While planning for this passage, Andrea and I expressed wishes to have a nice passage without having to deal with the events of our previous passages to/from New Zealand. For those not aware of this part of the world, this stretch of ocean, between the Tropics and New Zealand is notorious for catching sailors unprepared for the huge sea-state and big winds that can come barreling out of the Tasman Sea.
The distance from Vanuatu to New Zealand is about 1100 nm. By the time you tack and gybe your way down there, you can easily put on another 200 nm. Taking into account that no matter what the climate alarmists tell you about future weather events the reality is the forecasters cannot tell you anything with certainty more than three days out. So, forecasts for a passage like this one have a high degree of uncertainty starting on the fourth day and getting progressively worse as the days go on.
We do have the ability to get weather (GRIB files) at sea using our Fleet Broadband Sailor 250 unit however once you are half-way to NZ all it can do is confirm that you made a good choice in launching or make you wish you were somewhere else!
However, watching the weather for a number of weeks before we decided to launch allowed us to see a pattern in the storm systems that seemed to indicate that, at this time of the year (early Spring), the storms seemed to have about 3-4 days of decent weather in-between systems. When one particular window of opportunity came up that seemed to have 4-5 days in-between systems we decided to go knowing that both Feelin’ Good and crew could handle a few days in ‘challenging’ weather on the beginning of the passage and the end.
As it turned out, the decision was a sound one. We departed Vanuatu and used the 20 kt winds from the southeast to give us a nice wind angle toward the southern Loyalty islands of New Caledonia. Twenty-four hours later (240nm) we arrived in time for the wind to shift more to the east which gave us a nice wind angle to head south. As a side note, our New Caledonia SIM cards still worked so we were able to get good internet for about 6 hours or so and update our weather information!
We took advantage of the easterly wind as long as it held out but eventually had to do some motor sailing across the high that had built in behind the previous storm system. All this was as forecast so we were pleased it worked out so well.
This was a great opportunity for everyone to rest, relax and save up energy for the final push into NZ. We knew that eventually the next storm system would start approaching from the southwest, out of the Tasman Sea, and we’d need to be sharp to handle the higher seas and stronger winds that were coming. Embedded in this next system also was an intense cold front that was forecast to provide 40 kts winds and stronger gusts.
As the new low approached, the winds shifted to the north and we had a nice downwind sail in 25-30 kts and 2.5m seas. Clear skies ahead of the low gave us a brilliant sail for about 36 hours. Then the front came and brought about 4 hours of strong gusts and heavy rain before it passed and the winds started shifting to the northwest. We made a gybe and headed west for while before they shifted more the west and left us in our planned position to do a nice final downwind sail the rest of the way to the northern tip of NZ.
We arrived at 02:30 on a Sunday morning at the quarantine dock at Opua, Bay of Islands and cracked open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the spectacular passage.
The statistics for the passage were 1298nm sailed in 120 hours for an overall average speed almost 10 kts and a top speed at one point of 18.5 kts. Like I said, a really fast passage!
With great weather planning and leadership by Andrea along with expert helming by the rest of the crew we had a fantastic passage that proved once again what a magnificent yacht Feelin’ Good is. Out here in the wilds of the South Pacific she performs like a thoroughbred easily taking whatever Mother Nature sends her way.
Congratulations to everyone on making the final passage of our 2017 sailing season the best one ever!