24 August 2010

180. WEIGH ANCHOR AND SET SAILS (2)









Dreaming of sailing again, yes, and making plans to find a crew position on a cruising sailboat, I've joined a number of sailing forums on the world wide web. On 'cruisersforum' you find all sorts of conversations between sailors in various parts of the world. It is not so diversified actually. They are mostly english speaking men. I tiptoed in one conversation the other day about a sailing plan from Cairns on the eastern coast of Australia to Auckland in New Zealand. Here's my observation:

Hi,
The tradewinds are not that regular any more. I wouldn't sail that distance in a straight line anyway. Nothing is a straight line on the ocean as you know.
I sailed Noumea-Bundaberg once, Noumea-Auckland once, Noumea-Opua once.
If you could sail from Cairns to Noumea
... yes but not at this time of year. Anyway from New Caledonia you don't even have to tack once! From Noumea to Lord Howe the south easterlies push you to the west of Lord Howe and then the south westerlies push you straight into the Bay of Islands.
But don't take my word for it!

It does not sound too professional, does it? Coming from a woman writing from a village in the middle of France, it may even sound ludicrous. I think it is time I finish telling the story of my sailing trip from Noumea to Auckland as part of the crew on a cutter in November 1997. The first part is in my post 74. WEIGH ANCHOR AND SET SAILS (1).

The boat was a cutter. One important thing about a cutter is that it has a stay sail. It did come in handy. We were 5 on board, the 80 year old kiwi captain who had built the boat himself, his kiwi son, myself and the 2 new french recruits, i.e. 3 men and 2 women, the age range being from 80 to 30: a mixed bunch in other words, speaking 2 tongues, 2 genders, 2 nationalities, old and new, experienced and newbies.

Leaving Noumea late October or beginning November is already quite late. The summer season is arriving in the tropical zone with threats of cyclones and getting into NZ waters at that time is known as likely to meet rough conditions.  

We left the Noumea marina on a nice day crossing the lagoon on smooth waters up to the pass and then hitting the high swell of the ocean outside the pass. That's when you realize the sea is big and your 40 odd feet long boat is small. That's when I started vomiting. The son's captain started vomiting too to a lesser degree. The 2 newbies were fine and looked at these so-called experienced sailors turned green sitting lump by the rail on the down wind side of the cutter. The show did not last too long fortunately and we took turns at the helm steering and rigging the sails for a long trip.

If you look on a flat map a line going from Noumea to Auckland is just about due south, Auckland being only a few degrees longitude east of Noumea. But a sailboat under sails never goes straight. The line over the surface of the earth is curved to start with and the wind is going to make you zigzag abundantly.  

So the shortest way from A to B is not usually a straight line. The shortest way in time is the one where you will tack a minimum of times. I learned this great lesson on that crossing. The wise captain made us set the sails to head for Norfolk island, i.e. towards the south west. In that direction the south east trade wind was steady and we could go a long way without tacking at all.

We rounded Norfolk to the west of it sailing slowly past it all day. Us crew started fidjetting arguing that if we did not tack we were going to end up in Tasmania. The captain calmly said there was no point getting nervous, the wind would soon turn. We sailed past the west coast of Norfolk. We would have loved to go into harbor and have a beer at a pub there. Fancy sending a postcard from Norfolk! This island had been the jail of the convict colony. It had been chosen for its impossible approach by boat. Our captain refused to waste time on a difficult landing. We sailed past the west coast of Norfolk without stopping and without tacking.

The next day as predicted by the captain the wind turned and started blowing from the south west. We just left the nose of the cutter point towards New Zealand at last. Not the usual tack where you work hard at pushing or pulling the rudder and adapting your sails. No. The sails wanted to shift and the boat wanted to point in another direction. A nice feeling. Zen like.  

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