Daily updates describing the voyage of the yacht Aldebaran

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2 November
The yacht has been making very good time today.  Last night they had one little squall while Don and Lisa were on duty (and hence got wet) but other than that it has been smooth sailing.  The wind and sea are both favourable and they have covered almost half the distance to Minerva Reef in the past 24 hours, which does create a slight problem.  They had planned on 2½ days for the trip which is why they left mid afternoon yesterday with the object of arriving on Friday morning, so either they have to go hell for leather and try and get there before dark tomorrow or really slow down to arrive on Friday morning as the reef is not the place to try and enter in the dark.  We’ll find out tomorrow what that decision was.  They have been sailing at 6 to 8 knots most of the time through the night and 5 to 6 today.  Currently they are at location 21 39S, 176 37W – see attached map.  They have four other yachts 10 to 15 miles ahead of them, all heading for Minerva Reef.  Andrew thinks that 2 of them anyway are planning on continuing almost immediately for NZ, but we will wait and see as the forecast is for both the swell and the wind to go southerly on Friday. 


Today Don (well he got the blame anyway) blocked the toilet so he and Andrew spent some time unblocking it, and apparently the two women would have nothing to do with the problem!  The two guys did get a bonus of half an apple each afterwards as a reward.


Everyone is feeling OK with Andrew and Carl a bit woozy but they haven’t actually been seasick, which is great.  Dinner tonight is a pre-prepared Korna on rice.  Lisa prepares a number of meals before each leg and they are easy to heat up and provide and create a lot less dishes for the guys.  I asked what they did when they were waiting for dinner, did they have a pre-dinner drink?  That created some interesting comments as apparently the two women might have the very occasional drink on voyage but in general they don’t drink at all at sea.  Andrew he doesn’t touch alcohol at sea as he has enough trouble settling his stomach without the added problem of some alcohol!  Anyway they found alcohol prices in Tonga were quite high.  He did say though that they are amazed at how much some people do drink.  One guy they talked to bought 480 cans of beer in Mexico and had run out by Tahiti.


Till tomorrow

3 November
Hi everyone,


Well they didn’t have to decide whether to speed up to get there today or slow down and get there tomorrow, as the wind stopped at about 3am this morning and after that they moved about 4 miles in the next 4 hours.  They are now sitting on what looks like a big lake, no wind and no swell, just dead flat, so they are now motoring and when we spoke had about 90 miles to go to Minerva Reef.  They are currently at position 23 02S, 177 42W (see attached map) and doing about 5 knots so will get into Minerva in the morning.  They know of two yachts already there, another 4 just ahead of them and know of 2 or 3 others also heading for Minerva, so it will be a real meet and greet day tomorrow.  Andrew says the first thing he will do is jump into the water as with no wind and the motor running it is stinking hot.


Lisa has asked me to thank everyone who has responded to her questions (regarding NY snow and other questions) and provided updates as she really appreciates your news.  So if anyone has any message for any of the crew then please email me and I’ll pass it on as they are feeling a bit remote from the world at the moment.  The stay at Minerva is ill-defined currently, the seas are going to rise quite a bit over the next few days but when they subside early next week then they will probably go despite forecast southerly winds and seas – they will both be light but not really coming from the right direction to sail south!


Everyone is fine including Raleigh who is getting lots of attention and loving it.


We discussed food at length.  They tried in vain to get some decent wholemeal flour in Tonga but could only get some awful white flour.  However they did manage to acquire some mixed grain from one of the cafes in Neiafu and they are going to use it to make bread tomorrow to see if it is any good.  They also still have some cheese so are going to try and make a cheese bread as well.  They have long run out of olive oil and it is so expensive in Tonga that they have now resorted to using a cheap vegetable oil.  They have run out of honey too.  Andrew says that he is dying to eat a decent apple and can’t wait to get into a good avocado.  They haven’t seen avocados since leaving the States.  He wanted to know what fruit was in season now here and when things like berries (especially raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries), cherries, and a number of others would be coming into season.  Most of them should be in the next few weeks if they are not available already.


The radio and aerial on the yacht have always worked very well over the whole trip.  On the odd days the signals have been quite weak and somewhat difficult to understand, but generally the signals from the yacht are very good and nearly always louder than any of the other yachts.  Over the past few days I have found the other yachts that call into the Pacific Seafarers Net so weak that I cannot hear what they are saying but I am amazed at how strong Andrew is, he just booms in which makes our discussions very easy and enjoyable.


Till tomorrow

4 November
Our yachties quietly motored (I probably should say noisily motored!) through the night and arrived at Minerva Reef between 8.30 and 9 this morning.  I have attached a couple of maps, and have shown the yacht in the middle of the lagoon because I forgot to ask for a more accurate position (I’ll confirm where they are anchored tomorrow).  The lagoon is about 3 miles (5 km) across and there are 12 other yachts anchored there today.  One is leaving today and another came past the entrance but just kept going without stopping.  The top of the reef is at sea level at high tide but midday today the tide is out so most of the reef is visible above water level.  As an aside Tonga has claimed the reef for many years but Fiji says that you can’t claim ownership of something that is not above water all the time.  Tonga has in the past erected a navigation beacon on the reef but twice the Fiji navy have come along and destroyed it! 


Anyway today Andrew says it is totally surreal, looks like a big calm swimming pool, no wind, a perfect sunny sky, and the water temperature is a bit cooler than at Tonga so much more refreshing to swim in.  It is like a dream day in a resort with virtually no-one around.  He expects the euphoria will pass after a couple of days but for now they are all in paradise.  Carl and Andrew went snorkelling soon after they arrived.  It is very pretty with exceptional water clarity but a 6 to 8 foot grey shark started showing a bit much interest in them so they hightailed it back to the yacht.  They have all been for a swim since.  Carl is now out doing his socialising, visiting some other yachts, and then they are all going to watch some recorded TV.  I commented that with the view and the weather I think I’d rather be lounging about on deck but apparently they are all tired and want to watch a bit of tv and some of them anyway catch up on some sleep.


We discussed the weather again at length and it now looks quite feasible to leave Monday or more likely Tuesday when the sea will have gone down a bit.  The sea is from the south but with long period waves which are easy to cope with, and the wind will go around to the SE allowing them to sail SW for a few days and then turn back SW when the wind goes back to the south or the SW.  I can’t see any deterioration in the swell before Sunday over a week away so that should be a good window to come to NZ.  We will monitor the outlook and hope it improves or at least doesn’t deteriorate.  You will be interested Jack, that Andrew went on Tony’s net this morning.  Tony wasn’t on today but he did have a brief chat with Dave, ZL3DM, and said it was interesting talking to people who live at a place (Waihi Beach) that he is very familiar with.


Till tomorrow

5 November
Hi all,


Well paradise turned into custard today!  Andrew said he woke up in the night with the sound of a water bottle rolling around with the slight swell they had, so he got up and put it away but noticed that there was a spectacular thunderstorm in the distance, so he watched the lightning for a while.  They got up about 6.30 this morning and noticed a large very black cloud at the other side of the reef.  They watched it awhile thinking that it was passing them by and then it hit at about 10am.  They had heavy rain and winds stronger than they remember having before, definitely higher than 40 knots.  Our crew have always been quite conservative with handling and anchoring the yacht and they always inspect the anchor after it is put it down to ensure it has a good grab.  They had done so at Minerva as usual and the anchor held without any problems.  The same couldn’t be said for a number of the other yachts.  There was about 15 yachts in the lagoon and some of them had dragging anchors and had to raise them and start their motors and cruise around until the wind dropped enough to get the anchor down again.  The storm mellowed about 11am and it then rained heavily for most of the afternoon.  Late afternoon the wind dropped and the rain went away and it is now lovely and sunny and calm again. 


During the day about 3 other yachts appeared, came in briefly, and then left again, which Andrew thought was a bit weird.  Andrew did comment that they have always had the policy of being prepared and ready to cope with whatever is thrown at them and they actually found sitting and watching the storm quite interesting.  I might add that they are in the middle of a large stationary anti-cyclone and little tropical storms are quite common in those circumstances.  Because of the weather they have all been onboard today and have watched quite a bit of TV without feeling guilty about not being outside.  They don’t have much planned for tomorrow other than prepare for the week long trip to NZ.  Lisa will do some baking and meal preparation for the trip and some of them will probably take the opportunity to have a shower.  This apparently entails sitting in the dinghy beside the yacht, soaping and lathering up one’s body and then rolling over the edge into the water to wash the soap off!


We discussed the weather for the coming week in some detail.  It is an ideal time for a week’s trip to NZ as they are in the centre of a large stationary High which appears destined to hang about all week.  Low pressure areas come across under Australia on a weekly basis and then either pass under NZ or else head up the Tasman Sea into the Pacific and create a few days of larger swells.  One is currently reaching Minerva now but will be abating in a couple of days.  The next one is predicted to pass harmlessly under NZ and hence I don’t expect it to cause any large swells in the Pacific for at least the next week.  The only problem with the High is that the winds will be quite light and indeed very light some of the time.  However the crew now plan to leave early Monday morning and head south west to make the most use of the predicted wind direction.  They will certainly have days of very light and fickle winds but they will just have to sail along as they can.  The motor will obviously get some use but that will be used sparingly as they only have about 4 days fuel.  It certainly looks a good time to head for NZ despite the lack of wind, as the alternative is to sit and get totally bored at Minerva and then have to handle unknown weather the following week.


The only other thing we discussed was a wish list of the food they wanted when they arrived in NZ.  After a diet of mainly unhealthy things for 8 months the real interest is on anything healthy!


That’s about all for today

6 November
Hi everyone,


After sailing the Pacific for nearly all the year the yachties are all ready to set sail in the morning from Minerva Reef on the final leg to Opua in New Zealand and Lisa recons they will arrive at 10pm next Sunday – I have my doubts about that as the wind is going to be very light for most of the trip, but we will see.


They got everything done today that was planned – they cleaned the boat, filled up the water tank form the reserve stock on deck, Lisa has been cooking some pre-cooked meals for the first few days and they have baked 3 loaves of bread as well.  They all had a swim, followed by a shower, which as described yesterday involves sitting in the dinghy and soaping oneself all over and then falling over the side into the sea.  Today they added a final luxury of a rinse down with fresh water at the end by standing in the cockpit under their sun-shower.  They have discovered that one of the spare water containers on deck had not been sealed properly so rather than tip it out, it was put to good use washing off the salt water.  Raleigh also had a swim today and the exercise obviously did him good as he ‘dropped his bundle’ on deck immediately afterwards!  The sharks didn’t show any interest in him – Andrew says it’s because he’s very thin and wouldn’t be a good meal!


There are still 9 yachts in the Reef and many are planning on leaving tomorrow as well so there will be company on the voyage.  In addition to calling in daily to the Amateur Radio Pacific Seafarers Net, Andrew has been calling in to the Southern Crossing Net which is on the marine band.  Andrew is now helping to run that net and currently there are greater than 20 boats calling in daily most heading this way in the near future.


We discussed the weather at length again as it is not quite as predicted.  The predictions now indicate that the large anticyclone off the east coast of Australia is unlikely to go anywhere in the next week except to join up with the even larger anticyclone to the east of New Zealand.  This will mean light winds and slight seas with the wind typically being from the SE and later easterly.  So there almost certainly won’t be any westerlies over the next week and the yacht can sail directly SSW to NZ, albeit slowly.  We’ll see what they find in reality.


The rest of the time was taken up discussing food.  It appears that everyone on board is now fixated on the food they are going to eat when they get here.  Andrew says that he enjoys his food but has had to put up with really rubbishy food for the past 8 months.  He says that Lisa has done a magnificent job cooking great meals for them all, but getting good ingredients has been nigh impossible most of the time.


Till tomorrow

7 November
The sailors were up soon after 6 this morning and had the anchor up and were sailing out of the reef entrance by 7.30.  They were the first to leave but noticed a short while ago that there were 3 other yachts visible heading in the same direction.  An hour of two ago the yacht Bonair caught them up and passed them and disappeared into the distance.  They know the people on Bonair (they have two young children on board as well) and they are very good sailors and capable of going much faster than most others.  The weather has been good today with a good 16 knot S/SE wind and a southerly sea of about 2m, but long period waves so quite calm sailing.  They have managed about 7.5 knots for a fair bit of the day apart from a couple of hours early afternoon when the wind dropped and was quite variable.  Carl is at the helm currently and is pushing it along a bit.  They want to get some miles under the keel while the wind is good as they will get days of very light winds.  The didn’t use the motor in the quiet bit today but didn’t manage much speed for that couple of hours.  They will reduce the sail a bit and slow down during the night from a safety point of view.  Carl and Andrew are feeling a bit shady but not too bad currently.


When we spoke they were at location 24° 13'S, 179° 33W and had done 58 miles today.  Maps and stats are on the web as usual http://angnz.com/aldebaran/

8 November
The yacht has covered good ground today sailing 155 miles (250 km) in the past 24 hours. They have not needed to use the motor so far although they did get a real drop in the wind for a couple of hours, but the rest of the time they have been ‘humming along’. Maybe a bit fast at times as Don got caught by a wind shift and managed to rip the bottom of the mainsail. It is not too serious as they just adapted to it, reefed it in a bit and all is fine, they just don’t have all the sail to use if the winds get lighter. There was a strong wind for some of the night but generally it has been good, mainly from the SSE or SE. When we talked they were at location 26° 05’S, 179° 07E (note they are now east of the antimeridian, the 180th meridian) – map available as usual at http://angnz.com/aldebaran/
I’d say they are all fine, but it appears that they all are feeling off colour with the wave motion as it is pretty rolly.
We will also set sail tomorrow (by road though) and head north, probably taking 3 or 4 days to reach Opua as we are taking two vehicles north so that Andrew and Lisa have their car up north. Annette is not used to driving long distances so we will take it easy and go as far as she is comfortable with each day. Daily reports will continue as usual.
9 November
The yacht finally ran out of wind at about 2am this morning and they motored till about 8am when the wind came up and they were able to sail again. About midday the wind died again and they have been motoring since. They are going along the run line (the direct line from departure point to the destination), but when the southerly wind arrives (if) then they will sail a bit further west to prepare for any westerly winds later and get a bit further away from the low pressure area that will end up to their east in a couple of days. The sea currently is dead flat like a big lake again and they have all got some sleep to make up for the recent lack of sleep, and getting some sleep along with everyone feeling really good with no wave motion, they are all feeling refreshed and really great.
The air temperature has noticeably cooled and they have done a bit more work around the yacht. Today they packed up the dinghy which makes a lot more room on deck to move around. There are about 9 yachts on the seafarers net in the afternoons and 23 on the morning marine net today all heading to NZ. They haven’t seen any other boats but at least four others are within 20 miles of them and there is a big pack of about 20 yachts a couple of days behind.
Breakfast this morning was egg sandwiches which are a special treat occasionally provided by Lisa a few days out of harbour (when stomachs have settled a bit). It includes bread fried in a little butter, then she poaches some eggs leaving the yokes still runny and adds a little cheese. Andrew says it is really good and one can dip the bread into the yolk and eat it that way. Dinner tonight is a stir-fry with noodles and samosas. They bought 80 of these for $Tongan 30. They are quite small but delicious.
We traveled about 300 km today. Had a good run with little traffic and are now at Tokaanu on the southern shores of Lake Taupo. Tomoorow we will head for Hamilton where we need to call on a few relatives.
Till tomorrow

10 November
Had a short chat with Aldebaran today as we are visiting relatives in Hamilton and radio conditions were not as good as they have been recently. The main problem is we are going north and the yacht is coming south so we are rapidly converging and are now too close for communications on the long range band that we have used all year. We are also still a bit far apart for the shorter range ones but they should improve as we get closer and are also better later so skeds may have to be a bit later in the day for the next few days. We still had a good but brief chat today. They traveled 106 miles today and are at location 29 07S, 177 26E.
They had a good SW wind and managed 4.5 knots in a SE direction, but discovered that if they sailed with the motor on then they could sail due south. The wind is due to go southerly and when that happens they will go back to sailing more westerly (to get to NZ and avoid the effects of the low pressure area that is on the east of NZ). They have worked out that if they get 1 more good day of sailing then they have enough fuel to motor the rest of the way. Estimated arrival time is now Monday or even Tuesday.
The minor problem with the web site a day or two ago was only short-lived and was all back operating properly again within an hour. Today’s location and stats are on the web http://angnz.com/aldebaran/
Till tomorrow

11 November
The crew had a rough night last night with some wind but a nasty choppy sea. The weather today has been lovely however the wind is from the SW and the sea from the south. They tried sailing south on their run line but found it too choppy so are now sailing due West. The sea should increase tonight and eventually go more SE so hopefully they will be able to sail south again tomorrow. At least they are sailing again and the motor is not running.
There are lots of boats around but they haven’t seen any of them since the first day. They have seen the NZ Air Force Orion aircraft around a few times and talked to it. Apparently it flies around the part of the Pacific under NZ jurisdiction, checks in with yachts that they have registered their arrival in NZ and does it for them if they haven’t, and also checks for illegal boats heading for NZ.
They had a little rain last night, but that is all they’ve had since Minerva, and after an uncomfortable night last night they have all caught up on sleep today and as the weather is nice they are all really happy and chirpy again. The weather always seems to change for the worse at night and be fine during the day – they would prefer it the other way around.
After pretty scratchy radio conditions last night, we are now in Auckland and the yacht is further south so the short range band is now good and we had an easy contact today and it will get even better. ETA is still Monday but could be Tuesday! Location etc is on the web site as usual.
Till tomorrow

12 November
This is very slow tonight, I’m sitting talking to my brother and sister-in-law with a nice red wine, there are two dogs continuously wanting to play ball, in addition there are 4 roosters and about a dozen hens all perched on the rail outside the front door wanting to share our dinner, but I’m getting there. Actually my brother and his wife are experienced yachties they sank a yacht at Raoul Island which is just to the east of where Aldebaran is currently situated. John and Ann haven’t been sailing since!
Anyway back to today, the crew have had a variable 24 hours. The wind died about midnight, so they motored, then got about 1 hour of wind and sailed for a short while, then motored again, and this afternoon they have wind again and are making a good 5 to 6 knots along the run line. They are hoping it continues as they need at least another day’s sailing as the fuel supply is getting a bit low. They are currently at location 31 03S, 175 40E and have traveled about 90 miles today.
Carl caught a fish today, the first for quite a while, a tuna, not very big but a welcome addition to dinner tonight. They have seen an albatross cruising around for the past two days, just skimming above the water with huge wings, very pretty. They know there are still 10 to 12 yachts very close to them but they still haven’t seen any of them.
One liners from the crew today:
Carl: Hot dogs for lunch never tasted so good!
Don: It’s not that I’m ready for the passage to be done, it’s more that I’m ready for this trip to be over!
Leslie: This is just what I do now, all the time for ever!
Lisa: Why is this taking so long, I think we are going the wrong way!
Andy: Why have I never noticed how beautiful seabirds are before!
Raleigh: I’m excited to get off the ocean, but not happy about where I have to go when we get there!
There it is for today. At the current rate they should get in on Tuesday but if the wind comes up a bit and from the right direction, it could be Monday.

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