Day 392, Year 1: Passage to New Zealand, Day 5—Weather Change

Day 392, Year 1: Passage to New Zealand, Day 5—Weather Change
Date: Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Weather: Sunny with Long White Clouds on the Horizon; Winds NW18 Knots
Air Temperature: 63 degrees F
Water Temperature at Surface: 58 degrees F
Latitude: 33 degrees 47 minutes S
Longitude: 174 degrees 56 minutes E
Location: Passage from N Minerva Reef to New Zealand
Miles to Go: 88

At dawn this morning, both the air and water temperature were 58 degrees F. But it has been another beautiful sunny day so the cockpit is quite warm. We have not had the cold rains that were predicted, but that could still come tonight and in the morning. It is possible that we will have miserable weather for our arrival in Opua, but the rest of the trip has been most pleasant . . . so no complaints. We continued to motor through the high and then it was like we crossed a line in the sand. Within minutes, the winds increased to 18 to 20 knots and they have stayed steady all day. The seas have increased from flat to about 6 to 8 feet so we are doing a bit of “bobbing”, but so far it is a gentle downwind roll. The winds are on the starboard quarter as predicted and should stay that way, but it could get a little rowdy tonight.. Even if the winds increase to 30, we should be okay. Of course, the seas will increase as well, so who knows what the ride will be like by morning. The good thing is that we should arrive early in the am. We will be very thankful if we can get to New Zealand safely.

Windcastle is about 50 miles ahead of us and they plan to come in during the night tonight. Not sure I would want to do that, but they are trying to beat the strong winds. They have been sailing close to a boat named Kabuki for the past couple of days and enjoying VHF communication. The guy on Kabuki is a gold miner from Alaska, and Doug’s love of rocks has made their conversations most interesting. Mark is a little better today, but not what I would call on the road to recovery. My symptoms come and go. I started to go downhill today, so Mark took over on watch while I slept for an hour. I have been much better since, so hopefully once we are in and can get some rest, both of us will be fine.

The sun here does not go down until 8pm and rises again before 6am. We have had some moonlight helping us during the passage, but tonight the sliver of moon that is left does not rise until about 2:30 am. That won’t help me on first watch, but it will assure that the last part of the passage has light. By the time land is in sight, the sun should be up. That should make coming in a little easier, even if it is stormy. I have to say that I will really be glad when we reach Opua. This has not been our longest passage by any means, but it has been the most worrisome. Here’s hoping for New Zealand by early morning.

061114 Day 392–Minerva Reef to NZ Passage

Day 391, Year 1: Passage to New Zealand, Day 4—Beautiful Day

Day 391, Year 1: Passage to New Zealand, Day 4—Beautiful Day
Date: Monday, November 13, 2006
Weather: Sunny and Warm with Blue, Blue Skies; Winds S7 Knots On The Nose
Air Temperature: 60 degrees F and falling
Water Temperature at Surface: 62 degrees F and falling
Latitude: 31 degrees 32 minutes S
Longitude: 176 degrees 12 minutes E
Miles to Go: 250

What a beautiful day. We have absolutely flat seas, blue skies with not a hint of a cloud, and the sun is shining brightly. Even though it is 60 degrees F outside, it is 78 degrees here in the cockpit and I just had to take off my long sleeve shirt because I was so hot. But you know what they say about the calm before the storm. The forecasts say this is not going to last. The beautiful red sails in the sunrise this morning were warning of that. We are still pushing our way through this high pressure system, but late tonight or early tomorrow we will come out of the high and into rainy, cool weather. A low pressure system and a couple of troughs are headed our way, so we are enjoying the day while preparing for tomorrow. I said yesterday that unless we have a problem of some sort, we should be in Opua early on Wednesday. Well, we have a problem. We have a 1+ knot current against us that is only allowing us to move forward at about 5 knots even though we have the motor running almost full tilt. We needed to keep our average at 5.5 knots in order to be in early on Wednesday. Once we have wind again, I think we can make up for some lost time, but it looks like it will be late in the day on Wednesday when we arrive. We are going to have a period of 25 to 30 knots winds between now and then, but they will be on the back quarter, so we should be fine. The winds are predicted to build and then lesson on Wednesday as we approach Opua. Then the winds build to 35 knots and that is what we want to avoid. John Leavitt at Commanders’ Weather in New Hampshire keeps us updated on any changes. So far, all of his projections have been right on target. Thank you, John.

Mark has been asleep all day. His cold has gotten worse and he has a hard time talking due to a raspy throat. I had to fill in for him as net controller on the Southbound Coconut Net this morning and I am doing all of the day watches so he can rest up for tonight. I’m really hoping that the extra rest will put him back on track, but this cold really hit him hard. I thought I was getting the same thing, but all the symptoms except for a tickly throat have gone away. So at least I am fine for now. I told Mark that I think just the thought of cooler weather made him sick!

All day I have been running up to the cockpit to be on watch and down to the cabin below to get things ready for entering New Zealand. There are many forms to fill out and so many items of food that they will take from us upon arrival and others that they will inspect and then decide whether they have to take it. They allow no poultry or poultry products or dairy products to enter the country. All meat in the freezer and all fresh fruits and vegetables must go. Since we thought we would be staying in Minerva Reef for a few days, we have some fresh things that are going to have to be thrown out. They inspect all spices, noodles, rice, dried fruits and vegetables, as well as wooden items and a host of other things to make sure they are acceptable. I hope this all sounds worse than it really is, but when you read the literature it sounds like we will have nothing left when they are finished. Bette Lee on Quantum Leap emailed and said the check-in was painless and very professional. Not sure what that means in terms of what we will get to keep and what has to go, but we shall soon find out.

I finally did a little New Zealand research last night on while on watch. While reading through the New Zealand Border Agencies Information packet, I was intrigued by the fact that there was a greeting in English as well as in Maori. New Zealand is also referred to as Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand, or the Land of the Long White Cloud. In addition, the Maori greeting “haere mai” was used. I felt for a moment that we are not leaving Polynesia at all. I was temporarily transported back to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. I knew from my reading in the Marquesas and in French Polynesia, that the Maori of New Zealand came from there, but I wasn’t sure of all of the details. The New Zealand information I have says that sometime prior to AD 800, the great Polynesian explorer named Kupe made his way south and found the islands he named Aotearoa. He arrived in a canoe from Hawaiki (the original name of Raiatea in French Polynesia). He returned home and four centuries later seven or more ocean-going canoes carried Polynesian colonists to Aoearoa. Radiocarbon dating shows that there were multiple Polynesian Maori colonies on both the north and south islands of New Zealand by AD 1100. Oral history tells us that Kupe found no people in the new land while he was there, but Chief Toi and his grandson, Watonga, from Hawaiki, repeated Kupe’s voyage about two centuries after Kupe and when they returned home they did report that they found people living in Aotearoa. The present day Maoris living in New Zealand have tribal names that can be traced to the seven canoes that arrived around AD 1100. It was not until 1642 when Dutch explorer Abel Tasman arrived that the islands were named Nieuw Zeeland after a province in Holland. Then in 1769 Captain James Cook arrived and claimed the islands for Great Britain. The Maoris and the Europeans struggled over land ownership. In 1840 Queen Vistoria’s envoys signed the Treaty of Waitangi where the Maori gave up heir sovereignty to Britain in exchange for a guarantee of their rights over lands, forests, and fisheries. This treaty was never formally ratified and the struggles continued until 1975. In that year a Maori politician established the Waitangi Tirbunal and although this does not carry the weight of the law, by the 1990’s a significant amount of New Zealand resources were transferred to the Maori.

That is probably enough of a history lesson for today. I’ll keep reading tonight and see what I can report tomorrow.

061113 Day 390–Minerva Reef to NZ Passage

Day 390, Year 1: Passage to New Zealand, Day 3—The BIG High Pressure

Day 390, Year 1: Passage to New Zealand, Day 3—The BIG High Pressure
Date: Sunday, November 12, 2006
Weather: Overcast Day, Winds E 7 Knots
Air Temperature: 68 degrees F and falling
Water Temperature: 64 degrees F and falling
Latitude: 29 Degrees 26 Minutes South
Longitude: 177 Degrees 17 Minutes East
Location: Passage from N Minerva Reef to New Zealand
Miles to Go: 388

We are currently negotiating our way through a BIG high pressure system. That means we have little or no wind. The weather folks have been referring to this high as “big” because it is impacting the entire western South Pacific from Australia to French Polynesia. Sometime between now and tomorrow we should go through the center and after that our winds should begin to increase. As we approach the coast of New Zealand, however, we will begin to feel the affects of a low approaching the North Island. If we get in on Wednesday morning, we will avoid the strongest winds that should arrive later in the day on Wednesday and should continue on into Thursday. Unless we have a major problem, we will be in Opua early on Wednesday.

The temperature continues to drop slowly. This morning it was 64 degrees F, but by this afternoon it was 68 degrees F. That doesn’t sound that cold, but we are already using layers of clothing. I put on my long underwear for last night’s watch, but it was still a little chilly. We broke out a polar fleece blanket that we can use when on watch. That really helps to keep the chill off. Unfortunately, both Mark and I have managed to get a cold. I guess this cooler weather just doesn’t agree with us. The tropics are already becoming a distant memory, and one we want to hang on to. I know we will enjoy New Zealand but it is going to take us a few more days to adjust to the differences.

We heard from Quantum Leap by email and they are now in Whangarei. They have a rental car and have jumped back into land life. They said they went to two movies yesterday and had popcorn and ice cream. Sounds like they have already acclimated to “life after the tropics”. I’m sure we will as well.

Day 389, Year 1: Passage to New Zealand, Day 2—Motor Sailing on Flat Seas

Day 389, Year 1: Passage to New Zealand, Day 2—Motor Sailing on Flat Seas
Date: Saturday, November 11, 2006
Weather: Partly Sunny Day, Winds SE 15-20 Knots Backing to E 12
Air Temperature: 74 degrees F and falling
Water Temperature: 67 degrees F and falling
Latitude: 27 degrees 18 minutes S
Longitude: 178 degrees 20 minutes E
Location: Passage from N Minerva Reef to New Zealand, Day 2
Miles to Go: 512

The rock and roll is gone. And as of late this afternoon, the “living on a slant” is gone. We are just motor sailing along on flat seas with about 12 knots of wind from the East. We are entering a high pressure system and we know our winds will diminish even more for a day or two. Right now we could be sailing with a boat speed of about 4.8 knots. But as Doug on Windcastle said today, we need to put the pedal to the metal and get to New Zealand as fast as possible. There are too many unknowns with the weather if we take our time. Commanders’ Weather also recommends that we go as fast as possible, so that is what we are doing. There have been lots of clouds today, but the sun has been shining through making it very warm and comfy in the cockpit. Last night it got a little chilly and we had to break out the polar fleece. The chilly weather really makes us appreciate the cockpit enclosure.

There are nineteen boats that are checking into the Southbound Coconut Net each day. This is a cruisers’ net that was started in Panama and it is run by volunteer cruisers. Mark will be net controller for the next two days and then another volunteer will come forth and take over. It is a wonderful comfort to be in contact twice a day with this group. If anyone has a problem, there is always someone coming along behind that could stop to help. And you really never know when you might be the one to need the help.

Now that things have settled down a bit, we hope to get a little more time to read about New Zealand. We will land in Opua which is a town up a river in the Bay of Islands. We will spend a few days there and do some land touring and then go out and explore the Bay of Islands. Since we will be back here in late April, we will just visit a couple of places and then head on down to Whangarei. This will be Windbird’s home for the next four or five months. Some cruisers we know are also using Whangarei as their home while others are going on to Auckland. We chose Whangarei based on the recommendations of other cruisers. The marina where we will be staying has only 30 slips and gives very personal service. Since we are leaving Windbird for a couple of months, knowing we would have personal service was very important to us.

It’s time for dinner, so that’s all for today. It is time to get ready for those night watches. The moon is giving us light during the night after it rises just past midnight, but until then it is black as pitch out here. Last night the stars were twinkling, but there was no light on the water until after the moon came up. I surely appreciate that moonlight.

Day 388, Year 1: Passage to New Zealand, Day 1—Crossing the Dateline

Day 388, Year 1: Passage to New Zealand, Day 1—Crossing the Dateline
Date: Friday, November 10, 2006
Weather: Overcast Day with Some Clearing in the PM, SE Winds 15-20 Knots
Latitude: 28 degrees 08 minutes S
Longitude: 179 degrees 44 minutes EAST—Yippee!
Location: Passage from N Minerva Reef to New Zealand
Miles to Go: ~700

We have now crossed the “official” Dateline-180 degrees. The Dateline, for time purposes, was moved to include Tonga in the same time zone with New Zealand. When we crossed that on the way from Samoa to Tonga, the time did change, but it didn’t give us the feeling of real accomplishment that we got today.. The longitude will now count down from 180 instead of building up to 180. In our voyage around the world, we are making progress.

And we are making progress on our passage to New Zealand, but not easily. As promised, we are bashing into head winds today. The projection was for us to pass into a cold front at about 0700 this morning, but at 0230 during the night we had an abrupt wind shift from NW to SW. The shift took about two minutes. I was just going off my first night watch when it happened, so the timing was perfect. I called down for Mark to come up and evaluate the sail plan and then we kept moving. We are having to run the engine at about 2000 rpm’s and are still using a full main and head sail. We are having to go a little more west than our rumb line, but Windbird is forging ahead like a Sherman tank. The seas aren’t too bad, but anytime you are beating straight into them, the comfort level certainly decreases. Sometimes we wish we had a lighter, faster boat, but in these conditions we are reminded of why we chose this boat. If I had the choice to make over, I’d still choose Windbird.

I feel like we are playing a real life board game on this passage. At each decision point, you either move forward or go back a few spaces. Commanders’ Weather reports are fantastic. John Leavitt at Commanders’ gives us quick responses and very thorough routing information. We emailed yesterday telling him of our decision to leave Minerva and continue on to New Zealand. We got an email back from his this morning saying, “From today’s vantage point it appears more clearly that you made a good decision.” Let’s hope he is right. Of course, it was his thorough information that led us to the decision, but we are feeling more confident in our ability to read through the mass of weather information and made decisions. This passage is still going to be problematic, but those who left before us are having challenges and information tells us that even if we waited in Tonga or Minerva for ten more days, we wouldn’t be assured of a smooth passage. There will be that perfect window, but the waiting game got the best of us. So now the strategy is to use the day by day information we get from Commanders’ and plan the best course from here. We have to balance the use of fuel against the distance and make sure we have plenty of fuel when we get close to the North Island. Nasty weather there is REALLY nasty and you want to be sure that you come into that part of the passage with a full range of resources. For now, the winds have come around enough that we are almost back on course and we are making better than our projected five knots, so all is well. And the sun is actually shining and I am hot. That is even better! The cold will come soon enough.

Day 387, Year 1: N Minerva Reef and On To New Zealand

Day 387, Year 1: N Minerva Reef and On To New Zealand
Date: Thursday, November 9, 2006
Weather: Sunny Day, NE Winds 12 Knots
Latitude: 24 degrees 01 minutes S
Longitude: 179 degrees 18 minutes W
Location: Passage from N Minerva Reef to New Zealand
Miles to Go: Arrived in Minerva–745 Miles to New Zealand

What a day! First, we received emails about the election results in the US and about the demise of Donald Rumsfeld. We heard that Massachusetts has the second black governor ever and that the Democrats swept New Hampshire. Of course, all of you back home already know all of this, but it was exciting news out here. Wow. What a difference a day makes.

But with our first emails of the day, we didn’t receive the weather updates we requested yesterday. Then literally just before entering North Minerva Reef, we received the responses from both Bob McDavitt in New Zealand and from Commander’s Weather in New Hampshire. As the Commander’s report stated, all of our options for proceeding are problematic, but basically the reports were saying that the next good weather window for the passage would require waiting in Minerva another seven to ten days. My gut reaction to reading the reports was that we should just keep going and not stop in Minerva. We called Windcastle on the radio, and after some discussion, we made the decision to go on inside the reef, anchor, and reconsider whether to go on or stay in light of the new information. After a couple of hours of hashing through the options, we decided to push on. Some of the other boats there are leaving tomorrow morning, but we are a little heavier and slower, so we decided that by leaving Minerva late this afternoon, we have a much better chance of reaching New Zealand before the next low pressure system hits the North Island. We also have a good chance of getting south fast enough to avoid a possible tropical low that might develop and head toward Minerva in a couple of days. That, along with the headwinds we will have tomorrow and the variable winds on Sunday and Monday are the problematic parts. We will have to motor for much of our trip in order to reach New Zealand before the bad weather hits, but we think we can do it. So tonight we are on our way-certainly not where we expected to be tonight, but it feels good.

Our stay in Minerva Reef was brief but amazing. You could easily sail by and never notice the reef at high tide. There are a few breakers, but you really don’t see them until you are right next to the reef. The break in the reef where you enter is about a quarter of a mile wide and pretty straight forward. Inside it is like a big pond that is almost three and a half miles across. We went all the way to the far side to anchor where the only other two boats were located. White Swan and Kabukee (not sure how to spell) were there at anchor. All of the other boats that we had expected to see there had made the decision to go on. Campbell on Camdeboo offered to come get us in his dinghy and take us out to the reef, so we took him up on his offer. Since we had decided not to stay, it seemed silly to take the time to put our own dinghy in the water. When we got out to the reef, it was nearing low tide so Campbell had to drop us off in knee deep water and we walked the rest of the way. We had to watch our steps carefully to avoid stepping on clams and urchins, but we finally got into ankle deep water. The clams were not giants, but they were so colorful. I love the way they look like they are smiling at you. The sea urchins were all hidden in tiny little sea urchin caves, so they were a little easier to step around. We saw no fish, but we did see what looked like little crayfish scurrying everywhere and then escaping into little holes. The top of the reef where we were was almost a quarter of a mile wide. I’m so glad we got to at least visit the reef, but we regret that we weren’t there long enough to find lobsters to eat. Too bad.

Today was a whirlwind. We entered Minerva around 1 pm, ate lunch, went over and over and over the weather information, went for a fabulous walk on the reef, talked with the other boats on the VHF radio about our decision, and then left before 6 pm. I’d call this a “Handley Stop”. In addition to a fast-paced day, we rocked and rolled so much last night that sleeping was not easy. We are hoping that the calm conditions we have right now continue through the night so we can get some good rest. I think we are going to need our energy for this passage.

061109 Day 387–Minerva Reef