Preparing Picture Perfect Passage Proceedings

The last wave of boats that had left Opua the previous week to head north got battered badly. Storm after storm stood in their ways and made their lives miserable. At the end of the cruising season here it all turns into a veritable mass migration circus. That Wednesday over twenty boats passed through the bottleneck off the Opua Wharf and snuck out of the Veronica Channel. We had one more Afro-Latin Dance Class scheduled at the Opua Community Hall, and so weren’t going to be ready for another week. The crowd had thinned by then and the number of departing boats was down to eight on the sunny Thursday morning of June 6. The weather had worn itself out too over the last couple days. On Tuesday thirty knots of Northwesterlies came screaming down the channel and into our anchorage, causing Aluna to bob up and down wildly as if she wanted to help us get our sea legs some days before heading out to sea. Yesterday the front had passed and forty knots of Southerlies would have made for a speedy start of the voyage for daredevils and masochists. A two-and-a-half meter Northerly swell would have added more to the fun. It was prudent to wait for another day and today all this commotion had settled down. We expected winds in the 15 knot range just East of South. But first we had to stand in line for a good hour at the customs office and exchange a last round of small talk with the rest of the late-season cruisers ready to head for warmer latitudes.

There was a German couple, sturdy and stout, heading for New Caledonia, where also the weary American was to single handedly direct his tiny craft. Two prolific Kiwi families were standing ahead of us, each shooting for the islands on their own giant catamaran. The custom officer turned out to be quite jovial in spite of the numerous assault on his tiny office. He commended my use of the internet to print out the necessary forms beforehand, which made our stop at the counter a short and smooth affair. A handshake and hug for our good friend Ted who had come out to see us off was our last duty on the terra firma of Kiwiland.

With a somber feeling and the usual butterflies parading through our abdominal entrails we paddle away from the town basin’s ochre beach, where oystercatchers waggle their red beaks and shriek at intruding colleagues just as if this would be any normal day.  The canoe then comes up the ramp and on board, where it is deflated and stored in its danger-orange duffle bag. Now the sails climb up in the air. The muddy anchor rode is flaked messily around the foredeck before being laid in figure eight turns into the trough where it lives whenever it is not in use. A miniscule squirt of petrol brings us out of the mooring field and as is its notorious habit, hides the blood on its hands with arrogant elegance and noxious oblivion. From then on Aluna’s mighty crab claw sails take over the work of pushing our vessel out, first into the Bay of so many Islands, and then beyond towards the ever elusive horizon line.

The weather forecast had been extremely good. The jet stream has relaxed. The Subtropical Ridge lies almost over New Zealand, keeping all the lows far to the South of our intended path, while the Conversion Zone has also diminished considerably and hovers to the North of our destination. It all sounded a bit too good to be true and the sensations of seeing the land you’ve been treading long enough to feel a little bit at home sinking slowly into the sea behind you always turns out to generate a bit of an eerie feeling. But there’s nothing you really want to do about that, is there? This is a good thing after all. The faster it goes away, the sooner you’ll see the other one come out of the sea in front of you!


The fleet of departing sailboats is now spreading out. Some head east, on a hard beat, to catch a ride on the trade wind belt somewhere further upwind. Others like those three tall racing ships grow smaller right ahead of us. And then there are those who are for once on the easy track, downwind, heading north along the Northland coast to go some destination to the west of New Zealand’s longitude. Three giant cargo ships also keep us company during the late afternoon and into the night. They stage a supply line up and down the coast for the insatiable appetite for the consumer’s world of consumption. One is so stubbornly steady on its bearing, growing bigger and bigger just aft of the starboard beam, that I hail it on the radio just to make sure we’re not in its way. I might as well have tried to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. I receive no answer whatsoever to my repeated callings on the VHF. The crew must be deeply focused on playing cards again on the bridge! In these days of Automated Identification Systems, where life threatening and life sustaining decisions are made based on information displayed on screens and monitors, I might have eluded myself into believing to be the biblical David dangling his slingshot towards a still distant modern day Goliath, completely unaware that once up close this behemoth would simply crush him like a microscopic ant under a dusty cowboy boot, should an actual encounter occur. Eventually the supersized vessel does pass about a quarter mile off our bows just as darkness is setting in for good. And that’s the last glimpse of humanity we should see for a good while.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: