Tuesday, 19 November 2002

"Happenings" Number 3 - 2002

“Envy” crosses the Tasman

‘Audrey’, I said, as we surged along powerfully at seven knots into a dying day, ‘the forecast was for friendly 15 knot NE breezes, and here we are in a building Nor’easterly gale with winds consistently 30 to 35 knots’. What a way to get your sea legs, I thought, and on our first day out, – but then, what should one expect. Welcome to the Tasman !!

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, so if you’ll bear with me – I believe, like all good stories, it should start at the beginning.

During a wonderful sojourn through the Louisiades last season aboard our Swanson 38, “Envy”, Brisbane RQYS members Bruce Vidgen and Audrey Napier dreamed of distant horizons and, in our case, a more adventurous cruise farther into the near South Pacific.

Chasing the dream resulted in a plan to cast off during July 2002 for several months cruising New Caledonia and Vanuatu waters, before heading south to summer over in New Zealand, but an innocent sail-away June long weekend into Brisbane’s southern Moreton Bay Islands with the RQ cruising group changed all that!

Stepping ashore on tiny Karragarra Island that June morning, Audrey remarked on its beauty. With a welcoming sandy beach, soft turquoise waters, arable red volcanic soils, huge mature gum trees with so many attractive birds and yet so sparsely settled with no shops or commercialism whatsoever, which all contributed to a special ambience that so captivated us, five weeks later we owned a house there and spent the next three months ‘moving in’.

So that was the end of New Caledonia – for now – and we turned our sights to the Tasman.

Out came the South Pacific Atlas of Pilot Charts which was checked for prevailing seasonal weather conditions and, together with the advice of sailors who have made the passage at that time of year, all looked good for a crossing so we set a departure date for Sunday 13 October, otherwise we’d procrastinate ‘biting the bullet’ as some do.

Friday 11 October found us clearing Customs in their city office, followed by a visit to the Met Bureau fortuitously located next door, and, buoyed with an encouraging prognosis from the senior forecaster whose crystal ball said 15kt NE winds commencing Sunday for the following four days, we departed our Karragarra Island mooring the next morning (Sat 12) and motored down the shallow winding Bay channels to Southport.

D/Day, Sunday morning 13 Oct 2002 shone bright and clear at 0700 as we, tucked snugly away in the Southport Basin, spoke to Des Renner on 13 Megs at Russell Radio in north-eastern New Zealand, who would work us across the Tasman.

SUNDAY 0800 Hrs with little breeze, “Envy” motor-sailed out through the Southport Seaway in anticipation of both our imminent adventure and the forecast NE breeze coming in. This prospect of both wind speed and direction was just what the doctor ordered since we’d chosen a course with a single waypoint 720nm away close to Norfolk Island, following best advice to stay in the friendlier weather patterns North of 30ยบ S until above New Zealand, before turning south on a course for North Cape.

Two miles off Southport a whale was passed close by, and by noon we were 20 nm out and the breeze had reached 15/20 kt NE, simply wonderful sailing. “Envy” was prancing along under full canvass doing 6’s & 7’s with the fresh breeze through moderate seas, but the wind continued to build all through the afternoon.

Our log tells the story: 1500hrs. NE freshened to 25kt, reduced sail, Avg 6.5+kt for last 3 hours. 1800hrs; 2 reefs in Main and reefed Staysail. Spoke to Russell Radio on sked frequency 6516 - 2100hrs; now constantly 30/35kt gusting 40kt. Barometer steady at 1015. Boat handling it well. Strong wind blew over 30+kt all night long with quartering sea; Autohelm 800 tiller pilot on Fleming windvane steering the boat much truer and better than I could.

MONDAY day 2 the morning breeze had moderated to 20/25kt and our first day’s run, noon to noon, was exactly 140nm at avg 5.8kt. Envy is now 160 nm out from Southport and ‘trucking’. When the wind veered true North at 30kt during the afternoon out came the Trysail, believe it or not, for its first ever use at 20 years old!! We’d never used it til then during our 3-year’s ownership of “Envy”, and the previous (original) owner told us he’d never used it in his 17yrs. The stiff, white ‘new’ Dacron sail certainly looked and felt like it left the loft just yesterday. During the night we watched dark clouds build, and just after midnight the performance began. Lightning and thunder so close all around, but there was little rain or wind. Days run 124nm.

TUESDAY day 3 saw us buzzed at low level by an Australian Customs aircraft 284 miles out. Wind still N at 15/20kt, now sailing with trysail & full genoa. Breeze then dropped to 5kts and we had a drifter of a night. Day’s run was 124nm. The waxing moon grows bigger each night.

WEDNESDAY day 4 now 362nm out, fine and sunny, barely 3/5kt so motor-sailed for the next 18 hours until 10kt breeze arrived just after midnight. From 35kt to 3kt! Day’s run 110nm.

THURSDAY day 5 sailing again nicely 12/15kt N/E and Fleming windvane steering mechanically. Passed within 400 mtr of a deep sea fishing boat at 0345hrs. Night winds increase 25kt with forecast to 30kt. Surfing down swells at 7+kt. Noon-to-noon run 135 nm.

FRIDAY day 6 took a ‘greenie’ into the cockpit at 0200hrs during Audrey’s watch. At 0600hrs we’re heading for a long low line squall, which turned out a fizzer but at midday heavy storm clouds appear unbelievably quickly from the South and between 1215 to 1300 hrs a ‘weather front’ blasts through and we ride out a 30 to 40kt storm, with gusts to 50kt, and constant heavy rain but little thunder. Day’s run 134nm. The waxing moon grows bigger and brighter nightly.

SATURDAY day 7 our first sighting of a ship since departing Australia. Breeze E/NE early and sailing at 5.8kt, then died away to 5kt and veered ‘on the nose’ so altered course more Southerly. Reading Dickens “David Copperfield”. Set clock forward 1 hour. Day’s run 104nm.

SUNDAY day 8 0200; sailing nicely at 6kt with trysail and full genoa, under an almost full moon. Set clock forward one hour. 1500 no breeze so motor-sailing again. Day’s run 119nm.

MONDAY day 9 put clock forward I more hour to NZ summer time, (now Aust + 3hrs). SW at 25kt with showers this arvo, then breeze eased through the night S/E 12kts sailing at 5kts with tonight’s FULL MOON in smooth seas. Magic! Getting exciting, should sight New Zealand tomorrow if the GPS and me are doing it right. Day’s run 127nm.

TUESDAY day 10 slow going early but breeze picked up 15/20kt, now racing toward North Cape, at 6kt. We sight land at 1315 hours, that’s NEW ZEALAND, right where it’s supposed to be. What a great feeling! We’re now slowing “Envy” down so as not to arrive at Opua, our entry port, in the dark. We can clearly see the coast in the moonlight at midnight, a few miles to starboard. Only 40nm to go. Day’s run 113nm.

WEDNESDAY day 11 Breeze fading away, sailing at 3.5kt, then just after midnight the #1 headsail halyard broke and down came the genoa partway into the water. Fortunately almost no wind, and only a few hours away from our destination. We secured it on the foredeck motoring the last few dawning hours into the port of Opua, arriving at the Customs Wharf at 0930hours. With formalities over, a loud pop aboard signalled “Envy’s” bubbly welcome to New Zealand!

Many of you will know the feeling of making landfall at the end of a passage, and no doubt we felt the same satisfaction. Clearing Customs and Quarantine was both free of charge and a breeze, since we had no ‘duty free’ goods to declare and had provisioned the yacht accordingly for the passage across, knowing what would be sacrificed upon arrival. We were told New Zealand has the second strictest quarantine entry regulations in the world after Australia.

In all, our route of 1196 nautical miles took 10 days and 1.5 hours, which we covered at an average boat speed of 5.0 knots. Indications were that the passage would take between 10 and 15 days, and since most weather patterns span only a few day’s duration, we had expected to be exposed to a variety of weather and were not let down on that account.

Our 10 day crossing exposed us to the most common of usual weather conditions including gale force winds and rolly windless drifters, 40+ knot winds to simply idyllic smooth seas cruising, storm driven pouring rain to perfect warm sunny days and magic soft moonlight sailing to crackling lightning and thunder in the middle of the night. But it was all simply great.

In ignorance of what sea conditions to expect, we left with enough frozen pre-cooked meals for the trip in the event cooking enroute was too difficult, but in fact, that was not the case. Sleep deprivation, always a concern for short-handed cruisers, was not a problem once we settled into ‘sea mode’ after the first three days, with three hour watches before midnight and two hours each through 0600.

The unwelcome aspects of the passage were not as frightening at the time as they may now seem to the reader, and beyond sensible cautionary bounds, at no time did we feel our safety seriously compromised. In hindsight we would happily repeat the crossing, with little or no change to our passage plan, but granted, every passage is different. Nevertheless, we will always happily recall our experience of “Envy” crossing the Tasman.