Friday, 18 March 2016

The last post

I'll make this quick.

It will hurt less that way.

This is the last post of Past the Lighthouse.

We've lifted Enki out of the water, and she's snug in her cradle at Half Moon Bay, a boatyard in the outer eastern suburbs of Auckland. We like the feel of the place. Coincidentally, we almost started our journey from here.

Up she comes - a beautiful boat top to bottom

In early 2011 we dropped by Half Moon Bay to look at an HR46 for sale. Grace was a well-equipped and meticulously maintained boat and we were sorely tempted. But at that time, piracy in the Indian Ocean was scarily out of control, and the Aussie dollar was surging, so the case for buying a boat in Europe was very strong. We passed on Grace (she eventually found an Australian buyer). But here we are again, and Enki has been laid up in the exact same spot in the yard as Grace was.

We cruised across the finish line in good spirits. We'd managed a return visit to Great Barrier, and what's more, we'd had fresh wind behind the beam on both the outward and homeward legs. Tinny, as my mum says. We savoured the sailing, truly.

Cruising Great Barrier - with Little Barrier on the horizon

I'll miss my kayak. I'd just like to say that. It's been my escape vehicle. When we drop anchor,  the kayak goes in the water pretty smartly.  I will often be away from the boat for a couple of hours at a stretch, giving Alex time out from me and me time with myself and the world around me.  Sometimes that means other people - I'm a great chatterbox in my kayak - but more often I'll just drift around the shoreline, watching birds and marine animals and what's under the water (coral, rocks, kelp), and going up creeks and into caves and under low-hanging trees and generally indulging my curiosity. It's been the best antidote to my apparently restless nature.

Alex, for his part, is always happy just to be on the boat. That's been enough for him, he's continually told me. So leaving the boat is hard for him. He's done a lot of grieving, in his way. But he'll be fine.

So, this is it, folks. We've had a few spectacularly rich years living aboard Enki II, and if you've kept regular tabs on our journey via our posts, then we're flattered.  The world is drowning in personal expression these days and blogs in general are tedious pieces of work (you know about our own personal preference for Twice in a Lifetime - a standout blog). So thank you. It's been a pleasure.

The sun goes down over Auckland on our last night at anchor

PS You'll have maybe noticed that there's an HR for Sale blog piggy-backing on the Past the Lighthouse site. Since we have no idea how long it will take for Enki's new owners to find her,  we'll leave Past the Lighthouse up as part of the sale process.  In the mean time, we trust she's in safe hands at Half Moon Bay, and we'll continue to take regular and good care of her ourselves.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Kiwi ingenuity

Second sight - NZers have till 24 March to vote in a new flag (left) or keep the old. 

Perhaps this story will illustrate what makes New Zealand a surprise, even when you think you know it well, and especially when you get out of the city.

Kicking back in the islands (and below)

We were back in the Bay of Islands on a rainy Saturday, and still looking for somewhere secure to leave the boat so we could drive down south the following Thursday to join my mother for dinner on her 81st birthday. We'd missed her 80th, being in the Caribbean in 2015, but this year, we felt, should be manageable. All my siblings would be there with their spouses, and in the scheme of family matters, sitting around a table with them and my mother would count as a minor miracle.

A quick scamper with camera to the top of Robertson Island... see this. 

In the previous week we'd tried to line up a berth at Opua marina, the obvious first port of call, but they had nothing to offer except for a one-side tie-up at the end of the commercial wharf, next to where the car ferry comes and goes between Opua and Russell until late at night. There were strong winds forecast for the days we wanted to be on the road, and add that to the ferry wash and a strong tidal flow, and secure didn't seem to apply. We knocked that one back.

The commercial wharf at Opua

Kerikeri has a yacht club which advertises casual berths, though it's known to be always full, and moreover the marina is in a very shallow inlet. Worth a call but no-one answered the phone over the weekend.
Kerikeri's quiet side - down by the old Stone House

On Sunday, brother-in-law Andy sent a text. Thought he had a possible berth in Opua for us. Friend of a friend. Several hours later, he sent a phone number. Give Lindsay a call, he said.  My contact's name is Murray W.

I did that. I explained what we were looking for and why, and Lindsay came straight back.  Sure, he said. He'd be leaving the marina on Tuesday afternoon. Come in any time after that, he said. How much should we pay you? I asked. Aw, don't worry about that, he said. Any friend of Murray's is a mate of mine.

But I'm not a mate of Murray's, I reminded him. He's a friend of my brother-in-law's. Lindsay laughed. Just enjoy, he said. He'd let the office know we were coming in, and we should go and see them once we were settled. There would be a bit of paperwork. (Of course there would be!. The proviso of being able to enjoy the facilities of Opua marina is that you can produce evidence you've washed Mediterranean fan worm out of your life.  But I digress...).

Next up, we needed wheels for a couple of days. There aren't too many options at Opua, but Wayne, who runs one of them, said he'd have a car waiting in the carpark on Thursday morning.

He did. It just wasn't the car we were expecting. Turns out someone was late bringing that rental car back,  and since Wayne's fleet is very small, he brought us his wife's car instead, apologising for the dog hair on the seats, and offering to vacuum the interior if we had enough time. No contract signed, no payment discussed. "He doesn't even know my full name," Alex told me as we drove out of Opua towards Kerikeri. "He's an old 18 footer skipper." Ah, that explains it. Alex had been a fair while picking up that car from the carpark, I'd thought. He and Wayne had obviously exchanged stories if not other pertinent details to car rental.

On our return we left the car unlocked in the carpark, with the keys and some cash in an envelope under the mat. That was Wayne's suggestion.

It obviously doesn't work like that in the Big Smoke, but out of Auckland, life can be pretty quiet and the people, well, they err on the side of trusting each other.

Kerikeri then...

...and now. 

We're close to wrapping up this summer cruising now. We've put our heads into some of the loveliest bays and harbours imaginable. Perhaps there's a certain sameness to our photos, and for that we apologise, but when you clamber to the top of a valley or around a headland and are met with yet another view which on any ordinary working day would count as perfection, you tend to forget that what you're seeing is just a small variation on what you've seen before. It's all so beautiful, as the Small Faces sang.

It's far safer to see the Hokianga harbour by road...the sand hills at the north entrance

Looking down from the southern headland...

...where a fishing boat braves the swell

Looking north again - the wild west after weeks of easterlies

We've sailed back out to Great Barrier for one last look at this vast and wild island landscape. It's the long way home. Some time next week, we expect to haul out Enki II, and leave her on the hard at Half Moon Bay marina. And then it'll be time to go home, truly. In the past couple of months, we've had time to look at that decision from all sides, and it still seems a sound one.

Smokehouse Bay anchorage in Port Fitzroy harbour on Great Barrier island

Omakiwi anchorage in the Bay of Islands
PS We caught up with Lindsay and his wife Rita at Omakiwi Bay, on a glorious evening out in the Bay, and forced upon them a bottle of something cold and bubbly. It wasn't easy. They put up a bit of a fight. Some people are just too generous for their own good. But then again, the tribe we've found ourselves members of these past few years  - our peep, as our friends on Escape Velocity call them - is quick to recognise its own. You can't buy membership. It isn't endowed by any one kind of boating experience - we met some Canadians in Whangamumu harbour who were chartering a small yacht who fitted the bill  - but by a strong liking for mucking around in boats. Where-ever.

Enki II at anchor in Whangamumu harbour, off the old whaling station

Whangamumu harbour (Enki's mast in foreground) and looking south

You might muck around in a boat at the ends of the earth (fair winds Galactic) or you might return year after year to the same waters.  Say, the Bay of Islands or Great Barrier.  New Zealanders say they have the best cruising grounds in the world. They may be right, but in any event, not everyone has the urge to cross oceans.  In fact, hardly anyone does really. It's a minority taste. But the point is, once you get a taste for boating, it's hard to do without. And you feed it the best way you can.

Boating in the Bay of Islands (and below) 

Fishermen like to party....Smokehouse Bay on a busy night

Friday, 26 February 2016

Travelling North

St Paul's church, Whangaroa harbour, opened for business in 1883

We've made it to the far north. Or as far north as we have time to come. Whangaroa.  Sounds a lot like Whangarei, doesn't it?  How does it sound though? I hesitate each time about whether to pronounce the Wh as an F, or a W. My brother Nod says it's always the F sound now. Fangarei. Fangaroa. Only recalcitrant Pakeha (white New Zealanders) continue to say W. Wangarei, Wangaroa. (not to mentions the many other New Zealand place names beginning with Wh). Yet Whangaroa used to be spelled Wangaroa.  I wonder what the missionaries and settlers and timber millers who raised the money in the 1880s to build the wooden church up behind the wharf called this place they had made their home so far from Home?

Getting back to the journey.

It seemed like we were stalled , but hey, once you get underway, it's not so far after all.

Before we left Whangarei, we hired a car. Here's Tutakaka from the road...
...and here's how much fun you can have on the road. 

The quiet life - walking the dog near Tutakaka marina

Matapouri is one of a string of lovely sandy surf beaches between Tutakaka and Whangaruru

It's just one hop from Urquhart's to Whangaruru harbour, and then another up to The Bay (of Islands, that is, but apparently it's just called The Bay these days). We needed to sail half way around the world to round Cape Brett on our own boat. You go past the lighthouse and kaboom, there they are, all those islands flung across flat sparkling water, begging to be visited. Isn't that something?

Bottlenose dolphins may or may not have understood the significance of our entry - they appeared on cue, riding the bow wave as we approached the Hole in the Rock, that jaw-dropping arch in Piercy Island which sits just off Cape Brett. Alex sailed the boat between it and Cape Brett which I thought was clever - he says I'm easily impressed.

The northern cliffs of Urapukapuka

Who knows which anchorage is the one to head for when you first come in? Everyone says, 'oh, there are so many places, don't ask me to name a favourite'. We found ourselves in Paradise Bay on the west coast of Urapukupuka. With the wind blowing from the east (again), and our deep draft,  there actually weren't that many choices. About 20 other boats had made the same call. It may be late February, but there's still a reasonable crowd in the Bay.

Many of the anchorages appear to be quite shallow and there are a fair few rocks to dodge. Coming around the south end of Urapukapuka involved navigating a staggeringly small gap between Hat Rock and another rock which charts describe as above water but was drowning under frothy surge. At first Alex flatly refused to believe what the guide books were telling us. Had to be wrong. We've done narrow passes through coral reefs, but with all this glorious water, why the keyhole entrance? Ah, reefs again. The object of this particular exercise was not to go aground on a reef they call Hope. We reassessed.

We took the channel under motor, of course, and it proved good for 10 m, as charted. Best not to watch the surge on the rocks. Later, from a walking track which loops the cliffs and brow of Urapukapuka island, we watched a couple of boats blithely take on that same slip of a channel with sails up. Ah, local knowledge. A wonderful thing.

A couple of yachts prepare to sail through the small channel between 

With the wind in the south-east, we scooted north after only a couple of nights in The Bay. Why leave Paradise, you ask? Well, this summer hasn't encouraged complacency.  The latest scare was that nasty Tropical Cyclone Winston (which beat up Tonga first and then moved west to give Fiji an even deadlier thumping) would do a U-turn as it approached Australia and come roaring back across the Tasman to slam into Northland. Then the meteorologists pushed its course down to Wellington, and now...well, Winston is a spent force who will be wandering lamely near Cape York by late next week. So they say. But we're a bit jumpy about what's out there, so we put our sails up (a pole even) and headed for Whangaroa while we could. That was until the Cavalli islands came into view.

The Cavalli islands are the site of a mythical fishing expedition in my childhood. Nod and I were comparing memories of the steel barge, and the thick schools of blue maomao and trevally when we were at Great Barrier. I didn't imagine I'd ever go back there, let alone be able to stay overnight - the Cavalli anchorages are generally recommended only in fair weather.

This counted as fair weather, we reckoned.  We dropped anchor in Waiti Bay on the south side of Big Cavalli island. I landed my kayak in a hint of surf and climbed to the top of an old pa on the southern headland. For that evening at least, and later, when a startlingly clear full moon rose over the island, my dream-like Cavallis made good on their old promises. The guide book suggested we might hear the sound of kiwis at night (Northland seems to be sprouting Kiwi zones). "What does a kiwi even sound like?" Alex asked. I still don't know.

By morning, the spell was broken. Sometime during the night, the wind shifted further into the south and as day broke Enki was rolling and kicking, pleading to be gone. We too. We hadn't slept well.

And that's where Whangaroa comes in. This is the harbour where you sleep as if on land. Not even a ripple under the hull where we have parked the boat, behind Milford Island. It's eery. The tricky part of course is Whangaroa's comparatively small entrance with its racing tides, but again, local boats go in and out all the time. Except when they know not to.

Looking back at the entrance to Whangaroa harbour....

....and towards its upper reaches with Peach Island ahead of us and St Paul's rock in the distance. 

The view from the top of St Paul's rock, down onto the marina at Whangaroa township and across to Totara North

The better view, out towards the harbour entrance with Stephenson Island on the horizon. 

One of the prizes at the Marsden Cove fishing comp
Many of those local boats are sport fishing boats carrying serious gear. Fishing is huge in Northland.  Marsden Cove marina was seething with fishermen the weekend we left, competing for big prize money. There's a national competition underway all around the country, we learned today. The pennants on the flagpole by the weighing gizmo on the Whangaroa wharf show that yesterday there was one marlin brought in, three more caught and tagged (and released), one tuna brought in and two more tagged, and last (but in my mind not least) a big snapper.

Whangaroa Sport Fishing Club wharf

I put a line down yesterday in the harbour. Nothing even nibbled at my bait. Don't need flags to tell me there are more fish in the sea.

Whangaroa marina - mostly fishing boats

Luisa plums, bought in Whangaroa - my Dad's favourite, and now, it seems, a  popular crop in Northland