Poor Navigation

May 12, 2018 | Passages

I had for some time been contemplating a trip to  Stewart Island which I last visited in 1982 with a  group of deer stalkers from Oamaru. I hoped this time around to see more of this beautiful and unique part of New Zealand. My memories were of beautiful bays with golden sand beaches, blue cod and paua in abundance. Twenty two years on, the plan was to sail down the East Coast of the South Island from our home port of Purau Bay Lyttelton, to Halfmoon Bay Stewart Is where Annette would join crew mate Rob and myself .So how on earth did we end up in Tory Channel in Cook Strait at the top, instead of the bottom of the South Island Perhaps there is a problem with my navigation.

I left Lyttelton on my own, on the Sunday before Easter weekend with a forecast of 20 knots southerly due to arrive off Banks Peninsula in the next twelve hours and decided to sail for the sanctuary of Akaroa Harbour on the south side of the peninsula to sit it out.

The plan was to head for Oamaru Harbour after the blow had gone through. I needed to break the trip to Stewart Is in Oamaru to pick up my trusty crewmate Rob and spend two days commissioning a work project there. Oamaru Harbour entrance it is not the easiest place to enter if there is any sort of sea running although it has been dredged in the last few months but still requires care. (The Mana Cruising Club Guide for Stewart Is has good advice.)

The forecast 20 knot southerly arrived just as I was entering Akaroa Harbour but once inside the heads it was only another hour to French Bay with darkness drawing in to get the pick down and an early night. Daybreak was a tad dreary looking ,but I reasoned it was the dying stages of the southerly and the forecast was for developing easterlies .Just what I wanted., A call to Akaroa Maritme Radio with a TR and Motu Iti departs from Akaroa Heads at 0900.

The left over chop from the southerly was uncomfortable but the northeaster was filling in and it looked like a good trip ahead.

At 0400 the following morning my mobile phone rings, it’s Rob, (can’t the man sleep). Actually, he is on night shift and wants to know what my current position is and had I heard the latest weather. I informed him that I was just south of Ashburton with approx seventy miles to go to Oamaru, and, I had missed the last sched but had the radio on for the 0530 weather.

There was a long silence from Rob and I was beginning to think the batteries on my phone have gone flat. “Well I heard the regional forecast and its not crash hot in fact its for 35knots southerly for Rangitata (my present position) and 50 knots for Chalmers (where I was headed.)”. I was about to tell him that the wind had died around midnight and perhaps the forecaster had it wrong when the first puffs of southerly arrived with a menacing dark sky just visible on the horizon .When you have planned a trip like this , your inclination is not to give up , turn around and run away from what’s ahead. In fact there is a sense of defeat, of failure to accomplish what you have set out to do.

However after half an hour of considering 50 knots blowing onto a lee shore commonsense prevailed and I decided to return to Lyttelton some 110 miles back as I still need to be in Oamaru for that commissioning job. By daylight the wind from the south was starting to build as forecast. There is nothing like the joy of solo sailing with the wind on the starboard quarter surfing down waves in an H28. I have done a bit of blue water sailing on modern fin keelers in those conditions and I know which boat I prefer. That full length keel may be a bit sluggish round the cans but in a following sea they are at their best.

By 0200 the next day I had Motu Iti back on my mooring in Lyttelton absolutely bushed and in need of sleep, hours of sleep. I made a quick call to Rob at 0800 to let him and my partner Annette know I was back and OK with plan B in place for Easter Saturday. This time we would head north for the Marlborough Sounds with those never ending southerlies at our backs, it’s just so much easier.

With a forecast of 30 knots southerly (yes another one) on Easter Saturday a day of reading and eating tied up to the mooring seemed appropriate so we set the alarm for 0500 Sunday, I jumped out of the sleeping bag at the first ring of the alarm and had a quick look around the horizon. “Looks pretty good to me, Rob.” Back down in the warmth of the cabin Signals 9 there was a fleeting temptation to climb back in the bag, I resisted, turned the radio on for the 0530 weather and put the kettle on. Ten knots south east backing to 15 knots south west later in the day. “Are we going some where?” Rob called from the warmth of his sleeping bag. “Yes we are off!” We decided to call up fellow Purau Bay yachtie Martin, who had been in the bay for a week in his yacht waiting to head north, to let him know we were heading north as he may want to leave with us for company.”

It was a great sail in the 20 to 25 knots of southwester and surprise the weather was as forecast for the 33 hours to Tory Channel, although Martin had to turn back after taking a fall in lumpy seas off Motonau Is in Pegasus Bay and damaging his ribs.

The Sounds put on the best of weather and after a night in Picton with fresh provisions aboard and a top up of diesel we sailed out through Queen Charlotte Sound, cleared Cape Jackson and motor sailed west through Cook Strait An overnight stop in Ketu Bay in the outer Pelorus Sound broke the journey around Stephens Is and into Port Hardy on the western side of Durville Is.

We had noticed an H28 in a small cove as we came into Port Hardy and the next day made ourselves known to John & Sue Day on Griselda. A couple of pleasant days were spent in Port Hardy with a few fish to supplement the larder.

With a light breeze from the west it was time to head back to Picton before striking out for home in Lyttelton. This time we anchored at the Punt Rails behind Alligator Head as another of those 30 knot southerly blasts went through. We waited for the tide and once again turned the corner at Cape Jackson and into the sheltered waters of Queen Charlotte Sound.

Two days later we overnighted in a sheltered bay in Tory Channel and awaited the ebb tide to make our escape into Cook Strait .Another southerly of 25 knots meant a bash to windward tacking our way to Cape Campbell. However it was another quick blow from the south and after rounding the Cape conditions improved with motor sailing conditions all the way to Lyttelton.

It may not have been the trip we had planned but we still have Motu Iti in one piece, The Sounds are marvellous and Stewart Is is still there waiting for another day.

Norman Hyde & Annette Watson,

Motu-Iti – Purau Bay, Banks Peninsula,