The Adventure That Wasn’t

 

This blog has been put together as a summary and way of closing off, ‘The Adventure That Wasn’t’.

Following are the main reasons why the New Zealand trip was cancelled at 0700 on Tuesday 11th December 2012:

1./ Promise made to family and PILS (Parents In-Law) not to go if weather wasn’t good enough. The weather clearly was not.

2./ Forecast received on day of departure (11th December) had absolutely no signs of weather conditions improving and all the signs were, that the weather could potentially get worse.

3./ At the time the decision was made (0700) there was a tropical low that was becoming more organised with the chance of becoming a cyclone/hurricane. One thing I know about cyclones in the South Pacific is that it is incredibly difficult to predict their speed and direction and history has proven this to be the case on countless occasions. 

4./ Short period seas of 5-7 seconds. The period is the time between each swell/wave. You could be in 4 metre / 13ft swells with a 20 second period and it would be a lovely ride. However, reduce the period to five seconds and it becomes a living hell as there tends to be much less of a back on the swell for the boat to travel down and hence you fall off the back of the oncoming swell with a thud. The most uncomfortable seas I have ever been in were also the smallest, 1 meter / 3ft seas with a one second period – it was like being in a washing machine. Short period seas, in my opinion are to be avoided at all costs.

5./ Finally, the chance of the high pressure cell that we were being routed through becoming over-run by what were two strong and large low pressure systems to the north and south of our planned route/track. Map below shows the area of blue we were being routed through.

wave

Braun Jones, a fellow Nordhavn owner of the lovely N6403 Ocean Pearl, sent me a message after we had cancelled the trip basically saying that his rule was never to be in a sea where the wave period was less than the wave height. Braun, you will be please to know that it is now my rule as well.

On December 13th, two days after planned departure on the 11th, the tropical low that I was worried about became a cyclone/hurricane and was officially named Cyclone Evan, packing winds of between 180kph/111mph and 360kph/222mph causing havoc to commercial shipping. While Cyclone Evan is further north part of it broke apart during formation and headed south as a deep tropical low depression which would have impacted our transit around North Cape/Cape Reinga, New Zealand.

Clearly on this map below you can see the low pressure system and how close it would have been to our route and the north tip of New Zealand which is just off this map to the south.

rough weather

Based on the numerous emails I have received from very experienced mariners I am satisfied that the call not to go was the correct one and as it turned out the decision not to go was the right one for our family. I am sure there are lots of mariners who would have battened down the hatches and soldiered on but for us, this is pleasure boating and not a test of one’s endurance. The idea of being smacked around in short period seas was and is, not something I am too interested in doing for two days, let alone six!

I must say that Fleetweather were brilliant and available to me 24/7. Their forecasts were so much more than I was getting via online subscriber or free website services. Without Fleetweather we would have made the wrong decision. I want to stress, that if we had made the trip, then Pendana would have had no problems at all in combating the seas, swell, period or winds. The reason for not going was not based on safety but rather comfort of the passengers and crew aboard Pendana. 

To set course in sustained bad conditions is not something I will ever do and while a few days of rotten weather is manageable the relentless reality of what we were facing would have worn thin after the first twenty four hours. Perhaps I am learning something after all!

Photo below of two tall ships in Sydney Harbour while we were there last week. 

Tall ships Sydney harbour

One thing throughout all of this that I have learned is that when using a weather forecasting company one must be very specific about what weather is acceptable and what is not. I did initially tell them winds below 25kts, seas under 3mtrs/10ft but I didn’t expect to cop this for the full six days. What I should have told them was, over the six day passage I want at least half with winds under 20kts and a swell/wave period greater than the height of the combined swell/wave for 80% of the trip. I don’t mind a few bad days i.e. shorter periods, larger seas but would prefer the bad days at the end of trip rather than the beginning (that way everyone aboard can get used to the motion). Lesson learned for the future – note to self, be specific. 

All in all, I can highly recommend Fleetweather and after using their services would never venture out on a long passage without them and that includes long coastal runs. 

An email received from a Master One Mariner whom I have been lucky enough to spend some time with, (we will call him CBW) simply said, …”Risks are not good things to do to yourself with an ocean crossing…..Cyclonic weather has affected the top end of NZ on many occasions and I have experienced 5M/16ft seas off the South Island of NZ from a cyclone swell generated well north of NZ, we were bobbing around like a cork in a 300ft vessel weighing 3000T”.

Below photo of Sydney Harbour which as you can see is very much a working harbour. Photo taken last week from Pendana.

Sydney harbour

One question that I have been asked by a few folks is, why cancel the trip rather than delay it? Good question. The reason for this is that based on the last forecast received it was clear that the weather was not going to be good for some time to come rendering a crossing this side of Christmas out of the question. As Claire and I still have, two school aged children it was important that we were back in Australia by the 20th January so they could prepare for the new school year ahead, catch up with friends and relax a bit. This begs the second part of the question which was, why not leave Pendana in New Zealand and fly back to Australia? Put simply, the idea of leaving Pendana for any period of time greater than about one week, would kill me. As such, the decision to cancel the trip was made.

This now ends ‘The Adventure That Wasn’t’ other than to say it was a valuable learning experience and one, believe it or not, that helped reinforce to all of us, why we love boating so much. Below is the view from the Portuguese Bridge from Pendana on the morning of our departure north back to Broken Bay. Sydney Harbour doesn’t get much better than that!

Sydney Harbour aboard Pendana

We are now planning to spend New Years Eve in Sydney Harbour with friends. After that, who knows? Maybe a short 90nm trip to Port Stephens to play with the dolphins in the New Year? We shall see.

 

Photo below of Pendana heading back to Broken Bay after a few days relaxing and licking her wounds in Sydney Harbour.

Pendana at sea

Thank you to everyone who emailed me with words of support and encouragement, thank you most appreciated at what was a testing time of endless second guessing. 

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year.

 

Safe travels

James

1 thought on “The Adventure That Wasn’t”

  1. James, smart move! we’ve been out in our Nordie in short period, 4m+ seas and the boat can take it – but it’s no picnic and certainly not what we regard as a leisure activity. we used to mountaineer when we were much younger – and you have to pull out when conditions aren’t right in that game as well. never mind, the opportunity will come again
    best regards,
    Colin & Janet, m/y Suilven, Scotland

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