All Dressed Up...
04 June 2018 | Marsden Cove Marina, NZ
We arrived at Marsden Cove Marina, at the eastern edge of New Zealand, on May 22, with our cupboards, freezer, and fridge stuffed with food; our immigration paperwork filled out and submitted; our diesel, propane, and gasoline tanks topped up; our car stored at a friend's house for the coming winter; all the planned maintenance and repairs completed; and our sights set on our imminent passage to Fiji. All that remained was for a suitable weather window to open up: a nice, big, fat, juicy High Pressure system that would sweep SCOOTS up into the tropics on its southerly winds.
That was two weeks ago.
We're still waiting for that weather window. Since we arrived at Marsden Cove, the weather has not only been uncooperative, it's been downright misleading. Each week, for about three or four days in a row, a big, fat, juicy High slides seductively east across Australia, looking for all the world like it will be The One. But then, just as the High begins to cross the Tasman Sea, approaching New Zealand, a sneaky Low burrows into it from the south, slides north, develops into a storm, and wallops New Zealand. So we can't leave.
Or, just as the juicy High floats over New Zealand, bringing southerly winds and blue skies, making us all want to set sail, a Low forms in the tropics to the north, spends several days spinning lazily down through the cruising route between NZ and Fiji, develops into a storm, and wallops New Zealand. So we can't leave.
Or both. This week's seductive High has the distinction of being punched by a Low from the south AND a Low from the north, both of which will develop into storms and wallop New Zealand. So we can't leave. Humph.
As the weather person on board SCOOTS, I study the weather forecasts several times a day, each time a new forecast is released, when we're preparing to make a passage. Okay, maybe that's a bit obsessive, but I find it fascinating and interesting, and it's also important for safety: knowing what the weather is predicted to be along your route before you set off - as well as while you're sailing - can be the difference not only between a pleasant passage and an uncomfortable one, but it can also save your life.
Twenty-four years ago, during the first days of June, a very nasty storm developed rapidly from an innocuous-looking Low that popped up in the tropics. The Low gained strength as it swept south across the cruising route a couple of days after a whole bunch of boats had set sail from New Zealand in a big, fat, juicy High, bound for Fiji and Tonga. Known as the Queen's Birthday Storm, this hellacious maelstrom resulted in 18 Mayday calls, 7 lost yachts, 21 rescues at sea, and 3 lost lives.
From this tragic event, many lessons were learned that still benefit yachties today. Also, since 1994, tools for passage planning have improved, forecast models have increased in accuracy, and products for weather prediction and analysis are more accessible than ever.
What hasn't changed is the desire of yachties to sail off to their intended destination as soon as possible. After a few weeks of frustrating weather, some yachties might be tempted to leave with a marginal weather forecast. If they do, things might turn out all right. Or they might not. As for us, we're staying put for the forecastable future; through next weekend at least, probably into the following week. It's not what we'd planned, but it's what's out there, so we have to accept it. Better to weather a storm in the marina, than out at sea...
Marsden Cove Marina is a fine place to be, while we await our big, fat, juicy High. We're having fun with other yachties who are waiting here with us. Game nights, music sessions, birdwatching walks, group dinners, movie screenings, cardio walks, and trips to the local grocery store to replenish our provisions all figure into the mix. As do the impromptu weather powwows that inevitably erupt anytime two or more departure-itchy yachties encounter each other.
Last year, we waited three weeks at Marsden for our big, fat, juicy High to arrive. But when it did, oh, what a glorious trip north we had! That memory, and the knowledge of the dangers of leaving when the weather doesn't look quite right, make it easier to sit tight and enjoy our bonus time in New Zealand.
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some new forecasts to check out.