Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Time to Creep up a Creek...

It's little wonder that settlers from Cornwall, Scotland and Ireland felt so at home in New Zealand. With her rugged, meandering coastlines which are often enshrouded in thick blankets of rain sodden cloud; the similarities to their homelands are easy to see.

The fair weather that had kindly swept us to these pleasant isles, had been pushed aside by the more boisterous weather that we'd feared might welcome us. Fortunately we were tucked away in relative shelter by then. With more gales forecast for Sunday and the next few days, we thought it might be time to hide further.

The temptation was to explore up a narrow estuary; as I would in Cornwall. Tucking our boat safely away in some sheltered pool far up river. The tide cutting off access as it drains away, with Impetuous safe from the ravages of the wind.

The image of the weathered sailor waking in the small dark hours of morning to catch the tide is often used but seldom the reality. After a peaceful lie in with our books and several cups of tea, followed by a leisurely breakfast and then coffee; we were ready to wind slowly up the Keri Keri river with the last of the rising tide.

Despite several shallow patches, we were pleasantly surprised at how effortlessly we were able to creep up the estuary without ploughing our keel into the soft mud, always carrying a healthy margin of 50 cm under us.

The river wound its way beyond many twist and turns, passing rolling hills drenched in leaden cloud. Upon each turn the wind that had swept us up lessened as we found our intended shelter. Then at one juncture it left us altogether. We started the engine; which we now refer to as the shoe dryer as we have resorted to drying our shoes upon its hot carcass after any use. 

Eventually we arrived at the estuaries head; 'Standing Stones' where the river is no longer navigable. This is the site of the oldest stone store in the country.  It was built by early traders to store grain and then used as a trading post when they found Northland too wet to grow grain. An impressively solid building, which somewhat dwarfs the white washed timber house located next door; the oldest building in New Zealand.

We walked up from the stone store in that hybrid of precipitation; mizzle. Thicker than mist but thinner than drizzle, mizzle has that unique quality that somehow soaks your clothes from the inside out. It was not to last. As the mizzle gave way to drizzle we lingered in the shops that had the heating on. As we trudged wearily back to the boat at the end of our day, the drizzle turned to rain.

How quickly things change; it was merely a couple of weeks ago that I relished an icy cold beer as it trickled down my throat.  Now we've taken to placing our wine in a saucepan of hot water to get it to what; without fire, we dream of being room temperature. The idea of cold beer now just makes us shiver. Still I'm sure it will be summer soon.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Last big passage of the year...

There's nothing quite like the whirr of a wind generator to spur you on for your next voyage. We had encountered the one in motion next to us, together with it's haphazard owner before. As it squealed it's way round up to terminal velocity and back down with every gust, we had no confidence that it would not disintegrate and ornament our boat and potentially our heads with shards of shrapnel. We had to get away from them both...

It was with mixed feelings that we pulled in our lines and anchor from Nuku'alofa's FREE harbour. On one hand Tonga was refreshingly gritty, interesting and fun. On the other hand the fact that it was the very end of the season and all the moderate organised people were already tucked up in New Zealand meant that our neighbours for the last week had all been of a certain ilk... Let me just say that it made for some great parties but it was time to have a dry, quiet week at sea.

We'd walked about the wonderful main market with temperance in mind. There's no good in loading up your boat with sumptuous tropical fruits and weird and wonderful root vegetables in order to check in to New Zealand and see the whole lot go into a big plastic sack headed for the incinerator. New Zealand as an agricultural nation has a real 'thing' about keeping out the pests and viruses it feels threatened by. All through the Pacific rumours flew amongst boaters as to the extent of what would be confiscated. Shells, feathers, stones, baskets, seeds, nuts, beans, lentils, rice, coffee, cocoa... what would they take?

It was the second time of our trip so far, that we'd met someone who cared about spices as much as us. After we'd had our 'spice swap' we really needed to confront the elephant in the room. Gaya like us was facing the threat of her hard won and precious collection being confiscated and our discussions turned to hiding places. Innocently in our view; it's not like the threat seemed big... but just the chance that they might decimate our collections meant we were being inventive. Tim finally brought reason to the table 'you're talking high scale smuggling if you hide the methi seeds there!'

In the end I emailed the biosecurity department in New Zealand asking for up to date and specific guidance. We were extremely reassured to hear that many herbs and spices were allowed and others; namely the whole seed variety were subject to inspection. The inferance was that if the inspector had cause for concern they could throw all kinds of things out but that they probably wouldn't. Thus placated we only hid a couple of particularly coveted items just incase we came into contact with an overly zealous inspector.

Even when we were in the Atlantic I'd been thinking about this passage to come. There are many stories about yachts coming to grief on their trip to New Zealand and several boats are lost in her surrounding waters each year. As we got closer, the people we spoke to, who knew, were much more relaxed about the passage. 'Leaving in November or December, it's the best time, it'll be summer when you arrive.' 'I've done it more than twenty times, you'll be fine, don't worry!' So when we set off we were ready for whatever. The forecast seemed like it would be fairly light winds but as we still can't get up to date forecasts at sea yet; we knew this could change as we got near New Zealand and our week old forecast ran out.

We started out Saturday early evening, just clearing Tongatapu by sunset. The breeze was gentle so we were sailing beautifully with all the sails out at around 7knots. The next night the wind got slacker so we discussed the possibility of stopping at Minerva Reefs. We'd not planned to, but a few people had recommended it to us. Intrigued we thought we'd have a look; it was on our way in any case. The wind got up again as we approached but it seemed churlish to miss it so, as we'd arrived at 1am we reefed and carried on for a few hours then sailed back to the pass.

Minerva reefs are two separate coral reef fringed lagoons around 30 miles apart. We entered North Minerva through the unmarked pass just after sunrise, which was obvious by the disturbed waters of the outflowing current. We sailed across the calm lagoon to anchor in the lee of the Reef in the North East corner, had a fry up and then snorkelled out to the reef. The water was markedly cooler and there wasn't much going on. We had the whole place to ourselves,but we didn't need to wait out any weather, it was perfect, so we decided to crack on.

In many ways, even with our restraint in Tonga, the passage was one of almost constant eating as we tried to consume all that we feared might be taken. Meals almost snowballed into each other, as we both expressed the gastronomic concerns we shared over our stocks by cooking and eating them. Breakfast the day we arrived, for example, was left over lamb curry; New Zealand lamb ironically. To compound our worries, it was by far our most successful trip with regard to fishing. The information we had received said no meat. Though we've met plenty of vegetarians who claim fish isn't meat we had our doubts. As it turned out we needn't have worried and we still have a freezer full of fish.

It turned out that the rules were; all fresh fruits and vegetables were thrown out, no questions asked. After that they wanted to see each cupboard where we kept foods but all they took were all dried beans and popcorn. Flours, lentils, quinoa, bulgar, sesame and flax seeds, pasta and rice were all ok. No meat; fresh, frozen or tinned is allowed, freshwater fish; canned or fresh is likewise prohibited but sea fish are fine. They never asked about spices and seemed in a tremendous hurry to chuck a few things out and then move on. They were probably only on our boat for around twenty minutes, it was a bit of a whirl. Wonderfully it was all gratis; we have a six month visa and the boat is fine to stay up to two years.

So here we are in the Bay of Islands. Look at our landfall photos; it's just how we both remember New Zealand to be; a thick veil of cloud covering the impressive landscape.

Down with the Tongan flag and up with the Kiwi; woolly hat covers still bad hair...
This was our landfall... can you see what it is yet?  It's less than two miles away!