It's spring here, in Northland, which means boisterous weather and lots of rain. As I write, there is a fresh SE blowing up the harbour against the last of a Spring ebb tide, somewhat enhanced by all the rain that has been falling. Fantail is bouncing about and being regularly head-butted by Fan-tan. Fortunately, the flood isn't far away and we will be able to relax.
I spent the end of last winter and spring in the Bay of Islands, but it wasn't what I'd hoped. There are very few anchorages that are totally protected, and while I had access to a couple of moorings, these berths while safe, were far from comfortable for a 26ft boat, in certain wind conditions. I not only fret when it blows strongly, I also have a tendency to get seasick if the boat is pitching excessively. This doesn't make for a pleasant day.
I wandered down to Whangarei at the end of last year, to haul out and work on the boat, as I recently mentioned. I caught up with old friends, made new and having spent the summer and autumn pottering about, decided to base myself here for the winter. It has been a good choice: so far inland, there is much less wind and I enjoy being able to go to the Saturday Farmers' Market to top up my stores. One is allowed to anchor for two weeks at a time before being moved on (why, I wonder? What possible threat do I pose to a community, while I am sitting at anchor, out of people's way and minding my own business?) However, there is no hardship in getting my anchor and going for an amble round the spacious Whangarei harbour.
Whangarei town is some 13 miles from the harbour entrance, and in between the two I have discovered several attractive anchorages. The winter days are too short and - even in the 'Winterless North' - too cold to tempt me to go much further afield; while I don't mind sailing at night, I try to avoid it simply because it messes up the next day and as a chronic insomniac, I have problems catching up on my sleep. Besides, I enjoy the scenery and love the sun, so prefer my sailing in daylight, but I love my little pottering cruises down the harbour, bringing up in a small bay, surrounded by beautiful bush.
Like many of New Zealand's harbours, Whangarei is full of shallows. I have heard it said that it - and many others, including Auckland's Waitamata - used to be much deeper, but when all the trees were cut down, much of the topsoil was washed down and silted it up. A shame, especially in a boat that has rather more draught than I am tall: if I run aground, there's no jumping over the side and pushing Fantail off. This means that I have to watch the tides, carefully, and it can be a bit nerve-wracking, negotiating my way across the shoals to visit some out-of-the-way harbour. But it's wonderful to get away from the lights of civilisation and to lie in my bunk at night, listening to the moreporks and hoping to hear a kiwi. Dawn is anticipated by tui, who start their first, tentative warming-up squeaks and whistles, while the eastern sky is barely lightened. Even in winter, the sun's warmth is immediate and if its rays come down the companionway, I can soon let my fire go out.
Blue Water Medal
Books By Annie Hill
- Brazil and Beyond
- Voyaging on a Small Income
- Annie Hill
- New Zealand
17 September, 2013
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