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Crossing the Tasman Sea Single-Handed

Martin Minshall

Katie M II
Tuulos Custom 36 Cutter
June 7th, 2022

From January 15-25, 2020, Katie M II sailed from Sydney, Australia to Picton, New Zealand across the challenging Tasman Sea. First mate, Angela, opted to take the 747 on this one, but no matter – a significant single-handed trip had always been on my bucket list!

You can generally get a better wind angle by sailing from Tasmania, but since I had been to Tasmania in January 2019, I didn’t want to add miles to the trip. The plan was to ride the back of a high to get below 40 degrees south and then go east to NZ. I enlisted the help of NZ weather Guru, Bob McDavit, to help me with the weather window. It looked like I would start with some close reaching and then free up as I got into some westerlies.

Images from offshore: monitor wind vane hard at work; albacore tuna catch; approaching Picton NZ on Jan 25 2020

Katie M II is cutter rigged and before I left I thought my large Yankee reaching sail was the right choice for the trip. However, three days into the trip, the wind strength was higher than forecast and I needed to sail closer to the wind than I could manage with my deep reefed main, small staysail, and the Yankee reaching sail, which was too full and had a lousy shape for the conditions when rolled deeply. Today’s roller furlers are great…that is, until you have to make a short-handed sail change in rough conditions.  Here is an email account I sent by Ham radio the following day on how I accomplished this maneuver:

My GRIBs last night showed that I was going to get this wind direction and strength for at least another 2.5 days (confirmed later by Bob’s update). I made the decision to change to the working jib. The Volvo Ocean crew can do this job in about 2 minutes; shorthanded in 20-25 knots of wind and 2.5 m seas it was destined to take me considerably longer. Here’s how it went.

First job: think it through…take my time….be safe. First I rolled up the Yankee and staysail, then sheeted the main tight on the center line. I got the motor going, keeping the bow off the wind by about 10 degrees (you’ll see why later). Engine revs have to be enough for steerage, but not so much as to create more apparent wind. Set the autopilot to hold her there. Unfurl the Yankee Genoa. It’s wild! Loosely restrain it with the sheet – not too tight as I don’t want the boat to start sailing. Clip on to the Jack line, go forward, cast off the jammer for the halyard. The sail is still wild and will be until I get most off it lowered, but motoring 10 degrees off makes it easier to start pulling the sail down. The wild crazies stop when I finally get the sail down on the side deck inside the lifelines. Undo the head of the sail, secure the halyard/top roller furling bearing to the pulpit with a piece of short stuff – I  don’t want the halyard to disappear up the mast! Take my time…be safe. I’ll be in trouble if sails or sheets get overboard and wrap the prop. Go to the clew, untie the bowlines, tie both sheets right there where I took them off with secure rolling hitches onto the life lines. Finally, undo the tack and hold on to the tack and head; nothing is attached right now – bad news if it gets loose. Take the sail to the forward hatch, which was unlocked and partially undogged in preparation. Undog the rest of the way, lift the hatch and start stuffing – quick before the next green one lands in the V-berth!  Stuff, stuff, stuff until it is all safely below. Get that hatch dogged down. The unfolded sail completely fills the berth!

Working at the mast

Next step: bring up the working jib (previously unburied from the sail locker) to the foredeck. Lay it out inside the lifelines on the starboard side deck. Go forward, attach the tack, then work my hands up and down the luff a couple of times to ensure the sail is not twisted. Untie the sheets from the lifelines and secure with bowlines on the clew, working the knots tight. Go to the cockpit and secure the starboard sheet around the winch and into the self-tailer, but leave some slack. Go forward, bring the halyard tail back from the mast to the pulpit, attach the head and feed the luff tape through the feeder into the groove, pull the halyard tail and get about 4′ of sail up the groove. The wild flag-snapping crazies begin again. Go back to the mast and pull up as much as possible by hand…not much! Get the halyard on the winch….first high speed….not far….must be getting weak in my old age…..finally, the low speed long grind to the top….lock the stopper. By now the crazy flag-in 20-knots thing is at it again!  Go back to the cockpit and get that sail furled. Phew, the wild and crazies finally stop! Take a breather…stop…think…be safe.

I decide to go to the extra trouble of leading the starboard sheet inside the shrouds (using the staysail block). Next, punch 40 degrees on the autopilot, get the main filled, turn off the motor and lock the prop. Fine tune the autopilot and mainsail trim then pull out the working jib. Sheet it hard. Fine tune the jib trim, main trim and autopilot course. Get Monty (my Monitor wind vane) set, turn autopilot to standby, then make final adjustments of jib trim, main trim and Monty. Success! With this change to the working jib the boat is sitting up more, pointing better and the speed is around 5.4 kn, which is OK for progress and bearable from the point of slamming into the seas.

Picture of working jib a couple of days after the change. At this point I have two sheets on the clew to refine the sheeting angle as the wind frees off.

Some may think I am crazy, but this is what I live for: facing a difficult task and getting it done. Incidentally, I haven’t touched jib trim, mainsail trim or Monty for 12 hours. Winds are steady, 17-22 gusting to 27 kn, the helm is perfectly balanced and we are making good progress in exactly the course we want to go (the 10 degrees we were off before the sail change is too much over 400 NM). I did what Katie M needed and now she is looking after me.

Got to go…the Mexican train set has just flown off the shelf and spilled the dominoes all over the floor.

This email sent to the First Mate on January 18, 2020 hopefully captures some of the drama of the moment. Katie M II had a great sail for this passage and on one day equaled her 24 hour sailing record of 168 NM.  I was reunited with my First Mate in Picton and we enjoyed a couple of pleasant months exploring the Marlborough Sounds and Tasman Bay, that is, until our trip was cut short by COVID – but that’s another story!

Katie M II at anchor in Marlborough Sound

Comments


  1. Rod Morris says:

    Great article and detail on the thought process of undertaking a simple task that is anything but simple on the open ocean …especially single handed. I especially like the “crazy flag” description of the sail during the lowering and raising – it created an instant and vivid visual of the challenges you faced.
    Thanks for sharing your adventure. Cheers

  2. Ken Christie. says:

    Excellent story of how real life works and the thoughtful use of your multi skill sets. I like the example of: thinking it through keeping safe while harnessing all that power. And your step by step description. A good Currents Contribution. I have a few young folks I’ll pass this into.
    Glad you came by our Little Vancouver Pot Luck and Swap-Give Away evening.

  3. Kate Swangard says:

    Looks like we missed a great opportunity during COVID to have you speak to us in person! If you are back in NZ perhaps we could get you on Zoom….assuming you are not coming home anytime soon. Hopefully, Katie M II weathered the pandemic without too many problems.
    Kate Swangard, VI Mid-Island Group, BCA

  4. Devin says:

    Great article – thanks for sharing!

  5. Rhonda says:

    Thank you for recording and sharing the process of your decision and sail change. This is an excellent examp,e of a timely, well-executed move.
    I enjoyed meeting both of you at the BCA potluck-swap meet.

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