Archive for 'Tonga to New Zealand'

Well, we finally made it, but not until we got knocked around one more time. We did get winds that let us sail the rhumb line into the Bay of Islands, but as forecasted, they became fairly strong between midnight and dawn yesterday.  With an overcast sky and no moon, the large seas forward of the beam and gusts to 35 knots or so made for a long night.  We spent the worst of it sailing under only a partially reefed jib.  Because air is so light, the winds aren’t much to worry about, but slamming into large waves, with their high density and their approaching velocity combined with ours makes for some pretty jarring collisions.  The boat’s kinetic energy goes like the square of the velocity, so increasing our speed by a factor of two quadruples the energy we have when we slam into a wave.  Although we were trying to make it in by Monday and take advantage of the brief wind change, we eventually slowed down to try to minimize the pounding, though not as much as we would have under "normal" circumstances.

This morning, the effect of pushing the boat harder than usual into the seas was readily apparent.  The mounting points for the inboard side of the starboard trampoline were all ripped out and the metal strip that covered them is still hanging from the bow.  We were occasionally on water from the tops of breaking waves that slapped against the starboard hull, and some water got sprayed into the starboard engine room (primarily through the air vents intended to provide air for the engine, I think) and onto some unprotected electronics.  Luckily, our autopilot computer wasn’t effected, but the sensor for the battery monitor suffered come corrosion damage so our battery monitor isn’t working.  The bilge pump in the port engine room quit a few days ago and this morning we had our second round of manually pumping it out using a hand pump to fill a small bucket.  It seemed easier than messing with a new bilge pump installation out there and the manual bilge pumps that are installed don’t have hoses that reach to the bottom of the engine bilges (that would be a nice change to make here in NZ).  Other than that, an alternator belt on the port engine, a strange loss of power in the port engine, and some new creaking sounds, we’ve made it through OK.  The bows are looking a bit low in the water, though so we may have taken on some water forward that still needs to be pumped out.

DSC_0910 Busted tramp. Sleeping a few feet away was not easy.

After dealing with the engine rooms, it looked like the wind had changed enough that we could no longer sail the rhumb line.  With the seas still too large to motor into it looked like another night of sailing into waves before reaching land, but after we raised the main with a single reef in it we were able to hold the rhumb line with no problems.  We also saw another mola mola while we were raising the main.  This time, it was close enough to the surface that one of its fins was actually out of the water as it swam, making a motion sort of like a skulling oar.  They are pretty amazing creatures to see randomly when you look over the side, and it was again while we were stopped or making slow progress.  In addition to being on course we were also making really good speed and the pounding was minimal.  For the first time in days, we were actually sailing directly toward our destination, with a reasonable motion, and making good time.  The night before we had been able to pick up some AM and FM radio stations from NZ while we were still almost 100 miles offshore.  We were around 40 miles offshore when we raised the main and by 30 miles the seas were noticeably smaller.  Even though the wind was down a little, it really seems like it was due to the reduced fetch (open sea miles for the wind to build up the waves) due to being near land.  It was a pretty cloudy day, so we were only 17 miles from the mouth of the bay when we could definitely say that we say land — a large mountain marking the northern mouth of the Bay of Islands.  At 12 miles, we were formally in NZ waters raised the yellow Q flag (the international sign that you’ve just entered a country and need to clear customs), and at 8 miles we were socked in by light rain and could see a single bit of land. 

DSC_0894 Happy to finally be headed in…

DSC_0904 View of the south end of the mouth of the Bay of Islands

Fortunately, the rain cleared and we actually had a little bit of sunlight as we sailed through the bay and then south to the quarantine dock at the Opua Marina.  After such a long, rough passage, we were all looking forward to a hot shower and restaurant meal, but it wasn’t to be.  New Zealand has pretty strict clearance rules and processes, and since most boats check in at Opua, it’s a tight operation — quite a change from the island nations we’ve become accustomed to.  There’s a special floating dock here for boats to tie up at while they wait to clear in.  It’s the only dock I’ve ever seen that’s not connected to land.  Since we came in after hours, we have to wait until morning to clear in and we’re strictly prohibited from going ashore until then.  There was a group of boaters enjoying drinks on a balcony at the cruising club by the quarantine dock that yelled a hello to us as we came in.  Unfortunately, all we could do was wave and watch them, the restaurant nearby, and the boaters grilling on the shore-side docks just across from us.

DSC_0926 Pura Vida alone at the quarantine dock

DSC_0924 Not so happy with the sign

Oh well.  All told, we ended up making the dreaded passage to NZ without encountering any really bad weather — uncomfortable, but not dangerous.  Although the weather and flora are completely different than the tropical locales we’ve been enjoying the last few months (no coconut palms anywhere), this is a very beautiful place.  For all of our friends and family who’ve been patiently waiting for us to reach someplace where we can Skype reliably, we’ll try to call in the next day or two.  First, we’re going to enjoy a good night’s sleep with no getting up to stand watch on a freezing, windy night and no pounding into waves to jar us awake.

240 nm to NZ

Lat: 31 39.076′ S
Lon: 176 17.572′ E

Sometime today may be the lucky day. With constants winds on the nose, I can hardly remember the last time we were able to sail the rhumb line. We have lighter winds for the first time in several days, so we’re able to motor into the wind and waves and make 3.5+ knots along the rhumb line or just west of it. Normally that would be bad news, but it’s good given the last several days. Sometime tonight we should finally catch a break and get some good winds from the W and NW that will let us sail the rest of the way in at a reasonable pace. We’re supposed to give NZ 48 hours notice of our arrival, and we’ll probably do that sometime today or tomorrow via e-mail. We should also be able to eat a bag of chips that we’ve been saving for the 200 miles mark.

The last few days have involved a lot of sail adjustments, reefing the main, dropping it when we’re passing a squall or the wind gets too strong, roller reefing the jib in strong winds and letting it out when the wind lightens up, trying to sail as close to the wind as possible so that we’re not giving up too much distance off course when tacking, and tacking to find the best angle relative to the wind and our destination. Overall, it’s been pretty frustrating since about latitude 26 degrees south to make such slow, uncomfortable progress, but at least it’s been dry nearly all of the time. The days have been a mixture of sunny and overcast, with the sunny times being cool but pleasant. We had been getting accustomed to morning squalls, but we now seem more likely to get them in the afternoon. Night watches are times for sock caps, gloves, shoes, and a blanket to hide under when you ‘re not outside checking for ships or adjusting the sails.

Other than that, there’s not a lot to report. We’ve seen only one ship this passage, a cargo vessel that passed a few miles in front of us headed west. Tiff had a funny experience when she opened the door to the starboard head the other morning. There on the floor was a good-sized (about 10″ long) dead squid! It had jumped in through the open port during the night and expired on the head floor. Yesterday morning Lauren and Tiff saw a group of dolphins, which seems like a sign of nearby land and good luck. Other than sea birds, we hadn’t seen much in the way of marine life on this passage.

Inching Ever Closer

Lat: 29 26.163
Long: 176 33.048

Less than 400 miles to go! I use the exclamation point in keeping with my recent attempts to be the crew cheerleader. This is not our favorite passage, as you might imagine. The wind has eased up, and the motion is better than it was, but for the last three days, the moderate winds have been aimed right on the nose, resulting in less progress and more discomfort. We’ve been able to maintain 4-5 knots of speed motorsailing for the last couple of days, though, so it is starting to look like we just might get there sometime soon. Despite the slow pace, I’m still glad that we opted for a little boredom on this passage instead of gales, terror, etc.

In fact, I’ve been pretty content throughout this passage, since I don’t get seasick. A cruiser back in Tonga claimed that seasickness is somehow related to one’s fear of the sea, but this is baloney (although anxiety would probably exacerbate the stomach discomfort). Everything I have read and observed suggests that seasickness is related to the inner ear and is genetic (although some cruisers have used exercises to improve balance with positive effects and others have strategies that help them feel better at sea). I don’t take this bit of good fortune for granted, as I am able to read and relax and think about things beyond how miserable I’m feeling or when we are going to finally get there.

One of the books we have on board is about a family of five who sailed their 33′ steel boat to Iceland and other parts of the Arctic. (“Into the Light” is the book, “Iceblink” is the very interesting PBS documentary that can be found online). It describes the mother, Jaja, passing her time on sleepy night watches by thinking of a year in her life and trying to recall everything she can about that year. Since reading that, I’ve been doing it to some extent, and it’s pretty amazing how much you can remember, how one memory leads to a chain of others, etc. It’s fun to share the memories as well. Yesterday we got into a conversation about our first cars (and their demise). It turns out that Tiff and Dallas had the same first car–a copper-colored, mini-hatchback Honda Accord that they named “Abe” and “Rhonda the Honda”, respectively. Dallas’ car developed quite an oil-burning problem and could be identified by its plume of trailing smoke.

When we’re not talking about the past, we’re usually talking about the immedidate future (i.e., New Zealand for Dallas, Wes, and I, Houston for Tiff). We’ve already made a list of the foods that we’ll be getting at the grocery store in NZ, as our supplies of fake meat and produce are just about gone (rice ‘n beans, anyone?). I am really excited about the prospect of shopping at a supermarket with diverse options at reasonable prices after spending the last 5 months provisioning in stores with no more than 2-3 rows of overpriced canned goods! Tiff is also excited about the food that will be available back home and thinks that Chick-Fil-A will be her first stop.

Beyond food, Dallas and I have been talking about how we will spend our days in NZ during the 6-month cyclone season. Dallas will be working 40 hours a week remotely for an engineering company back in CA, so I will have a lot of free time. Dallas has reminded me that there is plenty to do in terms of boat maintenance, and as fun as that sounds, I’m also planning to practice wind-surfing and to get a part-time job teaching or something in order to get a break from the boat and add to the cruising kitty. We are planning to spend the weekends exploring the beautiful and diverse natural habitats of NZ by car. The marina where we are planning to keep the boat is just a couple of hours from Tongariro National Park, for example, home to three active volcanic mountains!

Tiff flies home from Auckland on Nov. 23, so with any luck, we’ll be in NZ by then! Actually we are on track to arrive in Opua early next week, after which we will spend a few days hopping along the east coast down to Auckland.

Past Halfway

Lat: 26 46.572′ S
Lon: 177 48.685′ E (<– We’re in the Eastern Hemisphere now!)

It’s getting cold! At sunrise this morning it was mid-60’s in the salon and it’s colder outside, especially with the wind, and we’re only halfway. Yesterday I dug out a long sleeve shirt and I think today may be the day to see what I have in terms of pants. God forbid we have to find socks and shoes, but I think the time is coming — my feet feel frozen after walking on deck barefoot. I hope you stink less in the cold, because cockpit showers are going to be getting a little more invigorating.

As expected, our sailing winds have deserted us. The night before last we had to motor to keep our speed up. Sunrise was calm, and without much wind to disturb the surface the seas were in shiny, lumpy swells reflecting the brilliant colors of the sunrise. By 9 am, though, the wind had picked up considerably, the southern horizon was dark with rain and clouds, and we were in a squall. The strong winds lasted all day and if it weren’t for a Stugeron (seasickness medication that’s not available in the US), I think I would have been feeding the fish again. Seasickness is really an amazingly unpleasant experience; trying to keep the boat in shape and moving at a good speed when you’re putting off even necessities like bathroom stops for hours in the hopes that you’ll feel better or avoid puking is next to impossible, but we’ve been lucky with good winds and other crew that feel better.

Last night the wind slackened and moved around to right on the nose, and it will probably stay that way for a day or two, so we’re making headway on one of the iron jibs (engines). We knew we were going to run into a fair amount of light wind with our choice of departure date, but it’s better than a gale right on the nose, which is common winter weather around here.

The boat seems to be taking the pounding it’s been getting pretty well, which is good, because we’ll probably have one more round of it before we make landfall in the land of confiscation and peeing inside. Believe it or not, we actually had multiple conversations (not initiated by me) regarding the barbaric first-world practice of banning peeing outside into the ocean and forcing men to use the little boat head. This is causing some consternation among the males headed for New Zealand, and after several months in more remote locals, I am feeling a similar sentiment. The other funny conversation we’ve had repeatedly about New Zealand is the “they’re going to take that away” conversation. New Zealand has pretty aggressive biosecurity rules and the list of things we’ve been told will be confiscated includes all fresh fruit and vegetables, meat (even canned meat produced in New Zealand and purchased in the islands), beans, rice, shells, coral picked up on the beach, woven souvenirs, tapa, etc. It can’t be that bad, but it will be interesting to see what we’re left with for dinner after clearing in.

Still Sailing

Lat: 24 27.310′ S
Lon: 179 53.071′ W

Well, I can stand up and walk around without puking, which is nice. We made Minerva Reef in less than three and a half days, which is great time for us, but decided not to stop since our progress was good and the weather forecast looked like we could avoid rough weather on the way to New Zealand if we keep moving. The wind has been pretty fresh until today (in the 20 knot range), and we’ve alternated between just the headsail and the headsail with a single-reefed main depending on the conditions.

Yesterday we had a little bit of a scare. There is a small water leak into the starboard engine room that seems to occur only during passages, probably from water being forced back in the bilge pump hose. It just happens that the two engine room bilge pump switches have lights that indicate when they’re pumping automatically due to the float switch being activated and when I came in from working with the starboard engine bilge, I noticed that the port engine bilge was pumping and not turning off. That was odd, so I looked in the engine room and it did have a fair amount of water in it. I crawled down inside to have a looked and felt water streaming over my foot. Worse yet, I saw that it was from a fresh water hose leftover from the old rusted water heater we had removed in Florida. A hose clamp on a barbed T-fitting had come loose and gravity had pulled the barb away from the hose. We have a pressure water system, so the fresh water pump was merrily pumping all of our fresh water into the oily bilge while the bilge pump worked to pump it out into the ocean! This has always been one of my fears surrounding pressure fresh water (and no working watermaker). Through pure luck, we caught it in time and didn’t lose too much water. We do carry enough fresh water in jugs that we could have made it through with rationing, and there are also opportunities on this passage to rendezvous with another boat to transfer water in an emergency. We now have the water pump turned off unless we’re drawing water, and I’ll probably think that situation over a little more in NZ.

Just before reaching Minerva, we sailed over the Tropic of Capricorn, officially ending our time in the tropics this year. We sailed close enough to Minerva to pick up VHF radio traffic, and there was somebody hailing anyone who could hear to request a piece of stainless steel that they could use to make a repair. From what I could gather, they had broken part of their mainsail reefing apparatus. We had a suitable piece and let them know, but luckily they were able to find something from someone anchored inside the reef so we didn’t have to stop.

This morning, at around 24.5 degrees south, the wind is much lower. Wes raised the main on his watch, and I just shook out the reef to try to get us back up above 4 knots. We’ll grab an updated weather forecast today, but it looks like there is going to be a lot of light wind and wind on the nose starting tomorrow or so. We’re hoping to be able to sail close-hauled for all but two or three days of the trip by sailing west of the rhumb line to 175E 30S and then back toward Opua. It’s a technique that Jimmy Cornell recommends and based on the last GRIB file, it’s looking like a good approach for this week. At some point we’ll probably have to fire up the engines and motor for a couple of days.

Now that we’re all settled in a little better, we’re trying to eat up as much of the fresh fruit and veggies as possible before they go bad and because they’ll be confiscated in New Zealand anyway. Lauren turned a papaya into papaya crisp yesterday, and our pineapples are disappearing as well. Today may be the day for a delicious green coconut breakfast drink. Books are also being devoured, and fortunately we stocked the library well enough before leaving that everybody has something new and interesting to read.