Away cruising. Episode one.
Auckland Anniversary weekend, I’d planned on being away for 5 nights, from January 27th until the following Tuesday. The Mahurangi Regatta is held on the Saturday and my aim was to sail part way on Thursday, make it up there on Friday and spend the weekend in the area, making my way back to within easy range of the marina where I’d left the car on Monday so I’d not be late home.
The forecast was for really foul weather, there were the remains of two tropical cyclones on their way to northern New Zealand and it looked as though they’d join up just as they came ashore. The water temperature here at our latitude is such that those storms don’t normally continue as cyclones but degenerate into moderate storms, and generally die away pretty quickly without the heat input of tropical water temperatures to fuel them . I figured that if I got launched and away early in the afternoon on the Thursday, then made a beeline for the shelter of Islington Bay I’d be ok If you go to Google Earth and type in Islington Bay Rangitoto Island New Zealand you’ll get a view of where I was heading. Zoom back out and you’ll see Aucklands Waitemata Harbour ( Auckland has two harbours, the other one being the Manukau which is not nearly as popular or as heavily used due to a nasty bar at its entrance and vast shallow areas that dry at low tide).
I was leaving from Westpark Marina at Hobsonville if you are doing the Google earth thing to see where I was.
From there it was about a 25 mile run to Islington Bay, my destination for the night, but if the weather were not helpful there were several alternative anchorages along the way so it was worth the try.
Friend John Wicks met me at the boatramp, he lives on board there at the marina and is an honorary marina warden so in addition to being good company and someone I’d not seen for a while he’s a good guy to know.
We got “May” rigged and with some pushing and shoving got her launched, and after a cup of tea with John and a tour of his new home (He’s just exchanged a big ketch for a much more easily managed 36ft motor launch) I motored out into a very calm afternoon.
The upper harbour is nice, the slopes of the northern side all covered in bush so the area doesn’t feel like the middle of the city that it really is, and as we motored out the breeze dropped to pretty much nothing. I figured that there was a change in wind direction coming so was not concerned when the only breeze was the tide moving me through the air.
There are ferries all over this harbour now, and they buzz past as though you’re on a road, the skippers are good though and give little sailing boats lots of space but the wakes still bounce you around.
The breeze gradually filled in, and with the outgoing tide lifting me to windward May felt like a super boat as she pointed really high and the land went past at a very satisfying rate. We sailed past Kauri Point where the Defence Dept magazine is, then the Chelsea sugar works and on under the harbour bridge, as the wharves in downtown Auckland came into view I was watching the smoke from a cruise liners on board generators ( lots of it, someone wasn’t doing it right) and noted that the wind was still swinging and appeared to be strengthening rapidly, and as I sailed out past Devonport and North Head we were really moving along.
“ Note to self, don’t forget to drill the holes, fit the new cleats and run the reefing lines,” I’d been busy on so many small jobs that I’d not done that one, and figured that if it came to the worst I could sail under jib alone just to make shelter.
Downwind in a gaff rigged boat can be problematic, the big main out to one side will often cause the boat to round up and this had been an issue in the past, but I’d moved a lot of weight aft and was pleased to find that although she needed a firm hand she was tracking much better.
Off across the channel, past 7 buoy, then 14, and across to the rocky shore of Rangitoto, the volcanic cone looking somber in the cloudy afternoon, and along the shore out of the path of the giant twin hulled 25 knot ferries and their big square waved wake. We were getting close to the boats limit with no reef in, and as I got to the mouth of Islington bay we were surfing more than a little so I decided that it would be prudent to round up and tack rather than gybe her.
Much to my surprise the little boat coasted through the tack without having to harden up and sail on the wind first, she’s noticeably heavier than most 18 footers (about a ton) so carries her way better than most boats her size. We sailed on into “Isy Bay” looking for a sheltered spot that would be ok when the wind went around to the east as forecast.
Being of relatively shallow draft we could anchor inside most of the bigger boats, and I was minded to do that as the holding in this very popular anchorage is not so good being light mud over a hard bottom and I’d not tried either of the anchors that the boat had come with.
I sailed in quietly, right to the end of the inlet, I’d not been here in many years and it felt like coming home. Wonderful place, the great, dark, brooding bush clad mountain on one side and the farm park of Motutapu Island on the other making an interesting visual contrast. I figured that I could anchor in a gap between two other boats about 100m from the shallow reef at the far end so sailed on past them, tacked and backed the jib while getting the Danforth type anchor out of the cockpit locker.
Got anchored, about 10 m of chain on the 10S sized Manson copy, I sailed her away from the anchor a little and snubbed the warp on the big samson post to set it, dropped the jib, then the main and tidied up.
“Nother note to self, need chocks on the foredeck so I can stow one anchor and warp up there, it’s a battle to get everything out of the cockpit and up on the foredeck, warp and chain threaded through fairleads and around whisker and bobstays while under way”.
About 20 boats in the anchorage, normally at this time of year there would be three or four times that, but the weather forecast was scary so I was not surprised.
Got the kettle on the stove, put a harbour furl on the main and jib, and mug of tea in hand just sat and looked around.
John Welsford, aboard the good ship “May”.