Sunday, October 11, 2015

Opua: Whangamumu or bust

        It was almost ‘or bust.’

October 6
Paradise Bay

        I have Paradise (Bay) to myself.  That does not often happen.
        I took four hours to make ten miles today.  Tomorrow I will try for sixteen.
        I had GANNET ready to sail, except for raising the mainsail and dropping the mooring, at 10:00 a.m.  A sunny and pleasant but windless morning.  I finally dropped the mooring at noon.  The tide was coming in keeping our bow to the north and the slight wind was from the south, so I raised the main with the wind behind us, went forward and dropped the mooring and we headed north, slowly, on a dead run.
        After a half hour I was able to raise the jib, and not long afterwards the wind swung from south to north, heading us and increasing slightly.
        I tacked and tacked GANNET, at one point almost running over a gannet preoccupied with preening his feathers.  It took me an hour and forty-five minutes to be off Russell, a straight line distance of less than four nautical miles.  Then the wind increased again for a while and we sometimes saw boat speeds of five knots.
        As I sailed past Roberton Island I considered calling it a day and going in, but glided on and got the anchor down at Paradise at 4 p.m.  
        I write after a satisfying Back Country roast chicken dinner with mashed potatoes, a plastic of red wine at hand, and Pablo Casals playing the Sixth Bach Cello Suite in stereo on the Megabooms.
        My projected  course tomorrow is two miles north to clear these islands, eight miles east north east to clear Cape Brett, six miles south southwest to Whangamumu.
        The forecast is for almost no wind much of the day, but filling in at fifteen to twenty knots from the north late.  Tomorrow north is good.
        I’m going to the companionway to watch the sun set behind islands to the west.
October 7

        GANNET had a sixteen mile day.  For a while I wondered if it would happen.
        Now that New Zealand is on summer time, dawn isn’t until after 7 a.m.   I was awake at first light at 6:30 and was standing in the companionway with a cup of coffee when the sun rose from behind Urupukapuka Island at 7:26.  Except for raising the mainsail and anchor, GANNET was ready to get underway at 8:30.  And then I read, sticking my head out the companionway from time to time looking for any sign of wind on glassy water until 10:00 when a faint breath reached us and I raised the anchor, which came up clean as it always does at Paradise Bay.
        No sooner were the anchor and rode deployment bag stowed on one of the failed companionway curtains made last year in Hawaii than the breath of wind gave its last feeble sigh.
        I considered anchoring again, but we were in no immediate danger of going aground, so I choose to ghost and drift and glide, playing the faintest of wind, tacking slowly between islands, hand steering most of the time because conditions were too changeable for the tiller pilot.
        In two hours we covered not quite two miles and had almost cleared the islands when the the glassy surface of the bay darkened with three or four knots of wind from the north.  
        I made a final tack, cleared the last rock off Urupukapuka, set a course for Piercy Island just off Cape Brett, engaged the tiller pilot and ate salami and crackers for lunch.
        The wind continued to strengthen to seven or eight knots and I began to believe we might reach Whangamumu after all.  GANNET heeled slightly and began making five and six knots on a close reach across rippled water.  Hardly astounding, but lovely enjoyable sailing, particularly after hours of one knot or less.
        Ahead of us a sailboat rounded Piercy Island coming from the south and heading in, but that was the only other boat sailing on what had become a fine afternoon.

        I gybed east of Piercy and set a course south.
        The Bay of Islands is sparsely populated.  Beyond Cape Brett it is a wilderness of high land dropping precipitously into the sea and not populated at all.  It is a realm of birds, as once was all of New Zealand, soaring, diving, bobbing on the surface.  Hundreds were sitting and hovering off an exposed ledge.  You sense that you are again in the ocean, not a bay, however wide its mouth.
        Erratically blocked or funneled by the land, the wind gusted to eighteen knots and dropped to zero, and I began to consider my approach to almost landlocked Whangamumu Harbor four miles ahead.
        Usually I furl the jib and approach an anchorage under mainsail alone, but the last half mile to Whangamumu’s narrow entrance is between two peninsulas which I thought might block the wind, so I kept the jib set.  A good decision made for the wrong reason.

        I thought about waiting to bring the anchor and rode on deck until I was inside Whangamumu, where I expected I could heave to and do so more easily, but decided to do it in advance.  I waited until the wind was relatively steady, engaged the tiller pilot, and pulled the deployment bag and anchor on deck through the forward hatch.
        The deployment bag has a clip that I attach to the lifeline and a velcro closed opening in the bottom so that the end of the rode can be cleated.  Always a good idea.   I pulled the twenty feet of chain and about fifty-five feet of line from the bag and cleated it off to the starboard bow cleat.  I installed a small bow roller on GANNET’s starboard bow, which is useful in holding the chain part of the rode off the hull when raising anchor, so I anchor from that side.  Concerned that the anchor might fall overboard when we heeled in a gust I lashed it to the pulpit with a sail tie.
        As we made the turn to the west between peninsulas, instead of fading as I expected, the wind accelerated and backed to the northwest, gusting hard, heeling us far over and rounding GANNET up toward nearby rocks. 
        I let go the mainsheet, depowering the sail, and continued mostly under jib alone, being knocked down, bobbing up, tiller in my left hand—a round of applause for physical therapy—playing the main sheet with my left.  
        Whangamumu appears to be an ancient volcano whose northeast side has been breached for a few hundred yards/meters.  With jagged rocks and shelves the entrance seems narrower.
        Inside the harbor the wind continued to gust.  GANNET was making six and seven knots.  In a lull I engaged the tiller pilot and went to furl the jib, a process that only takes seconds.  I had just uncleated the furling line when a gust knocked us down and spun us toward the shore.  I had to drop the line and move back to the tiller, able to do so more quickly not having to step over a traveler bridge.  GANNET back under control, I went to furl the flogging jib, whose sheets had wound themselves together in a Gordian knot.  
        Inside the harbor the wind was coming from the northwest.  A white sailboat about 30’/9 meters long was anchored close in to the ruins of the old whaling station.  I like it out in the middle.  Fully battened mainsails are almost impossible to depower completely and we were still making four knots, faster than I like to anchor, but I knew we’d be stopped by the wind when we turned into it.  We were arriving right at high tide.  When the depth finder read 26’, I made the turn, dropped the tiller pilot arm onto the tiller pin to keep the tiller amidships and went forward, again made easier by the new cockpit configuration, and dropped the Spade, feeding out the rode with my hand to where it was cleated at 75’.  The Spade dug in instantly.  I moved aft and released the main halyard, lowing the sail, before returning, uncleating the rode and feeding out another 75’/23 meters.  The wind is forecast blow twenty-five knots from the southwest tomorrow and I may let out more.  Pulling in rode on a boat as light as GANNET is easy.
        The anchor was down at 3:45 p.m.  
        We had taken almost six hours to make fourteen miles.  It is good to have a fast boat.

October 8

        Almost sunset and I have the harbor to myself.
        A power boat came in late yesterday and anchored close to the west end.  Both it and the sailboat left this morning.  Both were far away from me, yet there is a satisfying difference in being alone rather than in company, the difference between being on a truly deserted island and one on which you just can’t momentarily see other people.
        A brief period of rain early this afternoon, but the sky is now only partially cloudy.  The wind has been gusting 20 to 25 knots.  I let out the anchor rode to the 180’/55 meter mark.  The strongest wind is predicted for later tonight.  A few minutes ago while standing in the companionway a gust heeled us far enough I was afraid it would spill my plastic of wine.  But then there are lulls when the wind drops to less than five knots.
        GANNET’s Spade anchor is well set.  Handling it and the mostly line rode is a pleasure.  All chain rode is better, but GANNET can’t carry the weight.  Neither could CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE.  On GANNET I have ½”/12mm line, which is stronger than needed but provides an extra margin for chaff.  That there is something down there sawing through your rode is the uncertainty and concern about line.
        I have sailed more engineless miles than some who have built their reputations and made a religion of it.  I had EGREGIOUS built without an engine.  CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE did not have one.  The diesel on RESURGAM died on the Caribbean side of Panama and we sailed all the way to Australia before we replaced it.  I’ve never powered more than an hour here and there at sea, and then usually only to stabilize a boat being thrown about in leftover seas with no wind.  That you have to power through the doldrums is simply not true.  I’ve crossed the Equator now, I think, thirteen times without motoring.  If you are a sailor and have a boat that sails well, you only need an engine for the last hundred yards/meters in harbors that are set up with the expectation that all boats are powered.  
        GANNET is an almost engineless boat.  The Torqeedo is in the stern and I’ll drag it out sometime, maybe before I leave here, just to see if it still runs.  But I must admit that there is a satisfaction in doing it all under sail:  sailing on and off the mooring, on and off anchor, even yesterday spending two hours making two miles in almost no wind and then sailing into a knockdown gusty harbor.
GANNET is a beautifully natural boat.  Even with the Torqeedo, she runs only on wind and sun and my muscles.
        Suddenly quiet.  The wind has dropped to two knots.  From where I am sitting at Central I look out the companionway and see by the length of shadows on trees on the hills that the sun is about to set.
        I like it here.  I long have.  I’ve sailed in on RESURGAM, THE HAWKE OF TUONELA and GANNET.  I don’t know whether I’ll leave tomorrow or stay another day.  I’ll decide in the morning.

October 9

        A pleasant and quiet afternoon.  Mixed sun and clouds.  Light variable wind.
        We had a few gusts last night, but it was mostly quiet.  The strongest wind passed through yesterday afternoon.
        I still have the harbor to myself.  I thought I heard voices a while ago, but couldn’t see anyone.  Perhaps hikers somewhere on the hills.
        I did a little maintenance.  Fillee a gouge in the wood around the companionway.  Disassembled and lubricated the starboard cockpit winch which does not turn as freely as the port one.   My efforts didn’t seem to make any difference.
        I also sanded down the filler I used to plug four bolt holes in the deck where I removed two jam cleats that were on GANNET when I bought her.  They were used in setting a standard spinnaker.  I had been using them to tie off the running backstays when daysailing, but bought some folding pad eyes and installed them a few inches further forward so the boom can be let out farther.  Removing the jam cleats results in four less bolts for me to hit my head on in The Great Cabin and two less objects to trip over on deck.
        After praising the virtues of sailing engineless, I dug the Torqeedo and outboard bracket out of the stern and put them in place on the transom.  It started right up.  It is perhaps the least offensive of all motors.  Nearly silent, odorless, and starts with one finger push of a button.
        I’ve left it in place and will use it sometime tomorrow.
        Late this morning our position had changed significantly relative to where I put down the anchor.  I did not think it had dragged—with her low windage and weight, GANNET produces little strain on an anchor—but wondered if the rode had snagged on some underwater obstruction.  I pulled it in to less than the 60’ mark and it hadn’t.  With 180’ of rode out, the diameter of our circle of swing is bigger than a football field and it was low tide with only 20’ of water beneath us rather than 26’.  I let the rode back out and tied us off this time at 150’.
        Obviously I’m staying here today.  I’m enjoying the solitude and the tranquility.  


        I am no longer alone.  Two sailboats have come in, both under power and anchored close to the shore at the west end of the harbor, and three small power boats have anchored near them as well.  Small figures are moving about the beach.  Tents have been set up.  Today is Friday.  A fine way to spend the weekend.

        I was standing in the companionway sipping Brokers Gin as the second sailboat came in and listening to Loreena McKennitt sing, “Dante’s Prayer”, one of the pieces of my Requiem.  Some of the lyrics:
            Cast you eyes on the ocean
            Cast your soul to the sea
            When the dark night seems endless
            Please remember me

The foliage on these hills is impenetrable.  You would have to ax and hack your way every step.  A few elegant white skeletons of dead trees are surrounded by wild exuberant green life.  To the north, one tree breaks above the others and reaches higher for the sun and sky.

October 10

        The exit from Whangamumu this morning was easy.  With light wind coming down from the hills to the west and an outgoing tide, I had the anchor up at 9:15 and was out the entrance a few minutes later under mainsail.  
        The exit was the best part of the day.
        The wind forecast to be eight to ten knots from the southwest died within the first half mile.  I rode the outgoing tide and played the slightest of breaths to move GANNET away from the inhospitable rocky shore.  
        The two other sailboats that had come in last night departed not long after me and motored past us with friendly waves, one turning south, the other continuing north as we sat rocking gently.  
        We sat most of the morning off the same headland south of Cape Brett until finally light wind filled in from the north heading us.  I was glad to have it.  Sailing in any direction is better than drifting.
        I had been seriously considering the possibility that we might not be able to reach any anchorage before night fall, in which case I would have tired to ease GANNET offshore for the night.
        At one time it looked as though we might be able to sail between Piercy Island and Cape Brett, but the wind backed and forced us to tack outside Piercy.  
        We were finally beyond Cape Brett at 1:30 in the afternoon, taking four hours to make good five or six straight line miles.
        The day was overcast with a solid layer of low cloud and the breeze was cold enough for me to put on a Polartec.
        I had Brian Boschma’s  mostly below deck tiller pilot in place, but hadn’t been able to use it much in the morning when we had no steerage way.  For the eight miles from Cape Brett to the north end of Urupukapuka Island the wind remained steady on a very close reach and the pilot performed exactly as it should.
        Just beyond Urupukapuka the wind suddenly backed to the southwest as forecast and as suddenly increased to 20 to 22 knots.  GANNET heeled lee rail under.  I released the mainsheet with one hand while grabbing the tiller from the tiller pilot with the other.  
        After a day of one inch ripples, or glass, the bay was covered with white caps and one to two foot waves into which GANNET slammed.  I’m tall enough to reach the low side of the cockpit with my feet, but it was more convenient to brace against the new pod instead.
        I hand steered the rest of the way and the wind headed us the rest of the way, west when we wanted to go west, south when we wanted to turn the corner north of Russell and go south.
        There were possible anchorages, but Russell, the lagoon at Roberton Island and Paradise Bay are all open to the southwest.  Pahia was tenable, but I thought I could reach Opua before last light and even that I could find our mooring in the dark, though I didn’t want to have to put that to the test, and pressed on, tacking all the way and playing the mainsheet even after I managed to partially furl the jib.
        We made it to Opua at last light.  The sun was already below Opua Hill.  
        Just north of the ferry crossing I lowered the Torqeedo into the water instead of continuing to short tack in what were now light headwinds and an outgoing tide.  I engaged the tiller pilot while I furled the jib and lowered the main.  The Torqeedo whirred along quietly.  For an engine it is almost likable.
        I picked up the mooring after 7 p.m.  Taking ten hours to cover twenty-six miles, though tacking we sailed father.
        GANNET was not in full passage mode with everything secured in place.  Yet she had repeatedly heeled rail down on both tacks.  The V-berth was a shambles
        I sorted it out, stowed the anchor and rode in the bow, went back on deck, lifted the Torqeedo from the stern though I left it in the cockpit for the night, put on the mainsail and tiller covers, moved spare halyards and the running backstays from near the mast.
        By then it was dark.
         I went below and sat at Central.  My neck and shoulders were sore.  I poured myself a well-deserved gin.