New Caledonia to New Zealand: a full moon passage

Click the thumbnail for photo gallery

For the passage from New Caledonia to New Zealand we were joined by fellow Cruising Yacht Club of Tasmania members/former officers Andrew Boon and Ian Turnbull. Andrew and Ian arrived at Ile des Pins on 11 October, so they were able to make a big contribution to our happy passage, not least helping us get ADAGIO ready to sail again.

For three weeks our passage weather challenge has been the forecasted headwinds on our track to New Zealand. Usually we like high pressure in the Tasman Sea, provided the HI center moves on along to the east. This is because, as the HI center approaches it brings headwinds to the north half of the passage. Then as the high moves off it brings favorable winds for the beginning of the passage. Very, very roughly, in October before the equinox, it could be a good time to sail out of Newcal when the HI center reaches a position north of NZ North Cape (at a latitude midway between Newcal and NZ). A fast boat like ADAGIO has a chance of keeping pace with a “typical HI” to avoid the headwinds and gales of the next approaching Tasman system.

Our problem has been a series of slow moving and intense Tasman Sea high pressure systems. As we watched eagerly for a high to move off we would see the models predicting a replacement high emerging off the Australian coast around 32S. The models were right. The result was the Tasman Sea high pressure was being continuously refurbished and was not moving east as we wished. In early October we also had the challenge of forecasted southeasterly (i.e., headwind) gales developing in the 30-34S zone approaching NZ. Both factors kept coloring the weather outlook “unfavorable” for our NZ passage.

Finally, on October 30th our routing discussions with Rick Shema indicate coming relief from the headwinds. We decide to sail on the 31st, expecting about a day of headwinds turning more westerly and beamy. We just hope the winds do not also go too light on us if the angles deepen as predicted. The good news is the Tasman looks like it will fill with high pressure – so if the winds do go light on us we are unlikely to encounter on-the-nose gales approaching North Cape. When highs are moving smartly across the Tasman that is a very possible development — the first 2/3 of the passage has favorable winds, then the next high system kicks up southerly quadrant headwinds in the NZ “approach zone”.

Before heading out of Noumea, given the lightish wind outlook, we loaded 1,100 litres of diesel to make darn sure we have enough fuel to motor or motorsail through any light winds.

The first part of the passage is going to be a beat, sailing as high as we can stand, as we want to preserve decent downwind angles in the second half of the passage. If we slide off too far to the west, then we are likely to be sailing dead-downwind in less than 10kn.

Andrew and Ian overcame their seasickness the first couple of days with sheer determination. By the morning of 2 November the wind is down in the low teens, and the seas are down from 3 meters to 2 meters, so life aboard is more comfortable. Soon we will be fishing, enjoying moonlight silver seas, spotting the Wandering Albatross and meteorites burning up and a bit of playing with the dolphins.

By 4 November Ian is feeling eager to go to the top of the mast to investigate a rythmic squeak — diagnosed as the reacher halyard sheave (a bumpy trip in that seaway but fortunately no major bruises). Earlier on the 4th Ian had logged “All quite on the floating restaurant. Can recomend the banana cake.”

This will be a rare-for-ADAGIO full moon passage. The official full moon will be about the half-way point on 3 November. So long as the skies are clear we should have some glorious night watches!

October 31, 2009: After enjoying Ilot Maitre we had a reasonable weather outlook for the passage to New Zealand. We hoisted the mainsail at 0737 and began beating towards Amedee Light, which marks the primary reef pass into New Caledonia’s western lagoon.

Following are excerpts from the ADAGIO log.

0737 Depart for New Zealand. We hoisted our mainsail while still attached to the mooring buoy. Andrew, Ian and Steve pushed two of the three lower battens further into the sail to get rid of the wrinkles. Worked like a charm.

0930 Tacking to Amedee Light , Passe de Boulari. Sailing freeish at apparent wind angle (AWA) 42 tacking through bit less than 90 deg.

1049 DAY 1: Passage New Caledonia to New Zealand: Clear of Passe de Boulari (south) now off soundings. Impressive reef breaks both sides, especially to port.

1110 Wind has backed a LOT. We’re steering to apparent wind angle (AWA) 45 in 19kn true wind. Now bashing into head seas to Ricks AP1. First reef in main plus jib.

1147 Wind has eased slightly and veered 20 deg. Small squall ahead might be responsible for this. Seas over the windows which are wonderfully clear due to Rain-X treatment by crew. We saw a lone gannet circling the boat. We can see a catamaran ahead to leeward. Tried hailing MIND THE GAP, but no answer. The boat is bucking like a bronco. Ian freed the std jib tweaker line that was jammed under the machinery space hatch, at the hinge.

1245 After we passed through the small squall with a little rain, our true wind speed (TWS) picked up and veered more. Seas up the front windows and some down the steps into the cockpit. This might be the best wind we have the entire passage. It would be more cofortable if the seas would go down, as forecast for tomorrow.

1310 The sloop BRETON hailed us as we passed under them. Also enroute OPUA (French accent, good English). BRETON is 35-40ft sailing 5-10 deg higher than Adagio, but at least a knot slower. NOTE: we never saw or heard of BRETON in New Zealand. They may have been turned back by the bashing.

1443 Seas continue to build, ride is getting noticeably rougher. It’s tempting to crack off 5 or 10 degrees, which we will do if it gets much rougher. Our average course over ground (COG) for the past 2 hours is 188 deg. as header (veering) tendency seems to have stabilized around 120 deg magnetic.

1754 I came up 10 deg as the seas have eased a bit, and the course was going too far west. Ian trimmed the sails. This got us back on course. The sun is setting.

2104 Requesting new GFS model for 4 days, just for the immediate area. Seas still rough, but down a bit (to 2.5?) from 1600 hours.

2138 No ship targets on AIS nor radar targets within a range of 36 nm.

2245 Wind has backed a lot – around to 87 deg. Wind speed trend is down.

November 1, 2009

0040 DAY 2

0103 The moon is almost full. Lovely. We have been experiencing some big wave washes, and underwing slams earlier in the day. Calmer tonight.

0206 Wind is back up a bit as is boat speed.

0646 Around 0300 wind rose to 23 true wind speed (TWS) to 28 apparent wind speed (AWS) –> sea state built up until we were ocean walloping again. So we cracked off 10 deg to reduce banging.

0911 Speed over ground (SOG) is frequently 10 kts or more, but mostly around 9-9.5 kts. Seas are still up, and a beautiful dark blue. Sky looks like a Dutch sky, all types of clouds. We need to keep a close watch on the wet towels under the leaking front window portlight behind the Azimuth compass. Andrew said that water came down onto the nav station table top near the engine keys. He has been wringing out the white towel that is catching the drip. I added a couple more towels.

0930 193 nm from 0930 to 0930 (first day). I closed the back door because salt spray was coming in. Water was washing down the backs of the cockpit seats next to the winches, and out the scuppers to the floor of the cockpit. Water cascades down the cockpit stairs. SOG hits 11 kts from time to time. Occasional Very Big underwing slams.

1049 195 nm from 1049 to 1049 second day. Had to estimate log at 1049 from last entry at 0911.

1538 Set full main, retrimmed for best close hauled velocity made good (VMG). Got new wx model and did new optimal routings — We want to sail high and fast then tack on stbd when we are headed about 1102 afternoon.

1651 8kn SOG after full main wind increased to 14 kn range – thought it was just a cloud overhead but the lift and windspeed have persisted.

1731 TWS increases and decreases. More squalls ahead, so we might pick up some speed again soon. I put away our New Caledonia and Pacific islands charts, and got out our New Zealand charts. The nearly full moon is off to port, white against a powder blue sky.

November 2, 2009

0047 DAY 3 All quiet

0121 Beautiful moon-lit night. Baro is up again. Seas have decreased with the decreasing wind speed. 650 nm to the Bay of Islands

0501 Pilot 2 back to ECON. Wind down to TWS 10, seas down to mostly swell.

0602 Motorsailing on port engine at 2200 rpms.

0850 3 birds flew past. Rain cells about 9 nm.

1011 A gentler motion over the seas this morning, in bright sunshine. Ian and Andrew are setting up our fishing line. Yesterday a fish took the hooks. ETA Opua 5 Nov 2135 hrs.

1200 I tested sail only with no engine, trimmed main+jib to 40 deg – only managed about 4 ot 5kn or 50% of polar.

1248 Tacked onto STBD, furled jib. Strapped main in for about AWA 25 => pilot on AWA 26. Switch to STBD engine 2400 rpms to balance helm.

1652 Motoring. Seas going down.

1816 Sunset. No green flash, but very orange sky. Rick’s latest email message says to expect no wind for the remainder of the voyage. There are swells from the ESE.

2107 Stunning full moon to port about 45° altitude.

Adagio echart enroute NZ from Newcal

November 3, 2009

0059 DAY 4

0121 Change in TWD. We are into the westerlies. A silver night with moonlight shining on the clouds and water. 474 nm to North Cape, NZ.

0241 Occasional showers; gentle swells. Yesterday Andrew spotted several seabirds, and then we saw what might have been an albatross — very long wings and soaring above the wave tops.

0517 Wind up to 15 kn over the past 3 hours. Set reacher only.

0627 Trim reacher fro AWA 90 deg.

0655 Try steering to AWA 95 deg – seems to pay off adding 0.5 to 1kn in boat speed.

1148 Wind has veered again –>> about 5 to 6 deg off course. Will retrim for deeper angle.

1155 Retrimmed to AWA 110 as wind veers.

1429 Now through the squall line, wind dropped from 18 kn to 8 kn, backed 50 deg – so far. Furled reacher, tried jib, but had to steer 10 -15deg low of course. Probably made a little VMG as jib added about .5 to .9kn

1648 No more rain, quietly motoring.

1716 8.3kn boat speed. We unfurled the reacher and turned off the engine, then headed off 10 deg to port. Nice speed, and quiet. Beautiful clouds in a blue sky. An albatross just flew past our port side.

1810 Switched pilot to AWA 65 deg – seem to have about .7 to 1.0 kn foul current. Data trend indicates veering continues + increasing TWS.

1850 While Andrew on HF radio, we experienced another pilot glitch while steering to wind angle.

2033 Squeak at masthead. Stopped by unloading reacher by steering off.

2127 Just saw meteor burning out at about 1 o’clock or bearing 100 deg magnetic.

2241 Wind down to 6 kts speed down to 3 kts. Furled reacher.

November 4, 2009

0049 DAY 5 All quiet. No fish, no meteorites.

0108 Full moon off our port quarter — big and beautiful. Seas are down. Sky clouding up ahead. Easy going on this beautiful night, motoring along towards NZ . 319 nm to North Cape.

0405 All quite on the floating restaurant. Can recomend the banana cake.

0638 Changed pilot to 113 as currents change.

0851 Several albatross seen

0945 266 nm to North Cape, NZ. Light winds and swell just forward of our starboard beam. Blue sky with a mix of clouds. A quiet morning. Ian and Andrew are setting out several fishing lines, determined to catch something. Andrew was listining to Australian radio when I came on watch. He has prepared a list of frequencies for us to refer to. Higher frrequencies best in the morning. Lower frequencies at night. Last night Adrew tuned into Tas Coast Radio, and he gave our position report, and spoke to John Cerruty on ARIEL who are CYCT members. They are currently in Pittwater, having sailed from SE Asia, and are on theri way home to Hobart.

1045 Set reacher at AWA 60 deg. Halyard squeaks are back, of course.

1117 Ian going up the mast to inspect the reacher halyard and take photos.

1355 Furl reacher; back to port engine

1652 All quiet, no fish but a beautiful afternoon.

1841 Got a fish on port Shimano but lost it when drag increased.

1941 Current is setting our course to stbd.

November 5, 2009

0047 DAY 6 All quiet. Wind indicator doing 360s. Radio Australia on HF M Ch 59-79 incl.

0507 Wind has veered to dead downwind (DDW) , at 10 kts; now useless.

0854 Motor off, reacher and jib set. Our friends aboard Mind The Gap are 15 M astern, Southern Sky 30 M E.

0959 Getting ready to swap reacher for chute, spinnaker.

1041 Crew voted to keep with the reacher and jib. We gybed both, and are wing on wing with reacher on stb gybe. ETA for BOI is tomorrow 6 Nov., 1100 hours.

1226 Wind veered so furled jib and left reacher alone. Mind the gap 11 miles behind with full main and spinnaker doing 6.9kts in just 11 kts breeze.

1316 Set jib + reacher.

1700 Peaceful afternoon. Jib and reacher. Put VMC voice weather frequencies into Kenwood HF radio, ch 84-89.

1735 We were sailing about 5deg high of course – but after adjusting AWA too deep – try 111.

2105 35 nm from North Cape

November 6, 2009

0110 DAY 7: Wind refuses to back! Jib and reacher, dead down wind.

0125 Rain showers came up from astern. Misty. No need to rinse the salt off the sails when we are in port.

0154 The wind is backing steadily, allowing us to clear North Cape by 1-1/2 to 2 nm.

0226 I furled the jib and trimmed in the reacher, altering course to Taheke Roc waypoint. North Cape is 1 nm abeam to starboard. Wind continues to back.

0255 Wind backed suddenly about 90 degrees as we rounded North Cape. Furled the reacher and set the jib.

0316 Port engine at 1600 rpms. Needed to run the genset anyway. Need to hoist the main but will wait for Steve’s watch.

0517 After clearing North Cape the wind snapped down to SW 190 deg magnetic. We set main 2nd reef + jib steering AWA 50 deg. Ian and Andrew landed a nice Wahoo fish, and Ian filleted it. We ate all of it before making landfall.

0528 Cracked off to AWA 58 to lay Cavalli Islands on course of 128T – ride is much better now with main at 2nd reef

0827 Ship (bulk carrier?) at 4.4nm 74mg on AIS and radar.

0906 Main to full hoist.

1346 Cavalli Islands to starboard

1414 Turn for Ninepin – caught another barracuda but it got off taking the skirted lure Andrew bought for us

1613 Ninepin – furl the main

0752 DAY 7: Landfall New Zealand. We arrived at Opua Marina at 1800 hrs on Friday 6 Nov, just at the Twilight race was starting. The race boats sailed past going out as we were coming into the harbor. Great photos. The 18 ft skiff was leading. Customs and Immigration had closed. We were the only boat on the Customs Dock, but by morning there were 8 others. On Saturday morning we were processed with no dramas, and moved to an end tie on E dock. David Radtke came to wave hello on Friday, and deliver our mail to the marina office. Steve visited Alan and Pauline Legge while Dorothy shopped for food in Paihia with Lorna from Mind the Gap. We invited David and Susan aboard for dinner on Sunday night.

2022 We anchored in Waipiro Bay, just off the port quarter of MAGIC DRAGON. Jane and Shelly came aboard ADAGIO for coffee and bickies, then at 1800 hours we went aboard MAGIC DRAGON for champagne and nibbles. We caught up on a lot of news and stories.

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