Monday, June 11, 2012

New Zealand to Vanuatu (2012)

The official cyclone season in the tropics is over in April, and cruisers in Opua were busy getting ready for the passage north.  As we scrambled to finish projects, we also spent time studying the weather.  The strategy for a jump north from New Zealand is to wait for the frontal band preceding a mild high to clear, and then ride the boisterous SW winds north.  This usually means a couple of days of fresh SW winds, and then lighter winds closer to the center of the high.  The SE trades are generally reached somewhere between 28S and 25S, which for us would hopefully mean a nice downwind run on the last leg to southern Vanuatu.

We made a big dent in our project list (which never goes away), and a good weather window looked to be opening on May 17th.  So, we stored the tools, got everything tied down, put on our long-johns, sweaters and jackets and headed out for the 935 mile passage north to Vanuatu. 

The weather as we left the Bay of Islands was quite squally, and we had SW winds ranging from 10-30 knots and some rain.  Further offshore, conditions settled a bit, and we made good progress, averaging 6 knots for the first two days.  By the third day the winds lightened a bit, and were forecast to lighten more over the next few days.  We replaced the working jib with the genoa and despite our speed dropping to 3-4 knots, we enjoyed three days of relaxing light air sailing.  One morning, Di awoke and came into the cockpit to find a ten inch long flying fish sitting next to Andrew as he was reading, and he was completely unaware of it… must have been a good book.

By Tuesday the barometer was climbing, and it was clear the mild high pressure system in place when we left was building higher than expected.  The center pressure eventually reached 1031, meaning enhanced trade winds as we made progress north.  The forecasts were calling for SE 25-30 knots, so we made the appropriate sail changes and prepared for a bumpy ride. 

Thursday did in fact bring enhanced trade winds, and we had SE 18-25 knots by late afternoon.  That night we had squally weather and E winds, with some squalls blowing 35-40 knots for hours at a time.  The seas were running 8-12 feet, and our beam reach course was uncomfortable.  Wave after wave crashed over the dodger, sending seawater into the cockpit.  We were really flying with speeds averaging between seven and eight knots.  The seas also built to 10-15 feet, and Saviah would roll hard over with the leeward rail in the water when a big one caught us on the beam.  Night watches were very wet, but as the waves came crashing down on us in the cockpit, the water was finally warm.  The water temperature rose from 63 degrees when we left to 88 degrees as we approached Vanuatu.  The air temperature was about 30 degrees warmer as well.  It was nice to be back in the tropics again. 

As the sun rose on our eighth day at sea, we spotted Anatom, the southernmost island in Vanuatu.  The winds were still quite strong at E 20-30 knots, but by noon we were inside the protection of the reef and scoping out a spot to anchor.  We dropped the anchor in 50 feet of water and finally relaxed.  It is always such a relief to be safely anchored in calm waters after being out at sea, and we looked forward to exploring Vanuatu.

Anelcauhat Bay on Anatom Island