October 3, 2012

AU to PNG, Days 4-6: at least we didn't break anything

Landfall at Bramble Haven - Wednesday 3/10, somewhat beat up from the last three days of winds/seas.

This was a passage best characterized by highs and lows. That's a bad pun, because it really was defined by the high and low pressure areas affecting our conditions. It was a good reminder that even with a great looking outlook, weather is not predictable.

We left with a forecast of SE wind at 15-20 kts. This would have made a beautiful, 4.5 day passage on our most comfortable point of sail. What happened was that a high pressure system formed a ridge that caused the wind to drop and back, which meant we were going upwind in little apparent wind.

That was the fun part.

When we were a couple of days out, a weak low formed around the same area that was our destination point - the eastern end of the Louisiades. Because of this low, we knew we'd have a lot of wind- and soon. What we didn't know is how it would play out. We crossed our fingers and hoped that a squash zone wouldn't form between the systems.

Lucky for us, the low stayed weak. It created a trough (trof) in an east-west line just south of Papua New Guinea, producing a band of squalls to cross before our landfall.

As we sailed through the 500-ish miles below the trough, the wind clocked behind us and increased, along with sea state. We had sustained winds up to 45 kts and seas at 4 meters (the occasional gusts over 50 and 5m seas thrown in for fun)- both at levels above the evolving forecast for our area.

This was not so much fun. This characterized our last three days and nights of the passage.

Ultimately, we changed our landfall point several times to allow for a more comfortable or safer angle. Instead of four-ish days, it took over six. And in weather like that, there was not much fishing!

There is a great deal of good woven into the challenges of the passage. First, a shoutout to our friends on Ceilydh (http://maiaaboard.blogspot.com). Evan could see what was happening, and started to send us regular weather updates. Although we have good access to weather information on demand through our HF radio, there is data he can access online has that we aren't able to get (like swell direction, which was good to know!). When we are tired, and literally buried in the conditions, it's really helpful to have another set of eyes to evaluate the reports.

We are so impressed with how Totem came through: the boat handled adverse conditions extremely well. We were comfortable and dry below. Jamie needed to hand steer the swells a few times, but the autopilot usually gave a better course than we could by hand. Meals were prepared ahead, so when the bad weather hit (and boiling a pot of water was out of the question, even on a gimbaled stove) all we had to do was heat up a stew. Not least of all, the kids were amazing. It is a lot to ask for them to spend basically a week reading, but we had very few complaints.

It's really good to be able to look back on the passage from an anchorage. Bramble Haven is just that: a haven, with turquoise water and a wooded motu with just enough cover to shelter us from the wind outside the atoll. A handful of Kiwi boats are here, waiting for weather to sail for Australia. Shortly after the hook was set, fishermen in a dugout canoe came alongside with a gorgeous lobster (painted crayfish) on offer, and we had an invitation for sundowners on the beach.

It is SO good to be here!

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5 comments:

  1. Wow!! Happy you are there, safe and sound!! That does NOT sound like an ideal trip at all..but you are so right about writing from an anchorage...feels so good to have arrived after a passage like that.

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  2. So glad you made it safely! Happy exploring...:)

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  3. Oh gosh, been thinking of you, but glad that all are safe and sound. Rest and enjoy being in PNG!

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  4. More Joy EverywhereOctober 4, 2012 at 3:02 AM

    45 kn - yikes! How much sail did you have up?

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  5. Yippee! Safe in the anchorage. Sorry it was such a snotty ride for you guys but YAY team Totem for handling it all with aplomb.

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