Sail from Tonga to New Zealand (November 2016)
10 November 2016
We had been watching the weather to find a descent weather window to sail the 1,200 miles to New Zealand. The sail to New Zealand is tricky because there are frontal systems that come across the Tasman Sea and across New Zealand about every 4 days. The sail takes ~8 days. So, they say, you'll get "pasted" at least once, if not twice. I was determined to try to make it without getting pasted at all. But, trying to predict out the weather over 3 days in this area of the South Pacific is difficult, let alone trying to predict the weather 8 days from now.
So, we made our best effort and left Vava'u on October 27th. During the first 24 hours, we were making excellent time, with a good current, flat seas and nice breeze. But, later the next night, we downloaded the updated weather information, and it looked like there was no way to miss the storms that were directly in our path. So, we turned around and ducked into Nuku'alofa, in the Tongatapu Group, the southernmost island group in Tonga. We stayed there for 5 days until we got a better looking weather window. In the interim, we sure enjoyed hanging out at Big Mama's with all the other cruisers waiting for a weather window.
On Wednesday, November 2, we pulled up the anchor, which is a feat without an anchor windlass on Cetacea. I would drive the boat forward a bit to take any strain off the anchor chain. Then, tony hooked a halyard onto the anchor chain and I ran forward to use the right angle drill to pull it up. Then, we let it down on the deck and Tony would hand feed it into the anchor chain locker, while I ran back to drive the boat up again. It took about 20 minutes for us to get the anchor chain up. Thankfully, we were only in 60 feet of water, with only 150 feet of chain out, and a sand bottom with no rocks or coral to wrap around.
The first 5 days (Nov 2 - 6) were as predicted, light wind and sunny skies and not much sea, making for a very gentle motorsail. However, on day 5, our new weather download showed that the small frontal system (that we knew was in our path) was now predicted to be twice as large and twice as intense, with winds up to 45 knots. We changed our direction to head straight west, to try to avoid the worst of the storm. For 24 hours, heading west, we did not get one mile closer to New Zealand. On Monday, November 7th, the wind had increased to about 20-22 knots, with 5-6 foot seas (not too bad). The wind shift came as predicted at noon on Monday November 7th, but no increase in wind speed, just a shift in the wind direction, allowing us change course and finally sail straight for New Zealand. Wow! Nice! We decided this was a piece of cake!
However, about 4.5 hours later, we got "pasted"! With no warning, like dark skies, or rain or anything, the wind increase to 35 knots steady with 40 knot gusts. Unfortunately, we got take a bit by surprise as we had the jib sail 90% unfurled. It took us about 20+ minutes, with me driving to head up into the wind and Tony working the hydraulic furling gear to get the jib rolled in. After about 30 minutes the wind decreased to a steady 22-30 knots which lasted all night, the next day and the next night. With that wind, the seas built to 15 feet. The wind and sea was then straight on our nose - of course! So, it was an uncomfortable 2.5 days! But, Cetacea is a heavy cruising motorsailor, with 2 engines to allow us to motorsail straight towards New Zealand. We could have just sailed, tacking all the way to New Zealand, but then we would be at risk of hitting the next storm predicted to come across in a couple days. So, we went straight. Our last day at sea, Thursday, November 10th, was a beautiful sail! We arrived at Marsden Cove at 6:00 pm and tied up to the Quarantine Dock. There were 2 other sailboats in quarantine that had just arrived from Vanuatu, so we invited them all over for the traditional "anchor beer". We had a fun evening together, cussing and discussing the South Pacific weather.
The next morning, we cleared in with customs and immigration bright and early. We then left the dock to motor 5 hours up the river to Whangarei, where we had a marina slip reserved - our new "home sweet home" for Cetacea.
More Later - G&T