Day 7 - Part One: a final night and dawn at sea
25 November 2016 | Sailing south from Tonga to NZ
4:30 am local time, Nov. 26 It looks like we threaded a weather needle, riding the Easterly winds of a big, fat, juicy, slow-moving High for almost 6 days, cutting across the tip of a mild trough (cold front) as it passed, then slipping within sight of New Zealand less than 24 hours before another big blow. Phew!
The front brought some rain, providing us with a pre-arrival boat wash, just enough to remove much of the accumulated salt that had coated every exterior surface for the past six days. How convenient!
When I stick my nose into the wind, I can smell the land now... I guess it's really out there. Interestingly, it has a different scent than the tropical places we've approached from the sea...loamy and flinty, with maybe a hint of dry leaves; not the scent of flowers, overripe citrus and damp earth of the tropics. Apparently I characterize land aromas the way some people describe wine bouquets. LOL
I suspect that when the sun comes up, I'll be able to see the coast of NZ. That'll be exciting.
I've been having a great time since we set off cruising two years ago, trying to understand the workings of the weather we're likely to encounter on our travels. Just this year, in particular, I've learned so much about the interactions of Highs and Lows, about Convergence Zones (which I didn't even know were a thing, until we set sail for the Marquesas, which required us to cross the ITCZ; now I know that there's also a South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) that causes all kinds of havoc in the areas we've been sailing this year), ridges and troughs....
Anyway, it's fun to play the game of finding the best route to our destination, with the best (or, sometimes, the least sucky) weather and sea conditions, and I find it particularly cool, when the weather does what it's predicted to do, instead of being inexplicable and capricious. I love it when theory meets practice! For instance, as we sailed through a trough formed between our big friendly, counter-clockwise-rotating High, and the big, nasty clockwise-rotating Low that's barreling down on NZ at the moment, the wind was predicted to switch from NW to SW. We expected the wind to slowly back from NW to W to SW, and then stay there.
We'd been cruising downwind in NW wind for about a day, when I got up for my 4 am watch this morning and was talking with Eric. We were motoring at the time, with just our headsail up, because the wind had been coming from dead downwind. We were keen to turn off our motor and put the mainsail up (a process that requires both of us to go out on deck, this time in darkness and light rain), because the wind was finally strong enough and from a good enough angle to propel us again. But before we'd even finished our conversation, the wind suddenly - and I mean suddenly - switched 90 degrees and started blowing from the SW, right on SCOOTS' nose. No gradual backing from NW through W to SW. No, it was more like BAM! "Hello, I'm the SW wind, nice to meet you."
So much for putting up the mainsail. Now we were motoring into headwinds, rather than motoring from tailwinds. Oh well. We were really, really glad it had done that BEFORE we'd put the mainsail up, rather than AFTER, because then we would have had to take it down again, which would have been a big pain. (You may recall that this sudden wind switch happened to SCOOTS during a squall on our way to Suwarrow...that time, the wind was coming from our starboard stern quarter and when it switched 90 degrees - twice - it went from one stern quarter to the other, causing those scary crash gybes.) Having it switch from directly behind us to directly in front of us was less dicey.
We have a time plot of wind, speed, and other data, on our chart plotter. The sudden wind direction looks like a step function. Amazing! Imagine a river coming to the edge of a plateau, plummeting straight down, and then continuing along far below. I've attempted to make a crude representation of what the graph looked like, with text characters. I don't know if it will make it to you intact. If not, just remember the waterfall analogy.
TIME --> NW315*_______
Okay, that's quite enough about weather.
As the sun rose, New Zealand's north coast was hidden in clouds, but we knew it was there, less than 50 miles away. Mostly because our GPS and chartplotter told us so, but also because we could still smell it. As the morning went on, the wind came around to the west, and we were finally able to put up our mainsail and give Y the M a rest.
The sun came out, the clouds dispersed, the wind filled SCOOTS' sails, and the swells rolled merrily along from behind us. As Eric took a short snooze, I stood on the cockpit seats, feeling giddy with relief, excitement, and appreciation, looking over the top of the dodger toward where New Zealand's low hills were just beginning to rise up above the horizon, blasting music from my iPod into one ear (I was on watch, so I kept the other ear open, listening), singing at the top of my lungs into the chilly wind, as SCOOTS sailed a glorious beam reach toward the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Next post, arriving in the Bay of Islands.