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.
Starlight is moored stern-to the south wall in Avatiu harbor, Rarotonga. We are all checked in and free to explore. Receiving our biohazard clearance meant giving up the last couple of oranges and some taro bought in Tahiti as there have been problems in these islands with fruit flies brought from elsewhere in the Pacific; a real threat to the local crops. The officials here were good-natured and friendly. They all negotiated the long step down to the boat from the concrete quay and conversed in the cockpit while we completed the required forms.
After paying our harbor dues a set of portable steps reaching down to the water appeared on the quay behind the boat to make going ashore easier. We have the boat pulled out from the wall about 4 meters and so must use the dinghy to get back and forth from boat to shore. This is necessary because the harbor is open to the north and can let in swell from the open ocean. Since our arrival it has been calm, but a swell can come up without warning, so we can’t rush having the boat too close to the wall. Even now, the boat surges between the tension in her stern lines and the anchor though we are only rising and falling a bit less than one foot (30 cm).
Boat work that needs to be done before striking out for New Zealand besides taking fuel and water includes adjusting the steering cables and checking and lubricating the autopilot drive, replacing the alternator belt, making some small changes to the tuning of the rig. Halyards, sheets, and other control lines will be checked for chafe; in particular, the outhaul needs to be checked and the main halyard and topping lift may need to be shortened or moved again due to chafe. The constant movement while at sea takes its toll on everything. There are a couple of rainy days in the forecast for boat work, though. Today’s sun will be better enjoyed while exploring a little.
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.