Captain's Log: Week 4
On this next leg, John and Robin make it to majestic Milford Sound and check to see how their Propspeed is holding up.
Day 1 and 2: Nelson
With miserable weather leading them in to Nelson, John felt they had timed their trip perfectly. Between grocery shopping, refueling and boat maintenance, they had plenty to fill their days. On Friday, John and Jo enjoyed dinner at a nearby marina restaurant before Jo headed back to Hamilton and their cat, Tazzy. On Saturday morning, they went to view a boat for sale.
“She was a beast: 78 feet long and a big-volume boat totally suited to comfortable cruising, probably bigger than I need.” After buying a wet suit, they had coffee at “an amazing award-winning cafe that was big on roasting on site. It was the first time I have been asked if I want mild, medium or dark roast!”
Jo and Robin on a grocery run: Do you recognize these people? If so, please contact Countdown in Nelson. We did return them, actually. :-)
Day 3: Nelson to Torrent Bay
On Sunday, Robin and John woke early to get things shipshape for their big trip south. After three days in port, they were ready to be back at sea. “We intend to go directly to Milford Sound from Port Golden Bay, which will give us four days to explore the Abel Tasman coastline. Probably not enough, based on what we have seen to date! Talking with locals and other boaties, it became clear that the risk versus reward of entering Westport and Greymouth probably isn’t worth it.”
Having enjoyed both places on a road trip last year, John found their marinas unsuited to visiting boats. “We’d be wanting near-perfect conditions to enter the two ports. We also have a great weather window presenting, which will see us cruising in 5- to 10-knot winds with a 1.75-meter sea, so we don’t want to miss that!”
After filling up on water, modifying the engine-room hatches and savoring a final barista-made coffee, they left Nelson at 10:00am, cruising northwest up the coast toward Torrent Bay, where they planned to spend the night. “It offers the best shelter from sea and wind in the Abel Tasman area. We had a slight swell and glassy surface, which basically meant no wind at all.”
With shallow waters and the occasional piece of debris to negotiate, they stayed a safe distance from shore. “The waters were still quite cloudy from the rain we’d had recently but improved the further we traveled from Nelson.” They decided to head into Kaiteriteri, a beautiful spot that was a hive of activity, with cars and campervans lining the length of the beach.
“A young lad in a kayak approached us shortly after we anchored. He was very impressed with the boat so we had a chat as his dad paddled over in his kayak. I decided to invite them aboard for a look around.” They soon realized they had a connection: the owner of the boat John and Robin had looked at the day before. “Does everyone know everyone in New Zealand? Robin designed the interior layout of that boat too, so it was bizarre.” As their guests were departing, Shane, the father, rolled his kayak over and fell into the sea. “The rest of his family came over too, just to add insult to injury. Poor guy!”
Awaroa was their next destination, “but every bay we passed was so beautiful, we decided to stop at Torrent Bay for the afternoon and evening.” They ventured ashore, walking to one of the bays they had passed on their way there. “We were fully equipped for the trek, with bare feet and shorts. Thank goodness the Department of Conservation has done such a great job with the tracks here. They were fantastic! Love to see them given more funding for the work they do.”
Horizon III anchored in Torrent Bay
Torrent Bay was “absolutely pumping,” with a steady stream of boats collecting visitors exiting Abel Tasman National Park. “Most were tourists, based on their accents when we greeted them as we passed on the trail. They’ve clearly done their homework to find these places to visit, which many Kiwis probably have yet to enjoy.”
Back on the boat, Robin captured drone footage of the bay and Horizon III while John took his new wet suit for a test run. “I decided to check the propellers while I was in the water and dived down to take a look. Everything was perfect; there were no marks on the Propspeed and no signs of deterioration.” The only issue? “I was fighting to stay down because of the buoyancy of my wet suit and had to hold onto the rudder and prop to keep off the underside of the boat!”
A gurnard dinner was followed by an evening of blogging. “We are both looking forward to tomorrow and Awaroa Bay.”
Day 4: Awaroa Bay to Abel Tasman
A peaceful night and a delicious cooked breakfast later, John and Robin weighed anchor and took a leisurely cruise up the coast, hugging the coastline to maximize their views of every little bay. “All the bays had golden-colored sands that were just stunning, especially with the backdrop of beautiful Abel Tasman National Park, the early morning sun and crystal-clear blue skies. Even traveling slowly at 12 knots, we were soon in Awaroa Bay and, oh my god, this place does not disappoint!”
Awaroa: the beach New Zealanders bought back
Robin took some aerial footage while John got his first sandfly bites of the trip: “Just a couple but, boy, these things are a good size, about double that of Hamilton’s. At least they’re easy to see!”
Arriving at low tide, the best time to explore by kayak and on foot, they saw signs of storm damage everywhere: significant erosion, large pines practically ripped up by the roots, and a ramp whose foundations dangled mid-air. A mountain of debris lay atop the wetlands. Despite all the damage, it was still breathtaking: “You simply couldn’t destroy the natural beauty of this spot if you tried!”
Last year, John made a small donation to help buy back the peninsula “for all New Zealanders—our children and grandchildren as well as tourists—to enjoy its unspoilt beauty for decades to come.” He was inspired that many other New Zealanders felt the same; thanks to crowdfunding, the land is now under DOC management.
My shot of the day: Bloody easy when there’s such good subject matter! Looking out onto Awaroa Bay from the Inlet, Horizon III just visible in the background
Back on “the mother ship,” the wind began to pick up. Our sailors sought shelter in Tonga Bay but continued to be plagued by northerly winds before moving on to Bark Bay. After a “nana nap” some blogging, the two went ashore and discovered well-maintained facilities, an inlet behind the beach, and weka and their chicks nesting near campers’ tents. John was impressed with the setup and hopes the DOC will replicate it at other scenic spots around the country:
“We have such an awesome opportunity to ensure visitors have the best holiday ever. I can see these people going home and raving about New Zealand to their families and friends, effectively becoming our ambassadors. I am definitely coming back to Awaroa, Abel Tasman and the Marlborough Sounds, but I quietly suspect the best is yet to come, when we venture further south.”
Tucked up in Bark Bay doing my blog. Not a bad office, aye?
A gurnard and blue cod dinner later, John and Robin settled in for the evening in flat water with no wind. “The port is a little bit exposed, but you know what they say: any port in a storm. Thankfully we don’t have the storm.”
Walking to the general store for postal services and sundries, they also stopped for coffee. On the way back, they took photos of some rock formations. One of these was created during an 8.2-magnitude earthquake around 1930, when one huge rock fell into another, blocking the road running between them. Later, the rock was chiseled away, reinstating road access. “Some of these overhangs looked really precarious, and I felt like running under them rather than walking!”
A tunnel carved between these two huge rocks reopened road access after a quake caused them to fall in the 1930s.
Back at the boat, the brothers met their new neighbour, Bill, a retired test engineer who had worked for Boeing. Bill and his wife were traveling around New Zealand in an 18-meter steel yacht. “He liked our tender lift so took some photos, as he was planning to have something similar made for his boat.”
Day 6: Port Golden Bay
The brothers awoke to a beautiful Wednesday after a wet and, at times, windy night. “We certainly knew we were in a working port. The last boat turned up at 9:30pm and pulled in next to us with enough lights blazing to play a rugby test match under! The next time we heard them was when they started the engines again at 4:15am; these guys are certainly putting in the hours: four days on and four days off, but very long days.”
A drone’s-eye view of Port Golden Bay
After breakfast and much perseverance, Robin managed to get the anchor lights working again. “These lights are very useful when setting and retrieving the anchor in windy conditions at night—much easier than the head-mounted torch, that’s for sure.” They worked through their check list to ensure they were properly prepared to run all day and night, arriving in Milford Sound on Friday afternoon.
Waving goodbye to Bill and his wife, who were setting off for Cape Reinga, John and Robin turned their attention to their own boat: “We polished the top sides and glass, so Horizon III is looking amazing! We need a wax coating to handle the massive amount of salt washing over the boat in heavy seas. Tomorrow, we’re expecting 15 knots as we pass Cape Farewell Spit, dropping to 10 knots as we progress further south with about a 3.5-meter sea rolling in from the west. Pretty normal conditions for this coastline.
“We saw a beautiful sunset over Golden Bay and watched the Auckland tug Kurutai tow a massive rock-laden barge destined for Wellington. It's a long haul for them, at a snail’s pace.
Sunset over Golden Bay
“We’re just about to call it a day and get a good night’s sleep, our last for a day or two. I have all our meals sorted for this leg, so now it’s time to get on with it. I enjoy the edge—just a nice amount of nerves for the challenge ahead. That’s why we do these things; it certainly keeps you on your toes and, most importantly, the ‘grey matter’ working. Next blog: Milford Sound.”
Day 7: Golden Bay to Milford Sound
Departing for Milford at 5:45am, John and Robin headed due north, cruising at 12 knots in a flat sea with winds of about 15 knots. “We knew that would change as we rounded the Cape.” As predicted, they found themselves in a large, short sea (3.5 meters), which slowed them down to 10 knots. Traveling along the western side of Farewell Spit, they heard a strange noise from behind and turned to see the tender swinging wildly. A shackle had come undone and dropped into its bottom.
“In any other conditions it would be a very easy fix, but with only a couple of knots of speed, the boat was rising and falling steeply.” The boarding platform was awash, “right up to the top of Robin’s legs at times!” Letting the boat idle, John helped Robin reattach the shackle and lift the tender back to its home position. “Of all the checks we carried out, we didn’t do this one, so it looks like there will be one more added to the list.”
Once around the headland, the wind and sea died down and they were cruising at an easy 12 to 13 knots again. “We cruised all day in good conditions, considering where we were. As we got further off shore, though, the sea became more unruly and short. The wind was a southerly, with the sea running straight at us and standing up.” By 10pm, they were down to 11 knots, then 10. “The boat was burying its nose in the waves, firing water everywhere, up through the anchor well. Sometime during the night, it punched the starboard-bow light right out of the retaining socket!” Deciding that a change of course needed to look after the boat, John let it roll, “something it’s very happy doing as it softens entry into the waves. We were able to run with a lot less banging and thumping.”
With the approaching dawn, conditions became smoother. Determined to make their arrival time, John lifted the speed to 18 knots, staying there until they reached the entrance of Milford Sound. “The forecast was for a rough night ahead, and I wanted to be sorted and settled as quickly as possible.” Some 30 hours later, with only one brief stop to fix the tender, John radioed Fiordland Maritime to close their trip report. Throughout the trip, he had been radioing in their position, heading and speed. “The people on watch at Maritime Radio were fantastic—very helpful and professional. It was comforting to know that we were being monitored throughout this leg, which took us 45 nautical miles off shore. We saw one fishing vessel during the day out from Greymouth and another commercial fishing boat during the night. That was it. It’s a very lonely place out there!”
On arrival, Milford was blanketed in low cloud, creating an otherworldly atmosphere redolent of Lord of the Rings. “At first, I said to Robin, ‘What a shame the weather is crap for our run in,’ but very quickly changed my mind. Vertical rock faces disappeared into the mist; water cascaded down massive rock structures towering thousands of feet above us. I was spellbound.” Crawling along at 5 to 7 knots just meters from the cliff, they paused occasionally to take photos and listen to the waterfalls, like the many tourist-laden boats in front of them.
Mist-shrouded waterfalls and peaks made for stunning photo ops
“Mitre Peak was on our right and lost in clouds; we didn’t see it until the following morning. My depth sounder failed immediately as the waters were simply too deep for the transponder to cope with.” The truly awesome landscape similarly overwhelmed John, his camera and even his mobile device: “It was almost like rock cathedrals reaching high into the sky. I tried to set up the satellite phone to let people know we had arrived safely, but even that wouldn’t work in the confines of Milford Sound.”
Cruising past sheer cliffs thousands of feet high. The water beneath the boat was over 1,000 feet deep!
During the night, high winds bumped the boat against the large wooden piles they were tied to. “We had fenders out too, to soften the impact, but with a big tide swing and being able to tie only one side with enough slack, we just had to live with it. The marina had no floating pontoons but, hey, we were much happier here than swinging at anchor. In fact, as we would soon discover, anchoring would have been a major issue.”