Lydia Down Under

Out of Minerva Reef, into the Southern Ocean. Green light from weather
router Metbob, the low to the South is almost past, head Southwest to begin
with and curve round the top of the new high until heading due South on the
rhumbline for NZ. I weighed at 09.30 and several of us went out through the
gap in the reef at close intervals, David Mitchell in the other Bowman close
behind me. He crept slowly past me, then I caught up as the wind freshened,
then he pulled away further East heading for Tauranga. We kept in SSB
contact three times a day for the whole voyage, which was amusing and
reassuring. Why did he creep past me? He has one less fuel tank and one less
water tank than me, and no generator. If I wish to be kind to myself, I say
that his is the lighter boat.
The weather followed Metbob's forecast. To begin with there were 3m swells,
rolling up from the gale to the South, but they weren't uncomfortable and
reduced as the wind backed and moderated, then to be replaced by a shorter
confused sea which was unfriendly for a day or two. Daily mileages were a
satisfactory 149, 142, 153, 155. Then the high became established, the wind
faded, and we were motor-sailing for the rest of the voyage. I'm not
complaining, the run between Minerva and Opua is Bomb Alley, and we got away
with it lightly.
The only technical disappointment was the generator, which closed itself
down on the second day with the engine heat alarm glowing. I changed the
impeller, it didn't need it. I suspect an electrical problem, either the
sender or the control board, that seems to be the way with Fischer Panda. It
will need to be looked at in Opua, but in the meantime I was using the main
engine anyway so the batteries were being charged. Something I will
investigate in Opua is the installation of solar panels, all the other boats
in these parts swear by them, and we can't be at the mercy of a
temperamental generator when ocean sailing.
There wasn't a lot to see. David, who knows about these things, reckons that
he saw a juvenile albatross, a long way North for the time of year. I saw
numerous terns, and just one pod of dolphins. We're out of season for whales. When a couple of hundred miles out
we crossed the underwater Devonport Seamount Chain which feeds into the
volcanic ranges in NZ, and in which the depth changes from 3833m to 884m
within a couple of miles. It's weird to think that you're cruising over an
underwater Matterhorn.
Timing was unfortunate in that we approached the coast as darkness fell, the
first sight of land being the lighthouse on Cavali Island at 22.5 miles. The
Pacific Crossing Guide puts its finger on it, suddenly in NZ you are back in
civilisation, there are lighthouses that work and buoys that are actually
lit. I even had a fishing boat close by, the first time that I've had to
consider collision avoidance since leaving Raiatea. Then we were into the
Bay of Islands. I stopped the boat in Pomane Bay on a very dark night to
drop the sails and get the lines and fenders out. Then into the Veronica
Channel under engine and up river to Opua in the rain and in cooler
conditions than we've known for a while, a stiff Northerly wind beginning to
build. We berthed at the Customs Wharf in Opua at 05.00. Half an hour later
it started to get light, that would have helped! One of the Minerva boats
got in just ahead of me, two just after me, and there were a dozen Q flags
awaiting the start of the Customs day at 09.00.
Customs were a good introduction to NZ and such a contrast to some of their
counterparts elsewhere: friendly, welcoming, but no nonsense and efficient.
My remaining fruit and veg was confiscated of course by Biodiversity, plus a
jar of honey and some other bits. I tried to get them to confiscate
Matthew's jars of mayonnaise and tins of pasta sauce, but no luck. They
weren't interested in Nigel's strawberry jam either. By 12.00 all boats were
done and we moved into cosy berths in the marina.
The distance covered was 271 miles from Tonga to Minerva, and 830 miles
Minerva to Opua. That's like sailing from Lymington to Gibraltar with a stop
at Brest. But the currency in the Pacific is different, 1000 miles is
considered to be a hop and a skip.
The total distance from Raiatea was 2562 miles. Thierry, the engineer at
Raiatea who is an experienced single-hander, said to me that single-handing
is an interesting challenge, "mais on est quand-meme content d'arriver".
Hear hear. I'm glad to have done it, I'm glad to know that I can do it, and
I will undoubtedly do it again. But I shan't miss the monotony...and the
lack of exercise. Going for a morning run in Opua has been like drinking
champagne. And now the boat, which has performed exceptionally well, needs
some maintenance and tidying up. For the record, I still have half my fuel capacity since topping up in Raiatea, and we're on the same cooking-gas cylinder since the Galapagos. I look forward to going home for
Christmas, then coming back out, with Nicola, for what promises to be a
terrific cruising ground.
Best wishes to all, Donald.