Win­ter de­liv­ery

Annie Hill tack­les strong winds and fierce ed­dies while get­ting to know her new boat and spec­tac­u­lar cruis­ing ground in New Zealand

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

Annie Hill rides out a bliz­zard dur­ing her New Zealand solo sail

I’d de­cided to put down some roots in New Zealand and needed my own boat, but the strength of the NZ dol­lar meant my sav­ings were worth con­sid­er­ably less than I’d an­tic­i­pated. At last I found Joshua, a 1985 Raven 26, which ticked many of my boxes. Ad­mit­tedly she was a bit run down and poorly main­tained, but she had a full-width cabin, which al­lowed an at­trac­tive in­te­rior, an ex­cel­lent gal­ley and a com­fort­able sa­loon. Al­though she was over bud­get, she was so close to what I wanted that it seemed worth pay­ing the ex­tra.

With my usual im­pec­ca­ble tim­ing I fi­nalised the deal in early win­ter and had to sail the 90 miles from Pic­ton, where I’d found her, to Nel­son where I planned to live. This meant go­ing by way of the in­fa­mous Cook Strait, less than three weeks from the short­est day of the year. I felt I should start as I in­tended to go on, so turned down the generous of­fers to ac­com­pany me. A friend drove me to Pic­ton, with lots of gear ab­sent from the boat’s in­ven­tory.

We emp­tied the car and got the boat ready: loos­en­ing an al­most-seized gate valve, tight­en­ing the stern gland, check­ing the batteries and fill­ing up the gas bot­tle, then my friend drove off into the gloam­ing. My boat seemed cold, scruffy and un­wel­com­ing and I had a bad dose of buyer’s re­morse. I lit the one work­ing burner and boiled a ket­tle, poured my­self a large tot of whisky and topped it up with hot wa­ter. By the time I had drunk it things were look­ing bet­ter.

Af­ter din­ner, I got out the Cruis­ing Guide

to plan my pas­sage. The first ob­sta­cle was Cape Jackson – the lo­cal Cape Horn – then I had to nav­i­gate French Pass. I read about th­ese with some mis­giv­ings:

‘Cape Jackson... nat­u­rally ex­posed to all winds... quite a hur­dle to boat users... con­di­tions can be most un­com­fort­able and dan­ger­ous.’ Of French Pass, I read: ‘dan­ger­ous to at­tempt to travel against the stream un­less the boat is eas­ily ca­pa­ble of at least 9 knots un­der power... the ves­sel can swing into the counter cur­rent and the boat be slewed in to the shore.’ Then the Beef Bar­rels: ‘no­to­ri­ous for hav­ing caused many wrecks... fre­quently dif­fi­cult to see.’


Did I want to do this? I briskly re­minded my­self that pi­lots are al­ways pes­simistic; that I learnt to sail in More­cambe Bay with 7-knot tides and no en­gine; that I’d suc­cess­fully nav­i­gated in many poorly charted places. But I was still daunted. I poured an­other hot toddy and, care­fully work­ing out the tides for the next few days, con­sid­ered my op­tions. With a rough plan sketched out, I snug­gled into my sleep­ing bag, pleased to find my bunk re­ally com­fort­able.

The next morn­ing the bro­ker came by and of­fered me many not-too-re­as­sur­ing tips for get­ting round Cape Jackson with boat and life in­tact.

The fore­cast was dread­ful, but if I didn’t leave now I never would, so with my heart in my mouth, I started the en­gine. The sin­gle-cylin­der Bukh even­tu­ally coughed into life and set­tled down to a re­as­sur­ing thump. I nearly got my­self into trou­ble hav­ing tem­po­rar­ily for­got­ten that the foward-fac­ing gear lever went down for astern and up for for­ward: not ex­actly in­tu­itive, but soon we were chug­ging away from all the ex­pen­sive boats to­wards the Marl­bor­ough Sounds.

A few other boats around gave moral sup­port, and the odd shaft of sun broke through the heavy over­cast sky, cre­at­ing a brief sparkle on the wa­ter. I set the jib for the south-east­erly Force 3 and headed north-east up the sound. The boat had an au­topi­lot, which did a fine job of hold­ing the tiller for me when I wanted to do some­thing else. The wind was fluky and the fer­ries be­tween Pic­ton and Welling­ton seemed to come past ev­ery few min­utes.

Oc­ca­sion­ally the wind died and I’d start the en­gine. The fore­cast wasn’t im­prov­ing and I wanted to get to a se­cure moor­ing be­fore all hell broke loose.

By mid-morn­ing, Tory Chan­nel was abeam and at noon I bore away into En­deav­our In­let to find a moor­ing. The one I’d in­tended to bor­row was oc­cu­pied so I pre­pared to an­chor, but the two men on board beck­oned me along­side, hos­pitably putting out fend­ers.

“We’re go­ing off soon,” said one, “so you might as well pick up the moor­ing.”

They were sur­prised to find me alone and bound for Nel­son. “That’s a gutsy trip to do sin­gle-handed,” com­mented the

skip­per. I felt rather pleased with my­self. Later they set off across the in­let to where they could row ashore to watch rugby.

I re­flected on my 12-mile pas­sage. The en­gine and au­topi­lot had been ex­cel­lent and the jib did its thing sat­is­fac­to­rily: I’d been pleased at the way the boat had sailed un­der jib alone. She could be left for a few mo­ments without hav­ing hys­ter­ics, which was very re­as­sur­ing: with her short fin keel and bal­anced spade rud­der she might well have been skit­tish. I sat in the cock­pit, en­joy­ing the lovely bay, with bell­birds singing all around un­til the cold drove me be­low.

I spent the af­ter­noon sort­ing things out and cooked my­self quite a feast. Keep­ing busy and eat­ing hot food dis­tracted me from the atro­cious fore­cast, but I reck­oned I’d be go­ing nowhere in the morn­ing.

For­mi­da­ble fore­cast

When I woke I turned on the shipping fore­cast. It was ghastly: 55 knots, oc­ca­sion­ally more in ‘Cook’, which is where I was headed. I lis­tened to the ac­tu­als: 67 knots at Brothers a mere 15 miles away as the shag flies. I de­cided to stay put.

For a while, we were won­der­fully shel­tered and the sun came out, but soon the wind was tum­bling down the hills, chasing us around the moor­ing. The sun van­ished and a cold, thin driz­zle set in. The wind gusted down the hatch and I felt chilled, de­pressed and rather lonely.

When snow started ed­dy­ing into the cabin I won­dered what on earth I was do­ing there: alone on a re­mote moor­ing in the mid­dle of win­ter, with no heater. A few more clothes and some hot food im­proved things; if I wasn’t ex­actly cosy, at least I was no longer cold. I read un­til dark, when I was very happy to climb into my warm bed. It was blow­ing 75 knots at Brothers. It was won­der­fully snug to know I was se­cure while the wind howled over­head.

I was up at first light and had a hearty break­fast. The fore­cast was 30 knots and eas­ing. If I wanted to make the tide at Cape Jackson, I’d bet­ter get mov­ing, so at 0745, I cast off the moor­ing and mo­tored out of Pukekoikoi Bay. Over­head the sky was a clear blue and cats paws dashed across the wa­ter all around. The ac­tual wind at Brothers was southerly, 20 knots, and soon the coast would fall away so that I could see Brothers Is­land, and find my breeze. We chugged on up the west shore, but once out of its lee, I was sur­prised and dis­ap­pointed to find it al­most calm. I needed to get past Cape Jackson to keep my tide fair so car­ried on mo­tor­ing. The au­topi­lot did its stuff and I ad­mired the scenery while drink­ing cof­fee and won­der­ing at how dif­fer­ent two days could be. The sun was al­most hot! Con­sid­er­ing it was the first day of June, it hardly seemed like win­ter.

At 1035 the log read: ‘Cape Jackson aka Cape Horn abeam! Hardly any wind and over­falls merely in­ter­est­ing. What a relief!’

By mid­day a breeze came in from the west and for a while we sailed hap­pily along on a close reach. The breeze in­creased and I put a reef in the main­sail.

As I brought Joshua abeam, the wind came in from ahead and we were un­likely to make 11 miles dead to wind­ward in four hours. I de­bated go­ing else­where, but the tim­ing for French Pass was crit­i­cal, so I dropped the main­sail, rolled up the jib and turned on the en­gine. It made short work of Force 4 on the nose and we made sur­pris­ingly good speed, pick­ing up a moor­ing in Catherine’s Cove at 1555, an­other 35 miles on our way.

Cape Jackson

I felt a sense of ela­tion. Cape Jackson was astern, we were out of Cook Strait and French Pass was just around the cor­ner. A friend had given me a bot­tle of bub­bly to cel­e­brate my new com­mand and this seemed a suit­able time to open it. As the low sun re­flected back off the wa­ter, I toasted my lit­tle ship.

I was up at 0600, and at 0715 it was light enough to get un­der way. It was flat calm and, ac­cord­ing to the tide ta­bles, we ar­rived 15 min­utes early, but the tide still ran strongly against us in the narrows. The wa­ter swirled and ed­died round un­der­wa­ter rocks and hid­den ob­struc­tions. The en­gine did its best, but we seemed to mark time. At last the Pass re­lented and we were al­lowed through, the bow swing­ing this way and that as the fierce ed­dies caught us. As we came out from Cur­rent Basin, a northerly Force 2 filled in and I set the jib.

With my wor­ries now be­hind me, I was start­ing to en­joy my­self, but the wind was fickle, so for the rest of the day we mo­tored, sailed and mo­tor­sailed in the sun­shine, with the whole of Tas­man Bay to our­selves. At 1730 I coasted into my ma­rina berth in Nel­son, feel­ing ridicu­lously proud of my­self to have brought my new boat back without drama.

‘When snow started ed­dy­ing into the cabin I won­dered what I was do­ing there’

Joshua fea­tured a Ber­muda rig when Annie Hill bought the boat

The Marl­bor­ough Sounds are at the north of New Zealand’s South Is­land

LEFT Strong ed­dies through French Pass which sep­a­rates D’Urville Is­land from the main­land to its south

En­deav­our In­let at the north­ern end of Queen Char­lotte Sound

TOP Head­ing past Cape Jackson LEFT Bliz­zard con­di­tions in Pukekoikoi Bay

It’s snug in Joshua’s gal­ley and sa­loon while wind is howl­ing out­side

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