Friday, 6 July 2018

Crewing: Gisborne to Tauranga

My first crewing trip came about from posting on the facebook group: Women Who Sail NZ.

Antje responded to my desperate sounding plea that if anyone was coming to Gisborne I would love to meet or even just sit on a boat! Her summer sailing trip spanned the East Coast of the North Island: from Opua situated north of Auckland, down to Napier, then back up to Gisborne.
Napier had her competing in the Europe Class National Champs on Europe dinghies, while Gisborne held the Sanders Cup Interprovincial Challenge on javelin skiffs.
We met on board for a cup of tea, got on well and when she mentioned taking her boat around to Kaiti beach for the upcoming race, I almost begged for a ride!

Eastland Port Inner Harbour, Gisborne.

Regatta morning we putted quietly out of the marina, it was raining but I was stoked.  Just to add to the stoke, Antje asked me to helm us out of the harbour!  So awesome to be behind the wheel again.  Even more surreal when I had to pinch between the harbour wall and a ship from Panama of all places, having returned from a 4 month stint there only 3 months prior!  See:

Cruising out of the entrance, we headed toward the sailing club to anchor.
Sarrie, a CT41 ketch, was to be the starting marker for the races.  We sat for a while to make sure we were holding before dinghying ashore so Antje could prepare for her race.  I walked back to the wharf grinning, I was feeling alive!

Fleet returning with Sarrie out back, Kaiti beach.

Later that afternoon returning for a swim and to check in on Antje's progress, I soon learnt racing had been good but there was a slight hiccup with Sarrie.  A local guy Noah who's actively involved with the club had been called in to help..with his scuba gear.  Turns out we had managed to wrap the anchor chain around a massive steel I-beam belonging to the Star of Canada wreck!  Visibility was not great and it took over an hour to free it up.

Photo credit: Gisborne photo news.

Built in Belfast in October 1909, the Star of Canada was a twin screw general cargo steamer of 12,000 tonnes fully laden. (Ula was all of 14 tonnes!)
470.3 ft in length with a beam of 58.4 ft, she was slightly wider than Ula in length!
"Although anchored, the Star of Canada could not withstand the fierce storm.  It started dragging on its anchor and nothing could be done to prevent the movement toward the beach."-

Photo credit: Gisborne Photo News.

The tug Hipi attempted to assist but was unable to do so.  Running aground on the rocks, water had entered the holds by morning.  The frozen cargo was saved and no lives were lost.  The remains of the ship eventually were moved to become part of the Tairawhiti Museum, as pictured below.

Photo: Tairawhiti Museum, eventfinder.

Sarrie's fate feared a lot better and was eventually freed to return to her cosy berth in the marina.
Antje had been hinting about the need for crew, Tauranga being the next port of call.  I liked the idea but was a little nervous from the many night-marish stories I'd heard of sailing round the East Cape.  Antje was great, she sat me down, talked through the plan, showed me the different weather models and how it should affect us on the map.  Our main concern being Tropical Cyclone Gita (category 4) causing flooding and damage in Samoa and Fiji.  Reaching maximum sustained winds of 194km/hr east of Vanuatu - definitely wouldn't want to be dealing with that in a boat!  In Tonga one person died, 33 injured, 4,500 people were moved into 108 evacuation centres.
Antje believed it appeared to be tracking more to the west of NZ but Dave had concerns of the swell it would be generating and when that would likely catch up with us.
Spoke with friends in Tauranga who'd returned from their circumnavigation 2 years prior.

Cathy cleaning very hot and dirty aluminum deck, Trinidad.

Dubbed the "Angels of Trinidad" (by the boatyard we'd stayed in), for being legends helping us at the beginning of our Ula journey. I wanted to get their opinion on the weather and potential cyclone.  Also arranging a catch up stay with them once arriving.  With the thumbs up from them, organising school drop off/pickups, pre-cooked meals for family, groceries, and packing in the space of 2-3 days, I was ready for my first big adventure away from the family.

Antje's two crew members had arrived the previous night from Tauranga.  A quick debrief on safety protocols and stowing of gear, Antje had me back at the helm heading for the harbour entrance and into the bay, on what was a gloriously still, sunny day.

Antje, me at helm, Yuki. 

As forecast, there was very little wind so we motored up the coast, identfying the different bays as we passed them.  The majestic Mount Hikurangi over-seeing it all is North Island's highest non-volcanic peak at 1754 metres.

Mount Hikurangi. Photo credit: New

Sarrie is a centre cockpit and set up wonderfully well to steer by foot! - You can spend your watch at the helm sitting on the aft cabin roof, enjoying the view and casually steering with your feet!!

Multi-tasking: helming and posing!

"Stop the engine!" the Captain commanded some hours later.  Within seconds, she was over the side, already decked out in bikini and snorkle gear, amping to get amongst the dolphins circling the boat!

Antje amongst it! Photo: Yuki.

By the time I got dressed and jumped overboard, the last of them had disappeared and I was left gasping from the very refreshing shock to the was a lot more tropical the last time I undertook such an activity!!

Thinking a late afternoon snooze might be a good plan with the potential prospect of night watches ahead, I made the mistake of lying down on the forward berth while it had been nice conditions.  As we neared the East Cape, the sea state deteriorated from the previous benign conditions.  My stomach had me bolting for the head, thankfully close by as I only just reached the vanity target with the contents of my stomach!  Hastily donning my bulky wet weather gear and gumboots, I clumsily made a dash for the cockpit desperate for fresh, cool air.

I was met with a decent wake-up breeze, unfamiliar, picturesque scenery, the isolated feel to it being softened by the warm pink hues of dusk, and the smiling, concentrated face of Antje.
Antje and the East Cape.

The call was made to cut between East Island/Whangaokeno and the Cape; the East Cape lightouse is the most east in the world.

East Island.

The seas converging provided a washing machine affect, nothing too serious though, Sarrie took it all in her stride.

Not taken during washing machine time!

I jolted awake, somehow I'd managed to fall asleep wedged into a corner of the cockpit in an upright position, fully decked out in the bulky wet weather gear and gumboots!  It was one of those really dark nights, Antje was requiring my assistance at the helm while she got the anchor ready.  I was informed we were motoring across Onepoto bay toward the northern anchorage end of Hicks Bay.

Photo: NZFrenzy

We had been following what appeared to be a fishing vessel headed in the same direction. Looking toward shore and being a little disorientated, I was filled with alarm, we seemed to be rapidly speeding through what appeared to be a seriously packed out anchorage for such an isolated spot.  Antje reassured me all the lights I was seeing were actually lights on the shore! - The darkness had blurred the line between land and sea and it was hard to gauge any depth.
The Captain amazed me again at her incredible confidence and knowledge as we anchored up near Hicks Bay wharf - a much bigger challenge in the dark.  A lot of sailors prefer to either slow down and wait for visibility to anchor safely or continue sailing through the night till they reach an anchorage in the daylight hours.
The now derelict wharf was upgraded in 1920 to serve the freezing works built there, but with few roads to transport livestock, it went out of business in 1926.

Schooner at Hicks Bay Wharf. Photo: NZ Frenzy from
local history book.

Wharf from land. Photo: NZ Frenzy.

Nearby Waihirere falls, photo: NZfrenzy.

The crew and I had really appreciated through the course of the day, the Captain's hands off approach with her boat just to allow us to learn and figure things out.

Captain clearly confident in her crew! Photo: Yuki.

Yet she balanced it out with lots of informative tips along the way.

Antje explaining to Kez. Photo: Yuki.

Her knowledge and experience from racing and how she applied that to strategic moves based on the wind forecasting was a real eye opener for me too.  I guess most of my sailing had been learnt in the Caribbean where the trade winds are generally predictable every day, if sailing in the safe season.  NZ being in the lower lattitudes seems to me (in my newbie-ness) to be a lot more subject to change and a lot less predictable! - You've probably picked up by now,  I'm not really a sailor, I just get about on boats!

Morning glory!

Great call by the Captain to anchor overnight, it was really nice to have a good nights' sleep. (Although I did wake a few times hearing waves crashing ashore; had to remind myself the boat is still floating and the waves sounded further away from the hull!!)

Yuki adding to the surreal flavour:
serenading us with her ukulele! 
Woke up to a gloriously warm sunny morning, birds chirping in the nearby overhanging Pohutukawas.  Surf was looking..surfable with the light offshore breeze throwing spray off the back of the peelers at Wharekahika Bay.

View of Hicks bay, drooling over surf!

Magical moments like these is what makes it all the more sweeter and the not so good seem worth enduring.

Spot the wharf! Photo: Yuki.

Antje cooked us another amazing meal that I had to pass on - wasn't too sure if my stomach could handle or hold down eggs!  We took our time lifting the anchor, in hope that the predicted westerly was going to kick in later that morning.

Wedged into a sunny corner
is usually where I can be found!

Motoring out it became instantly noticable how protected in the anchorage we'd been from the swell. Meandering toward Cape Runaway, the spectacular, isolated landscapes provided yet again a visual feast for the eyes. Yuki and I were relieved our stomachs had settled down too!

Cape Runaway.

Anchoring up at Whangaparoa Bay, on the Bay of Plenty side of the Cape, we donned snorkle gear to check out the underwater scene of the nearby rocky shoreline.  I did manage to see a ray thanks to Yuki but unfortunately, the Caribbean has spoilt me for both warmth and clarity!  The others stuck at it a while longer while I defrosted in the sun on deck!

Anchored between Cape Runaway and Whangaparoa.
Photo: Yuki.

While writing this, I found out that Whangaparoa beach is the landing site of the two wakas Tainui and Arawa from Hawaiiki around 1350AD.

Mealtimes are the best! Photo: Yuki.

Having driven the coastline between Opotiki and Tauranga possibly hundreds of times, searching for the faint outline of the ever smoking White Island, I was looking forward to getting a closer look.

Photo: Yuki.

Also known as Whakaari, it is apparently the world's most accessible, active marine volcano. I had the privileage of helming towards the impressive sight through the beautiful sunset.

Smoking White island just visible to the right!

According to, there are underwater steam vents, incredible visibility for diving, and an abundance of marine life. We assumed this must be the case due to the amount of lights surrounding Whakaari from all the fishing boats.
Sarrie has a sea-water temperature gauge which apparently rose a couple of degrees as we neared White Island.  I had gone down below for a sleep by that time but I distinctly remember gagging at one stage and almost yelling in disgust, "who farted?!"  Thankfully before doing so, the recognition of the familiar, eggy smell, associated with sulphur kicked in and concluded we must be in close proximity to the volcanic island - glad I kept my mouth shut!
Having motored through the night, I was pleasantly surprised on my early morning watch to find Mauao the extinct volcano, within sight.

There's something quite euphoric that arises when the destination comes into sight after a passage.  On one hand, it's exciting to be reaching land to see what's there, but there's another side saying, "I was just getting into it, how about we keep going, see what else there is to be discovered?!"

I was stoked to be on the helm again coming into the second busiest seaport in the country.
Could definitely verify that, being a Saturday it was very busy!  There were fishing boats, wakas, jet skis and cargo ships to contend with. I had to keep checking with the crew to make sure I was on the correct side of the shipping lane for NZ!

Coming into Pilot Bay, Mount Maunganui. Photo:Yuki.

There was just enough room under the keel for us to use the visitors' berth at Pilot Bay, so we could offload Yuki and Kez's gear.

Got to do my all-time favourite, pre-breakfast start to the day: jumping off for a swim, and it was so warm!  Then enjoyed one last delicious meal by Antje.

Antje and I then headed for deeper water in search of a decent spot to anchor in Pilot Bay. It was a nice homely feeling to be amongst live-aboards in an anchorage again; I miss that sense of community and comrarderie amongst sailors.

Pilot Bay side of Mauao.

Cruisers have this thing where you don't really say goodbye, it's just, "see ya when we see ya next."  Because everyone is travelling and most likely they will meet up again.
I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the last 24 hours catching up with our awesome cruising friends Eric and Cathy.
It was so great being able to swap stories and compare notes on the transition process from cruising to land-lubber status.

Capturing Eric mid-story on board! 

As an added bonus, I was able to peruse the awesome craftsmanship of Eric's current project: restoring a 1953 Bailey designed Kauri motor launch on one of Rotorua's lakes.

Reflecting on the scenic bus ride home,  I felt so glad and privileaged that Antje took the time out of her busy schedule to meet me.  I hugely admired the courage and wisdom she applied to every aspect of her life.  She was a wealth of information, yet was gracious enough to allow us to figure things out on her precious boat.
Me helming, Kez, Yuki and Antje.

A very inspiring Captain.    

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