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Old 02-05-2007, 20:05   #1
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Yeah it's me in this forum...again...

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.
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Old 02-05-2007, 21:29   #2
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Jeez Wheels, do you have a little black cloud hanging over your head? Glad you all made it. Reminded me of a trip across the Yucatan Straights. Just goes to show that you never really know what the sea will dish out to you untill the trips over.

Where were you coming from? I tried to follow your trip on a map but the only Marlborough I could find was near Aukland and that didn't sound right.
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Old 02-05-2007, 21:43   #3
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Yeah that's pretty crazy. What was your sail config? I have a cutter rig, and > 25 knots to me means no yankee, the staysail with a reef, and the mainsail double reefed.
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Old 02-05-2007, 22:23   #4
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Rebel, I wasn't sailing. The wind was on the nose and we were severaly on a time schedule.
However, if I was sailign, 25kts is on the line of first reefs for my boat. It will sail in 25kts fully out, but you can feel she is over powered. She's a Ketch, so my sail area is a little smaller then yours would be.
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Old 02-05-2007, 22:52   #5
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Yeah I couldn't tell if you were getting a "new" mast, and there was a comment about your genoa. How much of a difference do you think it was making not having a rig up? With nothing in the air to keep you from bobbing around it must have been a really lopsided ride I'd imagine?
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Old 02-05-2007, 23:08   #6
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Alan,
Glad you made it okay, I can speak more to aviation than sailing, but I've seen a lot of things go south when folks succumb to a schedule, "get home itis", etc. It's not usually one thing that causes a problem, but a culmination of smaller events,,, bad weather, torn sail, faulty equipment, none debilitating by itself, but little things can add up quick.....

Hope the new mast works, and was worth the escapade, also hope Dawn is better now.... she must really like you...If I caused my girlfriend to throw up, she would probably toss me over the side.....
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Old 02-05-2007, 23:41   #7
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Actually, Dawn was fine and raring to go the very next day. She wanted to come home with us, but as I could not gauranttee we could get back in time, she was forced to go the different way home.
Rebel, I think a rig would have helped. But I can only say "think" as I don't really know what would happen when you are side on to something so steep and nasty with a rig trying to push you away from it. A normal wave face would be different, being much calmer feeling. But several things would have had to be done differently. For example, we would have had to tack along the coast. This would have slowed us down and then we would have been in a worse situation because we would have been out there for hrs with predicted 45+kts. 45+kts in Cook straight with those seas is not a place you want to be and it is getting dark early here now.
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Old 03-05-2007, 01:39   #8
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I reckon it was the saddest looking crew I have seen for sometime when we met them at the marina. Dawn was as green as one would expect, Alan was just smiling and grateful that he made it, the young lad with them won't be back I reckon and Adrian the other crew won't be saying "the rougher the better" again I'm sure. That Karori rip and the Terawhiti rip can have waves standing on end metre high when the rest of the sea around is like a mill pond. Great to see you back safe and sound Wheels. When we come over at Christmas we will be taking our normal route. I knew this would be a story for your scrap book
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Old 03-05-2007, 01:54   #9
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Andy, I thought that was just how everyone looked when they are in Wellington :-)
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Old 03-05-2007, 03:29   #10
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Oh my gawd.........lm a goin ta print this one and take it home to read ! my eyes just couldnt cope with that many words on tha "little box".Wheels ever thought about writing a novel ? cause you sure can get the copy out !! : ) ; ) ..............be back tommorrow...
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Old 03-05-2007, 04:52   #11
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Originally Posted by cooper
Oh my gawd.........lm a goin ta print this one and take it home to read ! my eyes just couldnt cope with that many words on tha "little box".Wheels ever thought about writing a novel ? cause you sure can get the copy out !! : ) ; ) ..............be back tommorrow...
Hey Cooper,It really is like that over their way. PISST,It's all a design to keep them Kiwi sailors on their own turf If they carn't get out,they carn't arrive LOL.By the way Wheels,will you now be down trading the old mast to Brian and Marie. Mudnut.
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Old 03-05-2007, 09:21   #12
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Mr. Wheeler - Dude! first the batteries now big seas. Don't use up all your luck. By the way, how did the batteries turn out? Were you able to rewire succesfully?
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Old 03-05-2007, 10:58   #13
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Great read Wheels! Glad all came out OK for ya.

Just curious - the solar vents. Are they the Nicro type that screw into a 4inch opening? If so did you leave the vents in or remove them and install the covers?

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Old 03-05-2007, 13:02   #14
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Aloha Alan,
Glad you, wife and crew are ok. What a story. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 03-05-2007, 13:07   #15
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PISST,It's all a design to keep them Kiwi sailors on their own turf
Nah it's all about scaring off overseas cruisers. We want to keep this place to ourselves, so the best is scare the pants off them with tall stroies and they won't venture down this far. :-)
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Were you able to rewire succesfully?
Yep it was all fixed succesfully. That is another area on concern though, I have boxed all the batteries in, but I have not strapped them down for the event of a knockdown or seriouse roll. Mainly because I was not expecting to get into that sort of wheather for sometime. But it's another lesson learned. You need to ensure they are strapped in and down and what ever, because you just never know when it will all turn to custard.
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Just curious - the solar vents.
No they are a cheap, well supposedly cheap, made in Taiwan vent. About all you can get down here. The plastic version is around the $100 and the SST version around the $150 if I remember rightly. They are fixed down with sealant and screws. Not easy to remove.
They have a useless little motor in them that after about three months, the bearings wear and the think starts clatering. Then after a year, the bearings sieze up and the fan stops compleatly. The ones I have all have now siezed and I have intended replacing the motors. but no I find they can't cope with green water, I think I will compleaty remove them and do something different.
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