For the past month or so Dan has spent an inordinate amount of time pouring over weather models and grib files, reading local sailing sites and doing his level best to make sense of the weather here in Cook Strait and along the eastern coast of the North Island. It’s not an easy task to learn and predict the weather in this part of the world which is evidenced by the fact that even the professionals disagree greatly from day to day. This usually makes for a very emotional time for me as I become apprehensive about the coming passage.
After all, in Wellington we’ve witnessed how a day can start out so beautifully with clear, sun filled skies and just an hour later the weather Gods become enraged whipping up rain, 30-40 knot winds and fog only hours later to have it return to clear skies and inconsequential winds. None of which was accurately predicted by any one weather service. Yes, weather predicting in this part of the world can be daunting at best. It could be described as most predictably unpredictable!
We only planned to stay in Wellington a few days and here it is eleven days later. During this time Dan found a couple of potential weather windows only to have them disappear just hours before our departure. But, today the time has come. He has chosen a window and we will head out hoping not to have to return.
This marina is lovely but at $76 NZD a day we’re ready to move on. Let me be clear…the berth is just $33 NZD per day but there is a $43 NZD per day live aboard fee which makes this place very expensive so while we are sad to leave Wellington we are happy to put this expense behind us.
As I do before our passages, I made calls home to family. One to my mama and one to my sister. I’m still on the phone with my sister when Dan fires up the Yanmar signaling to me that it’s time to cast off. He’s the Captain so I say my goodbyes and make my way to the cockpit. Within moments I begin to maneuver Dazzler out of the slip. Once she’s almost out Dan jumps aboard and takes over the helm while I go to the bow to be the lookout. It’s a procedure we’ve done hundreds of times and we do it with ease.
As always when we leave a place that I’m certain we will never see again I stop to take in every possible detail while reminiscing of the special moments we’ve spent there. The skyline of the city, the people walking, biking and running along the wharf. The grand Te Papa Museum and the Naked Man stature standing on the seawall looking out as if to say, “Farewell and fair seas dear friends.”
We decide to hoist the mainsail before leaving the harbor so Dan pulls me away from my last minute photo grabs to take my place at the helm. I take the wheel and he heads heads to the mast. I turn Dazzler into the wind and begin tailing the halyard as he stands on the cabin top pulling up the bright white sail. We can hoist her from the cockpit but it’s a bit easier if Dan pulls at the mast and I pull from the cockpit. Within minutes the sail is up and reefed and we turn back to our heading toward the bay’s exit.
The Blue Penguins
It’s a gorgeous day with the mid morning sun playing hide and seek in the mackerel sky. Off the starboard side I see it. It’s a raft of New Zealand’s tiny blue penguins. Nothing makes me smile more than seeing God’s incredible creatures in the wild.
The first sighting reveals just two but moments later to the port side there are five or six and then off to the starboard side there’s close to a dozen! I feel myself smiling and laughing as I talk to them and thank them for coming to say goodbye.
Before I know it we’ve entered Cook Strait and have altered course to the south. An hour or so later we round Turakirae Head and set a southeasterly course for Cape Palliser, the southern most point of New Zealand’s North Island.
After a few hours we reach the cape and change course again to head north along the east coast of the island. It’s not long after we’ve begun our northern run that Dan calls me up from below.
What The Heck Are These?
“Come up here! You’ve got to see this.” he calls down from the cockpit. I’m half napping but hear his call and jump to my feet. I grab my camera and off I go. No vest, no shoes…just me and my camera.
On deck Dan tells me to look in the water. Everywhere I look there are these phallic shaped jellyfish. They look a bit like peach colored, translucent sea cucumbers. There are literally thousands of them surrounding us. Dan has put Dazzler in neural so we can get a really good look at them as we drift slowly up and down on the long ocean swells. I’ve never seen anything like it. Well, at least not in the ocean. LOL
Dan grabs our net and after a few tries is able to scoop up one of the cylindrical creatures. Taking care not to touch it he moves it around in the net so we can perform a thorough inspection.
Its outer skin is covered with spiny points that are reminiscent of spines on a cactus. One end is tapered to a rounded point like the tip of a missile and the other end is open. The inside is hollow. They are soft and pliable but not jelly like in that there is a firmness to them. Although they are not hard either. Neither of us can properly identify these sea creatures so we toss our specimen back into the artic blue ocean, put Dazzler into gear and continue our journey.
Turns out they are called Pryosomes or Sea Pickles. It seems that seeing them like we did is a fairly rare occurrence as they normally live deep below the surface. According to the Smithsonian Institute they are also bioluminescent. Sure wish we’d have come upon them at night. Also, we have learned they do not sting as we’ve seen photos of scientists holding them in their hands. It certainly was a very cool experience for us!
More Amazing Wildlife
The afternoon is mild and sunny so we’re enjoying the warm temperatures and rather subdued seas. A couple of hours before sunset I’m back on deck and I spot a sea lion just a few meters from our port bow. He comes up, looks at me then rolls over a few times before giving a wave with his fin as he disappears beneath the cover of the ocean.
Just a short while later we are greeted by a couple of Albatross. These massive birds are always a joy to see. Their wings are so large yet so graceful as they gently glide up and down propelling this Jurassic sized creature through the sky. They fly just atop of the ocean swells looking for their next meal. Suddenly one comes flying by our starboard side. I never tire of watching these gorgeous giants of flight.
Soon it’s time for my pre-watch nap. The sea state is a bit more chunky making it difficult to sleep. Just when I start to settle in Dazzler comes crashing down in the trough of a wave and I bounce and inch or two off of the mattress. It’s not the worst I’ve ever had to try sleep through but it’s still very uncomfortable. Needless to say I don’t get much sleep.
Either way my watch begins at 2330 hours and I am up and dressed and ready to go on duty at my scheduled time. As Dan and I trade places I mention to him how much I miss night watches in the tropics where I go on deck in shorts and a tank top versus the long pants, two shirts, sweatshirt, boots and foulies I have donned for this watch. He groans in agreement as he begins to strip the same off of himself and crawls into bed.
Soda, granola bar, iPad in hand and life vest on, I climb the companionway stairs and take my place at the helm. First things first…..check the navionics. I always check our course, our speed, the winds and look for any traffic close by. Tonight we’ve got an 683 foot cargo ship to my starboard stern and what appears to be a fishing vessel off the starboard bow. It will be hours before it actually shows on the radar or AIS but I can see the lights and so I will monitor it.
With all my checks complete I settle in for my watch. The sea is restless but not unruly. The swells are a meter and a half or so and just far enough apart so as not to make it entirely uncomfortable. There are 14 knots of true wind coming over our port bow and we are motor sailing with a single reefed main. We could sail to this but out here it’s about reaching the next port as quickly as possible to beat the next patch of bad weather so we keep the Yanmar steaming along.
The moonless sky is black and so clear the stars look close enough to touch. The Milky Way’s white carpet looks as if she’s awaiting an adventurous soul to travel along her sparkling trail. Behind us is a trail of neon green phosphorescence highlighting where we’ve been and the waves from Dazzler’s bow have a slight green hue from the running light. There’s also a tinge of neon phosphorescence sprinkled in as they leap in the air each time we crash into the trough of a wave. It’s a beautiful night…a great night to be on watch. Little did I know it would get even better.
When you’ve sailed tens of thousands of miles across the oceans and seen things like giant Albatross riding the air currents above the ocean swells along side your vessel, huge oceanic sharks leaping from the sea to devour the empty can of chili you’ve just tossed overboard or killer whales bow surfing off your boat, you always believe nothing can surprise you.
I’m just over two and a half hours into my five hour watch. We’re a little over 30 NM north of Cape Palliser and it’s a few minutes after 0200. The cargo ship is long gone and the fishing vessel on our starboard bow still isn’t showing on radar or AIS so I continuously sit up to check her position.
The Most Amazing Oceanic Show Of Lights
All of the sudden I catch a light out of the corner of my eye. As I turn to see what caused it I see another, brighter light. Suddenly I find myself on my knees in the cockpit looking over the side.
At first it looks like we’ve traveled through a bait ball as it seems fish are rolling in the water creating plumes of bright green from the phosphorescence. It’s eerily fascinating and yet as I come to my feet and step outside of the cockpit I see what is really creating this. It’s a pod of very small and very speedy dolphin zipping through the water.
All of the sudden I see dozens of them swimming alongside of us. The phosphorescence in the water is creating trails behind them that extend for several meters. Their bodies are engulfed in bright green bubbles and each time they surface a swirl of bubbles and green light colors the black sea.
As they swim through the water I can see their trail of lighted bubbles extending out behind them like con trails from a fighter jet. There are dozens of trails twisting and turning and crossing over and under each other. I can tell exactly when they are about to surface as the trail becomes brighter and brighter until Bam! They break the surface and it looks like neon paint has been dropped onto a canvas of black splattering and swirling in all directions.
At one point I see this bullet of bubbles coming up from behind us. It looks like a torpedo as it races through the water and along side of Dazzler. Just as it reaches the point where I’m standing the dolphin jumps high out of the water only a meter or so off the side of the boat. His body crashes down on the surface and splashes water up and all over me.
I’m giggling like a school girl talking to her first crush as I whistle and tell them how much I love them. I do! I really, really do love them! In all my 53 years I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s magical and stunning and absolutely overwhelming. Everywhere I look there are neon splashes of color above, below and on the surface.
Many are bow surfing and just as many are cruising along at more than the six knots we are traveling. One jumped a good two meters into the air and the neon light outlined his shape with drops falling from it like paint dripping down a wall. Then he dove deep and the trail of bubbles followed until they disappeared into the abyss.
I was simply mesmerized by the entire scene. I wanted to get my camera but I knew I could never capture this in its full splendor so I just kept watching letting the visions burn themselves into my memory. I pray that I will dream about this moment and relive it over and over throughout my years.
At one point the feelings of happiness and gratitude and pure joy overwhelmed me to tears. That is how special and truly magical this moment was for me. I felt like I was the luckiest person on earth for they had chosen to perform this exquisite ballet of light for me…just for me. No one else on earth was seeing what I was so blessed to see and experience at this very moment. And they stayed with me for over two hours lighting up the sea and making me smile.
The feeling we get when we’ve witnessed something so few people on earth ever will is one we’ve had before. There are so many fabulous things we’ve been blessed to see and experience throughout our adventures. Tonight, however, will leave an indelible mark upon my soul. I will forever be grateful for the amazing creatures who came to perform for me on a moonless night bringing smiles and never-ending joy to my heart!
So, until the next magic moment rises out of the sea to remind me to embrace the beauty that surrounds us I will hold dear the memory of this glorious day on the ocean here in New Zealand.
Until next time,
P.S. After a time I did reach for my camera and I was right…no image I could capture could possibly reveal the magnificent show I witnessed. I did manage to capture two rather poor photographs, however, that show the dolphin enveloped in the green phosphorescence. I also captured one that made the dolphin look like some mysterious and evil sea monster. Just for fun I thought I’d share them but please do take your visuals from my words…not these photos.