Of whales and men

The Arctic Circle, at 66 degrees 34 minutes north, was well astern and the compass card, becoming unreliable at these latitudes, danced around Magnetic North.

Meeting the last of Norway's whale hunters at home

Even eyesight wasn’t too dependable. Here, in the ‘leads’ – a winding waterway through islands and fjords on Norway’s northern coast, snow-peaked granite mountains floated metres above the horizon and passing ferries seemed to float on air.

This, I learned later, was Fata Morgana, an optical illusion caused by refraction through the cold band of air at sea level and named after the Arthurian sorceress, Morgan le Fay, who is said to have used it to lure sailors to their deaths.

A week or so out of the Shetland Islands, we were bound for Bodo through some of the most scenic waterways in the world, aiming to clear Norwegian customs and then press on north to Spitzbergen.

Dressed in heavy Line-7 PVC smocks, woollen balaclavas and boots, we picked our way up the fjord to Bodo through a fleet of pleasure boats peopled by women in bikinis and T-shirted men wearing shorts. We’d arrived on the first warm day of summer.

Ragnvald ‘Sea Rover’ Dahl.

But customs clearance was elusive. The customs and immigration officials were based at the airport and not keen on coming into town so, after perhaps a week of futile phone calls, we headed 58nm northwest to Svolvaer, the main town of the breathtakingly beautiful Lofoten Islands.

All night we reached briskly across Vestfjorden, though a fairytale landscape of snow-draped mountains. The sun stayed up all night to illuminate the shoreline and splashes of seawater stung any exposed skin as Elkouba charged onwards.

Winters here are long and dark and the mountains plummet straight into the sea, leaving little room for coastal farming or industry.

In the morning we motored into Svolvaer and tied up to the municipal wharf in the middle of town. Colourful gingerbread houses trailed chimney smoke and, entranced, we walked the back streets.

Then I spotted a flock of crows nests, mounted on wooden masts behind a handful of weatherboard houses.

“Whalers,” I said, “let’s go and have a look”.

Down a narrow walkway between two houses we came onto a wooden wharf with three doughty wooden whalers tied to it. A man stood behind the harpoon gun mounted on the fo’csle of the nearest one, a small boy held in his arms. There was a loud report from the gun and Saah pushed the shutter on her camera.

The man turned around warily. “Greenpeace?” he sighed, and rolled his eyes.

“No,” I replied, “we just like boats and were admiring yours.” “Ahhh,” he responded, “come aboard, come board.”

A small whale is butchered onboard.

And so we embarked on a tour of Kromhout, a typical Lofoten minke whale chaser. Every summer kvalskipper (whaling skipper) Ernest Dahl took her up to the edge of the Arctic pack ice to harpoon minke whales which are processed on board for the local market.

Built of 50mm-thick Baltic pine fastened to beefy oak frames with big galvanised boat nails, Kromhout had gangways from the wheelhouse to the harpoon guns forward and aft.

“The minke are so slow… if you miss with the forward gun, you can walk to the wheelhouse, spin the boat around, and try with the aft gun,” he said.

About 575 whales were taken in 2021 and skipper Dahl, in a 53-year career starting at 12 years old, says he has personally killed 3,500.

“This gun,” he patted the purposeful grey harpoon gun, “was invented by Svend Foy, a Norwegian. We use 50mm harpoons for minke whale or 90mm for fin and sei whales – bigger species.” The harpoon head is designed to explode inside the whale and kill it immediately, but if it doesn’t, the whale is despatched with rifle shots to the head. It is then winched on board for processing. The blubber is rendered down to make oil and the meat is consumed locally in Tromso, or exported to Japan.

Belowdecks the accommodation is warm and homely and a big GM diesel is bolted into an engine room that is as spotless as a hotel dining room. “We steam to the ice every year to chase whales,” he explained, “so we need lots of horsepower.”

Lofoten Kvalskipper Ernest Dahl.

He settles into the wooden chair at the wheel, like someone pulling on a favourite overcoat.

“And where are you from?” he asks. “We came by yacht – from New Zealand,” I say.

“Aahh, New Zealand,” he made a fist of his right hand and thumped his chest with it. “David Lange – strong man.”

And later he added, “You like my father; ‘Sea Rover’ Dahl.” His father, Ragnvald, joined the Norwegian whaling fleet at age 14 and steamed to South Georgia as deck boy in a whale chaser, around the edge of the Antarctic ice pack to refuel at Bluff. Then, with its harvest of dead whales in tow, back to South Georgia and home to Norway.

“Come, come,” and ushered us into the wooden house about 15 paces away over the wharf. Over cake and coffee, we discussed whales and whalemen, life on Lofoten and the long, dark days of local winters when snow falls down to sea level and storm force winds shriek down from the ice pack. He was well-versed in International Whaling Commission (IWC) politics and noted that New Zealand had voted for a ban on whale hunting.

“But you have sheep and little lambs – and you eat them,” he smiled, “what difference is it? We have whales, that’s all.”

“The scientists say that there are this or that number of minke whales – but they don’t come out with us to see. Our whales are like your sheep – my family have hunted whales since Viking times – we don’t kill them all – we need them for the next generations… and to feed the people.”

Eventually, full of strong Norwegian coffee and sweet cake, we walked back to the boat, dropped the lines and motored around to take skipper Dahl’s invitation and raft up to Kromhout.

“Next year the whale hunt is banned – so we will not be going anywhere.”

The harpoon gun was invented by a Norwegian.

He had never been on a yacht before and was intrigued by Elkouba, our 12m steel cutter.

For my part, I was fascinated by Kromhout’s nuggety construction, built to nudge her way through brash ice and make a living from doing hard and dirty work in very rough conditions.

For four days we sat beside the whale chaser in the serene waters of the fjord. I helped skipper Dahl with work on Kromhout and he helped me with Elkouba and at nights we dined with the Dahl family and other whalers.

Otherwise we strolled the docks to look at boats. The pleasure boats were mostly plastic production craft, but the commercial boats – salmon carriers, whale chasers and fishing boats – were mostly strongly-built wooden boats, well-kept and shapely.

Skipper Dahl’s mother, Olga (93) cooked the dark red and lean whale meat or fiskeboller (fish balls) which are the local dietary staples. I wondered about the life this dignified old lady, who always seemed to have a grandchild on her lap, had lived – waiting for her men to return from the sea, Antarctic and Arctic.

Skipper Dahl’s two brothers, Arnold and Oddmund, are also whale hunters; their chasers Svolvaering and the oddly-named Charley are berthed further up the fjord. More grandchildren are in training.

Skipper Dahl and I spent hours poring over charts of Spitzbergen. He had drawn tidy little anchor graphics at the best anchorages, marked the areas of the strongest current flows and little swirls were pencilled in to mark where wind funnels and katabatic gusts were most likely. It was a priceless education in arctic navigation.

“Take them… take them…” he slid the charts across the table, “next year there is no more whale hunting – it has been banned – so these are no use to me anymore.”

Guillemots roosting on an isolated rock stack.

In fact Norway eventually defied the IWC ban and began whaling again, but by then technology had expanded to provide GPS and chart-plotters.

I didn’t like to take the charts – it was like endorsing the downfall of a tradition, of a way of life. But on the other hand, I would think of the whalemen, superb seamen, every time I used them.

Friends in the Shetland Islands had recommended taking duty-free whisky to Norway where tax and duty have made liquor prohibitively expensive. I took a bottle from our stock and slipped it into Kromhout’s wheelhouse before we took our mooring lines aboard and slipped out of the fjord.

The wind was light and we ghosted northwards, boggling at the stunning vistas around us.

Then we noticed the whale chaser leave the fjord and alter course to head our way. With a big bone in her mouth, she forged towards us, then settled back to an idle and held station about a metre astern.

Skipper Dahl stepped out of the wheelhouse and waved the whisky. “Is too much,” he roared. A young boy ran forward and handed over a 30cm square slab of meat.

We slowly pulled away from Kromhout until there was enough space for the little wooden whaleship to wheel away and head for home.

We had no fridge on board but the meat kept for a week or so in the cold steel bilges. Sliced very thinly and fried with onions, it made a nutritious and tasty dinner.

In Tromso, a white van like a Mr Whippy with extras, regularly parked on the wharf with Hvalbuf (whale beef) painted on it. Housewives arrived on a regular basis, bringing bags to carry the family dinner.

And, in a way, I thought, Skipper Dahl was right. We do eat sheep. BNZ


The Serial Collector

There is a private collection of boats in Istanbul that’s always expanding, to the point that any article on the subject has the inevitable defect of becoming obsolete within months.

Welcome to the collection of automotive tycoon Rahmi M. Koç CBE, and the museum he founded in the Turkish metropolis that takes his name. Located along the banks of the Golden Horn, a deep inlet of the Bosphorus that was in ancient times the estuary of a river, the Rahmi M. Koç Museum boasts a collection of over 16,000 exhibits, all linked to the history of industry, transport and navigation.

Turkish industrialist Mr Rahmi M. Koç is an avid collector of boats.

Steam engines are Mr Koç’s greatest passion. For the uninitiated, he is the honorary chairman of a group with an annual turnover of USD$61 billion (2021). His industrial empire counts over 120 companies, including Otosan and Tofas (respectively the Turkish branches of Ford and Fiat), as well as banks, companies engaged in the food sector, hotels, marinas and the manufacturers of household appliances, of which Beko is the best-known brand worldwide – it even has a regional head office in New Zealand.

In his museums (plural, as over the years Rahmi Koç has also opened museums in the capital city Ankara and Ayvalik), dozens of steam engines are exhibited – including working scale models – together with road, sea, and railway transportation exploiting the very technology that ignited the industrial revolution.

Mr Koç at a museum function
Vintage motorboat fascia
The interior of Vilia.

In addition to steamrollers and tractors from the early years of the last century, several working boats and steam yachts are on display, all in working order. Among these are two Dutch tugs, Rosalie (1873) and Liman 2 (1935), the yacht Gonca (1905), a tiny launch built in Chatham for the Royal Navy in 1888, as well as Ysolt, a fascinating commuter built in Southampton in 1893.

These boats, along with many others (the magnificent 1927 picket-boat Maid of Honour was featured in Boating New Zealand in December 2017) can be found inside the museum buildings, located in the Hasköy district along the Golden Horn, or else in the water basin in front of it. The Istanbul museum, opened in 1994 and enlarged in 2001, is housed in the nineteenth-century U-shaped venue where the maintenance of Istanbul’s ferry steamers was carried out over a century ago. The covered square has an area of 27,000m2 equivalent to St. Peter’s Square in Rome.

 

LATEST ARRIVALS

Rahmi M. Koç’s love of boating – he was born in Ankara in 1930, so a man ‘of earth’ – is a something of a history lesson in itself. In his youth, he loved motor boats, but following a bad accident that put him out of action for several months – he hit a buoy on the Bosphorus during a foggy crossing – he began to see sailing boats differently. Today he owns so many he doesn’t know the total number. The latest arrival is called Teodora, a schooner built at Cheoy Lee in Hong Kong in 1979 and restored in Tuzla by RMK Marine, a shipyard owned by the tycoon himself. “I wanted it,” said Koç “for many reasons, and especially because I had never owned a schooner before. I love her romantic clipper bow and, above all, her very spacious cockpit.”

It’s difficult to disagree: a quick look at her is enough to realise how charming and comfortable this craft is, thanks to her generous beam and long keel.

The museum’s vintage outboard collection

Around the time Teodora resumed sailing after a one-year refit, two motorboats put to sea, much to the delight of the Turkish mogul. One of them was recently delivered to the Rahmi M. Koç Museum of Istanbul as a permanent exhibit. Her name is T/T Vedette , once the tender to the famous Frederick Vanderbilt’s 170ft steam ship Vedette, launched in 1899 as Virginia and built to a G.L. Watson design.

Purchased three years ago in derelict condition, the 26ft Consolidated Speedway Saloon tender was restored at the museum workshops in Tasdelen, in Anatolian Istanbul. The original 35hp Kermath gasoline engine, no longer available, has been replaced with a very similar model (a Kermath 50hp) that turned out to be extremely difficult to find. Rahmi Koç, however, demands that all his collectibles, whether for personal or museum use, be working and complete in every detail.

Nazenin 5 under sail.

Years ago, while restoring an engineless Riva Florida, Mr Koç managed to find an original ChrisCraft engine for the runabout. After a single outing in the Sea of Marmara, obviously with the tycoon onboard, the runabout was transferred to the northwest wing of the Istanbul museum, alongside other historical models of the Italian shipyard: an Aquarama and an Olympic.

T/T Vedette had precisely the same fate: after just a few days in the water to properly test the engine and arrange some good photos while underway, the craft was loaded onto a truck to be permanently exhibited at the Rahmi M. Koç Museum.

Cassiopeia

The third boat delivered to the mogul in 2021 was Gwendolyn (1947). Mr Koç needed a new craft to commute in the Bodrum Peninsula, where has an estate and often spends his holidays.

Built at the legendary Blanchard shipyard of Seattle, this handsome commuter features sober interiors (with berth accommodation concentrated in a forward V-shaped cabin), a raised wheelhouse with forward-facing sofa seating, a spacious galley-dinette and a wide cockpit.

Teodora
Cielito
The tug Rosalie

BEAUTY RULES

Wherever he goes and resides, Rahmi Koç is surrounded by yachts. In Miami, where he owns the historical shipyard RMK Merrill Stevens and spends a month every year, he boards the motoryacht Cielito (1930); in Istanbul he uses the Victorian looking Camper & Nicholsons’ motoryacht Romola (1903), the Swedish ketch Cassiopeia (1937) and the gaff cutters Lady Edith (a 12-metre IR by William Fife III, launched in Fairlie in 1925) and Vilia (1910). On Lesbos (Greece) and on another island he owns in the Sea of Marmara, a stone’s throw from Tuzla, Mr Koç owns other motorboats that provide quick and practical travel for him, his guests and his staff.

His flagship, Nazenin 5, is a 52-metre steel and aluminum ketch that replaced the Nazenin 4, a Palmer Johnson ketch in which he circumnavigated the globe early in the millennium, calling at Auckland as well. Built by RMK Marine to a Sparkman & Stephens design, Nazenin 5 fully reflects the taste of the tycoon of a decade ago, especially interior-wise, her cabins and saloons being rich in marine antiques.

Lady Edith under sail
The motoryacht Gwendolyn.

Despite having enjoyed this superyacht around the eastern and central Mediterranean, much seems to have changed in recent years. “I don’t understand why people buy yachts that are even bigger in size,” said the industrialist. “After purchasing and renovating the tiny Vilia a few years ago, which is just 32 feet (9.75m) in length, I realised how much fun it is to sail in the true sense of the word, tacking in a fresh breeze, and holding the tiller in person, all without a skipper.”

“In short, it is never too late to discover the pleasure and beauty of sailing, something ‘minor’ boats, as opposed to gigantic superyachts, can easily provide, enabling one to (re) discover the ancestral pleasure of setting out to sea.” BNZ

Romola with Mr Koç’s island in the background

1970's Offshore Power Boat Wars - Part II - Detroit Iron

Last issue we learned that Gerard Richards and his mates were V8 racing addicts, seduced by the mighty Mustang and Camaro track cars of the late ‘60s, an allegiance transferred to the power boat racing scene of the 1970s, strongly contested in the early years by outboard-powered race boats. This issue features the major players later in the decade, when V8 power made inroads, plus some honourable mentions.

Just when it seemed multi-rig outboards were the recipe going forward, the focus shifted dramatically back to big V8s in 1973.

The arrival of the Jim Mackay designed 8.5-metre (27-foot) MacKay hull Old Crow for Spinner Black, equipped with a finelytuned 454 cu in LS7 Chevrolet V8 from Black’s engine shop, changed all that. This combo and its sister ships were to set the benchmark for speed and endurance over the next four to five years.

Paul Jones Bourbon at full noise
The Wellington BP100 Race 1975, Terrific (103) and Tara Too (107) in the background.

As Spinner told me in 2008, “After the mixed results with his first boat Turtle, that included it catching fire on one occasion and nearly sinking on another, he wanted the best craft he could put in the water.” In Spinner’s words, “Jim Mackay built a beautifully sculptured, strong and very seaworthy deep vee. It was also a very fast one, fitted with a hand-built 7440cc 454 cu in big block Chevrolet LS7 V8 race engine from our workshop”.

Along with fellow crew members Graeme Hastie, Mackay and Black, they won everything that mattered in 1973, with four wins and two sixth places. But with the championship pinned on one driver, rather than the boat, and Spinner not always available due to business commitments, it went by default to Max Johnson in his new triple 150hp Mercury rig Miss Comsec 2.

Spinner was looking to make amends, by taking out the driver’s title in 1974, with the same Mackay hull, now renamed Camel Filter. Going head-to-head with Jim Mackay, running his own boat Topaz this season (co-owned and crewed by Dick Mitri), with similar 454 Chev V8 power, it looked like a massive showdown of the big-block titans. However, it wasn’t to be.

L-R Spinner Black, Jim Mackay and Graeme Hastie.

As Spinner relayed to me years later, “It would go like gangbusters for most of the races, then go off in the latter stages. Then the penny dropped – we’d mistakenly fitted too hot plugs when preparing for the season and never dropped to it until too late.”

Jim Mackay with Topaz cleaned up with seven wins from the nine races and Spinner and Camel Filter only managed a solitary win at Napier.

A big factor in the Mackay and Mitri Topaz demolition of the opposition was the beautifully-built racing engines prepared by Jim Carlise of C & W Motors. The only other outright victory went to Max Johnson’s triple 150hp Mercury rig Clipper Comsec at the Atlantic Six Hour Marathon.

Brian Crouch repeated the dose when he purchased Spinner’s old boat in 1976 (Old Crow/Camel Filter) now known as Cossack Vodka. He was to also enjoy a great winning streak with crew Neville Thomson, Bob Udy and Alywn Flexman, with five victories including the Atlantic 100, Rotorua, Taupo, the Auckland Marathon and New Plymouth, also going on to win the Atlantic Drivers’ Elite Offshore Championship.

Old Crow at full throttle during the 1973 Offshore Powerboat season.

Brian was a cow cockie out of Tuakau (South Auckland) and his crew were all volunteers. Preparing their boat out of a country garage on a shoestring budget, it was a great achievement to get those results – as Brian summed up in similar words to Spinner’s: “Racing frontline powerboats in the open water, with the turbulent water of mass starts, racing in choppy harbours and the swells of the open ocean, was a sobering experience. We were darned right scared shitless at times…” he said.

An interesting aside: Brian told me recently he still retains the trophy for winning the Atlantic 100 in 1977, as it was the last time the race was run and no one asked for it back.

Following a partially successful 1977 season, Brian sold Cossack Vodka to Harry Servicus, and it continued racing under the name of Brut 33.

Tracing the continuing incarnations of the Mackay 27-foot foot hulls is an interesting and somewhat confusing exercise in boat racing genealogical history. I make no claims to bulletproof accuracy here, but it seems the original Old Crow hull, continued through Camel Filter, Cossack Vodka, Brut 33 and then possibly became Pall Filter.

Old Crow carves a turn.

That owner apparently drilled holes in the boat’s ribs to lighten it, causing it to break in half. It was later rebuilt as The Nail, a reference to its previous calamity and it may have continued racing under the name Foden Force, but I stand to be corrected on this. The boat’s whereabouts these days are unknown, despite attempts by Brian Crouch and others to track her down.

The other Mackay boat was Topaz and she continued in 1975 as Paul Jones Bourbon. After that the trail goes cold, but this boat has since been found and restored to its Topaz livery and continues to appear at historic offshore power boat regattas. It seems there have been a couple of other copies made of these classic Mackay hulls, but to my knowledge there were only the two ‘official’ original hulls built.

While on the topic of surviving original offshore race boats of the 70s era, it would be interesting to know if there are any other classic offshore warriors still in existence. I know Tara Too has been partially restored – are there any others out there?

Email me at mairangiman@hotmail.com if you have any information.

Stilletto contests the Powerboat Marathon, Lyttelton Harbour, 1974 or 1975

END OF AN ERA

For that brief window of the 1970s my adolescent mates and I were hardcore fans of that golden era of monohulls, when the heavy V8-powered artillery duked it out with the sophisticated multi-outboard rigs. We had grandstand seats, the best in the house on Devonport Wharf, Auckland and those thundering, heroic boats of the era certainly played to the gallery. Vintage times, they were, when big-time powerboat racing caught the public’s imagination.

As the 70s came to an end, the playing field for offshore powerboat racing was changing in New Zealand. The era of the large American automotive V8 inboard and multi-rig outboard monohulls was ending. The new competitive formula emerging was for multi-hulled outboard-powered catamarans, one of the early successes being E.I.T Mover, which won a trifecta of championships between 1982 and 1985. But that is a different story.

A legendary era of offshore powerboat racing monohulls had passed. BNZ

Triple Mercury power for The Graduate.

MORE NOTABLE BOATS

While the boat combos I’ve mentioned this issue and last were the heavy hitters through most of the 70s, many others saw a slice of the action.

Chevrolet V8-powered Roaring Rat was first in the Rothmans 70-mile Taupo race in 1971, third at Taupo in 1972, and fourth at Taupo, 1974.

Clipper Blackjack, 2 x 200hp Volvos, was second in the Atlantic 100 in 1974.

The Graduate powered by 3 x 150hp Mercurys and driven by N. Watts scored second in the 1973 Atlantic 100 and sixth at Queenstown in 1973.

Aurora, powered by a 454 cu in Chevrolet V8, was second in Tauranga, 1974.

Tormentor (later Big John) driven by W J Bryan and powered by 2 x 140hp Johnsons finished second in the 1972 Atlantic 100.

Gobbla Hunter, powered by 2 x 135hp Mercurys and driven by B. Shaw, was third at Gisborne in 1975.

Vanishing Point, a 26-foot Levi design, and Alamo were a duo of big inboard racers, but they didn’t score any significant finishes that I’m aware of.

Portage Hotel, powered by 3 x 150hp Mercurys finished second at Taupo in 1974.

These are just some of the many boats to score top places over the years – by no means a comprehensive list. My apologies to other worthy candidates that aren’t included here. Also, I haven’t included the South Island scene, as that is altogether another story.


Raising Divecat Pt I: Loss, relocation and salvage planning

Most people would cut their losses if their boat sank in 43 metres of water, but Norman Holtzhausen’s not most people. He was determined to salvage his boat himself.

On 6th Feb 2020 my boat Divecat sank while returning from a scuba diving trip to Great Barrier Island. The cause of her sinking will be explained in a future article because it, like many things, was the result of a series of smaller issues that together created the perfect storm. She sank in 43m of water right in the middle of the Firth of Thames, an exposed patch of water known for its fierce tidal stream.


In the hectic days after Divecat’s sinking, I approached several salvage companies and experts about the prospects of recovering her. The consensus was it would be prohibitively expensive, because of her depth and location. None of the companies wanted to take on the job, and the insurance company declined to finance any recovery attempt. And then our first Covid lockdown struck!
Now with plenty of time on my hands, I started researching salvage options to work out the feasibility of recovering Divecat myself. I watched many videos of people raising objects from the seabed, and sufficiently scared myself into realising this was not a job to be undertaken lightly. Using numerous heavy lift bags was realistically the only way to do it, but once a sunken object starts to lift it begins a hugely dangerous runaway ascent. Scuba divers know this from Boyle’s Law – any volume of gas underwater expands as it rises. Hence getting just enough lift to move Divecat off the bottom would instantly become too much lift as soon as she was just a metre or two higher.


So, armed with a healthy dose of caution, I looked online for suitable lift bags. Automatic dump valves were required to vent the expanding air as the bags ascended. Very large lift bags are, however, not something you can easily buy off-the-shelf, so I had to find some super-strong airtight bags of the right shape and size and then modify them. Gymnasium rollers seemed about the right size with close to a cubic metre of air volume, so I ordered a couple from AliExpress to try out.
After looking at many videos and pictures of other salvage efforts, I designed and sewed up a webbing harness to contain the vinyl bag. I even subjected different webbing to breaking-strength tests to choose the strongest type available. The finished unit was tested in shallow water first, and then slightly deeper water, with appropriate alterations as deficiencies in my design were discovered. It took several tests and design changes before I was confident that they were up to the job.


Then came the lift plan itself. Because of the danger of runaway, the only safe place for any divers to be during the lift process was above the boat but below the lift bags. I therefore devised a strategy whereby we would lift her just five metres at time. This involved long, strong (and expensive!) ropes with shackles pre-tied every five metres along their length. At each stage of the lift the boat would only rise five metres at a time.
Apart from the initial deep dive to fit the straps and ropes, the recovery divers would spend most of the operation at depths of only 10m to 15m – an important consideration for diver safety. We would fit new bags no deeper than 15m. Once they were sufficiently full the boat would lift only until the topmost bags reached the surface. Those 15m deep bags would now be at 10m, and so the cycle would continue until the boat itself was hanging just 5m below the surface.
Crucial to the success of this stage of the operation was the tide. I had to time the whole exercise so that Divecat lifted from the bottom just as the tide started to come in. With a tidal stream out there of up to one-and-a-half knots, a full tide cycle would take us six or seven nautical miles towards shallower waters. The plan was to combine this with a sideways pull with our dive boat, easing her towards the shores of the Coromandel Peninsula. Our target was Elephant Cove in the Happy Jack group of islands, with a gently shoaling, pebbly beach that we could use for the final floating. However, any location in less than 30m of water would have been a win.


In between all this planning and preparation there was the problem of finding her current resting place. Several unsuccessful search attempts using a fishfinder showed that she was nowhere even close to the final onboard GPS location reading. Reluctantly I resorted to Facebook, knowing the torrent of abuse this would generate from the usual internet trolls. Which it did, but it also served its purpose and pretty soon I had the boat’s exact co-ordinates. It turns out that a commercial fisherman had wrapped his net around an object that should not be there!
Divecat had drifted almost a full nautical mile from her last broadcast location before eventually going down to the bottom.
And then another curveball was thrown my way when I suffered a heart attack in November 2020. This put paid to my diving for three months, just at that crucial phase where I now knew where my boat was and was desperate to see what condition she was in. Was I wasting my time, or was she still worth salvaging?
Champing at the bit, I eventually got a clean bill of health after Christmas, and my dive buddy and I set out on the first deep dive to her. The relief on seeing her sitting upright on the bottom, undamaged and in good condition, cannot be described. The hull was solid, and interestingly a set of cleats that were welded directly to the hull were acting as anodes, preventing serious corrosion elsewhere. “Raising the Tintanic,” as my wife called my obsession, was definitely still a viable project!


Since at this stage I had no formal qualifications for deep diving, I immediately signed up for some appropriate training, which also necessitated upgrading my dive gear. That first dive had been a very quick drop-down-and-look, but to achieve anything significant I needed to spend a reasonable amount of time at 43m. This required technical diving skills, and I set about acquiring these. With the right gear and training, plus a range of gas blends, we could get 25 minutes at the bottom, with another half an hour or more of decompression stops on the way back to the surface. Not a long time, especially since we could only dive exactly at slack tide, but it would have to do.
The final plan for her salvage evolved over the course of the following year and a total of 18 deep dives, going down to her whenever weather conditions allowed. Decompression stops in the middle of winter were very unpleasant and I invested in electrically-heated scuba vests to keep us warm. That darned fishing net both complicated access and greatly increased the risk of diver entanglement. We spent some time trying to cut it off, with only partial success, and recovered a few items from the hull as mementoes. Finding secure locations to attach lifting straps remained the main challenge, and several options were explored.


Eventually I had an epiphany – Divecat did not need to be lifted horizontally but could be dragged up stern-first. This had several positives, mainly that the first stage of the lift would only partially raise her. Enough buoyancy to cause her stern to rise was not enough to lift her completely free of the bottom. This approach also meant I could then more accurately gauge the total lift required for a slow and controlled ascent that avoids any runaway.
The other point I had learned from my earlier trials was to massively over-spec everything. I had calculated that her eight-tonne surface weight would require just under six tonnes of lift under water, thanks to the displacement offset of the aluminium and internal furnishings. So, I organised a total of 18 tonnes of available buoyancy in 20 lift bags. We fitted 11-tonne lifting straps through each of her four scuppers, and one around each of the outboard motors. The lift ropes each had a breaking strain of over six tonnes.


The net result was that any one of the six lifting points were theoretically capable of supporting the whole boat once she was off the bottom. The plan could cope with multiple individual equipment failures and still succeed overall, although you can only plan for contingencies you think of!
Now we were ready for the big day! Waitangi Day 2022 was the target date, which would have made it precisely two years to the day since Divecat sank.


Surviving Ata

In 1964 six schoolboys survived 15 months on a remote, uninhabited island. The southernmost in Tonga, it is no tropical paradise, writes Matt Vance.

Ata Island was the first landfall I ever made as a sailor. It is an uninhabited speck of rock that juts out of the ocean like a tooth. It is also the southernmost island of the Tongan group and it loomed out of the dawn of our seventh day at sea from New Zealand. Even now it still seems like a miracle that you can conjure an island out of the sea. We spent a few hours anchored in the island’s lee and I distinctly remember its vertical peaks had a foreboding presence, but little did I know then of its dark and quirky history.


At each island we visited further north I had a habit of going ashore as a break from the close quarters of the boat. The Tongans I would meet on my wanderings ashore would invariably ask, “Where’s your family?” My only reply was to smile and point south to New Zealand. They would dart looks of concern to each other over the palagi with no family and insist I visit their village where I would be overfed and become an excellent source of entertainment for their grinning kids. It was with those three words I got my first glimpse of the Tongan way and as it turns out, the key to one of the great survival stories of our time.

It is estimated the Tongan Islands were first populated around 2,500 years ago as part of the Lapita expansion into the Pacific. The Polynesians and their Lapita ancestors were able to populate the world’s largest ocean and most remote collection of islands with their unique naval architecture, ingenious navigation methods and a strong sense of community. By the time Captain Cook arrived in the Pacific he noted the Friendly Islanders, as he called them, had a well-developed culture, trading routes and a far superior naval architecture than his own coal barge.


Even by Tongan standards Ata island is remote. It is 85 nautical miles southwest of Tongatapu and was settled in the late 1500s. However, there is evidence of previous sporadic occupations as far back as 2,000 years ago. When a whaling ship called the Grecian anchored off the island in 1863 around 300 people lived on its high plateau, growing bananas and sugarcane to sell to passing boats.

The Grecian’s skipper, Thomas McGrath had had no luck hunting whales and so he turned to the much more lucrative business of hunting humans for slavery. Having squandered the small amount of whale oil he had managed to procure on food, booze and a lick of paint for the Grecian, McGrath was looking for a quick dollar in order to repay the ship’s owners back in Hobart. He revealed his plan to his crew once they were at sea. Eight of his men wanted nothing to do with slaving and were dumped ashore on the Samoan island of Tutuila before Grecian headed south to Ata Island.

McGrath managed to lure 144 of the Atans aboard to trade and added a complementary feast below decks to sweeten the deal. Mid-feast he locked them in the hold and up-anchored with the intention to sell his captives to the Peruvian slave trade. After a visit to Tonga’s northernmost outpost Niuafo’ou to collect more potential slaves, McGrath happened upon the Peruvian slaver General Prim which was working for the plantation owners of Peru. All 174 slaves were sold and transferred on the spot and a cashed-up McGrath continued his wanderings of the Pacific, ending up in Stewart Island. He was eventually arrested in Bluff and found guilty of a raft of charges in the local court. Ironically, none of them included his most despicable crime of slavery.


By the time the stolen Atans arrived in the port of Callao the Peruvian government had just abolished the law that allowed the enslavement of Pacific Islanders. Both the pressure from other governments and the fact that without the social cohesion of their broad family structure Pacific peoples fell to despondence and sickness finally convinced the government to abolish the trade.

The Atans were kept in a waterfront warehouse in Callao where many quickly died of smallpox and despair. Those that survived were dumped on Cocos Island near Costa Rica with a small chance that a few may have made it to Paitia in the far north of Peru. When Tonga’s first King Tupou heard the news of McGrath’s brazen act, he ordered the remaining inhabitants of Ata to be relocated to Eua Island where their descendants can be found to this day.

Bar the occasional visit from archaeologists and ornithologists, Ata remained uninhabited until June 1965. Six Tongan teenagers, Tevita Siola’a, Sione Fataua, Luke Veikoso, Fatai Latu, Kolo Fekitoa and Sione Totau, were boarders at Catholic secondary school Saint Andrews College in Nuku’alofa. Having had enough of the place, they devised a plan to escape by boat to Fiji. After purloining a 24-foot yacht from the Nuku’alofa harbour basin they set sail with two sacks of bananas, a few coconuts and a small gas burner.

Image: John Carnemolla.

Back row left to right- Luke Veikoso , Fatai Latu , Sione Fataua. Front row left to right- Tevita Siola'a , Kolo Fekitoa , Mano Totauflore. Picture copyright John Carnemolla

After a rough first night, they found themselves with torn sails, a snapped rudder and very little hope of survival. After eight days of drifting, Ata Island raised its sharp form above the horizon. This was no tropical paradise of white sand beaches but rather a steep volcanic outcrop on which vegetation clung to near-vertical faces. More importantly, had they missed it, it was a 400-nautical-mile downwind drift to Fiji.

After surviving for the initial months foraging around the coastline for raw fish, seabirds and their eggs, the boys plucked up the courage to climb the cliffs to the central plateau where they came upon the ruins of the original village abandoned when the Atans were taken off the island by order of the king. At the site of the abandoned village, they found an ancient rock water reservoir, an old machete, domesticated taro plants and a flock of chickens that had survived the generations since the Island had been abandoned. One of the castaways, Kolo Fekitoa, even managed to fashion a guitar from some driftwood and six wires he salvaged from the wreckage of their boat.

This all makes it sound easy, like it was some kind of school camp, but it was not. They had to stay fit and healthy, and most importantly, one foot in front of the twin demons of hunger and despair. They prayed together and worked together using skills that their ancestors had developed over thousands of years of colonising remote Pacific islands. They created a community in the best traditions of Anga fakatonga (the Tongan way).

Fifteen months after they arrived on the Island a passing Australian fisherman, Peter Warner, noticed patches of burnt vegetation on the island. This was enough to encourage him in closer for a look. It was then that he noticed some figures heading down a cliff and into the sea, where they started swimming toward his boat. He remained sceptical of their story until he radioed Nuku’alofa where a tearful radio operator confirmed that the boys had been given up for dead and their funerals had already been held!

The Tongan boys on the Island of Arta ate raw fish after being marooned for months on the island. Photo: John Carnemolla

Whenever the story of the Ata Island castaways comes up in modern times, it is usually followed by the description ‘A modern Lord of the Flies.’ This is a reference to the novel written in 1954 by William Golding that nearly every fifth form (Year 11) English student has been forced to study since. The core message of the book is that, marooned on a desert island with limited resources, even the nicest schoolboy will turn into a selfish, cruel murderer.

It is clear William Golding never sailed to Tonga, nor was he asked, “Where is your family?” by the locals, which may have shown him the beauty of the Tongan way and allowed him to discover the key to colonising the vast Pacific centuries before anyone else dared.


Better boat handling: Parking in-between

This edition is about parking between parallel finger docks with the wind blowing you in. In many drystack berths, it is not essential to reverse into the berth unless you need to for disembarking the vessel. Coming in forwards is always the easiest in this situation, writes Andrew Flanagan.

Coming in forwards
• Prepare all lines and fenders.
• Know the pivot point of your boat and turn up into the wind with the pivot point centred and upwind of your berth.
• When your pivot point is upwind and central to your berth, take all way (momentum) off the vessel by going astern (in reverse). Ideally you should reverse whilst turning the helm (steering wheel) towards the direction the wind is coming from. This will kill two birds with one stone, as the adage goes – it will both stop the vessel and begin your turn in the desired direction simultaneously.
• You may need to do a small three-point turn to get the pivot point in the desired position.
• If your pivot point is not central, simply reverse in the required direction until it is. The wind will blow you towards the berth – this is why the bulk of your corrections will be done in astern.
• Once you are happy with your position, simply bring the helm to midships and one gentle tap of the throttle into forward gear should do the trick. Repeated small corrective kicks can be done as required by tapping the engine into forward gear and back to neutral. This gives you manoeuvrability without speed.
• Once you are inside your berth, turn the helm towards the finger dock and apply gentle throttle astern until the vessel comes to a stop.
• Your crew should secure your lines in an appropriate fashion.

Backing in
Backing between parallel finger docks with the wind on the bow is one of the trickiest manoeuvres you can do on a single engine boat with no thruster. The challenge is to not get caught and blown sideways onto your berth.
• Prepare all lines and fenders.
• Know the pivot point of you boat and turn up into the wind with the pivot point central and upwind of your berth.
• Try your hardest to keep the wind at 12 o’clock on the bow as you begin to back in.
• If you need to traverse sideways to position your boat central to your berth, do it carefully. To traverse to port, get the wind at 1 o’clock to the bow; to traverse to starboard, get the wind at 11 o’clock to the bow.
• In a reasonably strong breeze, avoid getting the wind at less than 10 o’ clock more than two o’ clock or you will lose control of the bow. The wind will blow you sideways onto the berth.
• As you back in, ease the stern to where it needs to be, but you absolutely must follow the above 2–10 o’ clock rule. If you start losing the bow, abort the manoeuvre by going forward make a completely fresh approach.
• Make sure your crew is prepared with lines and you have suitable fenders out as the boat is in a very unstable position when lying stationary with its bow into the wind.

Watch Andrew’s videos on Instagram here: instagram.com/powerboat.training/


The Journey along Matai Creek to Nelson -The centre of it all

Alex and Lesley Stone and whanau venture up the Maitai Creek, to the very centre of New Zealand.

Our Up the Creek adventure starts at Ruby’s shiny silver coffee cart, a new Nelson institution. Established two years to the day before our outing, Ruby and her crew have proved to be a real anti-Covid success story. The locals frequent her place on the edge of the Nelson Marina. Bean bags on the lawn, free plums, and terrific pastries – the cinnamon brioches a standout.

The Maitai Creek, which heads inland through the centre of Nelson city, lies just to the east of the marina breakwater and Ruby’s cart. It’s to take us to the centre of New Zealand. Well, sort of. A monument on a hill claims this fame, we’re told, though our party immediately debates exactly what constitutes this definition. We’ll see.

The locals I ask about our Up the Creek journey seem bemused at first. With good reason, as all is revealed later. This Up the Creek comes with a distinct tidal caution. On the day we head up, there’s a king tide of 4.7m (!) – well above the Nelson average of an impressive 4m tide.

So, the creek at first appears wide and inviting. You could easily get up in an outboard boat, with this high incoming tide. Two of us opt to paddle the kayaks from our base at Nelson Marina; the other three members of our whanau travel on foot along the lovely riverside walk, with Lesley keeping the camera dry. Initially, the boat people have to paddle out in the opposite direction beyond the commercial fishing docks, round the mole to starboard, to reach the creek on the other side.

First stop past Ruby’s is where Saltwater Creek joins from the west. A commanding corten steel sculpture of a waka taua sternpost overlooks this spot, attended by a serious anchor stone carved from argillite.

Entering Matai
Creek at high tide.

Just there is a floating dock for visiting motorboats, adding to our sense of security. We’re on the right track!

In fact, this Up the Creek becomes something of a sculpture extravaganza, with us marvelling at what Nelson city must have invested in all these artworks. Just up from the waka work, is a magnificent Phil Price piece, one of those fluid, organic, endlessly moving-in-the-wind forms of superlative engineering and seductive aesthetics. Just beyond, again, is a lovely female form, a serene Papatuanuku figure cradling a takahē in her lap, and artfully placed, half-hidden (I imagine at the sculptor’s request) in a bed of flax bushes.

From the river here, we see native plantings right down to the water’s edge, and tūīs feeding on the nectar. Hold on! One’s not a tūī – it’s a European starling. My scientist daughter Zoë, paddling the other kayak, tells me that British ornithologists are studying this, as starlings are not nectar-feeders in Europe. Maybe they have learned from the tūī. I’m tempted to say “Yeah, right”, but there it is, right in front of me.

Pulled up on the bank beside ‘Taurapa,’ a corten steel waka taua scuplture.
More street art under the Matai Creek brdge.

A couple are sitting at a riverside restaurant opposite, next to an unemployed giant chess set. “I’ll open,” I call across to them, “Pawn to king four.” They don’t get it. A mural of a dog looking out the window seems to be laughing at both of us.

Under some bridges, where we duck our heads to avoid bonking them (the big tide, remember), and we spot what looks very much like lunch. A riverside café in a lovely leafy setting. I glide the kayak in, identify a rock to step out onto. But my foot misses the rock, and I’m up to my neck in the water while the patrons suppress giggles at my very visible loss of cool. The maître d’ suggests we sit at the outside table. Fair enough. I choose the sunny spot to dry out.

Maitai Creek scupture detail

Lunch over, and onwards! The slack tide makes for easy paddling in deep, green water. The banks of the river reciprocate with more green and then some. An old couple moseys past holding hands. A woman chases her roller-skating daughter. Another is reading on a memorial bench in an arbor under a drooping tree.

More art: a nautical-theme sculpture in the form of a reef knot. Officially unveiled by the prince of tying himself in knots, Andrew, the Duke of York. Good symbolism that, if unintended by the sculptor. Then a grouse street graffiti mural under the next bridge. And a little way further up, a strange sculpture that looks like potatoes on sticks, only it’s meant to be river boulders on stainless steel poles, said in the blurb to represent the spirituality of the river. Okay…

Matai Creek walkway
Cycle-friendly riverside Matai cafe.

I reckon the gardens of riverside homes here are more impressive. Sprays of glorious colour. At the next bridge we encounter an interpretive sign all about eeling in the early days of the Maitai Creek, and in the pioneer days of Nelson. A photo shows a bunch of men and boys, most with my surname and serious sideburns, holding up giant eels and the hooked poles they used to catch them from under the riverbanks. Another sculpture, that we first mistook for bicycle racks, but on second thinking, it turns out to be an abstraction of a hinanga eel net. The sign tells us the Pākehā settlers of Nelson initially had a great fondness for eating eels, but that fell away. Probably a good thing, for those giant longfin eels are very rare now.

Oops! The creek suddenly is barred by a demure wee rapid. A couple doing DIY on their home offer to let us put the kayaks in their garage till we get back.

Nelson Marina

We’re getting closer to the centre of New Zealand they say, “Not far now.”

Sure enough, at the next bridge over the Maitai, we’re pointed left, past an impressive old heritage home flying the Laser-Eye Kiwi flag (nice touch that), and just beyond to a quiet cricket oval. With a wonky boundary that loops around huge old trees on the edges. I reckon the batsmen must know to aim for them to achieve a cut-price four runs.

And another sign proclaiming that this was where the very first rugby game in New Zealand was played, way back in 1870. College versus Town, 18 men per side. It transpires that the bloke who organized the game, Charles Munro, played for the Town team, and was the referee. No prizes for guessing who won.

More Stone whanau members making their way upstream.

A zig-zag and fairly steep path at the far end of the green takes us up to the monument that marks the centre of New Zealand. We’re game, although not as much as the women in heavy Victorian dresses shown making the same promenade back in the day, in a picture in another interp sign.

As if to complete the time travel illusion, we encounter two fellows in bow ties running down the path at full tilt. No explanation given. Late for a wedding, perhaps?

We get to the monument, which is kind of ordinary. A raised spike pointing straight down to a brass stud in the deck. The exact middle of New Zealand? Well, not really. The blurb tells us this is the datum point for the settler surveyors of the Nelson region, which was the first area in Aotearoa to receive this treatment. Ergo, the centre of New Zealand. “Well, sort of,” is the consensus in our party. All the other visitors there don’t appear to mind.

Civic art:
‘Pohutukawa’ by Chris Finlayson.
Civic art: Family Tree’ by Chris price.

No matter, the views are splendid – all the way acrossTasman Bay, and the Boulder Bank, and Nelson city, and our boat down there (a long way down there) in the marina. And inland up green valleys. We all touch the brass stud, shiny from all the other people doing the same. Mission accomplished. The ultimate Up the Creek.

But on the way back, my lack of navigational foresight becomes apparent. What was the deep green Maitai River is now mostly rocks, with a channel just wide enough for the kayaks going downstream. Where I fell in so ignominiously by the café is now high and dry. So, the lesson is: you need to get the tide-timing just right for this Maitai Up the Creek. Still, it’s a very worthwhile wee boating adventure, with a whole bunch of terrific side stories. Good on you, Nelson. BNZ

Valley view.

 


A popping little cockle

With the sudden reappearance of a little clinker runabout last seen working around Picton Harbour nearly 30 years ago, older locals can be forgiven for thinking they’ve been through a time-warp, writes Lawrence Schäffler.

Tuangi – Māori for ‘cockle’ – is a lapstrake-constructed 16-foot dinghy launched in Picton in 1978. The lap-jointed planks look a bit like the ridges on cockle shells – hence the name.
She was designed and constructed by Bill Orchard – a prominent boatbuilder in the area – and her recent reappearance is thanks to Bill’s son Grant – who kept the little dinghy. She is not only painted in the same, original colours, but is also being used in much the same way as she was all those years ago.
“Dad was passionate about the Queen Charlotte Sound – as I am – and was driven by a desire to showcase the region, to let visitors experience the majesty and beauty of the area firsthand, and it’s best viewed from the water.

“He built numerous launches over his lifetime – recreational and commercial – and Tuangi was at the lower end of that spectrum. She was designed as a ‘bareboat charter’ vessel. Punters would rent her ($5/hour) for short cruises around the inner Sound.
“The design became known as a ‘Sounds Popper’ – based on the sound of her single-cylinder, 8hp Yanmar engine – ‘pop, pop, pop’ – which gave her a top speed about 5 knots. Even inexperienced boaties could have a safe, fun cruise. In fact, all the kids in our family learned to operate boats in the long-suffering Tuangi.”
Used periodically over the decades (and stored in a shed), the vessel didn’t require any major remedial work. “Fortunately, Dad used the clench-nail/glue technique for her lapstrake construction, rather than the more common riveting system of the period. The advantage of clench-nailing is that the seams don’t dry out during the winter months, when she’s out of the water.”


A major part of bringing Tuangi back to life was the new coat of paint and adding more modern technology such as LED lighting and an electric bilge pump. She’s also enjoying an upgraded engine – an 11hp twin-cylinder Kubota. It’s a little smoother than its predecessor, but the distinctive ‘pop, pop, pop’ is more subdued.
Today the little popper is back plying the charter market – though not as a self-drive. Legislation has changed and Grant’s restoration of the boat included fitting equipment getting her through survey to carry five passengers, with himself as skipper.
A typical cruise lasts 1.5 hours and covers the inner Sound. “Like dad, I like giving visitors a bit of background about the region – its history, the fauna and flora, the industry. I particularly like showing them the waterfront shed where Tuangi was built and the beach where she was launched.”

Katabatic
Grant hopes his ‘reactivation’ of Tuangi cruises will coincide with the easing of restrictions in a Covid world that’s crippled the New Zealand tourism sector of the last two years.
“I suspect I will need someone to help with running the Tuangi cruises. I already skipper my 11m charter fishing/cruising charter boat (Katabatic) based in Picton, and things get really busy at the beginning of summer. I can’t operate both boats so, ideally, I’d like to find someone to skipper the Tuangi and offer them a share in the business. It’s perhaps a way for someone to kick-start a low-stress career on the water.”
If you see a little orange-and-white lapstrake dinghy tootling around Picton and you’re convinced you may have seen her before – many, many years ago – don’t blame your aging mind or that you’ve had one beer too many.
It’s just the Tuangi – a throwback from the past, continuing Bill Orchard’s inspiring vision via his son.

Pop-up cooking

Grant Orchard is an unusual skipper in that he is also a professional chef.
In fact, a signature feature of his Katabatic charters is that he not only gives guests a running commentary about the history and ecology of the Sounds, but also prepares the kai moana caught on the trip. As always, he demonstrates how he likes to prepare the food – whether its cod, oysters, mussels, paua or crayfish – whatever.
Just as a Covid-restricted world persuaded him to reactivate the Tuangi cruises, so he has launched a pop-up cooking experience in Picton. A small group of guests (14) attend a full gourmet event – a five-course meal at which he explains the dishes being prepared, with the appropriate wines in attendance.
“I launched the pop-up restaurant concept out at Waterfall Bay in the Queen Charlotte Sound – and everyone seemed to enjoy it thoroughly. Guests were ferried to the venue from the Picton waterfront (on Katabatic). Limiting the size of the group to 14 keeps it intimate and it’s easier for me to interact with them in terms of the food preparation. I guess it’s a slightly different spin on a conventional dinner out.”
The pop-up events will be held monthly on a Friday night – at the Gusto Café in Picton’s High Street. They are scheduled for the cooler, winter months (May – September) when the fishing charter business is quieter.
“A feature of the meals is that all produce is local – whether it’s seafood or beef/lamb/pork/chicken/venison. Each month the focus shifts to a different protein – and there are matching wines for that protein.
“I like to think the concept gives guests a richer dining experience and an opportunity to experience the local fare from the region.”


One Family's Boating Journey: Peninsula discoveries

In last month’s article, Chris Woodhams shared his trials with the head onboard SV Sauvage. The story now continues with the family’s Christmas cruise to the Coromandel Peninsula.

Having spent a few restful days anchored at Great Barrier Island, it was time to head to the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. Our goal? To reach Whiritoa for New Year’s Day. Whiritoa Beach lies 77 nautical miles south-east of Great Barrier Island between Waihi Beach and Whangamata.
We spent a few days poring over the forecasted wind and swell maps seeking the best sailing opportunities. And so, we pulled anchor on Christmas Day, headed out of Smokehouse Bay, past Okiore Point to traverse Colville Channel and down between Great Mercury Island and the Coromandel Peninsula to Flaxmill Bay, Whitianga.
You may have experienced murky sailing conditions yourselves when heading round the top of the Coromandel Peninsula. On previous trips, heading from Great Barrier to Gulf Harbour, we had encountered one- to two-metre choppy swells and strong headwinds. This time, we wanted to avoid them.


Thankfully, it was sunny, the water calmed down and the wind dropped once we reached the Coromandel Peninsula’s east coast. As we neared Great Mercury Island, a large pod of dolphins joined us. It was serene and magical!
As detailed last month, we stopped in Flaxmill Bay by Whitianga to fix Sauvage’s head. A few days later, after checking the wind forecast, we then travelled south heading for Whiritoa. But as is the case when you forget to check the rain forecast, the conditions turned wet and cool. Grumpy, we found reprieve for the night at the secluded Tapuaetahi Bay 12nm to the south. Early the next morning, with sun again on our faces, we resumed our sail south.
Whiritoa Beach is an open bay with Tuhua (Mayor Island) lying 15nm to the east. Swimming in the surf, lying on the beach and celebrating New Year’s Day with family were on the agenda. The weather was beautiful; we spent time onshore exploring surrounding beaches. We discovered a smaller bay found on the path to Waimana Bay, and the kids and I scaled down a sloping cliff to find ancient Maori cave art. It was both unexpected and moving – and interesting that someone had seen fit to provide a cage to protect the archaeological site, but damaged some art work in the process!


As the Whiritoa surf had a mind of its own, getting from the boat to land and vice-versa was eventful. After being tossed around, soaked and losing our tender outboard to the water (replaced the day after), we found that launching and landing at low tide was best. ‘Toa is a renowned surf beach and the waves don’t make for elegant landings, but the locals were excited to see a yacht anchored in the bay and made us very welcome!


On the first evening, Sauvage pulled and dragged a little in the high winds, but we re-anchored and stayed put for the next five days! It’s a great bay – just be careful of the surf when landing by dinghy.
From Whiritoa we headed 13nm north for a three-day sojourn at Slipper Island. I cannot recommend this privately-owned island enough – South Bay provided easy anchoring with three to five metres of deep, clear water and a sandy bottom. We kayaked, swam, and our 13-year-old practised his tender motoring skills. The beach offers end-to-end walks, picnics and swimming. It is very much a destination for boaties, being an easy 5nm journey across the water from Tairua.
Feeling content, relaxed and lazy, we pondered staying longer. On reflection, we should have, but the need to keep moving drew us on.


In our inexperience and complacency, we did not check all the sailing conditions for the day. Wrong move! Once we passed Shoe Island, we experienced three- to four-metre swells for the next 16nm – luckily, not breaking waves and with the crests about 20 seconds apart. Thoughts of turning around or moving closer to shore were wiped from our minds and we focussed on getting safely to Flaxmill Bay.
I found it stressful, exciting and exhilarating, all at the same time… My wife hated every minute of it! The kids were talking and surfing (the web, on their devices) and were blissfully unaware of the conditions.
We made our way motor-sailing, learning to turn the boat to approach the swells from other angles so as to make it into Flaxmill, where we set anchor for the night, found a bottle of wine to calm us down and reflected!
That day we learned of the growing death toll in New Zealand waters over the summer period. The weather and wind were perfect, but due to the swell, it was a terrible day to be boating.
It is easy to get caught up in the fun of it all and forget to check the wind, rain and swell forecasts. The sea can be dangerous so checking sailing conditions before heading out is Sailing 101.


Our unexpected adventure reinforced to us why it is vital to always check conditions – all of them – even when you can see and feel the elements in front of you.
After two days of recovery time, we continued 16nm north to Huruhi Harbour on Great Mercury Island. We had nearly completed our Coromandel Peninsula leg.
A few days later, we navigated the Pacific-facing side of Great Barrier Island, anchoring at Whangawahia Bay for the night before heading back to our starting point of Smokehouse Bay. The weather was glorious, and we noted locations of interest as we sailed by (the whole place!). We intend to go back soon to have a lengthier look around.


We sought shelter at Great Barrier’s Kiwiriki Bay during Cyclone Cody and the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai underwater volcano explosion/tsunami (which we did not notice), before heading out around the north side of Little Barrier Island to Kawau Island. Two days later, with our sailing holiday drawing to a close, we headed across to the east side of Waiheke Island, where we sheltered from high winds in Man ‘O War Bay. We invested the time in a couple of longer walks and eating amazing pizza at the Man ‘O War Vineyards restaurant.
Our summer journey was unfortunately at an end. It had been full of amazing learning opportunities and a great deal of fun – we can’t wait for our next big sailing adventure.


RUM’S RETURN

When we last wrote about Rum Bucket it was the August 2020 issue of Boating New Zealand. Quintin Fowler and his crew were caught in a bureaucratic storm while delivering the new yacht from her builder in Split, Croatia to her destination in Westhaven Marina, New Zealand. They had left her, under highly stressful circumstances, at Shelter Bay Marina in Panama, as the world went into lockdown and doors closed on their passage home.

Fast-forward to February 2022, a summer evening at Westhaven Marina. In the Member’s Lounge of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, Quintin Fowler seems very relaxed. He is with new friends he has made during a highly stressful sea voyage of an unusual sort.

The new friends are Ted Dixon and Jenny Johnson. Like Quintin, they were on the cruising adventure of a lifetime, in Georgetown, Bahamas waiting to head south to the Panama Canal and four years into a five-year stint of world cruising when the world progressively went into lockdown in response to a new pandemic threat called Covid-19.

Right at this moment, Ted and Jenny also seem very relaxed and happy. They are enjoying living on their beautiful Nordhavn 47, M/V Southern Star, in Auckland’s Viaduct Marina. They both have enjoyable work in the CBD, although they are working from onboard due to the pandemic restrictions, and life is good.

When the pandemic struck, Ted and Jenny were forced to make a difficult decision: continue cruising for another year in an unknown pandemic world, sail home to New Zealand, navigating many unknowns and problematic insurance prerequisites, or fly home and make arrangements for Southern Star to board a vessel carrier.

Rum Bucket in the Caribbean before the troubles.

At the same time, Quintin was realising that he had little chance of being reunited with Rum Bucket in the near future, and if he wanted the beautiful More 55 cruiser-racer home before the 36th America’s Cup, he would need to make arrangements to ship her back.

It seemed straightforward. Albeit for a significant fee, Quintin would finally get his boat home, without the need for dicey travel across international borders. And for Southern Star, once fuel and insurance were factored in, the financial equation was a balanced one. For both boat owners, who hadn’t yet met, it provided surety that they would receive their boat, safely and with minimal fuss.

What they didn’t know was that underworld criminal activity was playing out onboard a small sailing catamaran called Quest on the other side of the world, that would eventually play havoc with, not only their plans, but those of several boats in New Zealand and Australia.

In October 2021, Southern Star was loaded aboard the Happy Dover in Newport, Rhode Island. The ship travelled to Fort Lauderdale and then Panama, where it collected Rum Bucket, before stopping at Ensenada in Mexico, where a Kiwi-owned 62foot multihull cruiser called Kinetic was loaded – and, ominously as it turned out, Quest was lifted off.

Ted, Jenny and Quintin, and fellow Kiwi Scott Dickson, who had loaded Kinetic on behalf of its owner before flying back to NZ, avidly tracked the Happy Dover’s movements on AIS, waiting for its departure from Ensenada and anticipating its continuing voyage across the seas and into the South Pacific.

Ted and Jenny with Southern Star

But nothing happened. Happy Dover didn’t budge. For days and weeks, they individually telephoned their respective shipping agents and brokers, seeking information.

There was deafening silence until a whole month later, they heard that the ship had been detained in Mexico – but no explanation as to why or for how long. This was on the same day that Ted and Jenny were released from MIQ.

Eventually, news broke with the Mexican media reporting that 200kg of cocaine with a street value in the millions, had been hidden on board Quest.

“The ship was called the Happy Dover but here in New Zealand the boat was known as the Unhappy Dover, and also at times the Ship of Broken Dreams,” jokes Quintin. “This was January 2021, the America’s Cup was about to kick off, and after nearly a year, Rum Bucket was no closer to home.”

Weeks went by, and sensing trouble, Quintin made it a mission to track down others in the same situation and was put in touch with Ted and Jenny by his crew member Jo Clarke who located them on Facebook, as well as Scott Dickson who was overseeing the shipping of Kinetic on behalf of its owner.

“We got a therapy group together,” Quintin jokes. “We figured that together we would have more influence, and be able to get much information. We were told the boat should be released after a court date, and then nothing happened. A month would go by. The America’s Cup happened. We were told another ship was coming in six weeks. This happened three times.”

Rum Bucket with a racing crew back home in Auckland.

Finally there was a concession from the Mexican authorities and the owners were offered the option of waiting for Happy Dover to be released, or having their vessels offloaded. Southern Star was also offered transport to Florida.

The ‘therapy group’ continued to convene at the appropriately named Swashbucklers in Auckland, and eventually a new ship named Happy Dragon was offered by the shipping companies as an option to carry their boats home. By this time, with the Cup and over done with, they feared that a voyage to New Zealand was a less and less attractive option for the shipping companies.

“In the end we watched on Marine Traffic as the new boat, the Happy Dragon collected our boats from Mexico. We saw it arrive at dock and then later pull away with the pilot boats,” recalls Jenny, who received many hugs and congratulations from her work colleagues at the moment when this happened.

While Jenny and Ted maintain a pragmatic perspective about the experience, it was a highly emotional time. Not only had their world cruise, one they had spent years preparing for, been cut short, the boat was also their much-loved home and without it they relied on the generosity of friends for accommodation.

“We have gratitude for the wonderful years we did have cruising, but that time was highly intense and stressful,” says Jenny. “When we left Southern Star in Newport Rhode Island, all our possessions were onboard and we just had a bag each, thinking we’d see the boat again in a few weeks. Little did we know.”

They happily followed the progress of Happy Dragon through an unexpected detour to Australia, and through to Auckland.

Quintin holding Rum Bucket’s first trophy, for the RYNZS Night Race to Kawau.

Now, after 17 months of separation from his boat for Quintin, and 11 months for Ted and Jenny, you might think that is where the story finishes, and it almost does – but not quite.

Happy Dragon was due to arrive in Auckland with its precious cargo around the middle of August. Had the boat stayed on its original itinerary, it would have docked days before the Level 4 lockdown commenced on 17 August.

But thanks to the unexpected stopover, it finally docked at the Port of Auckland on 24 August, when the country was firmly in the grip of stay-at-home orders. Negotiating to release the boats to their proper berthage was just one more hurdle for both sets of beleaguered boat owners to jump through.

Ted and Jenny had ample time to prepare Southern Star for the trip and the boat arrived in very good condition except for a fouled hull from its weeks in the Mexican marina. Quintin, who had left the boat in a hurry 17 months earlier, wasn’t so lucky. The boat was filthy, the backstay had been disconnected and parts lost, the bilge and showers were seized and there was water egress into the sail drive. He says it seems the boat was hit by lightning and, so far, he has spent more than $25,000 repairing broken electronics and replacing batteries.

But no matter the challenges and obstacles, it’s apparent that the boat owners are delighted to be reunited with their boats. The challenges of the years are not forgotten but are now behind them, and out of it they have made new friends too.

As for the Happy Dover? At the time of writing the vessel is still where Rum Bucket and Southern Star left her, in the port of Ensenada. If you have a moment, take a look on Marine Traffic just for fun – it may still be there now. BNZ

Rum Bucket is a regular at Wednesday night races.


ONE FAMILY’S BOATING JOURNEY - Faulty heads and Wi-Fi solutions

Sailing the great expanse of water that surrounds New Zealand offers a sense of liberation and independence that is hard to dismiss. There’s a pull in its promise of ‘beyondness’ and adventure that is undeniable.

To entertain the very idea of sailing the wide, wide ocean as a family, we first had to learn to sail beyond Gulf Harbour. But even before that we had to get on the water.

Most of you will agree that 2021 was a very long year. Like normal it was 365 days, but in those 365 days Covid lockdowns became a lived reality. Coming from Cambridge, we did not bear the full brunt of the lockdowns as Aucklanders did (I offer my humble thanks for your amazing efforts), but we still found ourselves impacted by them. As a business owner and as it is also for sailors, unpredictability can stuff up the best laid plans.

I’d had Sauvage on the hard through winter for maintenance and paint work but found myself in the stressful situation of not being able to return to Auckland to get her back on the water. With increasing costs in mind, I was thankful the good folk at the marina office offered us a towing solution – two small craft towing Sauvage to its berth.

I temporarily installed the new Mobile Data Router-WiFi device atop the solar arch.

By December 2021, the long and the short of it was that my wife Kirsten and I desperately wanted a break and were ready to go – to go anywhere, just not here!

Truth be told, my feet had been itching to get back out on the water since the previous autumn. Every extension to the lockdowns just increased my desire to explore and feel some freedom. So, I planned for our first outing after lockdowns were lifted – a nice long sail down the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, which first meant a whole heap of improvements to Sauvage. I spent my time planning and sourcing new or replacement kit for her: a watermaker, a solar arch, solar panels, lithium batteries, an electric toilet (I had to use the batteries on something!), and a tri-colour anchor light.

Our plan was to head up to Gulf Harbour the first week of December to install the new gear. But to my consternation, the lockdown dates were extended through until December 15th. Covid lockdowns kept thwarting my best-laid plans!

Installation of the solar arch.

The time I’d set aside to install the kits before sailing, hoping to get everything working myself without too much help, all but disappeared. That’s the reason for wanting to get off the hard earlier – you can only spend your money once…

In the end, shifting dates got too much for me and I asked the team who fabricated the Solar Arch to install it. They were able to visit Gulf Harbour and measure up Sauvage for the arch – I had already provided my vision and several mind-mapped boards which they used as input for what became a beautiful, sleek stainless arch, all securely attached to Sauvage.

With hindsight, I am so pleased we did this. It makes a world of difference when you’re away on the boat for a period of time.

As you can imagine, I was emotionally more than ready to be out on the water with its promise of space and freedom. We arrived at the marina on December 17th to find the rest of our kit waiting for me. Although I had an estimated a week of work to install the new gear, my feet got too itchy and I wanted to be somewhere ‘out there, where it’s not here’ on Christmas Day, so I said to Kirsten, “Let’s just go. I can install everything once we’re gone”.

Head with backwash

That was my first mistake! In my heart of hearts, I knew trouble would find me, but I was on a mission and so just before casting off, I unbolted the forward head (toilet) and took it to the dumpster. Let me tell you, removing a 30-year-old toilet with 30 years’ worth of ooze is a nasty job.

In the process, I discovered the reason for the backwash that had pushed me to swap the head out in the first place – the combination of switches, gears and tanks was mis-configured and could have been easily fixed… “Oh well,” I thought, “the new toilet can be our COVID treat!”

We had a working aft head (one of the reasons we bought Sauvage was because it had two heads), so while I did the forward job, all five of us would share the aft toilet.

Starting with an uncooperative head and moving on to a very uncooperative through-hull valve.

On arriving at Great Barrier, I busied myself in the forward bathroom, preparing and planning the installation of the head. Oops! The old head had a different sized waste pipe – normally easily addressed, but not on Great Barrier Island a few days before Christmas Day. I didn’t panic, though, and thought to myself: “we have the aft head, we are all good and when we get to Whitianga next week, I will get the parts and install it then”.

The sea gods surely have a sense of humour because a day later the very cool – and in the 1980s very futuristic – vacuumoperated aft head stopped vacuuming! Not to be beaten (by the situation or my wife), I unscrewed the wall panels to get to the manually operated vacuum where, sadly, I found the issue – a split pipe oozing fresh deposits.

As an aside, one of the things I have really grown to enjoy on the boat is the ‘number 8 wire’ mentality – if you are somewhere not close to anywhere, you have to make do! The best I could manage, after attempting but failing (in the most disgusting ways!) to patch, bypass or replace it with a bodged pipe, was to admit I could not fix it.

It went everywhere! A manual bilge pump was great to pump out the nooks and crannies.

Even worse, I discovered that the valve in the through-hull black water outlet did not actually close properly. Over the years some internal components had rotted away! I had to bodge around this problem more effectively to stop a gush of seawater coming in, turning it into a regular drip, which requiring a daily run of the bilge pump for all six weeks of the sail. However, in this case good management was as good as a solution!

Well, having almost stopped the new leak and eliminated any further encounters with fresh human waste (by stopping people depositing any), we were left with no working heads. Hello bucket!

Yep, for the next week we used a bucket. From that moment on, I suspect we went to the toilet about a third as often as we had previously! Nothing like having to manhandle your poop to make you want to make less… We got to Whitianga. A five-minute trip to shore and a visit with the very helpful team at Longshore Marine and I had the metre of pipe required so we could complete the installation of the forward head. One hour later… aaahh, the pleasure of sitting on a freshly installed head and contemplating life! I commissioned it immediately.

The good news – after you have replaced a head you really get to understand how it works.

Now that I have made a long story long, a onesentence gem for everyone: complete improvements and installations on shore. It’s painful not having access to the parts you need for a simple job!

While on Great Barrier I did install the new lithium batteries and the watermaker (which came as a kitset with every part required in the box). Thankfully, this was a simple job.

Finally, and very importantly when starting a six-week boating trip with three kids, for everyone’s sanity I had invested in a decent mobile router/WiFi device and a strong antenna. For a family on a boat, good, reliable internet is fundamental to a successful extended trip.

The floorboards had to come up to clean up the mess.

As I come from a telecommunication background I used a bit of back-knowledge and got a Teltonika RUT950 Dual SIM LTE Router and a QuSpot LTE, WiFi & GPS Antenna, which are specifically designed to work together. A single sealed unit, I installed it on the Solar Arch on the transom, up high to get the best mobile signal, and well placed to beam the WiFi throughout the boat. We got a Skinny data SIM to install in the unit and went online to purchase the unlimited data pack. This meant the kids could access the internet to surf the web and message their friends in the evenings and during rest times – happy kids, happy wife, happy life!

There’s more information about the WiFi installation on our Facebook page in case anyone wants to repeat my successful solution. BNZ


Miami International Boat Show 2022- South Beach Soiree

Supersized and reimagined, the 2022 Miami International Boat Show served up a veritable banquet of new boat launches. Boating New Zealand’s Craig Ritchie was there to see it all first-hand.

In the face of plummeting covid infection rates, a new ownership structure, new event features and all-new venues including a return to South Beach, expectations ran high for the 2022 Miami International Boat Show (MIBS). In spite of some breezy weather on opening day, the show did not disappoint, with a surge of new product launches helping to attract an estimated 100,000 visitors over its five-day run.

This year’s event – the first under a new management agreement between the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show producer Informa Markets – now includes the formerly separate Miami Yacht Show and Superyacht Miami events under a common Discover Boating Miami International Boat Show banner. With four in-water venues, plus the newly-renovated Miami Beach Convention Centre, the 2022 MIBS was by far the largest on record with boat builders accordingly pulling out all the stops.

Boating New Zealand brings you a sample of the new models coming soon to a dealership near you.

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