Yep it’s me here in this forum yet again. At least this time I haven’t tied burning down the boat or sinking it or any other stupid idea. This story is about my trip to Wellington last weekend to pick up my mast
. The trip wasn’t quite out of the same storybook as those stories like “sail off into the sunset” and “calm” and other such relaxing stories. Oh no, this one is from the book of horrors.
Well after the very hard work put in by our wonderful member
ChrisC, my mast
was on the wharf in Wellington at last. I knew its arrival would most likely mean we would need to attempt the weekend for our trip over and back. It’s 112 Nm each way. I had been watching the weather
for the last two weeks, analysing each front, depression and high coming and going. The end of the week placed a very low depression out to the South of the country and this big low was producing 8m(26-30ft) swells and greater. They were rolling onto the country from a great distance away, so I knew they would be nothing more than giant roller coasters with big intervals between them. Friday evening brought the low closest to us and it would soon pass the country and the seas would begin easing. The forecast
for Saturday was 2-3m seas easing and winds of 15-20kts. However, late Saturday afternoon would see another front arrive and it was heralding winds of 40+kts and ruff seas once again. So my plan was to leave the Marina Friday evening and motor
out to a place called Alligator head
, some 5hrs steaming time. We would moor there in shelter the night and then head
away early in the morning and get into Wellington around mid day’ish before the nasty stuff arrived.
We arrived at our mooring
on time about 11.30PM. There was a slight swell from the north, which was just enough to impede any good sleep that could be had. We awoke to rain and total blackness in the morning. The radar
placed the hills in position for me, but I could net see any of the mussel rafts around us, so we waited till 6.00AM when there was just enough light to make things out. I had timed it that we would be at a the first notorious stretch of water
by 7.00AM to make slack water
followed by an ebb tide that would then be behind us to push us through the next leg. The first obstacle was as expected nothing. We rocketed across the Queen Charlotte entrance which was an hr across. The next obstacle was a place known as The Brothers. The tide is simply awesome here. Great swirling volumes of water being pushed up from depths of 200-300ft. We rocketed through the area with the GPS
showing 9.5kts over ground. The log showing just 7kts. As we passed these small rocky granite Islands, we entered into The Cook Straight and open sea. The swells where big slow rollers as I imagined. As we passed over a rip, they stood a little higher but we rode
over them with ease. I think we got one at ruffly 3m in height, but no issue what so ever. The swells levelled out to about 2m and the peaks were along way apart. This was going to be a breeze of a crossing, so I though. The wind
was right on the nose and sat at 15kts. Dawn decided she was going below to watch a DVD
and we had two hrs of pretty non-eventful crossing. As we approached the Wellington South coast however, things started to change. We noticed the waves were becoming much higher and steeper. Dawn came up from below stating that it was getting a little uncomfortable and maybe she should have come up earlier. I told her to stare at the Horizon and we would be fine. The sea’s continued to build and we started getting a little uncomfortable. Having to brace ourselves now and the wind
was now 18kts. Still no concern, but we didn’t really want the sea to get any higher as it was just uncomfortable. Now this area is new territory to me. I had little knowledge of the area, apart from knowing in ruff conditions, this can be one of the worst pieces of water in the world. I had been on many Ferry
crossings here over the years that made large vessels simply hell rides. But I wasn’t expecting anything like this to occur. The rips and eddies in this area can be some of the worst you will ever find. An entire ocean from 8000ft is trying to squeeze through a 20Nm gap and up into 300ft of depth
. It’s like trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole. You can do it with a large hammer if you hit it hard enough, but it makes a real mess. That is this area summed up in a nutshell. Not knowing the coast as well as I should, I was not sure if I should hang off the coast further to get away from this stuff in front of me, so I decided to turn out to the open ocean. Problem is, it was also taking me away from the Harbour entrance and it meant further time out at sea in this stuff. This is where I had made my first mistake and now is placed in my “Lessons Learned” file. I had not read the Pilot cruising guide for the area to understand to the full extent what was happening, where it was happening, what going off shore would mean and so on and so on. As I headed out further, the seas just got bigger and bigger. We now climbed up faces of enormous waves. But the really strange thing was watching other waves seemingly defy physics. Large nasty looking waves were dancing across the almost vertical faces of these monsters. I was in confused awe as I watch a wave just streak across the big wave face and such a strange angle. I couldn’t understand, firstly how it stayed up there and secondly, where the heck did it come from. Then it got stranger. The same type of wave would go the opposite direction. These would broadside us and made us roll violently. By this stage Dawn had become seas sick. My friend with me had earlier said, “I love the rough stuff, in fact, the rougher the better”. By this stage he was now saying “geeez I hope it doesn’t get any rougher”
Dawn had to go to our aft cabin
and lye down and rushing to the toilet to throw up. Soon it started to calm down a bit and we all started to breathe a sigh of relief, thinking it were all over. But then a few minutes later, even bigger waves greeted us. These ones were huge. The three opposing swells all seemed to just meet and create this one towering peak that would the crash down it’s face. Honestly, it was like being at a really good surf beach. We would power up the face and then the wave would roll under us and we would drop to the trough only to be meet by the next one. Then we got the scariest of all. We rode
up the face and just before we reached the top, the crest broke. We slammed into it like hitting a brick wall. But it then gave us this little vertical flick as it went under us. We launched off the top and were completely airborne. The prop was clear out of the water and this is a big 26ton full keelboat, with the prop way down. We fell and I was half expecting us to go completely under, but we stayed on top and the first green water smacked into the windscreen. I couldn’t see a thing as the wipers struggled to cope. We shot up the next face totally blind and this time another crest hit us sideways. We fell sideways off the top this time. I reckon we were about 50deg over when we landed. The microwave broke free and was thrown off the bench and through the cupboard door smashing both it and the microwave. Dawn went from the bed
to the wall. She yelled out what the heck was going on. All I could reply was sorry. I can tell you all now, I will be ripping every single solar
vent off the boat. Every single
one, poured water into the boat. This went on and on and I was wondering all the time as to if I was making a mistake going further out, or was I not yet far enough. We were all holding on with all our strength. I actually wore a blister on my hand holding on so tight. I had earlier made radio
contact with Maritime radio
giving a TR and was now ready to update it. We were about an hr behind schedule. I only had a H/H radio. My main unit had died earlier in the year. But I could not easily get through. For those using Hummingbird radio’s, they have this strange quirk. The battery
icon appears full when the batteries are flat. Not to say the batteries are full and OK. So although I thought the radio had a good charge, I couldn’t work out why the signal was so poor. So I decided to change them anyway. What a feat that was. Trying to hold on and remove AA batteries and refit
new ones, all the time the boat is tossing me around like a salad. I made contact and gave an update. “Another hr of this” I thought. At some time I was going to have to turn side on to the swell and make my run for the harbour entrance. I honestly didn’t think we could go side on to this stuff and though the only way was to put the Genoa
up. The wind was now at 25kts and 25kts was going to be a big ask of the thing. I wasn’t going forward to change the sheeting position. There was just no way you could stay on the deck
. I was watching every sheet and line launch high into the air as the boat dropped into the trough. It would have been suicide up forward. I let the sail out and then to my horror spied a tear in a seam. That darn rigging
, it wears against the seams and cuts the stitching. I had place PVC pipe on all the rigging
, but the damage must have been done sometime back. I watched hoping it would hold, but then bang, the sail tore in two. I tried furling
in and I simply couldn’t pull the line. So I place the line around the winch
and hauled away. I had not choice. By the time I got it in, it was completely shredded. It was just tatters and I doubt it can be fixed. Surprisingly, the boat side on was actually not bad. It didn’t roll half as much as I expected. In fact, it seemed to be better than meeting the waves full on. Slowly we inched our way in to the harbour entrance and right on time, we slid into the shelter of the harbour.
We got into the marina, got the mast onboard, told our stories to Seafox and Marauder over some beers and got a good nights sleep. Darryl from Seafox gave me times for being at differing points to catch tides. We had a good return trip the next day. I was hoping to motor
sail home, but the wind wasn’t strong enough to put up the main. Our headsail was wrecked and so we motored 13hrs all the way home. I sent Dawn home on the Ferry
so as she could ensure she made work the next day. Being in the Airforce, they don’t seem to take kindly to AWOL.
It has taken me all week so far to calm down. I felt good this morning and had breakfast for the first time all week. Yet strangely as I write this and think of what I went through, I have got all shaky and edgy again. I really didn’t mind the 5m swells out there. They were big slow lumbering coasters. But what I got into was very different to those rollers. These were just plain uncomfortable and scary. I never want to experience that again.
Lessons Learned !!!
Well firstly, I didn’t do enough homework on the area. Reading the cruising guide for the area now has made me realise I should have done such an easy task much earlier. Here is a segment from the cruising guide to give you all an idea.
“Winds from the ESE to SW can lash the area with tremendous ferocity and are usually accompanied by big swell. In strong conditions the various rips and in particular, the one off Karori Rock. Will strike fear in the hearts of event he most hardened mariner”
Secondly, and I knew this, “it’s the sea that makes the schedule”
Unfortunately I was in a hurry. I needed to get across and back that weekend. Although I thought the weather
was going to be OK, I should have waited for another weekend. That one is a difficult call though. I did watch the weather and thought it would be OK. In fact it was till we almost reached the end of the journey. By that time we thought, well we are nearly there, we may as well push on. But it got worse as we went on. Each time we said, well it can’t surely get any worse than this, it was closely followed by something worse.
Thirdly and fourthly for that matter, I am still far from having my boat fully prepared for really bad weather. Partly because I didn’t expect to be in stuff like that. That was a very silly and easily made mistake. I should have been prepared for the worst and it’s a good question to ask all ourselves, even on a lovely day, are we prepared for the worst. But hand in hand with that is the things that I thought were well held in most of the normal conditions, simply had no chance of staying put in the worst of the conditions. I am going to be making some really big changes there. I didn’t think I would ever be in conditions that could roll me over so far. I think we were 50-60deg at one stage. It was so far, I honestly thought we might go right onto our side. My batteries are held in place, but not strapped down to the extent of withstanding a knock down. Simply because I thought I was years away from ever being in sea conditions that could do something like that.
Well I hope you’re not too board with the length of this. I hope someone gets a lesson out of it as I have.