PREPARING FOR THE TRIP
We could not have had a better platform to begin with than Flying Cloud, a 47ft cutter-rigged sloop. The original owner had her built to sail down to the sub-antarctic islands of New Zealand. Designed by Paul Whiting and built by his brother Tony in solid GRP and finished by Allan Porter, she is a ‘go anywhere’ boat – an incredibly strong, heavy displacement, fast sailing boat.
Some years ago, with this trip in the back of our minds, we had her re-powered with a 110hp Yanmar engine and a four-blade Maxprop. The advice from experienced operators out of Stewart Island and Fiordland was that to go this far south you need to be able to motor into 50 knots coming in and out of harbours and fiords.
Being a cutter-rigged sloop, we have a range of sail and reefing combinations available to us without having to deal with any over-sized sails. Being fast under both motor and sail allowed us to use narrower weather windows to get out and around and back into shelter. (Note that we met other yachts that lacked our motoring and/or sailing capabilities and they all fared well. But their movements were more restricted and their comfort tested as they were forced to endure rougher conditions).
The best bit of kit we added to the boat for the trip was the ‘clears’ which totally enclosed the cockpit, effectively giving us an additional room on the boat. When it rained, we felt less confined and the inside of the boat stayed drier.
Sandfly screens are a necessity for Fiordland! We had screens made for the forward and main saloon hatches which were held in place with velcro. The screen over the companionway had a zip, making for quick entry and exit. Sandflies can drive you mad if you give them a chance, so you really want to make sure they can’t get in! However they don’t like wind or rain, or being far from shore, so cruising down the middle of a fiord was generally sandfly-free. Fly-spray worked well sprayed out through the screen in advance to clear the cockpit ahead of moving out there. We also had commercially-available fine mesh veils which fitted over our hats. Insect repellent was an essential.
What we should have had installed was a heater. We were lucky and the season was predominantly fine, but just two or three days of incessant rain, which you can count on at some stage, leaves everything damp.
Fiordland was the only part of the trip where we had to think carefully about provisioning as there are no shops (nothing even vaguely resembling a shop). We found everything we needed in Oban, Stewart Island, to be well supplied for the weeks in Fiordland.
done, we marvelled at the seamanship and the ability of the crew to manoeuvre a bulky sailing ship through such a tight entrance.
With virgin bush right to the water’s edge (except for the trees cleared from Astronomers Point to observe the heavens and pinpoint the latitude and longitude), it felt much the same to us as it must have for Cook and his crew.
Except for the fauna. Where the coastal and forest birds had been abundant (the explorers could dine well), those that remain are struggling to survive.
Luncheon Cove, a short sail across Dusky Inlet from Pickersgill Harbour, where Cook’s shore party had dined on crayfish and we watched seal pups play, is on the south side of Anchor Island. This is the epicentre of a national effort led by the Department of Conservation to save and protect native wildlife threatened with extinction. The plight of our native birds in particular, and the monumental effort of a few people to save them, went to the heart of our Fiordland experience. For us, being here amongst this vast, remote wilderness of such stunning beauty and realising all was not right took on profound significance.
The conservation effort is told beautifully in Tamatea Dusky by Peta Carey: the people and their work; the trials and tribulations; the constant barrage of incoming predators; the wins and the losses as they bide time staving off extinctions until more help can be found.
It started with Richard Henry, who in the 1890s set himself up on Pigeon Island just to the north of Anchor Island, capturing kiwi and kakapo off the mainland and transferring them to island sanctuaries to escape the invasion of stoats and rats. The remains of his wharf, house and kiwi enclosures are still there today, 120 years later. As we looked around, we could not help but be touched by the dedication of a lone man whose keen observations and meticulous note-taking has served as reference material for latter-day conservation efforts.