The Weather and Where to Next

Mike and Liz Downing
Wed 20 Oct 2010 10:44
The weather here is not good - almost 2 weeks of rain, heat and high humidity. It's reminiscent of Trinidad in the rainy season. It's not supposed to be quite like this at this time of year, but it looks like the summer/rainy season has come a few weeks early. The trouble is that there is a thing called the South Pacific Convergence Zone and it's moved south to reach Tonga. It normally resides from PNG to Samoa and is like the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (the Doldrums). You get very little wind unless in squalls, lots of cloud, rain, thunder and lightning. The trade winds have disappeared!

Having read through all the pages of official procedures for checking into Fiji we have decided that it's too much hassle and too much of a risk for a stay of only a week or so. Also the weather west has been worse than here - even wetter and more squally with higher winds. Boats going west to Australia have not found it very pleasant! We had planned to use Fiji jut as a stepping stone to get 400 miles or so further west before departing for New Zealand, but we've now decided to leave for NZ from here. It makes it a longer passage (by about 200 miles, giving a total distance of about 1400 miles), but, it will give us longer here. Should the sun ever come out again, it's a lovely place to be. We also know where everything is for provisioning etc. before we go.

The weather is very important on the passage to NZ. Highs and lows are constantly coming off the south coast of Australia in a steady stream heading east across NZ and the southern ocean. The highs are good, but the lows can be quite vicious and hit you hard on the nose (from the south west). Most books suggest that you can expect at least one gale on the passage. The aim is to time the passage to leave on a high, take the next low above 30 degrees south (generally the further north you are the less the impact), and arrive on the next high.

The weather is the big topic at the moment as everyone is planning their route. It's not helped by the fact that currently a strong La Nina is taking place. It was a reasonably strong El Niño at the beginning of the year - the sea temperatures were higher than normal. La Nina is when the temperature of the central Pacific Ocean cools more than normal. One of the results is warmer than normal sea temperatures in the Coral Sea around Australia and more cyclones in that area. So there's talk of an early start to the cyclone season (it officially starts in November, but it's rare for them to appear much before mid December) and that's making everyone a little bit jittery!

Like a lot of boats, we've signed up with the All Points Rally. Boats will be leaving from Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia (over 1100 miles to the west) around the beginning of November. There is no official start, everyone leaves when they feel comfortable. The Rally is free, but there are parties at the other end (Opua in NZ) and a trade/boat show of sorts starting around the 20th November. The organisers aim is to get as many boat people to Opua for this as they can (they know we've all got things to fix, things to improve and a huge wish list of new equipment!). The Rally is supposed to arrange weather forecasts and operate a net, so we hope it's worth joining in for that and the social side the other end in Opua.

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