“We did it, we crossed the ditch, 1828 nautical miles St Helens to Sydney, Sydney to Opua. It was just Michael and I, our longest passage yet and not once did we come close to an argument, I think that is an accomplishment in itself. With our fifth Bass Strait crossing out of the way we spent a little time in Sydney before yet again sailing upwind for our first Tasman crossing. Liss at the Helm.”
Sail Surf ROAM is the name of a group of adventurous ocean-goers from the east coast of Tasmania. Michael Hoult, an Ocean Engineer turned vagabond, has traveled the world with his partner Liss, brother Andy and Andy’s partner Holly on an open-ended adventure throughout some of the world’s most untapped locations – all on board Michael’s Spirited 480 cruising catamaran ‘ROAM’.
After recently arriving back in Australia, the most recent adventure was for Mick and Liss sailing two-up across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. Read the blog Liss wrote while on their journey to the land of the long white cloud.
To read a story we published on the Sail Surf ROAM journey, click HERE.
To visit the Sail Surf ROAM Facebook Page, click HERE.
Friday 21 April 2017 – Leave Sydney
We are anchored in Birkenhead Bay, with a weather window for an upwind passage to New Zealand. Just to make things even more exciting… I have two exams to sit, one straight after the other in the city at 9am. Customs are booked in to clear us out at 3pm and then we are off, excited to make our way to the north island. Exams done, customs cleared, Roam ready for offshore sailing and we are on our way by 3.45pm.
Saturday 22 April – Night 2
Sailing upwind offshore is never going to be a smooth passage. Last night we were acting with caution on our first night. We triple reefed the mainsail to slow down Roam, prevent launching out of a NE swell. We saw a spike of 34 knots apparent wind. Today we have not seen wind above 20-22 knots so we have shook out a reef and Frank (the genoa) is on the job. Previously we have had three or more crew on Roam and we would split watches doing two to three hour watches each depending on the number of crew. This passage it is just Mick and I. The crossing is an estimated 7-8 day passage from Sydney to Opua. Friends we met down south in Tassie and well-seasoned sailors, Jack and Jude, told us they would do six-hour shifts, sometimes longer, depending on how they felt. This allowed the other person to get a reasonable amount of solid sleep. We have decided we will try the six-hour watches overnight and a bit of napping during the day. Our current heading is 110 degrees, COG 135 degrees as we are getting swept south by the East Australian Current, wind speed 10-15 knots. AWS 15-20. Sailing in wind vane mode at 40 degrees AWA. We love wind Vane mode offshore.
Sunday 23 April – Night 3
The mind wanders…
Being at sea allows plenty of time for the mind to wander. When I was a child I would imagine that when I grew up I would live in a house with a glass ceiling so that I could always look up at night and see the stars in the night sky. I day dreamed a lot, drawing my dream home which would have lots of aquariums, some of the walls and the dining table would be a huge tropical fish tank. I was intrigued by space also, extra-terrestrial life and UFOs (maybe partly because my older siblings were watching the x files).
The 8-year-old me was a total dreamer, I feel now sitting here thinking about it that my real life is not far from that dream. Early this morning whilst on watch three, squalls went through within six hours. Shifty winds kept me busy tweaking the sails and wind vane pilot to maintain our heading. Once the rain eased, in the darkness the visibility improved. A bright light appeared on the horizon, a strange light that I didn’t recognize as any sort of navigational light, a cruise or Navy ship maybe ? I checked AIS to see if I could spot any other vessels transmitting their position, nothing. The light was so bright and appeared to be reasonably close, a few mile away maybe but I couldn’t tell which way it was moving, if moving at all. This was very weird, so I woke Michael. “Mick, are you awake? There is a weird vessel ahead of us and they are not showing up on AIS.” Mick got up to have a look, he saw the bright light, half asleep he turned on the radar. I was watching it from outside in the cockpit and then suddenly it just disappeared.. WHAT THE? “Michael… it has now turned its lights off, can you see it on the radar!?” Nothing showing on the radar. Now I see it re-appear, this time hovering above the horizon and moving slowly upwards.
In my tired state, my 8-year-old brain jumped to the belief of ‘ooohhh crap, it’s a UFO’. A cloud in the sky moved across in front of the light, now I see, it’s the moon. “Ummmmm, Michael, you can turn the radar off, sorry go back to bed, it is the moon”. After an active six-hour shift as the sun started to rise, the breeze lightened. We sailed full mainsail and Frank (genoa). Beautiful sailing conditions, upwind is not so bad when the sea state is settled. We have about 10-12 knots true wind speed and we are tight on the breeze wind vane set at 38 degrees, Roam is gliding along at a very comfortable 8-9 knots. It is calm enough to take a shower, cook a BBQ lunch and an afternoon game of poker. A perfect day in the Tasman, one day closer to New Zealand. As the sun disappeared over the ocean I crawled into bed and lay there gazing at the stars through the glass hatch above my bed, the 8-year-old day dreamer me was not too far off the mark. I live on a boat that feels like a space ship at night gliding through space, and beneath my floating home is an aquatic world full of fascinating sea life.
Monday 24 April – Night 4
The ocean is a strange place, it never fails to make me feel very small. You can sail for thousands of miles and may not even see another boat, the conditions can change suddenly without any warning. I spend a lot of time watching the waves and the sky, the wind on the water and feeling the changes in the air. I hope to become more in tune with mother nature’s signs, read her mind. We have had dreamy upwind sailing conditions for most of the day, 12-15 knots of wind gusting to 20 occasionally. We are enjoying sailing with the full main up, tight on the breeze sailing at 35-38 AWA, 35 degrees is about the highest we can point and still make good speed and direction with the Frank. If we start going too fast we slow Roam down by furling Frank and putting out the storm jib, who we have named Jessica, or we just ease the main down the traveler a little. This way we can maintain a comfortable speed to suit the sea state. We are averaging 8-9 knots. I find it a lot more comfortable getting along at 8-9 knots up wind as opposed to 5-7 knots or less where the swell just disrupts the stability of the boat.
A little more speed and Roam just slices through the waves less affected and in turn I feel no sea sickness. It also puts less stress on everything, the boom is not swaying and thumping around and the stays are not being whipped around. The sea state over the wind speed seems to determine our choice of sail combination and boat speed. As long as we have 10 plus knots of wind we seem to have no problem gaining apparent wind, it is then only if the sea state is ugly we find ourselves having to slow the boat down. While sailing offshore we have John (Mick’s Dad) as our shore support. We send and receive a message via iridium Go (satellite phone) at 7 o’clock in the morning and again at 7 o’clock at night. We keep John updated with our position and he gives us a weather forecast update using Predict Wind and Windy Ty. This has worked brilliantly and we adjust our course to suit any coming weather system changes. There is a forecast for a northerly change so we change our course to gain as much height as we can before the change comes.
Tuesday 25 April – Night 5
We have crossed into New Zealand waters. Rounding our way point we put down for how much northing we wanted to make and we set our course to sail ENE. Still staying high and tight on the breeze as the northerly change is forecast for around midnight. We are 414 nm as the crow flies from the northern tip of the north island. The sea state has improved and wind picked up a little as the day progresses. As the sun sets the darkness of the night sets in, the nights have been so dark with a new moon providing very little light. The sky is clear and the stars are shining really bright, I am feeling very happy sitting outside on watch, Roam is slicing along at 9-10 knots boat speed in 12 knots true wind speed, 15 apparent, we are single reefed with Frank on the job and wind vane set at 38 degrees, perfect. Our course over ground is pointing where we want to go and we are finally not pushing current. Roam and the northern tip of NZ are appearing together on the Nav screen, soul pleasing.
Wednesday 26 April – Night 6
It is pitch black tonight on my watch, from inside the saloon looking out the window I see nothing. Occasionally the spray off the starboard bow lights up reflecting green from the navigation light. Sitting in the seat at the nav desk looking out ahead feels like being on a theme park ride, one of those pitch black dark tunnel rides where you are anticipating the next big drop or an explosion or something to jump out at you. Instead of being a 10-minute ghost train ride at a theme park, this ride through the pitch black is relentless, but kind of fun in a strangely satisfying way. It’s a strange feeling sailing along at 7-8 knots knowing you are heading in the right direction but you cannot see a thing. The sails are set to wind vane mode, I can see our course over ground on the nav screen and by complete darkness I occasionally adjust the AWA or sails a little to keep us pointing in the right direction. We have covered good ground through the day averaging around 8 knots, tight on the breeze for the last 48 hours with one reef in main and Frank.
We have managed to gain enough height to allow us to bear away once we are past the northern tip and we should then be able to reach (wind on the beam) around to the north eastern side of north cape. Its currently 2am, the breeze has picked up to 20-25 knots true so we furl Frank to give Jessica (the storm jib) a run. The sea state has become short and steep and Roam launches out of the occasional wave sending water over the entire boat and running down into the cockpit. There is only so much slamming you can take so we slow the boat down a little more in the unsettled slop by easing the main all the way down the traveler, we are still averaging 7 knots. I woke up at 12 am for shift change and it felt awfully calm compared to when I had laid down to get some zzz’s. Michael had got tired of the confused slop and uncomfortable sea state and decided to heave to and take a nap. It’s incredible how quiet it goes and calm it is as soon as you stop bashing into the wind.
Thursday 27 April – Night 7
We are on the home stretch now with 171 nm to the northern tip of north island, we had so much water over the deck that everything is salty and wet. Overall however we have had a great Tasman passage. Another upwind passage, with a slight glimpse of SE breeze which was not forecast and came at just the right time when we were making our Northing, a forecast northwesterly change that never really showed up. We had nothing over 26 knots true wind speed and 35 knots apparent. John has been a fantastic shore support and Predict Wind has been about as close as it can get to correct weather forecasting without accounting for the odd unexpected squall, Tasman sea currents working against us and the patches of confused sloppy sea state.
Friday 28 April – Last night at sea
Land ahoy. After a wonderful sleep, I woke up for shift at midnight and to my pleasant surprise we are sailing downwind AWA 70 degrees. Although this does not last long, just teasing us, briefly we had a beautiful NNW breeze of 12-15 knots true. By first light, the wind had died off to 5-10 knots and I could smell a change in the air. Your nose seems to become very sensitive to different smells after being at sea. As the sun rises I spot my first sight of Kiwi turf. Great Island is off our port bow. We are now 32.5 nm from North Cape. Now mid morning we have sunshine and can see north cape, Mick says “Liss you better get the out board sheet ready” ahhh, yes that’s heaven to my ears. We slide along downwind around the northern tip of the north island, in a nice 15 knot breeze, at a very happy AWA between 70-100 degrees. Effortlessly averaging 12 knots boat speed, what a great way to get towards the end of our Tasman passage.
Time to hoist the Quarantine flag. Although making good speed we won’t make it into Opua before dark, so we plan to deploy the drogue a few miles off the coast and then drift overnight until day light. A good opportunity for us to practice deploying the Jordan Series Drogue which we have never deployed before and hopefully we never will have to use this safety device in a big powerful storm situation. Drogue deployed, wow it runs out very fast. Once the lump of chain at the end of the 120 metres of rope with all the cones attached is thrown over the back, you most definitely need to make sure you are nowhere near it as it runs speedily out of the bag and over the stern into the depths of the ocean. Once deployed we shut the doors, put on our AIS, snuggle on the couch and watch a movie as we drift in the wind and swell. The drogue is designed to slow the boat down on bare pols. We are drifting at 1-2 knots. At first light, we pulled the drogue in. It took us 25 minutes to retrieve it wrapped on two winches, Michael winching and I tailed and steered at the same time. Twenty five mins of non-stop winching 120 metres of rope, 125 cones of resistance and a lump of chain at the end… morning workout complete.
Saturday 29 April – Clear into Opua, New Zealand
It is absolutely pitch black dark as we drift into the Bay of Islands, Bear poles and no engines running. We cannot clear in until 9am so we are in no rush. Luckily the wind direction is perfect to coast downwind toward Opua at 3.5-4 knots. Michael takes the opportunity to get some more shut eye white I steer us in, keeping a glaring eye on the darkness all around us and the navigation screen. As the sun starts to come up it is so misty I cannot see any of the beautiful scenery of the Bay of Islands as we make our way in. It was rather eerie, so quiet, I think to myself what it must look like in the sunshine. Now 8.45 am we radio the coast guard and contact customs to let them know of our arrival. We are received loud and clear and directed to the arrival quarantine dock. The quarantine dock in Opua is really in quarantine, it is an island dock that the customs officer and biosecurity have to come out by boat to clear us in. We were impressed with the NZ border security, they were friendly efficient and there is no charge not even for the disposal of garbage and green waste.
One thing I learnt… meat from Australia is OK to bring into NZ as long as it is still in its bought packaging showing purchase from Australia, however to my surprise, poultry products are not okay. We had some frozen chicken breasts in our freezer and to my disappointment (because I hate wasting food) we had to give them to customs to be destroyed. So to any other sailors out there unaware, chicken from Australia to New Zealand is not OK. The rest is pretty straight forward, you can find more info at the NZ Customs website (CLICK HERE). It is raining cold and grey in Opua but we did it, we made it safe and happy. Although we have just finished an 1828 nautical mile passage from St Helens Tasmania to Opua, we are not feeling very tired, maybe because of the excitement. I am feeling pretty chuffed with our little personal achievement. Positively happy we made it this year after missing out last year, look out NZ we are ready to explore the land of the long white cloud.