This was our third time crossing north/south to or from New Zealand and I’m relieved to say that—hopefully—it’s our last! We’ve been told it’s a tricky passage and we’ve found that to be the case. Picking a good weather window is crucial and we’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to wait it out each time without a set deadline.
This time, we had a good window to start but from the minute we left, we knew that we needed to keep pushing north at a quick pace if we wanted to avoid a nasty trough associated with a small low pressure six days after our departure. This meant some motor-sailing the first day to keep our average above 7 knots. By the second day, the wind had almost completely died and we spent about 24 hours motoring with both engines, something we’ve never done before—usually, we just use one to limit fuel consumption and engine hours. This time, it was worth the extra fuel to keep our speed up and we calculated that we would have more than enough in reserve if we had to motor the entire way.
By the third day, we were back to sailing—and this time with the spinnaker. As we don’t sail with the spinnaker at night we knew we were limited to daylight and had our big orange asymmetric up by 8 a.m. What followed was a dream-like day of champagne sailing, 20-25 knots true wind, AWA of 140-160, and sustained speeds around 10 knots with surfs in the mid-teens. It was hard to put the sail away as we approached our 4:30 p.m. cut off but our conservative nature has served us well so far and at this point we were confident we were going to arrive in New Caledonia before we saw 40+ knots on the nose. Mission accomplished.
Of course, a great day like that must be followed by some drama, right? Soon after we had set the sails for the evening and just about the time it got dark, the boat slowly spun out and rounded up into the wind. A very strange thing and somewhat alarming. Brian went to the helm, where one of our crew was on watch, and something was clearly wrong—the boat wasn’t responding to steering inputs. Looking for the source of an odd sound that was also occurring, he checked the starboard aft lazarette and found that the hydraulic steering ram was no longer connected to the rudder. The rudder was now thrashing back and forth, unrestrained in 2- to 3-meter seas.
While Brian tried to solve the problem, the crew and I got the engines on and the sails down to slow and stabilize the boat as much as possible. After about an hour bent over, dancing with a thrashing rudder, while getting the occasional wave dumped over his head, he managed to get everything reattached and we were back in business. At that point, though, everyone was a bit gun-shy about going too fast overnight. We got the sails back up, but reefed more than was necessary so that the boat felt more in control as we hurtled along in the dark… at a measly 6 knots.
Thankfully, after that adventure, the rest of the passage remained drama-free. We were able to stay ahead of the trough and because of our time spent getting east of the rhumb line and staying fast, our last day was another spectacular day of sailing with none of the headwinds we worried about. If we had been about 18 hours behind, we would have faced the expected miserable slog, with 40+ knots of wind on the nose.
It was such a thrill to see the capital city of Noumea once we cleared the barrier reef. It was much more built up than we expected, especially after our time in Fiji. After a night of heavy sleep, we spent several fun days exploring the cosmopolitan, tropical French city. We stopped counting the number of baguettes we ate after we got to 20. After a week spent at some of the beautiful small islands that make up the reef around New Caledonia, we’re currently on another week-long passage, this time west to Australia. If you want to follow along, you can find our tracker at https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/SV_Atlas/.