Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Passage to NZ: finished!

I arrived on the customs dock in Opua, NZ, at 4:30pm, Nov 10th.  That makes this passage 10 days 7 hours in length, from start to stop.

In my previous post I was writing about the sailing conditions turning slowly lighter and lighter.  By around 12:30 on Nov 10th the wind was blowing at around 6 knots and the boat was making between 2.5 and 3.5 knots.  I was still happy with that as I would be at dock the following afternoon.  Then the wind started to veer (clock) around and I was no longer able to sail to my destination.  I was something like 30 degrees too far toward the west of my destination.  I could have continued, but then I would need to tack at some point in order to get there, and that would add time, and I was sooo close!  Anyway, I turned on the engine while 40nm away from Opua and started motoring at around 1am.  I like to sail but I'm not a sailing purist.

I was motoring along comfortably, the seas light.  I saw one set of navigation lights behind me and to my port, a second set ahead and to my port, but they were each at least 3 miles away and so I was comfortable going through my sleep cycles.

The sun rose in the morning and it was a beautiful blue sky day.  I could see NZ clearly on the horizon and in fact had been seeing it for hours as there was close to a full moon lighting the night up.

At around 8am I was hailed on the VHF by a cruiser that I had met in Mexico over two years ago.  They were coming in from Fiji and had been motoring into the wind for three or four days and finally ran out of fuel.  I said that I had a full fuel load onboard, including 15 gallons on my deck in gerry jugs and volunteered to head over toward them and drop it off.  They were sailing slowly toward Opua and as I headed their way the wind finally died off.  Luckily they had a dinghy on davits and they were able to lower it into the water to make the transfer easy.  I arrived at their location within 45 minutes and we were able to get the fuel onboard their vessel by 9am.  I said I would wait around to make sure their engine started before continuing my voyage.  After 1/2 hour the engine still wasn't starting, and the owner started working the problem by taking the fuel hoses off one by one trying to find the problem.  He was able to contact a friend on shore for some advice, followed it, and still the engine wouldn't start.  By 11am we had to make a call.  The coast guard doesn't tow vessels around here, but they were able to supply contact information to a service which did this - at $250/hour with likely a 8 to 12 hour charge.  Yikes.  I thought I could tow him at around 3 knots toward our destination, and that it might take up to 6 hours to get there, so by 11am it was time to get that started.  I arranged a bridle, he arranged a tow line and we started the tow.  This was my first time towing another vessel and the conditions were perfect for it.  There was almost no wind by this time and the seas were pretty calm, maybe a two foot well spaced swell.  I was surprised how difficult it becomes to maneuver when towing, it probably doesn't help that the other boat was around twice the displacement of Luckness.  Luckily the owner of the other vessel was continuing to work the problem and around 2 hours later he got his engine started!  Yay!  We stopped the tow, and I followed him into Opua.

The final few miles into Opua were beautiful.  Its a busy place with lots of boats enjoying their waters.  It felt a bit like rush hour after the sailing I had done in Tonga, where there just weren't that many boats around.  I arrived at the customs dock at 4:30pm and was able to talk the customs officers into letting me stay on the dock that night and be checked in the following morning - score one for NZ hospitality!  They came by the following morning, checked me in, I spoke with the marina and arranged a mooring, went over, got settled down, ate a little food and went back to sleep.  Wonderful.

There is currently some weather moving across the area, I've had gusts up to 35 while on the mooring.  I've been to shore once, and will head in again tomorrow when the forecast is for the winds to start dwindling.  I have wifi on the boat and am seeing download speeds in excess of 1MB/sec.  I haven't seen this type of internet since leaving Seattle.  I bought a month of internet for $40NZ ($30US) with a limit of 6Gbytes and have already burned through it updating the software on my computer.  As a tech-geek, this was one of the things I missed.

The anchorage in Opua is surrounded by absolutely beautiful green rolling hills and I'm looking forward to getting out and exploring the trails (tracks.)  On my trip into the Marina I met a lot of sailors I knew from earlier in the season.  There is a week of festivities planned next week as part of the All Points Rally, which was a loose knit rally for people sailing to NZ.  That should be a social and fun week - the start of many I think.

That's about it for now.  Its so nice to be here.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Passage to NZ: day 9

Date: Nov 9, 2014
34° 15' S 174° 34' E
24 hour run: 99nm
Previous 24 hour run: 113nm
Water Temp: 62.6
Log: 16625
Distance to go: 64nm

If all goes well, this will be my last night at sea before my arrival. If everything remains relatively constant, I should be there tomorrow afternoon. Yay!

After going through the trough, as I mentioned, its been an upwind bash. Yesterday the winds started to mellow, but I remained as high into the wind as I could point. The current wasn't helping, it was pushing me west when I wanted to make east. This morning, the wind turned even lighter and then finally faded to 6 knots - which was not enough to make headway in the seas. I was pondering on my next move, still, 20 minutes later, when the wind arrived. It arrived from a new direction - it had backed by 40 degrees which was perfect for the course I wanted to run. I trimmed the sails for a beam reach, which was wonderful, and started moving faster and faster. The winds built from almost nothing to 20-25 knots within a hour. Reefed down to a double reefed main and my double reefed genoa I was sailing comfortably, making good time to Opua. The wind has kept the same direction, more or less but has fallen in intensity all day.

Its currently just after sunset where I am, the seas have been mellowing out over the last 6 hours, I'm sailing at 5.5 knots through the almost flat water in 10 knots of wind, wind at 60deg relative, port side. This is what the sailing literature is full of - absolutely wonderful sailing conditions.

Behind me, by roughly 150 to 200 nm, the winds are blowing 25 to 30+, and have been for a little while now. There are a few boats I'm in contact with via the SSB net back there. I'm really happy with how this weather window has worked out for me.

Through this passage, I have come across 4 freighters so far, but I haven't seen any sail boats. This afternoon I heard two boats hail each other on VHF. VHF doesn't have a very great range, its meant to be 'line of sight' although sometimes goes a bit further. At around 4pm someone hailed 'the sailboat on their starboard side' and the signal sounded super clear, so I answered but couldn't see them. Turns out they were 20 miles east of me. Later they hail a different boat they see, and again the wrong boat answers - that's at least 5 boats now, all headed to Opua and all within VHF range of each other. For a while I thought I may have been one of the only boats on the customs dock when I arrive. Now I'm hoping there's room for me!

I'll try to send an update out once I arrive. That may happen after I sleep, as I'll be up for a while dealing with a close coast, then a channel into Opua, then docking, then waiting for customs, then dealing with customs, then moving off the dock to find a mooring or somewhere to anchor. I'll be looking forward to shutting the boat down, after checking in and sleeping without my timer going off.

All is well onboard.

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---- Update Nov 12, 2014

I try not to edit the posts I send in while underway.  There are plenty of mistakes in them, my writing about the wind backing when I mean veering, spelling mistakes, poor grammar and so on.  Its part of the passage - you get a little more tired and editing your writing is more difficult when the sailing is more difficult.  This post was sent out without a title.  I've edit it to have one now.  Oops.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Passage to NZ: day 7

Date: Nov 7, 2014
30° 21' S 175° 57' E
24 hour run: 115nm
Previous 24 hour run: 75nm
Previous Previous 24 hour run: 108nm
Water Temp: 66
Log: 16391
Distance to go: 300nm (straight line to Opua, my destination port in NZ.)

This is being written in the afternoon of the 7th, and will be sent out tonight when the SSB frequencies I need are less noisy - they are pretty noisy these days. Could be sun spot, weather or some other cause.

I went through the trough on the 5th. Before it arrived, the winds turned northerly at low teens strength. I went through one side of the trough, and as I was fairly high on it, the winds simply turned NW for a while. Then the wind died off for two hours and then came back as south, eventually backing around to SE. A typical southern hemisphere trough! I lowered my sails when the wind died, and eventually, after one of my sleep cycles at night I heard the wind arriving and I was able to raise a sail, get turned around and then raise the other. Knowing the weather forecast and what to expect is so nice. I knew the trough was moving east and the calms wouldn't last long, so waiting was an option.

When I was in the NW wind section of the trough I came across my first ship on this journey - an AIS contact 45 minutes away, freighter, traveling at 12 knots. I first saw it on AIS at 12nm away and almost immediately my AIS unit started its buzzer warning me of a collision alert. It was calculating a closest point of approach at 1 mile ahead, then 0.5 miles behind, then 0.5 miles ahead, 1 mile behind etc - as my boat would ride the waves the solution was changing but when it becomes random, close and on alternating sides - ahead, behind, that's a good sign I needed to change something. I waited 10 minutes, the CPA stayed as random so I altered course, passing it port-to-port 1/2 hour later. I spoke with them, they saw my signal at 7nm, which seems typical for small boats like me. AIS pays off again.

Once I was clear of the trough the winds were expected to back around to the SSE, SE, ESE, and east, then hover between east and ESE for four or five days. My trouble was that with taking the trough high, and then going through the south winds, I had ended up further west than expected. Since then I've been sailing into the wind, as close to the wind as possible in order to make more southing. This is working, although sailing close to the wind as I am is not nearly as comfortable. Last night was the first night of the trip I didn't bother making a 'good' meal for dinner - I opened a can of Dinty Moore stew, added a can of corn, heated it up, added a few crackers and that was that. Even doing that is an effort. Moving around the boat is an effort. Every movement has to be planned and it ends up being very physical sailing in these conditions. Too bad all sailing can't be downwind.

In one day I had gone from warm downwind sailing, sailing in shorts and a t-shirt day and night, barefoot to something a little more harsh. I'm wearing shoes again - you end up bracing more strongly, more often with your feet when upwind, and you don't want to break a toe... The south wind has brought cold from antarctica, or so it feels like, so I'm wearing pants and four layers on top, with a light toque. I'm already missing the tropics.

I should add a note about these sailing conditions. I know some people who are considering going cruising read this blog - Hello! The vast majority of the sailing on this coconut milk run is really nice. At the moment, its not, it happens. Luckily, it doesn't happen that frequently, but when you do happen to need to sail through some weather to get somewhere, there is no turning it off. You can often heave to in order to avoid weather, but on this passage the longer you hang around this area the more likely you are to be hit by something really nasty. What I'm in is not as fun as going downwind but is nothing compared to what you can get in this area at this time. In fact, what I'm in is really nothing - upwind in 4 to 5 foot seas with the wind 10 to 20 - and I've seen the wind at all those strengths, back and forth, so reefing, unreefing, trimming. Its real sailing. This would be ideal for a nice afternoon daysail. But this sailing isn't daysailing and you've got to respect it. If you are outfitting a boat for these conditions make sure you have a solid handhold to grab everywhere. In the head, every path you may need to walk in the cabin, getting up to the cockpit, and in the cockpit. When I go up from down below to the cockpit I never carry anything - I put what it is I'm taking up and place it on the companionway top step, then brace myself carefully while very deliberately placing my feet, hands, then elbows and forearms. The boat will and often does suddenly move in an unexpected direction. The handholds need to be strong enough to support your weight and placed such that if you were to put your weight onto them you wouldn't dislocate an arm in the process. My dodge is super strong with plenty of handholds, make sure your cockpit has lots to grab onto. If you have weather cloths put them outside the lifelines. Sailing in these conditions resembles a carnival ride, the ones where you get bounced around, leaning this way and that, jumping up and down. Except once you are in these conditions and going somewhere there is no getting off - you're committed. Eat well, get plenty of rest, look after yourself and the boat, and try to stay amused. And remember, that it won't last forever, that the boat is well maintained and strong and that you are the weak link. I try not to let Luckness down during these periods. Anyway. Most sailing is really nice. I'm doing fine Mom, really! I realized recently that most of my writing about sailing is 'all good', I'll try to add some of the not-so-good to balance it out. I continue to have a lot of respect for this Crealock designed and Pacific Seacraft built boat, they got so much, so right.

I think I have 3 1/2 or 4 days left. This sailing close to the wind is slowing me down and I'm unsure the weather will cooperate with its forecast, so I'm going to overshoot my ideal bearing to Opua so that if the wind veers around I won't need to tack to get there. So far, I haven't had to run the engine on the passage, it would be sweet to arrive having sailed the whole way.

All is well onboard.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Passage to NZ: Day 4

Date: Nov 5, 2014
27° 27' S 178° 37' E. (East!)
24 hour run: 140nm
Previous 24 hour run: 133nm
Water Temp: 71
Log: 16161
Distance to go: 513nm (straight line to Opua, my destination port in NZ.)

This is being written at 6am, which makes it still day 4, although day 5 is only 4 hours away.

The sailing so far has been wonderful. I think I'll look back on it and realize this has been the easy part of the trip. The winds have been mainly from the ESE and E initially, and overnight they have started to back around toward the N where they are blowing from now.

There is a weather feature up ahead, looks like a trough - an elongated low. I'll pass through it tonight or early tomorrow, after which the winds will come from the south and then clock around to be more easterly again. After that, there will be one more weather feature I may need to deal with, there may be a high centered on the northern tip of NZ, in which case there will be no wind in the area. From yesterday's GRIB weather data, it looked like I could slow down a little and then when I arrive in that area the high may have moved along and there will be wind. Fortunately (?) the wind where I am has turned a little lighter and I have indeed slowed down. I have been making a consistent 5.5 - 6+ knots on the trip up until last night, currently I'm doing 4 to 5 knots.

When I left the Vava'u group I thought I had the perfect weather window for the trip. Two days later I had changed my mind, as the GRIBs were showing a much more confused jumble of light wind, highs and lows in my path. Yesterday the GRIBs had changed again and I started seeing a reasonable path through everything which I could sail - I could turn on the engine at any time to power through light wind, but I would rather not if I can avoid it. Its part of the game. The other part of the game is to arrive in NZ before any really bad weather arrives in the area, as it has a tendency to do, and so far I'm looking good there. I'm not sure if there is a lesson in how fast the weather is changing other than that it is a challenging weather passage, as everybody who sails it knows.

I had a little squall yesterday, but aside from that its been beautiful sailing so far.

All is well onboard.

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