Passage to Tonga: Close hauled

To sail close hauled is to sail as close into the wind as is possible for the boat. There is always an angle between the wind direction and the boat direction. We can’t sail directly into the wind. On racy boats that angle is less, on cruising boats it is more. In all cases, when sailing close hauled, the wind is in your face and the boat is sailing into the waves created by that wind. And, of course, the boat is heeled over as the wind presses on the sails, which are sheeted in tight. On Velic, sailing closed hauled works best without the staysail. The yankee jib and a deep reefed main are driving the boat at between 5 and 6 knots in Force 4 and 5 winds. A simple rig, and good speed for Velic.

Well, Velic has been close hauled for three days now on a starboard tack towards Tonga. The first day, two days ago, was fairly comfortable as the SW swell had not caught up to the ENE wind. We were sailing upwind and down swell. Sweet. Yesterday the wind strengthened from the NE and so built up the waves. The sea was a combination of a very long 2-meter swell from the SW that we rode up and over like long, low hills, plus the wind waves from the NE that caused a fair amount of ‘booshing.’ That is, a bouncy motion, pitching and rolling, and banging into waves, all at around a 15° heel angle. We have been enjoying fine weather as this high pressure passes over. Mostly sun with puffy cumulus clouds. And it’s getting warmer, now 24° C in the cabin. There are fewer layers of fleece during the still-cool nights and bare feet at mid-day. Days are spent sailing & navigating, trying to analyze weather, reading, sleeping, and eating, with a very few housekeeping chores sprinkled in.

This morning a large cloud bank developed to the northwest. A harbinger of the low trough to come in the next day or so. By now that cloud bank has resolved in to distinct squalls, bringing rain and their own wind patterns. When the low trough passes over we expect rain and more wind. The wind will back to the north, and then quickly to the southwest just after the trough moves by. Velic is now due south of Tongatapu Island, our destination. We discuss various tactics to deal with the anticipated north winds and the southwest winds to follow. Once the north winds pass, we should be back to downwind sailing for the last 350 nautical miles to Tongatapu.

Passage to Tonga: Magnetic Rock

Well, that was fast. The storm trysail went up at noon on Sunday. By the next morning conditions had improved enough to set working sail: Trysail down. Yankee jib up. Mainsail up with a reef tucked in. Staysail still flying. And, it was still Sunday to boot. Having crossed 180° Longitude, the International Date Line, we gained a day and had Sunday twice. We’re still going to count it as the fourth day of the passage, however. By 10:30 that morning the wind had freshened, so the second, deep reef, was tucked into the main sail. There is often a dawn lull in the wind, even when it’s blowing Force 5 (17-21 knots).

Aside: We don’t have an anemometer, so I estimate the wind speed from experience and the appearance of the sea state according to the Beaufort Force scale. Our reports on the position/condition radio net are a bit less precise, but it’s not hard to know when to reef.

The passage strategy is to sail NE from New Zealand to a point south of Tonga and then turn north, a large arcing curve with a kink at the turn in the middle. The idea is to sail NE on the SW winds of the passing low, then catch the SE trade winds up to Tonga. The route takes us south of the Kermadec Islands, a chain of small isolated rocky islets in a line south of Tonga. Geologically, these are on the same undersea ridge as Tonga – like tips of benthic mountains in a long volcanic range. In fact, the chart shows dots of ‘volcanic activity reported year X’ in various watery spots flanking the chain. The last of the visible islands, most south east, is L’Esperance Rock. This has become our magnetic rock. Instead of a nice line NE from New Zealand towards our turn north to Tonga, our track shows a series of scallops. These start out sailing in a direction just north of east, then slowly arc to the north, aiming right at L’Esperance. Then we change sail configuration or sail trim, or get lucky and the wind shifts, and start again. Today after a series of scallops, however, we passed by Exasperation Rock. Whew. We were beginning to wonder whether Velic was being irresistibly drawn to this rock. We’re sailing close hauled (as close into the wind as possible) on a starboard tack in a Moderate Breeze, Force 4. from the east. But now with the magnetic rock to the west, behind us, we are aiming at the next goal: The turn north to Tonga and the tropics.

Footnote: Just as this entry was finished, the wind piped up. The staysail came down, leaving the Yankee and deep reefed main. A good, stable combination for upwind sailing overnight.

Passage to Tonga: Departure

At noon the wind lightened a bit. So we raised the Storm Trysail

The trip from Whangarei downriver to Marsden Cove was uneventful. We had a great send off Thursday at Riverside Drive Marina what with a gang of fellow yachties helping Velic off the dock. As we approached Bream Bay, Ruth commented that it is so similar to Astoria Bay in topography: A wide estuarine river flowing between rugged mountains, with a winding channel flanked by sandbars. Following the channel markers is essential. Nosing our way into Marsden Cove reminded us of entering Ilwaco or Warrenton, a narrow cut in the sand banks that ends by threading through two stone jetties leads into the marina. But in this case it’s all brand new and flash. The marina is surrounded by new houses and buildable lots, many with private piers ready for your custom dream home and yacht. Even the vacant lots have mown grass.

Marsden Cove was full of cruisers waiting for the right weather window to clear out of NZ and head north, scattering now amongst French Polynesia to the east, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Indonesia, and Australia to the west. It had been wet and blustery as a low pressure system passed over NZ. Just what I wanted: To depart on the back side of a low, bringing SW winds to blow us NE towards Tonga.

The voyage began by setting sail in Bream Bay and heading out between the two groups of Hen and Chicken islands. It was fairly windy so we started with the yankee (80% jib) and a deep reefed main. That worked well for a few hours, but the wind built as we left the lee of North Island behind. At 6:30 pm we dropped the main altogether, running under the yankee alone. That worked well until noon Saturday, when the wind and seas were up into a near gale. We then dropped the yankee and set the staysail, running under the staysail alone overnight. Then today, the wind lightened up a bit and backed to the SSW. The boat was wallowing in the seas from the prior two days of heavy winds that were still blowing. Needing to make a more easterly course meant broad reaching, not running. We needed more sail area aft. So, with the wind easing a bit but still blowing a fresh gale, we set the storm trysail. The two sails balanced the sail plan for reaching, allowing the windvane to keep steering and Velic moving, right along on the desired NE track.

It’s cold at 34°S latitude. We’re bundled up in fleece and looking forward to the turn north into the tropics in a few days. The route plan covers 1,300 nautical miles, or about 11 days if all goes well. We made 138 nm in the first 24 hours, and 130 nm in the second. So far, so good. But there is a long way to go yet and the wind may go light, or cause us to hunker down more. We hope to arrive in the first week of June.

Autumn in Northland

It is April 17 and autumn is well underway here in Northland. Days and nights are a bit cooler now, 21C to 23C during the day and down around 13C to 15C at night (that’s 69F to 73F and 53F to 55F, respectively). Cool enough to pull on a light sweater during the day and throw the duvet over the bed at night. And we’re having more rain, sometimes quite heavy downpours, or what they call “heavy falls” here. Last week Cyclone Cook swept over Northland. It was late in the cyclone season, which traditionally is considered to end April 30. Fortunately, by the time it moved over Whangarei much of its energy was spent; we had rain most of the day but little wind, for which we were thankful. We’re watching the weather closely while continuing to wrap up projects on Velic. We hope to be on our way north again in about a month. Continue reading

Cold January in Portland (and Seattle), Boat Work in Whangarei

It was COLD in the Pacific Northwest! We’re not used to it after more than a year in warmer climates. We wore fleece and wool the entire time we were visiting our families and friends in Portland and the Seattle area. Randy in his favorite (dorkie) warm hat while visiting his dad.

More than two months have gone by since our last blog entry. A busy two months, as close friends and family know. A trip back to the U.S. in January & February allowed us to enjoy visits with loved ones we have been missing. We were grateful to be able to see and have face-to-face time with our son, parents, and siblings, and to reconnect in person with so many friends who are dear to us. We love that we’re able to cruise to faraway places, but living this life comes with a down side: We miss our families and friends “back home.”

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