Crossing The Tasman Sea

Crossing the Tasman Sea in a yacht is something that should not be taken lightly under any circumstances. These are the events as they unfolded as we delivered a 45’ Beneteau Oceanis, Estelle, from the Bay of Islands Marina in Opua, New Zealand to Coffs Harbour in Australia. This passage occurred in May 2021 in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic which certainly complicated matters. Estelle had been well set up for the passage. The owner and his family bought Estelle, an ex-charter yacht, in Croatia and sailed her to New Zealand over a period of 4 years so there was no doubt that she was a capable blue water cruiser.

 

Estelle is registered in Australia and therefore did not need to comply with New Zealand Category 1 requirements for New Zealand vessels doing the passage, but the owner had however made sure that all the New Zealand Category 1 requirements had been complied with. There were three of us on the boat; the Skipper, Geoff, who has a Royal Yachting Association Offshore Yachtmaster qualification; me, Peter, the author of this piece, with a Day Skipper qualification and a third crew member, Dean, who had some commercial fishing experience in Alaska.

There is no doubt that our timing in crossing the Tasman Sea was far from ideal but the owner had, for a variety of reasons, left it very late to do the crossing. We were the last yacht to leave Opua in New Zealand for Coffs Harbour in Australia before winter set in. There where a few yachts heading for the Pacific Islands as we left for Australia. There was a yacht that had left a week before we did and their crossing had not been pleasant.

 

The owner had employed the services of two weather routers to make sure we had the best possible weather window for the trip. One of the challenges with this passage is that if the weather turns – as it often does – there is nowhere to hide. Once you leave New Zealand there is nothing but hundreds of miles of open ocean ahead. The only place to stop is Lord Howe Island which is about 700nm from New Zealand.

Estelle Drone Photo 2
Bay of Islands 7
Bay of Islands Marina 004
BOI Head

We did not want to call in at Lord Howe Island as this could affect the Covid-19 quarantine exemption we had obtained from New South Wales Health Department. The Covid-19 travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand only applied to travel by air and we had an exemption to fly from Australia to New Zealand and return by sea within the travel bubble. Geoff had already had some trouble with borders suddenly closing and you can read about that here.

Geoff nice picture
Dean on Boat 3

Tuesday 18 May 2021

We have been in New Zealand for about a week and we now finally get a weather window to leave. Departure is confirmed for Wednesday 19 May at midday. The weather router has given us the following:

  • Today’s trough is now crossing Northland, followed by a SW flow with large swells in the Tasman. A HIGH over western Tasman Sea expected to fade in mid-Tasman by Thursday, followed by a High in the South Tasman Sea – maintains a good SE flow for us. A Low is expected to form south of Fiji on Friday and then go SSE, it shouldn’t affect a Wednesday departure, but expected to bring strong winds to a Thursday departure. Hence the compromise of a late Wednesday departure (or go slow along Northland coast on Wed)
  • Departing off the mouth of Bay of Islands around 6pm – late in the day to allow the Tasman Sea swell to ease a little. Go north to 35S then turn left and go NW in SW 20 knots to 32:30S. Brace for southerly swell 4m 13 sec in Tasman Sea on Thursday morning.
  • At 32:30S wind should ease and back to South/SE, go west
  • Waypoint 32S 156E has been chosen to avoid head currents and avoid going direct downwind for the last leg.

Interesting choice of words, ‘brace’ is normally used for aircraft crashes! We also had the tide to consider and would leave at midday at high tide. The day is spent getting the boat ready for departure. We have 500 litres of diesel on board, 200 litres in the tank and another 300 litres in 20 litre jerry cans stored all over the boat. The 55 hp Yanmar motor burns about 3l/hour so we should have enough fuel if we have to motor for an extended period. The owner’s wife has made sure there is a plentiful supply of food on board which turns out to be a blessing in disguise.

 

Wednesday 19 May 2021 (Day 1)

We clear immigration at 10H30. It is a beautiful sunny day in Opua and we depart just after midday as planned. We motor for the first 3 hours and then put up the genoa and the mainsail. Both sails are reefed as it is now fairly late in the day and the wind is picking up. We will each do 4 hour watches starting at 18H00. We have reefed the sails just in case the wind picks up overnight.

Dean and Geoff on Boat 2
Boat 1

After sailing through Wednesday night, the wind has disappeared and the motor is back on at 06H45 on Thursday morning. After sailing north for most of the night we turn west heading for Australia. There is nothing but ocean in sight. We have seen the lights of 2 distant vessels. Dean puts out a line and within a short time he has a 4kg tuna on the line. The big swells forecast by the weather router arrive. They are on our beam and bounce us around. Geoff and, more so Dean, are both struggling with sea-sickness. Dean and his bucket share many personal moments.

 

I have the 02H00 to 06H00 watch taking over from Geoff. I am dressed in the saloon just about to start my watch when Geoff rushes out of his cabin and throws up all over the saloon floor. I get out of the saloon quickly. After my watch I go into the head and there is blood everywhere! Geoff caught his finger in the door as it slammed shut and his finger literally burst open. ‘Pain is just weakness leaving the body’ he comments. It rains off and on during the night on Thursday making the watch difficult. Estelle is a lovely boat but the cockpit is very exposed and there is no protection from either the rain or the sea-spray.

Dean Fish 2
Deans Bucket
Big Swells 1
Big Swells 2

Friday 21 May 2021 (Day 3)

The conditions in the morning are calm and we are still motoring. From the point where we turned west, we have about 1 000nm to go. At 10H15 the Navionics app (which we are using for navigation in the cockpit) shows that we have 923nm to go. If we maintain our speed of 7 knots it should take us about 7 days to do the crossing. At 12H00 Geoff talks to the weather router via satellite phone. The forecast for Saturday is 20 knot winds tapering off over the following 3 days. We can expect 3m swells. The temperature drops quite sharply on Friday afternoon and the swell is starting to build. The swell is on our beam and with Estelle’s barge like stern we are getting knocked around. As a precaution we take in the genoa.

 

Saturday 22 May 2021 (Day 4)

I had the Friday 18H00 to 22H00 watch, so I have the 06H00 to 10H00 watch today. The weather is lousy! I am sitting in the companionway, the wind is a constant 20 knots gusting 30 knots. There is a 3m swell, with 3 to 4 second intervals. We are being bounced around and there is no protection in the cockpit. The entire cockpit is drenched with sea-spray on a constant basis. Navionics shows that we have 780nm to go to Coffs Harbour and 456 to Lord Howe Island.

 

We have been motoring for a while and now need to transfer fuel from the jerry cans to the fuel tank. At 13H00 we decide to transfer fuel while we have the chance. The wind is still a constant 20 knots. With the bow into the wind and the boat being knocked around by the swell we manage to transfer 60 litres of diesel into the tank. It takes all three of us to accomplish this task. While transferring the fuel I hear something break off and fall onto the deck. We have no idea what it is. By late Saturday afternoon the swell has picked up to 4m with 5 second intervals between the swells. The wind is now at a constant 30 knots. It is not pleasant.

Nav Desk 3
Geoff with Satnav phone 2

Sunday 23 May 2021 (Day 5)

We are still motoring but need to start sailing as we do not have enough fuel to motor the whole way. At 09H30 we switch off the engine and raise the genoa and the mainsail, both heavily reefed. The wind speed is 18 to 22 knots and we are sailing on a broad reach. The wind and swell are on our port stern and the boat speed 6 knots. We are about halfway with about 630nm to go. During the course of the morning the sea is relatively calm. We expect to arrive in Coffs Harbour by next Thursday or Friday. Geoff will call the weather router at 12H00. It is raining almost constantly and we are doing watches sitting on the companionway stairs, going into the cockpit every 10 minutes or so to check our surroundings. There is nothing around us but water. Between the rain and sea-spray, the cockpit is certainly not a dry comfortable place. The nights are very cold.

 

The wind picks up in the early afternoon but suddenly dies down. Dean comments that this would be a good time to transfer fuel and we transfer 115 litres of fuel from the jerry cans to the fuel tank. We now have enough fuel in the tank to motor for 2 days if we need to. With the light wind we get the genoa and mainsail out. No sooner have we done this and the wind picks up dramatically. We quickly reef both sails again. The wind builds steadily and by 17H00 we are again in 3m swells with 30 knot winds. Tonight is night 5 of the trip with 3 or 4 more to go. Geoff tries to call the weather router but only gets his voicemail, he will try again tomorrow. I am sitting in the companionway making notes with a foul-weather jacket on. It is really cold and the cockpit is getting a lot of sea-spray. Estelle may be a nice boat to cruise on in good weather, but it is a poor boat to cross the Tasman Sea in. I have the 02H00 to 06H00 watch on Monday morning and before going to get some sleep ask Geoff if we should reef the sails some more. Geoff thinks we are already heavily reefed and we need the sails for propulsion so we will leave the sails as they are.

Dean on Boat 2
Dark Stormy Night

Monday 24 May 2021 (Day 6)

I start my watch at 02H00. Conditions are really not good but we are still making progress under sail. We are in 3 to 4m swells and the wind is a constant 20 knots gusting 25 knots. Estelle is behaving like a drunken sailor, the bow and stern are being pushed all over the place by the wind and the swell. For the previous 8 hours the auto-pilot has been keeping us on track – sort of. The bow is swinging from side to side depending on which sail is getting more wind. When the swell catches the stern and pushes us around, the genoa luffs wildly until order returns. At 02H10 the auto-pilot can’t cope and disengages causing Estelle to veer off course really quickly. Because of the conditions I am sitting on the companionway stairs and it is a mad scramble to get to the helm, get Estelle back on course and re-engage the auto-pilot. Things settle down and Estelle returns to acting like a drunken sailor.

 

At 03H40 the auto-pilot again can’t cope and disengages. Another mad scramble. Things return to normal. At 04H20 the auto-pilot again can’t cope and disengages – the third time in just over 2 hours. I try not to take it personally, the auto-pilot had been fine in the 8 hours before my watch. Conditions have clearly deteriorated significantly. By 04H30 conditions are getting worse quickly. We are in 4m swells and the wind is 40 knots. The sky is pitch black. I am worried. Estelle is now really all over the place and everything in the saloon that is not firmly secured is being thrown about. I decide to give it another 20 minutes to see if things settle but they don’t. Things are going from bad to worse and it is time to get Geoff up.

 

Geoff has a look at the conditions and agrees, it is time to furl the sails, there is just too much wind. We get Dean up. The cockpit is being constantly drenched in sea-spray as Geoff takes the helm and starts the motor. Dean and I manage to furl the mainsail with some difficulty. Visibility is poor and we cannot hear each other due to wind and sea noise. The genoa proves to be far more difficult and we cannot furl it all the way – something is jammed and we cannot send anyone up on the deck to have a look, it is just to dangerous. About a third of the way up it looks like something has gone wrong and there is about 100cm of the sail flapping in the wind. It will have to wait. By 05H30 we have settled things down and we are under motor. The genoa is still flapping in the wind. By 09H00 the winds pick up yet again. Geoff will try and call the weather router at 12H00. We still have about 480nm to go and we do not have enough fuel to motor all the way. If we have to go to Lord Howe Island to get fuel things could get really messy with our quarantine exemption.

 

We will motor for the next 24 hours. I can feel the galley table shake from the wind. We have not seen another vessel for days – there is a good reason sailors stay off this stretch of water at this time of year. At 12H00 Geoff again tries to call the weather router via the satellite phone but the call goes to voicemail. We have no idea what to expect and need a weather update. Geoff leaves a message with the owner for someone to text us a weather forecast as soon as possible.

 

Tuesday 25 May 2021 (Day 7)

I have the 06H00 to 10H00 watch. The conditions are still not good with the wind at a constant 30 knots. The sky is pitch black and we are in 4m swells. When the wind gusts come through the wind picks up considerably at times in excess of 40 knots. Estelle is really getting knocked around as are the crew. The genoa is still not properly furled as it is just too dangerous to send someone up on deck to try and fix the problem. By 08H00 I can see that the top part of the sail is unfurling and there is a small tear in the sail. I wake Geoff up, we have to get the genoa properly furled before it shreds. It is pouring with rain and we are dealing with one wind gust after another. Geoff puts on a life jacket and tethers himself to the jackline and moves to the bow to see if he can sort out the problem with the genoa. It is really dangerous – if he goes overboard in these conditions we will really have a difficult situation. For about 30 minutes Geoff tries to sort out the problem with the genoa but realises he cannot, it looks like the genoa has folded on itself and it is badly jammed. It will have to wait until the weather settles.

 

With the genoa out of action and us not knowing if we can use it for propulsion, we do the distance and fuel calculations and it is now clear that we cannot motor to Coffs Harbour. We will be about 50nm short. We have to sail for about 24 hours but without the genoa it will be really difficult. We decide to get the mainsail out to see how Estelle will cope with just the mainsail. For some or other reason we cannot get the mainsail (which is in-mast furling) to unfurl. It is not clear if this problem is related to the item that we heard fall onto the deck a few days earlier or if this is a new problem. After trying unsuccessfully for about 30 minutes to unfurl the mainsail it is clear that we now also have a problem with the mainsail. Without the ability to sail and with insufficient fuel to motor to Coffs Harbour, we now have a serious problem. We have no option but to go to Lord Howe Island to get more fuel and we adjust our course for Lord Howe Island.

 

To complicate matters, Geoff talks to the weather router who provides the following forecast:

  • Tuesday – wind south 18 knots. Seas, 2.8m swells, 9 second intervals from the south.
  • Wednesday – wind south 1 to 5 knots variable. Seas, 2.6m swells, 9 second intervals from the south.
  • Thursday – wind south 18 knots. Seas, 3m swells, 9 second intervals from the south.
  • Friday – there is a front approaching from the south.

A call to the owner via the satellite phone reveals that they are expecting 40 knot winds on Friday and that these conditions are expected to last for 4 days. Any thoughts we had of simply refuelling at Lord Howe Island and continuing on our way are now dashed. We will have to wait out the bad weather at Lord Howe Island and we will be there until at least Tuesday next week.

Monday 24 May 2021 (Day 6)

I start my watch at 02H00. Conditions are really not good but we are still making progress under sail. We are in 3 to 4m swells and the wind is a constant 20 knots gusting 25 knots. Estelle is behaving like a drunken sailor, the bow and stern are being pushed all over the place by the wind and the swell. For the previous 8 hours the auto-pilot has been keeping us on track – sort of. The bow is swinging from side to side depending on which sail is getting more wind. When the swell catches the stern and pushes us around, the genoa luffs wildly until order returns. At 02H10 the auto-pilot can’t cope and disengages causing Estelle to veer off course really quickly. Because of the conditions I am sitting on the companionway stairs and it is a mad scramble to get to the helm, get Estelle back on course and re-engage the auto-pilot. Things settle down and Estelle returns to acting like a drunken sailor.

 

At 03H40 the auto-pilot again can’t cope and disengages. Another mad scramble. Things return to normal. At 04H20 the auto-pilot again can’t cope and disengages – the third time in just over 2 hours. I try not to take it personally, the auto-pilot had been fine in the 8 hours before my watch. Conditions have clearly deteriorated significantly. By 04H30 conditions are getting worse quickly. We are in 4m swells and the wind is 40 knots. The sky is pitch black. I am worried. Estelle is now really all over the place and everything in the saloon that is not firmly secured is being thrown about. I decide to give it another 20 minutes to see if things settle but they don’t. Things are going from bad to worse and it is time to get Geoff up.

 

Geoff has a look at the conditions and agrees, it is time to furl the sails, there is just too much wind. We get Dean up. The cockpit is being constantly drenched in sea-spray as Geoff takes the helm and starts the motor. Dean and I manage to furl the mainsail with some difficulty. Visibility is poor and we cannot hear each other due to wind and sea noise. The genoa proves to be far more difficult and we cannot furl it all the way – something is jammed and we cannot send anyone up on the deck to have a look, it is just too dangerous. About a third of the way up it looks like something has gone wrong and there is about 100cm of the sail flapping in the wind. It will have to wait. By 05H30 we have settled things down and we are under motor. The genoa is still flapping in the wind. By 09H00 the winds pick up yet again. Geoff will try and call the weather router at 12H00. We still have about 480nm to go and we do not have enough fuel to motor all the way. If we have to go to Lord Howe Island to get fuel things could get really messy with our quarantine exemption.

 

We will motor for the next 24 hours. I can feel the galley table shake from the wind. We have not seen another vessel for days – there is a good reason sailors stay off this stretch of water at this time of year. At 12H00 Geoff again tries to call the weather router via the satellite phone but the call goes to voicemail. We have no idea what to expect and need a weather update. Geoff leaves a message with the owner for someone to text us a weather forecast as soon as possible.

 

Tuesday 25 May 2021 (Day 7)

I have the 06H00 to 10H00 watch. The conditions are still not good with the wind at a constant 30 knots. The sky is pitch black and we are in 4m swells. When the wind gusts come through the wind picks up considerably at times in excess of 40 knots. Estelle is really getting knocked around as are the crew. The genoa is still not properly furled as it is just too dangerous to send someone up on deck to try and fix the problem. By 08H00 I can see that the top part of the sail is unfurling and there is a small tear in the sail. I wake Geoff up, we have to get the genoa properly furled before it shreds. It is pouring with rain and we are dealing with one wind gust after another. Geoff puts on a life jacket and tethers himself to the jackline and moves to the bow to see if he can sort out the problem with the genoa. It is really dangerous – if he goes overboard in these conditions we will really have a difficult situation. For about 30 minutes Geoff tries to sort out the problem with the genoa but realises he cannot, it looks like the genoa has folded on itself and it is badly jammed. It will have to wait until the weather settles.

 

With the genoa out of action and us not knowing if we can use it for propulsion, we do the distance and fuel calculations and it is now clear that we cannot motor to Coffs Harbour. We will be about 50nm short. We have to sail for about 24 hours but without the genoa it will be really difficult. We decide to get the mainsail out to see how Estelle will cope with just the mainsail. For some or other reason we cannot get the mainsail (which is in-mast furling) to unfurl. It is not clear if this problem is related to the item that we heard fall onto the deck a few days earlier or if this is a new problem. After trying unsuccessfully for about 30 minutes to unfurl the mainsail it is clear that we now also have a problem with the mainsail. Without the ability to sail and with insufficient fuel to motor to Coffs Harbour, we now have a serious problem. We have no option but to go to Lord Howe Island to get more fuel and we adjust our course for Lord Howe Island.

 

To complicate matters, Geoff talks to the weather router who provides the following forecast:

  • Tuesday – wind south 18 knots. Seas, 2.8m swells, 9 second intervals from the south.
  • Wednesday – wind south 1 to 5 knots variable. Seas, 2.6m swells, 9 second intervals from the south.
  • Thursday – wind south 18 knots. Seas, 3m swells, 9 second intervals from the south.
  • Friday – there is a front approaching from the south.

A call to the owner via the satellite phone reveals that they are expecting 40 knot winds on Friday and that these conditions are expected to last for 4 days. Any thoughts we had of simply refuelling at Lord Howe Island and continuing on our way are now dashed. We will have to wait out the bad weather at Lord Howe Island and we will be there until at least Tuesday next week.

Genoa 1
Sail Tearing

Wednesday 26 May 2021 (Day 8)

We arrive at Lord Howe Island in the early hours and wait until light before we go into the lagoon. We are met by the New South Wales Police and the Australian Border Force. We purchase 205 litres of fuel as we are fairly certain we will have to motor to Coffs Harbour. The authorities direct us to a swing mooring in the lagoon and we are given strict instructions not to leave the boat under any circumstances. If we do, we will be in breach of our quarantine exemption and will be required to go into 14 days hotel quarantine in Coffs Harbour. There are worse places to be stuck but a hot shower would really have been nice. A swim off the back of the yacht will have to suffice. We finally manage to get the genoa down. It is ripped to shreds and unrepairable.

 

During the course of the afternoon we can feel, and hear, the hull banging against some rocks. We contact the authorities to see if they can move us to deeper water but there is nothing available. We shorten the lines attached to swing mooring and that solves the problem. Dean goes down to check the hull but apart from a few scratches to the anti-foul paint there is thankfully no damage. Dean cooks dinner and we round dinner off with a Bushmills Triple Distilled Single Malt Irish Whiskey which Geoff bought at the duty free shop in Auckland airport.

Lord Howe 1
Rescue Boat 1
Sail 2
Sail 4

Thursday 27 May 2021 (Day 9)

What a pleasure being able to sleep through the night without having to do watch. The wind starts to pick up in the early morning. At about 09H00 we get a radio call from the authorities. The conditions for the next few days are going to be worse than expected. The forecast for Saturday is 5 to 7m swells with the wind at 40 knots gusting 50 to 60 knots. Our position in the lagoon is fairly exposed and whilst the reef will break some of the swell, we will still be buffeted by the wind on Saturday. They give us the option of moving to a more secluded area of the island (LH2 Malabar) but we will have to anchor in about 15 metres of water. Given the conditions we are expecting, if we do decide to anchor in the secluded spot we will need at least 100 metres of chain. A call to the owner reveals that there is only 80 metres of chain attached to the anchor and that is not enough. We decide to stay where we are. The only major concern is that we need to lengthen the lines attached to the swing mooring and if we get moved around by the wind, the hull may again bash against a rock. The owner agrees that the best option is to remain on the swing mooring.

Reef 1
Reef 2

Friday 28 May 2021 (Day 10)

By early morning the wind has picked up and is blowing at a constant 22 knots with waves breaking over the reef but we are still fairly well protected in the lagoon. By 12H00 the wind is at a constant 30 knots and by 13H45 the wind is a constant 35 knots. We hear a sound similar to an aircraft engine coming from the boat and through a process of elimination realise it is the wind turbine. We try and find some way to stop the blade from turning but cannot reach the blade. The noise is deafening and unpleasant. A text to the owner via satellite phone for advice on stopping the turbine goes unanswered. We spend the day reading and Dean makes every effort to catch up on all the meals he missed – and gave up to the fish – while at sea. It is quite something to see one person eat six meals in one day.

 

Saturday 29 May 2021 (Day 11)

The noise from the wind turbine coupled with the wind and waves make for a very unpleasant night and no-one sleeps well. Dean has taken to sleeping in the saloon instead of the v-berth. There is no protection from the elements and there is no sign of the existence of a reef. We have 3 more days of this. We are grateful not to be out in the open sea in this weather.

 

Sunday 30 May 2021 (Day 12)

It is now day 5 with us being stuck at Lord Howe Island and everyone has had enough of the weather and this yacht delivery. It has been over 3 weeks since I left home to do what should have been a 6 to 8 day yacht delivery. We cannot go ashore, the wind is relentless and we are thoroughly bored. We have no internet and we consequently have no idea what the weather forecast for the next few days is but we will be here for a few more days. Geoff and I spend our days reading and Dean is either planning his next meal, preparing his next meal or eating. He has a ferocious appetite but is not fond of cleaning the mess he makes in the galley.

 

I am reading ‘The Delta’ by Tony Stark and for the first time in a really long time I miss Africa – not the hustle and bustle of the cities, but the quietness, beauty and warmth of the game parks. To spend a few days at Ubizane sounds like heaven right now. My back and neck hurt from the lack of movement – we cannot even spend time in the horribly exposed cockpit and the three of us are sharing the saloon table trying to pass the time as best we can. Even with Dean’s ferocious appetite we fortunately have enough food. We are desperately in need of a nice long hot shower and laundry facilities.

Galley 1
Geoff bored
LHI Storm 1
LHI Storm 2

Monday 31 May 2021 (Day 13)

The front was forecast to last for 4 days and this is day 4. At 07h00 I go into the cockpit to have a look at the conditions. I think the wind may be subsiding but then realize it is only because I want it so. The sky is still dark, the wind is still howling and there is no way we can leave today. The waves at the entrance to the lagoon are still 4m and crashing wildly. This front still has a way to go. We are waiting for a weather update from the owner.

 

Tuesday 1 June 2021 (Day 14)

The wind blows throughout the night and the boat rolling around woke me at 01H30. Woke up at 07H00 and the weather has settled. The wind has died down and the sea is calm. It looks like we may be able to leave today. Now we are running out of water. We get a weather forecast:

  • Tuesday – Wind South 10 knots, waves south 3.5m at 11 seconds
  • Wednesday – Wind N/E 7 knots, waves S/E 1.6m at 9 seconds
  • Thursday – Wind N 17 knots, waves N/W 1.3m at 6 seconds
  • Friday – wind S/W 20 knots, waves 1.1m at 6 seconds.

We leave Lord Howe Island at 09h30. We are bounced around in 4m swells – they are huge and the intervals between them shortens. Dean is again struggling with sea-sickness. I have the 22h00 to 02H00 watch which is uneventful.

 

Wednesday 2 June 2021 (Day 15)

I wake up at 08h30 and the sea is calm and the winds light. We have 180nm – about 30 hours – to go. We can see rain ahead and a few shy dolphins surf the bow. This is the first time we have seen them on the trip. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, it does. Dean has the 14H00 to 18H00 watch and I hear the auto-pilot alarm, the auto-pilot has disengaged. Dean resets the auto-pilot and it again disengages – this cycle is repeated again and again and again and it becomes evident the auto-pilot has had enough of this passage and no longer wants to co-operate. We still have about 120nm – about 20 hours – to go and we will now have to hand steer the rest of the way. The next 12 hours are spent hand steering in the dark. It is pitch black, there is no visual reference and we are steering off the illuminated compass. It rains on and off during the night and there is no protection at the helm. It makes for a rather unpleasant watch. At least the auto-pilot didn’t malfunction at the beginning of the passage. The seating at the helm is a bench type seat with no support and at the end of my watch at 02h00 I am cold, wet and my back aches. Our last night at sea.

Peter Steering
Dean Steering
20 NM to Go
Coffs 1

Thursday 3 June 2021 (Day 16)

The hand steering has put us back about 2 hours, there is no way we can navigate a straight line as well as the auto-pilot. We now expect to arrive at about 15H30. We notify Australian Border Force of our impending arrival. We are greeted by a few whales putting on a show for us as we arrive at Coffs Harbour. The owner and his family are there to meet us as we dock outside the Marina offices and the next hour is spent being interviewed by the ABF and having the boat searched and most of the food taken off.

 

We are however still not done. We are not allowed off the boat and the owner and is not allowed on the boat until we have negative Covid-19 tests and that will only happen on Friday. Having now done this passage we have some advice for those intending to do the same:

  • Choose the time of year very carefully.
  • Employ the services of a good weather router.
  • Make sure the vessel meets the New Zealand Category 1 requirements even if the vessel is not a New Zealand vessel.
  • Plan for the unexpected.
  • Have some way of getting updated weather forecasts along the way through an internet connection or a satellite phone.

You can see a video we made from the passage here.