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February - March 2007
Our Kiwi friend Deidre, who lives north of Auckland, came up to spend a long weekend aboard Shear Madness. We picked her up in Opua and set off for Oke Bay where we enjoyed a pleasant night and a great hike in the morning. Our friends Kim and Neil were to celebrate their birthday back in Auckland, so we decided to sail back down to join in the fun. We rounded Cape Brett and headed south with beautiful sailing conditions taking us to Whangarei, about halfway to Auckland. As we entered the harbor, we were treated to an excellent dolphin show, with dozens of them playing and leaping for quite some time. It put us all in a great mood! Bradley and Deidre continued their ongoing Backgammon tournament with Bradley continuing to hold a slight lead. Deidre taught us to play 500, a card game that's quite popular in New Zealand. When dawn broke we headed south with light winds and smooth seas, but with it forecast to blow harder later in the day. With less than 10 knots of wind, we meandered past beautiful scenery, making it to Kawau Island just before sunset. We anchored and went ashore for a drink at the yacht club before an interesting night of increasing winds, too many boats too close, and dragging anchors! Not our best night of sleep! As predicted, the winds increased and were right on our nose, so we had a choppy motor trip back to Gulf Harbour where Deidre departed.
Next we headed to Waiheke Island to meet up with Kim and Neil and their friends for the birthday celebration. We found a quiet and calm anchorage nearby after dinner, everyone came to Shear Madness for drinks and a birthday celebration. It was great to catch up with friends and well worth the trip down. Even better, Kim was going to make the return trip to the Bay of Islands with us so on Feb 4 we set off. Our plan was to stop off on the western side of Great Barrier Island where we had visited last year and collected some delicious cockles and pipis (types of clams). Rumor has it there will be a Survivor show filmed on this island, though we are skeptical about that, as it has an airstrip, roads, and even a small shop on the eastern side. But the western side is pretty remote, so maybe it will work. (Don't confuse Great Barrier Island with the Great Barrier Reef - they are hundreds of miles apart!). After a great sail, we reached to beach Great Barrier where the collecting would take place, anchored the big boat, and embarked in the dinghy. As there is breaking surf, it's tricky to get ashore, so the plan was for me to drop Bradley and Kim off close enough for them to wade ashore and collect the food, then to wait in the dinghy far enough out to avoid the breakers, and to pick them up again when they were done. Part A went as planned, though the surf was much bigger close up than it had looked from a distance. We couldn't get that close, so Bradley and Kim had to swim ashore. An hour later, they were ready for pickup, but they were each burdened with a large bag of cockles, so swimming was out of the question. They waded out as far as they could and I had to time a run in between waves to pick up Bradley, then retreat, then rush in again to retrieve Kim. A few hair raising moments, but we were safe and had a great dinner in hand!
As the forecast was favorable for the short term but predicted to deteriorate rapidly, we decided to sail all night to get to the Bay of Islands ahead of the bad weather. Winds were light for my watch and we motor sailed for most of it. Then the winds picked up and the rest of the journey was great. As we rounded Cape Brett the winds picked up significantly. We decided to bring in the fishing line we were trailing - so far unsuccessfully - but as we did it managed to snag on the dinghy outboard. No amount of fiddling would convince the line to free itself, so we elected to just leave it until we anchored. Wouldn't you know, just at that moment a hungry tuna happened by and hit the lure. Now we had a fishing line caught on the dinghy motor with a large tuna on the end. The tension on the line was too great to leave it, so with no way to free it and no way to get the tuna off, Bradley had to get into the dinghy to see if he could free the line. The winds were now close to 20 knots, we were moving at 8 knots, and the sea was choppy. To accomplish this task, we had to slow the boat down by reducing the sails, then pull the dinghy close enough for Bradley to get on, holding it steady, hope that he could free the line without getting thrown out, and then get back on board. That was accomplished with no problem. Then it was up to Kim to reel in the tuna, which he did with great expertise! So it was a seafood feast for dinner!
We made it to a safe anchorage just in time. For the next two days we had high winds and heavy rains. We were fortunate to have Kim on board as our watermaker and our propane gas system (used for cooking) both experienced problems which he was able to diagnose and fix. We went walking in the rain and waited for the weather to abate before heading to Opua to drop Kim off. Then Bradley and I spent a few days in KeriKeri where we met some new friends and waited out some more bad weather.
Our next guest was Mary, a friend of a friend from the States. Mary is 23 and is spending six months in NZ on a "working holiday". She joined us in Opua for a week of adventure. We headed north again and anchored just outside Whangaroa. Along the way, three tuna volunteered to be caught. Mary was the designated fisherman, so she had the task of landing them. The first one was somewhat small, so we let it go. The next one got away before we could land it. But the third one was a beauty and put up quite a fight for Mary! We re-visited Stephenson Island where we again went diving for crays (lobsters) but with no luck this time - just one that was too small to keep. So we ate tuna and enjoyed a beautiful sunset and a great hike in the morning before heading in to Whangaroa. Here we had a chance to catch up with some friends. Alan and Diana, friends from KeriKeri, drove up to join us for dinner one night. And Dale and Nigel, who captain a 68 foot Oyster we met in Gulf Harbor have a house in Whangaroa so we got to see them too. Then it was back to Opua where we arrived in time for the arrival of an old navy ship, which it to be sunk to create an artificial reef and dive site in the Bay of Islands.
After Mary's departure, we spent a few more days at some of our favorite anchorages. At Morurua Island, a couple, Mike and Maree from a neighboring boat came over to introduce themselves and we invited them aboard for drinks. They were from Melbourne and were chartering a boat for a couple weeks. Bradley has some friends from Melbourne, but they didn't know any of them. But it turns out that Mike was into classic cars and is a member of a Triumph Cruising Club and they DO know our friends Alan and Renate in Sydney. Small world after all. We were able to fill Mike and Maree's water tanks (we have a watermaker but their boat only has what it can carry in its tank) so it save them from having to go back to Opua to re-fill before resuming their cruising.
Finally it was time for the final trip of the season, south again to Auckland. This time it was just me and Bradley and we had favorable conditions. We stopped off at Poor Knight's Island, reported to have the best diving in all of New Zealand. It was not disappointing! The visibility was great and the fish life was fantastic! We were amused because all the literature makes it clear that the island is a wildlife sanctuary and you are not allowed to go ashore without a permit. What's funny is that the whole island is a sheer cliff - there is NO WAY to get ashore that we could see - permit or not!
From Poor Knight's it was a long day's sail in light winds back to Gulf Harbor where we spent our remaining time doing some maintenance and cleaning and polishing Shear Madness in preparation for leaving her for our return to the U.S.