Sailing at sunset on our last night out:
Weather to go or not? That’s was the big question back up in Nukualofa. The weather on the passage to New Zealand is notorious and the crossing season between the Southern Winter and Tropical Cyclone Season is relatively short. For 2 weeks before taking off I scrutinized the weather on a daily basis. Normally you get a big low that comes up out of the Tasman Sea every week or so. The prevailing wisdom is to leave after one low has passed, get hit by one half way through the passage and then get into NZ before the next one comes along. Well the usual weather patterns weren’t showing up this year. Instead, high pressure systems kept forming off Australia and moving across the passage route forcing the normal lows South. That’s all well and good, it’s nice not get blasted by the gale force winds associated by the normal low pressure systems in this area, but instead of gale winds, there were forecasts for no wind whatsoever. Finally after 2 weeks of waiting around, the paid weather routers declared a weather window opening for Thursday, November 13th. Well it still looked very light and I wanted to get Bodhran out early to capitalize on every possible bit of wind, so I left two days early on the 11th right after a particularly nasty squall came through the anchorage at Pangiamotu.
Sailing past uninhabited Ata Island on the 3rd day out, the only land we’d see for 1000 miles:
Tate and I got Bodhran out of the Tongatapu group and found little to no wind. We spent an afternoon and the better part of the first night doing less than 2 knots. The wind filled in during the wee hours of the morning and we were on our way. For the first 4 or 5 days the wind was light (<10 knots) and more often than not right on the nose. The sailing was a bit mundane and there was not much to see. The highlight of every day was the morning and evening single sideband radio net that John on Meridian put together. He had about 20 boats at any given time on passage between Tonga and New Zealand checking in with their positions, heading, boat speed and weather conditions. First it’s nice to know that someone knows where you are and that things are going well when you’re on a 1000 mile passage, but much more interesting is hearing about the weather that all of the boats in front of you are experiencing as well as getting info on grib files, weather faxes and email weather reports from Commanders and Bob McDavitt that other boats in the fleet are receiving. I’m sure that Tate is sick to death of me talking about the weather, but it’s been an obsession of mine for the last month now. Unfortunately the weather was so unsettled that forecasts weren’t reliable for more than 12 hours out. As it turns out we did pretty well weather wise. The wind was on the nose 90% of the time, but we only hit two 24 hour periods of 20-35 knot winds. Of course those were on the nose as well and damned wet and uncomfortable, but we were still able to make headway and the majority of the passage found the wind in the 8-15 knot range.
Tate out braving the first 30 knot system that came through:
As we sailed further south, the water lost some of it’s brilliance, the weather got colder and boobies and frigate birds gave way to albatrosses and petrels. I also saw a number of these strange little jellyfish that had a sail on their backs that extends above the water to push them along. I can’t remember what they were called, but I’d seen a documentary on them once. By the time we were nearing the New Zealand coast there’d been a 25 degree drop in the sea temperature as well as the daily ambient temperature. I had to break out every stitch of cold weather clothing that I had on board and still had to huddle up in a blanket or sleeping bag during the night watches.
I’m not happy about being cold and out of the tropics:
After 11 days we made landfall off Cape Bret early in the morning with our first tailwind of the trip. It was a beautiful day and as we rolled on past the Poor Knight Islands Gannets with bright yellow heads started flying by along with multitudes of petrels and prions. As we approached Bream Head, the entrance to Whangarei Harbor, we began to see other sailboats. As we rounded Bream Head ourselves, I was able to run downwind with the first few gusts that accelerated around the headland. Then I saw the first dust devil sized water spout in front of us. We quickly rolled in the jib, but still had a full main when the 50 knot gust hit us and spun us 145 degrees back into the wind, scooping gallons of water with the dipped rail. After a couple more gust like that we just dropped the main and motored the rest of the way into the new marina at Marsden Point.
Coming into Bream Head:
I had radioed Taupo Maritime Radio from 250 miles out asking them to notify customs of my arrival in Whangarei at 1700. About 1530 as we were still approaching the entrance to Whangarei Harbor customs called on the radio. I told them that we’d be in in an hour and they said that they’d meet us at the dock. The customs dock is only big enough for 4 boats and the officers have to come from the airport to check boats in, but sure enough they were already there waiting to whisk us through a very painless check in process. I know people who skipped New Zealand because they were afraid of having to give up all their stores. It turns out that quarantine took our beans, potatoes and garlic. They were mainly concerned with anything that could sprout. Both customs and quarantine were really friendly and spent as much time joking around with us as they did going through the paperwork. Between the officials and then the weekend marina guy who hooked us up with a card to take showers, and do laundry we started tallying up the friendly Kiwis that we met. The Marsden Point marina is out in the middle of no where right next to a pulp mill and New Zealand’s only oil refinery. The quarantine officer had clued us in to the location of the nearest tavern. Unfortunately it was 5 Km away, so we started walking down the road with our thumbs out. The first car to pass pointed just up the road to indicate that he wasn’t going very far, but the second one picked us up. Silas had just started a year long contract doing radiographic inspections at the refinery. He just happened to own a Catalina 350 down in Auckland and was interested in hearing our story. So we all went to the Ruakaka Tavern and Silas even bought the first round. I can’t begin to describe how well those first few beers went down, especially my first porter in over a year. At the tavern we met Jill, this incredibly outgoing Maori woman who told us we had to go to the Shearing Shed, a county bar not too far away. Well turns out that the Shearing Shed was a bit upscale, but we met friendly Kiwis 6 – 10 there. Alas after 5 pints and not sleeping for more than 3 hours at a time for almost 2 weeks, we had to call it a night around 9 o’clock.
The next morning we wanted to head the remaining 10 miles up river to Whangarei, but the gale that we’d be racing to get in before had hit and was pinning us to the dock. So we did laundry and tried to clean up the boat. Now it’s been two days and the wind doesn’t look like it’s going to drop, so it’s time to get some internetting done and take care of any more chores we can think of. Hopefully we’ll be able to get river in the next few days.
Here’s a few movies we shot while out:
This was during a lull in the weather during the first system that hit us:
Our first good sunny day 2/3rds of the way to NZ:
Landfall in New Zealand: