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

New Zealand, part 4 (2012)

After we dropped Adam off at the airport in Auckland, we headed back to Napier.  We made a quick stop in Rotorua, which was on our route.  We wanted to see some of the geothermal activity in the area that we missed last time we were there.  We stopped at one of the parks, but by 4pm it was already closed for the day.  There was an open mud pool off the side of the road, so we stopped to see it.  It was interesting to see all of the steam rising and the mud bubbling up, but the sulfur smell was very strong, and after 15 minutes, we were out of there. 

mud pools near Rotorua

Back in Napier, Andrew was anxious to start building a dodger that he had been thinking about over the last year.  We decided to build a hard dodger that would not only protect us from the elements, but would incorporate some new solar panels, a rainwater catchment system and would be wired for lighting so we could see the lines and winches in the cockpit at night.  There was a small boatyard right next to the marina, and the manager let us use a corner of the yard for a couple weeks for a nominal fee.  One of the local lumber yards gave us some throw away packing crate wood, which Andrew cut up and shaped to form the frame of the dodger. 
After the initial frame was built, it was bent to match the shape of the cabin top and then wrapped in fiberglass.  Working with fiberglass is a really messy job, and Andrew went through two gallons of epoxy and 30 yards of fiberglass cloth.  Once the fiberglass cured, it was sanded down and painted.  We had talked to a welder in Opua a couple months prior about having some braces built for it.  He sounded like he knew what he was talking about and gave us a good quote for the work.  So after the paint dried, we strapped it to the cabin top for the passage north, planning to finish the installation in Opua.

building the dodger top in Napier

We also took advantage of having a car and did some major provisioning for the next season.  We had our anchors regalvanized and looked into regalvanizing our chain as well.  We hoped our chain would last for the whole trip, but we were really unlucky last year with getting it wrapped around coral heads, and it was in bad shape.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be nearly twice as expensive to regalvanize chain as it was to buy it new, so we sold ours to the salvage yard and replaced it with 200 feet of new 8mm chain.   While we were in a place with good medical facilities, we also took the opportunity to go to the dentist for a check-up and teeth cleaning and to the doctor to get our last shot for our Hepatitis B vaccinations and a prescription for malaria (preventative).   

Di spent quite a bit of time planning in more detail the next leg of our trip, researching routes and weather, and reading the guidebooks to determine specific places we wanted to see.  She also worked for a couple weeks for our friend Matt, who developed a video game for testing children’s cognitive skills.  The game was in the testing phase, so she went to local intermediate schools to schedule sessions and supervise the kids while they played the game.  It was nice to have a little income for a while. 
It wasn’t all work though, and we spent our weekends and many evenings hanging out with Matt and April, and playing with Frazer (20 months old).  April is an excellent cook, and we ate very well while we were there.  We even had time for running and swimming and even a few rounds of golf.  It was really nice to spend some time in one place for a while. 

hanging with Matt, April, and Frazer

By early April, our “to do” list for Opua had grown, and we were getting anxious to get things started.  We got a good weather window on April 13th and said our sad goodbyes to Matt, April, and Frazer, and set out on the 500 mile trip back to Opua.  We were able to sail for the first two days, but then the wind died, and we motored the last two days, reaching the Bay of Islands just after dark, around 8 pm.  We dropped the hook near Russell in the flat calm weather, as we didn’t want to enter the crowded Opua anchorage/mooring field after dark.
The next morning we continued on to Opua and had the boat hauled out at Ashby’s boatyard a couple days later.  We sanded down what was left of our boot stripe and put bottom paint on it, which raised our waterline by a few inches.  We also put a couple of coats of paint on the rest of the bottom and replaced our zincs. 

We decided the bowsprit needed some attention as well, as there were cracks in the paint where the wood is laminated together.  This is normal, as the wood expands and contracts and the paint doesn’t.  We were concerned that water may have seeped into the cracks and starting rotting the wood.  Andrew ground out the cracks to get down to the wood and found only a couple of very minor spots with a little bit of rot.  There were no structural issues, and we were happy to find out that it was holding up so well.  We filled in the ground out areas with epoxy and repainted it. Meanwhile, Di scrubbed the hull, as it was looking more yellow than white these days.

working in the boatyard

After six days in the boatyard, we moved Saviah back to the breakwater at the marina.  We were finally ready to install the dodger.  The stainless steel supports had been fabricated, and we drilled holes in the deck and mounted them.  We installed three 50 watt solar panels and wired all of the lighting, and then put a teak rim around the perimeter for the water catchment system.  We also added some handrails to the outside edges, and then bolted it down to the stainless steel supports.  We had a local canvas guy build a windscreen and a sunshade to cover the cockpit.  It rained for the next couple days after it was installed, and we enjoyed the benefits immediately.  I’m not sure how we made it this far without a dodger, but we will certainly enjoy it going forward. 

Saviah's new dodger

Amidst the dodger installation, we were watching the weather for a good window for the next leg of our trip.  We got one just as we were finishing the last of our projects.  We borrowed a car and headed into town for our last minute provisions and then to the customs office to do our clearance paperwork.  We really enjoyed our five months in New Zealand.  It is a beautiful country and the people are really friendly, but winter was fast approaching and we are ready for the tropics.  We left the Bay of Islands on May 17th, pointing north for the islands of Vanuatu.