NZ to Fiji Passage – Day 6 – The Black Box Theory

It’s 0100 on Day 5 of the New Zealand to Fiji passage.  We have 23 knots on the beam and are sailing at 7.5 knots under triple-reefed main and deeply-reefed jib.  With the seas on the beam, we are taking waves and some making it into the cockpit. We are less than 90 miles from Fijian waters.  Tonight reminded me of the sailors “black box” theory…

The “black box” theory states that every offshore sailing vessel has a imaginary black box.  In port, every time you repair, replace, clean or inspect something aboard you put a token in the black box. For us it was new engines, replacing the chainplates, inspecting the rig, installing new bilge pumps, cleaning the port and hatch gaskets, and a long list of other things.  For each of these tasks we put an imaginary token in our black box.  Once your black box is full of tokens you put to sea and test you preparedness.  Once at sea and the conditions turn ugly, the sea starts taking tokens from your black box.  Big seas slam into the boat and water finds its way into the bilge, your new pumps come on.  Big seas shake the rig and slam the sails testing your rig and testing the new chainplates – the rig stays stays up.  The wind lightens but the seas remain and you turn on the new engines to keep way and lessen the stresses on the boat. Waves board the boat and splash on the engine panels – but we sealed them extremely well so no saltwater will get to the electronics or wiring. The batteries run low but we turn on the generator that we rebuilt and it runs well. The steering system works flawlessly because we greased the chain and pulleys and carefully inspected the entire length of cable.  But the sea removes tokens as well; the worse the conditions, the more tokens it will cost. We have a list of items that need addressed while back in port, and once we address these items we can add back the tokens to our black box. The hatches and ports we cleaned have worked well and not leaked but are now salty and need cleaned again in order to get our token back. The bilge pump check valves need replaced.  The rig will need a very thorough inspection.  The engines will need an oil change, ditto the generator.  So far, on this passage, we have managed to keep enough tokens in the black box to keep the boat afloat and moving well, with the rig up, and all her systems running. It’s very satisfying to reach port with a box still mostly full of tokens.

Noon update:

Made 178 NM in past 24 HRS. 1,037 NM from Whangarei, NZ.  133 NM from Savusavu. 64 NM from Suva.  29 NM from the Great Astrolabe Reef.

It’s been squally and raining for almost 24 hours now. We just went through an extensive squall that packed white-out conditions with salt spray in the air, 30 knots and breaking seas. We think we are poking out of the north side because we are finally seeing wind from the NE. That means we will be hard on the wind from here to Savusavu, but if the forecast is correct, it will lighten.

A very frustrating part of this passage has been the disconnect between the GRIBS and reality. On the GRIBS the weather looks pleasant – 16-18 knots just aft the beam, with no convection, moderate wind-driven seas, and sunshine.  In reality we have had either not enough wind or too much wind, relentless squalls, long periods of overcast and rain, short-period confused breaking seas from multiple directions, wind shifts and generally unpleasant conditions.

But, we have made record time. We are in Fijian waters after only 6 days at sea and the boat is still running well with the blue side down and the stick in the air.  We could clear in to Suva today if we wanted to. We have another night of sailing to reach Savusavu, but we expect to be in much better sea conditions as we will be sailing in between reefs and islands – our familiar waters!  It’s funny – I was joking with Lyss that I see a billboard in Suva that says “If you lived here, you would already be home.”  We will be home tomorrow.

We will send a final update and passage summary tomorrow morning on our approach into Savusavu Bay.  We’re so close!


0100 UTC
19 03.86 S, 179 03.67 E
350 T
8.0 KTS
Wind: 23 kts NE
Seas: 7-9 ft breaking (still)
Water Temp: 82 F
Clothes: Wouldn’t even consider it – too hot and humid for that nonsense


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