As I motored out of Port Hardy and into the swell of about 5m from the north west that was running outside, I hoped for more wind than what was there currently – otherwise it would make for a slow and sloppy run as I was losing the wind at the bottom of the swells. The wind gradually picked up, I cut the engine and settled into a lovely day of sailing. A beautiful sunny day with Stephens and D'Urville Island disappearing in my wake. The wind picked up a little more so that the autohelm was struggling, and I sat at the tiller, hand steering, enjoying every minute – this was bliss! The wind continued to pick up so I had both hands on the tiller, pulling it up towards my chin – fantastic! With the winds forecast to reduce I was keen to make the most of the wind while it was here, so chose not to reef down. I was covering the ground averaging about 6.5 knots which is pretty fast for Honey. At this rate it would be a good speedy run up to Taranaki.
During the afternoon the winds continued to pick up, and Honey was getting over-powered – even with the tiller up by my chin she was rounding up into the wind. So I finally partially furled in the genoa and put a reef in the main, and she rode a lot better. But the winds continued to pick up, and soon I needed to put in a second reef and then a third reef. Honey was skidding along, at up to 8 knots, even with very little sail up. This was fun, but a bit rougher than I was expecting and certainly a lot more than the forecast – it must be about to let up soon.
But the winds and the seas continued to build, and the wind veered to the west. Water was being whipped off the top of the waves, and I now had 5-6m breaking waves to contend with. I was steering Honey half sailing, half falling down the waves, and every minute or two, one would break and dump on top of Honey and me, filling the cockpit with water until it quickly drained away. I figured it was approximately 40 knots westerly that I was sailing through. The forecast was now saying south west 20 knots, but that certainly wasn't the weather conditions where I was! It was about this time that I started to get seasick – I normally pride myself on having good sealegs and very rarely feel seasick – but the roughness and perhaps a bit of nerves proved too much, and although I had barely eaten since I left Port Hardy every time I went down into the cabin I got sick!
With the winds being too much for the autohelm, whenever I left the cockpit I would simply let go of the tiller and Honey being quite balanced would do a reasonable job of steering through the weather. As despite the forecast, there was no indication that the winds would let up, and perhaps they would build further, I decided to put up the storm gib before it was dark. With the forecast for relatively light winds, I had the storm gib stowed below, so it took some effort and time to get it up – I was not going to open the forward hatch with the waves being dumped on Honey, so tethered to the jack lines, holding on tightly to the storm gib and Honey I fought to the bow and then to get the storm gib onto the inner forestay and raised – eventually I had the storm gib up and the genoa furled away. The winds were not abating, in fact had picked up a little more, so I dropped the main and sailed on with the storm gib only.
With only the storm gib up I was making headway north, but I needed to be heading north north west to clear Cape Egmont – the winds were too strong for Honey to make any way in a westerly direction with only the storm gib up. I contacted Maritime Radio for my regular scheduled call and they confirmed that winds were still forecast to be south west 20 knots – I advised that I was encountering rough weather, at least 40 knots westerly, and agreed to maintain 2 hourly scheduled check-ins until this abated. (On scheduled calls, or trip reports, updates provided include the position – latitude and longitude, speed and heading. These are great because they provide comfort that others know roughly where you are, and also in the unlikely event of it being required then the search area is tightened. With the small 6m catamaran recently sailed by a man and his young daughter from Kawhia bound to the Bay of Islands (but actually to Australia), there were obviously no trip report updates so the authorities could not undertake a meaningful search).
I was closing in on the coast of the South Taranaki Bight, so I needed to either make headway in a westerly direction or go for plan B - turn about and head back south to Cook Strait which was forecast for variable 10 knots of wind. I did not want to be pushed onto a lee shore – later the Taranaki marina manager advised that a sailor recently making a delivery to Taranaki had disregarded local advice to keep out from Cape Egmont and had never made it – sailing too close to a lee shore with a strong westerly he had drowned. I raised the main (with 3 reefs) and started inching towards the west. I was now taking the waves side on, Honey falling off them and waves still breaking over the top. Night had fallen so it was harder to judge when a breaking wave was going to hit. To be sure I would clear the coast around Cape Egmont, I started the engine and headed in a north west direction into the waves, motoring towards the Maui platform that although 20 miles distant was lit up and clearly visible. After 2 hours I was happy that I had made sufficient headway west and would safely clear Cape Egmont, so I cut the engine and carried on sailing with the reefed main and storm gib.
By midnight the winds had abated, and it was back to good sailing with the amount of sail I had up. I passed Maui off my port side and the lights on the coast associated with the gas production clearly visible to starboard. I was still seasick despite having nothing in my stomach, and was soaked through from the several gallons of seawater that I had been showered with so far on the trip. At 4am I passed Cape Egmont, made my regular scheduled call to Maritime Radio, and with the winds still easing advised my next update would be at 8am when I was scheduled to arrive into Port Taranaki. I started the engine – to charge the batteries so I could use the autohelm, and to keep my speed up. With the seasickness, I was feeling weak and did not feel like doing a sail change in the dark.
As the new day dawned I reflected on the interesting and eventful leg I had just done – I was feeling pretty happy on the whole – Honey had done well, the only issues had been the weather that was not as forecast and my seasickness. This certainly was a better leg than the shakedown from Lyttelton. The swell was easing and the wind had by now dropped to about 15 knots. Time to put away the storm gib and get back to full sail. It was when I was pulling down the storm gib that I noticed the large crack on the deck where the inner forestay connects – oh no, Honey had not come through unscathed! At that point my thoughts turned to what a bad leg this has been – funny how my judgement of how good a sail has been seems to be solely on Honey's condition or breakages!
Shortly after 8am I arrived into the Port Taranaki harbour limit, entered the harbour and pulled up a mooring – I had arrived at my first North Island destination!