Sunday, January 12, 2014

Single Handing from Maitai Bay to Whangarei Heads

Single handed coastal sailing provides plenty of challenge and interesting experiences. This three day cruise from Maitai Bay down to Whangarei Heads (Mcleod Bay) was no exception. The trip began in very light airs. I hoisted the anchor early Saturday and drifted slowly out close hauled with a light ebb tide helping. Melody followed and together we used the faint and shifting breezes to find our way to the mouth of the bay and around the corner into open water.

I said farewell to Melody via VHF radio and laid a course down the coast that would take me just outside the Cavalli Islands. The winds remained light, freshening to near 10 knots for a while but dying away entirely toward midnight. I took advantage of the peaceful motion to work on re-stitching the small jib.

Sailing off the anchor - photo taken by Roz (sv Melody)

Near midnight, I leaned over the side with a flashlight and watched in fascination as thousands of jelly fish and other strange globules and strings of jelly drifted past. At times the jelly fish, mostly about 6-10 cms wide, were so closely packed, there was barely space between them. That night the wind was shifty and irregular. I slept for 15-30 minutes at a time, setting a timer to wake me and leaving the AIS alarm on.

The next morning, the wind returned and I was soon bowling along with a reefed main and a partially furled jib. The seas were smooth so I took the opportunity to scrape and sand the teak cap rails and to lay a coat of Cetol on the windward rail. Near noon the wind died. In the silence, broken only by the light gurgle of the bow wave, I was startled by what sounded like someone letting the air out of a huge balloon. I rushed on deck in time to see the fin of a large whale disappearing into the black water. Half a minute later the whale breathed again and I saw it was a mature humpback on a reciprocal course to Ladybug.

By mid-afternoon it was clear I would not make it to Whangarei Heads before dark and that there would be a rapidly ebbing tide to block my entry into the estuary. I gybed and ran in toward Tutukaka. I have wanted to visit Tutukaka for more than a year - the name alone enticing me. However, the entrance to this bay is very narrow and I had been warned that there is not much room to anchor inside because of moored boats and a marina. I ran in under full main and jib, carefully lining myself up with the 100 meter wide entrance. Three power boats came zooming past just as I reached the narrows, tossing Ladybug in their wakes.

To a car driver, 100 meters may seem like a parking lot, but when you are running in under sail with tidal currents and wakes tossing you around and surf breaking on the rocks on both sides, 100 meters feels like you are squeezing through a doorway. As a single hander, you need to be in three places at once - on the bow watching for rocks, at the helm steering, and down below looking at the chart. I do enjoy a challenge, but there was more than once on this trip when I wished I had Rani with me!

I made it through the gap without a problem and found that the anchorage inside already had a half dozen boats anchored just outside a line of moored boats. I rounded up into the wind and dropped the hook so that I would fall back well clear of the anchored boats, backing the mainsail to help bury the anchor. The maneuver went without a hitch for a change. I made a light supper and dropped off to an early sleep.

This morning the weather forecast promised a nice offshore westerly breeze and I left the anchorage downwind under sail with full main and a little jib. My single handing skills were tested again just after I cleared the narrow entrance. I was sweeping up from yesterday's teak scraping when I dropped the plastic dustpan over the side. Great - a chance to practice my 'pan overboard' maneuver. I rolled in the jib, gybed the main and ran downwind on the bobbing pan. As the pan reached the bows, I left the tiller to look after itself and was just able to lean over the side and grab the pan as it went by, legs wrapped around a stanchion and narrowly avoiding falling over the side. I let out a victory giggle and inwardly admonished myself for risking the boat to save a $3 dustpan. If I had fallen over, the boat would likely have continued onto the rocks, which lay only a few hundred meters downwind.

The wind gradually gathered strength as I reached down the beach-lined coast toward Bream Head. By the time I was off Ocean Beach it was coming in gusts of 15-20 knots and I had two reefs in the main and half the jib put away. I cleared Bream Head and found a nasty chop on the other side - typical conditions for this entrance. Sand banks line the approaches and the wind howls across the low land at the estuary mouth.

Beating across the bay, I tacked and ran directly up the channel, taking the occasional wave over the bow. An oil tanker with accompanying tug came around the corner, having just left the refinery that lies across the river from Mcleod Bay. I turned and ran outside the marked channel, passing the tanker just as the tug was pushing its stern over to make a last turn out of the narrow fairway. Only a few small fishing boats were out in the estuary mouth as I beat the last mile up to Mcleod Bay, coming to anchor off the public jetty.

I plan to stay here a week and help my friends Jo and Rob with their house projects before heading out again, possibly to Great Barrier Island.


Michael said...

Hey Chris,

Great single handed account, might I suggest a simple harness and lifeline as a little safe guard when you are at sea alone and feel the need to extend yourself out over the water - Hate to lose a good friend... I have so few LOL

Joan said...

Hi Chris,
I laughed out loud at your "pan overboard" joke, pretty funny...but I share Michael's sentiment about a harness. It was fun to read about your visit to Tutukaka, I recall spending some time in the cafe at that Marina while James went fishing and a hike we took to a lighthouse way up a steep cliff, well worth it for the view of the Bay of Islands. Happy New Year, we've enjoyed ridiculous temperature swings here and have gone from a blizzard to a monsoon within a few days.

Take good care, Joan.