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Katipo Voyage

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- Sailing 5,500 miles from New Zealand to some of the South Pacific islands and back on a Narai MK IV
by Don Brazier (Wharram agent in New Zealand).
Katipo - Narai Mk IV
It was not a good day  May 16th  2011. I had been preparing my 41 foot Narai for months. We were all loaded up and victuals were stowed, we had checked out with customs and were due to depart on the tide from  Auckland New Zealand for Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. However a last minute check of all systems showed the alternator on my Kubota diesel  was not charging the batteries.  By 11 pm on that cold, dark night we gave up trying to fix the problem and went to bed in disgust.  The next day we removed the alternator and had it bench tested – it was ok !  The marine electrician eventually identified a wiring problem and despondency turned to relief.

A day late I set off, along with crewman Ted, for Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.  Ted had  built and sailed  a Wharram Ariki many years ago and was keen to sail on a catamaran again.  Despite slowly motoring for 3 hours early in the day and sailing against the 3 knot tidal steam round the Coromandel Peninsula we covered 120 miles in the first 24 hours as we left  New Zealand  behind way over the horizon.  A glistening Kawahai fish took our lure and provided a fine meal as we settled down to the rhythm of watches and life at sea. On our second day at sea we saw our first albatross which came soaring alongside us with never a perceivable movement of its wings, they are magnificent birds.

This the longest leg of the intended voyage, took us Eastwards from Auckland in the belt of predominately Westerly winds before reaching longitude 170 degrees West, where we intended to head  North to the warmer weather and the Cook Islands.  We had some great sailing initially with the wind aft of the beam, dry decks, the sun shining and a couple of Tuna were caught.  I had installed a small electric fridge/ freezer and we had the luxury of some excellent precooked and frozen meals which my wife Denise had prepared. We were well stocked with fruit and vegetables which lasted quite well although we were to find that kumara and onions were the ones to last the best.  We found it best to eat our  main meal in the middle of the day in between two periods of watch keeping.  The freezer ran off the 240 amp hour  house batteries  which were largely powered by seven solar panels giving out a maximum of 180 watts.  But with navigational lights, chart plotter, cabin lights, and recharging the satellite phone and lap top computer we had to run the engine for a short while about every three to four days. Later for the 3500 miles after Rarotonga I used the freezer adjusted to fridge mode and found that the solar panels coped fine with no need to run the engine.
Stern view of Katipo, approaching wave
The wind vane doing all the work
A Whale
The sun was out, only moderate seas and we were sailing at 6 knots, nothing of note in sight. We had been talking that morning about the exact position of the Haymet Rocks first seen in 1863 and only once since just as breaking seas. We should be some long distance away. I was in my bunk below thinking about getting up to go on deck. Ted was on watch when there was an almighty noise like a giant bang, graunch and the whole boat seemed to lift. I immediately scrambled up on deck thinking HAYMET ROCKS to see Ted with a look of awe on his face pointing to a large slick on the surface of the water behind the boat. Seconds after the bang Ted had seen to his right a huge whale tail rise into the air near the starboard stern of the boat as the whale sounded. We checked down below immediately but there appeared to be no serious damage, hopefully just a glancing blow as we rode up over the whale . There are nicely curved and extremely thick timbers along the keel of each hull so it should be fine. But to lift 6 ton of boat sailing along it would have been one hell of a whack. It was good we were not a keeler or a catamaran with dagger boards or things would have likely been very serious!

Bale on bow for bridle attachment
Bale on bow for bridle attachment
We knew that the good weather would not be likely to last too long and sure enough a gale from the north was forecast. The seas built up and the wind was soon gusting over 40 knots. We were in no great hurry and, not wishing to lose any ground to the South, decided to try the parachute which I had bought from the Coppins Company in  the South Island of New Zealand. Ted and I had tested it on one occasion in about 20 knots of breeze some while before our departure and I would advise that this should be done so you have a procedure established.  All went well and I was pleased to find that the deployment went at a fairly leisurely pace feeding out the 100 metres  of 16 mm diameter nylon warp then 20 metres bridle.  No chain is required. The bridles were attached by shackles to galvanized steel bales bolted round each bow. This meant there was no chafe which would  have occurred had the bridle bitter ends been led through fairleads on the bows.  The tillers were lashed amidships. The boat initially surged backwards as each big sea picked us up.  The elastic nylon warp stretched some, then kicked in and pulled us up and over each crest. Unfortunately, the trim tabs down the stern of each rudder, which are connected to the self steering wind vane, came under quite a load as the boat initially went backwards a little and, despite being lashed amidships, bolts sheared in the arms on the top of each one. We repaired these once underway again.

It was a wild, rough night but Katipo’s bows  rose to the large, steep phosphorescent capped waves with ease. It was like sitting on a roller coaster at a fun park but if you peered out from behind the shelter of the deck pod you were chilled by the cold wind and blasted by the rain and occasional spray.  We chose to retrieve the parachute 24 hours later, when the wind had moderated, by using the anchor winch to wind the warp in until the floating line and buoy from the crown of the parachute could be reached.  With care one could motor up to the parachute but we chose not to risk getting any line around the propeller.
Katipo bows - Parachute bridle
Parachute bridle can just be seen from the bows
Getting the parachute back into it's deployment bag on the deck of Katipo.
We are about to get the parachute back into it’s deployment bag, not as easy as on the lawn at home!
The weather settled and all was well until about four days out of Rarotonga when the intense high which had formed just South of the region of  the trade winds caused a squash zone with the SE trades .  Fierce East and NE winds developed with bigger seas than either Ted or I had seen in thousands of ocean miles over the years.  A large breaking cross sea picked us up, threw us sideways and because the safety catch had not  been engaged  on the sliding main hatch, it slid back shipping water down onto Ted’s bunk. He was not impressed and again we opted for the parachute, though this time the weather took much longer to abate.

One other lesson was learned – we found in these huge seas the tillers when lashed amidships creaked ominously, so we used pieces of car inner tube on the ends of the lashings to allow a little give.  However, the load on the rudders was huge – hour after hour - and although the aluminium- bronze pintles and gudgeons had been tight for the previous 20 years. in the space of the time on the parachute a bit of wear and slop developed. This was mainly noticed later in the islands, as a slight clunking when at anchor in a swell. However I don’t think it became much worse in the subsequent 4000 miles.
A freshly caught dorado
A dorado
View of Rarotonga at Dawn from the starboard side.
We approach Rarotonga at dawn
It is a shame one cannot raise one’s rudders when lying to the parachute – maybe side rudders are the answer! The weather system which had us in its grip is called a Bogi Walu in Fiji and takes a while to subside as we found. The parachute opens a whole new option when sailing. At first, after years of coping and slogging on in high winds and big seas, it seems strange to stop and wait, but its great. Why press on and wear out the crew and stress the boat in strong head winds, providing you have at least moderate sea room and are away from shipping lanes?

Once underway again we were delighted to catch a good size Mahi mahi (or Dorado). These are spectacular fish, an irridescent greeny blue colour and one of the most tasty of the ocean fish.

At last the craggy outline of Rarotonga showed in the early morning light and before long we were secure in the small harbour with a stern anchor out and two bow lines to the wharf.  We had a steady stream of visitors many of whom remembered the Wharram team on Gaia sailing into the harbour in the mid 1990’s.  The harbour has little protection from the Northerly direction and a large swell sometimes rolls in.

Ted had been an excellent crew but had to return to New Zealand. Denise, who had been visiting relatives in the USA, flew in and sailed with me for the next four and a half months.  My oldest son and his fiancée also flew to Rarotonga for a two week holiday  and accompanied us on the next leg to Aitutaki.  After tidying up the boat and getting some laundry done (very cheaply washed and dried and worth every cent as we had much wet salty clothing etc) we restocked and set sail for Aitutaki.
The crew posing for a picture on board Katipo, in Avaitu harbour
At anchor in Avaitu Harbour (1)
Enjoying a glass of wine onboard Katipo, Avaitu harbour
At anchor in Avaitu Harbour (2)
Entering Aitutati was our first experience of a coral pass. We arrived during the night so tacked offshore then back in again to be ready to enter the 40 feet wide channel with our 22 feet wide catamaran  in good light during the morning.  Forget using your chartplotter – the cmap on our Navman chart plotter proved to be an  appreciable distance out  and would have neatly led us across the reef (this is the case in many Pacific islands  - the GPS position being perfectly accurate but the charts that the chart plotters are based on are some distance out – sometimes half a mile!)  My son scaled up the mast steps about 15 feet and guided us easily into the entrance and down the long channel into a small harbour with about enough room for six boats at the most. We set stern and bow anchors and a couple of lines onto coconut palm trees and we were fine.

It is possible for deeper keeled boats drawing more than 1.6 metres, with care, to anchor off the entrance.  The occasional yacht did so, staying perhaps a couple of days at the most.  This is not wise, however, with a small crew as ideally a couple of people need to stay on board. Unfortunately a large keel yacht was lost on a reef  a short while later on Palmerston Atoll, when a mooring outside the reef gave way one night.
View of the coral reef, port of Katipo's bows
Entering the pass - coral reef can be seen to port
The supply freighter outside reef and barge in pass
The supply freighter outside reef and barge in pass
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