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22 May, 2012
I stayed in Whangaroa for the rest of the day, letting the blow come through. Some of the gusts were quite ferocious, but we never moved and barely heeled. I turned in early and slept like a log until about 0800. I decided to head on down to the Bay of Islands, to catch up with a friend who has a house there.
It was flat calm in the anchorage, so we left under power, but after a couple of minutes we found a breeze and could turn the engine off. It was a lovely, sunny morning, and I enjoyed the interesting scenery along the shores. Then we lost the breeze, so it went back on to take me out of the entrance and on for another half mile. The rest of the day was on again off again as the wind came and went. We ended up with a fine breeze, but it was too late to get to my friend's. I should have left a lot sooner – it was further than I realised, having allowed myself to be misled by the small scale of the North Island chart. My own fault, so I anchored in Twin Lagoon Bay on Roberton I, for the night
I was feeling tired, but forced myself to make ratatouille and pasta for tea and as I polished it off without difficulty, was glad I had done so. As I sipped on a glass of wine, I felt it had been another great day and that I’d made the right decision to come north.
I spent the next two or three weeks cruising around the Bay of Islands, which is a wonderful, miniature cruising ground, with many bays and islands to provide a variety of anchorages. However, we seemed to be having a particularly windy spell of weather and I got tired of dodging gales and listening to F10 winds howl overhead.
Two days before the rally was due to start, everyone was still cowering in harbour.
On the morning of 22 March, the weather finally gave us a break. Pacific Spray, Arcadian and mehitabel sailed out of Whangarei and Fantail, 50 miles further to the north, got underway at 0600, took the fair wind and ran with it. By tea time we were off Whangarei, with the others already in the Hauraki Gulf, and common sense suggested that I put in to anchor. But Fantail was going like a train and I decided to carry on, under reduced canvas so that I could find anchorage in daylight. However, this plan was thwarted by the wee ship who wanted to get there, and in spite of only having the top three panels of her sail, carried on at over 4 knots. At this speed I could risk catnapping (something I had never done successfully before) and we continued sailing, eventually bringing to in Christian Cove, a few miles into the Hauraki Gulf. It was Friday and we still had 12 hours before the rally was due to start. I felt quite pleased with myself and turned in for a few hours.
After a quick breakfast, I set off towards Mahurangi and had hardly got underway when I saw the unmistakeable shape of mehitabel come out from behind a headland. Of course now it was almost calm and our progress was far from fast, but light winds had been forecast and were one of the reasons I carried on overnight. mehitabel and Fantail arrived within a few minutes of each other and we brought to near Pacific Spray. Footprints could be seen across the bay, the sail going up and down as her owner tried to sort out his brand-new sail. Not long after I anchored, Tystie dropped her hook, followed soon after by Arcadian. I popped a bottle of bubbly and called them over to come and share it. The rally had begun.
The sound of an outboard advertised Pacific Spray’s dinghy returning with the ‘shore party’: The China Moons who had flown in rather than sail the 1000+ miles from Tasmania; a new member, also from Oz, who is exploring the idea of sailing and living aboard her own junk-rigged boat; and La Chica’s owner, who had not managed to meet her launching date (when do they ever?). They all piled on board Fantail, who was beginning to get a trifle crowded. Then another boat hove into view: a fascinating lug-rigged ketch, with a pram bow. (the general consensus was probably ‘so near and yet so far’!) beautifully constructed and full of clever ideas as we found out later. This was Le Canard Bleu, whose builder is famous in NZ for building the 64ft gaff schooner, Maggie. His crew was also considered acceptable company, having sailed around the world against the wind in his Lidgard 30, which has a junk mainsail, and a jib.
As we’d run out of bubbly, the party transferred itself to Canard Bleu, and in due course everyone was drinking and talking, and the odd person was even listening, while snacks were passed round and the boat admired.
The plan for Saturday, was to head north for Bon Accord Harbour on Kawau I, about 10 miles, as the crow flies, from Mahurangi. The day dawned fair with a good sailing breeze that would have us beating in flat seas, sheltered by offshore islands. About 1030, sails started going up masts, anchors were raised, dinghies brought aboard and the yachts sailed out into the main harbour, tacking, gybing, taking photographs and admiring one another. And all secretly wondering how we were going to compare. We had to beat out between an island and the mainland and it was a wonderful sight to behold: the seven boats – as varied a selection of craft as you are ever likely to see together – sailing in line ahead and each one tacking at the same spot. It was like something out of Patrick O'Brien, but it was disappointing that there were no other boats out on the water to admire the spectacle, despite its being a fine Summer Saturday.
Footprints, 32ft overall, is designed by Gary Underwood and had just fitted a new sail; this was its first real trial; the 49ft Arcadian was relishing the conditions: she and Fantail sailed tack for tack to Bon Accord Harbour; Le Canard Bleu was crashing along in fine style, her pram bow making plenty of noise; Pacific Spray was right behind her, making good progress but really wanting a bit more wind; then came mehitabel, her flat sails belying all the latest thinking as she inexorably worked her way through the fleet, finally being the second boat to sail into anchor.
It was fascinating to watch the different boats. Footprints and Fantail each had to reef, and Tystie dropped one later in the day, but the other boats were probably in their ideal conditions; apart from Pacific Spray who sailed at her best later in the afternoon, when the breeze hardened to about F6. Fantail felt a bit smug at sailing faster than Footprints, but as the battens from her previous sail were proving too flexible, this satisfaction was undoubtedly unwarranted.
Late in the afternoon, we all brought to at the east end of Bon Accord Harbour and the cooks got to work: at 1800 we were to assemble for sundowners on the beautifully-fitted out Pacific Spray, followed by a potluck supper. Although only 38ft long, Pacific Spray is huge and there was plenty of room for the thirteen people who eventually sat down to dinner and enjoyed a thoroughly convivial evening.
Fantail’s yard was made by a friend, to a similar design as that used by Arne Kverneland. At the time he gave it to me, Paul was thinking of putting wing sails on his boat, but subsequently changed his mind and wanted to use his original spars. Very kindly, he offered to make me a replacement, tailored specifically to Fantail, a much smaller and lighter craft than La Chica. I had intended to swop them on Saturday morning, but had run out of time. On Sunday morning, it was blowing a bit briskly and forecast to stay that way. The plan was to head back to Mahurangi, but I really didn’t want to beat back against F6, so I contacted mehitabel and asked them if they would be kind enough to collect the old yard from me and take it back with them. The skipper soon paddled across, not only to take the yard, but to help me remove and replace it, a much-appreciated gesture. I undid the lashings and as I started to slide the yard forward, he commented that it looked a bit odd. I went back aft where I had a better view and to my horror could see it was seriously bent – deflected from straight by about 6 inches! I had noticed it bending the previous day, when beating on the starboard tack, and was a bit surprised, as I’d never seen it do so before, but had assumed it would have straightened itself out as we went about.
After some debate, we decided to carry on and replace it with the new one, but the bad news for Paul was also bad news for me, too, because the new yard was significantly smaller and lighter. If Fantail could bend the heavy one, then the new one was obviously not going to handle much wind at all; but at least we had a yard to sail back north with. The only consolation was that La Chica has not yet been launched so the new yard can be made while a workshop and facilities are still available. Even so, I felt less than happy when Kurt went back the banana-shaped yard.
By now there was some debate among the seven boats at anchor. The wind was increasing and the anchorage was becoming less and less comfortable. Pacific Spray said they were off to Mansion House Bay to visit said house and get better shelter and four of us decided to follow and leave the following day. Footprints had to get back to Mahurangi and Pacific Spray nobly volunteered to take back those who had to get back for a flight and work. Le Canard Bleu was also heading back. The rest of us carried on partying and rowing round paying visits before going over to Tystie for a drinks party, followed by another BYO on Arcadian. Our host kept producing bottles of wine, people kept filling their glasses, the conversation was convivial and general and the following morning everyone commented how that they’d got back on board and said: “Surely it can't really be twenty to two?!” But it was.