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In Greenland

Iron Bark

Iron Bark
Under full sail


At Russell Boating Club's Tall Ships Regatta

Blue Water Medal

Blue Water Medal
Blue Water Medal

Books By Annie Hill

  • Brazil and Beyond
  • Voyaging on a Small Income

22 May, 2021

Living Slowly in Northland

I've spent the last couple of months pottering around in the Bay of Islands, but a few days ago, I finally got sufficient energy to abandon my lotus eating and venture out down the coast once more.

Part of the reason that the Bay has been so attractive is because of the pleasure of spending time with my friends, a great luxury after my years spent working on the boat.  One fine day, Zebedee and FanShi had a sail in company to Patunui Bay, where Shirley had been spending a few days.  She was planning to take off for Fiji 'soon' and so Alan and I wanted to make the besf of her company while we could.  (What with one thing and another, 'soon' was in fact, about another month and a half: blame the bureaucrats!)

Alan returned to Russell after a couple of days, but Shirley and I decided to shift berth to Crowles Bay for a day or two.  A bit of a swell was rolling in where we were and I thought there would also be less wind across the inlet, which would make it more pleasant to sit in the cockpit.

We wandered back to Russell a few days later, and a passing launch took a glorious photo of the two of us drifting along in the early morning calm.  Many thanks to John Sharp for the photograph.

The wind came and went and for a while we resorted to power, to counteract the contrary tide in the Kent Passage.  However, it picked up again later and Speedwell looked wonderful, bowling along over the flat sea  She is such a staunch, little boat: she inspires confidence, even if you don't realise how much she has done.  She is now in Fiji: I shall miss my visits on board, and meals in her cosy saloon.

One of the design requirements for FanShi was shoal draught.  I have a little project to seek out 'hurricane holes' as I cruise around.  A hurricane hole in many ways represents the perfect anchorage: surrounded on all sides, and with a narrow entrance around a few corners, so the swell can't get in.  I suppose that real hurricane holes would also be full of mosquitoes and sandflies in warmer weather, but the perfect anchorage, of course, doesn't have these.

Anyway, for some time I had wanted to go and explore one of these possibilities.  Metric charts are woefully short of detail.  I have been informed that I am out of date here, and that looking at Google Earth will give me all the information I need.  However, the old Imperial charts showed the type of bottom (mud, mud over rock, sand, shingle, etc) which is hard to ascertain from a photo.  It's even harder when the water is laden with silt.  Nor does Google Earth show underwater rocks, nor where the channel (if there is one) lies, nor ... but you get my drift.  Anyway, lacking a decent chart I did my best with an older metric one and the latest Navionics (NZ) chart on my phone which was not much use at all!  

With a light easterly breeze, we sailed from Russell and into the Kerikeri Inlet, but instead of taking the main channel to the north, I picked my way along the S side, following a shallow channel between the mainland and a line of skerries running SE/NW.  If I kept towards the skerries, there was only one rock to worry about and some kind soul had marked it with a blue float, which made life easier.  Logically, I would have entered on a rising tide, but I wanted to keep my speed down.  Besides, with settled weather, it really wouldn't matter if I did run aground.  We had a foot or so of water under us most of the time and I sailed as far as the SW extremity of the inlet, where there was an oyster farm.  What breeze there was switched around on the nose as I turned the corner and as I wasn't entirely clear what lay ahead, I decided to anchor for the night: it was already quite late in the day.  Dropping the sail I went forward and lowered the anchor, only to find that we had drifted out of the deeper water and FanShi was aground.  (The deeper water was by the oyster farm.)  I lowered both boards and secured them to discourage FanShi from heeling over, tidied up and poured myself a drink.

Looking through binoculars a little later, just before it got too dark to see, I could make out another blue float, apparently marking the edge of a shoal.  The channel into the lagoon, which was my object, had a rocky shoal almost in the middle, which had been marked by a stick.  Apparently the channel was between the two.

After a quiet night, I waited for about four hours flood, which meant that I could still see the shallows more easily than at HW.  With no wind, I started the outboard and pottered along the channel.  It was pretty shallow between the stick and the blue float; otherwise there appeared to be plenty of water.  At one time there was nearly 3m under the keel. 

We passed into the lagoon and found three boats on moorings and one old fishing boat, dying on the beach.  I found enough depth to anchor near the moored boats.  From this spot, it was almost impossible to see the entrance, hidden by the land and the trees.


It is an ideal anchorage for a boat such as FanShi.

 I spent about a week in this lovely, tranquil spot.  Some friends lived a couple of km away and I walked to visit them a few times.


I also explored the old Maori fish traps, made by damming a part of the channel so that fish couldn't escape at low water.


If you didn't know what you were looking at, they would have been hard to spot.

After a week in this idyllic spot, I tore myself away to take a friend out sailing and then made my way back to Russell.

I had decided that I really ought to get out of the Bay of Islands before winter really in, and to go and catch up with friends who live S of Whangarei. I bought some more provisions in Russell and then sailed over to Urupukapuka Island for fresh water.  Taking on water in this part of the world is a problem, unless you are prepared to go to a marina or to go alongside a fuel dock.  My water is all in jerricans, which suits my way of doing things very well, but at a fuel dock, it would take a long time to fill up all the indvidual containers, screw the caps down and put them back on board.  I suspect it wouldn't be the best way to win friends.  However, there is a DOC campsite on Urupukapuka, which has fresh water taps for the convenience of the campers. I wasn't quite sure where they were, so went ashore to recce.  I soon found them with a 'must be boiled' notice alongside, but I doubt that many people do!  Having assured myself that I would be able to top up my water, I then carried on for a walk.

The views from any high point on Urupukapuka are quite wonderful.  All the islands in this area of the Bay have been made predator free and it's fun to look out for the re-introduced birds, although tui are the loudest and most obvious.

Climbing up the hill I stopped several times for the obligatory My Boat in the Anchorage photos.  I realised I was much further out than I'd intended: the wind had died away to nothing when I sailed in, so I just dropped the hook where stopped.  But for ferrying water, it would be more convenient to be closer in.


The island has some pretty dramatic cliffs as well as some beautiful bush and a nice little lake, created some years ago to encourage the endangered Pateke (Brown teal).  I've never actually seen any on Urupukapuka, but there's a flourishing little colony on Great Barrier.  They are endearing wee ducks.

Next day I moved FanShi closer inshore and then got out all my empty jerricans.  I should have taken a photo of the water filling exercise, but didn't think about it.  However, three trips was all that was required and once the full containers were safely stowed away, I rowed ashore again for another walk in a different direction from the previous day.  

Again I stopped frequently to admire my litte boat at anchor.  All this unwonted exercise was not just to enjoy the joys of Urupukapuka, but also because I wanted up-to-date weather forecasts for rounding Cape Brett.  I could pick up FM radio without any difficulty, but the Kiwi idea of a weather forecast is pretty feeble: they rarely give the temperature and generally only ever mention the wind if it's going to be gale force or above.

New Zealand has superb native trees.  Most people have heard of Kauri, of course, but another marvel is the Pohutakawa.  They start as little, shrubby things, but grow quite rapidly into large and imposing trees, with great, horizontal branches capable of covering large areas.  I found a spectacular grove of them at the S end of the island.  These beautiful trees produce red 'flowers' in December - just in time for Christmas.  They are very much a tree of the shoreline - apart from anything else, they don't tolerate frost - and you often see their roots spreading all the way down a cliff face.

When I walked back, I discovered two more boats had arrived.  FanShi suddenly looked a lot smaller.

With a reasonable (day-old) forecast, I set off the next morning not long after sunrise.  I passed close to Legacy and a man sitting in the cockpit asked If I'd mind if he took some drone footage of my boat.  Generally I find drones noisy, obtrusive invaders of privacy, but seeing as how he had been so courteous as to ask, it seemed churlish to refuse.  I called out my email address, but wasn't sure he'd remember it.  However, I'm pleased that I did, because the next day the video that he had taken was in my Inbox and it was quite beautiful.  Perhaps I need to rethink my attitude towards drones!  My Internet doesn't seem to have enought oomph to be able to download it, but here is  the link:

We passed out through the Albert Channel and up to Cape Brett.  The wind was building and I was pleased I had left early because once around the Cape, it would be off the land and the swell wouldn't be an issue.  As usual by the Cape, the winds came in fits and starts for some time, but I headed offshore a little until it settled down.  My original plan had been to go to Whangamumu and on to Mimiwhangata the next day.  However, the forecast was for very light winds on the following day, so I decided to go straight to Mimiwhangata.  We settled down to a steady 4 to 5 knots, with the wind forward of the beam.  There was less S in it than forecast, which meant that we could readily lay the course.

Sailing along the Whangaruru Peninsula was as near perfect as I could hope for, with a steady breeze and a smooth sea.  As we passed Cape Home, however, the wind started funnelling along the valleys beyond Oakura and Helena Bay.  They were unpleasant enough that it was worth dropping a couple of reefs.  They also brought the wind hard on the nose, but we managed to make Mimiwhangata without having to tack.  I have always anchored off the S shore in the past, but this time took the advice of David Thatcher in his excellent cruising guide to New Zealand's Northland Coast and anchored right in the W corner, in the lee of the land and Paparahi I, in perfect shelter.

In the evening, as I looked astern cross the bay, there was little sign of humanity.  The anchorage was deserted on this autumn evening and there was neither a boat nor a building to be seen.  Perfect.


The next day, a very light S breeze took us the 7 miles to the head of Whangaruru Harbour.  This was the first hint of what is yet to come: apparently we can look forward to three days of gales and storms brought in by a Tropical Low.  I am snugged in under the land, in shallow water, with plenty of room to drag and a soft landing if I do.  However, it looks like being an unpleasant few days.  As I'm typing, the rain is pouring down and the odd gust finds its way into the anchorage.  I shan't be sorry when it's over, although it looks as though I will have to wait for a week before I get any wind out of the W or N!

When I started writing this post, a warning came up from Blogger that they are going to end the "follow by email' facility.  I used to be able to follow blogs automatically, using Thunderbird, but sadly, that doesn't work on Android.  I'm not sure what the answer is apart from migrating to another blog site, which allows for following by email.  As this is actually quite a big deal, I'm reluctant to do so.  Someone might be able to post a way of automatically following blogs, in the comments.