December 17, 2011

Tonga to NZ

Tonga to New Zealand
We set sail with much anticipation on the 25th of October 2011 for our 1050 mile passage to New Zealand with Tim Spencer from Indiana, Chris Lambertsen from North Carolina and myself aboard Downtime. We had a weather window that looked promising for the 6 days we were to be at sea. This passage is feared by many sailors due to the frequency of low pressure systems that move through this part of the world. We had heard many stories and talked with a few boats that had been damaged by big waves and storm force winds while making this crossing. Daria was the smart one she jumped on a plane and flew back to Russia to spend a month with family and friends while my friends and I sailed Downtime to New Zealand.
We spent the morning clearing out and provisioning and by early afternoon we cleared the pass and had a single reefed mainsail and a full jib pulling us south at over 9 knots on a beam reach which is the fastest point of sail on Downtime. The waters to the lee of the island were nice and smooth as we sailed just beyond the reef on our way south to New Zealand. We had the lines out trolling and it did not take long to catch the attention of a nice Mahi Mahi. Chris gave it his best shot but towards the end of the fight the Mahi shook the bait and we lost the fish. As soon as we cleared the island the conditions changed quickly with the winds increasing along with the size of the waves. We had experienced 3 days of southerly winds and this was the first day of NE winds so the seas were still coming out of the south and made the ride bouncy to say the least. The winds were over 25 knots and we put in another reef and put up the poles since we were going way too fast to fish with the boat routinely going over 10 knotts!
We settled in to the routine of the watch schedule each taking a 3 hour watch at night and 2 hour during the day. I usually like the 3 to 6 am watch since this is the best time to download weather and send e-mail over the SSB radio.
Downtime was in her element gobbling up 200 miles the first day and close to that the next 5 days and only on the last day did we have to start the motors when the winds died down. The weather forecasts were spot on and we had perfect winds the entire passage.
We contacted New Zealand radio when we were 25 miles out and gained clearance to enter their waters along with the 48 hour notice that we had emailed them two days prior. We motor sailed up the Bay of Islands and tied to the quarantine dock in Opua and were met by customs and immigration and were cleared by the most efficient team of officers I had met to date. I can not say enough about the professionalism and efficiency of these officers. Thanks for doing a great job!!
Opua is where most cruisers clear into and they were expecting some 600 boats this season alone! If this was Ecuador there would be 50 boats tied to the quarantine dock waiting days for clearance. The little town is a boaters paradise with several chandleries and boat repair facilities right on the waterfront. It was the beginning of the season here and I had a few things to fix on Downtime and I was able to get transmission work done with just one days notice and repair the cockpit enclosure that was blown out on our way to Fiji.
With the boat all fixed up we found a place to anchor and went to talk to Phil at Car For Cruisers. I wound up buying a 92 Toyota mini van to drive while we spent the summer in NZ. Phil at CFC has a plan where he sells you a car and 6 months later buys it back for a reasonable fee. It is a simple process buying a car here sign one paper and then go to you local post office and pay $135 NZ for 6 month license fee. No long lines at the DMV or registration hassles just give them your license tag number and pay . We should look at this in the states…it might save the postal system?  As for the DMV well know body would miss that much at least we would get our mail….
Chris hopped off the boat in Opua to go meet his wife in Auckland and tour the south island for a month. This is the second voyage Chris has made on Downtime along with the maiden voyage 3 years ago from Panama City FL. to Ft Lauderdale. It is always nice to have someone aboard with years of sailing experience behind them and it always a pleasure sailing with Chris. Thanks for all the help Chris!
The Bay of Islands is just like it sounds a huge bay full of islands. The scenery here is almost breathtaking with green rolling hills and beautiful shorelines. It is no wonder so many people fall in love with this country. You can buy a house with an ocean view for about 1/3 of what it would cost in California and the people here are so nice. Everyone I ran into had great attitudes and were most helpful when we asked for anything a refreshing change from the islanders up north.
Tim and I spent a few days in Opua and then sailed south along the coast exploring other anchorages. We had a dock reserved for the first of December in Gulf Harbor Marina and we had a few weeks to make our way down to Auckland.
We anchored where ever we could pick up a internet signal and could get in touch with friends and family back home. One day we took SD up the harbor to Whangarei to find some gasoline. We could not get gas on the water but the nice guys at the yacht repair place gave us a 5 gallon can and directions to the nearest gas station. The gas station was right next to a fish and chips shack and a fishing supply store, like the two most favorite place in the world for me!! We headed back to Downtime with full bellies a tank of gas and some new fishing goodies. Our next stop we anchored next to our friends on Cosulo that we first met up in Tonga for the night.
The next day we headed east out to the Barrier Islands 35 miles offshore. We tried fishing but the water is still too cold this time of the year for tuna and we had no luck. The Barrier Islands are what NZ must have looked like 200 years ago, undeveloped and with very few people living on them. The hills are covered in trees and the views are breathtaking. This is such a nice change from the pacific islands, they all started to look the same to us…We just spent a day out there looking around and then headed back to the mainland with stormy weather on its way.
I wanted to take a look at the marina we were gong to stay at and we sailed to Gulf Harbor the next day with hopes of finding a anchorage close by. Well, no luck on an protected anchorage there. .we spent the night rolling in choppy seas and set off to find a calmer place the next day. We went back north to Hawai Bay and spent a few days there. One day we took SD 8 miles up the bay to Warkworth a cool little town along the river and bought some fresh provisions.
While anchored one morning I was waken by the sound of birds dive bombing bait fish! I got up and saw schools of Kawai (sea trout) chasing bait along with the birds. I rigged a few top water baits and within an hour we landed 5 nice size trout. We followed the school up the bay but they soon the vanished as unexpected as the had appeared.
Next stop was Kawau Island 8 miles to the north where we anchored in Bon Accord Harbor. This is a summer get away island and most the homes along the shore looked empty. That afternoon took SD to the only restaurant on the island and ate some fish and chips and hung out with the locals. There were 20 guys on a weekend fishing tournament and it looked like a rugby reunion from the size of these Kiwi's. I got the scoop on how to catch Red Snapper and we wished them luck in the tournament.
The last island we visited was Waiheke Island which is 14 miles east of Auckland. Waiheke has some 24 vineyards and is another vacation destination.
By now I had a good sense of which islands were accessible around the marina and was ready to put the boat on the dock for a while. Daria was flying in on the 24th and Tim had a flight out on the 22nd so we headed to the marina and secured Downtime to a dock for only the second time in a over year.
What a year it has been, looking back at all the places we had been. It felt strange to tie up to a dock and know that this is where we would be for the next few months. Some how the thought of seeing New Zealand from a mini van just seems less exciting than discovering new islands by sea…

In our next adventure we will be discovering New Zealand

Until then, Live your dreams!!  Pete and Daria
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