04 January 2014

Leg 2 -- Lord Howe Island to Nelson, New Zealand

This was the longest part of the journey so far, and also hardest to plan -- 8 days at sea means that the weather forecast on leaving may not be met for the entire journey.  It was also the saddest part because we were leaving a wonderful relaxing time at Lord Howe Island to venture out into the Tasman Sea again.

Fortunately I had no further recurrence of my kidney stones while at Lord Howe Island, and armed with extra painkillers just in case, we were ready to sail.  On Monday I had asked at the meteorology office what the likely weather window was for the trip, and they replied that it was probably going to be late on Wednesday or early on Thursday.  With a high tide due at 10am Thursday we decided to aim for that.  A trip back to the met office on Wednesday confirmed that.

I have to give a big shout out and kudos to the guys at the Lord Howe Island met office.  It's a very isolated station being manned by just 1 or 2 people at a time out in the middle of the Tasman, but they had all of the latest computer and weather instruments, and armed with a couple of different possible weather models they were able to give me pretty detailed sailing instructions for up to a week in advance.  In particular at one point, about 4 days leaving the island, I was able to check the model they gave me and say "well, we were forecast to have 25 knot north westerly winds about now, and we have 24 knot north westerly winds".  Not bad for any time in advance (and more about the NZ meteorology office later) but pretty excellent going for those guys.  They were also very helpful, friendly, and offered advice about the possible deviations from the weather models that were likely to happen along the route (including one southern ocean low pressure system that could possibly come up further north than forecast) and what to do about it.

Hanging about the island for an extra couple of days allowed us to fix a problem that Blazz was having with his island radio -- the satellite receiver wasn't working.  Rob and I quickly diagnosed the issue being a faulty connection to the LNB on the top of the satellite dish and we managed a quick and dirty repair to it and got things going again.

Also, on the cute side, we found this little fellow, a baby red-tailed tropicbird:
The sailing instructions from Lord Howe Island as provided by the met office were to motor-sail south as far as 33-34 degrees, where we should find the wind swinging to the west.  Then maintain a latitude around 35 degrees following the west/north westerlies until we discovered (about Monday of the following week) what that southern ocean low was going to do, then if it wasn't going to come too far up the NZ west coast just make a beeline for Nelson.

Those instructions were pretty much spot on.  We motor-sailed past Balls Pyramid, which looks like this:
It's a spire of rock about 20 miles south of Lord Howe Island, and it just sticks straight up from the ocean floor.  The consensus on board is that if you're an evil wizard or mad scientist looking for a hideout, this is pretty much what you're after.

I've never sailed that close to it before, getting close enough to get some shots of the rock formations on the side of it and a small amount of vegetation that grows there:
Sailing from Lord Howe Island was much more pleasant than the first half of the Tasman trip.  We had calm weather, settled seas and plenty of sunshine.  The crew were pretty relaxed:
This was fairly typical of the weather for the first few days at least:

Wednesday night (25th December, Xmas Day in some cultures) gave us the only slightly difficult bit of sailing for the trip.  We hit some easterly winds of about 15 knots, about 80 miles out from the NZ coast.  Associated with those winds, oddly enough, were seas of about 6 metres.  Oddly enough, because 80 miles isn't usually enough fetch for winds of as light as 15 knots to throw up seas that big, so I figured something was odd - we were forced to motor directly into the wind because of the size of the waves and the swell conditions and I figured there was either some kind of disturbance or we were motoring into a sizeable storm (nothing like that showed up on the GRIB weather files which I'd been downloading via the satellite phone).  I downloaded an extra weather report just to make sure, and there wasn't anything forecast, which really only added to my concern.  So I sent the on watch crew back to bed and stood on deck for a watch period to see what it was doing.  Jon who was the other experienced sailor on board came on watch around 11pm and I gave him instructions to wake me at the end of his shift if things hadn't calmed down.  Fortunately enough by 3am things were calm again and we were able to turn northerly a bit to round Cape Farewell, and Farewell Spit.

I'm guessing that Farewell Spit isn't something that too many people see from the seaward side, it's pretty unremarkable:
It's just a low lying sand spit that curls around the top of the Tasman Bays as you head into the Cook Strait itself.  That construction in the photo is one of the "lighthouses" we saw marked on NZ charts.  When we see a lighthouse marked on a chart in Australian waters they are usually fairly sizeable constructions, with a light visible for dozens of miles or so.  NZ lighthouses (or at least what is marked on the charts as lighthouses) tend to be small boxy things with a light that may or may not be visible at all.

We rounded Farewell Spit for more cruisy sailing into first Golden Bay and then Tasman Bay on our approach to Nelson.  Seas were really calm by this stage and we were alternately motoring and sailing south towards Nelson in light conditions, although not as warm or as sunny as the first part of the journey.  Even the Norwegians felt the need for long sleeves:

However after such a long journey, some of the crew were completely exhausted:
We arrived in Nelson late in the evening of the 27th December, and were met by a couple of courteous yet efficient customs and quarantine staff.  That evening we were all thankful of a wash, a meal on dry land, and a stable night's sleep.