03/25/2012, Napier, East Coast North Island NZ
Oh drat! Poor us, 'stuck' in Napier for over a week waiting for the wind to stop blowing at ridiculously high speeds out there. What shall we ever do?!! Hmmm. I don't detect too much sympathy- nor should we! Napier is a soulful seaside town with fantastic wineries, restaurants and friendly people. It's easy to lose yourself here dockside for weeks at a time. The first day we arrived we cycled into town, and ran into Carlos, a large boned Samoan Kiwi serving at a wine tasting store. He gave us lots of great advice on how to enjoy Napier, where the 'hot' wineries were, and sent us out that Sunday to a live concert at one of the seaside wineries. Sitting in the warm sun, with vistas to the sea we listened to a jazz band while drinking a bottle of Hawke's Bay Chardonnay and eating pizza (total cost: 35NZD). Thanks Carlos!
Carlos takes his own advice- that's him on the right
We arrived into Napier just ahead of the Round New Zealand (RNZ) Yacht Race and were lucky to get space in front of the Napier Sailing Club. (NSC was a fantastic host to us, even though they had their hands full with the race. We were ushered into our dock by Lyall, who also took the time to show us around the facilities.) As the raceboats came in over the next few days we had an interesting time meeting the crazed sailors. Who on earth would decide to race a boat double handed around New Zealand? Check out some of the boats taking part!
Truxton- the first boat in on the leg from Stewart Island- these guys only had one change of clothes the entire race and slept in their foulies
This Beneateau First series is the big boy on the circuit
Hatches are battened down with plywood
A feat just to circumnavigate the islands, racing it is an entirely different category.
Brave or foolish? We won't be the ones to judge. Their stories though were of unbelievable strength and fortitude amidst utter chaos of a 70 knot storm on the Tasman Sea (West Coast of NZ). Here one of the yachts (34' sloop) actually called a mayday when they started to sink. The captain described the storm as terrifying, yet somehow absurdly peaceful as their boat started to go down, with water coming up over their knees inside the boat. They were well offshore, past any help NZ Maritime could provide. He tells us that when he called the Mayday, he fully expected to die, and was merely marking the spot where he would go down. His crew suddenly shook them out of this passive stance. "F@*k death tonight!" he roared. This single declaration was all that was needed to plunge them both into survival mode. They turned on crash pumps, started a bucket brigade and found the leak, patched it, floated the boat and SAILED ON!!!
It poured with rain while they were in town, licking their wounds and gearing up for the next race. Roger, from Doyle Sails was busy inside the Sailing Club fixing up torn sails.
Roger mans the sewing machine while Michael helps feed the cloth
We were invited with the group to a wine tour which was hosted by RNZ. The wineries we went to put on a great show and we were able to purchase some fantastic wines, some at reduced rates for the racers! The racers didn't wait for a weather window like us- they just went out into the storm with wind and waves pounding down on them. We took the time to cycle out to the point to watch the start of the race, which was in fog, and out into a 40 knot northerly! Yup, they were headed north!
While the racers were there, we were particularly pleased to meet Tom and Vicky on SV Sunstone. Tom is in his 60's and Vicky in her late 50's. They sailed from the coast of B.C Canada back to NZ to have a chance to sail in the RNZ double handed race!! The two have lived aboard their sailboat since the early 80's and have cruised and raced her all over the world- 180,000 nm so far. Having checked off everything on their cruising list they are now preparing to spend some time in Auckland, where they have residency. They invited us for tea and gave us lots of tips on cruising Vanuatu, as well as some great ideas for sail management in storms. We toasted them that night with a glass of, well, really really good red wine while eating lambshanks at the sailing club!
Tom and Vicky get ready for the last leg to Auckland
Napier is braided with bike trails, so we made good use of our bikes exploring the art deco town center, riding out through the country side, and visiting more wineries. Michael loves a glass of red with the best of them, but he can sniff out a good brewery in the midst just about anywhere. As such, we found ourselves one evening enjoying some great beer tasting at the local brewery.
Michael's smiling now-but will he share?
With Paikea Mist sitting right off the walk/cycle path we had lots of friendly visits from the locals, all offering a sincere welcome and apologizing for the weather! We really didn't mind in the least, we just kept buying more wine!
When the weather window finally opened up to round East Cape, we drifted off the dock at calm high tide to get over the bar and out to sea for our two day passage to the Mercury Islands. By the way, the word on Hawke's Bay red is that 2009 was a stellar year. With all the cold weather and rain this year, take a pass on the 2012 vintage.
03/15/2012, Around Cape Pailiser, up the E. coast
We are now tucked into a small little harbour of Napier on the east coast of North Island. The entire coast line from Wellington to Napier is a long stretch of desolate, dry barren land. Where land meets sea the result is a well washed look. There are no safe harbours along the 200 nm journey and only a few odd very tiny settlements.
Napier is an interesting place- it lost a lot of its bay in huge earthquakes in 1931 when the whole waterfront raised 8 feet! The entire town was flattened and rebuilt in 1930's art deco style. We look forward to exploring it and the adjacent Hawkes Bay where many of NZ's top wine come from.
The passage was interesting- out of Wellington and around the Cape Paliser was a fantastic off the beam sail in 20-25 knots with tide- we were flying - over 9 knots. We were joined by hundreds upon hundreds of dolphins which swam with us for 1 1/2 hours. Amazing. Suddenly the all shot off to the right together making an abrupt U turn- all you could see for miles was spectacular white splashes where they dove in and out of the water racing away from us.
As we turned up the east coast around Cape Paliser they issued the storm warning for the Castlepoint Sea area we were in. As we had seen before we left, winds of 40 knots were expected in this sea area. Hearing it on the VHF was still kind of freaky, even though our wind software (We are using something called Predictwind) told us the coastal route would be 10-15 knot, and that was what we were seeing. Sometimes you wish you could just get online to double check, but we'd already done that before we left. We knew that most of the blow would be below us and further out to sea, and we reckoned that as it was coming from the NW we would have lots of protection following the east coast, but you never know. We double checked everything that could move as we continued our way up north.
The wind was fitful off the coast, turning off and on like a flickering light, and changing direction. This amounted to the entire day and night of changing sails, furling genoa in and out, reefing and unreefing the main and of course turning the engine on to motor sail when the winds died off. By 3am on my 2 to 7 am shift, the winds filled in and we were able to sail steadily for a couple of hours. That gave Michael a chance to sleep! I didn't have as much luck with sleep (during all the changes), so I am looking for to lights out tonight!
The Around New Zealand 2 handed race arrives this coming weekend- this is only the second time in history for this race- it is a huge undertaking to sail around New Zealand, racing it is a whole other category. Remember that weather bomb that hit us in Waikawa? It hit the fleet dead on while they sailed down the west Coast on their way to the southern most tip of Stewart Island. Yikes, I'm sure they will have a few tales to tell when they arrive.
03/10/2012, Windy Wellington, North Island NZ
Entrance in the midst of Race Day in Wellington Harbour
The Wellington Harbour was a welcoming site as we made our way into Chaffer's Marina situated in the heart of the downtown core. The local sailing club race was on and the sun lit up their sails. The fleet was heading towards us with their spinnakers flying, a picture perfect entry into Wellington. As we neared closer to shore live music beat out from a waterfront public venue. We were soon to discover that we had landed in the middle of the New Zealand International Arts Festival. Even better.
The thick cluster of office towers climb up from the reclaimed downtown core, an area which is a mixture of engineering landfill, and Mother Nature's fault. Wellington sits on no less than 10 fault lines, and early in its history it's harbour was lifted by a large earthquake. The Prime Minister's home sits on one of the major faults that run through Wellington. It seems there is no escaping earthquakes in this part of the world. Perhaps living with the reality of a major quake is the reason for Wellington's obvious vibrancy.
The city is alive. With only 100,000 residents in Wellington proper, and 300,000 total in outlying regions, Wellington is able to exude a confidence and vitality that many larger cities in the world lack. The downtown is anchored by the famous museum, the Te Papa. The Te Papa alone is reason to come to Wellington with floor after floor of science, history and trivia packed in, all free or by donation. The waterfront is a creative mixture of statues, artwork and just plain fun. On one corner a large plank is anchored over the chilly harbour waters, acting as a dive platform. We watched teenagers egg themselves on to make the plunge, some showing off some pretty athletic acrobatics.
Tucked onto an end pier in Chaffer's Marina, the waterfront pathway meandered across our view from the cockpit of Paikea Mist. Throngs of Wellingtonians whizzed by us all day long. At any given moment we could find a jogger somewhere in our view, sometimes several at once. Very few 'joggers' are jogging- judging by their clip they are true runners here. Cyclists zip along on their way to and from work. Kids zig and zag on their razors and skateboards. All of this with pedestrians too - seems the recipe for disaster. But not so. Wellington has bravely gone where so many other more orderly cities dare not. The concept is of courtesy- the entire walkway is a courtesy zone, and there are no restrictions on how you use it. Ultimately pedestrians are given the right of way, but everyone using the walkway seems to be respectful of others. What a fantastic, open minded concept.
Littered all through this windy city are places engineered specifically to get out of the weather. Street corners have places to stand out of wind and rain, and nooks are built all over the place to tuck yourself in out of the weather and still be outside. All of this adds up to make Wellington a very livable city, despite being the windiest city in the Southern Hemisphere!!! On average, this city will experience winds of 32 knots (60 kph) 173 days of the year, certainly no place for a fancy hairdo, or even an umbrella. Neither last long here!
We filled up on culture while in Wellington, enjoying a live performance by a kiwi band "Phoenix Foundation", a movie out, the museum, the farmer's market and a delicious dinner out at Monsoon Poon - an asian mix restaurant which was humming on a weeknight. In sun and wind filled days, we took long bike rides along the waterfront, even making our way past the airport out to the Wellington Harbour entrance on our folding bikes.
When the weather window opened for continuing up the coast it was tempting to let it go by and continue our love affair with Wellington. But winter is coming and it is time to head north in preparation for our passage back to the tropics. Such is life!
03/10/2012, Between North and South Island NZ
Tory Channel presents some twists and turns before exiting into Cook Strait
Cook Strait. The first European to see it was Abel Tasman, way back in 1642. But like so many seaman after him Tasman was turned back by strong winds and tides, unable to explore the waters between North and South Island. It would not be until 1770, almost 130 years later that Captain Cook finally successfully made the passage. Just imagine then, that hundreds of years before Cook's admirable accomplishment, Maori clan had already travelled in open sailing canoes, known as wakas across the Pacific from Polynesia to reach the shores of their new home on South Island. Now that is what I consider the guts, the sinew of marvel.
Cook Strait. Islanders will tell you stories of rough, stomach tossing crossings across Cook Strait. No, these aren't folks who have sailed across (who have a whole other level of stories), these are the ones on the car ferries! Some have even had their cars tossed around like matchbook versions inside the ferry. All maritimers, even the big guys, treat Cook Strait with the utter respect it deserves. Off the entrance to Wellington Harbour the Kaorti Rock Rips are known to stop the ferry in its tracks in stormy weather. The week preceding our crossing, the ferry runs were cancelled 3 out of 7 days.
Cook Strait. A narrow straight in the middle of a very big ocean, made even more dangerous by the fact that it is relatively shallow. Wind against tide can quickly create crazy conditions in the Strait. Big swells moving in from storms deep in the Pacific Ocean gather here to create havoc for boaters. In 1968 a cyclone generated waves 12 to 14 meters high, or about the height of a four story building. The ferry 'Wahine' sunk in this storm as it entered Wellington Harbour, 51 souls perished. The southern end of North Island is a virtual battering ground from the winter storms from cold Antartic winds and waters.
Needless to say, we waited for calm weather before venturing out Tory Channel and across the Strait. Even though conditions were calm, we carefully avoided most of the Kaorti Rock rips by standing well offshore before coming into Wellington Harbour. Our excitement came from meeting big boats in small places. As we ventured towards the head of Tory Channel to enter Cook Strait for high slack, two ferries made their sweeping entrance into Tory. Here the ferries manage rip tides and turn a fairly sharp corner from the open strait into the narrow Tory Channel. It is best to be well out of their way, as they have no extra room to make any avoidance manoeuvres here. On our way through the busy Wellington Harbour entrance we repeated the whole process, this time passing both interisland ferries and a large freighter as we were entering. On each instance we were able to see the boats on our AIS well before we could actually see them coming around the restrictive corners. This is a huge advantage to those who have to rely on a straight sighting- no surprises for us. Got to love that AIS, almost as much as hitting Cook Strait in calm weather!
03/10/2012, Tory Channel, South Island NZ
Beechloft- Shirley and Stewarts home away from home
Looking back down Tory Channel to South Island I felt an unexpected twist of sadness as we said our goodbyes to Marlborough Sounds and our cruising experience on South Island. Cruising the 'top end' of South Island is a cruiser's dream come true. Abel Tasman with its golden beaches and lovely natural 'bush' alive with native birds, Pelorus Sound with its long meandering inlets, and Queen Charlotte Sound with its place in history as the foothold of both Maori and European settlers.
The entire experience would be almost superficial without the opportunity we've had to weave into the fabric of the folks that call this part of the world home. They have to rank as some of the most welcoming people we have ever encountered.
We were treated to spectacular weather in Abel Tasman, where the hiking was bar none. We spent days on the trails there, enjoying the lovely walks and vistas. High up the River Track we eventually reached a magnificent pooling, splashing, gushing waterfall by scampering up over and around large boulders. In the natural waterslide at Cleopatra Pools I enjoyed an exhilarating chilly ride down the natural waterslide worn smooth by the constant water rub. In Nelson we became 'members' of the Tasman Cruising Club, which is an active Racing/Cruising club in the heart of the Nelson Marina. We purchased a club burgee and in return given a month of access to the mooring buoys the club has secured in Pelorus Sound. The entry into Pelorus Sound through French Pass is a challenging 'tidal stream' similar to the ones we've experienced in our coastal cruising in the Pacific Northwest with rushing water, whirlpools and drops. The trick is finding slack tide, which seems a bit of an elusive quest. When we went through at 'slack tide' the water was still rushing by at a few knots in the opposite direction, apparently affected by recent storm activity in Cook Strait! Once through the pass, the options in Pelorus Sound were unlimited. We enjoyed a mixture of fantastic hikes, kayaking, resort dining, and sealife encounters. Among other sealife sightings, we watched as a New Zealand fur seal devoured an octopus just off our boat, and were thrilled to watch dozens of sting rays in the clear waters of Waterfall Bay as they swam under Paikea Mist.
In Queen Charlotte Sound we hung the hook in historic Ship's Cove, where Captain Cook returned with his crew seven times. In nearby Motuaru Island Cook proclaimed the bird song to be the most beautiful dawn chorus he had heard anywhere in his travels. Motuara is now a bird sanctuary, and a lovely anchorage can be found off its south end where bird song still fills the air. To this day it is easy to imagine Cook's men revelling in the safe anchorage, with its ready supply of fresh water, seafood and amazing surrounds. We hiked part of the famed Queen Charlotte Track from here, up to the Saddle overlooking Resolution Bay and Queen Charlotte Sound.
Divine yes, but what made our experience so magical?
Simple. Within the kaleidoscope of pure natural beauty we have had a fantastic time meeting South Islanders. From being invited to an impromptu fish smoke on the beach (despite 30 knots of wind at the anchorage) at Adele Island , sharing a champagne toast on the top of Motuaru, to invitations inside homes to share good times, good meals and great stories our adventure and encounters have been some of the best.
Both Michael and I agree that the very best part of cruising here was the people. Everywhere we went we have had the pleasure of meeting and making new friends and enjoying a true New Zealand welcome. We will never forget
Fish Cook out on Adele Island in 30 knots of wind.
Pizza Night at Bayshores Organic Farm with Deb and Lex and the Wof'ers
Champagne encounter at the top of the lookout- Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary (We're not telling you the time of day)
Donations of fresh fish from these guys and other locals- blue cod, paua, and others- Thanks for the feeds!
Dinner at Jonathan and Katies- Bay of many Coves
We ran into some gusty 40 knots of wind before we left though
Beechloft- Stewart and Shirley holiday home
Blenheim Visit/Moa Beer/ Withering Hills at Stewart and Shirley's work home
Waikawa reunion with Deb, Lex, Bob, Liz, Leith, Michael- Mercure feast and Irish Pub. Too bad we missed the broom dancing.
is there a law against having too much fun?
To the wonderful people who made this part of our journey so special, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Of the many friends we have met along the way- our door at home in Vancouver and our companion way on Paikea Mist is always open. Just say the word.
03/02/2012, South Island, New Zealand
Paikea Mist waggled her nose back and forth as her sleek bow took the gust of wind straight on. The wind blew noisily through the valley ahead of us, sounding like an approaching freight train. Eventually laying its path on Paikea Mist, the gathering gust vibrated and jostled through the rigging and furled sails, shaking Paikea Mist like a piece of spaghetti. My head rested on the pillow, lolling back and forth in time with the movements. The storm had begun, it was 3 am and Paikea Mist was to weather it out 'on the hard' in the little seaside marina community of Waikawa.
With the news spreading through all media yesterday about the approaching 'weather bomb' we spent the last of the daylight hours preparing for the worst, and hoping for the best. Fortunately, Paikea Mist was situated with her nose to the south, where the predicted wind was to come from. Despite this, we secured her on either side with our long docklines to sturdy attachments at ground level. Weather bombs are unpredictable by nature, and wind gusts can come in from any direction. The media was calling this the "Perfect Storm" and the work crew in the yard began removing anything they thought might be the least bit unstable. When I saw 5 of them hauling a heavy mast into the work shed, I got a bit queasy.
We checked our top sides and removed anything that could fly away in a gust of wind, put our full enclosure up (once completely up we have found the enclosure to be very rigid and strong in the wind). We debated about taking it down altogether, but decided with the predicted wind from the South, our best option was to put it all up.
We were ready, so after a hearty meal, a good bottle of wine and a movie, we hit the sack, waiting for our eventual arousal.
By 4 am the barometer had dropped to 992. A weather bomb is the word used to describe weather that has a sudden and sustained drop in pressure, with the barameter falling one bar per hour over 24. And it creates havoc. In 12 hours we watched the barometer fall from 1015. Here we were. The good weather folk here in New Zealand were doing their best to predict the path the storm would take. Originally thought to hit North Island around Auckland, as the deep low progressed towards New Zealand, the storm began to take a more southerly approach. The last weather forecast we saw indicated that it would take the path of least resistance, right down Cook Straight, with winds predicted to hit 65 knots Saturday morning. Keeping in mind that any weather prediction is the median of wind (+/- 15 knots), not the peaks, this is one heck of a storm. The huge interisland Ferries which take cars and passengers between North and South Islands cancelled all runs for the next day, and Islanders anywhere in its possible path started battening down for the duration.
Waikawa, while protected to some degree, is but a short 15 nautical miles away from the entrance to Cook Straight. As I write, Michael and I are 'waiting it out'. The boat continues to shake and rattle, feeling much like what I would imagine an earthquake feeling like. The deck is strewn with foliage, but all is well on board. Most of the wind continues to hit us from the south, with gusts generally in the 35-50 knot range. The barometer is creeping up, and we expect more wind as it rises and the back side of the system flies by. I can hear another approaching 'wind train' getting closer, and as it hits the anemometer reads this gust at 62 knots.
Thankfully, by their very nature weather bombs are furious but short, usually not lasting longer than 12-24 hours. Tomorrow the sun is expected to shine, and the wind should drop to less than 25 knots. We will go with that!