Captain’s Log: Week 6

Things get even rougher and colder as the brothers head for New Zealand's southernmost regions. Horizon III gets some much-needed maintenance in Bluff.

Started from the top, now we're here: Robin (left) and John reach Bluff, New Zealand's southernmost point

Started from the top, now we're here: Robin (left) and John reach Bluff, New Zealand's southernmost point

Day 1 and 2: Dusky Sound to Preservation Inlet

Before departing Dusky Sound, John and Robin aimed to fish at historical points of interest visited by Captain Cook back in the day. “The fantastic thing about Dusky is that it still looks exactly as it would have looked in the 1700s: beautifully rugged and unspoilt. I pulled the boat to a stop and held it on the spot while Robin dropped his soft bait. Within seconds, he pulled up a massive cod. There was no wind, so I grabbed a line. By the time I was on the bottom, Robin had pulled up another!” 


After about 40 minutes, they had 12 good-sized cod and terakihi on board, enough for at least a week. “We needed to make it to Preservation Inlet before dark. With the wind behind us and the sea rolling from the southwest, we were able to cruise at 16 to 20 knots. The sea picked up quite a bit as we approached the entrance, but this is typical down here. We were just happy to have had much better sea conditions.”

Dusky Sound, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Dusky Sound in the gloom: “Dusky by name, dusky by nature.”


Encountering just one old fishing boat and a sailboat at Preservation Inlet underscored how remote and relatively untouched the area is. To shelter from the wind, they anchored in Revolver Cove. “We were keen to get connected to the world again. I never thought I would say that, but it was difficult to get any information in or out.” Their new satellite phone proved “next to useless down here” other than for sending text messages, and “weather information was only available when we were at sea and able to get signal.” 


When Meri Leask, their contact at Bluff Fisherman’s Radio, tried to reach them about a marina space, they were tucked beneath the hills and heard nothing on VHF. “We later found out that we should have switched to channel 01, which is not advertised anywhere, as it is effectively a private service provided on a voluntary basis.”


Based on the weather forecast, they decided to make a dash on Sunday morning—doable though not ideal. “The idea of being stuck here for days when low on some provisions (mostly nice-to-haves rather than essentials) didn’t appeal. To be perfectly honest, rotten weather day after day was tough to bear and dampened our enjoyment of the deep southern fjords.” 


They planned to settle in Bluff and perform a few maintenance checks before going on to Stewart Island, where John’s partner, Jo, would join them again for 9 days. “We have burned 10,300 litres of fuel since our departure, so it’s no wonder that some things need attention. The good thing is that we have had no showstoppers to date, and that is solely due to regularly checking everything we can think of.” 

Boat heading in to Bluff, New Zealand, showing GPS screen

“Heading into Bluff: Note the GPS screen location.”


A ridge associated high winds and big sea would be coming through around 1pm. “We agreed to a 5am start and to roll just before sunup, at around 6:30am.”  


Day 3: Preservation Inlet to Bluff 

Despite a rolling swell on the way out, “everything about the sea was to forecast and our predictions.” After radioing their trip report, John was able to confirm a marina spot in Bluff Harbor, a huge relief. “Having to run the dinghy every time we want to go ashore would be terrible in the kind of weather we are having: freezing-cold wind, rain and even sleet. The charge for the marina is whatever you want to donate to Bluff St John Ambulance, so I was very happy with this arrangement. 


“The weather held up fine for the first half of our 7.5-hour leg, but we could see the ridge coming in the distance. Robin was running at 16 knots, which meant we were covering ground quite quickly.” By 11am, squalls were coming through, lifting the sea to 4 meters and putting them in rough conditions. “I managed to get shoved into the wave in front, which buried the nose, sending water flooding across the bow—not ideal! It was amazing to feel the power of the sea when it struck the rear transom pod. We had a few big shoves from behind on this leg; we really saw the ugly side of Foveaux Strait. It was no surprise, later, to see all the fishing boats in port and tied up. The only problem? There were no Bluff oysters for sale anywhere!”

boats at Bluff Marina and Harbor, New Zealand

Parked at Bluff Marina & Harbor after some rough weather: “As you can see, no boats out at sea!”


After a few communication difficulties over the radio, “we rolled in without incident and were met by Meri, who directed us to the jetty and assisted in tying the boat off. I wanted to get into Invercargill and rent a car so we had independence, but it was a fair distance to town with a very limited bus run and no taxi service.” Handily, Meri offered to give them a ride into town the next morning.


Day 4: Invercargill

“Renting a car was hard work! In the end I had only one option, a Nissan Tiida, so it became Hobson’s choice. Not quite an Aston Martin, but it will do for a shopping basket! The layout of Invercargill is amazing: very wide streets, lots of angle parking all set out in blocks, similar to Christchurch and US cities. This was definitely a town that planned to be a city one day.” 


John and Robin asked Meri to recommend them a nice cafe, “which she did, and her choice was brilliant!” After lunch and coffee, they we shopped for consumables and boat-maintenance items. Hoping for Bluff oysters, they stopped at a local eatery. “As mentioned before, the boats had been unable to work for weeks due to the terrible sea conditions, which we were out in! I settled for seafood chowder and cod—I don’t know why, we had a fridge-full—but it was nice to have someone cook for us.” Robin opted for garlic bread and chicken schnitzel, and after their hearty portions, “We walked out full as a bull. We had been inside an hour and a half and noted on our way in three guys having beers at an outside table. I couldn’t have survived out there without becoming hypothermic, but these guys were still hooking into the beers as we left—in the dark. These guys are hard!”


Day 5: Maintenance at Bluff Habor

Checking out the steering ram and helm pump to figure out why the steering wasn’t performing normally, “we discovered that the mounting bolts had come loose and the whole pump was moving side to side, not making the stop on full lock to starboard.” After extending the ram by adjusting the clevis position and fitting some heavy-duty washers, John got the assembly working. “We then topped up an empty reservoir on the wheel pump, and everything was mint again.  


“The next task was to replace a turbo gasket that was fitted by a Cummins engineer—badly! Bolts were not tightened properly, so it simply blew out past the gasket, damaging the sealing face. We had been monitoring it for some time but, even after nipping it up, it continued to leak. 

Twin Cummins 550 HP engines with ZF V drives facing stern

Cummins 550 HP engines coupled to ZF V-drives: A poorly fitted turbo gasket needed replacing

“We reassembled everything, tested it by running the engine and found that the coolant discharge hose was leaking slightly due to pitting on the metal swage. We cleaned up the swage and went back into town for a replacement hose and new clamps, just to be certain of sorting it out properly. While in town, I decided to buy some indoor footwear as well as a pair of cotton overalls to keep me clean and warm. That was our day done. The weather wasn’t great so we retired indoors, prepared another blue cod dinner and planned our next day.”



Day 6: More Maintenance 

Continuing with their preparations for Stewart Island and the trip back up New Zealand's east coast, John donned his new overalls to stay warm then checked the steering assembly once more. After fitting the new hose, “Robin washed down the engines and engine bay with Simple Green, finally using the water blaster we have on board. My engine room is kept mint so I can see very quickly if an issue is developing—you could eat your lunch down there!” Other than some belt dust and the odd mark to wipe down, it was in “pretty damn good” condition overall. “Robin did some silicone coving around the glass top above the helm station, as we were unsure if it was leaking or whether it was just condensation from running the heaters in extremely cold, damp conditions. We resigned ourselves to the fact that it’s probably just condensation. 

Bluff looking south toward Stewart Island, New Zealand
View from Bluff looking south, with Stewart Island, our next destination, just visible


“All jobs done, we headed for lunch at the Bluff Café, followed by a great coffee. We decided to go to Bluff Lookout Point, where there’s similar signage to that at Cape Reinga. We watched some of the boats coming in through the channel then decided to take the 2.1-kilometer hike to the summit.” 


Even though the path and steps were in perfect condition, it proved quite a challenging climb, particularly for Robin, who had a damaged foot from a workplace injury years ago. “He suffered that evening for doing the climb and had a rough night as a result.”


Day 7: Invercargill's Transport World

With the weather deteriorating again, they decided to visit Bill Richardson Transport World, the local car, truck and motorcycle museum. “It was an amazing place, very professionally developed through the passion of Mr Richardson. Today, it is a credit to his daughter, who has taken over and created one of the best Ford museums in the Southern Hemisphere. A lot of thought and effort have gone into the redeveloped site.”
Vintage Fords at Bill Richardson Transport World, Invercargill, New Zealand“Having been through some of the best car museums in the World in Germany, this was indeed a creditable effort for New Zealand.”


In addition to vintage vehicles were “themed toilets and a complete 1960s kitchen where you could sit and have lunch,” which they did, due to the rain and blustering gales going on outside. “Fabulous coffee too! It was clearly a popular destination for tourists, who came from far and wide to take a look. I strongly recommend this place to any Ford fans who love old tractors, stationary engines, trucks, cars and motorbikes; it really is a ‘must do’ place! We had also wanted to visit the Mariner's Museum at Bluff, but both of us had had enough of toughing it out in the cold, miserable weather of the south.”


A few days ago, the brothers received some sad news. A nephew they had been close to passed away suddenly. “It has presented a bit of a dilemma as we are unable to leave the boat unattended with no power connection or security.” With no marina or moorings available at Steward Island, “the boat will be at anchor and will require power management and a watch during the forecasted 50-knot weather event coming Tuesday.” 


John was to stay on Horizon III while Robin flew back home. “As it turns out, Robin’s boat at Westhaven Marina had been hammered by the extreme storm that passed through there, which ripped his helm covers to shreds.” Fortunately, Jo was scheduled to arrive Saturday to accompany them on their next leg. “So at least I will have company and support to assist with taking the boat up to Dunedin from Stewart Island.  


“Robin and I spent a couple of evenings reflecting on the life of our nephew, who was a very talented lad, particularly in mechanics and stock-car racing. He was a dad as well,” compounding the tragedy. “We extended our use of the berth and our rental car to enable Robin to travel back to the airport in Invercargill, leaving me to run across to Stewart Island at about midday following the high winds of Thursday evening.”  

By Anna Ngo

Oceanmax International

Blog post published 11 May 2018

sailor's log