Passage Notes – Lyttelton to Picton

Well another delivery trip up the coast has been successfully completed.

Wildwood usually lives in Lyttelton, where we sail her all year round. However we like to have our holidays on board in the Marlborough Sounds. This is about 183 nautical miles away. A 30 ish hour passage up the East Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, and then through Cook Strait and then in to Queen Charlotte Sound.

There are no safe refuges along the way, and with Cook Strait being described as one of the world’s roughest stretches of water, we choose our weather window very carefully.

With the El Nino weather pattern hanging around this year, the forecast predicted Northerly after Northerly. When you are heading in a Northerly direction in a small boat, this isn’t the forecast that you want to see! However finally a small window appeared. We watched the forecast carefully each day, wondering if it would change, but no – it looked good. Other boats were also planning on doing the same trip at the same time, and we all agreed. Friday was the day!

The logistics of a trip like this are more stressful than the actual passage. With the weather sorted , we now needed to take a day off work, organise someone to look after our kids, find crew to come along, get over to the boat at the crack of dawn, arrange food for the passage, pack all the gear, find somewhere to leave the boat up there, figure out how we are then going to get from the mooring in a secluded bay back to the town, and finally find someone to bring us home.

Phew – finally with that all sorted, we were off! Waving goodbye to Lyttelton at 0630, we motorsailed out of Lyttelton Harbour, adjusted our course to 010°C and started the journey north.

The sea was calm, and we were hoping for the predicted light Southerly breeze to fill in, but instead we got a North-Easterly. Just about right on the nose – typical! Still the sea was still flat and with the help of the 12hp motor, the light breeze and a bit of current, we were able to maintain a speed of about 6kts for a long way up the coast.

There were three of us on board. Myself, Andrew and Justin – a long time friend and Wildy crew-member. Andrew had contracted a slight case of man flu, so we sent him back to bed, and we all took turns having cat naps throughout the day.

Crossing Pegasus Bay seems to take forever, but eventually Banks Peninsula faded away in to the distance. Our Navionics route kept us a few miles off the coast for the rest of the trip. Blue Magic was a couple of hours behind us, but further off shore, and Legacy II about six hours behind again. We kept in touch via text on the way up the coast. Checking in every few hours to report on the weather and our positions.

A big container ship cruised past, and with the assistance of Andrew’s Marine Traffic app we were able to find out her name and I radio them up on the VHF. I wanted to know if they could see us clearly on their radar. On our trip back down the coast earlier this year, we were shrouded in fog for most of the way. Without a radar reflector on board, we had no idea if ships could see us. We certainly couldn’t see them! Being a wooden boat with sails up, I wasn’t sure what sort of target we would make. The voice on the other end of the radio confirmed that yes we did show up on his radar screen. We’d also purchased a radar reflector, but hadn’t yet hoisted it up the rig, so I felt relieved to know we were more visible than I’d thought.


Our favourite past time on delivery passages is eating. We started with muffins for breakfast, followed by muesli bars, Justin’s home made bacon & egg pie for lunch, a slice of Mum’s Christmas Cake, pretzels, chips, sugary snakes, and scroggin. What we were really hanging out for was Andrew’s spaghetti bolognese sandwiches. These have been something of a tradition since our first trip up the coast. Andrew makes the sauce from scratch, a few days before hand and then freezes it to be reheated on the boat. The first trip it was raining and difficult to eat off a plate, so we decided to have the spag bol in a sandwich instead. It was so delicious, hot and filling, wrapped between slices of thick freshly buttered bread, topped with parmesan cheese – absolutely the best. We scoffed them down eagerly!


It was really cold, so the hot food was just what we wanted. We then had a cup of tea and more cake for dessert. Yummo.

We cruised past Kaikoura Peninsula and then watched the sun go down behind the mountain range behind.


Andrew did the first night watch, and Justin and I headed off to have a snooze. We were on two hour rotations. Two hours on and four hours off. Our rule is that the sole crew member on deck isn’t allowed to leave the cockpit without waking someone up. We all slept fully clothed, even sailing boots and life jackets. Mainly to simply keep warm, but also it meant we would be ready for action should we be required at short notice.

Thankfully there was no action required, and the night watch passed uneventfully. I even had time to write a post about what it is like to be on watch alone in the dark and the crazy things that run through your mind.

The sun rose as we were crossing through Cook Strait. Thankfully a lot calmer than our last trip. Perfect conditions with a light Southerly. We could see a mast far behind us and presumed it was Blue Magic. We had timed our arrival perfectly for the incoming tide through Tory Channel. I’ve had my fair share of crazy experiences coming through this tight gap. What with the strong tidal currents and big passenger and freight ferries zooming backwards and forwards. I was determined to not have any repeat performances, and was quite relieved when two ferries came in and out as we were approaching. With them out of the way I thought we would have a nice clear passage through.

Well no, of course it didn’t work out like that. Another ferry was approaching in the distance  and the Marine Traffic app showed another lurking around the corner. The Southerly breeze was building, and so was the sea state, we were hurtling towards a narrow passage with a 5 knot current and two ferries that have right of way. Hmm will we make it? I got tooted at last year for getting in the way of a ferry and didn’t want to repeat that embarrassing experience, so I front footed it and radioed the ferry coming across Cook Strait and asked for advice. We took down the main to slow us down a bit and opted to alter course and come in behind the approaching ferry.

Disaster averted , we made a clear run through the washing machine like turbulent water at the entrance of the channel and then got swept along with the tide.

Time to relax and have a beer. Blue Magic had caught us up and we watched them fly through the gap behind us.

The wind had built and the Southerly gusts roared down the valleys. We were relieved to be inside the channel now, and we motored to our mooring in Double Cove to be greeted by Craig, Logan & Olivia on Flying Machine. They had kindly offered to drop us back over to the other side of the Sound to the town where our friend Ken was waiting to pick us up and drive us the 4 hours home.

With Wildwood safely tucked up on a sheltered mooring, I didn’t want to leave her! We will be back in a weeks time for our holidays. I can’t wait!

If you are planning on sailing this stretch of water yourself, you can read my Passage Plan here.




10 thoughts on “Passage Notes – Lyttelton to Picton

  1. Good job done! We can’t believe how rugged up you all are. We are sweltering, but of course a lot further north than you are. We have been battling headwinds too. Days on end of SE when you want to go… you guessed it SE!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You HAVE to try them! Sooo good. Andrew makes it all from scratch as well. I am very lucky to have such a great cook as my partner!
      I think it is one of those meals that is just best had while at sea. I don’t know that it would be quite as good on dry land.


  2. Glad you made it through ferry madness! I’m from Philadelphia, PA in the USA, and one of the beaches we’d go to is Wildwood…there’s even an oldies style song about it; “Wildwood days”. I think Bruce Willis used to go in the summer. Anyway, have a great holiday and I look forward to your next post!


  3. Pingback: Young 88 – Wildwood – For Sale | Astrolabe Sailing

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