added note: While this is another one of my lengthy posts, it is more for our own record and memory of the passage. But hopefully, many of you will enjoy it regardless. For those of you who prefer a shortened version, most days are titled with some highlights.
May 2 – 20, 2014
Day 1: leaving on a Friday
The morning was an eery calm as we approached the dock at Marsden Cove Marina. Except for one boat returning from sea, no other boats were on the move. This was the calm before the storm. The large low pressure system that would give us a lift was on its way to New Zealand.
It was also a Friday. According to superstition, never start a passage on a Friday. However, for us, our best passages always seem to begin on Fridays. Maybe this would be the case this time too. After receiving our clearance papers from the Customs officer, and submitting a photo of our boat for search and rescue purposes, we were on our way.
At 1330, we pulled away from the dock and began our journey to the east. The sea was glassy calm as we motor-sailed away from New Zealand. At sunset, and with a fading coastline behind us, pods of common dolphins came to bid us farewell. They had welcomed us when we arrived, and now they were with us as we were leaving.
Day 2: waiting for the wind
With the engine finally off, we sailed slowly on calm seas. There were plenty of things to see: a small Albatross, a funnel cloud in the distance, floating pumice, a visiting Martin, and lots of teeny, tiny Man of Wars floated past. We remembered seeing hundreds of tiny Man of Wars on our way to New Zealand (about 2 days away from NZ, with very little wind, and we’d caught a tuna.) Now we were seeing these creatures again, at about the same distance from New Zealand, only this time we caught a Mahi Mahi! This must be a special place.
The night became a glassy, flat calm with absolutely zero wind. There was no point in motoring. We had a lot of miles to cover. Also, we didn’t want to get too far ahead of the approaching Low pressure system and miss our free ride. For 12 hours, we dropped the sails and waited for the wind. This was against advice from my Dad and friend, Bob. It was advised that we motor northward as fast as we could. More dolphins came for a visit.
Day 3: first problem
Under sail once again, more Albatross were seen and the air temperature was getting warmer. I baked banana bread and made pumpkin soup.
As the seas started to grow, our first problem appeared. Leaky escape hatch seals. A fine time to discover that the new seals didn’t fit properly. We would have to keep sopping up the water from under the floor grate in order to keep things in check. This chore would have to take place a few times a day.
Sailing along at 4 to 7 knots in choppy seas. After sailing northeasterly to properly position ourselves for the northern edge of the Low pressure, it was finally time to go east and hope to catch our ride.
Cooked prior to the passage, we had chicken and dumplings for dinner.
The seas became more bumpy and confused near Colville Ridge, about 200 miles NE of Whangarei.
Continuing to sponge water from the escape hatches.
A 5-knot wind was from northerly to variable, so we motor-sailed with one engine at low rpms to maintain a SOG of 3.5 knots. Seas were NE with a 2 to 3 meter long period swell. 95% cloud cover. We took advantage of the calm conditions to make water and take showers. Mac & Cheese for dinner.
Part of an email written by me to my Dad and friend, Bob, who were assisting us with weather forecasts.
. . . the LLP (Large Low Pressure) may not come up to 30S, and we’d like to have at least 25 kts of wind on our stern for a slingshot, we are easing up on our rush to get north. We are currently faced with getting across the Kermadec Ridge and Trench before seas get larger, so for now a more easterly track would help that situation. We aim to avoid various ridges and sea mounts. Once across the trench, we will adjust our course to whatever latitude necessary.
. . . a possible tropical low pressure developing near Vanuatu may make it’s way SE after the weekend. Based on this preliminary information, I’d like us to stay as low as we can tolerate with the LLP and get the fastest boost eastward that we can, putting ourselves “across the tracks” before the Tropical Low (TL) gets to our area . . . assuming the TL stays on the usual SE path that they seem to take this time of year.
We got a perfect little surprise boost. Winds became steady just forward of the beam, and we cruised at an easy 6 to 7 knots for about 12 hours. Then, sadly it was gone.
Day 6: a shooting star on a cloudy night?
We saw a big Albatross and some Petrels. As we crossed the Kermadec Ridge, the seas became quite confused before every change in ridge level. Eventually, we crossed ridge and then the trench. The trench was smooth until just before exiting from the deeper waters.
The frontal system that passed over us today, turned into a “non-event”. After a brief puff of wind to 25, the wind dropped and the rain poured. Gave us a chance to scrub the cockpit! Eventually, the wind settled into N-NNW 15-20 knots. For the rest of the day we were maintaining 6 to 7 knots of speed, sometimes seeing over 8 knots.
Watching a small and fast moving low pressure system from our NW. It will determine whether we need any major course adjustments. At this time, sailing through this LP system looks do-able. However, we will watch for early intensifying.
A ship passed 9 miles away from us. Leftovers and fish for dinner. Still sponging water from the escape hatches.
With a cloudy sky and no stars visible, Wil saw a large “shooting star” burn up below cloud level. Meteorite or space junk? Yikes!! Do meteorites float? Maybe what we think is pumice is really rocks from space!
Day 7: a guest for the night
The kids slept until after 10 a.m.! Big pumice pieces floated past (or maybe space rocks!), and dozens of Petrels were skimming the waves. A funny “sulfur land” smell entered our noses. It’s quite possible we were smelling the Kermadec Islands about 150 miles to our northwest. Or maybe the development of a new island? Hmmm.
A little Martin stopped by for a rest. During its search for a place to sit, the bird briefly flew into the salon. Once out again, we kept the doors closed for the remainder of the bird’s visit. It perched itself on top of our bell next to the salon doors, and stayed through the entire night. Even my attempted stealth-like, but clumsy, comings and goings for horizon checks and sail adjustments never disturbed it. Wil managed his entire night watch by only needing to peek his head out the main hatch for his horizon checks, never having to go outside.
Day 8: going back in time
This morning, after a thorough wash of its wings and feathers, the bird was on its way again.
Today, we crossed the International Dateline. When we woke up, it was Friday, May 9th. Now, it’s Thursday, May 8th.
Winds are expected to gradually increase over the next few days, as well as wave height. We’re expecting to see about 5 meter waves during the peak, but they will be long period and following . . . should be a fun ride!
Nothing major to report . . . we hope. We had a great radio contact with s/v Elcie who is sailing 150 miles to our west. They departed New Zealand about 4 days after us, and they are on their way to the Southern Cook Islands.
Shepherd’s Pie for dinner. Rain squalls in the night. Sponging duties continue.
Warm homemade coconut bread with butter and jam. Coconut bread with peanut butter and Nutella. Yes, we’re eating fine!
The kids played Trivia with the girls on s/v Elcie over the SSB.
A very rainy, squally night with winds from all directions.
Day 11 (Mother’s Day): surprises, the good and the smelly
After a continuation of the squally night, the wind has now settled to 15 to 18 knots out of the SW. Westerly seas are a 4 meter long period swell . . . the kind of swells that put you on top of the world! With partly sunny skies, we’re sailing at about 6 knots and on a course of 78 degrees true.
We think we’ll roughly head for 29 S / 160 W, about 3 days away. Then, we will make the attempt for a NE course for our final destination of Rurutu. Of course, it’s anyone’s game right now.
Just had a lovely Mother’s Day surprise . . . I went out for a horizon check, and a Pilot Whale surfaced next to me. At that point, I wasn’t sure whether I was seeing a very large dolphin or a small whale. I was rendered speechless. Wil happened to look out the galley port just at that same moment, and he yelled, “Dolphin!” Everyone ran out on deck and couldn’t figure out why I was just standing there, not saying a word. Then, two whales surfaced again, and then we saw the whole pod. It was so cool! We think we’ve identified them as Long Fin Pilot Whales.
We have been in daily SSB contact with Elcie now. They are probably about 80 miles from us by now, but we will never see them.
After being so packed with food, there is finally a dent in the freezer. We’ll probably resume fishing very soon.
Only about 900 miles to go as the crow flies, but with the tacking and headwinds to come, we could easily add 100+ miles to that. Both exhilarating and depressing! This is a time when we must go with the flow . . . to expect anything and have no expectations.
A rainbow appeared together with the moon.
I had just begun my night watch when I was suddenly hit in the chest by a large flying fish. It bounced off me and landed in the cockpit. After the slimy bugger escaped my grasp several times, I finally managed to happily return it to the ocean. Wil and Colin had been watching the scene through the salon doors. Once all was clear, they opened the doors, but they were quick to let me know just how badly I smelled! A squeeze of lime on the hands, after they’re washed, helps diminish the everlasting fish odor.
Sailing nicely and relatively close hulled with 15 to 20 knots of wind.
Day 12: trying not to lose another escape hatch
During the wee hours of the morning, the a SE wind grew to 30 knots, and the 4 meter seas quickly became short period. Our bodies remained tense with every slam and shutter of the boat in the waves. We tried to stay on an easterly course, but by 4:30 a.m. it came time to ease the strain on boat and crew, and we turned the downwind with just a smidgeon of jib out. One escape hatch handle bracket broke due to vibration of not having a thick enough seal. Wil has placed a tourniquet of sorts on handle to help hold up the hatch, but there’s a greater gap for water to enter at a faster rate. Now, we must sponge it hourly, as well as maintain a slower boat speed and a smoother angle to the waves to reduce slamming. Presently, we’re sailing quite comfortably, although quite a bit slower.
Wind is currently SE 20 to 30 knots and the 4 meters seas remain rough out of the west.
We will continue on a N to NNE course until the vicinity of 25 S / 160 W. At which time, the winds are forecast to clock to a more northerly direction, allowing us to make some easting again. In the meantime, once the seas subside to a point where we can open the escape hatch long enough without taking in a bunch of water, we will get a line around it and secure it. We don’t want to worry about losing it . . . again! Oh, the fun!
The kids had another wonderful game of Trivia with Elcie over the radio waves.
Day 13: others with troubles
The sun is shining and our spirits are up. Seas are calming.
Sad news was received. Catamaran s/v One World sank just 20 miles from Brisbane on their way to Australia. Captain and crew were safely rescued at night by a freighter. Also, catamaran s/v Escape Velocity had been dismasted about 400 miles into their trip from the Galapagos to the Marquesas. They were able turn back and return to Central America.
Pancakes for dinner.
The entire crew was put to work on bucket brigade for a cockpit cleaning. We chatted with s/v Saliander on the SSB. The kids’ Trivia game was cancelled because signal reception was not good.
Day 15: a new destination chosen
As squalls were approaching last night, we noticed where the sky seemed less squally to our SE. At the same time, a grib file indicated a sooner switch to N winds, if we went a little S. Therefore, we tacked to the SE, and gradually over the course of the night, we have been able to come closer to an easterly course. The seas are so mixed up, it doesn’t matter how close-hulled we are. We also managed to avoid all squalls. Yay!!! Patting ourselves on the back for that strategic move.
We will continue sailing as tight to the wind as comfortably possible, and clock from an easterly course to our rhumb line course as the wind permits. We believe our final destination has changed to Tubuai, a little further east. Rurutu doesn’t have adequate anchorages for unsettled weather, but Tubuai has a reef-protected lagoon. We don’t want to be forced to leave due to weather just after we get there.
We feel like we’re stuck in Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day movie. After every sleep, we wake up and do it all over again. We may spruce up the day with some frigid bucket showers on the transom. The kids played another round of Trivia over the air waves with Elcie.
Wind is NNW 12 to 15 knots, and the seas are a mixed up 2 meters. Our course is 100 degrees true with 4 to 4.5 knots SOG.
The moon was shining, but it disappeared behind the clouds. We’ve had our fair share of squalls. Fortunately, they’ve been mostly rain with only wind to 25 knots. Tired of adjusting sails, so we dropped all sails, turned on a motor, and hunkered down inside with an eye on the radar.
Squalls until morning. A salt-free boat today!
No wind, so we’re motor-sailing. Making good easting.
Played card game, Skip-Bo.
Much warmer, but still a cool breeze. We’ve opened the hatches.
We got a bonus wind today. Thought we would be motoring, but instead got to sail at 6 knots for most of the day. It’s slowly dropping off tonight, and we expect to be motoring later tonight and through tomorrow.
We feel like we’re in the home stretch. Doing our best to make landfall by the 20th, but know that it most likely will be the 21st. Colin really doesn’t want to celebrate his birthday while under way, so we’re just squeaking in!
We’re taking daily position reports from s/v Saliander over the SSB. They are on passage from Hawaii to Alaska, also about a 2000 mile stretch. It’s amazing that we’re speaking boat to boat over such a huge distance! Always great talking to them.
My gall bladder has been having periodic twinges over the past week. Nothing painful, I just know that something is there and experience an occasional slight discomfort. Sometimes it hurts to lay on my right side. I’m trying to stay hydrated, eat well, and also take an occasional vitamin.
Worked on re-sewing our French flag. Motored on flat calm. Had a movie night.
Another warm day. Another nice calm day.
In the early morning, we were able to sail at 7 to 9 knots. Today, we discovered that Colin has not had a shower for 2 weeks!
Day 20: LAND-HO!
As we sailed toward the reef surrounding Tubuai, we made a plan for where to fish before entering the reef pass. Just as I looked up and saw a Frigate Bird circling overhead, a Mahi Mahi made a mad dash for our hook. We were thrilled for the entire battle of pulling in the fish, and then at the last moment before boarding, it shook the hook. We were slack in our technique and should have known better. Oh well.
When the engines were started, the starboard engine didn’t put out water. Wil was able to quickly clear the blocked line.
Navigating the reef entrance and the channel to the village of Mataura was straightforward. There is only one other cruising sailboat in the anchorage. Anchor down at 12:15 p.m. local time.
The sound of stillness and an incredible sense of accomplishment. We just sailed 2200 miles of what was supposed to be our toughest passage to date, and it had turned into our best passage yet! I still believe in the ingredients for this passage’s success: savvy sailors, a good onshore weather/radio team, good sailing tactics, a whole lot of luck, and a guardian angel.
Time for lunch and our traditional clink of beer bottles before we’re off to find the local agent and Gendarmerie.