A sailing blog about a skipper and his yacht

Hard Choices

The Covid 19 epidemic has forced many sailors and cruisers with hard choices, with lockdowns, closed ports & borders and a ban on sailing having an effect.   Some have been stuck in one place unable to move, others for example those in the Caribbean have been faced with a difficult choice either to remain where they are and risk being caught up in the hurricane season or to make the trip back to Europe. My friend Thom for example, not allowed ashore in Antigua  headed for home. He is currently in the Azores where he is receiving food and support from Peter Cafe Sport in Horta, but he is not allowed ashore. He awaits better weather to head off for the remaining leg back to the UK. Others have been mauled by bad weather in the Atlantic, two arriving in the Azores having being dismasted.

Others have just had to stay put.  I have friends who have had to cancel their sailing plans for the year and remain either in New Zealand or Australia.

 I consider myself as one of the lucky ones really. Yes I was stuck in lockdown in New Zealand, but it wasn’t a bad place to be  stuck at all and the government there took early and effective action to both limit the spread and effect of the pandemic. Indeed as a write this (5th June) they have had no new cases of infection there for 14 days.

I made my hard choice actually some time before the pandemic truly hit. I had been single handing for 5 years and the past season cruising amongst the Pacific islands I had been thinking of giving up on single handed long distance cruising for a while. There were number of reasons for this, some personal and some practical. Don’t get me wrong I still loved sailing and exploring, particularly in the Pacific and did this mean giving up on my circumnavigation, but somehow it felt time for change.

I considered a number of options included selling up or keeping the boat in NZ, but in the end I decided on shipping Sea Bear back to the UK and I had actually set this in motion before lockdown happened.

Originally shipping date had been for March but this gradually slipped to May.

I was posed with a number of difficulties. Shipping was from Auckland, Sea Bear was in Whangarei 100 miles away. Sailing was not allowed under lockdown and was enforced. Marinas were closed. If Sea Bear was shipped I would have nowhere to live. There were no commercial flights from NZ to UK. I faced being stuck and homeless. To cancel or postpone shipping would have meant losing my substantial deposit

For a while these difficulties seemed insurmountable and caused considerable stress and worry. However quite suddenly and in the space of a week they were all solved. I was granted permission to sail to Auckland, a marina  agreed I could stay there and the final piece of the jigsaw I was offered a repatriation flight back to the UK.

So preparations all made, and with mixed feelings, midday high tide on 28th April saw me slip the mooring lines at Riverside Marina, say farewell to my friends there and head off down river bound for Auckland. I was on a fairly tight schedule with just 3 days before my flight out so I decided to push through the 90 mile passage non-stop. Apart from a bit of wind over tide nastiness at the mouth of the river, conditions were pretty good. Sun & clouds with a S-SE breeze about 15 knots, though of course here that wind is blowing straight from the Antarctic so is cold. Later the wind picked up a bit so reefed the main and yankee. The forecast dropping off the wind happened around 1 am and then died completely, time for the engine.  Entering Auckland harbour around 9am, the police launch arrived alongside for a chat but were quite happy, I had already phoned them earlier to notify them I was arriving. Soon I was making fast in Bayswater marina in my allotted berth.

Arrived in Auckland

There were quite a few live-aboards on the pontoon, all very friendly and we had some suitably social distanced conversations.

Bayswater Marina, Auckland

Bayswater Marina, Auckland

I was pretty busy for the next days, preparing Sea Bear for shipping, stripping off the sails, canvas work and running rigging and clearing out the food lockers and other such stuff.

Sea Bear stripped of sails and canvas work

Sea Bear stripped of sails and canvas work

My last problem was that my flight was before the loading date for Sea Bear. The agent suggested someone to help but Steve, a live-aboard a few boats from me offered to deliver Sea Bear to the mv Minervagracht for me. I gratefully accepted and I knew I would be leaving Sea Bear in a safe pair of hands.

Repatriation flight check in

Repatriation flight check in

Flying out was a bit weird, I’d booked a shuttle service to pick me up from the marina, I was the only passenger. Auckland airport was pretty much deserted. Our temperatures were checked before check in and again on 2 hour stop-over in Hong Kong where we were held in effective quarantine. It was a Heathrow that the shambles started and after disembarking we were held for a long wait in a corridor before passport control – not passport control mind where they had laid out queuing lines with provision for social distancing but in this corridor where they allowed passengers from flights from USA and India to pile up  and try and push past. It was a bloody shambles. Hell what was I coming back to?

I hired to car to get back home so avoiding public transport and the flog across London with luggage, tube, trains etc  and not much more expensive than outrageous railway prices, I didn’t even know if any trains were running. Very strange to drive along an almost deserted M25 and M1. So back home and adjusting to life ashore in the midst of badly managed pandemic in a country with the second worst death rate in the world. World class don’t make me laugh – top of the list for incompetence and mismanagement.

Sea Bear is due back in UK  at the beginning of July.

mv Minervagracht

Fitting lifting slings

Hoisting on ship


Lockdown in New Zealand

Self isolation on the boat

By now I had planned to be back home in UK but I found myself trapped in NZ with the lockdown.

Corona virus pandemic was starting to grip the world and the NZ government was taking early and tough measures, announcing self quarantine measure for arrivals in NZ and soon following up with a ban on non New Zealanders arriving in the country. At this stage there was only a handful of cases in NZ and with the testing programme they knew that all the cases were people who had come to NZ from infected areas. As soon as there were two cases that they thought might be from community transfer they announced a level 4 lockdown. All cafes & resteraunts and shops apart from supermarkets closed and all business to close. Everyone to stay at home in their own bubble and with no non-essential travel, allowed out only to go to the supermarket and for local exercise.

Although the British govt was urging all Brits to return home, this was impossible – there were no flights and almost all the transfer hubs for flights had closed.

The morning of the lockdown (25th March), was eerily quiet, gone where the sounds of work in the boatyard, traffic on the roads very light and very few people on foot.

The Hatea loop, a 4.2km cycle and walk way that loops from the Town Basin and canopy bridge and down one side of the river crosses the Te Matau a Pohe bridge (fishook in Maori) and back up the other side, normally very popular and busy, was virtually deserted.

 Te Matau a Pohe

As well as the Hatea loop, I am lucky that right on my doorstep is the Parihaka Scenic Reserve. Parihaka is an eroded volcanic cone 241m high and there are 3 tracks up it. From the top there are marvellous panoramic views over the town & harbour and right down the estuary to Whangarei Heads. My favourite is the Ross track, from the end of the tarmac, the track follows the stream ascending by the side of a small waterfall by a wooden staircase. The track carries on up through the native bush and there are a  number of Kauri trees. Opposite the largest of these is a handy bench for contemplation. I generally push on preferring a non stop ascent. Sometimes I stop in descent when I generally take it slower anyway to ease the creakey knees, legacy of a lifetime of bashing up and down the mountains.

Kauri tree on Ross track

The other tracks start by following the Hatea river, there is a boardwalk through a mangrove swamp then up through the woods before branching up the hillside. Near the top of the Dobbie track are the remains of a Maori fortifications (a Pa site).

It is a good circuit to ascend and descend by different tracks and switch ways up to add to the variety.

My other form of exercise is on the bike, a folding Brompton. A couple of circuits of the loop or taking the 10km Onerhai cycleway/walkway which leads to the Waimahanga walkway, a track following the estuary and partly the course of an old railway line.

All in all it’s not to bad being stuck here in Whangarei, I am probably better off (and safer) here than in the UK at the moment. I was looking forward to being back home and catching up with every one, I am missing my family & friends back in UK. The future is full of uncertainty but others are in a worse situation than me and my thoughts go out to them.

Around and about Whangarei

Back in Whangarei, Wendy and I  did some nice walks in the Whangarei Heads area. We walked to Smugglers cove and Bream Head and also over Mt Aubrey with its dramatic pinnacles.

Smugglers Cove

Mt Aubrey

We paid a visit to Tutukaka and the marvellous coastline there walking  from  Matua bay to  the glorious Whale bay taking in a glorious  swim here.

Closer to Whangarie we walked along the Matea river to visit Whangarei falls with a swim in the pool here and a walk along the tree walk of AH Reed memorial park with its large Kauri trees.

Whangarei Falls

Wendy on bridge over Hatea river

Hugging a Kauri

All too soon Wendy’s time in New Zealand was up and I was left once again to my own devices.

The Pasifika Fusion festival provided diversion for a day with lots of dancers from the Pacific islands.

Pasifika festival

I walked the Hatea loop several times, shopped at the growers market for fresh fruit and veg, drunk Flat whites in town but also  more energetically cycled the cycle track along the estuary and through the mangroves to the jetty at Onerahi.

On the Hatea loop

Waka Sculpture

Whangarei town centre

Heron preening at the marina

Another day I walked up to the Abbey caves, an area of caves and eroded limestone boulders which was interesting to explore.

Great Barrier Island Jan 23rd – 9th Feb

Early morning swim Hatfield beach on way from airport

Wendy had arrived for a visit, we made use of the campervan to go to the Bay of Islands music festival in Waitangi then visited Kerikeri for waterfall walks then across to Hokianga harbour and down through the Waipoua forest and the giant Kauri trees. Back in Whangarie it was time to go sailing again. 

Leaving the marina just before midday, at the top of the tide, we slipped the mooring warps and headed off down the river, under the Hatea bridge and away. We anchored for the evening in Urquharts bay, cooked tea and relaxed in the cockpit with a sundowner. The forecast for the morrow looked good for the crossing to Great Barrier island with fine weather and westerlies of 10 to 15 knots. We left at first light, the weather was fine but the winds remained light all day. We did fly the cruising chute for a while but progress was to slow to ensure a daylight arrival so we ended motoring most of the 40 mile passage. Late afternoon saw us anchoring in Nimaru bay, Great Barrier  Island.

We moved next morning, sailing around Maunganui point where the wind was strong and gusty and the sea a nasty slop, into the calmer waters of Port Abercrombie and thence to Forestry Bay, Port Fitzoy.

Dinghy landing Forestry bay

Here we rowed ashore and followed the Bridle track first to Port Fitzroy itself then returned to the junction with the Warren track up the waterfall. Farther than expected the timings on the track signs being a bit out. The waterfall itself was a little disappointing – reduced to a mere trickle on account of the drought. Next day a walk took us around to Kiarara bay and a walk up the old forestry road.

Forestry Bay

Back at the boat we made the  short hop to anchor in Kiarara bay . It was very windy the next day so we stayed put.

Moving on again to Kiwiriki bay, a lovely bay this, rocky islands by the entrance and wooded hillside all around, no roads no houses. We did a couple of walks whilst here on the Kiwiriki track. One up towards Maungapiko and the other up to Coffin creek and thence to Kiarara bay. Other times we played about in the dinghy and on the paddleboard.

Kiwiriki bay

After a few days we moved back to Port Fitzroy, anchoring in Forestry bay again. A walk to Port Fitzroy  and up to Lookout Rock rewarded us with fine views and later with bread and fruit from the shop and a delicious burger and chips on the quayside.

Lookout rock above Port Fitzroy

Great Barrier island is off grid, there are few roads and no mains power, poor or non-existant phone signal. Residents rely on catching rain water for their water supply. It is a lovely largely unspoilt place though was once heavily logged for the Kauri trees.

We could have happily stayed there longer but decided to return to the mainland whilst conditions were good. It was calm as we motored out from Port Fitzroy but later the wind kicked in a little NW at first then later it switched to West 17 knots dead on the nose then to SW.

9pm and just dark as we anchored in Uruharts bay , a long tiring passage.

Next day we took the tide back up the river to Whangarie, under the bridge and moored alongside at Riverside drive marina again.

Christmas at Whangaroa

When the weather eased I left the Bay of Islands and headed north. Last year whilst touring in the van I had walked from Totara to Lane Cove and seen a boat anchored there and had wanted to visit the spot by boat ever since. My way north up the coast  took me past the Cavalli Islands and I decided to take the Cavalli Passage, inshore of the islands. The Cavallis are the last resting place of the Greenpeace ship. After her sabotage & sinking by French agents she was salvaged and brought up here to be sunk as a memorial and a dive site. Heading past Flat island , then between Stephenson’s island and Frenchman’s rock and  past Arrow rocks I could head into Whangaroa Harbour where I anchored in Waitepipi Bay. A spectacular spot this, surrounded by steep bush covered slopes with rock towers sticking above them including one called the Duke’s Nose.

Dukes Nose from Waitepipi bay

Next morning it being Christmas day I rowed into Lane cove landing at the little beach here and took my customary xmas day walk  up the Duke’s Nose. The top section was a bit of a scramble but an iron railing was there to provide assistance.


Railing up Duke’s Nose

The views were superb. Regaining the boat I cooked my xmas dinner followed by the pudding. I did some more walks whilst here and never saw another soul in the bush.

View from Duke’s Nose

View from Duke’s Nose

Whangaroa harbour

After a few days I decided it was time to head back to Whangarei but before leaving Whangaroa I explored the harbour a little and then anchored in Owhatanga Bay for the night. 

I coast hopped southwards, around the outside of the Cavallis this time.

Cavalli Islands

 Back in the Bay of Islands I anchored at Waewaetorea Bay, Waewaetorea Island  for a quiet New years eve. New years day saw me rounding Cape Brett and down to Puriri bay, Whangaruru harbour. The last hour into here was a bit hectic with 25 knots of wind and me having full sail up, the forecast had suggested 15 knots max. As I have often found, so much for forecasts.

Percy Island Cape Brett

On then to Urquharts bay at the mouth of the Haita river, a gentle wind most of the day then suddenly a 180 deg shift and 25 knots kicking up quite a sea. With the wind on the nose it took a long time to round Bream Head and it wasn’t long before dark that I could drop the hook.

Next morning I took the flood tide up the river, it was still blowing hard but there was a bit of a respite up near Whangarei. Under the lifting bridge and thankfully there was a free berth at Riverside Drive. With a strong wind up my tail it was tricky to get in but the skipper of a neighbouring boat took my lines and I was soon all snug and secure . Good to be back in Whangarei.