Friday, April 05, 2019

Northward! On to North Island

[Kyle]Our South wind arrived right on schedule in the wee hours of the morning. It blew us closer towards the rocky beach behind us, which is always a little disconcerting. Our plan was to leave as soon as it was light enough for it to do so, so I was up anyway to keep an eye on things until then.

Once twilight started, we left. Once we rounded the corner into Queen Charlotte Sound, the land blanketed the wind and we slowed to a crawl. Our speed was about 2/3rds drift. Had we not known we were in a wind shadow, it would have seemed like perfect conditions to hoist a spinnaker. We weren’t falling for it, though, because we knew the wind would arrive eventually.

Arrive it did. I was lamenting our last two hours’ pathetic progress and wondering if we should have just slept in longer when we sped up - a lot. I rolled a reef into the jib, which was the only sail we had flying. By the time I was done, we already needed another. I hadn’t even had time to leave the winch. By lunchtime, we were down to our third reef mark, which had us down to just over 2m² of sail flying (full working (white) sail is 85m², our spinnaker is 110m²). Even with just that, we were still easily pushing our speed through the water into the teens while surfing down a building sea.

We had hoped that the wind would start to die down in the lee of Cape Egmont, the official end of the Cook Strait, but instead it only increased further. Maryanne set the surfing speed record at 17 knots boat speed on her night watch. With the current, she hit 20.1. I only saw 16 on my night watch, but I had more wind. Our wind instrument recorded a max of 48.7 knots. Luckily, we were going downwind, which reduced the wind flowing over the boat to about “only” gale force around 33 knots. It did that for three solid hours before it finally started to back off a little.

Not surprisingly, Maryanne had achieved little quality sleep and got out of bed looking more tired than when she went. Things were calming down quickly, though. When I went off watch, the wind was back into the teens and we had the full jib flying with a forecast for further decrease. The big seas dying out made for a sloppy mess though, but I was hoping it would smooth out for her.

Coming back on watch, the first thing I saw out the window was our triple-reefed jib. Huh‽ Maryanne blithely remarked that the wind had been in the thirties again, as if it were a neighbor’s incurably barking dog. Groan.

Another passage - scenes from the calmer moments

One more try. By the end of her next off-watch, during which she reported sleeping much better, I had full sail flying - main and jib. The sun was shining and we were happily romping through a smoothing sea at a respectable seven knots.

Six hours later, she woke me to ask more detail about the forecast. The wind was gone and the remaining swell was rolling the mast back and forth, making the sails slat from one side to the other, driving her nuts. She wanted to know if it was worth starting an engine.

”No.” I said, “The next wave of wind should be here in a couple of hours and we don’t need the speed anymore. Just wait it out.”

When I started at midnight, I furled everything to stop the racket and downloaded the new forecasts, while we just bobbed around, being carried by a weak, north-going current.

There was a change. Wind was coming, but we were in a slightly stronger than previously expected convergence zone. That meant it wasn’t due here for a while. The best solution was to motor twenty miles north to where there was wind. I couldn’t actually hear her teeth grinding when I started the engine, but somehow I just knew they were.

We actually ended up going about thirty miles before the wind flowing back over the deck stopped and then started going forward. That was all the reason I needed. The engine went off and I hoisted the spinnaker. It filled with a satisfying POP!, and we were off! A day and night later, we were furling it and rounding the corner into Ahipara Bay, the last indentation in the North Island’s west coast.

Our wind was great, but I wasn’t relishing the idea of rounding the North Island and then having to bash into it to get south again. We decided to let it blow itself out for a couple of days and go over the top in either light winds or one from the northern semi-circle.

Ahipapa is a beautiful bay with a wide sweep that is backed by green hills and sand dunes. Tauroa Point, at its western end, completely blocked the swell and wind. We dropped our anchor onto a mirror, temporarily spoiling it and sending circular ripples away. It fell into fine sand four meters below us. The beach is so shallow that we were still half a mile from shore. In the whole four mile long bay, it was just us and a fishing boat in the middle distance.

{Maryanne: Apipara Bay is right at the foot of the amazing 90mile beach that runs from the tip of North Island. Beautiful sand dunes and lovely sandy beach - very picturesque, but also prone to the worst of the winds. It was a real charm to be able to stop here as most conditions would not allow for it. To our minds the forecast looked great, but we were reassured when a local commercial fisherman swung by to confirm we'd be OK where we anchored!}

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