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January 5 - 21, 2006
Yee-ha! It was time to go sailing. Our first destination was Oke Bay, just a few hours away. On the way we passed the famous "hole in the rock" a large rock with a hole that smaller boats can actually go through. We're a little too big to do that ourselves though! Oke Bay is a beautiful anchorage, with impressive rock cliffs rising up from the sea and interesting caves lining the shoreline. After a nice dinner and some games in the three-way backgammon tournament, Richard experienced his first night at anchor - a very pleasant one, with the Southern Cross proudly on display on a clear night.
Next, it was back to Russell to watch a tall ships race. Though there were only three true tall ships, there were dozens of classic sailboats competing in various racing divisions and hundreds of sailboats out to watch. It was a party atmosphere with boats attacking each other with water balloons - luckily we had our trusty Super-Soaker. There was virtually no wind in the morning and we were not optimistic that any racing would actually take place. But right on cue, half an hour before start time, a nice ten knot breeze started blowing. The start went off as scheduled and Bradley demonstrated his ability to negotiate in close, crowded waters, while Ori and I honed our tacking skills. Leading up to the start was almost like racing ourselves! As the race began, we followed the fleet for the first half of the race. There were some truly wonderful boats out there and we were rewarded with a spectacular day. But soon it was time to peel off to return to Oke Bay where we planned to meet up with our NZ friends, John and Leanne.
John and Leanne arrived bearing a gift of 60 fresh scallops! A great appetizer to precede a dinner of passage-caught tuna. After a fine dinner and good night's sleep, we decided to do some hiking. We were near the same Cape Brett Trail we had earlier visited via car, but it was worth another visit. John and Leanne had to return to Auckland for a couple of days, so they did a short hike. Bradley, Richard, and I continued on, enjoying the exercise and the superb views. Then it was off for a short sail to Motukawanui Island, part of the Cavalli Island Group, for the night.
Bradley was itching to try his spear-fishing skills while Richard wondered why anyone would want to swim in freezing (68F) water. So Richard and I were dropped ashore for some hiking while Bradley and Ori set off to see what bounty they could collect from the sea. One thing we are learning about NZ is that there is no such thing as a flat trail! Even on the small islands the trails involve steep climbs and descents, one after another. This was yet again a fantastic hike with sparkling clear seas, miles of visibility, and many fabulous islands, depicting why this is called the Bay of Islands. After completing the hiking trail, we couldn't resist climbing two nice hills that had no trails. No problem and definitely worth the effort! We were rewarded with the chance to stand on the edge of a sheer cliff and look out over some of the most beautiful views you could imagine! Meanwhile, Bradley and Ori had had a productive trip and we feasted on fresh grilled fish.
Next it was north to Whangaroa, a beautiful harbor with a small town. We went ashore for a hike to the top of St. Paul's Rock, a short hike, but excellent views. For dinner we visited the Kingfish Lodge, a resort accessible only by boat or helicopter. We had an excellent meal followed by a stroll to the WWII bunker on the hill overlooking the harbor. After a quiet night, we headed to nearby Stephenson Island for some more spearfishing - with Bradley again coming through! We spent the night again in Whangaroa Harbor and enjoyed a fresh fish dinner.
In the morning we decided on another hike. There is supposedly a trail leading to the top of the North Head overlooking the harbor. We found a sign indicating there might be a trail somewhere, but never actually found it. Not to be deterred, we started to make our way up a creek bed, finding occasional traces of a trail, but one that had clearly not been used in a while. We never made it to the top, but had quite a unique hike in the process. Upon return, we set off for Whale Bay and enjoyed an afternoon of beautiful sailing, reaching our destination in time for a leisurely dinner. We also continued the ongoing backgammon tournament. Bradley, Richard, and I all play backgammon, so we kept a running list of who won how many games from whom (final report at the end!). Richard and Bradley also had a chess tournament and Richard and I had a cribbage tournament. Many fun games were played along the way!
Whale Bay was another beautiful place, set amid more steep hills dotted with sheep. In the morning we opted for another hike - this one along an unpaved road but very steep! Again, some excellent views and hundreds of sheep. Next it was off to Moturua Island where we would again meet up with John and Leanne. We had another pleasant sail and arrived safe and sound in time for some afternoon adventures. Bradley and John decided on a spearfishing expedition the next day, while Leanne and I opted for a dive and Richard decided to keep his feet dry and explore the island. We had success on all counts and enjoyed another fresh fish dinner. John and Leanne then introduced us to SuDoKu, a puzzle involving placing numbers correctly in a grid. They had a board game version so we played men against women - not much of a contest!
The next day was devoted to hunting - John and Bradley for fish and lobster and Leanne and I for scallops. We had never been scalloping before, but had heard that scallops sit on the bottom and once you find a bed, it's fairly easy to just pick them up. We had air left in our tanks from the previous days dive and estimated we had 30 minutes of diving time. So we set off to the location where John's friend had recently had success. We donned our dive gear and descended to the bottom, but I wore my heavier wetsuit, causing me to be more buoyant and I had not compensated with more weight. So I struggled to stay on the bottom. After about 10 minutes, we had found a few empty shells and still weren't quite sure what we should be looking for - what does a live scallop look like when it's sitting on the bottom? Soon we found one, but our air was not lasting as long as we thought. We had to surface after a very light haul of just 3 scallops. Worse, when we got back aboard the dinghy and measured them, only one was of legal size. Well, at least we hadn't been shut out.
Next, the boys went off for fish and lobster. They returned with three lovely fish and two bags of large green-lipped mussels! Well, we wouldn't starve, but it would still be nice to have some scallops, so we re-filled out dive tanks and the scallop team went out for another try. Richard had dinghy driving duties and his job was to follow us by watching our bubbles. This time we had much better success - soon we learned how to spot the scallops, flip them over, measure them using the palm of our hand, and choose only ones large enough to keep. After just 35 minutes we had a bag full. After throwing back a few that were too small, we had netted a total of 50! Yahoo! Fortunately John knew how to open and clean a scallop, so he taught us all how to do it. In short order we had a bowl full and preparations for a wonderful feast were underway. It doesn't get any better than this - fresh fish, mussels, and scallops, good wine, and great company. What a day!
Unfortunately, Richard's time with us was coming to an end and we had to depart for a long sail back to Auckland. Little did he know that he was in for an interesting experience. We set off on the first leg, trailing our fishing line as usual. With winds gusting to 20 knots, we had a reef in the main and were just getting comfortable. The famous Hole in the Rock was in sight as we passed "Bird Rock" when something struck the fishing line. Looking back I saw - we had caught a bird! A gannet had been fooled by our lure and thought it was lunch. He had managed to get himself stuck on the lure. This was a first - we've seen birds dive for our lure before, but never actually hooked one. It seems birds are not like fish - the don't come through the water easily. As Ori reeled him in, we could see it was not a pleasant experience for him. As he approached the boat we began to wonder - what do we do when we get him here? I had brought down some sails to slow the boat down and Bradley got into the dinghy with gloves and pliers to see what he could do. He lifted the bird into the dinghy and found the hook was stuck in its foot. Though the bird was fairly cooperative (exhausted) Bradley had quite a struggle to get the hook out. But finally he was successful and he hopped aboard, leaving the bird in the dinghy. The bird didn't look good. He was lying on his side, with a little blood on his chest where he had been nicked several times during his wild ride. He was exhausted and probably in shock, so we figured we'd let him rest awhile and see how badly he was hurt.
So under sail again, we passed the Hole in the Rock and headed south. About an hour later the bird was sitting up, alert and looking around, but still not looking too good. As time went on he got a little more active. Soon he stood up and seemed to be examining the spot on his chest. But would his wings be OK? He seemed to be enjoying his ride, so we'd have to wait and see. All was fine for another hour until we approached a point of land on our starboard side. We were watching our course closely as we were going to pass very close to the point and if we couldn't quite clear it, we would have to gybe (turn the boat with the wind passing behind the stern. A gybe is a more difficult maneuver than a tack, in which you turn the boat with the wind passing over the bow). As we got close, it looked like we would clear the land. The was a sailboat approaching on our port side, but we had right of way and he would have to alter course. We did not have a foot to spare on our starboard side, so we closely watched the approaching boat. Closer and closer it got, with no sign it was going to alter course. Clearly, it was on a collision course with us. Knowing that if he didn't change course, our only option was an emergency gybe, we prepared for it. Sure enough, the boat just kept on coming and at the last minute, we executed a gybe, changing course and avoiding a collision. As soon as we were out of danger, we all yelled loudly at the other boat to get his attention, but it seemed nobody was on deck. It was on autopilot and they were probably never even aware there had been a problem. It was a good reminder for us of how important it is to keep a good watch at all times.
In the midst of all the excitement, our passenger apparently decided he'd had enough. He flapped his wings a couple times and soon he was airborne! A little shaky, but he was flying. We watched him until he was out of sight and when last seen he was flying strongly. Hopefully, he'll have a good story to tell all his buddies. We settled in for a long day of sailing in less than ideal conditions. Starting with the wind on our nose and choppy seas, as we altered course and the wind shifted, we were sailing downwind with uncomfortable swells. Richard had told me he wasn't too fond of boats as he gets seasick and I had said "trust me, we won't let that happen". Up till now, I had made good on that promise, but this was a day that tempted fate. Fortunately, Richard seemed to have gained his sea legs with all the short sails we had done. He hung in there all day through a variety of conditions. The wind was clearly not going to allow us to reach Auckland - it was in exactly the wrong direction - so we decided on Great Barrier Island as our destination. It lies about 50 miles east of Auckland and would leave us one more day of sailing, putting us there in time for Richard to make his homeward flight.
It was after dark as we approached our anchorage but all went smoothly and we were safe for the night. The weather forecast called for reasonable conditions the next day. So we awoke in the morning and prepared to depart. As we exited the harbor, it became clear that the conditions were not ideal. In fact they were awful. Wind directly on our nose, and very choppy seas. We all agreed we didn't want to sail in this! So we headed to Port Fitzroy, a tiny town on the island and soon were safely anchored again. Richard and I took the dinghy ashore to see if there was an alternate way for him to get to Auckland. Fortunately, there is an "airline" that runs daily flights to Auckland and we were able to book him a flight right into Auckland Airport. All he had to do was take a taxi for 20 kilometers over unpaved road to a grass airstrip and fly in a tiny plane. Don't worry, I assured him - it's bound to be scenic!
The next day we dropped Richard ashore and set off in pleasant conditions for Auckland. We all arrived safely and added yet another great few weeks to our adventure log! An in case you are interested in the results of the backgammon tournament: Richard beat Bradley (by a lot), Bradley beat Kathy (by a lot), and Kathy beat Richard (by a lot).