Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Waikura Bay to Admiralty Bay, Sth Island NZ

Well we finally set sail on the voyage but not very far. Just around the corner to Waikura Bay to pick up an anchor winch (to save my back muscles) and ended up staying overnight. We picked up somebodies empty mooring just near the entry to the marina then rowed to shore.

We only have a two man basic inflatable for this task and "NO" motor so in the strong winds around NZ it can be quite a fitness workout just to get home to bed!

The local yacht club welcomed us in so we joined them it being Friday night, for a beer tasting party. Some really interesting and very tasty boutique brewery beers. The locals were very friendly and we soon met most of them. Great night.

Next day we set sail for Cook Straits. This involved sailing the entire length of the Queen Charlotte Sounds to a small cove at the entrance that had been used many times by Captain Cook to replenish and refit the Endeavour. There was a land mark there and some very stylish picnic tables and toilet block from the National Parks otherwise we were the only ones there.

The trip up the Sounds can only be described as beautiful. Very beautiful. Mountain ranges and dense native bush right to the shore. Deep dark water and loads of sea birds. We rowed ashore bagged a heap of fresh greenlip muscles off the rocks and rowed back for fresh seafood dinner. Yummy. I tired my hand at a spot of fishing (never caught a fish before) and with seconds there was a fish on the line. Every time the line went in some silly fish would jump on it. Now I know we will not go hungry on this trip. Fresh Gurnard for breakfast, Wahoo for lunch and 'Spotty' for dinner. What a smorgasbord.

The next day we hauled up the sails and sailed off the Parks' mooring into the wild Cook Straits. The wind quickly rose to 35knots and the seas to a heaving mass of confused large waves. The weather forecast described the weather as "Very heavy seas" and Gale force winds". Fortunately, we going the right way and had an exciting first real sail for me aboard EOS. On the way we lost a water drum over the side and a few panels flew off the boat in the high winds. I had tried to tell Max to tie them down but he was adamant they had never blown off before. Not real important just covers for the cross beams. I quickly stowed the rest, took a reef in the main and the mizzen and settled back down to drink my tea that was still sitting there in the middle of the deck.

Because of the wild conditions we decided to go out to the middle around some notable hazards rather than take the inshore route recommended to us if conditions were suitable. They weren't!
We passed near the Brother's Islands and then Stephens Island and across Pelouris Sounds and into Admiralty Bay the access to French Pass all without a sail change or gybe. Fast exhilarating sailing and wet. The water splashes up between the slatted boards so wet weather gear was the order of the day. I had full ocean gear, harness, sea boots, balaclava, neck warmer and over gloves on. I was toasty and dry in my new ocean gear. Poor Max wore wet suit dinghy boots and had cold feet. He has now bought a pair of sea boots like mine.

When we turned the corner into Admiralty Bay the shit hit the fan. Now the wind was on the nose and massive bullet winds shot down off the steep mountain sides and hit us like hurricanes. One hatch blew inside out and more gear had to be tied down. A further reef in the sails saw an easing of the drama but we had to find shelter. The infamous French Pass is a narrow and very dangerous and difficult passage between D'Urville Island and the mainland but it saves heaps of sea miles. The current races through at 9 knots and you can only do it at slack tide (about 20 minutes in all) and it was not slack tide. In addition a real nasty storm was forecast and we did not want to be caught out in such a storm.

Every bay that seemed out of the wind was full of mooring buoys looking like fishing nets. As we got closer we discovered they were mussel farms and they were across the safe entrance to every bay. Eventually as the sun got low we saw a hole in one of the last bays before we hit land and downed the sails to motor in through the narrow gap to anchor in the beach. A lonely isolated house stood sentinel over a moored Ferro cement yacht. As we approached a man on the shore beckoned us to raft up to the ketch which we gladly did. He told us it was tied to not one but three mooring blocks as both the winds and tides in that area were known to be fierce.

As we sorted out all the gear, charts on the floor, cupboards open, sails all over the place etc the owner, Herb rafted out to us on his make shift very shaky looking pontoon on ropes from the beach. A friendly and humble man greeted us and made us very welcome. So welcome in fact we stayed for three days waiting for the right weather to move on.

Herb and Sandra, his Singaporean wife of 10 years, were pleased to have visitors. They live a sustainable life style with power from two hydro generators (there own mountain stream), several large solar panels and a noisey wind generator that does more revs than a spitfire propeller. We ended up guests for the evening but slept aboard the boat pulling ourselves on the shaky raft out to the ferro cement yacht then stepping carefully off onto ours. We soon changed to using our own dinghy as we really were not keen on a swim in the cold NZ waters. Crazy Sandra would swim across her bay every morning. Brrrgh!

As there is a fee in every town even for household garbage most folk with a bit of land just dump everything in there bush so the whole area was littered with one day may be useful bits and pieces. Herb loves to pull electrical items apart and invent things. He made all their pumps, and their heating units every thing in fact. A very clever man who can just not justify throwing anything out. Sandra regularly appeared with fresh scones or chapattis for us to eat over a cup of tea looking out of their huge glass window across the entire bay to the mountains beyond. I found out that Sandra had never been to the top of there mountain in all the 9 years living there so I challenged her and Herb to join me climbing to the summit. Herb reckoned he had been before so he backed out. I later heard that he just said that to avoid having to join us and climb that damn hill.

It was a beautiful day taking far longer than either of us thought. Sandra not being used to walking found it quite a struggle but refused to give up and pushed on to reach the summit. We were joined by their 13 year old dog who i am sure did the whole climb twice. Running up to me then back to Sandra way below then back up again. The view was well worth the effort and it was not long before the snow capped peaks of Mount Arthur and Abel Tasman were stretched out before us. We could see for thousands of miles it seemed. Eventually we could see over the top to Pelouris Sounds and Sandra could pick out her neighbours such a long way away. The summit proved to be home to fierce cold winds and steep rocky crags so we dropped to one side in the lee to eat our lunch looking way way down on EOS moored below in their private bay.

The trip down took a while with Sandra on all fours quite a lot of the way to save the strain on her knees and to avoid being blown over the edge. We reached the bottom around sunset before the S & R were called out. On the way down we had to negotiate steep grassy slopes and I found it easier to lie flat face first untie my pack and glissade down. Excellent fun! The dog disappeared to chase a few sheep. That night we met a real light house keeper, named Pip. A friend of Sandra and Herbs who came over by boat from D'Urville Island to help herb with some building. Pip and his writer wife lived even more remotely on a very large island with only 45 people in total, no shops, no road, no ferry and no phones. He really likes the isolation. Well I suppose he must have if he had been a lighthouse keeper most of his life. I had always dreamed of living in a light house and am still fascinated by them. For those of you who got to see the children's book i wrote shortly before i left for my daughter you will have noticed that it was based around a lighthouse family so for me meeting Pip was a a Godsend.

What I like so much about being stuck in this part of NZ is the friendly and hospitable locals. I feel it would not take time to meet everyone if I lived here. Even at the marinas the resident liveaboard folk make you welcome and feel part of there homes. I have been aboard so many boats already.

At last the stormy winds had eased and we bid farewell to our hosts and motored across in calm conditions to French Pass. This narrow passage in renowned for swirling whirlpools and nasty overfalls that can turn a massive steel boat in seconds and plough it straight into the reefs on either side. Luckily we got local knowledge from herb and Pip telling us to assume slack tide was twenty minutes earlier than that listed in the almanac. They were right we traversed the passage in ideal conditions with motor and sails up. It was hard to imagine the reason for so many wrecks having occurred there.

On the other side we were in Tasman Bay many times bigger than Sydney harbour and revealing a new set of weather patterns totally different to Cook Strait not very far to the east. The wind was light 10 to 15 knots. We enjoyed some nice sailing after dodging some nasty rocks that appeared in the middle of the waters without much warning. Alert we saw the disturbed water as the GPS flashed a warning: "dangerous rocks ahead". With still more bad weather forecast we head for shelter in Croisselles Harbour. There was not much there but it was very beautiful and a local sailor directed us to a nearby beach with a mooring that was absolutely stunning. So to the chorus of a multitude of native birdsong, and a setting sun across the Tasman Sea silhouetting several pointy islands before it, we rested with a yummy fresh seafood meal and a nice drop of local Malborough Red Wine.

I rowed to shore and found myself feeling a little like Robinson Crusoe. Not a foot print on the fine sandy beach, oyster for the picking, dense tropical looking native forest, bird noises everywhere, fascinating driftwood to make a home from and absolutely noone else around. I scrambled around the foreshore eventually rock climbing to avoid wet feet and soon I was up in the forest fighting my way through a tangled web of native vines and pandanus. Wild pig tracks everywhere soon had me heading down again as did the very loose shale rocks. I enjoyed my isolation and time to myself then rowed calmly to the gently bobbing Wharram catamaran on its mooring. Sadly a spot of fishing in the intense cold of the twilight revealed no fish whatsoever but we did have more mussels that I had collected from the rocks which made a fine seafood chowder that night washed down with more red wine. The oysters I ate on the spot. Very tasty straight from the shell.

Up early at 7.00am (Brrrgh) and we were away as there was enough wind to sail and yet another storm was due that afternoon of 40+knots. We had an uneventful slow sail to Nelson Harbour with one section of strong wind that saw us reef yet again but we ended up motor sailing the last bit for fear of being caught out again. The storm that was forecast never eventuated or at least we did not feel it in the safety of the Nelson harbour. Arriving at sunset again we spent an illegal night attached to the public wharf then booked a marina berth so we could have power over the next few days to effect last minute work to the boat.

We are still here. Now we are known in the local Nelson Cruising Yacht Club and around town. Many of the liveaboards on the marina have accepted us as one of them and I have had cups of tea aboard a few gorgeous boats most of which are our envy as they nearly all have wood fired stoves aboard like little miniature 'arga' cookers. It is cold. Very cold! In fact most mornings now we get deep frost on the boat. We get up at 7.30 but the sun does not arrive until 9.00am and is gone by 2.30-3pm. The walk along the floating jetty to get to the toilet is fraught with slippery ice and cold water either side to greet a wrong foot step. In the day I wear shorts and a balaclava and scarf (crazy me) and at night I pile two doonas on my bunk. We have no heating other than the kero cooker.

Nelson is a neat town with excellent facilities for yachts and supplies. The former owners of EOS, Rob and Jenny, invited us to their house last night and provided us with a sumptuous meal and a whole evening of interesting conversation about seas and cultures, sailing and life in Nelson and beyond. There is a bulk food co-op here and plenty of alternative cafes and foods available though we still cook aboard EOS. Some of the work we have had to do:

new main reefing system
new steering (Max finally admitted the old one was not strong enough for NZ waters)
connect the water tank we found (did not know there was one)
install my HF radio (with Robs help - he is a HAM radio operator and former journalist)
relocate the genoa track
stiffen the new cabin built
fix up some dry rot we found (minor)
install new light on the masthead
replace all globes with LED's
fix a few electrical problems including the solar charging system
construct the 120 metre drogue line
... and quite a lot more.

We need to leave here soon!!! It is freezing. Even the locals say it is a very cold winter so far. From our berth in the marina we can view snow capped mountains and we can sure feel the cold air when the wind blows from that way. At night it is thermals, gloves, beannies, scarves and down jackets and still it feels cold. Hopefully we leave soon. Just waiting on a a German fellow to decide if he will join us otherwise it is just Max and I. The former third crew member, Bruce, opted out some time ago as the boat was not ready, but we are getting there at last.

more updates shortly ...