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Leg 6-2009 - Update 1
November 10, 2009, 2200 hrs, 25.03 S, 172.17 E, Log: 135,131 miles
Close hauled at  6 kts in 12kt  SSE winds
Baro: 1017.4, Cabin Temp: 73F, cockpit 71F, sea water 76.1F

0 Vuda Marina

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Serious waves seen through the dodger window

Our Leg 6 crew met us Thursday afternoon at Vuda Point Marina, 20 minutes N of Nadi Airport to start orientation and came aboard for the expedition Friday morning.

Customs ask that that cruisers wanting outbound clearance bring their boats to the anchorage off Lautoka commercial wharf (8 miles north of Vuda) instead of just coming in the taxi to clear out, so it was 14:30 by the time their office reopened after lunch, we had cleared out and could set sail. With not quite enough hours to sail through Malolo Pass and out to seas before dusk we anchored off Malolo Island for the night. This gave us time to complete our safety and engine room orientation plus a little snorkeling and bottom sponging the next morning before setting sail for the pass and points south.

The pass, flanked by two famous surfing camp islands Tavarua and Namotu, was a bit of a maelstrom as two knots of ebb current battled against 12 kts of NE winds. Once clear of the pass the wind was a solid 30 knots, gusting 37 and with three reefs in the main and jib, MT was thundering along.

I don’t know what it is about 37 knots, but it seems like we always experience gusts to 37 and very choppy seas on our first night sailing south from Fiji. This time was no exception but this crew who had seriously taken our pointers on hydration resulted in fewer seasick casualties than usual – only two, and they were over it within a day, thanks to the Zofran wafers that Joe gave them.

Sunday the winds moderated down to 25-28 kts and the nearly full moon was a real pleasure that evening.

On Monday we were actively plotting our position on the paper chart every 2-3 hours. We were steering a course to avoid Ceva-I-Ra rock which the chart shows as a tiny fly speck with the notation that it is two meters high. Several years ago I had heard of a yacht shipwrecked on the rock, but knew nothing else about it.

0 Our track and positions at Ceva-I-Ra as shown on the Raymarine C80 with Navionics charts

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Shipwreck longliner

Before breakfast when Joe and Alan said, “Boy, it sure would be interesting to have a look at that rock” everyone was all ears. That was all the convincing it took for us to change course and tack to pass to leeward of it. At five miles Joe sighted it from the mast pulpit, at three miles the breakers and land was unmistakable, and about that time Christine said, “Hey, it looks like there is something manmade on the island!” It looked like there was a large, brick red shipping container washed up on the reef. Just at that moment, two yellowfin tuna grabbed our trolling lines and ended up being filleted in short order.

As we cautiously approached what turned out to be a coral atoll with small, thickly covered islet and substantial reef we realized that we had been looking at the red bottom of a recently shipwrecked long-line tuna boat. She was lying on her side in about a meter of water and we could just make out the name on the stern as San Song #, but we couldn’t see the number. There was hardly a streak of rust on the wreck and it looked like it had just come from the shipyard. We scanned the tiny bush covered islet for castaways and Amanda called on the VHF but there was no reply. After a good look at the atoll we hove to in the lee to finishing filleting the tuna and enjoy deck showers.

Now back on course to Opua our winds have been slowly backing into a southerly direction making it impossible to steer our direct course much of the time. Still we’ve had great sailing, until this afternoon, nearly making it to the halfway point, 26S, 173W that Commanders’ Weather suggested we steer for before the winds swung around to the SSE. We’ve been watching a large, stationary high pressure cell over the Tasman and it looks like we’ll get light headwinds for several days.

It rather a challenge storming south into lumpy head seas and class is juggled around conditions and the odd wind shift and squall. Today we completed marine weather class and Amanda covered galley organization and provisioning before reviewing the safety test later in the afternoon.

0 Mark, Kathy, Alan, Christine, Joe, and Lisa in front

Here is our Leg 6 crew:

Lisa Starinchak, 44
I’m a nurse living in Bellingham, Washington and I’ve been sailing Puget Sound, coastal British Columbia and Alaska for the past 12 years with my husband aboard our Panda 38. I joined this expedition to determine my “seaworthiness” for cruising the South Pacific on my own boat.

Christine Larsen, 42
I’m a mom with three kids living in Seattle. I’ve enjoyed cruising the San Juan Islands for the past nine years aboard our Hans Christian 33, Jenny P. My husband Eric sailed on Leg 4 this summer, and now it’s my turn! We hope to take our children on a South Pacific odyssey someday. I’ve dreamed of sailing on the open ocean since I was ten years old, sailing with my dad on Lake Michigan. I’m pinching myself daily to make sure this is really happening, and it is!

Kathy Stanley, 47
I was raised in Arkansas and married into Texas. My husband, Mark and I enjoy sailing on the lake where we’ve lived for the past 14 years. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for our three children, but I’m getting close to an empty nest. Mark and I would like to have a boat and sail for months at a time and experience different parts of the world up close and personal. This expedition is helping us decide if we are up to blue water cruising. I have always been a passenger on boats but I want to become an active sailor in my own right.

Mark Stanley, 48
My wife and I love to bareboat charter. We are considering buying our own boat but wanted to experience open ocean sailing before doing so. We hope to sail to distant destinations for many years to come, splitting our time between our house and our boat.

Alan Bradley, 62
I am a freelance cameraman and my wife and I are retiring next year and going cruising. We bought a Caliber 40 last year and have been getting experience along the West Coast with cruises from San Francisco to Coos Bay, OR, the San Juan Islands and back to SF. This voyage is the open ocean experience I wanted prior to heading under the Golden Gate and turning left.

Joe Dillard, 53
I am an ageing physician from Billings, Montana whose only prior boat ownership involves a hand-built wooden Mackenzie River drift boat that I run rivers in and fish out of it. This challenging passage has been a life-long dream made possible by my wife, Stella, who is tending the cattle on our ranch. Together, we hope to build on this experience and look forward to beginning chartering in different countries.

November 11, 2009, 1600 hrs, 25.03 S, 172.17 E, Log: 135,131 miles
Motorsailing at 6.3 kts with a triple reefed main (to keep from rolling) in 4 kt 12 S winds Baro: 1015.2, Cabin Temp: 79F, cockpit 81F, sea water 71.8F

0 Lisa takes a noon site

Our winds really petered out this morning and now we are motorsailing almost directly to windward. As the swell has gone down we are able to make 6.5 kts VMG directly toward Opua. During Amanda’s on deck rig inspection class this morning a passing squall gave us great close-hauled sailing for an hour or so, but other than that, we are just chugging along quite comfortably. An updated forecast from Commanders’ Weather says that we may get some sailing tomorrow, and probably a good reach for the last day or so, but that we will have a couple days of motoring as the high has stalled out over the Tasman Sea.

Christine calculated that we passed the half-way point this morning, and Amanda cooked up the last of the second tuna for lunch and we all had showers on deck to celebrate this afternoon.

November 12, 2009, 0530 hrs, 28.02 S, 172.47 E, Log: 135,317 miles
Sailing close hauled at 5.6 kts in 12 kt SSW winds
Baro: 1015.5, Cabin Temp: 71F, cockpit 70F, sea water 70.0F

Hey, WE’RE SAILING NOW! HOORAY!

After a day of making good progress directly on course by motorsailing the wind slowly clocked from being right on the nose our of the SSE to SW, just as forecasted.

CLICK HERE TO SEE OUR LATEST COMMANDERS’ WEATHER FORECAST

If the forecast holds true, we can look forward to an even better wind angle today, Sure is nice to have the engine off. We had our first rain squall in what seems like months last night, and hopefully it washed some of the caked-on salt off the decks and cabin.

This has to be one of the keenest crews ever. Yesterday they spent hours studying the latest weatherfax charts and referring to Mike Harris’ “Understanding Weatherfax book. They are recording the actual wind speed and directions on the print-outs from MetService NZ and Commanders’ Weather to see which forecast will prove the most accurate.

 

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Leg 6-2009, Update 2
November 15, 2009, 06300 hrs, 35.08 S, 174.10 E, Log: 135,742 miles
Close hauled at 7.1 kts in 13kt SW winds
Baro: 1017.4, Cabin Temp: 66F, cockpit 65F, sea water 63.1F (burr!)

GLORIOUS LANDFALL IN NZ’S BAY OF ISLANDS!

These last few days have been challenging as continual southerly-quadrant winds have meant we’ve been closehauled into frequently choppy and confused seas. Our goal has been to be at Tikitiki Island, aka as Nine Pins at first light. Yesterday around noon the winds moved into the SW and we were actually able to ease sheets slightly, particularly with NW winds forecasted for today.

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Just minutes ago we had a spectacular sunrise behind the rugged Cape Brett to the south of the Bay, and now the Bay of Islands is spread out on our bow.

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Kathy and Christine shake the reefs out as we enter the Bay of Islands

We were close on that arrival time until very early this morning when the wind went more southerly and for awhile it didn’t look like we could lay Cape Brett, the NE tip of the Bay of Islands without tacking. We sheeted the sails in and within an hour or so the winds clocked a bit more to the west allowing us to pass Tikitiki Island. After not seeing a single vessel since leaving Fiji, all of the sudden we had three; a sailboat (we assume that by the tricolor light) that we overtook and passed, plus two freighters on their way to Australia.

We’re actually ahead of schedule with our teaching, thanks to a very keen crew. Even though we’ve been close-hauled and charging along, they’ve been eager for class. Yesterday we covered clearing customs and dealing with officials, landfall navigation and sail repair, but the big hit of the day was Amanda’s new rig and sail design class. We also squeezed in taking sun sights with the sextant and tests on diesel engines, anchoring and storm tactics. It makes a busy day with class starting at 1000 and ending at 1700 with a break for lunch so no time for napping.

November 17, 2009, 21300 hrs, 35.15 S, 174.17 E, Log: 135,775 miles
At anchor, Whangamumu abandoned whaling station
Baro: 1008.0, Cabin Temp: 73F, cockpit 72F, sea water 65.8F

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Opua Marina and Bay of Islands

Landfall worked out perfectly and we carried sail down the entrance channel to Opua, tidying everything on deck and below as we approached the quarantine dock just before 0900. We were surprised to see at least six other yachts with yellow quarantine flags fluttering and within minutes of tying to the dock customs dropped by the paperwork saying they’d return once they’d checked on the other yachts. That gave us time to make a huge batch of scrambled eggs and bacon; two items we knew would be confiscated.

In no time the customs inspector was aboard, stamping passports and checking papers. Within another half hour MAF (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries) inspector boarded checking all food stores and confiscating popcorn, frozen chicken and the last few fresh vegetables. The MAF inspector suggested we contact Opua Marina (the quarantine dock is the breakwater for the marina and is not connected to land) for a berth assignment and before long we moved into an assigned slip on. Crew were delighted in the new café and laundromat at the head of our dock and after large exploring plans they ending up spending a little time relaxing at the café and walking the docks before taking off to Paihia, the nearest town up the coast. We enjoyed a meal together at the new Opua Cruising Club clubhouse, joined by cruisers Nick and Jenny aboard Tropic Bird who we’d last seen in Niutoputapu.

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Crew working hard at zooming Alan up the rig

Yesterday everyone headed off to Waitangi Treaty House where the Maori signed the treaty with the British followed by a ferry ride across the Bay to Russell, a lovely tiny old 1850’s whaling town, and former capital of New Zealand. We had planned to spend another night in the marina but crew were gung-ho to go sailing so we set off for Roberton, an iconic, classic anchorage at a small island in the middle of the Bay of Islands. What a treat to hear tui’s and other kiwi bush birds at the very quiet and deserted anchorage.

This morning Amanda and I ran to the top of the ridge for a great view of all the islands and coastline, followed by a swim in the ch-ch-chilly clear water. Before setting sail for Whangamumu Amanda taught going aloft for rig check, followed by winch maintenance and rebuilding. We set sail before lunch rounding the infamous Cape Brett aka “Hole in the Rock” with light shifty winds but enjoyable sunshine. It was a pleasant afternoon and Whangamumu is an idyllic all weather anchorage. After our crew mastered splicing three-strand line we headed ashore, climbing to the top of the ridge for an expansive view both up and down the coast. Next year Amanda and I reckon we should all hike the 3 hour trail to Cape Brett lighthouse.

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Alan, Mark and Joe looking happy as we pass Motukokako Island known for it’s hole I the rock Opua Marina and Bay of Islands

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Alan, Mark, Kathy, Lisa and Joe hike the hill in Whangamumu

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Anchored in Whangamumu

We have a very active front sweeping through in the early hours of tomorrow with NW winds to 45 kts, slowly reducing to 30 kts tomorrow. It should be an interesting night!

 

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Leg 6-2009, Update 3
November 22, 2009, 0930 hrs, 36.24 S, 174.49 E, Log: 135,882 miles
At anchor, North Cove, Kawau Island, NZ
Baro: 1015.6, Cabin Temp: 71F, cockpit 70 F, sea water 66 F

Our passage on Thursday down the coast from Whangamumu to Whangarei was an excellent one but we may be a little biased in thinking that this northern coast of NZ offers some of the best sailing and cruising in the world. Strong SW winds provided very fast close and beam reaching conditions with plenty of reefing and navigation practice. Christine hit 9.4 knots repeatedly and although every one else tried this may have been our top speed of the year.

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Christine happy at the helm

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Joe rigging the preventer

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Crew learning electronic chart plotting

Amanda tried to get us to consider anchoring just inside Whangarei Heads river entrance in Urquarhts Bay for the night but I had a little secret so we berthed at the brand new Marsden Point Marina. Although there is no haul out the marina is a customs port of entry and site of a marina residential development and crew enjoyed the showers, laundry, pub facilites.

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As we neared the Town Basin, we passed numerous ship yards including one that had “Spirit of New Zealand”, the huge and handsome three-masted square-rigged sail-training ship that Amanda used to work on.

Upon arrival in Opua Amanda had rung her folks hoping to be able to catch up with then during our sail down to Auckland. When Lesley, then Robert became reluctant to set any plans Amanda felt rather bummed. I’d secretly emailed them on our passage from Fiji so at 0830 Friday morning Amanda’s folks, Robert and Lesley, arrived at the dock having driven 1.5 hrs. North from their beach cottage near Warkworth. Amanda was in the middle of her yoga (which entails a DVD on high speed and loud music plugged into her ears) so she didn’t hear them come aboard. Robert quickly opened the aft cabin door and tossed in Tigger; their new Bengal tiger kitten. Amanda let out a few panicky screams before rushing out to the main saloon to happily greet her folks.

>While Robert piloted us 11 miles up the river to Whangarei Lesley and Amanda set off in the car. They drove to Whangarei Town Basin to line up moorage in the packed marina (you can’t book ahead) then went on to visit Mary-Anne, the newest (one year old) addition to the Swan family.

Whangarei is undoubtedly the most cruiser-friendly town in the world. Annually the mayor (a cruising sailor) and the town business community host a large “Welcome Cruisers” barbecue at the start of the South Pacific cyclone season. There are more boatyards and marine businesses every year and literally hundreds of cruisers plan haulouts, refits and repaints. Many look forward to leaving their boats in a super safe surrounding while going off to see New Zealand by campervan and flying home to Europe or North America to see family or work. Megayacht owners send their yachts from Europe to Whangarei specifically for refits and there are always several yachts over 100’ under construction. Steve Dashew’s new line of aluminum powerboats are built here as well as the Oyster 55’s and the gorgeous Freedom Yachts. The town is literally a hotbed of marine development and construction with reasonable prices and very high quality work.

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Yacht undergoing a repaint

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Our crew checked out many of the boatyards for their own upcoming cruises, chatted with dozens of cruisers from all over the world and checked out the attractive town.

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Amanda and I enjoyed family time, with Mary-Ann captivating everyone even our crew on Saturday morning when Amanda’s brother David and wife Karen brought her for breakfast.

Our sail yesterday down the river and down the coast, 52 miles from Whangarei to North Cove, Kawau Island, was an exciting one with lots of reefing and unreefing and excellent boat speed often averaging over 8.4 kts. We had another surprise for our crew; Lin and Larry Pardey and friend Mary joined us for dinner. Lin regaled us with stories of Cape Horn and Larry’s recent birthday party and this morning we’re headed ashore for a tour of Mickey Mouse Marine, Larry’s little boat yard.

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Lin showed us around Talesin and their latest projects; restoring a rescued trailer-sailor and building a guest house.

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Crew with Lin and Larry.

November 24, 2009, 1630 hrs, 36.50 S, 174.44 E, Log: 135,920 miles
Moored at Westhaven Marina, Auckland, NZ
Baro: 1016.1, Cabin Temp: 74F, cockpit 71 F, sea water 67.3 F

After morning tea we set sail first for Mansion House Bay on the SW of Kawau then for Rangitoto Island, about 30 miles south at the entrance to Auckland Harbour. Enroute everyone took turns practicing Lifesling Quick Stop overboard rescue and the wind held until we were nearly at Islington Bay entrance. Once anchored we covered fuel contamination precautions, pumping out and examining the contents of our fuel tank sump.

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John and Christine checking fuel quality

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Rangi Ramble Breakfast Club

Amanda and I tried to think of what would be a strong finale to an excellent expedition and came up with the idea of hiking 1.5 hours to the top of Rangi’s volcanic crater for breakfast. We had a 6am wake-up call and everyone split up the breakfast goodies to carry to the top. The weather, which had been a little misty and overcast, cooperated with a brilliant sunny windless morning and the view form the crater of Auckland and surrounding Waitemata Harbour was awesome.

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Christine and Kathy retrieve the Galerider

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Auckland’s impressive skyline

Once back down the mountain most of our crew dove in for a last swim and hot shower before we raised anchor and headed for Auckland. On the way we practiced towing warp and deploying our Galerider drogue and made a detour to check out the mega yachts and new boat yard haulout in the old America’s Cup Village site.

Frequently when we reach our final destination crew become anxious to pack up and check flights home but not this crew. They all pitched in helping Amanda repair the webbing on the top slide on the main, then remove and fold for storage both the main and genoa.

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My idea of folding the genoa in the car park was a little more time consuming than Amanda’s method of folding the main right from the boat onto the the dock.

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Last night we enjoyed a tasty graduation dinner at a fun Turkish café in Ponsonby and this morning after breakfast and cabin cleaning everyone headed off for new adventures.

Just like that, our 20th season of sail-training expeditions came to a close. It’s been a terrific year with keen expedition members aboard plus the bonus of meeting several previous expedition members sailing the South Pacific on their own boats.

Next week, after a car trip north to see family and friends, we’ll haul MT and rig her boat cover before returning to San Juan Island to prepare for our seminars. Vancouver and Victoria Blue Water Sailing clubs in January, Chicago, Seattle and Oakland Boat Shows Offshore All-day Cruising Seminars - Chicago January 11, Seattle April 17 & Oakland April 17.


End of season sail with Amanda's mum and dad, Lesley and Robert aboard their classic sloop

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