It’s been a while since we took Escapade for a proper sail out in the ocean swell. That was back in April when we left Polynesia on our way to Fiji.
Long enough to forget just how much fun it is to feel this boat eating up the miles.
We finally committed to a promising 5 day forecast at the end of November. I dragged my surfed-out crew away from the waves and off to port to provision, clear customs, eat one last Fijian curry and finally sail away with our freshly scrubbed bottoms. (Weed-free hulls required for NZ bio security).
A memorable exit through Wilkes Pass as a set passed under us with waves barrelling on both sides. Farewell to Fiji.
We knew we would have to motor through a calm for the first day to reach the wind line. Ideal conditions for spotting a cloud of birds diving amongst feeding fish. We trolled two lures through the frenzy, both reels screeched as the fish hit, Auriane at the helm, Bryan and I winding fish to the boat with tuna jumping all around, birds diving on bait fish and sharks chasing the boat. All very exciting, we landed three fish that day, with a large shark swimming right to the transom excited by the blood from Bryan’s tuna. An hour later the fillets were in the fridge and the rods stowed away. Protein for the week.
I was optimistic (as ever) about our wind forecast, but as Bryan’s father Ron reminded us. “The forecast is just a forecast.”
That evening the long-awaited easterly breeze arrived. The next two days were fast reaching with the new Code D sail pulling us along under blue skies from dawn to dusk.
I set the sails at 6am and barely touched a sheet all day. Such sweet sailing as Escapade got into her groove and cruised at 10 knots across a long smooth swell, while we cooked, ate and lazed, adjusting to our first night-watches.
On our fourth day the Pacific looked very different, low grey clouds, torrential rain for hours and wind building and backing round to the north as we crossed the edge of a low pressure system.
The wind and waves grew as we gybed south again and Escapade took off, setting her bows for the horizon and surfing down the swells.
After a peak speed of 18kts we decided it was time to slow her down again, even with three reefs in the main she pressed on, rushing south through the dark night with phosphorescence streaming in her long wakes.
Now we are adapting to life on passage, I’m normally very tired after the first few night watches, but then the rhythm sets in and the napping gets more effective.
Bryan somehow developed a nasty case of man-flu as we left Fiji, so he needed lots of sleep. This was Auriane’s first experience of the craziness of a long ocean trip. Wide eyed at each new outrage. Are we supposed to be going this fast in the dark? It’s very noisy! Surfing down waves at 18 knots? Is that ok? Yes it’s all fine. She has adapted very quickly to the speed and power of the sailing and is loving the whole adventure. Very happy clipped on to the foredeck while pulling reefs down at the mast in the dark.
We have sailed out of the tropics and it already seems different down here. I’ve only really worn shorts for months. A few degrees south of Capricorn and we start adding t-shirts, then merino layers. The next day, down jackets and full Goretex armour. I said I can smell the ice of Antartica.
By the morning of day 5 we have sailed 750nm south of Fiji, with only about 350nm to go. But then the wind came up from the south, and stayed there. The forecasts were assuring us it would shift to the east for the rest of the trip. We negotiated with headwinds of various strengths and seas states for two more days. Ron’s words were ringing in my ears.
Bryan had recovered, we had eaten all that fish, and progress seemed so slow now after those days of fast sailing.
The wind shift did finally happen, but then it died completely! On the morning of the last day we were breakfasting in the sunshine, motoring across the calm and there, at last, were the green hills of New Zealand rising from our blue horizon. Land Ahoy. The Land of the Long White Cloud.
We motored in to Opua and spent the night celebrating on a quarantine dock. Next morning we cleared customs and motored round in to the harbour, reunited with Dawn at last, she was on the dock to take our lines.
Now we have moved ashore for a few days to catch up on sleep and recuperate.
So here we are in the Antipodes! 35 degrees S, the farthest south Escapade has ever been. About 9,000 Pacific miles sailed since Panama. Time for another pause.
I’m very grateful to have had this crew to sail with. Auriane is a force of positive energy and humour which is a huge asset to a tired crew in an uncooperative ocean.
Bryan is somehow capable of fixing everything we can break on the boat, he has a real gift for practical problem solving at sea. Then there was our shore team in Opua: Tom and Pedro with routing advice and moral support, Dawn’s daily satphone updates, checking forecasts all night, arranging all the NZ entry procedures and a thousand other things to smooth our path.
Thanks everyone, we made it!