The story of 2 Lows
The first low. The race up.
The forecast was for a windward beat to Noumea. A developing low pressure system would send gale force winds for a dead maggot adventure through a couple of washing machines. Knot the down hill slide that many had wished for and had been the norm. No good calling for mum – this was about to be a boat breaking trip with a few yachts sheltering under headlands, some down to storm jibs, a broken rig, a torn mainsail, lots of sea sickness and wet, wet, wet.
Why do we do it you ask….?
Because it’s there.
Because we can.
We all have our own reasons and despite the conditions many of us will return to do it again and again.
On our arrival in Noumea, the stories of broken boats and crashing waves flowed like rum from the Outrageous Fortune rum bucket.
This is a story of the Outrageous Fortune trip.
Outrageous Fortune is a Beneteau First 45 owned by Quintin Fowler and launched last August, 2008. She came to the start line with 1,000′s of offshore and coastal miles of experience on board and preparation equal to the best in the 15 strong fleet. After months of working to get ready, the customs gave us the all clear to leave with a final comment, “Don’t stop unless you get 70knots??” Words of advice or just the rules of departure?? The next 24 hours would see some break those rules and take shelter – a call the skippers and crews would take to save their own boat. Perhaps these customs officials should get some storm training and understand their words of wisdom a little better .
Time to go. As I said, the weather was about to test minds and equipment. Start time (Saturday 27 June 14:00) sees a soft northerly and a good clean start. As we reach towards North Head the breeze softens and bends East. “Get your womper up Steveo!” calls BooBoo. “Would love to Josh but Boatslut needs to get the halyard back from the top of the mast.” The first lesson in the value of taping clips is plain for all to see.
The squadie fleet are out for their regular winter race as we weave our way throught the thick fog. “Good luck guys,” shouts Sharpie from Second Nature (an Elliott 1050), and words of wisdom from Les on House of Elliott (another 1050) -”It’s shallow over there.” Clunk – we tap a brownie off Rangi. Gybe time. “Let’s get out of here.” Drifting past Rangi light, we clear the fog to see the fleet drifting back and forth hunting every last zephyr. The breeze is forecast to build from the east. Outrageous is 11 tons dry. We have full water tanks and provisions for 6 ageing yachties and an offshore virgin. Breeze is what we need to get sailing.
A quick crew CV
Quintin, owner and skipper, is a great believer in being prepared and his yacht is well provisioned with safety gear, sails and all the little comforts. This will be his fourth Noumea trip. He has 3 Fiji trips to his credit, as well as 1000′s of miles up and down the coast and around the Hauraki Gulf. Neil, a boat builder, has 80,000 offshore miles under his belt as well as many coastal miles and round the cans. Gareth has been sailing 20 years and is well prepared for another offshore trip. Dave is new to yachting (only 3 years), a convert from the launching fraternity – his love of the ocean is plain to see. Stu also has many miles to add to the mix and has been on the Outrageous team from day one. Boatslut is our cabin boy and bowman – always has a story to tell and the first to jump in and help out. And me, yachtyakka.
Back to the Rangi shore.
What’s that? Breeze at last. A steady north easterly is building to 10 knots. Our game plan is to get as much weather ground under our belt, so that we can bend down later when the breeze turns north, and reach off a bit, gathering some sea room for the storm expected to give us a faithful shit kicking the following day.
Storm?? Who put that in the brochure?
Time for the Red Team ( Neil, Boatslut and me) to take the handle bars. The Blue Team have gained miles to the East, passing outside of the Mokohinaus, while the rest of the fleet have raced up the coast passing either side of the Knights. Limit and V5 have, as you would expect, done a horizon job and are well up the coast by the morning sched. We have a tuck in the main and, with the breeze building to a steady 25-30 knots, it’s time for the headsail to be changed. At sea (we are now some 50 miles offshore), changing headsails is a major operation. The sea is now quite sloppy and regular green water washes the side decks. Down with the headsail – bag it up – lash it down and prepare the #3,
The little 5mm trouble maker has decided to poke its little head out and jam the roller car at the first join. Boatslut’s second trip up the rig. This time it’s the forestay and there is not a lot of support to hang onto. Strap yourself in – don’t butter the toast – here comes another adventure in a pitching sea and 35knots. Yep folks the breeze is still building with bigger waves, more whitewater and some of the crew are feeling a bit green around the gills.
“Up you go mate” – allen keys, hammer and some good luck. We have dropped most of the main and put the bow down to try and make the swinging a bit less. After much swinging and holding on from bashing around the forestay, the allen keys are no longer tied to the safety string. “Down you come – quick retie the bowline and up you go again, mate.” This has taken its toll on Boatslut’s arms and he is excused from the continued slamming and swinging. Gutted, he returns to the deck – it’s all he can do to crawl back to cockpit. The launchy is keen to jump into the harness and see if he can free this stubborn little trouble maker. A few weeks earlier the riggers have had the forestay apart to remove 60mm and set the mast up properly!
(These production yachts have issues when they arrive and it’s only sailing them in a range of conditions that these short comings are highlighted.)
Dave has managed to free the headsail car. We are back in business and resume our trip north. This grubscrew has cost us 30-40 miles of northing and 20 miles of easting – luckily we have some weathering in the bank. The breeze is now a steady 35 knots and the barometer is dropping like a stone – 1001hp @ 1000hrs is now 991hp 1500hrs. The effort and time taken to change headsails has sent 4 crew to the leeward rail for a barf and it’s now time for a deep reef. We are now unable to lay past north cape and need to tack. This tack would be a blessing! As the rest of the fleet suffer from the conditions, we are now heading north away from the system and the worst of the sea state. However, during this time Bullrush would lose her mast, Revs would blow slides from the new main, Mustang Sally would blow a steering fitting, Bird on the Wing would shelter at Manganui, Bare Essentials would take shelter by Karikari Peninsular, V5 was having sea sickness issues calling for rubber gloves, Limit, under storm jib, would knot slow down and ship green water down the side decks to give the crew a ride to tell their grandchildren about, Route 66 would crash off waves to stress bulkheads beyond their comfort zone, Anteaus would break frames, pull the pin and return to town.
The rest of the fleet had issues of sea sickness and damage to test more than just our grub srew.
The next day, we find ourselves well to the east of the fleet and upon hearing the damage reports we are now pleased we didn’t tack back into the washing machine of North Cape.
The sea is now peaking at 4-5 meters with breaking waves on top. Imagine Motuihe channel in a good old northerly with an out going king tide. You are in a p class and you can’t see land. Some of the crew are seasick and it’s cold aswell.
Sea water is crashing everywhere and we are still on the wind. Design flaws are becoming very obvious. With our main hatch closed tightly, seawater is still finding its way inside with every deck wash and downstairs is becoming very damp. Harden up guys this is ocean racing!
No good calling for mum – deal with it.
The sea is very jobbly. The odd peaking wave with no back, and banging and crashing off these waves is starting to take its toll. Gareth is not well – almost motionless. We are careful to keep him comfortable. Stu is slowly coming right – finding a friend in up’n go! Quintin is a rock and, as the skipper finds inner strength to keep going, Dave is dealing very well with his seasickness and keeps the jokes flying. Neil, who managed to put his laminate trimmer router across his left hand only days before the start working on a yacht, is confusing his body with antibiotics and seasickness pills. Result? – he has had better days. Boatslut has recovered from his energy sapping trip up the rig, telling stories with eye watering punchlines. We laugh our way north. I don ‘t suffer from sea sickness – never have – must have been those dacron nappies.
The sun is shining – Raybands are the kit of choice with full wets and always clipped on. The sea birds glide effortlessly, hunting flying fish, gliding over for a closer look and probably wondering why we are here, miles from the pond we call the Hauraki Gulf and the safety of a sheltered anchorage. Why do we do it? Putting ourselves out here on a yacht in 45knots with breaking seas, risking life and limb for a trophy and perhaps a rope voucher. Why you ask? Because we can, and, believe it or knot, some of us enjoy the challenge of dealing with mother nature, the wind, the waves, the team spirit we develop as individual yachties learning our sport and enjoying a safe passage. Why do we do it? Because we can.
Its still blowing. The barometer is now reading 987hp. We have a deep reef and a rolled up jib. The waves are still tossing green water down the decks and one monster has our name on it. It’s getting very wet down below. Dampness is creeping into every nook. The red team has just finished a tour of duty and I am filling out the log when … silence … shit … I’m airborne on the nav seat. Neil and Boatslut are tucked up in the aft cabins and they too feel the weightlessness of a landing they would like to walk away from. This wave is knot only keen on giving us a kicking but wants to shake up our supply of Heniken. Fortunately, we only lose one solider. Tuff greenies those dutchies.
Using the head in these conditions is an art and wedging yourself into position is of paramount importance. Another essential task is knot to have a blockage. Clearing such an obstruction can be an adventure knot many are keen to repeat. ………mmmmm…… knot dry blowing too well……..mmmmmm……….knot flushing too well either……..mmmmmm…. give it a few minutes and try again… nup, talk Boatslut into going for the baker’s dozen…nup…stand by for operation gusher…nurse, I need screw driver, socket, bucket, rubber gloves, disinfectant and a volunteer. Everything is at hand except the volunteer …. mmmmm… some hours later, after dismantling bob from his back passage…”We have a gusher!” cries Neil. Tooo much paper blocked the u bend and bob’s headache is fixed. Back to working order. The crew dunny is good to go )
The breeze is bending us northwest, giving a big advantage over those further west. We have entered a new phase of the race and try to pick the quickest way through the light patch ahead. Deciding to get north as quickly as possible, we set our R7 and staysail in the lightening breeze of 10 knots and are able to dry out a little. Climbing into wet wet weather gear is now a distant memory. Funny how the grueling bits are filed in the rum story drawers for another day.
Weather faxes show that the easterly trades will arrive after we finish in about 5 days, making those who went through the washing machine off North Cape, the winners. The prize of a kicking is the winner’s trophy.
The light stuff is Quintin’s favourite part – knot! Grumpy spits his dumby and in the 5 knots of breeze he is best kept away from the helm. Our position east of the fleet is adding extra miles and the chance of a podium finish are long gone. Let’s just get there, enjoy the sail and live to fight another day. The light stuff is, however, the domain of Neil. He has great concentration in the 3-5 knots of breeze with lumpy left over swell to wriggle us 20 miles. His efforts are highlighted with a 360 without collapsing the geni. A complete circle on starboard tack, sling-shooting us north at 3knots.
Dawn breaks with a gentle zephyr building from the west. Then, far south, a sail is spotted – our first sighting of any yacht since the Mokahinau Islands. There is also a building westerly coming. Tacking on Lagoon’s line, we crack 8 knots for the first time in 2 days. “Knot long to go now boys.” The beers are waiting and there are tall stories to tell of a 1200 mile yacht race to Noumea.
Conditions for the next few hundred miles are dead maggot in 20-30knots – reef in reef out – headsail up headsail down. Short tacking along the reef we sight Lagoon again. This time they have overtaken us and lead us through Amedee passage and into the CNC marina. As we enter the reef, the breeze, which had promised an easy reach turns – yep you guessed it – dead maggot. The easterly trades are starting and we need to tack the last few 100 meters.
Dead Maggott to Noumea 2009 – 1281 nautical miles
Rum Bucket Time
Log entry from the cabinboy
“Thanks for a fantastic experience!
Nick, AKA Boatslut”
The Second Low, the trip home.
Ok where do I start……
One big knockdown, broke the main bulkhead in 4 places and then seperated the hull/mastbase completley from the bulkhead, mast chocks kept falling out to the the amount of vertical movement between the mastbase and the cabintop, compainion way stairs smashed off on the 3rd night. lost all the gear on the leward pushpit including lifebouy, GPS antena, dan bouy. Couldnt open the toilet door so it ended up getting completley smashed in(maybe unintentionly but Im not sure), the bar across the galley protecting the stove also got smashed by me in another large wave, the same one that took out the companion way stairs while another frenchie was trying to get inside.
Every cupboard door opened up and the contents joined the growing pile of sh*t(sails, food, clothes, bits of broken boat, water, buckets and people) floating around in never never land on the leward side.
sailed with heavy jib only for 2 days.
1000nm, 8 days upwind with a max of 52 kts and I would estimate an average of 25-28kts for the entire way except one day of light in the middle.
Most we saw on the dial was 52ks but i swear one gust was more as it had been blowing a solid 45-48kts and then we just got laid flat by this one, wind gear dont work so well when its 90 degrees to the wind…..
Waves were messy, large with the occasional pile up that you just didnt want to get involved with, we only got caught out badly the one time but had plenty of nasty moments.
Still uploading the broken bulkhead movie but if you search thru my Vids you will find it (ignore all the baby ones… got to keep the grandparents happy somehow), will post the link later.
Gutted that the bigger boats had some down wind stuff, we were just on the muthafu*ken wind the whole muthafu*ken way.
it was a shithouse race.
more chatter on Crew.org here
The Trip Home
Leaving Noumea with Amedee light on our transom we head out to sea. A lazy southerly swell greets us, perhaps signs of what lays ahead?? Time for the new recruits to get some steering practise in, Kate a regular Outrageous Fortune Hoochie Mama is having her first offshore and Richard, a regular Revs crew from KeriKeri is also looking for a ride home, Revs, had issues with her mainsail off the northland coast during the race and had to return home. Richard is also keen to gain offshore experience. He will gain a lot of experience with this trip. sunsets and happy hour relaxes the crew and dinner is served with sorbet’s and fresh Tuna, motor sailing to keep the miles clicking over, the watches roll through hour after hour day after day, the breeze is coming from ahead, but nobody seems to mind, good humour and light hearted chatter make the watches tick by.
Before we left Noumea we double checked the weather, a low would form off the south coast and move quickly SE projected to build/deepen to 974hp. This low was projected to move east south east however the high in the south Tasman at 1033hp would be the problem. The high grew to prevent the Lows quick passage unfortunately forcing it to park over Norfork Island and intensify as the high over New Zealand moved north compressing the isobars to storm force conditions. Result- the low got angry and the winds built to 50knots with gusts much higher, the seas have now built to block the sun, limiting our options.
26:57 south 169:40 East
It begins. The little low we have been tracking is starting to build, 2 reefs and a #3 jib, catch the odd greenie sweeping the cabin, then the rain starts. The barometer is starting to drop 1012 at the morning sked turns to 1004 by the evening sked. Our regular skeds with Wild Card and V5 are painting a picture from Hell. Wild Card are a few miles to our east while V5, who left earlier are now 100 miles ahead, their weather forecasting shows a deepening low and strong easterly winds to 40knots. The rain clouds are gathering to the east and some scattered grey clouds build north of us, time for the deep reef and roll up some more headsail. 48knots with blown foam around the foredeck as the call comes to drop the main completely and prepare the trisail. It’s now pitch black, no moon yet as the breeze settles in at 40knots. We decide to motorsail with half the jib and wait till day light to make our next move. The breeze is now dropping to a solid 30 with puffs to 35knots, then just as day starts to break the breeze increases, the situation is changing by the second the seas are building rapidly and turning a nasty dark green colour, hove to is the call, 2 on watch as the rest of us go below, then a greenie sweeps the decks filling the cockpit smothering both Quintin and Richard, hold your breath boys, the spa pool is full.
This is a first for me, hove to under sea anchor and conditions have worsened to 50-60ft breaking seas. Every now and then a greenie the size of a building washes the decks. The birds have gone home to wait for better fishing and so too we must wait for this little low currently at 980hp to move east and the high over new zealand to cover us with sunshine. During the deployment of the sea anchor one of our brace sheets found the prop, stalling our engine. we have since started the motor to give us power. Our fuel suppies are good and moral on board is high, under the conditions.
The creaking and growning of the anchor line the constant pitching motion of the yacht are an awakening of how fragile our adventure could be. The ear peicing howling of the wind and blown foam across the decks are reminders of how prepared we must be to venture off shore.
No good calling for mum. Be prepared for the worst and when it arrives be ready to deal with it.
Outrageous Fortune is very well set up with all cat one safety equipment, including drouge, sea anchor, storms sails, SSB, maxsea, life raft, tools and most importantly an expenianced crew.
Now we must wait.
We didn’t need to wait long before our sea anchore is tested and our setup to the breeze and waves is checked. As greenie after greenie passes and tosses us from side to side toasted samies with salami and tomatoe are fried and enjoyed by a cherpie crew, wait some more and check the bangs and crashes as the swell builds. The breeze is now a soild 40 with gusts peaking to keep the birds away. Still we wait with more bangs, more jerking from side to side, every now and then a big one, a real big one with foaming crests the size of buildings brushes us by. the sea is dotted with foam the size of tennis courts- still we wait.
Our commincations with Wild Card are over heard by Far North Radio and School House Bay Radio, Far North Radio are booming in loud and clear, transferring messages to Royal Akarana. An order for a meat lovers pizza is confirmed with extra schollops, so nice to feel the humour from shore at this time of survival as conditions worsen. We have contacted Taupo Maritime Radio for our 2 hourly sked to let them know our drift rate at about 2.5 knots in a northerly direction. A loud bang and a greenie threatens to take our dan buoy. Outside I go to save our man overboard equipment and a check of our sea anchor, all is well but a look around sees a sight from perfect storm and it is only then that I see the true scale of these monsters, storm warnings the length of the east coast with Colville at 65knots has built a swell to …… well, you have to see it to believe it…..the biggest cresting breaking waves anymovie maker would love to film… except it’s real TV and we are in the middle of our own perfect storm. Looking around I can see only about a mile, yet within my line of sight I can see lots of rouge peaks, one catches my eye about 500 meters away, bigger than ben her, this puppy would swallow a building the size of the Pons. back down below we are tossed from side to side and still we wait.
Poocanio time and a quiet moment to reflect, suddenly the bow is tossed sideways like a toy dinghy at the beach, bang, shitting at both ends I return to the cabin to check and finish downloading the latest weather fax when carboom as boywonder would say. Looking up, green water above the cabin, bang! our lashed doger is ripped free, Quintin rushes from the aft cabin. The rigs is still up!! I shout, and we are still head to wind. however this big one has claimed our sea anchor, we are now drifting side on to these monsters. Our situation is now in danger of a roll over, not good. I quickly clip on and untie the helm, calling for a little jib to get steerage a look around to see even bigger monsters than 1/2 hour earlier. With a little bit of headsail I have steerage and can only go down wind we quickly reach hull speed and then a small monster lifts the stern to produce wave catching speed. “We need a drogue!” Within seconds we are barrelling down greenies and what’s this ?? sloppy helm yells Neil. That greenie has ripped our port pedestal and dislodged our steering cables, quick, push percy,(auto helm) percy has direct drive to the rudder, bypassing the cable system. Geeze these are big greenies, bigger than ben her, bigger than our wildest knightmares, bigger than Texas.
Quickly the drogue takes effect, we are now drifting before these monsters, hopefully away from the eye of this perfect storm. I call Taupo and inform them of our latest predicament, thankful that my wife, Sally-Anne is knot here, for this is no place for first timers to get a taste of offshore, no place for any passenger. Kate, is however a first timer offshore and is asking questions that need no reply. “Get your gear on Kate and your life jacket,” I tell her. “Will we need the grabbag she askes? Knowing it’s better to have something to do, I tell her, Yes, get everything ready and load extra water. I reassure her we are in full control of our ship and we have options, being prepared is our best option so get ready for the worst and be happy when it doesn’t happen. Safely under drogue we all head back down below to gather our thoughts and plan our next move as relief of another testing moment passes over the crew. Lets check the steering and see if we can sort the sloppy helm. Upon inspection Neil and Quintin find our monster has ripped our cable loose and is wrapped around percy. Shit this is knot good, as Neil tries to free the cable, percy makes a small turn trapping his already damaged hand,
arrrrh……. arrrrhh. yells Neil, then, thankfully percy steers the other way and frees his hand. Meanwhile floorboards are unscrewed and tools are collected to jury rig the helm, holes are drilled, nuts tighten and sea scout lashings are made to secure the steering once more. By now the inside is dripping wet with both sea water and condensation, wet weather gear is sopping, clothes are damp, bouff another greenie crashes close by. Although we are all aware of what to do and we have the tools to do the job we stay intouch with Taupo every 2 hours advising them of our course, position and heading. Right, Kate get that extra water out of the grab bag and lets sort out our home, settle in for the knight and wait out this storm. It’s knot long before the sea state drops and our hopes of a next step are reality. By midknight the wind has dropped to 30knots and the sea is “flat.” only a 4meter swell now.
We continue our sked with Taupo till morning and make contact with Wild Card, our fellow yacht heading home from the adventure from the abiss. They too have been through the washing machine, they too have stories to tell, they too are happy to hear our radio replies, they too will enjoy a settling rum.
Daylight brings another chapter, a chapter of relief, a chapter of escape and lets get some main on to get sailing again towards New Zealand some 80 miles south, you guessed it… dead maggott
No need to call mum,
What’s for breakfast?
Next mission is get to the shelter of the northland coast and some flat water. To do this we must first go west to find the southwesterly change and hopefully abit later the norwesterly. The only issue with this plan is the left over south easterly swell that gave us grive the day before would mean punching strait into it, a big lazy swell with judder bars, pot holes and a few more greenies to keep the decks wet. by 1400 we had tacked south heading 140, strait at North Cape, where only a few hours before we had been lucky to make 70 (east is 90) Glamour tack and 7knots strait at the mark, just need to avoid the angry water between North Cape and the Three Kings. with this little low pressure kicking up such an angry swell, we do expect to see some peaking greenies, hopefully from a distance, a far distance.
Night fall brings a fading breeze slowly swinging westward. Bitterly cold we change watches and driving cloves. The sweeping light of Cape Reinga is spotted on our starboard bow and soon the North Cape light is spotted also, the breeze is now very soft and swinging aft. Mast head time. As dawn breaks we set up the kite for a brochure ride along the stunning Northland coast. I call Far North Radio to thank them for their listening watch during our sea anchor adventure and confirm our pizza with extra schollops, thanks Far North Radio, your communications during that horrendous 12 hours will always be remembered. On behalf of all sailors who sail our wonderful coast line your efforts and the continued listening of all local radio stations is a comforting service for those of us who venture beyond our shores. I wish you well and look forward to chatting with you next time I venture into your watch. And last but no no means least Taupo Maritime Radio, your voice booming loud and clear into our world of yachting is without dought unquestionably fantastic, your 2 hour sked was outrageously reassuring.
We are an island nation with a sea faring community the envy of many, long may it continue.
No need to call mum, mums helpers are up and down the country. ready and waiting for our calls, ready to offer what they can, pizzas with schollops.