Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Russell, Opua: gannets at twilight

September 28

        I sailed here yesterday under thick overcast.  The Met Service radar showed scattered rain just off shore, but with an east wind and the tide with me I hoped to reach Russell before it did.
        The tide was running out hard.  I raised the mainsail and tried to turn GANNET’s bow north before dropping the mooring, but the tide wouldn’t let me, so I had to drop the mooring with the bow pointing south, gain speed and turn toward the marina breakwater dock to gybe.  Not a lot of room, but GANNET is small and nimble and we made it easily.  
        I hand steered until we cleared the end of the breakwater and the mooring field, then engaged the tiller pilot and set the jib in the beginning of an ongoing revelation:  moving forward in the bridgeless cockpit is so easy.  I felt it time and again during the brief sail.  The new cockpit configuration is huge.  A greater improvement than I even imagined.  One of the best  changes I have made to GANNET.
        The wind remained light, usually less than seven knots, swirling and dropping as it came off or was blocked by hills and headlands, but it remained on or near the beam and I had GANNET’s anchor down forty-five minutes after we left the mooring.  
        The Russell anchorage is divided by a public jetty for day trip boats and small passenger ferries that ply back and forth between Russell and Pahia.  For whatever forgotten reason, I invariably anchor north of the pier, but yesterday decided to anchor south.   
        I pumped up the dinghy.  This too is much easier in the new cockpit.  I had wondered if there would be room aft of the pod to stow it and am pleased that there is.
        I wore my foul weather parka to row the quarter nautical mile to shore—moorings prevent me from anchoring closer—and was comfortably seated at the Duke of Marlborough, waiting to learn if their salt and pepper calamari are as good as I remembered—they are—before rain began to fall.
        I was seated on the semi-enclosed veranda and discomforted by heating units.  I was surprised to find a fire in the fireplace at the Opua Cruising Club the other evening, too.  It is not that cold.  I live here at air temperature and changed tables to get as far away from the heaters as possible. 
        The rain stopped before I finished lunch, but by the time I had shopped at the two small markets, both better stocked and less expensive than the Opua General Store, and the liquor store, where I replaced the exploded bottle of Laphroaig at considerably greater cost and bought a bottle of Brokers Gin, which still falsely claims to be “the world’s best gin”, and began to row out, it resumed, but lightly and I didn’t get very wet.
        The rain soon stopped again and I was able to stand in the companionway with a gin and tonic at 6 p.m.  
        GANNET is the only boat at anchor and I had seen no one on any of the moored boats nearby, so I was startled by a loud splash on my blind side.  I turned and found a gannet bobbing back to the surface a boat length away.  He looked at GANNET and maybe me.  I raised my glass to him.  He swallowed his catch and took off.

        Light rain is pattering on the deck as I am writing this Monday afternoon. 
        The morning was windless and the water glassy.
        My intention is definite—not to go back to the mooring until I have set the new gennaker—but my plans are not.  Wednesday and Thursday look to be the best this week.  If there is wind, I may sail tomorrow.  If not, I’ll wait.

September 29

        The gannet returned to hunt last evening as I expected he would.  From the number of dives he was making, fishing here is pretty good, unless he is inept and diving without catching.  
        There has been no rain today and little wind.  
        When I got up this morning, the sky was sunny overhead, but thick fog lay over the inlet and I couldn’t see Pahia.  It burned off by late morning, but I’m enjoying the change of scene and decided to stay.  
        I cleared off the port pipe berth and slithered aft to fetch the Torqeedo battery, which along with the Torqeedo shaft and the outboard mount now resides in the stern out of sight and mostly out of mind.  I was impressed to find it still 99% charged.  I don't recall when I last charged it, but it would have been at least four months ago.  I only used the Torqeedo once when I was here earlier this year, and then just to see if it still ran.  I’ll do so again sometime for the same reason.
        I also put up the U.S. and New Zealand flags.  This was not a matter of disrespect.  I just forgot until I came across them while looking for something else.
        I didn’t go ashore yesterday, but I rowed in to have lunch today, again at the Duke of Marlborough. 
Seafood chowder which was excellent, though the Marina Cafe also has great chowder.  I checked the wind instrument before I started in.  It showed wind speed of 2.9 knots which I think was about right.  There is a little more now at 3 p.m., but I’ll wait to sail until tomorrow.
        The negative side of anchoring at Russell is wakes.  They are not constant, but more frequent and violent than I wish.  GANNET is easily thrown around and I have to keep things secured here as though we were at sea.  Wakes are seldom a problem at Opua.
        I am rereading and enjoying Saint-Exupéry’s WIND, SAND AND STARS.  It has been a long time since I read it.  I came across comments he makes about Joseph Conrad writing about a typhoon.  I’ve always remembered them, but had forgotten the source.  
        I also came across this:  Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.
        Saint-Exupéry was writing about airplane design, but the truth of simplicity is universal.

        I stood in the companionway at sunset. Quiet.  Peaceful.  Beautiful.  Only a breath of wind.  This is my place.  And it isn’t.  I first sailed into New Zealand forty years ago next year.  I’m not sure when I first sailed into the Bay of Islands.  Possibly in 1985 or 86.  I love it here, but I don’t have many more days here.  When I sail away next year, I may never be back.  I cherish each moment.

September 30

        A San Diego day:  sunny and light wind.
        With some cats-paws on the water, I raised the anchor at 9:45.  Russell has a muddy bottom and raising THE HAWKE OF TUONELA’s all chain rode was a slow process of scrubbing mud from chain, but GANNET’s mostly line rode came in clean and I had only to raise and dip the twenty feet of chain attached to the anchor itself a few times to clean it.
        We ghosted out toward the cats-paws, gained a little speed and headed north toward the widest part of the bay.  
        When we cleared the nearest land, we still had to dodge several small boats drifting and fishing, but finally found clear water.  
        The wind was only five or six knots from the east.  Being able to read wind speed and angle by looking at the TackTick is a pleasure, if not a necessity.  I tacked, furled the jib, brought the new G1 on deck, rigged and set it.  This first time it was set flying and went up and filled easily.  I furled it a couple of times on the furling gear, then let it out again.  Because the clew is lower than on the fuller cut running asymmetrical, it furls unevenly, well at the foot, less well at the head.  A top down furler would solve this, but I don’t think I can justify buying a furling gear that costs more than the sail.  
        I took some photos, but it is difficult to photograph sails from GANNET even with an extreme wide angle lens.  Carol designed the sail with gannet colors and I like the way it looks.

        I furled the G1 near Russell and continued back to Opua under jib and main, and finally approached the mooring under main alone.  
        With fluky wind mostly from the north opposed to tide running from the south, picking up the mooring was tricky and took me three tries.  On the first I came in too fast.  GANNET does not have a clean bottom and I thought we’d slow more.  On the second the wind died completely and GANNET drifted sideways with the tide.  On the third I caught the mooring buoy amidships, cleated it down, dropped the mainsail, and sorted the boat out at leisure.
        Although it seems I just got here, I fly back five weeks tomorrow.  I’ve completed the work I wanted to get done, except anti-fouling, which I think I’m going to leave until next March.  Leaving GANNET to sit on her mooring for three months with a perfect bottom seems pointless.
        A couple of fronts are due this weekend, but then the weather looks to be fair.  I might dare to try for Whangamumu, all of twenty-five miles away.