Tag: Passage Making,

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 MetBob.com.  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.



We enjoyed the few short days we got to spend in Fakarava immensely. But, as we keep saying…tick tock, tick tock…the visa clock keeps moving. So we as well as Ed & Linda of SV One Fine Day head out for Anse Amyot at the Toau atoll.

We had a wonderful day on the water. We got to sail for about three hours. The Pacific Ocean was unbelievably calm even though we had 15 knot winds. It was pretty awesome. Arrived at the anchorage here in Toau about 1230. The entrance was a piece of cake. Thank you lord!

We decided not to enter the lagoon rather to go to the Anse Amyot anchorage on the outside at the northern edge. It’s a small anchorage that can hold maybe ten boats and the water is crystal clear. We’re looking forward to some amazing snorkeling for a couple of days.

This place has the most beautiful water we’ve seen yet. We can see almost 200’ down coming through the pass! We are anchored in 25’ of water and can clearly see the fish below. Even saw a small black tip shark and a Trumpet fish swim by earlier. We may never leave this place! It’s hard to believe that these places get more beautiful as we go along but they do.

We awoke yesterday to find the weather not to our liking. It was rainy and cloudy and the winds started to pick up. We spentd most of the day below just hanging out but invited Ed & Linda over for dinner. I make my famous, Mexican Style Perauno Beans and Linda brings over her homemade bread pudding with caramel sauce. She made it with fresh French baguettes. Oh yeah….I’m drooling just thinking of it. Anyway, we all made the best of a pretty nasty day and decided that as much as we’d like to stay here and get in some great snorkeling, we need to leave the next day as the winds and weather are not going to be good for us here.

What a difference twelve hours can make…Time to put on our big kid pants!

First, to truly appreciate this story you need to understand a couple of things. One, Anse Amyot at Toau is a relatively small anchorage and there are eight of us anchored here so we are pretty close to each other. Two, as I keep saying, the biggest problem you face anchoring in the atolls is the dreaded coral heads they call bommies. Bommies stick up like pinnacles that you can easily hit if you don’t have someone looking off the bow to direct you around them. Honestly, you can be in 50+ feet of water and a coral head can be five feet below the surface. This is serious business. And, this also makes them a problem in that your anchor chain can easily get wrapped around them as your boat swings on the hook. Now, add to this the fact that for the past 24 hours we’ve had a 15-25 knot wind blowing across the shallow coral reef that separates us from the main lagoon. This is also bringing with it a very stiff current. On the south side of the atoll the swells are reaching upwards of three meters. This means that at the south end of Toau water is crashing over the atoll and filling the lagoon. We are at the north end of the lagoon so water is rushing through and coming over the shallow reef and right through the anchorage creating quite an unpredictable current.

Now that you have the background just try to imagine….

There’s nothing like being awakened at the butt crack of dawn to Dan telling me we are dragging anchor and about to hit Ed & Linda’s boat. It’s 4 a.m. and this massive current that came with the wind has made this anchorage like a rushing river. There are actually small whitecaps lapping on the side of Dazzler and upwellings that are acting like whirlpools. So, it’s dark out, I’m scrambling to find some clothes, get the electronics fired up and get our headsets ready. Dan is calmly yet sternly telling me to move faster because we are within 15 feet of hitting One Fine Day. He’s at the helm with the boat fired up just trying to keep us away. I come stumbling out of the cabin and into the cockpit to see their boat far, far too close. We put on our headsets and go figure, Dan’s is dead! What the? I had them on the charger yesterday. Apparently the plug got pulled out. Damn! This is not going to be fun! Looks like we’ll be doing this the old fashioned way. Holy hell! I think I could throw up!

Dan starts giving me my orders. Basically….keep us from hitting anyone. He heads to the bow to start pulling up the 80 feet of anchor chain. I’m at the helm with my stomach in knots as my head is spinning like a top trying to keep the other boats in sight without the benefit of my contact lens I need for distance.

The anchor lifts off the ocean floor and instantly Dazzler starts rushing backward. One Fine Day is getting larger in my rear view so I hit the throttle and start pushing forward. Dan comes back to the helm to get us into position so we can drop the hook and get her re-anchored.

Fortunately we were able to see the bottom here when we came in on Sunday so we know approximately where the bommies are located but it’s dark and there is still an element of the unknown. The fact is, however, we don’t dare try to get out of the anchorage at dark so we have no choice but to try to re-anchor.

Once in position Dan goes back to the bow and drops the hook. The current is so strong it pulls the anchor backwards underneath the boat but we’re in 28 feet of water so it still hits the bottom fairly quickly. Normally this is when I’d put her in reverse but not today. We’ve got 3.1 knots of current coming right on the nose so we immediately start backing down without the help of the engine. Dan let’s out more chain and within seconds she appears to grab and we start turning. Okay good, I can breathe now. Dan puts the snubber on and tells me to put it in reverse and back down a bit just to make sure we are set solid. I do and within a minute or two our speed over ground (SOG) is nearing two knots. I look back and we are getting closer to One Fine Day again and before I can look over my left shoulder Dan is in the cockpit because we are about to hit SV Kini Popo. Where the hell did they come from? My butt pucker factor goes from alert level orange to red in about a millisecond.

Dan pours on the throttle and we pull away. He tells me we have to try again. Holy crap Batman, I’m not awake enough for this type of stress!

Back at the helm Dan gets us into position again then he’s off to the bow. By this time Ed on One Fine Day has turned on all his nav and deck lights. He lets me know he’s on deck. Great…another set of eyes. I’ll take all the help I can get right now.

Top left…The day we arrived. Top right…the morning we left.

Dan drops the anchor and it seems to grab on. I start backing her down and as always I’ve got a sharp eye on the SOG. I want to see that thing hit zero. Of course with the current and the whirlpools were going to be moving a bit so we aren’t likely to see zero but we do get to .1 knots and she seems to be set. Okay, okay, I take a deep breath as Dan comes back and we watch to be sure we aren’t dragging.

It all seems good so Dan tells me to go back to bed and he’ll stand watch with the engine running. Seriously? Like there is any possible way I’m going back to bed now. My stomach is still in knots and I’m still feeling a bit nauseous. No, if he’s up, I’m up. So, I make a pot of coffee, pour a coke and sit below waiting for the sun to rise. Did I say we may never leave here? HA! I’m ready to get out of Dodge and soon!

I’m below writing this article when Dan says, “Were dragging again.” Oh come on! This is not how I want to start my day! I come topside and yep, the SOG starts going up and we’re headed backward toward One Fine Day. You’ve got to be kidding me! Here we go again. “Third time’s a charm.” Dan says as I go down to get the headsets that should now have enough charge to get us through this.

Yes, headsets are good. I always feel better when we have these on because they are so sensitive I can hear Dan breathe. I know I won’t miss an order this way.

The sun is coming up and there’s just a hint of light. There’s just enough light now to really see what’s happening in the water. We’ve got whitecaps and whirlpools. It’s exactly like a raging river.

Dan heads to the bow to pull the anchor. It’s hooked on a bommie but apparently not good enough or we would not keep sliding back. Fortunately he’s able to get the anchor up and this time he leaves me to get us in position. This takes every bit of concentration and boat driving skill I have as these upwellings that are acting like whirlpools are pushing us and trying to turn us sideways. Dan’s telling me to go a little more starboard and I already have the wheel hard over to starboard. The wind is whipping around us and we’ve still got close to three knots of current coming at us so the second that hook leaves the ground I’m hard on the throttle. It’s a delicate maneuver here. You have to have enough throttle to keep moving forward to get into position but with the current switching directions under the keel I have to be careful not to get pushed forward or sideways. There are two boats in front of us and I need to thread the needle to get between them. Nope, no pressure here at all. There’s just a 32,000 pound boat in my hands and if I do the wrong thing I could damage her or the other boats around her. That’s all! Pressure? What pressure?

The good news is the two boats ahead are on mooring balls so they aren’t swinging much. Dan is calmly telling me what to do and I’m following his every command to the letter. Meanwhile I’m saying a few prayers and talking to some guardian angels.

We get into position and he drops the hook for the third time. Please let this be the one! I back down and hold my breath. There it is, that wonderful swing of the boat that tells me she’s grabbed on hard. YESSS!

One eye on One Fine Day and one on the SOG….there it goes! .9 .8 .7 .4 .2 0! Still holding my breath I give her some more throttle to see if she holds. She vacillates between 0 and .5 but we don’t seem to be getting any closer to One Fine Day and with the current turning us the way it is, even though our SOG isn’t at 0, we feel confident were holding now.

Of course there’s no time to relax. We’ve still got an awning to take down and the dink needs to be put on the deck before we can leave. Dan’s on the radio with Ed and we decide that once we are both ready we are moving out. Ed can’t pull their anchor until we move so we get to work. It takes us about 45 minutes to get our boat ready to roll.

It’s a little after seven and for the fourth time since 0400 I’m back at the helm. Usually I would be the one to get us moving once the anchor is up but not here. I want no part of it so all I do is try to hold ground while Dan gets the anchor up and chalked. He comes back to the helm and I head to the bow to watch for bommies as he turns us around and heads for the entrance.

The pass is a bit choppy but nothing like we experienced in Fakarava so we motor through with Ed & Linda following behind. It turns out that their anchor chain was wrapped around a large bommie. This means they weren’t backing down as far as they should have so we may not have been sliding in the first place but in any event we were too close and we needed to move or risk hitting them. The last thing you want ever is to have your 32,000 pound boat go banging up against anything especially a friend’s boat!

We hit the open water and both of us take a deep breath and finally start to relax. Yes, the sphincter muscles unclench themselves dropping to alert level yellow and we finally breathe easy. We are Apataki bound.

Out here on the Pacific today there’s some pretty good size rollers. We’re seeing 3+ meter swells. Ed and Linda are beside us sailing about a half mile away and when they go into the trough of the wave we can only see their mast and sail. Good thing these are long rollers or this would be brutal.

But, we made it through another nautical challenge. Each time we are becoming better sailors and a more refined team. I can’t imagine anyone else but Dan that I would want as my love and my Captain out here.

Now, where is that bottle of vodka?

Until next time,


Note: While our experience at Anse Amyot was certainly not ideal, it was a spectacular place and we hear the snorkeling is incredible. I wish we had done that the day we arrived. That said, we just hit a bad weather window here. If the wind is coming from the south and there are big swells outside you better be cautious. Those swells crash over he south end and fill the lagoon. The water has to go somewhere and over top of the shallow reef to the north is where it’s going. We aren’t the only ones who got blown out of there in those few days. We’d go back again, but only in the right conditions.