Wicked Storm On The Hook

Rated NFM (Not For Mom)

Preparing for travel along the east cape of North Island New Zealand is not to be taken lightly.  By all accounts you wait and pick your weather window and hope for the best.  We left Gisborne with what we believed was as good a plan as any.  All the squiggly lines on the weather prediction models lined up for our plans to scoot around the north end of East Cape by Thursday of this week.  All we had to do was pick a decent anchorage to be protected and wait out a fast moving low pressure system predicted to pass through sometime between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.  We made our pick at Tolaga Bay and the storm on the hook ensued.  

Our first day out of Gisborne was uneventful as we only had 2-3 knots of true wind to get us north about 35 miles to Tolaga Bay.  There are about three small bays along the eastern shores of this passage area to anchor with the hopes of protection from the northerly blow of the low pressure.  We knew we’d see winds while on anchor from 15-30 knots.  The only wild card was what direction would the wind actually come from.  Once at Tolaga Bay we anchored near the famous wharf located at the southwest corner of the bay.

Storm on the hook
Tolaga Bay Wharf

The next day we moved to the northern edge of the bay for some planned protection from the mountains along the northern shore.  We anticipated the strong winds to arrive in the middle of the night.  Oh course, it always happens in the middle of the night.  It seemed like I was checking the weather models every couple of minutes to see if there were any changes.  But, like staring at the kettle waiting for it to boil, it never works.  

One of the weather models indicated that the winds might have a northeastern component to them.  As with each of the different weather models they all have their own algorithms and data that they use for their finished predictions.  Sometimes they are right and sometimes they are incorrect.  I, like many other navigators, have learned to rely on models that seem to have been accurate and reliable for predicting weather during our passages.  The model with the northeast component would make our night very long and uncomfortable.  I was hoping they were wrong.

Tolaga Bay

We expected the winds to start somewhere between 2100 hours and 0200 hours.  That’s a bit of a spread, but weather doesn’t seem to keep a schedule.  LOL  It always arrives when it arrives.  The winds started to build about 2130 hours and by 2200 hours we were seeing velocities in the mid twenties from the north northeast.  Not quite the direction we had hoped for.  Anything from the north and to the west would be just fine for us.  But the north northeast was going to require a saddle and some spurs to stay in the bunk.  

I guess I should mention our reason for being out of the marina and weathering a storm on the hook in the first place.  Well I’ll tell you Shoutie.  After this low pressure system moved through the area, we wanted to be in a position to move around the East Cape with winds in our favor.  Both for traveling northbound and for clearing the East Cape with little to no wind.  

You see, after the low passes there is a kind of vacuum in the weather that will form at the cape.  There will be little to no wind making it a lot easier to navigate and clear without much difficulty.  You could say we made a calculated move to enhance our position and reduce the number of miles needed to get to the cape as we would really have liked to pass around it during daylight hours.

Back To The Storm On The Hook

In preparation of the strong winds we put out an extra 50 feet of chain to provide a bit more catenary to the scope of our 200 feet of 5/16” anchor chain in 25 feet of water.  Like I said the winds started about 2100 hours.  By midnight we were seeing gust of 35 knots.  Dazzler was bucking fore and aft wilder than the four bit pony ride in front of WalMart.  Yea haw!  

Dazzler rose and fell as the wind driven seas were being forced into her bow.  The creaking and groaning of the anchor snubber bridle lines added an oh so eerie sound throughout Dazzler’s interior.  As the winds would build rapidly to 35 knots you could feel the shuddering of her mast vibrate through her hull and bulkheads.  Behold the power of the wind.  

I have to admit that I can’t help but be reminded of Jeff Foxworthy talking about Rednecks and describing what a tornado sounded like.  ”It was pandemonium.  I thought I was going to be killed or even worse.”  LOL  It wasn’t that bad Mom!  What are you doing reading this one anyway?  Didn’t you see the NFM rating at the beginning of the post?

Will it be two, four or even six more hours of being buffeted by this storm?  We hope for the best and expect the worst.  That way we aren’t too disappointed if it ends sooner or lasts longer than expected.  

As it progressed through its cycle the winds did clock back to the north allowing us more protection from the mountains along the north shore.  This made the sea state a little more comfortable.  But, only a little.  Thirty knots of wind is still thirty knots of wind.

Silver Lining

Of all the different creaks, groans, shakings and wild horse riding movements we experienced there was one thing that we were thankful for.  The wind was not a steady blow.  One minute it was gusting to 35 knots and a few minutes later it would fall off to 5 knots.  Back up to 25 then down again to 11 knots.  It was either full force or a light breeze.  That provided just enough time in between to pick things up, go to the head or relax for a moment.  

Rest assured Dazzler is a stout vessel and she is outfitted well and performed and protected us comfortably (ha ha ha) from the elements of this gusty low pressure system.  I would swear that there were times that it sounded like the bow was being ripped off of her.  But each and every trip I made forward during the evening to inspect the chaff protection on the bridle lines and the ground tackle everything was still in good order.  

Where Is The Rain?  

There was supposed to be some very heavy rain associated with this system.  Anywhere from 10-25mm of rain per hour.  It was predicted to be raining between 0200-0600 hours.  Be careful what you ask for.  The rain finally started falling about 0430 hours.  As it started pouring from the sky, the wind laid down into single digits.  As the hours clicked away daylight started to reveal the chunky sea and the cloudy skies.  The rain was still falling and the wind had crept back into the teens.  

Only a few more hours to ride out this storm, then we’ll be in the clear.  Given the choice of going through this low pressure at sea or at anchor, I’d choose being tied to a concrete marina berth.  LOL  Seriously, I think I’d rather have been at sea.  At least there you can hove to if enough seaway exists.  Being tied to the ground by an anchor and subject to the wrath of the sea over and over again was a bit trying on our nerves.  Will the anchor hold?  Will we have to weigh anchor in the middle of the night and storm and head to sea?  All are good questions that I constantly thought about durning the night.  

A better protected anchorage would have provided more shelter from the sea.  But, along our current coastline it just wasn’t available.  Perhaps we could have waited in the Gisborne Marina.  The main issue is weather doesn’t always act the way you want it to act.  The additional mileage to get to East Cape means we’d have arrived at night.  Perhaps the weather window to pass around East Cape would then have dissipated leaving us in a lurch there and subject to who knows what kind of weather upon our arrival.  Seriously though, although it was a restless night we knew we’d be better off upon our departure towards East Cape.

As it turns out pockets full of rainbows and sunshine graced us at about 1000 hours.  But, we had a new issue to deal with.  Although the onslaught of 20+ knot wind driven seas had subsided, an offshore 10 knot breeze had developed following after the 996 BAR low pressure system.  This wonderful breeze clearing the skies and making way for the high pressure system to move in was now keeping us pushed sideways to the swell.  

Anyone who has anchored in Chacala, Mexico knows what this means.  Oh that long powerful Pacific swell is wonderful unless it’s 2+ meters and rolling you beam to beam in an anchorage.  Like Chacala anchoring, we decided to deploy our stern anchor to help keep us pointed into the swell.  This stopped the beam to beam roll and allowed us a bit more comfortable position.

Oh But Wait, It Gets Better.  

I take a good look at the south side of our anchorage and it APPEARS to be calmer.  Let’s pull our anchors and move, shall we?  I hear, “Whatever!  Just make it stop!” so we start the drill of hoisting our stern anchor followed by our bow anchor.  Tada!  We are moving south to what had looked like a calmer patch of water.  Ha Ha Ha!  Upon our arrival, we see that the bay is filled with high energy long frequency 2+ meter swells.  “Well it looked calmer from the other side.”  

We then decided to head back to our space of salvation for last night.  Suddenly, as if God herself spoke from the heavens, “What if we just go to sea and leave now instead of tomorrow morning?”  I am now reminded of Bill Cosby having a discussion with God in his stage routine.  “Yes Lord?  Is that you?”  You mean now?  “Yes!  I can’t spend another night like that on the hook!” Hmmmmmm?  

Suddenly, satellites are linking up with NASA, accessing NOAA weather prediction sites and calls  are going out to Sponge Bob..  The World Wide Web is buzzing and there is smoke coming from my keyboard as I evaluate the Lord’s request.  The answer, drum roll please….Yes we can!

The interior and sails on Dazzler were not ready to shove off just yet.  Things needed to be readied.  Loose items secured.  Sails needed to prepared as well as several other items of housekeeping. 

You know, sometimes it’s better to fight the devil you know instead of the one you don’t.  Going to sea allows more manageability from a seagoing vessel than laying helpless to the buffeting of the sea while at anchor.  There are a pocketful of options at sea.  With a full coffee locker and several weeks of food stores, we could stay out for a few weeks.  LOL  I’m not sure I’d live through the lightening strikes from the Best Mate though.

The words fair weather sailing and New Zealand waters are not necessarily commonly used together at this time of year.  Take what you can, trim your sails, pick your path and then live it.  Because picturesque brochure sailing was last week.  If it were sunshine, rainbows and unicorn farts all the time, everyone would be doing it.    

Until next time from the Captains Deck, outside in the cockpit, safe travels and calm seas.

Captain Dan

Read more stories about our circumnavigation of North Island New Zealand. Click Here.

Author: Dan & Jilly

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