|Home||Pauline's Pages||Howto Articles||Uniquely NZ||Small Firms||Search|
|Sailing New Zealand 2001|
This year we finally achieved our ambition and made the coastal passage from the Hauraki Gulf to the Bay of Islands and onwards to the end of our licensed cruising range beyond Whangaroa, a coastal trip of just under 200 Nm.
Before I start on the details of our three weeks afloat I will say a bit about sailing in general in New Zealand. (If you have read the earlier reports click to skip repeated details) It is very popular and Auckland is known as the City of Sails. There are many areas where there are moorings and marinas but the main areas and the only ones areas where visitors can easily charter are the Hauraki Gulf (Auckland), The Bay of Islands to the North and possibly within the Marlborough Sounds at the top of South Island.
The main centre has to be the Hauraki Gulf. It is difficult to convey the scale of the Hauraki Gulf - it covers 1500 square miles and the ferry trip from Auckland to Great Barrier Island takes 6 hours which is longer than from the UK to the Channel Islands and Great Barrier is bigger than Guernsey. The overall size is similar to the English channel but only open at one end to the Pacific past Great Barrier Island. Our trip two years ago to Great Barrier via Kawau Island totalled 76 Nautical miles for the two legs and took nearly 20 hours under sail whilst the round trip returning down the Coromandel coast and crossing back via Waiheke Island more than doubled it.
The Bay of Islands (BoI) where we started sailing is much smaller but is one of the most beautiful areas to sail in New Zealand. It is ideal for the first time one charters as the inner area is very sheltered yet there are dozens of islands and safe bays to explore before even venturing out into the main part of the Bay of Islands, which is still relatively sheltered. To give a scale to the Bay of Islands, the detailed chart of the area (NZ5124) covers about 14 x 9 Nautical miles and the inner island studded part is about half that in each direction. I think that the most you can get in a straight line in the inner islands is 6 Nm. On a short charter (3 or 4 days) or if you are relatively inexperienced you may be requested to keep to the Bay itself and it is normal to call up Russell Radio (Channel 63) if you leave and when you return. On longer charters and with suitable experience there is a big stretch of coast to explore including the Cavalli Islands (just possible as a day trip), on up to Whangaroa Harbour 30 Nm up the coast and Mangonui at about 40 Nm (depends on the Charter firm and boat). In the other direction the limits will almost certainly extend as far as Whangarei - half way to the Hauraki Gulf. Many charter firms operate from both the Gulf and the Bay and you may be covered for the whole trip on a longer charter.
If you have a long charter it is possible to do the trip along the coast between the Bay of Islands and the Hauraki Gulf if the weather conditions are suitable. The two are separated by 2 degrees of latitude making it about a 150 Nm trip overall of which 120 Nm are unprotected Pacific coast. The closest equivalent in the UK would be from Southampton Water to Plymouth Sound or for non sailors it is the same distance as London to Cardiff. If you plan such a trip note that the section from Whangarei to Kawau Island is the most challenging (45 Nm) - a very long day and one without any bolt holes if the weather turns bad. Once North of Whangarei there are several good overnight moorings in harbours sheltered from almost every wind direction including on shore.
We have sailed five times before in the Bay of Islands and three times in the Hauraki Gulf. We started in the Bay of Islands and then graduated to the Gulf. Our experience, competence and confidence has built up over the years - we only sail in NZ so it takes time. The more one sails the more one appreciates how little one knows and how much conditions can change. Three years ago was the first time we left the shelter of the Bay for a short trip down the coast to Whangamumu whilst on a short, on the spur of the moment, charter in a Moorings Hunter 336 following our first time in the Gulf with Charterlink.
The next year extended our experience greatly with much more challenging weather conditions in the Gulf where we did the trip to Great Barrier Island in the Charterlink Raven 31 "Largesse". By then we had aspirations for the coast passage and both CharterLink and Moorings had rashly expressed their confidence in our ability to take any of their boats to the limits of their cruising ranges - rash as they never see one from beginning to end of a charter.
Last year was the first time we really started to explore the coastline in both directions from the Bay of Islands. The fortnight charter gave us plenty of scope to get out as well as to exploit all the lovely bays, beaches and island walks. We went North as far as Whangaroa past the Cavalli Islands and more importantly we went South as far as Whangaruru (25 Nm on route) so we now were only left with the stretch between Whangaruru and just North of Kawau that was unknown.
Before continuing with the details of the coastal passage and the rest of the sailing we ought to also fill in a few details about the yacht we chartered.
We chartered a Raven 31 "Latitude 55" from Charterlink, who mainly operate in the Hauraki Gulf, but also have a few (about 6 at peak season) boats in the BoI. CharterLink's boats are mostly New Zealand designs and privately owned - if you want boats that sail well and are matched to the local conditions at affordable rates we have found them very good. This year they were in different hands - Rob Thexton is not only a very experienced sailor himself but also brings considerable business skills as well as great enthusiasm to Charterlink.
We have sailed Charterlink yachts 4 times in the Gulf, twice with a Carpenter 29 and twice with a Raven 31. There are full reports on our Sailing in the Hauraki Gulf in 1999 and Sailing in the Bay of Islands in 2000 as well as a general introduction to the various areas at Sailing in New Zealand.
The Raven 31 is a local design and, not surprisingly is 31 foot. The Ravens sail well and can be handled safely by two people as most of the controls come back to the cockpit and she is fitted with an anchor winch. The Raven can in theory sleep 7 (who need to be very good friends) and has plenty of space for the two of us with the part time addition of a relation or two - we expected both my niece Christine and nephew Kev to join us for part of the time.
"Latitude 55" is, like all the Charterlink yachts, privately owned but maintained and made available for charter when the owners do not require her. She is the third Raven we have chartered and has only recently joined the fleet. The owners have obviously put a lot of work into her including a brand new and comprehensive suit of instruments only fitted a few weeks before including wind speed and direction as well as the usual depth indicator and fairly standard speed and distance log. She also had a Raytheon GPS with a chart display covering the whole of New Zealand. This would not normally be available for people chartering but we were known and there we some teething troubles with the other new instruments and the speed and log were not calibrated.
The GPS needed a whole evening with the manual before we could exploit it so we could understand why it would not be available on short charters. Once we had invested the time it became an extremely useful tool and very consistent. The Americans have now removed the jitter from the satellite end and the GPS was consistent to about a metre when at anchor - you could watch her move back as one let out a bit of extra warp or as the wind swung. I have less confidence in their maps as on one occasion it showed us 50 metres to the side of our actual course through a narrow channel (the Albert Channel) and recorded us going through Flat Rock when we looked back at the track at end of the day - a warning NEVER to depend on an instrument rather than ones eyes.
It was nice to be able to use the GPS to check if the anchor was dragging but where it mattered I always take a couple of bearings with a sighting compass on nearby landmarks choosing objects which will still be visible at night. If it is bad weather we often have a course plotted to get us to a safe place or a GPS waypoint. We have never had an anchor fail to hold Yet but we have seen several other boats head off into the distance and many of the most experienced people we know have had it happen at some time.
Enough of the background. We picked "Latitude 55" up from Bayswater Marina, close to the Auckland harbour Bridge and accessible by a short and frequent ferry from downtown. This made it very easy for us - we unloaded our kit from the camper, drove round and checked it in and were back via the ferry with an hour ready for our comprehensive briefing from Rob.
By the time we left it was 1400 hours so we decided not to go too far and anchor at Motuihe Island, which has bays on three sides. They do not offer tremendous shelter as the island is quite low but we did not expect very strong winds and we used the bay on the Northeast side. A nearby alternative in stronger winds is provided by Islington harbour between Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands which are connected by a narrow causeway over which the wind can funnel.
The next mooring it started to rain and our plan to get used to the "Latitude 55" with a run or two down the Tamaki strait (the area sheltered between a series of islands and the mainland) seemed less desirable. The run to Ponui island at the far end was in pouring rain and at times the visibility was so low we could hardly recognise, or even see, Waiheke Island as we sped past it. The forecast was SE 15-20 so we decided on Chamberlains bay which is on the edge of the Ruthe channel between Ponui and Rotoroa Islands. Chamberlains Bay as good as anywhere for the SE and it was the a weekend so there lots of others there. I counted 31 mooring lights when I looked round at dusk.
The poor visibility encouraged me to learn how to operate the GPS properly and I spent several hours with the manual before I got to grips with it - it is almost entirely chart based so you have to enter waypoints and routes using the cursor on the map rather than transferring latitude and longitude from ones own chart. This removes some of the checks and balances but was very quick once one got used to it.
We were also starting to understand why problems had been reported with the other instruments as the multi function indicator providing depth, speed and distance logs filled up with water in the rain. It is easy to live without most of the instruments other than the depth which was a more of a concern. It still seemed to work, even with water half way up the display, but we thought it prudent to disconnect it before more damage resulted so we contacted Rob to seek advice.
The Ruthe channel is a good route out from the Tamaki straight to the Coromandel but one has to take care as there are a number of reefs and other obstructions. We have passed through it under sail it several times in the past but there is very little space for tacking and it is one of the few places where there can be a significant tidal flow.
The next morning the sun was shining and without a depth gauge it seemed prudent to motor sail out through the middle and we were quickly on route to the Coromandel Coast crossing to Cow and Calf Islands to sail up the coast inside the many Islands flanking the mainland, past Te Kouma where we moored two years ago and the Coromandel Harbour and the many Oyster farms on both the Islands and the shore. There look as if there are many pleasant bays on the Islands for a lunch time stops but without shelter for overnight. The winds were light at times up the Coromandel coast but picked up and we had a good run back across after pass inside the last of the islands was, to be more precise, little more than a set of rocks. The highlight was perhaps seeing a shark cruising past as we started the return trip.
We were undecided where to moor as the winds were variable but mostly from the NE quadrant whilst the forecasts were SE. The last forecast confirmed SE 15 overnight so we returned to Chamberlains to end up mooring in a few knots facing out. There were several other boats who also believed the forecast and waiting patiently for the wind to turn whilst others were facing us across the channel in the bay on Rotoroa Island. We at least had the advantage of mooring where we knew the depth of water - taking soundings and anchoring with only two people is tedious.
As an aside we always take soundings with an unfamiliar boat as depth sounders can be offset to read from water level, below the sensor or below the keel, with or without a safety margin. It is essential to know the actual depth of water when anchoring, not only to avoid going a ground at low tide but also to select the correct length of anchor chain/warp (We use 5x if expecting much wind although that is more than most people seem to use in NZ). We suspect that some of the dragged anchors have been from the combination of using too small a multiple on top of having three or more metres depth than the gauge showed, rather than poor holding.
We had by now been in touch with Rob and, whilst he was relaxed about us continuing without a depth gauge, we were less happy for the coastal passage where we would be unfamiliar with the anchorages and knew one at least to be full of poorly marked sandbanks (Whangarei). We therefore decided to return to the Marina to give the agent for the instruments a chance to change it. Although this lost us a good part of a day it made picking up Kev much easier than him taking the ferry to Kawau as planned.
We stopped for lunch on Motuihe island which gave me a chance to try out the dingy and get some pictures whilst Pauline checked out the fishing. We arrived in the marina late afternoon and stayed overnight to allow an early start on fixing the instruments. It took much longer than we hoped and even longer than expected as there were still problems not solved by the change of display - it was the latest bus based system and there seemed to be a more fundamental problem either in speed sensor or the central control system. After a number of runs round the marina and out into the harbour which gave plenty of extra practice at mooring and reversing out of the marina berth we all gave up and conceded that the best we could expect was depth from that part of the system. This also restricted the fancy wind speed and direction instrument to apparent wind but so what, the fastest and most sensitive indicator is the vane on the top of the mast anyway. We could get a reasonable indication of speed from the GPS but unfortunately it seemed incapable of providing a distance log so Pauline spent ages every evening working out the distances from the track which we could get from it.
By now we were getting a bit impatient as each of Pete's final deadlines had been past for the run to Kawau, the first leg of the run up the coast. Kev had rung and hearing we were still doing trials, had also thought there would be plenty of time to get some extra stores in. He was quickly forgiven when we saw the vast quantity of food he and Jenny had brought!
We finally left after 1100 and motored out past Devenport into wind to save time and then put the sails up for what turned out to be a glorious fast run up to Kawau on a broad reach exceeding even our most optimistic hopes for time. We dropped anchor at 1700 having more than made up all the lost time and being well provisioned. The trip was 32 Nm and most of the time in clear water we were doing over 6 knots with winds little over 10 knots. The Ravens do sail very well.
This run gave us confidence to proceed on, as did Kev's first day with us. We had been a bit concerned as he had not done any serious sailing before and we were expecting it to be a bit rough at times on the trip. He seemed very much at home but we did worry when he made some lunch and then lay down until the peace was shattered by snoring - it had all been too much. The snoring continued from when we passed the Whangaparoa peninsular (about half way) and Tiritiri Matangi island, as we tacked passed Beehive Island and eventually worked our way into Bon Accord Harbour in what had reduced to light variable winds. He slept through starting the engine, getting the sails in and even lowering and setting the anchor - after an hour and a half at anchor, at the first clink of a glass, he came back to life.
The next day was the potentially the big one with 45 Nm to Whangarei, the first harbour on the way North. The wind was forecast E/SE 10 knots but turned out to be more NE again, still an acceptable direction leaving us on a broad reach for a lot of the journey. It was of course an onshore wind but most of the harbours we planned to use are sheltered from that direction and it was ideal for Whangarei where there would be shelter under the Heads in Urquharts or Woolshed bay.
The trip up to Whangarei was almost an anticlimax after all the preparation and planning - we left at 0700 and motor sailed out the first section past Kawau and out through the North Channel then up to Tokatu Point where the wind started to come up a bit. Once we had passed Tokatu Point we could see across the first broad bay to Cape Rodney. By now we were under sail although the wind would barely reached the 10 knots forecast during the day. The coast gradually slid by and as we passed Cape Rodney we the view opened up and we could see Goat Island where there is a super marine reserve where we have snorkeled with huge snapper and other fish who are fearless as they know they are protected! It was quite difficult initially to pick out Goat Island as it is close to the land and looked much smaller than we expected.
Once past Cape Rodney we were on a compass course as the haze was enough to make identification of the landmarks difficult. We can see why regulars say it is a boring stretch, just one long bay with little detail visible if you take the straight line. After a few hours we could identify Bream Tail and the Hen and Chicken Islands and shortly afterwards Bream Head and the Whangarei Heads rose above the Haze and grew in size and detail as the hours passed. Initially the only way to identify the outlines was by chart and compass. By mid afternoon it became clear where we were heading and one could start to see the outline of the land behind Whangarei the Heads and the distinctive Red and white stripped chimneys of the refineries at Marsden Point.
Although the winds were low there was a significant swell so we decided to leave lowering the sails until we were in shelter and carried on slowly using the main down the buoyed shipping channel waiting until we had Urquharts bay in sight. Whangarei harbour is full of sandbanks - the moorings are generally close to the shore where deep channels follow the coastline with openings through the sandbanks to the main channel. One does not want to go to far as it is well over 10 Nms from the Heads to Whangarei basin which all has to be retraced the following day. Urquharts Bay is however only just inside thus minimising the distance to backtrack and it can also be reached by following the coastline rather than finding routes through the sandbanks. It is however sufficiently far round the corner to offer good protection in most wind directions and is ideal for those with any Easterly component. In peak season it is supposed to get very busy but we had looked from the shore a couple of weeks before and it was fairly empty.
This was the point where we gained our experience for the day - you always learn something. We were going in slowly with just the main waiting to get out of the swell before taking it down. We were well sheltered already as we were under the Heads and we seemed to be crawling through the water although a quick look on the GPS showed we doing 4 knots, more than enough whilst orienting ourselves and checking the route into Urquharts bay past the sandbanks. All of a sudden there was a gust, not surprising as we were under a 1000 foot high hillside where there was bound to be some turbulence. What was unexpected was that we were swung hard to starboard (towards the rock face) and she failed to answer the rudder to straighten up even after the gust was over. We had plenty of room as we were in the middle of the channel so I just continued round into wind, straightened up and we dropped the sail a few hundred metres earlier than intended and motored on in trying to look as if it had all been planned
I have probably given enough clues to those who sail, especially in the UK. Despite still being in Bream Bay rather than into the Harbour proper most of the open water is actually shallow water over sandbanks and we were in one of the only deep water channel feeding into the harbour. The harbour is 10 Nm long so, by NZ standards, there was a strong tidal flow from behind and we were only doing perhaps one knot through the water rather than the 4 knots indicted (Remember the mechanical paddle wheel indicator was not working and we were using the GPS speed) and once disturbed by the gust we had little steerage to stop use being turned into wind, the main acting like an arrow flight.
We then carried on carefully into Urquharts Bay, which we had looked at from the land, and dropped anchor on the edge of a deep (14m) pool - another effect we assume of the tidal flow scouring out holes beside the sand banks. The final confirmation of the tide was that, along we all the other boats, we swung to line up with the current not the wind when the tide turned. This was the first time ever in New Zealand we have had enough tide to overcome wind. The only other place we know with a significant tidal flow is between Great Barrier and the mainland where the charts indicate it can reach 3 knots.
The trip up had taken us under 10 hours for the 42 Nm and it was all a slight anticlimax now the potentially worst day was over. We had not had ideal conditions with rather light winds and a bit of swell but we still had over three hours of light left when we were moored and time to fling a fishing line over the side. The only sad thing is that the haze and general conditions meant that we did not get any pictures or video and that will be true for most of the coastal section leaving only text to describe it.
The next day we started a bit latter at 0750, which we were to regret, as it seemed to take for ever to tack out past Whangarei Head and round Bream Head and turn up the coast. We can see why many people decide to go on the extra 10 Nm to Tutakaka as the "diversion" into Whangarei adds over 7 Nm by the time you are back on track.
The swell had increased as had the wind and most of the way we were reefed which, meant we were not achieving the performance into wind that we hoped - a GPS track removes all ones illusions as you can see exactly the angle you are actually achieving between successive tacks! Once we were finally making progress the winds dropped and became much more variable (sea breezes had been forecast). By the time we reached Tutakaka, only 10 Nms from our "turn off" to Whangarei it was well past noon and we still had 15 Nms to go to enter Whangaruru. The swells had increased further and the wind swung so we were still having to make the occasional tack and we were barely making 3 knots along our course by now - it was tempting to call up Tutakaka Marina to see if they had a berth for the night!
We continued on, checking progress, but waiting as long as possible before starting the engine or turning back to Tutakaka. We eventually fired up the Donkey to make sure we could reach Whangaruru with plenty of light. We assumed we would make about 6 knots when motoring. Unfortunately the Donkey was short of carrots and we were struggling to make 4.5 knots in the steadily increasing seas and almost straight into wind. Eventually we reached the point where we could turn towards Whangaruru and a direction where we would be able to proceed under sail. With 5 Nm to go it seemed worth shaking out the reef and trying to get some extra speed under sail. The swell however increased further and spending a long time forwards at the mast taking out the reef (which involves clipping 3 slides into the track) no longer seemed such a good idea, especially without a harness, and a rapid return was made to the cockpit. Further incantations were instead made to get extra power from the engine. Once we were into the shelter of Whangaruru we did speed up a bit and we moored at 1900 still with a reasonable margin before sunset. We logged 45 Nm in 11 hours to complete what should have been an easy leg. It was a good confirmation of my belief that one should never trust an engine completely - it is true that if it had not run or lost more power we could have turned back to Tutakaka up to the point where we could have sailed on into Whangaruru but it would have been rather close to dusk. At least it was a huge anchorage we knew.
The following morning there were many discussions as Kev was keen to jump ship, not I should add because he was not enjoying the trip, but because Jenny had learnt she had a job interview and he wanted to get back and give her some free time to prepare. After the previous days conditions we could not guarantee to get him into Russell in the Bay of Islands in time for the last bus of the day so it came down to where was the easiest place to hitch from. We were moored in Puriri Bay opposite a DOC camp site which was at the end of a long gravel road which did not seem a good place.
Eventually we decided to go and look at Oakura, a town on the inland side of the harbour opposite the entry. I was concerned that it might not be easy to get the dingy in and out from the beach because it would not have a lot of shelter from the seas we had experienced the previous day and the wind direction would be onshore for mooring. We decided to have a look and we found a sheltered corner to moor and the seas did not seem that bad - there was even a launching ramp for boats so it looked promising. The dingy was loaded and Kev even turned down our offer of use of our big waterproof drum for his kit although we persuaded him to put his phone in a Glad Bag. To complete the picture one needs to know that Kev is quite big (tall and well built) and the dingy rather small. He sat at the front while I rowed and Pauline said it looked quite funny when we left with back of the dingy almost out of the water.
The row in was uneventful up to the very end when it became apparent that some of the swell was reaching the beach and breaking but by then it was a bit late so in we went. Famous last words from Kev were "looks like we have got that nicely judged" just as the seventh wave broke under the back of the dingy sending it end over end. It is a good job Kev had a good sense of humour - I surfaced beside the upside-down dingy to hear roars of laughter from underneath and Kev eventually surfaced holding his rucksack. We emptied the dingy and discussed what chances he had of hitching whilst soaking wet. He decided to carry his lifejacket and pretend to be shipwrecked! We eventually got the dinghy out safely through the surf and I rowed back whilst he squelched to the local shop to hitch a lift up to the main road.
When I got back and explained what had happened I got little sympathy, Pauline said I was always turning dinghies over so what was unusual. Latter on we found out from one of the books that the slip had hardly been used since it had been built - we know why! By the time I had changed out of my wet swimming trunks (forethought) and we had got the dinghy tied back up etc and secure it was 1100. The weather looked a bit better so we decided to stick our nose out of the harbour and see what it was like. It was not too bad so we started up the coast. The swells were still big but at least we were not tacking into wind anymore and we quickly reached Whangamumu, another sheltered anchorage with an old whaling station. We decided to continue as it is gives an uncomfortable rolling night in heavy swell as we found to our cost a couple of years ago - all the boxes slid from side to side all night even though it seemed so calm that you could see reflections on the water.
It was still early and we were making good progress so we carried on towards Cape Brett. We were hard on the wind and initially we thought we would go round the outside of Percy Island (with the Hole in the Rock) but the wind backed just enough to ease through the inner passage. The seas always seem to be bad on that stretch and the wind vanishes as you go through the passage and then rise to catch you by surprise as you get clear of the Cape - it was no exception. We ended up with a delightful high speed run across the Bay in 20 knots before a single tack taking us straight to the Albert Channel. We dropped sail and ran in towards to our intended mooring in Waipiro Bay but for some reason it looked rough inside whilst the much less sheltered Te Uenga next to it had a flat sea. Much latter we learnt from a local that it was not unusual - big swells coming in through the Albert Channel can be reflected into Waipiri Bay. The same happens in the nearby Omakiwi Bay which is another favourite of ours (for a wide range around NE).
We had made it - 150 Nm up the coast in 36 hours total with 13 engine hours on the counter, mostly for mooring/unmooring and or keeping the freezer cold. The conditions were probably a bit worse than typical for the coast at that time of year and we learnt a lot sailing long days in less than ideal conditions with a lot of swell and no shelter from the coast.
We decided to spend a day relaxing and did not up anchor till 1100 and just cruised down to the Black Rocks - it was nice to be in shelter and most of the run was goosewinged. We swung towards to look at a cruise ship moored off Russell before returning to another old favourite Opunga Cove to celebrate the trip with a bottle of bubbly.
The next day again started with leisurely approach and we did not up anchor till 0830 and set off with no specific destination in mind. We headed out of the Bay and turned up the coast. It felt much better than we had expected so we called up Ritchie at Russell Radio and told them we were back in the Bay for a few weeks and heading up towards the Cavalli Islands. Russell Radio provides an excellent service to all the boats in the area and is run by two volunteers Ritchie, with the assistance of Lindy (hope I have spelt them right). Ritchie provides excellent weather forecast three times a day based on his own interpretation of the information available as well as repeating the official one. They start as early as 0730 and finish well after dusk. Ritchie also works SSB bringing boats in from Australia and the Polynesian Islands. The service gives one great confidence in the area.
It was a glorious day and we were in familiar territory but I entered in a few waypoints taking us up to the Cavalli Passage and on to Whangaroa whilst Pauline was not looking and looked out the up-coast charts. We left the Bay past Ninepin Island after which the view up to the Cavalli Islands quickly opened up. There was a nice breeze and we quickly past Rocky Point and the Cavalli islands grew bigger. As we continued past the first Islands and Matauri bay spread out we thought about turning back but I pointed out that we were already over half way to Whangaroa and it would be a much harder trip back as the swell was currently from well behind us whilst if we turned we would be at the worst angle and would corkscrew all the way back. I also revealed that I had already set up the waypoints to dodge past the rocks in the Cavalli Passage and got the chart out! Pauline muttered about being conned. We called Ritchie to say we were enjoying ourselves too much and would not be back after all. He told us that with their latest repeaters the range up the coast had increased and we could call in as we entered Whangaroa but would lose contact as we entered the harbour.
It was a pleasant run on up through the Cavalli Islands. You have to dogleg round a set of rocks in the Passage so one has to set up careful courses and take a few bearings for luck. It would be easy to just believe the GPS however I still like some checks and balances. It seemed to take no time before we were passing Flat Island and could pick out the Frenchmen and the Arrows, prominent sets of rocky islands close to the shoreline. By 1600 we were calling Russell Radio that we had the entry in sight and would let them know when we left for the return.
It is worth noting that the entry to the harbour at Whangaroa is so well sheltered that it is not obvious until you get close - there is another headland with the original name of False Head to fool as you approach. There are however often boats on their way in and out as it is a major game fishing centre. The entry is narrow, sheltered from the wind but prone to rapid changes of wind speed and direction just outside. It also has a significant tidal flow through the entry so, which combined with the variable winds make it prudent to have the engine running. We have sailed in and out but it is easiest to motor sail in and put the sails away in sheltered water. Once through the entry you find yourself in a huge sheltered harbour - it is large enough to provide a pleasant days trip going round all the arms and bays.
We moored at the end of the West Arm in Waitepipi Bay at about 1700 after a delightful 34 Nm journey. The area was familiar, the visibility good, the seas moderate and we had hardly needed to look at a chart other than through the Cavalli Islands. We had also reached the extent of our planned cruise, and had in total covered about 185 Nautical Miles of beautiful coastline in 45 hours and five days of sailing (excluding the day relaxing in the Bay of Islands).
We thought we deserved another day of relaxation and restricted ourselves to a cruise round the harbour mooring at midday off the Game Fish jetty at Whangaroa. We rowed ashore a couple of times to get rid of rubbish. The evening was spent at Kingfish Lodge where we had booked dinner. We initially moored on a buoy - it was fun picking it up in the wind but Pauline hooked it first time - then we were moved along side their diving platform. It turned the buoys were required to hold a number of yachts they had chartered for overspill accommodation during a big conference.
We had a very excellent and good value meal - the menus do not have prices so you never know what the bill will be - starter and finishers seem to be about $15 and mains $30. We both had the same, smoked game fish in filo pastry, seared venison and a white chocolate brulee with home-made macadamia ice cream and fruit coulees. It was the best venison we have ever had in New Zealand, both properly hung and cooked.
The next morning we checked the cruising limits in the handbook on board and they were a bit ambiguous but clearly extended a up the coast to the next point but it was less clear whether they went "round the corner" to Mangonui. Rob could not give a quick answer on the telephone either as the definitive documents from the Marine Safety Agency were in the owners hands. Rather than risk going beyond the insurance limits we decided to limit ourselves to a trip as far as Kauri Point. The forecast was 10 rising to 15 knots so we left without reefs however the forecast was optimistic and we quickly found ourselves with full sail with winds of 20+ gusting up to 28 knots. Seas were also much higher than expected and even with the jib wound mostly in we were getting a very rough ride. We turned back into the shelter of the harbour to put in a reef but by the time we had replaced the contents of the cupboards we decided it would be sensible to stay put and had another cruise round in the sheltered harbour trailing a troll (without success) and taking some pictures.
The next day was a little better so we put in a reef and ran up to the limit of the cruising range at Kauri point and returned round Stevenson Island. Moderate seas and 12-15 knot winds meant it was hard work as we were going the wrong way round and had to tack the whole way and the broken water did not allow us to keep as close to the wind as we would have liked. It was a lovely afternoon once in the shelter of the harbour so went for another cruise roundto take some video before returning to moor at same place in the Eastern Arm on the southern edge of Pararako bay - there is a nice spot where there is a finger of deeper water leading towards the shore. It seems to give reasonable shelter in winds which had now risen to 20+ knots even in the harbour. A small Kahawi passing by hooked itself to provide supper.
By now it seemed time to head back to the shelter of the Bay, as the tropical storm which had been partially the cause of the swell and Easterly component in the winds was getting closer - they rarely get close to New Zealand at this time of year but do distort the weather patterns and the swell certain reaches the coast. We left before the morning forecast and it seemed worse than we expected so we called Russell Radio that we were on route and checked that the morning forecast held no unpleasant surprises. Ritchie told us the forecast was still for 15 knots but with up to 25 in squalls at edge of rain. The seas were forecast to be Rough and we informed us where we would get the worst rides but overall his advice was that it should not be too bad a run back.
This was the first time we had deliberated set out in Rough seas and it turned out to be an interesting and exhilarating run at times. It was definitely a day for lifejackets and safety harnesses as we were being lifted out of the nice seats the owners had recently fitted at times. The swell also seemed more than the two metres forecast but the Raven is very sure footed and we only had one landing with a bit of a jar in the 8 hours - it is difficult to get an accurate assessment of swell but it looked more like 3 to 4 metres at times with the odd one perhaps 5. The speeds we were achieving were dramatically down on what we would expect for the wind speed, especially close to the wind. We decided it was not the time for pride and motor sailed a couple of times to save time in tacking at the roughest times. Ritchie had a nice description for the weather people would experience especially round Cape Brett - he said it would be like being in a washing machine. We knew what he meant.
When we reached Rocky Point with Ninepin Island and the entry to the bay in sight we were joined by a big pod of Dolphins. They played all round the boat and under the prow and must have been with us for nearly a couple of miles until we were forced to tack and we lost them. Once we had entered the Bay we also saw a huge number of Gannets ploughing into, what we can only assume was, a shoal of fish. We moored, with some relief, in our old favourite Opunga - the trip from Whangaroa to Opunga had been 41 Nm and had only taken us 8 hours although it seemed much longer. Although we were glad to have arrived it had been very valuable experience, sailing in more challenging conditions than before.
It was now definitely time to relax and fish and almost immediately we hooked up two Jack Mackerel simultaneously on the Sabikini, both went back after I had untangled everything. You can eat Jack Mackerel but they do have a lot of small bones so they mostly get salted for bait or put back. We eventually caught a 30 cm Kahawi, a bit small but helped towards supper.
In the morning we sailed round to Russell and moored just outside the mess of fixed buoys, few of which seem to be in use at this time of year. It was a long row in and a longer row back in the wind. Pauline had picked up some minor bug and had rung in for an appointment with the medical centre where she was quickly sorted out with some antibiotic. We then walked round for a while and enjoyed dry land. I was bought a new fishing reel as it was my Birthday and we stocked up with food and filled ourselves with ice-cream. Our intention had been to stay until the evening and eat at the Duke of Marlborough, where we have had a number of good meals, but it would have been a long row at night. After three hours on land we already getting the urged to get some wind back in the sails so we sailed round to Omakiwi and decided to find another way to celebrate - fortunately the antibiotics and sparkling wine seemed to mix rather well.
The next day we sailed down the inner straight, goosewinged again, from Omakiwi and out past Roberton Island and on round the North side of the islands practising sailing against other boats. Despite having a reef we seemed to be holding or gaining against several other sailboats in full sail, both in speed and angle to the wind, so perhaps we have been too critical of our performance so far. We did find that quite small adjustments made a difference, especially the position of the main sheet on the slider versus additional tension to keep the sail in the same basic position - it could win one several extra degrees closer to the wind. We came back in through the channel past Urupukapuka and into Opunga in rain showers, some so heavy that we collected some rainwater to top up the batteries - you can not buy distilled water in New Zealand as everyone collects there own. 16.5 Nm in 4 hours.
The next day was still too rough to want to go out on the coast so we went for a short sail intending to go to Engine Block Bay for lunch. Engine Block Bay is on the North West corner of Urupukapuka Island just into the passage past the North of the island and is unnamed on the charts - it is given the name by the locals because there is an old engine block on the beach. It is normally very sheltered but the swell was coming in through the passage and we rolled so much I could hardly stand to get the anchor down so we gave in and we worked our way South to moor in Paradise Bay on the west side where we rowed to the beach to swim and sunbathe. Even here we were rolling a bit so we decided to move round to Omakiwi for overnight. I should note that the weather was rather unusual - the tropical storm had more or less stalled out towards New Caledonia but was still generating the big swells which were coming into the Bay.
As I was hauling up the anchor Calana May, the Raven we chartered last year turned up so had a chat and then continued round to Omakiwi. We caught one good snapper in the evening on the new reel then three more plump snapper in the morning. We also caught several Jack Mackerel, some of them I salted for bait and some went back. I practised filleting on the ones which were going for bait (but leaving the skin to get a good grip for the hook).
By this stage we were getting short of diesel and thought it was time to top up the water tanks. The Raven 31 has two tanks and we had turned off the smaller tank as a reserve so we knew we would not run out suddenly but it does give us a slight list when it is empty. We run into Opua where there are supplies at of diesel and water at the wharf as well as a well stocked shop. I had not been looking forwards to mooring there as it is a very short nose in mooring on the wharf and quite a bit of wind but it turned out to be easier than I expected. It was low tide and we only had a little clearance under the keel which set all the depth sounder warnings off. Once tripped you get no more readings until reset and it went off again immediately - a serious distraction. The Diesel was actually cheaper than for cars at 75.5c and water was free. Most import, the shop had ICE CREAMS.
We returned to Opunga which rapidly filled up with boats from a fish competition. One of the fishing boats called on the radio to report it was recovering in Whangaruru from a battering down the coast in 6 metre seas - we were glad we had made it back when we did. We put some lines out but unlike last year there seem to be few fish in Opunga, not even small ones so we extracted two of our Snapper from the freezer for a huge supper.
Having heard about the coastal conditions our enthusiasm to venture out of the Bay had largely evaporated but we did have a run as far as the Black Rocks. The swells were reaching in that far and spray was being hurled 20 metres or so into the air and obscuring the tops from sight at times - we did not get too close. We sailed back to Omakiwi for the night and the GPS plot shows how well the Raven sails when in reasonable seas as well as how sheltered both Opunga and Omakiwi are.
The end of the holiday was fast approaching so rang Jenny and Kev to arrange our pickup. We also called Russell Shuttle (09 403 8823) who quoted $350 for a run to Auckland for the two of us with all the kit - not much more than a one way hire car and a good alternative for people sailing in the bay wanting to return to Auckland.
We spent the afternoon and night in Paradise Bay (on Urupukapuka). Pauline made bread whilst Pete tried to catch supper - one just legitimate size Snapper (27cms) which would have gone back if it had not been foul hooked and another which was the biggest this year. We ate in style with a Kahawi starter and Snapper for main with the home made pumpkin seed bread - Pauline spent ages extracting all the seeds from a packet of muesli for the bread! We called up on the radio and reported we were in Paradise with home made bread and Snapper.
Another very light day followed with a short run round from Paradise Bay to Roberton for a walk up to the viewpoint. Roberton has an underwater trail in the lagoon but the tide was too low for it too be worth getting the snorkel and fins. We returned to Opunga, mainly because it was the least effected by the continuing swell. The conditions were far from typical and as stated earlier the Easterly winds and big swells are the result of a slowly moving tropical storm 400 miles to the NE. We have never seen any swell penetrate into the inner reaches before - it is no problem sailing but it leaves you rolling and swinging all night and makes fishing difficult as the lines are swept from side to side. Even so we caught a Kahawi for supper which we had with the rest of the home made bread.
We decided, or Pete did, that we could not just sit around for the last day so we (Pete) decided that it was time to see what the open sea was like, added to which our calculations showed we were just short of 500 Nms this holiday. We did not have time to go anywhere overnight so we plotted a run out to Ninepin Island and back to Percy Island (The Hole in the Rock off Cape Brett) and back through the Albert Channel to Omakiwi. We calculated that would be long enough to complete 500 Nm and would take us back out into the sort of conditions one has to be prepared for on the coastal passage namely, rough seas, 3 m swells and 20 knot winds. We set out with a reef in the main and a small jib and quickly found the 20 knot winds as we sailed out hard on the wind to Ninepin Island, never sure if we would end up having to tack away. As we turned for Cape Brett we found the seas were every bit what was forecast but we persevered and after a couple of hours and a few tacks we reached the Hole in the Rock.
It was then time to turn for home which was not as simple as we expected as we had large seas from behind rolling us so much we had to keep over 30 degrees away the straight downwind we wanted. Eventually we could gybe and head for the Albert Channel and the seas reduced enough to risk goosewinging for the last mile before we motor sailed into Omakiwi at 1500 to relax, swim and row to the beach. Just to complete the holiday Pauline caught her first legal snapper. Omakiwi has offered the best fishing this year and once more we ended up with two Snapper on the Sabikini at the same time. The Sabikini is almost worn out and one "fly" is almost bare.
We had Omakiwi almost too ourselves and we settled down to celebrate another great holiday and the achievement of our goal of the coastal passage with our last bottle of the superb Morton Riverview Chardonnay and guess what we had for Supper? (Hint starts with S)
We were not due into Opua till 1400 so we had a leisurely start and cleaned up the boat before leaving at about 1000 to run back. The winds were very light and for a while we thought we might end up motor sailing which would have been a disappointment, but they gradually picked up and we had a lovely quiet run down past Roberton, mostly Goosewinged and once round the corner we had a broad reach all the way back after passing between Russell and Waitangi.
40 minutes out we called in too say we should be on time and shortly after we got the fenders and lines ready and put the sails down for the last time try to do a neat job of flaking. Ten minutes out Jenny phoned to say she had arrived at the marina and was looking for the berth. We had not been into the new marina but the entry was in sight when a small cruise ship decided to reverse out off the quay causing a rapid diversion but a bit more throttle got us out of the way and into the Marina. We turned sharply round into the line of moorings and again into the berth on the pontoon as the second hand on my watch went through 1400 - one quick kick with the engine to line us up and we sliding alongside with Jenny and Tony taking the lines from us and another years sailing was over, the most challenging and the most enjoyable yet.
Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 26th September, 2001