The Woodham family’s quest to master safe anchoring continues – starting this time with Islington Bay and its notoriously poor holding.

Welcome to this month’s article. In the December 2023 issue, we’d sailed our Jeanneau 47ft yacht S.V. Sauvage under the Auckland Harbour Bridge (with plenty of clearance – yes, I had been concerned) and made it through to the Auckland Central City side with ease.

Our goal was to finally master anchoring in Islington Bay, which lies between Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands in the Hauraki Gulf. This was our third attempt, and this time, I hoped for some luck. Pffff! I wish!

Now on the city side of the Harbour Bridge, we needed to fill up with diesel. Our first port of call was the fuel dock inside Westhaven Marina. Our one-and-only experience of Westhaven was during our Penny Whiting sailing lesson, so we were unfamiliar with its layout. But we called ahead to find the lay of the land… Thank goodness, as our Navionics app tried to send us on the wrong route.

Kudos to Westhaven Marina for its amazing fuelling dock – it had a lengthy landing jetty with built-in buffer pads. Not sure if you could fill your boat’s water tanks though?


In comparison, Gulf Harbour Marina’s fuelling dock (it was great to have a dock there when that was ‘home’) is compact and more difficult to access, but you could fill up your water tanks, which is a bonus. You don’t know what you have (or haven’t) got until you experience something different.

Then we were off to Islington Bay. My goodness, it felt good to be out on the water, in the sun, and enjoying freedom. We were surprised at how few yachts were out on Waitemata Harbour given it was the school holidays, but it made for easier navigation.

We wound our way to Islington Bay, through the narrow channel, due to Sauvage’s deeper draft (2.6m with full tanks of diesel and water). By the time we’d arrived the promised forecast of south-westerly winds had been fulfilled, and unfortunately, though we’d thought the bay would be angled enough to block the full force of the wind, we found instead the winds gusting up behind us and growing stronger and stronger by the minute.

Carefully squeezing under the harbour bridge. Phew!

But we were very keen to finally conquer anchoring at Islington. So down went the anchor, and splash went the kids into the cool and cloudy waters. We thought we would be fine.

Alas, gust-after-gust flew past us. And with each gust, our anchor would slip. We re-anchored; but yet again we started dragging. It seemed our ‘traditional’ anchor was going to struggle with the muddy sea bottom at Islington Bay. Blast of all blasts.

After reading an email from Boating NZ subscriber Don, who recommended we upgrade to a Sarca or a Rocna anchor and add a swivel, to provide better anchor sets and improved holding, we had decided (obviously naively) to ignore his advice. We’d be okay, no different anchor required.

The weather forecast was for the wind to continue, and we weren’t inclined to hang around to experience a sleepless night dragging the anchor, so we re-planned. Where to go? Around a couple more bays to Motutapu Island’s Home Bay, which would provide shelter from a south-westerly but potentially leave us open to the stronger winds in the Hauraki Gulf? Or across to Owhanake Bay, which is located on the north-west corner of Waiheke Island?


A good sail on the other side – even time for some measurement checks.

We decided on Owhanake Bay – I’ve been there previously with the kids and my European friend, Paul, and all seemed well.

The passage was a gusty, particularly as we sailed through Motuihe Channel. We arrived at Owhanake Bay late in the afternoon, and anchored in. We were protected by the hills from most of the gusts, but my night’s sleep was disturbed by my anchor alarm telling me we were inching towards the rocks that lay on the east side of the bay. The drag was minor but we were close to rocks. Do you up-anchor or stay put? We stayed, but in the morning we re-anchored, not once, but three times.

Clearly our anchor doesn’t do well in anchorages with muddy bottoms! Decision-time again. Stay or go? We chose to try our much-experienced Oneroa Bay, but on entering the bay we could tell the gusts were strong and we were in no mood for anchoring and re-anchoring multiple times. We found a little nook (that we will use in the future) on the east side of Compson’s Rock, which provided shelter from the winds. But quite a few boats had found this spot as well, and concerned we’d be in trouble during the night and have to navigate between other boats as we re-anchored, we made the decision to find a different spot that was sheltered and had few boats.

Good bye Auckland.

Let me tell you, this does not make for fun sailing. Everyone is frustrated because all we want to do is relax, and a tad stressed, as we want to be safe. The kids get argumentative, as do I, but we must make the correct decision. For us, safety comes first, so we had to find a solution that worked.

We decided to try Little Palm Beach, further east than Oneroa Bay. And would you know it! We hit the right spot. Well kind-of. It was sheltered (although experiencing some gusts), and there were far fewer boats to be concerned with.


We dropped anchor and, this time, we used a small yellow floating device to help us identify where the anchor was holding. It was in fact Don’s brilliant idea. With this device we could work out whether our anchor was actually dragging, or if Sauvage was simply meandering around and pulling on the anchor. We knew the depth of the water, and had made a length of string long enough, so that the device essentially floated above the anchor. Such a simple and logical idea to implement, and one which significantly reduced our stress levels. We did drag a couple of metres during the night, but we were also aware of where we were and that we were well clear of rocks and other boats.

So, Don… We are definitely going to be changing our anchor and getting the swivel attachment you recommended.

The crew hard at work – or not!

Around midday, the following day, we up-anchored to return to our mooring ball at Catalina Bay.

The gusts had abated and we had an amazing relaxed day sailing – back past the northern tips of Motutapu and Rangitoto Islands, past Auckland City, over the Auckland City to Devonport ferry wakes, past a sailing yacht practising its tacking in the channel, and into Westhaven Marina to refill with diesel. The sun was out, the wind was down, and it was beautiful.

Then back to our mooring ball. Again, sailing under the Auckland Harbour Bridge was like travelling through a portal – from one world to another.

We arrived in the dark, moored safely, packed up and returned to the jetty. Our anchoring was a failure, and yet we returned having thoroughly enjoyed our time out on the water.

Until next month, enjoy your boating and be safe. BNZ

Easing into Westhaven’s fuel dock.