Thursday, November 09, 2017

Passage to New Zealand

[Kyle]The wind was really blowing when we awoke on our planned departure day from Minerva . The seas on the other side of the reef were the highest we had seen since arriving a week earlier. It was high tide then and the remnants of the waves that survived the trip over the reef were imparting a bit of bounce to our morning. The conditions were not ones that made us eager to get out there and go sailing. A look through the morning's downloaded forecasts made it clear, though, that we had a very narrow weather window for the passage. Our choice was either to leave that day or wait around at least another week for the next system that hadn't yet even made its way into the far end of the forecasts.

I called Michael on the radio with my analysis. He was only able to get the large area synoptic maps on his boat via weatherfax and was eager to get more detail from us. His boat was a bit slower, so he would really need to get moving if he was going. He seemed lees concerned than I was and told me he was going to do some baking and read a book before deciding how he felt about going out there.

We probably needed to get out there as quickly as we could, but knowing we were going to be in for a rough time, we lingered over a big meal, figuring we wouldn't really be in the mood for it later, and took our time with the last of our offshore preparations. As we did, the tide fell. The reef became a much more effective breakwater and the motion slowly stopped.

When we finally had no more excuses for hanging around, we pulled up the anchor out of the sand, radioed goodbye to Michael and shot downwind toward the pass. Outside, we turned toward a point that would put us clear of South Minerva before making a fifteen degree turn for North Cape in New Zealand

We had lots of wind and were moving nice and fast with two reefs in each sail. The seas started off nice and flat while we were still in the lee of the reef, but gradually increased as we angled further away. By the time we were passing South Minerva, which we never got close enough to see, the seas were a big, sloppy mess. It would have been nice to get some relief in the lee of the reef, but it was high tide again. What we got instead were big waves that had wrapped around either side of South Minerva and were colliding in a criss-crossing pattern, making a jumble of steep, pyramidal seas that made for a very uncomfortable and unpredictable motion. Maryanne came back off her first off watch reporting that she hadn't been able to get any sleep at all. I fared a little better as the seas began to stabilize on the other side, but the motion was still wild enough that I could only manage a few fifteen minute snatches before it was my turn again. We were at least making excellent progress. Within the first day and a half, we managed one twenty-four hour run of 199.9 miles. Oooh, so close! The wind backed and decreased over the next two days. We gradually shook out the reefs in each sail. The motion went from a rough upwind gallop to the nice, gentle rocking of a fast downwind sail in following seas. This had the desired effect on our sleep quality and we quickly recovered the sleep lost on our first day. The skies cleared and the wind continued to back until the jib was being blanketed by our big main. We furled them both and a few minutes later were enjoying a nice fast sail, being pulled behind our trusty spinnaker across sparkling, blue seas lit by bright sunshine. Aah, that's what we like! Being at sea went from a necessary ordeal to a pleasant way to pass the day.

The weather was mixed and got colder as we headed south

We tried to enjoy it while we could, for we knew it was not to last. Each updated forecast we got was predicting headwinds and rain, followed by really strong tailwinds and more rain. The tailwinds were expected to last just long enough for us to get almost into the lee of New Zealand's North Island before they shifted to equally strong headwinds again. To make the most of that, we would have to sail as fast as we could once the tailwinds started.

We got lucky with the first bout of headwinds. They turned out to be weaker than expected, which even though we couldn't go very fast, allowed us to point higher and not be slowed down further by chop. We were able to still close some of the distance remaining while waiting for the tailwinds. Even so, every new forecast was still making it look like it was going to be a neck and neck race.

As the days progressed, the air and sea temperatures gradually dropped. Every watch, we would add another item to the outfit we wore for the last one until we were ultimately in hats, parkas and long trousers. Tropics, we miss you already.

Our headwind died, slowing Begonia to a crawl. It rained briefly and then our predicted tailwind arrived and built quickly. We carried as much sail as we dared as we raced to close the gap between us and North Island. Eventually the wind built to just under thirty knots. During a watch change, Maryanne and I went forward and clawed down the last of the mainsail, leaving us sailing deep downwind using about half of the jib. The days of peaceful sleep were gone again to be replaced by fitful dreams and waking worries about the building noise outside.

We were making excellent time, though. This allowed us to gradually cut the corner at North Cape at the tip of North Island and slowly bend a course southeastward toward our intended landfall at Whangarei.

The strongest wind arrived just ahead of the approaching front. With it came rain that increased from a drizzle to a heavy downpour. The howling of the wind through the rigging was completely drowned out by the hiss of the rain pelting the cabin top and the outside of the cockpit enclosure. The visibility decreased to only 100 meters or so. I felt a little guilty at that point handing Begonia over to Maryanne's care while I retreated to a nice, pre-warmed bed for a nap.

When I awoke, the wind had changed and Maryanne was tacking down the coast under cloudy skies with little patches of blue opening up. As I came bleary-eyed into the cockpit, she pointed out the hills of Cape Brett slowly receding astern. What! Land Ho? When were you going to tell me? That's New Zealand!

New Zealand is beautiful! Craggy mountains alternated with rolling hills giving it a look that is half Hawaii/half England, or possibly some of the more rugged parts of Scotland, only warmer. I liked it immediately.

Land Ho!... Marina by midnight and officially cleared in the following morining

The headwinds weren't too strong, just a little cooler than we're used to, and we had pleasant sailing as we tacked down the pretty coast, feeling fortunate to have a sailboat in such a nice place for a sail. Unfortunately, having to tack back and forth dashed our hopes of arriving in Whangarei by nightfall. We each had to pull ourselves from the view for a long enough nap to be able to make it in without nodding off.

We made one last tack after rounding Bream Head and then turned downwind for the last few miles to Marsden Cove Marina, just inside the entrance to Whangarei harbor. We picked our way along the blinking lights of the channel markers and tied up at the quarantine dock just before midnight. The marina was so well protected that inside the basin, the water was perfectly flat and there wasn't a breath of wind. After rounding the last corner, I was able to take Begonia out of gear and coast the rest of the way, using a couple of seconds of reverse on one engine to stop her forward motion and ease her in sideways until she came to a rest six inches from the dock. The quarantine dock is behind a locked gate, which eliminated any temptation to stay up even later to go exploring.

After not nearly enough sleep, Mike, the Quarantine Officer arrived and took us through his part of the formalities. He was very nice and helpful and to our relief didn't confiscate nearly as much of our remaining provisions as we feared. Getting to a store no longer had to be the first thing on our list.

Following Mike was Grant, the Customs and Immigration Officer. He was equally friendly and in short order he welcomed us to New Zealand and told us we could lower our quarantine flag and replace it with the New Zealand courtesy flag. Yay, We're officially here!

We radioed the marina and were assigned the slip just ahead, where there was no gate to prevent us from going ashore. Marsden Marina is about a 35km drive from the city center – way too far to walk. We had a little walk around the marina complex and found just enough shops to keep us going without providing enough diversion to distract us from our long list of jobs in preparing for haul-out. We did manage to take a break to have a nice meal out at the cafe before returning to Begonia to tackle 'The List'.

We were honestly so tired after a couple of days with little sleep that we were having a hard time staying focused. We decided to go to bed early and sleep in as long as we needed to before having another go at it. That helped tremendously and we were much more effective the next day. To keep us from going too nuts with it, we were able to use the cafe's cheap pizza night as an excuse to call it quits at a reasonable hour.


JD said...

Hi Kyle and Maryanne-- I've been following along and can only say, "Wow!" What a great year it's been for you both. I'm very glad you've arrived safely and I'm sure you'll love it. A word of caution though-- they have some strange habits there such as driving on the left side of the road and something called 'roundabouts' - We never did really get the hang of it when we were there years back. Thanks for the updates and enjoy your summer (after the haulout of course). Love from my whole family- Dale, Lillie, Julia, and JD.

Mommy Dearest said...

I absolutely LOVE reading your blog posts, but I need to start earlier in the day so I can still get to bed at a decent time. Sending all my love.

SV-Footprint said...

Thanks JD. This year we won't be doing much tourist stuff, we'll save it for next time around. Luckily we've the roundabouts cracked from our great training in the UK :-) They are an excellent inventions. We think of you guys often, especially as the girls birthdays come and go - wishing you all well. Maryanne & Kyle

Carla :-) - As Darren once said "It's a lot of words"