Zoonie Starts Across the South Fiji Basin
Zoonie starts Across the South Fiji Basin
Our bodies were aching from bracing ourselves inside Zoonie as she ploughed on with determination on her own route direct to Bream Head off the Whangarei River, despite our trying to keep her on course for 30’ South latitude and due north of North Cape. The chances of a Low passing across north New Zealand, while we hung about at Lat 30’ was decreasing as the days went on. This magnificent High persisted and resisted any encroaching systems.
My written notes are hard to read and reminded me of the illegible scrawl of the Dental Advisers that I learned by the process of de-coding to decipher at the Dental Estimates Board in Eastbourne where I worked briefly in a past life.
The forecast showed more of the same bountiful wind supply with possible a brief reprieve in which we hoped to tidy up and wash the woodwork clean of salty moisture.
The reprieve didn’t come. We were just starting to move over the flat seabed, or abyssal plain, known as the South Fiji Basin so I wondered if this factor might reduce the tempestuous sea. It was running at 5 metre swells and moderate waves and was unlikely to lessen until the wind did.
I take a tumble.
At 10.45am or thereabouts I was standing on the third step of the companionway keeping an eye on Rob as he adjusted Henry from the back of the cockpit when, with a suddenness we had not experienced before Zoonie was yanked sideways by a marauding wave just looking for mischief, the sort that can open up the seams of a wooden boat. My hands lost their grip and I spun around and off the steps, hitting the floor on my back and slid head first down the 11 inch step into the chart-table footwell as Zoonie pitched upwards. A loud crack and then, mercifully it all stopped. I had something broken on my chest, ‘Have I broken my glasses’ I thought, but the shattered pieces of plastic where white. My skull had smashed the double three pin power socket to smithereens.
I feared I might have an injury or injuries that would render Rob single handed as I slowly sat up, checking for snapped bones. But all seemed well as I dragged myself up to a sitting position on the cabin floor leaning against the seat front.
That morning I had dressed in a fuchsia coloured t-shirt which was handy because I noticed blood dripping onto it and thought if I had worn a white one the dramatic effect might have caused me to faint, like I did when helping my brother de-horn a young animal and a spurt of blood shot across the stable and down the white wall. I can taste the metal sensation in my mouth just thinking about it.
Rob came down the ladder, his task complete, “I’ve had a tumble” I said somewhat obviously. Rob was alarmed and concerned, “You could have broken your neck!” He said while parting my hair to inspect the cut. “It’s not very long, so I don’t think I’ll need to shave your hair and apply steri-strips.” Did he sound a little disappointed? He tended me lovingly mopping up the mess with antiseptic wipes and words of encouragement while I was feeling the golf ball sized bump swelling rapidly on the other side of my head.
The incident meant I had to spend the morning recovering by languishing on the leeward settee like Venus de Milo while Rob administered mugs of coffee laced with rum, flapjack and squares of Cadbury’s.
By the afternoon I was back in harness, no stuff and nonsense on this boat! Surprisingly the wind was easing down to the low 20’s and the sea showed the signs of smoothing as well.
Earlier on we were startled when the bilge pump alarm went off. Checking underneath the sink at the lowest point of the bilge Zoonie had around one foot of water, about a gallon of water. A quick taste check confirmed it was sea-water. When the waves were at their height and filling the cockpit Rob discovered that the rush of water was filling the two small open side lockers above the cockpit seats.
In each of them were air vents and a few times seawater was being forced through the vents, along the headlining beneath and running down the wood beside the chart table and down the wooden headboard above the sink. We had never had this happen before and judging by the permanent stain the trickle left on the wood, neither had Zoonie. The paper charts were acting like a sponge, but no worries there as they are Admiralty and designed to dry out many times. Rob stuck duct tape over the openings and over the speakers in the cockpit.
Not only that, but Rob suspected a seeping of sea-water along the starboard side of the side deck between the teak planks and the scupper. He has re-caulked the port side deck because it had failed in places, so that went to the top of our ‘to do’ list. Climbing into the cockpit to man the hand bilge was done when we were up there anyway.
Zoonie was still creaming along and I was thinking what good practice this was for the Indian Ocean which by various accounts is another windy passage. Approaching 30’ north it was becoming more obvious that Zoonie was right in trying to head direct for Bream Bay. There was no Low to worry us so we allowed Zoonie to have her way.
Five days out we noticed another split in the genoa between the sunstrip and the white sail material leading us to think the fabric was failing as well. “We’ve got the spare genoa on board, why don’t we take both foresails down and rig that one.” I suggested.
To do this lengthy job we both needed to be on the foredeck while Zoonie motored under the autopilot head in to wind so as to minimise the motion caused by the moderate sea state.
The storm jib was unhanked and stowed and the inner forestay re-positioned in its home leaving the foredeck nice and clear. I pulled out the tired genoa so we could lower it down the forestay, me easing the halyard and Rob pulling it down. I dragged the foot along the side deck so it could be folded like a fan from each end and then rolled over itself towards Rob and bagged.
This bagful replaced the one containing the spare genoa, which we have never used and which we keep under the dining table on passage along with the spinnaker to bring some weight back from the bow.
I then stood infront of the forestay so as not to get knocked by the flapping sail and fed the sail up the roller reefing groove as Rob hauled on the halyard by the mast. It was lovely out there. Bright sunshine glistening on the beautiful sparkly waves under a clear blue sky. Shearwater birds swooping low over the waves completely dis-interested in us.
We were delighted at how white and perfect the spare genoa looked as it rose up the forestay. It was clearly a light weight one with thinner seams and only a single row of stitching along them, so we wondered at what max wind speed it should be stowed. Later, Phil at UK Sails in Whangarei suggested 15 to 18 knots. Oops, well we flew it at 14 to 22 knots so that was a test for it but we did anticipate a declining wind force which was already happening. The whole pleasurable exercise too only 45 minutes and brought Zoonie back up to 6 knots.
The volume of spray was replaced by a chill in the air and we had to hunt for warmer clothes and our slippers! But things were getting easier down below as Zoonie sped along on an almost even keel in a half metre swell and we could walk around without looking like gorillas. Porridge and coffee infused with a tot of rum was called for and my mind was turning to the big bake I would need to do to ensure Customs New Zealand would not confiscate any of our food.
At night we could wait for the change in watches to reef and ease the genoa. Rob would haul in on the reefing line as I let out the sail under control. Then as he stowed the line I would do my best to tighten on the sheet as Zoonie pitched down and it slackened until Rob arrived and spun the winch handle as if making tomorrow’s pancake batter.
Approaching latitude 30’ I must have been tired because I read 6.30am on the clock as if it was the compass and thought how nicely she was heading Due South!
66.6666666666666 hours recurring.
We had 400 miles to go to the waypoint off Bream Head and at the current speed of 6 knots it would take us the above number of hours to get there. Zoonie broke her speed record that day with a run of 152 miles and a maximum of 8.1 knots briefly. Without a swell and heaving waves to impede her progress she sped along.
Relief permeates the atmosphere on board and as we laugh and joke over the smallest thing we realise how tense we have been over the past few days in anticipation of this historically tricky crossing. Now the end is in sight and although we never take anything for granted and try not to tempt providence while at sea we really started looking forward to our arrival after one of Zoonie’s finest sails.