It’s been a long hot summer. With the on-going drought and unseasonable warm weather it feels like little is changing. But everything else tells me autumn is here. It’s not just the bright red leaves of the trees on the mainland or the ever shorter days, it’s all the north-bound traffic that makes me restless. Migrating flocks of arctic terns have been landing on every boat, every jetty in the cove – their night time brawling enough to wake even sound sleepers, their droppings a curse to boat owners. Then there are the cruising sailors.
Daniel, a young Kiwi and Michelle from Hawaii on Evangaline a Westsail 32, arrived in our cove a few weeks before Christmas. They’ve been out cruising for almost three years, exploring the Pacific Islands, indulging in skin-diving and kayaking then heading south away from the cyclone season to work for a few months. They made their base here as they ordered new sails for their boat. They’d been using recut second hand sails, but these were starting to break down. After comparing prices and doing a lot of research, they decided to order their sails from Hong Kong. We’d ordered Hong Kong sails for Seraffyn back in the 1970’s and found them to be a good deal, especially for a cruising boat. But we also found out how carefully you have to measure for the new sails and provide every possible bit of information you can. Our sails had fit perfectly, but we did not specify that we wanted our beamy boat needed the drive of fuller cut sails. Our new mainsail was very flat cut, something that was not easily adjusted once it arrived. But, over the next few years we agreed the cost savings far out-weighed the slight disadvantage of the sail shape.
When Daniel and Michelle asked us if we would go over their sail ordering details we were pleased to do so, recommending they make a diagram of the tack arrangements for their mainsail to compliment the very detailed information sheet provided by Lee Sails. Daniel and Michelle measured for each sail three times. They allowed an extra month for the sails to arrive. Together we sailed to the Mahurangi regatta, and enjoyed the scallops they brought up with their scuba gear. The two of them helped us do some heavy work around here, including getting Taleisin glowing with fresh paint. Then a few weeks ago we waved goodbye as Evangeline sailed clear of north cove, bound for the Bay of Islands where she would get a few upgrades for the trip north towards Fiji. Last week I spoke to Michelle who was excited that their sails had arrived within five days of when they were promised. The three sails, cost less than a mainsail made in the USA and with no duty to pay as they were properly documented as being for a yacht in transit, turned out to be a real bargain. “They fit perfectly. Only slight flaw – the sailmaker put wire in the luff of the jib and staysail, instead of rope. Guess that’s because we asked for hanks and made it clear it wasn’t for roller furling.” In a way, I think the sailmaker should have asked if the buyer wanted rope or wire on the check list. But it is one more reminder that to get the very best value from overseas sailmakers you must have the confidence to describe exactly what you need. On the other hand, as Michelle and Daniel made clear, to change the wire for rope here in New Zealand would cost less than 10% of the money they saved by getting overseas made sails.
Beth and Norm Cooper, sailed into North Cove on board Sarah Jean II, a Saga 43 early in the summer. After almost three years of cruising the Pacific Islands, they are reluctantly bound back home to Surrey, British Columbia. I had a very enjoyable visit on board (take a look at the cruising tips section where you can see two excellent ideas Beth and Norm added to make moving around at sea safer and easier on board Sarah Jean.) But when they began discussing possible routes north and we pulled out the Pilot charts created by NOAA for the South Pacific, nostalgia flooded through me. Passage planning, looking at all the possible ways to make a voyage that minimized windward work, cut down the chance of encountering gales but included interesting places to stop along the way; it has always been a favorite part of my sailing life. Together we added up the percentage of gales Sarah Jean might encounter in May, or June if they lucked out and caught the front edge of a slow moving, relatively mild low with southerly winds to run northeast towards the Cook Islands. Then we compared that with the lower percentage of gales and higher percentage of fair winds if instead they sailed due east five or six hundred miles before turning north. When they set sail to explore the outer islands of the Hauraki Gulf, I got Taleisin’s copy of Ocean Passages for the World compiled by the British Admiralty, the book that, with its charts of routes favored by Square-rigged ships and low powered steam vessels, had always been our route planning bible. As I ran my finger along the recommended route from New Zealand to Canada, I thought of the dozens of times we’d set aside instinct, advise from other cruising sailors, books by yachtsmen and instead stuck to the old sailing ship routes recommend here.
By following the Ocean Passages for the World sailing ship routes, we’d added maybe 300 miles extra to our voyage from Rio de Janeiro to the Azores. But when we compared notes with other folks we’d met, we found we’d made a wise choice. Where we encountered less than 24 hours of Inter-tropical convergence zone squalls, sloppy seas and calms, others who’d taken more direct routes from the south to north Atlantic, as recommended in a yachtsman authored routing book, had spent up to two weeks in “the zone.” Then there was the great sailing we’d had from Chile to Canada along the sailing ship route, never being becalmed, rarely encountering winds over 30 knots and averaging 150 miles a day in spite of being engine-free.
I reluctantly put Ocean Passages back in the bookshelf above Taleisin’s chart table. Then I rowed ashore to where I have two book manuscripts cluttering my desk. I must admit I was feeling a little left behind as yet another overseas visitor waved goodbye later that same day. Then, almost as if he’d sensed my melancholic mood, Larry came into my office, straw sailing hat on his head, my hat in his hand. “Let’s head out for a bit of sailing on Felicity,” he said. As we skimmed away from the dock onto a sunny sea Larry “Be nice to get this little boat out in the Easter regatta next week,” I said. “Or Taleisin,” he replied. My mood lightened as the wind freshened. Easter, lots of sailing friends coming by to share our special home base, a party. Add that to the adventure laying on my desk and the approach of autumn, instead of making me feel restless, begins to feel like a gift.
Lin and Larry