Captain’s Log: Week 9

The final frontier: A wave of mixed emotions sets in as John and Robin's 10-week journey comes to a close. Highlights include Ahuriri, geothermal White Island and treacherous East Cape.

I know I promised no more sunrises, so true to my word, I posted the last sunset of our voyage :-)

I know I promised no more sunrises, so true to my word, I posted the last sunset of our voyage :-)

Day 1: Wellington to Napier

“We departed on schedule, at 5 am this time, the earliest start of our whole adventure.” Heading due east, they reached Cape Palliser, normally notoriously rough but today almost flat calm, within an hour. “I resisted the temptation to take another sunrise photo, as you are all probably over them by now. I have to say, though, that the best place to observe a sunrise—or sunset, for that matter—is at sea, with only the clouds to influence the results. It is amazing to see them change, often by the minute.


“We encountered lots of seals and dolphins and came across many large boil-ups (fish and birds chasing bait fish). I was so tempted to stop and fish, but we needed to arrive before dark. Interestingly, seals lie on their backs with their two rear flippers touching and one front flipper touching their rear flippers.” Why? They absorb the sun’s warmth via their black flippers but keep one flipper, usually the right front, in the water for balance, ready to spring into action if a predator, such as a shark, were to appear. “They would allow us to come extremely close before getting out of the way, almost as if they were sleeping!”


John was particularly captivated by the rugged coastline heading north. “The further north, the more interesting the geography. Much of the coastline is uncharted to about 2 nm offshore, riddled with rocks all the way up to Napier, really. In rough conditions there’s nowhere to hide on this coast, which is why we wanted near-perfect weather for this leg.”

Motu-o-Kura aka Bare Island, Waimarama, Hawke's Bay 
Motu-o-Kura (Bare Island) looking striking in the afternoon sun. This is near Waimarama, Hawke's Bay.


Despite no reply from Napier Port or the coastguard, John and Robin knew roughly where they were going and proceeded to Ahuriri marina at 18 knots, reversing into their berth alongside the power box. 


“We needed shore power, as the genset had tripped on the way up the coast, indicating that we’d had an impeller failure.” Run so hard for so long, the water-pump impeller and fan belt, by now well-worn too, needed replacing. “The good news was that we carried spares of both, so I actually enjoyed replacing them the following morning and getting things running perfectly again. Thankfully, the genset has safety shutdown devices that prevent any serious damage from being done.”

After washing the boat down, they headed for the local watering hole, where they met pubkeeper Archie, who also looked after the marina. “Archie was very helpful and said he’d put the power on for us, via the pub’s own power supply. Afterwards, I even cooked dinner rather than take the soft option of dinner at the restaurant above. We retired early, as usual, but it had been a long trip (12 hours at 18 knots). We’d arrived at 5 pm exactly as predicted by our boating avionics app. We must surprise the coastguard with the accuracy of our ETAs over such very long voyages.Horizon III outside Bluewater Hotel in Ahuriri, Napier

Horizon III still looking sharp after thousands of nautical miles, outside the Bluewater Hotel in Ahuriri, Napier


“Well, our trip around New Zealand is fast coming to a conclusion. It has been an amazing journey, with all sorts of challenges that I have tried to share with you as they unfolded. The weather is hastening our trip back on Wednesday; the early-morning high tides will allow us to enter Tairua in daylight, with plenty of water under us for the bar crossing. Certainly don’t want any stuff-ups on the final leg.”


Days 2 and 3: Napier Town Center and Ahuriri
Waking up feeling anxious about ‘what if,’ John attempted to change the engine impellers, which “had done a heap of hours now.” But after removing the face plate, he realized that he needed a specific-sized bolt to extract the old impellers. “Not often do we come up short in finding solutions, but we did today.” Rather than risk damaging the old ones, they decided to continue on to Gisborne, where they hoped to pick up the right size bolt for this and future impeller changes.


“On Sunday, we took a cab into Napier, as it was raining steadily and there was nothing much we could do.” Stopping at the pedestrian-friendly main street around 10 am, they found most businesses already open, though with few shoppers in sight. “We walked the length and back again, heading north to the next parallel street to discover cafés everywhere absolutely pumping! Clearly, this was the breakfast capital of Napier.” 


After coffee, they walked the promenade until relentless rain sent them back to the boat. “Robin wanted to clean the front screens; they were very soiled from salt and wiper blade use.” John caught up on some housekeeping and blogging. As it was their last night there, they planned on having a restaurant meal then turning in early for a 6 am wake-up call.


Driving to the sailing club to drop off the key, the guys encountered a crowded parking lot and a jazz band in full swing. “We went in and I asked the bar lady, ‘Are we allowed in here?’ to which she replied, ‘Absolutely!’ We ordered drinks and dinner and ended up having a thoroughly enjoyable last night in Ahuriri. I realized, again, just how much I love jazz—it moves me. These guys had a combined age of about 500, but hell could they rock the house! It all finished too soon for me. I want to come back so much!”

Bourbon Street jazz band in Ahuriri
These ole boys rocked the house with some awesome jazz and blues. They've played Bourbon Street in New Orleans, the home of jazz.


Day 4: Napier to Poverty Bay, Gisborne
The journey to Gisborne would take about 4.5 hours, “much shorter than most of our legs. We wanted to be as close to East Cape as possible on Tuesday morning to beat the incoming strong winds predicted later that day. We may still see 30 knots, but it will be from the south so shouldn’t make things too uncomfortable. In fact, it will probably seem like child’s play. Having said that, never ever take the sea for granted or it will be guaranteed to bite your bum—hard!”


Rolling up to the fuel jetty at 7 am sharp, they found it occupied, as expected, by a fishing trawler that had been parked there for three days, despite the KEEP CLEAR signage. Because Gisborne doesn’t have a fuel jetty, the brothers had to get creative and jump across to a low dock to fuel up before leaving. “Robin dragged the fuel hose over the edge and down to the back corner of the boat. It was a bit risky in slippery conditions, following the rain earlier this morning, but we were on a mission. The show must go on!

fishing trawler at fuel jetty
Thwarted at the fuel jetty by a fishing trawler that wouldn't leave


“It was sad to leave Ahuriri so soon, but I was looking forward to getting into more familiar waters. Conditions were less desirable than those forecast, particularly where we struck a few sets of rogue waves. One was crazy high, like a wall of water. I needed to carry enough speed to crest the wave but immediately close the throttles to allow the boat to drop into the enormous trough behind it. That sent a shudder through H3 that I felt in my bones! To make things interesting, we were dodging cray-pot buoys as well. It was going to be a longer trip than planned.”


With Robin at the helm, the rest of the run was uneventful. “Tonight’s berth is going to be a barge we tie up to. It’s quite a distance in to Poverty Bay and there’s a fair bit of compression as you come in. It’s no wonder this is regarded as such a great surfing spot.” Arriving an hour later than expected due to the rough conditions, they had a lot to do before dark. Marina manager Grant met them on the barge, where they filled out paperwork. “These days, you need proof of current liability insurance and an electrical warrant of fitness, including a tagged power lead, all of which we had.”


Next came a 7 km bike ride across town to source a 34 UNF bolt, passing a surf beach along the way. “Several people were surfing some really structured waves, having some great rides. On my way back, I tried the more direct route and got a wee bit lost. My instincts let me down today! Thankfully, Google Maps got me back to H3.


While John was away, Robin discovered that their genset had overheated once again. “An overheated raw-water intake hose had split, allowing the pump to suck air. I realised we didn’t actually need the genset for the last few legs as the auxiliary alternator would keep our batteries fully charged during long runs. Robin and I got on with the task of extracting the impellers from the Cummins engines and refitting new ones. Upon inspection, it was clear that changing them was a good idea; I had well and truly gotten my money’s worth out of the old ones! Robin cleaned the raw-water inlet strainers, andby then, we had our deck floodlights on for the tidy-up. It had been another big day. 

Gisborne Marina at night
View from our front window: Gisborne Marina entrance at night


“Weather checks confirmed tomorrow was still the best day to round East Cape, a notoriously bad sea. It is very exposed, often with strong winds tracking around the peninsula at great speed. Two sea directions often come together, creating huge lift and unpredictable patterns.” 

Day 5: Gisborne to Mayor Island via White Island
Waking up at 4:15 am, John and Robin readied themselves for the big trip around East Cape then due west to Whakaari (White Island), New Zealand’s “safety valve” for geothermal activity.  


“As we cruised out, we felt the swell rolling in on our port side—surprising with there being no wind to speak of. Clearly the recent weather events had left their mark and the swells had lingered on, as they so often do when generated far out at sea. Once clear of the shipping channel, we turned due east and headed straight into the waves. At least we weren’t rolling side to side now, but I needed to hold the speed back to avoid the banging and crashing. The waves continued to lift in size so I decided to tack to port into the lee of the bay, where we could take the sea at about 45 degrees, increasing the roll but looking after the boat. 


“It was still pitch-black as we cruised out, monitoring the GPS and radar all the way. As we ventured further out of Poverty Bay, we were able to shift toward a more northerly heading as we rounded Tuahine Point, which made for smoother motoring. We rounded the Cape in heavy cloud with rain showers but still at speed. This, for me, was significant, as it was the last of the exposed seas we needed to negotiate—or so I thought!” 

East Cape, north of Gisborne, New Zealand
East Cape at last! If you look closely, you can see a lighthouse on the clifftop.


Continuing with a following sea and clearing skies in front, they motored in to rugged, steamy White Island for a closer look, the sea still too big to anchor and go ashore. Other than two flanking pieces of land far enough out to allow scrub to grow, there was virtually no vegetation. “It made for a very unique-looking Island, certainly in New Zealand. We could say this now as we have completely circumnavigated New Zealand—well, almost anyway. Only one leg to go after today!

Steaming craters at White Island
Shortly after I took this, a helicopter landed close to the steam vent near the center of the photo.

“The air was thick with the smell of sulfur. Apparently, they mined sulfur there in the early 1900s until a lahar in 1910 took the lives of 10 miners. What a terrible way to go!” A vivid green crater lake was also visible. “We took some photos and moved around to the southern side’s shallower waters, around 1,100 meters deep on the approach then rapidly dropping to just 100 meters close in. Monitoring the ocean floor as we went, we saw the bottom was like a sawtooth; anchoring was going to be seriously risky. No way did I want to be stuck out there! We decided to drift-fish for a bit but were clearly in the wrong spot—nothing doing here. 


“By now the sea had flattened a bit, so it was back to the helm for me for the next couple of hours to Mayor Island. As we came closer, the swell was increasing and the wind was behind us. A ferry came in from our port side and just pipped us to the bay. Coming in behind them, we found very little room and a massive swell rolling into the beach. We quickly agreed that we would not be staying there for the night!” 


Dinner was bacon-and-egg toasted sandwiches. “We hadn’t burnt much energy today, just a whole lot of sitting around. It was now about 5:30 pm, so we had 12 hours of motoring behind us. It was hard to believe we were in Gisborne this morning! We had a celebratory glass of wine to mark our last night of intrepid circumnavigation. Intrepid only because Mother Nature didn’t give us soft passage; she threw a significant amount of crap at us to see how we would cope. I think we did okay, doing something most wouldn’t want to tackle. Obviously, many don’t have the time to do this trip, but at long last I did, so I had run out of reasons why not. For now, though, it’s off to bed excited about heading into Tairua, where this journey began 10 weeks ago. We could sleep in a bit tomorrow, with a planned departure of 7:15 am at the latest to catch the top of the tide, our best chance of a safe bar crossing.

Day 6: Home to Tairua
Pulling out of Mayor Island just before 7:15 am, they had had a less-than-perfect night. “But, hey, it really didn’t matter today, with such a short leg back to where it all began several months ago. The wind was about 15 knots from the southwest and the sea was running northeast. We were seeing a swell height of 2 to 2.5 meters, which surprised me, particularly for this time of day. This swell was coming from well out to the east, where the passing low was doing its thing. That low had smashed Tairua with enormous winds and rainfall last weekend, causing significant flooding and some damage to homes, with evidence of slips on roads and private property.” 


A rugby field was completely awash and featured on YouTube. “Some lads were wake boarding on the fields, towed by a car on the street alongside! Our beach house driveway was apparently also a torrent, with some damage to the edges of the tarmac. It was to be redone sometime in the near future anyway.


“We cruised at 18 knots, meaning we would arrive in Tairua early. I was pleased as I wanted to have time to assess the bar.” As they approached Slipper Island, John tuned in to a disturbing local forecast: Tairua Bar was described as grade 3 and unworkable. John called upon an experienced local skipper, also named John, for advice. “He took a look at the bar and said, ‘Stay close to the rocks and you should be fine, particularly with your boat length.’


“I radioed Whitianga to advise we would be crossing the bar in 15 minutes or so. We were running at about 18 knots, constantly readjusting our speed to stick with the waves. I let a couple roll under us before choosing the one to take us all the way in. On our final push, H3’s nose was just touching the back of two waves standing bow-high in front, about to break. The stern was being pursued by another building wave. Just then, the radio burst to life: It was the Whitianga Coastguard following up to see if we had made it through okay. I tried to respond but he couldn’t hear me so I dropped the microphone to focus on the task at hand. Mount Paku obscures the radio signal, creating a blind spot—not ideal! I felt bad that they were worrying about us and I couldn’t allay their fears.


[Editor’s note: Boaters looking for an interrupted signal are advised to use Whangamata channel 4, not Whitianga channel 63 as listed on the Coastguard’s website.]


“As we cruised into the marina, I gave Robin a high five to acknowledge both the safe bar crossing and the end of our mammoth voyage around our beautiful and rugged country.” Enjoying a celebratory coffee—“should have been champagne, but there was work to do and a drive home”—John was still feeling hyped from the crossing and the excitement of being back in Tairua. “I just wanted to sit down, enjoy the moment and reflect on our achievement.


“While it was exciting and satisfying to have made it back safely with H3 still in mint condition, it was very strange to be leaving the boat to live on dry land again. I could quite easily have stayed on board to continue cruising, even for several years. It is a lifestyle. As beautiful and diverse as our country is, I am left feeling that we have only scraped the surface of what New Zealand has to offer. My one regret is that I should have set off at least a month earlier!
Horizon III home in Tairua

Home and hosed: Horizon III after a wash-down  


“I was lucky to have had an experienced boatie and brother on board for this expedition. With Robin on the helm, always looking out for the boat and us, I was able to relax. His knowledge and problem-solving skills are second to none, and we complemented each other really well. Together, we could solve most issues or come up with a cunning workaround to keep us on the move. The whole purpose of an adventure like this is to challenge ourselves. At times, we were well outside our comfort zone but never had an all-out disaster, thanks to the reliability of our vessel, the homework we had done, and the experience we brought to our epic journey around New Zealand. Thank you all for your interest.”



By Anna Ngo

Oceanmax International

Blog post published 25 June 2018