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Sailing in New Zealand 2004

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The following page was written up somewhat retrospectively as we found very little time to write up the sailing every day - usually we were too busy sailing during the day and after anchoring it is time to fish and cook before collapsing exhausted into bed. It is also decidedly short on pictures as we never find time whilst under sail and after a while pictures of similar looking fish tend to pale. Sometimes we end up with time on our hands to write as we are anchored in some nice sheltered mooring whilst a 'blow' goes past - this year the blow was a bit more than usual and occurred when we arrived at the marina. We rashly stuck our bow out but before we had made it down the dredged buoyed channel out of the marina the water was coming over the boat so we did a sharp U turn and waited patiently - even in our marina the wind was howling past. It was much worse outside and the continuous "nowcasting" readouts on the radio had a steady 55 knots with peaks of 65 in the Hauraki Gulf at Tiritiri Matangi Island and not far short at Channel Island. This was the result of a tropical storm coming slowly down past the east coast and squeezing the flow between it and a series of depressions coming across the Tasman Sea. We were glad we decided to stay put; hurricanes force winds are not for us in a 31 foot yacht, even one as robust as a Raven.

Before I start on the details of our two weeks afloat I should add a bit about sailing in general in New Zealand and the Hauraki Gulf in particular for those newcomers to the newsletter - there is also a web page on Sailing in New Zealand which provides more background. The yacht "Largesse" is a Raven 31 that we chartered for the third time from Charterlink, who mainly operate in the Hauraki Gulf, but also have boats in the Bay of Islands. We have used them 5 previous times in the Gulf, twice with a Carpenter 29 and three times with Raven 31s - see the previous year's reports on the web site. Charterlink's boats are mostly New Zealand designed and built - boats that sail well and are matched to the local conditions and at affordable. Charterlink is owned by Rob Threxton, who is not only a very experienced sailor himself but also brings considerable business skills and enthusiasm. We have got to know him quite well and joined his family for a barbeque the evening before we left.

The Raven 31 is a local design and, not surprisingly is 31 foot. The Ravens sail very 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 hoped that both my niece Christine and nephew Kev would be able to join us for part of the time, especially as Pete was not sure how his shoulder would stand up to sailing after being broken, but neither had the time. Largesse is an excellent example and carefully maintained - she had just had a new engine that we ran in carefully as it only had 1.5 hours on the clock when we picked her up. When we went down the previous day to see Rob we found she was still out of the water and a quick looked confirmed that the underside was fresly antifouled and in every bit as good a condition as above water. She also had a complete new set of interior furnishings in rich maroon suede complementing the sail covers and spray guards outside.

Coming back to the actual sailing: by late afternoon of the third day aboard the wind was finally starting to fall and the forecast was improving so we put in both reefs and ventured as far as Islington, a sheltered anchorage between Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands only just across the Tamaki straight from Auckland. It used to have the nickname of Drunk's Harbour as many of the sailing ships used to leave Auckland and moor overnight whilst the crew was dried out enough for the ships to safely go to sea. The main disadvantage to yachts is that the bottom is a grey and very sticky mud so it is a major task to clean the anchor and chain once one has finally broken it clear of the grip of this quagmire. It at least confirmed that Pete's arm had the strength back to get the anchor up, with the assistance of the winch, and to get it safely onto its mountings on the prow.

The next day was perfect sailing conditions and we made an early start with the intention of going to Kawau as a staging post to Great Barrier Island, although Pauline did ask how far it was to go straight to Great Barrier. We left at 0700 conservatively leaving with a reef still in place that was rapidly shaken out as the winds were lighter than we expected. We had a couple of slow hours after which the wind picked up and by 1130 we were approaching Tiritiri on a beam reach (for those who do not sail that means the wind is to the side giving the fastest most pleasant sailing) and had the choice of turning to Kawau or continuing to Great Barrier. We made a quick call to Rob to see what the long-range forecasts were on the web and decided to press on. The only problem was that the winds were forecast to drop during the afternoon, which they did for periods and we finally had to motor a few miles to make our target of arriving at the entry to Port Fitzroy at about 1700 to allow time to work in through the islands and find a safe mooring inside.

We went round the outside of the collection of islands to the south of the entry which took us through some heavy seas and swell left over from the earlier bad weather and watched a yacht take an inner passage giving them what seemed to be a much easier ride. We then had some shelter and could then take our time working our way in through the islands, past Paget Rock, a nasty unmarked and largely underwater rock requiring one to hug one coast or other, then on into the Man-of-War passage, a deep but narrow passage which has strong currents and swirling winds - it is safest to motor-sail in or at least have the engine running and ready.

We moored in Wairahi Bay down a side arm based on the forecast and ended up facing outwards by dusk, this was not to be the last time we ended up the same way after following the forecasts! The whole of Port Fitzroy is actually very sheltered and one could moor anywhere even in a gale. We recorded what was probably our longest distance logged in a day at 49 Nautical Miles (circa 60 statute miles or 96 kms) almost all under sail - it is probably one of the longest straight runs one can do within the confines of the Hauraki Gulf. It gave us a chance to calibrate the electronic log (that works off a little paddle wheel under the bottom) against the GPS, which recorded the distances above (also confirmed by the chart). As soon as we had the anchor down we were joined by a couple of the rare brown teal that inhabit Great Barrier Island.

The following day was one to relax, being Pete's birthday, and perhaps catch fish. Pauline had obtained a book for him called "Fishing the Hauraki Gulf" by Bruce Duncan with Mike Rose, published 2002 published by Hodder Moa Beckett ISBN 1-86958-931-9 which identifies hundreds of fishing spots and has charts of all the best sites - the only problem was it did not go as far as Great Barrier! We worked our way round the inside of the harbour, in and out of all the little bays with a troll behind us. We used just the jib and kept it well reefed as we needed to keep the speed down for the troll and to enjoy the view. We tried several bays as potential mooring sites but ended up going back to Wairahi Bay where the holding was better than others with an apparently more favourable protection from the wind. We logged nearly thirteen Nautical miles that shows the size of the harbour before stopping early for a bottle of Morton sparkling wine to continue the birthday celebrations.

The following day was again local including a trip out of Fitzroy into the adjacent Port Abercrombie, another large sheltered harbour where we had hooked lots of large Kahawai with the troll previous years. We moored overnight, after another 10 nautical miles, off 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. We caught nothing with the troll but we almost immediately caught several good pan sized Snapper after mooring that evening and a couple more the following morning as well as some reasonable sized Kahawai. Pete swam to the beach to get a bit of exercise and read the DOC boards.

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 stopped here a couple of years ago and did the walk up to one of the old Kauri Logging Dams high up in the valley. The Kauri forests were 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 streambed 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. 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.

First thing in the morning we caught a 34 cm snapper as dawn was breaking, Pete always gets the lines in the water whilst the kettle is boiling for coffee, often before. The weather had been steadily improving so, instead of repeating the walk, we thought we would explore the passage inside of the islands and go down the coast to Whangaparapara Harbour, a 15 nautical mile trip. The winds were still quite high so we left fully reefed and were glad of them once we left the shelter of the harbour. We had originally intended to return but we had sufficient fish to last a few days and we moored in Whangaparapara harbour where we nestled in Graveyard Bay, a sheltered corner just inside the entry at 1530 and broke out a bottle of wine to celebrate another successful day.

The forecast for the following day was excellent although it looked as if the weather could be breaking soon so we had an early start to cross the Colville Channel to the Coromandel and eventually towards the sheltered waters of the Tamaki Straight. We had an excellent high speed run, with the log showing periods of over 7 knots, across the Colville channel in light seas, a pleasant surprise as it has a reputation of being a rough stretch of sea where wind and water collide as both the currents and winds are funnelled between the high land masses on either side. In fact we were virtually becalmed at times after we passed Port Jackson and during the afternoon we occasionally had to resort to a little motor assistance to make it to our target of Te Kouma harbour just South of Coromandel town, a distance of 40 Nautical miles.

The entry to Te Kouma is quite difficult to find the first time as it is hidden round a headland and you have to avoid a boulder bank. Once inside it is sheltered from almost every direction and has some lovely little bays such as Squadron bay where we moored. In the evening we were reading the Raven Owners Association magazine and noticed that there was a barbeque planned for the following day at Kawau that seemed a good excuse to do another long run, this time the longest diagonal between good moorings.

Pete got up before dawn to prepare and put the lines out for luck and caught a good sized Kahawai to keep our stocks up. We left at dawn with a perfect strength wind on the beam as soon as we were out of the sheltered harbour. We then had one of the best runs we have ever had with the log showing long periods at over 7 knots and up to 8.5 at times. The successive hourly position plots showed a little less but we still recorded 6.4, 6.4 and 6.6 nautical miles in successive hours. We had reached the edge of Kawau bay (40 nautical miles) by 1400 and spent a couple of hours and another 10 nautical miles searching the area for any signs of Ravens and finally gave up and moored in Bon Accord Harbour having completed the longest distance yet.

We had a leisurely start after catching a nice pan size (32 cm) snapper and a 44 cm Kahawai (big enough to feed 4 people), the largest we have caught sailing and cruised round the area keeping an eye open for Ravens before returning to Harris Bay. An eventful day.

It was now getting time to work our way back to the inner Gulf and after stocking up with some more fish we left at 0930 for Waiheke Island. We had a nice run down, hard on the wind, but achieving good a good speed most of the way to the Rakino Channel after which we struggled in light winds to reach Oneroa. When we got into Oneroa we found the other boats were rolling and pitching in the swells and the wind had not swung to the South as forecast so we motor-sailed hastily round the corner to the far side of Motuihi and moored in Wharf Bay where we had better shelter other than from the wash from the ferries rushing to and from Waiheke - another long day although only 32 nautical miles.

It was now time to explore the Tamaki Straight and we planned to moor somewhere at the far end of Waiheke. For the first time we had the wind against us and we had to tack the whole way down the Tamaki Straight which was good practice, the Raven will sail quite close to the wind and after a lot of practice we were achieving 90 degrees between tacks as recorded on the GPS track - it is very easy to kid oneself looking at the compass courses and forgetting the 'slip' when sailing close to the wind. The wind eventually swung to the SE and after going down to the end of the Waiheke passage we doubled back, now downwind to moor in Shark Bay on the West of Ponui Island having logged 28 miles because of all the tacking.

We left early the next morning for a sail over to the Coromandel Coast to explore the offshore islands. We had a much better sail over in winds higher than forecast (or being recorded on most of the nowcasting telemetry) but ended up coasting up through the islands before ending up motoring back in a sea so still it had reflections. On the return we were joined by a pod of dolphins swimming along and under the boat almost close enough to touch - magic. We eventually got back and moored in Man of War Bay on the Bottom End as everybody calls the far end of Waiheke after another 37 Nautical Miles.

The holiday was now almost over so we needed to head back towards Auckland and moor within reach of the Marina for the following day. The winds were forecast to increase but the nowcasting only indicated 10 to 12 knots in the Tamaki Straight so we set out without any reefs. Within a quarter of an hour we had the first reef in and the second shortly after. Although the nowcasting was only indicating 11 knots from the Tamaki Straight, which is measured on a weather station on passage rock which was within sight, we were well heeled and doing up to 7 knots, main fully reefed and a tiny handkerchief of jib. We did not understand until finally Pauline was inside long enough to comment that it seemed somewhat repetitive and we realised none of the readings were updating! After a few more tacks we cleared the Waiheke passage and the bottom end and had a high speed, if somewhat rough ride down past the south of Waiheke. We had intended to moor in Putiki so we could so Jenny and Kev during the evening but the wind was straight into the bay so we overshot and after an increasingly rough ride where a lot of water came over the front, we made Islington where we found shelter round one of the corners.

All that remained the following day was the short 11 nautical mile run back to the marina. We had another exhilarating sail most of the way and were met at the berth by Rob. We had visited a lot of familiar places, and despite the poor initial weather had done some of our longest runs within the Hauraki Gulf. Looking at the charts we had criss-crossed in a way which added almost all the long straight line runs possible between recognised good anchorages, the only run would might be longer would be direct from Port Fitzroy (or Port Abercrombie) on Great Barrier Island to Te Kouma. We had covered 330 nautical miles (GPS measurements) in 85 hours and had only used 40 litres of diesel for the engine, much of that charging batteries and cooling the fridge whilst at anchor. Even better was that Pete's arm had not been a serious inconvenience standing up to anchoring and reefing in rough seas although he is still using his left arm for any hard work on the winches.

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