18th November 2022
This is a well trodden path.
Yachts travel up and down this stretch of the South Pacific every season. We have met lots of Kiwi boats who sail up to the tropics each year to avoid the New Zealand winter, then back home for their summer. The classic time to sail south is late October to mid November. The pilot books, weather routers and Jimmy Cornell are all agreed, at this time of year you can expect a procession of high and low pressure systems which travel eastwards across these waters. So you just wait for a high pressure system to appear. Then as it passes south of Fiji, you set sail and enjoy a fast reaching course across the easterlies with the wind backing more northerly as the high passes, perhaps free off the sheets and sail all the way to Opua without a murmur from the infernal combustion engines. Sounds great.
But in late October I really wasn’t ready to leave, we were still chasing surf. We went by road to another wild reef break on the Coral Coast where Brice and I scored a couple of days of unforgettable windsurfing in impressive Fijian waves.
Then Bryan and Auriane arrived from Indonesia and we all escaped to our favourite turquoise patch on the outer reef for a few days until it was time for Brice to catch a boat to the main island and fly back to California.
Now we turned our attention to this trip to New Zealand. There was a good looking forecast at the end of October, lots of boats took the opportunity but we still weren’t quite ready to leave, I decided to wait for the next high pressure system. A week later we were eagerly watching the weather models and getting ready to go.
I was hoping to sail south with bright nights during the full moon. Dawn flew down to New Zealand to await our imminent arrival.
The moon waxed (also eclipsed) and waned, but no suitable forecast appeared for the passage. Well now November is drawing to a close, we are planning a Thanksgiving dinner for Bryan, Dawn is enjoying springtime in Opua. Still no high pressure system!
All the yachties and forecasters have been surprised by the ‘chaotic’ weather patterns this year, but weather is chaos. There have been a couple of opportunities to make an almost windless passage, motoring all the way. Not really my thing, it seems such a shame to do that in a boat like this. Anyway we have no deadline, so we will patiently wait for the right weather pattern which will surely come.
Meanwhile, the SW swell has been consistent and we are keeping busy.
As I write this we have been anchored off Namotu for a week. It’s a wonderful place to wake up. Each morning I look out of my bedroom window to see who’s swimming past. This week we have a squadron of squid living round the boat, a school of tiny silver fish, turtles coming up for a breath, and the resident pod of spinner dolphins, dorsal fins slicing the morning stillness.
From where we are anchored I can see the waves at Wilkes, the Foil Garden, Namotu Left and Swimming Pools. All within a three minute dinghy ride. Mellow longboard lefts for me, barreling rights for Bryan, challenging drops for Auriane who is now charging on the best waves of her life.
From the boat we can see all the spots and pick our moment.
Some days we have surfed 3 sessions. That’s a full day: surf, eat, nap, repeat.
Astounding sunsets with glassy waves reflecting purple skies. Just the three of us at the break, so good we stayed in the water, surfing until dark.
Then there’s the tow-foiling behind my long suffering outboard motor. It has whipped us in to countless waves. Long, long rides lasting minutes rather than seconds. The most fun I have ever had on a hydrofoil. I’ve even started to ‘prone’ paddle the foil into some waves while waiting for the dinghy pick-up.
The last windy day we went winging in the rain at Tavarua Right where Bryan sailed in to some fast hollow faces, the foil racing over very shallow looking reef.
We have eaten every thing on board.
We’ve all been getting creative with menu planning but there’s actually nothing left to eat now except the precious cans of French cassoulet from Tahiti and we’re saving those for the passage.
So it’s time to finally pull that hook out of the white sand and go back to Musket Cove to resupply.
Those weather forecast models keep forecasting and we study them every day.
We’re all a bit conflicted here. Bryan and Auriane are excited about their first visit to NZ, planning a road trip and hoping to have time for some touring. I’m also looking forward to being back down there and of course am very keen to be re-united with my wife.
But on the other hand, this place is incredible. We know we have all just experienced a very special few weeks of surfing, and summer has not yet arrived in NZ. The water down there is still quite chilly.
So the other forecast we are checking daily is the swell at Namotu, there are worse places to be stuck for a couple more weeks.