Since we're not aboard Nine of Cups sailing at the moment (be patient, we'll be back aboard soon), reminiscing by reading and sharing some old blogs is a good way to refresh our memories about life aboard during passages. Storms are a popular topic of discussion among old salts and newbie sailors alike. These posts recount a couple of miserable days on our 2011 passage from the Chatham Islands back to New Zealand's North Island.
En route to Mainland New Zealand
Day 6 -Across the dateline
Around 10 AM today, we finally crossed 180 degrees and are now in the Eastern Hemisphere again, west of the dateline. The winds have been obstinate and we're clawing our way back to the New Zealand mainland and fighting for every inch of westerly gain. The ride is uncomfortable with big waves and it's squally making sitting in the cockpit unpleasant.
We were hoping to clear East Cape by this evening, but the wind increased and our tack, though gaining us westerly progress, diminished our northerly progress. Thus, we are too far south to clear the cape as we had hoped and with gale warnings in force and the wind and waves increasing each hour, we finally could make no progress at all and opted to heave-to for the evening until the worst of the winds and waves had passed.
Usually heaving-to allows a pretty comfortable ride, but tonight we are heeled over and being tossed about. Though Cups seems to be weathering the storm well enough, the crew is not.
Day 7 - Blown back across the dateline again
Yesterday's miserable winds and weather deteriorated significantly overnight and though we were hove-to, life aboard was most unpleasant. Winds increased to 40+ knots with commensurate wave height and wave action. The wind shrieked and Cups shook and shuddered. The noise was deafening as huge waves crashed with a sudden bang and washed over her. Heavy rain punctuated with hail bombarded the decks.
Prisoners below, there was little we could do, but wait it out. "Grinning" was out of the question; "bearing it" was the only option. At one point I complained to David "Get me off this ride!" to which he replied with grin "I'll work on it". Trying to sleep was useless. We napped a bit, but we were always shaken awake by the sudden jolts and jars of the boat … an amusement ride gone amok. We were lame and sore, back and limbs aching from being scrunched up and wedged in the same position for so long on this heel.
The morning sun rose displaying a mackerel-clouded blue sky … a change in the weather on its way. Our position at dawn had us back east of the dateline. We had been blown back 25 miles east during the night. The wind had abated to westerly 30s, allowing some northerly progress, but against the built-up NW waves. We crawled along awaiting the promised SW winds in the next day or two. The sea is a washing machine, but on a slightly more gentle cycle.
Just after dark, we heard a loud snap and the main started luffing. We are triple-reefed and the reefing line broke. It's a brand new line, so it must have chafed through. With much difficulty, David was able to use the port side reefing line to secure the reef again and then reinforced it with another line. Getting this accomplished with the wind blowing 30+ knots, the boat thrashing on a heel and the waves crashing on and around him was a monumental task.
By the end of the day as I write, we have only recaptured the 25 miles we lost overnight plus two positive miles...a total of 27 miles to the good in a whole day … 25 of which we'd already sailed. We are still just off East Cape and on the east side of the dateline. The promised SW winds are coming, but the forecast is now calling for gale and/or storm conditions with winds up to SW 50 knots. Oh, my! THIS is the part of cruising that sucks!
In summary ...
The passage back to New Zealand was one of our biggest challenges. We had no wind (0-5 knots), too much wind (50+ knots), rarely the right amount of wind (15-20...lovely) and mostly "on the nose" wind (NW). We anticipated 4-5 days to get back and it took us forever moving at a sea slug's pace, usually in the wrong direction.
We suffered our first-ever knockdown in a storm just off East Cape which blew out our mainsail, tore the bimini to shreds, knocked out a deck stanchion and generally took our breaths away. Additionally, we had watermaker and transmission problems which thankfully, David was able to fix en route. We hove-to for another night and, sick and exhausted, we lay ahull for another after the mainsail blew. The projected 750 mile passage took 12 days and was actually 1,140 nm by the time we reached Opua.
Just saying … it's not always paradise out there.