Fetching the Long White Cloud (part 2)

There were two more days of brisk sailing. The wind stayed on the beam, which we took as a good sign. I interpreted it as the high pressure system to the South of us remaining stationary, hopefully letting us ride its tail end down to New Zealand before it dragged one of the notorious low pressure troughs out of the Tasman Sea and in our way when approaching North Island with all the bad weather that would be associated with that. The strength of the wind diminished slightly every day and by day four it was all but gone. Vanished! The sails were lazily flapping back and forth while gentle swells rolled slowly underneath Aluna’s bellies and a glassy sea spread out as far as our eyes could see. Hatches flew open, all kinds of wet rags suddenly hung on the shrouds to dry and we settled in for two days of pure enjoyment. Finally the Pacific lived up to its name, you could not possibly imagine a more gentle and smooth environment for doing some quality relaxing.

The surface of the water was so smooth we were tempted to step off the boat and go for a little walk on it. The color of the sky and even cloud patterns were reflected all around us, giving the impression that instead of floating on a plane we were suspended in midst of a delicate stain glass sphere. But just when I was ready to try floating off Aluna’s bows into mystic space a tiny puff of wind shattered the illusion gently and an oval patch of wripples wandered around us, through us actually, and then away from us towards the swaying horizon. Looking down the hatch in Aluna’s center deck where we pull up buckets of seawater whenever needed, I got aquainted with a little friend. A tiny, maybe thumb-sized fish had taken shelter between Aluna’s slender keels. Zebra striped and definitely cute it was darting back and forth from port to starboard and back. Every time it passed through the center it paused and twisted its head slightly as if it wanted to peek up at me. What is this little critter doing here in the middle of the vast ocean, totally comfortable and with no sign of fear? It stayed with us for two days. Whenever I opened the hatch it would come up and say hello. And look who is complaining about being lonely out there!

Like all things beautiful and peaceful our sweet pacific holiday slowly came to an end on the evening of its second day, day six of our journey. Suprisingly though the wind did not appear from the West, like it should if we had passed through the center of the high. When it picked up again it was right on the nose, blowing right from where we wanted to go. My tendency had been all along to err our course to the West, fearing a Westerly gale towards the end of our voyage that could blow us out into the wild expanses of the Southwest Pacific. Hence we slowly picked up speed again heading due West. But little by little the wind backed and before long it was smack again where it had been all along: Southwest, right on the beam and slowly but steadily increasing. Day seven saw a noon-to-noon total distance of 89 miles, day eight 84, day nine a straight and precise 100.

The calm spread had given me the chance to fiddle around with our little Sony short wave receiver and I was able to get weathermaps from New Zealand’s Metservice. The sound output of the radio is hooked up to the computer, where software then decodes the signal and creates visual maps of the present weather analysys and two and three day forecasts. What a luxury! It had never worked before and now all of a sudden we were elvated to a god’s eye view, from where we were able to see the location of high-pressure systems, lows, ridges and troughs and such. The forecasts all looked good except for a thin stationary front right in our path wedged in between the isobars further to the South of us. The isobars were widely spaced so I didn’t think any of this should be of major concern. When shortly after noon of day nine the wind started to pick up to the point of having to take down the big main once again, I did start to feel a couple butterflies rummaging around in my stomach. By late afternoon Aluna was doing seven knots steady and we were heading straight towards a big black wall of towering clouds that stretched East to West from horizon to horizon. After sunset a slim slither of a new moon was peeking through the clouds racing over our heads and I stretched out on the watchbunk a wee bit worried. What weather and wind corresponds to a stationnary front? I asked myself. What appears like a simple line on the weather forecaster’s map might in reality be one hundred miles wide! The worst about bad weather at sea is the incertainty. Will it get worse? If so, how much worse?

Aluna raced bravely through the night under darker and darker clouds. Still, every now and then a handful of stars managed to peek through the murk. The rigging took on a hum, the wind a howl, and the water a hiss. Then from time to time the deafening boom of a wave crashing into the port hullsides tore me out of the mesmerizing slumber where the notorious screeching of the autopilot had transformed into merciless screaming of people running down crowded city streets. I would then crawl out from under the warm bed cover, peek out through Aluna’s cat eyes and try to make out what was going on in the dark brawl out there. If the rain was not pouring down and do its percussive dance on the cockpit cover I mustered up enough courage to peel the cover back on one corner and sample the angry air above it. In the mélange of dark greys and the patchwork of somber blacks were racing dunes of considerable dimensions. They tossed Aluna up in the air and let her fall into the voids of long curved troughs. She did not seem to mind it at all and bravely danced to the dervish tunes as if that was all she had ever known. Filled with confidence and after having confirmed that we were the only miserable beings within the limited range of sight, I snapped the cover’s fasteners back on their stainless nipples and pulled myself back onto the watchbunk like regressing into a forever new and fertile mother’s womb. Before counting ten drenched sheep the screaming people had returned and continued their turqois carnival of human helplessness.

Light broke early the next morning. The days had grown considerably longer. We were by now at 33.5° southern latitude, and fast approaching the austral summer solstice. But the sunlight had to squeeze through crevices in the heaping clouds and only feeble bundles of rays reached the churned up waters. New Zealand’s North Island was also fast approaching. Our noon position fix on the GPS revealed an astonishing daily run of 170 nautical miles! It’s great to sail a cat… At that pace Aluna should make landfall at the Bay of Islands by the following morning.

With the end in sight any suffering becomes a good notch more bearable and the dancing on the waves took on an amusing dimension. By now our bodies were used to being tossed about and our stomachs had learned to digest in states of intermittent freefall. Conversations turned to our challenging tasks ahead on land, where we would have to transform our meager selves from poor penniless ocean wanderers into functional and productive members of the economically developed corner of the world without forgetting the lessons learned on our two and a half year long excursion into the very humbling and rewarding world of subtle subsistence.

The morning of December 1 the dark clouds had lifted. The sun was shining in a deep blue sky and flares of white cumulus heaps raced across above our heads. The breeze continued to be stiff and the going was good but jumpy and wet. Brown gannets and other smaller birds performed their acrobatic feats all around foaming Aluna, defying the girdle of gravity in sweeping arcs of acceleration and soaring tangents of centrifugal stringency. Free of all those complicated words my eyes at the time just delved in simple contemplation, the weariness from the voyage had finally drowned the many tortures of the intellect. But a minimum of intelligence had to be summoned back to manage to complications of landfall.

Sleep was light and sporadic during the last night of the trip. The vision of crashing Aluna into the rocky cliffs of the fastly approaching landmass pulled me out of the flimsy dreams every hour or so. The count down was on on the GPS and at three in the morning the lighthouse of Cape Brett at the Southwest extremity of the Bay of Islands started blinking reassuringly in the dark at fifteen seconds intervals. A short nap later another light to starboard joined in. I guessed it must be the Cape Karikari light becaused it sent three flashes every fifteen seconds out to us. Then after the next nap the twilight of dawn brought out jagged riffs of coastline. Now there was no more time for dozing off. The ten mile wide mouth of the famed Bay of Islands was about to swallow our ocean craft with the tight grip of solid land. Giant heaps of cumulus clouds came streaming off the ocean from the East and once they had to climb up the slopes of hills dark grey rain bands draped thick curtains over the landscape that were impenetrable to the human eye. At first the precipitation all passed politely in front of our path but each batch inched a little closer and before entering the four miles long Veronica Channel that leads up to Opua Harbor from the bottom of the bay, we got our first dousing welcome to the wet end of the austral spring of Aotearoa. A flurry of spirited sailboats whizzed around us in the early morning as we entered the realm of the economically fortunate and we made our way slowly to the quaranteen dock at the Opua marina to face the seriousness of officialdom and hopefully partake soon in gathering the crumbs of accumulated riches all around us.

One Response to “Fetching the Long White Cloud (part 2)”

  1. elcentaurodelsiglo21 Says:

    Hola Beatriz; te subi el video en tu muro de Facebook…lo viste? que lindo viaje el de ustedes. Igual les deseo un Feliz Año Nuevo donde quiera que esten en estos momentos. Un brindis por los dos de Samuel

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