Category Archives: New Zealand

Sailing to Great Barrier Island 7

13/3/2015

DSC_0439

On the horizon, I could vaguely make out Rangitoto Island and on the east, Waihike Island. I had a good grip on the tiller and steered the yacht through the swells and unpredictable wind directions as it fluctuated rapidly. The boat leaned dramatically with about a meter on the port side, where I was seated and just half a meter on the starboard side. I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was not time to consider ‘fear of water’. The cool day, the craft cutting across the blue sea and the challenge to keep to the desired direction, all gave me a real high. Exhilaration and adventure. The swells ebbed and flowed as we passed the Noises, a small cluster of islands in the Hauraki Gulf. Darkness came quickly assisted by the dark storm clouds. Temperatures dropped. Finally, we arrived at a familiar place.  We sailed towards Rakino Island. On the west coast of North Island, I could make out Kawau Island. The storm raced on either side. Walls of rain stretched endlessly.

I noticed an obstacle. A tug boat was towing a large barge with a very long tow ropes. Our crafts were destined to cross. John quipped, “It’s a long way to go round the barge”. I held the tiller and continued on my course, 188 degrees south. What is the rule of thumb, I asked John. Apparently, the boat with sails has the right of way. With about 300m – 400m, the tug boat changed course starboard side and that allowed us to plough through unhindered. Later John mentions that if a boat had its engines on, the tug boat had the right of way. We had both the sail and engine on?

DSC_0444 DSC_0447 DSC_0450

Finally, we approached Browns Island, just off Musick Point. It was now 8pm. It had taken us about six hours to reach the mouth of Tamaki River Estuary, the entrance into the harbour. John reckoned it is a quick time. I was surprised that there were quite a number of boats out fishing with their lights on albeit a prevailing stormy sky.

I manoeuvred the yacht to windward. Here we go again. I looked up at the wind pointers and managed to retain that position. John pulled down all the sails. We motored into the harbour. John had not came into the harbour this late before and was slightly unsure. He left it to me with simple instructions. Keep the red lights on the left and the green light on the right. I struggled to locate all the beacon light locations. They seemed haphazardly positioned. There are sandpit and shallows during low tides. To prevent boats getting stuck, hence the positioning of the beacon lights. John busily tidied up the cabin and regularly came on deck to see my progress or rather alleviate any possible mishaps. At times, both of us struggled to pin the beacon location. One by one, we managed. However. At one point, I missed and was on the right side of a green beacon. Nervously, I brought the yacht as close as possible to the beacon and was in safe water. I was relieved. John  was quick to quip, “don’t muck up now after all the good work”. We returned to our starting point, Panmure Yacht Club at around 9pm. It seemed like a long day. The rain that we were spared, eventually caught up but trickled into a few rain drops. We had been fortunate with the weather today. After anchoring at the wooden jetty, we unloaded all our gear, dingy, food bins and few tools. John and I parted as he prepared to take his yacht to it mooring point. It was 10pm as I headed home with my prized catch, John Dory fillets.

I felt a sense of achievement and savoured my new experience in my thoughts. The experience of a hunter-gather existence (not entirely) by fishing, cooking and feeding. This had certainly been an adventure of a lifetime for me. Out in the open sea, with salty sea sprays on my face, sightings of a whale and in close proximity to wild dolphins playing and taking occasional charge of the wonderful and rustic vessel that gave me this adventure. Above all, I must thank John for making this happen for me.

Thanks John.

 

Sailing to Great Barrier Island 6

13/3/2015

It rained perhaps late night or in the early hours of the day. The sky was dark, pregnant with dark clouds. However, it was peculiar. There was no wind, not even a breeze. There was not even a ripple on the water’s glassy surface. It was surprising as Easterlies were forecasted for today. It was 7 am.

DSC_0384 DSC_0387

After breakfast, we headed out to a mussel farm to do a bit of fishing in our dingy. I managed to catch three good-sized snapper and my prized catch was a feisty John Dory. “A good sized fish” exclaimed John. I was excited with that catch. I had only fished once before this accidental adventure. From here, we headed out to scout locations for scallops based on a word of mouth from other fisherman. Directions were vague and descriptions “literally everywhere”. We found none. Only shells devoid of the animal. Futile, we headed back to FitzRoy Harbour to refuel and refill the oxygen dive bottles. We headed back to the boat.

DSC_0390 DSC_0391 DSC_0388

For lunch, I prepared spiced potatoes, smoked chicken, wilted spinach, butter toasted bun, spiced rice and scrambled eggs. It was a heavy lunch indeed. Hopefully John is contended. We left the harbour at mid-day. We continued to survey the coast for scallops again. At one site, the seabed looked shallow and sandy, a possible site. Nearby, gannets dived from 30m into the water to feed. It was an impressive sight indeed. A flock of terns circled frantically squabbling on the water’s surface. Small fishes jumped out of the water perhaps chased by larger predators. John dived into the emerald water with hope and anticipation.

DSC_0393 DSC_0392 DSC_0394 DSC_0395 DSC_0396 DSC_0397 DSC_0400

After forty minutes, John gave up looking for scallops. We prepared to leave Great Barrier Island. The sky was blue with little clouds but the rugged mountains were covered with thick dense clouds. There was only a slight southbound movements of clouds. Perhaps, the forecasted Easterlies were gradually making their way here. However, it was insufficient to sail the yacht. We left the tranquil water of the island coast around 2pm.

DSC_0401 DSC_0402 DSC_0406 DSC_0409 DSC_0411 DSC_0412 DSC_0413

Storm clouds had built-up above Great Barrier and Little Barrier islands. Swells of over 0.5m to 1m headed starboard side. The yacht wobbled from side to side. After a while, John unfolded the main sail and this tremendously helped stabilize the yacht. The sun became more intense and I could feel my skin burn. There was nowhere to hide. Seeking refuge inside the cabin is unwise under prevailing sea conditions. As we headed southbound into the channel opening out to the Pacific Ocean, bigger waves began to hit the vessel. The channel lay between Barrier Island and the Coromandal Peninsula. Scattered outcrops, Pig Islands and an isolated conical mountain, Channel island lay in-between.

DSC_0415 DSC_0416 DSC_0421 DSC_0425 DSC_0430

The storm clouds that had covered much of Barrier Island and the Coromandal Peninsula opened up and rain fell. Little Barrier Island was completely draped in rain clouds. The wind here had picked up. John unfolded the foresail or the genoa. Immediately the yacht leaned into the starboard side. One to two meter waves lashed onto the boat. However, the boat was steady. Finally, the anticipated Easterlies arrived. The boat that had been tracking about 5 knots shot up to 6 – 8 knots. The sun disappeared into the storm clouds. I was excited. John turned down the motor but just to keep plodding along. Now it was my moment to take control of the yacht. I can’t tell if stupidity or pure spirit of adventure got into me. I loved the idea and the spirit of exploration. Never mind if it had been done a thousand times before. For me, this was the first time. It mattered!

 

 

 

Sailing to Great Barrier Island 5

12/3/2015

DSC_0313 DSC_0317 DSC_0318

This morning around 7.30 am, storm clouds with a reddish tinge appeared in the east behind Barrier Island. The sheltered bay was very calm and no wind. The sky above me, however was blue. A wonderful sight indeed to wake up too. This spot, under the prevailing conditions, oozed tranquillity. The surrounding ascending mountains were fresh green. I mentioned to John about the cold night. John asked ” did you not bring a sleeping bag?”. “Why did you not inform me”, I replied hastily. John just laughed!

After breakfast, John and I hopped into the rubber dingy and headed towards land. My first step on the island. I was surrounded with dense vegetation which included Pohutukawa – New Zealand Christmas trees, shrubs and pines. This is Smoke House Bay “retreat”. On one tree, a lone Wood Pigeon was perched unperturbed by intrusion. John informed me that this place was converted into a fisherman’s “home” by fisherman. A small convenience with a heated bath and shower, a washing basin and a toilet. A little treat.

DSC_0328 DSC_0321 DSC_0341 DSC_0331

Thick black clouds began to build up above the island as we headed towards FitzRoy Harbour. Our approach towards the harbour was on a very calm sea punctuated with pools of lively birds feeding frantically on the surface. Fish seem to jump out of the water, unsure if they were predators or prey. Perhaps this might be a good place to fish later. The sun struggled to shine through the dark mass of low hanging black clouds. This small but picturesque outpost offered a lifeline to fishermen and boat operators. This friendly post had a convenience sundry store, a fuel station and an information hut. Local transport is available to venture into other parts of the island. A weekly ferry arrived here from Auckland.

DSC_0347 DSC_0351 DSC_0352 DSC_0355

John refilled his diving tank and restocked fuel as I managed to get some sugar for my daily coffee fix. As we returned to Smoke House Bay, our dingy bounced off the glassy surface. There was hardly any breeze. There was doubt about the weather as dark clouds now covered the entire sky above. Mid-day was approaching. Back at the boat, I prepared lunch. Pre-cooked noodles topped up with scrambled eggs, slices of smoked chicken and a green salad. John seemed to like it.

DSC_0357 DSC_0359 DSC_0361 DSC_0362

After lunch, we cruised out of the harbour to locate a good diving spot. John anchored just meters off a rocky coast with a vertical mountain slope. Deep crevasses scared the mountain face. John, without any hesitation, told me to take him out on the attached dingy. I had no previous experience in either paddling or motoring one. I was a little anxious but keen to give it ago. With a crash course on manoeuvring the dingy, John dived underwater. Seemed like he was more confident that I was. Alone, bobbing in the rubber dingy with the incoming waves, I was excited but still nervous of all what if questions. Forty five minutes later, we were back on the boat. All went well. My confidence around water is boasted. John returned with one crayfish.

DSC_0365 DSC_0367 DSC_0364

Once the anchor was retrieved, I took control of the tiller to find a good site to fish. The hook was baited and the line dropped into the water. I caught a snapper. It was too small and was released. The wind blew gently and the sea was rather calm. The wind constantly changed directions. Over the radio, they mentioned that the Easterlies would dominate. However, we were facing the Northerlies!  We mover the boat around. Although there were bites but none took the bait.

With the setting sun behind us, we headed back towards Fitz Roy Harbour and eventually to a sheltered bay to moor for the night. We wanted to get out of the expected Easterlies.

DSC_0368 DSC_0372 DSC_0373 DSC_0376  DSC_0378 DSC_0379

Tonight’s dinner was pasta with masala fried prawns and a mixed salad. For supper, we had coffee with muffins. Yet again, the Milky Way was on full display. It was magnificent. The atmosphere quiet, the boat was motionless and only the occasional sounds of the water lapping against the boat. Tranquillity as it was meant to be.

 

Sailing to Great Barrier Island 4

11/3/2015

DSC_0252 DSC_0270DSC_0281

We finally arrived Great Barrier Island about 5 pm. It had been a long day on the water under a blue sky and burning sun. We anchored at a sheltered bay. A gannet colony had made this rocky slope part of the island their home. The island is vegetated with shrubs and small trees. A variety of birds flew past regularly. Bird life is abundant here. This bay is quite a pretty sight with calm water. Without the engine noise made this moment special. John decided to go for a dive. As he prepared, i noticed a large flock of birds feeding frenziedly just 50 m away. We decide to throw the fishing line. Within minutes, I caught my first fish, a decent sized snapper. When I was reeling in a snapper, a large pod of over 30 Bottle Nose dolphins entered the bay. They played and jumped around in this semi-circle bay. I was excited to see these wild dolphins in their natural environment. Some swan just meters off the boat. Some surveyed the rocky shores perhaps for shell fish. I intently watched their every move, their streamlined bodies as they moved effortlessly through the water. I loved watching them play, jump out of the water and blowing air through their blowholes. Some large ones had bruises and scars on their bodies. It was an uplifting experience. I caught five snapper and one Trevally. I only kept two snappers for supper. John returned with a single crayfish.

DSC_0263

We let this wonderful bay as the sun began to set behind some scattered islands. It was past 6 pm. We continued our journey and approached a narrow channel that led towards Smoke House Bay. The sun, behind us, was setting behind Little Barrier Island. A soft golden sunlight was cast onto some of the uneven rocky outcrops.  Mt Hobson looked like a beacon. Temperature began to drop and dark shadows on the water looked cold.  We passed a DOC [Department of Conservation] jetty. We then entered FitzRoy Harbour. An isolated bay surrounded by lush green high mountains. A few boat were already anchored at Smoke House Bay. The dimmed glow of the day around this bay and setting was simply exhilarating and soothing. This can only be felt from the water.

DSC_0277 DSC_0289 DSC_0294 DSC_0299

Dinner was late. The snapper was marinated with butter, onions, garlic and a little Cajun spice. It was wrapped up in a tin oil and baked. The crayfish was boiled in water. Then, marinated with lots of garlic and butter. Then wrapped in tin oil and baked. The meal was served with a green salad and warmed bread. It was a big meal. I could not sleep although surprisingly a very calm water. Above me, the beautiful Milky Way spread like magic. Satellites moved to re-position themselves. The night was cold. I had no blankets either. I managed to get a few winks.

DSC_0299 DSC_0301 DSC_0303 DSC_0307 DSC_0309 DSC_0312

 

Sailing to Great Barrier Island 3

11/3/2015

John decided to unfold the main sail. The sun shined brightly and the sky blue, but still hardly any wind. Not a great day for sailing. This probably explained why there were no other sail boats around. We plodded along on a relatively calm water at 5 knots. Suddenly a Southerly wind picked up. Thanks to technology, the boat was set on auto-pilot. The GPS was not functioning well. Satellite connections do always work every time. With this convenience, we could just sit back and enjoy the sun and views.

John unfolded the genoa sail, to complement the main sail with the hope of picking up some wind. It started of flat and occasionally filled up when the sail caught sufficient wind. John looked around and mentioned that the sea water behind us was darker as the waves built up. I only saw sea water. Then I began to notice the shadow cast by waves seemed darker with a little white water amongst them. There is some hope of better wind condition.

DSC_0231 DSC_0233 DSC_0240 DSC_0241

I had been commanding the tiller earlier but now with the sails, I was apprehensive. John instructions were to look at the top of the ten meter mast. The tail end of the wind pointer should be at the southern end. Watch the main sail and make sure that it does not swing back (move towards the opposite direction). Finally, keep the forward direction at 10 degrees north. I was nervous and at the same time, wanting to get it right. Maintaining and fulfilling all the instructions were demanding and I became more nervous. I don’t want to break the mast or the main sail if it swung back. At this point, the boat sailed at around six knots with 80% of the power provided by the sails. An hour later, John decided to pull down the genoa sail as progress was rather slow. The motor was turned up.

The sea was calm, the sun was burning my skin and the sky a beautiful turquoise blue. a few island were scattered on the horizon. I saw a little bird just 20m from the boat. It looked like a penguin. It did not fly but instead submerged into the water. John though it might be Blue Penguins. The Coromandal Peninsula was now visible with a small rocky outcrop. On the northern horizon, a faint blueish Great Barrier Island with Hobson Point, a mountain, in the centre. A little left was Little Barrier Island. Our bearing had been pretty good. A large flock of birds floated effortlessly on the water’s surface. Perhaps there were large numbers of prey floated towards the surface by predator fishes. More birds joined in the feeding frenzy. Suddenly a small pod of Dolphins swam and jumped southbound past as if on a mission. I was just excited these animals in the wild. Unexpectedly, I barely caught sight of a black whale just diving into the water. I shouted to John in excitement. All these delightful incidents within minutes. This had made my sailing adventure fulfilled.

DSC_0245

Between Coromandal Peninsula and Barrier Island is an open channel which drains into Pacific Ocean. Between these two islands is a small mass of land, Channel Island. I wondered if it is inhabited by people. The swells increased. The craft with its wonderfully crafted champagne glass shaped keel swayed gently. Floating on the water’s surface of the big swells were four Blue Penguins. These small birds dived underwater as our boat approached closer. This is my first encounter of Blue Penguins. An unexpected experience indeed.

 

 

 

Sailing to Great Barrier Island 2

11/3/2015

I was up early this morning. The previous night, I had organised all the food items. I arrived at Panmure Yatch and Boating Club around 7 am with a husky packed with our three day sustenance. On the horizon, a thick blanket of cloud. In contrast, above my head, a clear blue sky and the day warm. It was a mixed day, parallel to my emotions. A three quarter moon was setting in the west and the sun rose behind thick clouds in the east. Anchored boats bobbed gently in a windless day. While I waited, I wondered if I was at the right location. Perhaps there was another pier. An elderly man mentioned that there was another one further inland but suggested that I wait here as it is only for small boats. I did not know how big John’s boat is.

Sea gulls rested on the rustic wooden jetty. Young men and women rowed swiftly on streamlined row boats with their coaches pushing them with loud speakers on adjacent motorized boats. They were exhausted at the end of their practice. Bodies slumped and mouths open breathing profusely.  The sun was still hidden but the sky was brightened.

DSC_0214 DSC_0209 DSC_0210 DSC_0213Silently, John anchored his boat or rather his yacht at the end of the pier. The tall mast was prominent. It’s just past 7.30 am. My excitement soared. Before we set sail, a few chores needed to be done – tools, gear, and essential equipment including the fuel containers, safety raft and its bulky motor. For me, my essential husky. From a tap at the pier, fresh water was filled into the yacht’s tank. Finally, we set out of the pier around 8.15 am. The wharf is on the Tamaki River. Despite the name, it is actually an estuary and a harbour within Auckland City. Almost immediately, John asked me to steer the boat. The instructions were simple, steer within the green markers on the left and the red markers on the right. With the motor running at 5 knots, within the harbour, it was straight forward.  It was my first time. In the beginning there was a little bit of nerves but once I got the tiller (the equipment that controlled the rudder, hence the direction of the boat), I was relaxed.

DSC_0220 DSC_0222

The watery path zig-zagged from bank to bank passing by other boats that have been moored along this narrow harbour, the Half Moon Bay ferry terminal and more importantly the shallow sandpits. It just a short time, I became confident with the controls. Eventually, we were out at the mouth of the estuary with lovely views of Auckland city skyline in the west and Rangitoto Island, an active volcano in the Hauraki Gulf. There were very few boats out and about this cloudy morning. Our journey headed north-east and edged slowly towards Browns Island. It is almost a barren island with a few remaining trees. It is however a volcanic island. On my right is the familiar Musick Point, a great place to view the entire Hauraki Gulf. My family used to come here regularly.  There was no wind. The sails could not be used. We gently passed Motuike Island, a popular spot for day trippers; Motutapu Island, a reserve and perhaps only visited by conservation officers. As we passed these islands, a majestic view of Rangitoto lsland appeared across a narrow channel. Although in open water, wind was still lacking. We passed Rakino Island, with a small settlement. Just north of Rakino are the small cluster of uninhabited islands, The Noises. Vegetation clung onto these rocky islands bashed by salt water. Just amazing. In the distant east, blurred views of Waiheki Island.

DSC_0225

 

 

Sailing to Great Barrier Island 1

“Hey John, I didn’t know that you had a boat. Why haven’t you invited me before?”. I asked John who is my work colleague. I was a little anguish that he hadn’t asked me before. At the same time, there was some excitement about the possibility of being out at sea on a boat. I continued with my rather insensitive mannerism, “I need the experience on my travel CV. I have been on mountains, remote places and interesting cities. I can’t swim but I need to have this sailing ‘sea experience’. I can be your cook”. John, looked rather confused and perhaps astonished with my “demands”. How obnoxious, he must have thought. Fortunately, we know each other well. All this came about when I heard a few colleagues had just returned from a fishing trip on John’s sailing boat.

The following week, to my surprise, John invited me to join him on his boat to the Great Barrier Island, north-east from Auckland. Getting leave from work at this time seemed ridiculously tough. Blame it on shortage of staff. I was unperturbed. Without expectations, I submitted my leave. One week later, against all obstacles, it was approved. However, john was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he was off work. I contacted him on his cell phone but to no avail. I could only leave a message. There was no reply. Four days before the journey, I managed to advice John that I am available to join him. Finally, the “expedition” was on. An opportunity to sail on open water. My task, however, was clear. I offered to be the cook and John reminded me and was now my responsibility. The date was set, 10th March 2015.

Now, my mind was preoccupied with the task on hand. What should I bring? I made a list. I was unsure the number of meals to cook on board. I know that there is a fridge and freezer. I made a list of ingredients to bring and at the same time thinking of the menu combinations. John did mention, “not all Indian”!

I had been on a sailing boat once before on my brother’s friend’s sailing boat. In a windless day, we motored from the pier in North harbour to Motueka Island. With this invitation, I was excited as well as apprehensive and mixed with a certain fear. I can’t swim. Is this a stumbling block? Am I taking a high risk? My anxiety is slightly alleviated with the thought of John’s abilities. Furthermore, I am overwhelmed at the opportunity of a sea exploration and to see the beyond.

Three days before departure, i had a family dinner at home. More questions were asked about my impending journey. Do you need to take water? Can the husky that I planned to take fit into the gully?, How long is the journey?, How big is the boat?, What kind of boat is it? How many nights are you in the boat? Will you be stay in an accommodation on the island? Do you trust your mate since you can’t swim?, And so on. I seem not to have any answers. All these questions were meant with good intentions as well as subtle dark humour. Friendly advice on types of meals were given freely. Well that’s family.

One day before departure, I called John hopefully to get some insights to the questions posed by my family. “Do you have a freezer and how big is it? Nonchalantly John replied “mate, we are only going for three days and we are not going to feed everyone out there. I had survived on baked beans alone. We may have to give away some food and will definitely make these folks receiving happy”. Well I called since I was excited, anxious and nervous at the same time. I also wanted to get it right.  After I hung up, all the questions I “needed” to ask remain unanswered. Well, best be well prepared I thought.

I shopped for all the items I wanted and packed them into appropriate containers separating the perishables and stored goods. As usual, my journey had begun from the time I said yes to john, five days ago. Steve, at my home dinner, informed that the Easterlies will be blowing this week and should make for good sailing. That’s encouraging. Now my next thought was focused on gear!