Micheal said, "Let's sail to the south island." OK. Our third summer in New Zealand, and we had not been to the south island. So we decided to sail to Nelson which is located on the northwest corner of the south island. Our track would take us around the north cape of New Zealand and south down the west side of the north island. We figured it would take about 6-8 days. Would you believe it took two weeks?
We left Gulf Harbor Marina on February 25th. The weather; well there were gale warnings for our area. Kawau Island was only 14 miles to the north so the plan was to tuck in there to wait until conditions improved. Of course, Kawau happens to be one of our favorite places. North Cove on the island is well protected with good holding and some good friends live there. Did I mention that they have a hot tub? So we hung around for two days. The southerly gales eased and off we went. Nightfall found us off of Cape Brett, about 50 miles north. This is a sea area heavily traveled by commercial ships so our night watches went by quickly as we were keeping a sharp lookout. We still had a ways to go before rounding North Cape. The weather was good with 15-20 knot southerlies. As the afternoon of the 28th approached, the wind picked up and we began to experience a fairly large swell left over from the gale. We thought about tucking into Manganui for the night, and even changed course. Our current speed and position would have put us in there after dark so we decided to continue. Around 6 p.m. we rounded North Cape. The seas were still pretty big and the wind was 30-35 knots. And was there a lot of boat traffic! We were both amazed at the number of boats crossing our path until we realized that they were all headed in shore. After consulting our cruising guide, we figured they were all headed for Tom Bowling Bay and that we would too. We changed course, made some adjustments to the sails, turned on the engine and motor sailed against headwinds towards shore. After hot showers and a hot meal, we decided that we had made a good decision to stop for the night. The wind was still 20-25, but we were in the lee of the land and in a snug anchorage with good holding. We counted 12 other sports fishing boats and a couple of commercial fishing boats in the anchorage with us that night.
We got on our way by mid-morning the next day after an extensive discussion about the weather. The usual plan for traveling around the north cape to Nelson would be to catch the southerlies on the front end of a high for the trip north. Then catch easterlies or northerlies for the trip south down the west side. When the cape is rounded, you are committed to continue as there is only one harbour to seek shelter on the entire west coast of the north island. I was a little uneasy about the weather. The high pressure system that was currently moving over New Zealand was stalling out and weakening. Plus there was a cold front moving in. There are a couple of safe places near the cape to wait out the weather but we passed them the day before, Manganui being one of them. As long as the wind was from the southerly quarter, we were safe and snug where we were. However, the anchorage was totally exposed to the north. Northerlies were forecast to fill in so we had to move on. But could we make it to Nelson before the cold front came through?
The wind was light and variable so we motor sailed for most of the day. It was quite exciting rounding two capes in one day; Cape Reinga and Cape Maria Van Diemen ( the northern tip of the north island of New Zealand has three capes! ). We encountered 10-15 knot southerlies after rounding all of the capes so we continued motor sailing. Where were those northerlies? Our track would eventually take us well offshore, about 60 miles at the most. That night we had a visit from a school of dolphins. We had been heading in a southeasterly direction but at midnight were able to change course to almost due south. Nelson was about two and a half days away.
We gradually fell into passage making routine; three hours on watch and three off, navigating, trimming the sails and checking the weather. That night the wind began to fill in just a little from the north so we set the pole and gibed the genoa. We sailed through an area of extreme bioluminescence that night. Looking astern the back of the boat was lit by our prop wash. And our bow wake rippled like a glowing ribbon. We were visited by another school of dolphins. They left streaking trails through the water as they played around the boat.
Early the next morning Micheal caught two nice sized albacore tuna. After they were dispatched and stowed in the freezer I noticed the first signs of the approaching cold front. High level cirrus clouds were moving in from the northwest and the sun displayed a beautiful halo through the ice crystals for us. We continued motor sailing in about 10 knots from the northwest. Gotta beat that cold front. About midnight we jibed the main and left the genoa attached to the pole. Dawn the next morning was ugly. Everyone knows the old saying " red sky at night sailor's delight; red sky at morning, sailor take warning." I would describe the sky that morning a tomato red! We were finally sailing by about 8 am as the wind was now about 20-25 knots. We were finally making tracks. At 9:30 am we dropped the pole and set the stay sail. The main had two reefs already. And the sky got uglier. Layers of high level clouds of all sorts of patterns were moving in. The wind slowly built and the seas began to build. With over one hundred miles to Nelson we knew we couldn't beat the cold front. And to top it off, a low pressure system sprang up out of nowhere. The low, and another cold front were forecast to pass our way!
I swear, the whole thing was like a dream where the boogie man is chasing you and you can't get away. It was pretty nerve wracking, for me. Nothing much bothers Captain Mike. We decided to try for the only port on the west coast of the north island. We thought we could reach it just before dark. Port Taranaki is located near the town of New Plymouth and other cruisers had mentioned it as a place to tuck into if the weather turned sour. So there we were, in 40 knots with gusts to 50, making tracks for a port we'd never been to and maybe we could make it before dark. Sounds smart, doesn't it?
We made it. As a matter of fact we surfed through the entrance to the harbor. Boy, I thought to myself, it's really great to be here. But after trying to set the anchor three times in 40-50 knots with a pretty mean surge coming through the entrance to the harbor, it dawned on me that our nightmare had only just begun. We were trapped. We would have been safer out at sea! So Micheal decided to motor around the harbor towards a shallow area marked on the chart. As we slowly motored a figure in white became visible at the end of a wharf. It was a Kiwi version of a white knight in a foul weather jacket, of course! He directed us to tie along the wharf. With his help and the help of another cruiser, we got the boat secured to the wharf. For the next several hours the wind blew at 50 knots with gusts to 60. We were right behind a breakwater and waves were breaking and being blown over the top so that it was raining saltwater. After a hot shower and a cup of hot cocoa, we eventually fell asleep but not before I ran one more weather fax. Check it out. The wind died down at about midnight and a heavy rain followed. And before we fell asleep, we both agreed that we would never do this again!
Our white knight turned out to be Wayne Holdt. His home overlooks the harbor and he was in his living room when he saw us come in and attempt to anchor. He also turned out to be Commodore of the local yacht club. We had a great time during our stay in New Plymouth. Wayne invited us to the yacht club on Sunday after races. He's a avid racer and also coaches the junior classes. And guess what, New Plymouth Yacht Club is home to Hobie Fleet 69 ( they now have a Fleet 23 burgie of their own ). We were taken sightseeing and invited out to a couple of lovely dinners while we were there. It was a social whirl.
Another memorable person in New Plymouth was Chaddy. We decided to walk into town one day to make some phone calls and buy some bread. As we were walking past a boat shed, a guy walked out and said, "Hey, are you from the yacht?" We said yes. "Need a car? Here take mine." And that's how we met Chaddy. Chaddy and his boat shed were almost too much to take in at one time. He introduced himself as a retired commercial fisherman who now takes anyone out to view the local seal colony/wildlife sanctuary located just outside the harbor for a modest fee. In the off-season he conducts government sponsored sea safety classes in the boat shed. And the boat shed was more of a museum than anything. There was always something going on at Paddy's boat shed. He even arranged for a mooring for our boat while we were there.
We stayed in New Plymouth for five days and then headed south across Cook Strait and on into Nelson. It took a lot of effort to get here, but it was worth it. It's a great place, nestled among the mountains with lots of sunshine. Our plan is to haul the boat and do that anti fouling thing and then head back up the west side of the north island to Opua. From there it's back to the islands, Fiji and Vanuatu, for the winter.
I sent along an article taken from the New Plymouth Yacht Club newsletter, "Off Course". Thought you might enjoy it.
Cheers for now
Micheal and Trude
s/v "Vela Dare"