September 11th was our first night at sea and it was a busy one with winds on the beam between 18 to 25 knots. We did several sail adjustments throughout the night. Neither of us got much shut-eye.
The winds started to drop over the second night, to the point where our speed had dropped to 3 knots. Our plan was to average about 7 knots to arrive in New Zealand before a front. We had to start the engines. We motor-sailed till noon the next day.
On September 13th, the winds picked up again, so we unfurled the genoa and shook out the reefs in the main. The boat sailed well at 6.5 to 7.5 knots even in seas up to 3 metres high. It was pretty rough, but we were happy to be sailing again.
It was too rough to shower, so I sponge bathed a couple times a day. I had to get the salt off before getting into bed! It is amazing how salt crystals gets caked on everything!
We tried to keep 3 hour watches, but never made a sail change without both of us on deck. So we definitely felt tired those first few days. We alternated taking naps during the day to rest up.
We sent daily reports on our position and conditions to Rick Shema, the “weatherguy.com”, the weather router we had hired for the passage. Here is part of his first weather forecast sent on September 12th:
“You are looking good with weather and progress.
Weather summary: High pressure ridge dominates your weather. Cold front does not make it over your route. Later in the voyage, you may need to motorsail through the high center and therefore light to calm winds.
SSWerly swell waves increase to about the 2.0 meter range. These swells
are indicated below and are a component of the significant waves
No change at this time.
When motorsailing, head direct rhumbline to New Zealand.”
A few days into the passage, we encountered a series of squalls. The winds fluctuated widely in speed and direction. We were constantly reefing, furling and unfurling sails and turning the engines on and off in an effort to keep our speed up. Monty wanted to be sure we had enough fuel to make it the rest of the way on engines alone should the winds shut down. We did not want to be stuck out in a gale with empty tanks! We sailed with as much cloth out as we could, when we could.
We let Rick know we were concerned that we could not average 7.0 knots as he had set out in his forecast. Here is his response.
“The change in speed means about 2 1/2 days longer at sea. If you only can make 140 nm/day, then you may have cold frontal interaction. The front appears to be weak to moderate strength. The worst I can see at this point is before front passage Nerly winds 20-25 kts with rainshowers. If there are squalls, then winds in squalls maybe 30-35 kts briefly. After the front Serly winds 20 kts, shifting SEerly at 15-20 kts.
For now, let’s focus on making best speed as safety and comfort allow.”
Our provisioning in Nadi allowed us to gorge on some colourful, tasty fruit and vegetable salads. We had to try to consume as much of the fresh produce as we could before arriving in New Zealand as we would be forced to dispose of anything fresh that was left.
Monty embraced the galley. I was grateful not to have to spend too much time below, especially early in the passage when I was getting my “sea legs”. He frequently impressed me with attractive concoctions like this salad.
After a couple days at sea, I had my sea legs so I was able to cut up some fruit in the cockpit. Nice view from my outdoor galley, eh?
On the chartplotter, we passed an island known as Conway Reef. It is part of Fiji and named Ceva-i-Ra in Fijian. Hundreds of miles southwest of Fiji, it is home to some shipwrecks and nesting birds. It is important to stay alert on watch, even in the middle of the ocean! We could not see it as it is only about 1.8 metres above sea level. We kept about 5 miles away from it, just in case the charts were not accurate.
Three days out, we got another update from our weather router three days out. Here is part of it.
“Thank you for your reports today. You are still looking ok with weather and progress.
Weather summary: High pressure ridge dominates your weather. Cold front is out of the picture for the voyage. High cell moves to 31 15S 175 45E by Thursday morning. You should be to the high center’s NW. In that perspective, wind direction should abate and become Eerly making a course to the SEerly direction more feasible. Heading toward the high, winds 10 or less Friday morning.
Being west of route plan is ok. Sail as close to the wind as comfortably possible without risk to safety or comfort. Winds should eventually back and abate. Then regain course to New Zealand. When motorsailing, head direct rhumbline to New Zealand.”
On September 16th, the winds dropped to under 10 knots and the sea state calmed down. Several magnificent albatross flew over us.
It was strange to see the birds so far from any land. I scoured the charts looking for islands, or reefs, but could not see any. Birds don’t hang around unless there is food, so it was time to think about fishing!
With the flattened seas and slower boat speed, we took a shower in our shower stall. It felt so great to have a real hot shower again!
Monty agreed to put a fishing line out. Previously he had been too tired to consider fishing and it had just been too rough to safely deal with one in the back of the boat. Around 3pm, he put a second line out.
At 1708, I looked at my watch and thought it was strange we had not had a bite. I was thinking Monty would bring the lines in as dusk approached but I was not going to suggest it. We had heard the best fishing was a dawn and dusk.
Within a minute, we had a strike on the port side, but as Monty started to reel it in, the fish freed itself. Almost instantly, we had another hit on the Starboard line. Could it have been the same fish? Unlucky fellow!
This tuna did not put up a long, hard fight like a mahimahi!
We originally thought it was a yellow fin tuna but Monty said the fin on the side was too long. We figured out it was an albacore, probably 20 lbs. It was yet another first!
The steaks were put back in the fridge and sushi replaced them on the menu! What a nice way to end what had become a rather boring afternoon of motoring.
The highs in the southern hemisphere turn counter-clockwise. We were skirting the edge of a large high for a few days, which gradually brought the winds behind us. For some nights, the winds were more consistent, so we did not have to make any sail changes at all. Mr. Auto (autopilot) did his job and we sat back, watched for traffic and listened to music on our devices. My choices were Chris Rea, Supertramp, Tom Petty, Led Zeppelin, U2, and Bryan Adams.
We had no moon for many nights due its position on the other side of the world, and clouds often obscured the stars, so it was very dark. For a few nights we had clear skies, and the stars were out in force. I would occasionally take out the iPad out and scan the sky for the constellations, using the Skyview app. It is fun to pick out the different zodiac signs.
We had to bundle up at night as we got further from the tropics. Underlayers of wool, a down sweater, fleece and a throw blanket kept us reasonably warm in the cockpit at night. In bed I wore pyjamas and socks and, for bedding, we had a quilt and 2 blankets. I will definitely have more warm clothing on board next season!
We had to run both motors to keep the speed up for the last couple days. The boat motion was very comfortable and quiet with the waves from behind.
From time to time, hitch-hikers were found on the boat.
On September 16th, we got another update from Rick. Here is an excerpt:
Thank you for your reports today. Cold front is back in the picture, but weak along the frontal boundary.
Weather summary: High pressure ridge dominates your weather. The centre of the high cell is close aboard and moving eastward. As it does, expect winds to increase from the NEerly direction in the 10 kt range by Thursday with a backing trend. By Friday morning, winds Nerly 15 kts and rainshowers in the vicinity. Rainshowers are associated with the approaching cold front. Unsettled skies may result in gusty, shifty downdraft winds 15-30 kts.
Over the passage, we had some fabulous sunrises and sunsets, and I always tried to be on deck to enjoy them.
The last night on the boat, I had the experience of seeing the “green flash”. I had the good fortune of seeing it twice on this passage! The second time, I captured it on camera, though, sadly, the image is blurred. I should have had my shutter speed up and a steadier hand! I think I was caught by surprise! I did not use processing other than to crop this image.
At dawn on Sept. 18th, we were near the mouth of the Whangarei River. It was a beautiful morning.
Just as sunrise, many birds flocked over some dolphins, a stones throw from the boat. I wanted to put the fishing lines out, but Monty was still sleeping and I did not want to disturb him. As soon as he got up, I put the rods out but got no action.
We tied up at the customs dock in Marsden Cove just before 9am. We called customs and were greeted by a couple officers within a couple hours. It all went fine though we had to dispose of a lot of produce that we had not managed to consume in time. We had been warned!
We headed up the river to the Town Basin and were followed in by some dark storm clouds.
Just as Monty stepped off the boat to tie us up, the rain started. We were safe and secure and glad to have arrived ahead of the front, just as forecasted by the “weather guy”!
A feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction came over us. Monty opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate the safe passage.
With no fresh produce left in the fridge after our visit with New Zealand bio-security, dinner out was the easiest option. We had no plan about where to go, but came across a busy new restaurant very close to the marina, called the “Love Mussel”. Kiwis do have a sense of humour!