Saturday, May 2, 2009

Passage to New Zealand in November 2008

Day 1 Monday, November 3, 2008

Weighed anchor at 0730 and departed Nuku'Alofa out the western Egregia Pass. ETA Opua, New Zealand, is for Tuesday morning, November 11.

Goodbye to Tonga. This has been the highlight of our South Pacific travels so far. Serene is the best word I can think of to describe Tongans. They are strongly Christian and have such a peaceful quietness about them. A person in Tonga can believe in any religion he wishes but by law only Christians are allowed to congregate together for worship. I love the way the Tongans continue to wear their traditional dress daily. Not like all the other places where if you see someone in traditional attire you know that they are wearing it just for the tourists for a specific function. In Tonga both men and women continue to wear their skirts covered by matting wrapped around their waists and hips. The matting is heavier and different when they are in mourning for a relative. That is their normal daily attire, not something affected for the tourists. If anyone wants to visit the South Pacific and can go to only one place, Tonga should be your destination.
Barometric Pressure: 1011.9
Temp inside boat: 80.2F
Sailed most of daylight and then motor-sailed from 4:00 p.m. all night.

Day 2 Tuesday, November 4, 2008 at 0730
Latitude: 22.38.85S
Longitude: 176.41.88W
Miles Made Good: 144.7
Course: 211T
Barometric Pressure: 1011.2
Temp inside boat: 80.0F
All well on board.
A large squall rushed down on us at 0600 this morning and lasted about an hour and a half. Winds were 30 knots sustained and gusts of 45 knots. This storm moved from south to north and traveled at 20-25 knots per hour. Lots of lightning but no close strikes. Bill took in the sails just before the squall reached us. He then turned the boat and ran with the storm until winds died down to 20 knots. Then we turned back to our course of 211 True. Motor-sailed all day and night because winds were extremely light. Many boats left Tonga on Monday and Tuesday. Several who left early Monday are ahead of us - we are not the fastest boat out here by any stretch of the imagination. We are not within visual or VHF radio contact range with any other boat. Most of us are checking in twice daily on the SSB to follow each others positions and verify everyone is okay. Some are sailing in various directions. We are sticking to the rhumb line and motor-sailing. We are only sailing without motor when the wind changes to the right direction for our desired course. We are not sailing to follow the wind which would add many miles to the trip. I would rather waste diesel and get this trip over with as quickly as possible before weather changes again.

Day 3 Wednesday, November 5, 2008 at 0730
Latitude: 24.23.08S
Longitude: 178.09.54W
Miles Made Good: 126.7
Course: 211T
Barometric Pressure: 1013.2
Temp inside boat: 76.8F
All well on board.
Guess we have a new president-elect today and someone from home will hopefully send us an email and tell us who won. I certainly hope this election had a clear winner and won't require dragging on in courts as has happened in the past.

Several boats were affected by the squall yesterday morning. The mainsail halyard on S/VNUKUALOFA separated and their mainsail came down. Luckily it landed on the deck instead of in the ocean. They are continuing on to NZ under foresail only. S/V DON PEDRO had a lightning bolt strike the ocean directly behind the boat. Their boat wildly vibrated and all electronics ceased functioning. They turned everything off; waited 30 minutes and turned everything back on; and all started working again. They are darn lucky about that. S/V TOKETIE was knocked down. For you landlubbers, that means the boat was laid down on its side in the ocean. The keel on a monohull will cause a knocked-down boat to right itself, which is exactly what happened. Sometimes the righting happens quickly and sometimes it takes hours; depends in large part on how much water is holding the sails down in the ocean. Water also normally gets into the interior of the boat through the companionway when a boat is knocked down. This extra weight will also affect how long it takes for the boat to right itself. I do not know how long TOKETIE was knocked down, but assume the boat righted itself fairly quickly. The boat turned back upright but the mainsail was damaged. They spent the day repairing the sail and are now back underway to NZ. Good thing TOKETIE is a monohull. A catamaran would have flipped right over and remained upside down and the occupants would have had the opportunity to use those escape hatches that are built into the bottoms of catamarans. None of the boats were anywhere close to one another, but this storm rushed on everyone quickly. Bill had seen it on radar and thought it would take about 1 ½ hours to reach us. It was on top of us in 20 minutes. Really glad he got the sails furled away before the squall engulfed us. Something to be said for furling electric sails. We can get our sails in faster than manually controlled boats with old-fashioned hoist-up sails.

Day 4 Thursday, November 6, 2008 at 0730
Latitude: 26.09.86S
Longitude: 178.32.53W
Miles Made Good: 134.5
Course: 200T / 270T / 220T
Barometric Pressure: 1010.4
Temp inside boat: 76.2F
All well on board.
Had good sailing during afternoon and most of the night. Winds shifted from E to N to W to SW during late afternoon and overnight. Change in wind direction forced us farther east than desired for this point of the trip. Encountered 35 knot winds and sheet lightning around 0500 this morning, ending with winds from SW. So we turned and sailed due west for 5 hours. This squall never appeared on radar because it contained no rain, just high winds and sheet lightning.

The weather forecast has changed again (what's new!!!). There now are 2 LOW pressure systems that are developing deeper and on collision course. One LOW is moving from NW to SE. A smaller but deeper LOW is moving from SW to NE. As these 2 systems converge or collide there will be a "squash zone" forced between the 2. It is supposed to be very bad to get caught in the squash zone. Boats now at Minerva Reef are running south in hopes of getting far enough south to be inside the more southerly LOW system before the 2 systems meet one another. We are already well south of Minerva Reef and will continue on our SSW course. We sent an email to Bob McDavitt the weather guru asking which direction we should head: south or west. Hope to hear back from McDavitt this morning.
P.S. Received an email from Bill's brother, John, this morning telling us that the US presidential election had a decisive victory this time. Congratulations to President-Elect Barack Obama. Only thing that worries us about Obama is his lack of experience. Hopefully, Joe Biden will be able to help him along, especially regarding national security issues.

Day 5 Friday, November 7, 2008 at 0730
Latitude: 27.29.39S
Longitude: 178.51.12E *
Miles Made Good: 110.9
Course: 220T
Barometric Pressure: 1017.7
Temp inside boat: 71.2F
All well on board.
The 2 LOW systems are still predicted to collide Saturday or Sunday. Boats that were at Minerva Reef are running south as fast as possible. And boats enroute that are farther north than us are running to Minerva Reef as fast as possible. Seems people there want out and those people who are out want in. Bob McDavitt answered our email and said we should continue same course and speed, and that should put us south of the convergence point before it occurs. He said we should be prepared for gusts to 35 knots and seas 3 meters on Saturday and/or Sunday. Won't be pleasant but shouldn't be dangerous. We have been in worse conditions before. Here's hoping this forecast is accurate and doesn't change again for the worse.

* We crossed the meridian mid-afternoon yesterday. Notice our longitude is now east instead of west. Remember third grade geography. The equator encircles the planet east to west and separates north and south latitudes; the meridian encircles the planet from north to south and separates east and west longitudes. We are now in the eastern hemisphere, south of the equator, and will remain in the eastern hemisphere until we cross the prime meridian several hundreds of miles west of southern tip of Africa. The prime meridian crosses through Greenwich, England and is home to UTC or GMT or Zulu time. We will re-enter the western hemisphere when we cross the prime meridian in spring 2011. Also notice the temperature. It is getting colder each day as we get closer to NZ.

Day 6 Saturday, November 8, 2008 at 0730
Latitude: 29.09.864S
Longitude: 177.33.617E
Miles Made Good: 120.1
Course: 210T
Barometric Pressure: 1017.0
Temp inside boat: 70.4
All well on board.
Forgot to mention earlier about the currents. We have experienced a head-current ranging ½ knot to 1 ½ knots for this entire passage. By the time we reached the half-way point on Thursday evening we were also experiencing a very strong westerly-setting current. Seems like it wants to push us over to Australia. We must make frequent course adjustments in order to remain on course. Other boats enroute behind us are reporting favorable currents, but we haven't found any yet.

Friday afternoon we transferred all the diesel jerry jugs to our main tank, except for one 5-gallon jug that we are saving as our emergency reserve. Figured we should take advantage of the totally flat calm seas and zero wind to do this fuel transfer since we are expecting rough weather Saturday night. I also moved the few remaining items from the freezer locker into the fridge since we are down to our final few days of this voyage. First time I know of that we have had both freezers turned off. Found brownies and a few other treat surprises in the freezer that I had baked in the past 3 weeks and forgotten about. We should arrive Opua on Tuesday morning with no excess of prepared meals on hand. We will be ready for the restaurants.

Day 7 Sunday, November 9, 2008 at 0730
Latitude: 31.20.905S
Longitude: 176.26.615E
Miles Made Good: 143.3
Course: 206T
Barometric Pressure: 1016.8
Temp inside boat: 68.5F Burrrr!!
All well on board.
Bill did not sleep at all last night. He is on an adrenaline rush. The rough water didn't help any either. It was blustery, wet and cold. Winds were 25-33 knots all night; seas 3 meters and very rough; but really not too bad. When the water is rough like this, it sometimes sounds like logs are striking the hull very hard. This loud impact sound is actually caused by air pockets in the waves created by all the sea motion. We experienced lots of these impact sounds during this bad weather. The waves were stacked so closely upon one another that many times there was no trough between waves. There was so much motion that one needed both hands to hold on as one crab-walked around inside the boat. Same conditions will remain all day today. Weather should begin to lighten up a bit this evening. Supposedly we are in the small "squash zone" but it really is not all that bad. At least there is lots of wind so we can sail and not run the motor. We have spent all night shortening sail over and over again because the boat was going too fast. Finally found the perfect sail configuration for these weather conditions. We took in the mizzen sail altogether; mainsail is triple reefed; foresail has just a handkerchief-sized piece flying. We have 20 wraps on the foresail furler. Leaving it triple reefed was still too much sail and boat was still going in excess of 8-9 knots. By flying just a handkerchief-sized piece of the jib we have reduced boat speed to about 5 to 5.5 knots and it is much more comfortable. We both have numerous little bruises from being thrown about inside the boat. When in the cockpit we sit in the driest corner wrapped in blankets. Sixty-eight degrees might not seem cold to most people, but out on the sea with 30 knots of cold wind blowing on you, then that 68 degrees is darn cold!

Day 8 Monday, November 10, 2008 at 0730
Latitude: 33.29.42S
Longitude: 175.10.67E
Miles Made Good: 144
Course: 204T
Barometric Pressure: 1021.9
Temp inside boat: 66.1F
All well on board.
Only 109 miles to go. YIPPEEE!!!!
Winds moderated down to only 20 knots around midnight last night. Believe me, there is a huge difference between 20 knots and 30 knots of wind. The seas are still quite large and confused and rough, but we are sailing very smoothly this morning at 6 to 7 knots. This is marvelous sailing and very comfortable.

Added 8 p.m. Monday:
The morning dawned sunny and clear, but clouded up more and more as the day wore on. Never rained, thank goodness that is over; but looks dreary and gray. And we don't care a whit because we are almost there. As I type this on Monday night we are at 34.44.69S 174.25.208E which is about 37 miles from our destination of Opua. We notified Russell Radio on the SSB this evening that we should arrive at the Opua Quarantine Wharf about 0100 tonight. Hopefully there will be room for us to tie off at the Q dock; it is supposed to be large enough to dock at least 15 boats. We will tie off and wait for Customs to open in the morning so we can officially clear in.

For those who are following such things (see Bruce, I am thinking of you), the Customs and Quarantine Wharf is located at 35.18.82S 174.07.35E. It has been a great passage for us. The few squalls we encountered weren't severe and most of the passage was smooth sailing. Do wish we had not had to motor so many hours, but the light winds and motoring we experienced were far preferable to heavy winds and seas.

First, to recap our passage to New Zealand: On the final day, Monday, we sailed 122.3 miles. That totals 1046.5 miles made good for the entire passage. Actually we sailed more miles than that but we only track MMG. Any miles sailed that do not bring us closer to our destination don’t count with us. I know that won’t make any sense to the landlubbers, but sailors understand that sometimes you must sail in the wrong direction in order to get to the right destination. Passage duration was 0730 Monday through 0130 Tuesday of the following week, for a total of 7 days and 18 hours (8 nights at sea). A 46-foot British boat left Tonga at exactly the same time we did and they arrived in Opua about 16 hours after us.

We arrived at the Quarantine Dock in Opua and were tied off at 0130 Tuesday morning. Of course there was no one around to help us with the dock lines but that was simple and we did not require assistance to dock. We followed a German boat in through the channel; then they drifted around because they couldn’t figure out where to go. It was misting rain and difficult to see in the pitch-black night. We nosed around until we found the Q Dock (it is back behind the old wharf and south of Opua Marina). After we were tied off then the German guys followed and tied up behind us. This Q Dock is quite long and could easily accommodate 20 to 30 boats. It is a long floating dock and is not attached to land. Bill and I ate a very late dinner of the final 2 bowls of chili; had a hot shower; and went to bed. We were up and dressed at daylight because had no idea when Customs and Quarantine officials would arrive to clear us in.

Two Quarantine officials arrived at 0800. After all the stories about how difficult Quarantine can be in New Zealand, I was greatly relieved with how very simple it really was. The men were very polite and helpful. One of the men carried a heavy-duty black plastic bag into which he placed our garbage bag and the few items that they removed from our boat. The second man wrote down each item that they removed. We had no fresh or frozen meat to dispose of, and they did not take one single can of any canned meat because ours did not contain bones. They did say that many canned chicken products are prohibited because things like canned chicken chili or turkey chili contains ground bones. Mayonnaise is often removed but I had Hellman’s and that brand is not a problem. Several other people later told me that Quarantine removed all their mayonnaise. The country of origin didn’t seem to be the deciding factor. The officials seemed more concerned about the brands. Guess they know what they are looking for. Since we have only microwave popcorn, they let us keep that. Regular loose popcorn kernels are prohibited, but microwave popcorn is okay. They approved all my spices because they are all in bottles and commercially prepared. I usually do not buy local spices and had none onboard. They did not take cheese, butter, canned milks or UHT boxed milk. Powdered milk is not allowed but UHT is okay.

The things removed from our boat were: 3 boiled eggs, 1 orange, tiny bit of leftover baked boneless chicken and 6 bags various dried beans. And it was convenient for us that they took away the garbage accumulated during the passage. So, moral of this story is to ignore those oft-told stories of difficulty of clearing into New Zealand Quarantine. It was a breeze. BTW, we arrived with about 1 case of beer. Bill did a pretty good job of drinking up or sharing those 25 cases we had aboard in mid-March in Panama.

Shortly after the Quarantine officials left then the Customs guy dropped by to deliver a gift bag to us. Now that is a first! Certainly never had an arrival gift from Customs anywhere else we have visited. This gift was a nicely decorated heavy straw bag containing all sorts of useful information about the Opua area and New Zealand. Even had some discount coupons for coffee shops and bakeries and the like.

Soon 2 Customs officials arrived and we did the paperwork dance. Turns out that we indeed should have that Multi-Entry Visa that we tried to obtain both in Niue and again in Nuku’Alofa and were told that we did not need. They said we will need this Visa when we clear back in at the airport in January because it proves that our later departure on a boat is guaranteed. We will try to take care of that before we fly home on December 10 but I am not very hopeful that this will be accomplished. The complete clearing in process with both Quarantine and Customs took less than half an hour. Then we moved the boat a very short distance to our slip at Opua Marina.

Other people arrived worn out from their passage but we felt well-rested and ready to start exploring New Zealand. Hard to believe that we have actually sailed all the way here..

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