Sunday 13th November 2016
A steady stream of unseasonable, closely packed weather systems continue to cross the North Island of New Zealand. This not only persists in trapping the few remaining cruisers still in tropics but meant that our planned five day sail to Auckland from Opua, day hopping from bay to bay, had to be cut short. If nothing else this life style has taught us to be flexible, not a trait that was obvious in my personality a year or so ago.
We left our berth in the Bay of Islands Marina as soon as the weather and tide allowed, the winds had continued to blow through Tuesday but Wednesday dawned much calmer. With the sun warming our backs, at mid-tide, we motored over to the fuel dock to fill with nice clean New Zealand diesel. We guessed that the sea beyond the bay would still be rough from the previous days gales, so we opted to stay within the Islands for the night.
Oke Bay was open to the north and looked like a good choice in the forecast south westerly winds, it was also on the outside of the Islands and so a good jumping off point for our sail of just over 100nm to Gulf Harbour Marina, a few miles north of Auckland and our home for the next few months. The bay proved to be extremely tranquil and very pretty, cliffs surrounded it on all sides and a sandy beach lay at its head.
We had a perfect day, the sun shone, there was a mere whisper of a breeze and a gentle swell rocked Raya comfortingly. In the morning we dropped the dingy and explored the rugged shoreline, in the afternoon we read, snoozed and watched the birds, our only companions in the deserted bay. The Red Billed Gulls squawked as they fed, flashing their equally red feet and legs as they flew by, the Pied Cormorants sunned themselves on the rocks and a group of Welcome Swallows gathered on our rails at dusk. We also spotted two less abundant characters, a Spur Winged Plover waded along the shore line as we approached in the dingy, during the breeding season they can apparently be quite territorial and aggressive, sometimes striking with the sharp yellow spurs they have on their outer wings, luckily this one was busy feeding and appeared happy to share the beach with us. Out in the middle of the bay, we were entertained by a large Australasian Gannet that repeatedly plunged head first into the sea, boobie style, to catch its lunch. We have a long shopping list for New Zealand but we are enjoying the wildlife so much that a good telephoto lens is becoming a priority, my blurred distant efforts to capture these birds are not worth including here.
We did manage one avian photo however, in fact it would have been impossible not to get the shot. Thursday late afternoon we reluctantly roused ourselves and left Oke Bay for the 14hr overnight sail to Gulf Harbour. The first few miles as we pounded into the rough waters around infamous Cape Brett were slow but very scenic. Then as we rounded the outer rocks we saw a patch ahead in the water we couldn’t quite identify. As we closed in we realised it was a dense flock of hundreds of birds massed above what must have been a huge bait ball of fish. The birds frantic activity filled the air and churned up the sea, so engrossed were they that our arrival was hardly noticed as they swooped, dived and screeched all around us.
Clear of the gulls we unfurled the sails, the acceleration zone created by the headland provided us with a good wind on our stern and with our downwind rig flying we enjoyed a fantastic sail as the sun slid behind the cliffs and hills to our west. Unfortunately the wind disappeared with the daylight and soon we were back motor sailing. The engine was still stuttering occasionally and so the night was spent on tenterhooks, alert to the slightest change in engine note. Dozing wasn’t a problem during our watches, as it also had been a while since we had sailed so close to the coast at night, there was plenty of shipping to keep us vigilant and numerous lighthouses marking the many rocks and islands that abound here, to avoid.
The engine prevailed and we now find ourselves back in Marinaland, a world of creaking warps, shower blocks, laundrettes and very close neighbours. In fact Ricks deserves a Gold Star for parking we are sandwiched between two large motor yachts with just a few inches to spare on either side. Gulf Harbour is completely full and we have been put on an outer berth on the far side of the marina and with our dingy trapped on its davitts at the back of the boat we have no means of accessing all the services in the main area that is a two mile walk around the marina village. Luckily Domini (Ricks niece who lives close by) has saved the day by lending us a car, it feels extremely odd to have the freedom to go anywhere, as and when the fancy takes us, shops, cinemas, restaurants here we come.