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Friday, Friday

Have I been spending too long looking into the tea leaves?  I’ll spout my weather musings, as usual, at the end of the blog so you tell me then.  And if you get the pop-culture reference in the blog title I can only say “sorry.”

Tuesday it was sort of back to normal in a way.  I managed a fairly typical 2 hour run to drop off trash and pick up a package from the chandlers.  Typical in that it really should have taken 10 minutes but I kept bumping into folks and “hello” leads to “bloody weather” and then time flies.  With a reasonable part of the day left we tackled a few important issues.  Two were leaks made apparent during the recent deluge.  Gone now is the leak via the mount on the forward starboard shower hatch.  Gone now is the leak from the handles to the stern locker hatches, the starboard one in particular being, I believe, the root cause of the bilge alarms last weekend.  Last job was to mount the man overboard pole securing it to the horse shoe float.  That way, if someone goes overboard we can throw it in the water.  The swimmer can see the flag/pole and find the float.  Those left aboard can see the flag/pole and find the swimmer.

In the evening was a pot luck dinner for the fleet of cruisers stuck in Opua.  We ended up sat at a table with the Imagines and Callypsos joined later by John from Passages.  All good company.  We left quite late.

So.  The bloody weather.

The model forecasts available yesterday provided no inspiration at all.  The huge high pressure system well to the east of us seemed immovable and creating a traffic jam of systems out our way.  The Delos boys are stir crazy and have a notion to leave today and head east before heading north.  A bold and brave move in my opinion but I can understand the move.

Knowing the models to be in a volatile state demands close attention to how the solutions are evolving.  And this morning I see a glimpse.  Perhaps a chance to leave on Friday.  Low pressure systems are doing the tango south and west of us.  One of them is now looking to take and hold a position just off the west coast on NZ bringing northwesterly winds Friday afternoon followed by westerlies.  If we left then we would get a day and a half of good sailing before encountering a line of high pressure spots with confused and light winds.  This would require careful threading through and maybe a little motoring.  Beyond this we would be into south easterly flows which would put us back into decent sailing conditions.  The final obstacle would be a low pressure system over Tonga way which could cause a combination of opportunities or problems depending on your destination and how it evolves.  My overall synopsis is that its looking good for those heading to New Caledonia, perhaps a good chance for those Fiji bound and a bit chancy for those bound for Tonga.

In about 3 hours we get the next model output.  I’ll shake the cup and read the tea leaves again then.

Highs and Lows

With winds down into the teens the bay we’re in was beginning to calm down but was still a little choppy when we left to go ashore. Feelings were high as the forecast was still showing a good window for departure on Thursday/Friday. We dinghied over to Passages, tied/locked the boat and transferred our last jerry can of fuel into the dinghies tank.

With another cruiser the five of us packed into John and Pam’s car and took the road south to Whangarei. Along the way we could see lowlands flooded by the recent rains but fortunately the road was open. In late January, I learned, the road had been closed for three days after an even heavier storm.

The day was very busy but we got everything done we needed to including a trip back to Norsand where we met the Sea Misters and Tahinas. It was late afternoon by the time we returned. And what a transformation from the morning/previous few days. The sun was out and the bay calm. We lugged everything from the car to the dinghy and took it back to Dignity. I passed everything up to Helen and left her to pack. I returned to the dock to help John go and collect his dinghy which was still over by the yard. It was much easier to tow than to row and I was glad to help.

Next, John took me to Pahia so he could pick up some beer (I did too) and I could fill my two jerry cans. I was shocked at the price not realizing it would be more expensive to fill two cans than the tank of the car we had all those months.

I was able to get the full cans back to the boat, help Helen put the dodger back on and then get back ashore just in time for the 6pm meet up I’d organized with cruisers willing to help run a radio net for the trip up. We shared a few beers in the cool evening air before having our brief discussion. We’ve agreed to run a simple position check in once in the morning and once in the evening 8am/8pm with the intent on providing a communication safety net for anyone getting into trouble. I stayed a while longer with the Delos boys catching up over a few more beers.

With almost everything done we need to get done to leave and with a similar sense from everyone else I was feeling pretty good.

Back on the boat almost the first thing I did was to pull down a new set of weather data to examine the evolving weather situation. I toggled between the latest forecast and the mornings data a few times just to be sure of what I was really seeing. The winds forecasted for mid passage have changed quite considerably. It’s looking like a fantastic trip for the motor boats as it’s light air now for days. Great for the motor boat guys but pretty lousy for us.

This was a bit of a blow to the day’s euphoria but it didn’t quite crush our spirits as we were marveling at the simplicity of the lack of wind and a boat that wasn’t being continuously tossed around. The prospect of a good nights sleep without alarms going off all night had a strong appeal.

I have looked at the weather forecast again this morning. I’m not feeling overjoyed. The weather patterns are controlled by what goes on in the upper atmosphere which tends to push things eastwards. Normally the highs and lows, while dancing around, generally make their way from Australia out over/around NZ and off to the east. A huge high is sitting around 158W. It’s been there a while is the forecasts have it stationary out for the next week. The low pressure system that brought all the recent nasty weekend weather is forecast to patrol the Tasman sea.  North of the area between this high and low the winds are light and variable.  That’s exactly where we want to sail.

The weekly McDavitt missive that came out a day late this week offers little comfort. The section providing direct comment our situation reads :


Around the middle of the week there is a gap of lighter winds between the two lows-maybe OK for motoring north but not for sailing. From Thu to Sat, the showery NW flow ahead of L2’s trough will probably put off most cruising sailors.  There is likely to be some assistance with a SW to SE wind change after that trough on late Sunday, but this may be interrupted by a period of light winds in a weak ridge.  SO there appears to be NO great sailing voyages appearing at this stage.

One would think that at this stage it’s best to call off the plans for this week and get the reading book out.  Perhaps.  Probably.  But it’s never that easy.  We watch.  We wait.  We remain ready to go.  As Bob likes to say “Weather is a mix of pattern and chaos” which basically means things could change.  Who, in fact, has ever seen a forecast that is right?

Pwooof.  That’s me blowing the dust of the cover.

Footnote: More on the weather.  The current forecasts are showing all the signs of being in a particularly ill conditioned state.  Meaning, that small changes in the input parameters can lead to large changes in the model output.  My view is supported by the large change in model outputs that we saw occur yesterday, some of Bob’s comments which related to model inconsistency and comments from a local cruiser who’s been monitoring the weather here for 15 years.  It all supports the notion that right now we’re into making day to day decisions on when to leave.  It could be this week.  It might not.


Sitting in a large anchorage with constant 25-35 knot winds peaking higher at times with the boat constantly moving in a short steep chop with occasional hull slaps from bigger waves is a wearisome thing. We’ve been at it for days now and it seems like a life time. Each night we’ve gone to bed with the anchor alarm which wakes up up every now and then when the wind shifts. The anchor has stayed firm. There are better alarms which allow one to set up guard zones around where the boat will naturally swing. We can’t do this so we get woken when the boat has moved a certain distance. This is worse than passage making.

Furthermore the starboard bilge has been gathering water slowly and that alarm has gone off every few hours. I know water is coming from the stern locker via the drain tube and the problem became more apparent yesterday, perhaps related to our removal of the dodger which keeps rain water (and there’s been a lot of that) out of the cockpit area. Being in and official storm is not the time to troubleshoot or fix this sort of thing so we just had to put up with it. We know we need to seal the stern rail – one of our last chores before we leave – and it might just be that. We’ll see.

This morning we’re seeing winds actually below 20 knots. The boat is still moving around and normally these conditions would be deemed totally unsuitable for an anchorage – we’d find something more sheltered. But now it feels like peace. And it’s surely only going to get better.

At first light yesterday we braved the elements and took down the dodger. We found the main sail lazy bag had been blown half open. How the main sail itself had not been caught and dragged out I don’t know but it surely would have been had we not dealt with this and the winds increased as they did yesterday.

We spent the day locked inside the boat. We communicated with a few people via email and VHF and there is a growing number of us 2010 puddle jumpers looking to grab this up coming weather window which is now looking to be this Thursday.

We played some cards for a while and the rest of the time got on with our own thing. I managed to nail five more Euler problems including two I’d previously been stuck on.

After this morning’s weather forecast I’ve put us on a positive decision to leave at the end of this week. That means that our crew Paul now expects to come to the boat which we’d agreed over yesterday would be Wednesday at noon.

Today we’re heading back to Whangarei for final provisioning courtesy of John and Pam from Passages. This had been planned for Tuesday but they made the sensible decision to do the provisioning while the weather was still bad and use Tuesday for boat work.

My final plan for today is to call out for volunteers to help run a radio net up to Fiji for safety/assistance purposes with an idea to get together at the yacht club this evening. We may end up having an evening out as we’re desperate to get off the boat for a while. Delos is in the anchorage and will be coming. We’ve not seen them for a long time it seems.

Mariner’s Cave / Beach BBQ

Around mid morning Ben and I took the dinghy over to the small island of Luakapa to snorkel as we’d read it was supposed to be pretty good there. The water was certainly clear and it was quite interesting. We’d brought the spear guns just in case there was something worth taking back to eat but there was none of that.

On the way out and on the way back we popped by a few of the boats we knew to invite them to come with us to Mariner’s Cave in the afternoon. It was about 3nm away which is quite far for dinghies. It was recommended to go by boat – perhaps sharing to make it easier. In the end we had quite a few agree to come up – 16 folks in all from Delos, Inspiration Lady, Vagabond, Callypso, Ludmilla, Anthem, Jackster, Imagine & Arctic.

Gary and Jackie from Inspiration Lady were a great help. Not only had they agreed to be the dinghy dock but they also came along just for the ride and social giving us someone to man the boat while everyone got in the water.

At 2pm we had everyone aboard and we motored off to the cave. We found it easily enough as there were two other boats there when we arrived although they left shortly after. Our drop off was a bit far from the cave so we had a bit of a swim to get there. To get into the cave one has to swim down a few feet then along about 12-14 surfacing in a sealed, dark cave. The entrance tunnel was quite large so by going deeper there was no risk of bumping into anything. Inside the cave it is quite amazing. Despite being dark it is well lit from the outside. The surf created changes in pressure that could be felt in the ears. When a partial vacuum was created by the surf going out a mist would form inside the cave momentarily.

There was a second entrance which I’d heard about before. It was about 40 feet down and a little longer – about the limit of what I can do underwater. Forgetting that I’d just done a fairly long swim I went for it. This turned out to be a scary moment as I was gulping for air even when I still had rock over my head. Reaching the surface took forever. I decided to remove my weight belt to help. Just before doing so I realized I shouldn’t do it over the deep water outside of the tunnel exit so I swam over the roof of the tunnel to let it go. In hindsight I could probably have reached the surface in that time. Nevertheless I am here to tell the story but I’ve learned my lesson. The longer underwater stuff can only be done when I’m totally relaxed and not after an exertion. I was soon back in the cave spending a lot longer inside this time with everyone else who were now all inside. Feeling more relaxed I again exited via the lower tunnel finding it a lot easier. Ben also made the exit the same way.

On the way back Ben entertained us by playing on Bamboozle’s piano which we still have. We’d dragged a couple of dinghies out the the cave as a few folks wanted to visit Swallow’s Cave on the way back. We let them go about half way back and headed in.

We agreed to have a beach bonfire/BBQ at 6pm. A few of us went ashore to collect wood while others prepared food. Soon we had quite a crowd ashore and two fires going. We stayed quite late with chatting and some music – mostly furnished by Fergus from Paleides on his hand organ. It was well after midnight before we were finally back aboard. Ben went back to Delos but it looks like he swam back at some point as he’s aboard and there were wet foot prints all over the cabin this morning.


Around midday, along with all from Delos and Jackster, we dinghied over to the end of the bay we’re in and dove on the wreck there. The surface waters were calm and murky but from about 20 feet down visibility cleared. The wreck is of an old transport ship a few hundred feet long. The highest parts of the structure are at about 60ft deep with the stern deck around 70ft. The base of the holds which can be entered sit around 110ft deep. There were plenty of fish around the wreck as well as many large majestic jelly fish. The iron deck has plenty of holes allowing us to peer into the depths of the ship. Because of the depth it was a short dive of around 30 minutes which was perfect for Helen.

Freezing Rain next to us invited us over for G&Ts at 6pm. We went ashore an hour or so earlier to cash in our free pizza only to discover they don’t light their oven until 6pm. We ended up at the Sunset Bar having their wood fire cooked burgers which were pretty damn good.

Leaving Ben aboard to get in some more piano before we have to hand it back we headed over to Freezing Rain where we also met the Trims and the Worral Winds.

Today we’re out of here. As much as we like it in Neiafu we do want to see some more of the islands around here. We’re off to Port Morell for a couple of nights before pushing off to the east side of the group for the weekend. We still don’t have our tracking reference but have people lined up when CatCo work out how to send an email. Ironically Leu Cat just sent us an email this morning saying they’ll be in Neiafu today and are hoping to see us. This is not the first time we’ve passed each other by. No doubt we’ll see them around here soon.

We’re feeling a little wrecked ourselves after the last week or so. We need some quiet time to recuperate. Maybe not tonight though because there’s already talk of a beach bonfire.