Customs officials boarded bearing gifts, a woven straw bag of goodies which included a bottle of rum and a feather. All donated by the local business interests to woo the cruising sailor and impressed we were.  All fresh goods on Pylades were confiscated along with Kay’s leaf hat, woven on the island of Niue, but now viewed by NZ Department of Agriculture as a national threat, the skipper concurred.  Opua, our arrival port is a cluster of service facilities with a small supermarket, a marina and anchorage in a peaceful rural setting.   The pleasant social scene in the Sailing Club bar ensured many evenings were spent there meeting fellow sailor’s boats, exaggerating passages and reviewing plans. Mooring rather than anchoring was the choice as holding was particularly poor and many boats went drag about.


Following a few days of sleeping late and readjusting from watch patterns, boat maintenance commenced on Pylades, rebuilding the toilet, fitting an additional solar panel resulting in surplus energy to our battery bank. The NZ sun has higher burn power than the tropics “30 million farting sheep mate, thinning of the ozone layer!” was the explanation given.


8th December; short sail to Russell, pick up mooring in Orongo Bay.  The charming town of Russell was the original European settler’s capital, thus old by New Zealand standards.  For the next few days exploring the Bay of Islands we anchor and enjoy the great walks, at night sleep to the hoot of the More Pork owls, so named by the Kiwis for their call resembling the words more pork.  Round Cape Brett with a fair sailing breeze dropping the anchor in Whangamumu close to the old whaling station.  Ashore we bathe in the stream cascading the rock face, bracing.  Next stop, Tutukaka to sample the highly recommended fish supper – large portions of Dory and chips were scrumptious even if a bit expensive. On the 15th exit the ocean, rounding Bream Head into Urquart Harbour, attempting to anchor on a few occasions before finally succeeding.  A climb of the adjacent hill gave bracing views of the bay but an attack by the local black back gulls quickened our step back to our ship for wine and food.


16th December; Pylades sails up the Whangarei river with the flood, the ragged curtains of rain that tore over the surrounding hills combined with a very familiar topography brought memories of autumns of many years sailing up the mighty Shannon estuary bound for Ard na Crusha and the ‘Derg’. At the town basin of Whangarei tied between two mooring piles was to be our home for the next month.  To describe the town as composed of car sales lots connected by car parks might be a bit unfair, but a handy enough place to get work done. We order many pieces of stainless steel, strip down the windlass, change anchoring gear, on which we will report in due course.


At Christmas, loaned a car by fellow sailors, we purchase a three man tent and head inland for five days. Driving on the motorway at 120km took more than a little getting used to after so long dealing with max speeds of 7kts. The experience is a great diversion from sailing and we spend our first night on land in 18 months squatting in our new home somewhere near the firth of Thames sipping wine and philosophising.  Journeying south as far as New Plymouth we spy the great volcano of Taranaki with the remnants of snow in its gullies, a splendid climb no doubt but time presses us on.   The ‘Lost Highway’ coming back east from the very forgettable town of Stratford, is astonishing, a thousand hairpin bends through amazing landscape with few vehicles, parts of the road are unpaved and every where warnings and evidence of rock falls.   Camping in a remote site we are awakened by a hair-raising sound somewhere between barking and coughing out side our tent. Venturing forth to get the torch and do battle, naught is seen.  On enquiry next day, the response was “just a bloody Possum mate”.  This Lost Highway has few dwellings and more worrying for us on one occasion, filling stations, we can’t sail this thing.


10th January; back on station we order all our stainless steel bits, buy a new battery and attempt to get our gas refilled. This is where the ‘can do’ aspect of NZ culture begins to wilt, obstructionism of all kinds raises its head mainly in the form of health and safety, different connectors, our bottles would have to be inspected and authorized at a cost and in any case would not pass, it would be necessary to buy new bottles, regulators and rebuild our gas locker to suit!. Borrowing a regular NZ gas bottle we get it filled tie it upside down off our back frame and drain it into ours, this is repeated a few times, ingenuity is required to overcome.


Mid January devastating floods hit Australia and the marina area we had thought of going to in Brisbane was washed away with boats set into trees, a few weeks later a category four hurricane, the most powerful ever to hit Queensland, slammed into the coast and drove 150 boats out of one marina into the streets of the deserted towns.  Glad our decision was not to go hide from the ravages of the typhoon season in Australia but to drop below the affected areas for New Zealand.


7th February; Exit the brown river of Whangarei and with oodles of shiny new stainless steel bits head down stream. Docking at Marsden Point Marina for fuel we are confronted with acres of almost totally deserted pontoons. The fuel dock is fully automated, without a plastic card one would be diesel dry. It is eerie with no one about; Kay makes contact with an operative in an isolated cabin and receives a dock number, as though this had some significance in a choice of a hundred lonely pontoons.


Next day back at sea under sail a light breeze on the beam, clear blue sky and away to the Great Barrier Island. About 17.00 we are hailed by a coastguard cutter looking for identification all very friendly me thinks they were training in the radio ops. Anchoring at Fitzroy harbour, a very rural and afforested setting reminding us of Castletownsend as did many anchorages on this island.  Snorkeling under the hull much fouling is apparent explaining why our sailing was slower than the norm. Over the next few days swathes of barnacles are removed and a great deal of exercise is gained swimming under the hull.


11th February; a New Zealand sailor who sailed in company with us from Fiji arrives at our anchorage in Ghost Bay. He is an accomplished lone diver turns up with a bag of scallops which are sheared in wine and mustard sauce, we are invited to share his catch for dinner and so enjoy a superb meal washed down with great New Zealand white.  The following day John appears near dinner time with four crayfish, again we are beckoned on board to a crayfish barbecue, much high protein eating, more white, long conversations on the health of the nation, sailing down under and late nights ensue.


15th February; a fine day with light wind, one might say that nothing could go wrong. Unnoticed by the crew the wind backs 180 degrees and we drift over a shoal on the ebb. Too late… our predicament is realised and most embarrassingly we go over to 45 degrees and settle.  Best to get out scraping the hull and pretend it was an intentional careening.  We spend most of the night in this predicament and about 03.30 a rising tied lifts all boats and we are afloat.  During re anchoring the engine alarm sounds, shut down engine and hope our new anchor digs in the first shot in the rising wind, it does.  We sleep level.  It takes a long hunt to find the fault, an air lock in the cooling liquid side of the system, all was well again.


18th February; set sail for Auckland stopping over in the outer island of Waiheke joining five other boats in the anchorage. But a weekend it is and by Saturday afternoon we are one of hundreds, the biggest concentration seen since Spain. In the sun shine much good humour abounds but with wine stocks running low, we must to Auckland. 


21st February; arrive and tie at Westhaven marina, large and bleak, 1800 white plastic boats awaiting their masters.  Next day off for a major Auckland walkabout, a very impressive city, finally sourcing a copy of “Guns Germs and Steel’, having chased it across every port in the Pacific. On the return to Pylades we see a more central marina, ‘Pier21’ a vacant and cheaper space is available and we move.  


At 12.47 on the 22nd Christchurch is hit by a strong earth quake and for the next while our period in New Zealand takes a somber tone.  The constant reporting is ghastly, about 160 have died, the rest of the population struggling with no water, sewerage, power, 20,000 homes made uninhabitable.  A day on,  four Americans were shot dead on 's/v Quest' in a fracas between pirates and US forces in the Indian Ocean.  One of them Phyllis McKay a lovely women we had met in Panama, she had given us much information on the Pacific and the locations of the best shopping in Panama.  Very hard to believe she is dead.  Two days later a boat named ING with husband, wife, three children and two crew were captured by Pirates and are now in Somalia.  We were badly shaken by this news as we knew them very well having met in many locations across the Pacific, they are from Denmark, a lovely couple with three beautiful children aged about 8, 12 and 15.  We had been in touch with them through email the day before their capture. Needless to state we have had no communications since. They were pushing hard on a two year circumnavigation as distinct from our three.   We are truly sickened by the thoughts of these brave and lovely people in the hands of Pirates.  


These events in the Gulf of Aden have dramatically changed our plans.  It now looks more than likely that our route home will attempt to round the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.  We suspect that many more boats than normal might now adopt this course of action.  Sailors have more than enough to contend with keeping themselves and their boats going, together with the challenges of weather and navigation without having to deal with armed bandits.


11th March; Visits to the mast top to replace wind cups and lights are much easier now that there is a system to run the main halyard through blocks to the anchor windlass. Kay can whiz the skipper up in minutes - what used to be a real chore is now a joy!.  Pylades is hauled out followed by a  hull clean and applications of a barrier coat and antifouling, heavy toil but easier than in the heat of the tropics. All labour is spurred on by the thoughts of the evening glass of chilled. On the night of the 11th having dinner aboard a local yacht the VHF chirps in with an all stations alert, a tsunami heading to New Zealand due to a severe earthquake in Japan.  What ever next? Our option of exiting to deeper water is defiantly not on.  Alarms are set during the night to follow the course and size of the surge traveling at about 450mph towards us. But by dawn– it becomes clear that we will not have a problem.


17 March – Paddy’s Day – big celebrations in Auckland with their wonderful Sky Tower lighting turned to green.  We on Pylades are invited by the marina staff to their offices for drinks to celebrate the day. The children from the yachts around us, American and KIWI are part of the Auckland St. Patrick’s Day parade. On the 21st and 23rd of March respectively we attend at two lectures ‘US Power today’ and ‘The Rise of China’ given by  Tariq Ali, great to know that the anti-imperialist is still going strong if a bit more muted than in the days of the heady sixties.


Our immediate plan is to have all in order by the beginning of April and exit for New Caledonia from Opua on the first suitable weather window. That is, when the cyclone season is declared by the many and varied weather gurus to be over.





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Posted: 11:57:31 PM - 3/25/2011

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