Arrival in NZ, including an unappreciated free boat wash and light show
05 December 2018 | On passage from Fiji to NZ
After a day and a night, the fast, noisy, rolly, splashy beam reach was beginning to wear on us. Yes, we were making great time, but trying to live aboard with those conditions was somewhat sporty. Though it was a whole lot better than bashing to windward! The forecast indicated that northwest winds would eventually fill in, moving the wind angle (which was now west) behind SCOOTS' beam, making a broad reach, which is a more comfortable point of sail, than this beam reach.
A couple times an hour, Eric would tease me, �"When is the northwest wind coming?�" My answer was always the same: �"It'll be here by this evening.�" At which point he would give me a �"yeah, right�" look. I'd studied the forecasts; the wind was going to turn northwest eventually.
Sure enough, just as we were finishing dinner, the wind slowly began to clock around, ever so slowly creeping away from west, toward the northwest. Three hours later, when I woke up for my first watch, the first thing I noticed was the silence. The second thing was the steady motion of the boat. Yes! The wind had come in from the northwest! SCOOTS was on a broad reach! Cue the angels' singing. When I poked my head up into the cockpit, where Eric was finishing his first watch, I was surprised to find that SCOOTS was screaming along at 8-9 knots, with hardly a sound or a bump. Excellent!
We enjoyed this lovely broad reach all night long and into the morning, making great progress toward New Zealand without all the noise and shenanigans.
One of the absolutely delightful aspects of this passage has been the unexpected company of our cruising compatriot, Dave, who was single-handing on his lovely ketch Rewa. We left Denarau Marina a couple of hours apart, each with our own plans. Cruisers usually expect to be out here on passage alone. Even if we hoped to travel with another boat, the problems inherent in trying to maintain similar speeds in all conditions over the course of several days would make it prohibitively troublesome. But through some quirk of fate �- and probably also some complicated mathematical equations having to do with boat speeds and such �- our two boats managed to stay within one to ten miles from each other, for the entire passage. Without either of us making any changes to our own plans. It just happened.
And it was so much fun! Several times a day, and even in the wee hours of the night while we were doing our watches, we chatted on the VHF radio, about all sorts of things. When I wasn't able to get Grib forecasts over the HF radio, Dave, who has an Iridium sat phone, called over to give us a synopsis of the latest weather that he'd downloaded. For fun, Dave came up with some contests �"Guess what time we'll arrive at the entrance to Whangarei Harbour.�" It's been really great, having someone else to interact with, out here on the ocean.
During our passage �- which I've already admitted earlier wasn't ideal from a weather standpoint, but was doable and was the best we could hope for in the coming weeks �- we kept a very watchful eye on the progress of the Low pressure systems and their associated fronts. In order to have a safe �- and maybe even a comfortable �- passage to New Zealand, we needed to be at the right place at the right time, with regard to these weather systems, for the entire week.
For instance, that Low that formed and spun in the Tasman Sea while we were on our way did, in fact, move south and weaken as it was forecast to do. But then it got sneaky. On the day that we were scheduled to arrive in northern NZ, the Low was forecast to re-strengthen in its new position in the south and, like a spiteful brat, throw three or four new fronts up north toward us. One of them looked like it was going to form an arc over the top of NZ, just as we arrived. If we were fast enough, we might be able to get underneath it before it formed. Go SCOOTS go!
As the sun rose on our last day, and NZ was in our sights, it looked like we had successfully outrun the final front and threaded all the necessary weather needles along the way.
As dawn was approaching, I noticed that, every once in awhile, some of the clouds to the west of us briefly lit up. Was it the beam from the lighthouse on North Cape reflecting off the clouds? No, that was too far away. As I continued watching, and more clouds lit up, a sinking feeling came over me. That was no lighthouse; that was lightning.
During all our time in the South Pacific, we've seen very little lightning; and had none around us. Now, here, in New Zealand, were we going to sail through a lighting storm?! Yes, apparently we were. I'd expect this in Panama, but in New Zealand?! I woke Eric up a few minutes early and together we readied the boat for the possibility of a lightning strike: we disconnected our HF antenna from its tuner, attached a pair of jumper cables to the main shroud and let them dangle over the side in the water, put our various portable electronics into our green metal �"lightning�" box and the oven, and girded our emotional loins for the storm.
Had we been at anchor, we would also have disconnected our VHF antenna, but since we were sailing in an area of relatively heavy boat traffic, with decreased visibility, we left it on not only so we could communicate with other boats, but also because the antenna also carries our AIS signal, which sends our position to other boats, and allows us to see them. Already, before dawn, I'd had three communications with the helmsman of a Chinese cargo ship that our AIS was indicating would come too close to us. We eventually sorted out our respective courses, and passed about a mile apart.
With rain bucketing, and lightning streaking down to the ocean in every direction �- sometimes quite close by, the thunder shaking us only a few seconds after we saw the bolt �-Eric took a position under the dodger near the chartplotter, where, with the radar going, he monitored the storm's position and tried to steer SCOOTS around it or, when the storm grew to engulf us, through areas that weren't as dense. I couldn't watch, and since there was nothing I could do, to help Eric or to guarantee that SCOOTS wouldn't be struck by lightning, I went below and took slow deep breaths, trying to be calm. Eric would occasionally call down, to tell me what the storm was doing. We each weathered the storm in the way that suited us.
We eventually emerged from the storm, our nerves frayed but our electronics intact. A few miles to our west, Dave and Rewa had also emerged from the storm untouched. I had never been so close to lightning; Eric told me afterwards that some of the lightning strikes had been so close that he could hear them �"sizzle�" as they streaked down to the water. Yikes.
Once the storm was behind us, the wind turned from the southwest, which was in front of us. We sheeted our sails way in, and turned on Y the M to help out. With only about 20 miles to go, and no significant waves to pound into, as the wind was off the land, the ride was pretty comfortable. Dave brought Rewa close and we took photos of each other's boats and chatted on our handheld radios. He even tried to send us a message via paper airplane. Alas, it ditched in the ocean.
At 7 pm, Eric slid SCOOTS over to the Quarantine dock at Marsden Cove Marina, I jumped off with the spring line, and just like that, our passage was over. We had arrived! A few minutes later, we caught Dave's lines when he brought Rewa into the space just behind us. With our Customs clearance scheduled for the next morning, the rest of the evening �- for the few hours that we could keep our eyes open �- was spent on board SCOOTS, the three of us sharing a celebratory drink and creating a dinner using meat and produce that the Biosecurity people would certainly have confiscated in the morning.
The next day, after clearing in, Rewa and SCOOTS made the trip up the Hatea River, to the Town Basin Marina, where many of our friends �- some whom we hadn't seen in a year �- were waiting on the dock to catch our lines and welcome us home with hugs and champagne. I love this life!
Position: 35* 43.49's 174*19.64'e