The New Zealand Passage

Leaving Momo bay and traveling out the main channel we had an issue. I didn’t think the channel would be all rough as we had an incoming tide and a light breeze in the same direction. Was I ever wrong. We travel about 6+ kts when motoring in calm waters. In this pass the current slowed us to 2+ kts and we had a short steep chop. So much so that we knocked another board off the bowsprit platform. Concerned a wee bit about potential damage we diverted to Robinson Crusoe Island. There we’ll check for any damage. We can always leave the following day.
Other than Elysium’s ego damaged we did leave the following day. The pass to Robinson was easy to navigate and shortly we had our sails up and were heading towards New Zealand.  Well, almost towards NZ.
As in my last post the idea was to head SW on a reach and then once we made our Westing turn SE and reach to NZ. We could head SW but it wasn’t a reach.  At times maybe, but for the most part we were close hauled. Not our preferable way to sail, at least not in the ocean. We started out with a single reefed main and a reefed Jib.  At the time we were making 6 kts +/- . The seas were; rough.  We had multiple swells rolling in from the S quadrants.  Swells out of the SE, S, and SW.  This made the rides at Disney feel bland and boring by comparison. There were often times when we would fall down one wave just to have the bow crash into the next. Over the next few days we lost two more teak platform pieces off the bowsprit. The anchors are now cleaner than when new from the constant pressure wash.
For the first few days this was not a comfortable trip. We set up one of the dinette seats inside the boat to wedge ourselves into and that place was a saving grace. The weather turned chilly with the winds out of the S.  Yep, in the Southern Hemisphere winds from Antarctica are from the South.  We would do our watches in the “rocking chair” and every so often stick our head up and check the horizon. While we needed to know what was going on outside we never saw another ship until we sighted NZ.  For the most part this area of the world appeared to be devoid of life.  Some days we never even saw a bird!
I checked the GRIBs twice a day. The (High) that was to fill in shrunk a bit and stayed stationary for a bit. This meant we stayed on the wind for longer than we would have liked. Finally we hit the (H) and turned on the motor. Motoring in the calms sleep came easily and our watches went smoothly. We motored S traveling  up and down some nicely spaced swells. We  motored through the tail end of a stationary front and then the (H) just seemed to evaporate.  Again we fought a new onslaught of winds from the S and some new southerly wave trains. Notice the plural!  A new (H) had reformed to the SW of us giving us more wind out of; you guessed it, the S.
The motion of the boat went from comfortable to “Holy Crap Batman”!  With the iPhone sitting on the table I noticed every so often the gyro in it thought someone was picking it up to use it. It would come on and sense that indeed no one was using it and promptly shut off.
One may wonder why we had the phone sitting on the table in the first place. The iPhone is NOT a satellite phone and there are NO cell towers in the middle of the ocean. Before we left Fiji I spent some time downloading podcasts. We like “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”,  Freakeconomics, Snap Judgement, PBS News

Sleeping Offshore

Catching some Shut eye offshore.

Hour, Politics Monday, and a smattering of others.  That and books kept us entertained for most of the trip. The rest of our time was eating, sleeping, and caring for the boat.  We never had the large drifter out but we finally used the staysail. I believe this was the first time in the Pacific I actually had it out under sail.
On this trip we ran with a double reefed main, Yankee Jib heavily reefed to all the way out and the staysail. Winds were never over 30 kts and for the most part in the 20’s. We used various combinations depending on the the sea state – current winds and the winds we anticipated coming. We never hove to although I watched for a time when that might be to our advantage.  One boat that left the same time we did hove to for two days waiting for the Westerlies to set in.  Personally, I never looked two days out.
I was a wee bit concerned when Dirk (part of our shore support team) said a Tropical Depression popped up in Fiji.  By then we were 3 days S and for the most part well away. We were heading S too but depressions and cyclones  can move faster than we do.  Luckily for us it fell apart.  But in Fiji they received enormous amounts of rain and the resultant flooding. We just squeaked out of Fiji in time. Four boats left within a day of each other on this passage. Yet with those four only one (us) checked into the Pacific Seafarers net at 14300 mhz at 0300 zulu.
Golden Age left the day after we did and arrived on the same day as we did with a broken head stay. He had secured the mast with two halyards and the rigger I spoke with later said his baby stay too had about half the wires broken. He was lucky to have arrived with the mast still standing. Herbert is a single hander and it appears he did a lot more motoring than we did.
Serge on Spirare; another New Zealand veteran, had said to maintain a minimum of 5 kts and “burn that diesel”. We averaged well over 5 kts and burned about 500 l of diesel. motoring close to 100 hours. Some of the motoring was motor sailing but for the most part if we could sail we did.
A Fuji 45 ketch left the same day we did and arrived without an engine. He is the boat that hove to for 2 days. Pedro (the owner) had picked up two crew in Vuda for the passage and for the most part he had reported a rather nice trip. He headed farther West than we did and parking the boat for two days may have made it more comfortable. Our track worried me that we were getting too far west and I didn’t want to beat E to get back to NZ. As it was we were about 150 nm more West than I had planned for.  In this part of the ocean no one says to just “hang out”. Three bodies of water and three weather systems met here creating a “mess”. We were in that mess.
The last boat that made this transit during the same period was Hello World. Sailed by a single hander who has already circumnavigated she did not do well. We had been in about a week when we received the news. While close to land she had a safe course set with the wind vane and thought she could get some shut eye. As she slept the winds shifted and as a wind vane steers to the wind the boats course changed. While asleep the boat ended up on a reef just S of Opua. Rona ended up in her dinghy rowing and rescued by some fishermen. She’s fine but the boat is no more.
Just off the Northern coast of NZ the winds lightened up. Then they started heading us up, forcing us to take a more easterly course. Once we were heading farther from, not closer to our destination, we tacked.  Now we are  heading back towards NZ but not on our rhumb line to Opua.  Late in the am we made our first sighting of land and by late afternoon the winds had died enough that we needed to again run the engine.
Before we left Fiji I serviced the engine, changed the Racor Fuel filters, checked the transmission fluid level, changed the oil. All was looking good. The engine was purring like a kitten.  However, I neglected to change the final fuel filter on the Perkins.  That filter is a PITA to change. The engineers that designed it need to seriously suffer! That said I also had bought into the idea of a cascading filtering system. My Racor was 20 micron and then the Perkins filter was whatever it was …..finer.  Now after 50 hours or so bouncing and running the engine it was acting as it did two years ago, starved for fuel  every so often. Damn!  I will be switching  back to my old style of running a 2 micron in the Racors and extending the life of the Perkins filter. It is much easier to change the Racors than the Perkins filter. Much easier. So we are running the Perkins and every so often the engine revs a little. When the engine ever miss behaves it creates anxiety.  We do count on that getting us into harbors and out of tricky situations.
I am constantly amazed that with a 12 hour daylight target in which to make landfall I seem to miss that daylight more than I would like. We could motor like hell and maybe arrive at our harbor entrance an hour after Sunset. If we putt along as slow as possible we will be entering the harbor at Sunrise. We choose the later and with the engine ticking over we scratch our way to Opua.
When 12 nm from land as requested by NZ I call on SSB NZ Maritime and inform them that we are in their waters and expect to be at the custom dock tomorrow.  Later that evening with a better understanding of when we will arrive W/ calls on VHF and gives them a more accurate time.
I love making landfall in daylight. We make our way slowly up the river and the smells and sights are refreshing.  Not realizing there was current at the marina I tried to tie up to a midship cleat and use the engine to pull the boat to the dock.  The current was not having any of that.  We ended up doing a 180 near the dock and docking the opposite way we intended. It was a lousy landing at the customs dock. I feel like we are boating for our first time.  Oh well! Any time you dock and there is no damage and no injuries is a good experience docking.
A couple hours later Customs/Immigration and Biosecurity came.  NZ is “extremely cautious” with diseases and pests of all kinds. First we had our wrist slapped because they didn’t have the “pre arrival” form.  I had emailed it from Fiji but neglected to check my email after I had sent it. It didn’t go through.  Fortunately I had it on my phone to show the Customs officer. She also informed us that upon receipt they send out a confirmation email.  Fiji didn’t do that. I wasn’t expecting to receive a reply  believing this was just another hoop or formality they want, but they never check. I guess I was wrong.  🙂  While we’ve had the iPhones now for a few years I need to be more aware of how some things work.  I heard the “whoosh” of an email sent but the whoosh occurs when it is sending, not when it has been sent. Live and learn.
After the wrist slap Customs and Immigration went smoothly. Some forms to fill out and more forms to fill out, stamps in the passport and then we were legal. The boat was still another story.
The Biosecurity officer came and he had fun. We had two dozen eggs and had hardboiled some believing that killed anything dangerous. He said “Oh the hard boiled egg trick, nope those go”! 🙂  The eggs went, then the frozen meat, after that it was into checking lockers.  He had the flash light out to find things we didn’t know about but he did.  Popcorn- gone, fruit- gone, fresh vegetables- gone, honey- gone.  He checked other lockers wanting to see one that opens to … the bilge. There in sits a 200 l diesel tank. Ok! He checked other lockers asking about do we have this or that.  Finally, as an after thought he asked about vacuum bags. Yep, we got rid of our vacuum bag and all that was in it. All told, we lost about $100-$150 US in food supplies. Other boats we had talked to didn’t have quite the same loss. Some boats had frozen meat that the officer let slide, others not.  It appears our guy followed the letter of the law and we don’t fault him for that.  He actually presents some of the seminars in Fiji and Tonga for cruisers. Those attending know what is allowed and what not. We never seem able to be in the right place at the right time and have missed every seminar presented.
I asked him what now happens to the items he removed. He indicated they go to incendirator.  The contents are heated to 1000º C destroying everything.
Once he completed his tasks we were good, free to go. Monica from the Marina stopped by to let us know what slip we were heading to. We like to clean up the boat and rest as soon as possible. However, moving the boat to its final Opua resting place we heard one of the engine alarms sound and then silence. Uh-oh!  The good part is it did not remain on, the bad part is I didn’t know which alarm it was. I just thought it was the water alarm and I would investigate it once docked.  By the way, it turns out it is the “Low Oil Pressure” alarm.  A big “UH-OH” !  Once secured W/ and I look forward to doing…. nothing. With the lack of boat moment after 10 days at sea we have a new experience and need to adjust…by doing nothing.   Tomorrow we will wash the boat and begin the process of identifying what will be repaired / improved after 3 years crossing the Pacific.

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