Category Archives: Tonga to NZ

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

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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

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