Ask an old-hand sailor what his or her preferred method of crossing a sea is, and the deadpan answer will probably be, “by Boeing 747.”
It’s a tongue-in-cheek response, reflecting the convenience of air-travel over the exhaustive planning, preparation and time required for a blue-water crossing. Pick the right weather and there are few more satisfying endeavours for a seafarer than passage-making.
It’s a decade since I first met Jason and Tristin Dickey of Dickey Boats. In that time a strong professional relationship formed. More importantly, I’m proud to say we’re friends.
The prospect of assisting Jason with the delivery of a flagship Dickey Semifly 45 from Opua in New Zealand’s Far North to Sydney, was welcomed at many levels; not least of which as an opportunity to return to sea after a years-long desk-bound hiatus.
It’s generally agreed Dickey Boats redefined performance aluminium boat-building in New Zealand. Supremely versatile, exquisitely finished, intelligent, comfortable with class-leading fuel-efficiency, the Semifly 45 enjoys a reputation as the pinnacle of New Zealand-built sportfishers. Chapter 11 is the third such vessel from the yard and would soon prove the most advanced and capable vessel on which I’ve had the pleasure of sea-time.
Technically, any trip from east to west below a latitude of around 30° South, like New Zealand to Sydney, is considered “going the wrong way”.
Prevailing westerlies dominate the Tasman, and, thanks to the tempest-generating engine of the Southern Ocean, those winds routinely rise to a level of ‘frightening’. ‘Frightening’ on the nose for six or more days is no way to spend a holiday.
Fortunately, advanced weather modelling is impressively accurate out to three days, while offering a reasonable overview of ten days. While relying on various services to assess the broad picture, Windy.com proved an impressive go-to. It offers two models based on varying algorithms and allows granular detail by location.
With late October, early November earmarked for the trip, the full fury of the equinox-driven westerlies should have abated, while avoiding much of the risk tropical depressions present, sweeping through the Tasman with little warning.
The ideal scenario would be the formation of a stable high, centered far enough south to generate an easterly flow from northern New Zealand to Lord Howe Island. See the screenshot hereabouts as an example of such a window. From Lord Howe, the pressure is reduced, with sufficient flexibility for the relatively short 420 nautical-mile hop to Sydney.
Fuel to burn
Now, if you think I over-stated the fuel efficiency of the Dickey Semifly 45 earlier, the following figures are based on actuals and allow for the ancillary systems such as Chapter 11’s twin generators.
In its standard fuel configuration, the Semifly 45 carries marginally more than 2200L of fuel via twin semi-transparent polyethene tanks. An additional 800L via a bladder customised to slot into the engineering hold and plumbed into the system for easy filling and fuel transfer brings the total fuel capacity to 3000L.
Powered by twin Volvo IPS 600 pod-drive units, the super-slick vessel slides along burning a mere 2 litres per nautical mile at 8-knots. Technically Chapter 11 can complete the 1200 nautical mile journey without a fuel stop in 6.5 days, and with 600L of fuel in reserve. We planned to travel a little quicker (8.5 knots) and stop at Lord Howe for a top up, which would allow plenty of margin for fishing and running at 25-knots for periods if required.
At 25-knots the Semifly 45 demonstrates an impressively lean 5 litres per nautical mile. If the weather window for the Lord Howe Island to Sydney run was limited, we had the option of completing the 420 nm leg in under 16-hours with 900L in reserve.
Offshore communications on-board Chapter 11 are managed by Iridium Go, a comparatively low spec satellite system compared to Inmarsat, but one allowing limited text messaging and the option of voice calls from any mobile phone with its proprietary app installed. The system’s not particularly user-friendly and comes with a few other downsides not worth covering in this article, but it does work reliably.
Jason Dickey’s a former super-yacht engineer with thousands of sea miles under his belt. He’s tech-savvy and with some trial and error, configured the Iridium Go system to download GRIB weather files, via Predict Wind, which he periodically uploaded to the Windows-driven navigation system. For this feature alone, I recommend it as a minimum essential for passage-making.
Note: Iridium Go’s weakness is its inability to act as a modem for a laptop. My attempt to solve this issue by hiring a full-service Iridium satellite phone also proved challenging. For all practical purposes, the Iridium system is incompatible with internet-hungry Windows 10. For sailors with time on their hands, a workaround does exist (Google SailMail and Iridium), but even Iridium’s technical service desk in Australia does not recommend using an Iridium phone for this purpose.
Departing New Zealand
With a departure date locked in, I was grateful to be excused from the task of prepping the vessel for departure - my work-desk demanded attention, especially given the eight to ten days we’d be outside email and phone range.
By the time Chapter 11 arrived in Opua for the final pre-departure efforts, she’d benefited from a thorough three-week shakedown under its Australian owner’s control - friends and family enjoying extended coastal cruising and adventures between Dickey’s Hawkes Bay home and the Bay of Islands.
The Dickey team’s hand-over process is exhaustive, with a detailed review of the many systems bringing to life, the company’s vision of accessible, efficient boating. Regardless, before a voyage of this scale, it’s good to know all the critical systems in propulsion, navigation and water-making have enough use-hours to iron out any bugs.
As Chapter 11 was to be exported, the stringent Category One standard required of all departing New Zealand-registered vessels did not apply. This is no excuse for a cavalier approach, with the boat comprehensively outfitted with open-ocean safety apparatus, including a float-free life raft, EPIRBs, AIS-equipped life-jackets, all supported by strictly-applied procedures, especially during night-watches.
Our pre-arranged afternoon departure, timed to allow a day’s fishing at the famed Three Kings Island, to the North Island’s north-west went smoothly. With five crew covering four two-hour night-watches, sleep deprivation would prove no issue and after a quiet night rounding North-Cape to swing west, dawn illuminated a moderate but confused swell typical of this region’s current-driven reputation.
It was a pleasure to experience the stability of the beamy vessel in typical New Zealand offshore conditions. With rounds of hot coffee in hand, all was well.
Heading west, clear of the sheltering influence of the North Island our scheduled five-day journey to Lord Howe looked to be blessed with near-perfect weather conditions – the following sea to pushing us clear of New Zealand, calming off to glass conditions a couple of days out.
We’d allowed about a day’s fishing time at the Three Kings Islands and Middle Sex Bank, west of Cape Reinga. Although it didn’t live up to its potential, we did bag plenty of XOS terakihi, which would prove sensational on the barbeque, and a few medium-sized kingfish as prime sashimi.
Our passage-plan West did include a slight alteration for the celebrated Wanganella Banks, around 300nm WNW. Arguably the most productive striped marlin ground on the planet, it was an exciting prospect but one we were unable to capitalise on, as our ETA was after dark on the third day.
That said, the promise of the place, even so early in the season, is hard to deny. Night fell still ten miles short of the bank yet with large anchovy schools buzzing the surface.
Lord Howe Island, who knew?
Land-fall after a few days at sea is always greeted with anticipation, even more so when it’s the first visit to a destination as notable as Lord Howe.
Our approach at 25 knots in glass-like conditions proved the perfect setting to fully appreciate the triple-treat of its ancient volcanic peaks rising from the sea. At 875 m and 777 m respectively, the twins of Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird dominate the main island, with the near vertical 551 m Ball’s Pyramid erupting from the sea-scape 23 km to the south-east.
Cited as the world’s most southerly barrier-enclosed coral reef system, Lord Howe sits at a latitude of 31°30’ South. As a navigator, any first visit to ‘coral country’ should be treated with extreme caution; charts are frequently unreliable and coral terrain changes comparatively rapidly.
Having called ahead (as is required for visiting vessels), a local police boat piloted our first entry to a prearranged mooring, via Man-of-War Passage, and through the shallows of the island’s south-western shoreline. Later in our stay, we relocated to the northern end of the lagoon, via North Passage, to more easily facilitate fuelling – a much trickier manoeuvre relying on strict adherence to navigational markers, with a “bommie spotter” on the bow for added assurance.
For visiting foreign vessels and non-Australian passport holders, it’s essential to note Lord Howe lacks official Port of Entry status. However, as with all our dealings with the local authority – that policeman/harbourmaster/refuelling supervisor/information hub/jack-of-all-trades bloke who piloted us through on arrival – the situation was managed affably at the fuel wharf the following morning, our passports formally recorded.
Summarising Lord Howe Island in these short pages is no way to do it justice. Frankly, it’s exquisite - dramatic sub-tropical landscape wrapped in a verdant rainforest and silky, golden sand with a bath of coral magic at its feet. It’s arguably the cleanest inhabited island I’ve ever visited with low-key tourism businesses offering friendly service: the food’s good, the beer’s cold and the sun warm.
If, as a visiting sailor, you require significant infrastructure in a visit, be prepared for a few frustrations. There’s no mobile phone service, limited internet and the local payphone facilities are frustrating. That said, most locals are helpful, and I dare say resourceful, so with patience, most problems can be solved.
The fuel we picked up for the final leg was clean, if understandably expensive, and delivered with genuine island hospitality and solid fishing advice should I ever get the opportunity to return with time to explore.
Essential information for vessels visiting Lord Howe Island: https://www.lhib.nsw.gov.au/services/tourism/visiting-vessels
To the Mainland
Chapter Eleven’s stay at Lord Howe extended to three days, as we waited for a brisk but fast-moving front to pass through.
The planned departure, while conditions from the system were still present but abating, delivered an opportunity to experience the Dickey Semifly 45’s performance in two to three metre, confused seas. The ride into the dark proved comfortable enough to enjoy yet another full meal and dessert, so good marks there!
By morning, conditions had settled to a gentle aft-quarter swell pushing our party resolutely into the full flood of the East Australian current.
The 30-hour journey to the coast proved satisfyingly uneventful, save for a brief encounter with a blue marlin late in the afternoon of the second day. By the dawn of the following morning, we’d arrived on the mainland coast north of Port Stephens with a Sydney arrival and pre-arranged Customs Clearance scheduled for first thing the next day.
Although very early in the gamefishing season we raised another couple of marlin on the long troll down the coast, giving all on board confidence in Chapter Eleven’s fish-raising prowess – great motivation for Jason and me to revisit plans for a Dickey Boats Port Stephen’s adventure shortly.
I can’t stipulate enough, the importance of good communications with Customs officials as part of an international passage.
Complicated by the fact the Dickey Semifly 45 is being imported and thus needs to comply with Australian standards, we found our dealings with both Biosecurity and Customs to be pleasant and professional – no doubt because the team went to every effort with the compliance requirements of the process.
In Biosecurity’s case, we arrived in Australia still carrying a significant quantity of food, all of which was inspected. Most remaining supplies complied with the appropriate regulations and thus permitted to remain, provided it was consumed onboard. As Chapter 11 still had close to 1000 nautical miles of its journey to its eventual home in Adelaide ahead, this pragmatic approach to stores is appreciated by the crew.
With Chapter Eleven delivered safely from Opua in New Zealand to Sydney, my part of this exceptional vessel’s story comes to an end. Acknowledging this to be a longish read, I thought an executive summary might be in order, so please refer the break-out hereabouts:
At this stage, it’s appropriate to thank the owners of Chapter Eleven for welcoming me on board for the journey and the permission to write this account. The Dickey Boats team and I wish them all the best with the many boating adventures to come.
Originally published for Dickey Boats by Club Marine Magazine
NOTE: A planning summary for those interested in specific, bullet-pointed details can be found at: Opua to Sydney planning - Executive Summary
For more information on Dickey Boats, visit DickeyBoats.com
Read the planning summary.