It’s as if the whole year has been a countdown to the next decade, from the starting gates in March when I flew to Sydney to deliver the 2008 Sydney Hobart winner “Ragtime” to Los Angeles – it’s been like a pro-longed time-trial of departure deadlines and weather windows.
As Linda said, we’ve been everywhere twice this year – New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, Fiji and New Caledonia. 13,000-nautical miles or over half-way around the world in one summer, like playing a great oceanic pin-ball machine!
How weird to arrive back in Auckland, New Zealand from the opposite direction and go back to our local haunts – the same coffee shop, favorite sushi restaurant and bar. It didn’t change. The Viaduct was full of mult-million dollar boats and the Auckland, Sky-tower looked spectacular as before – busy cutting apart storm clouds rushing by like a hot butter knife.
…A whirl-wind of visa’s, custom papers, passport stamps, air-line return flights, weather maps, grib files, provisioning lists and crew details – 2009 truly sets the reference higher.
Everywhere and in all instances, the clock was ticking and there was a time to beat. From arriving to the Viaduct in March with a three day deadline to leave on “Ragtime” for a 7,000-nautical mile yacht delivery, to the same right afterwards for Peter Tong’s 2009 TransPac winning Santa Cruz 70 – “OEX”.
Then landing at Vuda Pt. Fiji with 12-days to move our base – “Isis” to Vanuatu because the boat’s visa would expire on a boat I had just bought and never sailed before…and so it goes.
Followed up by delivering the Paul Whiting 47 “Shanachie” to New Zealand from Fiji before landing in New Caledonia on the quicksilver to move “Isis” once more before the full onset of the South Pacific cyclone season.
Once more, due to bureacratic rules and because we’d flown back versus sailing into the country, we had fifteen days to leave the country. Thus our beloved oceanic gem New Cal was out this time around. So with reluctance, we provisioned, checked the weather trends and decided upon Bundaberg, Australia.
It was already very late in the season to be going to Auz. Infact a week ‘after’ weather god Bob McDavitt had said – “Go while you can to avoid trouble”.
So we left Noumea and anchored at our little ‘country-home’ outside of town, a tiny little island with crystal clear water, turtles, dolphins and a million kite-surfers to get ready for ignition. The tension built as the wind screeched thru the rigging relentlessly and kite-surfers hurtled by the boat at thirty plus knots. The developing convection bubbles north of us generating the reinforced trade-winds were looking increasingly volatile. We had to go or risk getting hit with a cyclone.
We truly love New Caledonia and hope to return on the ‘flip-side’ with a boat-load of kite-surfing gear and spend a year or more. So with trepidation, I cast-off the moorings in twenty-five knots of wind and we peeled off toward the Dumbea western reef pass at flank speed.
A very rolly 95% of the 780-nautical miles followed before the breeze began heading us with only a day to go. The wind went onto the nose from the north-west and drove us below the rhumbline and it was early the following morning we heard a faint VHF weather forecast announcing a storm warning of 130-170 kilometer winds…
Linda and I looked at each other and said – “Did you hear that ?!” We didn’t say anything else but ran a conversion from kilometers per hour to knots on my computer and it showed that we might be facing 70+ knots of wind.
Luckily, on the next forecast it was cancelled. An interesting twenty-minutes contemplating a veritable ‘weather bomb’ with Bundaberg, hot showers, fish and chips and rum all less than a hundred miles away!
Count your blessings we thought as fought 2.5 knots of current charging along Fraser Island as we tacked upwind trying not to loose ground as we awaited a southerlie wind switch.
A semi-stationary trough of low pressure (or as we called it – the ‘Sloth’), was meandering across our coordinates, generating the gusty headwinds and a very sloppy sea in the lulls.
As another black wall approached from the south and what turned out to be the beginning of the southerlie wind shift along the ridge of high pressure, Linda and I were in the cockpit when Linda says – “Oh my God – what is that?!
I look to windward and a hundred yards away I see something I have never seen before and don’t ever expect to see again. What looked like the down-wash of swirling spray from a helicopter lifting off confounded me. My first thought was that a submarine was surfacing while venting it’s water-ballast tanks.
Then it hits me. “Holy s*%t, it’s a water-spout developing” I tell Linda as I spin to starboard to try to roll in the genoa as fast as physically possible. Less than ten seconds later, just as the genoa was done I turn toward Linda’s escalating outbursts to see to see the spinning cloud of spray pass a meter (A METER) in back of “Isis”!!!
Spray blew into the cockpit and a violent gust of wind slewed “Isis” around 90-degrees off course…
Moments later, our profanity and explanation marks reached fevered pitch as we see a visible cone descending from the cloud toward the water less than a mile away. It reaches over half-way to the surface before evaporating before our eyes into thin air. INCREDIBLE.
The rest of the leg was tough but eventually our luck changed as it always does – all in all a nice bar-room brawl prior to the 2009 Rolex Sydney Hobart!