Captain’s Log: Week 8

Robin rejoins John for the long northbound journey home while Jo flies back to Hamilton. This week’s stops include Dunedin, Akaroa and Wellington.

Beautiful calm in Oban, for now: 10 minutes later, a squall rolled through with 0.75-meter waves

Beautiful calm in Oban, for now: 10 minutes later, a squall rolled through with 0.75-meter waves

Day 1 and 2: Still Stuck in Oban
Dismal weather and a bleak forecast meant yet another day in Oban, with lunch in town and poker and DVDs back on board to pass the time. Relentless high winds ruled out fishing, and John decided that winch repairs would be better done while moored in Dunedin. 


“I want to reset the anchor. If I am going to have any problems, I want to discover them before we leave in the dark on Sunday morning. Maybe I will do that tomorrow, as the wind is expected to die down to a paltry 25 knots. We laugh at 25 knots now—that’s nothing at all!”


The following day began with rain, full cloud cover and wind on the water. Despite the bitter cold, John and Joanne donned warm clothing before heading into town to see the Stewart Island-produced film A Local’s Tail, a 40-minute documentary “narrated” by a dog. Leaving at the last minute to wait out the hammering rain, they made it to the theater lobby just in time to see the star of the show, Lola, ring a desk bell at her owner’s signal on the stroke of 11 am, the start time of the film.
Lola, dog star of A Local's Tail - a history of Stewart Island
Lola, the star of A Local’s Tail, gave us cold theater patrons a warm welcome


Wondering what to expect, the group was led from the back of a tiny office through to a surprisingly spacious boutique theatre with wide, comfortable seats. “We thoroughly enjoyed the movie, a lighthearted telling of the island’s history, both past and recent, through the eyes of Lola. We humans were referred to as ‘dry noses’ throughout the movie, but there I was, sniffling due to the cold trip in by dinghy, thinking I must be one of the wet noses!”


Once back on the boat, Jo helped at the helm while John disconnected the night rope, which had helped them stay securely anchored in high winds. “It had done its job really well over three terrible nights, keeping the noise from the chain to an absolute minimum. I reset the anchor for our last night, confident that tomorrow would be a straightforward departure pre-dawn.”


That night, at the Church Hill Restaurant and Oyster Bar, they enjoyed one of the best meals they had had in a while. “The food was exquisite and the location warm and welcoming.” Proprietor and head chef Deanne Sara chefs in Italy during New Zealand’s off season. “No wonder. Her paua ravioli entrée was divine, as was the main of hapuku (grouper)—just beautiful! 


“We were disappointed we didn’t have more time to go through the menu on other evenings, as we had mistakenly thought they were closed for the season until we saw their advert during the movie. We also met a lovely couple, George and Merima, who were much more adventurous travelers of the oceans than we were! They had been just about everywhere imaginable in their sailing boat, to destinations I would be afraid to visit in a tour group. It was a surprise to learn that they have a boat moored in a marina very close to ours—small world!


“We retired to the boat much later than planned, having had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. We had the best sleep of eight days at Stewart Island, with only light winds.”


Day 3: Oban, Stewart Island to Carey’s Bay, Dunedin
“I awoke at 5 am and could feel the boat rocking so knew that while the wind had dropped off, the sea hadn’t. While Jo remained in bed, I set all the instrument backlights to preserve my night vision. It reminded me of the old days when I used to do night flying. It’s amazing how little light is required in complete darkness. 


“We weighed anchor at 6 am, with Jo wrapped up warm beside me at the helm. We cruised out at 7 knots due to how pitch-black it was, not wanting to run over any floating debris. The track led me out in between islands, so it was a constant task of confirming our position and checking both chart and GPS for any obstacles in our path. We noticed another vessel heading out at the same time on a different track; it was strangely comforting to realize that we were not the only crazies venturing out in the dark! 


“Once out in Foveaux Strait, the wind was a predicted 25 to 30 knots on our stern and the sea was rolling from the southeast at about 3 meters. It was great to watch the sunrise, though we didn’t actually see the sun for another hour or so as there was dense cloud all around. As visibility improved, I continued to lift our speed until we were doing 17 knots and surfing regularly up to 21 knots.
Sunrise over Foveaux Strait
Sunrise over Foveaux Strait: only 20 knots but rising later ....


“It was a long day at the helm but we were still on schedule, as we were running quite fast, despite the conditions.” Docking at Carey’s Bay, where they had arranged a berth, they were glad to be tied up and able to walk ashore without getting wet.


They were welcomed by a huge sea lion who looked to weigh about 265 pounds. “He gave us a hell of a fright, as we hadn’t seen him swim up.” The berth’s owner, Peter, said the sea lion would have been looking for fish, as he always feeds him on arrival. “Our fish supplies were depleted, so he wasn’t having any of ours!”
Sea lion at Carey's Bay
A hungry sea lion says hello

Walking a kilometer into Port Chalmers, they found two cafes, a supermarket, a variety of shops and a bus stop. “I decided a car would be useful to take Jo to the airport for her flight home and at the same time pick Robin up to continue the journey home with me.” After booking a rental, they stopped for a beer and chips then enjoyed a blue cod dinner back on the boat.


Day 4: Errands and Maintenance in Dunedin
The following morning, they bused to Dunedin Central to collect the rental car. Next on the agenda was getting Jo packed, which involved catching up on two weeks’ worth of laundry. “Some was the result of the forward hatches leaking when the nose of the boat was submarining on the trip from Stewart Island.”


A café lunch was followed by the trip to the airport. “It all timed nicely, with Robin arriving just before Jo’s departure time, enough time for us all to catch up again. We told Robin that we had good news and bad, the good being that it was a beautiful, calm, sunny day in Dunedin, the bad that he was going to have to help with the laundry!”


Back on the boat, John cooked up the last of their blue cod. “We had a big day planned for tomorrow, getting the boat fueled and full of water. The water had lasted us 10 days, with almost 700 liters left! We also needed to fit a new chain counter and wash the boat down, plus our usual engine checks. We managed all that without drama, just before dark. We were now ready for our 10-hour trip to Akaroa tomorrow. Incidentally, today was the first time I was able to be outside all day in just a T-shirt and track pants. It had been a beautiful day again; it’s the little things that make me smile.
Horizon III berthed in Dunedin
Our new location for the next three days: This berth has seen a lot of action, and so has the boat on our port side!


“Not wanting to cook again, we went to our new local and enjoyed a fabulous meal and a beer, returning around 9 pm. So ended another day of our adventures around New Zealand.”


Day 6: Carey’s Bay to Akaroa Harbor
Taking advantage of the weather window, “We left Fisherman’s Wharf, Carey’s Bay, in the dark at 6 am, planning to arrive at Akaroa Harbor at 3:30 pm. We proceeded to run to the entrance at about 8 knots, which took us about 45 minutes. I vacated to the north at about 17 knots, later lifting our speed to 19 knots for the remainder of the trip. We had a following sea and zero wind, right up until the last 3 to 4 nm, where we met 25 knots and a small amount of sea running. 


“It was 3:30 pm as we arrived in French Bay. What a cool place! We got the boat anchored as quickly as possible so we could maximize our time ashore. As we anchored, I noticed a catboat we had seen in Stewart Island, Carey’s Bay and now Akaroa? I said to Robin, ‘We need to go visit them and introduce ourselves, as it seems that they are following us. Or is it the other way around?’
French Bay, Akaroa
French Bay, Akaroa: Can’t put my finger on exactly why, but I love this place!


“On leaving Horizon III, we could see that their tender was not with the cat, so we went ashore and wandered the streets, getting a feel for the ambience of this very unique New Zealand town. The feeling that something was different struck us right from the moment we stepped ashore: the French street names, the quaint little shops—this is a place I want to come back to! We stopped for a coffee and found friendly people serving us and a very slick little operation. Mind you, cruise ships come here, so you need to be on top of your game to handle big numbers in a short time frame. The fish-and-chip shop here is renowned, and we could tell by looking at the patronage! We passed the war memorial, where white crosses were placed in front for Anzac Day. The names of those lost were noted; French names were there too. The large number of casualties for such a small community must have had a huge impact back then.”


After picking up supplies, John and Robin motored out to the catboat to introduce themselves. “We received a warm welcome from Tony and Viv, who were as curious to know who we were as we were them. We were invited on board to share a glass of wine and have a chat—so typical of boaties! Turns out my old company, Stainless Design, did work for the company he worked for as a design engineer. What a small world.


“They had been cruising around New Zealand for three years now so were rather more experienced than us. Their diesel heater had failed when they were in Stewart Island, while we were there. They were freezing cold in their boat while we had our heaters running full blast, keeping us toasty warm. That must have been terrible!


“It was now dark, so we headed back to make dinner and get things sorted for an early start to Wellington Harbor tomorrow. PredictWind was telling us a storm was heading in, likely hitting Saturday, Sunday, Monday and maybe Tuesday, making East Cape rounding very unwise. Both Robin and I have spent lots of time in Wellington so decided if we are to be stuck somewhere, it would be better to be somewhere we haven’t visited in a long while. We retired early to be fresh for our 6 am departure.”


Day 7: Akaroa to Wellington Harbor
“With my alarm ringing in my ear, I awoke at 5:15am then got straight in the shower to get ready for a long day on the water. The weather was perfect again so no chance of a bad beat-up today, or at least I hoped not. I had a lot of calls to make to arrange berths and fuel at various locations, so that was to take priority once I had cell phone coverage again. This turned out to be north of Christchurch, with the track we were taking to Wellington being 001 degrees magnetic.
A beautiful sunrise
A very cool sunrise on our way north


“I called Chaffers Marina in Wellington and talked with a very customer-focused Victoria, who was very helpful and had a nice manner about her. We were seeking fuel, and she upsold us a berth for the night. We needed a double for our length. One small problem, though: We needed 2,100 liters and they had only 2,500 liters left. No problem, I thought. We need fuel and they have fuel. But, apparently, they needed to be able to fuel other customers, such as the police boat. Again, no problem. I’m more important than they are! Anyway, I conceded that we could get by with 1,000 liters and fuel up again in Napier if necessary. I then contacted Napier as we wanted to stay there for three or four days, if possible. Apparently, they’ve done an upgrade and we can have a berth right alongside the hotel on the waterfront. 


“Our trip up to Wellington entrance was pretty uneventful, with conditions getting expectedly rougher as we crossed Cook Strait. As we approached the marina, I phoned our Chaffers Marina fuel contact, Chris, who met us at the jetty. First question was, ‘How much fuel can I have?’ He hesitated but eventually said 2,000 liters, so we were sweet. We would leave Wellington with a full tank! After fueling, he directed us to pier C, telling us to use either of the two berths. Once we reversed in, it was clear we were going to occupy both, which is exactly what we did. 

Snow on the northern ranges near Christchurch
Snow already on the ranges north of Christchurch: As you can see, conditions were outstanding!


“If we were party animals, we were in the right place to party downtown, but we had an even earlier start to make our way to Napier in the morning. Instead, we checked the engines to ensure oil and water were good, then Robin washed down the boat while I went in to cook dinner. We reflected on our trip up from Akaroa and the smooth crossing of Cook Strait—far better than the last crossing seven or eight weeks ago.”


By Anna Ngo

Oceanmax International

Blog post published 7 June 2018