7 November 2014 Tonga to New Zealand (Day 7)
At dawn, we were still motor-sailing along the rhumb line to Opua with only 250 miles to go. After breakfast, the wind picked up to 10-15 knots, but was still from the south, so we had a go at sailing again. Unfortunately, the wind was still playing silly buggers and the waves were slowing us down to 2-3 knots, so the engine went back on again.
I downloaded my morning GRIB files which showed that the wind should back during the day to the south-west and then reduce in speed over night, but we'll probably be beating all the way to Opua.
We motored until ten o'clock, when the wind finally picked up and backed enough that we could hold a course 30 degrees off the rhumb line. We spent most of the day hanging on for grim death or sleeping wedged in a berth on the starboard side.
The wind dropped around four o'clock in the afternoon, so we were back to motor-sailing. I decided that while we were motoring, we might as well gain some easting, so that we'd be in a better position when the wind comes back tomorrow and we set a course 30 degrees east of the rhumb line. We had a nice hot beef curry for dinner, then donned extra warm clothes ready for the night.
It turned out to be a magical night. The wind dropped to 5 knots and the seas subsided to a couple of feet high, so we slid along at six knots under a full moon. However, it was very, very cold. I spent all of my 1-4 watch down below keeping warm and only popping my head up every so often.
8 November 2014 Tonga to New Zealand (Day 8)
Just after sunrise, the wind picked up to 15-20 knots, so Glenys started pull out the sails. Feeling gallant, I nipped out of bed and went to give her a hand dressed just in a pair of underpants - I wish that I hadn't bothered because the wind was bloody freezing. I was so glad to dive back under my duvet five minutes later.
The sea quickly built up to some very nasty, steep, 4-6 foot waves that were stopping us dead in the water, so we turned the engine back on and motor-sailed for a few hours - we only had 120 miles to go and we were both getting weary of bashing to windward.
Motoring 30 degrees off the rhumb line last might meant that it added 15 miles to our passage, but I'm glad that we did it because we were able to sail closer to the rhumb line all day - there's nothing more depressing than beating up wind seemingly heading away from your destination.
The waves were relentlessly bouncing us around, so we hove to at midday, giving Glenys some respite while she made us Rosti for lunch. Thirty minutes later, we were back to pounding upwind. The wind around here is very odd - veering around and changing strength all the time, which is strange because we're so far from land. We must have turned the engine on and off four or five times during the day.
Glenys spent some time this afternoon throwing away fresh food and cooking some things prior to our arrival because she knows that the quarantine people will be taking a hard look at everything and it's better to be prepared. She made oven roasted vegetables with the last of the peppers; coleslaw with the last of the cabbage and carrot; and salsa with the last of the tomatoes. Then she made enough lasagna to give us a meal today and tomorrow in anticipation that quarantine will take every other bit of meat away and we won't be able to get off the boat until the next day.
The wind deserted us again at three o'clock in the afternoon and we motored until midnight when the wind picked up to 12- 15 knots. For the first time in four days, we had winds from the east and reasonably calm seas allowing us to sail with the sheets slightly eased, directly towards our destination. It didn't last long, an hour later, the wind had veered and increased to 20-25 knots, putting us hard on the wind and forcing us to sail 20 degrees off the rhumb line.
At two o'clock in the morning, we were 40 miles away from Opua, so I called up Maritime Radio and asked them to contact customs to tell them that we would be arriving around midday tomorrow (with fingers and toes crossed). Before we left Tonga, we had to email a form to customs giving them advanced notification of our arrival and this was another little formality required before entering New Zealand's 12 mile limit.
At our change of watch at 0430, we were still 35 miles away and being forced remorselessly off course by the wind, so we gave up, rolled away the genoa and motored straight for port crashing into the rising waves.
9 November 2014 Tonga to New Zealand (Day 9)
Land was in sight when the sun came up, but it took another 3 hours of motoring upwind to gain the calmer waters in the Bay of Islands. Glenys cooked up scrambled eggs with pan fried potatoes and baked beans for breakfast to use up her remaining eggs. We tidied up and chilled out as we motored towards Opua under fabulous blue skies and flat calm water. With a nice cup of hot tea in my hand, life did seem grand.
At first sight, New Zealand looks like Scotland or Wales with close cropped grass covering rounded hills. The sea shore is mostly cliffs pounded by the sea, but as we got further into the bay, little coves started opening up making it look like a bit like Maine. Being a Sunday and a beautiful morning, the fishermen were out in force and we had to weave our way through dozens of small boats of all shapes and sizes with fishing rods sticking out everywhere.
Our route took us up the river passing the small towns of Russell and Paihia where we could see hundreds of yachts swinging on moorings. The local yachts were starting to move and I had to keep a wary eye on them, while frantically trying to remember the Rules of the Road - it’s a long time since we’ve been near so many boats.
By 1030, we’d reached the Opua Marina and tied up alongside their excellent Q-dock. “Laragh” and “Pamela” were on the dock, having arrived yesterday, so we jumped off the boat and had a chat. There was almost hysteria in everyone’s voices as tales of bashing to windward with fickle winds were exchanged. It’s nice to be here.
The customs and immigration arrived within an hour and the process was very efficient. The Quarantine officers went through all of Glenys’s food cupboards and the two fridges asking what various things were and inspecting containers of rice, beans and flour. In the end, the only things that they were going to confiscate were two boiled eggs which had been shelled, but they let us eat them rather than taking them away.
With eggy breath, I dealt with the customs officer, who filled in a few forms and stamped our passports, giving us six month visas. She asked if we had any weapons on boats and I fessed up to having pepper spray. She said that she had to take that away as it was illegal in New Zealand, but she agreed to hold it in bond for us. We can pick it up when we clear out of the country - I just have to give them two weeks’ notice, so that they can pick the pepper spray up from the local police station where it will be locked up.
By midday, we were safely tucked up in a marina berth sipping our first cold beer for a week. I wandered up to the marina office to check in and was asked how long we were going to stay. I then realised that I didn't know. We've been so focussed on getting through Tonga and making sure that we had a good trip to New Zealand that we haven’t thought through what we are going to do for the next month.
I went back to the boat where Glenys and I had a short planning session. We’re booked to be hauled out in Whangerei in four weeks’ time, but that’s only 80 miles away. We eventually decided that we didn't know what to do, so I went back to the marina office and booked us in for a week, so that we can sort ourselves out and work out a plan…
In the evening, our good friends Rod and Mary from “Sheer Tenacity” came on-board for a beer or two. We met them in the West Indies just after we moved onto Alba and have been keeping in touch. They have been in New Zealand for a year and know the area well. After two hours reminiscing with them, we staggered to the yacht club bar and met up with “Laragh” where even more tall stories were exchanged over even more pitchers of beer.
10 November 2014 Opua, New Zealand
We were both feeling a little bit dull this morning. I couldn't sleep and got up at seven o'clock, while Glenys lurked in bed until half past nine. I don’t blame her, it was very cold when I got up, so I put on the heating system, which took the chill out of the air. After she dragged herself out of bed, Glenys spent the rest of the morning going to the launderette to wash four weeks’ worth of dirty clothes, while I worked on catching up on admin now that we've got a good internet connection.
In the afternoon, Rod from “Sheer Tenacity” drove us into Paihia, which is a quaint little seaside town. We didn't have much time to look around - just went to the small supermarket and the liquor store to buy enough to last us a week.
We've signed up to an event called the “All Points Rally”, which basically is a way of getting cruisers to come to Opua rather than the other New Zealand towns. The organisers of the rally have planned a series of events over the next ten days and there was a “sausage sizzle” put on by a couple of the local businesses this evening.
With free beer and a sausage butty on offer, most of the fleet attended and it was great to see people that we've met along our way through the South Pacific.
11 November 2014 Opua, New Zealand
I like New Zealand so far, apart from the sand flies here in the marina. They are voracious little buggers and they've got on board. They’re low level ankle biters and leave a spot of blood after they've bitten us. I received a couple of bites on the first day and three yesterday, before I had enough sense to spray myself with insect repellent and wear long trousers and socks. The bites have swelled up and I'm now in itch-hell.
I sorted out my "To Buy" list, which after six months in the Pacific islands has grown to over 180 items and that’s just the technical stuff, not including Glenys’s things for the galley. I wandered into the two chandlers in the marina and they have everything that I need, but I restrained myself to just looking. We’ll be hauled out in Whangerei in a couple of weeks’ time and I can go into a buying frenzy there.
Glenys took advantage of the free water in the marina and hosed down the cockpit and decks. The bimini and spray hood were caked in salt and everywhere was sticky to touch, but it’s all looking nice and clean now.
12 November 2014 Opua, New Zealand
A big low is approaching from the Tasman Sea, which is forecast to bring south-west gales and five metre seas to the north of New Zealand for four or five days. Boats have been dribbling in over the past three days and the later arrivals have had a rough time of it. They’ve been caught up in the huge low that passed over Minerva Reef and they've been beam reaching in 30-40 knot winds to escape the worst of the weather. In the last two days, they've had to motor-sail fast to get here before these new south-west gales hit. I think that we timed our passage well.
It was a blustery day with rain showers, so I put up our cockpit tent and we’re nice and snug now. Both of us spent most of the day sitting at our laptops surfing the internet. It’s such a luxury to have a decent connection although it’s damn expensive. The pay-as-you-go wireless schemes are all based on the amount of megabytes used, so we’re paying $20NZ (£10) for 3GB of data, which lasted us one day…
13 November 2014 Opua, New Zealand
I did a few statistics today. Since leaving Ecuador at the end of February, we've done 7,600 miles with 72 days spent at sea on ocean passages, which equates to 27% of the time. In the past 9 months, we've had 59 nights at sea. We've now travelled 20,000 miles since moving onto Alba 3½ years ago, so it’s time for a rest from travelling and we need to knuckle down to give the boat some Tender Loving Care.
It was a very showery day and cold. Rod from "Sheer Tenacity" took us to a nearby town of Kerikeri where we went to various stores and did some serious re-provisioning. One essential purchase was a couple of nice new, soft duvets to protect us from the cold New Zealand nights.
On the way, Rod took us to the small town of Kawakawa where there’s a famous public toilet that he wanted us to see. Honest, a toilet - these Kiwis really know how to sell to tourists… This place was built by Fredrick Hundertwasser, who was an Austrian artist who lived in the town for 25 years until his death in 2000. He’s famous for the buildings that he’s designed, which incorporate bold colours and irregular shapes and the toilet in Kawa Kawa reflects this with strange curves and brightly coloured tiles.
14 November 2014 Opua, New Zealand
It was lousy weather with strong winds and rain, so we lurked indoors surfing the internet and chilling out.
There’s a radio net every morning and John from “Wind Flower” (who has organised the “All Points Rally”) is really dominating the airwaves and promoting the rally. Over the next week there are visits to a vineyard, a pub crawl on a ferry visiting various towns, a golf day, barbecues, etc. There are also seminars being run by the local businesses, which are blatantly trying to get us to stay here in Opua and spend lots of money with them. Some cruisers are really lapping up the rally, but I'm not so keen on being organised…
15 November 2014 Opua, New Zealand
The day was a little better, but we still had blustery winds. Rod and Mary came over and took us into Paihia to watch the Hokule'a being formally welcomed to New Zealand. The Polynesian Voyaging Canoe arrived two days after us and they have been lurking in the marina waiting for the weekend ceremony.
It was all a bit disorganised at first. We hung around on the beach for a couple of hours, waiting for them to land. There were lots of television crews around and they didn't seem to know what was happening either. The Hokule'a anchored off shore and the crew members were eventually loaded onto an impressively large 70-man Mauri war canoe and brought ashore.
Once ashore, we were treated to the spectacle of a hundred Mauri warriors lining up to meet the crew of the Hokule'a. Various rituals, including a Haka were then performed. Individual warriors kept rushing out from the line and making threatening charges at the new arrivals while the other warriors chanted, roared threats and stuck out their tongues. Eventually the Hokule'a crew was accepted by the warriors and the speeches started. Having already experienced long Polynesian speeches, we sloped off early.