Friday, January 18, 2013

That escalated quickly.

Scallops and Horse Mussels.
I briefly considered bailing and heading back for another day of indolence in the bay at Urupukapuka, but when I looked astern the island itself, as well as the pass through the rocks at the margin of Bay of Islands, had been engulfed in fog. The same dreary clouds were moving to obscure Cape Brett off my starboard bow as I pummeled forward through a nasty chop against a thirty knots breeze. I stayed at the wheel working the waves and spilling the heavy gusts, wearing all my foulies, trying to keep warm. Saltbreaker fought the same battle just ahead of me.

 Bay of Islands.

It was Friday, the seventh of December. I had a flight out of Auckland the coming Monday and a fair bit of coast to cover between Bay of Islands and Whangarei in the mean time. The forecasts had been nasty for days- fifty knots in the Hauraki Gulf, easing slightly to the North. We awoke that morning to a relatively decent forecast, though. As we were weighing anchors, the sun was out in the sheltered bay. It was the first phase in what would be a day of remarkably varied conditions. It would seem the Pacific would send a smorgasbord of her finest as we hauled down the coast.

From Cape Brett, I eased the sheets and shot like a rocket downhill under half jib. The chop was short-period and steep, and Ardea was hitting nine knots regularly. She even kept up with Saltbreaker. For a while at least. The sun departed in clouds, then reappeared. The wind got stronger, then lightened up, then stiffened again. Rain came and went. At one stage, as I careened South in twenty-five knots under full jib and a close-reefed mizzen, I looked astern to see a massive and veritably gnarly squall line. I didn't quite believe it at first, but watched the pace of the clouds for a moment and then quickly doused the mizzen and reefed the jib. It hit me with a freezing rain and thirty-five knots. I got on the radio to warn Saltbreaker, but they were a mile or two ahead of me and never got the squall. It seemed the weather had something different for everyone. We agreed, though, that this was excellent sailing. We were having a phenomenal time.

We continued down toward Bream Head, the point around which lay Whangerei. Saltbreaker saw the passing of the front, the wind suddenly changing from northwest to southwest though losing little of its power. For me, though only a few miles away, the front passed with less excitement. In fact, before long, I was becalmed. I laughed to myself at the irony of seeing such a range, a taste of nearly everything the Pacific had mustered over the last ten months. Soon the wind kicked up again. About twenty miles north of Bream Head, we tuned into the vhf weather broadcast (how convenient!) and heard fifty knots still licked points southward. It was early afternoon. We made the decision to head toward Tutukaka and save the last push to Whangerei for Sunday, when the winds would moderate.

This proved a fortuitous choice with this lovely cove like a head of broccoli, small covelets branching out separated by an incomplete isthmus, a few rocks or a sand spit. We anchored in one of the covelets and raved with excitement about the day. We were wind-licked and salty. It was a familiar and fine feeling. It felt like we'd been out on the Bay. Our response was Pavlovian, for we knew there was no greater cap to such a day as a pint and pub food. We piled into Tuerto and scooted across a few broccoli branches towards a marina and the small town, er, village, of Tutukaka. The water was shallow and the Johnson scraped a few times reminding me of the outgoing tide.

In town we found the restaurant, which was under the hotel, which was also the apartment building, which housed the business and the grocery store. Low and behold we soon found friends among the sole other party at the establishment who piled into Tuerto for a tour of our boats whilst we gathered the necessary items for a night on the town. Whangarei, that is. Still at least a half-day's sail away, the city was nontheless a mere twenty-minute drive. Our detour, though pushing me ever-closer to my deadline, was vindicated by the blessing of some great new friends. We spent the following day hanging out in Tutukaka as the weather eased.

On Sunday, Alex and Nick left Saltbreaker at anchor in Tutukaka and boarded Ardea along with our friends Nikki and Carrie. For the first time in a while, I would head out for a day sail with friends and a couple boxes of beer. We beat into a headwind most of the day but the sun was warm and noone complained. It was a long mixture of sailing and motoring up the channel to Whangarei Town Basin, but we made it at dusk. I tied Ardea up to a pile mooring twenty-two hours before my flight was to take off in Auckland.

Bream Head.

The next morning I sorted everything out and moved Ardea to the mooring at which she would spend the next month. I put my fishing equipment, my outboard and all the other valuable pulpit ornaments down below, packed my bags and caught the bus. Naturally, since I sailed to the land of wind, there were a handful of yachties I happened to know on the bus come South from Bay of Islands. I languished in this last fruit of the glorious lifestyle I had led for almost a year.

California. What a place. In a blink my trip Stateside flew by. It was good, in a word. I ate and drank and laughed and lamented. I met my nephew, Cameron, and carried him proudly in the suspenders of my overalls. I enjoyed the great company of my family and a good many friends. I flew East to New York and was so affected by the cold that I forgot the smell of diesel. It was good to be home, if crazy and overwhelming and intense.

I made it back to Auckland and, after crashing on Only Child with John and Nia and Alex for a few nights, reunited with Ardea in Whangarei. I brought her across the basin to a boatyard and pulled the masts off yesterday. Then things really started to get interesting. It is day two of my time tied to this dock next to a boat at which an altercation led to the incarceration of no less than four souls last night. With hammer and chisel I have progressively dismantled with emotional distress as though I were performing surgery on my own child. I have nearly finished the utter destruction of the forward portion of Ardea's cockpit decking and well.  Tomorrow, perhaps, I will begin to build her back again. That boat yards are places of great character and of great characters holds true in the southern hemisphere thus far.

Uhhhh. Moral support welcome.

With any luck, I'll have Ardea put back together again within two weeks, but, as the affable captain of the gaff-rigged wooden schooner on hard-stand nearby says, “Predictions are difficult. Especially regarding the future.”

1 comment:

  1. Oh damn, that looks like quite the project!!! Just another adventure to put on the books. Glad you had such a good time at home and I'm so sorry to have missed you!
    xx - Karin