Cyclone LUSI in New Zealand

On the 13th of March we prepped the boat for another tropical cyclone that was approaching New Zealand from the north. As we were anchored in the SE side of Uruti Bay, with 40 meters of anchor chain deployed, we furled and stowed our new, large reacher sail, cleared the decks of all items. We measured and recorded distances to houses and large rocks on shore, and set the anchor alarm.

At 2:30 AM the winds were sustained 30 kts from the east, with 45 kt gusts and torrential rain. I could not sleep so was munching on a pistachio and cranberry biscotti with a glass of milk. All was well aboard ADAGIO, with her anchor holding securely. We were just coming off of a low tide, and we were interested an hour ago to see 1.8 m depth registered on the depth sounder. The wind must have been blowing the water out of the bay. The sounder was soon reading 3.2 m, as the boat was swinging around. She was not swinging very much, as she stays pretty much head to wind.

The forecast for later in the morning was for easterly 45 knots gusting to 60 knots, then easing to northeast 35 knots gusting to 50 knots this afternoon. I returned to bed and tried to pretend that the rocking of the boat was due to a gentle tropical breeze and not a Cat 2 Cyclone.

At 0830 hrs we were experiencing sustained winds in the 35 knots range then decreasing to 25 knots range – repeat. Our anchorage location was selected so that land friction would reduce the wind speeds, and of course to minimize the sea fetch to small waves. While we were experiencing 25 to 35 knots, the Okahu weather station, 6.25nm NE of us, was reporting 50 knots.

One of the bad things that can happen in this situation is to have a big headsail start unfurling at the top. To prevent this one of our preparations was to lower and stow our 1100 sq-ft reaching headsail. It’s larger than our mainsail, definitely not fun for it to become undisciplined. Our also-new Solent jib is much smaller and safe from unfurling unless winds are much stronger, more than 60 knots. To be sure, Dorothy tightened the jib sheets.

The monohull sailboat to port of us found itself in difficulty, because their reacher headsail has come partially unfurled in the upper 1/3 of the luff. It was flapping noisily. This causes excess windage, causing the bow of the boat to blow off away from head to wind, putting enormous strain on the anchor system. The man and woman appeared on deck. He stood on the bow pulpit, without life vest or foul weather gear. They tried numerous techniques to corral the sail, without success. As innocent bystanders, we believed that they should lower the sail to the deck and lash it down. If the headsail halyard became jammed then they would be in a pickle. As wind piped up to 40 knots, and the top 1/3 of the leech of the headsail of the monohull is was flapping in the wind. If it should become shredded, then it would cause more problems. The owner turned on his engine and motored forward to relieve strain on the anchor. My adrenaline was surging just watching the drama. They had our sympathy. Later in the morning, the couple managed to find a lull in the wind, during which they unfurled then re-furled their headsail, and all seemed to be well.

Our friends Susan and Colin aboard the catamaran TABBY CAT, anchored just to port of us, had been watching the monohull drama. They suited up and lowered and stowed their reacher. They were wearing bright orange foul weather gear. He was wearing the trousers and she was wearing the jacket!

Last night (early this morning) at 0-dark-thirty, our anchor alarm sounded like a San Francisco Bay fog horn. We checked the chart on Steve’s iPad and the one on the laptop, and saw that as the wind blew for a short while from the ESE, the boat had moved out of the circle of safety. It had nothing to do with dragging anchor, just that it had been impossible to precisely mark where we dropped our anchor, and the circle of safety was slightly off center. Nice to know that the anchor alarm was working.

A large steel trader-type yacht, SIOME, owned by our friends Alan and Martha, had anchored behind us late last night. SIOME normally hangs on her mooring in Matauwhi Bay, so they must have decided that was too risky. This morning a big sport-fishing boat, much high windage, named ZEUS, anchored off of our starboard stern. Our friends Christine and Michel were aboard their 65-ft steel French schooner INIA and continue to ride quietly about 200m downwind of us.

The satellite image from the morning showed Cyclone LUSI breaking up as it crashed into New Zealand. Steve downloaded a new weather model which forecast 42 knots of wind, then slowly easing into the 30s and backing significantly during the next 24 hrs, about 10 degrees every 3 hours. This meant that the winds would become more northerly then northwesterly. We would have to re-anchor where there is protection from northwesterly winds forecast for tomorrow. The question then was: when should we make the move? We would be studying this issue throughout the day.


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