Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sailing to Great Barrier Island

Non-boaters probably don't appreciate how much of a transition it is from living on board in one place to going off for even a short cruise. On the mooring Ladybug had accumulated a spectacular growth of slime, barnacles, and thousands upon thousands of tiny shrimp, presumably feeding on the slime. I was in the water for about an hour on Saturday and made only a modest dent in the accumulation. I did manage to bring into the cockpit, attached to my wet suit and hoody, enough tiny wriggling shrimp to feed a small family.

In addition to the boat's unpreparedness to go anywhere, I had also settled into a shore-oriented routine and it took an hour or two to stow and organize the things that would otherwise go bouncing on the passage. I now have a fine collection of abalone shells, Fiji bowls and a cannibal fork that all have to find places, plus a lovely glass fishing float ornament that otherwise swings alarmingly in your face on passage.

By 9 am on Sunday I had the boat squared away, the dinghy hoisted on deck, and the navigation computer hooked up to its puck GPS. 'Chapter 2' who had been anchored beside me for the night had left earlier to run up the river to Whangarei on the last of the flood and 'La Fiesta' had just departed for Opua, where David and Angelina return to jobs and Natalie to school. I slipped the mooring and hoisted full sail. The last of the flood was still running in the main channel and a 10 knot breeze kicked up a small chop.

The river mouth at Whangarei Heads is often an area of ugly sharp seas. 'Chapter 2' had reported close spaced 3 meter seas when they arrived the day before. Today things were more benign with the usual crowd of fishing 'tinnies' (open aluminum power boats) anchored or drifting in the fairway. The channel here is dredged and takes a dog leg to avoid shoals off Marsden Point. The oil refinery, while a relatively clean operation, permeated the air with fumes and I wondered how the fishermen could stand it for hours on end.

The wind was dead against us but it was near high tide, and a large 3 meter tide at that, so I was able to extend Ladybug's tacks, sailing right over what would normally be 2 meter deep banks at Calliope Bay. Around 10:30, as predicted in the tables, the tide altered and began to run out and we were just able to lay a line down the banks of Marsden Point, clearing the last of the anchored fishing skiffs.

We sailed all the way across shallow Bream Bay on one tack, from Bream Head to Bream Tail and then tacked out toward Sail Rock - which looks more like a giant shark tooth from the land side. The great sand beaches of Bream Bay stretched for miles to starboard, the low land in stark contrast to steep volcanic islands to seaward.

The wind veered into the NE and I brought Ladybug onto port tack, set the wind vane steering and  headed for Little Barrier Island, which we reached almost 8 hours later at sunset. An hour later the wind vanished and with about 8 miles to go I put on the diesel and furled the jib, setting a way point for the entrance to Man of War passage. The approaches to the south end of Port Fitzroy are well charted but require careful navigation between the scattered islands and rocks. I would never have dared this on a dark night without the chart software and excellent recent raster charts. Even so, I decided not to attempt the very narrow last gap into Port Fitzroy, but dropped the hook in Red Cliff Bay just after midnight. The bay was completely still, lit only by the firefly lights of a dozen anchored boats and the flashing beacons of a fish farm. 

Today I will explore this bay and hopefully locate a fresh water stream to top up our water.

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