14/12/2007 | by Mark Patterson
Words by Hugh
29 degrees, 10 seconds South
178 degrees, 05 seconds East
Time stands still in travel
The passage of time is a strange thing when you’re traveling huge distances very slowly in a sailboat. One is used to hours being divided up by alarm-clocks, traffic patterns, class times, recreation, the news and sitcom slots, meals and meeting schedules. Weeks are marked by appointments, dates, socializing and all the other things we pack into the seven days.
When making an ocean passage of hundreds of miles and multiple days, time stretches, bends and compresses in a strange way. Gone are the familiar milestones and yardsticks. An afternoon can go by in the blink of an eye, and 15 minutes may seem like an eternity. Days fly by, or slow to a crawl.
What truly marks the passage of time is wind and weather. Wind shifts generally happen over days, not hours or minutes. If you watch for it to happen, try to pin your finger on it and you’ll go nuts. But sit back quietly waiting and you’ll see it unfold.
Conversely, time can speed up in a hurry. Rain squalls come in an instant, and with them stronger winds and heavier seas. If you get lulled into complacency by the slow days, you’ll get smacked by one of these, ending up soggy and sobered.
One of the small pleasures I derive from living under the influence of the elements 24 hours a day has been the awareness of weather it brings. To experience wind shifts and weather pattern changes as they happen over time is strangely satisfying. When you sleep in a house and work in an office, the actually amount of time you spend outside looking at the sky and feeling the air is minimal. You emerge in the morning to find it has started to rain, and maybe by the time you leave work, it has cleared up. You don’t get to witness the subtle wind shifts, cloud cover or temperature changes that all indicate changing weather patterns. Weather is a more static phenomenon.
Why all this reflection on weather and time? On this passage from Tonga (via Minerva Reef) to New Zealand the usually subtle changes in weather have been disrupted by some rapid, remarkable evolution. It is hard to remember how many days ago we left Minerva Reef, but if I look at the clothes I’m wearing this morning, three tops and a toque, I think I can guess. Let’s see, on the day we left it was too hot to sit in the sun during the day, and that night I wore a thin wool top and shorts. The following day was spent in the sun, but that night I had to put on wool long-underwear as well as pants, shoes (what are these strange things on my feet?), and a jacket over my wool top. Last night I again donned long-underwear, then rain pants, boots, a 2nd wool top, jacket, and toque! So I’m wearing three tops, this means we must have left 3 days ago; one layer for each day. The daily change has been that remarkable. Sheesh, its cold now, and no, we’re not just soft!
We’re all questioning each other as to how cold its actually going to get by the time we reach The Bay of Islands in New Zealand, another 400 miles south! Well, I guess I can’t complain; I’ve been living in shorts and a t-shirt since we arrived in Mexico way back in May. And luckily I didn’t forget most of my warm stuff back home like some of the other crew. Bryson, I want those wool socks back clean!
Sailing, what about the sailing?
Most every cruiser faces the passage from the tropics down to New Zealand with trepidation. Weather for this passage has been the hushed topic of conversations among all the boats for at least a month now.
You leave the predictable winds and weather of the Trade Wind belt and enter an area of low-pressure systems, squash zones, cold fronts, warm fronts and general meteorological voodoo and magic. You can pretty much throw long-range forecasts out the window, things are probably going to change. 72 hours is the best you’re going to get, and when you’re at sea for over a week in a slow moving boat, there ain’t much you can do to avoid the nasty bits. The one thing everyone banks on for this passage is getting smacked at least once.
A group of about 25 boats had left Tonga for New Zealand 14 days ago with promise of a favorable weather window for their passage south.
Unluckily for the slower ones, a low-pressure system tracked into their path and with it 40+ knots of wind. They were blown so far of course, that a few of them are hoping to arrive in Opua tomorrow, 15 days after starting a passage that should take 7 – 8! Yikes!
Khulula on the other hand, has had a great passage so far. The forecast is favorable (commence vigorous knocking on wood) for the next 72 hours, which should bring us within spitting distance of the dock in The Bay of Islands.
The trip from Tonga to Minerva was a sleigh ride. We left Tongatapu under spinnaker, with 12 to 14 knots of breeze from the northeast, putting it on the starboard quarter. Each night the wind picked up a bit, we dropped the chute, and carrier on under white sails going 5 to 7 knots into the dark. Perfect. Stay tuned for some great video footage coming soon.
While at Minerva a small low pressure system passed over us. We watched as the wind backed over a period of 36 hours from northeast, through north, west, and finally settling south-southeast. This wind direction put us on a close-hauled course to NZ. Although we weren’t technically be beating, it is still an uncomfortable way to sail.
Since leaving Minerva we’ve seen anywhere from 12 to 25 knots, which is quite manageable, but with lots of spray dodging! Fortunately the wind has started to back more to SE so we’re able to crack off from a close haul, reduce the night time douses and bashing while pointing directly at Opua! Smiling faces, cold drinks and warm showers here we come!
Also of a topic much discussion and constant vigilant attention is the condition of our boat and equipment. After over 6000 open ocean miles since Mexico, ol’ Khulula is starting to show a bit of wear. The “NZ to-do List” is growing daily. Maintenance is always on our minds, however the threat of heavy weather makes the problems and consequences of failure of equipment much more urgent. We spent 2 full days in Tonga repairing sails, checking bolts and fittings and inspecting all we could in preparation.
Just two days ago a catamaran also sailing to New Zealand whom we speak with daily on the HF radio suffered a torn mainsail. Lucky the weather wasn’t too rough and with 20 hours of sewing they were able to repair it. All our sails (originals from the 80′s) are looking quite worn so we’re sailing very conservatively to keep them in one piece. New sails are on the top of Khulula’s Christmas Wish List in NZ! On the other hand, our running rigging is still in top shape. We were very fortunate to receive a number of new lines, halyards, sheets, guys courtesy of New England Ropes at the start of our voyage. We’ve been winching, grinding, bumping, hoisting, and hauling with them all, and there is barely a sign of chafe. In non-sailing terms, they’re awesome! Huge thanks to Kevin and New England Ropes.