Crossing the Tasman Australia to New Zealand
I never like big passages – they are simply a means to an end. You’d think after 15,000nm and 5 years on a yacht I’d be used to it; but no. The Tasman Sea, or “The Ditch” as both us Aussies and Kiwis like to call it, is a big bit of H2O. Add in the very important fact that going southeast from Australia is literally one of the dumbest thing you can do as the predominant wind is a south easterly, and what you get is the unlikely decision to sail from Brisbane Australia, to Bay of Islands New Zealand; hopefully via Lord Howe Island to break up the journey.
The biggest issue prior to leaving is, of course, all the paperwork – see previous blog; LEAVING AUSTRALIA FOR NEW ZEALAND! Once that is underway though, thoughts naturally turn to the journey.
Let’s break it down:
Where to leave from?
As you already know we have decided to leave Australia from
Brisbane, and not do, what so many other sensible sailors have
done, which is travel much further down the Australian coast to
get the advantage of a better sailing angle – i.e. the further
south you are the less of a problem the south easterly winds
can be. However, it is a bit of a Dutch auction.
What you gain in a better angle, you lose in the increased
distance to travel and you have to get down to Sydney
(once again primarily against the wind) –
The Australian coast curves in and away from NZ pretty much as soon as you leave Brisbane.
Going further down the coast hopefully won’t make much difference to the sailing – famous last words.
As an aside, if we are stopping at Lord Howe Island, it doesn’t really matter where we leave from as the angle from that point on is exactly the same.
When to leave?
We are waiting for a northerly wind. According to Jimmy Cornells’ Ocean Atlas, November and December are the most likely months for consistent Northerly winds. Hence, we are waiting in Brisbane, semi patiently for the right weather.
How many days?
Well, it’s the nights really that are the killers, and if we go straight through it will be somewhere between 7 and 10 days, weather dependant. That’s a lot of sleep deprivation, albeit shared. Unlike some sailors we meet who just go to sleep at night and depend solely on AIS (Automated Identification System) and perhaps radar as their collision avoidance system, we take shifts of being on watch. One of us is always up, and we do 15-minute lookouts 3600 around the boat. Why? Well not all boats have AIS, and as we have found in many other countries, local fishing boats are small, low and fast and don’t show up on either system. Lastly, large commercial vessels are fast, silent and won’t even feel a bump if they run over you at night. We choose sleep deprivation and staying alive! You prep yourself for endless sleep deprivation, because even when you are in bed it is very difficult to sleep on a moving yacht. Why? Well it’s moving for one thing. Even when sailing in good conditions it’s LOUD!! Like you wouldn’t believe. Add in some bad weather and quite frankly fear, and it’s nigh on impossible. Absolute exhaustion gets you some sleep after a few days, but prior to that it’s just miserable.
Despite waiting and waiting for the wind to blow in the correct direction, and obsessing over 6 wind prediction models, odds are better that even that it’s not going to go as expected, and at some point you are going to have no wind or most likely waaay to much, and probably coming from the wrong direction plus or minus rain to really impede your mood.
So: what actually happened?
Here are my posts from our online tracking system Brisbane to Lord Howe 380nm 3 nights– I blogged a few times a day:
Gold Coast Seaway exit
Mon Dec 05 2022
Well after a day of last-minute jobs and border force to check us out of the country we paced up and down the Broadwater that is the inland channel between south Stradbroke island and the mainland waiting for the incoming tide to settle the notorious seaway exit that is the Gold Coast Seaway.
After a nervous hour and a half of pacing we decided it looked ok and decided to go for it. WOW. Worst bar crossing ever with breaking waves coming over the top of poor Lukie.
She handled it beautifully and after a hell raising 30 minutes of terror we were out.
With very little wind as predicted we are motor sailing into a beautiful clear night, with a filling moon.
Tue Dec 06 2022
After motor sailing all night we unexpectedly got some lovely breeze from the NW so got the spinnaker up and have been eating up the miles in lovely warm conditions. So nice to see the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean again. Have been taking turns to nap and listen to our books. Not a soul in sight out here just wind and waves.
Glossy Blue Pacific
Wed Dec 07 2022
Lovely calm motor sailing night in light winds, with only the creaking of the boat and occasional bang back and forth as the mainsail boom flogs back and forth. Lots of nap times now throughout the day, rarely are we both up at the same time. But the mini naps keep us going. With 127nm to go we should be at Lord Howe tomorrow before lunch, depending on what the weather gods throw our way
Thu Dec 08 2022
Is an island really there if you can’t see it?
On our last visit to LHI in 2018 the clear blue skies showed the island clearly from about 30nm away. It’s such a steep iconic looking island.
Today however although hopeful since about 4am all we can see is rain. Upon waking from my second sleep (4-6am) and only 10nm away I was SURE that the island would be in sight. But even heavier rain prevented that. Now that we are 6nm away I’m starting to think there is no island. Our GPS and chart plotters assure us it’s there.
While I contemplate getting absolutely soaked while picking up the mooring buoy Jamie reminds me the main sail is still up…. FAAARK!
What didn’t I blog about – how unwell I was feeling. I was extremely nauseated for 3 days, and had a depth of tiredness that was difficult to articulate, even standing at night to try to keep myself awake, I was falling asleep, my head hurt and I just felt awful. Every fibre of my being wanted to wake Jamie up so that I could just lie down, but it made no sense. He needed sleep so that I could have my sleep, so I pushed through, it was terrible.
Lord Howe Island
It was lovely to break the trip for 4 days at Lord Howe, It allowed me all the time I needed to feel better, we got a few dives in on day 3, refuelled and got a lot of sleep. Sadly (and not suprisingly) as we are heading south, it is getting much cooler. Thermals are a must for a night watch, as well as beanies, wet weather gear and our much loved ugg boots. I’ve also recently purchased ski gloves as I am genetically blessed with icy hands.
And then – the final leg Lord Howe to Bay of Islands 800nm 6ish nights:
Bye Bye Lord Howe
Mon Dec 12 2022
Well, it’s been a lovely few days but NZ beckons and the weather window looks do-able. Probably a little sporty for day one and then settling down, maybe a few days of nothing and from then on it’s guess work.
Happy we got a few dives in and caught up with the locals we know who greeted us really warmly.
What a spectacular island. World Heritage status duly earned. If you haven’t been here - do yourself a favour
Being Scared - night 1
Mon Dec 12 2022
I’ll start by saying the boat is doing a great job in strong winds and rough seas. But that doesn’t make it any less scary. Jamie’s headed off to bed and as darkness descends the rough seas seem more unpredictable although I’m sure they are not. We have both sails reefed smaller to make it safer and it has reduced our speed from 7.7 to about 6. Better for Lukie but no difference for Denise. 4 hours seems like an eternity but I’ll break it up into 15min lookouts, listen to my book and move around as little as possible. My new mantra - it’s okay to be scared
Day 2 - ROUGH
Tue Dec 13 2022
Well it’s 6:30am and things have not improved. Regular night shifts were abandoned high winds and extremely large waves hitting us side on have made for a very rough wet night.
Jamie (alone - poor bugger) protecting me from getting saturated finally brought the heavily reefed head sail in at 3am and put the 2nd reef in the main at the same time. Dramatically decreasing our speed but somewhat reducing the violence.
We slept curled up on the lounge sporadically, me more than Jamie.
Jamie has finally gone to bed, exhausted. Hopefully in the next 6-12 hours this will abate as waves over the boat are extremely unpleasant and happening way too often.
Wed Dec 14 2022
Two nights that couldn’t be more different.
As the sun rises on the horizon the sea is flat and the winds mild. We have been motor sailing for the past 12 hours, making steady progress towards NZ.
We expect the weather to be calm with variable winds like this for the next few days. Might even cook instead of just reheat pre made meals.
Our starboard engine oil alarm started up this morning, so perhaps our mild oil leak has become more serious- we look forward to investigating that later once we both finished our night naps
Wed Dec 14 2022
Inspector Jamie in the Starboard Engine Bay with an Oil leak.
Starby as we affectionately call him rarely gives us any issues. He has however been brewing a minuscule undiscoverable oil leak for a few months. Ideally, you would employ a mechanic to come in and take a look and fix the problem. Impossible to do without 3 months booking in advance- and we’re never in any one place long enough. The leak has been so tiny though that with regular cleaning (primarily of the alternator belt) and monitoring of fluids it’s not been a big issue. Last night however the low oil alarm went off and we turned him off to await daylight hours (and some enthusiasm). Upon climbing in to the engine bay we discovered that indeed the entire oil vanity was completely discharged into the engine sump and bilge. After an hour of cleaning Inspector Jamie discovered that the oil over pressure ‘screw?plug’ was missing - probably fallen into the sump. A sump if you’re not sure is a deep dark disgusting place that no hands should ever go. After fruitlessly digging through the sump I suggested we use the long handled grabby tool (probably not it’s real name ) and with a sweeping motion see if Jamie could feel for it.
Voila 5 minute later ‘fuck me’ was heard and the long lost plug was found, cleaned and reinstalled. Oil topped up and back in business.
In other less exciting news - lovely weather, motor sailing and 400nm to the turn (Northern tip of NZ)
Halfway and noises
Thu Dec 15 2022
Well we’ve passed the halfway mark.
Sailing along well, with decent winds.
But the noise. Sailing which looks so peaceful from afar is really not.
Firstly, ropes stretching making really surprisingly loud awful noises.
The blocks that hold the ropes onto various parts of the boat groan, creak and complain under the stress.
Waves crash up in between the hulls, making the floor beneath our feet tremble like an earthquake and then slam into the inner wall of the two hulls. Very very loud.
But the days continue to pass, naps, snacks and movies help pass the time.
Runway of luminescence
Fri Dec 16 2022
There’s this amazing phenomenon that you can observe on moonless nights called luminescence.
Rare to see, but mind blowing when you do. Last night I looked out the back of the boat and in the wash from both hulls saw a runway stretching back as far as I could see of large luminescent jellyfish glowing and flashing like huge lightning bugs in the ocean. Perfect parallel lines of illumination.
We have officially now changed our clocks to NZ time, and have 165 nm until we turn south down the east coast of the North Island.
Fri Dec 16 2022
Just north of the north island of New Zealand are a small set of islands called The Three Kings.
At 7:30pm I spotted through the haze of clouds one of these islands. Super excited as we head into what could possibly be our last night.
80nm until we turn south down the east coast and then another 80 or 90 from there into Opua harbour.
If all goes well we should be tied up to the customs wharf by 9pm tomorrow.
Boring is good plus birds as friends
Sat Dec 17 2022
A wind still night at sea, with rain and fog and slow speeds but as I always say boring is good at sea.
We had hoped to make it into Opua before midnight, but even with both engines going (which is the plan for today) we’re not going to make it until tomorrow morning.
Oh well, rather that then violent seas.
Jamie had an interesting visit last night, a frigate bird appeared walking around the cockpit while he was on watch, it then hopped down into the footwell and looked quite interested in heading inside for a nap.
Jamie put his leg out to stop him, so he promptly jumped ONTO Jamie’s leg, and walked up to his waist. Thank fuck that wasn’t me!
Having hopped down eventually he got stuck in the slippery footwell with Jamie forced to go down, pick him up with ‘come on buddy’ and place him back where he could fly off - which he promptly did. Made for quite the story at the 4am handover.
Mutiny at 4am
Sat Dec 17 2022
Jamie ate the last chocolate chip cookie that I made.
That is all
11:30 pm - tied up to the Q dock in Opua
Sat Dec 17 2022
And that’s a wrap.
The final day always takes an eternity. We sailed past the tip of NZ north island at like 5am, then the long slog down the coast to the official check in post. It’s cool, but wind still so we are motor sailing in lovely conditions, but man are we tired. We finally turn into the Bay of Islands at 9pm, the bay is very well marked with channel markers and easy to navigate (using our satellite photos and our Sail NZ app), and the customs dock is available to tie up to 24/7 and that’s our target. It’s 11:30pm when we finally tie up and stagger into bed, exhausted but exhilarated. The accomplishment of getting here is epic, as is the relief of not dying (not kidding).