Highs & Lows
25 May 2014 | South Pacific
The end of the first week of May saw us returning to 0pua in order to prepare for our upcoming trip to Raivavae in the Austral Islands, approximately 2,350 miles NE of New Zealand and 300 NM SE of Tahiti. With a one-week postponement suggested by Commander Weather (the routing service that we decided to try out on this trip) we had plenty of time to finish up our last minute odds and ends. That included a massive provisioning trip (thanks so much Bob for the loan of the car), picking up some final items from the fabulous Cater Marine Chandlery (thanks once again Bob, Mike & Glenn), visiting with Greg (crewmate on our trip to NZ 2 years ago) and his wife Ingrid, and having a fare well dinner aboard tabbycat with them and good friends Ted and Karen of Sequester. Finally, by 3:30 pm on May 9th, having completed our departure formalities with NZ customs and taken on board a full load of duty free fuel, it was with a certain amount of nervous anticipation that we set off. This route is will known as being a fairly tough beat to windward, with Jimmy Cornell (the author of the cruiser's routing bible) warning that most boats encounter some heavy weather en route. That was why we decided to try a new weather routing service - we had spotty results with our previous weather router. Let's just say disenchantment with the new service set in early. Having received a forecast for a pleasant 15 knot NW breeze for our first day's run to 350 South, we instead motored in near windless lumpy seas just to clear the coast of NZ. The only thing they got right on the first week's forecast was that we would see some squally weather. (Wind direction, wind speed or swell direction was incorrect for the first week), but boy did we see squalls with their associated micro bursts! We also had a number of lighting storms thrown in for good measure. Consequently we had a really tough time getting down to and holding our course on the 35th parallel, along which we were supposed to travel East. We had only one day of pleasant sailing in the first half of the trip; however,as a consequence of all the storms we were dodging (thank goodness for radar) we saw rainbows on 10 consecutive days. Another highlight was the appearance of Albatrosses, who glided in circles around the boat with their huge wings outstretched. We were surprised how odd they looked when they landed in the water, metamorphasizing from elegant glider to ungainly oversized lump! The only other item of note during the first half of our trip was a different sounding thump on the inside of the hull, which turned out to be a whole tree complete with rootball still attached, which by Sheer luck we managed to straddle lengthwise between the hulls. During week two, our trip soon became "interesting". Commander Weather had previously informed us of a low that they were watching South of Tonga/Fiji. It was now developing into something serious and starting to move SE towards our projected route. Despite our instincts and our interpretation of the GRIB weather files to head East as fast as we could along 35Â° South, we followed their advice to head NE and cut in front of the storm in order to get above it. Boy was that a mistake! We didn't see the sun or stars for 5 days. After 3 days of bashing into lumpy seas and increasing wind speeds we finally got away from the system and spent a hellish 24 hours hove to with wind speeds in the 40's & 50's, gusting to a maximum of 62 Knots. Tabbycat rattled & shook, but we had battened down everything pretty tightly and she endured the beating better than we did. Finally though, as it does, the sun did reappear, and we are back on track for the Australs. Given the prevailing SE winds that we can expect to find near the Australs, we are a lot further North than we would like to be. (It would be better to be farther East.) We've abandoned Commander Weather's routing suggestions to head even further North, and are instead presently making as much easting as we can. We are sailing with 2 reefs in fresh but manageable 20 knot winds. Hopefully we will arrive by late Tuesday early Wednesday. It's definitely not been our favorite trip, but we constantly remind ourselves that "if it doesn't kill you, it will make you stronger". Hopefully, given as far East as we have come on this trip, it will make for some pleasant downwind sailing in those same SE trade winds for the remainder of the Summer. We are anxious to drop anchor and rest a while at Raivavae which is reputed to rival Bora Bora as the most beautiful and seldom visited anchorage in the South Pacific.