Moksha returns to Stewart Island & Bluff
12 April 2016
Moksha has set sail from the Auckland Island group and returned to Bluff via Stewart Island. She and her intrepid crew are now preparing to set sail back to Auckland via the East Coast of New Zealand. Its a 1000NM delivery with an ETA of 21/04/2016.
Final Shore Party trek the South West Cape
08 April 2016
Blog entry 6th April - South West Cape Trek - last day ashore It's doubted anyone has had much sleep at all over night. We all have access to the wind instruments in our cabin so we're in a constant state of waking to the blows of 30-40 knots - with Moksha swinging crazily on her 100m of anchor chain - and checking the chart plotter for position and anchor hold, then resting until the next blow increases. She is very secure it seems, but instinct still tells us to respond to each gust, even seeing 47.6 knots on one occasion. This is not unusual for the Auckland Islands in 52 degrees latitude, but we've been lucky enough to have only mild doses of her climate until now. In the morning it is agreed that perhaps a formal anchor watch will relieve this worry in future.
The wind continues to howl and almost puts the second group off the journey ashore, but we've woken early and donned our foulest wet-weather gear and we won't be held back..that is, unless the Westerly swell's ferocity decides otherwise. Scott kindly offers to dinghy the group ashore, slaloming the kelp forests 20m off the rocks and dodging the large breaking waves that are funnelling through the Victoria passage from the open ocean and wrapping around the coast.
There is much discussion within the group on where to land as we get swirled around in this salty washing machine, poking our nose into various kelp-ridden coves, and there are a few moments when we have to throttle away from impending rocky doom (ok, that's a bit dramatic) but eventually we all agree on a spot. After successfully launching the first two people off and readying for the third there's a massive surge and we have to patiently wait for the next set to pass before we form a human chain to make the transition from dinghy to land as safe as possible. I hold onto Jon's PFD and some pointy rocks, and Jon leans out to grab at James's coat as he leaps hopefully from the bow to the slippery kelp platform with a tiny girlie 'whoop' of success. Just as James's feet find a foothold on the shore and Scott reverses away, the outboard dies! The water drastically swells, propelling the tender at the rocks in a sudden fizzing whirlpool. Our eyes widened collectively as we worry for Scott who momentarily has no control of the dinghy and hurriedly cranks at the engine to escape the mischievous rollers. The Honda wakes with a roar and Scott speeds away with some of our extra tramping kit, but we concede the ocean has won this time. We shake ourselves off and head up the shore with our well-stuffed daypacks, hoping the weather will abate over the next few hours.
Unlike the previous shore party's experience there are no seals to navigate around on this occasion and the trek starts with extensive satellite map viewing to find the correct path. The party follows the coastline through tussocks and bushes, much of the bush-bashing being almost vertical up to the rock peaks. Boy, do we feel alive reaching the top of the climb; hearts beating, and all feeling rather warm but chuffed as meatballs from the challenging slog. Boat life in intermittent bad weather can be a little sedentary and muscles get used to being a little lazy.
A few more little ascents, tumbles in the tussocks, and slides down peaty banks, and two very welcome close visits from the striking sooty albatross with its white-ringed inquisitive eyes, and we reach the most beautiful sight of the trip so far. The adult Buller's mollymawks soaring high above many young birds on their nests, at the only publicly accessible albatross colony in the Sub-antarctic. We take up our positions on a comfortable rock jutting out over the cliff and use the telephoto camera lens and the binoculars to watch the behaviour of the large and beautiful birds. Two adult birds sit facing each other on a perfect pedestal nest consisting of mud, guano and vegetation, and are touching beak-to-beak, likely part of an elaborate courting ritual that can last two years before the next stage of the relationship begins! Many large, white, downy (strangely ugly) mollymawk chicks sit one-per-nest on small outcrops of cliff, mostly out of the way of the feral pigs who sadly destroy nests and consume the chicks if the placements are too high and are vulnerable. We discover two pedestal nests accessible from the top of the cliff where there is no recent evidence of birds other than what seems to be tiny shattered pieces of egg shell on the muddy platform. Near to this area is also a fresh, bloody, fully-grown adult albatross' foot and leg, and we wonder what happened and curse the pigs as the obvious criminals.
We hear some squawky, ratchety, greeting or warning calls of birds when a neighbour circles and settles back to a nest nearby, and short, sharp bill-claps of the unattended 'fluffies'; our nick-name for the teenage chicks. Two small, bright blue bird-legs with curled black claws are located next to what looks like a regurgitated pellet, and on researching these afterwards it seems these could have belonged to the naturally uncommon Antarctic prion; a delicate blue-grey bird of around 25cm that is killed by feral cats and pigs, as well as subantarctic skuas. These breed on Auckland Islands, and will benefit hugely from the eradication of the unwanted pigs and cats; we were visited by many of these beautiful birds as we sailed towards the islands and were saddened that they would be struggling due to another of humans' brilliant ideas of leaving animals onshore for any ship-wrecked vessels of the 1800-1900s.
We spend a couple of hours observing the birds and appreciating the stunning scenery 250m up from the shoreline, the sea a dark blue, and the sun making a rare and welcome appearance on this awesome occasion. The breeding-number of the birds fluctuates, much to do with their mortality rate from scavenging around long-line fishing boats, and also the success of nesting in pest-free areas where eggs are free from prying eyes of alien-mammals.
We head back down the peak, satisfied and enlightened and try and find a route down, all having moments of hilarity as we fall into peat bogs up to the knee, bounce off prickly bushes as we misjudge depths of downward leg stretches, and voluntarily rolling down tiny hills as a faster way to descend; mandatory giggles included.
On arrival at the shore we realise the tide has come in too high for us to traverse the rocks as we did on the way up so we contact Scott to ask him to have a peek at the shore and find an entrance point where we can bush-bash for a minimum period and reach our 'ride home'. He directs us accordingly via VHF (we're very well prepared, you see) and crawl on all fours and then bum-slide a little to reach the sometimes-waterfall crack in the rock-face to land on the beach. Scott handles the boat splendidly and we all manage to get onto the dinghy and then onto Moksha safely, all grinning from ear to ear about the amazing day we've had, and the smidgen of exercise we haven't had whilst busily prepping the boat or on passage.
Tomorrow we leave the beautiful islands to catch a pleasant weather window to Bluff, possibly via Stewart Island, but I have a feeling I for one, will be back one daythere's nowhere quite like this and it is a privilege to be one of so few to leave footprints on this sanctuary .
Go around - Not through...
08 April 2016
The first group excited about the albatross colony set off today in calm-ish conditions and managed to get a reasonably easy rock-landing in amongst the thick kelp, nosing the dinghy in with the timed lulls in the mild swell, and one at a time jumping off carefully with all the gear thrown over. There were two shags resting at the landing point and they were un-phased and curious by our arrival and it was a chance to see them up-close with our telephoto lens. Around them were scattered pieces of purplish-orange crab legs and shells. Beautiful, minute, oily-green and blue turban shells in abundance were lining pieces of kelp and rock, and only on close viewing could be seen sliding slowly around on top of one-another.
We had all been advised by Jo at DoC that if there wasn't favourable weather and there was any sizeable swell, this was not doable, but the group were lucky with the conditions. Other clear instructions from Jo were NOT to go through the bush but to 'sidle around' the edge of the rocks and this was sadly something not followed exactly (!)resulting in some time wasted pretending to be goblin-slash-pigs as the group were on their hands and knees under 5ft moss-covered trees, snuffling about trying to find a route 'left' along the coast. (One group member was left feeling rather dismayed and mumbling 'I told you so' as they were out-voted on choosing the way to go.) Realising the mistake but having already added an hour onto the trek, the group went across the rocks, towards the headland where the walk would commence, but had to give way to a large fur seal who was taking a wee break on the shore. A second fur seal went swimming alongside the group and lumbered out of the sea, through the abundant browny-yellow kelp, and up onto the very rock needed to be ascended in order to get to the track. He was spoken to sweetly asking if he would possibly mind moving slightly so he wasn't disturbed and we gestured (as if he understood 'human') that we would go up vertically and past him and we had no intention of challenging him. After a time of avoiding eye-contact, as this is deemed threatening, or making too much noise, or edging towards him, he seemed to twig our good-meaning and gave two very small snuffle-barks and moved off down the rock so the group could pass. Mr Seal was thanked quietly and the party continued and were rather pleased with themselves for the handling of the situation.
On top of the hill on Monumental Island, with the cuboid monument-like rock, the 'bull-master general' spotted the rare sight of people; the term is seal-speak for 'massive-male-seal-top-dog', and he was surveying his land and his previously impregnated harem from the highest point possible. We walked through an area of adorable lounging seal-pups who peered at us and then returned to nap-o'-clock.
The walk has already been a long one up through goblin forest, then back down through goblin forest towards the coast, and then along the shore of large black volcanic rocks and slippery kelp, and now up the hill which is only the start of a supposedly 4 hr walk each way! After a brief try of heading up the hill through what is now understood as being the most difficult terrain of trees, shrubs and tussocks that seem to fight back, and being knee-deep in peat a few times, the group sat on a knoll feeling slightly defeated but enjoyed an hour of chillin' and chattin' and enjoying the spectacular view. Mist covered the Adams Rocks and shortened the view out to sea but this was a typical Auckland Island shrouded-in-mystery scene. Seals were playing in the surf down below near the entrance of a cave and the kelp tendrils flowed in the swell looking like long, golden locks off the cliffs. Perhaps the group tomorrow would be more successful on their mission, but it had been a splendid day with great company and wonderful wildlife encounters.'
06 April 2016
We've set our alarms for 0800 (it's not very light at this time) as we want to leave Erebus Cove and head out and down the East coast to the South West point of the main island, to shelter from North-Westerlies in Western Harbour. It's been a disturbed night of 20-35 knot winds causing Moksha to move around at anchor and have a huge amount of loud humming through her rigging as the gusts blow. So we'd probably all be happy with a couple of extra snooze-alarms, but we down the coffee and step eagerly into the pouring rain to start our exciting sail. The strong wind stops voices being heard 70ft away from bow to stern so we make good use of clear and expressive hand signals (all of them polite!) to raise anchor and we're off by 0900.
We sail downwind with third reef and staysail in 30 knots and round Green Island and its reef, and head South towards Carnley Harbour, wreck-site of schooner, the Grafton, which was looking for tin deposits in 1864 and shares an interesting survivor story for another time! The crew enjoy a conveyor-belt of cheese-on-toast-at-an-angle as the comfort food of kings and only one piece drops cheese-down to the floor, and proving the theory of 'Murphy's Law' (ooh, that rhymes!) The sea starts as an ominous and deep gun-metal grey with a 1m swell, and when the rain clears and patches of blue sky appear it becomes a perfect day for a 45nm sail along the East coast cliffs and beautifully changing landscape. We spot waterfalls and albatross, shags and rainbows and get excited as the opening to Western Arm becomes clear and we make a team decision to keep the sails up and head upwind in 25-30 knots along the 300m wide channel. We take turns on the helm as it is so exhilarating short- tacking the 21 times up the Western Arm, next to sheer cliffs of relaxed mollymawks and shags on fishing missions.
By 1645 we have dropped the sails and anchored in Western Harbour and to get to this point we have sailed past some of the most impressive rock structures ever seen by the majority of us, comparing to the Ozzie 'Twelve Apostles' or the Cornish 'Bedruthan Steps', these being the 'Adams Rocks' of the Victoria Passage. Tonight we hope to rest well before a shore party attempts a rocky landing and a longish walk 'up' South West Cape', hopefully to spot some albatrosses in their cliff-based colonies where they set themselves up away from the wild pigs and their curious snouts.'