Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Linda's walk!

An Opua trail....

Happy New Year!

The Toketie crew brought in the New Year in New Zealand last night!  It was a very low key evening with a visit from our good friends Derek & Anthea on Sukanuk.  We ate green lipped mussels, drank bubbly and agreed that none of us knew what tomorrow would bring!
So for all you folks still living in the past (behind the international dateline :) we wish you all the best for the coming year! 
May your hopes and wishes and dreams come true!
David & Linda

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Bay of Islands!

...looks like good cruising area....


...a very small town with a lot of history....

Chardonnay & Syrah!

...about 7000 plants on a dozen acres....nice setting!

Omata Vineyard

We did a driving tour today!  Took the little car ferry over to Russell and tasted wine at this little vineyard!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On to New Zealand!

Stretching between Tonga and New Zealand are the Tongan Ridge and the Kermadec Ridge. These are mountain chains below the sea. I suspect they are the cause of a lot of interesting water patterns on the surface! In addition, there are volcanoes below the sea, many of which are still active. In fact, we felt an earthquake while anchored of Pangai Island in Nuku'alofa. It was reported later at 7.2 on the Richter scale. We felt it through our anchor chain and recognized it immediately for what it was.

So having decided to make the run for New Zealand, we set a course just slightly West of South. Several people had recommended making Westing early to avoid having to beat into SW systems coming off of Australia. The common theory seemed to be to head SW till you are at a position directly N of your destination and then to head due South. It seems that getting to the top of the North Island of New Zealand by boat is usually a trial as some form of headwinds invariably arise the last few hundred miles. And if you are unlucky enough to arrive as a low pressure system forms, you could get very strong winds and large seas from the direction you wish to travel. The old saying…"gentlemen never go to weather"…..sounds great at the yacht club bar but there are times when you have to crank the sheets in, put the rail down and hang on! This was to be one of them!

In the southern hemisphere, high pressure systems rotate in a counter clockwise direction over hundreds of miles. Low pressure systems rotate in the opposite direction. So when a high and a low come within 500-600 miles of each other, between them you get what is termed as the 'squash zone'. If you draw a picture of both weather systems rotating, you will see that the winds between them are accelerated due to the combining of the circular patterns where the winds blow in the same direction. On a high seas surface analysis or prognosis chart, downloaded over the HF radio to special software on the laptop as a weatherfax, these areas of increased winds show up as parallel lines called isobars and the closer they are to each other, the stronger the wind in the area. We had been warned that such a scenario was developing ahead of us. A large stationery high east of New Zealand was about to be met by a low moving east across the Tasman Sea. We had no way of knowing how strong the winds would be in the squash zone but were expecting they could reach 35-40 knots. And given the locations of the high and the low, the winds should come at us from the SE, which meant Toketie would be going hard to weather. Whether we could lay a course for Opua in New Zealand would depend on how well we could point into the wind and how much the seas would push us off to the west. This was all predicted to occur about three days from now.

It was now day 6 out of Tonga, and we were sailing at about 4 knots with light winds from the east. Over the next couple of days, the log would show winds anywhere from 3 knots out of the east to 30 knots out of the SW. Reef in, reef out, furl headsail, unfurl headsail, staysail up, staysail down were to be the order of the day and night. Another sailboat hailed us by VHF as it passed us on the starboard beam. Four guys on board were delivering a charter boat from Tonga to New Zealand. Their HF radio had quit so they asked us for weather info. We told them what to expect and set up a schedule to talk to them every evening. They could transmit over short distances only and could not download weather files.

By day 8, we were in 20-25 knots of wind, with gusts to 30, from the ESE. On November 10, Toketie put in a run of 150.2 miles over 24 hours, the best we have ever done. That meant we were averaging over 6 knots. This wind was to continue for three days and the seas would gradually build till we estimated them to be 4-5 meters from trough to crest. Despite the condition of the sails, Toketie was in her element! With a fairly steady 25-30 knots and gusts to 35, finally we had enough wind to really sail her and she took to it as she was designed to. This is where the heavier displacement hull really shone. We ploughed through the seas, water running down the lee rail and spray flying right over the hard dodger! The inclinometer sat pretty much on 30 degrees the whole time. We were very glad of the handrails we had installed before leaving as you needed to hang on when moving around down below. Linda used the strap in the galley for the first time to keep her from being thrown back when preparing meals on the stove. We tied up the lee cloths to keep from falling out of the berth when sleeping and used lots of pillows as a cushion. The guys on the charter delivery boat reported that they had an electrical fire on board but had it under control and then their autopilot quit so they were hand steering. The boat was a 42' Beneteau and they worried the mast was going to jump right off the deck! They were hove-to (stopped) to rest for a while.

We, on the other hand, were loving it! We were making good time, finally, and the motion kept us alert but comfortable. As long as nothing broke, we were laughing!

I guess we had paid enough dues because by day 11, the winds started to ease to 15 knots and the seas were moderating. We were still making good time and almost able to make our rhumb line directly to Opua. A strong west setting current was working against us. But with only 120 miles to go, we took the reefs out of the main and began to believe we might actually make it to New Zealand…touching wood of course as we thought this! The sun came out the last day and we motor-sailed in lighter winds to try to make landfall before dark.

Twelve days….not a record passage for sure but considering how the first few days went, we were happy with it. Motoring into the Bay of Islands and up the Veronica Channel to Opua to arrive at the customs dock just as the last light faded to the west was a very satisfying feeling!

We have been here for a month now! We were treating ourselves to a month at the dock in the marina, which is now turning into two months. We love New Zealand! The people are really nice and it is so refreshing to go into stores that are well stocked, whether it is food or marine gear. We are busy tackling a long list of changes designed to make Toketie easier to handle by two people. We have ordered a new jib and a new mainsail. We are scheduled for a haulout in January to paint the bottom and replace the zincs. I have also ordered new instruments to replace the aging and failing original speed, depth and wind. This will entail two transducers being replaced through the hull and lots of wiring. A stainless steel rack is being fabricated to move the solar panels up over the bimini and away from the rail. Linda bought paint and plans to give the interior a much needed face lifting.

And on and on……not sure how we are financing all this so if any of you have connections in the publishing industry, maybe someone would be willing to give us an advance on future adventures! After all, wouldn't we all like to carry this on across the Indian Ocean to Africa? J

Landfall in NZ!

Friday, December 05, 2008

The last leg....

Well, not really the 'last' leg, we hope! But the passage from Tonga to New Zealand was a trial in many ways, both for Toketie and her crew.

We left the anchorage off Pangai Island, Nuku'alofa in Tonga about noon on the 3rd of November. The winds were very light from the East and we motored for about 10 hours to clear the land. Sailing among reef-strewn countries like Tonga is not for the faint of heart. Moving around in daylight minimizes the chance of running into one of the famous and poorly documented 'uncharted reefs' that abound both here and in Fiji. We had a long list of them that cruisers pass along to each other, you have to wonder how they discovered each one, but we plotted them and tried to avoid the areas. As night fell on our first day, clouds formed and lightning filled the sky. This was to be the first of three severe thunderstorms we would encounter in the first few days of the passage. Now I grew up on the prairies and am no stranger to thunder and lightning but nothing prepared us for the power in a tropical thunderstorm. The whole sky would light up for long periods of time and huge thunderbolts of lightning would come down to the water much too close for comfort. Friends of ours sailing within 20 miles later told us they lost all their electronics that night. The worst of the lightning seemed to be concentrated west of us where most of the other boats in our small fleet were concentrated.

About 0800 on the second morning, as daylight popped over the horizon, relieving us of the night bogeymen that the lightning brought, we saw a very dark band of cloud that filled most of the Western horizon. It was hard to tell whether it was a stationery front or a system that could be moving towards us. As a precaution, we put two reefs in the mainsail. That was fortuitous as only moments later the wind and rain hit us like a ton of bricks. We had no time to check instruments to see how strong the wind was but I would guess it had to have hit 60 knots because our jib was caught aback and Toketie went over on her ear like a toy boat in a bathtub. For what seemed like eons but must have lasted a few minutes, we were laying over about 70 degrees on our side. We shipped water over the coaming in the cockpit, lots of water, scary amount of water. We were both in the cockpit at the time and I was behind the wheel and watched Linda slide down the cockpit till her feet were planted on the lower inside of the coaming, in the water! She had been trying to zip the enclosure on the high side closed to keep out the downpour of rain that accompanied the wind. We watched as a cushion floated up and out the lower side and Linda hesitated only for a moment before deciding it wasn't worth reaching for it….hanging on was more important at that stage. After what seemed like ages, Toketie slowly righted herself and the water in the cockpit drained away.

The force of the wind in the jib was what pushed us over. And eventually one of the jib sheets parted, easing the pressure and allowing the jib to fly free. This of course took the pressure off but now we had a headsail flapping wildly in the wind with her sheets flying while the wind and rain beat on us. As we could not budge the roller furler, that winds the headsail up, we took the line to a winch and slowly cranked the headsail in to relieve the strain on it. We managed but it was pretty obvious that the sail had suffered considerable damage in the process.

We lost one of the dorade vent scoops off the cabin top. A large puddle of water found its way inside and was pooled in the galley under the stove. This is where the new laptop that wasn't secured on the chart table landed and was destroyed! Water found its way through the hatches in the cockpit into the lazarette as well and made its way to the bilge, stopping briefly to soak anything in its path.

This experience, called a 'knockdown' because of the extreme angle of heel and was the only time in our travels that we felt that we did not have control of the boat. We both admitted later that it was unnerving, scary as h… might be a more appropriate way to describe it.

When the adrenaline settled, along with the passing of the squall, hours later, we surveyed our situation. We motored in very light winds for the rest of the day and into the night, finally turning the engine off at 0400 to sail slowly in a more or less southerly direction. News came over the cruiser net that Obama had beaten McCain…it felt good to know that something might be improving somewhere on the planet!

The next day was sunny and the winds and seas were light so we unfurled the jib and pulled it down and back into the cockpit to survey the damage. There were five major areas of damage, including seams that had parted and the leech (outer edge) having frayed from the wind. One of the sheets had broken and the other had run free to combine into the biggest Gordian knot I've ever seen! As this was our only headsail, other than storm jibs and a drifter we could not hank on since we installed the roller furler, we pretty much had to fix it or we'd be out here for months. Linda had put together a fairly comprehensive sail repair kit before we left and now we hauled this out and both of us spent the entire day in the cockpit pushing this huge sail around while Toketie steered herself slowly SW, more or less towards NZ. The duct tape we had bought at Lee Valley Tools in Vancouver proved a godsend. This is not your ordinary hardware store brand duct tape and cost a small fortune when we bought it but the glue stuck even where the sail was not completely dry and on the worst seams, we hand stitched it to both sides of the sail. By dark we had a headsail again, though we had no idea how long the repairs would last. We had 800 miles to go to NZ. We were exhausted, physically and emotionally.

The 4th day arrived with clear skies and light winds and seas again and we began to discuss our options. It was then that we discovered the two top slides that hold the mainsail to the mast had broken off, likely in the knockdown. Added to this, the engine had been making an unfamiliar noise and as we did not carry enough fuel to get to NZ, it was beginning to look like we would have to turn back to Nuku'alofa and attempt to replace or repair the sails.

Another option was to work our way NW to Minerva reef and attempt to repair the main ourselves. I thought I might have one spare slider somewhere on board. As we were too tired and discouraged to make a decision, we decided to sleep on it and set a course half way between due West and Minerva reef. In effect we were going further from NZ! This was undoubtedly the lowest point in our travels.
But it is amazing what reserves you find when necessity drives you.  The next day, Neptune was kind and as we sailed slowly NW under the greatly reduced trysail and the newly repaired jib, we unhooked the boom from the mast and dropped the entire mainsail off its track to get at the broken slides. I found the one spare and we lashed it on with webbing and sewed the webbing tight. Later the sailmaker in Opua would comment on it and offer me a job as a sailmaker….

So we now had a jib, held together with duct tape, a mainsail with a reasonable repair to it and the engine was a big question mark!  We decided that turning back was not an option. I think we both knew that if we pulled into the harbor in Nuku'alofa, we might never get out of it again. So we turned south once more and laid a course directly for Opua, NZ. It was now over 850 miles due to our lack of progress.

Next episode….the squash zone!