New Zealand to Alaska Passage 2012
Passage from New Zealand to Tahiti
Previous experience has taught me to respect the often sudden changes in the weather around New Zealand, so for a passage like this it is important to depart with a reasonable weather forecast. For this reason we accepted a couple of weeks delay according to plan and left Marsden Cove April 25th. The strategy was to follow the traditional route, however in order to escape the cold approaching Southern autumn we sailed 2 degrees North and got the expected warmer air and then sailed straight East. The first few days we got Northerly and Westerly winds below 20 knots and later light winds from all directions occasionally requiring motoring. Then winds from North and Northwest kicked in with speeds above 30 knots and quite often staying in the 40 knot range with accompanying rough sea, so much sailing was made with 2 reefs in the main and staysail. Most of the trip was close hauled sailing, and during the passage it was necessary to tack a few days. One of the front passages was very violent with sudden wind gusts in the 60 knot range. Finally we reached the Southwest trade winds with 25 – 30 knots and could aim directly at Tahiti. Altogether this passage was a bit rough with much up-wind sailing, and the 2554 Nm were done in 15½ days, with 82 hours of motoring.
The visit in Papeete was mainly a pit stop on the way to our final destination Kodiak Island, Alaska via Hawaii. The boat was docked in the main harbour, and it was a well earned pleasure to enjoy all what Papeete can offer. Since my last visit in 2008 a new impressive port administration and ferry terminal building has been added, but otherwise all seemed to be as before.
Passage from Tahiti to Hawaii
This passage I considered to be quite easy considering that it would take place in the trade wind belts on both sides of the Equator. The main challenges could be lack of winds near the Equator and passing the ITC Zone. In order to be prepared for the Northwest trade winds the strategy was to gain a good easterly position before aiming for Hawaii so we made 600 Nm to the East before we at Equator aimed directly at Honolulu. The winds were light and up to 25 knots coming from East and East Northeast between Tahiti and the Equator. Only one Asian fishing vessel was sighted on close range on the way. We had to pass through areas with thunderstorms and that became much more intense during the passage of the ITCZ which was located between 5 – 7 degr. North of the Equator. We did not lack wind however, and had East Northeast winds of 10 – 15 knots. Later it came mainly from Northeast with 30 – 40 knots all the time, so the passage to Honolulu became a bit rough with close hauled sails and 2 reefs in the main and staysail most of the time. When passing the big Island we got in the lee even if we were 65 Nm to the West of the Island, so motoring the last bit to Honolulu was needed. The total passage turned out to be a bit rough. The 2461 Nm were done in 13 days with 16 hours of motoring.
The visit in Honolulu was just another pit stop on the way, but it was interesting to experience the big city and the tourist activity. Also the boat provisioning benefitted from the well stocked US supermarkets. The boat was docked in Ala Wai Marina in the centre and next to Waikiki Beach. We enjoyed the hospitality and services of The Hawaiian Yacht Club in Ala Wai. Later we anchored in the Makua Bay on the west side of Oahu and later went to Kauai and anchored in Hanalei Bay before departing for Alaska. Both bays are very beautiful, and at Hanalei it was fun to watch all the active and busy surfers close by.
Passage from Hawaii to Alaska
The strategy for this passage was to try to avoid both sailing into the North Pacific High which typically is positioned around 40 degr. North and also the often fast moving lows coming from the West. We waited until we were sure not to enter into a gale from a low and noticed that the North Pacific High was well placed to the East. The downside was that we began the passage with light winds of 10 – 15 knots from the Southeast and South. Occasionally motoring was needed.
A straight North course was chosen along longitude 160 degr. although the direct course to Kodiak Island would have been approx 007 degr. A too far Westerly course was expected to expose us for more of the debris accumulated from last year’s tsunami in Japan which was reported to be floating in the area.
Approx 200 Nm North of Hawaii, in the late dark evening a smaller Asian unmarked fishing vessel saw our lights and approached us directly on our starboard side from a distance of 6 Nm displaying navigational lights as if he was making no speed with fishing gear extending more than 150 m. We followed his strange movements on the radar as well and kept course and speed. He came very close and sailed right in front of us. We were sailing wing / wing with a speed of approx 5 knots. The sea was very calm. I called him on the VHF and did not get an understandable response. It seemed as if he was contemplating to try to board us. Judging from his limited radio response we thought he had a Cantonese accent and tried in Cantonese to get an explanation to his strange manoeuvres, however received no reply. During this time we prepared ourselves for various possible defence and escape tactics. In the end I think he was poorly armed and therefore carefully considering his options, and since his boat size was approx the same as ours and he did not know how many crew members we were onboard, he was reluctant to make any attempt. After staying in front of us in 20 minutes at a distance of approx 200 m he finally changed course and went away to port.
Unfortunately the North Pacific High moved to the West and in our direction, and we had to begin motoring through the centre. It turned out to be a lengthy task since the high moved North with us and even a couple of smaller new highs build up in front of us straight on our course line to Kodiak. Now we knew that this passage would be slower than expected, and we spent some time spotting and reporting the debris we saw on the way to The International Pacific Research Centre School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawaii. They were very happy about our reports which were the first ones received from this area. Later when we finally came north of the high we got Westerly and West north westerly winds of 25 – 30 knots with rain, poor visibility, and much fog. Close to Kodiak Island the wind died out and more motoring was needed. The total passage of 2207 Nm was done in 13 days with 85 hours of motoring.