Cook Strait

May 12, 2018 | Passages

I have now crossed Cook Strait so many times I have lost count. Here is an account of my last crossing. One I will never forget.   They say that every picture tells a story….. look at the next two pictures and imagine the story that links them together.

What has my red face and nose got to do with,,,,,,,,,?

Trying to dry out sleeping bags, squabs, blankets, duvet, sea boots??   

It hasn’t been much of a summer but the forecast was good for the next few days so I decided on a few days peace and quiet on my own in the Sounds.  Yes I put on plenty of sunscreen and made a nice crossing of Cook Strait, no problems. 

I had a three beautiful days mooching around (Proof is the amazing photos at the bottom of this page) But come Saturday it was time to return home.

The forecast was for 25kts Northerly dying out in the evening.

Seemed good to me.

I motored out of Endevour Inlet at 0630 with little or no wind and an hour later could see a few white tops up ahead around White Rocks. I thought it would take a while for the wind to build to 25kts so put up the full main.

Within 15minutes the gusts were already pushing the rail under. With the tidal rips straight ahead and knowing that the boat is more balanced with a reefed main and full genoa when  reaching I decided to put the double reef in the main.

Once back at the tiller the tidal eddies combined with the gusts made me decide to hand steer until abeam the Brothers Islands and then engage the automatic tiller. 

No such luck! 

Any forecast is never 100% – This one was a bit out! 

The wind continued to build. Soon the wind indicator was sitting around the 30kts with regular gusts 35,36,37 kts. 

I would not have made the crossing on my own with this strength wind but I was still not concerned because… 

1) The forecast was for the wind to die (not increase) 

2) I was already half way home. 

3) I had the wind on my beam and did not have to work my way into the wind.

Unfortunately the wind did not decrease. Soon after I saw the first gust go over 40kts For the next hour I watched two things happen. The wind gusts step by step break the previous record and most concerning of all the wind gradually come round more and more until I was hard on the wind. Soon I was no longer going to clear the north of Mana Island.

I decided to come around the bottom of Mana and tack up the last 5 miles and crossed my fingers I would get a brief respite behind the island. 

All this time I had been hand steering. I had forgotten to put any sunblock on my face and with the wind so strong had taken off my hat rather than lose it. I knew I would have windburn as well as sunburn to look forward to but these were the last things on my mind as I a took a couple of big waves over the side and into the cockpit. 

I had put on my wet weather jacket and a safety harness (a precaution whenever I sail on my own) but I just had track pants on which were now completly drenched. My sea boots also filled up with water, but it wasn’t cold so was still not overly concerned. 

From time to time I could see various objects, bedding and books collecting on the floor of the cabin but as I could not leave the tiller, there they stayed. 

I had the dinghy tied upside down on the foredeck. To do this I had had to remove the two dorades and each waves of water that swept across the deck and under the dinghy was depositing a half a bucket of water down into my bag and onto the bedding in the front cabin. Hence the photo of all the drying out on the verandah. 

So we come to the last chapter of this story. Coming around the bottom of Mana Island I came hard on the wind and was laid flat. Water poured over the gunwale and into the cockpit as the boat came up again. Now began the most anxious hour of my life. I saw one gust of 52kts on the dial and decided not to look anymore. 

I began to talk out aloud. Mostly to the boat. “Come on girl, you can do it” – And of course wonderful boats that H28 are she responded. The talking aloud also helped keep me calm and focussed too. 

Tacking was difficult. The boat was driving forward really well with less than 25% of jib unrolled but when I tried to put the bow over the force of the wind brought her to a standstill. Instinctively I put the tiller over on the opposite side and as the boat began to go astern the bow fell over on the correct side. This was quite a relief asI would not have liked to try and gybe her over the long way round! 

As the depth of water grew shallower the chop grew steeper making for an extremely wet ride. With every second wave the bow would plunge in and send up a sheet of water to half the height of the spreaders drenching me each time. In all honesty I cannot say it was fun, but it was exciting and very satisfying to know that when needed the H28 can handle whatever is thrown at her. 

I am so impressed that an H28 can sail herself out of trouble. When  I reached the reef my Yanmar 10 started the instant I turned the key but I somehow doubt it would have had the power to push me the last 5 miles in those conditions. 

Now for those of you who having read the above wonder why I love sailing so much, feast your eyes on these two beautiful photos taken 48 hours earlier.

Fantastic Eh?  

Gavin Sharp