Hobart, Tasmania to Picton, New Zealand / 8 - 20 March 2020
In March 2020 I joined "Ocean Gem", a 45f Beneteau in Hobart, to sail across the Tasman Sea to Picton in New Zealand
The trip is 1300 nautical miles long, and should take 7 to 10 days depending on wind and sea conditions
The boat is equipped with the latest technology (B&G electronics / radar / AIS / autopilot / HF radio, PLB -personal locator beacon, emergency antenna…) The skipper David Hows is a 48-year-old New Zealander who has done this crossing 5 times (including 2 times solo) - for this trip he is taking 5 crew, so there will be 6 of us in total.
We leave Hobart with light winds and clear skies. We hoist the main and keep the engine running to stay clear of a building low pressure to the south ...
The dolphins escort us all the way to the deeper seas
We sail past Tasmania's famous Organ Pipes. They are 250m high cliffs of dolerite columns that were formed during the Jurassic period when Tasmania was in the process of separating from Antarctica !
2 hours on / 4 hours off, the first night shifts are amazing and we have the most beautiful sunset to the West and moonrise to the East.
The moon helps us a lot to navigate at night, learning to enjoy long hours of silence and meditation
The first couple of days of sailing run very smoothly with moderate winds and calm seas
The spirit is good. The other guys are way more experienced than I am. I get to learn a lot, not just about sailing, but plumbing, mechanics, electrics, astronomy and meteorology.
Chris is getting ready to helm. It takes about 15 minutes to dress up as the boat is rocking and we are wearing many layers. Inside the boat wet weather gear, boots and safety jackets are stored in open areas to dry. There is not much room to rest appart from our beds which are starting to get a quite wet.
Sean and Phil in the kitchen are preparing a meal while I am still adjusting to spending times inside. It took me a few days before I was able to stay down, cook meals and do the dishes...
At sea the Albatros never cease to amaze us with their splendor and agility in surfing the waves
Finally a very clear sky with light winds - this is our chance to get our clothes and bed sheets dry.
Looking at the forecast a strong low pressure system is approaching
Half way in our trip to NZ, at 4:30am we are reaching in 20 knots of breeze with full main and a number 4 jib, when the steering cable jams unexpectedly, causing a crash gybe... and the boom to break !
We manage to recover the main sail and broken boom and tie them on the deck. We are now half way to New Zealand and have no main sail and no steering.
The guys quickly work out a solution to control the rudder with ropes and pulley blocks attached to a pole extension to the rudder. And with a small jib we are sailing 6 to 7 knots with a reaching wind.
We are all learning to helm by pulling strings and each of us develop different techniques. I find it very much like horse riding, and we compare techniques as as we change shifts.
Ed (the youngest), is probably the most agile and standing up with his hands in the air, he reminds me of a cartoon character riding a spaceship !
Phil is still trying to catch a big tuna.. Not much luck in the deep sea, but he did catch his first fish as we approached NZ.
As the NZ coast approaches, we are greeted again by a huge school of dolphins
And finally we can see the coast
Our handmade steering system lasted 500 miles and as we pass Farewell Spit, sailing deep into the Cook Strait between the North and the South Island, the temporary steering system that we built breaks, leaving us with no control of the boat anymore - We try the Auto Pilot but the sea is strong and it breaks as well. We are left with no other option but to make a distress call and ask Marine Rescue for help.
The coast guards cannot attempt a rescue at night but agree to come and tow us in the morning. We spend the night in rough seas managing to keep the boat stable with a storm jib, to avoid crashing on the nearby Stephens Island.
The spirit is down but everyone is remaining calm. The team is full of resources and I am surprised we all keep our nerves in these highly scary times.
In the morning the coast guards arrive and are finally towing us over 50 miles to the port of Nelson. The cable breaks twice and we fix it each time. No breakage will discourage the team. There is always a solution !
When we reach port, we are emotionally greeted by the coast guards who saved our lives, the immigration officers here to clear our entry into NZ and representatives of the health ministry to check on our health status. They tell us about the regulations to minimise the spread of the Corona Virus, the borders closing and isolation period.
'Ocean Gem' is a bit tired but still looking proud. David hopes to have her repaired in the next couple of weeks.
At last after 10 days spent at sea with no alcohol let's open the first bottle !