The Pacific Diaries

A Yacht Forever Yorkshire

26 October 2005

I have been watching the weather charts for weeks now and have a strong sense of a change in their pattern. We move down to Hapai and complete the final preparations for the passage. The final stowage is awesome. Catherine has bought a lifetime supply of loo roll which is packed into every airspace in every cupboard of the boat. We could get rolled without breaking the whiskey bottle. Good thing too. You’d need a large one if you’d been upside down!

I have finally finished splicing a huge bridle for the rather grown up series drogue that we made with Fiona’s help in the Caribbean last winter and have yet to take out of the bag.

This morning’s chart shows a large high forming on the North Island of NZ, which must have the effect of blocking the lows that run across from the Tasman sea. We’re not here today and gone tomorrow. We’re here today and gone today. While I dinghy into town to complete the exit paperwork, Bob’s latest Weathergram hits the Web. “For boats returning to New Zealand, NOW IS THE TIME.” it trumpets.

Oh crumbs, it’s going to be like Cowes week out there. Oh well, all part of the fun. If the weather isn’t going to get us, at least we can all run into each other in the dark.

We get away at lunchtime in calm conditions and head towards southern Tonga under power. We pass Nukolofa in the early hours and keep East along the line of fire to the south of Tonga, holding our weather gauge in anticipation for the Easterly wind to come. We pick up a 20 lb Mahi Mahi in the morning and finally make sail at noon as the breeze fills in.

A sail appears ahead on the horizon as we near Ata, a spectacularly rugged volcanic rock that stands alone in the ocean 100 miles south of Tonga. We overhaul it rapidly as Ata nears, and, engine on again in the wind shadow of the island, we come upon a singlehander in a 28 ft yacht, sailing on the spot in a 7 kt breeze and a 3 kt foul current that is curling up around Ata’s SW corner. His boat speed is precisely equal to the current, a perfect dynamic harmony of wind and sea that calls for an impromptu physics lesson for the boys. That over, we call him on the VHF to check that he is OK.

“Well, you’ll be using the engine, I suppose” comes the reply in that particular Yorkshire accent that so perfectly combines accusation with self pity. The voice out there in the far ocean is so familiar that we laugh aloud. It is Bernard Cribbens’ voice for Eyore in his definitive reading of Winnie The Pooh. Who can forget his rendition of Eyore’s soulful line:

”It wasn’t a very good tail, but it was mine and now it’s gone.”

I confess that we are guilty of motorsailing as charged.

“I can’t afford to do that” he confides mournfully.

It is hard to know how to respond. Do I point out that he only has to motor 4 miles to escape the wind shadow and the foul current? Do I offer him diesel or a tow? Or would this deny him the stoic satisfaction of bearing his cross for the next day or so until the wind picks up enough for him to clear the island? I can’t help feeling that someone who has made it this far from England alone in a 28 ft boat knows full well that he would only have to motor 4 miles and that the diesel would cost less than the wear and tear of a day’s sailing on the spot. So I settle for a rather feeble “Anything we can do to help?”

“I don’t think so. I’ll just have to stick it out until things improve. I should see you in New Zealand next month”.

And then he is behind us. A few miles later the breeze is back, the current is with us and the engine is silent again. La Novia settles onto a sublime fine reach at 9kts and as Ata slips away towards the horizon, we look back with the binoculars one last time. A white speck remains, bobbing beside her vertiginous shore, which is forever Yorkshire.

The Sweepstake

29 October 2005

This morning it’s getting a bit sporty out here. Swathe after swathe of rain with half a gale in it and seas out of all proportion to the wind speed. As the rain bands pass through the wind is gusting to only 40 kts and yet we are taking seas of 15 to 18 feet on the beam. We are taking more water on deck than anywhere since Bermuda, but know that if we bear away for comfort sake now, we may pay for it in Spades later in the trip, with easterlies forecast all the way.

Contemplating Bob’s “Now is the Time” Weathergram, 3 possible deductions occur to me as another wave breaks on the pilothouse roof:

1 Bob likes his sailing sporty

2 Bob is not much good at weather forecasts

3 Bob likes a practical joke

I email Ocean Breezes and Ohana to suggest that the fleet should run a sweepstake on which of these explanations is the one and then we’ll email Bob and ask him what the right answer is.

Lisa reads out the email on the HF radio net and there is widespread enthusiasm for the idea, with the balance of opinion in favour of “Bob likes a practical joke”.

By afternoon, the rain has passed and the conditions are back to the forecast 25 - 30 kts with 10 foot seas. The temperature drops day by day as we head South and warm clothes unseen for a year are excavated from their hiding places. The passage is a juggling act between weather gauge and comfort. We sacrifice the rhumb line for comfort after George has a chat with God on the big white telephone in the pilothouse. First time in 2 years.

Uncomfortable or not, we keep the hammer down. The forecast has changed, as Bob warned us it might in his disclaimers, and strong SW headwinds will dominate the ocean north of NZ by the 1 st November. La Novia has the power and pace to get in to Opua before the gate drops, but the flotilla behind us is definitely going to get a slap.

New Zealand Landfall

31 October 2005

Soon after daybreak, 31 st October. A ghostly line rides the swells on the far horizon. The end is quite literally in sight.

Before long the landscape has a shape. As Noon approaches, we enter the outrageously beautiful Bay of Islands. For the first time, our voyage feels real in its entirety, instead of rooted in the present. We are all overwhelmed by the emotion of arriving here in this uplifting landscape after crossing half of the world’s oceans to get here.

There is a dreamlike quality about the moment, a hesitation in accepting perception, an uncertainty, a lack of confidence in my waking state. After so long dreaming, so much preparation, such an irrevocable change in our lives, after so many landfalls, so many departures, after the vastness of the ocean in all her moods, can this really be our goal?

The bay is calm and sheltered in the offshore breeze, yet I have to clear a little sea spray from the corner of my eye.

Reality returns soon enough with a radio instructions from Opua Customs directing me to the Quarantine dock.

“Yer can’t missit Mate. Just tie up under the big yeller sign with a Q on it”.

That sets the alarms ringing. Over the last couple of years we have learnt the hard way that, when entering strange ports, directions including the phrases “you can’t miss it”, “piece of cake”, or absolutely anything that begins “Just ….” are reliably followed by humiliation if taken at face value. Within minutes of hearing these portentous words, you can expect to run solidly aground, have your prop tangled up by a stray line in the water or to have wildly misjudged a 5 knot ebb current running through the confined spaces of the marina you are entering.

We have returned to the First World. It really is as simple as the man said. Hundreds of feet of Q - dock with simple access. Efficient Customs and Immigration who have a major bio-security task to perform, yet manage their formalities with less fuss than anywhere since Europe. An hour later we are cleared and docked inside the marina.

We step ashore to find our Norwegian friends 3T, who departed 120 miles ahead of us in their S&S 60 and have made the cut before the weather turns really spiteful as well. I finally understand the true meaning of ‘euphoria’.