Thursday, October 6, 2022

Voyage of CINNABAR - New Zealand to Fiji

Oct 2022

We have been in Fiji for a month and a synopsis of our recent voyage is long overdue:

We were incredibly fortunate to be "marooned" in New Zealand during the worldwide COVID pandemic since December 2019. Immigration had extended our visas numerous times but when the South Pacific cyclone season ended in May 2022, the foreign yachties were informed that our time was up and we must leave the country. After all that time being landlubbers it was a challenging push to get Cinnabar, and mostly ourselves, ready to sail the ~1300 nm from New Zealand to Fiji. 

A few months before we departed, we were introduced to a local sailor who had never done an ocean passage before but was keen for the experience. We met him, liked him and decided that Nathan would be our #3. We waited, and waited, worked on the boat with Nathan's help, and waited some more for a good weather window. Finally, at the end of August, it looked like some good passage weather might be coming up. At the last minute our close friend Ian said he was also interested in the passage. He is an experienced off-shore sailor and has done the voyage before so we said "Heck yeah!!" and added a #4. These guys would prove invaluable to our successful journey.

On August 26 our marina neighbors helped us cast off. Even though they had to get up ridiculously early they wanted to say goodbye. And possibly they couldn't quite believe we were actually leaving.

We left the dock of Riverside Drive Marina, our home away from home, very early in the morning so as to go under the iconic Te Matau a Pohe drawbridge (shaped like a fish hook) at high tide and before it closed for morning traffic at 7:00 a.m. 

Leaving the drawbridge behind us.

Later that morning, after an 11-mile motor down the river, we arrived at Marsden Cove Marina where we were scheduled to officially check out with NZ Immigration the following morning. We spent a pleasant afternoon at the marina enjoying their facilities (shower and dock water) and even got together with some other cruisers (who were also leaving) to enjoy a last dinner in New Zealand.

Getting ready to check out of Marsden Cove Marina

Our first day was thankfully easy-peasy with nice flat seas, a mild breeze and minimal motoring. 

Sailing past the famous Poor Knights Islands. Sun is getting ready to set.

We had departed on a new moon and I was worried that the night would be pitch black, but the skies were clear, the stars were shining and plentiful, and Jupiter was incredibly bright most of the night. 

Twenty four hours later, the wind started picking up and the seas became more boisterous. The second night was very different from the first and we were happy to have crew to help out with the work. Our IridiumGo satphone post after that night read: 

 "Night classes began…install third reef, learn how to heave to (and heave), learn rolling hitch (and why), learn to untangle flogging knotted, lazy sheet from working jib sheet, reeve #1 reef line to #3,practice how to resolve fumes and liquid from leaking petrol can, live enactments of What Not To Do and problem solving."

For the next three days I counted wave trains coming from 6 different directions. Ugh. The cook was not thrilled and any food that was roundish invariably ended up taking a roll around the cabin. I recall chasing a cabbage, hard-boiled eggs, 2 avocados (lost one for a couple of days), some meatballs, apples and oranges. We also got to practice human pinball maneuvers below decks and one acrobatic body fling from the galley all the way across the cabin (Sylvia). Luckily no serious damage but ouch! 

It was actually more pleasant above deck as long as we hunkered down inside the dodger. Conditions were wet with lots of water splashing over the dodger and also waves sneaking up the side and firehosing large amounts of water into the cockpit. 

Looks innocent...

...but NO, a direct hit over the dodger.

After a few days the conditions settled down and we were able to have a very enjoyable voyage. Most of the nights were crystal clear and we were able to identify planets and constellations. Jupiter and Scorpio were our constant nighttime companions.

Nathan takes a turn at the helm. It's still a bit chilly and wet.

We were delighted to be visited by numerous curious marine birds. Ian has terrific knowledge of the various birds and we were able to identify many of them.

We reckoned this was a Northern Royal Albatross.

As usual we were also visited by random flying fish ending up on our decks. One night Ian was on watch and I was preparing to join him. There was a large THUMP! like a drum and when I joined Ian on deck there were fish scales all over the cockpit. A large flying fish had made a direct hit on the taut dodger effectively turning it into a fish drum. 

While still needing jackets at night, the days were becoming warmer and shorts and t-shirts became the norm.

We were fortunate that the wind and waves had settled down because it enabled us to make a mid-ocean stop at South Minerva Reef for a couple of hours for lunch. 

Our track from Whangarei, NZ to Fiji. Note the black dot, more or less the location of South Minerva Reef where we stopped for lunch and showers

It's amazing to be able to enter a reef in the middle of the ocean. We had stopped at North Minerva Reef on our way down from Tonga but we had not visited South Minerva. Neither Ian nor Nathan had been to either of the Minervas so we were keen to pay a visit. One must enter these reefs very carefully as there are numerous coral heads. With Ian on the bow as lookout, Nathan and I on each side and Tom driving, we carefully negotiated the pass and looked for a place to drop the anchor. 

Outside the reef looking for the narrow pass. We had it on our navigational devices but we still have to eyeball it. 

Both Minerva Reefs
(Credit: NASA, Wikipedia)

C-Maps Chart - note the narrow pass.

Looking for coral heads, bommies and other navigational dangers. Luckily we had perfect conditions, clear sky and a high sun overhead.

With the anchor down we were able to enjoy a blessedly calm lunch and showers on the back deck. Everybody had been doing a superb job of remaining clean and tidy but oh my did those showers feel good! 

A day after leaving Minerva Ian put the fishing line out and we caught a mahi-mahi, one of our favorite and tastiest fishes. Our afternoon plans, watches and evening meal were completely sidetracked while we landed the beautiful fish, filleted  and packaged her and put the fillets in the freezer. That evening we enjoyed an appetizer of fresh fish roe on crackers and meal of blackened mahi-mahi on Jambalaya.

Ian, Tom and Nathan with their catch.

Good to witness the fair weather South Pacific sunsets again.

By now we were closing in on Fiji. Nathan was the first to sight land and a "Land Ho!" was officially issued.

We see Fiji!

Ian raises the "Q" (quarantine") flag on the starboard spreader while Nathan gets the Stars and Strips ready on the port spreader. After we officially check in we remove the Q flag and raise the flag of Fiji in its place.

As we entered the harbor of Savusavu on the northern island of Vanua Levu we were greeted by our friend Rob from the vessel Shindig. (We had done the Pacific crossing on Shindig in 2017, the year after we did it on Cinnabar.) We had some supplies for Shindig that we carried up from New Zealand. It was fabulous to get such a friendly greeting upon our arrival. Technically we could not let him board or give him his supplies until we checked in but it was great to see him.

The next few days were a flurry of activity as we had to do all the various "check-in" tasks, biosecurity, customs, immigration, etc. We were also keen to clean the boat, visit the town of Savusavu, and do a bit of sight-seeing.
Cinnabar on her mooring in Savusavu, Fiji.
(46 months after arriving to NZ)

After several days of exploring and enjoying land it was time for our fabulous crew to leave Fiji and fly back to their native New Zealand. We all agreed that on balance it was a pretty fantastic voyage. Everybody was immaculately tidy, there were no ego trips and we all worked together well to make the most of our trip.

Taxi arrives to take our wonderful crew away from us.

Thank you rock stars Nathan and Ian!

Our IridiumGo track and daily updates can be found here: CINNABAR IridiumGo

Trip Summary:
Total Distance Made Good:     1340 nm
Total Duration:                         7.8 days   (187.5 hrs)
Average Boatspeed:                 7.14 kts
Engine Motoring:                     3.5 hrs
Genset Munning:                     16.2 hr 

  • Sailed conservatively due to this being a defacto sea trial of the 2.5 year boat refit.
  • Incredibly, all major systems worked well (standing rigging, rudder bearings, autopilot ram, refrigeration, main water tank, etc.) . 
  • Used reefs 2 and 3 much of the time; we had good breeze (15-25 kts) on (predominantly) 90-150 deg apparent wind (tradewinds are usually E to ESE TWD).
  • We waiting patiently for a good weather window and got lucky that it held throughout.
  • The Fisher-Panda genset, which broke 4 years earlier, ran perfectly well with its newly installed Kubota engine (1 cyl, EA-300) replacement.
  • The Icom SSB radio could receive well enough but transmit (at certain duplex freqs - 7.5 MHz) caused resets. We later discovered that transmit at simplex freqs ( 8.752 Mhz) works fine.


  1. Good to see salt water over the Scuppers

  2. I'm so happy to read this account! And beautiful photos. I can't believe you were in NZ for almost 4 years.

  3. …and Rob from Shindig was there to greet you! What a great story. Congratulations on your successful passage. (Rumpus is still in French Polynesia and heading west next year.)

  4. Sounds like a fantastic voyage!

  5. Sylvia - great report and photos. Really enjoyed your prose.

  6. Hi Sylvia, Glad to see your wonderful photos and read about your latest adventures. - Emilia and Mike Martin