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Apsara's Log: New Zealand bound

Date: Fri, 12 Nov 2004 14:58:13 +1200

Faithful family & friends:

After three days of strong headwinds, the wind freed yesterday morning and our average speed increase by a third to 8.3 knots. 8.3 knots is a magic number since sailing this over 24 hours results in a very satisfy 200 miles per day. After days of gray and stormy weather with green water waves washing Apsara's decks from stem to stern, today, we are under blue skies on smooth water and she is making the required 8.3 knots in winds as light as 10 knots.

Speaking of green, Nancy is back to her normal color after having been various shades of nauseas. I hasten to add that she still was up and on deck for her three-hour watches ˆ like any pro, she'll still play when hurt.

We are now about 575 miles from New Zealand. The 1150 mile passage from Fiji to New Zealand is our last long passage of the trip. The passage has a bad reputation and it is usual for several boats to be broken or even lost on the trip. Already, we have heard of several dismastings and of a 92 foot schooner that had its deck partially torn apart in a blow just a few weeks ago. This is the beginning of the South Pacific cyclone season and almost all sail boats cruising this year will make their way south to New Zealand or Australia.. A few will go north above the equator and a few thrill seekers will spend the season in the cyclone belt.

In total, there are some 150 to 200 boats heading south, mostly to the northern town of Opua, New Zealand. The bulk of these boats hole up in Tonga or in Fiji waiting for the fabled "weather window", a time when they hope to make the 1200 mile dash without getting slammed by a Low pressure system or an early cyclone. This will take most boats 8 to 12 days depending on boat and weather. Accurate forecasts in this part of the world are really only good for about four to five days. So, one is never really assured of a safe crossing and it is more like toad crossing a rural four-lane highway at night. You just look both ways and hop like hell.

We are not following the crowd, many of whom are still waiting in Tonga with a rumor that the next window won't be until November 19th. On the basis of our analysis and the recommendation of a professional weather router we left last Monday from northern Fiji. Two tropical low pressure systems were present when we started and both have moved off or dissipated as expected. The router is giving us daily forecasts via e-mail. We compare these to what conditions we are experiencing, to a batch of onboard weather fax charts, and to other data received electronically. Additionally, we check-in with a high-frequency (SSB) radio net each afternoon to provide our position and local weather conditions and hear what conditions other boats are experiencing. All of this helps us pick our route and to give us some warning of problems ahead which might cause us to slow up or alter course.

As it looks now, we are racing to beat a low pressure system that is expected to hit northern New Zealand with 30 ˆ 40 knot winds by Monday afternoon. These types of winds are especially unpleasant since they can create a lee shore and big waves as the seas build up on the "continental" shelf of New Zealand. For now, we are having wonderful sailing conditions and are tracking to a Monday morning arrival. This is still cutting things close since everyone knows how often weather forecasters can be off by a day or so.

We are excited to be over half way and thrilled that Apsara is moving swiftly ˆ with luck we will make the trip in less than seven days and more importantly before the blow. Stay tuned

Apsara's crew

s/v Apsara

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