Saturday, November 21, 2015

Passage to NZ: Done

35° 18' S  174° 08' E - Opua

As I mentioned in my previous post - I have arrived in New Zealand.  Yay!

A little more sailor talk...

In my last post I had just tacked and was starting to head West, with the expectation that the winds were going to back around to the SE and then East - as the winds make this change Luckness and I would end up pointing from West to SW - toward our destination.  I'll show this progression with a few images, now that I have internet.

The first picture is typical of my conditions for two days after crossing the previous front.  I am keeping Luckness as close to the wind as possible, sailing roughly ESE.  The bottom of the red line is where I want to go, Luckness is located at the top of the line, heading ESE - notice I am sailing away from my destination!  Oops - but don't panic yet...

Nov 18, 7pm.  Wind flowing from SW to NE.
Here is the situation 12 hours later.  Luckness is again at the top right of the line, but now the wind has gone from SW, through S to SE and then to East (sailors say, its backed, i.e. gone the opposite direction a clock moves.)  Now that the wind has backed, we are sailing directly toward Opua, with the wind a little ahead of the beam, making excellent progress.  Luckness and I are in an area of wind which is around 10-12 knots, the skies are blue and its warm - perfect!  However, there is a wall of stronger wind arriving, look down and to the right of the top of the line...

Nov 19, 7am
When you are sailing along, in beautiful conditions - in this case, blue skies and moderate winds - the last thing you want to see on the horizon approaching you is a solid wall of cloud.  I had expected stronger winds to arrive but I hadn't expected a wall of clouds.  As the wall of cloud overtook me the area became very squally, much colder, with rain, changes of wind direction and changes of wind strength.  So much for my easy final leg into Opua - but there was good wind all the way in, it was behind me and I was making fantastic progress - hard to complain about that.

The final image is 12 hours after the previous one.  The forecast winds were low, I was actually experiencing low to high 20s, but with the wind so far behind me it was a sleigh ride in.  The timing worked out perfectly, with my not having to slow down at all to time the entry for daylight.

Nov 19, 7pm.
As I approach the entrance to the Bay of Islands the wind started to fall and by the time I was inside the Bay of Islands the wind was down to below 10 knots.  At this point, with the wind behind me, I was slowing down and as I hadn't motored at all for the previous 10 days I want to exercise my engine a little - so turned it on and motored the final two hours to the customs dock.

When I left Fiji I thought this was going to be a slow trip, possibly with a lot of motoring.  In the end, aside from 5 hours on the second day out of Fiji where I lost steerage and bobbed around for a while until the wind came back, I had good wind the whole way.  "good wind" should be clarified a little - a "good wind" is a wind which allows me to sail towards my destination.  It isn't necessarily a "comfortable" wind.  When leaving Fiji I had a few doubts about the weather window I had chosen - thinking it may end up being slow and tedious, but this turned out to be a fabulous weather window.

Point to point, Savusavu Fiji to Opua is 1140nm.  However sailboats never sail in a straight line.  On the second day out of Fiji my knot meter stopped working, so I wasn't able to track my distance by measuring my progress through the water.  My chart plotter has a GPS log built in and before leaving Fiji I had recorded its value.  According to my GPS, I traveled 1409nm.  This is the first time I had used the GPS log to measure the distance traveled - I traveled almost 25% further than the straight line distance.

I completed the passage in 10 days 19 hours.  This averages out to around 5.5 knots, on average.  Or around 130nm per day, on average.  This is only ok, not fantastic numbers.

I used the engine for an hour after leaving my mooring in Fiji and then for two more after arriving in the Bay of Islands to get to the customs dock - 3 hours is roughly 1.5 gallons.  I'm pretty happy with that.

I arrived at the Opua Customs dock at 7:40am and so I had a little over an hour before the Customs staff would arrive at work and start processing the 11 boats waiting for them.  With all the rain I had before arriving I managed to arrive with clean decks - normally everything is covered in salt water and salt crystals - arriving with a clean boat is something I could get used to.  I was cleared in after having to give up all my fresh vegetables, eggs, dried beans - all the things I expected to lose - and was off the dock by 10:30am.  I motored over to the anchorage area I had been using last year, dropped anchor and shut the boat down.  Yay!

I had plans to get to shore, and brought the dinghy up on desk, unrolled it and got ready to start inflating it when I yawned and I realized that I wasn't going to make it.  I lashed the dinghy down, cleaned the boat up a little, and made myself a large lupper (lunch/supper?).  As I was eating at 3pm I watched a video on my computer and couldn't stop yawning.  By 4pm I closed my eyes "for a brief moment" and woke up at 11pm.  I cleaned up a little, went back to bed and slept for 15 hours all together.  So nice.

Since arriving, the winds have picked up.  It started blowing 20-30 knots and I haven't left the boat yet.  Tomorrow is forecast to be light winds, which continues for a little while.

Its nice to be back in the Bay of Islands, and I'm looking forward to getting out to the local islands again to revisit some of the places I spent time last season.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Passage to NZ: done (short post)

Just a short note to say that I'm in Opua, at anchor, starting to rest comfortably.  I'll fill in a few details in the next day or two - everything went well.  It strange, when I arrive after all my passages I always feel just fine - alert, coherent, able to make decisions.  Shortly after arriving, I start to slow down, and once that happens, the crash is not too far away.  I'm looking forward to sleeping a solid 8 or more hours for the next few days.

I finished the passage in 10 days 19 hours.

All is well aboard!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Passage to NZ, day 10

33° 18' S 175° 12' E
Water Temp: 64.5
Distance to go: 123nm

I'm on my final leg into Opua, New Zealand. The last two days have been bumpy and physical sailing.

I crossed the front two days ago. It started to rain lightly at 5am on the 17th and I decided to look more closely at my weather files. When viewing the weather as wind barbs (arrows) it was hard to identify where the front was, it was somewhere between two points, 60nm apart. So I switched over to streamline view and the front popped out. As an experiment I measured how far away from it I was and when to expect I would cross it - and it turned out to be very close. This front was very distinct - I was sailing along, minding my own business, when the wind started to fade away. Within 10 minutes the wind had picked up in the new forecast direction - the front was pretty sharply defined.

My goal after crossing the front was to sail as close to the wind as I could while making my way SE until the winds again backed and would take me into Opua. The weather model was forecasting that the wind would back from being SSW to S and then through SE and E where it is now - although it took two days to make that change. After crossing the front and setting Luckness up to sail as close to the wind as possible, I didn't adjust anything for almost two days. The sails were reefed for the conditions, which remained pretty constant and Luckness followed the wind, always heading up as far as I had asked. In this case, I set the Monitor up to sail at around 45 degrees apparent, which means I sailed around 38 to 50, given the waves I was sailing into. This was a comfortable range as if I head very much above 35 the genoa starts to luff and shake, which is hard on everything.

The weather forecasts were showing that the winds would start to back sharply last night which would allow me to tack and head towards my destination, rather than SE past New Zealand. The forecast was again accurate, and last night at around 10pm I tacked and started heading almost due West. This gave me a positive VMG (I was making progress towards my destination again) and as the wind started to back the VMG got better and better. I've now gone from sailing close hauled, through close reaching to a beam reach where I am now. Yay!

The sky is blue, the winds are around 12 knots which is giving me around 6 knots of boat speed and a nice ride. This is a drastic improvement over the last few days.

I mentioned food briefly in my last post - the last two breakfasts have also been from cans. Dinner has been Dinty Moore stew (from a can) with added rice. I'll be able to make myself a proper breakfast today, which will be nice.

I also mentioned air temperature in my last post, expecting that as soon as I had crossed the front it would get much colder. Its cooled down a little, but its actually very pleasant sailing conditions, nothing like the cold I expected.

If everything goes according to plan, I should be into Opua tomorrow, Friday.

All is well aboard.

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Passage to New Zealand: Day 7

28° 5' S 172° 39' E
Water Temp: 67
Distance to go: 385nm

Well, here it is, the evening of my sixth day out from Fiji. I'm writing this note in the evening, trying to avoid hastily typing something up quickly tonight when I make the SSB connection to send/receive my email and weather GRIB data. I've found that for this trip, if I connect to the Australian Sailmail station at around 5am I get a fantastic connection, and that's what I've been doing.

At the moment Luckness and I are sailing along, downwind (we sailors call it 'running') in seas pretty suitable for the conditions, with the winds at 12-15 knots and no real squally activity. Its a bit rolly, as you would expect, but I'll take that over pounding into the waves. I've only eaten one meal out of a can so far this trip, which was on the morning of the day I was sailing hard on the wind into a rough sea - sometimes its just easier to open a can (spaghetti in this case) than try to organize a hot meal (which, for breakfast, has been onion, bacon, green pepper, beans, eggs, cheddar cheese, and a little hot sauce. yum.)

Aside from food, the other big topic onboard is weather. Actually, weather is the big topic, food is a necessary inconvenience - if I could be fed via an IV all trip, I might go for it (more on this later as I think I may have found my 'perfect passage food' which I want to try out on my next passage...)

We (Luckness and I) are currently sailing down the western edge of the high, where I have been aiming since leaving Fiji. There is a little more west in my course than I was hoping for at the moment, but that should be fixed overnight as the winds become more northerly, and I think that my ending up a little more west will work out well for the weather I expect in a few days. Tomorrow we should be making our way more southerly with still some west. Tuesday will bring the front which is behind the high (and in front of the next one.) Todays forecast for the local Wednesday (Tuesday for many of you, three days from now) is roughly the same as yesterdays, which gives me a little more confidence in it. The two forecasts disagree about the following day, Thursday, which is unfortunate, as that is the forecast for the time when I am hoping to be approaching my destination. If I can know, reliably, what happens with the weather on that day, I can work backwards to place myself in a favorable position to take advantage of it. Doing that requires knowing the previous days weather so you can plan a day ahead for that - that's the game. Work forward and backward along the forecast, trying to make the best decisions about which direction to sail in order to have favorable winds all the way into your destination. The trick, to make the game harder, is that close forecasts are fairly reliable but anything three days and further start to become much more unreliable. Fun eh!

Today's forecast for the 19th (the questionable Thursday mentioned above) is fairly similar to that two days ago. Yesterday's forecast for that time is different - I'm hoping tonights forecast will be similar to todays, and then remain consistent. (Although I've found that my 'hoping' for some weather to play out the way I want, doesn't always make it happen. Weird, eh.) Another part of the positioning-yourself-with-respect-to-the-weather game is hoping that you don't plan for a move several days in advance, only to see the forecast change in a way which makes your current position unfavorable. (when this happens, you lose a turn and have to go directly to jail. You get out when the weather lets you...)

The current forecast is showing the winds behind the front, in two days, at around 15 knots briefly from the SSE and then the S and following over to the SSW where they stay for a little while. I'm hoping that by being further west I'll be able to take advantage of this SSW to approach New Zealand.

The other weather related topic is temperature of course. The water temperature keeps falling, however the air temperature today has been quite nice. When there is some more north in the wind, as there has been today, it brings in warmer, topics air. Yesterday the east wind was bringing colder winds and I was wearing a toque and three upper body layers. Today I've shed the toque and its been a short and 2 t-shirts day. I expect tomorrow to be quite nice as well, as the winds are again from the north. Once I cross the front, I'll be adding layers quickly - south winds bring winds from the antarctic - brrr!

One last topic - the first few days of my trip were pretty much along the rhumb line between Fiji and New Zealand. I came across four freighters in those early days. I saw them all on AIS at least 20nm away and the closest approach was 8nm. Their speeds were: 14kts, 12kts, 14kts, 19kts. Now that I've moved off the rhumb line, West, I haven't seen any traffic at all. This will probably change as I approach NZ.

Its too early to make a prediction on when I'll be arriving - the forecast is showing that a ridge may be forming on Thursday, four days from now, which will bring light winds to a large area around where I want to be. Depending on my progress, I may get stuck in that ridge, or I may be able to make my way around it and sneak into Opua.

Sailing between the tropics and New Zealand is certainly not as predictable as some of the downwind sailing I've done getting here, but I'm enjoying my passage. Although, its much easier to enjoy this passage today (downwind) than a couple days ago (hard upwind.)

All is well aboard.

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Passage to New Zealand: day 5

25° 14' S 174° 54' E
Water Temp: 74
Distance to go: 597nm

Up until yesterday evening, this had been a beautiful, easy sail. I had been sailing along, in easy seas, upwind in light wind and gentle seas. It was almost like I was sailing inland waters, there was negligible swell and the wind waves were small, making the motion very easy.

Yesterday evening I saw squalls ahead, and for the first time in over 24 hours had to adjust the sails by reefing them, preparing for the strengthening winds. The squalls lasted until around 8pm at which time I was left in a uniform area of stronger winds and larger waves. I continue to beat upward, and the motion has gone from being gentle to a beat. Moving around the cabin is once again a chore, with Luckness continually rising and falling rapidly with the waves. I expect this to continue at least for another 24 hours, at which time the winds should have backed around to the north and I will be able to sail downwind for a while. This will be followed by a front and then west, south west and south winds for my approach to New Zealand.

Its become hard work, but all is well aboard.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Passage to New Zealand: day 3

21° 44' S 177° 25' E
Water Temp: 78
Distance to go: 825nm (from start, 1140nm)

The trip has been generally full of beautiful sailing so far. Luckness is currently sailing upwind at 4 knots in around 8 knots of wind in a gentle sea. The wind has varied from 4 or 5 up to around 15 knots, as I expected, the start of this passage has been generally light wind - all upwind sailing so far.

Last night at 1am the wind dropped from 8-10 to 4-5, which left me going slow enough to lose steerage - which is rather annoying. I reduced sail thinking I would raise the spinnaker when it got light the next morning, but by 6am I woke after a sleep cycle to find Luckness making our way toward New Zealand at 4 knots in light wind again.

The sun is just starting to peek out of the eastern horizon in a clear sky, it has been a beautiful night full of stars.

All is well aboard!

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Leaving Fiji - for real this time

I'm about to depart Savusau, Fiji for New Zealand.  I'm expecting this to be a relatively slow trip, but I don't see anything serious in the forecast and I would rather get out of here and start my journey than wait for the 'perfect' weather window - which may never arrive.

I'll try to send a few updates along the way, maybe.  As always, if there are no updates, nobody panic.  Ok?

I'm looking forward to being in New Zealand again!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Leaving Fiji ! Someday.

I try not to edit old posts in my blog in any major way.  One example of this is that I leave spelling and grammatical mistakes in posts I make while on passage - on a passage you get tired and spelling takes a hit.  I also try not to edit old posts when I change my mind - this blog is a peek into my cruising life, not a complete one, but still a little view of what its like "out there."  Or what its like for me, anyway.  So, while I was tempted to delete my previous post, I'm not going to - I've changed my mind.  It happens.

Yesterday I had convinced myself that I would leave Fiji today for my passage to New Zealand.  I also mentioned that this would have been my first passage where I didn't really like the weather window but was planning to launch into it anyway.  I was feeling some schedule pressure - there is a Cruisers Rally in Opua, New Zealand from Nov 16-22.  I was there for it last year and it was a fun social time.  If I leave today, I would be there for the rally, but likely after a slow and possibly frustrating trip.

Todays GRIB files (weather forecasts) for both GFS and CMC are showing a nice weather window if I leave next Monday, 6 days from now.  The winds become much more uniform over the whole area between Fiji and NZ.  Also, the spinning low what has been deepening with each new forecast, a little east of my track, appearing on Friday would no longer be a concern.

I'll leave Fiji eventually - but not today.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Leaving Fiji for NZ. Maybe.

Well, after almost four months in Fiji, I may actually leave tomorrow (Nov 3rd local, 2nd in North America.)

Its been a good stay and I've enjoyed the country, but after four months I feel like its time to move along and am looking forward to being back in New Zealand for a while.

I've been watching the weather lately, trying to find a good opportunity to leave - and while the opportunity with my leaving tomorrow is by no means perfect, I think its reasonable.  This departure is a little unusual for me though.

Normally before departing on a passage, I like to study the weather and develop a strategy for how I'll play what I'll see - trying to time my departure so that I at least have a good initial sail with an expectation that what follows will be reasonable.  So far, this has paid off for me - I've sailed all of my passages so far, only motoring for very short periods.  This is the first passage where I'm leaving and basically just hoping for the best.  I don't see anything to worry about in the forecast - no strong weather systems, no cyclone.  Rather, the wind looks very light and this could end up being a very long passage.

Normally, the systems between Australia and New Zealand are migratory - there is a steady stream of high followed by low, followed by high, etc, over and over.  Last year when I sailed between Tonga and New Zealand that was the pattern - and I played the game where I tried to time my departure so that I arrived on the back side of a high, took the following front above 30S (where its not as strong) and then sailing into New Zealand on the back of the front.  It worked out pretty well.

This year, there is a large area between the tropics and New Zealand where a large high has basically filled in and is not budging.  For those that know him (or of him) Bob McDavitt describes this as:
STR= Sub-tropical Ridge 
The axis of the STR is strong along 30S from north of NZ to south of Pitcairn Island. Strong enough to provide a zone of light winds for yachts heading to NZ from the tropics. Nothing much can be done about this except for motoring in light winds. The pattern seems to be in place until at least mid-month.
It looks to me like I can either leave now, or wait until the middle of the month or so - and then take whatever comes.  i.e. there is no guarantee that I'll like what I see after the middle of the month any better than what I have now.

Leaving now looks like it may be annoying, slow and long, but it should be nice to be out on the big ocean again.  I hope.

So for this passage, basically I'm going to launch myself hoping to clear land before the wind runs out, bob around in calms for a while and then sail where ever and whenever I can, making the best time possible toward New Zealand.  I have lots of food and water.  I'll find out what the limits of my patience are: do I end up motoring and burning most of my fuel or taking a long time to get there, having sailed most of the way...  stay tuned to find out

Right now, it looks like I will have ok wind for the first 36 hours, and then pretty much nothing for at least 24, and then it'll be scrappy, sailing here and there looking for pockets of wind to fill in.  The first 36 hours should see me clear of all land, and after that, I can bob around until my patience runs out or wind arrives.  If the forecast changes in the morning such that I won't be able to sail out of where I am, I'll probably delay - as I don't want to start an 1100nm passage by motoring for the first 24 hours...

These are the types of problems I have to deal with these days.  I wait around in a beautiful and friendly country hoping the weather systems south of me get organized.  A cruising friend of mine has a category for this type of thing: high class problems.

As always, I'll try to blog along the way, from time to time.  If the blog updates stop - nobody panic.  Things happen with fragile electronics in marine environments.