December 9, 2021: “Pazzo, Pazzo, Pazzo. This is New Zealand Customs Opua. Please proceed directly to Q dock at the Bay of Islands Marina and await further instructions.”
After 13.5 days on our “astonishing” passage from French Polynesia, Team Pazzo made fast to the Opua Quarantine dock with our yellow Q-flag fluttering in the dying breeze. NZ customs officers had us in their binoculars and before that had been tracking our progress on AIS (Automatic Identification System). We had been granted permission to cross New Zealand’s otherwise closed borders for the purpose of repairs and refitting Pazzo. We had also filed our advance notice of arrival via email 24 hours prior.
On our way to Q-dock, a special dock not connected to land, we waved a fond hello to dear friends Floris and Ivar on Lucipara 2. They arrived a year earlier, escaping from French Polynesia as the pandemic raged. At that time, if you recall, Pazzo sailed for Hawaii.
As we neared Opua, in New Zealands beautiful Bay of Islands, we noted conspicuous customs agents keeping a close eye on us. COVID was on their minds and they were taking all precautions to minimize the spread of the disease. Perhaps they were concerned that we were bringing stow-aways? After all, NZ borders were firmly closed – even to their own citizens who wished to return.
As we made fast to Q-dock, we were instructed to get back on the boat and remain there except as necessary to check or adjust our mooring lines. “Do not approach other boats or persons on the dock.”
The following day, an inflatable dinghy arrived to take Cindy and me, then John, to a shore-side COVID testing stating for brain swabs. Then, back to the boat for a couple of days waiting for results. Along our 50 meter route to the tiny testing station, we counted 7 customs “guards” making sure we didn’t “make a run for it.” Frankly, we found it ludicrous, but nobody can say they weren’t taking COVID seriously.
While in quarantine, the biosecuiry and immigration officers arrived (also by inflatable tender) to stamp our passports and confiscate what little fresh goods we had left from our voyage. They also provided and instructed us to affix a 5m x 1m yellow and black hazardous materials banner boldly marked: YACHT IN ISOLATION STAY AWAY to our lifelines. In an abundance of caution, Q-Dock is fitted with 24-hour surveillance cameras to ensure compliance with NZ’s strict regulations.
After a couple of days and negative COVID test results, we were released from “jail” and preceded to the nearby Opua anchorage where we reunited (with bubbly of course) with Floris and Ivar. Then a trip to the marina shop for an ice cream and much-needed showers.
The Lucipara duo posed an intriguing question: why waste a perfectly good La Nina summer working on Pazzo in Whangarei when you could be exploring New Zealand’s Southland region? Hmmm, we hadn’t really thought about that.
The deal we made with NZ’s Ministry of Health was that we’d spend a substantial sum of money on New Zealand’s marine trade in return for our entry permit. In effect, the Ministry was willing to take manageable COVID risks with incoming yachts in order to prop up the marine trade, supposedly languishing without the normal foreign yacht traffic. But, nowhere in the agreement did we make a binding schedule commitment. We were obligated only to spend our funds before the boat left the country. A trip around the country was certainly worth a think-about.
New Zealand’s Christmas Holidays extend from mid December thru mid January. With brother John aboard, we poked around Northland’s famed Bay of Islands, scored a COVID booster in the small town of Pahia, topped up on groceries, and made a short sail northward to the rugged Cavelli Islands. This small cluster offers good snapper fishing along with bird watching and a few lovely hikes to remote beaches – all without the throngs of Auckland yachts that fill the Bay of Islands during the holidays. After a few days in the Cavellis, Pazzo returned south to KeriKeri for a short visit with old friends Ray and Leslie Haslar and to deposit John at the Northland Regional airport for the first leg of his return trip to Olympia (WA) before Christmas. Ray was kind enough to take us on a serious re-stocking run to the Kerikeri New Market supermarket where we popped his eyeballs with our two over-stuffed shopping carts.
In KeriKeri, we enjoyed swinging on a borrowed mooring alongside “Wild Card” a Schumacher 50 built by Ray Lodge. I’ve long admired this glass-covered strip-planked kauri boat. Wild Card is sort of Pazzo’s bigger sister. After our short detour to KeriKeri, we returned north to rejoin LuciPara 2 in Whangaroa Harbor for a fine Christmas eve dinner at the Whangaroa Fishing Club. Whangaroa harbor is a nearly land-locked hurricane hole with several beautiful bays surrounded by beautiful rolling hills after entering through a tiny crack in the rocky shoreline. We can only imagine the surprise and delight this bay brought on first discovery by a longboat crew who would have been dispatched by a sailing ship that would have surely sailed unknowingly right on by! The entrance is also known as the final resting place of “Lion Heart”, a famous NZ race yacht whose crew sought refuge here during a 1983 storm but were dashed on the rocks while trying to execute the dog-leg turn in the middle of the entrance.
Over Christmas Day, we rejigged our plans in order to sail a figure-8 around NZ with Lucipara before returning in the southern hemisphere fall to commence our boat work in Whangarei. The cruising adage in NZ recommends visiting Southland during La Nina summers and Northland during El Nino summers. This generalization results from the weather patterns’ tendency to drive depressions relatively northward or southward of Cook Strait, separating New Zealands two main islands. La Nina years tend to yield better weather further south.
So we spent the final week of 2021 and the first week of 2022 poking around Manganui (home of the world’s best fish and chips!) and the KariKari peninsula (home of angry Maoris). We had been warned that the Maori people in the far north are hostile to whites, still carrying (and maybe rightfully so) resentment for the colonialists who arrived from England following Captain Cook and proceeded to annex their lands for the King. This saga in New Zealand parallels the plight of many indigenous peoples around the world. We can’t blame the Maoris who chased us off the park beach in Matai Bay. The park and beach were, in fact, closed due to COVID, but the local people are intent on making the closure permanent.
On January 7, we departed Waipapa Bay on a light southerly and with spinnaker set, pointed Pazzo north to Cape Reinga at the north tip of New Zealand’s North Island. As predicted, the southerly winds backed northerly and continued to westerly over the following 2 days, carrying us pleasantly down the west coast of the North Island and into Tasman bay’s Tonga Roadstead anchorage on January 10. Tasman Bay forms the western half of the South Island’s north coast and is exposed to the vicious NW winds that squeeze between Mount Taranaki on the North Island and the southern alps that form the backbone of the South Island. The western shore of the bay is dotted with several beautiful anchorages that are well protected from the prevailing northwesterly winds. The famed Abel Tasman track (named for the Dutch Explorer who first discovered this magical area) is one of New Zealand’s finest multi-day hiking tracks and runs along the western shore of the large bay. The city of Nelson lies at the southern extremis of Tasman Bay. After enjoying fine settled weather and gorgeous hiking through Abel Tasman National Park, we spent a few days pampering ourselves at the Nelson marina and nearby shops and eateries.
By mid January, Pazzo was off again, this time gunk-holing around New Zealand’s famous Marlborough Sounds forming the eastern half of the South Island’s north shore. The Sounds form the southern border of notorious Cook Strait, one of the windiest places on earth. Marlborough Sounds are very much like the protected sounds of British Columbia. Strong currents, moderate tidal range, a new anchorage around every corner, and kelp marking underwater hazards are a few commonalities. But Marlborough sounds are much better for sailing! When in Nelson, we scored a copy of the Tasman Cruising Club member’s handbook with a map showing all the club’s well-maintained permanent moorings throughout the Sounds. Of course the moorings are placed for their member’s benefit, but the club is fully aware that non-members will avail themselves of the moorings from time to time. Proper etiquette requires that non-members yield the moorings to members who might later arrive. While we trust, and normally set our own anchor, it’s mighty convenient to pick up an un-used sturdy mooring from time to time. Cindy is getting pretty adept at bring Pazzo’s nose up to these handy moorings and holding her there while I thread our lines thru the prepared floating loops. Of course, we always drop ol’ Perky into reverse when we’re well secured to test the integrity of the mooring tackle.
On January 20, while beating into a 10-knot headwind, we discovered our primary 100% genoa was sporting a 10-foot tear up the leech (back edge of the sail). That’s a strange place for a long vertical tear! So, we motored the final miles to a well-protected anchorage where we were able to remove and replace the sail with our back-up genoa. This was the first indication that this sail was suffering from the same UV damage as our mainsail. This saga will continue later in Pazzo’s Captain’s Log…
Cook Strait, separating New Zealand’s North and South Islands, is a moody place. Along with intense winds, the current boils through the strait a 6 or more knots regularly. The currents in Cook Strait are largely driven by tidal action resulting from the gravitational pull of the moon and (to a much lesser degree) the sun. Prevailing winds further drive water into and out of the strait. Since the strait lies east-west, and is the only break in the thousand mile coastline, one can imagine that an enormous volume of water needs to move from one side of the country to the other side – several times a day! The currents are pretty well understood in the strait, but our electronic Navionix chart grossly understates the velocity of the water flowing through the strait. So, with inadequate study and relying solely on Navionix current predictions, we motored around Cape Jackson and into the teeth of 4 knots of current flowing past a cluster of rocks and banks known as “The Brothers.” Needless to say, we were surprised at the intensity of this unexpected current. With a northwest wind predicted to build through the day, we picked our way under power along the rocky south shore of the strait, trying to escape the current until the wind filled from behind allowing us to sail – instead of motor – against the opposing current.
By mid-day on January 27, the tailwind freshened and the current released its grip. With our genoa on the pole and mainsail reefed, Pazzo shot southward toward the Banks Peninsula and Lyttelton, the port city of Christchurch. The 150 mile trip to Lyttelton was an easy overnight sail, but the motion of the boat was jerky as the northwest wind we were riding had recently replaced a fresh southerly and the southerly swell was persistent. Nevertheless, boat and crew handled the conditions well and Team Pazzo arrived in Lytleton Harbor and into the Lyttelton Marina without incident.
We booked a stay for only a few days to effect repairs to our genoa, and take in the sights of historical Christchurch. A few days turned into a few weeks while we encountered and dealt with some unexpected medical turbulence. We give high praise to Christchurch’s first class medical team who got us sorted out and back underway. But, the delay put us (once again) behind Lucipara 2 who continued southward on a favorable wind.
We enjoyed our extended stay with free showers and new friends at the Lyttlelton Marina. We made daily trips into Christchurch to visit botanical gardens, museums, markets, and shopping malls. The bus system is both affordable and exceptional. Cindy bought a wonderful 220V electric fan heater to keep the boat toasty when running on shore power. One highlight was a visit and tour of the legendary Davie Norris Boatbuilding operation. Davie is one of NZ’s preeminent boat builders having built “Kyrnos” for Frederic and Janet Laffitte and “Morphius” another big sister of Pazzo for the Gregory family.
Christchurch is one of the South Island’s largest cities and Lyttelton is the Island’s most active port, dominated by timber and fertilizer shipping. The city has a long and rich history dating back to pre-colonial times. Much of this more recent history revolves around the seismic activity of the greater Canterbury Region which lies one of New Zealand’s major fault lines. Many of you will remember the one-two punch that put Christchurch on the front page of newspapers around the globe. In September, 2010, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked Canterbury and badly damaged Christchurch City. Many buildings were condemned as home owners relocated and salvaged what they could. Amazingly, the death toll from the quake was in single digits. But in February, 2011, only 5 months (and many aftershocks) after the first quake and many, a second 6.3 magnitude quake rocked the city, destroying much of the historic downtown area and killing 185 people. Regional and national insurance companies folded under the burden of unprecedented claims. The national government stepped up to honor the insurance commitments and the entire country pitched in to rebuild the city. Work has slowed over the years with city blocks still sealed off and slated for reconstruction as federal funds become available but progress is slow. Still, the city’s resilience is impressive. Evidence is everywhere of a tough population who have been literally knocked down but refuse to stay down. They’ve gotten back on their feet, rebuilt major swaths of the city to new seismic standards, and aren’t looking back. Good on ‘em!
In our next chapter, Pazzo will continue south to Stewart Island and up to Fjordland.