Crossing the Tasman in the middle of winter is not something I take lightly, but when many different things all come together it does provide for adventure and the chance to explore somewhere new.
To say that this was a last minute event is almost an understatement. I work on a barge off shore of NW Austrlia and had just gotten off at the end of a swing when I got the email - There was a yacht in Wollongong leaving for New Zealand ASAP, was I interested? This was enough to rouse my interest and make call to find out some more. I had a chat to one of the crew and got the basic details, the boat was a Roberts 44 named “Periclees” that the owner had purchased and was taking home to prepare to go cruising. The owner wasn’t on board at that moment, however, but would call back soon. The next thing I did was check the weather to see what we could expect and if it was good idea, like I said, not something I took lightly. I found that there was actually a really good window for crossing and could expect reasonable weather for most of the way, as far ahead as the predictions and current situation indicated anyways. My interest grew.
There were a few other small details though. At that moment I was sitting in Karratha about to fly to Perth and was not scheduled to fly back to the east coast for a few days. I decided to think about it on the flight down and would either decide to leave it or talk to the owner and make a final decision from there. I mulled my options over on the flight and came up with a plan. I’d to trust my gut instinct, which was telling me to go, and would talk to the owner and make a decision depending on talking to him. This would mean changing flights, getting the red eye from Perth to Sydney and making my way down to the boat for departure sometime that day. A long haul, but doable. Sometimes you just have to go.
I got to Perth and called Dave, the owner, and this sealed my decision. He answered the majority of my questions without even having to ask. The boat had all the necessary safety gear, the crew had experience and he was able to give me a web listing with good info on the boat. They had actually left two days prior but had to turn back when one of the crew dislocated a shoulder rolling out of bed. I told him I’d be there and then made a few calls to change flights and let my parents know the plan. Two hours ago it was to spend a few days with them and celebrating my sisters birthday before flying home, sorry sis. I like to keep them on their toes. Flights were arranged and I did get to spend some time with the folks before flying out.
After a long plane trip and a short train ride I arrived to meet the crew and see what I’d gotten myself into. There was Dave, the owner, who had worked on boats for many years and sailed quite a lot around New Zealand, Synco, who occasionally raced with Dave and turned out to be an electrical Mac Guyver and John, another sailing mate of Dave’s who was a surveyor and worked in W.A. as well. They were all good crew and we got along well from the start and had a chat over some breakfast to go over some details. After a look around and a basic induction we were off to customs and immigration and were throwing lines and underway soon after.
We settled into the routine of sailing, getting to know each other and becoming accustomed to the boat. It always takes a day or two for me to settle in, find where everything lives and get the feel of the motion of a particular vessel. As forecast the weather was pleasant, SE at 12-15kts, with only a small residual swell running and held that way for a few days. “Pericless” herself seemed to be a good solid boat, the third built by her previous owner. She was well set up and you could see the thought put into little things throughout. Some of the fit out showed a bit more emphasis on function over form but in some ways this only added to her charm. We then got acquainted with the fifth and hardest working member of the crew “Fanny” the wind vane steering. After getting her set up, which was surprisingly easy, she dutifully kept us on our course and worked away silently and without complaint for ninety percent of the trip. This was the first time I had used wind vane steering and was very impressed. Settled into the routine we passed the time chatting, eating and trying to beat Dave at cribbage, no easy task, but accomplished by John and in so doing setting up the challenge for the trip. Synco was our self designated radioman and had scheds set up with mates back in NZ and also with the marine rescue in Nelson to keep them informed of our progress. Each transmission preceded by the whistling the theme song to the smurfs, don’t think ill ever forget that song now.
The crossing took us ten days and we had good weather for the majority of the trip, even managing a swim at the half way mark. We did get hammered in the last couple days though by a system of converging fronts but were well prepared for it through weather faxes and forecasts. The pilothouse was brilliant for this; sitting through watch with 35-40 kts blowing outside and being warm and dry was priceless. We had a deep second reef and a small headsail and this kept us sailing along through most of it, only having to hove to for a few hours at the worst of it. To have perfect weather for all but two days is a pretty good crossing in my opinion. It took us only three tacks to get from Wollongong to Nelson, not bad. The boat and crew held up well with nothing more than a few blocked fuel filters to be changed out along the way.
We reached Nelson, greeted by low cloud and mist sitting in the valleys along the shore while the mountains looked on like silent guardians from above as we approached. It was all very mysterious, like sailing in a dream and it felt amazing. Here I was laying my eyes on New Zealand for the first time, it was a great trip, it was a new place and it was adventure. Trusting that little voice inside had paid off. Dave’s family, holding a banner, a bottle of champagne and cheering us all home greeted us in and after a fairly quick and painless process with customs and quarantine we were tied up and had time to chat and laugh and share the events of the trip with those on the jetty. If you trust your gut instinct it can lead you to some amazing places.