Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore cruising seminars and boat purchase consultation.

Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore cruising seminars and boat purchase consultation.

Coastal New Zealand

Dec. 8, 1998 1500
36.41S, 174.53E, Log 19,983 Baro 1013, Air 75, Water 62.4
Winds SW 30-41 kts, Boatspeed 9.6 knots

Gale warnings are up and we're flying, on a screaming broad reach toward Waiheke Island, just a day away from Auckland and the end of our season. Tempestuous winds have made this an exciting expedition. We accomplished excellent and fast passages out to Great Barrier Island, 60 miles west of Auckland, some fun hiking, swimming and lots of sailing!

Here's the final update on the boats that were in distress in my last update, courtesy of Fred and Judy on "Wings", a Peterson 43 from Seattle and the NZ Hearld:

Freya, an 45' American cruising boat sailing from Tonga was severely damaged and taking on water through missing hatches and ports after being rolled repeatedly. The family of three were rescued by helicopter (sponsored by Northland Electricity) and no sign of the boat was found, so it is presumed that it sunk.

Salacia, a Tayana 37 cruising boat also cruising from Tonga was near Freya and gave a Mayday over VHF after losing steering. They were on a lee shore approaching Cape Brett at the entrance to the Bay of Islands with 70 knot winds and huge seas. French-crewed containership Direct Kookaburra was instructed by Maritime radio to standby until a helicopter rescue could be attempted at first light. Meanwhile, owner Michael Fritz had fixed his steering and wanted to call off the rescue, but his VHF radio wasn't working.

Just at dawn the ship decided to try to come alongside the yacht Salacia, smashing and dismasting her. After five attempts over three hours the ship's crew managed to get two liferings on lines to the yacht. Michael Fritz fell out after hitting the side of the ship while being hoisted, and was successfully lifted aboard the containership on the second attempt. His sailing partner, Julie-Ann Black fell out of the life ring on her rescue.

On the next circle there was no sign of the yacht or Julie-Ann and rescue authorities assume the ship ran over and sunk the yacht.

Woody Goose, the 53' English ketch that drug ashore north of the Bay of Islands, resulting in the death of Anita Dean in the surf was the subject of a salvage attempt by crews of several cruising yachts in the Bay of Islands. Several of the cruisers that helped in the salvage effort including Fred and| Judy on Wings, had been in the same storm, but survived fine.

Why did this happen? Weatherwise, a meteorological "bomb" similar, but less intense than during the Queen's Birthday Storm of June '94 resulted when a rapidly deepening low pressure slammed into a stationary high pressure, resulting in "squashed isobars" with accelerating winds. This situation was worsened by the relatively shallow water of the area.


Fred and Judy on the Serendipity 43 "Wings" an old IOR race boat that they have cruised from Seattle to NZ on left two days after Woody Goose, and arrived a day before Woody Goose was lost on the beach. Yesterday I asked them about the conditions and why they came through undamaged. They said winds were great the first 4 days out of Fiji, but then they ran into SE winds 35-45 that never abated. As the seas built, they started falling off waves and slamming down, so they tried heaving-to for the first time. It worked well, the boat was comfortable, making about 1.5 knots to leeward.

As this was taking them away from New Zealand and as the SE winds weren't predicted to change or subside in the near future, they dropped their headsail and preceded on under double and then triple-reefed main, part of the time with the engine in slow forward to help them point high enough to maintain course. This strategy worked, they covered the 1000 mile passage in 8 days.

I have just re-written the storm technique section of our Offshore Cruising
Handbook and have been interviewing as many experienced cruisers as I can find, including a French couple with 300,000 miles of often high-latitude experience, Steve and Linda Dashew with 250,000 miles, and Amanda's parents with well over 100,000 miles including a Cape Horn rounding. We are also drawing on our own combined 200,000 miles which includes Amanda's Whitbread and a combined 13 roundings of Cape Horn plus the Queen's Birthday storm and a few hurricanes and cyclones over the past 25 years.

Here are the keys to surviving heavy weather:

1. Know exactly where you are in relation to the nearest land. Maintain watches. Broadcast your position hourly on VHF channel 16 if visibility is restricted.

2. Utilize every source of weather info available. We will pay for custom weather forecasts for critical passages; to and from New Zealand and Antarctica.

3. Choose a moderately fast and weatherly boat which will increase your options. Larger, faster, deeper-draft boats of modest beam handle storm conditions best and are more comfortable, resulting in less crew fatigue.

4. Practice and gain endurance hand-steering in fast downwind conditions. So
many cruisers we meet boast that they always use autopilot or windvane. All but one of the boats rolled and dismasted in Queens Birthday storm were relying on devices which can't see the odd, off-course breaking wave which rolled them. Never count on an autopilot in gale or storm conditions.

5. Know when to slow down. When excess speed causes broahing, you are sailing too fast for your boat design. SLOW DOWN by reducing sail, towing warp or drogue if necessary. However, none of the most experienced people I've interviewed use any device to slow them down, with the exception of Lyn and Larry Pardey. If you don't have a relatively modern boat that can sail comfortably and fast downwind, in storm-force conditions you may have to heave-to or do what the Pardey's do, lay for days to a sea anchor, going nowhere, far from comfortable and without easily being able to avoid traffic.

6. Practice heaving-to. This is one of the safest storm tactics and has been used by our students in up to 80 knots and 30' seas. Some lightweight fin-keel, spade rudder designs may not heave-to well in strong winds, instead continually gybing around in circles. In these conditions, heaving-to with a sea anchor and storm trysail or deeply-reefed mainsail as detailed in Pardey's Storm Tactics book would be appropriate.

7. Realize that in many countries rescue resources are much less than in Europe or North America. Calling for help may endanger you more than staying with your yacht. Have at least one waterproof handheld VHF radio always charged and ready for use.

A new detailed and illustrated chapter, STORM PROCEDURES, will be in our 1999 Offshore Cruising Companions, the textbook for our weekend Offshore Cruising Seminars and also in our Offshore Expeditions Handbook. If you'd like a copy of either, just order them from, or send $7 incl. postage for the chapter alone.

On Dec. 14th we'll be hauling Mahina Tiare III out for the season and flying
home to Friday Harbor to prepare for the Seattle Boat Show, our West Marine Seminar Series and our Weekend Offshore Cruising Seminars. If you've enjoyed these updates or have any ideas on how to make them better next year, please drop me a line:


John Neal

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