Thursday, January 10, 2019

Passage to Napier

[Kyle]Our wind shift arrived at 3am on the second night anchoring in Hicks Bay. There were tailwinds down the coast, the beach was now a lee shore and even though it was pitch black, we needed to get out of there. Luckily, there’s nothing but open ocean for 5,000 miles, so getting away without hitting anything was easy.

We did a couple of long tacks and by sunrise, we doubled the cape and eased the sheets for a much more comfortable downwind run than our last. The wind was blowing slightly off of the land, so our seas were flatter than usual, the air was warmer than usual and it had with it an ever changing array of land smells; flowers, herbs, wet earth, dry grass…

The wind picked up a bit overnight, again ensuring that neither of us got any decent sleep on our off watches. We were both a little relieved when it started to fade. It then did us the favor of bending to follow us as we rounded Portland Island and entered Hawke Bay.

We didn’t quite have enough wind to get us across in daylight. The harbor at Napier is well marked and well lit for a night entry, so we felt comfortable giving it a go. Everything was pretty straightforward until the end. Our assigned dock had a strong wind blowing sideways across it, which makes it really hard to land without bumping our way in. With help from our neighbor and some quick line handling by Maryanne, we managed to get stopped and tied up without impaling anything.

As usual, we were wiped out from skipping our last off watches in anticipation of our arrival, but the pull of a new place was too strong and we decided to have a little walk around.

Our first impression of Napier (actually the small boat harbor is in nearby Uhuriri) was not too favorable. Most of the marine infrastructure was a little overdue for some maintenance; there were unoccupied buildings and a general atmosphere of dereliction. We had read much about how lovely Napier is with all of its art deco architecture, but we seemed to not be in that district. Ours was a lot of warehouses and boxy apartment blocks of the type that were designed to save every penny in design and construction costs. I was a little apprehensive about the prospect of spending more than a couple of days here. All of our latest forecasts were saying we would have to stay put for a while.

{Maryanne}I was excited as we also had some parts arriving for us to meet up with - we would (hopefully) finally fix our wind instrument. More importantly we (finally) caught a fish - actually we caught 2 but one got away. The one that we caught and kept (an albacore tuna) provided us with several meals, including ceviche - Yum Yum.

Catching Fish - FINALLY!

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Hicks Bay

[Kyle]Speaking of surfing in a gale…

We left Whangaparapara just as the weather was starting to turn nasty again in the anchorage. As soon as we cleared the bay, we were rolling in building seas. We turned downwind and verily flew to the southeast through Coleville Channel to the other side of the Coromandel Peninsula.

Once we got through, the wind turned and came from dead ahead, or at least it seemed to. What really happened was that it just stopped and our headwind was just us coasting to a stop. I cursed the weather forecasters for twenty minutes and then the wind came back and started to increase. This we were expecting and had already reduced the sail area by two reefs each.

It wasn’t long after I went below to get some rest that I heard Maryanne roll a third reef into the jib. It seemed like it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to drop the main entirely, but neither of us was thrilled about the idea of trying to turn upwind to get it down, so we decided to just leave it up and ride it out.

Normally, even if it’s not strictly warranted, we tend to throw in another reef when we start seeing speeds in the high eights and low nines. We spent a good portion of the night crossing the Bay of Plenty in the twelve to fifteen knot range with regular spells of surfing above that. The winds were twenty-eight or so, gusting into the low thirties. At those speeds, the primary noise is the sickening high shriek of the wind screaming through the rigging. We try to go as best we can about sitting out watches and off-watches normally, but in that noise, all either of us are really able to do is worry.

In the middle of the night, we passed close by White Island, New Zealand’s most active volcano. Everything we have read makes it sound like such a cool place to visit, but we weren’t about to stop. We didn’t even want to risk turning across the wind for a close pass. We had no interest in slowing down and waiting for daylight either, which would have just prolonged the misery.

During the daylight hours we were able to enjoy the passing scenery
AND had several dolphin encounters!

Instead, we sailed on and by morning, we were approaching Hicks Bay in a dying wind. Hicks is the closest anchorage to East Cape, New Zealand’s easternmost point. The wind either splits or converges there, which meant on the other side we would have faced the other half of the wind that delivered us here, only going the wrong way. Our plan was to wait at Hicks for two days until the wind came from the other direction so we could resume our tailwind ride down the coast.

We were so beat up from the trip that we both thought it was all we would be able to do to stay awake long enough to do our Done Sailing checklist once we arrived. In truth, we were so wound up we ended up pushing through the day to a normal bedtime.

Hicks was nice. It’s big enough for a hundred boats to wait out the weather, although we were the only one there for our whole stay. The long, curving beach is set against a backdrop of steep green hills. Between the two is a sliver of a village populated by people who live way at the end of the road. Unless you’re on a sailboat, Hicks isn’t on the way from anywhere to anywhere else.

The next morning when we saw daylight coming through the hatch above our bed, we briefly considered getting up to watch the sunrise. I popped my head out long enough to confirm that it wasn’t spectacular and that we weren’t being blown onto the beach. We agreed that was sufficient cause for a nap.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Great Barrier Island

[Kyle]The sail to Great Barrier Island from Man O’ War was a bit on the long side for a daysail, so we made sure we were the first ones out of the bay the following morning. We had great wind until we cleared the northeast tip of Waiheke Island, then it quit and we bobbed around for a bit. We had just enough air moving over the sails to keep us pointed the right direction and the tide was going out, giving us a favorable current, so our progress wasn’t actually as bad as it appeared on the surface.

Another new anchorage for Begonia

After a couple of hours, the wind arrived as tiny cat’s paws skipping across the water’s surface towards us. The sails filled and then started pulling and then started pulling harder. Soon, we were racing along leaving a hissing wake.

We arrived at Whangaparapara harbor just as the weather was switching from “Ooh, Fun!” to “Yikes!” The wind and swell was pushing into Whangaparapara so, like all of the other boats in the harbor, we ducked in behind the hook of land forming the smaller Graveyard Bay within. We were hoping to find a spot that would let the two intervening headlands overlap and block our view of the open sea, but there was too little space and too many boats, so we had to settle for a spot where we were exposed only a little some of the time.

Shortly thereafter, Dave and Lyndon arrived on their boat Parera and anchored nearby. After allowing each other time to get settled, Maryanne paddled the Pudgy over to invite them to dinner.

The lovely Dave and Lyndon of Parera (a type of duck found in New Zealand)

While we were all eating in Begonia’s cockpit, a big motorboat came near enough to us that we all turned to see what they were up to. The guy at the helm yelled something I couldn’t hear over the wind. I cupped a hand to an ear to indicate I hadn’t caught what he had said. He then yelled again, “Where are you going to park?”

Huh‽ The four of us on Begonia looked at each other with confusion. What a strange thing to say. We were clearly anchored. There was a chain sticking out the front and the only four occupants on board were sitting around the dinner table. We even had our anchor ball hoisted, not that he knew what it was. We shrugged and he went on his way toward the part of our swinging circle between us, Parera and the beach. He nearly dropped his anchor on ours, but then drifted a little bit to one side before it hit the bottom, so he ended up slightly ahead of a spot midway between us and Parera. We all agreed he was too close for total comfort, but the bay was full and the options for people ducking out of the weather were limited, so we agreed to keep an eye on him and see how he swings. Meanwhile, we spent a good part of the rest of dinner trying to figure out his cryptic remark. The thing I decided made the most sense to me was that he might have been subtly trying to tell us we were in his spot and we should move so he can have it. Uh, no. We were here first. Anchoring etiquette says that we had the right to ask him to move, not the other way around. If we had been on a mooring ball with his name on it, it would have been within his rights to ask us to shove off, but we were not, so he didn’t.

By the time Dave and Lyndon headed back to Parera, we had all decided the swinging situation with the three boats was acceptable and agreed to let the guy stay put.

By morning, it was really howling. My back, which had been healing slowly, was really hurting again. I didn’t want to sail all of the way over to Barrier and not go ashore, so we joined Dave and Lyndon for a short excursion to the beach. We had a look at the old graveyard after which the bay was named and took the short, but ridiculously steep trail to the top of the ridge separating the anchorage from the open sea. It was definitely way rougher out there. Nobody had come in or gone out so far that day. We were all just hunkered down at anchor.

We made further plans to get together again that afternoon, but before they came to pass, Dave swam over and said they were feeling nervous about leaving their boat unattended and they wanted to skip it. That seemed sensible. Since we got back from the beach, almost every other boat in the anchorage had dragged and needed to re-anchor. One poor couple on a little yellow boat tried so many times that a friend of theirs eventually just told them to raft up alongside him for the duration.

Parera and Begonia held. I went on deck with our handheld wind meter and measured the wind in the mid twenties with occasional long blasts into the high thirties. I saw a peak of 41.9 at one point. That one almost knocked me over.

I retreated to the comfort of our cabin to wait the wind out there. We were halfway through a movie when I noticed the big powerboat was suddenly abeam us, blocking our view of Parera. We went on deck to try to get the guy’s attention, but he was nowhere to be seen – possibly below taking a nap or something. Our hailer horn has a current glitch and wasn’t loud enough to overcome the wind, so we got out our backup lung powered horn. It sounds like a duck sighing or possibly a really sad New Year’s kazoo, but it got his attention. Maryanne went on deck and tried with shouting and gestures to tell him he was dragging. His response was hard to hear, but it was either that he had let out some more chain and he was fine, or that his anchor had reset and he was fine.

Except that he was still going backwards and no chain was going off of his bow roller. Plus, he would surely swing into us on the next wind shift. From on deck, we could see Parera and he was close enough to them that Dave could have probably made a running jump from one boat to the other. Dave was standing at the bow and was able to ask the guy to move in a normal conversational tone. He did so, but I swear he gave Maryanne the stink eye when he left. He tried several times in almost exactly his former spot, but dragged each time, so eventually he retreated to a more distant part of the bay. We all decided we would sleep better knowing he wasn’t upwind of us.

Almost all of the other boats in the anchorage started dragging one after the other. One small boat with a tiny anchor and a tiny chain tried so many times that eventually a friend of theirs told them to raft to him for the night.

In the middle of all of this excitement Swan arrived, carrying Ivan and Kerry, whom we had met in Suwarrow when they were crewing on Capistrano with Dave in 2017, their son Evan and his new girlfriend. We hadn’t seen Kerry and Ivan since then and were looking forward to a reunion. They found a spot downwind of us and Parera, but upwind of that guy, and promised to meet up tomorrow when the weather was predicted to be calmer.

By morning, the wind had ceased completely and it was a different world. We lowered the Pudgy and easily rowed over, barely making a ripple in the bay. Ivan and Kerry were wonderful, as we remembered them to be. Their son and his girlfriend were also a pleasure to meet and humbled us with their many achievements. Swan is big and sleek and beautiful and probably goes faster at dead slow than we do surfing in a gale. It was good to get caught up in the little time we had. More weather was coming and everyone was hoping to be in better protected anchorages by afternoon. We were planning on staying to tough it out because we were pretty comfortable our anchor was holding well and Whangaparapara was in a better position to begin our next leg.

Maryanne: Great Barrier island is a gem to visit. It has a host of different anchorages and lots to do ashore. We were pressed for time to head south, and Kyle's back continued to be regressing when pushed - so we had to skip all that. Still, that leaves us something to look forward to the next time we pass this way.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Waiheke – Man O’ War Bay

[Kyle]After only half a night’s proper sleep following the New Year's Eve festivities, we arose for an early departure. Not our favorite, but time and tide and all that… We had a long way to go and needed the currents to be in our favor.

We got a little more wind than we expected and had a nice, fast sail to Man O’ War Bay on the eastern side of Waiheke Island amidst very little traffic as I reckon the rest of the boaters were still sensibly sleeping in.

We arrived to a madhouse. The bay was absolutely filled with boats who had spent their New Year’s here. Waiheke has several vineyards, but only the one at Man O’ War is supposed to be easily accessible by boat. It’s way on the far side of the island from Auckland and is billed a bit as a secret treasure unknown to most - except the boaters, which is 95% of New Zealand’s population.

We went ashore the next morning looking for a hiking trail before hitting the winery. There aren’t any, but we got to see the road, which has some nice views.

Man o' War bay - looking not too busy at all!

We gave up on that and headed to the winery for lunch and a tasting. The tasting is free, which is nice, but we were getting a bit hungry, so we ordered a couple glasses of the wine we liked along with some lunch.

The setting is pleasant. It was a lovely sunny day and families were sitting around the dozens of picnic tables enjoying their day. The place had a bit of a Disneyland at lunch feel, though, and the noise was getting a bit too loud for easy conversation. It was not the bucolic hideaway we had been expecting. As we were eating, we noticed that there was no actual winery infrastructure in evidence – no vines, no vats, no warehouses full of aging barrels. The “winery” seemed to be just an outdoor restaurant that sold its own brand of wines. That’s how they get ya!

A couple of interesting things happened though. THREE different helicopters landed and discharged their occupants for lunch. Also, two giant yachts brought their passengers ashore in amphibious tenders. As they approached the beach, they lowered the gear and drove up the sand to the gate before kneeling like a camel and lowering their charges to the ground, untraumatized by the need to walk in the sand.

Eww, sand.

We couldn’t decide whether to be impressed by or offended by such contraptions. They were pretty cool. We thought about it for a while and eventually decided we would be more likely to be embarrassed than proud to be delivered in such a way. We’ll row and drag our dinghy up on the beach and suffer sand in our sandals, thank you very much, while secretly (only a little) admiring such inventiveness.

There are many different ways (it seems) to arrive the winery

Also, just before dark, the guy in the powerboat ahead of us (no, not that one, the other one.) caught three fish. I know, Big Deal. No, I mean he caught three fish at once. He pulled one line out of the water that had been in all of a minute and it had three fish on it. I promptly named them Timmy, Steve and Jimbo. Timmy was under the limit, (Tiny Tim?). He went free, so the guy only really got two fish at once. Slacker!

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Auckland - New Year's Eve

[Kyle]We started New Year’s Eve with a visit to the Maritime Museum. New Zealand has more boats per capita than any country in the world and their museum pretty much reflects that. After two hours, we had seen most of the first floor. An announcement came saying there would be a tour starting soon, which we were not about to miss. When someone asked the guide how long the tour would be, he responded by saying, “It can take an hour and a half. With me, it will probably be three.”

New Zealand has a lot to be proud of regarding its sailing culture from the traditional polynesian to the ultra modern America's Cup

He didn’t make it. It was three and a half. There’s a lot of stuff in that museum. When he was done, we had just enough time to rush back to a couple of the sections he had glossed over for a more detailed examination before they closed on us. That’s okay, I was pretty much done with all of the standing and walking.

We headed back to the boat for a quick dinner and to ready Begonia for sailing the following morning. We had a fantasy that we would be able to sneak in a nap afterwards to help us stay awake until midnight. That was foiled when we heard Polynesian drumming coming from the barge. I LOVE Polynesian drumming! I couldn’t sleep feeling like I was missing out!

So off we went towards the sound of the drums. We got there just in time to see the last dance of the Cook Island group. It was like a mini Heiva. It was wonderful. We were immediately back in the tropics under swaying palm trees…

Despite having a prime viewing location from the boat we took a walk about to soak in the party atmosphere around the harbour and on Federal Street

We left the barge and wandered through the various street parties that had been set up. On Federal St, they had music going and a few fan dancers posing for pictures with the crowd. They seemed to be on loan from some of the local, ahem, clubs. I was happy to keep walking, but Maryanne, the free spirit, shoved me in for a pic. I endured it bravely.

Like most cruisers, we sleep when it’s dark and get up when it gets light out. Staying up until midnight would have been a challenge, but Maryanne solved that by booking us front row seats at a play. Yay, her!

We saw City of 100 Lovers, which is the best play I’ve seen in New Zealand. That is only because it is the only play I’ve seen in New Zealand. I generally like live theater, but why do I keep falling for being told at the last minute that I’m actually going to be going to a musical?

Groan... I think I know what the concept was that they were going for. They wanted to showcase the lovable quirkiness of New Zealand’s culture to a mostly tourist crowd. Well, they had really nice sets. The rest was hokey, stereotypical and self indulgent, which was a shame, because it was clear the cast had worked really hard. {Maryanne: I LOVED it, I thought it was fun and interesting... Kyle has never been a fan of Musicals sigh}

The show bombed. The audience slightly outnumbered the cast, but when the rest of the crew were counted, we were in the minority. I have to say, it was embarrassing to be there sitting in the front row. The jokes were stupid and offensive and the singing was over the top, but every time the stage lights pointed even slightly our way, I felt bad for not applauding. Those poor people were working so hard. The house was empty and it was all the fault of the jackass who came up with the concept. The simultaneously saddest and funniest moment came in one of the early dances when they made the worn out joke about New Zealand being mostly sheep. We got to see ballet dancers who had trained their whole lives in their beautiful and difficult art doing it dressed up as fat sheep. Sad. Also, a little bit funny, but mostly sad.

When that train wreck finally came to a merciful end, we had just enough time to walk back to Begonia for the big event. We set ourselves up on the trampoline with a box of wine and watched the laser projection count down to midnight. At one minute to go, cheering could be heard as everyone stopped whatever else they were doing. Then it was a countdown from ten and Sky Tower erupted in fireworks as Earth’s first time zone welcomed the New Year. The saucer-shaped decks on the tower looked like a 1950s alien ship repelling an attack. Pretty cool, and we were right there to see it. The harbour bridge was also putting on a laser/led light show in sync with the tower display - and we had prime viewing for that also.

The Sky Tower show