On Variability and Why a South About of New Zealand

Day 128/6

Noon Position: 47 00S 164 28E

Course/Speed: E4

Wind: SSE11

Bar: 1016

Sea: SE4

Sky: Overcast

Cabin Temperature: 55

Water Temperature: 54

Sail: All plain sail, close hauled starboard

Noon to Noon Miles Made Good: 42 (ah, the pleasure of working up wind)

Miles this leg: 751

Avg. Miles this leg: 125

Miles since departure: 18,006

Wind has been light, generally, for two days and coming, generally, from the quadrant into which we wish to proceed.

I say “generally” because there is simply no constant here except variability. Over the course of an hour, winds will be 6, 8, 12, 16 knots anywhere from southsouthwest to eastsoutheast, as if we are navigating the insides of a river that’s still carving out the banks that will eventually be its confines. Several cycles of this an hour, hour after hour.

Nothing wrong with variability, of course, except that we are either nearly becalmed (6 knots) or standing on our ear (16 knots), and each velocity change requires the tiniest tuning of the windvane in order to maintain a course that looks, well, like a course. I gave up the tuning bit early yesterday, and so our track has taken on a meander that is the very picture of the wind flow.

Yesterday I tacked at sundown in order to get more south into our approach, and as we sailed out of the wind and into the ridge (calm) below us, I tacked back to the east and north. That was at one in the morning. It is evening again and when done writing this, I’ll do the same…hopefully for the last time. Westerlies should fill in before morning.

The slowness of this rounding of New Zealand, the fact that it required so much southing from Hobart (from 42S to 48S) and its passage challenges (The Traps and The Snares) may lead one to ask why I chose a south about rather than a north about of the islands.

The answer, simply, is the need for easting.

The major feature of this leg home may, at moment, appear to be New Zealand. In fact, the major feature is the trade winds both below and above the equator. Once in them, we will ride their steady push through a full 60 degrees of northing, and if my position in them is poor, our passage will be weeks of what we’re experiencing right now. Slosh and bang at 4 and 5 knots.

I will confess here without shame my extreme dislike for the monotony of slosh and bang at 4 and 5 knots.

The trades winds blow mainly from east to west. Below the equator there may be a southerly component and above the equator there may be a northerly component. My objective is to enter the southeast trade winds, which pick up at around 30 South, at a point that will allow me to take the wind on the beam (ish) rather than the nose (ish). This will make crew happier and vessel faster.

To accomplish this, I need to keep moving east for some time, maybe as far as the longitude of Tahiti–nearly as far east of New Zealand as those islands are east of Tasmania–before making a strong turn to the north, and the only way to do that is to stay in the south where the wind (unlike this week) prevails from the west.

A north about the island has the disadvantage of putting me all the way up to 35 North and smack into the horse latitudes well, well west of my goal. Some suggested a pick-and-choose course could be made east at that latitude, but my watching of the weather files in the weeks prior to departure suggested it would be a fiddle.

The other problem is that, in my watching, the winds in the Tasman Sea have tended to be strong…from all directions. I couldn’t figure out what my course of attack would be. And as such, it felt far more risky than a “simple” south about.

Granted, winds from New Zealand up and to the trades have been anything but consistent over the last weeks, so this may have been a “pick-your-poison” kind of choice.

But the choice has been made and will pay or it won’t. Either way, I sense the weather now is helping to announce that this will be a long trip home.

I’ll be glad to get The Snares behind us and to be moving, if slowly, out of the gray and the cold.

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