It’s All About the Waves

Who needs roller coaster rides, water parks, or reality TV, I thought, while sitting on the leeward side of the helm seat? It was pitch black at 4 a.m., clouds covered the brilliant southern stars, and only a small patch of sea was visible, illuminated by the white stern light. All around us the water boiled and frothed, waves rose up and smacked Anthea on her port side, others leapt onto the foredeck and poured a torrent of water over her bow and down her scuppers. Every fifteen minutes a roguish wave surged up and into the cockpit, splashing me from head to toe. Several times these wicked ones partially filled the cockpit with water, and I quickly lifted up lines and water bottles to clear the drains. The movement of the boat was equally wild and unpredictable, reminding me of a rollercoaster ride in a dark tunnel. We’d surge up the back of a wave one instant and then be flung sideways as we roared, surfing westward as well as forward. The waves slapped and pounded the hull, and I had to remind myself of Anthea’s stout construction to fend off fears of separation of the hull/deck joint or keel bolts snapping.

Earlier in the day we gave up on steering the rhumb line to New Zealand, a course that had us pounding on a close reach into the wind and seas, and bore off to a beam reach to keep the bashing to a minimum. My watch position back aft kept me clear of much of the spray and allowed me to adjust the windpilot to keep us on course and lower the traveler when the weatherhelm was overpowering. Peter (my father, and weather expert) warned us of these dreadful seas, 2 to 3 meters high and only a 7 second interval between waves. There was nothing to be done, but get through it. The wind and waves weren’t going away, as they were caused by a slow moving high pressure system to our south, squashing the pressure gradiant all the way to the tropics. The further south we travelled, the better the weather, so on we persevered, keeping Anthea moving at 6.5 to 7 knots with double reefed sails.

The next night the seas were a bit more organized and the wind abated to 20 knots. It was still a rollicking ride, as the seas remained steep and with a short period, and Anthea was constantly awash in streaming sea water. If the first night was akin to a post-Rugby game brawl, chaos all around and not knowing where the next punch was coming from and how hard it would land, the punches on the second night had a rhythm. I learned when to duck low so that spray travelled over my hood and down the outside of my jacket, rather than slapping me in the face and dripping down my neck. Anson, Mark and I each took our watches and each developed strategies for bearing up and getting us through the thick of it.

Meanwhile Devon was confined to his berth below. It was too dangerous for him to come topsides, one handed as he is. This passage is the only silver lining of his fractured wrist, and I for one celebrate each smile as he places an order for food or drink, or asks for an iPad or other entertainment. For him, this passage is like an extended airplane flight, with first class accommodations. At times the “flight attendants” are too busy to serve him, but we get round to meeting his needs ASAP. Even Anson agrees to serve his brother, knowing how important it is for Devon not to fall and reinjure his wrist (although Anson doesn’t take the same joy in evon’s satisfied smiles and occasional laughs). I’ve also been the main cook, as neither Mark nor Anson have the stomach, as Devon and I do, to dive into the fridge, chop vegetables, extract dry goods from cupboards without unleashing the entire contents, mix and stir, season and serve, under extreme conditions. In exchange, they’ve taken more of the day watches so I can feed the crew. I do so miss having our cook functional!

Yesterday morning the seas and wind diminished and life aboard Anthea felt manageable once again. Although it was already Friday here (we crossed the dateline), we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving. Devon made it to the main salon, and he and I turned a beautiful pumpkin into an exceptional pumpkin pie. It was a big project to take on, without a food processor for blending pumpkin and for mixing the butter and flour for the crust, but with patience and much finagling to keep the waves from tossing the bowls and ingredients from table to seat, we produced a masterpiece (special ingredient: brandy). The rest of dinner was quite simple, but tasty: French duck in a can, purchased months ago in Papeete, warmed with four types of mushrooms, Tongan sweet potatoes, sautéed in butter, and butternut squash. We gave thanks for this cruise, for family and friends, and for the worst of this passage behind us.

Now we just have to keep up our speed to arrive before a small trough showers northern New Zealand with rain. Devon keeps updating us on average speed to maintain, based on miles to go. Mark, Anson and I work hard to keep Anthea at top speed, with her bow pointing on the rhumb line to Opua (our check in spot in NZ). We’ve put in and taken out more reefs in the last few days, and made more sail adjustments than I ever recall. The wind backs and veers, gusts and lulls, as squally conditions intermingle with the high pressure winds. Last night’s watch was non-stop for me, sheets in, sheets out, traveler up, traveler down, all to keep our speed over 7 knots (or 6 in the lulls) as much as possible. I felt like I was a single hander in an ocean race. But with the seas a mere 1.5 meters, and the wind between 10 and 20 knots, and the southern cross shining brightly between squally clouds, I feel blessed to be here.

We have 306 nm to go; Devon tells me we have to average 5.66 knots to arrive before dark on Monday. It looks hopeful! Kim
30 degrees 38 minutes south; 176 degrees 58.9 minutes east (note: despite sailing westwards, we are now in eastern longitudes, having crossed the dateline)

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