It’s been quite a week and I suspect, at this point, we are not quite where you might think we are!
You will recall that, at the end of week 12, we merrily headed off for Wellington, New Zealand, carefree and well rested after our Tahiti stop.
However, we were brought back to earth/sea with a bump on Thursday morning (24 Feb) when our locally appointed agent in New Zealand emailed on the matter of visas.
When you visit a foreign country on a vessel it stands to reason that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’, so that’s why you appoint a local representative (or agent). They are your liaison with the port and will deal with the formalities of entering the country, which will include matters such as:
· Health and sanitation
This (usually) allows you to get the vessel in to the country and may even allow you to ‘pre clear’ certain aspects, such as covid certification for all onboard.
The agent also reserves your berth and makes other potentially necessary arrangements during your stay in the port, such as:
· Fresh water
· Waste oil removal
· Garbage (apologies to all Brits, but it’s the accepted term!)
· Ship’s stores
· Any crew transfer (joiners/leavers)
· Any medical or dental requirements
The Agent will know how things are done in the port and the country and will know:
· The Port authority
· Customs and immigration
· Port Health Officials
· Shoreside labour (linesmen)
· And any and all other services that may be needed such as: Surveyors, divers, maintenance, fabrication/welders etc.
An important point here is that, up until this point on our circumnavigation, we have been treated as a merchant ship. We are, granted, a very small one, but the ports have enjoyed having us and our arrival has caused a level of local interest. On two occasions we have had to wait for a berth to become available, waiting outside the harbour for a large container ship come out to allow us to berth.
However, New Zealand appears to have seen a comparatively small vessel cross the Pacific and wanted to treat us as they would a yacht, bringing us in to the country through the Bay of Islands. They continually asked how many weeks/months would we be cruising in NZ? Of course, the answer was ‘none’, we just needed 4 or 5 hours to take on fuel, we don’t need to step ashore and we would immediately leave for Western Australia.
On Thu 24 Feb, NZ was looking decidedly unwelcoming to us.
We discovered that to seek an exemption as a yacht could take months and the visas for the crew (even though we are not going ashore) would take weeks!
As soon as we received this unwelcome news, we immediately slowed down. Regardless of the decisions we would need to come to over the next hours or days, it was likely that we would need to conserve fuel.
At this point we had a number of options to consider and play out:
i) Would the fuel onboard allow us to make Australia? This was very close to call as we would arrive with only 5 days reserve based on a speed of 6 knots. The concern was the crossing of the Tasman Sea while retaining enough fuel to power through any seas or weather, which would likely need a speed of more than 6 knots. Iain was juggling fuel and reserve calculations (which you will all know by now he has a fondness for……Ed) to see if they could cross the Tasman Sea at 8.0 – 8.5 knots with minimal reserve, heading for Hobart, Tasmania. While it all looked ok on paper, the real test was the weather and there was still 2,000 miles to go to the south end of New Zealand, before we negotiated the ‘Tasman’.
ii) Could we continue to work with New Zealand to see if their bureaucracy could be fast-tracked? Already against the clock, we were not helped by the weekend approaching, when no decisions would be made and each day would take us 150 miles closer to NZ and 150 miles further away from Tahiti, which for us was a ‘safe port’. If NZ struggled to come to a swift decision we could, plausibly, end up in a position of having insufficient fuel to return to Tahiti. We had no control over this option and unless something significant happened on Friday we could not wait until monday for news, particularly when it never looked as if it would be in our favour.
iii)Could we bunker in International waters outside New Zealand? Two options were quickly assessed at the ports of Auckland and Tauranga. However, while the Auckland bunker barge was broken down, the Harbour Master at Tauranga would not give the bunker barge that operates there permission to proceed to international waters. No explanation of this decision was given.
iv) Is there a Pacific Island nearby where fuel could be sourced? Andrew Weir Ship Management, based in London and who supply us with specialised support services were quickly assessing all options in our region of the Pacific. The most likely looked to be Rorotonga in the Cook Islands as they have a fuel berth that supplies ocean tugs, fishing vessels etc.
v)Do we return to Tahiti to re-fuel on the basis of a long-haul trip to Australia. Our first action was to slow our speed down and our second was to alert our agent in Tahiti to be prepared, as it was possible that we may need to return.
So, how did it play out?
We continued at a speed of 6 knots across Thu/Fri towards South Cape, NZ, while we looked at the options and processed the continually incoming information.
Iain had given himself until Saturday to make any final decision, which coincided with our chosen day to cross the International Dateline, where we would ‘lose’ a day (Don’t try and understand this, just accept it!…….Ed)
However, we never got to that Saturday decision point. Late on Friday evening we received a warning from our dedicated weather routeing professional that a low pressure system developing east of NZ in the coming week was now being classified as a Tropical Storm. This was almost exactly the scenario that we did not need as, with reduced fuel onboard, we could exhaust those remaining reserve supplies pounding and pitching in to headwinds and high seas. It was not an encouraging scenario.
At midnight on Friday, Iain had a call with AW Management in London and agreed that Rarotonga in the Cook Islands now looked the most attractive option, but that if they were unable to supply fuel we would continue back to Tahiti. In the early hours of Saturday morning, we turned and began slow speed steaming to Rarotonga, with the intention of arriving there on Monday morning.
The NZ curse then hit again (or is that we roundly cursed NZ?) when, in the the early hours of Saturday morning, we received confirmation that the Cook Islands maritime border remains closed. At that point we conceded defeat and adjusted our course towards Tahiti and increased our speed to get there ASAP (And why wouldn’t you?!....Ed)
Latest update: Tue 01 March 2022 (Day 91) We arrive in to Papeete, Tahiti mid-afternoon on Tue 01 March, where we will work in to the evening on fuelling and topping up our deck tanks, before receiving our final batch of fuel to the vessels main tanks on Wednesday morning.
We are expecting to set sail from Tahiti for Hobart, Tasmania at 11:30hrs on Wed 02 March 2022.
Latest Latest update: Weds 02 March 2022 (Day 92)
Our weather router has given us the news that the Tropical Storm has decided to hover, and while the winds are not excessive we think the expected 7-9m waves we would find ourselves in the middle of on the 9/10 March could be reasonably described that way. Therefore, we will stay in Tahiti until we get some clarity on the weather – frustrating because we could have been safely in Wellington by that point and ready to go around the southern Cape as the weather cleared through.
Footnote/. When you cross the dateline eastbound, you get to repeat the day all over again. Well in our case we haven’t made the dateline yet, but we are going to get to repeat the whole week over again……Groundhog week….or fortnight…!
A Message From Your Editor (and DPA)
Nature Notes : During the course of this week we have had many sightings of something that brings fear to the hearts of many…..the sick male! On leaving Tahiti most of the crew have, one by one, gone down with a particularly severe version of man flu……luckily there are no women on board!
Seriously though – during the course of this week, where there has been a lot of toing and froing, a great deal of calculating and some tough decision taking – at no point have the Captain or crew complained that they have all been pretty unwell, with sleepless nights etc, with some non-covid flu like virus/cold thingy. It has gone through the team member by member, with Mikey the latest victim, and their stoicism in the face of this is astonishing. While it’s easy to comprehend the frustration at the bureaucracy that is causing the turn back to Tahiti, nobody should underestimate the difficulty of dealing with this while unwell and working a shift system of watches that cannot easily accommodate giving time for recovery. Astra is an unforgiving wee ship and not somewhere to relax and recover…..let’s hope the enforced stay in Tahiti provides them with much needed rest before they continue their battle with the oceans and bureaucracy!
If you ever saw the film Das Boot, and would like to see what a crew needing a bit of entertainment might come up with.......watch this (unless you already caught it on instagram or facebook!)