ENGINE OFF AND SAILING AGAIN

No wind this last twenty-four hours and the engine has been running constantly.  The diesel bunker is getting low now so I was grateful when the wind finally showed up just after noon.  Since then we have been sailing nicely straight down the track to Opua in beautify weather.

In anticipation of the big blow this evening and tomorrow morning I have hanked on the storm staysail.  A no nonsense robust little thing, built like a brick outhouse.  I hope it’s not needed but better to rig it now than be fighting with it in the dark on a pitching deck and a howling wind.

This morning I saw another yacht ahead and to Starboard.  They are now astern, I can just see the tip of their mast showing above the horizon.  They may catch up later as I usually ease off at dusk so I can rest easy during the night.  They are on the same course as me to Opua so we may meet up at the customs dock.

During my morning walk around the boat I noticed a few small squid that had come on board during the night.  This seems to validate my theory about flying squid.  They were perfect eating size, I wish I had got to them when they were still fresh.  The bird life is back again this afternoon, they came back with the wind.  Good to have company but the albatross has not been back.

DAY 13 ONWARD FROM TONGA

This morning the wind finally died at ten, just ripples on the water.  We now have a huge spreading calm patch to get through before picking up the strong north westerly winds that will take us the final step to Opua.

The Yanmar engine has been running since the wind left us. Maybe it will be running for the next day as well – if the diesel lasts out.  So, we are making slow progress and now expect to arrive on Wednesday morning instead of Tuesday night.

I haven’t seen much bird life today.  I think the birds like some wind to play with, just like us sailors.  In the distance I saw another boat this morning, don’t know what it was, not a big ship or yacht so maybe a fishing boat.  The first boat I have seen since departing Minerva Reef on the 15th.

When making pasta last night one of my gas bottle ran out.  One that I had refilled in San Francisco back in June.  Amazing how long these gas bottles last, must be the best value fuel out there.

My food stock is getting low now, at least the stuff I want to eat.  My diet for the next days until port will be boring pasta, noodles, cereal and the occasional tin of something.

Last night we changed clocks to Summer time in New Zealand.  To celebrate this occasion, I am having an extra tot of Mount Gay Rum for sundowners this evening – I still have two fresh limes from Nuku’alofa.

10,000 MILES WITH TRUCE

Banging to windward all last night and today on starboard tack.  Getting to New Zealand is a battle, every mile must be won.  I am not complaining – some are still in the north waiting for a break in the weather and one yachtsman is sheltering at Raoul Island.

The daybreak this morning was beautiful and the day is sparkling but the wind is cool from the south west.  I am seeing more birdlife today, this morning we were visited by an albatross.  The bird circled a couple of times before flying alongside, looking us over with the beady eye of the ancient mariner.  What majestic animals.

This morning I was completing our voyage records and discovered that today Truce and I have just completed 10,000 miles together today.  We did 2,700 plus miles last year between Canoe Cove and Glacier Bay in Alaska.  This year we have done over 7,200 miles across the Pacific, from Canada to New Zealand.  I would say we know each other quite well although I still have much to learn.

Now less than 300 miles to Opua.  But we still have a calm patch and a gale to get through.  The maximum forecast winds for Tuesday have just increased from thirty-nine to forty-two knots.  Oh boy – I don’t fancy that.  I will hank on the storm staysail tomorrow.

WORKING TO GET SOUTH

It’s a good job I made muffins yesterday – it would never have happened today, conditions are far too boisterous.  The day started out with a rain squall and front just after midnight.  Then a strong south west wind and swell set in and we have been using it all day make our way south the best we can.  Our starboard bow is in the weather for a change, pushing aside the SW swells and sending a deluge of spray all over the boat.

We are still looking at an ETA into Opua on Tuesday.  Hopefully just ahead of the thirty-nine knot winds that are forecast.

I was thinking about the motion on board Truce today and realise she is very light compared to when we started the voyage up in Canoe Cove.  Then we had on board provisions for six months and the weight of cases of soft drinks, beer, drinking water bottles, tinned and bottles provisions – a great weight.  The fuel levels are now quite low and water is about half full – no wonder the movement is lively.

ENOUGH WEST – TURNING SOUTH TO NEW ZEALAND

I haven’t posted a log for a couple of days.  I didn’t have much to say, Truce and I have been beating to the west to get around a am nasty patch of weather above New Zealand.  Same slog day after day.  After three days, we have gained enough distance to start turning to the south and hopefully benefiting from favourable winds on the last part of the voyage.

Of course, now that we have gained our westing the wind has disappeared completely and we are in an area of high pressure.  It looks like we will be motoring for twenty-four hours until we are clear and into a breeze.  I have my fingers crossed that the autopilot, engine and everything holds together until we reach the wind.

The yachts that I met along the way at Tonga and Minerva Reef are still waiting for a weather window to depart to NZ.  That is a good safe tactic if you have the time and provides an enjoyable quick trip in good weather.

I intend to clear through customs in Opua, Bay of Islands.  It’s the closest customs port if arriving from the north and once cleared in I can take a sail down the coast to Auckland.  It will be so good to be back on the spectacular NZ coats again with its snug safe anchorages.

At late afternoon we were six hundred miles from Opua.  If the last part of the voyage goes to plan we will be arriving there on the 26th September.

It seems I budgeted my beer stock just right.  I have sufficient to last until Auckland and an emergency reserve in case of delays or bad weather on the way.  One advantage of the cooler weather is also cooler sea water, beer laid in the bilge is nice and cool to drink now.

The last of my fresh Tonga vegetables has been consumed – only some onions and limes remain.  These will also be gone before we land in Opua, not allowed to bring such stuff into New Zealand.

LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

Last night at midnight we passed through a weather front.  As we approached the front we were becalmed and motored in windless conditions for an hour before picking up the wind from the south east.  When the wind filled in it had some force, we had a boisterous sail to mid-day with more benign conditions since.  There was some heavy spray over the boat which has helped wash the dust and grime from Nuku’alofa away.  The topsides are sparkling now.

The weather forecast is firming up, looks like we continue heading west for three more days until making the turn for the south.  I can see light at the end of the tunnel now and can start thinking of an ETA into Opua.

After lunch, I had an afternoon siesta.  It was so good I went back and had another one.  Well it is Sunday, the day of rest.  Sunday is also the designated day for personal grooming, shower, shave, haircut and scrub down.  I have not had a hot shower since leaving Honolulu – I am looking forward to that luxury.

For sundowners this afternoon I changed back into long sleeved shirt and track pants.  It’s cool in the cockpit when the sun goes down.  It feels like the south-east breeze is bringing cold air up from the Antarctic.  For the cool weather I have switched to whisky and water.  Very nice, I could have taken another one but resisted as I need to stay alert.

A NIP IN THE AIR

Last night was cool, for the first time since Hawaii I had track pants on with a long-sleeved fleece shirt.  We are certainly out of the tropics now and I can expect more cold weather when we hit the south westerly winds later this evening.  I will dig out my thermals tomorrow – just in case.

Its only seven hundred miles to Opua in New Zealand but I can’t sail there direct due to weather.  So, we continue our foray to the west.  The sailing weather had been light but pleasant after a bit of rolling last night and we have kept moving nicely in the light airs.

For the past couple of days I have been cutting bits off my stock of carrots.  There is some rot that is turning them black and wet.  Unfortunately, the carrots are now so far gone as to be unusable.  I ate what I could (should be seeing well in the dark tonight) and disposed of the remainder.  The bread I bought in Tonga has also gone mouldy.  In fact, all the fresh food I purchased in Tonga is deteriorating quickly.  I suppose that’s the price you pay for nice fresh food without preservatives or radiation sickness.  No doubt if I had bought the food from an American supermarket it would still be looking fresh a month from now.

This evening I am expecting to pass through a front and the current northerly wind will swing to the south and increase.  Already I can feel a difference in the sea so I suppose the action is only a couple of hours away.

THE LONG ROAD BACK TO NEW ZEALAND

The anchorage at Minerva Reef turned out to be very peaceful, despite my initial misgivings.  I had a great rest and felt very refreshed this morning.  And what a morning, a glorious sunrise, warm sunshine and crystal-clear waters.

Sunrise, Minerva reef.

No sound except the distant thunder of surf on the reef.  I breakfasted in the cockpit on my last Tongan Papaya, such a pity that papaya doesn’t keep for more than a few days.

Later in the morning another yacht sailed into the lagoon and came over to say hello.  On board was Lance, also solo sailing from Tonga, heading to New Zealand.   He had also been waiting up in Tonga for a couple of weeks and also decided to stop in Minerva and wait.  It felt very good to have company in such a remote place.

I slept on the idea of sailing to the west before heading down to New Zealand.  Yes, I have decided to give it a go.  At least I will be moving and doing something – not just sitting waiting.  The plan is to sail to the south west before heading west, hopefully to sail above the strong southerly winds heading up from the south.  If that manoeuvre goes to plan I should then be able to turn and zig zag my way to New Zealand.  It going to take 12 to 13 days possibly – there are some light and variable patches along the way as well.

Before sailing out of Minerva Reef I went across and had a chat to Lance.  Like me he is frustrated and said he planned to stay at Minerva until the next low has passed New Zealand.  We wished each other well and I motored out of the lagoon.

As I was departing Minerva Lance called me on the radio, asking how far west I planned to go.  He said he may follow me to the west tomorrow.  I suspect he also felt the loneliness and isolation of Minerva when I had departed.

So, we are on the way again.  Sailing to the south west with light following winds.  Not going very fast, the following sea is rolling us around and spilling wind from the sails.  It feels good to be on the last leg of the voyage.

ANCHORED AT NORTH MINERVA REEF -WITH GREEN FLASH

If the previous night was a magical sailing night – one to remember, last evenings fare was from the other end of the spectrum and easily forgettable.  From six in the evening to nine I struggled to get Truce to hold a course, the wind and sea were all over the place.  In the dark I just couldn’t figure out what was going on.  We were moving about so much the heading reading from the GPS was going wild and I had to use the magnetic compass as reference.  Eventually everything sorted itself out, settled down and we continued slowly towards North Minerva Reef – to arrive in the morning.

North Minerva reef
North Minerva reef

I didn’t cover much distance overnight, I chose slow sailing comfort setting to have a good rest – we were in no hurry.  In the morning the weather was sparkling and an easy sail to Minerva reef, to be anchored for lunch time.  Minerva Reef is a strange place, a circular reef in the middle of nowhere with a large lagoon in its centre.  The surrounding reef protects the lagoon from the ocean swells bringing comparative calm inside the lagoon.

It’s quite surreal to be anchored in what appears to be the middle of the Ocean.  Truce is the only boat in the lagoon and it feels very lonely and desolate.  For some reason I don’t feel very comfortable here and will be happy to move on.

The reason I am at Minerva is of course the poor weather conditions further south, preventing me from sailing to New Zealand direct.  I decided to stop at Minerva and assess the conditions as it’s on the way from Tonga.  Unfortunately, there is a big low on its way to the top of New Zealand on the eighteenth / nineteenth bringing strong southerly winds and large swells on my route – that will persist for some days.

Bob McDavitt has suggested an alternative route to the west, almost as far as Norfolk Island.  This route adds considerable distance to my voyage but has the advantage of being something I can start on tomorrow if the forecast is good overnight.  Apparently, another yacht departed Minerva reef earlier today to sail the westerly route to NZ.  Anyway, as suggested, I will sleep on it and decide tomorrow.

This evening I took a rum and coke for sundowners in the cockpit.  I watched the sun go down and thought the conditions were ideal for a green flash event.  I picked up my phone to be ready to take a shot.  Bingo, there was a green flash and I took a burst of photos at the same time.  But the green flash can’t be seen on the photos – I wonder why.  That’s the second green flash I have seen since leaving Honolulu – very lucky.

MORE MAGIC SAILING

Last night was a magical sailing night – one to remember.  The wind was only slight but a constant six or seven knots.  The sea was calm with bio luminescence shimmering in our wake.  The only noise was the sea as we passed through at three or four knots.  So comfortable and I slept well.

This morning at ten the wind backed to the south east as hoped for, we can now lay a course towards North Minerva Reef without having to tack if the wind holds true.  This afternoon the wind picked up and I reduced sail to lessen the pounding and spray.  We are now ninety miles away from North Minerva and should arrive around breakfast time.  A good time to arrive, I need daylight to see what I am doing entering the lagoon inside the reef.

The sun has been out all day and the batteries are now fully charged again including the other electronic gadgets such as torch, speaker, phone, iridium, computer, iPad, hand held vhf radio etc.  It’s marvellous that just a couple of solar panels can keep everything working without having to use a generator or engine for power.

Not sure what the weather will be doing next week in New Zealand.  I expect to get an update from the weather Guru Bob McDavitt tomorrow.  I hope there is an early window of opportunity as I am ready to get home.