Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Passage to Milford Sound

[Kyle]Ahhh, weather. What a pain in the ass!

Since we’re going against the general wind flow, we once again had the problem of having a seventy-two hour window for a ninety hour trip. That meant that in order to make the most of every possible minute of it, we would have to leave at midnight. Ugh! Why does it never seem to be noon?

Once we got clear of the beach and into Tasman Bay, we were happily galloping along at ten knots in a choppy sea pushed by building tailwinds. That lasted about half an hour, and then the wind gradually moved forward on us. Twenty-five knots of tailwind isn’t so bad. Twenty-five knot headwinds kinda sucks, mostly because it means pounding into waves rather than being gently pushed along by them.


Images from the passage - from (Tonga Island), Albatross, Sunrises and Sunsets..

After Maryanne went back to bed, the wind shift paused for a bit to tease me, and then kept going until our course gradually curved into Golden Bay, at the northern end of the South Island. I really didn’t want that because the flood tide was also pushing into the bay. Tacking and then fighting it out would likely have us going in almost the direction from which we had come. That was doubly bad because our weather window did not allow us the luxury of going forward for a few hours, going backward for a few hours and then doing it all over again. Plus, the racket of tacking in high winds would surely keep Maryanne from getting any uninterrupted sleep.

What was supposed to be an easy, fast downwind run turned into hours of struggling to get Begonia to sail as close to the wind as possible without losing too much speed. In gusts, I could point a few degrees and clear the point. In lulls, the situation looked increasingly hopeless. I am always amazed at how much constant, adrenaline-pumping edge-of-your-seat suspense is possible at six knots. Most manual transmission cars will go faster than that by letting out the clutch without even touching the gas. Terror at parking lot speeds!

I was constantly out of the seat to reef and unreef, trying to make the most of the wind. Every time I would decide to give up and tack, I would get just enough lift to decide it wasn’t necessary. As we approached within a couple of miles of hitting the beach, the wind finally shifted to what is was supposed to have been the whole time and I was able to make a big swerve around Farewell Spit into the open ocean.

We then made a turn back upwind and Maryanne took over for the trip over the top. Her tailwinds were also late to arrive and I awoke to find her sailing as close to the wind as she could and diverging from the coast.

We never did get any tailwinds, so we sailed close hauled until our headwinds died completely. By then, we were more than a hundred miles offshore.

We did have tailwinds coming, but not for long enough to get us there. Behind them were some really nasty headwinds we wanted to avoid as much as possible. The radio was crackling with all kinds of dire warnings about gales and storms when they arrived. The wind forecast maps had whole regions that were beyond fire red into magenta and then maroon-black. Time to start an engine and get to those tailwinds as quickly as we can.

After sixteen hours of motoring across glassy seas, they finally arrived as cat’s paws rippling up from astern. Within another hour, the engine was off and we were going faster than we had been all day. The wind was supposed to bend and parallel the coast, so we aimed for a point forty miles or so to the north of Milford. Our plan was to get as far as we could before the wind shift and then heave to through the gale until morning. It was supposed to be slightly less severe by the coast and we figured we could get to Milford by sunrise by only having to go two or three knots into it.

Maryanne had a really good run, spending at least half of her time surfing above ten knots. When she woke me at noon, we were almost in a position to get in the same day and save ourselves the night of being hove to. We normally don’t like to sail Begonia as fast as she will go (except in really light winds), but this time I decided the more prudent thing was to not hold her back if it meant avoiding the beating we would get in the storm. The wind was forecast to die, then shift, then build any minute now and I wanted to get us as far as I could before it happened. I was hoping that we may just be able to motor against it for the last few miles until we could duck into the protection of the fiord.

We got really lucky and our wind shift was late. By sailing hard, we finally pulled into Milford Sound just as the wind turned. It took us another two and a half hours to make our way all of the way to Deepwater Basin at the head of the fiord.


Arriving in Milford Sound - Wow the scale is spectacular!

I knew there was a chance we would have to anchor and run lines ashore, so I wanted a couple of hours of daylight to sort everything out. We ended up with three. We didn’t end up needing them because there were a couple of unoccupied mooring balls available. Due to a mix-up between right and right, we ended up picking up the wrong one, which we were booted off of twelve minutes later. We had come into the harbor, turned right and took that mooring. The guy on the radio meant the mooring to the right as seen on a north-up map, which was way to the left.

Once we found the right one, we were able to stop and really take a look around.

WOW! Milford Sound looks like Little Yosemite Valley, except there is a bunch of ocean where the meadows go. Our spot in Deepwater Basin was right at the confluence of that and two other glacial valleys, the Cleddau and the Arthur. We had long views of all three. Towering above us was a 1000 meter sheer cliff that could be seen looking straight up through our overhead hatches.


At sunset, it got better! The pink-orange light gave color to the snow of the glaciers and the low angle highlighted the ruggedness of the mountains. I had a few moments on the way down when I was wondering, but the sail down here was totally worth it!

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