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

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