Sunday, 8 November 2015

Final Journey to New Zealand

New Caledonia to New Zealand 21 October – 29 October 2015

This was always going to be the most challenging sail, 900 miles south east straight into the prevailing wind. The added complication is the weather systems that originate in Australia and come up the Tamsan Sea, across to New Zealand and then head north along the route we have to take. The weather fronts are coming every 3-4 days so we will have to take at least one on route and the advice is to be above 30 degrees south as they are much less ferocious.

We had been monitoring the weather for the previous week and Wednesday 21 October looked good – right up until Wednesday morning when the predicted NW wind did not materialise and we set off straight into a 25 knot SE wind. The forecast for the following two days was for light winds and so we decided to go – you can get stuck in Noumea waiting for the perfect weather window and never leave.

The first Leg to Norfolk Island - Wednesday 12 October to Saturday 24 October

The first 18 hours were very uncomfortable with waves continually crashing over the boat as we sailed close to the wind to head SE. If we had not been confident that the wind was going to change we would have gone back, but we battled on. At 11pm, at the end of my first night watch, Catherine took over and I went to go to bed. I found the aft heads under water and we spent the next 30 minutes bailing out the water with no obvious sign of where the water was coming from. I closed off all the seacocks in the area and exhausted I went to bed. Three hours later I was up for my second watch and we did not seem to have taken on any more water, helped by the fact that the wind had abated and the sea had calmed down.

With the wind dying, we were forced to motor but the motion of the boat was much more comfortable. The next day we had almost no wind and drizzle all day and it felt like sailing in England, particularly as the temperature had started to drop as we headed further south. We motored all day. The following day the wind was NW ahead of the next front coming through and we managed to sail with a poled out genoa for much of the day, arriving at Norfolk Island at 3pm in the afternoon.

Norfolk Island 24 – 25 October
Our first view of the Island

I was nervous about anchoring in Norfolk Island to wait out the coming front since the swell can reach 3m and therefore remaining at anchor is not possible. The supply ship that had arrived the previous week had to wait six days at anchor before they could unload their cargo before the swell calmed down. You hear many tales in Noumea about boats losing anchors, having to leave anchorage at night and people saying they would never anchor there again.  Only about 20 boats each year stop and anchor at Norfolk Island.

With the NW wind we anchored in Ball Bay in the south of the island in very pleasant conditions. The wind was not due to go South until the following morning when we would have to move anchorage. We could not go ashore because we had not cleared in (it is owned by Australia) but we enjoyed a restful afternoon at anchor and pleased for at least one night we would have a comfortable night.

Checking in at Customs
We moved round to the east to Cascade bay the next morning as the wind had turned south and we tucked into the shore to get out of the building swell. Again I was very pleasantly surprised to find a sheltered anchorage, pretty much out of the swell. We went ashore to meet the Customs and Immigration Officer who checked us in and out at the same time so we would not have to come ashore the next day to check out.

View from the highest point
The Customs Officer gave us a lift into the main town on the island and took us up to the highest  peak on route so we could get a good view of the whole island. She then dropped us into the town which was very small but with a surprisingly good array of shops and restaurants for 1500 inhabitants on the island. The island is only 5 miles wide by 6 miles long.

We wanted to go and see the Norfol Island museum and we hitched a ride to the south and spent a couple of hours in the museum which was very good. It told the story of Norfolk Island which had been used as a penal colony until 1860 when the islanders of Pitcairn were re-settled there and the penal colony closed down.

By 1860 there were 150 people living on Pitcairn, an island one square mile in the middle of the South Pacific, miles from anywhere. The original inhabitants were 12 of the crew from the Bounty who sailed to the island with their Tahitian wives and a group of other Tahitian men and women. The 12 crew chose Pitcairn because it was remote and were therefore unlikely to be caught after the mutiny on the Bounty – the other 12 stayed in Tahiti and were tracked down by the Navy and most were hanged – 3 were pardoned as they did not take part in the mutiny but could not joined Captain Bligh in his small craft set adrift by the mutineers as it was too small.

The old Penal Colony
Fletcher Christian (the first mate on the Bounty and leader of the mutiny) was among the crew who sailed to Pitcairn. The mutineers burnt the Bounty to ensure they would not be spotted by a passing ship and lived on the island. Fights started to break out over the women and within a decade only one of the mutineers survived, John Adams – all the rest were murdered in fights and squabbles. By 1860, the number of descendants had reached 150 on an impossibly small island and Queen Victoria agreed to let them live on Norfolk Island after the closure of the penal colony. This kept the island populated and hence under British rule.

The main harbour - pretty rough out there
One of many picturesque bays
The island turned to tourism as their main source of income after
many failed attempts at other industries, including whaling which survived a long time but died out as other sources of oil were discovered elsewhere. For the last 50 years, Norfolk Island has been a tourist destination for people from New Zealand and Australia. Many of the people living there are descendants of the original mutineers and very proud of it. It is a very beautiful island with stunning scenery and is very well kept.

Original 1860 house
Original 1860 house
On the way back we hitched a lift and were picked up by a lady whose husband had been one of the direct descendants from Pitcairn and she still lived in one of the original houses. As we had only one day on the island, she took us on a tour of the bays and tourist sights before taking us back to her house for tea. It was a very enjoyable afternoon and we learnt a lot about life and the people.

She dropped us back at the dinghy dock at 7pm and we took our dinghy back to the boat. By this time the swell had come into the bay and the boat rocked violently making it very difficult to get back on the boat. The swell was forecast to increase making anchoring anywhere in Norfolk Island dangerous so we would have to leave the next day (which we had planned to do anyway). A quick engine check revealed that we had taken on a small amount of water into the engine compartment but nothing serious.

The Final Leg Monday 26 October – Thursday 29 October

The next weather front was due across the top of New Zealand at 8am in three days’ time and we had to cover the 410 miles to the North Cape before that time. The forecast was for 35-40 knot winds with 4.5 metre seas north of the cape by 8am on Thursday. Once inside the cape, we could cover the remaining 80 miles to Opua (our point of entry into New Zealand) in the shelter of the island with much lower wind speeds and wave heights. Not getting there by 8am to the North Cape was not an option we wanted to contemplate.

The forecast winds on the Monday morning of 10-12 knots from the south turned out to be 25 knots from the SE with steep waves. Another 24 hours of crashing into waves and sailing well off our course to New Zealand. It was slow going into the wind and we were not even going in right direction! After the first day I checked the bilges and found significant amount of water in the engine compartment. We bailed out 6 gallons of water! We were also making very slow progress towards New Zealand and would have to cover 150 miles for the remaining two days – something we could not do unless the wind changed.

The second day (Tuesday) was light southerly winds which allowed us to head directly for New Zealand and we continued to motor sail. By 2am, the water in the engine compartment was again getting serious and I rigged up an electric bilge pump which would enable us to keep the engine compartment clear of any water. I already had the fittings in place and it was just a matter of installing all the components. Thirty minutes later we had the bilge pump in and working – just shows what you can do when you need to even at 2am in the morning.

With the full sails up and the engine on we were making 7 knots which gave us some confidence that we had a chance to get into the shelter of the cape before 8am on Thursday.  On the Wednesday the wind started going round to the NW ahead of the coming front (as expected) and with full sails and the motor on we were doing 8.5 knots. Burning diesel was a better option than being caught out in the weather front so we kept motoring until 2am when we were doing over 10 knots with a 30 knots wind. At this time I was comfortable that we could make the cape well before 8am and we switched off the engine and sailed the rest of the way, reaching the cape at 3am – just 5 hours ahead of the weather front.

For the first time in three days we could relax and even the rain associated with the front and the expected thunderstorms were not a worry for the last leg of the journey. In the event, the predicted thunderstorms did not arrive until after we had tied up at the Q dock (quarantine dock where boats stay until they have cleared customs, immigration and quarantine checks). What a relief to be secure on a berth – the weather could do what it liked then.

Before we could open our first beer, customs and immigration boarded us and cleared us within 15 minutes. Twenty minutes later quarantine came aboard and went through the whole boat, including the fridge, freezer, lockers and bilges to check everything – NZ are very hot on this. Within an hour of arriving we were cleared and had a berth allocated in the marina and were free to go ashore.

We celebrated our arrival with a bottle of champagne after a nail biting few days and pleased to have got through the sail to New Zealand relatively unscathed. We headed to the yacht club to meet up with our friends from other boats for more drinks and fish and chips for dinner.  Slept well that night!
Opua is the centre of sailing in this part of New Zealand with hundreds of boats here. It is very picturesque reminding us of maybe Cornwall but with very few houses, cars and people here. The weather is cold at night (we are back to wearing jeans and fleeces at night) and warm in the sunshine during the day. It can also be cold during the day when a weather front comes through and you get a cold wind straight from the Antarctic.  

There is not much in Opua apart from marine service companies and chandlers but you can buy anything here and get any type of work done. We have spent the first five days here sorting out the boat, fixing things, replacing the VHF and arranging for work to be done – mainly the rigging ( I found a broken strand on the rigging just before we left Noumea) and the water leak into the aft heads and the engine compartment. It will mean lifting out the boat but it will be a relief to get all this fixed. 

And then we can start enjoying New Zealand for the next 6 months!

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