Thursday, 19 December 2002

"Happenings" Number 4 - 2002

Christmas 2002 - New Zealand

How unusual it is for us to be away from Australia, and more specifically Brisbane, at this time of the year; it’s indeed a rare occurrence for both of us. But what a thrill to experience Christmas within a new environment and circumstances in a different country.

And talk about Christmas in a new country; from the day of arrival we got the feeling we were in Lapland it was so cold – even the locals were complaining about it, and as often as Audrey – but when we heard some time later that it was the coldest NZ Spring weather for 35 years, we understood. Fortunately that’s behind us now with summer on the way.

So here we are resting at anchor in scenic Bon Accord Harbour, (the ‘harbour’ moniker no doubt a legacy of the 1840/50’s when this was NZ’s first copper mine) at historical Kawau Island, a day’s sail north of Auckland, making an early start on this year’s Christmas ‘Happenings’ contact, for we realize it will be all go once “Envy” arrives at the marina in Auckland. So much to do and see, with Christmas and all that!

We arrived at Opua in New Zealand on 23 October after a ten day Tasman passage, being just one of the 460 plus international recreational yachties cleared through this entry port alone by NZ Customs to date this year, so you can see there’s plenty of us out there doing it! We spent 22 days discovering this beautiful ‘Bay of Islands’ area, in the country’s north-east, where there are numerous tiny islands all close by, offering perfect shelter in a multitude of snug anchorages surrounded by exceptional scenery.

Every other day offered a new anchorage with superb views. We tramped up steep hills and down, on hiking tracks around some of the most scenic country we’ve ever seen; Moturua Island is simply awesome and a photographers paradise, and our new digital camera has been really working overtime, recording several hundred snaps, which are all categorised on our computer and are already a source of ‘slide show’ viewing enjoyment. There’s no doubt that digital cameras are the way to go! We also have a colour printer on board and Audrey is compiling a great photo album of our NZ adventure as we go.

Another delight (for us) of this area was its Oysters. Never have we seen so many of a good size and easily accessible, and to date we have collected about 500, with 211 our best harvest in one 3-hour session. We eat them raw, or cooked Kilpatrick with bacon or as cooked oyster patties, and enjoyed another cooked meal of them for lunch today. Maybe oysters are not your ‘cup of tea’, but nevertheless, can you imagine what 500 oysters would cost in OZ or the USA? Either raw in the bottle or at a restaurant, $ 000’s!

The Bay of Islands is the birthplace of the nation, for it was here in 1840 that the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. It is where NZ was first settled and has a number of historically significant places, some of which we visited in the company of three different local people who befriended us during our time in the area; they also took us sightseeing on daylong excursions, as well as into their homes for overnight stays. One of these were the Logans, a local yachting couple out for the weekend, whom we had met at RQYS in 2000, and who happened upon ”Envy” in one of the anchorages, so they took us ‘under their wing’ and spoiled us, fortuitously, for it was Audrey’s Birthday. (39 again!!)

It was time to move on so we sailed out of The Bay of Islands and southward to the old whaling station ruins at Whangamumu, an excellent anchorage 14 miles down the coast where we went ashore and inspected the historic stone remains, dating from late last century to the early 1950’s. There were 5 yachts here the first night, one each from the USA, Holland, Germany, NZ and Australia (us), a typical anchorage mix, plus a local fishing boat. A rock pool at the base of a small waterfall 100 mtr in from the stony beach made for an excellent laundry facility, much needed, since we again tramped many hours, over two days, along steep walking tracks.

Meanwhile back on “Envy”, Bruce’s fishing enquiry to the solo professional fisherman anchored nearby resulted in an invitation to take him rod fishing close by for a short while that afternoon, which resulted in 5 good fish, all given to us, and an invitation to join Roy on his 30ft fishing boat early next morning for some ‘serious fishing’.

Away at 3am around to the next bay, and by 4.30am they had run out 2 ½ miles of long-line set with 720 hooks baited with squid. An hour after sunrise around 6.30am the lines were hydraulically retrieved together with the day’s haul of only about 40/50 ‘sale’ fish, mostly Snapper, though many hooks caught undersize fish, baby sharks, stingrays and starfish etc., which were all returned alive to the sea.

Two mornings later saw Bruce join Roy again at 3am and this time the catch was twice as big. The result of all this is that we ended up with the fillets of 17 very yummy fish in our freezer, and Bruce learning a bit more about fishing! No fish tastes better than freshly caught ones, so scrumptious, and the happy knowledge that several more meals await us!!

Next stop was another 15 miles south to the attractive coastal village of Whangaruru, for a couple of days then on across the Bay for six miles to isolated Mimiwhangata Beach with its grassy parklike hills running down to golden sands, and famous amongst the locals as the picturesque venue of a royal BBQ for HM The Queen during a 1960’s visit. We stayed here only one day and night, since its exposed situation cautioned prudence.

With absolutely no wind about, “Envy” motored on another 15 miles south to the slightly larger coastal village of Tutukaka which, surprisingly for its tiny size (1 corner store), has a new marina, but little else. Several international yachts shared this anchorage overnight.

We sailed out early next morning for the 55 mile run to Great Barrier Island, a lovely day’s sail, other than for our arrival during a heavy rain squall ‘whiteout’ when we couldn’t see anything and had to navigate blindly into the port on GPS co-ordinates for an uncomfortable, though short time.

Great Barrier Island is another picturesque place whose volcanic origins and relative isolation have endowed it fauna and flora not found elsewhere in NZ, a colourful history and remains of past Kauri logging glory, and some awesome hiking tracks that test ones stamina. We walked a few of these tracks, including one with steep grades and steep drop offs up to the old historical kauri dams which, when released, sent all the huge cut kauri logs cascading down the watercourse to the bay below for onward delivery to distant sawmills. Quite ingenious engineering. This mountainous densely timbered island offers many splendid anchorages in numerous small bays, several of which we visited, including Whangaparapara further down the coast, where we spent the night in company with the luxury superyacht ‘Persus’ being one of many here in NZ for the America’s Cup.

But the highlights of our eight days here were; surprise, surprise -- Bathing and Fishing!

At a small cove named Smokehouse Bay, there is a crude establishment privately donated for the benefit of all, which comprises a room for smoking fish (very popular here in NZ), and a tin shed bathhouse, together with the welcoming sign ‘Smoke and Soak here.’ A wood-fired donkey boiler provides abundant hot water to a big old clean bathtub, where Audrey soaked blissfully in seventh heaven.

Bruce, now fully qualified and an authority on the subject following the earlier reported 2 days experience with Roy, the professional fisherman, decided to have a go at drift fishing in 30/40 mtr deep waters across Port Abercrombie and was duly rewarded with a catch of 15 Snapper, of which three were quite good sized fish. Eight of them were cleaned and frozen whole for later baking, and the remainder were ‘taken into stock’ as fillets.

Favourable conditions on Tuesday 3 December saw us depart Great Barrier Island heading back 30 miles towards the mainland, to beautiful and historically significant Kawau Island, home of NZ’s first mining operation (copper), and the famed ‘Mansion House’ home of early New Zealand Governor Sir George Grey. We anchored in Lavinia Cove also known as Schoolhouse Bay, site of an 1860’s school for the miners’ children, provided by Grey.

Over the following 6 days we enjoyed discovering the island, walking several of Kawau’s tracks through tall forest trees, fern shaded paths and around pretty shingly bays to the old copper mine site and the stately Mansion House, whose park-like manicured grounds contain a long established (1860’s) arboreal mix from each of the world’s continents. The two storey Mansion House is now owned by the National Trust, open for public inspection, and is magnificently fully furnished in period style; it is simply stunning inside with its Kauri columns and wall panelling. Few people today, 140 years on, could boast such luxuriously grand accommodation.

So we returned again to the real world of our little floating home, and indulged ourselves once more with oysters for lunch and grilled Snapper for dinner. ‘Envy’ enjoyed two more different anchorages around Kawau before moving on to Auckland a few days later.

This city is alive with America’s Cup activity, & some of the visiting overseas mega yachts are just unbelievable. Absolute dream machines, both motor and sail, from America and Europe, which you only ever see as glossy photographs in upmarket boating magazines. On our way into Auckland Harbour we passed several of them heading out to watch the days Cup racing, and also several of the Cup contestant yachts as well. It’s one thing to see these boats on the telly but awesome to pass them a stone’s throw away on the water.

We arrived at Auckland’s West Park Marina, some 22km out from downtown, on Monday 8 December and rented a small car the following day. So here we are, catching up again on some boat maintenance jobs, as well as looking to buy a vehicle of some sort, as we try to find our way around a new city amidst all the usual pre-Christmas helter-skelter. What we’ve seen of NZ so far confirms all reports of its attractive natural beauty, and we hope to discover more of it soon.

That can be the subject of our next ‘Happenings’ contact. Meanwhile, from each of us to you go our best wishes for a


Tuesday, 19 November 2002

"Happenings" Number 3 - 2002

“Envy” crosses the Tasman

‘Audrey’, I said, as we surged along powerfully at seven knots into a dying day, ‘the forecast was for friendly 15 knot NE breezes, and here we are in a building Nor’easterly gale with winds consistently 30 to 35 knots’. What a way to get your sea legs, I thought, and on our first day out, – but then, what should one expect. Welcome to the Tasman !!

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, so if you’ll bear with me – I believe, like all good stories, it should start at the beginning.

During a wonderful sojourn through the Louisiades last season aboard our Swanson 38, “Envy”, Brisbane RQYS members Bruce Vidgen and Audrey Napier dreamed of distant horizons and, in our case, a more adventurous cruise farther into the near South Pacific.

Chasing the dream resulted in a plan to cast off during July 2002 for several months cruising New Caledonia and Vanuatu waters, before heading south to summer over in New Zealand, but an innocent sail-away June long weekend into Brisbane’s southern Moreton Bay Islands with the RQ cruising group changed all that!

Stepping ashore on tiny Karragarra Island that June morning, Audrey remarked on its beauty. With a welcoming sandy beach, soft turquoise waters, arable red volcanic soils, huge mature gum trees with so many attractive birds and yet so sparsely settled with no shops or commercialism whatsoever, which all contributed to a special ambience that so captivated us, five weeks later we owned a house there and spent the next three months ‘moving in’.

So that was the end of New Caledonia – for now – and we turned our sights to the Tasman.

Out came the South Pacific Atlas of Pilot Charts which was checked for prevailing seasonal weather conditions and, together with the advice of sailors who have made the passage at that time of year, all looked good for a crossing so we set a departure date for Sunday 13 October, otherwise we’d procrastinate ‘biting the bullet’ as some do.

Friday 11 October found us clearing Customs in their city office, followed by a visit to the Met Bureau fortuitously located next door, and, buoyed with an encouraging prognosis from the senior forecaster whose crystal ball said 15kt NE winds commencing Sunday for the following four days, we departed our Karragarra Island mooring the next morning (Sat 12) and motored down the shallow winding Bay channels to Southport.

D/Day, Sunday morning 13 Oct 2002 shone bright and clear at 0700 as we, tucked snugly away in the Southport Basin, spoke to Des Renner on 13 Megs at Russell Radio in north-eastern New Zealand, who would work us across the Tasman.

SUNDAY 0800 Hrs with little breeze, “Envy” motor-sailed out through the Southport Seaway in anticipation of both our imminent adventure and the forecast NE breeze coming in. This prospect of both wind speed and direction was just what the doctor ordered since we’d chosen a course with a single waypoint 720nm away close to Norfolk Island, following best advice to stay in the friendlier weather patterns North of 30ยบ S until above New Zealand, before turning south on a course for North Cape.

Two miles off Southport a whale was passed close by, and by noon we were 20 nm out and the breeze had reached 15/20 kt NE, simply wonderful sailing. “Envy” was prancing along under full canvass doing 6’s & 7’s with the fresh breeze through moderate seas, but the wind continued to build all through the afternoon.

Our log tells the story: 1500hrs. NE freshened to 25kt, reduced sail, Avg 6.5+kt for last 3 hours. 1800hrs; 2 reefs in Main and reefed Staysail. Spoke to Russell Radio on sked frequency 6516 - 2100hrs; now constantly 30/35kt gusting 40kt. Barometer steady at 1015. Boat handling it well. Strong wind blew over 30+kt all night long with quartering sea; Autohelm 800 tiller pilot on Fleming windvane steering the boat much truer and better than I could.

MONDAY day 2 the morning breeze had moderated to 20/25kt and our first day’s run, noon to noon, was exactly 140nm at avg 5.8kt. Envy is now 160 nm out from Southport and ‘trucking’. When the wind veered true North at 30kt during the afternoon out came the Trysail, believe it or not, for its first ever use at 20 years old!! We’d never used it til then during our 3-year’s ownership of “Envy”, and the previous (original) owner told us he’d never used it in his 17yrs. The stiff, white ‘new’ Dacron sail certainly looked and felt like it left the loft just yesterday. During the night we watched dark clouds build, and just after midnight the performance began. Lightning and thunder so close all around, but there was little rain or wind. Days run 124nm.

TUESDAY day 3 saw us buzzed at low level by an Australian Customs aircraft 284 miles out. Wind still N at 15/20kt, now sailing with trysail & full genoa. Breeze then dropped to 5kts and we had a drifter of a night. Day’s run was 124nm. The waxing moon grows bigger each night.

WEDNESDAY day 4 now 362nm out, fine and sunny, barely 3/5kt so motor-sailed for the next 18 hours until 10kt breeze arrived just after midnight. From 35kt to 3kt! Day’s run 110nm.

THURSDAY day 5 sailing again nicely 12/15kt N/E and Fleming windvane steering mechanically. Passed within 400 mtr of a deep sea fishing boat at 0345hrs. Night winds increase 25kt with forecast to 30kt. Surfing down swells at 7+kt. Noon-to-noon run 135 nm.

FRIDAY day 6 took a ‘greenie’ into the cockpit at 0200hrs during Audrey’s watch. At 0600hrs we’re heading for a long low line squall, which turned out a fizzer but at midday heavy storm clouds appear unbelievably quickly from the South and between 1215 to 1300 hrs a ‘weather front’ blasts through and we ride out a 30 to 40kt storm, with gusts to 50kt, and constant heavy rain but little thunder. Day’s run 134nm. The waxing moon grows bigger and brighter nightly.

SATURDAY day 7 our first sighting of a ship since departing Australia. Breeze E/NE early and sailing at 5.8kt, then died away to 5kt and veered ‘on the nose’ so altered course more Southerly. Reading Dickens “David Copperfield”. Set clock forward 1 hour. Day’s run 104nm.

SUNDAY day 8 0200; sailing nicely at 6kt with trysail and full genoa, under an almost full moon. Set clock forward one hour. 1500 no breeze so motor-sailing again. Day’s run 119nm.

MONDAY day 9 put clock forward I more hour to NZ summer time, (now Aust + 3hrs). SW at 25kt with showers this arvo, then breeze eased through the night S/E 12kts sailing at 5kts with tonight’s FULL MOON in smooth seas. Magic! Getting exciting, should sight New Zealand tomorrow if the GPS and me are doing it right. Day’s run 127nm.

TUESDAY day 10 slow going early but breeze picked up 15/20kt, now racing toward North Cape, at 6kt. We sight land at 1315 hours, that’s NEW ZEALAND, right where it’s supposed to be. What a great feeling! We’re now slowing “Envy” down so as not to arrive at Opua, our entry port, in the dark. We can clearly see the coast in the moonlight at midnight, a few miles to starboard. Only 40nm to go. Day’s run 113nm.

WEDNESDAY day 11 Breeze fading away, sailing at 3.5kt, then just after midnight the #1 headsail halyard broke and down came the genoa partway into the water. Fortunately almost no wind, and only a few hours away from our destination. We secured it on the foredeck motoring the last few dawning hours into the port of Opua, arriving at the Customs Wharf at 0930hours. With formalities over, a loud pop aboard signalled “Envy’s” bubbly welcome to New Zealand!

Many of you will know the feeling of making landfall at the end of a passage, and no doubt we felt the same satisfaction. Clearing Customs and Quarantine was both free of charge and a breeze, since we had no ‘duty free’ goods to declare and had provisioned the yacht accordingly for the passage across, knowing what would be sacrificed upon arrival. We were told New Zealand has the second strictest quarantine entry regulations in the world after Australia.

In all, our route of 1196 nautical miles took 10 days and 1.5 hours, which we covered at an average boat speed of 5.0 knots. Indications were that the passage would take between 10 and 15 days, and since most weather patterns span only a few day’s duration, we had expected to be exposed to a variety of weather and were not let down on that account.

Our 10 day crossing exposed us to the most common of usual weather conditions including gale force winds and rolly windless drifters, 40+ knot winds to simply idyllic smooth seas cruising, storm driven pouring rain to perfect warm sunny days and magic soft moonlight sailing to crackling lightning and thunder in the middle of the night. But it was all simply great.

In ignorance of what sea conditions to expect, we left with enough frozen pre-cooked meals for the trip in the event cooking enroute was too difficult, but in fact, that was not the case. Sleep deprivation, always a concern for short-handed cruisers, was not a problem once we settled into ‘sea mode’ after the first three days, with three hour watches before midnight and two hours each through 0600.

The unwelcome aspects of the passage were not as frightening at the time as they may now seem to the reader, and beyond sensible cautionary bounds, at no time did we feel our safety seriously compromised. In hindsight we would happily repeat the crossing, with little or no change to our passage plan, but granted, every passage is different. Nevertheless, we will always happily recall our experience of “Envy” crossing the Tasman.

Saturday, 19 October 2002

"Happenings" Number 2 - 2002

Cruising the Queensland Coast and Home News

There have been few significant changes during the year, other than one which some of you are aware and others perhaps not.

So in order to get everyone up to scratch, and particularly many overseas friends, here’s our first attempt at a short generic update, though some of you will need to tolerate the boredom of revisiting known ground.

We returned from our 2001 six month’s cruise to PNG’s Louisiade Archipelago aboard our yacht “Envy” in time for Christmas, had a break, then back into temporary work for Audrey and boat chores for Bruce, in preparation for the 2002 cruise to New Caledonia and on to New Zealand.

The months rolled by uneventfully with the social potpourri of visiting friends, occasional dinner parties, weekend sailaways down the bay, lazy days and all the usual happenings and distractions. That is – until the Queen’s Birthday holiday weekend in mid June.

We had decided to join the Yacht Club’s monthly sail-a-way weekend, on this occasion to the picturesque Bay Islands of southern Moreton Bay, some 5 miles offshore about 25/30 miles south of Brisbane. There are six populated islands within the group (plus a similar number unpopulated) and the destination for the weekend was Karragarra Island, a small island of around 90 inhabitants, 2.5km long and 500metres wide, with a lovely well protected anchorage and sandy swimming beach.

It offers absolutely no shops or anything commercial, other than regular high-speed waterbus and vehicular ferry services. There are many more vacant allotments than houses; the place is crime free, peaceful and quiet, other than the sound of the abundant and colourful bird life.

We went ashore next morning, our first time ever on Karragarra, and Audrey declared her immediate fondness for the place before her feet had barely stepped on the sandy beach. Four weeks later we owned a house on ‘Karra’, which is now our home, and our yacht “Envy” also lives out the front on a loaned mooring.

The house is high set timber, contains 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a private rear deck with a view that can’t be built out. Nothing elaborate, but comfortable and an ideal base to lock up when we go cruising, and there’s always a big comfortable bed here for you!!

Having delayed our cruising departure whilst moving-in these past few months, our changed plans are now to sail direct to New Zealand, and we hope to leave Brisbane by mid October, weather permitting, for the 1200-mile passage across the Tasman.

Plans are to buy a van and tour around NZ for 5 months, after seeing some of the America’s Cup racing, then sail onto Tonga and Fiji mid year and return to Oz by Christmas 2003. We’ll keep you informed.

Our address here is 54 Treasure Island Ave, Karragarra Island, Queensland, 4184, though our ‘snail-mail’ address whilst away cruising remains PO Box 2019, Ascot, Qld, 4007. Our current phone here is 61-7-3409 1583, but we’ll cancel it upon departure, and this same number may not be reallocated upon reconnection on our return.

We now have a digital camera and may include an occasional photo in .jpg format, from time to time, so let us know if you prefer not to receive these attachments.