Then it was time to leave Napier and head south again. The next leg of our journey has been written by Alec with all the facts and figures. As you will see we manage to have yet another adventure. NO, absolutely not!!! - this is not what you would call it. In fact it was definitely not cruising like one sees in the brochures and magazines. It was more like one of those write ups you read in a survival book. It was an experience which we would rather not repeat!! But we are here to tell the story because we have a Mighty God who hears our prayers. So do read on.
Hi Guys - SHAMAL - One Hell Of A Ride
The forecast issued Friday July the 4th at 3.53 for the Portland Area ( Napier ) was for Northwest 30 knots. Southeast swell 1 metre.
Further South in the Castle point Area Northwest 30 knots, rising to 50 knots about Castle Point for a time tonight. Southeast swell 1 metre.
On Saturday the forecast for the Cook coastal area ( Wellington ) was Northwest easing to 20 knots in the morning, becoming Saturday evening Southerly 45 knots with high sea.
Great that's us a Northwest breeze ( offshore ) gentle 1 metre swells and best of all 20 knots in Cook Strait. A reasonable mid winter weather window. All hands on deck for a 10.30 am departure. The plan was to round Cape Palliser ( bottom eastern corner of the North Island ) just before mid-day and then have all afternoon to sail across Palliser Bay to Baring Head before turning to starboard to enter Wellington harbour. Just a mere 26 miles. No Southerly for us.
The Portland forecast was wrong, we had a northerly of 10 knots instead of 30. Had to motor sail all day until 7.30 pm until the wind picked up.Latest forecast Castle Point 45 knots downgraded from 50 knots ah that's better. Abeam Castle Point 3rd reef at 2.00 am hit by a 53 knot gust. We were warned about Castle Point wind so we were 12 miles off the coast at this point. My son Murray was sea sick, Ann, Charlie and Dee were feeling queasy so I had a rather long night watch from 10 pm to Friday morning 7.30 am. I then had a 3 hour break. Further south just 20 miles north of Cape Palliser a wind change Southwest 25 gusting 35 and 4-5 metre sea. Bugger, Bugger. Down the sails, 3 thousand rpm on both engines. Average speed less than 4 knots at times punching into these waves down to 2.5 knots at times. Needless to say it took bloody ages to motor around Cape Palliser. I was happy that we left Napier with full tanks of fuel. We had been heading 215 degrees and once around Cape Palliser a new course of 285 degrees. Finally rounded at 2.30 pm ( 2-3 hours behind time ) With the course change coming up I was starting to get excited as I was thinking here comes a fast close reach all the way to Baring Head. ( time to play catch up ) But you guess it as we rounded Cape Palliser the bloody wind came round with us. Something to do with the "Funnel" effect of Cook Strait, I knew that from 4th form Geography but temporarily forgot. Maybe wishful thinking about the close reach. So here we go another 26 miles at less than 4 knots. ETA mid evening what about that Southerly approaching at 45 knots !!! Time to brief the crew as it was looking like it was going to be one hell of arrival in to Wellington.
10 miles east of Baring Head the wind started to pickup with gusts in excess of 50 knots as the wind backed to the south. Shamal picked up speed to between 6-7 knots in gusts. I guess due to the windage. Ann called Wellington harbour radio for traffic and was inform that a Cook Strait ferry was half an hour away and we would be number one. Reported gusts now at the harbour entrance 60 knots and not to mention the out going tide. 10 metre seas. What's that about wind against tide!!! I was now thinking about the " Wahine " and Barrett's reef at the harbour entrance. We then turned to starboard and commence our approach. ( sorry that's aeroplane talk ) With the engines at idle, bare poles and 50 knots plus up our stern Shamal was doing 10 knots. The auto pilot couldn't keep up with the gusts and was making big corrections so I decided to take the helm. ( I have flown jets in to Wellington in similar conditions and the auto pilot couldn't cope. ) I had Ann holding the port winch looking out for the Barrett's reef light and Charlie on the starboard helm looking out for the Pencarrow light. Between these two lights the distance is 0.7 miles, the narrowest part of the channel. When we were in a trough there were no lights to be seen, a little unnerving at times. Just after passing these lights a load of white water came over the back knocking me over, likewise Charlie and Ann. Glad we had our Safety Tethers on and now Shamal starting surfing. The boat did not come with any anchorage points so I installed a couple by the helm's when we were in the Bay of Islands.
Down in the trough I noticed the speed had fallen down to 3 knots so I slammed open the throttle's to 3000 rpm. ( we had lost the wind ) Ann was now looking astern calling the next wave so I could take a quick glance to try and avoid any more white water. Yes the waves were steep wind against tide. Surfing off one wave we got up to 20 knots plus and were on that wave for several hundred metres. I didn't have time to glance at the chart plotter as helming in these conditions is a full time job. We don't know our maximum speed on my log as that part stopped working. However the maximum wind gust was 60.8 knots. Ann then shouted the Ferry is behind us so I took a quick glance and sure enough just over a 100 metres astern and slightly to port high in the sky on top of a wave there was the Aratere. I shouted at Dee who was by the radio to call Wellington Harbour to tell the Ferry to slow down and has he got contact with us. The Aratere said he had us now, couldn't slow down and was going to starboard. I have never seen a Ferry roll so much and he didn't take long to pass. Thank you Sir. A few more big waves and we were now inside the harbour still been blown around. We had booked a berth in a Marina behind the Te Papa Museum on the end of B pier but on arrival a fishing boat had taken our berth. The wind was still gusting 45 knots in the Marina so luckily the end of A pier was vacant. All I had to do was to stop Shamal abeam the berth and the wind just blew us on to the pontoon.
The time was now 10.30 pm and it had taken us 8 hours from Cape Palliser.
At one stage I did consider diverting to Port Underwood 35-40 miles across Cook Strait at the top of the South Island but with the wind coming from the SSW it would also be very exposed.
We are very please at the way Shamal handled the extreme conditions and the only damage was minor ( a small tear in the sail bag )
Interesting enough the sunshades and the side clears remained intact.
We were never in danger of pitch poling as the bows never dug in, not even a little. I made sure to keep up our speed by catching a wave and veering off.
Yes one hell of a ride. At the end it was good to have 4 crew on deck and each and everyone played their part. Thank you Ann, Charlie, Dee and my sea sick son Murray my Computer/Forecast operator.
It is now Monday evening and still blowing a gale. The local yachties all have their stories about Cook Strait being out there in 50 knots plus as if this is a normal experience in this area. I guess it is not called "Windy Wellington" for nothing. In today’s paper the Ferries cancelled their Cook Strait crossings over the weekend. I wonder why. Bob McDavitt the Met Service Weather Ambassador stated this storm was the Nadir of the New Zealand winter.
The good news Ann still wants to go sailing but not quite in those conditions. Next sector Wellington to Picton any volunteers.
The only thing I can add to this would be our “man overboard drill” which Alec demonstrated to us on what one should do. I might add this was in the calmer waters at the beginning of the trip and we used a buoy, not one of us. The second was a pod of over 300 dolphins which was quite thrilling. At times we had 4 or 5 swimming between the hulls.
I will also add like Alec said that after the way SHAMAL handled these conditions we feel even more confident to take here off around the world starting next year.
OK one and all we will sign out for this letter.
Lots of love
Ann Alec and Murray