replaced. We replaced Susan’s seal back in Grenada two years ago, so weren’t even thinking of worrying about it for some time to come.
We could spin the prop, deal with the ingress of water and then try and reseal the prop seal afterwards. That would probably work, but what if we couldn’t reseal it? We are almost a thousand miles from safety and the RNLI will not be visiting us if we need them. If it was just Floss and I on board we may take more calculated risks. But it isn’t.
We’re clearly going to have to use the engine for the last bit of the journey, and particularly when we come into the marina to haul out, so we’ll just have to set up a pumping rota to hopefully get rid of the water as quickly as it’s coming in. We could use the engine now to get us out of the doldrums, but that would wear the seal down more and possibly mean that the leak would continue even when the propeller wasn’t spinning. So we’re not going to, and you’ll just have to continue reading this nonsense until we arrive in New Zealand.
Weather wise, day 9 has been a real low point. The wind died completely just after breakfast, and it pissed with rain all day. Completely flat seas and torrential rain. Despite all our best efforts we were still drifting back towards Tahiti for most of the day.
The bonus however was that after moving so slowly for eight hours, Susan had turned into a fish aggregation device, with a number of fishes living in her shadow. This in turn attracted an oceanic white tip to pay us a visit, and perhaps get some dinner. And we also had a six metre whale come and play for a couple of hours. We’ve no idea what the whale thought was going on, but he slowly circled us and came in for repeated passes by the stern and along each beam. It was so cool, although once the sun had set it was pretty spooky hearing him breathing and diving about 3 metres away. Evan managed to cable-tie the GoPro to the boat hook and get some video so we should be able to identify the whale today when we get the books out. We’ve called him Mr Stephens, after the head of catering on the Death Star*
Other than that, there’s not a lot going on. We’re mildly concerned about our toilet paper supplies. We didn’t discover until we left Bora Bora but ‘Super U’ own brand loo paper is very poor quality with a very small number of sheets per roll. We’re about to implement a “3 sheets per visit” limit (one up, one down, one across) to try and extend the life of our supplies.
Stats for nerds:
Distance sailed today: 40 nm
Distance made good (distance closer to Fiji): 15 nm Boooo :o(
Total distance sailed: 960 nm
Distance to go: 959 nm – half distance, Yahoo!
Average speed today: 1.7 kts
Average speed made good today: 0.6 kts
Average speed overall: 4.4 kts
*If you’re not aware of Mr Stephens, have a look at Eddie Izzard’s Death Star Canteen sketch (the Lego ones are the best) on YouTube. Perhaps not at work though, the language is a bit rich.
18 01.835s 169 50.695w
Not a great deal of anything happened today, so here’s a selection of my most random observations:
Death Star Canteen News: Having reviewed Evan’s excellent GoPro footage of Mr Stephens the whale and Geoff Vader the oceanic white tip shark, we were surprised to find that Susan hadn’t turned into a fish aggregation device at all. Unless Geoff had been spectacularly efficient at gobbling up all the wildlife within the first few minutes, he must have just been passing and stopped off for a few minutes to check us out. 75% of the crew have decided that Mr Stephens was a Minke whale, but will revisit that decision once we get access to the internet. The other 25% of the crew is unwilling to commit at this point in time.
Critter News: So far this trip we have only found a single dead flying fish on the morning deck patrol, and Sam hasn’t been hit by any over affectionate squid during his night watches. We’ve no idea why this is, but we’re all happy about it, especially Sam. It could be related to the phase of the moon, perhaps things will get a bit more interesting in this area once we get a new moon next week.
Power News: Despite the scorchingly hot sunshine we’ve had for most of the trip, we’re struggling to generate enough power to keep Susan’s batteries topped up and we’re having to run the generator each morning. There are a couple of reasons for this. Primarily, we’ve sailed a long way south of the equator and we are in the depths of winter down here. Consequently the sun doesn’t get very high in the sky and therefore there’s less light energy falling on the panels. Also, the way the wind has been blowing has been making Susan heel towards the south, further increasing the angle at which the light hits the panels and reducing the energy they generate.
Paper News: The “three wipes and you’re out” policy is paying dividends and showing a significant reduction in loo roll consumption. We’re are also running low on fresh veg, which might be starting to have an effect.
Temperature News: The current highs and lows for the daily covid body temperature log are – high of 37.3° – low of 34.5°. Which is all for the good.
Stats for Nerds
Distance travelled today: 68 nm
Total distance travelled: 1023 nm
Distance made good today: 65 nm
Average speed today: 2.7 kts
Distance to go: 895 mm
Enthusiasm for sailing: So low we have no enthusiasm to even calculate it.
17 37.583s 166 56.271w
We know that at least one super nerd spotted it, as she wrote to us to explain how excited she was. We spotted it at about 10 am Susan Standard Time. Bruce the Australian Weatherman of Legend also spotted it.
Not a return of Mr Stephens, but a 2 knot increase in windspeed. That’s all we needed to be able to get the beautiful cruising chute back in the saddle and to see our speed increase from a depressing 2 – 3 knots to a hair-raising 4 – 5 knots. We could barely breath we were travelling so quickly!
Ordinarily when we are getting ready to hoist the cruising chute, we can put the engine on, take the existing sails down at our leisure and then slowly and carefully get the cruising chute rigged and raised. The engine gives us time and power to keep Susan steering the right course relative to the wind. Without the engine the whole process is a lot more complicated, involving 2 gybes, 7 individual stages and more uphauls, downhauls, sheets, halyards and topping lifts than I can count. All in all, it takes about 30 minutes and everyone has to get involved with the dance. I have no idea how single handers manage to get themselves around the world. Perhaps I should go on a course and learn how to sail once we get to New Zealand…
Apart from our blistering pace, the other highlight of the day was Evan’s cookie baking antics. There are few things that raise the spirits as much as a fresh coffee and a warm cookie straight out of the oven. Evan has spent a long time evolving the recipe, and the cookies he bakes are outstanding. Any nerds who fancy a taste of life aboard Susan should drop us a note (email@example.com) and we’ll post you the recipe.
Navigation News: We managed to successfully dodge the very random “pinnacle with no name” that rises 5 km from the sea bed to be just 9 metres from the surface and are edging ever closer to Fiji. The next island paradise that’s in our sights but that we’re not allowed to stop at is Niue. We’ll pass about 55 nm to the north of it soon, and then it’s the Capricorn Seamount, the International Date Line and Tonga in about 2 days. It feels like we’re edging closer to our destination as at least now there are things to look at on the charts.
Still no word from Fiji, maybe tomorrow…
Stats for nerds
Distance travelled today: 98 nm
Total distance travelled: 1121 nm
Total distance to go: 804 nm
Cookies baked: 36
Cookies eaten: 26
Films watched: 12
Books read: 9
Toilet rolls remaining: 10
Timezones crossed: 2
18 30.324s 175 04.511w
Day 12 was a day where literally nothing happened. There was precious little wind. We made hardly any miles towards Fiji. And we were drifting so slowly that Susan’s autopilot just couldn’t cope. Most of the day was spent in the cockpit, with a hand loosely on the helm casting an occasional eye over the compass to ensure that we were pointing in a vaguely west-ish direction.
We’d faffed about early in the morning and hoisted the beautiful cruising chute well before breakfast, but as the wind slowly ebbed away it started to hang more and more forlornly from the mast. By the evening it seemed to have got bored and started flapping around making a noisy nuisance of itself. By midnight, there was no other option than taking it down and resigning ourself to yet another night of drifting under the stars. Sigh.
As the wind dropped, the swell grew and Susan started see-sawing in the ever increasing surf. This made life below decks increasingly difficult and uncomfortable and made us less and less inclined to make anything of the day. Books were read. TV was binged. Films were watched.
The highlight for me was finding time out of my normal hectic day to have a shave, and discovering that under those wise and mature whiskers, I’m still just as young and handsome as I was when we left Bora Bora.
Floss’s highlight was admitting that we just couldn’t be arsed to have dinner and leaving the kids to fend for themselves. She splurged on a large bowl of crunchy nut cornflakes for dinner.
Sam’s highlight was going for a nice lie down in his cabin to sleep off the effects of his delicious and nutritious pot noodle lunch.
Evan’s highlight was the discovery of a whole, unopened box of crunchy nut cornflakes hidden by one of the parents (Floss) who clearly wanted to keep it to themselves.
So, on reflection, not a bad day at all, but here’s hoping that tomorrow is more interesting.
18 01.835s 169 50.695w
If day 12 was the day where literally nothing happened, day 13 was the day where it all kicked off and went a bit bonkers.
The day started like most of them do, with some frantic early morning dicking about with sails to try and get Susan moving. The added dimension to today’s activity was that it was absolutely hurling rain down on us. I’ve used the adjective “biblical” many times, but this was on a different level. So much so that when asked to get their wet weather gear sorted, the boys took one look out of the window and disappeared to get their swimmers on. It’s a good look. Swimmers, life jacket, harness and a grim determination to get this done as quickly as possible.
But the morning’s weather was a mere aperitif compared to the feast which it presented us with once the sun went down.
We’d had a warning two days ago about a storm front ahead of us which was feeding the huge storm currently sitting over New Zealand. But those warnings had been rescinded yesterday, and we were expecting a pleasant night’s downwind sailing, with a slight risk of a squall or two. And that’s what we got, until midnight, when the storm leapt out of the darkness and pummeled us with 30 knot winds, indescribable volumes of rain and a mountainous 5 metre (15 ft) swell.
As always, Susan took all of this in her stride. She’s built for this sort of thing. But we’re not, and after 4 hours of abuse, we’d had enough and parked up for the few hours until sunrise. With the merest scrap of sail up, we locked the wheel hard to windward and Susan came to a dead stop. With the sound of the wind screaming through the rigging and waves crashing all around us in the inky black night, we paused to download a fresh weather update and tried to come up with a plan to escape the storm.
The day ended as it had started. The boys in swimmers and life jackets getting ready to once again do battle with the sails, but this time we had a new goal, running south west as fast as we could to try and escape the some of the most unpleasant seas we’ve ever had the misfortune to experience.
Don’t miss tomorrow’s exciting episode where we spend six hours successfully running away from the weather, we celebrate the arrival of blue skies, get to change into a fresh pair of dry pants and enjoy some lovely soup and a crusty bap for lunch.
Stats for nerds
Number of crew members who never want to have another night like that one: 4
18 29.795s 177 58.594w
If day 12 was the day that nothing happened, and day 13 was when it all got a bit crazy, then day 14 should be known as the day that didn’t happen…
After the previous night’s storm cautiously released its grip on Susan, the skies slowly brightened and the thunderous swell steadied itself. We all looked around and took stock of the situation. We’d come through remarkably well. The boys were sporting a couple of fresh bruises from where they’d both been forcibly ejected from their bunks by a particularly gnarly wave. 50% of our glassware was smashed, which now only leaves us a single tumbler; this might make life awkward come gin and tonic time. And our wet weather gear was thoroughly wet. But apart from that, no harm done. Which is nice.
Attention turned to our position, and we were delighted to see that we were only a handful of miles away from the International Date Line. As the miles ticked down we all tried to work out exactly what crossing the line actually meant. Evan happily concluded that if we timed it right we’d be able to have two lunches today. Sam was happy with the idea of extra rations and put no further effort into the problem. Floss correctly surmised that actually, we’d join Tonga’s timezone and therefore in a single bound we’d move the clocks forward by 25 hours. We’d wave goodbye to 13:00 on Tuesday afternoon and say a big friendly hello to 14:00 on Wednesday. It was time to pay back all of those 25 hour days we’d enjoyed on previous passages, and psychologically, wave a very firm farewell to the previous night’s storm.
What a result.
Sadly, no extra lunches for the kids, as the galley shuts at 14:00 on weekdays. Sorry boys.
Life in our new timezone was much more comfortable and we festooned Susan with wet gear to celebrate. By 5 pm we were dried out, tidied up and looking good for an overnight sail-by of Tonga. After being refused entry, we were really hoping that the Tongan Navy would arrive to escort us out of their territorial waters. Or, if the navy were busy, then maybe the coastguard could pop out to say hello. But nothing so exciting happened. We overheard some garbled radio messages, and caught a fleeting glimpse of Vava’u after the sunrise, but that’ll be where our Tongan adventure ends. Sigh.
Next stop Fiji. Still nothing concrete heard about our application, but our agent and the British High Commission are still plugging away on our behalf. Maybe there’ll be news tomorrow.
Stats for nerds
Distance travelled today: 132 nm, although I’m deeply confused about where exactly “today” started and ended.
Distance to go: 527 nm
Timezones crossed: 3, but might be 28. Could be 22. Not sure anymore.
Favourite Bond film watched on this passage, so far: Goldeneye
18 29.795s 177 58.594w
It’s amazing how quickly things can turn around if you’re not paying attention. We’d made good progress overnight, but as day 15 dawned, the wind started to drop and it was time to swap the headsail for the beautiful / hateful cruising chute. It was still raining heavily, so enthusiasm levels were low, but we needed to keep pushing hard to get to Fiji as soon as possible to get Susan fixed.
So, with wet weather gear on (the boys still consider swimmers to be wet weather gear) we all gathered ourselves to reprise the dance of the cruising chute. And despite our high levels of fatigue, it went very well. We managed to hold course and only made two cock-ups with the rigging of the chute. Well done us. Or so we thought…
With our single minded focus on getting the chute up, we’d completely failed to realise that the wind had died off almost completely. The chute flew for about 2 minutes, but then deflated and hung limp, lifeless and dripping wet against the forestay and headsail. Susan began rolling around in the swell and before we could issue a “shiver me timbers”, the chute had tied itself in a double helix around the headsail and created what is commonly know as a right bloody mess.
All attempts to unravel it by brute force failed. It was too tightly wrapped to drop and too twisted to simply un-knit. Without either the headsail or the cruising chute our ability to sail towards Fiji was going to be severely limited. We were in a significant pickle.
Thinking caps were put on, and the problem was studied from many angles, none of which pointed towards an elegant solution. If we’d had use of the engine I think that we could have driven round and around in circles, and created enough wind to unwrap it. But without the engine, we were just going to have to fix this one wrap at a time. Engineering and severe bad language was called for.
It took us four hours, with many false dawns, cries of desperation and piratical levels of swearing, but we managed it. Winches, cleats, furlers and brute force were needed, and the only injury was to my sunnies, which got slapped off my face into 5000 metres of water by the chute as I was wrestling it onto the deck. Total result.
The kids were amazing throughout the whole exercise and celebrated their success with a pot noodle each. Floss came inside, dried off and got on with being useful and productive. I sat, soaked and utterly exhausted in the cockpit and stared vacantly into space for a couple of hours as we drifted aimlessly in the swell. Still, we said we wanted an adventure, and this passage is certainly delivering on that front.
No word from Fiji yet, although we have had to provide more information regarding our passports. Is it too risky to start thinking that maybe things are moving our way…?
Stats for nerds:
Distance travelled today: 101 nm
Distance to go: 427 nm
Number of films watched: 19
Loo rolls remaining: 8
Number of crew praying we don’t have to use the cruising chute ever again: 4
Stink-o-meter reading from everything being damp, including the teenagers: 8
Finally, after what feels like a lifetime, but is actually only 5 days, we’ve had a break in the weather. The sun is shining, the wind is on our beam, and we are loving this cruising life.
Not wanting to spoil the vibe, we’ve ignored the opportunity to do anything remotely challenging with the sails and have managed to maximise progress whilst minimising effort. We managed a very slick hoisting of the mainsail in the afternoon, but apart from that, effort has focused on just tweaking the headsail. The weather has even been good enough to let Susan’s autipilot do the driving. Splendid.
We’ve made good progress towards Fiji overnight and have spotted land this morning. That’s given us a major morale boost; it feels like we’re almost there despite still having over 300 miles still to go. And then there’s the small matter of not actually having permission to be here, yet.
Highlights of the day:
Floss put her feet up and read a whole book.
Dez watched TV and had a nice nap.
Sam gorged himself on home made hummus and crackers; he’s so posh!
Evan is down to the last movie in his Bond marathon, only Spectre to do and he’s completed the set before completing the Pacific Ocean.
Dinner was a delicious medley of burgers, mash and veg. Yummy.
Damp news: We’ve managed to dry out all of the damp and smelly wet weather gear, and Susan is smelling and looking gorgeous.
Stats for nerds
Distance travelled: 125 nm
Distance to go: 299 nm
Total distance sailed: 1,641 nm
Films watched: 22
Books read: 12
Loo rolls remaining: 7
Stink-o-meter reading: 2 – Sam and Evan score a point each just for being teenage boys.
Timezones crossed: 1 more than last time, we’re now 12 hours ahead of GMT
18 47.392s 179 55.585e
After successfully navigating the fearsomely beautiful Oneata pass and cruising majestically through the Lau group of islands, spirits were high amongst the Fat Susan crew. We were in the territorial waters of the lovely Fiji! The wind was on our port beam, the solar panels were angled towards the sun and working hard. Unhatched chickens were being metaphorically counted. Three more sleeps and we’d be in safe and loving embrace of the Port Denarau travel lift, with Susan out of the water and receiving some tender loving care having seen us through yet another epic passage of cruising legend.
This is the journey that just keeps on giving…
The latest forecast has us wallowing around for the next 24 – 36 hours, and then we’ll get some more rain (huzzah) and the wind will start blowing from the west, i.e. pushing us back towards French Polynesia (oh joy). Brace yourselves for another five days of complaining from Fat Susan, home of the world’s slowest sailors.
18 47.392s 179 55.585e
It’s almost certainly true that someone famous once said that desperate times create desperate people, and that desperate people do desperate things. Today, times officially became desperate onboard Fat Susan.
Unable to face another full day of drifting aimlessly, and mildly concerned that we are sat in the middle of the world’s quietest shipping lane, we hatched a cunning plan. We might not be able to use Susan’s engine, but there’s nothing to stop us making use of Bob the Dinghy’s awesome 2 stroke engine of legend. So we got Bob into the water (a tricky manoeuvre due to the generous swell around here) strapped him to Susan’s starboard side and set off in the direction of Port Denarau.
It’s not the most efficient form of propulsion, but on the mirror smooth seas around here we were able to make a respectable 3.5 knots. And all of them in the right direction. Result!
We got about 20 miles closer to Denarau, before the breathless heat and sapphire blue water got too much to resist and we called a halt to “Operation Tug Boat” and declared the Fijian national swimming pool open. Of course, we couldn’t just jump into the water as Evan spotted a large and ominous dorsal fin lurking about 100 metres away. Was it Mr Stephens returning to say hello? Or could it have been Geoff Vader looking for a spot of early dinner? Hmmm…
Whoever it was, they didn’t come any closer and we eventually all managed to ignore the “Jaws” theme tune playing in our heads and get in for a beautiful swim and cool down.
It’s likely that we’ve got another 24 hours of this weather before the wind and the rain reappear, but we haven’t got a huge amount of fuel left for Bob. Tomorrow might see the start of “Operation Boat Race” where we get the kids to earn their keep, and start rowing us westward.
Film News: Evan has successfully completed his Bond marathon and is now ready for “No Time to Die” should we ever make it to civilisation.
Booze News: In tracking down a somewhat strange aroma in the saloon today we were horrified to discover that we’ve lost a substantial amount of our limited gin supplies into the bilges. The blame lies with the swell that’s constantly rocking the boat which had both tipped the bottle over and then managed to loosen the lid as it rolled around in the bottom of the locker. It looks like the fact that we’ve only got a single G & T tumbler left won’t be a problem after all. Bugger.
18 24.329s 178 31.577e
In a radical departure from the usual nonsense and complaining, I thought that to mark the occasion of us having officially sailed half way around the world, I’d put together some nerd friendly stats. So here you go…
We set off from Port Solent, Portsmouth, UK (50° 50.643 N 1° 06.138 W) on the 13th August 2018.
In our world, today is the 8th June 2021 and we’ve just crossed the point on the globe 180° on “the other side” (18° 28.796 S 178° 53.862 E)
Halfway around the world distance: 10,800 nm
Total distance we’ve travelled: 17,197 nm
Number of days since we left: 1,032
Countries visited: 21
Continents visited: 5
Number of dives done: 180
Number of timezones crossed: 12
Longest passage: 4,702 nm
Number of times we’ve hauled out to fix broken stuff: 4 Number of days sailing: 223
Number of nights sailing: 109
Average distance sailed each day: 16.6 nm
Amount of solar power generated: 1165 kWh
Number of nights not aboard: 104
Uses of poo knife: 8
Fish caught: 5
Fish eaten: 4.5 – there’s still tuna in the freezer
Phones dropped in the sea: 2
Flights taken: 12
Cars hired: 7
Highest wind speed recorded: 38.7 kts
Highest speed recorded: 15.4 kts
Number of mid-ocean swims: 3
Lunar eclipses: 2
Solar eclipses: 0
Tsunami alerts: 2
Number of visitors: 9
Favourite pizza place: Brooklyn, USA
Number of dinghy’s owned: 3
Number of times we’ve explained how we named Fat Susan: Almost daily
18 24.838s 177 37.583e
A mixed bag today. It started well with a stunning sunrise and a slow sail down the beautiful east coast of the island of Moala. There was some unpleasantness once south of Moala as we faffed about in the variable winds trying to clear Moala’s extensive reef system. A hair raising crash through swell, dodging storms and hooning along at 7 knots covered off the afternoon hours. The sunset brought the usual drop in winds, and we ended up once again with sails flapping, drifting along in the breeze, under the glorious blanket of the Milky Way.
Still, we’re a good few miles closer to Denarau, and were able to see the light pollution from the city of Suva. Not as pretty as the milky way, but it’s our clearest sign yet but that we’re edging closer to civilisation. Unfortunately, civilisation also brings islands and reefs. We’ve got some tricky navigation coming up, which will be made more tricky by the poor winds that are forecast. Any sudden and seemingly random course changes you see on the tracker will be us dodging hazards that don’t show up on the Predictwind charts. Honest.
Only 150 nautical miles to go, but the adventure is still far from over.
No word from Fiji about access yet, but the covid situation is worsening so we imagine we’re low on their priority list.
18 20.011s 177 25.539e
Any nerds paying close attention to our track today will have spotted that we now have a 5th crew member onboard Fat Susan. That’s right, Zorro parachuted in with his cape flapping and has been leaving his mark all over our path to Denarau. It’s lovely to have him with us, and with all of this practice our tacks are nearly as sharp as his sword. And as we’ve not yet been given permission to enter Fiji, spending half of our time sailing away from Denarau is actually a good thing.
Pants News: We’ve made use of the slow going to make some water and get some laundry done. Everyone aboard (apart from Zorro, he goes commando, obviously) will be sporting fresh underwear as we enter Fiji. This will please Granny and Nanna as I know they still worry about us getting run over and not having a pair of freshies on.
Breakage News: Disappointingly, in starting the generator to run the watermaker to wash the pants, the generator starter cord snapped. No more generator action for us until we get anchored and I can get it fixed.
Stats News: We use an app called Navionics for the majority of our charting, navigation and routing needs. Unfortunately, our subscription to the Pacific set of charts expired without warning a couple of days ago, and we can’t renew the subscription until we get access to the internet. We can still use the downloaded charts so we know where we are and where all the hazards are, so we’re still safe, but all of the useful “how far to go” and “are we nearly there yet?” tools are now disabled. This means that I have to use maths and everything to calculate the stats. Frankly, fresh pants was higher on my list of priorities yesterday. Apologies, once again, nerds.
17 45.288s 177 22.583e
Three weeks after leaving Bora Bora. Two weeks after the prop seal failed. One week after being battered by monsterous seas, it suddenly felt as if the whole journey was all about the 30 minutes needed to thread our way through the treacherous Navula pass and the four-ish hours and 20 miles to the Fijian quarantine anchorage. Emotions were running hot.
We’d failed to move fast enough to make this final part of the journey in the daylight so we were going to be relying on the leading lights and our expired Navionics charts. Oh, and to add an extra layer of excitement, we’d be motoring in and therefore had to have a Fatty on permanent standby by the bilge pumps to stop us from sinking.
Picture the scene. A dark, moonless night. A chilled breeze tumbling down the shadowy mountains. Reefs all around, strewn with the wrecks of previous adventurers’ dreams. Dez on the helm, heroically keeping Susan on course as the spring tide ripped through the pass. Floss monitoring the charts, calling out course corrections and counting down the distance to each waypoint. Evan manfully pumping the bilges clear every 5 minutes. Sam, an oasis of calm, watching telly. We were a well oiled and smoothly running machine, for five long hours.
The anchor drop was super smooth, with the windlass working almost flawlessly, for once in its life. And by midnight, we were safely ensconced in the quarantine anchorage running through the engine shutdown procedure.
The prop seal re-seated itself, taking care of step 5. Alas, we never made it to step 6 (“Get the parents a beer”) as we were just too tired.
And there you have it. Our trickiest passage yet ended with more of a whimper than a bang; the need for sleep more powerful than even the urge to have a celebration beer. That’s a first. And hopefully a last.
We still haven’t got permission to be here, but the navy are due to visit at 08:30 so hopefully we won’t be in prison by the time you read this…
Stats for nerds
Total distance travelled: 2029.9 nm
Total time at sea: 20 days, 17 hours & 10 minutes
Average speed: 4.08 kts
Nights becalmed: 8
Government agencies involved in getting us here: 11
Loo rolls remaining: 5
16 47.867s 179 17.536e
Ok, so we were aiming for a different country, a different island, 1200 miles south of our final destination. The lovely Fijian people and their stunningly beautiful country made up for any disappointment we may have momentarily had. The Customs and Immigration people eventually let us stay. After several weeks of hanging around and monitoring a huge weather system sitting between Fiji and New Zealand, our New Zealand visas expired. But hey, who wouldn’t want to spend four months ‘trapped’ in Fiji while renewing those visas? We’ll get there eventually…