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New Zealand Passage

November 4th, 2002

This is the Big One: just over a thousand miles from Tonga to northern New Zealand, mostly south and a little west into the higher latitudes with their rougher weather. Everyone, but everyone, who makes this passage is nervous about it. You leave the trade wind zone and sail into the zone of the westerlies, where the cold fronts come through every three to six days, bringing wind and rain. You can’t make it all the way without going through at least one front, so you need to be prepared for headwinds, sometimes strong ones.

Raven is faster than most of the fleet, so we have a reasonable chance of making it across in six days, maybe even five. Most boats take eight to ten days, so we should feel lucky, but we’re still just as worried as everyone else.

Happily, we have with us our good friends Ken and Cathy of Felicity, whom we met almost three years ago at a cruiser medical course in Seattle, and then enjoyed cruising with in Mexico. (See Raven’s log for our Mexico cruise in 2000-01.) Ken & Cathy have covered lots of miles since then, crossed the Pacific with the Class of 2001, and reached New Zealand a year ahead of us. They’ve done this passage in their lovely little Tashiba 31, about half Raven’s speed, and are looking forward to trying it in something with a little more waterline length. We’re very happy to have them with us because of their experience and skills, but also because they’re a lot of fun to have aboard.

We hope to depart Nuku’alofa, Tonga’s capital, on Tuesday, November 5th and plan to make a beeline for Opua in the Bay of Islands on the northern part of the North Island of New Zealand. First stop after clearing customs: the ice cream shop!

We’ll try to update this web page every day as we sail, just as we did for the Marquesas passage last April. But if you don’t hear from us one day, don’t worry about us – we probably just had some trouble with the radio email system.

Wish us luck and watch this space!!

PS: Check the photos and note how we're dressed at the beginning of this passage, and at the end!

Day 1 - Raven on the way to NZ

Early this morning, we divided up the jobs and got going in record time. Ken did a fast checkout with the Tongatapu authorities, Signe and Cathy shopped for the last provisions, and Jan stayed aboard to do the radio nets and get the rig ready for sea. We had the hook up by 11:30 am and off we went. It was blowing 20 knots as we motored across the lagoon to the western exit, so we were anticipating a fast start.

Sure enough, here we are on a close reach toward the SW, doing 10 plus knots through the water and 9's on the GPS. The difference is a adverse current that we have to overcome. Our friends who are now on the same passage ahead of us mentioned that current, which just adds to the obstacles. Still, we are moving fast in the right direction, even if the angle of heel is more than we'd like. Can't complain too much, especially since Signe served us a nice lunch of tabbuleh salad and pizza bread.

All the advice we have says not to head straight for Opua in the Bay of Islands, our destination, but to go much farther west. This is in anticipation that we will encounter a cold front or two, which always include winds from the NW and SW, so we need to get in some westing early. We're working on that right now.

Everyone is always a little tentative early on in a passage, especially true now as the four of us haven't sailed a passage together before. But after a day or two we'll be in the rhythm. As on the Marquesas passage, Ken, Cathy and I are standing 3-hours-on-6-hours-off watches, while Signe does all the cooking and stands a single midday watch. Each of us thinks he or she has the best deal.

We'll have more to report tomorrow. We're hoping this wind stays with us for a couple more days, pushing us in the right direction.

Warm regards . . . Jan

Day 2- Raven at sea

Wednesday, November 6th
Latitude 23 degrees 15 minute South
Longitude 178 degrees 1 minute West
Log 208 miles traveled
875 more miles to New Zealand

For today's log entry, we offer this contribution from our lively crew members, Ken and Cath:

Hi from Mission Control. At least that's how we felt last night as we both took our first night watches on Raven. On our own 31' sailboat, Felicity, our watch routine is to look for traffic, ensure the sail plan is comfortable for the conditions, and make sure our wind vane is taking us closer to our destination. It's a bit more complex on Raven. Instead of a wind vane to keep the boat moving along, Raven uses an electronic autopilot which steers the boat on a compass course. As the wind changes, we need to either manually change our course or adapt the sails to the new wind direction. To do this, we have lots of video games in the pilothouse to help out.

The video games include five neon red instruments that show up to eight different numbers - all blinking really fast like in a bad sci-fi movie. We have Speed Over Ground as well as Boat Speed and doing the match between the two calculates current with or against. Jan wants to do at least eight knots and I think he has an internal bodily alarm that wakes him up when the boat slows to 7.9 knots, because that's when he appears on deck to ask what's happening. We have both Apparent Wind Angle, which shows the wind direction in relation to the boat, and True Wind Direction, which calculates the compass direction the wind is coming from. These blink as fast as a cash register in a marine store. Add to this the True Wind Speed - Jan displays this twice for us; once in small numbers and once on one of the two billboard-sized displays. Must be important. To add to the information overload, we also have both Heading, which shows the compass direction the boat is pointed, and the Course Over Ground which shows which way the boat is actually moving.

To add to the video games in mission control, we also have a radar that has the ability to track several ships or squalls at once. This tracking ability is new to us and frankly, quite cool. This functionality shows the course and speed of the target and will predict if we are on a collision course and will give a time estimate. If all these blinking lights become boring, we also have lots of buttons to push. Two electric winches do most of the hard work on board. The only real hard work we see on board is in the galley.

Signe is quite the galley slave and is churning out delicious vittles for the hard-working, button-pushing crew. In exchange for the excellent food, she gets to do only one watch during the day. Not a bad trade if you ask me. Please don't tell her we have the better end of the deal!

A bit more than a day out of Tonga, the sailing is easy, the cockpit dry and the bellies are full. With great friends and crew mates plus an obviously well-designed and equipped boat, we're having a blast doing this passage in hopefully half the time we did it ourselves last year. More later...

Ken and Cath

Be sure to check out Ken and Cath's own terrific website: www.svfelicity.com

All is well aboard and we're making fast progress toward New Zealand. We had nearly 24 hours of excellent wind, but now we're motoring in light airs inside a huge high pressure area that will probably be covering us for the next couple of days. But the motion is easy, the speed is high, and the cuisine is excellent. So don't worry about your Raven crew. We're getting into the "mood" of a passage, which always takes a few days, and we'll be a little more talkative in a day or so. Watch this space.

Cheers . . . Jan

Day 3 - Raven motorsailing

Thursday, November 7th
Latitude 26 degrees 5 minute South
Longitude 178 degrees 51 minutes East
Log 443 miles traveled
635 more miles to New Zealand

Today, absolutely nothing happened! On a potentially rough passage like this, that is the definition of a a good day. On Cath's 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. watch, she had to deal with a little squall which brought 20 knot winds and some rain, but she handled it like the seasoned sailor that she is. Most of the day the wind has been 10 knots or less and we are motorsailing in seas that are almost flat. Oh that it could continue like this all the way to New Zealand!!! Several times a day we get weather faxes and satellite pictures of what is happening and is about to happen. We also check into a net on the single sideband radio that has a New Zealand classic, Des on Russell Radio, who gives the weather for each boat's position. We can't wait to go meet him and thank him for the work he does. He's been around forever and always offers some humor and encouragement to the fleet.

We also crossed the invisible trace that is the International Dateline at 180 degrees longitude. It is the exact opposite of the Greenwich Meridian. So we are really half way around the world.

There has been lots of book reading - two of us reading Red Rabbit, Tom Clancy's newest and two of us reading mysteries. Nothing too heavy on a passage. Then there have been lots of naps. Every once in awhile someone suggests a card game or other activity. It never seems to happen. And of course, there is lots of eating. When we get to New Zealand the quarantine people will take away all our cheese, milk, eggs and butter, our fresh and canned meat, honey and all our fresh fruits and vegetables. So we are walking a fine balance between being well fed and having very little left over by the end. Not knowing exactly when we will arrive just adds to the thrill. The way The Chef figures it, there's always spaghetti. It's also making for some taste treats that The Chef has been hoarding for awhile - real American corned beef, four sirloin steaks, a brick of Tillamook cheddar, English muffins, Jan's long-hoarded stash of Fresca. This all may sound like common stuff to you, but to us they are taste reminders of home.

Cath brought along a new mascot for the boat. He is a cute stuffed Kiwi bird that we have named Jonah for Jonah Lomu, the great Tongan rugby star (great in many senses, that is!) who plays for the New Zealand All Blacks, the legendary national team. Jonah joins the mascot department that already includes Rodney the Rubber Rat, who has a lei for the occasion. There is also a glass charm against the evil eye, purchased in Turkey in 1983, which has been on every boat we've owned since. Ken and Cath also brought me a jade Maori fish hook that is supposed to bring good luck on long passages on the water. I figure with all of you out there sending prayers and good wishes, plus the odd angel or two, we've got all the bases covered.

All is well with the Raven crew. We'll write again tomorrow. Love, Signe

Day 4 - Raven motorsailing

Friday, November 8th
Latitude 28 degrees 5 minutes South
Longitude 176 degrees 21 minutes East
Log 620 miles traveled
502 more miles to New Zealand

I guess yesterday was a fluke. Today we are pounding. It was calm enough this morning that I got out the sewing. As the day went on, I was hanging on anywhere I could. I just got back from a very exciting trip to the head where I was launched into midair in the biggest wave of the day. Jan and Cath said the wave came back as far as the top of the pilothouse. This is not my favorite day of sailing.

The weather reports say we will either just squeak into the North Island before the weather goes seriously down hill, or we should wait out at sea before we try to come in. Not sure which way it will go. Don't think there will be much gourmet cuisine happening in the meanwhile. Love, Signe

PS from Jan: Today's log entry will necessarily be short, since word processing is a bit tough when you keep missing the keys and the mouse slides away across the desk. The wind and seas are coming from exactly where we want to go, so it's a noisy, uphill ride. Still, we and Raven are doing just fine. It's just a little uncomfortable and we're not sure how much sleep will be possible tonight. Good Old Des on Russell Radio, who talks to and encourages us all out here, says we can expect the winds to be lighter fairly soon. That will be a pleasure. Cheers . . . Jan

Day 5 - Still motorsailing

Saturday, November 9, 2002
Latitude 30 degrees 35 minutes South
Longitude 174 degrees 15 minutes East
800+ mile sailed so far
303 miles to go

Happily, the winds died down a bit during the night. More importantly, the seas died down, meaning we only had twenty or so big, loud pounds during the night. Today is Ken's birthday, so I spent the day baking a carrot cake for him. There is also the strong possibility of heavy winds tonight and tomorrow, so I also did some cooking in advance just in case.

We did some birthday decorating - stickers on Ken's mirror and balloons in the pilothouse. Then Ken opened his presents - some games, a water pistol, a new shirt to wear for landfall, a Raven tattoo, etc. It was a big day!

Other than that, the day has been uneventful, just the way we like them. We have been seeing other sailboats on the same path as we are, thought they are moving much more slowly. Jan spoke to a singlehander who had been out here for 13 days on his way from Fiji. Glad we're doing it ultra-fast! Another crossed our course a mile ahead of us during the night. We've been giving our radar a pat every time we walk by since he is doing such a good time seeing all these vessels. We do the radio networks in the morning and gather weather information from the email weather fax service all day. And we read books. Tom Clancy's "Red Rabbit," which Ken & Cath brought for us, is starting to get exciting. Now Jan is reading it too. Luckily there are two copies aboard. Cath has outdone us all and has read two books already. 

The Captain has started to fill out the incredibly complicated forms to enter New Zealand. He must list all the electronic equipment on the boat and the serial and model numbers. Those of you who know Jan well, realize that that alone could take him all night!

We are scheduled to make landfall Monday morning in the wee hours.  Hope the winds and seas are not too huge.

Love, Signe

The weather gurus predict that we will have much higher winds to escort us into Opus, our intended landfall in the Bay of Island in New Zealand's far north. There are both high and low pressure areas bearing down on us, combining to threaten winds in the 20 to 30 knot range. Happily, this should be abaft the beam for us (coming from behind), so it  should be fast and relatively comfortable. "Relatively" is the critical word in that last sentence. To give you an idea how anxious to get there that Ken has renamed our GPS waypoint from "BayofI" to "Icecrm". Wish us luck on this last day or two!

Cheers . . . Jan

Day 6 - Sailing the home stretch

Sunday, November 10, 2002
Latitude 33 degrees 40 minutes South
Longitude 173 degrees 36 minutes East
960+ mile sailed so far
95 miles to go

Well, we finally ran into the cold front our weather gurus predicted, and it made for fast, uncomfortable sailing last night. The new, stronger wind was from the west, rising gradually . . . 10 knots, 15 knots, 20 knots, and finally a steady 25 with gusts to 30. We were still trying to get a little farther west in case the front gave us south west winds, so we had to pound to windward again. The good news, though, was that we could turn off the engine and just sail for the first time in days. The seas gradually built and we got 6 to 8 footers right on the beam, so we were heeled well over and rolling a lot. Not the best conditions for lots of peaceful sleep, so we're all a little groggy today. Happily, as our watches rotated we could snack on the delicious carrot cake Signe made for Ken's birthday.

But now we're less than a hundred miles from the barn, we've been able to crack off the wind quite a bit, and the motion is a trifle better. We're napping in rotation now so that we can all be alert when we arrive in Opua in the wee hours of Monday morning. That will definitely be our most welcome port arrival ever. Not that the conditions have been especially bad, and Raven is certainly well up to the task of carrying us safely through, but both the uncomfortable conditions on some days and the stress of worrying about the next weather front have tired us out. That waypoint Ken named "Icecrm" is only 91 miles away now and we're doing it as fast as we can.

So don't worry about us any more. The feared bad weather never appeared and we should be at the dock by 4 a.m. Yes, we will be popping a champagne cork. More tomorrow when we are a little more rested and a lot more coherent.

Cheers . . . Jan

Raven safely in New Zealand

Monday, November 11, 2002
Latitude 35 degrees 19 minutes South
Longitude 174 degrees 7 minutes East
Sailed 1,127 nautical miles from Tonga to Opua

Well, we docked at the quarantine wharf at 4 a.m. on Monday, with everyone exhausted but well and happy. Signe actually got down and kissed the dock (yes, we captured it with the camera; watch this page!). Not the the passage was that rough, but we did get kicked around a bit on a couple of the days, by seas that were disagreeable. But Raven is now anchored in the totally protected harbor at Opua, in the Bay of Islands, and we have a level, non-rolling berth for the first time in a week. Much sleep will be had tonight, I can promise you!

We are frankly proud of ourselves for reaching New Zealand in good shape. And we're very happy to have made this passage with our good friends Ken & Cath, who've done it before and knew the ropes. They're lots of fun to have aboard and know how to sail the boat well.

The Bay is a beautiful vacation area for the Kiwis, and they come up here in droves over the Christmas/summer vacation. We chartered a boat here five years ago, and it's still just as pretty. But we've got lots to do in Auckland and are anxious to get there soon. We'll leave in a couple of days for the 130-mile hop down there.

We'll update this page once or twice more with our initial impressions of NZ, and we'll also add a bunch of photos and a map, so check it once in a while.

Now . . . it's beddy-bye time.

Warm regards . . . Jan


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This page was last updated on 04/13/04.

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