After a couple more nights exploring Dusky and Breaksea Sounds, including Vancouver Arm (Named for George Vancouver, who served as a Lieutenant under James Cook on Resolution), we dashed north to Doubtful Sound. After motoring for a few hours, the wind filled in offering us a nice spinnaker ride up and around the corner into Doubtful sound. Unfortunately, our top-down furler initially refused to roll our kite when time came for the douse. We eventually cajoled it to cooperate and later discovered that some padding I’d installed to protect our mast while hoisting had interfered with the head swivel operation. An easy fix.
Here in Doubtful Sound, we discovered the joy of Fjordland’s notorious Sand Flies. These blood-thirsty biting bastards are on the prowl at dawn and dusk and are at their worst after a rain. Deet proved effective at curbing the bites, but the evil things were still thick around us when we were out. Fortunately, Cindy had stocked the boat well with very fine “no-see-um” screen fabric. First she created a barrier curtain across the back of our enclosed cockpit to allow us to enjoy “The Sanctum” when at anchor. Next, she crafted another curtain across the companion way to keep the few little fuckers who made it into “The Sanctum” out of interior of the boat, “The Inner Sanctum.” And lastly, she fashioned a mesh door across the entrance to our aft “Holy Sanctum” cabin. No sand fly lived to see the Holy Sanctum! THANK YOU CINDY!
We met Caroline (Caro) and Mark on the Dutch Yacht, “Jonathan” in Gaer Arm, the extremity of Bradshaw Sound, where we make a lovely dinghy trip up the Camelot River to a chorus of bird-song. The trip ended at a gentle waterfall where a bracing swim was in order. With another front approaching, we made our way back to Precipice Cove where we took advantage of a strong fisherman’s rope strung along the shore. As on Stewart Island, the protocol is to drop your main anchor in the center of the cove and winch yourself in close to the fisherman’s strong line. In this way, several yachts and fishing boats can take secure refuge from the weather in a snug cove.
Doubtful sound (which includes Bradshaw Sound and Thompson Sound) is one of only two sounds in Fjordland with road access. Groceries can be ordered from an inland shop for delivery by bus to Deep Bay. Fuel is available to support sport fishers, commercial fishers, and charter tour boats plying the waters of the southern sounds.
In Deas Bay, Thompson Sound, we were well protected from the brisk north winds. Here we had a nice visit with a 4-some of South Islanders sport fishing for a week. These 4 hearty fellas were shacking up together on a 25-foot runabout with a cuddy cabin and a covered cockpit complete with an assortment of coolers (Esk-ees) and a BBQ. “Have you tried the Doubtful Sound Crayfish?” they needed to know before handing over a couple of nice succulent lobsters from the day’s catch. Against their protests, we handed over a nice bottle of Marlborough Chardonnay. Butter, lemon juice, and garlic contributed to an amazing feast! My fishing efforts have become a standing joke aboard Pazzo (and elsewhere). My hunting and gathering seems limited to sympathy handouts from passing fishermen.
March 20 offered a fair wind for another jump up the coast, skipping Nancy, Charles and Caswell Sounds before settling into George Sound. With limited time and few weather windows we had to make some hard choices. Each sound has its own character and attractions. Some offer unique wild life while others boast stunning scenery. Some have both and a few offer only solitude. In George Sound, we met up again with Mark and Caro on “Jonathan” and trudged through some rough trails to find a couple of lovely lakes. On one such hike, we encountered a couple of hunters who kindly but firmly informed us that the region was closed during hunting season. Apparently, hunters apply for a permit to hunt deer/elk/moose in a well defined sector of forest. This sector is reserved exclusively for their hunting party during the period of their permit. For safety reasons, other hunters and hikers are prohibited from entering the reserved sector. Oops. As they were heading out to meet their pick-up boat and wouldn’t be hunting the sector that day, they welcomed us to continue along our hike.
After a couple of days in the gorgeous Alice Lake Anchorage, we hauled our anchor and begrudging accepted a windless day to motor 9 hours up the coast to Milford Sound, the northern-most sound of Fjordland. Milford is New Zealand’s most famous Sound and most famous hiking track… and for good reason. Stunning and awesome are insufficient adjectives to capture the incredible beauty of Milford Sound.
With the permission of Real Journeys Cruise Company, we took a huge black mooring in Harrison Bay for our arrival night. After a rainy night, we awoke to a misty morning – surrounded by cascading waterfalls whitening the granite cliffs on all sides of the anchorage. A splendid start to the day! With the rain abating, we moved into well-protected Deep Water Basin where we found friends Chris and Lynn on the French/Aussi yacht “Haiyou.” Sadly, they were just slipping their lines to sail northward so we took over their mooring. Along with Doubtful Sound, Milford is the only other Fjordland sound with road access. And well-used is the road… normally. We don’t know the statistics, but judging by the size of the tour-bus parking lot, Milford Sound lays rightful claim to one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions!
On day two in Milford Sound, the sun came out and the wind lay down for Cindy’s camera to capture the requisite reflection pictures of Miter and Cascade Peaks. We strolled around Milford Village and hiked a couple hours up the Milford Track with Mark and Caro from “Jonathan,” happy to have cooperative weather. Moody would be our adjective of choice for Milford Sound. The awe-inspiring granite peaks surrounding the deep fjord are truly majestic against the blue sky and pure white clouds, but the grey clouds and dreary rains browning the waters bring a melancholy tone. We enjoyed both moods and were thankful to skip the angry mood of stormy weather.
On March 26, we cast free of our mooring for the 350 mile, 2-day sail north along the South Island’s west coast. We left with 25-30 knot southerlies in the forecast but soon found ourselves under-canvased with 2 reefs in the mainsail and our staysail pulling gently. Adding the genoa gave us the push we needed to carry us a few hours further out to sea where we found the favorable breeze and rolled the genoa for 24 hours of fast downwind sailing before the pressure eased enough to get the spinnaker pulling. Day 3 was alternating between motor and sail around Cape Farewell, across Tasman Bay and through French Pass before we set our pick for the night in Kokowhai Bay.
March 31 brought glassy calm to Cook Strait for our motorboat ride to Wellington where we anchored near the airport in Evans Bay before finding a decent Thai restaurant to celebrate our 37th year of (often) blissful marriage. The following morning, the wind started building, ushering in what would, for the next six weeks would become a pattern: two days moving followed by a week hunkered down with foul weather. During our week in Wellington, we enjoyed only a couple days off the boat exploring the sights and sounds of the capitol city, topping off diesel, and visiting new friends.
We made and aborted an escape attempt on April 4. The forecast was calling for northerly winds for about 6 hours before turning southerly – uncomfortable but not too bad. Within 30 minutes of leaving the anchorage, Wellington Harbour Control advised us that the Wellington Harbour sea buoy was reporting 32 knot gusts from the NW! Back to anchor. While waiting for suitable escape weather, we met Thomas, a German doctor on “Nez Puck.” Thomas had sailed to Wellington from Whangarei (almost 800 miles) to renew his German passport. The renewal had to be done in person and the good doctor had not been vaccinated. In fact, he firmly believes that COVID is a total fabrication designed to make a select few people fabulously wealthy. Without a vaccination card, he couldn’t fly or bus or rent a car. Nor could he enter the German consulate’s office in Auckland. Only Wellington offered an outside window to process his papers. Needless to say, we hastily invited him off our boat!
Finally, April 8 served up favorable winds for our 2-day sail to Gisbourne, home to some of New Zealand’s finest Chardonnay grapes and incredible citrus fruits. Gisbourne called us for two reasons. First, Cindy’s friend and nursing colleague from our time living in Auckland in the 1980s, Paula Renouff, has a lovely remodeled farm house in the city. And second, tropical cyclone (Hurricane) Fili was on a trajectory for East Cape, about 50 miles north of Gisbourne. We enjoyed a couple of relaxing days exploring Gisbourne and the surrounding countryside with Paula as an incredible host.
As Fili neared the North Island, she was downgraded to ex-T.C. Fili and changed course to pass nearly directly over Gisbourne. On April 14, we doubled-down on all our mooring lines and appreciated the large marina buildings to windward of the snug and tidy little harbor. A day later all the excitement had passed. Maximum winds registered in the mid 30s as the boat shook and strained at her lines but all held strong. The boats unprotected by the large buildings took a bit of a pounding from both wind and waves funneling between the entrance breakwaters. With the wind quickly relaxing, we climbed a nearby hill to check the sea-state. Perhaps an early departure would be possible? Nope! Fili had kicked up waves that were breaking fully across the entrance channel. Not so many years ago, a freighter went up on the beach, trying to enter Gisbourne harbour ahead of a cyclone. We can see why!
The sail from Gisbourne to Great Barrier Island, which forms the northeast boundary of Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf was primarily upwind with light to medium pressure and a bit of motoring. We pulled into Port Fitzroy the morning of April 17 and by 11:00 were enjoying a fine Easter brunch. By evening, the wind outside Port Fitzroy was gusting easterly mid-40s while we were secure with gusts half as strong.
A few days later, the wind eased and provided a quick trip across to the Whangarei River which (crappy timing) was on a strong ebb. With a good tail wind and full main, we were able to make slow headway against the current, crabbing our way into Urquharts Bay where we could anchor for a few hours waiting out the ebb. We had consulted 3 different electronic charts, all reporting very shallow (2 – 4 feet) depths in Whangarei’s town basin. We discounted this data as out of date. Surely a yachting center as active as Whangarei must have well-dredged channels? Or maybe not. The 10 mile trip up the river was uneventful as both the tide and sun settled lower. With Riverside Drive Marina in sight, our progress was thwarted by (a) a lifting bridge that was down – with the attendant gone home for the evening, and (b) water in the channel under 7 feet – with Pazzo’s draft at 6 feet. A quick phone call to the bridge attendant’s cell phone solved the first problem. He’d be back in 10 minutes to open the bridge. As we circled in the waiting area, the depth sounded 6 feet of soft mud, yet Pazzo continued her circles. Now the tide was rising and the current picking up steam as we slid past the bridge, waving “Thank You!” to the attendant. With the sun now below the horizon and a serious cross-current, we had to come into our assigned berth with more speed than is prudent. It took a couple of tries to get our approach, timing, and speed just right to slide quickly into our slip between “Fat Susan” and “Vella” before bringing the boat to a quick stop with our trusty Max-Prop propeller. With the help of plenty of dock hands, all went well.
Secure in our berth, we were about 50 miles shy of a 2500 mile figure-eight circumnavigation of New Zealand. We’d rounded another of the 5 great capes at the bottom of the world. We’d made many new friends and caught up with old ones. We’d made a few mistakes but lived to tell about ‘em. And, we’re still speaking to one another. Nobody got hurt, and only broke a few things. All in all, a fine trip and experience!
The next chapter in Pazzo’s life will be refit 2022: 4 ½ months in the water and in a tent at Riverside Drive Marina. We started with a short but serious project list that quickly grew to a long and even more serious list. Before leaving the river, we will have engaged many of Whangarei’s trades, from boat builders to welders, to electricial specialists, mechanics, painters, riggers, and canvas and upholstery folks. But all this will be food for Pazzo’s next Pacific Adventure.