Everything that was changed during the refit seems to be working as it should. There hasn’t been much wind to get out for a spirited sail yet, but I also enjoy floating peacefully on calm waters and working Idle Queen into places under sail. It’s like a meditation for me. I have time to watch the jellyfish, the birds, and the reflections in the water. Dolphins surfacing or pelicans diving are loud enough to be startling. Such quiet moments are precious. There will be plenty of wind on other days.
I love small boats and believe that, for the most part, one shouldn’t choose the biggest boat that one can handle or afford, but rather the smallest that one is comfortable with for the intended purpose, whether it be for daysailing or cruising all the oceans of the world.
I was reminded of my affection for small boats when I visited New England this past December. There was a stretch of beautiful, unseasonably warm weather, so naturally I wanted to get out on the water. The 15′-long Wayfarer sailing dinghy I keep at my parent’s house was put away for the winter, but that was no problem. It took all of a couple of hours to take the tarps off the boat, dust things off inside, fetch the mast and rudder from the garage, and gather the rest of the sailing gear. My floating home, Idle Queen, at 32′ long, would have taken days to ready if she had been similarly put away.
The Wayfarer is a small boat, but one that has long been noted for its good sailing and seakeeping abilities. Designed by Ian Proctor in 1957, she is stable enough to be a training boat, fast enough to keep experienced sailors interested, and seaworthy enough to take on the open ocean. Indeed, Wayfarer dinghies have even made long voyages, like all the way up the east coast of the USA from Florida to Canada, from England to the Faroe Islands, and even from Scotland to Norway and Iceland! The stout little Wayfarer is one of the boats that helped spread the idea of “dinghy cruising”–sailing and camping in small open boats. Sailors like Frank Dye and others have written entire books about cruising in their Wayfarers. Far from sailing across the North Sea, I just wanted to enjoy some quiet daysails on Pleasant and Buzzards Bays, but it was nice knowing that the boat was up for anything the weather might throw at us.
As long as the warm weather held out, I went sailing every day. The waters were deserted except for the seals and birds. I didn’t even see any fishermen while I was out. The navigational markers had mostly been removed for the winter, leaving me to pilot by eye and memory. This was a fun exercise, as the Wayfarer only draws about 6 inches of water with the centerboard and rudder up. I enjoyed seeing the waterways with fewer signs of civilization.
I didn’t bother to take the engine, as the Wayfarer could be easily moved with paddles if the wind died, further simplifying setup and reducing the number of things that would have to be put away later.
Each day at the beaches and boat ramps where I launched I was greeted with envious comments by people who had already put their boats away for the winter. With air temperatures nearing 70 degrees Fahrenheit on a couple of the days, they missing out on some truly beautiful sailing. The wonderful memories I made that week that were only possible because of the ease of setting up the little Wayfarer. When the freezing weather returned, I washed everything down (admittedly no fun task in those temperatures!) covered the boat, and contentedly put all the gear away, ready for next time. That surprise winter sailing fix was just what I needed to carry me through ’till spring.
Although I felt like the voyage was pretty much over when we arrived in Opua last week, the real goal and final destination for Starlight was Auckland. This is where the owners will make their new life, having left their home country in search of greener pastures.
Now I can finally say that this voyage is complete, almost exactly 9 months after I first set foot on the Beneteau 445 that was named Livin On De Edge at the time. Along the way we have sailed from the freezing temperatures of the east coast of the US in winter down through the tropics all the way to cool weather again south of the equator. The boat’s owners have gone from having zero offshore experience to having thousands of bluewater miles on their sailing resumés. I don’t think they really knew what they were in for when they started this voyage, but they stuck with it and shared a rare experience together as a family that they will remember for the rest of their lives.
It is good to be in Auckland, but I won’t be staying long. Idle Queen has been waiting a long time now for me to finish her repairs and refit.
We’ve arrived and checked in. Starlight is currently docked in Port Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand. The boat’s in one piece and the crew are all accounted for and in good shape. I’ll count that as a successful trip. We enjoyed a bottle of bubbly while waiting for customs to arrive, and are now looking forward to clean laundry, hot showers, and a full night’s peaceful sleep.
We’re in New Zealand, but there’s still a little farther to go–we have to move about one hundred miles farther south to Auckland once the owners have paid the import duty on the boat. But, New Zealand is our destination country, so in a way it already feels like the voyage is over. I’m already thinking about what comes next…
It is 0740 shipboard time. The sun is already quite high over the eastern horizon, bathing the Bay of Islands in yellow light. The wind is still from dead ahead, but only at about 5 knots. We are about 1.5 miles north of Whale Rock at the entrance to Bay of Islands, so we have a good view now of one of New Zealand’s most famous cruising grounds.
We spent the last day with the diesel engine noisily but steadily grinding us to windward, as this was the fastest way to make the final miles. The family was too anxious to arrive for us to have spent another day tacking in to arrive under sail. The only downside of arriving today is that it is Sunday, but maybe that won’t matter here. We will soon see.
We still have about 10 miles to go upriver to reach our port of entry, Opua. If we have a good internet connection at the dock I will soon post some better quality pictures. In any case I will at least send another quick update once we have checked in.
Lift, roll… Slam! Repeat. It’s time to pay our dues. Considering the fact that we haven’t had very much uncomfortable weather on the entire trip, a couple of days hard against 20-30 knots of wind with 2-3 meter waves doesn’t seem like too steep of a price for finally leaving the tropics to push south to New Zealand.
This stretch of water is known for rapidly changing conditions, and indeed the weather forecasts that I load every twelve hours or so bear little resemblance to each other or the actual conditions. One thing that I knew for sure a couple of days ago as we motored across a flat sea under a big high pressure system was that the calm weather wouldn’t last.
Sure enough, as soon as we crossed 30 degrees south, the wind began to build. It was fitful at first, but soon gained strength. Surface ripples on the ocean became whitecaps, which became waves atop swell. We had a good day of fast reaching before a bank of clouds brought with it a blast of wind that howled in the rigging and laid the lee rail under water. Even with the mainsail deeply reefed and just a scrap of genoa out we had more than enough sail power until dawn.
The following day saw us powering south through confused seas with occasional gusts of wind from all directions. When the breeze returned it came all in one gust and has stayed with us ever since. I expect that it moderate by tomorrow morning, and we may yet have to motor some of the final miles to Opua according to the latest forecast. We will just have to wait and see.
For now, the waves are getting up enough to properly rinse the deck. One just poured in the ventilator, so I will have to go pump out the shower sump after I finish writing. The attached picture is the view looking up the forward deck hatch while it is under water. Only about 150 miles to go before we reach sheltered water…
Since my last update we have had variable wind and weather–some beautiful sailing; some motoring across calm seas; rain squalls and sun; headwinds and fair breezes. In other words, we are experiencing pretty much exactly what I expected for this leg of the trip so far.
Our average day’s run has been a shade over 115 miles per day since leaving Rarotonga. That average has been inching downward ever since the steady easterly that we departed with began to falter about three days out.
Right now there is a squall passing over, bringing yet another wind change. Hopefully we get some rain out of it. It will be nice to rinse down the decks and catch some sweet fresh drinking water. A dozen squalls have already passed this afternoon without dropping enough rain to do more than make the decks slippery.
We want to continue west past the International Date Line before beginning to head directly towards New Zealand, but today’s winds are forcing us south for now. I expect that we will be heading west again by tomorrow morning, but we will just have to wait to see what the wind does.
Everyone aboard is doing well and enjoying the comfortable temperatures that we are experiencing. It’s not too hot or cold out for enjoying time in the cockpit or sleeping comfortably below. I definitely appreciate this, as so often the boat is stuffy belowdecks or it is too cold to enjoy time outside. Here’s to spring weather!
Right now the GPS says that we are making 2.3 knots over the bottom. The wind is light, but the seas are quiet enough to only occasionally shake all of the wind out of the mainsail. This is a pleasant change from earlier this morning when the good sailing breeze that we had been enjoying for the past few days began to die to its current five knots or so, but the agitated sea continued to rock the boat energetically. There are few things that get on my nerves as much as slatting sails.
We will continue to enjoy peaceful sailing for a while, I expect, as the forecast is calling for continued light winds for the next few days. With more than a thousand miles to go it is a bit early to start burning our fuel reserves just to cover a little extra ground. We might need that fuel later on after we make our turn south. We don’t want to get caught in light winds sitting just north of New Zealand where we could get creamed by a late-season gale blowing in off the Tasman. So, we are being treated to a relaxing afternoon that is perfect for reading, writing, and other light-wea ther offshore pastimes like checking the rig for chafe and loose fittings.
This type of weather is particularly hard on the genoa sheets, which tend to chafe where they go around the shrouds. However, we are still using the old, sun rotten sheets that came with the boat, so it’s not as painful as watching a new piece of line suffer similar abuse. I keep an eye on the problem spots and move or end-for-end the sheets as necessary. Shiny new genoa sheets will be bent on when we reach New Zealand. As for the rest of this afternoon, I am looking forward to the next few chapters of the book that I am reading.
Right now we are already about three hundred miles west of Rarotonga.
We left with a good easterly sailing breeze that quickly carried us out of sight of the island. Deep blue sky and sea contrasted sharply with the bright white crests on the wave tops and a few puffy cumulus clouds. As we sailed away we could pick out landmarks that had quickly become familiar during our week on the island–the rusting boiler of a ship that had wrecked on the reef long ago, the airport, Black Rock Beach, the Hula Bar, and the vertical-walled rock face of the Needle.
So far the sailing has been perfect, and our daily runs make it seem like New Zealand will be appearing over the horizon in no time. This is no place to be complacent, however. The weather around the north tip of New Zealand is famous for unpredictability at almost any time of year. The last few hundred miles are known to some of the local sailors as “the screw-up zone”. Every year some yachts get caught in gales that blow in quickly from the Tasman, usually just as the crews are beginning to relax and think that their voyage is already over.
To avoid the possibility of being blown away from New Zealand by a westerly gale, we will continue to sail west at this latitude until we are almost even with the north cape. At that point, we will head south. At least, that is the current plan. We’ll see what the weather looks like as we get farther along. We could end up having any sort of weather for the last part of this leg, from quick-moving fronts and gale-force winds to hundreds of miles of calm. I’ll be keeping an eye on the forecast and will be sure to update as I know more.