Whanga-rain: December 6, 2007

It has been raining and grey in Whangarei for the last few days with the weather forecast predicting more of the same until we leave this coming Tuesday. Oh well, I guess it is one more step in getting back to reality. We had two sets of visitors this week – one day our friends from Yara drove down from Opua to see us and the next day the Risho Marus came. Both have new “used” cars and they are having a good time doing a little exploring and getting shopping done the easy way. Used cars seem to be incredibly cheap here – for $1,000 you can get a decent car or van. I guess only time will tell if they are in good working order. We borrowed a car one afternoon from some new friends on Lorna (another Amel). They are a Swedish couple, Bo and Vivi, who are just a few slips down the dock from us in Riverside Marina. It is the 4th time that Lorna has been to New Zealand. They have been very friendly and helpful, giving us info about the place and offering us the use of their car whenever we want it. They even offered to drive us all the way to the Auckland airport next week – something we declined since it is at least a 2.5 hour drive each way.

We have been getting some small errands done in preparation for leaving the boat and going through Mark’s extensive list of boat jobs that need to be done – oil and filter changes, meeting with engine experts, sailmakers, riggers and others who will be doing some work on the boat in our absence. Friends here have promised to look in on the boat as often as possible to make sure things look alright and to make sure no little critters have moved onboard.

Just a week-end left in New Zealand and then we will fly home. Our first night off the boat in a year will be spent sleeping on a plane. That should be different! At least we don’t have to stand watch.

We look forward to seeing family and friends soon. Hannah will be returning to Providence a few days after us, after spending the last 4 months in Madagascar studying, among other things, octopus fishermen, and Ben will be coming back for a brief visit from Portland where he just landed a job. It will be the first time in more than a year that the Pitt family has been all together.

Thanks to all our loyal blog fans – we hope we were entertaining – and we promise to pick up where we left off when we continue our journey next May. We’ll be working on the blog when we get back – doing some clean up, adding pictures, etc. – so you may want to check it out once in a while.

Fair winds …..

Last passage of the year

Sabbatical III at the dock of Riverside Drive Marina on the Whangarei River

We reached the final destination of our year long journey yesterday, November 30th. It was an easy 3 hours of motorsailing up the Whangarei River to Riverside Marina in Whangarei, New Zealand. For all of you who have followed our blog you know all the fun details of this incredible year, but here are some barebones statistics I wanted to share with you.

  • Total miles sailed: 10,500 nautical miles or 12,075 regular miles
  • Total number of hours spent sailing: 1,642 (19% of the 8,760 hours in a year)
  • Average speed: 6.4 knots (7.4 mph)
  • Number of nights spent at sea traveling from one place to another: 60.5 (16.5% of the 365 nights)
  • Number of anchorages: Over 80
  • We have made friends with people on over 100 boats from numerous countries including: America, Austria, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and New Zealand.

See our slideshows for some new slides of Tonga and New Zealand. Remember to put the mouse curser up towards the top of each photo and you can read captions.

Last days in Opua and passage to Whangarei

View from Urquhart Bay

We intended to leave Opua for Whangarei last Saturday, but
the New Zealand weather was not cooperative. It was rainy and
squally Saturday, so we planned to depart Sunday. The wind came
up too strong Sunday and Monday, so we deferred until Tuesday.
Tuesday had gale force winds, so we sat tight. We learned
caution from the experience of one boat that left Sunday morning
and returned four hours later, saying the seas were too rough.
And then our friends Ian and Catherine on Afriki left Monday
morning and found that they needed to seek a sheltered anchorage
within hours.

We left Wednesday(yesterday)about 11 am, after things calmed
down after a night of high winds. It is about two hours to sail
among the islands of the Bay of Islands and out the Albert
Channel and finally come to the open sea. Conditions were not
too bad, so we headed southeast down the coast into a 15 knot
southeast wind. Big ocean tacks took gave us various
perspectives on the eastern coastline of the North Island. We
had hoped to get as far as Whangaruru or even Tutukaka (names I
mention only because of their sound), but decided to pull into
Whangamumu. It is a bay at the bottom of a bowl of steep hills
without houses, and we were the only boat there. We were
surprised to be the only ones in such a beautiful place. We
thought that Whangamumu would be more protected from the ocean
swell that Whangaruru, and today was forecast to be a better day
to sail — wind from the southwest, fair skies, slight seas —
so leaving the bulk of our trip south for today seemed reasonable.

But you cannot count on weather forecasts in New Zealand.
The swell came up just as the sun set on us in Whangamumu and
the boat started to roll like crazy. It did not stop all night.
We got up at 6:30 am to begin our trip south and the predicted
southwesterlies, fair skies, and smooth seas turned out to be
easterlies, lots of rain, and large swells. The easterlies
turned into light and variable wind, but rain showers and large
swells continued for the day. Nonetheless, we made it to our
destination. We now are anchored in Urquhart’s Bay at the mouth
of the Whangarei River (South 35 degrees 50.5 minutes East 174
degrees 31.9 minutes). This may be as far south as we will ever
get with Sabbatical III.

We can only proceed up the river 14 miles to the town of
Whangarei on a rising tide. We will leave Urquhart’s Bay at 10
am tomorrow to arrive at Riverside Drive Marina for the 1 pm
high tide. That is where the boat will be hauled and stored out
of the water while we are back in the States. Our friends on
Vera have been in Whangarei for two weeks and we are looking
forward to seeing them.

The delay in Opua meant that we were there for my birthday.
Both Risho Maru and Yara made me birthday cakes and we had a
very nice birthday party on Sabbatical III. The extra days
allowed us to socialize more with all of our boat friends at
this very pleasant marina. We cannot walk 50 meters without
running into a dozen people we know. A trip to the marina
office or the chandlery can take an extra hour or two when one
stops to greet everyone you know on the way, and exchange
stories about recent and planned passages. Nonetheless, we spent
most of every day getting Sabbatical III prepared for her
season at rest. I pickled the watermaker and changed lots of
filters and had the main sail repaired, while Laura cleaned and
organized. There is still a lot to do before we leave on
December 11. We are amazed to think that tomorrow’s short trip
up the Whangarei River is our last passage on Sabbatical III
until next May. We have not spent even a single night off of
Sabbatical III for a whole year, and in spite of the recent cold
nights, think of her as our most comfortable home.


Hindsight Net

We have been in New Zealand for 6 days now and somehow never got back to writing our blog until now. On the trip I was filled with all sorts of deep, serious thoughts about sailing and wanted to write more about how the trip was, but now that we are here and comfortable and safe and warm, it is hard to do that. The best analogy for the passage from Tonga to New Zealand is really childbirth. Before it starts you can’t really believe all the horror stories you have heard, and are sure that for you, it will be easier. Then it starts and for a while you just can’t deal with how bad it is. The “doctors” say it is “uncomfortable”, but it is way more than uncomfortable. All you can think about is being anywhere but where you currently are. You can weep and swear and do whatever you want, but you just have to keep going. You also want to kill the guy who got you into this predicament. “You got me into this, you ***…….. “. He is standing nearby, all calm and comfortable, and telling you that it’s not so bad and it will soon be over. Then it is over and, within a day, you feel that it couldn’t really have been that bad, and maybe it was all worth it. By the next year you may be ready to try it again, especially since everyone says that it really is never as bad the second time.

On our trip the boats who were within radio distance from us talked twice a day on the SSB (single sideband radio). Originally our informal radio net was called Y2K for “Yachts to Kiwiland” but after our weather difficulties, it was renamed the “Hindsight Net.” The Hindsight Net decided we would all write poems, limericks and songs to remember the passage. Last night we had a party in the Opua Cruisers Club to celebrate and share our creations. Here is mine with a picture of me presenting it and wearing our official hindsight glasses– hope you like it.

Ode to Hindsight

by Laura Pitt, “Sabbatical III”

A bunch of tough sailers in Tonga
decided they couldn’t stay longa.
McDavitt* said “Go!
I promise this low
Won’t hit you, and I’m never wronga. ”

The first 3 days out were amazing.
Every crew was relaxed and just lazing.
When suddenly all,
with our forecasting ball
could see trouble and worries and danger.

McDavitt said “Head west and hurry.
This system gives me cause to worry.”
So we all took a tack ,
we were scared to hang back
in great fear of confronting a fury.

For two days we headed off course.
Our minds filled with fear and remorse.
The skies and sea grey
We just headed away
With SSB check-ins of course.

On Sunday we went through the low.
Perhaps you could call it a blow.
But conditions like these
With wind, rain and seas,
Were nothing we all didn’t know.

By Monday the low had roared by.
To New Zealand we wanted to fly.
But on our way back
with seas that did whack
we suffered and cursed and asked “Why?”

On Tuesday we waited in vain
as those westerly winds never came
We tacked and we gybed
we coaxed and we cried
but our distance from port stayed the same.

Kate and Jim on Asylum, the Nutcase**,
Reminded us all this was no race.
Through thick and through thin
We’ll surely come in
and meet on the land face to face.


Now we’re all in Opua, so safe and secure-ah
Our foulies*** are hanging to dry,
We all made it by golly
We’re safe, warm and jolly

And next time I think we should fly!

*Bob McDavitt, the New Zealand weather guru we were all paying to get advice from

** Katie and Jim on the boat Asylum were the moderators for the Hindsight SSB net. Nutcase is the name of Asylum’s dinghy

*** Foulies are foul weather gear – rain pants and jackets

What we have been doing recently in New Zealand

Our friends on Risho Maru, Yara and Afriki, who all left Tonga about 5 days after us had a really good trip. It was much easier than ours, and it only took 8 days, as opposed to the 11.5 days it took us and 19 days for some other boats in the “hindsight” group. We are happy for them, but pissed we didn’t hang out with them in Tonga and get their weather for the passage. Oh well, at least we are all here together, safe and sound.

We rented a care yesterday with Peter, Alex and Finn (Risho Maru) and had a great little tour of the northern part of the north island – went to a winery, a chocolate factory, bought blue jeans, drank great coffee, saw huge 500 year old Kauri trees and lots of sheep, took a ferry across the bay with our car and drove around one of the beautiful tourist towns here (Russell) and ate as much as we could!. It was a great day, but sad, as it will probably be the last whole day we get to spend with Risho Maru before we head down to Whangarai where we will be leaving our boat . They will be staying in New Zealand until we return, enrolling 8 year old Finn in school, and just living here until at least May. We hope we will be able to coordinate with them when we continue on to Fiji next year.


We have arrived safely!

Saturday November 17th, 8:00 P.M. local time (7:00 a.m. UTC)

We have arrived safely and are at the quarantine dock in Opua, New Zealand.  Now we are going to sleep…. will write much more in our blog over the next few days.  Everything smells so good – the land gives off an amazing smell after 12 days at sea (as do we after several days of not showering and wearing the same clothes night and day!)

L and M

We can see it!

Saturday November 17th, 3:00 P.M. local time
6.2 knots

We can see it. We see New Zealand. We are only 30 miles away and
expect to be at the dock in 6 hours or so – hopefully before
dark. We had beautiful calm seas most of last night which let us
make a lot of progress (motoring) until about midnight, and then
we had a few hours where we could actually sail. Rough seas
picked up for a few hours this morning hampering our progress,
but it is much smoother now and we are
making good time. Great news!!!

Almost there

Friday November 16, 2007 10:30 a.m. local (Thursday UTC:21:30)
Position: South 32 16
East 173 53
COG:160 magnetic
Speed 6 knots

Good news. The winds have died, but so have the seas which means
we can now effectively motor towards Opua. We have been cruising
along at 6 knots for the past 30 hours and expect to arrive in
Opua, New Zealand by tomorrow night. Hooray. Hooray. Hooray.

Still not there

Time: 22:00 UTC or 11:30 a.m. Thursday November 15th
South 30 21
East 173 42
COG 160 degrees
Speed 3 knots

We are still 300 miles from Opua, New Zealand, a distance we
could normally sail in under 2 days, but with the current
conditions it may be 4 days. We could walk there faster than we
are sailing. We had several good hours of wind yesterday that
let us make some progress towards our destination, but then
during the night the winds got variable and petered out. Now we
are just motoring against the southerly swells. Luckily they are
gentle so although we are rocking around a lot, the boat is not
banging. We are trying to conserve fuel by running the engine at
a relatively low RPM. It would be bad to run out before we get
to Opua. Very frustrating, very tiring, but what can we do but
keep on going?
Keep thinking of us as we are of you all!

At least we are heading in the right direction now!

Tuesday 22:00 UTC or Wednesday 10:00 a.m. local time
South 28 57
East 173 10
COG: 140 degrees
Speed 5-6 knots
Wind SW 15

After a couple of frustrating days where we have not been able
to make much progress towards Opua due to strong winds in our
face and high choppy seas , we are finally getting the
southwesterly breezes we hoped for. We ended up doing at least
400 miles of sailing just to get away from the storm and then
get back to where we wanted to be, and then two days just
tacking back and forth making negligible progress towards our
destination so our one week trip will probably end up being at
least 4 days longer than anticipated. Also our mainsail ripped
two days ago so now we are sailing with just the jib and mizzen.
Still all is well on board – we are warm and well nourished and
taking turns sleeping. More details on the sail in a few days.
We hope to arrive in Opua by Friday or Saturday –

Although we have not seen any other boats for days now there is
a SSB net that we call in on twice a day – sometimes more. It is
made up of the 15 or so boats who all got stuck out here with
this bad weather on route from Tonga to New Zealand. Having the
SSB net is really helpful.


Storm is over

The tropical low passed just south of us bringing 35-40 knot
sustained winds and 20+ foot seas. Sabbatical III handled it
all very well. Unfortunately, dodging this weather system took
us a couple of hundred miles west and north of our intended
course and now we are contending with strong headwinds trying to
get back. The angle we can sail with current wind gets us no
closer to Opua. At least it gets us no further. There is a lot
of complaining on the SSB. Our French friends on Galdus just
abandoned their passage to New Zealand altogether and decided to
make for Fiji. Indeed, Fiji and New Caledonia are really not
further and there is wind to take one there. We will continue
to slug it out for Opua. There are 17 other boats in the same


Sabbatical III course change

Sorry we have not written for 36 hours but the weather changed
quite suddenly. Yesterday morning we had calm seas and light
winds. I downloaded GRIB weather files first thing after waking
to check on the wind forecast and look for any approaching
weather issues. I was surprised to see a low pressure system
forming to the north and west and a five day forecast that
predicted that it would move quickly southeast and intensify as
it went. I quickly charted our course relative to this tropical
low pressure system and realized we would come right into to it
by Monday just a couple of hundred miles north of the North
Island of New Zealand.

We immediately abandoned our course south to New Zealand and
headed due west so as to stay above 30 degrees south. The grib
files suggested that effects of this system would not be strong
above 30 degrees south and by moving west, we could only
intersect the system when it was not well developed and could
not yet interact with a high pressure ridge south of us in the
Tasman Sea. I emailed Bob McDavitt at the NZ Meteorological
Service and he quickly wrote back affirming that going west was
the most prudent course.

Two hours after changing course we ran into a mini-weather
system that knocked us around for about 14 hours with 30 knot
winds, rain, and big seas. Heading west we had the wind from
behind but that meant we had no protection from the cockpit
dodger/windscreen. It was freezing and wet out there. I had on
long underwear and four layers of clothes on top plus two wool
caps. Today Laura and I remembered that we had purchased a zip
in place “succoth” of clear plastic that fully enclosed the
front half of the cockpit from winds and rain coming from
behind. We put it up and it makes a huge difference — it’s our
own little three-season porch.

The grib weather files today show that the minimum pressure in
this system will not be as low as thought yesterday, so it will
be less strong, but it is tracking further north. The bottom
line is that it will be uncomfortable but not dangerous. We
will come under the influence of this low pressure system
starting after midnight Sunday/Monday and into the day Monday
(local time). It is fast moving and its effects, except for
sloppy seas, will be gone by Monday night. It is quite
difficult to send emails under these conditions so do not worry
if you do not hear from us for a spell. We need to save our
concentration for sailing the boat and downloading and
interpreting weather information.

This afternoon we spotted a sail a few mile astern and hailed
the vessel on the radio. It is the American sail boat Bahati.
We sat with Bahati at the Tongan Feast along with Ben. They are
are doing the same “go west” course as us and report that Roxi,
another boat we know well, is behind them and a few other sail
boats are within a couple of hundred miles all heading west as
well. As this rate we will be in Madagascar before New Zealand.
All of this will add three days to our trip but we have all
that we need on board.

We caught up on sleep during the day today as conditions
improved. It is now 4:10 pm local time on Saturday Nov 10,
which is 0310 UTV Nov 10. Our position is

S 27 degrees 18 minutes
E 177 degrees 22 minutes (yes, that is E for east)

course is 270 degrees magnetic, wind 20 knots from the ESE,
speed 6.7 knots.


Passage to Opua: day 3

The morning started with absolutely flat seas and no wind.
It is comfortable but not what one really wants with a sail
boat. A quick download of weather showed that little wind was
predicted for 36 hours as we pass through a ridge of high
pressure. This made me worry about fuel consumption until a
breeze unexpectedly arose in mid afternoon and then slowly
freshened until it reached 16-18 knots. The engine went off as
the boat heeled over with all her sails up. Unfortunately, a
strong adverse current kept out speed to the 6.5 to 7.0 knot
range when it should have been near 8 knots. It is after
midnight now and the wind has slowed but we are still under sail
and headed in the right direction although slower than I would like.

We knew about the adverse current from the informal cruisers
net that we participate in every day at 5:30 pm on 6.241
megahertz. Tom on Rasa Manis, two days ahead of us, has
complained loudly about the current on the net and now we
understand why. Seafari, one day ahead of Rasa Manis, reports
that the current becomes ‘fair’ closer to Opua. That is still a
long way off. In a couple of days only Sabbatical III and
Asylum will be left on the net unless Risho Maru and Yara soon
leave Nuku’alofa and join. Everyone else will already have
arrived in New Zealand. Thirty (!) boats left Nuku’alofa last
Saturday and most should be finishing their passages this weekend.

We have had nothing but clear days and night. There are more
stars visible than an any time since we left Rhode Island. But
it has been getting cold at night. Tonight I am in jeans, a
t-shirt covered by two sweatshirts, a wool cap, and socks and
boat shoes. I have not worn boat shoes since last year, but my
feet were getting cold in sandals. The days are long and the
sun is hot, with great sunsets.

Even though we still have plenty of fish in the freezer, it
seemed like a nice day to go fishing today so I put two lines in
the water. I do not know what kind of fish they have here, but
they sure must be big and strong. The rod bent over and the
reel started to unspool line at an alarming pace even as I
tightened the line brake. Finally the fish just tore apart the
steel leader on my best lure and disappeared. At the same time
the handline unspooled and the same thing happened. These were
the lures that I used to catch my big tuna and mahi-mahi a few
days ago, so I was sad to see them go. Perhaps this is fishes

Here is our current position:

Time: 00:50 local time Nov 9 or 12:50 UTC Nov 8

Position: S 25 degrees 50 minutes, W 178 degrees 56 minutes

Course over ground: 196 degrees magnetic


Update from Sabbatical III

12:00 noon local time Thursday Nov 8
(23:00 Wednesday UTC)

Position 24 47 33 south
178 07 85 west
COG 208
Speed 5.8
Miles to go: 750
Seas: Calm – totally flat
Wind: Calm

We are incredibly lucky in terms of having a comfortable sail –
or should I say motor? We have had the calmest seas we have ever
seen since leaving Tongatapu with no swells and hence no roll.
At times we have to look to be sure we are moving as it is so
smooth. We sailed and motor-sailed most of the time since we
left, but as of about 2:00 a.m. this morning have just been
motoring. Sure am glad we filled up our fuel tank and took
along as many extra jerry jugs as we could. The wind is
supposed to pick up in another day and may even blow north-
northeast if we are really lucky.

The stars are much brighter here than ever before on our trip.
Must be the cooler, drier air. They are really incredible.

Eating and sleeping well – even reading – something we can’t
usually do underway.


Underway to New Zealand

It is now just after 1:00 am Nov. 7, local time. We left
Nuku’alofa 11 hours ago. In the end, Risho Maru and Yara did
not leave with us and are still in Nuku’alofa. The sea is very
calm and winds are light at about 9 knots out of the ENE, slowly
shifting east. We are motorsailing at about 6 knots with the
engine running at very low rpms. Our current position is
S 21 degrees 46.477 minutes, W 175 degrees 51.090 minutes at
0112 local time 7 Nov or 1212 UTC 6 Nov. Our course is 202
degrees magnetic.


Departing today for Opua,New Zealand

We finally have our weather window. We are leaving
Nuku’alofa this afternoon (6 November) about 4 pm local time
(0100 EDT). Risho Maru and Yara will be leaving then as well.
However, it is likely that we will be outside of VHF radio
contact range with them after the first 24 to 36 hours. We will
continue to have contact with them via the SSB high frequency
radio. The forecast is very good with some periods of excellent
winds, some periods of little wind, and a period of strong winds.

We expect to sail very close to the rhumb (straight) line
from Nuku’alofa to Opua, New Zealand. We will sail a course of
roughly 200 degrees magnetic. We will head a bit west of the
rhumb line for the first couple of days so that we pass close to
North Minerva Reef. If the weather ahead looks poor, we can
enter the lagoon of the reef and anchor until the weather
improves. The distance to Opua is 1050 nautical mile (or 1200
regular miles). The trip should take from 7 to 8 and one-half
days. We will, of course, keep you updated as our passage proceeds.