High Summer in the South

 

 

As a practice for the Two-Handed Round North Island Race later in the summer, we had decided to do the 300-mile Round White Island Race. Though most of the boats would be fully crewed, there was also a two-handed division for those, like us, preparing or qualifying for the later race. In the event, it was good preparation, but not of the kind we had expected. We had to re-learn the lessons of patience almost forgotten since our English Channel racing days. After a fairly breezy spinnaker reaching start, which took us all the way to Cuvier island at the top of the Coromandel, we came on the wind for a freshish beat during the night. We had steadily lost out to the lighter boats during the day, but, as so often, gained much of it back on the beat. However, as the sun rose the wind died steadily away to nothing by the middle of the morning. It was not until late afternoon that a light sea-breeze kicked in to allow us to run down under light spin to round volcanic White Island. It is a spectacular sight seen fairly close to, steaming away, as it does pretty continuously.

Once round the Island, we came on the wind and once again spent the night with fresher breeze, allowing ‘Sunstone’ to move back up past some of the boats which had passed us during the day. This included ‘Escapology’, which had nipped round the Island before us and rated level on PHRF. As the eastern sky brightened, however, the wind faded once again and we spent a frustrating day working our way up past the Alderman Islands toward the Mercuries. By late afternoon we could see the big boats, which had started nine hours after us, looming on the horizon. In an attempt to get the jump on them and stay ahead of ‘Escapology’, we short-tacked through a gap in the Mercuries and looked good to round Cuvier well ahead of the pack – until the wind died again. We finally rounded in a light Northerly with several larger boats, still leading most on IRC handicap. As the sun set, we held a shy kite for a time and thought we might just scrape past Channel Island before the tide turned, but soon realised that this was another unfulfilled promise. We sat out the remainder of the night not far from’Escapology’ sometimes stemming the foul tide and sometimes not, watching the steaming lights of occasional retiring yachts go by, heading home to make it to work the next day.

The last day was the most frustrating of all, working the lightest of breezes across the Hauraki Gulf, hoping that the sea breeze would kick in. It did, but not until we were nearly in at about 1630, giving a beat through the Rangitoto Channel. It was an exciting finish, with ‘Escapology’ only passing us in the last few miles with her superior windward ability in the lighter stuff. 

 

 

 

We had finished the White Island Race at 1800 – just the time we had set to give visiting OCC Commodore, Martin Thomas, and his wife, Vivien, dinner on ‘Sunstone’. By dint of an hour’s postponement and feverish tidying, we managed 1900. We enjoyed our dinner and then met again the following day – in Opua, by road, for an OCC meet hosted by Nina and Tony Kiff. It was an abrupt but enjoyable shift from the racing to the cruising context, giving us a chance to catch up with NZ-based OCC members as well as Nina and Tony and the conversion of their yacht ‘Wetherley’ from family to predominantly two-handed cruising.

 

 

 

In Auckland once again, we could relax a little, get out on our bikes and enjoy the summer colours, particularly the Pohutukawa trees, known in New Zealand as ‘Christmas trees’ as they flower during December and January and have suitably Christmassy colours. Fortunately, there are some wonderful examples all around Westhaven Marina.

There are also some lovely tree lined avenues in Ponsonby close by.

 

 

 

 

 

As Christmas approached we tackled our jobs list, occasionally with some surprising contrasts in work in progress in the galley, to starboard, and on the ladder ‘workbench’, to port. In this case, Vicky’s Christmas Cake has reached pre-bake stage and Tom’s babystay reinforcing plate has reached shaped but not polished stage. If you find any gritty bits in the cake you will know what they are!

 

 

 

Late December and January are peak holiday time in New Zealand and we headed out like so many Kiwis for a summer cruise, punctuated by kind invitations from Tim and Ginny LeCouteur and Roly and Consie Lennox-King our new RCC friends.

Tim and Ginny have recently acquired the perfect Kiwi beach cottage at the eastern end of Waiheke Island. Though the land approach is pretty daunting, it was a doddle by sea, where we picked up a mooring next to their yacht, ‘Pizarro’. We were desperately envious of the perfect cruiser’s spot they have found - a neat cottage, with a small boathouse for the dink, looking out over a sheltered mooring for the boat. Just what we are looking for and are very unlikely to find. But then it has taken them some years to get there. Perhaps we’ll just have to do the same – and go cruising in the meantime.

After delightful entertainment and a chance to meet RCC Committee member, Stewart Carnegie, and his wife, Susie, we set off to the North, making a single over-night hop to the BOI.

 

 

 

The Bay of Islands was on its holiday best behaviour for most of our time there. The sun shone, there were light winds at night and refreshing sea breezes during the day. We hiked up hill and down dale and tried to avoid the very worst of the crowded holiday anchorages. During this period it seems that most of the boats in Auckland migrate to the BOI, where despite the number of good anchorages, things do get just a little crowded and where the light displacement Kiwi boats anchored with pieces of string and the odd link of chain near the anchor, skid around like paper hats in a breeze. Fortunately, most Kiwis like to be close to the beach. By anchoring further out we can swing quietly to our heavy chain, threatened only by the late-comers returning from their sunset ‘fush’.

 

Roland and Consie Lennox-King had kindly invited us to join the throng at their Te Uenga beach house for Christmas. We anchored off and were soon joined by Simon and and Kitty Van Hagen, also RCC members, in their newly acquired Oyster, ‘Duet II’. It was a great Christmas party, with Christmas Eve drinks and dinner on ’Duet II’ and Christmas lunch and supper at the house with other local friends.  An annual event in Te Uenga Bay is the New Years Day pursuit race which was won in style by an Optimist. For reasons yet to be researched, pursuit races in the Antipodes are known as Mark Foy races. In this case the handicapper’s job was complicated by having to rate everything from the Optimist to ‘Sunstone’, through the range of Hobies, Lasers and Roly’s Flying Dutchman. He did a pretty good job, especially since he has to take into account the Le Mans start nature of the race. In our case Vicky had to run down the beach and row to ‘Sunstone’, then back in to the beach at the end.

 

 

  

 

 

To work off the huge meals with which Consie had plied us we hiked across the Peninsula to Whangaruru, a pretty and sheltered anchorage south of Cape Brett, where there was at one time a whaling station.

 

 

 

 

Parts of the river up to Kerikeri are very shallow, but at half-tide we could get right up to the pool below the Stone Store. Many of the mooring posts had taken a bit of a battering during the winter floods, but it was still a very pretty stretch of river landscape.

We also had a chance of catching up with Ray and Laura of ‘Ariel’, who took up residence in NZ having cruised across the Pacific in 1999, the last time we saw them in Opua.

 

 

 

Looking ahead to the Round North Island Race, we wanted to reconnoitre Mangonui, the first stop. Because it was holiday time, the harbour was crowded and the anchoring difficult and made even more inconvenient when our outboard took this opportunity to go on strike – the one time when we really needed it in the heavily tidal river. We decided that when we came for the Race we would do all we could to get a mooing.

A brief foray to the long beach beyond Cape Karikari was as far north as we got before heading back to Whangaroa Harbour. This beautiful spot could have been made for cruisers, with high sheltering land around anchorages with only moderate depth. Unfortunately the weather was uniformly gray and we had the only really serious rain of the summer while there. Enough to resort to Alaska-style bucket bailing of the dink.

 

 

Despite the weather Vicky was determined to make up for a missed opportunity nine years earlier of scaling the Duke’s nose and Tom acquiesced to going along to take the obligatory summit photo. Despite the low cloud it was still a pretty good view. So good that Vicky had to follow it up by climbing up St. Paul’s Rock two days later. We were joined in Whangaroa by Simon and Kitty in ‘Duet II’, on their way North and heading then for a cruise of Fiordland in the South Island.

 

 

 

 

 

Where else but New Zealand?! Here you see two P Class dinghies, boats peculiar to New Zealand and similar in type and purpose to Optimists. The class has been the starting point for many Kiwi international sailors. In the left-hand boat is son, in the right is Dad/coach, calling out, “Get that main sheet in harder! Don’t pinch!” and other helpful suggestions. Kiwis love sailing. One of the things we liked about our holiday cruise was seeing how many families were out cruising in boats which were quite racing orientated. New Zealanders really get out and use their boats.

 

 

 

 

To get a little practice for BOI Race week, and to pick his brain for local knowledge, we took Roly out on a tour of the Bay on a day when a fresh sea-breeze sprang up – just the kind of thing we were hoping to see for the Regatta. In the event, what we had for the first two days was very little. On the first day, ours was the only division to get a race, which should have been abandoned. The second day was a little better and on the third day there was finally some decent breeze.

 

Fortunately our crew of Roly, Wayne, Andy, Jonny and Tomas (last with us at the Semana de Vela in Brazil!) were very patient in conditions far from suited for ‘Sunstone’. The very short legs on the windward-leewards meant that starts were critical, something we find difficult to do well in light airs. We avoided disgrace, coming about half-way down our division in PHRF and third on IRC – though third was also second to last! We took most pleasure in seeing the three Navy boats competing with crews from the New Zealand, Australian and British Navies. They had wonderful competition and their excellent results belied all the predictions of the pundits that the rather heavy Chico 40s would be very uncompetitive.

 

 

 

 

 

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