Friday, 8 May 2015

The final leg

Our MacBook is finally fixed! And now for a very belated post about the final leg of our journey up to the Bay of Islands. We departed Great Barrier Island almost a month ago now. It’s hard to believe how the time has flown by since then. We picked up the anchor in Bradshaw Cove shortly after sunrise and set off early for the ten hour sail back across to the mainland. We had a bit of a rolly sail across with 20kts of wind behind us. Dave says I was pretty grumpy that day, but a visit from a few dolphins along the way and a decent lunch helped pick up my mood.

Our anchorage at Urqharts Bay
Our first destination was Urqharts Bay, just inside the head of Whangarei Harbour. The entrance to Whangarei Harbour is visually spectacular with the steep hills and cliffs of Bream Head looming overhead. There is also some decent walking in Bream Head scenic reserve that we enjoyed. We ended up staying in Whangarei Harbour for four nights; two nights at anchor and two in Marsden Cove Marina while we waited for unfavourable weather conditions to pass us by. We even hired a car for the day to explore the bright lights of Whangarei, and made a trip up to Whangarei Falls, which was well worth a visit. 

Smugglers Cove, Bream Head Scenic Reserve
Walking near Whangarei Falls
Eventually we got a little impatient and set off for Tutukaka Harbour in gusty 30kt southwest conditions. It was probably made worse by the fact that we wanted to stick fairly close to the coastline to make the journey shorter. Sailing about a mile offshore, we were subjected to fairly severe williwaws (winds accelerating off the land for non-sailors reading this) gusting 35kts down the steep hillsides just north of Bream Head. The sudden heel of the boat from these gusts elicited a few nervous squeals from myself and prompted us to put the third reef in our mainsail for the second time only on the entire trip. With the third reef in the mainsail we felt a lot more comfortable with a lot less heel of the boat. On the plus side, being close to land with a offshore wind meant we had virtually no sea to deal with.

We had a fairly quick sail up the coast to Tutukaka Harbour, taking about 3 hours. I have to say I was a little disappointed with Tutukaka Harbour. It was pretty enough but we have definitely had much more spectacular anchorages and there was only one short walk out to the lighthouse on the peninsula to do. I guess the main appeal of Tutukaka is as a gateway to the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve. Unfortunately the anchoring around Poor Knights is not so good for yachts and best saved for calm weather (which we didn’t have). We stayed two nights in Tutukaka so we had one full day there and then continued northwards up the coast to Whangamumu Harbour while we still had decent wind to eat up the miles.

Whangamumu Harbour was a beautiful anchorage and is the site of an old whaling station. It’s also only a few miles south from Cape Brett, and therefore a short hop around to the Bay of Islands, our final destination. The weather for the last stretch of coast into the Bay of Islands was fine and sunny with light winds. We had a very slow sail up to Cape Brett with our spinnaker billowing out in front of us, but we were reluctant to turn on the engine for the final few miles. Reaching the Bay of Islands has been our goal for the last five months, and is a major milestone and one of the biggest highlights of this trip. We both felt elated that we had finally arrived after the many months and miles of sailing, but also a little sad as it signalled that the end of our trip is near.

Spinnaker sailing up to Cape Brett
Cape Brett lighthouse
Coming into the Bay of Islands
Many of the yachts milling around the Bay of Islands at the beginning of May were waiting for good weather conditions to depart for the Pacific Islands, leaving winter in New Zealand behind them. We were more than a little jealous that we weren’t preparing to set sail for more tropical climates too. But in the end reason won through, and we rationalised that both the boat and us were not prepared and equipped to make the journey this year. We’ve learnt so much during our coastal journey over the past few months; we’ve gone from complete novices to feeling like bonafide sailors. Still, we feel we’ve got a little more learning to do before we could take on the challenge of offshore sailing. In the meantime we’ll do our best to cherish our last few weeks on Desolina in the Bay of Islands before we put her to bed for the winter and head back to work.

Calm conditions at our anchorage on our first night in the Bay of Islands

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