Early morning winding incident over the Cook Fracture Zone.
Not that the ocean floor layout had anything to do with it. Darkness prevailed when Rob woke me to help with some urgent reefing. He pulled in on the genoa reefing line as I let out the sail to give him some purchase. I then started winding the genoa back in. Then as he came across the cockpit to lend me a hand he accidentally knocked the beaker of cold water out of the holder infront of the wheel and neatly down my back and on downward as gravity dictated.
“Sorry love”, he said and I was believing him until he laid a cold wet hand in the same area. It was the last night warm enough to be sleeping virtually naked after that not only were we wearing tshirt and leggings but needed the blankets to be warm enough to drop off to sleep.
By the morning Zoonie was taking on 25knot squalls so we altered course to go further west and delay meeting a low pressure front that was racing to the same spot as us.
We thought we would heave to (set Zoonie so the foresail was sheeted to windward effectively stopping her so all she would do was drift harmlessly and gently no matter how strong the wind) if we arrived at the waypoint too early, so Rob hanked the storm sail onto the baby stay on the foredeck in readiness.
As it happened the winds were predictable, the barometer barely dropped two millibars and there was no significant increase in the seastate so we had a shallow Low and decided to use it. This was a low to be ridden on and not hidden from.
We spent the morning ferry gliding down the arm of the low pressure front while I baked lime drizzle cake and flapjacks. Got to use up the banned produce before NZ! Rob took some links out of his watch as it was too big for him either from loss of weight or the Tongan heat. I sewed up the back seam of my leggings so no more starry nights there!
The wind was due to back to the north west and then south west as the High Pressure system became established. But the weather down here can be as unpredictable as at home and the highs and lows change speed and direction. Also secondary intense little lows can develop off the back edge of a passing low and this is what happened next.
During that night the wind backed to the north west so we jibed and progress was good until around 5.30am the next morning when the wind suddenly started to rise. Rob went forward to hoist the storm sail as the gusts were reaching 25+ knots. The barometer had dropped an alarming 11 millibars during the second half of the night.
As I watched from the cockpit standing astride the seats clutching the sprayhood bar Rob hauled away on the halyard. I glanced at the starboard sheet, it had come out of the block and was flying free with no knot on the end. The sheets are new and very soft, the knot must have worked to the end of the sheet with the violence of the wind. Unbelievably quickly it was creating its own bizarre knot as it was flung around in the wind and I feared for Rob’s head if it should make contact. I yelled the predicament to him so he quickly lowered the sail again and tried to undo the knot.
It was so tight it appeared impossible to do, so he came back to the cockpit,
“We’ll have to use the genoa,”
“We can’t, it won’t heave to with the baby stay in the way, you have to undo it,” so back along the side deck he crawled, moving his lifeline forward as he went. Rob sat astride the foredeck as Zoonie pitched and rolled. He looked as he might have been aged two or three playing with building blocks on the living room carpet.
A few strenuous minutes on and the sheet was undone and re-fed through the block and into the cockpit, this time with a longer tail after the knot. We were glad to be protecting the genoa by furling it tightly home, too good a sail to risk in the winds that now exceeded 40 knots. The stormsail was up and pulling well but the motion was so uncomfortable we decided to heave to and all of a sudden Zoonie settled and the strain of her gear seemed so much lighter since she was not trying to make progress through the water.
Our track looked odd on the chartplotter. A definite kink, like a retrousse nose, showed where we met the secondary low. A line wiggling south showed our path as we tried to deal with it. Then a line back towards Tonga showed Zoonie being pushed gently sideways at a rate of 1.5 miles per hour for 7 hours. After that we started sailing again but the direction was west, since the wind was coming from our destination. At last, later that evening the wind veered west of south and we able to tack and sail a mere 40 degrees from our desired course.
The wind continued to veer during the night and by morning Zoonie was speeding along on course. Rob and I sat below on the settee watching waves breaking right over her, it was like being in a carwash. I wished we could detach ourselves and fly around her like the seabirds, she must have looked fantastic ploughing through the not too rough seas with white veils of seawater flying her entire length. She made her own generous bow waves and wash but would be hit on both sides of her bow by waves that would create big thuds down below and vibrate every inch of her.
Later in the day we gratefully stowed the storm sail and re-set the genoa. In the gusts Zoonie will point up toward the wind and spill the excess so relieving the strain on the sails, a nice safe characteristic. The waves were smoothing off quickly as the wind eased and her progress was uninterrupted, like a racehorse on the final length before the finish of the race.
During the night the SSV Robert C Seamans called us as she felt her CPA, closest point of approach, of 1 mile was too small. As she was rigged with numerous sails including a squaresail I think she would have liked us to alter course as we were more manoeuvrable, but in the end she eased her course a little.
Then she called a large fishing vessel because his course was erratic, (he was fishing) and both the sailing ship and we needed to know his intentions. He motored between us on a parallel and opposite course to clear us before resuming his work.
The morning of 5th November brought our last day at sea. The sailing ship was making her way across our bow heading for Auckland when we spotted land, New Zealand, off to starboard. A Shy Albatross soared around us as if in greeting, its wingspan was well over two metres. Our ‘Seabirds of the World’ book told us it is the largest of the mollymawks and back 15 years there were 70,000 pairs around Auckland. Due to line fishing these birds are being decimated at a rate of over 10,000 per year. Their extinction appears inevitable.
The day seemed to take ages longer than usual but gradually we made our way south past Motukawanui Island, Te Tarra Bay and on towards Bream Bay. It felt exciting, like Christmas Day.
Towards evening we were looking for the green and red fairway buoys into Whangarei Harbour. The wind was bang on the nose as we turned into the river estuary and made our way slowly toward the pile marking the entrance to the marina.
The Q quarantine berth ahead of us was empty and tying up was nice and easy for once. We had travelled 1464 miles in 14 days.