Sunday, December 23, 2012

Exclusive: The Story of Pendana, Part 4

This is the final part of an exclusive four part series spread out over the past few months about M/Y Pendana, her passionate owners James and his wife Claire and the planned expedition that James and his family are planning, which is to cross the notorious Tasman Sea at the end of the year.

Pendana’s New Zealand Trip - The Adventure That Wasn’t

It is with some sadness that I have to report that Pendana didn’t make it across the notorious Tasman Sea due to a severe weather pattern which saw a tropical low depression enter the Tasman Sea and a Cyclone form north of New Zealand.

I spoke with James a few days after the decision was made who said the main reasons why the New Zealand trip was cancelled at 0700 on Tuesday 11th December 2012 were:

1. He had made a promise to his family and Parents In-Law not to go if weather wasn’t good enough.

2. He mentioned that the forecast received on day of departure (11th December) had absolutely no signs of weather conditions improving and all the signs were, that the weather could potentially get a lot worse.

3. James mentioned that at the time the decision was made (0700) there was a tropical low that was becoming more organised with the chance of becoming a cyclone/hurricane. One thing James knows about cyclones in the South Pacific is that it is incredibly difficult to predict their speed and direction and history has proven this to be the case on countless occasions.

4. James also said that Pendana would have to ensure Short period seas of 5-7 seconds for the entire trip. The average forecast was for 10ft seas with a five second period which would not be comfortable in most small ships! James said that for him short period seas are to be avoided at all costs.

5. Finally, James said that the chance of the high pressure cell that we were being routed through becoming over-run by what were two strong and large low pressure systems to the north and south of Pendana’s planned route/track was too much risk.

On December 13th, two days after planned departure on the 11th, the tropical low that James was worried about became a cyclone/hurricane and was officially named Cyclone Evan, packing winds of between 180kph/111mph and 360kph/222mph causing havoc to commercial shipping. While Cyclone Evan is further north part of it did break apart during formation and headed south as a deep tropical low depression which would have impacted Pendana’s transit around North Cape/Cape Reinga, New Zealand.

Clearly on this map below you can see the low pressure system and how close it would have been to our route and the north tip of New Zealand which is just off this map to the south.

James said that he was satisfied that the call not to go was the correct one however difficult to make. I am sure there are lots of mariners who would have battened down the hatches and soldiered on but for us, this is pleasure boating and not a test of one’s endurance. The idea of being smacked around in short period seas was and is not something I am too interested in doing for two days, let alone six!

James sang the praises of Fleetweather and said they were, in a word, brilliant. Their forecasts were so much more than he was getting via online subscriber or free website services. Without Fleetweather we would have made the wrong decision. James wanted to stress, that if they had made the trip, then Pendana would have had no problems at all in combating the seas, swell, period or winds. The reason for not going was not so much based on safety but rather the comfort of the passengers and crew aboard Pendana.

To set course in sustained bad conditions is not something I will ever do and while a few days of rotten weather is manageable the relentless reality of what we were facing would have worn thin after the first twenty four hours.

James did say that one thing throughout all of this that he had learned is that when using a weather forecasting company one must be very specific about what weather is acceptable and what is not. He did initially tell Fleetweather winds below 25kts, seas under 3mtrs/10ft were fine but went onto say that he didn’t expect to cop this for the full six days. What James said, he should have said was, over the six day passage he wanted at least half with winds under 20kts and a swell/wave period greater than the height of the combined swell/wave for 90% of the trip.

James and his wife Claire are now planning to spend New Year’s Eve in Sydney Harbour with friends and after that, who knows? Let the adventures begin.

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