|Sailing in New Zealand
Sailing is very popular in New Zealand 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 within the Marlborough Sounds at the top of South Island.
The main centre has to be the Hauraki Gulf where we have chartered a number of times from Charterlink. 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 totaled 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.
The third area is the Marlborough Sounds at the top of South Island where it is possible to charter from several sites, we have so far only explored part of the vast complex which is claimed to have a coastline 1500km long and some of the most spectacular scenery in New Zealand. We first sailed in the Sounds in 2008 when we chartered from Waikawa, near Picton from CharterLink Marlborough which gave us immediate access to Queen Charlotte Sound. The other major sounds for sailing namely the Pelorus and Kenepuru Sounds can be reached via a short coastal passage through the Cook Straight in fair weather but not the gale force Southerlies we experience for part of our time. From the Grove Arm in the west to Cape Jackson in the east, the Queen Charlotte Sound measures some 25 nautical miles as the crow flies, and just less than 30 nautical miles along its course. Its relatively sheltered waters provide challenging sailing and compare well in size to the Bay of Islands, with the additional possibilities of sailing down the Tory Channel to see the remains of the old whaling station in company with the inter-island ferries. Anchoring is however difficult as the coastline falls nearly shear into water of 30 or more metres depth so CharterLink Marlborough have installed a number of mooring buoys and have access to some club buoys. Attractive alternatives are the extensive moorings provided by a number of lodges and resorts which provide a ferry service ashore for you to partake of their excellent sustenance.
Returning to North Island: 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 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. The first time we left the shelter of the Bay was 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 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.
2000 was the first year 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 were now only left with the stretch between Whangaruru and just North of Kawau that was unknown.
Recently we have been chartering Raven 31s from Charterlink , who mainly operate in the Hauraki Gulf, but also have a few (about 6 at peak season) boats in the BoI. We have used them 6 times in the Gulf, twice with a Carpenter 29 and since then with Raven 31s - see the last few years reports - links are at the bottom of this page. CharterLink's boats are mostly New Zealand designs and privately owned and their rates compare very favourably with other firms - 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.
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.
In 2001 and 2002 we chartered the Raven 31 called "Latitude 55" which was, like all the Charterlink yachts, privately owned but maintained and made available for charter when the owners do not require her. She was 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 which was only available to us in 2001. 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.
We could see why it was normally not available as the GPS needed a whole evening with the manual before we could exploit it. 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.
In 2003 Lattitude 55 was no longer in the fleet and it was back to an old favourite, Largesse which had new sails and instrument display. After a few problems left over from the previous charter she sailed very well for us and we did the coastal passage for a second time. We we pleased that Largesse was available again, freshly painted and with new upholstery, in 2004 when we went round the Hauraki Gulf and out to Great Barrier Island for the third time. In 2005 we finally achieved another objective and took Largesse to the Mercury Islands. In 2006 we did the coastal passage both ways to the Bay of Islands with Largesse. We only had 8 days available in 2007 and we only took Largesse as far as Great Barrier Island.
We had two periods of sailing in 2008, firstly a week round Waiheke and the Coromandel getting to know Jenny and Kev's, new to them, Piver Lodestar Trimaran, Shanti. We latter had our first exploration of the Marlborough Sounds for 9 days in a Raven 31, Zigzag, from Charterlink Marlborough. The two were both very enjoyable and completely different extensions to our experience.
We then had two excellent years sailing on Shanti in 2009 and 2010 including sailing to the Bay of Islands and back. Since then our sailing on Shanti has been restricted to shorter trips round the Hauraki Gulf only one of which has been worth a separate write up.
Index to our sailing experiences: