We are grateful to Stephen and Rachel Hopkinson for sharing their recent voyage experiences aboard the H28 "Nightshift" with us.
It was the depths of winter, complete with winter sniffles, frosts and getting out of bed to go to work ever more difficult. We have brought a house where we live in Nelson a few months ago and living on the land instead of in my beloved H28 brings mixed emotions, (its just not natural walking across the room and not having the room move).
The house will be handy though as when we go cruising on a more permanent basis (tentatively aiming for Tonga winter 2004), I can rent it out and the dollars it brings in will help the cruising fund.
Anyway I digress, Rachel a.k.a. first mate, wife, nurse, navigator, mast jockey and entertainment director was getting a case of the winter work blues. She stated one night that we should have a mid winter holiday as she wanted a break from work. Now I think she had visions of cozy motels, restaurants and she did mention something about shopping in a big city etc.
I thought it over for a couple of days and as usual I managed to think of a way to turn it into a sailing trip. I pointed out that staying in motels is expensive and Nightshift is very economical, planes or Cook Strait ferries cost money, as do motels. (I have Scottish ancestors hence the love of travel by sail).
She looked a bit skeptical as I assured her that mid winter is an excellent time to cross Cook Strait, I wasn't sure if this was true or not but by this stage I was on a roll.
So the leave was booked with both our respective employers, actually another advantage of winter trips is that no one else at work wants time off over this period so its easy to get leave.
Our leave started after Friday 16 August I had the day off as well and loaded Nightshift with supplies. I had the number two genoa on the furler which I thought I would probably keep on there as this time of the year we seem to get no wind or too much. I also loaded on the high wind hank on sails for the second forestay just in case. The trisail went on board and the storm boards got fitted to the 4 large windows especially for Cook Strait.
Rachel finished work at 4pm and by 4.30pm we were motoring away from the Nelson Marina looking like a pair of multicoloured "Michelin men" wearing just about every piece of warm clothing we owned under and over our sailing gear.
By the time we cleared Nelson harbour entrance it was already getting dark. The M S A were talking only 15knot southerlies for Abel which was about right. I lodged a trip report with MSA and we motor sailed off into the darkness under a cold grey sky.
Nothing could dampen my spirits though, too long on dry land had given me wharf rot and I would have been happy sailing in a gale in the rain. I had spent the previous week plotting courses, writing way point notes etc so all we had to do now was sit back and enjoy the sail.
The passage to French pass was uneventful, the usual pattern of the wind picking up a bit when opposite valleys and easing when opposite a headland. It was a dark night with cloud obscuring the moon so I was glad of the GPS although each hourly position was cross-checked with sighted bearings or depths etc.
We reached current basin at the south side of French pass about 10pm and slack water wasn't for a couple of hours so we picked up a club mooring just short of the pass (thanks once again to the wonders of GPS) and got an hours sleep.
About 0100hrs after a whole one-hour's sleep Nightshift slid through the pass in the inky dark. I was still full of the excitement of being at sea again so I suggested Rachel get some sleep while I enjoyed the next few hours threading my way through the islands I couldn't really see at the top of the South Island.
Dawn had us at Jackson's pass at the head of Queen Charlotte sound. The forecast for Cook was southerly 20knots becoming 40 by afternoon and 50 by evening. We certainly didn't feel like hanging around to play in the 50 so we slid straight across and for once the strait served up what was forecast, a steady 20 knots gusting up to 30 right on the beam, where H28's love it.
Rachel came up to enjoy an exciting sail across the typically lump strait. The wind stayed southerly as forecast and with two reefs tied in we sailed across about 6 knots and four hours later we were crossing the Mana bar which isn't a problem for H28's with our modest draft.
Mana marina is a very modern well-protected marina. The Marina manager was on until lunchtime on Saturday so we were able to catch him and organise a berth and key to the facilities. Naturally the same old discussion developed between skipper and first mate. I wanted to go straight to the nearest Burger King but she wanted to have a shower, so to the showers we went.
We stayed at Mana shopping, visiting relatives, etc for the next 6 days. During that time we had two Southerly gales one of which blew through the marina about 40 knots but due to the excellent breakwaters there was barely a ripple on the water in the marina.
The train station is right next to the marina with a train going every 20 minutes making travel to and around the city easy and cheap.
After 6 days we were all shopped out and I suspect the local Burger King was running short on Whopper burgers. There was a low approaching NZ and we thought we might slip back across the strait before it.
We left about 0800hrs with initially 20 knots of northerly on the starboard beam and a steep 1m northerly swell. After about 2 hours the wind deserted us and we found ourselves in the unusual situation of having insufficient wind in Cook Strait. With the mainsail set as a dampner we motored the rest of the way. It was a longer trip as the tide was foul and for much of it we were doing 5.8 knots through the water, but according to the GPS only 3.8 to 4.5 across the ground.
We stayed well seaward of Jacksons pass as we have previously had problems there pushing against the flow and went straight into Pelorus Sound. 5pm saw us comfortable in Ketu Bay in the outer sounds.
The next day the barometer crept steadily down and I had a look at the Cruising Guide to find a spot to weather the approaching low. The cruising guide recommended a place called Chance Bay right in the heart of the sounds as the most sheltered in the sounds.
It was about 15 miles further in than Ketu Bay so off we went and surprisingly we were sailing downwind with the genoa poled out and a preventer on the boom. In the past we had found that sailing in the sounds could be a frustrating proposition but the wind gods were with us and every corner we turned the wind turned with us.
It seemed that every direction was downwind which makes up for the last time we sailed in the sounds when every corner we turned was into wind.
When we got to Chance bay we were greeted with a mirror surface surrounded by high hills covered in bush it looked every bit as sheltered as the cruising guide indicated.
I can only suggest that the author of the guide didn't stay in this particular bay in a 40 knot northerly as by 0100hrs on Saturday 24/8/02 the wind was howling. Nightshift was porpoising about in a steep 1metre wind chop and ever minute or so a spinning gust would slew her round and heel her over, generally making any attempt at sleep impossible.
Fortunately I had shackled both the 34 pound Bruce and the 25 pound CQR on the chain in tandem and veered about 160 feet of chain so we weren't going anywhere it was just unpleasant.
In typical sounds fashion the clouds could be seen above the hills hurtling across the sky from the north as forecast but I guess the wind was hitting some unseen geographic feature and much like a snooker ball was pounding into Chance Bay from the south.
I put up with it until dawn and then we though we might go in search of a sheltered corner as we assumed it would be hard to find a worse anchorage. We motored out of Chance Bay into the main reach and the instant we turned the corner went from howling southerly to howling northerly compressing down the reach.
Spinning rotor gusts were striking Nightshift from all sides so I decided I would leave her bare of sail and just motor through the chop. Just to make things more exciting the rain started pouring, (the horizontal variety) and the tops were being ripped of the top of the slop and flung in our faces at regular intervals.
About this point I noticed that my old Musto jacket was no longer waterproof. I had to laugh at myself splashing around in the sounds at dawn in the middle of winter at least we didn't have to content with crowds.
About this time I noticed a perfectly formed water spout, it looked just like a text book tornado about 30 feet high with a larger area of smoking water swirling about its base. It weaved a snaking course roughly across the wind about 500 metres away.
With much excitement I pointed it out to Rach who struggled to peer over the dodger to windward and we were both fascinated by the phenomenon which crossed the reach before striking the hills on the other side and disappearing.
I cheerfully pointed out how interesting this was and posed the question, "I wonder what that would do if it hit the yacht?" Naturally about 30 seconds after saying this I found out.
Another perfect waterspout formed about 20 metres off our port beam the swirling wind at its base hurling spray along the side of the yacht. I just had time to shout "hold on" when it scored a direct hit. The result didn't knock us right down but we did get the starboard rail under. Nightshift rebounded instantly and we were left watching the waterspout snaking off across the reach.
We motored up the reach for about an hour and saw several more waterspouts but none of the others came close to us. After the first once struck us were weren't particularly worried as they obviously weren't strong enough to pick us up or really knock us flat though I wouldn't want to meet one with any sail up.
I headed for a Bay called YNCYA Bay, which as we approached looked just as bad as the one we had left with white caps everywhere. But the first mate insisted I stick my nose in now we had come this far and I have learnt long ago to listen to my wife, as she is normally right (although she was wrong once in February 2001).
Sure enough a small crook behind one of the headlands provided an area of flat water big enough for about 2 boats. When comfortably settled in the calm patch it was interesting to see a wind line no more than one boat length from our stern. On one side of the line was a 1m breaking chop and on our side flat water without even the surface ruffled by any wind.
Occasionally a gust would spin into our haven and lean Nightshift over. I deflated the dingy and moved it from under the boom to the cockpit floor and dropped the canvas dodger and lashed it flat and it was amazing how much less the yacht heeled when the odd gust did hit us.
Then it was time to catch up on the sleep we had missed the night before. Each time I got up during the day conditions hadn't changed and back to bed we went. By Sunday morning we were feeling considerably more rested and whilst the wind had eased the rain was still falling. By Sunday afternoon the rain had eased to occasional showers and we were able to open everything up and try and dry my old Musto jacket and the various layers of clothing that had got wet under it.
Monday dawned bright and sunny. The first mate reported that were running low on ice and fresh milk and that perhaps a visit to a store was in order. I consulted our "trusty" cruising guide and discovered that a nearby bay had a lodge with a store in it. As there was no indication of a Burger King in the Marlborough Sounds this would have to do.
We tied alongside a small wharf and were met by two young ladies with the demeanor of angels. They were very nice, if a little different. We were led past the attack pit bull terriers to a sunny grove, where we spent the next half-hour pleasantly chatting to the leader of what is now a religious retreat. She was convinced that God had sent us to them for a reason.
They were very helpful but unable to sell us ice, as they had no electrical power, we couldn't purchase fresh milk as their cow had recently passed on. We were however provided with 20 litres of holy water. After declining their generous offer to join them on a more permanent basis we motored off in search of another shop.
The next bay did indeed have a small shop attached to some chalets and we managed to buy ice and milk.
We then returned to Ketu Bay near the entrance to Pelorus Sound in preparation for moving back into Tasman Bay the next day.
That night 40 knot southerlies were forecast which don't seem to cause nearly the problem in the sounds as a 40 knot northerly does. We got the odd strong gust but otherwise had a pleasant night.
I got up before dawn the next morning to get the 0533hrs marine forecast. They were still talking 40 knot southerlies for Cook but only 15 knot southerlies where we were heading in Abel. It was still dark as I motored out of Pelorus Sound.
As the dawn broke I could see a classic example of the Southern Alps splitting the weather. Looking east the sky was an angry red with solid black threatening cloud looking really nasty. Looking towards the west the sky was completely blue with just the odd puffy white cloud. The two weather patterns divided up the middle by the backbone of the South Island.
I was happy to exit the sounds and turn my back on the bad weather of Cook. Slack water at French Pass was about 1000hrs and I had planned to pass through as usual with slack water as it normally means the difference between flat water and a white water river ride complete with whirlpools etc.
As the current was favourable as I approached the pass from the north we made better than expected time and I found that we were going to enter the pass about 0900hrs one hour early. I thought of anchoring for an hour to wait for slack water, but the flow was going the same direction as us. I decided that if we put up with a bit of bouncy water we would then benefit from a favourable current for the next hour, to flush us out of Current Basin.
I was also influenced by a desire to leave the threatening black clouds behind me so I decided to go for it. We already had lifejackets and harnesses on but as I approached the narrows I noticed a considerable amount of white water on the downstream side.
The swell rarely reaches French Pass as it has to come directly from the south to get in there and the prevailing swell is S/W. But as luck would have it I later found out it had been southerly for 3 days prior to this, and a 2 m southerly swell was pushing right up to the narrows.
Anyone who has ever had 6 knots of current meet 2 m of opposing swell with have an idea of the sea conditions. Add to that the fact that the ocean is trying to squeeze itself through a gap only 30 metres wide and I think you get the picture.
We were already in the current flow when I realised this and thus committed, as Nightshift would not be able to motor against the current. We battened down the hatches clipped on and waited for the fun.
The water was smooth on the upstream side of the narrows with just the odd spinning knot of water to be felt hitting the keel but once through the narrows it was all on. We had the distinct impression of being flushed. Nightshift being twisted off the direction we were heading by as much as 30 degrees, then the waves started building up and flopping over on themselves.
I didn't have a lot of control over our direction but I was able to keep out of the clearly visible back eddies racing back towards the narrows and in the current that was at least taking us the way we wanted to go. A least the whirlpools normally evident seemed to be absent perhaps being broken up by the breaking waves.
After a while when we had gained some clearance from the shoals on either side I relaxed and started to enjoy it. Sort of like a rollercoaster ride. I went up on deck to set some main to take the roll out of her and had great fun holding on to the mast as Nightshift fell into the troughs from backless waves to stop me falling separate from the yacht and meeting it at the bottom.
This all lasted only about a mile and as the current slowed the swell turned back into a normal Tasman Bay swell with nice rounded humps that wouldn't worry a P class.
As we didn't have to go back to work for a few days we set course for the Abel Tasman coast. I put George the windvane's feet on, (a steering rudder and a servo pendulum one), locked the helm with our motorcycle tie-downs and relaxed with a coffee.
The sun shone brilliantly and the only problem was that our forecast southerly wind was blowing from the southwest, which was also where we were going. The closest I could lay was Golden Bay so I decided we were meant to go there instead.
Over the next two hours the wind steadily veered and strengthened. Eventually I had to tuck in a reef. After another cup of coffee I looked up and started to abuse George the windvane, we had passed D'Urville Island and were now heading back to the North Island, (somewhere in the vicinity of Wanganui).
A quick check revealed that it wasn't George's fault he was steering like a trouper despite the boisterous conditions and he was still maintaining the exact same angle to the wind it was just the wind that had changed. So a quick change of tacks and we were tight hauled on the other tack and pointing not too far from Torrent Bay. I decided we must have been meant to go there after all.
Late in the afternoon we sailed into Torrent Bay, dropped the sails and joined the 4 other boats already there. One belonged to some friends of ours so it was a social couple of days. Our friends were waiting for a weather window to sail up to Bay of Islands.
After two days of nice sunny winter weather under a 1030hpa High it was unfortunately time to head for Nelson for work and back to reality. The 5 hour passage back to Nelson was uneventful, in typical Nelson fashion it got sunnier and warmer the closer we got to Nelson.
All in all considering the time of year the weather was not too bad. Only one low with two days of rain and a couple of short fronts. After all if it weren't for a bit of instability in the atmosphere we wouldn't have enough wind to sail.
Now Rachel is back being a P.A. at the local hospital and I am back to being a cop. I far prefer the company of sea birds and dolphins to criminals but for now I'm back on the beat, there are more bad guys to catch before I can afford to take Nightshift to sea on a more permanent basis.