14th June 2015
Much as we both love New Zealand, like the swallows the time had come to head north to the tropics to escape winter. We knew it was time to leave; we had the winter duvet on the bed, the fan heater was out and we were both sleeping in more layers than is usual.

Of course, unlike swallows we had a fair bit to do pre departure.

There was the list of boat projects, some planned and other that just happened as both our second alternator and fridge compressor died.

All of which took time and co-ordination of ourselves and others to get done. Mike, as ever did most of this, the joys of contorting yourself into the less salubrious parts of your boat, here wiring in a new gas solenoid. Just wish replacement parts were the same as those they replaced and not subtly different requiring tedious modifications in tight spaces!

I of course was on the shopping and stocking Sea Rover for our planned trip to the Laus. As always this requires ensuring there is enough food, tins, kitchen rolls etc. aboard to stock a small corner shop. Plus cooking food for the passages and to eat whilst away when ingredients might not be readily available.

So after some time the freezer boasted 19 precooked meals for two as well as cold meats, raw meat, cheese etc. - everything for our time away including some treats like blue cheese, smoked salmon and venison. By now I’m sure you know we like our creature comforts around us.

Not all our time was spent in chores, we have had some lovely social times with friends old and new, enjoying theatre, circus and opera in Auckland and continuing to frequent the Grand Harbour as often as we could justify for their wonderful lunchtime yum cha.

Winter was definitely on the way with cold winds and heavy downpours. Mike, watched the weather closely and eventually we were ready and the window on the recommended ‘back of a low’ opened up and we were off.
We had expected the first night to be really tough – bashing into decaying swell, rain and cold winds. In the end it was so much better than we had feared. The swell was much less and from a better angle, only a couple of light showers and the wind, whilst cold – we both had several layers of thermals on and full wet weather gear - was from a great angle and we were batting along. The first night was about as good as it gets (if a bit too cold), with a full moon, a F4-6 and chocolate cake courtesy of our good friend Ginny Le Couteur, whom we had sailed to see a few days before we left.

Ginny and her husband Tim sailed out to New Zealand from the UK in the early 70s in a 28 foot boat with none of the modern gizmos and technology Mike and I take so much for granted. Their only aid to navigation was the trusty sextant – none of the GPS and communications we have. We were both reflecting on these differences as we were reading Tim’s account of this adventure, which forms a third of the book he’s published ‘Thirty Years Around the World’ (available through Amazon and iBooks), certainly an eye opener for us sailing softies!
But sometime things don’t go as planned. On day two the sailing was still going well, the fact we were sailing was a real plus as the GRIB (weather forecast file we pull in) had suggested we would have lost the wind for a while by now. Then we found the cause of the smell we’d both noticed (normally our bilges are dry and don’t smell) when I went to the freezer to get a meal out to defrost for tomorrow. Put simply the freezer which we’d had checked in Auckland had ceased to work. The temperature gauge said 23.7°, quite something when we both still needing to sleep in full thermals. Everything was defrosted and ruined. Several packs were so distended I need to stab them to get them off the shelves; and there was a ‘soup’ of disgusting, smelly liquid sloshing around the bottom of the freezer and obviously leaking out and into the over flow pipe, hence the smell. It was a real low moment.
But no point in crying we just had to set to and clear up. Heart breaking to see all that food going overboard. We even risked opening the saloon window for a bit to try and clear the pong. Then flushing out the bilges and generous dollops of disinfectant all round. So task one on arrival in Fiji will be to go shopping – that’s presuming we can get the freezer working, both hoping it’s a loose wire or faulty controller and will leap back into life once we find where to tweak. If not it will be a few months of living off tinned cans and whatever Mike can catch with his new rod – yes he has a new rod and reel, which will be rigged when we get to Suva. He hadn’t done so pre passage as we had so much food there was no point trying to catch anything as there was no room in the freezer for any surplus – there is now.
We weren’t the only swallows escaping New Zealand. Whilst on watch and fiddling with ropes etc. I thought I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye and then another in the saloon. We had been boarded. Not by pirates but by a clearly pooped swallow seeking a few moments respite from the journey north. He promptly settled on the window surround, put his head under his wind and went to sleep. He stayed with us for about 12 hours then woke up just as we were changing watches in the middle of the night. Rather alarmingly he started flying around trying to find a way out.

I was concerned this might produce anxiety induced poo – just what we didn’t need all over the saloon; but no he was reasonably calm, ended up sitting on my hand and once I escorted him up into the cockpit – off he flew. Hope he finds further refuge along the way if he needs it.
The wind couldn’t last, we knew that. The centre of a big high i.e. little or no wind lay right across our path so eventually on went the engine. One advantage of the engine is that constant noise does make sleeping easier as it drowns out the noise of the autohelm whirring under our bunk.
When the wind came back, we carried on heading for Minerva Reef, an isolated atoll that we had first visited in 2009. It’s a place with very fond memories as whilst we were there two American cruisers got engaged and another American couple there said they had commercial skipper’s licences which allowed them to officiate at weddings as long as they were more than three miles offshore! So eight boats celebrated a marriage in the middle of nowhere.

As so often happens, plans change. The predicted trade ESE winds starting turning E and we were beating into it. This meant we had waves breaking over the boat and, on occasion filling our normally dry centre cockpit with a waterfall of water so it resembled a kiddie’s paddling pool. That was the final decider, Minerva Reef would have to wait we weren’t going to beat i.e. sail into waves like these. We’re softies at heart and were reminded of the sailing adage ‘gentlemen don’t sail to windward’. Don’t know about gentlemen but in these conditions this lady certainly doesn’t. And it was just as well we did turn back for Fiji as the wind then turned ENE and considerably stronger than forecast – like F7. Minerva would have been miserable even if we’d battled there but turning for Suva, the capital of Fiji, the wind was now abeam or behind us, much more comfortable even when the waves got to 4 or 5 metres for a while, and it did mean we were batting along at great speeds and made a really good passage to Suva of 7 days 22 hours for the 1199.4 nm journey.
Cruisers ahead of us had relayed the really essential piece of information – Mr Singh’s Curry House is still open, phew. Many a great meal has been eaten there, after commuting into town from the anchorage off the Royal Suva Yacht Club, where the letters from the Palace still hang in pride of place, if a little faded. And yes the freezer is OK, a dodgy thermostat connection, possibly accidentally knocked when the freezer was checked. So shopping and cooking starts afresh tomorrow. Thankfully Suva has good supplies so we won’t starve.
As we plan to leave Suva we wonder what changes we will find in the Laus, so largely undeveloped when we were there in 2013. Fiji has had democratic elections, a new constitution and a new government(with the former military leader who lead the last coup, now elected and prime minister again). He had many plans to develop Fiji some of which were bound to take him head on against the traditional chiefly system which largely holds sway in the more remote islands. Will be fascinating to see what has happened.
Finally, can any of you twitchers out there tell who our hitchhiker was? We couldn’t find a match in our bird book, mind you it is an Australian one!

UPDATE: Thanks to all you twitchers for your overnight responses! Our hitchhiker was a European Goldfinch which was introduced to south eastern Australia and New Zealand in the nineteenth century. The dark red mask extending to just behind the eye suggests he was a male. He does feature in our Australian bird book, just not under swallows! Travelling by sail boat must be in the goldfinch's genetics.

More, including Christian symbolism, at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_goldfinch

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Photo comment By Judi: Surely you had goldfinches in London! Native to the Northern hemisphere but introduced into Australia/NZ in the 19th century.
Photo comment By Pete & Alice: Good to hear of your safe arrival in the tropics and glad the Pacific lived up to its name....hard to imagine water in the cockpit of Searover though :) enjoy revisiting your favourite spots. BTW there is a reward offered in Aus for a missing goldfinch xx
Photo comment By Peter: "Hi Mike and Devala Just read your wonderful sea-mail on the train going into London. Definitely a Goldfinch. Have them on the bird feeders in my garden. Bon voyage. Let me know when you next hit Blightly. Love to you both. Peter"
Photo comment By Michael Lawton: Glad you arrived safe and sound. Was going to send you an email to ask you how it went but then wondered if you had updated your sea mail. Definitely cold in Auckland so our turn to head north will hopefully be at the end of next week. We will try for Minerva on the way to Tonga. There will be 4 of us plus a corner for the finches!
Photo comment By Anita: Horrible waste of food and what a yucky job! Hope the freezer's up and running now.

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