My friends on Melody proposed a 20 mile sail to Maitai Bay - a scenic beach-lined cove well to the north of Whangaroa. The wind was light and fluky as I pulled up anchor and I ghosted out under main alone, gybing several times as the wind deflected among the hills that hem in this anchorage. Squally black clouds had me tucking in an extra reef, but I had to pull this out in order to slip out the pass against a flooding tide. Once outside the wind filled in and I was just able to point for my destination up the coast.
An hour later the scene had changed completely. The wind began to rise steadily to 10 then 15 then 20 knots. I furled in 4 rolls of jib and still the wind rose to 25 gusting at times to 35 and more. This was some of the heaviest upwind sailing I have experienced (as cruisers we usually try to avoid strong headwinds). I had to run off to roll in more jib and then set the wind vane to steer 10 degrees off a close haul to reduce the pounding.
Passing Doubtless Bay the waves began to build and an odd one would wash over the deck and cover the spray hood. Melody had tacked earlier and was running freer and closer to the coast and I envied their position. I hurriedly placed an old towel under the spray hood to soak up water that leaks through under the hood coaming when the going gets this rough. Now I was helping the windvane in the gusts, steering with the tiller between my legs and taking cover behind the spray hood. An occasional gust would lay Ladybug on her side, submerging the decks in running green water. The worst of these had water pouring out of the kitchen sink faucet because the water tank under the settee was higher than the counter for a few seconds.
I overshot Maitai in order to lay the bay on the next tack. Coming up to a mile off Cape Karikari, I went about and bore away south down the peninsula. Close in to the land the waves were less, but the wind was even more erratic, howling over the headlands and sweeping through the low spots. I took great care to avoid a rock that lies in isolation on the approaches and furled in the jib just off Maitai Bay. I was tempted to sail in, completing what would have been my 11th straight passage under sail, but I wimped out when I thought of beating back and forth into the rock lined bay in which three boats were already anchored. I started the motor. The wind was so strong that while I was furling in the last of the jib, the old stitching tore loose along about two meters of the UV protection strip (I am procrastinating by writing this blog entry - restitching the sail by hand is a job I dislike).
I will stay here a couple of days before returning south to Whangarei where I have promised my friends Jo and Rob that I will help out with finishing their new house/B & B/spa.