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Sailing in New Zealand 1999

Sailing in Hauraki Gulf

I am starting to write this section sitting at anchor in Islington Bay (Rangitito) trying to convince myself the weather is getting better. It is not - I just looked out to see the dingy go past a meter high and slowly turning over! The forecast was for 25 knot winds but the automatic station says they are 35 knots at Tiritiri a few miles up the Hauraki Gulf.

Up till now we have had a magnificent time with all sorts of conditions and have been all round the Hauraki Gulf, out to Great Barrier Island and down the Coromandel before returning to shelter in the Tamaki Straight. It is difficult to convey the size of the Hauraki Gulf - it covers 1500 square miles and the ferry trip from Auckland to Great Barrier takes 6 hours which is longer than from the UK to the Channel Islands and Great Barrier is bigger than Guernsey. The overall scale is similar to the English channel but only open at one end to the Pacific. Our trip to Great Barrier via Kawau totaled 76 Nautical miles for the two legs and took nearly 20 hours under sail.

To start at the beginning the yacht we chartered is a Raven 31 (31 foot) from Charterlink. We have previously sailed their Carpenter 29 twice but she was no longer available - the Raven and the Carpenter are different in many ways but both sail well and can be handled safely by two people and have most of the controls coming back to the cockpit. The Raven can sleep 7 who are good friends and has plenty of space for the two of us with the part time addition of my niece Christine. "Largesse" is, like all the Charter Link yachts, privately owned but maintained and made available for charter when the owners do not require her. She is far from new but has just received a new suit of sails and safety equipment and Charterlink supply lots of clean bedding, towels etc. We have found their yachts very good value and they are very helpful - last year we had a minor engine problem and because we sailed in without causing further damage we have an extra day this year and they upgraded us to the Raven at no extra cost.

They have moved to a new Marina close to the Auckland harbour bridge which is also accessible by a short and frequent ferry from downtown. This made it very easy for us as we unloaded our kit from the camper, drove round, checked it in and were back on the ferry with an hour ready for a comprehensive briefing from Ian. There was the inevitable delay whilst a cigar lighter socket was rigged up for the GPS, chargers etc. I must make up some extra leads to enable us to patch into any power sources easily and safely - we rarely even find a hire vehicle where the outlets work.

By the time we had been briefed and everything sorted out is was 1500 so we, with Christine crewing for the first day, left and it seemed sensible to just get to know the new yacht with a short (12 NM) run round past Devonport to Islington Bay which lies between Rangitito and Motuturi Islands which are connected by a narrow strip at the head of the Bay. We have moored there several times in the past, it offers some shelter from most directions and is quite large - it also has good holding on a very sticky mud bottom. The next day was a familiarisation run down the Tamaki Strait, a 12 NM long stretch which is sheltered by an inner ring of islands with lots of nice bays to moor in covering most wind directions. We went into Putaki Bay on Waiheke Island early afternoon to drop Chris off to find a ferry back to Auckland. Peter immediately caught a Snapper large enough for supper then nothing more than bait fish.

We were now set to start properly and we decided to run up to Kawau Island at the North West end of the Gulf, a run which takes one past many of the attractive Islands such as Rakino, Tiritiri Matangi (an open sanctuary) Motuora, Motutara, the aptly named Beehive island which looks more like a Christmas pudding to us. The 31 NM logged took us a little over 6 hours, the first hour under engine as we went out to open sea through the Sargent Channel with scarcely a breath of wind. As soon as we had cleared the channel we got the forecast 15-20 knots and had a glorious run up a close reach with a conservative single reef whilst we got to know Largesse's handling. We were moored by 1500 and after a swim Peter rowed over to the beach opposite where we were moored and collected enough Pipis for a starter - there were so many he just had to collect them from the sand at low tide without even leaving the dingy! Pipis are a small shellfish which live just below the surface at the low water mark on many beaches. When you collect them they sometimes have a "tongue" still sticking out and can also eject a jet of water - perhaps this accounts for the name! You cook them like mussels - drop in boiling water and get them out as soon as the shells open.

Just as another Sunset turned the sky many shades of red another privately owned Raven 31 moored along side and we were invited over for a coffee. We took a bottle of wine and had a great evening and learnt a lot more about the Ravens - they have a strong owners club and are a very sought after boat. Gail and David Bryers have had "Business as Usual" for five years and spend all their holidays on it and participate in many of the club gatherings. They were off to Great Barrier the following day as a staging post to the Mercury Islands. They offered a lot of useful advice on the Northern Channel out from Kawau.

We decided not to go staright to Great Barrier Island but to spend another day in the area, including a trip out through the Northern Channel and back round to Moturekareka Island to have a look at the wreck of the Riva on the beach. It was so nice even Pauline had a swim off the back of the boat and a row round. The round trip of 24 NM finished our getting to know Largesse ready for the first serious passage of 30 NM across completely open sea.

We left at 0700 and cleared the Northern Channel at 0830 with courses for both Port Abercrombie and Tryphena Harbour plotted. We had decided to make the decision depending on the wind direction and progress we made and within a couple of hours it became clear that our favorite of Port Abercrombie/Port Fitzroy was possible. We learnt a lot during the passage which presented a variety of conditions. The early stages became quite lively in heavy seas, we had to lighten sail and slow up to prevent the anchor digging into the seas as she pitched heavily - if we had known the pounding we would experience we would have stowed the anchor before leaving and on future trips we always used additional lashings. Even with the safety harnesses we were wearing it did not seem prudent to try to stow it on route. After a few hours of good progress we were starting to approach Little Barrier Island at which point the wind veered and dropped and we were soon getting only a few knots and eventually we gave in and motor sailed against a strong tidal stream to ensure we arrived with enough time to find a good mooring before dusk. At the last moment the wind returned and we could at least complete the journey under sail.

We moored at 1830 after 11.5 hours and 45 NM in the outer part of the Port Abercrombie/Port Fitzroy area in Karaka bay and were immediately boarded by some of the rare Brown Teal which inhabit Great Barrier Island. The phosphorescence in the water in the middle of the night were the most spectacular I have ever seen. Water splashing on the surface - no guessing what from - produced great explosions of light in expanding and contracting rings and waves covering areas of many meters. The dingy rope glowed and flashed and one could see the ghostly images of fish swimming below the surface - even Pauline came out to see the spectacular display.

The next day was a lazy cruise round the, almost landlocked, Port Fitzroy -lazy sailing with just the jib drifting us quietly in and out of all the bays with plenty of time to film and photograph. We also took the opportunity to call in at the wharf at Port Fitzroy to fuel and water. To our surprise we had only used 15 liters in the four days - hardly worth fueling but it was valuable experience taking Largesse into a wharf. We moored at Bush's Beach - an idyllic spot but one needs to take care as it dries our completely after a steep shelf at the end of the bay. A good excuse for a swim by going round the anchor "circle" which showed, whether by luck or judgement we were perfectly placed in the deep water.

Bush's Beach is on a spur from the many DOC walking tracks on Great Barrier and comes complete with picnic table, barbecues and long drop. We decided to stay the following day and do the walk up to one of the old Kauri Logging Dams high up in the valley. What the cruising guide said was an hour walk took 5 hours, part of it repeated as a path we were using turned out to be closed and unusually DOC had posted no warnings that we could find. It was a great walk but rough at times and walking boots would have been an advantage although walking sandals had their advantages when it came to the many streams to ford. DOC have contractors preserving the dam so one could not climb round it but it is still an awesome sight and well worth the long climb.

The Kauri forrests were usually well inland and there was no easy way to get the logs to the sea or other routes to saw mills. The logs were therefore dragged to a convenient stream bed with steep sides and a Kauri Dam was constructed of wood with a "trapdoor" near the bottom large enough for the logs to pass through. The logs were typically a couple of metres diameter and 4-5 metres long so the door was considerable size and the dam was tens of metres high. I have marked onto the first Kauri Dam photograph the original line of the top of the dam and outlined the trapdoor. Also note how the dam is braced into solid rock to take the tremendous loads. The trapdoor was constructed so that when the dam was full, and that could take a year, it could be tripped and the water released. The logs floating above the dam were sucked down through the hole and swept down to the sea, sixteen miles away in the case of this one on Great Barrier Island. The second picture shows the details of the trapdoor and how the pieces of wood were all secured so that they could be reused.

The next day we moved down to Tryphena harbour and had a look into Whangaparapara Harbour on the way. We would stop there in preference to Tryphena on any future trip. The passage was a bit lively and the differences in the shelter in being even a few miles out were brought home to us. The scale of Great Barrier Island was also brought home by the log which recorded the trip as being 30 NM including the visit to Whangaparapara and a bit of tacking and hugging the coast.

The day for the for the return trip, this time across to the Coromandel, was completely different to the outward trip. Winds were light and we carried full sail. We were almost becalmed several times with only a brief period of good progress as we past "Channel Island". It was so calm we could take a line much closer to the Colville Channel - notorious for rough seas - than we had expected. After one period where we only had half a NM to show for an hour of nursing her downwind with the sheets held loosely in the hands we actually went as far as to start the engine. Before we got into gear there was the slightest of tugs on the jib sheet in my hand and over the next few minutes the sails filled and emptied until after another half hour of nursing it became possible to cleat off the jib and we goose winged ever faster towards Coleville past the coastline we know so well from camping.

Straight downwind "Goosewinged" with the jib and main on opposite sides is always difficult and most yachts have little tolerance and you easily find the jib deflating or worse still accidently gybing but the Raven seems to love it and although I had a preventer rigged it was rarely needed. We reached Colville almost on our schedule because we had cut 6 NM off our original course. Colville is not the most sheltered of moorings and is very shallow however we were alone and after a couple of passes to plot out the depth we moored safely for overnight during which the winds, as forecast, rose quickly.

We left early to find better shelter at Te Kourma. It was a quick run down the coast through the many islands and channels. I deliberately did not set any way points into the GPS to make sure we were not becoming dependent on it. We made excellent progress and were into Squadron Bay in little over 3 hours with a final run with Pauline on the tiller where we pushing up to 7 knots despite being fully reefed. The speed indicator on Largesse was nor working so we use the GPS as a log and for speed for which is highly erratic unless one uses it to measure distances and times as I was doing when we recorded the periods of 5 minutes each between 6 and 7 Knots. Squadron Bay seemed very small and almost empty when we arrived but everyone must he been using the same forecast and running for the same shelter - by 2000 there were dozens of boats and some were still arriving after dark.

It seemed time to head across into the extra shelter of the Tamaki strait. We crossed over to Waiheke and entered down the wide Waiheke channel. The forecast was for 25 knots gusting upwards and the nowcasting was broadcasting Tiri Tiri at 34 knots so we had both reefs in the main from the start - Largesse does not have easyjacks to contain the sail so you either have to be able to flake it better than we ever managed or use extra ties to reef her neatly, on one occasion we did not use the ties it all escaped leaving a six foot pocket billowing sideways which looked most unprofessional. In the event the crossing was not as bad as we feared and after crossing into shelter we took out one reef and it was a pleasant cruise down the Tamaki Strait until we passed Motuihi island.

The wind and seas increased rapidly as we passed the end of the Motuihi Channel and were briefly exposed to the open seas. There was only a couple of miles to our sheltered mooring at Islington so I let her run to find out what she was capable off - rails almost in the water and spray over the front. The GPS on the few occasions I had time to look at it was always showing over 7 and up to 9.6 knots and it certainly felt like well over 7 knots - Pauline's comments are unprintable and she was very pleased glad when the ten minutes were over and we entered the shelter of Islington! She said she always knew there is trouble when I develop a demonic grin (she clarified this as being like the statue of Bacchus at Rousham!) and wrap my self round the rails - she goes down and hides from the flying spray. At least she does not go into the cabin and adopt a foetal position on the floor of the cabin like one friend's wife whenever he puts up the spinnaker. Overall 32 NM in 6 hours.

We are now back to where the write up of this part of the saga started. When I originally wrote this section sitting at anchor in Islington Bay I was trying to convince myself the weather was getting better. It was not - I had just looked out to see the dingy go past a meter high and slowly turning over! The forecast was for 25 knot winds but the automatic station was reading 35 knots at Tiritiri a few miles up the Hauraki Gulf. We were forced to hide in Islington for two days with one move as the wind swung round from the NE to SE and increased to be gusting to up to 55 knots. We did at least catch a Kahawai for supper and there was a Spectacular Sunset. One yacht dragged its anchor at high tide the next day and was on the edge of the Motuhui channel before he realised and another went aground as the wind swung. We took regular sightings with the hand compass and stayed firm but getting the anchor out at the end was fun. It looked as if it had pulled the chain down 1.5 meters into the thick grey mud.

After the two days we left for an early start and had a fast run back up to Kawau taking the other side of the islands and down wide channel past Passage Rock. The winds were 20/30 knots and we started with one reef but eventually put the second one. The only real event was when the dingy was caught by gust and came up horizontal behind us - putting it back in place and adding extra lashings in a rough sea took quite a while.

It all got quiet once we were in through the channel and sheltered by Kawau and I even had time to get a picture of Pauline at the Tiller of Largesse. We moored at Mansion House after little over 6 hours for the 30 NM. For the first time for days it was calm enough to take the dingy ashore. Mansion House is well worth a visit and we have meant to go there but got distracted on every previous visit. They also have an ice cream shop which takes on considerable importance after 12 days afloat.

Mansion House has been extensively restored and is now owned by DOC. It was one the home of New Zealand's Governor, Sir George Grey, who bought the island in 1862 and converted the old mine managers house into the Mansion and introduced a variety of exotic trees and animals. It has some very beautiful examples of New Zealand furniture in Kauri and other local woods such as the Wardrobe in Burr Kauri shown in the picture. There are a number of walks on the island which take one over to the remains of the old copper mines.

The next day had a reasonable forecast and we set out for the far end of Waiheke a run of about 30 NM across open sea. We took the Rosario channel out from Kawau - it is not as narrow as it looks on the charts and gives a super view of Beehive island as well as cutting off a big corner. We are now making a principal of using different channels and passages whenever possible to get more experience of chart reading etc.

The forecast yet again underestimated the conditions and after some good progress (6.5 NM in the best hour) the seas built up and it was back into the safety harnesses. We ended up having to reef in very rough seas and in the end decided safety first and had the engine on and available to help hold her stable enough for me to go forwards. Even fully reefed we had a lively run for the last 10 NM and finally turned into Waiheke to seek shelter finally mooring in Carey Bay rather than face another 6 NM round the end to Ponui. There was another yacht already there which was one attraction for Carey over the other bays and we moored well out from them at low tide in 5 meters. however to my surprise when I plotted the final GPS position it looked as if we should be on the edge of the sand. Some quick compass sightings also put us in exactly the same place. It looked as if the chart was in error but we still kept a very careful check overnight and set all the depth alarms etc as well as regular sightings. The bay was one of the most beautiful areas we have found and it was a real regret that it never got calm enough to be able to row against the wind into the multitude of little beaches and rocky coves. We must return under better conditions.

The next morning, Peter's birthday seemed calm and the forecast was better so we decided to continue round the outside of Waiheke and the islands and enter the Tamaki Strait through the narrow Ruthe Passage between Rotoroa Island and Ponui Island. It stated as per plan with conditions good enough to get some video - just like the previous day when we filmed all the way out from Kawau. We were even able to carry full sail for a change. It did not however take long for the wind to increase and we had a fast run hard on the wind down the side of Waiheke (which for some reason Pauline found far worse than the previous days crashing through heavy seas). We dropped the jib ready to motor through the Ruthe passage which was dead into wind, narrow and studded with rocks but managed to slowly tack through it despite a strong tide against us. The passage was not help by a catamaran dropping its sails in the middle of the channel and starting to fish as they drifted out on the strong stream. We eventually managed to tack in on 150 meter legs enough to clear the point and get the jib up after which we shot past the cardinal marks round the exit reefs and rocks. It is a difficult choice - no jib meant very reduced drive against the current but to tack with the jib on such short legs is very difficult and inefficient with just two people on the Raven as the person on the helm can not reach the winches and sheets to give much help.

We then had a series of beats into wind before turning to sail close on the wind all down the Tamaki Strait heading for Motuihi Island. The last stretch through the Sargent channel was interesting as the wind was both high and opposing a strong stream. We were fortunately running with the wind from well behind and made good progress but it was as if the water was boiling in 2 meter bubbles round us as we went through - one can see why there are warnings for small craft under such conditions through the adjacent Motuhui channel. We moored on Ocean Beach on Motuhui after a 24 NM run under a good selection of conditions and again could not get to shore because of the wind.

We left early the following morning for the run back to the marina to avoid the "Road to America's Cup" competition races and made much better time over the 12 NM than we expected getting in at 0930. We fortunately called in as we had been allocated a different berth in the Marina - nice and close to the shore end of the pontoon for unloading. We had expected to be met and given assistance but were left to bring Largesse in by ourselves although we suspect that Ian was close by keeping an eye open - it is probably the only opportunity they have to assess ones competence. We were lucky and finally found the berth and took her in without even needing the roving fenders just as Ian arrived.

Overall a super time in conditions which suitably extended our skills. We did not make the coastal passage to the Bay of Islands - there was no real possibility with continual strong NE winds giving a 60 NM leg from Kawau to Tutakaka in rough seas on a lee shore into a harbour which can on occasion be closed off by rough water when the tide and wind oppose. The trip to Great Barrier offered plenty of challenges and we had 4 lovely days there. The Raven is nice to sail and Charterlink looked after us well once more and were keen to have our comments when we returned - a number of minor points will be fixed.

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