Went to clear customs and what I thought to be a long 10 minute walk turned into about 50 minutes. I had left the map on the boat so when I was almost there I sought directions from a passer-by. He didn't speak English and did not understand 'Douanes'. When I showed him a passport he wanted to send me to a bank so I gave up on him and we parted as friends. I next sought help from a receptionist. After a while spent conversing in my limited French I realised that she spoke English so that helped. However I must have been here too long because all my responses were in French - c'est la vie! Non? I cleared customs, then another 10 minute walk to Immigration (the grumpy man again) and the Port Captain. Did a small amount of shopping (present for Joy), checked the weather map (nothing sinister) and departed for New Zealand after paying Carol at the marina for our berth. She has been helpful in many ways. Mike and Sandra DULCIBELLA were there to see us off. Glenn left the ship and Donn Donnelley joined Wayne Troughton and me. Donn's wife, Jan was also quayside. Glenn took a parting video shot and we motored to the fuel berth. I had decided that with a big high coming off Australia that fuel was more important than spare water so we filled the spare water containers with diesel at NZ$1-40 per litre compared to New Zealand price of $0-47. There's 1147 miles to go to 'A' Buoy at the Tauranga Harbour Entrance. Some of those miles we have to fight for. Until 1100 hours it had been flat calm but as we departed at midday the breeze came up. We exited the Petite Rade then the wind was on the nose all the way to the Amedee Light. We could have gone out through the Dumbea Pass but I'm going to the Amedee lighthouse. It is one more of the goals I have set for this trip. It took over 1 1/2 hours under motor to clear the Ile Maitre light only 3 1/2 miles from Noumea. After 6 miles we were able to raise the storm jib and make faster progress. Another yacht left 1/4 mile in front of us and they tacked all the way out arriving 2 miles ahead of us but it looked hard work. There was a very short sharp sea and the boat pitched horribly. She doesn't sail well in those conditions. It took 4 hours to go 12 miles to the light. We put 3 reefs in the main and raised it as we went out the pass. The transit is very straightforward with both markers being white. The green vegetation behind the front one makes any deviation from the track very obvious. There was quite a tidal influence going out the pass. Also 2 wrecks on the N side of the entrance bear testimony to intemperate navigation. Outside the reef the short sharp seas continued but at least we could sail. I was seasick fairly soon after leaving the light and continued vomiting each end of my watch for the next 30 hours. I was outwardly cheerful though, as usual. Donn also had a touch of the dreaded lurgy. He too remained cheerful. He is really good crew. At 1800 hours we changed up to the No4 but at nightfall we were down again to the storm jib. Still with 3 reefs in the main we made painfully slow progress overnight. The log shows that for the first 24 hours our top speed was 5 knots but the norm was about 2.2 knots.
The 1.5 metre swell continued to drop but the chop was still very confused and uncomfortable. We had done the right thing in leaving on the back of a low pressure system but it didn't feel the best yet. Donn was also sick but we're all standing watch still which is good. Spoke to SUNSET QUEST on the morning sked. It is a comfort to have other contacts whilst at sea. John Goater's presence is of great emotional and psychological benefit. He's a real friend to all. At 1500 hours we changed from the storm jib up to the No4 and at 1800hours we shook the reefs out of the main (all times are NZST). When we put the No4 up our speed went from 4.4 to 7.1 knots. Donn got a top speed of 8.7 knots (GPS) and the boat didn't appear stressed. At the start of my night watch I spied a light off the starboard bow on a constant heading which indicates a collision course. I tried calling him but got no response. After an anxious hour he disappeared below the horizon off the starboard quarter. Just before the end of my watch a boat, presumably the same one, appeared from the starboard quarter. Again he was on a collision course. Called him again but again there was no response. I put on the foredeck light so it lit up the sails and shone the torch directly at him. I even got the flares out but he then veered off to port and disappeared over the horizon.
The breeze has slowly been dropping but our speed has still been around 6 knots. The sky cleared this morning then became overcast again. In my mental survey of the boat this morning I found myself saying 'This is the day the autohelm broke'. One hour later the nipple under the tiller sheared off! Using good old Kiwi ingenuity, Wayne and I drilled another hole and rigged a makeshift nipple which should last until we get home. Donn was not able to help with the repairs as he was steering. Just after the motor had been run to charge the batteries a squall came through and left us rolling uncomfortably. We motored for a while then it returned at 18-20 knots SE so we have been doing 7-8 knots towards home. Donn and I are both over our seasickness. Today is the first day we have eaten anything much. I have been sucking from a condensed milk can for the past couple of days which is my usual practice when seasick. We spied a ship on the W horizon heading N but again no response on the radio. I'm homesick and in love. Can't wait to hold Joy again and tell her I love her. Just on dark Wayne caught a 47 inch mahi-mahi (c.f. my 48 inch one on the way to Makongai). His fish wasn't as big and I have been teasing him about this. It is still a very creditable size. He was a little put out when I made him gut it too. Spoke with Tony just before John's sked. On the sked I made enquiries about calling in to Norfolk Island tomorrow. In the end we decided not to visit as someone would have to stay with the boat and by the time clearance in and out had been made the visit would have been too short. Progressively reefed sails. Hit 9.7 knots with double reefed main and No4. Sailed overnight with just a double reefed main. Midday to midday 162 miles. Some spectacular meteorite activity tonight with one landing just over the horizon to the E.
At 0300 hours we raised the storm jib too then at 0700 hours lowered both sails and raised the No1. Spoke with Malcolm SUNSET QUEST on the morning sked. Homesick. We make our first turn tomorrow morning - left - then only a right turn and we're home. Midday run 140 miles. 'LAND HO' was the cry. We sighted land about 12-15 miles off the port beam at 1800 hours followed shortly afterwards by 'THAR SHE BLOWS' when I saw the spume from a whale several times about 400 metres away. Didn't see the whale but I finally got to make the time-honoured call. I told John about the whale. He asked if we were calling at Norfolk Island and I said 'No, and the whale isn't either.' I think he liked that one. He also said it's OK to turn right around North Cape if the traffic lights are on our side. We made our left turn at 2020 hours. After dark we picked up the light on Norfolk Island so turned back onto our S course for several hours to ensure clearance around the shoal area S of the island. When we finally turned towards North Cape I decided to abort the waypoint 50 miles S. This caused a cross track error of 118 miles with the waypoints being off Amedee light and North Cape. The traditional course is to head due S from New Caledonia with the SE trades and wait until the SW winds come up the Tasman sea before turning for North Cape. However the winds instead of turning SW were backing to the NE. Who wants cold winds when warm winds are available? The water temperature this afternoon was 22°C. Two hours later it was 20°C. Don’t go to Norfolk Island for hot water. Also by heading due S instead of taking a direct line from New Caledonia to North Cape one look at the chart will show constant depth rather than grossly variable depth leading to rougher, more turbulent seas. The direct route, for example has a depth of 236 metres followed just a few miles later by 1695 metres whereas the dog-leg route has fairly consistent depths of around 3000 metres. Just before dark we had another strike but we lost the fish. Shortly afterwards the rear starboard support for the sunroof broke so we furled the sunroof around its front support bar. After dark we saw the lights of several planes. There was also some meteorite activity, but not as much as last night.
Donn took several loads of green water into the cockpit during his watch; I took one. I saw it coming so ducked my head so my wet weather gear took the impact. I was just congratulating myself on dodging it when I realised that my elbows were awash. Cold water drained back down my arms. I have shoes on for warmth. I haven't worn shoes since the 5th May. They feel funny. They're soaking wet because we've just gone from storm jib to No4 and I was on the bow. We still have two tucks in the main. Just on daybreak I watched an albatross for 5 minutes. It flew for the entire time without flapping its wings - really beautiful to watch. Saw a ship hull down on the horizon moving NW. We're humming along at 7-8 knots and its quite uncomfortable with a short chop (Donn calls it a Waitemata chop). I'm looking for speed (safely) as I Don’t like this area of the ocean. I have just told the crew that this next 300 miles is the part of the voyage I have been dreading since I began planning the voyage. They thought I was joking. The swell is only 1 1/2 metres. By this time tomorrow it will have risen to 3 to 5 metres. It was around here that the QUARTERMASTER was lost with all hands in the June '94 storm. The last 300 miles before North Cape has a fearsome reputation. Spoke to Malcolm on the morning sked. He said we've got this high for another day or so. It's good being able to access someone's weather fax. There's a low and a front peeling off Tasmania. I'd like to be around North Cape before they arrive. He's invited Joy and I to his 50th birthday party in Sydney, next March 19. I told the crew that I have 5 aims for this trip: viz
1. To arrive
3. with crew intact
4. with boat intact
Wayne and I had some mahi-mahi for tea. The weather has turned rough and my fish and corn kept falling off the plate onto the floor so I ate some of it from there. Donn said he wished he had the camera handy so he could have taken a photo. Donn is not keen on eating any of the tuna family as he reacts to it. We past some flotsam this morning and when the line passed near it we got a strike so we dropped the jib and immediately lost the fish. Spoke to Brian on WINDERMERE II tonight. We have 236 miles to go to North Cape and they have 200 so a race is on. In the night during a sail change I noticed that one of our water containers containing diesel is leaking. We'll assess it in the light of day. Going to the toilet in any sort of seaway would be hilarious to watch as removing clothing in a confined space is likely to involve bumping the door open. Once one is settled on the seat with one leg up the wall, one on the floor, and hands widely spaced on the walls, one then endeavours to relax. Just when action is imminent the boat lurches unexpectantly and the body tenses. It is important for the crew to have no problem with bowel habits. If constipation is a problem for one person it can jeopardise the entire voyage. I always tell the crew that if their bowels don’t open for 2 days that is their problem but if they don’t open for 3 days it becomes my problem. As eating habits often change dramatically at sea it is noteworthy for any skipper to be aware of the problems.
Malcolm was unreadable this morning, probably because he's in Port Moselle. TEMARAIRE relayed for me. Snapped the outhaul but it's repaired now. Our 24 hour run to midday was 177 miles. This is our best ever and that's with double reefed main and the storm jib. An uncomfortable day with several sail changes. The tiller arm connection on the autohelm is bent way out of shape but is still functioning. For how long we don’t know but it's giving its best so I can't ask for more than that. The sky is overcast. The swell this morning is a steep 3-5 metres and we took a few into the cockpit. It's not the 4 metre swell but the 1/2 metre slop on top which gets us. Water temperature is 18°C. Saw a large pod of small dolphins this afternoon but they were heading away from us. There are at least 4 yachts - us, WINDERMERE II, RAMONA and SEA SALTER converging on North Cape from various northern climes, so I've warned the crew to maintain good vigilance. Not that I have any complaints with them. They are very willing to pull their weight and we are still harmonious. Tonight Donn's food lurched over his T-shirt so I took a photo before he recovered. Cooking at sea can be hazardous. Tonight it took three people to cook and dish it up - one to serve the meal, one to hold the server and one to hold the plate. It must look funny but it is real teamwork. We've had the No4 up since 1100 hours. Our speed is consistently over 6 knots. On the evening sked I found that we have taken 60 miles out of WINDERMERE II. I tried contacting them after the sked but I think they knew that so they didn't answer.
Very disturbed night, very rolly and lumpy seas. Skies have been leaden for the last couple of days. Today we were visited briefly by a small pod of dolphins. Saw 8 gannets together resting on the water which is interesting. I don’t think I've ever seen that many together on the water, they are either on the wing in very small numbers or on land en masse. The autohelm bracket broke at 0300 hours so from here we're hand steering all the way home. We're down to 2 hour watches now to make it easier. At 1000 hours heard a gale warning for the Cape on Far North Radio. Ch16. At midday we passed the first waypoint since Amedee light and 1/2 hour later Donn sighted land. I've been singing 'Land on the starboard bow, starboard bow, starboard bow' since then, and I think it's driving the crew crazy. Still we did miss out on our Saturday night concert. 'It's land, Jim, but not as we know it'. Took some photos of distant land. Rippled sky. Not many people get to see North Cape from this angle so we feel quite privileged. Since midday yesterday we've been under No4 alone but still peeled 155 miles off the distance in 24 hours. I think I've won all but one of the distance-run guesses. Guess I know my boat. Contacted Far North Radio to find where the gale is coming from so we can position the boat to best advantage. It's a front with 30-35 knots N-NW winds and 2 metre seas. Pretty much what we've been having for the past 300 miles except for the wind. Still they should help us on our way. We have North Cape abeam at 1500 hours so we're sheltered from W seas. We will put up the storm jib at the first sign of strong winds. I have been trying to contact Tauranga Coastguard since we left Noumea and today I got Far North Radio to relay a message to Joy for me. Tauranga came through a few hours later to say that Joy would call tonight at 1755 hours NZ Daylight saving time. (1655 our time). Wayne wanted to change the clock by an hour but we haven't because that would have shortened his watch by an hour. The barometer is steadily dropping - 4 points in 4 hours so it looks as though we'll get plastered. Well before dark we had everything lashed down securely. The wind was gusting 22 knots which is fairly normal but the seas are becoming very irregular. I have been in bigger seas but I Don’t think I've ever been in rougher seas. The swells seem to be coming from about three different directions. They are all about 2 1/2 metres, but when they meet, the boat may go up 2 1/2 metres or 7 1/2 metres. There is no predicting the motion, and down below it is quite uncomfortable. Must be the influence of the Cape. Early in the evening we heard that a yacht, TOTAL BLISS, was on the rocks at Manganui Heads. They called for assistance which was given by SIMPLY RED and NINE CAT. There is a totally different feel to a rescue when you too are at the mercy of the elements compared to sitting safely at home. After several hours they managed to pull it off with no apparent major damage. My watch was from 1900 to 2100 hours. I had great difficulty staying awake. Although it was well after sundown the sky remained fairly light. I was concerned at my tiredness until I realised that before any big event in my life; be it a big game of basketball in my younger days, or an exam I would always feel sleepy and I could often fall asleep. I used to worry about oversleeping into the event but never have. I realised that I was mentally and physically preparing for the rough night. I was glad when my watch ended. The ships log records the poignant 'cold, wet, miserable, but tomorrow's coming!' There is an air of expectation on board but not of fear. Right at the end of his watch Wayne yelled out 'OH NO!' I had been asleep in my bunk but was immediately alert. The boat lurched one way and then the other. Then there was a loud 'sploosh' as a wave broke over him. I knew that he was safe so I left it a minute to collect himself before looking outside. He had not been splashed....he had been bathed. The water was still well over ankle deep in the cockpit. Again the log states 'Ditto and the last wave always gets ya'. I then slept well, so well that I slept 1/2 an hour into my watch. I have never done that before. Donn was so cold and the rain was so heavy. He said he had been too scared to look at the clock in case only 1/2 hour of his watch had gone by. I was grateful for the rest. It was his job to wake me anyway. I did feel sorry for him suffering at my expense though. I checked our position on the GPS and confirmed that we were 18-20 miles offshore before taking the helm. The exact distance was not important. Suffice to know that we were not going to run ashore. I had just taken over the helm and Donn hadn't had time to get to his bunk in the front cabin when I saw what I initially thought was a village with all its lights on, emerging out of the heavy rain. Then I saw a red light and a green light and realised that it was a ship heading straight towards us from a distance of about 1/3 mile. I yelled for Donn to take the helm. We were moving across its path at about 2 1/2 knots with just our storm jib up. It was probably about 30,000 tonnes bearing down on us at about 27 knots. With Donn at the helm I tried contacting her on Ch16. There was no response. I grabbed the torch and a flare and went back up into the cockpit. Wayne turned on the foredeck light. I shone a torch at the bridge - again with no response. Next I started to unwrap the flare but by this time I realised that she was going to pass just behind us so didn't fire the flare. People have subsequently asked me what the name of the vessel was. I reply that I had other things on my mind at the time. I did not even recall seeing the flag on the stern. All I know was that it was a container ship, that it was bigger than us and that we were still alive. Awakened memories of the Sleaven family being run down several years ago only 20 miles further S. (3 out of 4 people died). Ships set their radar to see other large ships, but not little yachts, then they head for bed. With the rough conditions I doubt they would have picked us up on radar anyway. If they had hit us they probably would not have felt a thing so would have been unaware of our plight. The remainder of the watch passed peacefully apart from the rough sea and the wind which rarely got over 25 knots. It was a nervous skipper who had stood the watch though.
In the morning we increased the sail area, swapping the storm jib for the No 1 and raising the full main. It seems strange that following a supposed gale and with the trip almost over we finally had all possible canvas aloft. The mist quickly cleared and we saw a ship to seaward and a yacht heading in to the Bay of Islands. The maritime authority had gale warnings out for most of New Zealand. Shortly afterwards we were becalmed off Cape Brett. After breakfast we dropped the sails and resorted to motor until we reached the Hen and Chickens. The swell was 1 ½ metres and easing. Inside the Poor Knights we passed a basking shark but Wayne didn’t want to try catching it. There’s a wind warning out for the outer Hauraki Gulf 25 knots W gusting 35 knots and at 1730 hours it arrived. I tried to raise WINDERMERE 11 to ask them how to tack because when we raised the sails they were on the opposite side to what we have had for the entire leg so far, but they didn’t answer. We had stopped the motor and with all sails up were cruising but we quickly reefed to 2 folds in the main and the No4 jib. We rushed to do it before the radio sked. On the sked we heard that WINDERMERE 11 was 70 miles behind us and motoring in the calm. We really hummed along. It was my last sked with John so I thanked him. Words seem so inadequate to express my gratitude. The wind continued at about 17 knots and our GPS course took us inside Great Barrier missing Horn Rock by 3 miles and The Pigeons by 1 ½ miles. Navigating after dark was easy with the GPS and the lighthouses but I was awake to help Wayne through the difficult parts. Once out from behind the protection of Little Barrier the swell and the wind increased and we creamed along at 7 plus knots. I took over the helm just past Channel Island light. The wind was coming from the starboard quarter. We had gradually lightening winds and Donn pointed out a ship approaching Channel light from Auckland. Once around the light it headed towards us so I radioed to him but as usual, got no reply. Don't any ships monitor Ch16? Again I put on the foredeck light to show up the sails and shone my torch towards him. This is considered bad etiquette because it takes away the watchman's night vision but if he's not going to talk to me I am not going to be frightened by an insult. He signalled us with a torch so at least he is aware of our presence. There is another ship approaching from the E and the ex-Auckland one passed between us. At the end of my watch I reluctantly woke Donn and we shook out the reefed main and changed the No4 for the No1. Wayne had a difficult time of clawing back 3/4 mile cross-track error in 12 miles to avoid putting in another tack. We had a preventer on the main and the 12 knot breeze was almost from dead astern so it made it hard for him but all credit to him in managing. It was annoying hearing the jib sheet car banging but I managed to sleep well. On Donn's watch he was joined by some dolphins which played around the starboard side before departing.
I emerged just after daybreak when we were off Old Man Rock. We motor sailed across Mercury Bay as far as Slipper Island. I tried contacting Malcolm on SUNSET QUEST and he tried contacting us. In the end Christine on TEMARAIRE relayed for us. SUNSET QUEST is heading for Sydney via Brisbane today. Five minutes before the sked we had a strike so the others reeled it in while I used the radio. It was a barracuda so they let it go. The breeze came in so we stopped the motor which also helped the radio and reeling in the fish. However the breeze was short-lived so we lowered the sails and motored. I contacted Tauranga Coastguard with our ETA. Off Whangamata the breeze came back again so we raised the sails but had to tack twice before the wind settled into the SW. Tacking was difficult because
a) We had the cutter rig up which involved taking the jib around the long way, and
b)we hadn't tacked since leaving Noumea, and
c)we had forgotten how.
The breeze only increased gradually to 17-18 knots. I called Coastguard again to update my ETA when we were off Waihi Beach. I also had a bucket shower at this time (on the seaward side of the boat). The water temperature was 15°C. The crew decided to defer their ablutions until they were on land but I did set a good example; a pity they didn't respond. It was certainly refreshing and crazy.
The definition of a good crew is one which doesn't belittle the skipper and is also able to rescue the situation without the skipper suffering undue embarrassment when he does something silly. This crew filled the requirements nobly. It was turning into a grey day and it was only when we passed on the inside of Karewa Island that both Joy and Trevor Troughton were able to spot us from their respective homes. We were the only yacht around. Joy waited at home for the Coastguard to phone her while Trevor and Kay went down to the Mount to see us come through the entrance. The wind increased to over 29 knots giving us a speed of 7.3 knots. At A Buoy I made my final call to the Coastguard requesting Customs, MAF and Immigration clearance. They immediately phoned Joy who came down to the marina to greet us. Tony from the marina also called to welcome us home. Home - it brings a tear to the eye. I had often dreamed about returning through the entrance after my overseas trip. The feeling of fulfilment cannot be described. I have achieved something more than just the trip. It is not a matter of showing others. That is not important to me, but I have led a successful campaign safely to its conclusion. We made very good speed as we came through the entrance and that added to the feelings of pleasure. My parents were with Laura around the Mount track almost to the beacon on NW rock. We waved and they waved. Trevor and Kay were about 100 metres further S. Trevor was videoing our entrance. Unfortunately he only got about 15 seconds before the battery ran out. As we sailed past Pilot Bay we saw them speeding along the waterfront to get to the marina before us. We finally dropped the sails just off the Tauranga wharf and were met by Tony in his inflatable with Joy and Susannah on board. They escorted us into the marina and saw us safely berthed. There to greet us were about 20 people. It was a real blessing to see so many friends and relations welcoming us home.
'Home is the hunter, home from the hills,
And the sailor home from the sea.'
Robert Louis Stevenson.