After an absolute cracker of a wedding back in Australia I returned to Kuhela to finish the final few preparations and find the right weather window to make the journey down to Nelson, on the northern tip of the south island. I watched as cyclone Debbie wrecked havoc on the east coast of Australia and then sat off the coast slowly making her mind up as to which way she wanted to move next, and it looked like NZ was next on her sights. Not the perfect timing, but on the back of this there looked like a good weather pattern to make the trip up and around. Letting her move through south of us, using the westerly winds to move north and the easterlies to sail down the west coast. With a system that had proved somewhat unpredictable though there was a fair bit of head scratching and studying the weather charts to see what would work. I decided the “long way” up and around north cape looked the better option than heading south and up through cook straight, adding another hundred and fifty mile to the trip but saving us having to make our way up through the strait. The other factors to watch were the next low pressure system moving in from the west following Debbie, and cyclone Cook, just forming up to the north. This didn’t seem too much of an issue at that point though, but that would change very suddenly later on. Either route you take to head South, once past a certain point, it leaves you with little area to hide or run to should something blow up. With all these decisions weighed up, and judging what the weather would do, I made the call and the trip was on.
I had crew orgnaised to leave on the weekend, Melissa and Will, but with the developing weather it looked like leaving a couple days earlier would see me through through these systems quite nicely, this unfortunately meant that Melissa would be unavailable and I would have to find other crew. This fell into place easily enough though, Will knew a couple lads who were keen for the mission and though I usually run three people for a trip, with the option of four, I figured why not. The lists were steadily ticked off, food and fuel topped up and a departure set for a Thursday 6th. Our route would take us north, past the bay of islands, round North Cape and Cape Reigna, down the west coast, around Taranaki and into Nelson bay, 700 Nautical miles and an expected five to six day trip. Wednesday saw the remnants of Debbie dump rain all day, but without the forecast wind. Not a settling feeling when even a 24 hour forecast isn’t correct. Thursday morning I woke to mostly clear sky and a good wind, although with a bit more north in it than I would have liked. The Crew rocked up and we got everything stowed away on board, and around 1100 we cast off lines, headed out of the marina, motored past Mt.Manganui and set sail to head North.
The first 24 hrs were a bit trying, as I knew it would be with the more northerly trend to the wind, strong winds on the nose but a good chance to get the crew trained up in reefing in and out and settling into the rhythm of life at sea. It struck me how much calmer and relaxed I felt about this trip than others I've done, guess its taken four years, but think I've got a pretty good understanding of Kuhela now, very glad she’s coming with me and not sailing off with someone else. As we settled into the second day the wind swung around a bit more to the South and we altered course to take us close by the bay of islands where we would check the weather again before committing to heading around the top. The wind continued to back around and soon we were running down wind, wing on wing, headed towards the cape, perfect conditions and a chance to cook up a good feed and enjoy the amazing views. As the cape came into view and grew in size the wind slowly petered out and we dropped sail and were left motoring around the most northern point of New Zealand with an amazing sunset, albatross swooping the boat and settling into a truly beautiful night at sea. The current sped us along at 7 knots, slingshotting us around and on to the east coast. We stayed a bit off shore to stay out of the worst of the merging currents as two seas met below the keel, The Tasman and the Pacific flowing into each other and an amazing sight when viewed from the cliffs above, and soon we were back into calmer water and swung the bow South.
The wind gods must have been pleased with us, for no sooner had we made that turn than the wind came up from the east and by the time we slipped past Pandora bank we were settled into a beam reach in 25-20 knots of breeze and Kuhela easily cruising along at 6 knots. For the 280 NM from Cape Reigna to Taranaki there is nowhere really to stop or pull in, save for a few spots with dangerous bar crossings, which would only be a last resort and realistically only attempted in good weather. No problem though when a stiff easterly breeze rockets you along for two days and other than putting a reef in or out here and there your pleasantly sailing along and watching the miles of the west coast drift by on the chart. With the weather report we had, again there was a question as to whether we would stop in Taranki to let the next low pressure system go through, or push on through for nelson, so we swung in close to Taranki to get some phone reception and download the latest forecast. Ahead, from under the clouds the sharply pointed peak of Mt. Egmont emerged from the clouds and its mass grew steadily larger by the mile and we closed the distance to the harbor at New Plymouth. Again the wind slowly faded away and left us motoring in on a dead flat ocean, treated to the setting sun, views of the grand old mountain ahead and the rising full moon off to the east. We had made it down the west coast of the North island and what a way to finish off.
As the phones beeped and buzzed, as technology again caught up with us, we checked on the forecast and made the decision to push on, falling away from the harbor and edging our ways around and on to nelson. The low was still approaching, but had stalled out slightly and would give us just enough time to cross the cook strait and anchor up in Able Tasman national park to wait out the darkness and a bit of rain, before continuing on down to Nelson. The sunrise threw a bright red glow over the horizon and lit up Mt. Egmont in pale hues of reds, yellows and purples off our stern as the light slowly morphed its from into the day. The wind again died away and we started the engine and motored on to the South Island, wanting to get there before the bad weather. Just as wepassed farewell spit, the large finger of land that hooks off cape farewell and surrounds golden bay, we saw the large blow of a whale up ahead and altered course to have a closer look. The ocean was alive, there were birds, terns and gannets, swooping and diving and signs of bait fish feeding on the surface. When we saw the blow again he was a few hundred meters off the bow and as we closed the gap and drifted closer we saw the massive mouth of the biggest whale I have ever seen open up and swallow a huge section of ocean. I have seen many other whales, but none as big as this, and as he rolled and moved the blue grey back that broke the surface is easily the biggest thing I have ever seen in the ocean, a blue whale. We never did get that close to him, but was ready to jump in the water given half the chance; unfortunately he was on a mission for lunch though and didn’t stay in one place for long. Still to be in the presence of something so big is truly something, and make Kuhela seem pretty small.
We got to Adele island, in the Abel Tasman national park later that night, not quite beating the rain in, but with a full moon and not much wind it was easy enough to anchor up and get dried off and warm with a glass of wine and a couple beers. We had done it, timed the trip perfectly and had some great sailing along the coast, and by the look of it a few days either side would have been a very different story. Ex cyclone Cook suddenly veered off to the south and barreled its way down to NZ. We watched on the forecast as the big bomb of weather moved at incredible speed and looked like it was about to d some serious damage to Tauranga, where we had just left. Will and Jake had to leave the next day, to get back to check on will’s boat and get that ready for the approaching storm, and got a water tai to pick them up and flew back. Jake and I sat out the rest of the wet and windy weather and on Thursday morning we pulled anchor and head for Nelson.
It felt good to be here. Nelson is the first place I ever came to in NZ, delivering a yacht that is still here, sitting in the entrance as I sailed in and a nice reminder of how far I have come. With a few days to get things sorted before the start of the course, I pulled into the marina for a few days to wash everything and take on fuel and water, before heading out to my mooring just out the front of the entrance to the harbor. We will see what this year will bring, new beginnings, new learnings, new place to explore and the continuation of this journey through life that has been an amazing ride so far. I feel excited and inspired and truly trust in the good things that are ahead. Cheers for reading and joining along for the journey.