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…
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.