June 2010: New Zealand to New Caledonia

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To monitor our position reports to YOTREPS please click here).

This is the second NZ to Newcal run for ADAGIO. The first was our maiden voyage in September 2000 with David and Susan aboard. The 2000 passage was peaceful. The 2010 passage, while not exactly peaceful, was enhanced because Vanessa McKay was able to join us. And potential dramas were avoided thanks to the typically adroit routing advice from Rick Shema. Rick has advised us for ten years now, and we continue to feel that professional weather expertise is a very high-return investment. Especially Rick’s enroute oversight, which on this passage rewarded us with a comfortable trip and, unlike some less fortunate boats on this run, no serious gear breakage.

For fellow cruisers who would like to know more about how we work with Rick Shema enroute, you can review our passage email traffic here [PDF]. For brevity I have omitted most of our Yotreps position reports. We transmit these reports both to Rick and to Yotreps — that is why you will read Rick commenting on our course and speed when it appears we did not send him anything. Yotreps is also why Rick didn’t receive our first position report out of NZ — there are some oddities about addressing a Yotreps report to multiple email addresses.

Before departure we had estimated about a 4.5 day passage from Opua to Noumea. We expected a LOW pressure system to form east of New Caledonia, which was projected to track far enough southeast so that our NZ to Newcal rhumb line was OK. On Monday 14 June we were the first yacht to clear out of Opua, NZ, collecting our “duty free” and straightaway dropping our docklines. As it turned out, the 4.5 days became a seven day passage because we elected to sail west and clockwise around the approaching LOW. So ADAGIO made landfall at the Amadee entrance to New Caledonia’s southern lagoon around 0800 on 21 June.

Day 1: just before sunset the jib head shackle exploded, so we had to get the jib lashed down pronto. Steve and Vanessa took advantage of the Reef-Rite jib furler “Kiwi Slides” which keep the luff captive in the foil (similar to traditional headsail hanks). The foil captures the luff, so we could fold and lash the jib to the trampoline perimeter rope. We will retrieve the jib halyard in daylight and hopefully easier seas.

Day 2: around 0700 15 June we received an enroute update from Rick Shema indicating that the New Caledonia LOW was likely to track further west than we had hoped:

(…) You mentioned a slow SOG and that is of concern due to the low pressure system forming just east of New Cal, south of 20S (it may be tropical) and heading just to the east of your route, which is too close for comfort.

Therefore, I would adjust your route to head for an aim-point (AP1) near 30 00S 165 00E. You may not need to head that far west, but for now we don’t know and better safe than sorry.

The radio propagation gods were pro-ADAGIO that morning, allowing us to successfully download via Sailmail an updated GFS model. We ran a revised MaxSea weather “optimal routing” using the new GFS model + ADAGIO’s “cruising performance polars” (which are about 80% of the Morrelli and Melvin design polars).

MaxSea routing table

MaxSea routing table

Above is a tabulation of our 0500NZT 16 June routing calculated by Maxsea [full size PDF]. From such projections we can assess a number of issues — e.g., given the expected sea state, do we think we can keep up the projected pace on the planned route in order to “stay ahead of the LOW”.

A movie is an easy way to visualize the combination of the modeled winds, sea state and ADAGIO’s projected performance. See here {requires Adobe Flash} for an animation of the estimated ADAGIO course vs. the progress of the LOW system.

The Maxsea animation has a small Date-Time clock displayed at bottom-center. The frame at left (click the thumbnail for the full size image) is for 6/18/10 7:53 where we judge we can safely turn north for New Caledonia. The color shading encodes the projected sea state in terms of Significant Wave Height. The color key at lower left shows the numeric values. E.g., the seas SE of the LOW center are 7 to 8 meters with winds in the 35-40 kn. range. For ADAGIO we expect to be sailing into 3 to 4 meter seas on western edge of the LOW system. That is about what happened in the real world. Following are a sample of our log entries for the rest of the passage.

Day 3: Log entries “00:24: Wind has been ranging 16 to 20 knots TWS, seas more comfortable. Time to set the reacher when Steve gets up.

15:44: Vanessa volunteered to go up the mast to attach a messenger line to the jib halyard. We furled all sails, then turned downwind to about 165 TWA to stabilize the boat for Vanessa’s ascent. We used the topper for a safety line, main halyard for the hoist — a fairly quick round trip — but definitely not an easy one. Vanessa has some new bruises but no serious injuries.

17:22: The starboard reacher tweaker line suffered a cover failure where it comes out of the jammer, so Steve and Vanessa replaced the line with a new Dacron 12mm double-braid. This is a good reminder of how much load the reacher tweakers take.”

Day 4: Log entries “3:01: Vanessa surfed at 13 knots. We are rocketing along in comfortable seas, averaging 7 to 9 knots boat speed, making good time. We are 140 nm se of Norfolk Island, and 202 nm from our AP1 waypoint. Our little refugee finch is still perched on the jackline by the back door, feathers puffed up for warmth. Perhaps it would like some of our sesame seeds for breakfast. Baro is down a point.

05:43: Wind up to 20 kts at times, boat speed hit 11.3 kts. AWS still below 16 kts. Wonderful sailing in comfortable seas. 182 nm to AP1 ETA 20 hours?

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12:49: Excellent boat speed between 8 and 13 knots. Steve tightened the leech and foot lines on the reacher. A rollicking good ride under a cloudy sky with blue skies ahead and sun trying to appear. Showers all around. ETA at AP1 is in 20 hours plus or minus. Shearwaters and one albatross today. The finch was gone from its perch by morning. Perhaps he is “boat hopping” to Australia.

Click the thumbnail at left for a new gallery of Dorothy’s albatross photos.

14:41: Up 10 to AWA 120. I’m steering up in the lulls, down in the puffs. 203 nm travelled in past 24 hrs.

20:54: Rick forecasts increased seas between midnight and 0600 tomorrow morning. Sailing towards the lovely crescent moon. TWS is decreasing so boat speed between 6.4 and 7.5 kts. Crescent moon, a few clouds around, stars, peaceful but slower. 10 hrs to AP2 at this speed.

22:38 The wind has returned to 18kn TWS so boat speed is back up to 5 min average of 9.2kn”

Day 5: Log entries “00:00 Continuing to nibble as much northing as possible/comfortable. Try up 5 degrees to AWA 110, trim reacher. OK, works. Speed 8.6 kn avg. Adverse current down from 1kn to .4kn

02:04: Try up 5 degrees to 95 awa. Ease reacher tweaker, trim sheet. Trim main. Ride bumpier for sure. Speed 9.5kn.

02:25 We are rocketing along; wave slams not very frequent. Milky Way is amazing, like a Hubble image. We are averaging 9.4kn in 17kn TWS 133 TWA on reacher and 2nd reef.

5:16: Reached our layline north of AP1; furled reacher, set jib, turned to AWA 60 for Noumea.

9:36: Reef-rite boom furler pin is not engaged so furling line is oscillating in-out at the entry fairlead. Cover of the line is in bad shape, Spectra core looks OK. Furl the main. Timing is not bad, as it looks like we are going to be a motorboat the rest of this passage.”

Day 6: Log entries “0:03: Smoother seas now, very bright crescent moon just setting. Radar is clear. 297 nm and 52 hours to Amadee light. ETA 0500 hrs on Monday 21 June

09:54 There are two primary seas running = 73mg and 110mg, can’t judge the wave period well. Speed 6.3kn at 2500 port engine.

00:07: Still motoring in a more gentle swell. Beautiful sunset that we photographed hoping to see a green flash. 188 nm and 33 hours to Amadee Light.

Day 7: Log entries “13:07 Rain showers washed the salt off of the boat. Nice. Swell is still with us, wind has increased a bit. 94 nm from Amadee Light, 17 hrs at this speed. Beautiful clouds all around.”

Day 8: Log entries “08:00 Landfall New Caledonia at Amadee, ADAGIO has cleared the entrance.”

Day 13: So here we are moored at Ilot Maitre: sea temp about 23C, wind about 20kn SE trades, water = clean, internet = fast/free, green flash at sunset = check. What’s not to like?

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

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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.