OPUA, NEW ZEALAND – “We had just passed the Three Kings Islands in beautiful seas when the weather turned suddenly. We were faced with three to four-metre seas and the waves seemed nearly vertical.”
Russell Bianco and his partner Gabriella were on board their Riviera 52 Enclosed Flybridge, Majesnik, coming to the end of an 1,100 nautical mile voyage from Australia to New Zealand in March of this year.
“A huge set of waves came through every now and then. The Riviera was doing an amazing job of handling the terrible conditions – more than we were.
“I felt we couldn’t handle six more hours of this to get us to Opua, our destination on the east coast. Then I saw Hooper’s Point on the chart. It was just a couple of hours away. Relief.”
Russell and Gabriella are highly experienced in open waters. They live in Port Lincoln on the west coast of South Australia, fully exposed to the power of the Southern Ocean.
Russell has owned three Rivieras over 12 years. His previous motor yachts were a Riviera 37 Flybridge, then a 42.
“I decided we needed to make the next step up and Paul Harrop from R Marine South Australia advised me to look at Volvo Penta IPS,” said Russell . “I had come from shaft drives so I was initially sceptical, but I researched the new system carefully. It made sense on many levels and Paul assured me Volvo Penta and Riviera together provide fantastic back-up service.
“So we chose the 52 Enclosed and, after more than 1,000 nautical miles of open ocean, I can absolutely say this was the best decision.”
Russell and Gabriella took delivery of Majesnik in November last year and immediately travelled north to Hamilton Island.
“The name Majesnik comes from my three teenage children,” explained Russell. “Marcus, Jessica and Nick,” Russell explained.
Russell and Gabriella had planned to complete a circumnavigation of Tasmania on their way home to Port Lincoln.
“But then we thought ‘why not New Zealand?'” said Russell.
On their way south from Hamilton Island, the couple took Majesnik outside the Great Barrier Reef to test the motor yacht and themselves in many different sea conditions.
“We deliberately sought out following seas, then seas on the nose and beam seas to test how Majesnik would handle the conditions. We were completely reassured. That is why, when we faced those huge seas off New Zealand, I knew the Riviera would get us through. She is much stronger than we are!”
After deciding on the New Zealand destination, Russell and Gabriella sought advice from the Riviera team.
“They were incredibly helpful, advising us of fuel burn, safety systems and recommended some of the equipment we should obtain,” said Russell.
Russell and Gabriella decided to make the voyage in two legs; first to Lord Howe Island, about 400 nautical miles east-south-east of the Gold Coast, and then on to New Zealand and Opua on the east coast, a further 800 nautical miles away.
“We tested our fuel burn and decided that we would need 3,000 litres of additional fuel in bladders,” said Russell. “I wanted to know how the Riviera 52 would handle 3,000 litres of liquid in the cockpit, so I bought a children’s play pool and filled it with 3,000 litres of water. She was fine. So we bought two bladders – one at 2,000 litres and the other at 1,000. We filled them with diesel and lashed them onto the cockpit deck.
“We also bought a full safety kit, including EPIRBs of course, as well as two-way radios so we could easily communicate with one another from anywhere on board. For example, it is vital to be able to call if one of us was sleeping and the other needed assistance on the ‘bridge.”
They also bought a satellite phone and a sea anchor.
“We launched and retrieved the sea anchor a number of times to test it and ensure we would know exactly what to do if ever we needed it,” said Russell.
“We went right through the motor yacht to secure everything – even the salt shaker in the galley,” said Gabriella.
Russell explained they secured the tender on the fore-deck with 11 straps.
Then they waited for a weather window.
“The remnants of a cyclone came over the Queensland Gold Coast, creating difficult sea conditions,” said Russell. “We studied the opportunity and decided to go even though the first day would be a challenge. We knew conditions would improve as we headed east.”
At 6.am on Saturday, 24 February, the couple cleared the Gold Coast Seaway and set a course for Lord Howe Island.
“For the first four or five hours we were in swells of one and a half metres, then the wind picked up to 31 knots and the seas rose to two and a half metres,” said Russell. “Majesnik handled the conditions well. The conditions improved overnight and the second day was fine.
“We averaged 8.5 knots through this leg of the voyage and arrived at Lord Howe Island in late afternoon. I calculated we used 3.8 litres of fuel per nautical mile. Great economy. We could have made the trip more quickly but I wanted to know our fuel rate for the longer part of the voyage to come.”
Safely on a mooring in the Lord Howe Island lagoon, Russell and Gabriella shared a drink to celebrate their adventure and then set out to explore the island.
“We hired bikes,” said Gabriella. “It is a lovely island.
“We visited the Bureau of Meteorology office and discussed the outlook. It was looking good after a couple of days.”
The second leg of the voyage began peacefully.
“We operated six-hour watches and always made sure we ate together,” said Gabriella.
Russell was also aware of the need to stay alert at the helm. All current model Rivieras are equipped with Volvo Penta’s Glass Cockpit system, including electronic navigation screens. Majesnik’s helm is equipped with three 17-inch Garmin navigation screens.
“To help keep us alert, I had one set up to play DVDs on the long voyage,” said Russell.
There were other diversions.
“About half way across I began transferring fuel from the bladders using an electric pump,” he said. “Even in the gently rolling sea, it was a simple task.”
As they approached the Three Kings Islands, just 33 nautical miles from the northern tip of New Zealand’s north island the conditions were near perfect.
Then the seas rose.
“We were tiring quickly so Hooper’s Point offered sanctuary,” said Russell. “We arrived at 11pm, used our spotlight to navigate between the reefs and found an anchorage. I tested the setting then we both slept for eight hours.”
The morning brought brighter and safer conditions and the couple completed the final 100 nautical miles to reach Opua in late afternoon.
Russell and Gabriella have been living on board Majesnik since they took delivery.
“She is our home for now,” said Russell. “We have travelled 3,800 nautical miles with 360 engine hours. We are loving life on board and she provides everything we need. Our plan now is to spend at least 18 months living on board. We will spend more time on Lord Howe Island on our return voyage.
“We will also circumnavigate Tasmania!”
If you are considering any extended coastal or offshore cruising, it is strongly recommend that you first consult your insurance company as there will be restrictions and guidelines that they will impose in the interests of your safety and that of the vessel and your crew. It is also strongly recommended that you consult with an experienced Master 5 Captain or the equivalent international qualifications to seek their advise on vessel preparation, safety equipment, training, safety procedures and suitable crew experience to assist you in your voyage.