Third time lucky!

03rd May 2015
Third time lucky, well that’s what it’s proved to be crossing the Tasman back to New Zealand.

Attempt One:
You may recall we turned back after our first attempt – something we’ve never had to do before and after a few repairs – all working well now, we were back looking for a weather window. Now for an apology – the last Sea Mail was light on sailing and this one is light on photos, the reason will become evident later.

Back in Sydney:
We thought we could see one opening up at the beginning of March and watched it closely (by ‘we’ I mean Mike who is much better and diligent than I am about these things) but Mike became worried as he thought he could see start of a deep low up in the tropics, the sort of thing that develops into a tropical cyclone – the Pacific equivalent of a hurricane. I was convinced it would all be OK and was looking like it would miss us anyway. Mike wasn’t so sure. As it transpired he was right and what he had spotted was the beginnings of TC Pam. And she was predicted to hit the top of North Island Island – lost at the bottom of the screen grab below - just as we would. You don’t have to be a meteorologist to work out this was not something you’d want to be anywhere near.

So from the safety of Sydney we watched her develop and track down through the islands of Vanuatu. The havoc she wreaked there was immense and our thoughts were with the many people we had met on our previous visits. They had welcomed us into their communities and generously shared what they had with us. Many of the villages are low lying, their houses of wood, coconut thatch and cane have nothing more than a few coconut trees along the shore line to protect them from the violent on shore winds that will have arrived. Even those living higher up in villages seemed to cling precariously to hillsides won’t have escaped. Even in the good weather the paths through these villages are pretty challenging – narrow, steep, uneven and muddy, they will have had houses and paths swept away by the torrential rain that accompanied Pam.
In a country so poor, with such a fragile infrastructure it’s hard to know how they will pick themselves up from this. But pick themselves up they will. These are tough resilient people used to hardships and having to be self-reliant; there is precious little the government can do, they just do not have the resources.
Fortunately for our many friends in New Zealand Pam didn’t make landfall as this chart suggested she might. Pam skirted a bit further east giving heavy rains and winds but not a cyclone. With those sobering thoughts we looked again for a weather window and for the first time ever used the services of a professional weather forecaster and passage planner – Bob McDavitt. We take the Tasman very seriously, it has a well-earned reputation for very bad weather and confused seas and we had our worst passage ever when we crossed it four years ago.
But it hasn’t been all seriousness and we have had spent some wonderful time with new friends on boats and ashore. Spontaneity is one of the wonderful things about our lives, it’s one of the things we will have to work hard at continuing to do once back ashore before we succumb to the constraints of good old British reserve! The boating culture is so much more one of talking to people passing by your boat and inviting them on board.

Attempt Two:
So after more socialising off we went – again. All went well, nice sailing conditions and then the computer froze and wouldn’t work, nothing Mike did could get it to unfreeze – it even froze during a security scan. We didn’t panic but got out the back up laptop except we hadn’t checked things on it for ages and guess what – it too wasn’t working (won’t bore you with details). So no emails i.e. no weather maps (GRIBS) – not good in the Tas. OK we can use the High frequency radio, plugged into the laptop to create good old synoptic charts – that function wasn’t working either. After much discussion of whether we could interpret the weather from indistinct voice broadcasts – a real skill that we haven’t developed in this part of the world, we decided the Tas was not the place to learn. So guess what? We turned round – again.
Customs were fabulous and clearly understood just how gutted we were feeling and couldn’t have made things any easier. So back to Rozelle by the Fish Market a quick jaunt to the local shopping centre and one new computer later that’s now up and running, downloads installed, software to run all our email and weather programmes installed, and more importantly working. Scanning and checking the photo hard drive for bugs wasn’t one of the pre departure priorities (hence the lack of photos). And back to looking for a weather window.

Attempt Three:
More communication with weatherman Mr McDavitt and we had a new date to go. So off we went through the Heads, we almost didn’t dare say goodbye to the Opera House and Bridge.
Must be some truth in the ‘third time lucky’ adage as we had some wonderful winds – we were batting along in F5 at great speeds and a comfortable wind angle. The swell was pretty kind, but that’s not to say that we haven’t had the decks awash many a time as the waves whooshed along from bow to stern. One of the many times we’re glad to have a reasonable amount of freeboard, would have been very wet otherwise. As always though it’s been mixed and we have had to use the engine far more than we would have liked, not only expensive but noisy and not always that comfortable – Sea Rover is much happier with sails up, sailing at an angle to the wind. But mustn’t complain it does help chew up the miles. Given our last crossing of the Tas where we got well and truly beaten up we have to say we’d take a bit too much motoring every time.
Landfall in New Zealand felt like coming home as we hadn’t planned on returning here by boat. Straight away we were into renewing friendships, when we asked Craig if we could borrow his buoy off Russell the answer was of course and ‘we’re coming up for the weekend’, which of course meant drinks and much catching up late into the night. Then off first thing (well a rather late first thing after the night before) for the overnight to Auckland. We had planned to stop on the way down and go ashore to see more friends for coffee but no sooner had we dropped the hook in Oneroa Bay than they arrived with another couple and Tanya’s homemade hot cross buns – only just about had time to get the lee cloths down.
Then over to the Viaduct Marina in Auckland, where John, as ever had managed to find a space to fit us in for the weekend which meant we could catch up with other friends here in town. The next day we were about to go out for a potter around when a large tender pulled up behind and there were Paula and Stephen, friends we’d met going through the Panama Canal with their grandchildren aboard (which is why we hadn’t recognised them at first), so more socialising.
But in case you think that socialising is all we ever do the next day we relocated to Hobsonville Marina and, after a flying visit home for my first annual check-up (yes the little piggy valve is doing great and no they didn’t give me a sick note excusing me from all boat chores) it’s now head down, working through the ‘to do list’, shopping and looking for a weather window to head north to Fiji. We hope this comes soon as the weather is definitely autumnal, the winter duvet is out, the days are shorter and it’s getting cold, no more drinks in the cockpit for the time being.
Promise more photos in the next Sea Mail when we hope to be in Fiji basking in the sun.

Our photos of Australia - from the outback to the outrageous!

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