Monthly Archives: November 2012

A Few Passage Pics and Season Stats

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been here in Opua for nearly a week. We’ve been blessed with gorgeous weather, so we’ve been able to take care quite a few of the items on our “landfall to do” list. Such as… scrubbed the boat and soaked all of our salty lines, installed new batteries, rinsed and dried sails, washed loads and loads of laundry, emptied nearly all of our lockers to clean out mold and mildew, got a ride to town for groceries, socialized a little, caught up on phone calls to family and bought an inexpensive little car! I haven’t taken any photos of the area yet, but promise to do so soon. I also wanted to thank you for all the kind wishes on our successful arrival. What a great gift to hear from so many wonderful friends!

In the meantime, I have a couple of photos from our passage to share here. I’m sorry that there are so few, it’s really hard to capture the sloppy seas on camera, and the pilot whales took off as soon as I tried to photograph them. So, you get pictures of the pumice and our GPS as we cross the Tropic of Cancer and the International Date Line. 

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I’ve also compiled a few statistics from our past year that I thought some of you might find interesting.

  • Total nautical miles sailed = 7420
  • Total number of days (24 hrs.) on passage = 70
  • Number of islands and atolls visited = 32
  • Number of places Cheers anchored or moored = 52
  • Number of countries visited = 4
  • Number of photos taken = 4032

In the past year, Cheers has covered 63 degrees 8 minutes of latitude, and 80 degrees 30 minutes of longitude. We’ve sailed from San Carlos, Mexico in the north and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in the east, to Opua, New Zealand, in the south and west. It’s been a big year.

Take care & have a fabulous holiday season.

More soon, Michelle


The Last of the Tropics…

Although it may seem a little strange to post these now, I wanted to share one more batch of photos from Tonga. Quite a few are more beach and beautiful anchorage shots, but there are also some of the open air fruit and vegetable market in Neiafu, as well as a few of the False-killer whales that approached Cheers a few weeks ago. In any case, these are the last of the photos of the tropics for this season. I hope you enjoy them.

~ Michelle

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Remember Those Humpbacks?

Well, here are the photos that I promised! Finally. It’s hard to believe that this happened just a month ago, since so much has happened since then. In any case, I hope you enjoy the pics.

~ Michelle

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Thanks Giving

We’re  here.

Aotearoa. The Land of the Long White Cloud. New Zealand.

After days of little, or no, wind, and mere hours after my last blog post asking folks to wish us some wind, a fine easterly breeze arrived. Thank you, thank you, to all of you who wished us a little breeze. We’d spent much of the night and early morning coaxing a few knots of forward progress out of very light wind, then motoring for two more hours on the little diesel we had left, so I cannot even express the gratitude we felt when we got a solid 15 knots of breeze at 11 a.m. yesterday. In a matter of minutes, we went from barely making 3.5 knots of boat speed, to a solid 6 knots. The wind increased to 20, then to 25 knots, and we had a rocket ride to the Bay of Islands. We covered 45 nautical miles in just 7 hours, giving us a record average speed of 6.5 knots. That may not sound fast, but, trust me, when the wind is blowing 25 knots across the deck, and the seas have built to short, steep 8-footers, and when you’ve been slogging along for days averaging 4 knots or less, it feels super fast. We’ve never seen our GPS distance log tick off the miles so quickly!

Anyway, at 4 p.m. yesterday, after hand steering in gusty wind and sloppy seas for a couple of hours, I spotted land. Emerging from the clouds and fog, about 10 nm to the southwest of us, Cape Brett was just visible. An hour later, we could see Purerua Peninsula, marking the northern entrance to New Zealand’s Bay of Islands. As we approached land, the bottom came up, the seas got steeper, and Mark was having the time of his life surfing Cheers into the bay. We’d already seen a couple of albatrosses (yay!) earlier in the day, and the previous afternoon, but we had a gorgeous Black-browed albatross circle us repeatedly just then. Once inside the arm of Cape Brett, the seas calmed a little and a profusion of seabirds appeared. All of a sudden it seemed, we were surrounded by Little shearwaters, Australasian gannets, Wandering and Black-browed albatrosses, Cook’s petrels, Black petrels, and, I think, Common diving-petrels! It was a naturalist’s birding bonanza. As we got closer to land, we saw rocky headlands and green, tree-covered hills. The air here is deliciously cool and moist, and it really feels like we’re back in Southeast Alaska or the Pacific Northwest. It’s the middle of Spring here, but felt sufficiently autumnal that we decided it was a perfect Thanksgiving Day.

I’m afraid there will be no turkey or cranberries for us, in fact, we’ve got to get to a market, and probably go out to eat today, because I’ve got next to zero food on board. I knew that the Quarantine inspector would take any fresh food, as well as some dry stores, so I’d essentially planned to run out, but we really are down to the bottom of the pantry and fridge. However, we have SO much to be thankful for. For having the time and means to take this year off and make this voyage. For our continued wellbeing and that of our fabulous boat. For the love and support of good friends and family throughout this past year. And, perhaps most importantly, for each other. We’re still in love, and still great friends, even after living in such close quarters for this past year, and I don’t think I have to tell you how grateful I am for that.

Happy Thanksgiving, Michelle

Night Watch

It’s amazing how different each of my night watches have been, especially on this passage. I know I’ve written a little about this before, but night watch is both one of my least and most favorite aspects of passage-making. It’s always a little tough to get into my routine of going to bed at 6 or 7 p.m., when it’s still bright daylight outside, then waking up at 12:30 or 1 a.m. to get dressed and take over the watch. However, once I get into the swing of it, I love the quiet time to myself, and I especially love the starry nights and beautiful sunrises. Maybe the best part is that Mark always wakes me with a cup of hot tea to start my watch.

On this passage, I spent the first night watch curled into the one dry corner of the cockpit, occasionally venturing out to trim the sails or adjust the wind vane steering gear (aka “Mo”). We were sailing close hauled to a beam reach in 25 kts. of wind, with a messy 2 meter, short period sea slapping the hull every few minutes. We covered a lot of miles, but I was very grateful for the next night’s calmer 15 kts. of wind, and mellower sea. This has been a spectacularly windless passage, so I’ve spent several nights listening to the engine and the grating screech of our electronic auto-pilot, “Larry” – not my favorite sounds, to be sure, but I’ve been grateful to cover miles even with no wind. Since we started this passage just before the new moon, the nights have been VERY dark. For most of the passage, we’ve had clear skies, so the stargazing has been incredible, but the past few nights have been cloudy, making it even darker out there. Last night was rainy and cold, so I was bundled up in my fleece and foulies, motor-sailing through fog and drizzle with the radar and AIS receiver helping me keep a watch for any other boats. I was on my toes the whole night, because we were expecting the wind to pipe up, possibly quickly to 20-25 kts. based on the reports of boats ahead of us, but it never really did. At 4 a.m., it filled in enough to sail and turn the engine off, and dawn reminded me of a Southeast Alaska morning – low clouds, drizzly fog and a gray, rumpled sea, with shearwaters and petrels skimming the waves. Tonight’s watch started with very little wind, and the uber-frustrating sound of slatting sails. We’re down to the last of our diesel, which we want to save for getting in to the dock, so we wait for wind. The forecast keeps calling for moderate southeasterlies, which would be a fantastic finish, but so far they haven’t materialized. So, tonight, I’ve been trying to keep us moving towards Opua, with just 5-10 kts. of breeze and a rolling sea left over from the stronger winds that preceded us. It’s first light now, and time to get back on deck. Wish us a little breeze today, so we can cover these last 75 nm and call this passage quits.

More when we make landfall, Michelle

30 South

It’s a gray on gray, Pacific Northwest, kind of day here this morning, and I’m loving it. We crossed 30 degrees South latitude yesterday, and FINALLY got some wind! For the better part of the past 24 hours, we were able to shut down the engine and make some miles under sail. We’re now back in the windless part of a weak trough, so motoring in a sloppy sea, but the forecast calls for some southeasterlies to fill in tomorrow. If this proves true, and the wind stays with us, we’ll arrive in Opua sometime on Thursday – truly something to give thanks for.

It’s amazing how different 30 degrees South feels from 30 degrees North. We’re at nearly the same latitude as San Diego (opposite hemisphere, obviously), but it feels more like we’re off San Francisco or Seattle. Sea temperature was a chilly 64*F this morning, and the air temperature in the cabin was just 70*F. On deck, it was more like 55-60*F. We’re seeing more pelagic seabirds every day, but still no albatross. I keep looking though.

More when we see land, Michelle

Stuck in the STR

Current position: 27*33’S, 176*41’E
Time: 1408 UTC, Sunday 18 November

It’s another night watch motoring over flat seas, under a star-filled sky… so I thought I’d post a quick update. We’ve been in the nearly windless High pressure region known as the “Sub-Tropical Ridge”, or STR, for a few days now, so our progress has slowed considerably. The conditions have been beautiful, with calm seas, sunny skies and very comfortable temperatures. However, we’ve burned a fair bit of diesel to keep moving. We’re doing great, and it looks like we’ll get some wind tomorrow. We planned for motoring a bit, and carried 15 gallons more diesel than we had for crossing from Mexico to the Marquesas. May not sound like much, but that gives us an extra 150 nm of motoring range. In any case, all’s well here. We’d hoped to arrive on Wednesday, but have watched that ETA slip away with the lack of wind. Thursday or Friday now seem much more likely. It looks like we’ll wrangle with a frontal passage just before we arrive, so it appears that our voyage will be bracketed with sloppy conditions at either end. So it goes.

Yesterday morning at sunrise, it really felt like we were out of the tropics and back in temperate latitudes. The air has a freshness that I’ve missed, and it’s been cool enough at night to wear fleece and our foul weather bibs. I still haven’t given up the flip flops though! Sea temperature was just 69 degrees F at sunrise yesterday. We haven’t seen any wildlife since the pilot whales, although I’ve been scanning hard for an albatross. I’m hopeful that at least one of the Southern Ocean species will give us a fly by before we make landfall. We’re still seeing huge amounts of floating pumice, from the size of large sand grains to pieces as big as melons. Mark has been checking our engine’s sea strainer daily, to remove little bits of pumice that get caught there. I’ll share a couple of photos with you when I can.

Alright, back to my watch. We’re now less than 500 nm from Opua… ~ Michelle

Ha’apai Highlights

I started this post over two weeks ago, toward the end of our time in Tonga’s Ha’apai Group. I never got to finish it because of our unplanned return to Neiafu, and then our departure on passage. So, it’s a bit dated, but I still thought you might enjoy hearing a little about our time in those islands. I have quite a few photos to post upon our arrival in New Zealand, so stay tuned for those…

Well, it’s been an “interesting” couple of weeks around here, full of many wonderful moments and a few challenges. As I mentioned in my last post, we’ve been waiting for a weather “window” to open for our passage south to New Zealand, and enjoying our last few weeks in the tropics. We’ve alternated between our pre-passage chores, and snorkeling, beachcombing, sunset and moonrise watching.

The islands of the Ha’apai Group are beautiful, much more remote and pristine than those of the Vava’u Group. They remind us of the Tuamotus in many ways, and are less visited by yachts for the same reasons that many steer clear of those “dangerous” atolls. There are some uncharted areas that require good “eyeball” navigation, and virtually all of the anchorages are open to one quadrant, or another, so offer limited protection in strong weather. Knowing this, we set out to explore.

I’ve already written about our amazing encounter with the humpback whales, and we had another close cetacean encounter three days ago. While on the short passage from Luangahu to Uonukuhihifo (meaning “Small Island with Many Lobsters”), we spotted the dorsal fins of a group of dolphins out in the distance. As we got closer, we realized that these animals looked like BIG dolphins… Grabbing binoculars, I braced myself against the mast for a look. Mark and I shouted at almost the same time, “False killers!” We watched as this pod of False killer whales approached us from the port bow, with a few animals curious enough to come check us out. Two of them tucked in under the bow, riding our tiny bow wave for a minute before swimming off to the right. Another animal swam up directly behind us, staying just beneath the dinghy that we were towing 15 feet behind us. I imagined it investigating a possible source of lunch, and wondered if it would prod or nip the boat, to determine whet
her or not it was edible. Fortunately, the dinghy must not have appeared tasty, because the false killer veered to the right, and then surfaced alongside the dinghy a few times before rejoining the group. Altogether, they were with us for less than 10 minutes, but it was another magical experience, in a season full of them.

On shore, we walked the perimeter of uninhabited Tatafa Island, clockwise one day, and counterclockwise the next. Since this island isn’t listed in any of the guides, very few yachts anchor there, which was great for us! We had it too ourselves for several days, and then shared it with friends for several more. On our walks we found pocketsful of great shells, although we left virtually all of them behind. We’d only planned to spend a few days there at Tatafa, but ended up there for 10! Just as we were planning to move on, we checked the weather files and saw a frontal passage headed our way, with strong winds from NE to NW predicted for several days. Our spot there at Tatafa offered good protection from that quadrant, and great holding for the anchor. We knew that the winds would back to the west and then southwest, as the front passed, and Tatafa was not so great for those wind directions, but it seemed to be the best option around. In any case, we buckled up and waited. The front arrived 18 hours earlier than we expected it, although it was nearly 2 days later than originally predicted. Its arrival was heralded by another sailor calling on the VHF, just as we’d sat down to dinner on Cheers. He reported winds of 56(!) kts. about 15 nm to the west of our position. Pasta went back in the pot, salad back in the fridge, clothes changed to wet weather gear, and we were out on deck. Secured the dinghy, checked the anchor and snubber, tied down, or put away anything loose on deck and set up for rainwater catchment, and then we waited. Within 45 minutes, the rain and wind reached us. For about 3 hours, we watched the radar and GPS, making sure we weren’t dragging anchor. The rain was so intense that it soaked through all of our cockpit canvas, but gave Cheers (and us!) a fantastic washdown. Our water dam at the deck fill caught enough water to top the tank in about 30 minutes, so for the remainder of the storm I had “running” fresh water through our foot pump spigots! It was a great way to wash dishes, and we filled every available container on the boat. I was even able to collect enough to do a load of hand laundry the next day, when we had gorgeous clear skies and a nice warm breeze. Once the wind subsided, we went to bed, keeping the GPS anchor alarm set on a short distance, just in case. The next day we learned that boats anchored inside the breakwater at the village of Pangai, just 8 nm to the north of our anchorage, had also seen 50+ kts. of wind. There was also a small tornado that swept through the village, uprooting a big mango tree and knocking down a big sign! We felt super fortunate to have only seen winds of 25-30 kts., with a gust or two to 35. Now, perhaps, you understand why we were not at all interested in sticking around for the passage of the following week’s Tropical Low…

Back to the present… we’re making great progress on our way to New Zealand, and have been grateful for every moment of good sailing. Our breeze has held through today, backing to the southeast, which is perfect for us! We logged our best day ever, 138 nm noon yesterday to noon today. At 0516 this morning, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, then, just 4 minutes later, at 0520, we crossed the International Date Line. Pretty cool.

Keep sending us your well wishes, they’re working some great magic for us out here. We’re incredibly grateful, and hope to repay the favor one day!

~ Michelle

Pumice and Pilot Whales

Current position: 22* 44’S, 178* 36′ W
Date & Time: 14 November 2012; 0115 UTC
Course: 235* Magnetic; Speed: 6 kts.; Wind: SSW 15 kts.

Cheers is a happy boat for sure. After our sloppy first day, and then dying winds which led to our motoring for 25 hours in the past 2 days, we are happily ticking off some miles in a nice breeze. It’s not from the perfect direction, but we’ll gratefully take any decent wind that puts us closer to New Zealand. Especially if it’s in the 10-15 knot range! We’ve covered nearly 350 nm since we left Tonga, and have about 850 nm to go (on the rhumb line). This morning we thought we might stop at Minerva Reef with the dozen or so boats that are anchored there, but this breeze and the next week’s forecast has helped us decide to “crack on”. So, by the end of today, or tomorrow at the latest, we expect to cross both the International Date Line, and the Tropic of Capricorn. This takes us into the Eastern Hemisphere, and, technically, out of the tropics. Lines on the map…

This morning, after motoring all night, we decided to shut down the engine to conserve diesel. Unfortunately, the wind wasn’t quite ready to cooperate, so we stowed all the sails and sat becalmed for about 2 hours. We ran the morning SSB radio Net, and then I made us some potatoes and eggs for breakfast. As I stepped out into the cockpit to throw the galley slops overboard, I noticed a strange shape in the water about 100 yds. off our starboard side. Holy cow! It was the fin of a large male pilot whale! As we scanned the water, we counted about 20-30 short-finned pilot whales, including one huge bull, all logging at the surface. The sea was calm, we had no engine or sail noise, and it was a gorgeous morning. Although the whales never came close to us, we were able to watch them with binoculars for about 15-20 minutes. Just as we unfurled the jib, to try and maneuver a little closer, they all submerged and were gone. It was a fabulous gift to see them out here.

After the pilot whales left us, the wind slowly started to fill in, so we hoisted the main and finally started moving. Scooting along under full canvas and mostly sunny skies, I looked off in the distance and saw a tan-colored “slick” on the water. We knew right away that it was a raft of tightly packed pumice gravel, because other sailors have been reporting it. Back in July, the Le Havre Seamount, in the Kermadec chain of islands, erupted a massive amount of pumice and scientists have been tracking its dispersal by satellite. If you’re curious about these things, Google it, and have a look at the satellite images taken shortly after the eruption. Initial estimates were that the area covered by this floating rock was about the size of the country of Israel. Wow. It’s now been dispersed, although, in this highly volcanic area, I’d imagine more is erupted all the time. With the increased wind and choppier seas this afternoon, we’ve discovered that we have a bunch of it on deck. It looks like someone took a handful of beach gravel and threw it across the bow. Mark took our vinyl bucket and scooped some of it up as we passed through, so it’ll go in my collection.

That’s all for now. Hoping you’re well, Michelle

P.S. Although we were in nearly a perfect location to watch this morning’s solar eclipse, we missed it! Scattered clouds made it difficult, as did trying to watch from the deck of a pitching boat… Oh well.

Moving South

Well, FINALLY, we’re on our way to New Zealand! We’re nearly 48 hours out from Neiafu, and doing well. The first day was pretty crappy, to be honest, but we wanted to leave while there was still wind to sail on. The sea was still lumpy and confused from last week’s Tropical Low, and we had a fresh 25 kts. of breeze out of the SSE, but Cheers handled it well, and our trusty Monitor kept a good course once we got the sails balanced. We are, however, a VERY salty boat and crew right now, as we had several waves splash into the cockpit, giving me a good soaking at the helm. Wind and seas both started mellowing yesterday morning, and dropped completely about an hour ago. So we’re now motorsailing, to keep moving. So far, the weather forecast looks decent, and we’ll keep monitoring it as we go.

You can check our position daily, by clicking the Recent Position Reports link in the upper right corner of this blog. We’ll try to post that every day.

Happy Holiday prepping, Michelle