New Zealand - Santa in the Sounds

20th December 2011
Another year just seems to have flown by and we hope to be in the Marlborough Sounds at the top of South Island for the festive season, but at present are still a 500 mile sail away in the north of North Island awaiting a suitable weather window to go south. To say that summer is a little tardy in arriving is an understatement.
Currently we are in a lovely natural harbour and anchorage called Whangaroa, well the guide books and friends tell us its lovely - we can’t see across the harbour for the sheets of rain that have been with us for the last few days and are forecast to stay around for the rest of the week. So we really emphathise with all of you and the grim weather the UK seems to be receiving. Still there is a glimmer of light in the form of a forecast – by Mike at least – of a break in the weather early next week, so keep your fingers crossed that we may yet be celebrating ‘Santa in the Sounds’. Before we left Auckland we watched the annual Santa Parade, think the photo says it all!
We also did a bit of land based exploring in a car we had been lent. We drove over to the west coast with its volcanic black sandy beaches and bird colonies as well as the forests of the Waitakere Ranges. It’s amazing, only 30 – 40 minutes from downtown Auckland to be in wonderful native bush and still able to see the Sky Tower! We also caught up with Debbie (our project manager for the boat build) and Eddie from Oyster on a flying visit here whilst sorting out all logistics etc for the Oyster World Rally which starts after the ARC next year. It was really lovely to see them, especially as Debbie hadn’t been on Sea Rover since she handed her over to us in the Orwell River over three years ago. With their friends Chris and Mel, Don (another Oyster owner), Kim McDell (who owned the company that used to build the Oyster 54’ here in New Zealand) and his wife Jan aboard, we had pre dinner drinks that somehow seemed to last three hours before a meal out, where the restaurant was gently trying to clear up and close for the night around us by the time we left. Suffice to say a great time was had and we think Sea Rover passed muster!

On Waiheke Island, just outside Auckland, we visited a wonderful, large outdoor sculpture park with friends. Almost all the exhibits have been specially designed for a space chosen by the artist. “Bung” is one of the few exceptions, tethered outside the park in the bay where we anchored.

With all the excitement of the RWC over New Zealand turned their attention to their general election and a referendum on whether or not to keep their present voting system, something called MMP. With this came a whole new lexicon of terminology – such as overhangs and special votes – and Mike was in his element! Electors have two votes, one for a constituency MP and the second for the national party they prefer. The first vote decided by first past the post, the second by proportional representation with those MPs coming from party lists. And when all the percentages don’t add up, we learnt that you get an “overhang”, more MPs in parliament than you would normally expect, for the duration of that three year fixed term. On election night we sat up watching the coverage, however, with such a small country the proceedings were done and dusted by 11:30pm with Labour’s leader Phil (let me spend much more of your money) Goff conceding defeat to the incumbent prime minister, National’s leader John (uncertain times globally, trust us with the economy!) Key, even if a majority don’t like Key’s plan to sell more of the country’s assets. Key then had the joy of putting together another coalition with smaller parties to guarantee the required parliamentary majority for his second term.

We cruised up here stopping at the Mercury Islands where, armed with GPS co-ordinates we went diving for scallops with the knowledge that the daily limit is 20 per person per day – even my love of scallops would be satisfied by that. Initially Mike didn’t have much success and only came up with three, which wasn’t going to make much of a meal I can tell you. Then we shifted a bit and I dived down. Well I virtually landed on two of them and just went from strength to strength. Funny watching the scallops, they did try to escape, opening and closing their shells to propel themselves away from me but sadly (for them) not fast enough and soon the bag was full with our quota.Cleaning was a bit tiresome and time consuming but the end result with a little fresh coriander and lime juice was simply wonderful. Couldn’t help but wonder how much 40 diver caught scallops would cost in a restaurant. Tell you, food for free tastes even better and sweeter.
Mike had more luck in Great Barrier Island where we ended up having drinks and a couple of evening meals with four guys on a ‘boys fishing trip’ and Mike was invited out fishing with them one day (I politely declined, fishing has never held a great attraction for me) and was initiated into the joys of fishing for snapper. He brought home a font of information about technique, different rods, weights and bait etc … and some fish. So honour all round on the hunter gatherer front, but I do have a horrible feeling another rod is on its way and the fridge is about to be filled with bait.

We stopped in the Bay of Islands for a couple of nights and sadly our scalloping efforts weren’t as successful – well to be honest a complete failure and we had to rely on the joys of the fridge and freezer. We might have stayed longer but Mike was watching the weather and it was clear if we didn’t get any further north then we’d be in the Bay of Islands for at least another week. So, just ahead of a gale we set off to get to Whangaroa.
It was great and boisterous sail up here and we were tanking along. Kept having to reduce sail not only because of increasing winds but because we didn’t want to get to the entrance too early as we would only have hit the ebb tide charging out of the narrow entrance into the strong winds, which would have been rather bouncy to put it mildly. As we got to the point where we going to have to drop sails completely and start the engine I suggested we see what speed we would do without any sail up at all i.e. under bare poles (and bimini) – the answer 3+ knots. As I reflected speeds we only dreamt about during some parts of the Atlantic crossing, which we were doing this time three years ago.
The Atlantic crossing already seems a lifetime ago and yet so fresh in both of our memories. Not least because we are writing a book of our journey so far and this is bringing all the memories back. Presently have something around 90,000 words and might even have a first draft of it by the time we come home at the end of March, especially if this rain continues lashing down - so beware!
Meanwhile we keep watching the weather, maybe they will have got it wrong in our favour for once and we will make Pelorus Sound for Christmas, either that or it will be our first Christmas literally at sea. Mike’s positive view is that at least it has delayed the decorations going up as even I have to concede that sailing what will most likely be a fairly tough passage with a Christmas tree lashed to the pedestal isn’t the best idea! Do hope that the view that this weather may be with us until early January isn’t correct, especially as hope to meet up with physio friends Fiona and Robin on holiday in Tasman Bay near the Sounds between Christmas and New Year and have sailing club friends Tim and Ginny joining us for a few days cruising round the Sounds at the beginning of January. Just hope they’re not standing on the pontoon gazing wistfully to sea wondering where the boat is!
So will end here wishing you all every best wish for Christmas and for a happy and fulfilling 2012.

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