The journal entry for October 20th , 2350h, starts with
“Now this is fun- NOT.” At that point we were sailing under
our triple reefed mainsail only, with winds of about 33-40 kts, with some
higher gusts. We were relieved that things had eased. Earlier,
we experienced sustained winds in the mid 40's with a few gusts into the 50's.
The passage, as is often the case, started out as deceptively pleasant, with a comfortable level of wind and lots of sunshine on the morning of the 20th. Bjarne worked on a Canadian flag to replace our lost one (fortunately, we found a small one on board before he got too far along) and I did some crossword puzzles. It was an easy sort of day, with the wind gradually decreasing, luring us into putting up more sail. I lay down for an afternoon snooze but within half an hour I was summoned to help reef and change the foresail to a smaller one, as dark clouds and cooler temperatures arrived. It wasn't much later when the 30-40 kt winds hit and we then put up yet a smaller sail and the 3rd reef in the main. These things are much easier to do in lighter winds but then why would you put up the small sails and reef if the winds were light? Tuckered, we huddled below and tried to distract ourselves from the howling winds with a game of Boggle.
The continually high winds throughout that night and the next day created some fairly large waves (about 3m) which tossed us around and splashed into the cockpit. We were tired from lack of sleep and the general wearing down that ongoing high winds have, so took turns catching up on sleep through the day. Feeling rested now and thinking the winds were finally diminishing, we put the staysail back up to help propel us through the waves more effectively. Ha! The winds never really did decrease much so Freya whipped through the water, sometimes going over 7kts! She seemed to cope well with this speed, so we didn't bother to decrease sail again, deciding we could cope with the noise, bouncing and pounding that came with the higher velocity in order to get to our destination more quickly.
We did move along quickly, covering a record (for us) distance of 151 miles in one 24 hr period. However, poor Bjarne got the worst effect of the bouncing. One night he was sleeping peacefully until suddenly a lurch of the boat sent my cup flying off the table. This cup is one of those ultra-wide rubber-bottomed can't-possibly-tip sort. Unfortunately however it isn't launch-proof. I watched, horrified, as Bjarne was awakened abruptly by a face full of chamomile tea. He was remarkably calm about the whole thing. We cleaned up, put some dry sheets on the berth and he promptly went back to sleep, after carefully checking the table for other potential missiles.
Things were progressing nicely until the wee hours of Oct 23rd . There must be some law, closely related to Murphy's, that explains why things wait until the middle of the night to go awry. Because of a wind shift we were both on deck to lower the mainsail. At this point Hellena began steering like she'd been nipping into the rum. Since rum doesn't usually have that effect on stainless steel we figured something else must be wrong. Being dark, the problem wasn't obvious so I relieved Hellena of her duties and we carried on with dropping the main. More excitement was had when the boom suddenly landed with a thump on the top of the dodger. For the uninitiated, this is not the usual course of events. The topping lift, which supports the boom when the sail is down, had broken, leaving us with a stray wire flailing about in the dark from the top of the mast. The situation wasn't really a disaster as the main halyard can hold up the boom, but it meant no backup if that should fail. We decided to forgo any further sail changes until daylight for fear that the topping lift remnants were tangled in the rigging and we'd make it worse. For the rest of the night we didn't even make 4kts of speed. In all the excitement, our SSB antenna managed to get tied up in the sail ties. Meanwhile, Hellena's erratic behaviour had to be sorted out. Bjarne finally noticed that a line had worked loose, allowing the servo vane to pop out of the water. That was at least easy to fix and let us return Hellena to duty. Feeling a bit beleaguered we retired below. A little later, I heard a low rumbling sound lasting maybe 5 seconds, followed by a big crash and whoosh! A large wave had slammed into the cockpit. Once dawn arrived I noticed our life ring was missing. We hope no one finds it and thinks we've sunk. Sorry Britta, that your artistic lettering on the life ring didn't make it to NZ! (ed. note – on arrival we notified the NZ authorities about the missing ring so they wouldn't embark on a fruitless search)
At this point, the list of “things to fix or buy when we reach New Zealand”, was growing substantially. Bjarne had been eying our mast suspiciously for a while now as it seemed to be sinking very gradually into the deck. He had recently noticed that the compression post supporting the mast was bowed out. Egads! He braced it with a wooden dowel (commandeered from our hanging locker) so we now have to duck under this bar to to go forward in the cabin (like every time we have to go to the heads). On a positive note, Bjarne points out that the windows we fixed are still keeping the water out of the boat. It's true that having a dry boat carries a lot of points on the happiness and comfort scale.
By Oct 24th the wind and seas had finally moderated so that it became safe to sit in the cockpit again without fear of being doused. The sun even broke through the clouds at times to provide a bit of warmth. The air and water temperatures are already cooler as we head away from the tropics. That afternoon we reached North Minerva Reef, where we parked our anchor in a nice sandy bottom, 28 feet below us. At low tide the reef sticks up less than a foot above the surface and at high tide there is only water around you. It is quite neat to be anchored in the middle of the ocean. No country lays claim to it although Tonga apparently tried unsuccessfully to establish it as theirs. Minerva has become popular with yachties now that modern navigation equipment (i.e. GPS) allows the reef to be found with much less risk of bonking into it. Not that GPS prevents accidents; North and South Minerva lie on a direct line course from Tonga to New Zealand and every so often a boat that isn't looking closely at their charts manage to run one of them down. A few breaking waves and sometimes stationary boats bobbing in the middle of the ocean, are the main visible indicators that something is there.
Upon settling the hook into the sand, we hopped into the water with our snorkels and masks, fearing the sun would not last much longer. A little swim brought us to the closer of the two other boats here, which had a good Canadian name – Moose. After chatting a bit, we learned that we had already crossed the date line (it wasn't on our chart). It was no longer Sunday and we had missed most of Monday! We figured if one had to miss a day, Monday was a good one. Thank goodness we didn't miss Friday! Irene and Duncan invited us to join them and Ron and Suzanne from Tapasya for dinner that night. Never ones to turn down food we readily accepted and carried on with our snorkeling expedition, which yielded little of interest. Supper (fresh tuna) was much more fun.
The next day we awoke refreshed from an uninterrupted night's sleep and had a leisurely breakfast of muffins. We hadn't been doing much cooking the last few days with the high winds. Before leaving Minerva we prepared dry mixes for two batches of muffins, so that on passage all we needed to do was add water, mix and bake. As with many great ideas, it rarely gets implemented. After brekky we took the dinghy over to the reef. At first glance the fairly flat reef looks quite uniform in colour, but on closer inspection you see many marvelous things. Inside almost every nook there was a black spiny urchin. In the tidal pools there were small fish about 4 inches long which zipped around like crazy. They would even jump over dry raised sections into another tidal pool. I dubbed these fish Puddle Jumpers. With patient inspection, small octopi, about 1 inch in the body, could be seen. One changed colour as we watched, blending in nicely with its surroundings. Bjarne even saw one squirt some ink. There were also many of the large clams with colourful “lips” (Tridacna clams).
We had a lunch date with the other two boats. The lemonade we brought was very popular as fruit juice was in short supply. Also met with great glee were the potato chips that Suzanne brought out. Weather was a big topic of conversation as we were all waiting at Minerva until it seemed like we could get to NZ without getting pasted by a low pressure system. The general consensus was the next day looked like a good time to go as long as we didn't get south too quickly and run into the low that was moving across. Hmmm, decision-making by committee. Should we worry?
That night we made pizza and watched a movie on the computer. What luxury!
Although the next morning was cool, we donned our wet suits for a final snorkel before hitting the nippier waters of NZ. One doesn't generally think of fish as cute, but the brilliant yellow spotted trunk fish we saw could not be described as anything but. It was less than 2 inches long with a stubby body and a large blocky head that looked like it had great big baby cheeks. We couldn't help but laugh as its disproportionately small fins fluttered rapidly like the wings of a humming bird, and we wondered how it could propel itself. We also saw an amazing Christmas Tree Worm collection. The gills of each of these worms, which are all you generally see, look like two little colourful Christmas trees beside each other. We've seen them as small as half a centimeter and up to 3 or 4 cm. Every worm has its own colour: red, pink, blue, brown, green, black, yellow, and white. Other than the fact that they look neat, when you flick your fingers near them they disappear with astonishing suddenness. The gills are retracted into the safety of the tubes where the body of the worm is. They aren't uncommon, but this tree farm was the most impressive for variety of size and colour that we had seen.
A few more passage preparations and we were ready for the last leg of the New Zealand quest. We felt rested and were excited to be on our way, as evidenced by the impromptu song and dance performed by Bjarne. The winds moved us along nicely and we were actually worried about going too fast and running into the low that was supposed to pass to the south of us. We didn't think too much about it, figuring we could always slow down later if we had to.
Supper that night was an interesting culinary experiment. We had a green papaya on board that would not ripen. Given the paucity of fresh food, we certainly didn't want to throw it away. Charlene, the woman we had toured around Niue with had mentioned that some of the Fijians make a curry with green papayas and coconut milk. With this extensive amount of information we proceeded to make our own version of this dish. It was surprisingly good.
By October 28th we gave in and dug out the foot wear, making us officially out of the tropics. Amazing what warm, dry feet will do for you.
October 29th brought lighter winds and weather information that the feared low would probably pass earlier and further to the south, meaning we should not be unduly affected.
October 30th: Excerpt from log written by Bjarne:
We began this fine Saturday with preparations for a moderately windy cold front, as predicted by Des @ Russel Radio and a slew of pulpit prognosticators. We diligently double reefed the main, observed some cloud moving in during a breakfast of pre-prepared muffins..., and then expectantly bobbed along at 3.5 kts, waiting for the 25 kt winds to kick in. Well they did back to NW and then later SW as forecast, but never today have they exceeded 15 kts, and most of the time they are less than 10 kts.... We are presently motoring to see if we can find some airs.
By late on the 30th, our slack and idle time was past. The wind became quite persnickety, just as Bjarne was trying to get some sleep. We were motoring when the wind finally picked up a bit. Preferring to avoid motoring, we hauled up the largest sail (genoa) and undid some of the reefing. Almost immediately we realized the wind was still increasing. The genoa came down and up went the working jib. This worked for about 20 minutes when the wind died again. Down came the foresail and on went the motor. Bjarne went back to bed until he was once again roused, this time to help reef. The wind had suddenly shifted at least 50 degrees and had increased dramatically in strength. Now we were heeled over, heading close to the wind and still not quite making the course we wanted. This continued on throughout the 31st, until the wind once again fickle-ified (yes, I know that's not a word but it seems appropriate). We reefed before night, which is the logical and safe thing so you don't have to do it in the dark, and naturally the winds gradually decreased. There we were, after midnight (in the dark) taking the reef out. The winds continued to lighten until we were wallowing around enough for me to resort to the engine. Sure enough, 15 minutes later the winds increased (engine OFF), and then 20 minutes later died again (engine ON). I then decided the engine was staying on until I was really sure the wind would stay put, and happily motored through the rest of my watch.
Bjarne celebrated Halloween by eating the last of his small chocolate bars that I had squirreled away when we left Victoria.
As more evidence of leaving the tropics, we were now wearing our wet weather gear and long underwear.
November 2nd. Highlights:
November 3rd. At 0700h NZ was clearly in sight. The newly risen sun highlighted the rugged coastline, reminding us of Nuku Hiva, although a bit less jagged and green. It was magical watching NZ gradually take shape as the morning light emerged. The view changed constantly as we moved closer, allowing us to discern more and more detail. The pace of change, after so many days, weeks, and even months of almost constant scenery, seemed almost frightening, and a part of me wondered if we could react fast enough. The sense of accomplishment and the beauty of the view was overwhelming and even brought tears to my eyes...well, just a little misting really:-)
By 1045h we were at the huge quarantine wharf at Opua, the last of a batch of about 13 boats arriving this day. NZ undergoes a bit of an onslaught during this time of year, as boaties like us descend upon it to avoid scary weather in the tropics. I tend to refer to these hordes as the Great Unwashed Masses. We had a bit of a wait before the officials arrived to confiscate our popcorn and beef jerky :-( We occupied ourselves by making the boat presentable, visiting with Moose and Tapasya, and discussing what kinds of food we wanted to eat when we were allowed on land. By 1500h we were deemed to be relatively harmless to New Zealand and allowed to proceed to the marina. Interestingly, the marina gives all new arrivals their first shower free. We figure self-preservation is their main motivator.
We adjusted to being stationary fairly well except for one incident during our first night at dock. We were sound asleep by 2130h. Around midnight we awoke to voices which sounded alarmingly close. What the heck was a boat doing so CLOSE to us!?! Bjarne hopped out of bed, took a few steps toward the companionway...and then sheepishly pointed out that we were at the dock. Oh. Right. I knew that. The rest of the night passed without any other near collisions.