Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Passage preparation - Seattle here I come!

[March 24: Added an update at the end.]

Well, its this time again.  I arrived in New Zealand in mid November and its now late March and time to be looking for a weather window for my departure from this fine country.  Last year when I left, I was heading back to the tropics for a season visiting Tonga and Fiji.  This year when I leave, I'll be heading back to the Pacific Northwest, and eventually Seattle.  I could fly back in a day or so, but by choosing to sail, I won't be arriving until sometime in August.  One of the many joys of sailing back - I get to avoid the security lineups in the airports.  I guess there are pluses and minuses either way.

Once again, I have spent my time in New Zealand hanging out in the best home office ever: Luckness anchored in Otaio Bay on Urapukapuka Island, the Bay of Islands.  I really should come back here sometime and see more of the place.

Otaio Bay, looking East from Luckness

Looking down at Luckness

Otaio Bay, looking West from Luckness

When cruisers who aren't part of the EU arrive into New Zealand, for example, me, they are granted an initial 3 month visa.  Before it expires you need to apply to have it extended, unless you fly out of the county in which case you can deal with that when you re-enter.  My visa extension last year was for 3 additional months.  This year, they gave me 6 extra weeks, and as a result my visa expires in the middle of April.  I wonder if I'm running out of my welcome here?

As the deadline is approaching quickly, I have been busy preparing Luckness for her upcoming passages.  Its roughly 8200nm back to Seattle, which I'll do in three legs.

The first passage is from New Zealand to Papeete, Tahiti.  The second from somewhere in the Society Islands to Hawaii, and the third from Hawaii back to Neah Bay, in Washington State.  Of these three, its the first which is somewhat tricky.

The weather for the last passage is dominated by a large stationary high pressure system, and to sail to Neah Bay from Hawaii, you basically leave Hawaii heading North or NNW, go up to around the latitude of Neah Bay, turn right and finish your sail.  There are nuances of course, depending on what the actual weather is like at the time you sail, but this simplistic description is basically the plan and is more or less what I did the last time I sailed this passage.

The weather for the second passage is dominated by trade winds, which blow East or SSE, SE around the Society Islands and East or ENE, NE around Hawaii.  So the plan for that leg is to leave the Societies, head NNE to make my way east far enough so that after crossing the equator and getting through the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) I can head to Hawaii and not have my entire trip be sailing upwind.  Again, there are nuances to the trip, but the plan is pretty simple really.

The first leg is the tricky one.  The weather systems down here are migratory - high pressure systems are generated over in Australia and move east across the area, with lows between them.  Depending on the latitude and strength of the highs, and the latitude and strength of the lows, the conditions are vastly different.  Into the mix you can add the occasional spinning low which descends from the tropics, heading south.  Its a somewhat chaotic mixture.  There are guidelines of course.  A weather book by Cornell suggests that the best time to do this trip is mid-March to May.  That is based on climatic averages.  The thing is, each time anybody sails this passage, they can't depend on a climatic average for their trip - the weather is quite variable and the weather they experience may be quite different from the averages.  Of course, before leaving I'll be watching the weather forecasts and trying to pick a good weather window.  This passage is roughly 2600nm, I'm expecting to sail it in somewhere between 20 and 30 days.  A weather forecast can go out for 10 days, however the portion of that forecast that you can rely on might only extend for 3 to 5.  So, no matter how careful a sailor chooses their weather window for this trip, much before the half way point, the weather they will be sailing in will be whatever it decides to be, there is no way to plan the whole trip.   The longer you wait, the lower the probability of a cyclone but the higher the probability of a gale generated off of a low from the South.  This is all part of the passage making game though, you shouldn't play without knowing the rules.

Aside from studying the weather, I've been working on boat chores and have managed to get through a long list of them.  Luckness was hauled out a little while ago, and I painted her bottom as well as finishing up a bunch of other things: completing the installation of the new water maker; reversing my anchor chain; clean/service the prop; replaced the knot meter; things like that.  Before hauling out I had done some sail repair; climbed the mast to inspect the rig; replaced the wind instruments bearings; examined all the sheets and halyards; inspected the quadrant and steering system; etc.  We are pretty much ready to go at this point.

Luckness, just hauled out

I try to avoid gathering interesting cruising stories, you know the kind, how someone narrowly avoids disaster by making a series of clever last minute decisions.  I prefer, if possible, to avoid those situations altogether.  If I can finish a passage and describe it as uneventful, that's just fine with me.  Unfortunately, I had an interesting experience a little while ago.  At around 2am, on the morning before I was planning on hauling Luckness out of the water, I was fast asleep when I was woken up by a strange noise coming from the bow of my boat.  I sprung out of bed and ran up to the bow where I discovered that my windlass had decided to start bringing my chain in.  It seems that something had shorted out, some contact was closed and the windlass started up.  Once I figured it out I went below to break the circuit at the circuit breaker and went back to sleep.  In the morning I tested the circuit again and it was now back to normal and so I was able to raise my anchor and make my appointment at the haul out easily.  I'm so happy that I happened to be aboard when this happened!  I had been leaving my windlass circuit breaker powered up for almost this entire cruise.  If I had been out hiking Urapukapuka Island when this happened I could have come back to find that Luckness had raised her anchor and then strayed off somewhere - I don't ever want to come back to where I had anchored her only to find her missing...  So one of my chores while hauled out was to go through the electronics of the windlass.  I think I've found the problem, and fixed it, but I now power down the circuit breaker when its not needed.

I'll miss this place when I'm gone.  The Bay of Islands is a wonderful cruising grounds.  By all reports, all of New Zealand is, but I'll have to leave that wider question until I return again sometime in the future.


The next blog post will likely be from sea.  As always on my passages, if I post blog reports for a while and then stop, nobody panic, electronics can go wrong.  If this happens, I'll update the blog when I arrive in the port and get access to the internet again.


Several people have said they will dig out an atlas and look up my route.  Here it is:

When I first started this journey, New Zealand felt like it was "half way around the world!" - its not, nowhere near half way around really.  Hawaii is one time zone East.  Seattle is four time zones away. There are 360 degrees in a circle, half that is 180, and from where I am to Neah Bay is only 72 degrees of longitude (East/West) away - not even 1/4 of the way around.

Papeete, Tahiti is the first dot up from the lower right one.  I plan to arrive in Hawaii into Hilo, on the eastern side of the Hawaiian island chain, and leave from Hanalei Bay, on the western side of the chain.


  1. Have a great sail! Will be dreaming of what it must be like. If ever on HF let me know.

    Alan White WN4HOG
    Davidson, NC

    1. Hey Alan. I'll try to do my part to have those dreams not become nightmares, although there are guarantees!

  2. Very good update Craig. Very disconcerting thought of Luckness wandering around on her own. Glad that you found that problem while aboard.

    I must say it is a very nice view from your "home office" -- blue skies and blue water - it must be hard to leave.

    I'm looking forward to reading about your adventures while en-route back to Seattle as well as getting together after your return. Now to get the atlas out tonight and take a look at this journey.

    Safe uneventful sailing bro - Gord

    1. Hey Gord. Yes, I agree, I'd prefer to have all of Luckness' wanderings happen when I'm aboard! It is hard to leave this place - although the Immigration department here is helping me with that choice :-) I updated the post with a picture of my planned route - I'll update the picture when I have speedy internet somewhere along the way with the actual path I take. Talk to you through email later.

  3. I have been lurking for quite awhile and following your blog. It's very enjoyable to read, especially today, in Wisconsin, where we have rain/snow/sleet. Safe travels and look forward to your updates.


    1. Oh yeah - snow and sleet. I haven't had those for a while... I'll try to find the blogs of a few sailors, sailing tropical beautiful waters, while I'm back in Seattle next winter, going through my own snow and sleet!

  4. Sounds as if you have your bases covered, so to speak in baseball terms. I'll have to learn nautical ones. Safe and uneventful voyage. Mum

    1. An an uneventful baseball game isn't really anything to strive for - but in nautical terms, its a good goal! Thanks Mom!

  5. Got your "test" email, but the return address was @blog