Winds, wine and Wellington

13th February 2012
Winds, Wine and Wellington

Yes we did make it down to the Marlborough Sounds for Christmas (doesn’t that seem an age ago?). We sailed (well mainly motored due to light winds) down via the west coast of North Island and the dreaded Tasman Sea and had a very benign passage. You’d all have been proud of me, putting up Christmas lights in the saloon as we motored into Pelorus Sound accompanied by Mike’s gentle groans. Actually he does quite like the decorations but is loath to admit in case that presages more arriving!
You will have noticed I said ‘motored’, as someone said to us ‘you don’t sail in the Sounds’ the reason being that the winds are the proverbial famine or feast. We’ve found that we’ve had any or all of the following, usually within seconds of each other: no wind at all, not enough to shift our 20 tonnes, winds fluking around from every which way due to what is euphemistically called ‘topographical effects’ making sailing well nigh on impossible or winds so strong with acceleration zones down the valleys creating williwaws or bullets of 40+ knots. Our cruising guide describes these winds as ‘sail shredding’. So you can see why we have done more motoring here than in a long time.
This area has three main parts – Abel Tasman Bay, Pelorus Sound and Queen Charlotte Sound. The geography of the Sounds is very similar to Fiordland further south (Milford Sound etc) which means the water is very deep right up to the edge of the bays and coves. So anchoring is challenging and generally requires you to drop the hook, then back right up to the shore and tie a line around a tree. All this plus the fact that the best and most obvious spots to anchor in are generally taken by mooring buoys laid by the combined sailing clubs – Pelorus, Waikawa and Mana - make anchoring a bit of a palaver. So on the ‘If you can’t beat them..’ principle we joined the Pelorus Boating Club to make life easier.
Christmas was spent in Cissy Cove in Pelorus Sound all on our own, tied to one of our new club’s buoys, the sun shone; the skies were the clearest of blues… all of which afforded a perfect view of the mussel farm beside us.


Pelorus is littered with mussel farms and examples of aquaculture everywhere you look and the town at the head of the Sound, Havelock, is the centre of the green lipped mussel industry in NZ. If it doesn’t sound heretical we didn’t find Pelorus that attractive. The hills had all been cleared for farming and it’s only in the last 50 years or so that native bush and trees have been reintroduced. So the landscape isn’t as wonderful as we had expected. However, after Christmas we sailed/motored through the notorious French Pass into Abel Tasman Bay and D’Urville Island.


D’Urville was a refreshing treat with glorious bush and bird song all around and using more of the club buoys we had a very peaceful and tranquil time there. Well all except the access to Greville Harbour where you go through a buoyed channel over a natural boulder bar. Unfortunately depths weren’t quite what the pilot book suggested which had us registering 0 on our depth sounder (thank heavens for Pete at Oyster tweaking it so 0 doesn’t actually mean aground!), all a little nerve wracking. Oh yes and the sail down to Nelson which had bullets of wind of 45 + knots in Croissilles Harbour. As we sought shelter one evening, in winds of 20 - 30 knots, gusting over 40, there it was, the small motor boat without much more than a tiny windscreen for protection and four guys, one in a t shirt all fishing. We’ve seen it again and again, tinnies (small aluminium boats) and dinghies out in all weathers and way off shore with some guy in a singlet vest fishing. They’re mad, these Kiwis absolutely bonkers I tell you.
Was great to catch up with Fiona and Robin in Kaiteriteri when they came aboard for lunch and the afternoon. Made me feel very old seeing their daughter Laura, now a young woman whom we remembered as a small tot – oh well tempus fugit. Lovely catching up with old friends half way round the world. Also fun to spend time with new friends, getting to know them better. In this case Tim and Ginny who joined us for an enjoyable few days in January. Just off the Abel Tasman National Park we dinghied round Tonga Island and the seal colony watching their antics in the water and pups ashore. As we crossed the bay back to D’Urville Island Mike and Tim trolled off the back but all we caught were rather nasty and fierce looking barracuda, which were returned PDQ to the deep. Tim then wrestled with our fishing gear, best suited to trolling in oceans, to rig something that would be more appropriate to catch the bottom dwelling fish. On arriving at Port Hardy he dropped the line over board and before we knew it we had four Blue Cod for supper. That night, we tied up on a club buoy alongside Joshua Slocum and Richie showed Tim how to fillet the Blue Cod. We invited the “Joshua Slocums” over for drinks that evening and they arrived with their diver caught scallops cooked with garlic butter all served in the shell – yum and triple yum. We had a lovely couple of days hanging out and fishing with Richie and his wife Lindsey. Oh yes Blue Cod is delicious, a very light and delicate taste.
Then back through French Pass.


It’s a narrow pass between two large bodies of water and at the wrong time i.e. anything other than slack water the tide rips through at up to 7 knots creating all sorts of vicious eddies and whirlpools. A piece of water to be taken very seriously and yet at slack water it is surprisingly calm. After a night in Pelorus with Tim and Ginny’s friends, the four of us actually managed to sail round Cape Jackson into Queen Charlotte Sound and Ship Cove.


Queen Charlotte is redolent of history, mainly Capt. Cook and Ship Cove was where he brought Endeavour, repaired her and spent a considerable amount of time on his five visits here. The next day Mike and Ginny walked over to Resolution Cove and Tim and I took Sea Rover round to meet them.
After Tim and Ginny had left us we went over to Wellington. Decided the Inter Islander ferry was a safer and more reliable bet than trying to find the weather to make a return trip in Sea Rover across Cook Strait, a natural wind funnel and the only opening in a 1200 mile landmass that blocks the daily tidal movements of the southern ocean. Which perhaps explains this memorable advice in our cruising guide; describing the atrocious winds and swell that are not infrequent here it suggests “in these conditions ferries are the best means to use if you must cross this area by boat”! In Wellington, we were meeting up with sailing friends Wendy and Ken, in NZ to see their family, including their grandson who does a mean haka aged 3 ½. We hadn’t appreciated there are so many wine regions here in NZ and together we visited the Martinborough vineyards of the Wairarapa, their speciality being pinot noirs which have a totally different taste to those of Central Otago. The former having a more earthy and peppery/spicy flavour compared to their fruit laden southern cousins, described by one Marlborough vineyard as being “fruit bombs”.


Mike’s now a complete convert to them. Of course no visit to Wellington would be complete without a visit to the Te Papa Museum, which was so full of fascinating exhibits we actually managed to fit in three visits. The very modern meeting place or marae complete with emblems from all the tribes or iwi of New Zealand had been very controversial when first built, using new materials, designs and colours compared with the traditional marae. And yet a marae built in mid 1800s was viewed similarly as they used the modern tools and techniques the Europeans had brought with them – plus ca change.


The new marae also includes carvings to include and welcome everyone, whatever their tribe or nationality. So that we can now say we have our marae in New Zealand. Certainly the tiki holding the camera made Mike feel very at home.
I know we have the Mother of Parliaments but it’s fascinating to see how democracy is made to work here in a much less densely populated country of approximately 4.5 million people. Here there is no second house, so the committee stage of any bill is even more important in getting the issues ironed out. To ensure views are represented adverts are taken in the papers inviting input when a bill is going to committee. Anyone, and ‘anyone’ isn’t limited to New Zealanders, we and all of you are include in the ‘anyone’, can then write in with their evidence, opinions, views on the topic which will be read by every single committee member. Additionally any of us can request to appear before the committee to make an oral submission. As our guide said at this point, you will be seen and will be under the protection of the Queen, so can’t be arrested or arraigned and have full freedom of speech to say anything you want. It certainly had worked for him as he’s appeared before committees on a couple of occasions. Not sure you could translate to a country of some 70 million people but it is a pretty impressive example of democracy at work and what a great way of learning from other people’s experiences, both good and bad.
And what of Sauvignon Blanc I hear you say? Well yes we did feel it would be rude not to visit the home of Cloudy Bay, that icon of the NZ wine industry. So we took ourselves off to Blenheim, the centre of the Marlborough wine region which produces over 65% of NZ’s wine, and stayed in a great place, St Leonards, complete with sheep eating lemons off the trees! We got round the drink drive thing by using the bicycles they had, about the only reason I’d voluntarily get on a bike when you can use a car. In the 2 ½ days we were there we managed to get to 12 vineyards, and tasted some excellent wines, so driving would definitely have been a no no. As a story of contrasts, one small boutique vineyard told us that it took them 4 -6 weeks to hand pick their 48 tonnes of grapes, always taking care to pick at the right moment. At the other end of the scale, apparently Brancott Wines pick the same amount in 14 minutes, thanks to machines which shake the grapes off the vines! So not surprisingly single vineyards are promoting their products as “made in this field” whilst majors producers are perhaps more practiced in blending and price points. Have to say we enjoyed some great wines, often “shaken”, and a lot that are even nicer than Cloudy Bay. And we’ve rediscovered Chardonnay. They seem to have stopped over oaking it and we’ve had some glorious examples of that particular grape. So Sea Rover’s bilges are now heaving with the fruits of our labours.
So now we’re back in Wellington having sailed the infamous Cook Strait and are enjoying what they describe locally as “the coolest little capital in the world”, whilst waiting for the weather to go north. You just don’t mess with the weather here unless you want to get severely beaten up and we continue to adopt our wait for the right conditions approach, which has seen us through some pretty challenging waters. So think, looking at the weather that we’ll stay here a few days, leave Sea Rover all safe and tied up whilst we go and do the Central Otago Rail Trail – yes I know another bike ride, but I have my padded knickers and hope they’ll see me through.
Do hope you’ve enjoyed reading this on our new website – all credit to Mike who has spent hours getting to grips with the software, grading and up loading photographs (do check out the various galleries). We’d love to hear any feedback from you and what you think of the site.
Whilst here in Wellington we have been catching up with films, fringe theatre and the Chinese New Year celebrations. So, as we enter the Year of the Dragon the ultimate symbol of success and happiness within Chinese astrology, we’d like to wish you all a very happy 2012 – whichever calendar you’re using.

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Comments

Photo comment By Del Whitmore: love your web site....clever man that Mike! Safe sailing
Photo comment By Cici Tak: All I can say about your Website is... Wow!!!Thanks to both of you for sharing your amazing experience. Very fascinating indeed!See you soon.x
Photo comment By Michelle Wood: What a wonderful lunch break I have had - cup of tea in hand , library office (so you can picture the scene Devala ) and whisked away to NZ . Love the web site , particularly the photos !! Look forward to the next installment! Love Michelle xx
Photo comment By Sherry and Ron Bower: What a pleasure it is to see your web-site! Long overdue and delightful! More photos!!!!!!

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