It was just after 9.30pm on Friday 31st March when King Billy I and Honey pulled away from the club's visitor berth. We had a fantastic send off by the Napier Sailing Club, with several club members – everyone we had met, including the Commodore, Vice Commodore and Club Manager – cheering and sounding the hooter as we cast off! Then we disappeared out of the Inner Harbour and into the black night.
Honey and I followed King Billy I as we navigated our way out of Napier Roads and then headed south east towards Cape Kidnappers. There was very little wind, just a light offshore breeze blowing as we motor sailed through the night. Once we rounded Cape Kidnappers shortly after 1am, Matt suggested that I sail Honey on a course about 1 mile to the east of King Billy I, then I could get some sleep while either Matt or Laurie stayed on watch – by staying outside of them, then they would easily spot if Honey started veering in towards the coast and could radio or call me to wake up. Great idea! I stretched my sleeps out to 30 minute intervals, and it was reassuring to see King Billy I's navigation lights a little way inshore of me each time I popped my head up.
The following morning, the 1st of April, was uneventful as we covered the miles down the east coast. It was warm with light winds, almost perfect cruising weather. Our only complaint was that the wind wasn't steady enough to consistently sail, as we switched between sailing and motor sailing. King Billy I and Honey both sailed at a similar speed, which made us well matched for a convoy passage. King Billy I is 11.5m in length so I had expected her to be faster than Honey at 9.6m, but her longer waterline is compensated by the additional weight due to her steel construction resulting in similar cruising speeds.
|King Billy I under full sail|
We passed Cape Turnagain at around 3pm in calm conditions, Laurie and I both commenting that we hope we don't see the cape again too soon. The winds are known to be changeable along this area of the coastline, with many ships having turned about at the cape, including Endeavour hence the name. I dropped a text to Owen and Emma on Dulcinea to see if they had already reached the Sounds, but they had driven back to Christchurch having got fed up with the southerlies, leaving Dulcinea in Tauranga – no wonder I hadn't seen them!
In the late afternoon as we were part way between Cape Turnagain and Castle Point the north west winds suddenly picked up with gusts of over 30 knots. I hurriedly furled in the genoa and reefed down the main. Struggling on the deck as waves crashed over Honey, I sat with my legs straddling the bow fighting to secure the inner forestay behind the main forestay. Once it was in place I unstowed the storm gib and raised it on the inner forestay and settled back down in the cockpit to enjoy a slightly faster sail. The winds were far from constant though, and before long I switched the storm gib for the stay sail so that Honey maintained a good 5 knots of speed.
After we had passed Castlepoint, I let Matt and Laurie know that I was going to catch a few winks of sleep asking that they could keep watch. From 11pm I got a good 4 hours of sleep, stretching my naps out to 1 hour intervals, and I woke almost fully refreshed soon after 3am. I was a little confused when I woke between one of my naps and found the time earlier than when I had last woken up, until I realised my phone had automatically adjusted for the end of daylight saving! The wind had died down, and I'd started the engine at 1.30am, on low revs to charge the battery and keep Honey moving at 4 knots – we were not in a rush as it was forecast for gale force winds South of Cape Palliser easing through the day, and we planned to pass the cape in the late afternoon once the winds had died down. By 3.30am Honey's speed had dropped to 3 knots. King Billy I was a mile inshore of Honey and was still making good ground, and bringing the engine up to full cruising revs I turned Honey in towards the shore off Honeycomb so we could pick up the same wind. The wind continued to vary in strength and I steered Honey further inshore to escape the choppy seas.
It was just before 5am when the north west came away again, and this time with a lot more force, rising from about 15 knots up to 40 knots in a matter of seconds. So much for the 15 knots northerly that was forecast north of Cape Palliser! Being overpowered I dropped the staysail, as the winds continued to build, gusting over 50 knots. Although I was less than 5 miles off the coast the seas were now very rough – it was all I could do to lash down the staysail, there wasn't enough warning to get the stormgib ready. I had been in a hurry to furl up the genoa the day before when the north west had first hit, and it wasn't furled tightly enough – in no time the strong winds had started working sections of sail loose and a good part of the genoa was flapping furiously making a terrible racket. There was nothing I could do about it, with the winds as strong as they were and the inner forestay secured immediately behind the furler. I made the decision to head to Stony Bay, about 15 miles distant – John had mentioned it as a bay that local fishermen sometimes shelter in when it's a strong northwester. I needed to sort the genoa out before it fully unravelled and shredded itself in the Cook Strait, and to ready Honey with the stormgib. Honey inched slowly towards Stony Bay at about 3 knots, under motor and with the main fully reefed. The wind was driving the waves in sheets that were mostly passing right over Honey, although I was hit by a few stinging waves. Meanwhile King Billy I had hove to – this wasn't an option for me with no headsail raised – and Matt was sorting out an engine problem. It was just before midday when Honey and I reached Stony Bay, dropping the anchor about 50m offshore from the rocks. It was still windy in Stony Bay, but only about 35 knots and being so close to shore there were no waves. Shortly after I arrived the Westpac helicopter flew into the bay circling around Honey before landing, and a group of divers in a fishing boat came over to check if I was ok. I was keen for some assistance with the genoa, and two of the divers jumped in the water and swam over to Honey while I dropped the ladder over the side – it was too windy for the boat to come alongside. With three of us we managed to work the genoa off the furler and rewind it up nice and tightly, making short work of what would have possibly taken hours by myself. The divers had rescued a kayaker who was blown offshore that morning, and advised that they had heard that the winds were now starting to ease at Cape Palliser. (I later found out that the Westpac helicopter was there as a diver from a different group had been washed out to sea and sadly drowned).
I readied Honey for the last push to Wellington, knowing that we were very limited in the time that we could stay in Stony Bay. The forecast was for a change to southerly of 25 knots over night, and then rising to 40 knots the following day as Cyclone Debbie approached. I was really relieved when I saw King Billy I approaching Stony Bay, having sorted a temporary fix for the engine, and also dropping anchor to regather themselves before facing Cook Strait. We agreed that our plan was to make to Cape Palliser and fast, before the southerly hit, as we didn't want to revert to our back-up plan. The forecast with gale southerlies would have driven us back up the coast, past Cape Turnagain, but we wouldn't have made it to Napier before gale northerlies would push us south, followed by gale south easterlies, storm northwesterlies and gale south westerlies!! Our back up plan was to head as far out to sea as possible and 'hove to' to weather out the tail end of the cyclone, not something we wanted to contemplate.
We up anchored and headed out of Stony Bay, both Honey and King Billy I with fully reefed main and storm gib – we weren't prepared to take any chances! With a hot northwest blowing off the land we made good time, but started our engines at the sight of ominous dark clouds rapidly approaching from the south. Watching the clouds approach as we neared Cape Palliser lighthouse I wondered if we were going to make it in time – I urged Honey on “Come On Honey!” then turning to see the sillouette behind me “Come on King Billy!”
|The approach to Cape Palliser|
Honey and I were 4 miles due south of Cape Palliser when the southerly front hit just before 7pm, and King Billy I was about a mile behind. The winds were about 25 knots and coming almost from due west. We motor sailed south into the weather to put some distance between us and Cape Palliser, tacking back towards Wellington after about 1.5 hours once there was a good 8 miles separation from the land, and by 10pm we were happy that we had well and truly rounded Cape Palliser. I turned off Honey's engine as the winds veered to come from the south, pleased that we wouldn't need to resort to our undesired back up plan. The rain that had come with the southerly front had fully set in, and it was a cold and miserable final stretch to Wellington Harbour. We had passed through the entrance of the harbour when the Aratere that was approaching from behind called me up to confirm our intentions prior to passing to port. I was pleased the ferry captain was keeping a look-out for yachts, and assume he must have heard our chatter on the VHF as he called up 'Sailing Vessel Honey'. Rounding Point Halswell, King Billy I followed Honey as we headed into Lambton Harbour with plans to tie up outside Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club. Matt and Laurie had never sailed into Wellington, but Honey and I had been here on her delivery south soon after I bought her, so I was confident I knew where to go. But with the driving rain, glare of the city lights and a lack of navigation lights within Lambton Harbour, I was flummoxed on where to head, made all the more difficult by an appartment block that appeared in the middle of the harbour! Unable to confidently maneuvre into the yacht club basin, we headed around to Chaffers Marina and slipped quietly into two vacant marina berths to wait out the rest of the night.