Passage from New Caledonia to New Zealand November 2013

Day 1

This will be our 3rd trip between the islands and New Zealand – after the previous two I've said ‘never again' but I find myself sitting here once more - a year older but no wiser! Anyway our preparations done and we're ready to go. Boat checked over – rigging, blocks, ropes, batteries and bulbs in life buoys etc etc. Thermals, long trousers, fleeces and heavy weather gear ready to put on as we leave these balmy tropical climes. Much pondering over gribs because there is a potentially nasty low going to cross our path on Wednesday. We know that on this passage we will have to take a front somewhere because of the timing of the highs and lows that cross our track with reasonable regularity. The trick is to take the front before we reach 30 degrees south as there should be less kick in it. Checked out both the GFS and EMCWF models and both appear to be pretty consistent, meaning we can try and plan where to be each day, ready to set up for the following one. On Monday we will have to negotiate a region of light winds between the SE trades and the variables which are mostly SW'ly, and might have to motor sail to achieve desired position to line up to ride the north side of the low on Wednesday. After that it might be a bit of a mixed bag.

We are heading to Nelson on the north of South Island so will go down the west coast. Left on 3rd November at 09.30 along with 2 other boats – Blue Rodeo and Evergreen. Our friends on Chapter 2 left a day before, (all three heading for Opua on the east coast of the North Island ). We have also spoken to other friends on Windorer who left just before we did who are also heading to Nelson. Sunday's gribs were showing SE around 15 knots so we were expecting to be pushed to the west. However when we got through the reef of the southern lagoon the wind was more ESE 15 – 20 knots so we were able to sail slightly cracked off at a speed of around 8 – 9 knots for most of the day until around 4 this morning when the wind dropped off and became more easterly. The seas started off fairly confused but have gradually become slightly ordered so not too bad. Not much in the way of sea life – a few birds here and there. We passed Windorer in the night and saw the glow of a distant ship heading west but that's been it so far.

I'm (Jean) trying out some different sea-sickness pills so fingers crossed – so far so good but a bit sleepy! There are 8 pre-cooked meals in the freezer and I've even pre-made some baguette sandwiches and frozen them so I don't have to spend much time in the galley! If we take longer then it'll be cans of tuna! You are not allowed to take meat, dairy, fruit and veg etc into New Zealand and the bio-security who come on board on arrival are very strict – everything of that nature has to be bagged and taken away.

Well the engine has been on and off since around 6 this morning – it's currently off so let's hope we can keep this bit of wind all day. Matt has just been speaking on the SSB net to other boats also on passage either to New Zealand or Oz. We run this net (Pacific Drifters Net) every day with a different ‘controller' each day. It works really well and it's good to hear other voices and to get the weather conditions of boats further ahead and just to know there's someone out there recording our daily position.

24 hour distance: 176.6 miles

Day 2

Managed to keep sailing until around 2pm when the wind dropped completely so on went the iron jib! Around 7 pm we downloaded a detailed grib file so we could see where the front was and when it would go through. Engine on until just after midnight when the wind came in from the west and were able to sail. Just before 5 the wind started to build and I could see the blackness up ahead so we reefed the sails ready for the front. Right on schedule at around 5am the wind started to blow and the front came through with a squally shower and a sudden change in wind direction to the south. Fortunately it didn't last long and we're now sailing under grey cloud close hauled with the wind at around 15 knots from the south, struggling to leave Norfolk Island to our east.

I've got out the pre-made baguettes and dinner for tonight in anticipation of stronger winds and bigger seas which are forecast for later. It's dull and grey and we're sitting here in thermals and full heavy weather gear already! Bit like sailing in the UK in winter.

24 hour distance: 135 miles

Day 3

After the front went through we had winds which pushed us to the east during the morning but then eventually it backed to the S and we were able to sail more to the south east. Around 15 – 20 knots all day – pleasant sailing conditions in good sunshine in the afternoon – approx 1 meter swell.

Wind got up during the night and we had a few squalls – now settled around 20 knots with the odd squall but 4 meter seas – cloudy skies. Passed Norfolk Island around 6am and have just had a weather update from the Norfolk Island customs – allegedly the swell and wind easing slightly this afternoon. It's looking as if we may not be able to make Nelson as yesterday's grib showed head winds all the way down so we may have to go to Opua on the north island then make the trip down later. Pre-made baguette sandwiches were OK – good for the gums! Got them again today!

24 hour distance: 168 miles

Day 4

Well the wind and the seas were relentless the whole day and night until around 3 this morning. Around 20 knots on the beam with 3 – 4 meter seas and the noise! I tried to get some video footage but it's really impossible to capture the size of the seas. Actually not too bad for this passage as we made decent progress without too much effort in sail changes – till night that was! The big swell is from the southern ocean with a 11sec period, so not too uncomfortable. The issue is the 1.5m wind chop on top which leads to a bumpy ride – it's hard work just trying to brace yourself against the motion of the boat. But at the sun came out in the afternoon which always seems to make a difference. We sailed with a heavily reefed main and genoa so the boat was well balanced and not too much ‘on our ear'. We were both tired from lack of sleep which kind of made for long day. Stood 3 hour watches last night because it's too cold to be out much longer in the night – certainly out of the tropics now! Last night was frustrating due to lots of squalls and shifts, so many sail changes and adjustments to keep the pace up.

Quite a lot of shearwaters around yesterday – amazing how they manoeuvre between and slightly above the waves. Had a visit from an albatross this morning as the sun was getting up, then another couple later. Fantastic birds to watch as they glide effortlessly without ever flapping their huge wings. Wind is much lighter this morning at around 12 knots and had gone aft the beam. So back to full sail and currently doing 7.5 knots. The good thing about going to Opua is that it's a bit shorter so all being well we should sight New Zealand tomorrow and be in Opua on Saturday. Just had French toasts and a cuppa so feel ready to start the day!

24 hour distance: 183 miles

Day 5

Once the wind and waves settled down and we got through a few squalls in the morning, it turned into another good sailing day with wind on the beam and seas of about 2 meters. The sun came out in the afternoon and apart from a couple of squalls we had great, comfortable conditions. The wind was due to head us later on in the evening and get up again which it did around 5pm. However we had sailed high to the west in preparation and were able to bear away and reef down a bit more but still kept up good speed. For the first half of the night the wind was around 20 knots but went down to around 15 knots as the night wore on – blooming cold though! We had a few more rainy squalls during the night but nothing too serious. This morning the sea is boisterous as we approach the shallows (less that a few thousand meters) around North Cape (NZ), with the wind out of the SSW at around 15 – 20 knots – not bad conditions! Seen quite a few more albatrosses and lots of Australasian Gannets (not sure when they change from being French to Australasian but I'm sure these ones have an extra layer of feathers for the cold!) We've just passed the 3 Kings islands to the north west of New Zealand so now not far from the North Cape where, once round, we hope to find flatter water in the lee of the land. Matt was net controller this morning. We have 12 boats currently on passage between Fiji and New Caledonia with destinations of NZ and Oz. Also talked to NZ Maritime Radio to advise them of our ETA of Saturday lunch time at Opua and our change of destination from Nelson. Now that they know our position, it's quite likely we will get a visit from an Orion SAR aircraft, always fun to talk to. Jean still on top form thanks to a new potion suggested by Heather on Evergreen. We've been having three good meals per day, every day and must have put on kilos. This morning we had French toast with maple syrup followed by cereal and coffee. (In fact Matt is going to want Jean to take these tablets every day – we never have anything but cereal or porridge for breakfast even at anchor!) It's a hard life!

24 hour distance: 180 miles

Day 6

Yes we're here! Arrived at 03.00 this morning – pretty tired after quite a windy but pleasant trip (yes I did say pleasant!) But extremely pleased to report that we didn't have any gales or storms this time – just strong winds most of the time forward of the beam and some rough seas part of the time. No damage to either us or the boat. Only down side is that we're in Opua on the north island and not Nelson on the south island where we really wanted to be. Why? Well the low which we had been watching turned into a ‘complex low' and split in 2 – one part going south east and the other in a northerly direction. That meant we had more head winds than we anticipated and had we continued to Nelson it would've been about 400 miles with the wind on the nose! So in the end it was a ‘no-brainer' and we shortened our trip by a couple of days and came round to Opua. We will now have to watch for weather to make the 400 mile trip down to the south island! Another plus - my different type of sea-sickness pill worked a treat – I felt great – what a difference it makes to a passage! We have both probably put weight on as I was able to go down below and cook in the galley (well no gourmet meals – but that would have been a miracle anyway as I never make gourmet meals!) Brilliant.

Passage time: 5 days 17.5 hours; Distance travelled: 970.67 miles; average speed 7.06; Highest wind speed recorded 33 knots






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