Sunday, July 28, 2019

Passage from New Zealand to North Minerva Reef

13th – 18th June 2019

GWTW & Scoots ready to head out from Marsden Cove Marina  

By midday on June 13th we’d completed our clearing out formalities for New Zealand and headed out of Marsden Cove Marina. It was a cracker of a day with a light breeze which pushed us past Whangarei Heads for possibly the  last time. Our next stop would be at North Minerva Reef some 800 odd miles to the north east.
The AIS view as our group passed Whangarei Heads

Leaving with a group of others boats,  three around the same size as GWTW, we figured we’d have plenty of company for the first leg of this trip. Scoots, a Chuck Payne design lined up at 50 ft, Rewa is 64ft and a Choy Lee named Cetascia  was 55ft, so the race was on. As the forecast was for both the wind and swell to increase over the coming 24hrs our initial sail plan was to put one reef in our mainsail and run with 3/4 jib. It was a good, comfortable choice.

We knew we were up for a few very cold nights at sea until we got to the lower latitude of Minerva and  believe me, cold it was. We are  talking temps of 11c with a wind chill factor. Rugged up to the hilt we looked more like we were heading for Antarctica  rather than the tropics.
But there’s an upside to everything and at 30 miles  out from New Zealand we still had a strong Vodaphone signal. It was that strong I was able to stream and download movies. Way to go Vodaphone NZ!

Bad weather approaching

Well the met service in NZ got their forecast right as the wind and sea state steadily increased. By 1900 on the 14th the seas peaked at three meters hitting us beam on on our port side. It was rough. The wind had climbed to 25-30 knots and with the jib already put to bed hours earlier, GWTW had her ears pinned back hitting speeds of 12 kts plus. We had left the pack in our wake with Rewa, a 64ft monohull now 35 miles behind us. So much for sailing in company.

 Starboard bow lifting as we hit 12 kts speed and more

The weather gods gave us a short respite the following day. The skies cleared, the seas calmed, the sun shone and we had warmth in our bones. But it was just a furby as by 2100 the barometer had dropped and the nasty weather returned. This time we put 2 reefs in the main, we only have two so there wasn’t much hanging up the mast and the jib was rolled in to just 1/4 size. The squalls returned along with the lumpy seas. Another fun night at sea.
Beautiful sunrise and calm seas

Come sunrise on the 16th things started to calm down, the wind was now from the northwest at 12 knots and the seas just one meter. One of the reefs was shaken out and we rolled out our brand new screecher, our big reaching sail. It certainly looked the part but it didn’t take long to realise that the sail had been cut too small compared to our previous one. Happy campers we were not. But more on that in another posting.

The new screecher gets a run
As the saying goes, bad things happen in threes. Well, we’d already had numbers one and two on this trip with the rough seas tearing off three of our rain awnings that cover the opening ports on our port side hull, and then there was the way too small screecher episode

Our third strike was one that every sailor dreads. A high water bilge alarm screaming its lungs out to warn you of possible impending doom. And that’s what happened at 2000 hours, 500 miles from land just as the off-watch started to drift into to LaLa land. Our ear-piercing starboard alarm, a motorcycle horn actually, had come to life big time. Liam and a dozy me, though not for long, rushed through the salon and down the stairs to the rear starboard cabin.

First thing was to cut the power to the alarm so we could hear ourselves think. Next was to figure out which of the two bilges was taking on water, one of which is the engine compartment located under the bed. The bed which is covered in all matter of things, guitars, drones, televisions, cockpit cushions etc had to be unpacked is a very hasty manner. 
A quick check revealed the starboard engine bay was the issue, with water flowing freely from the stern gland on the prop shaft. Not good at all.

It seems that while previously using that engine and after it was shut down the gear lever had not been moved from neutral to reverse and back to neutral which folds the propeller and stops drag on the shaft. As a result when warming up that engine reverse gear was already engaged as the prop was not folded, which had the effect of pulling the engine and shaft slightly aft, enough to create a gap at the seal and allow seawater to pour in at a great rate. The solution was to ignore the water flow and adjust the shaft seal, a relatively simply process but a tad unnerving while at sea. Anyway, after around 15 minutes the task was completed, the water stopped flowing and we caught our breaths. With the crisis averted our heart rates returned to normal.

One of the culprits in this mess was the outlet hose on the engine compartment pump. It was in poor shape and unbeknownst to us, despite regular checks, had developed several tiny holes due to rubbing from a hose clamp. So as the pump cleared water from the engine bay it actually leaked water into the bilge next door which in turn set off the alarm.

Arriving at North Minerva Reef

By the time we had 94 miles left to run on our last night at sea our friends on Scoots were 75 miles behind and Rewa 86 miles.

At 0945 on June 18th we dropped our anchor in 15ft of white sand in the calm waters of North Minerva Reef. The 823 mile passage had taken us 4 days, 21 hours and 50 minutes. 

For now we were the only boat in the anchorage and it sure felt good to drop the hook.

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