British Columbia




New Zealand



We had originally planned to depart from BC in mid to late August, following our previously successful plan of clearing in to the USA at Port Angeles before making our way out the Straits of Juan de Fuca and thence to Hawaii. News of the rapidly intensifying El Nino conditions in the Equatorial and South Pacific caused us to bring our departure forward, hoping that the worst of the impact would be later in the year. By departing from Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island we were also able to get straight offshore into the prevailing north-westerly winds, without having to beat out the Strait.





We always say that the last thing we want are ‘interesting’ passages. Boring is best! Our passage to Honolulu mostly lived up to these standards – or down to them. The reaching winds were generally moderate to fresh – with some exceptions, so that we could make good speed. Often the North Pacific High is far enough south and east that it is necessary to make a long leg down the US coast before heading more to the west south of the high. We fortunate this time that the high was far enough north and west that we were able to head more south-west from the outset, sailing a much shorter distance than is usual.





During calmer weather we were very conscious of the constant flow of plastic past us in the ‘gyre’ of the winds and currents. It wasn’t until we reached the trades further south that the water cleared to some extent.



It was only as we came closer to Hawaii that the situation became more ‘interesting’. El Nino affects were already being felt with far more tropical depressions than usual making their way west toward the islands. A pattern was emerging with the small intense lows passing through the general area on a weekly basis. Most were merely depressions but a few were named storms with hurricane or near-hurricane force winds. Though we made contingency plans to heave to allow such storms to pass, in the end we were fortunate to find a gap. We only felt the affects of one while berthed in Honolulu and then without wind, only torrential rain, which flooded the city’s storm drains and sewage system, spouting raw effluent into the sea off Waikiki beach.





After 17 days at sea we berthed at the very welcoming Waikiki Yacht Club and cleared into the USA. Clearance was straight-forward with only one exception. To protect the agricultural production of the islands, yachts must either keep all rubbish on board throughout a visit or have the boat cleared of virtually anything organic. This all or nothing approach can create some problems for a small yacht.


Even the locals admitted that Honolulu was much hotter and more humid than usual. For us, coming from the north it was extremely uncomfortable. It was a pleasure every afternoon to plunge into the Club’s pool to find relief – even though the pool water was only just short of bath temperature. Thankfully the Club members were also very helpful and welcoming, particularly Jack Peters, who was a mine of information.











With tropical depressions regularly threatening, we watched carefully for a gap which would be large enough to allow us to get from Hawaii at 22’ North down to 10’ which is generally considered the southern limit of the hurricane belt. Fortunately we had no repairs to undertake and quickly restocked. We had heard from Kiwi friends who headed south before us that the ITCZ was extremely wide, 10 or more degrees, so we topped up with diesel and even managed a couple of extra jerry cans.


On 25 August, we spotted our gap in the weather and set off into light southerlies, though we soon picked up some mostly light reaching winds, often from the west. By 31 August we were relieved to reach 10’ North, having watched a couple of named storms head for Hawaii, passing well north of us.







Our relief was short-lived, not because we were threatened by storms, but because it became clear that we had entered the convergence zone. The wind became extremely light and fickle, often southerly or westerly. To compound the offence the current was stubbornly foul, so that even when motoring at 5 knots we often made only 3.5 over the ground. It was frustrating.


With no wind life on board was also very uncomfortable. The water temperature was 89/31, the air temperature even higher. With the engine running most of the time, the conditions below were very unpleasant even with fans running throughout the ship.








After a week of this purgatory, we crossed the line for the seventh time on the night of 6 September. Earlier in the day we had speculated that we would have to stop motoring even if there was little or no wind, as we were down to the fuel reserve which we keep for emergencies. Fortunately a huge black squall that evening passed through and signalled the end of the convergence and the arrival of the SE trades.






For a couple of days in the ITCZ we had a small hitch-hiker, also frustrated by the lack of breeze to assist its migration. By this time we were down to the simplest of meals – if for no other reason than the heat made cooking so unpleasant.


For the next week after leaving the convergence, we had much firmer winds, mostly a bit forward of the beam and made good progress, so that on the evening of 12 September we had the shores of both Samoa and American Samoa in view. On our last previous trip south we had stopped in Apia, Samoa. It was pleasant and interesting, but rather hot. We were desperate to escape the heat and knew that the cooler waters of Tonga would make a visit to Vavau much more pleasant. For this reason we passed through the gap beween Tutuila and Upolu to head for Neiafu in the Vavau Group just over 300 miles further to the south. We arrived on the morning of 15 September and immediately changed the date to 16, having crossed the dateline.




Neiafu Harbour was quite different than when we last visited in 1999. Then there were only 20 or so visiting yachts. This time, there were 80 on moorings or anchored in the harbour and there must have been at least 30 or forty more out at anchor among the islands. Unfortunately, the little town’s infrastructure had hardly changed to deal with this influx. The fresh produce market was still good, but the few food stores had only rudimentary stocks and fuel and water were only available by jerry can. There were, however, far more café’s, mostly run by expats. Fortunately most of these had large screen TVs. Normally these would be of little interest to us, but with the Rugby World Cup just starting we were happy to be able to see a few matches in the pool stages – including the ignominious dismissal of the hosts, England, from the event. We vowed that we would be back in NZ for the knock out stages.








With the weather patterns of the South Pacific in a somewhat more unstable pattern than usual, we were very watchful for a window which would give us a reasonable passage to Opua. In general, the highs drifting across from the Australian desert were not large enough to give more than a week of reaching winds, before a front with a south- westerly change would follow. We became reconciled to this pattern and so after eight days in Neiafu, on 25 September, we headed off on the last leg of our journey back to NZ and in search of cooler weather.






After only a single day of motoring into light southerlies, we picked up good south-easterlies, which built steadily to give us fast reaching conditions for the next six days. By 2 October, we were preparing for an ‘interesting’ night, with a strong frontal passage, followed by 25-35 knot south-westerlies. By that evening we had only 130 miles to go to the Bay of Islands, but knew it would take some time to get there.


The front stuttered its way through, a little less vigorously than expected, but still bringing some powerful gusty conditions. The next day we had typical post-frontal weather, bright sunshine, fluffy white clouds and 25 knots. It was cool and very wet on deck, but once again we marvelled at the way that ‘Sunstone’ made her way to weather. By late that evening we had a few lights of the Northland coast in sight. The stars gave way to the sun rising over Cape Brett as the wind eased and we motored in to clear at Opua, nine days after leaving Neiafu.




Arriving to clear in at Opua is always a pleasure for us. There are always surprise meetings with sailing friends and there is the beautiful coastal walk to Pahia to get stores, passing through the wonderfully diverse flora of New Zealand spring time.


After seven weeks sailing with only two one week stops, our legs were straining a little by the time we reached Pahia, but that walk is always our confirmation that we are actually on home soil. It’s great to be back.