2000 Sept 18-23: Passage from Bay of Islands, New Zealand to New Caledonia


Following our philosophy of having no terrifying sea stories to tell, we picked what our crew members David, Susan and Bruce called a “dream weather window”, but nonetheless prepared Adagio for the worst eventualities we could imagine. Over the previous two months we had been observing roughly 2 to 3 day spacing between quite energetic weather systems. By September 18 a stable, broadish (E/W) high centered on our intended track to New Caledonia and we departed Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand on our approximately 1000 nautical mile journey .

Our choice of a weather windows was in no small way reinforced by forecasts from Rick Shema and Commanders. We liked working with both routers, while the weather situation was so simple that the experience didn’t really show up any differences in skill at picking out the subtle stuff, as we had hoped.

Commanders Weather supplied a 1 deg resolution wind/hpa GRIB the morning of departure. Which I found to be an interesting exercise preparing for a future trickier passage. Certainly our crew found it fascinating to see Adagio’s icon moving along our track on the Apple Studio Display with predicted wind barbs and speeds matching our real-world experience almost perfectly.

In Opua we had taken on 300 US gallons of diesel fuel so we could power as much as might be necessary should the wind die. At 0907 Sep 18 we steamed out of the Bay of Islands, our home for the past six years, on a rhumb line to NewCal with an 8 knot breeze from the south. We were heading across center of the High pressure system with light, variable winds and sloppy seas 1 to 2 metres in height. An Albatross and numerous shearwaters bade us farewell, and a small pod of dolphins crossed our bow and swam rapidly towards the west, leaping out of the water to gain speed in the less dense than water air, as the North Island of New Zealand receeded in our wake.

The oil pressure on the starboard engine was low, so we shut it down, but our investigation found no problem. Scorpio hanging by his tail from the Milky (actually Creamy) Way and the Southern Cross kept the night watch good company, with the moon rising just at midnight.

Thursday was a day of great drama and heroism as our two male crewmembers emerged from the decontamination chamber (port hot shower), after successfully extricating our potential fourth crew memberπs Leatherman from the workings of the port head. At 1630 hours the genset shut down with an oil pressure fault. The diagnosis of this problem would wait until we made landfall.

As we crossed the 29 deg S line of latitude at 1620 on September 20, a sailing breeze materialized, right where our routersπ forecasts had indicated. With a true wind speed of 12 to 21 knots from the east to southeast, our boat speed under full main and reacher was in the high 8 to low 9 knots. At 1300 the true wind speed settled in at steady low 20πs so we furled the reacher and unfurled the Solent jib for comfort (and so skipper didn’t have to worry about getting the 15kn-tops reacher down if we suddenly got more apparent wind speed than the sail was designed for).

The furling reacher was working well, although we still had some trepidation as to how difficult it could be to furl upon any big jump in wind speed. Because there is no foil, just the 4″ spaced Vectran luff ropes, the bottom of the sail furls about 6 or 7 turns before the top starts to turn. Is it really superior to a socked assymmetric? We were not sure yet – we have more experience with the socked chutes and are confident they will ‘always’ work… If the furler doesn’t wanna work we would just try a usual spinny takedown behind the mainsail and hope it doesn’t get too messy.

As expected, once we started picking up SE trades the central tendency of the wind was dead downwind and too light to allow us to sail deep effectively – especially having no light downwind-designed chute. We tried motorsailing on one engine to bring the apparent wind angle forward. This wasn’t very satisfactory as the acceptable velocity made good course had the true wind angle too close to accidental jibe territory. The main wasn’t happy, and the boom was gyrating in the sloppy SE seas. Hoping to make Noumea with good light on Friday, we switched tactics to sailing when the wind backed east enough to allow for good speed-of-advance, and motoring when the wind veered too far south.

As it turned out the periods we spent under sail following the wind around dropped our speed-of-advance such that our projected New Caledonia reef entry time was slipping too late in the Friday afternoon for good light. We had also traded off passage time for comfort from time to time by adjusting our course to a more comfortable angle to the confused seas.

We needed to kill some time to shift our estimated reef-entry arrival to Saturday noon. Electing not to figure out how Adagio wants to heave to at night, during the Thursday September 21 night watch we just ‘parked’ Adagio the lazy way, by setting the auto pilot to steer to apparent wind of zero, motoring on one engine at just enough speed to keep steerage into not-very-organized seas (1.75kn) and 1/2 knot current. By morning we had offset our position 7 nautical miles to weather of our rhumb line.

The RPMs of the starboard engine dropped for no apparent reason from time to time, and checks of the oil and water showed normal pressures.

Friday September 22 we crossed 25S latitude just after 0900 and were able to sail near the rhumb line most of the day and night with our boat speed ranging from 7 to 9.5 knots, mostly around 8.5 knots. We unfurled the reacher at 12 knots of true wind speed and furled the reacher at 20.

Our crew first sighted land at 0833 on Saturday September 23. As we passed the Amedee lighthouse at noon, we entered the great southern lagoon which is formed by one of the longest coral reefs in the world. We had traveled 900 nautical miles in 120 hours, for an average of 7.5 knots boat speed. By 1400 hours our anchor was set in Baie de L’Orphelinat south of Port Moselle, so we could troubleshoot the starboard engine which was not working. The intricate passageway into the guest dock for customs and immigration would require both of our engines to be operating flawlessly. Dorothyπs French language studies came in handy as she was able to explain to the Port Captain why we were unable to come directly into the Port Moselle guest dock. The starboard engine and the genset were fully operational after changing the fuel filters which had been clogged with debris not properly cleaned from the fuel tanks after construction. Steve made it to the customs and immigrations offices before closing time.

How did Adagio perform on her maiden passage? All aboard agreed she delivered what she was designed to do – a worry-free, truly luxurious passage. We averaged 7.5kn speed-of-advance – mostly because Adagio is a pretty capable power boat. At 2800RPM she rolls off the miles quietly, smoothly at 8kn.

We still have a lot to test and learn about Adagio. Not least, how to get the most of her sailplan. We had barely six total days of undersail trials before departing NZ, then changed the mainsail furling system and recut the jib just before we left.

The upgrade to the Reef-Rite boom furler looks to be very positive. The original design looked super on paper, but had a weakness in practice that we decided we didn’t need. The luff was controlled by clever plastic slugs, fixed in #3 luff eyelets. These had near zero friction, and occuppied almost no space where the luff rolls around the boom mandrel. All worked perfectly so long as every bit of the sail handling was done exactly right, i.e., boom angle, mainsheet tension, halyard and furling line tension. But it wasn’t difficult to mess up just a little such that the slides were point-loaded as they traversed the last meter of track before entering the boom.

The revised main furling design replaces the articulating “U” mast track with a “T” shape – with the top-of-the-T being slightly concave, and bearing the forward batten loads. The center of the T controls the small Spectra bolt rope. Because the luff rope takes more mandrel diameter, initially we had to downsize the top 3 battens. Now that the main is more broken-in we are close to being able to reinstall the original top battens.

The accommodation and systems are everything we planned and hoped for. The whole boat-as-system as really proven itself since we’ve been in New Caledonia – from ground tackle to dinghy handling to galley to totally-silent genset to nearly-free quantities of fresh water produced by Spectra 380.

Later, while we were in Isle des Pins at the dinghy dock in Baie de Kuto we usually felt a small twinge of guilt when we passed our fellow cruisers doing their wash, or collecting jerry jugs, at the fresh water tap. Similar feelings when the rains have come – aboard Adagio it is cool and dry when we cut in the air conditioning until we can open the hatches again. And every night we snuggle into fresh, dry sheets after a hot shower and rubdown with fluffy towels. Not to mention the gourmet meals three times/day, starting with fresh-baked bread, chockie muffies, or blueberry pancakes in blueberry syrup. And ending they day with such fare as marinated grilled venison or lamb tenderloins in Kalamata olive pate sauce and another bottle of 1985 first-growth French Bourdeaux 🙂 So far, on passage or on the hook it makes no difference: gourmet-eats-wise, only that the wine cellar is saved until safely anchored.

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