Map Display

Tuesday, 21 February 2017


With the gray skies above and the few birds foraging and soaring over the endless four-meter waves, our halfway day seems much like the days preceding it. Nonetheless, in a world of few treats, it is special to us.

We have presents to open and some candy packages to demolish. There is also that grand new feeling that we are moving closer to Chile rather than further from New Zealand.

Our furthest point from land on this crossing was actually a few days ago when we reached 1250 miles from both New Zealand's Chatham Islands and French Polynesia's Rapa Iti. We now find ourselves a "mere" 1100 miles south of Pitcairn Island of "Mutiny on the Bounty" fame. That's still a daunting distance - seven days travel for us. If you wanted a photo of our tiny white speck in this vast wilderness, a jet from Easter Island, the nearest airport 1380 miles away, could visit us in a six hour round trip. It is as if you were the only inhabitants of Toronto and the nearest people - but only a few dozen - lived in Miami ... with no-one any closer in all the space between!

This is not a commercial shipping route. Our empty world has featured no ships and no airplane contrails since we left the coast of New Zealand almost three weeks ago.

Five days ago as we were easting along the forty-ninth parallel of south latitude, it seemed that we would eventually pass "Point Nemo", the furthest you can get from land in the whole world. That would have placed us equally 1465 miles distant from Pitcairn, from Easter Island and from Cape Dart, Antarctica. That will not now happen as we have wandered away to the north.

So how does all this work?

Every day, in the late afternoon and early evening, the ionosphere configures itself so that short wave radio communication is at its best. That is when we exchange our incoming and outgoing emails with a shore radio station (currently Chile) that is itself connected to the internet. One of our outbound emails is a request for weather maps and text forecasts and attracts an automatic email reply with the requested information.

We look at text forecasts for the western South Pacific from New Zealand, the eastern part analyzed by Chile and tropical storm forecasts (they move in this direction before dying away) from Fiji. These are made much more understandable by an accompanying map of wind, wave and atmospheric pressure of much of the Pacific. Another map of detailed winds in our area for the next few days of sailing completes the picture.

Using priorities of 1) avoid really nasty weather even at the expense of reversing the course for a few days if necessary, 2) less importantly, avoid calms and headwinds and 3) least importantly, try to find a measure of comfort (hah!). The maps, texts and these priorities are all distilled down to the route to be followed and heading to be steered based on predictions out five days or so into the future. Any forecasts beyond five days are a bit fictional and, anyway, it all changes enough the next day that the whole process is repeated and the heading revised as necessary.

We try to infer from the forecasts what sail configuration will be optimal for the coming night. This is in order not to disturb the four-hour stretches of sleep the off-watch person gets with sail changes that could easily have been predicted and made before dark. There seems to be enough clambering around on deck in the black of night, though, to suggest that this doesn't always work, but we do try.

Looking back at our path so far, the jog way to the south was to avoid east winds blowing in the forty to forty-five degree latitude range in our first two weeks. The race toward the northeast now deals with a series of deep low pressure cells bringing gale force winds to the latitudes in which we had been sailing. Better weather expected to the north appeals to us more than the reduced distance obtained at higher latitudes. A tiny benefit to being further north is that the rising sea temperature is leading to the cabin temperature actually becoming tolerable.

An added puzzle this year - or is it this month - is the instability in the tropics leading to near-hurricanes (failed hurricanes?) spinning down across our path from the north. These too must be watched for and avoided.

And "only" 2500 miles more of this await us!

At 2017-02-21 16:15 (utc) our position was 43°33.54'S 130°00.00'W

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Two steps forward, one step back

The gale sweeping down from the north towards us decided to intensify. We in turn decided to try to avoid the worst of it by heading for the nearest exit ... in this case, around the back (western) side of the low.

This is being penned to explain the little jog in our path. Even on the gentler path we took, it was all accompanied by lots of rain, big (5 meter) waves and howling wind.

Now we are again romping (perhaps "loitering" better describes our pace) towards the east with a fair wind. A wind that is likely to be with us as far into the future as the forecasts go.

At 2/13/2017 04:04 (utc) our position was 48°25.29'S 156°24.59'W

Thursday, 9 February 2017

How far south?

Until the early part of the nineteenth century, sailing ship routes were based not on any scientific foundation but simply on what had worked in the past.

Mathew Fontaine Maury, a lieutenant in the United States Navy at that time prevailed on a large number of military and merchant mariners to pass to him logs of their weather readings during their various voyages. From this, Maury compiled charts showing the likelihood of winds of various directions and strengths in different parts of each ocean.

These charts, updated with modern observations, are available today to assist in the planning of ocean voyages. While day-to-day routing is based on actual weather and short term forecasts, the grand plan of the voyage is based on "Pilot Charts" descended from Maury's original work. From these maps we can tell, for instance, that winds in May in French Polynesia are calm less than 1% of the time and blow from the west almost never - a great region and time in which to make your way west! Similarly, in February in the area in which we now sail, the winds are said to virtually NEVER blow from the east. As sailboats cannot easily make ground directly toward the wind, we would seem to be well positioned for an eastbound passage.

Unfortunately, "virtually never" is not the same as "never"! Low pressure weather systems usually travel around the bottom of the world to the south of the roaring forties reinforcing the west winds prevailing in this region. Nonetheless, in the warm sub tropic waters far to the north of us a complex low has chosen to develop. It now plans to move to the southeast across our path and produce gale force easterlies exactly where we would like to be in a few days. As such winds are something we would prefer to avoid, we keep deviating south. On this path, the gale force east winds should lie to our north until the weather system passes to the east and dissipates. We expect to return to somewhat more clement latitudes in a few days after friendlier winds reestablish themselves there.

Of course there are limits to this! Not much to the south of latitude 50, Antarctic icebergs start to be a concern. As the weather situation develops, rather than be forced even further south, we may need a different plan ... perhaps we will simply heave to and wait while the contrary winds howl themselves out to our east.

A negative aspect to our southerly route is the change in cabin temperature from merely "uncomfortable" to "depressingly cool". Yes, we have a very efficient heater aboard but we would prefer to save our diesel fuel for emergencies as our route will take us over 1000 miles from land for a few weeks into the future. As we approach South America in March, we may choose to warm up the boat ... or we may be so inured to the cold by then that we can't be bothered. Notwithstanding this comment about the chill, it is actually the same temperature here at 48 south as it was 250 miles further north on our crossing ten years ago. Could it be that the warmer temperatures this year are leading to the formation of the tropical lows and to the displacement of the wind patterns further south than usual?

As the weather system that has favored us with a fast passage over the past week draws to a close, we have slowed from seven to five knots. From this remote place, far away almost straight north are the islands of, first, Rarotonga and much further again, Kauai. Traveling due east over three thousand miles you find Chile; but perhaps surprisingly, west along this latitude, you find no land at all until the coast of Argentina. Our nearest land, New Zealand's Chatham Islands, is 650 miles behind us and we have sailed almost 1200 miles since leaving Picton just over a week ago.

At 2/9/2017 21:48 (utc) our position was 47°51.25'S 159°57.18'W

Friday, 3 February 2017

At sea

After a thoroughly enjoyable seven months in Australia and New Zealand, we have now set out on the long road across the far south Pacific to Chile.

The first 0.4% of our voyage was certainly a gentle introduction! Anyone who has traveled the ferry route between New Zealand's South and North Islands will be familiar with the hill-enclosed passage along the quiet waterways of Queen Charlotte Sound and Tory Channel. While a gentle rain did dampen the view, there were no waves or wind to speak of and the only motion was a subtle swirling from the tidal currents in Tory.

Then, as if to remind us that this was to be an OCEAN crossing, our first night out featured winds up to 40 knots (70 kilometers per hour). We kept reducing sail to control forces on the rig until there was very little left at all - and still we kept galloping along. By morning, the front had passed and all was gentle sailing in the sunshine. That will certainly not be the last gale we experience on this crossing!

* * *

A digression for trivia buffs: When we speak of "miles" in these blog postings, we always mean "nautical miles". Until recently, marine navigation (and until the 1970's, long distance air navigation) used a branch of mathematics called spherical trigonometry to calculate position using the sun, planets and stars. The answers came out as angles measured along the earth's surface rather than as distances. It was thus convenient to use an angular measure for distance. The nautical mile was born ... equal to one minute of arc or one sixtieth of a degree measured on the earth's surface. Thus one degree of latitude spans 60 nautical miles. In a comparison to units commonly used on land, one nautical mile is 6080 feet (15% longer than an American/British mile) or just under 2 kilometers.

Speed in ships (and planes) is measured in knots (not nauts and not knots per hour!) equal to one nautical mile per hour. 150 years ago, speed would be measured with the help of a long reel of rope terminated in an edge-weighted floating block of wood that would grip the water. Along the rope at calibrated distances were a series of knots. The block was thrown in the water and, as the rope unreeled into the ship's wake, a sailor noted when the first knot ran through his hand. He turned a sandglass to start timing and counted knots as they ran off the reel. The number of knots in the rope that passed through his hand before the sandglass ran out was the measure of the ship's speed.

Today, with knot reels now many years in the past, container ships make 22 knots through the water while airliners high overhead cross oceans at a speed of 480 knots!

* * *

As I write this, Picton, our point of departure, is 220 miles to our northwest as we make our way at 7 knots towards Valdivia, Chile some 4700 miles ahead. Eastbound sailing voyages across the South Pacific are made in the forties of south latitude to take advantage of the west winds prevailing there. This ocean area has long been known as the "roaring forties" because the winds blow with considerable strength - more than we really need or would like in a small vessel. But it DOES move a boat along.

The routes here were the last bastion of sailing cargo ships as they could still compete economically with the steamship when it arrived on the scene. 3000 ton square-riggers carried grain from Australia to Europe right up until the start of World War II - long after steamships had taken over all trade in the northern hemisphere.

From day to day, our route is re-planned to take advantage of the ever-shifting weather patterns and to avoid any particularly violent storms by shifting to the north or south or by slowing down to allow a weather system to advance ahead of us.

In a couple of days we will pass near the Chatham Islands, a New Zealand outpost marking the 10 percentile of our trip. That will be our last milepost - a quick glance at a map shows no islands at all across the rest of the ocean. Our distance from land will gradually increase to just over 1000 and then will stay at that figure for most of the crossing. Our feeling of progress will come from resetting the clocks an hour every four or five days and from noting which of a succession of inhabited islands or cities lies far far to the north of us.

We have many miles to go!

At 2/3/2017 12:13 (utc) our position was 42°58.32'S 178°21.22'E

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Imminent Departure

Park on the waterfront - Wellington ferry
Here we are in Picton New Zealand - tied up in the town marina. This is the main ferry terminal which connects the North and South Island between Picton and the nation's capital of Wellington. We're booked to clear Customs tomorrow morning, We'll  leave here bound for South Ameica shortly afterwards. As if mirroring our feelings about leaving this part of the world and these beautiful lands, today has turned out grey and rainy. After checking the weather,  however, Larry says tomorrow should be a perfect day to depart.

Picton Waterfront
Picton is a very lovely small city as these photos show. Residents here tell us that they would 'never leave'. I include a photo of Blenheim which Larry visited because of his toothache. After a thorough inspection by the dentist, it turned out that nothing was wrong, but Larry ended up taking the bus at 7:30 with the return trip at 5:30 to Blenheim for an 11:00 appointment. There were no openings at the dental clinic in Picton. So here also is Larry's photo of Blenheim.

View of the Marina


Sunday, 22 January 2017

Reunions, Meetings, Greetings and Soundings

Terry Fitz & Christine Lindsay
Throngs of Gannets
Nesting gannet

This has to be a very long blog because it has been an eventful month. Early in the month, we flew over to Auckland on the N Island for a reunion with Christine Lindsay and partner Terry Spitz … it was to have been a 6-year Reunion when we (along with stellar athlete Marigold Edwards) met up at Gulf Harbour Marina north of Auckland for a sail together over to Great Barrier Island. Unfortunately, ‘Goldie’ wisely (in view of a delayed NZ Summer) isn’t getting back to her home country until late February when we hope that Traversay III will be Chile-bound. We missed having Goldie with us, but her friend Dr Nelly Steinemann came for a visit and to see the NWP Show aboard Terry and Christine’s good ship ‘Shiraz’. Some wanderings we shared took us over to Muriwai on the west coast to see the Gannet Colonies, and also for a beautiful walk in Shakespear Park on a clear and sunny day.

Shakespear Park walk

Richard & Michelle on Theleme

More reunions: Returning to Nelson, friends Michelle and Richard from the French-flagged ‘SV Theleme’ reminded us of times we spent sharing anchorages in Chilean Patagonia. Before untying the lines, guests came over for crackers and cheese. I had met Lorna at the Gym I joined in Nelson 10 years ago so she and Peter were aboard once again along with new friends such as Helen (a fellow boat-owner at the Nelson Marina), Ruth and Tom (whose fabulous aluminium boat ‘Matariki’ is now for sale at the marina), Alister and Kim and Tom and Vicky (Sunstone).
Peter, Lorna, Helen, Tom & Vicky

Wai Choong
Having been introduced to Wai by our friend Jen (see previous blogs) we were delighted to have dinner at his home and to see the very old piano (a ‘Kuhlu’ piano circa 1900 from Berlin) which is most beautiful with a mellow, silvery tone and is set in a tomato-red room furnished with a most elegant oriental carpet. We have been driven around and helped in our provisioning and
Wai's piano
air travels by Wai and Jen, and given a loving send-off by Maurice and Katie Cloughley. We are going to try to return in five years time to share important birthdays, and also to pay a return visit to the Mt Arthur Tablelands.

Soundings: A few days ago we left Nelson for
Pelorus Sound with a fair weather outlook. After catching up with the classic ‘Irene’ who resembles a beautiful white cloud as she sweeps through the waters, we travelled through French Pass. We’ve been revisiting some of the scenery that we travelled through a decade ago with Traversay’s Waterline sister-ship ‘Red’.  The weather so far has not been very co-operative and since leaving Nelson, we’ve had to ‘take cover’ several times.
'Red' in  the Sounds

Dick & Pat's classic yacht - SV 'Irene'
Kelly & Leslie

We were lucky to meet up with ‘Chantelle’ in Bulmer Bay 2 days ago just before a huge storm. We’d spent the previous night there – anchored with 275 feet of anchor chain out. Kelly advised us to take up one of the mooring balls next to his yacht ‘Chantelle’ and we spent 24 very windy hours safely tied up. We don’t always know whether mooring balls have been recently tested or whether they’re sufficiently strong to hold a heavy steel boat such as ours, but Kelly has been boating in these parts, and fishing off the west coast for years and years and his is trustworthy knowledge!

We’re now en-route to Queen Charlotte Sound where we hope to find another ‘bolthole’ anchorage as more bad weather is in the forecast. Bad weather is far from our minds at the moment – sunshine and remarkably beautiful scenery as we travel through this blessed land drives thoughts of stormy winds away – at least for the moment. We know that we may again be able to live through poor weather by tying to the shore as well as anchoring, and also by exploring the beautiful underwater kingdom.
Sea star and anemones


Our last dive here at Maori Bay yielded more of Larry’s terrific photos. We were especially pleased to see a few large sea stars. These have been disappearing in BC waters due to an unknown killer (possibly a virus of some type).

Thursday, 5 January 2017

People, Events and incredible Spaces

Kim with her Christmas 'Trifle'
Our time here feels very limited as we continue to meet new and re-meet good old friends here. We know we must move on very soon. The Captain has important boat repairs and parts to order before we again face the stormy Southern Ocean. We’re hoping to avoid being ‘knocked down’ as we were in our crossing to Chile in 2008 so we’ll leave in early February this time rather than in blustery March. Our piano is surprised at all the music it’s being asked for these days. I’m meeting many   interesting pianos and am asked to play so I have to practice a great deal at home. Fellow marina dwellers who have stopped by are Robert and Jen (of ‘Kapella’), Dick and Pat (of ‘Irene’), and also Kim and Alister who reciprocated at their home and gave us a tour of the steel/wooden yacht which Alister has built from the ‘ground up’ – a masterpiece of interesting design and well thought-out detail.
Jen Urquhart's Cobb Cottage

 Assorted Canadian guests - Ann and Glenn (formerly of NWP yacht ‘Gjoa’) came by for dinner and the Robertsons of Nova Scotia (see photo) came by to listen and to look at Traversay III.
with Juday & Marine Robertson

Cobb Cootage detail
Jen's dining room
Jen Urquhart invited us to see her gem of a home – it’s a ‘Cobb Cottage’ – built by the pioneers 160 years ago … while there I played her piano and was given two boxes of ‘vintage’ music to sort through. Great FUN for me! While there we met Wai and were invited for a fabulous Chinese meal and I ended up playing one of the most beautiful-looking old instruments I’ve ever seen. We went off for a potluck lunch and got through our Northwest Passage presentation for Tom and Vicky (of ‘Sunstone’) at their beautiful sea-fronted home.
Larry & Jen  - patio scene 
But the highlight of this stop in Nelson was Christmas dinner at Maurice and Katie’s. ‘Winter Quarters’ shows the love and care which people who have lived aboard a boat for many years can bring to a dearly beloved and cared for First Home and Garden. It is filled with books and precious mementoes from their many travels. A Good Time was had by all - as you can see by these photos of glee and over-indulgence!

Maurice, Kim, Katie. M.A., Alister, Pat and Dick

Katie and Mo with the amazing 'spread'

'Winter Quarters' garden with Maurice's mosaics of Kiwi endemic bird species