November 2014 - New Zealand

1 November 2014   Tonga to New Zealand (Day 1)
After the big party last night, we both had mild hangovers - it's not the best way to start a 1,000 mile passage, but by half past ten, we had everything stowed and were sailing away.  We went out of the Egeria Channel on the north side on Tongatapu, which was a ten mile jaunt through reef infested waters.

Heading for New Zealand

There were some very confused seas and winds on the north-western tip of the island but after a couple of hours, things started to settled down as we headed out into the open ocean and away from the effect of land.  For the rest of the afternoon, we had 15-22 knots from ESE, which with our south west course, gave us a fast boisterous reach.  These fabulous sailing conditions continued all night and most of the time we were bounding along at 6.5 to 7.5 knots in six foot seas.

We're both in a state of mild shock that we're actually heading to New Zealand.  It's only been four days since we decided to leave the Ha'api Islands and since then we don't seem to have stopped to take a breath.  At least we haven't had time to worry about this passage - yet.

2 November 2014   Tonga to New Zealand (Day 2)
Dawn brought us overcast skies and the wind backed to the west, but it was still blowing at 20 knots, so we were screaming along on a broad reach.  By eight o'clock, we'd done 140 miles in 22 hours, which was a really good start to the passage.

I downloaded the weather forecasts and then agonised over our routing for an hour.  We were only 100 miles from Minerva Reef and it was decision time - should we stop or should we carry on direct to New Zealand?  The GRIB files show that there's a high pressure system building over New Zealand which is spreading out and will give low winds just north of the country for the next ten days with no sign of any south-west gales.

We decided to sail straight to New Zealand and changed course to 210 degrees, which is the direct rhumb line to Opua.  The conventional route is to head more west and to cross 30 degrees south at a point directly north of Opua, which would put us in a position to better handle south west gales.  As the forecast is currently for south to south-east winds en-route, it makes more sense to keep further to the east and we can then head more west, if we encounter strong south-east winds.

After lunch, the clouds dissipated and, for the rest of the day, we had a superb beam reach doing seven knots in boisterous 6-8 foot seas.   Just after midnight, the wind dropped to 12-16 knots, so we unfurled the genoa and stay sail and glided along in four foot seas under a half moon.  It was a beautiful night, but the cloudless skies made the temperature drop, so long trousers and fleeces were essential when on watch.

3 November 2014   Tonga to New Zealand (Day 3)
The clouds rolled in just after dawn and we had a few heavy showers during the morning, but thankfully, the wind didn't pick up much above 20 knots.  By lunchtime, we were back to blue skies.

The weather forecast showed 10-20 knot ESE winds for today and tonight and then the wind should start to back to the north tomorrow.   A mild trough will follow and give us variable winds for 12 hours.  After it's passed, the forecast is for stronger south to south-east winds.  Our plan is to head more south as the wind backs tomorrow and then we can head south-west when the winds from the south hit us.

Heading for New Zealand

I chatted to Horst on "Flow" on the SSB radio at lunchtime and they are 30 miles south-east of us having a good sail as well.  

We've slotted back into our three hour watch system and, with the settled conditions, we're both getting a good amount of sleep.  Glenys made pizza with oven roasted vegetables for lunch and then produced roast chicken drum sticks with rice, pac choi and pumpkin for dinner, so we're not starving. 

In the middle of the afternoon, the wind veered to the SSE and forced us to head 30 degrees further west.  It was very strange and only lasted for four hours before it backed to WSW again - must have been a local anomaly.  We had another wonderful night sail, with clear skies and settled seas.

We crossed over longitude 180 degrees last night, so we're now exactly on the other side of the world to the UK, which is quite scary - it's a long way home.

4 November 2014   Tonga to New Zealand (Day 4)
By mid-morning, the wind had backed from east to north-north-east, so we were sailing almost dead down-wind.  I rigged up our spinnaker pole and pulled the genoa out to port, so that we were running wing-on-wing.  The strength of the wind had dropped to around 12 knots, so our boat speed was down to 5 knots.

The GRIB files now show a small low moving across the southern end of North Island, which is likely to give us  south-west winds on the 6th and then a longer spell of south winds until the 8th.  In addition, there's now a huge low forecast to pass to the north of us, which is predicted to pass over Minerva Reef and will give gale force easterlies where we are now.   

We've had a great sail up to now, but it looks like things might get a little tougher in a couple of days' time.  Our plan is to continue sailing down the rhumb line and take whatever comes - the wind will be against us, but at least it's only forecast to be 15-20 knots and who knows what tomorrow's forecast will bring.

For the time being, we wombled along in nice calm seas for the afternoon, but the wind gradually dropped, so at five o'clock, I turned on the engine.  Three hours later, the wind picked up enough to sail again, but at our watch change at 2200, we gave up and motored.  

Approaching the low pressure trough

By one o'clock, the wind had backed even more to NNW and picked up enough to sail yet again, so we gybed the main and ran on a broad reach with the wind on our starboard quarter. During my 1-4 watch, the wind picked up to 10-15 knots, so I unrigged the spinnaker pole and put a reef in the main.

5 November 2014   Tonga to New Zealand (Day 5)
At eight o'clock this morning, we'd done 590 miles with 455 miles to go, so we're well over halfway.  It was a pleasant start to the day with a light cloud layer and the sun breaking through every so often.  The wind stayed constant from the NNW, but gradually dropped near lunchtime as a line of darker cloud approached us over the horizon - the low pressure trough that we've been expecting.

The weather forecast hadn't changed much from yesterday - we're going to get south to south-west winds on the nose from tonight until the 7th, when it should start to back around to the east and give us a good reach into Opua for the last couple of days.

Just as we were about to have lunch, the wind picked up to over 20 knots as we passed by a squall system, causing me to spring into action reefing the main and genoa.  I just got back into the cockpit and put the bimini side flaps up before the rain hit us - phew...  Once into the low pressure trough, the wind died down and we had to start motoring again.

By four o'clock, the wind had backed 180 degrees around to the south, so it was almost directly on the nose.  At first it was only 5 knots, so we kept on motoring until we'd had dinner and our evening showers.  By this time, the wind had picked up to 12-15 knots, so I put one reef in the main; pulled out both headsails and we started beating upwind at 6 knots on a course of 245 degrees - only 35 degrees off our ideal course of 210 degrees.

It's now noticeably colder during the night because of the south wind and I'm now wearing warm long trousers, a thin goose down gilet,  a fleece and thick socks.  Halfway through my 7-10 watch, I had to go forward to reef the main because the wind was gusting up to 22 knots.  This was a bit more complicated than normal because I had to change my clothes first, taking off my fleece and long trousers and putting on a waterproof jacket against the cold light rain. 

This says it all

We had a miserable six hours bashing into a 20-25 knot wind, heeling over at alarming angles and slamming into waves, but by three o'clock, it had calmed down to 15-18 knots and it was nice sailing along at 5-6 knots with a full moon peeking through the thin cloud layer. 

6 November 2014   Tonga to New Zealand (Day 6)
Dawn revealed a pleasant looking sky with 90% cloud cover, but the wind veered more south-west, coming directly from where we want to go and putting us on a course of 255 degrees - 50 degrees off our rhumb line of 205 degrees.

The forecast is for this wind to continue until tomorrow morning, when it will start to back and by tomorrow afternoon, we will hopefully be back on course to Opua.  It looks like we've got another three nights at sea, arriving in Opua in the early hours of the 9th.

I went onto starboard tack to see if it was any better, but we ended up on a course of 150 degrees, which was five degrees more off course, but at least it was a change from heeling over to starboard.  It's a little frustrating, but nobody said that it would be easy.

It could be worse.  There's a massive low forecast to hit Minerva Reef on the 8th  and 9th, bringing gales force winds, lashing rain and five metre waves.  I'm so glad that we didn't stop there.  The atoll is in the middle of nowhere with tno land, just a fringing reef, so big waves will break over into the lagoon.  In addition, the wind will clock around during the 24 hour storm and the only protection is from the reef, which is good for only one direction.

I'm hoping that all the boats that left Tonga after us have not stopped or at least left Minerva Reef a few days ago.  The effects of the low will be felt down here with very strong south-east winds on the 10th, so the boats behind us might get a bit of a hammering anyway unless they're a lot faster than us.

The afternoon was incredibly irritating.  The wind stayed on the nose and we tacked a couple of times thinking that the wind had headed us only to find that we were worse off on the new tack.  Glenys had a low moment in the afternoon, overcome with the frustration of it all.

Bashing to windward

We eventually settled on our original course of 255 degrees because we find life aboard better on port tack.  Glenys finds it easier to work in the galley and it's more much comfortable in the starboard berth that we sleep in. By sunset, we'd managed to sail 60 miles in 12 hours, but had only made 35 miles towards our destination.

During the afternoon, we picked up an AIS signal which turned out to be the Hokule'a, the Polynesian voyaging canoe that we first saw in Papeete in French Polynesia after they arrived there at the end of a long passage from Hawaii.  They're on a parallel course to us about 12 miles further upwind and obviously heading for New Zealand.  We'll keep an eye out for them and try to intercept them if we can.

On my 7-10 watch, the wind backed by 15 degrees, so we were able to steer a course of 240 degrees - finally heading a little bit more towards Opua.  However,  it was a very fickle wind.  Most of the time I'd have 12-15 knots and, just as I was about to shake out a reef, the wind would gust up to 20-25 knots. So our boat speed was varying between 2 and 6 knots. On Glenys's 10-1 watch, it was even stranger, with the wind dying completely, forcing her to motor a couple of times - once for 30 minutes.

Then on my 1-4 watch, we’d be beating into a 15 knot wind and suddenly the wind would drop to 5 knots and be coming 90 degrees from the port side. With no power in the sails, the waves would stop us almost dead in the water and the auto pilot kept freaking out.  At one of these episodes, I tried hand steering immediately, but we still stalled in the water – I started to worry that there was something wrong with our rudder; or the autopilot; or our instruments; or was the wind somehow coming straight down out of the sky; or were we sailing through some kind of magnetic anomaly affecting the compass; or were there aliens messing about with us?  Eventually, I gave up trying to sail and motor-sailed – everything was fine after that. 

Apart from the vagaries of the wind, it was a lovely night with a full moon peeking through a few scattered clouds in an otherwise clear sky.  However, it was damn cold and I've started to wear a fleece hat on watches.