Darren Judd has been dreaming and scheming of a Cook Strait crossing for more years than I care to remember, but with the waters of this strait known to be one of the most dangerous and unpredictable in the world, a number of his previous attempts had been abandoned. Given this even Darren hadn’t dared imagine the perfect conditions of our successful double-crossing on New Year’s Day 2016.
Earlier in the week we had noted an unusual pattern on Windguru, incidentally the best weather predictor we have ever found on the web. It showed the moment when the wind dropped as southerlies become northerlies was to be repeated again within hours without much wind build up between. This would give us a significantly longer than usual period of calm. Those storms that disrupted holidaymakers in the Upper North Island were bouncing back the usual approaching southerly.
The Roaring Forties are strong west-to-east airflow currents caused both by the earth’s rotation and air displaced from the Equator towards the South Pole. New Zealand is the first landmass to act as a windbreak and Cook Strait funnels those westerly’s into the strong northerlies that cause heavy swells and regular disruption of the ferry sailings.
Trusting Windguru, Nick Robinson and I meet up with Darren at Mana at 9.30am, there we meet Sharleen and Scott (the Continuous Spouting man) who were heading over to fish at The Brothers and who would serve as our rescue boat if anything untoward should happen to our Hamilton 152.
After the obligatory 5km crawl down the channel we reached the open sea at the southern tip of Mana Island after ten minutes and really couldn’t believe our luck.
Cook Strait will never be a millpond but it was trying hard to be glasslike in a gently rolling style.
In sixty years of living in Wellington I cannot remember the strait ever looking as flat calm as this. Those of you who know Juddy can imagine the size of his beaming smile. His dream was coming true. The trip across the open sea to The Brothers lighthouse (the northern most point of the South Island) took around 55 minutes at 3200rpm and around 45-50 kph and it was a very pleasant trip unlike the slog we had been expecting. But even then the Strait would remind us of its power with the short stretch from, The Brothers to the southern mainland producing a few white caps and the inevitable salt spray in the face. This is the effect of both the tidal rip and the deflection of that day’s minimal wind off the land.
Tidal flow through Cook Strait is quite unusual. One end of the Strait will be at high tide at the same moment as the other end of the Strait is at Low tide, so it is hardly surprising that strong currents result where the high tide meets low tide. Do not expect the Straits to have the usual tidal surge of an alternate 6 hours in either direction. In typical Cook Strait ‘boisterous’ weather conditions the reverse surge can be totally negated and the flow can remain in one direction through three surge periods or even longer. Submarine landmasses running out from the coast will further complicate the ocean flow and turbulence.
Darren, Nick and Sharleen stepped ashore for photos but the hefty surges meant beaching the boats would be unwise. Photo proof done, we bounced back out to The Brothers where Scott and Sharleen stayed on to fish. The red and silver Hamilton152 headed home alone.
It was then truly awe inspiring when at around the half way point on our return we first lazily turned the jet boat in circles and then switched the motor off and just drifted. Sitting in the middle of Cook Strait on a gentle rolling glass-like day is not something we ever expected and certainly an added highlight to a jet boat journey that at least Darren Judd had dreamed of for a long time. A dream that brings real meaning to the 1980s Hamilton Jet catchphrase ‘Born in the Rivers to Play in the Sea’.