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We already wrote about it in our previous blog: during our stay in Tonga, the approaching crossing to New Zealand formed a common thread. New Zealand is not a country where you just sail to. There are two reasons for this: the New Zealand formalities and the weather conditions in the ocean around New Zealand.
Import restrictions and formalities New Zealand
New Zealand is so geologically isolated that diseases and biological pollution cannot just "spread" from other countries. New Zealand therefore has the understandable policy that they want to contain possible sources of contamination directly at the border, which means, among other things, that there are strict rules about what you can bring to New Zealand. For air travelers this means that you are not allowed to bring food to New Zealand, but for boats - which are actually complete households - the rules are much more precise: No fruit and vegetables, no meat or fish products, no honey, no beans or seeds, no carvings, no coral, etc. etc. Boats pose an additional hazard because they can carry marine organisms ("fouling") to the hull and it is therefore required that you clean the hull shortly in advance before arriving in New Zealand . Lectures inform about what is and what is not allowed and how to prepare the boat for arrival in New Zealand. New Zealand is a "developed" country and unfortunately "developed" is synonymous with "bureaucratic" and nowadays also "controlling". We have to fill in a lot of forms, some already sent to New Zealand before we leave, on the way at sea we also have to let us know two days before arrival that we are really coming, and on the day of arrival we have to use the radio again. let us know we are on our way. New Zealand also regularly flies reconnaissance planes over the ocean and calls crossing boats to tell them again by VHF who they are and why they are sailing around there. There are heavy fines for not complying with the required procedures, so it is important to be well informed about how everything should be done. A New Zealand customs delegation came to Tonga especially to give lectures there about how it all should be done.
We donate most of the surplus stocks to the local poor population. With the alcohol we do it a bit differently: we just get a bit more generous with rum and the like and get rid of the surplus in a pleasant way. In retrospect, this turns out not to be necessary at all, New Zealand does not check the cruisers on their drink stock. On the radio network we hear from someone who has arrived in New Zealand: "They are very relaxed with the amount of booze you can take with you, just declare everything and it's fine, even Ta-B could keep everything and had no problem !! ! ". The latter is a miracle because that catamaran looks like a liquor store, so from the moment we heard that, we try to be more economical, without much success by the way. There are some parties on the beach where everyone brings something to eat and that also helps to get rid of what New Zealand has identified as "potential sources of contamination". We can also quickly cross the honey off the list. A striking side effect of the imposed temporary Burgundian lifestyle is that many boats lose so much weight that the waterline is visibly higher and thus the growth rises above water. And that reminds everyone that there is one job to be done before leaving for New Zealand: cleaning the hull. The temperature of the sea water in Tonga is already considerably lower than the 30 degrees that we have been used to for almost a year, but at 26 degrees you should still not grumble. We each take care of half of the hull and attack the hull with filler knives and scotchbrite cloths. The result is impressive as far as we are concerned and we hope that it will also be appreciated by the "biosecurity officer" who will investigate our boat in New Zealand.
The weather conditions during the crossing
Watchful readers know that throughout our journey we have been hitched a ride with the so-called "trade winds" around the equator. This stable air flow arises because in the Northern Hemisphere the air currents turn clockwise and in the Southern Hemisphere those air currents turn in opposite directions. Around the equator, these air movements meet and then they move fraternally without notable exception from East to West. Sailing is relatively a breeze in this circumstance because the weather conditions are extremely predictable and even without sails you go with the current and you automatically follow "the coconut route". Until the moment you want to leave the tropics and go to New Zealand, for example. Then you suddenly have to deal with completely different weather systems that can be extremely dynamic and erratic. The weather conditions around New Zealand are also quite special and can be downright dangerous. It is therefore important to know what you are getting into.
During the lecture that we will attend in Tonga, an experienced expert and meteorologist will explain, while enjoying a beer, how the weather conditions around New Zealand are constantly evolving: The high temperatures above the desert of neighboring Australia and the icy water that flows into the region from Antarctica together forms a factory that continuously delivers high and low pressure systems with an interval of 2 to 3 days. These high and low pressure systems move eastward and pass over and north of New Zealand.
The high pressure areas contain windless areas, which is not very favorable for a sailing boat. But the low pressure areas can contain powerful storms that are dangerous to sailboats. The low-pressure systems move faster than the high-pressure systems and when they approach each other a "squash zone" is created; an area where the isobars are compressed (which means that there is a large difference in air pressure over a short distance) and therefore stormy winds arise. A complete cycle of high and low pressure system takes about 5 days, while the crossing for an average sailing boat takes at least a week. You cannot escape taking on a certain degree of "discomfort" along the way, in other words, consciously entering a front.
The strategy is clearly explained to us:
- The crossing to New Zealand is not a sport. Sailors generally hate to use the engine, but in this case it is dangerous to delay. So don't wait for wind in calm periods, but start the engine. The same with little wind. The faster you go, the less exposure to bad weather. Bring a lot of fuel. (We therefore fill the 400 liter diesel tank completely and even take an extra 80 liters in jerry cans with us).
- Make a stopover at Minerva reef: this is a "shallow" some 270 miles southwest of Tonga where you can anchor, although no part of the reef rises above the water at high tide. A kind of "mudflat walking area" but without the Wadden Islands, so to speak. You are anchoring in the middle of the ocean, as it were, shortening the crossing to New Zealand by 270 miles. It then becomes a bit clearer and you can wait quietly from there for the right time to make the crossing.
- Despite the stopover at Minerva reef, the distance to New Zealand remains too great to avoid the low pressure systems. So you choose a low-pressure system that does not look too mean and you will meet this fate at a good distance above New Zealand, because the further north, the weaker the effects of the low-pressure system.
- Go west as much as possible. The wind over New Zealand often blows strongly from the southwest and because we are coming from the northeast you cannot go anywhere and you get trapped and you will be caught in a dangerous place by the next low pressure system. By deliberately going too much west, you can sail southeast on the last part of the trajectory, allowing you to make good use of the southwest wind to gain speed and escape the approaching front.
- Use the correct weather information and use the knowledge of meteorologists to guide you through the area.
And then the waiting begins. The weather is the talk of the town. Weather maps are studied, strategies are discussed. One is afraid of tropical cyclones that will soon ravage the area around Tonga and wants to leave as soon as possible. The other dreads the weather conditions during the crossing and prefers to wait as long as possible for a good weather gap. This waiting has the additional advantage that it is always later in the season and that summer really starts to fall in New Zealand. In their summer, the weather systems are much more tender and the rough weather usually does not reach the far north. The disadvantage, however, is that the cyclone season really starts, so you don't want to wait too long .... We listen on the shortwave to the boats that are already on their way and report "uncomfortable weather". Everyone is a bit nervous. With every boat that leaves, doubt strikes again and there are others who suddenly also leave, while others, shaking their heads, decide to stubbornly wait for an even better weather hole. We have decided not to look further than Minerva reef for the time being and to leave as soon as the weather is good enough. From there we will see further; it doesn't seem to be a punishment to be on Minerva reef and some boats sometimes stay there for weeks.
The crossing to Minerva reef is pleasant but not too fast. We had agreed in advance not to use fuel during the crossing to Minerva reef but to reserve everything for the crossing to New Zealand. And when we are delayed due to weak wind, we do not switch on the engine, but just take an extra night. Here dawdling can still be done with impunity, but not anymore.
There is literally nothing on Minerva reef, especially at high tide because then everything is flooded. You seem to be able to snorkel and dive well and at low tide you can walk on the reef. But for most boats, Minerva reef is primarily a retreat where bad weather can be enjoyed and good weather can be expected. From time to time it seems there are a lot of waiting boats that organize banquets on the reef, unfortunately without a campfire as the nearest firewood is only 270 miles away. Sometimes it also gets a bit more exciting: if there is no strong wind, the armed forces from Tonga and Fiji are fighting each other around the area. Just a few years ago, Tonga placed warning lights to mark the dangerous shallows, which were promptly demolished by the Fiji forces because they believe it is their territory and Tonga should not place anything without their permission, which of course provoked a renewed invasion of Tonga. to drive out the Fijis, and so on.
However, our stay on Minerva reef is only short. According to the weather maps, a weather window is coming up and we have to choose whether to take advantage of the option or wait for a new weather window indefinitely. We do not hesitate for long and opt for the former. Too bad, because we didn't have much time to check out Minerva reef, but the cyclone season has already officially started and we don't want to be on the block. Again, there are departures and stayers. We agree to stay in touch via shortwave, drink a sundowner at Echo echo on board that will also leave the next day and at the first daylight we set sail with three other boats. Sahula has just arrived at Minerva reef but hears from the weather window and immediately decides to pass Minerva reef and also use the weather window.
Our meteorologist Bob Mc Davitt has drawn up a plan: we will sail 200 miles southwest, will hit a high pressure area where we will turn counterclockwise, then descend to the southwest where we will undergo "our" inevitable low pressure area, and then we will begin in the race to be in New Zealand before the next low-pressure area comes across again. "Our" low-pressure system looks good, but not the following. The plan is detailed and contains the time and coordinates of certain waypoints with our speed and weather data. But a plan is just a plan and the weather is not certain, as will be shown later ...
Swimming on the ocean!
The first days go well, although the wind is sometimes too weak to give us enough speed. As agreed, we turn on the engine when we run out of schedule. Fortunately we have some reserve because we left a few hours earlier than planned and the first hours we also had a bit more wind than predicted. Once near the high-pressure area that has emerged neatly according to plan, we head west, but the wind is failing. There is even less wind than predicted and so we will have to motor. But we also want to be economical with our fuel so we go a bit slower than planned and try to convert every gust of wind into extra speed with the sails still hoisted. Margansie and Lionheart are faster boats and got a head start in the beginning. But now they are saving fuel and we are catching up on them again. Margansie announces over the radio that they have captured a large Mahi-mahi. We joke that we will come and get a piece, but Margansie takes the proposal seriously. We adjust our course slightly and an hour later we lie alongside Margansie and change owners of a large piece of fish. The weather is warm and I decide to take a dip, just like Lion Heart. It is very special to swim in the middle of the ocean between some boats!
Meeting with the front
After two days of sailing in a direction where we actually don't want to go at all, we have passed the high pressure area and we turn to the southwest, more or less towards New Zealand again. Two more days and we will meet our low-pressure system with associated front. We put the boat in order, lash everything down. Ilona will prepare some meals so that we will soon have the food available in rough conditions. Of course we will meet our front at midnight, but it is not too bad that there will be moonlight this time. On the day of our front, the wind should slowly increase. We welcome that wind because then we can save our diesel for the last and most dangerous part of the crossing. But the wind does not come at all. Only in the evening useful wind starts to come, but with the approaching front approaching we only want to use easily reefable sails. Our mainsail can only be reefed from the mast and you don't want to go to deck around midnight in a flying storm if you don't have to. But we can simply roll in our roller-furling jib steplessly from the cockpit and that seems so safe to us. Ilona just goes to bed and I keep watch. This morning I sawed another piece of wood that fits snugly in the doorway but is just low enough to be able to step over, and we hope that in a wave breaking in this will keep most of the water out of the living space. I dressed warmly and put on my waterproof sailing suit. The wind is slight, but the movements of the water are getting wilder, which indicates an approaching swelling wind. Exactly according to the plan, I see a dark band appear in the sky at 1 am. The radar now also shows an interrupted band of heavy precipitation. Here comes our front! I roll the jib to a minimum, just enough to keep the boat manageable. For now it is no longer about speed but about keeping things intact and surviving. I don't have to steer myself because the windvane steering can handle this task very well in these conditions: the more wind and the more boat speed, the more powerful and precise the device pulls the strings attached to the tiller. With a bit of luck my role will be limited to spectator. A little later the wind increases, but on the radar I am pleased to see that we have ended up exactly between a hole in the broken line. So it remains dry, but we are in wind that has now swelled to 30 knots and a sea that produces increasingly higher waves. When the front passes, according to the forecast, the wind will turn 180 degrees and the tailwind will then become a headwind. We cannot argue with this, but we don't have to; we have deliberately gone too much to the west so that when the wind turns we can partly turn and have the wind from diagonally in front. Our plan does not say exactly when this will be and in the grib files that I downloaded at an interval of 3 hours, the weather vanes are exactly the other way round in two consecutive images. So in those three hours the wind will turn. But there is still no sign of that. The front is over, the sky is suddenly clear again and the wind is weakening. We got rid of that easily! I carefully roll out more sail and we are moving forward again, but still in the old direction. My watch is over and Ilona gets out of bed. I transfer the boat and, cold, I undress to get into the preheated bed. That is exactly when the blow comes! The wind generator starts to scream when out of nowhere the boat is suddenly hit by 40 knots wind. And I had just rolled out some more sail because it was over! I call Ilona to reef, but the wind has caught the sail so tightly that Ilona can't get the winch around anymore. I fly out in just my shirt and am drenched in a second. But the sail is rolled up again and I crawl back inside dripping. Crawl, because the boat flies in all directions and is like an attraction at the fair. Just after I have dried, the wind strength has decreased again. The sea remains restless, but as far as the wind is concerned, calm has returned. Until Ilona shouts: "There is something wrong with the autopilot, we are heading in the wrong direction!" We are tired and somewhat overwhelmed by the force of nature, and it takes a while until we realize that the autopilot is just doing its job, namely keeping the boat on a steady course in relation to the wind. The wind has suddenly completely reversed and with it our course. We had assumed that the predicted change in wind direction would occur gradually over a few hours, but not that it would happen within two minutes. But this was it, the front and the change of wind direction. We reset the course and adjust the sails for the new wind direction.
Sail to the wind
We are now sailing diagonally into the wind, and that is something a boat actually does not want. But we are pulling the sails completely tight and the wind coming in at an angle from the front can now only escape from the sails at the back. The wind prefers to push the boat aside, but the keel prevents a sideways passage through the water. The wind wants to push the boat flat, but 3500 kilos of lead at the bottom of the keels keeps the boat more or less upright. For the boat there is only ONE way out, and that is forward, diagonally into the wind. Sighing and groaning, she endures her fate. The rigging is taut like a string, the sails are taut, the wind howls past the mast and makes the boat vibrate. The sea is rough with meters high waves and Omweg crashes through it, huge waves of water and foam spraying over the deck, still with 25 knots of wind in her sails. Sometimes the boat will dock up against a wave and then fall with a huge thump on the other side, throwing up enormous amounts of water. The boat tilts further than ever before and the waves sometimes give an extra push. Our biggest fear is that something will break, such as a steel cable that snaps which in these circumstances would mean the loss of the mast, but we have no choice, we have to make speed to keep the boat manageable and to prepare for the next front. To be New Zealand. Because this was what the meteorologist called a mediocre front, the next one would be one that is less fun and that we should definitely avoid. We are therefore very motivated to keep making speed.
It is not easy to sleep in these circumstances but deeply trapped with pillows around me so that I cannot roll back and forth, I fall asleep exhausted. When I wake up by the shortwave radio that Ilona has switched on, the situation has not changed much. The boat is still leaning far over, the wind is still howling at 25 buys through the rigging, and we are still spraying forward at about 6 knots. Due to the constant wind, the waves are getting higher. On the radio we hear that the other boats also had it "uncomfortable", but fortunately also survived well. Lufi's so tough young couple suddenly doesn't sound so tough anymore but jaded and Jeanette van Echo echo reports south wind instead of south west wind. And that is a problem because this wind direction is so similar to the direction of New Zealand that they cannot sail against it. Huh? South wind? We just have a southwest wind as stated in the plan ... until fifteen minutes later, the wind also turns south. We are now also forced to sail too much to the east and never arrive in New Zealand in this way. And for some reason, our speed just keeps dropping no matter what we do. On the GPS we read a very low speed, but on our log (that is a wheel that hangs in the water flow) we read the normal speed. This can only mean 1 thing: we have a counter current of almost 2 knots!
I start calculating and the result gives me a stomach ache: we are not going to make it like this! We lost too much time on the day of the front on which we should have made speed but the promised wind did not show up. Now we have wind from a direction that we cannot use and moreover we have to contend with a counter current that was not on the program. Good advice is not expensive but at the moment unreachable: we can only email but our meteorologist is apparently not at his post. The dilemma is that IF we cannot avoid the next front, it is best to hit this front further north. That would mean that we have to go back, but that also means that we will certainly hit the front. If we continue we might still be able to make it when things change for the better, but if things do go wrong then the front will take us to a place where it has the most strength and where it is most dangerous for us because we are New Zealand can put on uncontrolled; by being thrown on the shore. We turn the boat around just to be sure and see that our speed is now 2 knots higher than it should be and we are really having to contend with a counter current.
Time to rethink all the options. On the map I see that there is a mountain below us on the ocean floor. The peak is still 300 meters below us, but significantly higher than the depth of 3000 meters around it. Perhaps this is the cause of the strong current, because on an ocean scale this is a narrowing of the depth and therefore an acceleration. If that is true then the counter current may be a temporary effect. We decide to turn the boat back to New Zealand, because we actually have time to sail back to the north if necessary. A few hours later I get an answer from the meteorologist: He advises to go ahead, sends a new plan, and now claims that the next front will be much weaker than first thought and it will not be a disaster if we get that over us . We have become a bit skeptical about all the predictions, but we don't really like the prospect of lying down on the ocean somewhere in the north on our own on a mean front with maybe 50 knots of wind. Too bad about the time lost to the doubt, but now we are going for it!
The radio shows that Sahula has gotten into trouble. Due to the violent movements of the boat, the engine has shifted on its foundation, causing the propeller shaft bearing to break and seriously leak as soon as the propeller turns. It is no longer possible to use the engine and that is a problem during calm periods and when entering New Zealand. It doesn't look very pleasant for Sahula, but there is no other option than to keep sailing.
The odds turn
We accelerate extensively and sail motor-sailing for hours at 7 knots speed. Speed through the water then, because the GPS shows that we are only moving at 5 knots. And not even in the right direction. But we persist and after a few hours the counter current has subsided. First "only" one and a half knots, later a knot, and finally we are out. We will now arrive at the same time as the front but we cannot do anything about it.
The next morning we have two unexpected windfalls: The wind has changed so that we can now sail directly to New Zealand and we are dealing with a mysterious current again, but this time to our advantage! We have a GPS speed of over 7 knots and the co-current lasts all day. We cautiously begin to believe that it must be possible to arrive safely in New Zealand before the front. At first, the calculation comes out around midnight, but as the day progresses, the result is progressively advanced and it starts to seem that we will arrive even before dark.
The front itself has now become a moderate front, but will be followed a day later by a stiff wind of 35 knots on average for days on end. The meteorologists are unanimous in the opinion that it is irresponsible to sail into New Zealand during that period. A boat that is already on its way from Fiji will divert to New Caledonia, a super fast catemaran will do anything and tear at 11 knots towards New Zealand and will make it to the net and from Minerva reef no more boats will leave for the time being. The number of waiting boats there has now risen to 21 and they are following our progress via shortwave with encouragement. But they themselves are becoming more and more nervous about the reports of the crossing boats and the fact that they still have to, but there is no view of a weather window. And at the same time, the threat of tropical cyclones is growing behind them. We are glad we left.
We are still making good progress but we are not getting off that easily! Through the shortwave we learn that there has been an earthquake in New Zealand and that a Tsunami alarm has been issued. Boats should no longer enter ports but should remain on the ocean. For now we are still far enough out to the ocean and tsunamis are not a problem there, but we do wonder how it should be tonight. Tonight, because if it continues like this we will arrive tonight. On the AIS we see that an unknown boat with the name "Allure" is also on its way to New Zealand. We are going faster and catching up slowly. He calls us and has some bad news: A coastal warning has been issued for tonight/tonight and wind is expected with peaks of up to 50 knots! Oh no! We give some extra gas and spray through the water. But a while later the speed suddenly drops to less than idle and the engine runs erratically and shakes: fuel problems! I quickly switch to the spare fuel filter but a little later the same thing happens again. Could it be the fine filter? That filter is not switchable, so it must be replaced in its entirety. Fortunately, I had already prepared a new filter beforehand so the whitewater job is done quickly, albeit with a lot of mess. Unfortunately, the engine will no longer start because air has entered the system. It takes a lot of tries and we are afraid that we also no longer have an engine, but fortunately the engine starts again before we have started the battery empty. The engine is now running fine again, but a few hours later after a sweep of a wave it is again wrong. But after a few seconds of fiddling and vigorous shaking, the speed increases again. We'll end up with an air bubble that was shaken loose from the new filter.
Land in sight!
The engine is still running, we still have a current and the Tsunami alarm has been canceled. But hours ago the sun was absorbed by the clouds and the sky is getting grayer. There is still little wind, but we now know that pattern. We keep sailing as fast as possible and in front of us New Zealand looms out of the mist. No more palm trees, but neat houses surrounded by deciduous trees. No more blue crystal clear water but a green, unclear sea. And a cold and gray drizzly weather picture that reminds us a lot of the Netherlands. The sea water temperature is only 16 degrees and we are freezing cold in our sailing suits. We are now very hard pressed against the fact that we have left the tropics and we do not feel at all happy.
The Quarantine dock
When you arrive in New Zealand you have to moor at the Quarantine dock, or Q-dock. This is a sealed pier where you have to lie and wait until cleared. But it is already after office hours so we will have to wait here until the next morning, cut off from the rest of New Zealand. Fortunately, we are not the only ones at the Q-dock and we can exchange experiences with the other arrivals. Next to us is a large steel German boat with the name "Meerbaer". During the passage of the front they tore the mainsail and jib. There was nothing to do but continue to motor, until a few hours later the motor broke down. In the middle of fierce seas on a wildly swinging boat, the man had to change the entire injection pump to get the engine back to life. We are approached by the French couple from "Sodric" who are still completely upset because of the tropical storm they ended up in. Every second there was a flash, the raindrops gave light and the lightning hit the water several times right next to the boat. It took hours and they knew that all communication and navigation equipment would be lost if the mast hit. They had never been so scared. A little later Allure arrives, the boat we had overtaken and it turns out to be a catamaran. Huh? Did we really overtake a catamaran? A little later it becomes clear why: The mainsail of Allure (a new Fountaine Pajot, the Salina) was also shredded during the passage of the front.
The next morning no fewer than 13 boats are moored at the Q dock. Sahula has also arrived and has been able to moor with a lot of art and flying work. The officials arrive and begin to finish the boats. First we get the bio-security official on board and we work through the list: Honey? Beans? Fresh produce? Don't you have all of that? The man can hardly believe it and wants to have a look in some cupboards. We explain that based on the information we had already received in Tonga, we prepared everything in advance and on the way. We only have to hand in some garlic because that was a bit difficult to use up quickly. The official dryly remarks "The system has worked" and puts his stamp on the form.
We now have to wait for customs. There is a uniformed burly guy strolling around the Q dock and just as another rain shower breaks loose, he scurries next to our boat. He introduces himself: "I'm not the normal customs officer, but I belong to a special department that has to search suspicious boats. May I come on board?" It doesn't seem smart to say no, so we receive the man warmly. It seems that we are not so much suspicious but that the man wants to hide from the rain, but we do not know for sure. He asks all kinds of interested questions but in the meantime he also tells us that New Zealand suffers from drug trafficking and that "fake cruisers" often arrive in sailing boats loaded with cocaine. Fortunately, there are all kinds of small clues that can help them distinguish fake cruisers from real ones. Such as, for example, the ship's journal. "May I see your ship's log?" he asks in ONE breath. Well, yes, but it is really only "for internal use" and most of the comments are in Dutch. He wants to see it anyway and looks through it with interest. Who wrote this he asks sternly, pointing to a passage "Idiot Trump become president" between all coordinates and engine hours. He thinks it is funny and fortunately believes that we are real cruisers because he still makes no move to search the boat. He also reveals that they have a list of all the sailing boats that sail through the Panama Canal, that they know who are in Tonga and Fiji, that they photograph every crossing boat with planes and that they also know that there are currently 21 boats on Minerva. reef are waiting. He also tells us that the gas company has a gas bottle with a double bottom in the harbor. Cocaine was smuggled into this, very clever actually because you are not going to drill holes in gas bottles and stuff to check the content, but they still discovered it ...
Regular customs will come on board. Everything goes smoothly until the man asks if we also have pepper spray on board. That is not allowed in New Zealand and we have to hand it in. Now we indeed have such a van, it was already in the inventory when we bought the boat, so we confessed it obediently. We want to turn it in ... but can't find it! We also mention something that we have thrown away before. I note that there are bound to be many boats denying that pepper spray is on board when it is there, and that this is probably the first time the owner has claimed it is there when it actually isn't. Fortunately, customs does not offer to help with the search, but says that if we find it, we can still return the pepper spray later and stamp our passports. Welcome to New Zealand!
This time we are not going to anchor. We treat ourselves to a few days in harbor because we have a lot to arrange and we don't like having to sail back and forth over icy water with the dinghy between shore and anchorage in this weather.
We fall in love with our nose because the next day a party week starts in Opua, the small port town where we are located. This is THE month in which the sailboats arrive from the Pacific and the companies and catering industry are doing their best to present themselves as well as possible. We are pampered, stuffed with treats and receive offers for anything and everything. Every day there are several presentations by companies such as sail makers and maintenance companies and each presentation is concluded with a free BBQ. We meet many fellow sufferers and they all experienced a few things during the crossing. Lionheart, with whom we had swum in the ocean in the beginning, had engine problems precisely when mooring at the Q-dock. Out of control the boat sped straight for an expensive catamaran. He quickly hurled a line at the pier which landed right in the face of a customs officer, shouting "Tie up! Now!" which prevented a collision with a margin of 30cm. The number of engine failures is remarkably high and there is a suspicion that the diesel in Tonga was not of the very best quality, although it is also plausible that the violent movements at sea have shaken all kinds of dirt from the bottom of the tanks. Ta-B, the large catamaran where we were so warmly invited to a party on Galapagos, was less fortunate and is badly damaged in the harbor. During the night arrival it rained hard, visibility was poor and they hit a concrete marker buoy at full speed. The cracks in the starboard hull have been temporarily sealed with fiberglass, the cracked engine mounts are on deck and the mast has been removed for further inspection. The catamaran Fata Morgana has a tough owner who laughed and spearfished among the sharks, but now the fear on his face can still be seen: he had ended up in an area with short, steep waves that were higher than the mast and he thought that his last hour had struck. He is an experienced ocean sailor but he had never experienced this before. From his wife's facial expression we can read that it will be quite a task to get her out into the ocean again. After tearing the sails, "Heaps Good" also ended up in the same big waves. The waves beat over the bow and ended up completely in the cockpit. The young and rather tough owner does not say anything about it, but the passenger he had on board confides in us that they were so scared that they called the coast guard. He ordered them to contact us via shortwave every two hours, as soon as they would stop an airplane would be deployed to come and look for them. In those circumstances they repaired a sail, after which the boat became more stable on the water and could handle the waves better. Fortunately it ended well, but they hope never to experience something like this again.
Not everyone has arrived (yet). Two days after our departure from Minerva reef, two solo sailors left, Alma and Sparrow, two tiny boats. They do not have a shortwave installation on board and therefore do not know that there is currently a terrible front in front of the coast and that it is dangerous to enter New Zealand now. Everyone is concerned about it, even though we all think it is really irresponsible to make such a crossing with such equipment, or rather a lack of it. We receive an email from the father of one of the boys. He saw on the internet that we arrived in New Zealand, found our email address, and hopes that we can tell you more. However, we can only tell you that we last saw his son on Minerva reef and we know that he left from there two days later. We don't say anything about the weather conditions, because nothing can be done about it now.
And then there is the large club of 27 boats that is still on Minerva reef. We jokingly offered them over the radio to ask customs to drop Christmas packages from their spy plane while they are still there for Christmas. Of course we have a big mouth now, because we've completed this terrifying journey, and they have yet to ...
Half a week later, the meteorologists believe that the weather conditions are favorable again and Minerva reef is emptying. To everyone's delight the solo ship Alma arrives, admittedly with a torn jib and a broken forestay, but Jonas is reasonably unharmed and that is what matters. Fairly unharmed, because he was shot off by a violent wave like a slingshot and in the process slammed so hard against a shot that he suffered a concussion. But yes, as a solo sailor you cannot take it easy, so go ahead. By the way, he had heard nothing more from Sparrow. Fortunately Sparrow also arrives at the Q-dock a few days later and we immediately inform his father by email that his son has arrived.
The 27 boats that left from Minerva reef arrive in short succession a week later and before they are cleared, a group of 13 boats is already having a BBQ at the Quarantine dock! Fortunately, customs can laugh about it. All sailors have arrived safely but on the VHF we hear a Coast Guard "Mayday relay" every two hours for a missing 12 meter local charter boat with 11 people on board, requesting to go to the boat or survivors. look. The calls go on all night and you feel that it is not right. The next day it turns out that the motor boat capsized and sunk in the violent waves, killing 8 people ...