Friday, November 18, 2011

Passage to New Zealand

Now that it's over with we can admit it. This is the passage that we were most afraid of. Lots of people sail from Tonga to New Zealand every year and, while they may encounter some unpleasant weather, it usually turns out fine. However there are some notorious exceptions. There was storm off of New Zealand in November of 1998 that hit the people who were making this same passage and it was nasty. Boats sank and people died. In preparation for this trip we read a great book called "Surviving the Storm" about how to read the weather condition and hopefully avoid that sort of thing and how to give yourself the best chance of survival if you do find yourself in really deep sauce. A large portion of the beginning of the book is a detailed description of how that storm developed and what happened aboard the boats that got into trouble. It was quite informative and useful to read but, despite the foreword by the authors that tries to reassure you that this sort of thing is exceedingly rare, it does tend to scare the crap out of you when you're planning to do that same passage yourself during the same month. There, I said it. Aren't all of you friends and family glad I didn't tell you about that before the passage?

So there we were in Tongatapu with Shalimar waiting for a weather window. Shalimar had decided to shell out the money for professional weather routing on this passage so, rather than just pouring over the weather faxes ourselves and hoping we were interpreting them correctly, we just had to wait for Shalimar to get an email from a professional and hope that he was interpreting the data correctly. Okay, actually we looked at the weather faxes and grib files too but it definitely was nice to share Shalimar's weather routing info. Since Shalimar was sailing with a few jury rigged repairs and a broken finger, we were looking for a good weather window rather than just a possible weather window.

We ended up waiting quite a while. November 7th rolled around and by then our standards had slid a little bit. There was a window on offer and we took it. The forecast called for a few days of light wind halfway through and a little more upwind sailing than we wanted but it still looked pretty good. We left on the 7th and started heading SW in winds that were just a little E of S. Those of you that sail will know that going upwind isn't too comfortable. For those of you that don't, I'll tell you. It's not too comfortable. The boat heels way over so that you just about have to walk on the walls when you're below, it seems colder and windier than it really is, the rig is under a lot of stress (which stresses me out as I worry about things breaking), and the boat lurches and jerks as it rams into oncoming waves.

That description of sailing upwind is also a fairly accurate description of the whole 11 day passage except for the 40 or 50 hours we spent motoring because there was either no wind or there was wind blowing directly from where we wanted to go. We also got to experience the joy of only covering about 60 miles over a 24 hour period. All in all it was a mildly annoying and uncomfortable passage but, given the spectrum of things that can happen out there, I will gladly accept it. We made it in a reasonable amount of time, didn't get rained on very much, and nothing broke. I had a bit of a scare when we got to Opua, New Zealand and I found a bunch of oil in the bilge. For a short while I thought we'd blown the main seal on the engine or something but it turned out to be nothing. The engine just doesn't seem to like to run while we're heeled way over. We ended up motoring with the sails up quite a bit to keep our speed up and I guess the crank case breather is low enough that it'll blow oil out when it's leaned way over. So anyway, nothing broke and Architeuthis did good. We got into Opua on the 18th and Shalimar made it in one day later.

We didn't really realize how good we had it until we'd been in Opua for a few days. We saw some old friends in the boat yard here that we hadn't seen since California. They'd also just sailed across be we missed them all the way across because we were on different schedules. Anyway, it turns out they'd made the passage a couple of weeks before us and broke their boom and one of their spreaders and almost lost their mast. They had to turn back to Tonga, tie everything down, buy a ton of diesel cans and motor the whole way to New Zealand. Then some good friends of ours came in about 4 days after us and it turns out they had all sorts of problems you can read about here.

At any rate, we're damned glad to be here and glad that Architeuthis has been such a sturdy (and lucky) little boat.

1 comment:

Pops said...

we are glad you are there too! but we wish you were here!