Nightshift’s Summer Holiday

May 12, 2018 | Passages

We are grateful to Stephen and Rachel Hopkinson for sharing their recent voyage to New Plymouth and D’Urville aboard the H28 “Nightshift” with us.

Christmas and New Year was out of the way and it was now possible for policemen to get some leave while its still good weather. I managed to organise the first two weeks of February 03; Rachel also managed to get the time off.

With the leave sorted out that only left where to go. Two weeks was a bit limiting, not enough time to get to Bay of Islands or Auckland and back, (unless we wanted to spend the whole time passage making instead of cruising). We had already been across the ditch to Wellington recently and then there’s my desire to always go on holiday to a destination with a Burger King whenever possible.

The next closest Burger King with a port nearby was Port Taranaki, (New Plymouth) only 150 nautical miles or a day and a half sail by H28.

I wanted to leave in the early morning at the latest to give me a better chance of entering Port Taranaki in daylight. I had the detailed chart of the port but I always prefer to enter an unfamiliar port in daylight. If I arrived just after dark it would mean having to spend the night hove to off the coast until morning.

We were scheduled to depart on Saturday 1 February but the wind was gale force N – N/W. Exactly what I didn’t want, so we delayed until Sunday. By the time Sunday morning arrived they were talking 25 knots of N/W but a late change to S/E 20 knots.

N/W would put me hard on the wind but I felt I could live with it as if I was unable to lay my course initially I would be able to make it up once the wind changed. Of course we prefer not to go to windward at all but with only limited cruising time we couldn’t be too choosy.

We had been ready to go since Friday night and were staying onboard so after getting the 0533hrs forecast from MSA I motored out of the Nelson marina at first light. I lodged a trip report with MSA giving our ETA about 2100hrs the next day.

Unfortunately the tide was against us for the first 5 hours but its only strong for the first 5 miles. There was almost no wind and a gentle half metre roll, so I set the main on the 2nd reef just as a roll dampner, and motored.

Normally when leaving Nelson you have light winds until you get north of Separation Point, (the point of land that separates Tasman Bay and Golden Bay) and as per normal almost like throwing a switch the wind picked up. Naturally it was right on the nose, about what was forecast, 25knots of N/W.

I was unable to lay my course out the middle of Tasman Bay to Cape Egmont but we were only about 10 or 15 degrees east of the rumbline and at least we were sailing. The swell picked up to about 1metre and later to 2 metres but not too steep, although lots of spray as we splashed our way through the whitecaps.

George our trusty wind vane was steering like a trouper, he does a much better job than we do, especially hard on the wind. He instantly senses any minor wind shifts and moves with them, with the sails always in perfect trim.

12 hours later saw us 60nm north but instead of being in the middle of Tasman Bay, by now we were some 20 nm east of the rumbline only a few miles north of Stephens Island, at the top of the South Island. Instead of heading for Cape Egmont we were heading more for Kapiti Island via Cook Strait.

The 1733hrs MSA forecast was still talking about a late change to S/E. As the other tack would head us for farewell spit I thought I would stay on this course for a few more hours, if the wind hadn’t changed by the time I got closer to the north island we would change to the other tack.

I didn’t want to hug the lower West Coast of the North Island too much as things were quite bouncy and there is an area of shallows that extends a long way out from Wanganui. The chart has the area named as “The Rolling Ground” which hardly conjures up a pleasant mental image. I can only assume it earned its name and I planned to give the area a wide berth.

We always try to plot our courses in deep water and far enough from the coast to avoid tidal movement as much as possible. The sea conditions always seem so much more mellow in a thousand feet or more of water, with no current to oppose the swell.

When 2100hrs arrived we were still splashing our way to windward in 25 knots of N/W with no sign of the S/E change. The sea had built, becoming larger, steeper and breaking a bit more heavily, typical of being closer to Cook Strait.

I decided to persevere with my current course for another two hours. If the change hadn’t arrived we would be as close as I wanted to be to The Rolling Ground, and I would tack and head west.

Rachel went to bed, as the 2100 to 2400 watch was mine. She even managed to sleep, which was a major feat, even though the lee cloth prevented her from being thrown out of bed she looked a bit like a sleeping break -dancer.

By 2200 hrs the wind had built to about 30 knots. I disconnected George the windvane, pulled the headsail in tight (we were using a hank-on working jib as the roller furler is not very good hard on the wind above 25 knots), eased the main and let the tiller stream.

As per normal, Nightshift just pulled herself towards the wind with the headsail, the main eased and gently back-winding, preventing her from tacking. The helm looks after itself just streaming from the end of the keel.

Despite a steep breaking sea Nightshift moseys along in this manner about 2 knots, nice and upright with no weight on the main enabling me to muck around on deck for about 10 minutes tying in a 3rd reef, while Nightshift entirely looks after herself. H28’s are lovely – try doing that trick on a modern fin keeler.

When I completed tying in the 3rd reef, I just walked back to the cockpit, pulled in the main and re engaged George. A quick check on the first mate found her still asleep, in spite of the now howling wind, still firmly from the N/W.

Only half an hour later the wind picked up further now gale force still from the N/W, the leeward rail was disappearing, it was a dark night but the sky was bright with stars, it always seems so much better even when rough if its not raining.

As the weight of the wind grew more constant it was time for the storm jib. It was now rough enough to make working on deck difficult with frequent dousing from breaking waves. I eased the main a bit to slow us and make the deck a bit more upright. I then went forward and dropped the working jib.

I then went back to the cockpit, disconnected George and lashed the tiller to leeward with the main sheeted in tight. The motion instantly became much more comfortable. Nightshift had enough sail to dampen the roll and was virtually stationary so as the swells passed we gently bobbed up and down leaving a nice slick to windward to take the sting out of the waves. Even the first mate had stopped breakdancing in her sleep.

I could then wander about deck much more freely, no longer getting frequent showers. I bagged the working jib and hanked on the storm jib. I then pulled up the storm jib and sheeted it to windward backing it. Nightshift moved her head a bit more away from the wind and was now taking the waves about 50 degrees off the wind and was even steadier.

I was in no rush to continue on, as it was so much more comfortable hove to in this manner. I was able to go to the toilet without getting thrown off. I put on a few more warm clothes, got a drink and relaxed down below for a while. It never ceases to amaze me how stable Nightshift becomes when properly hove to.

I plotted our position and had a look at the chart, I didn’t want to go any further towards the lower North Island and the other tack would take me away from the North Island so I decided to just hove to and wait for the wind change.

As it turned out I didn’t have long to wait. I had been enjoying pottering about below out of the wind and weather not having to hold on anymore while I moved about. Quite quickly I noticed Nightshift began to roll more. I initially though the sea conditions must have gotten rougher.

I went back out to the cockpit and immediately noticed the wind was no longer screaming. With storm jib and triple reefed main Nightshift was now under sailed in what was now about 20 knots of wind and dropping rapidly. We were rolling uncomfortably. Rachel joined me in the cockpit, as it was now midnight and time for her watch.

I dropped the storm jib and lashed it to the pulpit just in case we needed it later in the night. By the time I finished that we were becalmed but the sea hadn’t changed. I shook out the main sail to the second reef and sheeted it tight to give a bit of roll dampening but things were still far from comfortable.

The bright side was with no wind I could motor any direction I wanted, so it was time to head back to the rumbline. Rachel started the motor and set a course that was taking the 2 to 3 metre swell at an angle. I went to bed.

I had a good three hours sleep and the next thing I remembered was Rach waking me at 0300hrs for my watch. Finally the promised wind change had arrived but not from the S/E as forecast but S/W. Rachel informed me that it had started to fill in about 0200hrs but had initially been very light. She was now motor sailing with about 10knots of S/W wind.

Rach took another position and we were now working our way back to the rumbline. She then went to bed.

The wind continued to build from the S/W and I was soon able to shut down the motor. The swell was easing from the N/W. We were soon sailing comfortably; it was very pleasant not to be going to windward for a change.

As the wind increased our electric autohelm was having trouble coping and it was time to get George back on the job. By the time Rach came back on deck at 0600hrs Mount Taranaki was visible in the distance and Maui could be seen to port. The wind was now a steady 20 knots and we were sailing happily.

5 Miles of Point Taranaki

It was my turn to get some sleep and I think I was asleep about 10 seconds after fastening the lee cloth. When I woke up at 0900hrs conditions were about the same. It was a pleasant day. The S/W swell was building but it wasn’t steep.

Rach didn’t feel like sleeping and as we were due to be in Port Taranaki that evening we both decided to stay up for the rest of the day. I dusted off my harmonica and amused myself by torturing Rachel with my lack of musical ability. She was very brave and lasted about 10 minutes until she resorted to the walkman.

The wind gradually increased during the day and by lunchtime it was a fairly steady 30 knots, but as the wind was still well aft of the beam it was still sunny and pleasant. The swell was 2 – 3 metres but they were well apart and not steep with only small breaking crests. We were enjoying gurgling along about 7 knots.

I decided to put George’s storm vane (we call it his little hat) on as the wind was only forecast to be 20 knots, but was already constant well above that and the gusts were becoming stronger and more frequent.

I kept gradually reducing sail to keep Nightshift comfortable. As we closed on Cape Egmont the swells began to steepen. George as usual was the perfect helmsman coping with the quartering sea far better than I could have.

By mid afternoon we were close enough to the coast to be affected by tidal movement, the tide was flowing against the S/W swell and within a relatively short time our nice round swells with little breaking crests had become steep swells with larger breaking crests.

We were sailing under double reefed main and a bit of roller furler. I had enough sail up to keep Nightshift above 6knots, but not much more than that as with the steeper swells on the stern quarter, any faster and we would have started to feel a bit loose.

Our course then turned to start moving around Cape Egmont. Although the course change was only about 15 degrees, it took us from a broad reach to pretty much straight downwind. I put the headsail to starboard on the spinnaker pole and the main to port, tied back with a preventer.

This combination maintained our speed, but we were rolling a bit more. At least it was better than going to windward. About an hour later the wind picked up further, apparently Maui A platform had 40 knots but we were still sailing in the low to mid thirties.

Finally the tide turned and the swell shape improved considerably, but the wind remained strong. We could now see the islands off the coast near Port Taranaki. The largest of which is called Sugarloaf.

I called the manager of the small Port Taranaki Marina and he told me which berth to use.

We got one surprise as we sat in the cockpit I saw a buoy slide past only about 1 metre to port, it had about 5 metres of floating line and then a second smaller buoy. I immediately had visions of Nightshift snagged on a line, which normally catches H28’s in the notch between the bottom of the rudder and the keel. With the sea that was running it was not a pleasant mental image – Nightshift streaming from the buoy stern to the breaking swell.

It made us very paranoid for a while; we took turns at scanning the sea ahead constantly. We saw several other pairs of similar buoys but none as close as the first one. They were difficult to see until almost on top of them.

As we got within about 4 miles of Port Taranaki the wind increased a bit more, I was not sure if it was a genuine increase or perhaps the S/W wind was compressing a bit as it curved around the base of Mt Taranaki.

I got rid of the head sail altogether, intending to sail in just under main, but the wind was screaming by now and we were over sailed with just the double reefed main.

We were both a bit tired and with only a few miles to go it was very tempting to try and cope with the sail we had up. But we were over sailed, with the current downwind course our last turn would take us partially into wind so our apparent wind would increase considerably.

With a deep sigh we turned Nightshift into wind and I spent the next very wet 10 minutes tucking in and tying off the third reef in the main. When we turned downwind again I was immediately glad I had gone to the effort.

Nightshift was now sailing comfortably about five and a half knots under just the triple reefed main, she no longer felt over-pressed.

The last mile or so to the harbour entrance still had the same wind, but the S/W swell was now blocked by the land and outlying islands leaving only lots of whitecaps.

We disconnected George and Rachel sailed through the harbour entrance while I got the motor started. Just as we sailed in a keen man in a Laser yacht set off from a sheltered corner of the harbour. Hardy types these New Plymouth sailors but when he got away from the lee of some buildings he promptly turned upside down.

I watched his enthusiastic efforts to right the yacht with the wind doing its best to blow him back over each time he got it upright. As much as I enjoy watching small yachts, I thought I had better get back to the problem in hand. There was no sea in the harbour but the winds were still a steady 30 knots, gusting well above.

The marina manager had told me to use the end berth on the New Plymouth side of the marina, and I had a mental image of the berth from last time we were in this port, but they had rebuilt the marina. I was expecting to go alongside a walkway, but when I got closer I realised I had to maneuver between two poles and berth stern or bow to a walkway.

To compound problems there was a rocky shore only 3 boat lengths to leeward. As luck would have it the wind was blowing on the same angle as the Marina berth so I opted to reverse in as even though H28’s don’t like to steer in reverse they will stream downwind from the prop in sufficient wind.

I first tried to stop the yacht near the berth, it took about 2/3 throttle just to hold our position and we have a 20-hp motor with a large 3-blade prop. Nightshift started to slide sideways a bit towards the berth and I thought I’d be clever and slide sideways into the berth between the pole at the front and the walkway at the rear. Naturally it didn’t work, after sliding sideways the wind gusted and blew the bow about 10degrees more downwind and I was now resting on the pole mid way along the port rubbing rail.

Rachel was standing on the port side near the cockpit holding a line ready to jump off and make us secure. I told her to drop the line and fend of the pole as the wind was now trying to spin us across the wind pivoting on the pole.

Rach placed the line on the side deck inside the lee cloths but Murphy’s law was working well today. As she went forward to fend off the pole the wind put in a bit of extra effort. It picked up the line off the side deck and promptly cast it into the water. Where the prop was churning at 2/3 revs in reverse, it promptly pulled the line into the prop.

About this time Rach spotted what was happening and grabbed the line and started hauling it back on board. Before I had time to put Nightshift in neutral the motor started to labour, almost stalled but then luck was with us, the prop cut through the rope.

If Rach hadn’t pulled it tight about then it would have wound a lot of rope on and stopped the motor, but when she pulled it from her end it enabled the prop to cut it.

I put Nightshift in neutral and the wind quickly blew us downwind of the pole, it was time to revert to the original plan. When down wind of the berth I again stopped her with reverse but with rope around the prop, (we later unwound about 1.5metres of rope from the prop) it took more revs to back her against the wind.

This time without me trying to be clever it worked fine backing straight into wind with Nightshift weather cocking from the prop and the wind luckily in line with the berth. Rach stepped off the stern with what was left of the stern mooring line, onto the walkway to find that there was nothing to tie the rope to. Murphy was still making things a challenge for us.

I had another mooring line attached to the starboard stern cleat. I put Nightshift in neutral and stepped off onto the walkway. The first problem was that the walkway was moving up and down so much that even standing was difficult. I wobbled across to the nearest pole and quickly took a turn around it and secured it with a couple of half hitches.

Nightshift was finally secure, streaming from her stern quarter with the one line on the pole. After some searching we discovered that down near the water line there was the mounts for mooring rings that had not yet been installed. I was however able to put the mooring lines through the hole and 20 minutes later Nightshift was snug in her berth, bouncing around with springs and lines holding her away from the marina. I could now see why they had gone away from the berthing alongside the walkway idea.

After the usual “arriving in Port tidy up” we ran the gauntlet of the bucking marina and wandered up the hill to the nearby camping ground, as the New Plymouth marina doesn’t have facilities.

Feeling better after a very enjoyable hot shower we got a taxi to the New Plymouth Burger King for a late tea (my favourite food).

When we got back to Nightshift we flopped into bed and slept like logs until morning.

Since we were last in New Plymouth they had built a nice walkway around the coast leading from the Port into town, a very pleasant 20-minute stroll to the town centre. It also has an impressive new sculpture called the “wind wand” that bends with the wind, like a big floppy yacht mast with a ball at the top.

We spent the next four days shopping, seeing movies and eating at Burger King. When the first mate finally decided that I had eaten enough double whopper burgers we decided it was time to cruise on.

The forecast for the next day was N/W 20knots, a perfect direction. At 0700hrs the next day we left Port Taranaki under blue sky and a calm sea, there was about a 1metre N/W swell.

There was no wind so we reefed the main to the second reef as a dampener and motored for the first 3 hours. As we drew parallel to Cape Egmont the wind started to fill in from the N/W.

We motorsailed for another hour with full main and Genoa until the wind got up enough to sail. Soon we were surging along under full sail averaging 6 knots with 20 knots of N/W wind on the beam.

Leaving Port Taranaki

Our only problem was not getting too sunburnt. There were small boats and one trawler for the first 20 miles or so but after that we had the ocean to ourselves.

In the early afternoon the wind picked up a bit and I tucked in a reef and took a couple of turns off the Genoa. It was still lovely and sunny; Mount Taranaki looked brilliant in the sunshine. Maui A and then Maui B platforms slid past to starboard.

After a while the foothills below Mount Taranaki sunk below the horizon giving the appearance that the mountain was projecting from the ocean.

The rest of the day the wind was stable from the N/W. Later in the afternoon a N/W swell had built up to about 2metres. The wind had built to around 30 knots so we tucked the 2nd reef in the main and put the working jib up. We were still sailing at more than 6 knots.

The swell was a nice round 2metres, the sun was still shinning it was looking like a milk run back to the South Island.

The first indication that our milk run was about to curdle was as I was listening to a sched. on the local Tasman channel I heard a trawler complaining about rough conditions north of Farewell Spit – not too far from where we were headed.

All we could see was a nice round 2m swell with a few whitecaps; I shrugged my shoulders and continued to torture Rachel with my harmonica.

Rachel managed a delicious tea as per usual, its amazing what you can do with instant noodles in a moving galley.

Just on dusk the sea became suddenly much rougher. At first I couldn’t work out why. We were in deep water that shouldn’t be subject to much in the way of current. The wind was still constant from the N/W still around 30knots nothing that would cause the current sea conditions.

The sea was confused, the 2metre N/W swell and associated whitecaps were still there, but looking across the sea scape there were now some breaking waves occasionally rearing up, apparently from nowhere, and dumping like on a steep beach.

After studying it for a while I realised that there was a large S/E swell causing most of the problems, but adding to the confusion there was also a 1m S/W swell. Every now and then these opposing swells would meet the N/W swell at just the right point to produce a large breaking wave.

We must have sailed south of one of the headlands at the bottom of the North Island and were now exposed to the S/E swell coming out of Cook Strait.

It was now getting dark and I considered our options. The wind was still from a good direction and we were still sailing at a good speed, on course. I considered hoving to; this would be a lot more comfortable and would prevent getting slam-dunked by the breaking waves caused by the swells hitting each other.

Unfortunately we would make leeway towards Cook Strait and sea conditions would only get rougher there. Also the conditions were not forecast to change in the near future.

I decided that we may as well keep going, we already had Nightshift rigged for heavy weather. We had been clipped on since it had gotten rough. Despite a good chance of a knockdown in these conditions this is not normally too much of a problem in an H28, with our sturdy rigs and long keels we pop up quickly, and we have never damaged anything yet.

I did want to slow us down a bit just in case the mast took a bath, there was no point in straining it too much by plowing in at 6.5 knots, which we were currently doing. I tucked in the 3rd reef and tied it off; this brought the speed down to between 4.5 and 5knots.

Neither of us felt like trying to sleep in these conditions so we battened down and spent some “quality time” in the cockpit together. George the windvane was steering like a trouper. Every now and then the whine of the wind was drowned out by the crash of a large dumping wave.

Looking across the sea at any one time there were half a dozen large breaking waves within view. I noted when they reared up that the N/W swell overpowered the S/E one and always broke to leeward so we clipped on the windward side.

Over the next few hours breaking waves occasionally turned up right under Nightshift and we would skid to leeward and heel over a bit, but nothing too dramatic. By 2300hrs, when picked up by a breaking wave, the conditions had built just enough to get quite a bit of water over the leeward side of the cockpit but the waves only broke at the exact right place to do this about every 15 minutes or so.

Around 0200hrs I noticed the breaking waves were dumping with a bit more enthusiasm and not too long after one nailed us. I don’t know if we can officially call it a knock down as I think the top of the mast has to hit the water. At the time my attention was not on the top of the mast but I did note, as I was flying across the cockpit, that the boom disappeared under the water and the port side spreaders sure went for a swim.

Our harnesses pulled us both up before we actually went swimming, and as usual Nightshift flipped back upright, shook herself like a dog with water pouring off everywhere. George immediately carried on steering and Nightshift carried on sailing.

Rach and I untangled ourselves and sat with out feet up on the cockpit seats, as the cockpit was still full of water.

Now I might have mentioned before that my first mate is somewhat of an optimist and normally puts a positive spin on things. Some wives might be less than happy having been dumped in the water in the middle of the ocean on a dark night, but she promptly exclaimed with apparent genuine glee, “Look we have our own spa pool and it has phosphorescence in it.

I had been preoccupied checking that all the bits of the yacht appeared to be in the correct place, but a glance at the cockpit revealed a swirling mass of bright purple phosphorescence.

Over the next couple of hours this incident was repeated several times, although not quite as severe as the first one, and I learned that sailing at 5 knots it takes about 2 minutes for the cockpit drains to empty a completely full cockpit.

I also made the unpleasant discovery that my 3-year-old “Katmandu” bib and brace waterproof overalls were no longer waterproof, despite having recently been treated with their expensive re-waterproofing system. My “Musto” jacket kept my top half warm and dry, which was just as well as the rest of me was wet and cold. Suffice to say that I will be buying the overalls to match the jacket before our next trip.

As we dropped south of Farewell Spit the sea conditions eased a bit. Gradually the S/E swell disappeared, obviously blocked by some distant feature at the top of the South Island, also Farewell Spit itself blocked the low S/W swell, and conditions returned to normal. The 2m N/W swell and 30 knots of wind seemed positively flat without the other swells mucking things up.

Just as I thought we were going to make Port Hardy at the top of the South Island in about 2 hours. The wind that had been so reliable suddenly failed. Within 5 minutes we were rolling with the sails slatting. I dropped the headsail and set the main as a dampner on the second reef.

We started the motor and set the electric autohelm, as George now had no wind to work with. We motored for a while which gave me a good chance to check below. In spite of the unusual angles acquired earlier, the cabin was relatively intact with only a few small items scattered on the cabin floor. I later discovered that the contents of the cupboards had been somewhat rearranged.

After motoring for half an hour the wind returned but unfortunately right on the nose. It continued to build to about 20 knots and we splashed to windward for the next 3 hours before arriving at Port hardy, just as dawn was breaking.

We dropped the anchor in a small bay in the south arm where the water was like glass and we both slept until well into the afternoon.

With the passage-making part of the holiday over with we spent a very pleasant time over the next several days, bush walking, sleeping late and sailing only short distances between anchorages and catching up with the odd friend who happened to be anchored nearby.

Unfortunately we eventually had to come back to Nelson, and now I have been back at work for a while I already want to be at sea again, even if it is with a cockpit full of water at 0300hrs on a dark night.

There is something very satisfying about completing a passage. We don’t actually like rough conditions but when you look at it as a challenge, to get my yacht and crew through undamaged without unduly stressing yacht or crew, even the rough passages give a sense of achievement. Besides we are in the roaring 40’s, cruising Kiwi waters should make us appreciate the tropics when we get there, which hopefully shouldn’t be too long in the future.