Day 6 from Hobart - albatrosses, shearwaters and prions... getting close to NZ!

Saturday 6th May 2012

A bright start to the day - but soon overcast with grey cloud - to last all day. The wind gods have stayed kind - wind consistently around NNE all day, at 15-19 knots, so good speed and course maintained, although seas were rather rough for most of the day and moving about was usually difficult.

Calmer tonight, with wind down to 16 kt at present, but speed down to below 6 kt as a result .... unlike the 6-7 knots I've got used to seeing. We're on schedule for rounding the SW Cape overnight tomorrow (around midday Sunday in GMT/very early morning Sunday in PDT) - a pity in a way, since it would have been nice to have got close in daylight to take some photos - maybe the (full) moon will be out for a night shot instead?

Last night got rather fraught when the autopilot stopped working... Hurriedly, I handsteered for a bit, and then got the Hydrovane working (being close-hauled, the boat could probably have steered herself, in fact!). After a while, having checked fluid level and general rudder/drive area, with nothing untoward found, I thought I'd try it again - it worked for a while but later did the same - it seemed to get stuck with the rudder at 3 degrees to port both times. Since then, it has worked without a hiccup, so I wonder what caused the problem.

Today was notable for the number of birds around - as is not unusual when the seas get a bit rough!! I was delighted to see four albatross early on - two Buller's albatross (endemic to this area) and two Black-browed (possibly Campbell's). The Buller's were new to me, as of yesterday, but were really unmistakeable once I'd got my birdbook out... grey head with pale cap, small dark area close to eyes, bright yellow upper to dark bill with yellow line underneath (similar to Yellow-nosed, but yellow top of bill far more eye-catching), mainly white underparts, with dark upper wings and back and thin dark edge to underwings. One seemed particularly keen to stay close to the boat so I got a really good look several times as it swooped past me on fixed wings - rarely flapping them, in typical albatross style. This afternoon, the usual small flock of prions was joined by several all-dark birds which flew around for a long time - Short-tailed shearwaters, I decided... dark bill and no light colour on underwing (as Sooty has), along with flight pattern and wing shape were decisive.

I'm looking forward to the approach to New Zealand's S coast tomorrow - hoping the cloud cover won't prevent me from seeing the mountain peaks of Southland in the South Island. Mt Aspiring is over 3,000m high and many other peaks are over 2,000m. On Stewart Island, there are two adjacent peaks, 979m & 974m high, in the N.

There's always a definite feeling of excitement on closing land - especially when you've never seen it before!

If I can time getting up well before dawn, and the cloud cover has gone (probably not, on both counts!), then I'm told it should be possible to see a bright display of meteorites:
"Earth is entering a stream of debris from Halley's Comet, source of the annual 'eta Aquarid' meteor shower. The shower peaks this weekend on May 5th and 6th. Glare from a perigee (close approach) full Moon--a "Super Moon"--will interfere with the display. Nevertheless, observers especially in the southern hemisphere, could still see dozens of meteors during the hours before local sunrise on May 6th."
(Thanks to John, VK4DBJ, for sending me the info.)

DMG today: 137 n.ml. - making the five-day total 683 n.ml.... with 221 n.ml. to SW Cape (all at 0100GMT/11am EST). (As I write this, I can see the SW corner of New Zealand's S.Island on my AIS screen - just over 100 ml away!)

(Just checked on deck - bright moon shining from a clearing sky - we might just be in luck if I can time it right... Alarm has been set!)

Written by : Mike

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