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New Zealand Bound … Jilly’s View

You no doubt read Captain Dan’s entry a few days ago which gives his take on this passage but as he said, “Jilly probably has a different perspective.” He’s absolutely right so I thought you might be interested in hearing my take on what happened on this journey.

On board Dazzler we have a running joke about what I signed up for and what I got. Whenever the weather is bad or won’t allow us to go to a much desired spot or we are having mechanical issues or even when I’m being rousted from our cozy bunk at the butt crack of dawn to leave someplace to get somewhere else, I always say, “But I signed up for the Princes Cruise.” You know, this is the one where I get breakfast in bed, the weather is always perfect, it’s brochure sailing, there’s sundowners each night on the lido deck and nothing ever goes wrong? 

Well, we awoke early on the morning of October 18th. The sun had not yet peeked her head about but the pale grey glow that meets the horizon was getting brighter with each passing moment. The time had come and much more quickly than we had planned…more quickly than I was ready to accept. We had hoped to spend a week or more in Nuka’alofa in the Kingdom of Tonga but Mother Nature had other plans. Alas tis’ the story of a sailor’s life as we are always being driven by her whims. 

We spoke briefly with the sailors aboard two other boats who were also making ready to haul anchor and head south. We would leave together yet we would travel together for not much more than a day. SV Tatt Av Vinden (Gone with the Wind) is a longer, faster boat and SV Nala Danica had chosen a slightly different route to New Zealand than we did but it would be nice to have company if even for a short time.

As we were preparing for departure I knew I wasn’t ready. I could feel it. I wasn’t mentally prepared for this passage. It had come too quickly. For the first time since we left México seven months ago I was feeling a bit afraid of what was to come.

Of course ever since we arrived in Nuku’alofa the only discussion amongst cruisers was this passage and the weather. Weather this and weather that, my router said this, what did yours say? What window are you taking? You know they are calling for an active cyclone season with the possibility of early storms don’t you? It was all consuming and it droned on and on like the incessant humming of an overhead power line. There were stories of past cruisers who abandoned their vessels on this very passage, not because they were sinking, but because they couldn’t handle the beating Neptune was handing over to them. Yes, I was made all too aware of the dangers of this 1100 NM crossing. This passage is one where three main bodies of water converge…The Pacific Ocean, The Tasman Sea and The Coral Sea. With that comes all the potentially chaotic weather forces that occur in an area like this. If you don’t plan correctly you can encounter truly treacherous weather that has claimed more than a few ships. In other words…the main point was this….Pick the right weather window or you will definitely regret it!

Now I trust Dan and his decisions regarding our sailing like no one I’ve ever known. I watch and listen as he studies the weather patterns with the veracity of a hunting dog seeking fresh kill for its owner. I see how others flock to him for his advice and follow his lead. I know he will never knowingly put us in harm’s way. Yes, intellectually I know all this but when the chatter of doom and gloom becomes so incredibly loud it often drowns out the inner voice of reason.

That said, whether I was ready or not was not up for discussion. This was the window Dan had chosen and we were hauling our anchor. The winds were swiftly blowing across the water at a good 20 knots and there was a cutting chop in the waves of the bay. Once the anchor was free I turned the boat into the wind and pushed the throttle forward. I took a long, deep breath and said a small, quiet prayer asking God to bless our passage and keep us safe. With the anchor secured Dan came into the cockpit and took over the helm as I went below to get out of the wind and rest my broken toes.

As I sat at the table trying to find my “passage mentality” I couldn’t help but feel a bit saddened that this magical journey which began almost seven months ago was soon to be over. Even now tears fill my eyes as I think back on all of the beautiful places and amazing people we’ve been so blessed to see and meet. There’s the couple who fixed us dinner at their humble home in Fatu Hiva and Paul who invited Dan to jam with him at the quay in Nuka Hiva. The dear rangers, Harry and John, in Suwarrow and the wonderful young Bartender, Sonny, who shared stories of his culture and his people in American Samoa. There’s the large family who invited us to sit with them in a bar in Huahine and Chief Ladu and the people of Mata Maka. And there’s the cruisers who have become like family who will continue on their own journeys. We may or may not ever see them again. There are the picture postcard scenes of Maupiti, Niue, the Tuomotus, Marquesas, and Tonga. And then there’s the underwater adventures like swimming with the stingrays or snorkeling underwater tikis in Moorea or the amazing Japanese Coral Garden in Tonga. And who can forget all the whales? Oh those amazing whales. Yes, the list is too long to give in detail. Suffice it to say we’ve amassed a lifetime full of memories in just a few short months.

So much has happened in these last seven months that my mind is still trying to file the memories away and yet in just eight more days this leg of our journey will be complete. This adventure that we both dreamed of for so long will be over and a new one will begin. A new one that we’ve yet to even have time to imagine. It seems too soon. I’m just not ready to leave it all behind. Yes, I was definitely feeling sad and emotional and here I was on a passage in rough seas. No, this was not shaping up to be such a great day.

We are less than an hour into our journey when I’m siting at the table and I hear it. The boat lunges into the trough of a wave and there it is, the splash that says we’re taking green water over the bow. Then I hear the next dreaded sound, a second splash that says the water is now pouring through our forward hatch onto our bed. I leap to my feet and see water everywhere. Our bed is soaked, the floor and walls are soaked and I’m bounding toward the stateroom to get the hatch shut before we get hit again. Before I know what’s happening I’ve slipped on the water and my right foot slams into the wall. I’ve already got two broken toes on that foot so the pain is excruciating. A few sailoresque expletives come flying out of my mouth but I can’t stop to tend to my foot right now. The hatch must get closed and I need to get the soaking wet blankets and pillows off the bed. Dan here’s me cursing and is asking what’s wrong. I don’t have the time to tell him and he can’t leave the cockpit as there are a lot of shallow spots here and he needs to focus on navigating. He keeps asking what’s happening and I just keep working and ignoring him.

Meanwhile I’m trying to mitigate the situation while I’m being bounced off the walls like a pinball at the hands of the Pinball Wizard. I’m in tears because I’m in serious pain and I now have three sheets, three pillows and a comforter that are drenched in saltwater. Oh yes, there are four dresses that were hanging on the back of the door that are soaked as well. Did I mention the floor and walls? Yeah, it was a total mess! And the worst of it is we have no real way to dry everything right now because every couple of minutes we are taking a wave into the cockpit so we have to put them under the dodger one at a time. This will take a few days to even get things dry enough to bag. They will have to wait to be washed until we reach New Zealand. Ughhh!

Of course none of this is doing anything good for my mental state out here. I’m not sure if it was all the chatter from the cruisers, my injured feet, the dousing of green water or just all of it combined but I spent most of the first day of this passage in tears. I wanted nothing more than to jump ship. You know…“Beam me up Scottie”. I felt so sorry for Dan. He’d never seen me like this on passage but he was so good to me. He did his best to make me smile with his silly jokes and he gave me lots of reassuring hugs. He even took longer watches so that I could stay below and keep my feet up.

By day two my breakdown was over and I was back to being the Best Mate Dan has come to rely on out here. We were still in some pretty rough seas and getting bounced around quite a bit but I kept trying to think about day #4 when the weather was supposed to settle down a bit and things would get better. Focusing on the positive to come calmed me down quite a bit.

I know it’s not the least bit attractive but when you’re cold you will do whatever it takes to stay warm!

At this point the only real problem was that we were freezing! We thought we were headed into the South Pacific summer but it feels more like winter. We’re wearing sweatpants and shirts, two pairs of socks, foul weather gear and gloves. Since we only have one blanket on board that is not salt infused I’m wearing two coats and my foul weather gear to sleep. I’ve even taken to pulling out additional clothes and putting them on top of me like blankets. We definitely weren’t prepared for the cold. Hopefully when we reach New Zealand it will be warmer on land.

If you read Dan’s post about the engine problems then you know that it got worse before it got better. Being on the turbulent ocean in high winds with an engine that’s overheating and no generator to produce the extra power we need was not at all comforting. I was preparing to empty our Engels refrigerator so we could shut it down to conserve power. I also reached out to my brother, Brad, and Dan’s sister, Tina. They are the two emergency contacts we use while sailing. While we were not in an emergency situation we figured it would be good measure just to keep them in the loop on what was happening. I messaged them several times with updates and position reports as well as information on what food stores we had etc… After all, if the worst did occur this information would be helpful for SAR (Search & Rescue). Of course, this is the Dazzler crew and we won’t ever go down without a fight! As the old salts say, “You never step down into a lifeboat, you step up into one.” For you landlubbers that means you don’t leave your vessel until she’s going under.

Fortunately, Dan, once again proved that there is absolutely nothing he can’t fix. Yes, it took about 36 hours and we had to hove to for a few hours but he was able to diagnose and repair the engine problem. And let’s be clear, doing that in high winds and 2.5-3 meter swells was no easy feat. Of course I knew all along that he’d be able to fix it even when he was having some momentary doubts.

By day four the weather had settled down and everything was beautiful. It seemed hard to believe that just a few days earlier I was cursing King Neptune for the wickedness of the ocean and I was begging God to let this trip be over quickly. Of course at that time I was cold, tired and miserable and beginning to second guess the decision to make this journey to New Zealand.  My body was aching from being tossed into walls and stairs and whatever else was nearby and all I could think of was land. It had consumed my every thought.

But something happened on the final night as I looked out across the then glassy ocean reflecting the silvery full moon. I wondered how I could ever have wanted this trip to end. It was absolutely magical out there. The sea was so flat you couldn’t see where it ended and the sky began. The stars were as bright as I’d ever seen them and everything was right with the world again. It’s funny how easily we forget the turbulent seas that tossed us about when the sea is calm and the moon is shining brightly overhead. Yes, when everything is working together in harmony land is the furthest thing from my mind.

I’m not sure if that makes me a fair weather sailor or not but I do know that I understand all too well the dangers that surrounds us out here. That knowledge is what makes me curse mechanical issues and the foul weather and rejoice in the moments of bliss when all of nature’s elements are in complete harmony. Sitting in the cockpit on that final evening I couldn’t help but praise God and good King Neptune for the blessing of a magical evening and safe passage. By the time the sun rose above the horizon we were off the northern tip of New Zealand and this part of our journey was all but complete.

So, it looks like instead of signing up for the Princess Cruise I keep insisting upon; I signed up for an exciting and adventurous life aboard Dazzler with the man I love. No, it’s not always perfect and we may have some pretty tough times out here but the thing is, I wouldn’t trade my life with Dan and Dazzler for anything in the world! That’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy some calmer seas from time to time…but I think you know what I mean.

Until next time…

Jilly & Dan

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New Zealand Bound … The Captain’s View

The time has come for us to say goodbye to the wonderful islands of the South Pacific as we watch Nuku’alofa rise and fall with the southeasterly swell.  The cruising season is winding down and we are now en route to Whangarei, New Zealand.  Dazzler is in need of some maintenance and some minor repairs and we plan to enjoy time in a new country.

As we prepared to leave, I was watching the weather daily and sometimes twice a day.  There has been a high pressure in place over the east coast of New Zealand for more than a week.  The South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) was somewhere near Samoa and southeasterly trade winds have accelerated in velocity as a squash zone has developed with 20-30 knot winds.  Additionally the swell generated by these increased trade winds has grown to 2.5-3.5 meters.  Here in our anchorage we have had steady 15-30 knot winds out of the southeast for the entire five days we’ve been here.  The wind generator has been doing an awesome job while the days have been filled with clouds and the occasional shower.  

The questions, not just in our minds, but the minds of cruisers on the other 13-16 boats anchored nearby is when will the weather subside and when should we leave for New Zealand?  You can hardly head to shore without encountering another cruiser with the question of “when are you leaving?”  

We don’t have the luxury of Al Roker weather forecasting available to us.  We rely on weather downloads using our single side band radio (SSB), satellite or some other forms of electronics to obtain our weather information.  This is a new weather pattern for us that we haven’t experienced before. In Southern California or in the sea of Cortez when the wind was 15-20 knots, most of us held off for a better weather window.  That is not the case here in the southern Pacific Ocean.  With cyclone season closely approaching, brochure sailing days ARE 15-25 knots with 2.5-3.5 meter swells.  You get what you get.  So, it’s time to put on our big boy pants, throw on the foul weather gear and accept that it’s going to be a wild ride for over 50% of the eight day passage.  Buckle up Buttercup!

We decided in addition to the weather tools we have, to enlist the assistance of a Weather Router. There are a couple of them available for hire.  We chose to use Bob McDavitt aka  Bob has been weather forecasting for over 30 years and his specialty is the South Pacific region.  Information from Bob indicated that our weather window was narrow and not really much in the way of 10-15 knot warm tropical breezes with easy following seas.  No!  In fact, it was more like 18-25 knots from the Southeast with 2.5-3 meter swells at 10 seconds.  Okay, I guess if he says “go”, we go! The reason for our departure into this kind of weather is the back side of our passage.  Eight days from now a series of pre summer trough patterns are going to start up.  That means a series of troughs riding over New Zealand from west to east with 15-25 knot south westerlies.  Since we will be arriving on the north island’s east coast our arrival would be into those winds and swells which I hear would not be pleasant.  Hummmm!   So, we decided to go!  We had already checked out of Nuku’alofa and were in standby mode for departure on a good weather window so we were prepared to leave but  that nagging question came up again, “when do we commit and actually go?”

Our option was Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.  MetBob had set a time of 1300 hours departure for Thursday, but he indicated that we should try to leave a bit earlier because one of those troughs was possibly going to be greeting us on our arrival date.  We chose to leave on Thursday morning.  After a nice diner, a few adult beverages and a good night’s sleep. Check, check and check! We’re ready to go.

I was up about 30 minutes earlier than normal at 0430 hours.  I wanted to sit back with a cup of coffee and go over the weather router’s suggestions and view the weather sources available to me one more time.  Those of you who know me know I’m not anxious about many things.  This trip, on the other hand, had me a bit on edge.  Sailing in weather you have not experienced before would make anyone anxious, right?  I mean I had a package of Depends on stand by if it got too bad, a drogue, an EPIRB and a flare gun. What could go wrong?

Just after dawn we were anchor up and underway making way towards the northwest entrance to the Nuku’alofa bay.  An hour and a half later we were out of the bay and setting course for our first waypoint.  This isn’t so bad.  Duh!  We were in the lee of the Nuku’alofa island group.  Wait for it!  

Motor is now off, we have a double-reefed mainsail and the jib hoisted and we’ve settled into about 6-6.5 knots.  Once we passed the protection of the southern edge of the Nuku’alofa island group and Duff’s reef, there they were, the 2.5+ meter swells.  It’s a bit daunting when you’re standing in your cockpit and you look off your port side and see nothing but a large swell of water…Gulp!  I reminded myself that we must endure this to get to New Zealand.  Okay all better now.

It’s now been two days into our journey and we are approaching Minerva Reef where we make our next course change.  A little more to the west please.  We still have over eight hundred nautical miles to travel to our destination.  The winds have eased a bit to 18-20 knots and the sea state has also eased to 1.5-2 meters.  All in all it hasn’t been too uncomfortable for me.  I’m sure Jilly would tell you different from her perspective.

The evening after passing Minerva Reef I was on the evening watch.  I was running the main engine to charge the batteries for the night.  About an hour after staring the engine, the high temperature engine alarm went off.  After letting it cool down for a bit, I restarted the engine and because it seamed to be working I shut it down. A short time later I started the engine to charge the batteries and it seemed to still be working fine. For now!

The next evening, the same thing occurred again.  High temperature warning alarm.  I immediately shut down the engine and woke Jilly.  We needed to diagnose what this issue was.  I first removed the companionway stairs and cowling to expose the front of the 4JHE Yanmar engine.  There were no visible fresh water leaks and the fresh water reservoir had an ample amount of water in it.  Next item to check was the raw water system.  I closed the raw water valve and removed the hose to check for any obstructions.  There was a generous flow of sea water that flowed in when I opened it. Next step was the raw water pump. I removed the cover of the raw water pump and observed all the vanes to be in place.  I did not actually touch the vanes or wiggle them but they looked just fine.  So, I put the cover back on and moved onto the exhaust heat exchanger mixing elbow.  Everything seemed to be in place.  When I restarted the engine the high water alarm came on again after a short while.  Keep in mind we were sailing in 18-22 knots of wind with 2.5-3 meter swells from the port quarter and by now it was 0200. I needed to get some sleep so I decided rest needed to happen before I could continue working on the engine. I left Jilly on watch and hit the bunk. 

A few hours later after some sleep I was ready to tackle the diagnosis.  I decided that whatever was going to happen I was going to replace the raw water impeller first. Whatever else needed to be fixed I would work on next. But first we needed a calmer work environment. We decided to hove to which is like parking the boat in the ocean.  With a double reefed main and a patch of headsail we put Dazzler into the hove to position.  Once she stabilized we were sliding sideways at about .5-1 knot and we were heeled at about 20°. This made for a much calmer work environment.

I got the stairs and cowling removed which gave me good access to the raw water pump cover.  Once I had the impeller removed the problem was very obvious.  Six of the eight vanes had splits along the hub with about a ¼” holding them in place.  When the impeller is not spinning they looked good from the open cover.  The newer Yanmar impeller had 12 vanes on it.  Once it was all slapped back together….success!  We put everything away and were ready to get back underway.  We were only hove to for about an hour and a half.

For the next several days the weather continued to improve in our favor.  We were still striving to get ahead of a low pressure system that could potentially cause us some issues upon our arrival.  The winds had dropped considerably requiring us to supplement with the Yanmar motor so we could beat the approaching system. 

The morning of our eighth day we were just off the northeast coast of New Zealand.  It was a cloudy, cold morning when we arrived at Bream Bay Head.  We encountered a small pod of dolphins prior to Bream Bay Head and at the headland there were thousands of birds floating on the water.  We decided that some more of Jilly’s dad’s ashes should be spread over the water at this point.  After a short stop we continued into the bay where we stopped at Marsden Cove Marina and cleared in with New Zealand Customs authorities. 

We had travelled just over 7500 NM from Banderas Bay in Mexico to Whangarei, New Zealand in seven months and one day. It was quite a journey.


Captain Dan and Jilly

P.S. Stay tuned for more about the whole New Zealand experience.