Rated NFM (Not For Mom)
The time had come for us to get Dazzler ready for her 1200 or so mile passage southbound to New Zealand. All systems checked, serviced, inspected an evaluated for passage. The land of Fiji flat water sailing had come to and end as well. My game face is on and it’s time to put on our big boy pants and get into a good mindset to make this passage. Jilly always knows when a passage is near. She calls it my passage face. Hell yeah! Two souls are at risk under my watchful eye. Serious stuff Maynard!
There are some who know this passage too well and others that are novices. Although, the fact that we have completed a passage to New Zealand last November from Tonga and then back to Tonga last April in NO way makes us any kind of expert. We put on our foulies like everyone else. One leg at a time. For the last few weeks I’ve been pawing over weather GRIB files and pretending that I know what I’m looking at like a man obsessed with cute little wind arrows and chart graphics. Hell, all those arrows and I didn’t even see any Indians!
The stars were starting to line up into what looks like a good departure and passage window. We have hired a weather router to assist us on this passage as well and a firm date for departure is confirmed. It’s is amazing the difference in weather models. They either look similar or are 180° from each other. Which one do you use? The answer is all of them. You can never have enough input to make a weather related decision.
We had cleared Fiji Immigration and Customs and were ready to go. Now the game of hurry up and wait. We positioned Dazzler in Momi Bay for our departure. All systems are now go for launch. Wait a minute! Do I remember how to sail in the big water? It seems everywhere we’ve been for the last several months we motored or motor sailed and the passages were mostly short hops on flat water. Hummmm! Well, it must be like riding a bike. Right?
As it turns out, once we cleared the channel through the reef we were met with our first task in the Big Water. 2.5-3.0 meter swells in 18 knots of wind. As Jilly would say, “Bamm! Sausage!” Here we are, no easy re-introduction into sailing with flat seas or warm 15 knot trade winds. Nope! We were instantly back in the big game. Every move in the cockpit is slow and methodical as we orchestrate a sail plan change from full main to a double reef and the staysail was rolled into a triangle half its fully deployed shape. That’ll do Donkey! Oh I forgot to mention the passage through the reef we had just come through, we had a large tanker following us from a mile to our stern. The tide was going out during our transit and there were some unusual currents, upwellings and standing waves. But, nothing like atolls we’ve experienced before.
Okay. Back to the passage. While settling into passage mode there were cries from the cabin of “I don’t want to do this. This isn’t the cruise I signed up for. I want this all to stop. We’ve never had anything this rough before.” I guess flat water sailing can become your Achilles heel when you transition back to the big water, so to speak.
I have to admit that if I have a choice I, like many of my friends, would chose flat, long, rolling, following seas, a 15 knot wind on your quarter, writing your name in the ocean from the downwind rail and cocktails with little umbrellas on the aft deck. This wasn’t going to be one of those times. Nope!
As the day progressed the winds built into the mid twenties and then up to the low thirties with the swell remaining constant in size, yet closer frequencies. I’m not going to lie to you, I was wondering why we didn’t just haul Dazzler out in Fiji and forgo this passage. You know I’m not a spring chicken anymore. LOL! Our vessel insurance requires that Dazzler be south of 27° South for cyclone season and we still have a car to deal with in New Zealand. So, here we go.
Everything was starting to settle out and we were getting set into our passage routine. You know close all the hatches, drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, watches and the peace of the sea. The peace was still roaring at 30 knots and then it happened. The big one. The mother of all swells decided to slap us square on the beam. We got doused with water. Sea water was everywhere. The cockpit was like a bathtub. Jilly yelling up from down below, “Jesus! There is water everywhere.” I expected to see Dazzlers floorboards floating around when I looked down the companionway, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Jilly was there crying and saying she didn’t want to do this anymore. And, next time she’ll fly to New Zealand, etc…which didn’t sound too bad to me right about now. But, stiff upper lip and all that, Right?
The forecast isn’t for these strong winds for the whole journey and in fact we will have some periods that we will have to turn on the auxiliary engine to keep our speed up. I’ve heard it said that passages to New Zealand are not for the faint of heart and not about the journey. But rather to get there. Don’t waist time trying to be a sailing purist. Just get there to avoid the potential weather transitions.
Weather on a good forecast is usually good for about three days. After that changes can and do occur. It can go either way. Better or worse. I like the better myself. Luckily for us we download weather twice a day or more via our Iridium Go. Very remarkable device. Although it’s slow it is very reliable. We have a back up for downloading weather and that is the high frequency radio. But, linking up to land based stations and unsuccessful downloads become problematic. I literally have spent a few hours attempting to linkup with a station and obtain a successful download. The HF radio is a valuable tool for communication. Every nation including our own wants to have their own regulations for use of the HF radio. Luckily there is an international system in place that helps regulate usage worldwide for good, bad or indifferent.
Anyway, that’s my story from the cockpit on our first day of passage to New Zealand.