Sailing Tranquility

Idle Queen. Sailing on the Neuse River near Oriental.
Sailing on the Neuse River near Oriental.

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.

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen. Calm sailing
Not much wind, but moving faster than the jellyfish.
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen New Town dock, Oriental, NC
New town dock, Oriental, NC
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen Town dock Oriental, NC
At town dock in Oriental
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen Whittaker Creek
Sailing in Whittaker Creek
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen ICW day marker
ICW day marker
Idle Queen sailing
First sail after the refit. Not much wind…

New Zealand Arrival

Beneteau 445 sailing to Bay of Islands
Our first view of the Bay of Islands

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.

Rarotonga to New Zealand, Day 8

Beneteau 445 sailing Rarotonga to Opua
Hoping for some rain in those clouds!

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!

Gentle Breeze, Calm Seas

Beneteau 445 Perfect weather
Reading in the cockpit on watch

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.

The Final Leg

Beneteau 445 Sailing to Opua
On our way to Opua from Rarotonga

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.

Almost in Rarotonga

If all goes well, we should arrive in Avatiu Harbor, Rarotonga, tomorrow morning.

Right now, it is looking like we will need to wait a little while off of the entrance tonight, as we only have about 41 miles left to go and at least 15 hours to get there. Arriving during regular working hours always makes life a little easier when arriving in a new country, not to mention avoiding the potential overtime fees that may be charged.

The sail here from Tahiti is probably easing us into what can be expected for the final miles between here and New Zealand. We have experienced variable winds and a good bit of rain in the past days. The first couple of days brought favorable winds of about twenty knots and a slightly lumpy sea that dampened appetites aboard. We made good time, though, and put aside any fears of not having enough fuel for the passage.

The forecast had called for lightening winds as we went farther west, so it was no surprise that we were soon motoring with no wind to fill our sails. The calm didn’t last, however. A northerly wind filled in and built, bringing rain and a choppy sea over the underlying southerly swell. It was a good, soaking rain that washed all the salt from the sails and allowed us to top off on rainwater for the first time on this whole trip.

That northeast wind ended in a single gust that brought almost a 180-degree wind shift. We sailed slowly into headwinds for a time before a southeasterly wind came along to help us on our way again. Now, we are slowly making way under a heavy sky with just enough breeze to keep the sails quiet. The days have lost their tropical feel already and the night watch needs a jacket to stay war. It’s good to start getting acclimated to cooler weather, rain, and changeable winds now, I suppose, as we are bound to experience more of these conditions as we head farther south.

Crossroads of the Pacific

Tahiti Sunset
Sunset over Tahiti’s neighboring island, Moorea

The last days of the trip here from the Marquesas were made mostly with the aid of the auxiliary engine beating away the miles, as the wind was too light to keep the sails full, or even to maintain steerage at times. We ran low on fuel towards the end of the trip, but still the wind barely ruffled the surface of the water, adding at least 24 hours to the passage.

We tied up to the excellent new marina facilities in Papeete’s harbor yesterday. The marina was a pleasant surprise, as I had been expecting to have to med-moor to a wall. Instead, we have brand-new floating docks with wide fairways. The separation from the traffic is welcome, as are the heavy barriers with card-access doors to reduce the risk of uninvited guests relieving the ship of the burden of having to carry so much gear. The rates are reasonable, and checking in with the marina office takes care of the compulsory notification of the Papeete harbormaster for clearance of visiting yachts.

I was happy to discover that at least some of Tahiti’s famously high prices are not as bad as I had feared. Only a 5-minute walk from where the boat is docked it is quite easy to buy a breakfast or lunch from one of the many food stands at the municipal market for as low as 250 francs, or about $2.50 USD. For that amount you can get a couple of pastries; or a sandwich made from 18 inches of baguette; or a crêpe; or a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches, for example. For the equivalent of a couple dollars more, there are then many more things to choose from. In the evenings the food trucks, or roulottes, set up in a park that is also only minutes from the yacht harbor. There, it is possible to buy enough delicious food to fill two hungry sailors for less than 1500 francs. There are many choices, from fresh local dishes to different styles of international cuisine. It’s true though, that if you want to go to the restaurants or out to the bars the prices are quite high, with a bottle of domestic beer running around the equivalent of $7. I haven’t been to the supermarket yet…

Before we leave, I need to take care of some minor maintenance chores, including a routine engine oil change and giving the rig and steering gear another inspection. Hopefully we can also find a nice place to give the bottom another scrub before heading towards the Cook Islands.

Papeete's Waterfront
Papeete’s waterfront, as seen from where we are currently docked.

Approaching Miraflores

1805 (6:05 PM)- We are only a short distance from the Miraflores locks. If you check the Miraflores webcam in the next hour or so you might get a glimpse of two sailboats in the lock. We are ahead of a tanker with a red hull and will probably be tied alongside a tug. Starlight is the sailboat with dark blue canvas.

Thoughts on Dreadnought 32 Performance

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen sailing Buzzard's Bay
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen sailing Buzzard’s Bay

When trying to compare the speed of different boats objectively, I like to use PHRF ratings to give a good idea of the actual performance differences involved. PHRF ratings are used to handicap all sorts of different sailboats so they can race together on the same course. They give a number which equates to seconds per mile, that is applied to a boat’s finishing time to determine overall performance in the race. If a boat has a lower number, it “gives” seconds to a boat with a higher number. Thus, a boat with a rating of 200 is expected to finish a one mile course 50 seconds faster than a boat rated 250. The lower-rated boat has to “give” 50 seconds to the higher-rated, slower boat when computing corrected times at the finish. So, if the boat rating 200 finishes the course 51 seconds ahead of the boat rating 250, it has won the race, but if it finishes, say, 48 seconds ahead, then it has lost on “corrected time”. The ratings are frequently adjusted to keep different boats on par. Racers are a competitive bunch, and this is a widely accepted system used for many different types of sailboat races, so I think it is a pretty good way to compare the speeds of different boats.

Just for comparison’s sake, let’s look at a Westsail 32, which rates 222, or 222 seconds per mile slower on average than a boat that rates 0. How do some other designs compare? The Crealock 34, which is a design that is held in quite high regard by many cruising sailors, rates 201. That’s only 21 seconds per mile faster, on average… How about a Contessa 32, another classic design that has a reputation for being weatherly and fast in a wide range of conditions? The Contessa 32 rates 180, or 42 seconds/mile faster than the Westsail 32. Over a 100 mile course, with both boats racing, the Contessa would be expected to finish 70 minutes faster. Over a 2,000 mile course–a huge distance: 23.3 hours. That’s a 1 day difference on a 2,000 mile crossing between a boat that has a reputation for being a slug and one that was designed as a racer/cruiser has a reputation for being quite fast in all sorts of conditions. The only PHRF rating I can find for the Dreadnought 32 is listed in San Francisco. There are not enough Dreadnought 32’s racing on the east coast to give the design a rating. The Dreadnought 32 PHRF rating is 222–same as the Westsail 32.

The PHRF ratings provide the most accurate speed comparison when there is a mix of different points of sail. If the above example citing the Westsail 32 and Contessa 32 were sailed all upwind, I would expect the Contessa to easily out-sail the Westsail every time. However, if the passage were mostly reaching or running (fair winds), the differences will be smaller. Cruising sailors prefer to plan passages that take advantage of fair winds so the actual differences may be smaller than the ratings suggest when that is taken into account.

In races, the finishing time differences normally stretch out to more than in the example above because of differences in decisions made by the crew. A poorly sailed Contessa 32 could easily finish a 2,000 mile course more than a day behind one that was sailed by a top crew. A similar time difference is possible due to poor sails. A difference in the duration of a passage is as likely to be caused by local weather, a meander in an ocean current, crew decisions, boat condition (how clean the bottom is, especially), sails, etc., as the actual speed potential of the boat being sailed.

The PHRF list I use is available at: http://www.phrfne.org/page/handicapping/base_handicaps Not every boat in the world will be there, as there has to be enough of them being raced to get accurate rating data. Still, you can get a pretty good idea of the relative speeds of a lot of different boats in real-world conditions. The system is not perfect, and each boat design has conditions where it will often out-sail it’s rating, but this data has been gathered over many years of racing in varied conditions and is frequently updated when it becomes apparent that a particular boat design (or even a particular boat) has an unfair advantage due to rating.

I hope the above gives enough information to at least keep the actual speed differences in perspective. It is impossible to consider take every factor into account when trying to compare boats, but some details will make a big difference. If you’re sailing in small, very protected waters in mostly light winds, the differences between a very heavy boat and a lighter one will be exaggerated, for instance.

In real life, I have found that my Dreadnought 32 is surprisingly easy to drive on most points of sail at speeds that keep me happy (4-6.5 knots) with very little strain on the rigging. My running average speed over the last 2,000 miles is about 4 knots (per GPS log), but I have sailed the boat overly conservatively due to suspect rigging (which I am in the process of changing). That average includes a mix of offshore and ICW miles, many miles of me being lazy and not hauling out bigger sails on light-wind days, sailing reefed down when being conservative at night, and the like. It also includes motoring, where I run my boat slower than many people partly because I only have 15 hp in a 20,000 lb boat, and partly because I actually enjoy just tooling along slowly when under power… My average speed under power is a relaxed 4-4.5 knots, even though Idle Queen will power at 6.5 knots when needed.

Video of Last Fall’s Trip South

From mid-November to mid-December of 2013, Idle Queen was underway traveling between Cape Cod and North Carolina.  Below is a video compilation from that trip.  I now have a waterproof housing for my camera after missing lots of good action due to bad weather on that trip.  I look forward to being able to film in all conditions this season.

Click here to watch the video on YouTube in a new window.