Stormvogel motors out of Minerva Reef
Position as at 17.30 GMT on 21st Oct:
25 degrees 26 mins south
179 degrees 43 west
We left Minerva reef at 11.00am yesterday (Monday) local time and set sail in perfect conditions – a gentle swell and a Force 5 NE wind. Stormvogel set their foresails and Peter reported that the mast was rock-steady and they were making good speed (over 6.5 knots) without the mainsail. We set a double-reefed main and one reef in the yankee to match their speed and had a really lovely afternoon's sailing, with the cockpit speakers blasting out some music. Supper was proper home-cooked chicken curry and rice followed by fresh pineapple.
I (Graham) sat in the pilothouse as the sun set, marvelling at our fast and steady progress and that we were sailing a 'green' boat – the propulsion and steering were provided by the wind and the bright sunshine mean that Maunie's battery bank was fully charged, even with the water-maker running for three hours to make 90 litres of drinking water. Such a contrast to the first two days from Tonga so I was really relaxed and happy, looking forward to the rest of our last big voyage to Opua.
Things changed with a bang just before midnight. Maunie suddenly veered off course and gybed before I could get to the wheel. I got her back under control and then set about adjusting Winnie, our normally incredibly reliable Windpilot self-steering gear, to settle back on course but to no avail. It took me some moments to take in what had happened but, shining a torch over the back of the boat, I could see that Winnie's rudder was no longer there! There had been no noise of impact but it's broken off from its vertical shaft. Unbelievable, it's such a solid construction! We can't see where the break is until we stop the boat and inspect the Windpilot from the water so we are left puzzled and with a real sense of loss. Winnie is our vital, but silent, third crew member so to see her disabled is a real blow, quite upsetting.
At least we still have Constance, out electric autopilot, so she has stepped in admirably through the night. She just uses electrical power from the batteries (so we go from an average of 2.5 amps to an average of 6 amps current demand) which means we'll have to run the generator to augment the power produced by the solar panels.
Apart from this, all's well. For the first time ever we (Maunie and Stormvogel) are sharing the services of a professional weather router, Bob McDavitt from NZ. Bob was part of the NZ Americas Cup campaign a few years ago and enjoys god-like status amongst Kiwi sailors; he's semi retired now but offers a weather routing service to yachts in this part of the world. We've given him our sailing speed and he's given us a route which jinks left and right towards NZ to avoid counter currents and get the most favourable winds. It's a whole new thing for us and quite fascinating – his route tells us where we should be each 6 hours and what the wind and waves should be like. Obviously the forecast gets more sketchy toward the end of the 7 day passage so we send daily position updates to get new routing information as required. The weather is definitely tricky down here as we leave the area of fairly consistent SE – E trade winds and head south towards frontal systems can bring SW gales if you get your timing wrong. Bob's forecast suggest we'll have light winds ahead for a couple of days, so will probably have to motor-sail a bit, but hopefully we'll arrive at Opua (on Monday we hope)between two weather fronts that will cross North Island on Saturday and next Thursday. Hope he lives up to his reputation!