10/28/2009, Opua, New Zealand
The longest day.... Our last 24 hours approaching Opua was shaping up to be great... winds and seas were moderate and the weather front previously threatening us moved south, removing the last potential obstacle to completing our 1200 mile passage from Vava'u to New Zealand. Winds built to 12-15 knots over the last 12 hours from the west, enabling us to motorsail comfortably at 6-7 knots in 1-2 meter seas, some 45 miles due south of Opua.... With the quicker pace we were anticipating an 8pm arrival, some 6 hours ahead of schedule... a sound night's sleep was quite the enticement.
Then, before you could blink an eye, Follow You rode up a wave, on the other side of which was a sharp drop. The boat heeled and then fell on her starboard side with a slam, sending Rina across the cockpit. As she righted herself and we started checking things out, I heard a gut-wrenching sound, later described as a rather large carrot being split in two... Instantly the boat swung 180 degrees into the wind and started pitching back and forth. I swung the wheel over hard but the helm did not respond...Then I looked behind me to see our rudder floating 10 meters away from the stern... A major jolt of adrenaline coursed though my body as the implications started to become clear... With a quiver in my voice, I told Rina the bad news... twice, as she did not believe me the first time.
We quickly doused the sails and assessed the safety of the boat. While bobbing in the seas, we figured out that there was no water intrusion into the boat, as the rudder tube is higher than the waterline. Next we called Kaumoana, some 20 miles behind us to alert them of our situation. They immediately changed course to stand by for assistance. After 10 or so minutes, nerves calmed enough to begin assessing our options. We then called New Zealand Maritime radio to alert them of our status and they began figuring out how to get a towing service to us. We then discussed towing options and emergency rudder options with Kaumoana, who was still 3 hours away from us. They had an emergency rudder aboard for use on their Hunter 49, but it required dedicated strong points on the stern. Kaumoana's ability to tow was limited as well, given that she has an oversized and heavily pitched prop that allows for great mileage, but not much capacity to move the additional weight of a 22K pound boat. Additionally, seas and winds were continuing to build, making any tow or jury-rig rudder construction a less likely scenario. The conversations with Richard on Kaumoana were heartbreaking on both sides... Here we had been buddy-boating for 1150 miles, with several small assists between us, and now when the need was really there, they had a limited ability to help. It goes without saying however, that if we were hundreds of miles offshore, Kaumoana would have done whatever it took to help.
We then started brainstorming additional options while Maritime Radio was searching for a tow vessel. After several minutes of discussion with Rina, we decided to deploy the drogue parachute to slow the drift of the boat, which was about 2 knots to the east, down the coast of New Zealand, rather than towards land. Once the drogue was deployed, we unfurled the jib and with some experimentation, found that we could sail at 3 knots, on a beam reach at 180 degrees true directly to Opua! Our spirits immediately brightened as the boat began to move like a boat again, and we felt as if we had some control. This feeling would only last for a couple of hours however.
After an hour or so, Maritime Radio has still not identified a towing solution, and the people they were talking to were in Whangerie, another 50 miles down the coast. The thought of being dragged almost 100 miles to Whangerie, rather than 45 miles to Opua made us both shudder. Richard then hailed us, suggesting that we call Ashby's boatyard, where we were due to have some repair work done upon arrival. I got on the satphone and called Nick at Ashby's, who quickly determined that they could send a 55 foot trawler to us and tow us in, piloted by Jim Ashby himself and Peter the "deckie". They said they would hail us via maritime radio once they had a scheduled departure. Whew, another piece of the puzzle dropped into place.
We sailed under drogue and jib for 5 more hours after getting word that the tow was underway. During that time we moved 12 miles closer to land. Why not 15? After a couple of hours we picked up a strong easterly current that our 3 knots could not overcome. We were pointed at 185 degrees, right towards Opua, but the course over ground was more like 135.... Parallel to the coast at one point. By this time our nerves had calmed down enough for us to even joke about our predicament a bit, and then second guess ourselves... I have inspected the rudder regularly, no issues... why didn't I purchase that 700 emergency rudder...etc, etc.
At 22:30 Jim on m/v Olga showed up on scene and threw us a big tow line, which I attached to a bridle off the bow of the boat. We started towing without the drogue out to start but quickly found out that without a rudder, the boat veered wildly from side to side... 45 or 50 degrees each way. When it got to the furthest point, it would jerk violently back the other way. We were petrified that our front deck cleats would be ripped right out of the boat... this would be a continuing theme for the next 12 hours. We yelled "all stop" to Jim several times, finally getting his attention, so we could redeploy the drogue. With the chute out, we could make 5 knots over ground, but the pressures on the drogue were tremendous... After a couple of hours, we called for another "all stop" and rigged a beefier bridle off the stern, and this time with a snatch block to help shield the 7/8' double-braid line from chafe. We got underway again and for the next 6 hours made progress towards Opua.
Rina finally calmed down enough and was exhausted enough to go below and get some sleep and I stood watch in the cockpit. I could close my eyes and monitor the motion and sound of the boat with my ears... Any strange motion or sound brought my immediate attention, but it was pretty boring until all hell broke loose around 4am. I heard a crisp snap and the boat immediately veered violently to port until it got to 50 degrees and jerked back, throwing Rina out of her bunk. It was evident that we had lost the drogue so I got on the radio and hailed Jim to stop the boat. Nothing happened... no change... Jim didn't answer. For what seemed like an eternity but was probably 3 minutes we veered from side to side while yelling into the radio first on 17, which we had left open for communication, and then on 16, thinking that maybe he had gone back to the standard hailing channel. If you had left your radio on channel 16 that evening, you would have heard a string of obscenities as we tried to get Olga's attention. Rina brought out the big spot light and shined it on Olga, I got out my signaling horn and blasted away, all to no avail. Finally, Jim comes on with a chipper voice and says "all ok back there?" DOH!!!! "All stop! Shut her down! We've lost the drogue!" I yelled. "Come again?" said Jim? Ahhhhhhhhh! Finally he hears us and shuts her down... NOW what are we going to do, with some 12 miles to go. I knew the answer....
Rina and I started pulling our 100 foot lines, tying knots in them and hanging them in loops off the stern... Ok, we can now get up to 1.5 knots without veering... We need more weight.... We grabbed the stern anchor, a Fortress 55 pounder, tied it to a line and heaved it off the stern.... Then grabbed a 150 foot nylon rode with 30 feet of chain on it and tossed it into the mix... ok, now were at 2.7 knots.... What else do we have? Hmmm... we need friction in the water and weight, so we filled a couple of 5 gallon water jugs, tied them to long lines and threw THEM overboard...it looked like a floating junk yard behind the boat. Finally, we pulled out a heavily reefed mainsail and trimmed it to keep the boat pointed to one side, and all that together allowed us to move relatively straight ahead at 3 knots. At this point, Rina was shaking at the intensity of the whole episode, and we decided that we had nothing left to throw, and would just keep her at 3 knots for the rest of the way, almost doubling the time needed to get into Opua. Crap.
We both collapsed into the cockpit, shell-shocked. Given that our adrenaline reserves were pretty depleted now, we both were feeling the effects of fatigue. I tried to shut my eyes around 6am and awoke with a start at 8am when I realized the motion of the boat had just changed... we had just entered the head of Opua Bay and were finally out of the 1-2 meter seas, and winds had finally declined to 10-15 knots. As daylight broke, we were taken by our surroundings; lush green rolling hills, rocky coastlines, very "Oregon" like...
We made our way the last 5 miles deep into the Bay as the sun peeked above the hills, providing the needed motivation to clean up the chaos on the boat and prepare for NZ customs officials. Jim shortened the tow line just outside the marina and deposited Follow You gently at the customs dock, where Kaumoana was standing by to assist. It was 10:30am and we were exhausted but elated. 40 miles in 21 hours, one hour of almost sleep in 27 hours, no food, lots of adrenaline, and one merit badge for making to New Zealand in the most trying of circumstances.
Follow You is now at Ashby's boatyard, getting ready to be pulled out. We're designing a new rudder with a stainless steel rudder post rather than the stock fiberglass. Rina and I are happily ensconced at a cute hotel in Paihia, just down the road from Opua and enjoying restaurant meals, Sky TV and a bed that doesn't move. When the hotel manager started talking up the "bay view" from our room, Rina and I looked at each other, smiled, and said, "thanks, but we've had enough views of the water recently.
10/27/2009, Opua, New Zealand
We've arrived safely in Opua, but it took a little longer than expected...
Why is this boat towing Follow You Follow Me?
a) We were tired of sailing
b) We lost the engine
c) We ran out of fuel
d) We wanted to sight-see on the way in rather than navigating
e) We lost our rudder
f) We forgot how to read a chart
g) It was the annual Bay of Islands towing Parade
Full story once I finish writing it up later today or tomorrow.
10/24/2009, 32 15.2'S:174 35.9'E, 176 Miles north of Opua New Zealand
Are we there yet? 178 miles. 177 miles. 176 Miles. we are entering that phase of the passage where the anticipation of arrival wells up and fills our minds during most waking moments. It's a good thing we sleep half the time, catching up from our overnight watches. The weather remains uncannily mild. We are motorsailing at 6 knots with 5 knots of breeze in glistening flat seas. In these conditions the sails do little more than steady the boat from its gentle sway back and forth in the little sea swell that does exist. The constant drone of the engine has become so familiar we don't hear it anymore. Our excellent noise-cancelling in-ear headphones help, buttressed by a pillow over each side of the head, ensuring the drone recedes even further while sleeping.
It is becoming clearer that we will dodge the worst of the trough of low pressure and associated strong winds that are headed east from the Tasman Sea over New Zealand. A week ago, we were expecting 30 knot SW winds on the nose on the 26th as we approached land and expected 24-36 hours of bashing at 3 knots. It's the quintessential "right of passage" for NZ-bound boats. The first batch of boats to travel to NZ two weeks ago hit 40 knot winds, deployed sea anchors, broke mast spreaders, lost autopilots and generally had a miserable time. In contrast, we will tuck into the Bay of Islands at 6am on the 27th, 8 hours before the weakening system builds to 20-25 knots from the west. We expect 15-21 on a beam reach for the last 12 hours before we arrive.
Total miles covered from Minerva: 615 Miles to go: 176.175.174. Winds: 2-5 Avg Speed: 6 knots Sea Temperature: 57 Estimated Arrival in Opua: 27-Oct 6am
10/23/2009, 30 01.8'S:175 19.2'E, 318 Miles north of Opua New Zealand
Over the past 24 hours we have been busy traversing two different weather fronts, each with their own little weather patterns, rain squalls, and churning sea states. As morning light broke, I searched the horizon to see a 100 foot motoryacht bearing down on us through the rain. One moment they were there, with a huge bow wave telling me that he was moving fast directly towards us, and the next minute he disappeared into a wall of rain. Acckkk! I quickly got on VHF 16 and hailed "fast moving white motor yacht" and let him know that there was a puny sailboat right on his bow, about a mile or two out. He instantly powered down and steered aft of us, and came on the radio to announce his intentions. Our other excitement was taking a 30 minute detour to rendezvous with Kaumoana to pass them an auxiliary fuel pump so they could pump their remaining 30 gallons of fuel into their main tank. This was a precaution to make sure they had enough fuel as we approach Opua and the sea state will make it more difficult for us. Speaking of approaching Opua, we have been threatened by a front moving over north island on the 26-27th that promises winds 19-25 with gusts to 30. The trend over the past couple of days however is that the system seems to be slowing such that we may not encounter much of it before getting to Opua, and the portion we do will pack less of a punch. The bonus on the leading edge of a system like this is that it will have NW winds that will push us south.
Total miles covered from Minerva: 495 Miles to go: 318 Winds: 5-10 Avg Speed: 5.5 knots Sea Temperature: 63 Estimated Arrival in Opua: 27-Oct
10/22/2009, 28 21.9'S:176 47.3'E, 365 miles SW of Minerva Reef
What a difference a day makes.. We have been motoring in flat seas through a high pressure system, with virtually no wind for the past 6 hours, and expect to encounter one more of these after we pass through a smallish front with moderate winds in the next 12 hours. We've tightened up our waypoints in an attempt to beat the trough that will pass over NZ on the 26th, which holds 20-28 knot winds and a little rain. Little issues have popped up on the both Follow You and Kaumoana over the past couple of days. In Kaumoana's case, they could not motor above 1600 rpms and were concerned that they had a plugged fuel injector. After pondering the symptoms for a couple of hours (since we have LOTS of pondering time) I suggested to Richard that if the engine was not missing, it might be a slowly clogging fuel filter. Luckily he has a dual Racor fuel filter that allows him to switch from one filter to another via a couple of valves. He comes back on the radio after 3 minutes to t ell me that he will be buying the beers in Opua.. Problem solved. He has encountered two other issues: a autopilot motor that gets tired now and then and goes off line. Ours has done this infrequently but always starts back up after cycling power. His second issue is steering. He can't seem to turn the wheel more than 40 degrees in each direction.. Not sure what that could be, but not really an issue for us right now. In our case, we lost GPS for about 30 minutes this morning right at 7am. We have had intermittent GPS failures like this before, usually occurring right at the top of an hour. I got out the garmin handheld to confirm that someone in the Pentagon had not flipped the off switch for fun, and confirmed that the satellites were still working. After 30 minutes of restarting the GPS, enough satellites came on line to give us a position and COG again.It's a good thing we keep hourly logs.. If GPS DID go down, we would be back to paper charts.
Speaking of reading, lots of time expended there. In my case, "Genghis Khan - Life, Death, and Resurrection" synopsis: A cute, cuddly megalomaniac murderer. The scale of whose empire exceeded Rome at it's largest, in classic revisionist history becomes a revered national symbol. Also finished "Retribution - The Battle for Japan, 1944-45". a sobering analysis of world leaders performance in the last 2 years of the Pacific war. Now reading some lighter fare - "In a Sunburned Country" by Bill Bryson, a comical travelogue of sorts about Australia. Rina's recent reading list includes "Lost Diaries of Don Juan" and "Prodigal Summer".
A long-time blog reader, Ken Newell, who has been preparing for the Baja-Haha this year, asked a couple of penetrating questions, now that we are at the end of our first year out here.
" So how do you feel? How does Rina feel about the accomplishment? Was it everything you had hoped? Any recommendations for someone starting out on your exact same route?
Hmmm. where to start. I'll give the short answers, and fill in as time allows over the next couple of days.
How do we feel? Depends on the winds and sea condition mostly! Even in port, we find that our moods and ability to enjoy life out here are intimately tied to our conditions. Crappy weather? Let's hang out inside the boat and read or watch a movie. Nice day? Lets snorkel, explore, interact with other cruisers, etc. It's even more the case while at sea. Calm conditions or great sailing weather keep the spirits high. Slogging it out in difficult weather is hard work.
How Does Rina feel about the accomplishment? She is pondering the question and will answer later.
Was it everything we had hoped? Yes, and more.Most of the goals we had set out to accomplish have been met. New cultures, the personal challenges of mastering life at sea, managing boat and crew safely.New friends, new doors opened, experiences of a lifetime? Getting the hell away from work for awhile to gain some perspective. CHECK!
Any recommendations: Hmmm.There is no one right answer, (on how/where to cruise) and the answer for you today may not be the right answer for you tomorrow. Our initial reactions to cruising in Mexico were "it's too easy! Where's the challenge! Where's the diversity in experience! Well, that attitude certainly pushed us to the South Pacific, but in classic form, that doesn't sound half bad right about now. On the other hand we know cruisers who absolutely love being in new places all the time and have been doing just that for many, many years. The tradewinds of cruiser conventional wisdom also tend to pull you along, where the accepted answer is "You're going all the way around, aren't you?" Well, no. We are very happy with the path we took, but with one year left on the cruising calendar, we have decided to seek waters closer to home and see the parts of Mexico we missed in our shortened season this year.
My best advice would be to go where you want to go, and enjoy having the latitude to change your mind on how, where, and when you end up.
Total miles covered from Minerva: 365 Miles to go: 441 Winds: 2-6 Avg Speed: 5 knots Sea Temperature: 64 Estimated Arrival in Opua: 27-Oct
10/21/2009, 25 50.4'S:178 12.6'E, 200miles SW of Minerva Reef
An interesting 24 hours. we made good time for the first 12 hours, then encountered pretty decent winds that, while allowing us to sail, slowed our progress due to wind waves. W had to slow to 4 knots overnight to stop the boat from falling off the waves that would come at us from almost directly in front. If we turn too far to port, we are into irons (directly into the wind) and if we turn to starboard, were headed north, which last time I checked was the wrong direction. A couple of funny anecdotes.. We are REALLY tired of our itunes playlists so we put the ipod on shuffle all, resulting in a pretty eclectic mix. Rina and I were sitting in the cockpit, discussing plans for our return home in December, when Bing Crosby's "I'll be home for Christmas" comes on. we both look at each other and bust up. Weather has continued to get cooler, with water temps now 65 and night air temps around 60. I realized as I pulled a pair of socks on. I have not worn shoes or socks in ov er 10 months! One of those little secrets of warm water cruising. I once met a guy in Mazatlan who had cruised for 2 years, no shoes and his feet grew two sizes larger from wearing the only sanctioned footwear from the official cruiser wardrobe - flip flops!
Sandy Jackson, via Facebook, asks where we are staying in NZ. We arrive in Opua, now on the 28th due to a change in weather outlook and plan on staying at the Opua Marina or Ashby's boatyard to get some work done. Rina is fantasizing about hanging for a couple of days at the Paihia Beach Resort and Spa while the forward bunk is torn apart for some fiberglass repair. I don't think I will be able to talk her out of that one. We are looking for recommendations for good restaurants, places to stay or see while in the Opua area, so if you have any, bring em on!
We will then cruise the Bay of Islands in late November before heading south to Gulf Harbor Marina where we will leave the boat for 6 weeks while we fly home. We return in mid-January, where we will cruise the Auckland area for a couple of weeks before loading Follow You onto a Dockwise Yacht transport freighter and move her to Ensenada Mexico. During the 2-3 weeks it takes for Dockwise to move her, we plan on flying to Christchurch on South Island, renting a car and road tripping north to Auckland, staying at various B&B's, trekking some of the awesome mountains and enjoying being a tourist for awhile.
In March, we will cruise down the coast of Mexico and spend 4 months seeing the parts of Mexico we missed last season, before doing the Baja Bash to California for the summer, where we will enjoy San Diego, Huntington, Catalina, Santa Barbara, before heading to San Francisco Bay in September 2010. That's the plan as we see it now, subject to change of course.
Total miles covered from Minerva: 200 Miles to go: 600 Winds: 10-24 Avg Speed: 4 knots Sea Temperature: 65
10/20/2009, 25 02.7'S:179 52.6'E, 136 miles SW of Minerva Reef
Underway at last. and what a ride. we calculated a 5 knot passage but have been lucky to be sailing close hauled at 6-7 knots most of yesterday, putting us well ahead of schedule.. That's kinda good and kinda bad. good, because we just want to get there, and get there well in advance of a front moving into NZ on the 28th. Bad, because our passage plan and the associated wind shifts are calculated to coincide with our waypoints, making for better sailing, around fronts, and without using as much fuel. Amazingly, Bob McDavitt has nailed 95% of the windshifts to the hour. Where Bob, and most weather predictions for that matter usually underestimate is the wind strength. That's what happened to us yesterday, and so far today. Boat and crew are doing well, as are Richard, Suzanne and Mark on Kaumoana. We are also sort of convoying with Learnativity, which is about 30 miles behind us, Starburst, another 10 miles behind them, and Xanadu2, who is 15-20 miles ahead of us.
Total miles covered from Minerva in 23 hours: 136 Miles to go: 692 Winds: 16-20 Avg Speed: 5.5 knots Sea Temperature: 67.8 Brrrr!!
10/19/2009, Minerva Reef
After 5 days of bobbing in the waters of Minerva Reef we finally decided to check in to the Minerva Reef Hotel. Rina and I inflated the dinghy, which we had been avoiding in the vain hope that we would be leaving soon, and motored in smooth water a 1.5 miles to the Southern most part of the reef, known as the Sandbox. In this area, winds and currents have collected sand and deposited it in a series of mounds, mostly underwater, but one above, leading to the steps of the hotel.
Some time ago, an entrepreneur from Tonga decided that a hotel would be a good idea on a reef that is never more than 2 feet above sea level. Even the tragic optimist in me could see absolutely no logic in the endeavor. Instead of checking in to the hotel, we explored the colorful fish plying the waters of the hotel basement.
The weather gods have been good to us, so we are on our way to New Zealand today, and should arrive on 27-Oct. Conditions look benign. exactly what we had been hoping for. Woohoo! Time to go back to the first world!
10/18/2009, Minerva Reef
Well, we coulda been there by now.. Of course we would have had to brave 40 knot winds and huge seas.. Instead we continue to enjoy the solitude of Minerva Reef. Sleep late, read, eat, nap, hike the reef, a little boat maintenance. all in a days travels. Yesterday I was on the bow repairing a stripped snap and I heard a little cluck above my head. I looked up to find the first airborne life we have seen in days. These two birds just hung in the 10 knot breeze about 5 feet above my head. And they stayed there long enough for Rina to get the camera, walk it over to me so I could get this pic.
As time slows down here we have spent more time on the reef, exploring in detail the reef. We found some living coral yesterday and could only imagine what it looked like when the entire reef was alive. We found critters living in sand dollars, puffer fish, little slimy creatures with antennae that looked like they were passing through intergalactic customs. (movie reference Alyssa!)
It looks like we will be here a few more days as a series of fronts moves up from the Tasman Sea and blocks our journey to the southwest. We've been joined by "Learnativity" and a French boat who have not introduced themselves yet. Looks like we will be hanging until the 20th or 21st for the next window. No worries, it's gorgeous here and we're enjoying the downtime.
10/16/2009, Minerva Reef
We are still here in Minerva enjoying our quiet time being that there's still only one other boat here with us in this huge reef. The winds seem to be picking up. It's really weird, sitting out here in the middle of the ocean, especially at high tide, the reef disappears and the wind waves make their way over the reef and into your boat. You really do feel like you are anchored in the middle of the pacific. It can be uncomfortable at times and I (Rina) have a hard time not getting up in the night constantly to check the anchor (habit I guess). Of course, when I do get up, all is fine, it's all water & wind noises with an occasional anchor chain clank. Food & other provisions seem to be lasting fine (as any of you that know me.we won't starve on my boat!). It was interesting shopping for this trip, not knowing if we were stopping here in Minerva, staying for how long here, and if we were passing it up, how much food were the authorities going to take away at our check-in. New Zealand Agricultural/Quarantine has a very long list of foods that you "must" remove from your vessel at time of arrival. It's long, but here's just a few (which you know I had a lot of on board!) - Pasta, Rice, Beans, Seeds/Nuts (snack ones, also whole seeds from your spice cabinet), Flour, Fresh Meats (canned too), Fresh Fish(canned too), Poultry, Eggs, Fresh Vegetables, Fresh Fruits.Frozen or Fresh, it doesn't matter.oh, and my honey. yikes! Just can't wait for a "real" grocery store. Finding decent food items along the way has been trying at times, especially if you are used to cooking even in the simplest way. You have to modify your menus over and over again just to work with what you can buy. The largest store that we shopped at with the best selection was back in Papeete, Tahiti. They had most of what you could or would be looking for. The other islands, back to the Marquesas, Tuamotos, some parts of the Society Islands, Niue, and Kingdom of Tonga were the most diffi cult to re-provision. All of the cooking on the Follow You has been fine, I had a couple of prepackaged mixes go bad, but for the most part, we've done ok. When we do get to Opua, we'll be back on boat maintenance and some down time from our passage. This last part of the passage has the reputation of being a pretty difficult one. Hopefully it won't be as hard as it sounds. We've seen some weather in our cruising days, so I'm sure that we can handle it. It's been working fine with just the two of us without crew. Sometimes I do miss the extra hours of sleep. It's been nice taking a break here in Minerva Reef, but I can't wait to get to our final destination in the South Pacific. We'll visit the Bay of Islands for a few weeks, then back home for the holidays! Hopefully we can catch-up with some of you when we are home. - Rina
Total miles covered: 0 (still awaiting weather window) Miles to go: 842 Winds: 10-15 Avg. Speed: .01 on anchor swing in the wind. Sea Temperature: 73 (we moved to the other shallower side of the reef)