It was 6 degrees the morning we left Nelson. We’d returned the heater a friend had loaned us two days prior, giving Cavalo more than enough time to meet the ambient temperature. The plan was relatively straightforward; we would chase a gale up and out of the bay into the Tasman, move up the west coast and round North Cape, finally heading southeast to the Bay of Islands where we could catch the next window to Fiji. A front slowly making its way down towards the North Island meant we would have only four days to do this or we’d get whacked, but we were confident in the miles we could make and growing increasingly impatient.
Breakfast was quick but hot, and it was still dark when we checked the engine. She hesitated to start, being as cold as it was, but eventually turned over with some coaxing. We dropped the dock lines and said our goodbye’s to the South Island as the sun rose from behind the hills, its warm glow a cruel joke, making sure the only thing it touched for a very long time was the crisp, snowy alpine peaks that were keeping us refrigerated. The forecast was for a very light southerly breeze, and we were begrudgingly prepared to motor most of the way to North Cape, but by the time we were at Farewell Spit it had filled in and we were wing-on-wing, gliding gracefully downwind into the sun. Off at last.
Three days to North Cape and we were about nine hours ahead of schedule. We were tempted to let the lures out and try for some fish, but it was decidedly still too cold out. It was a pleasantly uneventful sail, save for a mechanical hiccup that crash-jibed the boat, pulling the preventer car off its track and punching a hole in the dodger, ultimately melting the tiller pilot… anyway. We made our way round North Cape and set our course for the Bay of Islands. We knew it was going to be an upwind sail; a small price to pay for getting to a significantly better jumping point. But our GRIBs, NZ Maritime Radio and a local weather router all forecasted 10-15 knots and 1-1.5 meter seas for the next 24 hours, so we figured it could be worse. It ended up being worse.
The boat was actually balanced nicely at the start. We had the staysail up and were making almost 6 knots in more or less the right direction, and the approaching front was still a day behind us. We transitioned into our night-watch routine, but just after sunset the 15 knot breeze became 20. Then 25, then 30, 35. Crap. The seas doubled in size and the wind began switching directions. The rain started. We were exhausted and we were in for it. The moon had long dipped below the horizon and in the pitch black we reefed and reefed again, took the staysail down, put it back up, down again. We had so little jib out it looked like we’d just gotten lazy and never put it away properly. The turbulent seas threw us around as we tacked over and over against our will, making the most futile movement towards our destination.
Every so often these moments happen that test your spirit. In the end we called it a 12-hour squall, as everything settled back into the forecasted conditions, but we were rattled. The Bay of Islands was a welcome sight, all the familiar islands and anchorages we’d frequented the year before calmed our nerves and we were able to shed our soaked layers, leaving them to dry in the sun. 10 degrees warmer and 360 miles closer to Fiji, we caught our breath and started the routing process over again, looking for our next weather window.