17 July 2013

Experiment Number 2 - Bay of Islands NZ 2012

My second experiment with sailing was back in the Bay of Islands. We chartered another boat with Great Escape. We went with a Davidson 20 again. But this time, we got not one but two Davidsons - the Kea and the Carnival! Unfortunately, this wasn't the result of some great two for one offer but due to some serious problems with Kea (and her crew), which meant we traded in the Kea for the Carnival. An experiment is intended to test a hypothesis. My hypothesis for this sailing trip is that it would be like our last one - calm, peaceful and uneventful. My hypothesis was wrong. Very wrong.

To start off with the forecast was for wind speed to be in the region of upper 20 knots. I think the forecast was wrong. Even though we didn't have wind instrumentation on the boat, I'm pretty sure the winds kicked up somewhere in the 30s. Seasoned and salty sailors will probably be laughing to themselves thinking, "What a silly girl. That's nothing, I've sailed in far worse!" But bearing in mind that this was only my second proper sailing trip, it seemed pretty darn windy to me.

For those who don't know, wind is measured using the Beaufort scale. In the olden days, British naval officers made their own arbitrary assessments of the wind. Because it was arbitrary, this meant someone's light breeze could be another's gale force wind. But in 1805, Francis Beaufort came up with a standard scale to be used by the navy which has evolved over time and is now used all around the world. They must have thought Beaufort's scale was pretty groovy because they eventually made him a Rear Admiral. I like it because if gives you a shorthand way of talking about your level of fear. So using the table below, my level of fear on this particular day was a 7 and it may have possibly gone up an 8. At times, it felt like a 12.

Wind Speed
Wave Height
Sea Conditions
What It Really Means
Either stay in port or at your anchorage or be prepared to burn up your diesel motor cruising.
Light air
Ripples without crests
Drop the anchor and hang out fishing and reading until the wind picks up.
Light breeze
Small wavelets, crests of glassy appearance which don’t break
Go ahead and put the sails up but don’t be in too much of a hurry to get to your destination.
Gentle breeze
Large wavelets, crests begin to break, scattered whitecaps
Great sailing! Kick back and enjoy!
Moderate breeze
Small waves with breaking crests, fairly frequent whitecaps
Still great sailing! Say hi to the dolphins as you pass by them.
Fresh breeze
Moderate waves of some length, many whitecaps, small amount of spray
Even better sailing! Although that spray in your face can get annoying sometimes.
Strong breeze
Long waves begin to form, white foam crests frequent, some airborne spray
Hmmm, not so sure about this. I’m much more of a fresh breeze kind of gal.
Near gale
Sea heaps up, some foam from breaking waves blown into streaks along wind direction, moderate amount of airborne spray
Okay this is no fun what so ever!! Any description that has the word “gale” in it can’t be good.
Moderately high waves with breaking crests forming spindrift, well- marked streaks of foam blown along wind direction, considerable airborne spray
Get me out of here!
Severe gale
High waves whose crests sometimes roll over, dense foam blown along wind direction, large amounts of airborne spray may reduce visibility
Never going to happen to me (fingers crossed).
Very high waves with overhanging crests, large patches of foam from wave crests give sea white appearance, considerable tumbling of waves with heavy impact, very large amounts of airborne spray which may reduce visibility
I think my mother is going to start worrying.
Violent storm
Exceptionally high waves, very large patches of foam driven before the wind covering much of sea surface, very large amounts of airborne spray severely reducing visibility
If you didn’t have religion before, consider getting some.
Hurricane force
Huge waves, sea completely white with foam and spray, air is filled with driving spray greatly reducing visibility
This is when my blogging stops.

 At the time, I didn't know about the Beaufort scale and I still have problems translating meters into feet in my head (don't even get me started on converting Celsius into Fahrenheit) and don't have a clue how fast a knot is (I thought you just tied them) so when the guy at the charter company told us what the wind forecast was I had no idea what I was in for. So off we went sailing into the Bay of Islands.
We headed out of Opua up towards Tapeka Point north of Russell with the aim of getting around the point so we could go explore the islands. We didn't make it. The wind was coming out of the NE so the fetch was a nightmare. A fetch is basically the distance of open water over which the wind can blow unobstructed until it reaches the observer. I was the observer in this particular experiment and due to the way the wind was blowing it pretty much had all of the Pacific Ocean to blow over and come at us. Nothing was slowing this wind down. This meant the waves were getting high and we had to keep beating into the wind. The waves probably weren't that high for other boats but ours was just 20'. This was unpleasant. Scott kept using encouraging phrases like, "What a great learning experience! Great tack you just did there! Doesn't it just make you feel alive?" There was a point where I thought I might push him overboard, but since I didn't know how to sail the boat or use the VHF radio, I thought it best to let him stay on the boat.
We were just turning at the point facing the highest seas and strongest wind when a pin backed out of the shackle that attaches the mainsheet to the traveler. This was not good. Not good at all. You need your mainsheet to sail and it really needs to be attached properly to do so. You also really don't need your boom swinging back and forth across the boat. I panicked thinking it was going to knock Scott on the head and he would fall overboard. Remembering that I didn't know how to sail the boat or use the VHF radio, I dived on the boom and held it down. I know it was really just an act of self-preservation but he owes me.
In the meantime, Scott was trying to quickly turn around to put the engine on when he hit his glasses into the backstay and one of his lenses popped out on to the deck and down through a hole of the partially open transom into the deep blue sea. Scott can't see without his glasses and only having one lens really wasn't going to work. He switched out his glasses for his prescription sunglasses (mind you there wasn't any sun out) so at least we were able to restore his sight.
So with a sighted skipper and our engine on, we headed back to the charter company as our boat was unsailable at this point. Scott in the meantime, headed down below and lo and behold spotted the pin that had fallen out of the shackle on the cabin sole. He popped it back in and then said, "Great! We can put the sails back up and do some more sailing!" Scott either has magical powers of persuasion or he puts valium into my drinking water because for some reason I agreed to head back out and try to round the point again.
I got some serious practice in with tacking - we must have tacked about 25 times. At one point the guy from the charter company was on another boat sailing nearby and took a picture of us. Although, I'm not really sure if a shot of a me doped up on Valium madly tacking into the wind would make for a good picture for their brochure.
Finally, we gave up on trying to round the point and decided to head back in. By this point I was getting a little cranky. Fortunately, a huge pod of dolphins (I counted 100 of them) started swimming and jumping and playing all around us. Between the valium and the dolphins, things started to seem better.
But then we noticed that there was a rip around one of the reinforcements on the mainsail. Sailing doesn't really work if you have holes in your sails. At this point we called the charter company and told them about the sail and about the problem with the pin staying in the shackle. They told us to use their mooring ball in Pomare Bay for the night and that they would switch out the boat for us the next morning. Basically, you have to cruise your boat up and down through hundreds of mooring balls trying to find one with the number you're looking for. It was getting darker and darker and we couldn't find the [imagine a naughty word being said here] mooring ball. After 45 frustrating minutes we called the charter company again and they found out that another boat who chartered with them had picked up the mooring ball (they weren't supposed to have) which is why we couldn't find it. They told us to just pick up any mooring at this point. So we did. But just as we did, across on the shore we saw a couple come out of their house and stare pointedly at us. It was clear it was their mooring and they weren't too happy with us. So we searched some more and picked up a mooring ball that looked really dirty and unloved which we hoped hadn't been used for a long time and whose owners weren't likely to come try to pick it up during the night.

After picking up the mooring ball, I demanded food and drink so we set off in the dinghy with Scott at the oars and tied up to the distant Russell Boating Club. We walked into Russell for a meal and drinks (I really needed the drink by this point) and then walked back to the Russell Boating Club for a night cap before heading back to the boat for the night. Scott looked like a rock star wannabe all night with his sunglasses on but it was a choice of either looking stupid or being able to see.

Russell Boating Club
The next morning, the guy from the charter company came out and we traded Kea in for Carnival. The winds were still up and after the previous day, we decided to spend our second day puttering around on the boat near Pomare Bay. It was certainly an eventful trip. Scott must have some really great manuals on how to convince your partner to embrace the cruising lifestyle because somehow later in the year I suggested we buy a boat

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