21 May 2017 | Marsden Cove Marina, Whangarei
Here in New Zealand, hundreds of cruisers have converged in the marinas and anchorages of Opua and Whangarei, a migratory flock poised and eager to ride the wind away from New Zealand's chilly autumn weather, to the sunny warmth of the tropics.
But there's a problem.
It's the weather.
Cruisers generally plan to head north soon after the Southern Hemisphere cyclone season ends on April 30. By then, the weather in the tropics has mellowed, the weather in New Zealand has cooled, everyone is getting itchy to move, and many cruisers' visas are about to expire. It's a good time to leave.
Usually, cruisers just need to time their escape to coincide with a gap between the weekly lows that form in the Tasman Sea and sweep east across New Zealand. This year, in addition to the weekly Tasman lows, two cyclones spun across the South Pacific AFTER the cyclone season officially ended, keeping would-be voyagers tied up in slips, attached to moorings, or swinging on anchors for weeks longer than expected.
Since the beginning of May, we've all been getting ready to leave: filling our boats with provisions, preparing our exit documents for NZ Customs and our entry documents for our expected destinations; readying our boats for travel; making preparations for selling or storing our cars; and, of course watching the weather forecasts. Not watching, exactly, but more like studying them intently, staring at them, looking at this model and that one, trying to will them with the power of our minds into revealing a week-long weather window that we could use to sail north. Or at least to have predictions that agreed with each other.
Because this year, three weeks after cyclone season officially ended, there haven't been any suitable windows. Zero. Zip. Zilch.
Week after week, we cruisers have been led on by evolving favorable weather predictions, and geared up to leave in a few days, only to have our hopes dashed by the formation of yet another storm system right in our way. The Customs officials must be losing their minds, having cruisers schedule their checkout, then postpone, then reschedule, then postpone again; or check out and leave anyway, only to return to port after encountering untenable weather, equipment failures, or both...
But the delays have actually resulted in some good fun. Like all migratory species, cruisers have a strategy for dealing with waiting for good departure weather. Geese gather on lakes and gorge on aquatic plants; cruisers have parties. Since we're all stuck here together, we make the best of it, enjoying impromptu "sausage sizzles," musical jam sessions, Mexican Train games, walks, movie showings, reciprocal boat tours...
Yet even during these intended distractions, we still talk about the weather, because anytime a bunch of cruisers congregate, the subject of weather inevitably comes up. Especially so when everyone is intensely focused on finding that elusive and sexy weather window. It's like how, as teenagers, the opposite sex was the inevitable topic of energetic conversation, so intensely focused were we on finding that elusive and sexy date.
But unlike how going to the dance with someone who isn't exactly your soulmate can leave you feeling disappointed, leaving during bad weather can get you and your boat beaten up. My optimistic nature tells me that the right weather window is out there; if I'm patient, it will materialize, and we'll have a lovely trip to Fiji.
In the meantime, we'll wait.
And have fun.