About this book
When we reached 50 we decided that we needed to take our lives off auto pilot.To the best of our knowledge, we only have one life to live. There is so much to do and experience but with every passing year so much less time in which to get it done.
A couple of years into the new millennium we still had a significant mortgage, little in the way of savings and saw the remainder of our working lives as largely being a ‘full court press’ for saving for our rapidly approaching retirement. If we were lucky enough to survive the stress of the intervening years, and still enjoy reasonable health, we would one day hopefully retire and get to enjoy those savings. It seemed a big ‘maybe’. That was certainly how we read the retirement ‘playbook’. Frankly, that was not an overly appealing scenario. There had to be other options, maybe we just had to be prepared to think a little differently and then ‘back’ ourselves to do things that did not necessarily conform. Just because others did not do something shouldn’t be a valid reason for us not doing it.
We took the plunge and have been on our ‘journey’ for 15 years. By following a more minimalist lifestyle and accepting that you cannot have it all, we have been able to do things we never thought possible. Along the way we have been feeling pretty good about our decision to make those critical changes in how we approached the remainder of our lives.
A few acquaintances suggested that we should write a book. Our feeling was; why? As you will find out, we are not monks or fearless adventurers. There is nothing mysterious or particularly challenging about what we have done and are still doing. You won’t read about; our climb of Everest, sailing around the World, sky diving or bungy jumping. We didn’t have to do those things to have adventure. But doing things our way meant that we ‘owned’ our unique personal experiences. They were not just something that had been packaged up and sold to thousands of others.
These books that we are writing are really intended as a reminder to us, in our dotage, of the fun we had. We recognise that like a computer we need to complete a back-up of our memories just in case our own ‘hard drives’ deteriorate or get erased at some stage. Writing it down will hopefully allow us to recall some of the events and remind us that it was all worthwhile.
The books are certainly not intended to be travel guides or a template on how to lead a more interesting life. They are an account of how we conquered our doubts and fears and got the confidence to change our attitude to life. It comes with it’s challenges but if you have the right attitude those challenges just become part of the adventure. It also pays not to take things too seriously. We hope the books will give you some insight into what could be, with a chuckle or two thrown in at our expense. We share some of our more (and less) memorable moments and offer a few tips along the way but, there is no ‘right way’ here, you make it up to suit yourself, just make sure that you don’t miss your boat.
The wake-up call
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover." –Mark Twain
Life had not exactly been dull. I had met Ruth nearly seven years earlier and we had been married for five years and had set about managing a blended household that at times contained four teenagers, two each from our previous marriages. I had moved into a new career in mid-2000, working for a major newspaper with the rather onerous task of helping to bring them into the new and rapidly changing digital world. A few years earlier we had decided to convert Ruth’s tiny two-bedroom cottage into a two level four-bedroom affair complete with a lower level hangout space for the kids. That had been a major exercise, undertaken while Ruth, daughter Anna and son Mark, were still living in it and during one of the wettest winters and springs Auckland had experienced.
A JP had married us on a stormy September night in 1997. The house renovations were advanced but was there was only one functioning light in the house. The kids were the only hardy guests present and the ‘after match function’ consisted of pizza and a video.
The finishing work (on the house) consumed every spare minute of our time for the next few years but we got to a place where we had a house that worked very well for our prevailing family needs. Getting to ‘that place’ involved the standard play-book moves of committing to a bigger mortgage than we really wanted and, as a result, locking ourselves into careers that provided income levels to sustain the financial commitments.
By 2002 we had slipped into a life that was largely running on auto-pilot. The kids were reaching the stage in life where they were going to possibly start to leave the ‘nest’. Well if they did not leave, like our feathered friends, we felt that we should give them a little nudge every now and then. In the near future, we were looking at being left on our own in a four bedroomed house, still with the related financial baggage and with the ‘autopilot’ running our lives or, could that read, ruining our lives? I was about to turn 50 and Ruth was scheduled to reach the same milestone 5 months later.
If we followed the retirement industry ‘rules of engagement’ we were way behind the eight ball in terms of savings and needed a bit of focus. We needed to work ourselves, potentially into an early grave, in the pursuit of possible future happiness at the expense of living life in the present - well that’s how we read it.
It was just after the new year when I complained to Ruth, “do you realise that today is the first day of the rest of our lives and that looks like every other day, week and year of the life we are rapidly using up”. I had a long daily commute and it tended to weigh heavily on my mental wellbeing after a long day of trying to save the newspaper. This lead to occasional deviations from my usual rational self.
Ruth has a way of keeping some perspective on things and replied “I think you are being a bit dramatic. It does not need to be the same, we just need to have a plan for changing it”. Ruth had been on her own for 10 years prior to our meeting and life had been a struggle. Despite that, she owned her house had provided her kids with everything they needed but that had not come easy. She had learned to make many sacrifices in order to achieve her goals and that was what she was telling me now. Anything was possible, everything was not.
We just needed to think about what we wanted to do with our future, given the resources that we had, and may have access to in that future. Anything was achievable but it would require us to make some sacrifices along the way, we cannot do everything. Take calculated risks not crazy ones, take it a few steps at a time, have a step by step plan but be prepared to modify it as we went along rather than getting locked into something that was not going to work for us. Most importantly, we needed to activate the plan, not just talk about it.
The activating part of any plan requires a bit of courage. Courage to overcome your fears and doubts and at age 50 I had plenty of those. I had no doubt that Ruth possessed the courage I was not convinced about myself - I would have to change that.
Our plan takes shape and evolves
“Failing to plan is planning to fail"
“Let’s face it Ruth, the only reason we need live in the city is because of our jobs”. Ruth of course pointed out that we did not have the money to put a deposit on another car let alone a second property that was ‘waiting’ for us to retire. Most of the places that we liked, for obvious reasons, did not have a job market so yes, we were stuck in Auckland for now. “But what about if we sold the house? We could still rent a place as a base in the city and the home we own would be in a location that we want to spend our inevitable sunset years. We agreed that this option was worth investigating and as they say, “the rest is history”.
We sold the house and pursued our then dream, a section (land plot) by the sea. We moved into rental accommodation in order to continue with our jobs and spent our weekends, well our summer weekends, camping on our little bit of paradise. We sensed a little head shaking from others (not about buying a section but about selling our house to do that) but we had gained an ‘escape-valve’ from our work.
We had a lot of fun but had not done enough ‘home work’ regarding our piece of paradise. When we started getting house plans drawn up we became aware of land stability issues. Not insurmountable if you were prepared to throw a lot of money at the problem. Doing that, was going to see us slaves to a mortgage again and needing to maintain our current careers for longer. There were other obvious flaws in this plan, especially once we had spent time in the area. Even in your retirement you would probably need to move out at some stage in order to be closer to amenities that dotage demands. The plan needed tweaking!
Well if we could not escape to a place by the water, what was a good alternative? Escape onto the water! Buy a boat. Not a day trip fizz boat for water skiing or fishing, but a cruising boat that could take us to places we only dreamed about. We knew nothing about boats and that forced us to do a lot more research and number crunching. We revised our plan; the boat would not be forever but it was to be our antidote to work over the coming decade. A house would have to wait, if we decided we still needed to own one. I was not convinced that we needed a house but Ruth still felt we needed that anchor, not just the boat variety.
A boat would actually work better than a remote coastal property. We could moor it in Auckland, board it on a Friday night and head off to our planned weekend anchorage. Sure the sea can be a dangerous place, especially if you do not take personal responsibility. Roads can be very dangerous places as well and your safety is often at the mercy of those who exercise zero responsibility. With a boat the stress would dissolve once you are under way. Turn on the auto pilot (not ours, the boat’s) and relax. Sip a drink, cook and eat dinner, take pictures, videos, even read a book (giving due attention to the horizon regularly- of course). The journey becomes part of the fun. We were lucky to have such great and reasonably sheltered cruising grounds in easy reach of the city that allowed us to consider this option.
Budgets were drawn up and this time we were confident that we knew what we were getting into. I factored in all of the running costs and allowed for a hefty annual depreciation of the value of the boat. This gave me an annual cost for our adventures. Was that acceptable? Absolutely, it came out at around the cost of taking an annual holiday overseas but, we could also use the boat on weekends during the year in additional to our annual holiday. We would aim for a new boat in order to keep maintenance costs and effort minimal. That would allow us more time actually having our on-the-water adventures. Our motivation was to go cruising, visit places we could only dream of visiting, an antidote to the stressful jobs. Yes one of us could lose the job, or die or suffer a debilitating health problem, etc., but those were factors in our lives regardless of whether we owned a boat or not and worrying about those possible catastrophes would stop us from ever doing anything. A boat can be sold, adventure cannot be retro fitted to your life that has passed. Carpe diem!
A boat would be a big financial and personal commitment and, if we wanted to do other things, our floating ‘asset’ would very quickly devalue from a lack of attention. The sun and sea are not kind to anything that spends a lot of time exposed to them. In retirement when our financial resources were limited, a boat would become a liability, something that would ‘hoover up’ our precious savings. We agreed that 10 years was probably going to be the limit for our bating endeavours.
Just like our car and the house before it, a boat was not going to have the purpose of impressing others but meet our needs. Safety, price and comfort were high priorities not bragging rights.
We sensed an air of disbelief amongst some of our peers. We had really ‘lost the plot’ this time. Apart from our strange desire to own a boat over a house, boats can sink and occupants will drown. Well cars can crash and occupants get maimed or killed. More people are killed in car accidents than by boats sinking, but that does not stop most of us from driving around in our car, often at pretty insane speeds.
Our rental accommodation had long become place to sleep when we were working. We had opted for accommodation that did not need regular attention to lawns or gardens so that we get up to our section. Well now the boat could be our de-facto ‘home’ that we could take pride in.
Time to look for a boat.
A steep learning curve
"Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful". –Joshua J. Marine
I still enjoyed the odd lunch break back in 2005 and would wander down to the waterfront and look at the yachts moored in the city marina. These displayed the names of far off ports and the thought of one day tossing in the job and sailing off around the World was appealing to me. A few weeks after putting the coastal property on the market I spied a yacht for sale that was within the budget range. I also noted advertising around the marina that the annual on-the-water-boat show was being held that weekend. Great, I could drag Ruth down to look at the yacht and other boats. She was not exactly fizzing about the whole boat thing but at least she was receptive to the idea. Best strike while ‘the iron is hot’.
I told Ruth of my find but the idea of a yacht was not well received. “It would be like living in a cave, I need to be able to sit inside and still see where I am going”. She suffers from motion sickness. I know, what the heck were we thinking about buying a boat if the navigator is going to be throwing up all the time? The yacht concept was going to be a harder sell than I had hoped for. Best keep the round-the-world idea on the ‘back burner’ until we had agreed upon a boat. This approach to adventure is important. When discussing biking or hiking adventures, don’t dwell on the hills. When talking about a boat, don’t talk about rough seas.
The boat show turned up a surprise. Ruth spotted a boat that she ‘fell in love with’ Well those were my words, not hers. It was a boat that was not going anywhere other than around the North Eastern coastline of the the North Island of New Zealand but hey, beggars can’t be choosers. At 10.5m (33ft) it looked as though it would be within my learner capabilities to handle. Ruth liked the idea of being above the water and with great all round visibility.
We headed off from the show buzzing. The calculator and spreadsheets got a thrashing that night and a ‘full court press’ was applied to Ruth while her defences were lower. On Sunday we returned to the show and signed a contract to have our Logan33 built. The estimated completion date was around February 2006, roughly a year away. The boat would be built in Whangarei which meant that our first voyage would be to sail it 142km down the coastline to Auckland. We were going into our boating adventure ‘at the deep end’. Thank goodness it would be summer when we took delivery.
A year seemed a long wait but there was a lot to be done. The intervening months were used to gather the many accessories needed for a cruising launch. A tender (the smaller boat you go into shore in), an outboard motor to power the tender and act as a backup motor, distress flares, an EPIRB (what the heck is an EPIRB?), life jackets, charts, bedding, crockery, utensils, tools, to name a few. I decided to
undertake a 12 week course to get my boat-masters certificate which, while not compulsory, is a kind of drivers license. We both studied and sat our radio operators exam which does not seem like a big deal, but was important to our safety. We would later listen into radio conversations by people who had obviously not bothered. This was the gist of one such conversation:
Coastguard operator to person whose boat has run out of fuel: “what is your location?” Fool in boat: “I am near an island”. Coastguard operator: “there are many islands, do you know the name of the island”? Fool: “um no”. That went on for sometime with the operator getting more frustrated, finally another boat called in saying that they thought they had spotted the stricken boat. Had the boat been sinking this guy was potentially going to become a statistic.
There was the other important factor of what to call the boat. It was being built using a 1912 design and, given the classic lines, we decided to go for a period name. The Logan33 was not only a ‘new classic’ but was powered by what real power boat owners would call, a toy motor. 40hp gave a cruising speed of between 7-8knots (12-14km) per hour. We were not going anywhere in a hurry but that meant it sipped, rather than guzzled fuel, an important financial consideration for us and, besides, being in a hurry was not part of our plan. So, a name like ‘blind fury’ or ‘death wish’(a name I suspect my 88 year old mother favoured) was not going to suit the boat. Wasn’t it traditional to give your boat a female name? Ruth’s grandmothers name was Agnes and, it also happened to be Ruth’s middle name. As I owed a lot to Ruth in making this adventure possible, Agnes it was to be.
As the launch date arrived we were told that there was going to be a delay as the builders had urgent repairs to make to one of Agnes’s predecessors. “It has hit rocks and sunk”. Once we got over the shock that there were angry rocks waiting to sink our new pride and joy, it started to dawn on us that our delivery date was slipping into late autumn / early winter. Our anticipated cruise down the coast in the last of the summer weather turned to vision of battling the fury of a returning winter that was a little peeved had having been banished over the summer.
May 12 was the day we were to collect the boat. I became fixated with the weather maps and marine forecasts in the week leading up to the big day. We took two weeks off work so that we could take our time, find the right weather window and, get a bit of bonding with Agnes on the way down the coast. As it transpired, winter made it’s appearance early, on May 13. Whangarei was belted with gales and rain for most of the next nine days. Our bonding largely took place while secured firmly to the Marina pier.
The boat builders had secured us a temporary mooring at the local boat club which was a little out of town. When I saw the berth my heart raced. Manoeuvring in and out of the berth would have been a challenge for Captain Cook let alone ‘greenhorn Cliff’. The deep end was suddenly looking a lot deeper. What I had not realised was that the tide was in, when that went out my concerns turned to outright panic.
I did manage to get it out and back in again and also had some very quick practical boating lessons in the process. Cars are easy to park, boats are not. Boats don’t have brakes, the wind and currents mess with you really badly. Don’t jump off the boat onto the pier without having a rope in your hand that is secured to the boat. The list could go on but I am sure you are getting the picture. My mental disposition was not helped by the fact that ‘Agnes’ had turned Ruth into a very protective ‘mother figure’ of the boat that shared one of her names. Even a scratch on the boat was going to be a very black mark against my name.
On the Monday of our second week the forecast started to look a little more promising and so we decided to leave the sanctuary of our mooring and cruise out to the outer harbour. If the forecast was still reasonable on Tuesday we would make a dash down the coast.
Tuesday dawned a little breezy but the forecast was for the wind to diminish in strength. “Let’s head out through the harbour entrance and see what it looks like” said Captain Cliff. And so we did. Harbour entrances have a lot of tidal current and Whangarei is a big harbour that empties out through a narrow entrance and Agnes was zipping along as we were swept out through the entrance. Now when a strong current hits a slight breeze from the opposite direction, you get what is called ‘wind against the tide’ effect on the sea. I had studied this during the boat-master course and I was about to get some hands-on (very sweaty ones) experience. The waves were big (well to me they seemed big), the boat was crashing over them alarmingly, do we keep going or turn around? I mustered my most convincing voice of authority and told Ruth that these conditions would not last. The current will ease as we get further offshore and so will the waves. They did ease and we decided to ‘go for it’ and head off towards our objective, Kawau Island, about 5 hours away.
It was on this very first trip that I gave Ruth her nick-name of ‘Rocksanne’. In fairness to her, the first episode with these submerged ‘terrorists of the ocean’ was a very good observation. As we were heading through the North Channel between the island and the mainland, Ruth pointed to a symbol on the chart inquiring: “what is this”? I said, “a submerged rock”, “well we are about to go over it” said Ruth. There were no sirens or alarms that I could sound to send passengers to their muster stations, I could not bluff my way out of this one, we were in serious danger of doing ‘a Titanic’ and sinking on our maiden voyage. Fortunately, Agnes did not have much of her hull sitting under the waterline and the feared rock on boat encounter was just avoided.
Next up, we needed to find a sheltered spot to ‘drop our pick’. I was starting to get into this whole boating slang thing, pick = anchor. We headed up into a cove that looked as if it would protect us from any possible change in wind direction overnight. When anchoring, you need to know what stage of it’s 6 hourly in/out cycle it is currently at. How shallow is the water going to get when the tide is fully out? You don’t want to end up aground at low tide,
especially if that happens to be when you want to leave. As we nudged forward I could see we were far too shallow to anchor. Then all of a sudden our sonar started flashing in a manic fashion. Is it malfunctioning? No we are going to run aground, back-up, back-up, danger, warning. There were several lessons with this little dilemma. One related to shoaling (when the sea floor rises sharply) and making sure you identify that possibility on your chart before venturing there. The other was; don’t throw the boat into stern power (reverse) without dropping the revolutions (revs) of your engine. The Titanic II was just averted. As I nervously manoeuvred the boat into an anchoring position, I dropped the revs and then flicked the anchor winch switch to ‘out’ and the chain started to rattle out, all good. I drifted the boat back to lay the anchor as I had been taught and when the required length had been delivered I flicked the winch switch to ‘off’. But the chain kept rolling out, what! From my boat masters course I knew what the ‘bitter end’ was and as sensibly advised in that course, I was praying that it had been tied onto something, otherwise we were about to lose 60 metres of expensive chain plus an anchor. The chain eventually stopped which was a positive sign that it had reached the ‘bitter end’ and was secured to something. However, when I flicked the anchor winch switch to ‘up’, nothing happened, the winch spun around but did not engage with the chain. Now having too much chain out meant that we were drifting back towards that shallow water we had just recently escaped from. A manual haul-in of the chain was going to be required, and quickly. I learned that gloves are a good idea when pulling in around 44 metres of chain and, that chain is heavy and, very dirty when it has been dropped into mud. I would need to ring the boat builder in the morning to try and determine what may be wrong with our anchor winch, thank goodness for mobile phones and ‘brownie points’ to whoever put a mobile cell tower on Kawau Island.
Our team meeting over drinks (several) that evening was a mixed affair. On the one hand we had just completed our longest sea voyage (the bar was low) but on the other, it had been a very patchy affair.
I am pleased to report that the anchor affair was the result of the winch not being tightened correctly and I was able to complete my first at-sea repairs by tightening a nut. This was good as tightening a nut was within my very limited range of mechanical skills (those skill did expand). This may not sound like much but doing that little thing meant a lot for my confidence at that stage. Furthermore, the next two days sailing went with out hitch until we arrived at Agnes’s new home, Gulf Harbour Marina.
As mentioned earlier, parking a boat is not as easy as it appears. Furthermore, a couple arriving at a marina on their boat is a bit of a spectator sport which draws, well it always seemed too when I was at the helm, a crowd of sadists looking for some cheap entertainment. Unfortunately, for my entire boating career, I seemed to be a natural born crowd-pleaser. Sure, I got to a happy place where with the right current and wind I could park the boat as well as anyone else. But that was the exception, when I got close to a marina berth the breeze would shift and expecting there to be no onlookers was like expecting vultures to stay away from a fresh carcass. So it was that my first berthing of Agnes at her new home was a disaster and to my embarrassment, it required the assistance of the onlookers to save us from getting up-close-and-personal with the neighbouring boat.
We were home and after a couple of weeks on the water the legs were initially a bit wobbly back on dry land but we had made it and the only real objective in that first voyage was ‘to make it. There were a lot of lessons along the way, we had a few laughs (later) but we had also had one heck of an adventure. We could not wait to get underway again.
Winter is not generally a time that you spend sailing around on your boat but we spent every weather-favourable weekend on the water in the winter of 2006. After our rather shaky start we decided that we needed lots of practice in order to be a fine-tuned unit for our first extended summer cruise scheduled for late January of 2007. The advantage of cruising over winter is that you have anchorages pretty much to yourselves and we enjoyed that first winter, even though at times it was a little chilly overnight.
We soon learned that planning an extended cruise required a little more thought than your average holiday. The places you visit are mainly remote and without; supermarkets, petrol stations, rubbish collection, laundries, restaurants or doctors surgeries, to name a few things that we otherwise take for granted. While we did not appreciate it at the time, the whole planning approach required for our cruises would carry through to our other travels and adventures.
Good planning reduces the scope for problems once under way and, furthermore, the effort put in before you leave reduces the effort required once ‘on the road’. I would rather research accommodation options in my spare time at home, well in advance of my travels, than waste my precious travel time looking for accommodation when I arrive at a destination. Sure I might be lucky to pick up a bargain but I am more likely to end up in a dump that no one else is interested in. Been there and done that in my youth.
The cruise was to be a 400km round-trip up the coast of the North Island of New Zealand to the Bay of Islands. Around 34 hours of cruising and we allowed three weeks to complete the round trip. The objective was to get up the coast as quick as possible and then take about week to get back. This hopefully gave us enough leeway to accommodate any weather issues that may have come along and, enough time to enjoy the destination. But hey, it was summer, what could possibly go wrong with the weather?
We had a short ‘shakedown cruise’ over the New Year break, across the Hauraki Gulf to Waiheke Island, just off the coast from Auckland. The weather was mixed for the whole break with very heavy thundery showers but with enough fine weather in between to allow you to zip into shore for a few walks around the Island. On one of the transfers from boat to shore we had another of those learning moments. There were waves breaking just off Onetangi Beach, something we had not yet encountered on our short travels. These were not the rolling swells that surfers enjoy but annoying smaller waves that were being built-up by the stiff offshore breeze. They were big enough to suggest that our dinghy beaching may be troublesome, especially if we got our timing wrong. Now this is also a spectator sport.
A dinghy heading for shore with a moderate surf break is probably going to be entertaining, especially if the crew are a little thin on experience.
All was going well, the skipper was providing the horsepower on the oars but with his back to any approaching doom. The navigator was sitting facing the waves, the idea being that she would tell me when to hold back and when to power-up. This tactic should allow us to avoid a wave breaking into the dinghy. Suddenly, the navigator started waving her arms furiously, like a young albatross trying to get airborne. Then, with out warning, she jumped overboard. The sudden loss of weight at the bow of the dinghy swung it beam-on (side on) to what I could now see was a fairly impressive wave about to break. Disaster, the skipper and dinghy were trashed. The navigator was fine, a little wet but she had avoided the chaotic inundation in the dinghy and was now in hysterics. I have to say that the onlookers did give me a brief look of sympathy; mutinous crew having the audacity to rub it in. However, that sympathy turned to disappointment when, rather than unleashing a tirade of expletives at the navigator, I joined in on the joke. The spectators abandoned us as a lost cause. After emptying the dinghy, rowing back to the boat, drying off and changing our clothes, we both agreed that we needed better team work in similar landings in the future. For our second attempt we rowed along the beach a little until we found a much calmer spot and landed without a problem.
We got better at such beach landings and only had one other memorable episode, also on Waiheke Island, a few years later. We had decided to visit a local village for lunch and supplies. The transfer into the beach had been uneventful but when we returned some hours later, the tide had retreated and there was now a reasonable wave action about halfway between the shore and Agnes. This time the navigator was at the stern, like a coxswain in a rowing team. As we got underway she gave the usual power-on, power-off instructions and we happily floated over the first few sets of waves. Suddenly she yelled ROW accompanied by some furious waving of the hands that apparently meant ROW FASTER. Well my rowing was not fast enough and the wave broke into the dinghy. All credit to the navigator, she stayed at her station this time and that meant we hit the wave bow-on and did not capsize but, we did have a boat that was now full of water. Our shoes and groceries were floating around in the the boat which was barely above the water-line. We managed to propel it back to Agnes, albeit, very slowly.
As we have matured as latent adventurers, we have realised that adventure planning is part of the fun and, where quite a bit of planning is required, the fun and anticipation begin early. This was certainly the case for our voyage north. I read all of the cruising guides and had tagged potential anchorages along the coast and in the Bay. The ‘must see’, those with walking tracks and the ‘good to know about if the weather turns nasty’ variety. Furthermore, if you want a good nights sleep, an anchorage needs to be sheltered from the wind and waves, this means having options for all wind directions. I entered these as waypoints that I could then plot my course too on the GPS enabled chart plotter. In the planning stages, I could measure the distance between all of the waypoints and calculate our total cruise distance. That was important to ensure that we always had enough fuel for the journey ahead plus some for unexpected detours. Our range on a full tank of diesel was around 1,000km so fuel should not be a problem. But water would be, we had a 200 litre tank of fresh water (9.5litres per day if we did not top up). We would need to find a water source so that we could replenish our supply. Furthermore, the water tank was on one side of the boat, the fuel tank on the other. We would use water at a much faster rate than fuel and if we let the tank get too empty the boat would take on a list (tilt) and that could be problematic in rough conditions.
Ruth settled into her now accepted pre-adventure mode, “you sort out the trip planning and run it past me so that I can be sure that there is nothing too outlandish being proposed”. Her specialty, that has become her longer term area of expertise, was ensuring that any potential health issues were covered. So things like first aid kits and day to day hygiene requirements sat in her camp. She is a nurse and that is what nurses do best (That is not to imply that I was a skilled as a helmsman - I wasn’t). These skills have come in very handy over the years and allowing space for a well provisioned first aid kit has always proven to be very worthwhile on any of our travels. I can personally vouch for her skills in putting this ‘Humpty Dumpy’ back together again, on several occasions.
We jointly worked out a menu for the trip so that we could stock the boat with the appropriate supplies. It had a small fridge and icebox and a good gas oven and burners, we were well equipped but storage of fresh food was going to be a challenge, especially keeping it fresh in the summer heat. My sister Barbara, lived in Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands so we planned to call into the nearby marina, spend a night with them, have a good long hot shower, a great dinner (she is an excellent cook) and stock up with fresh food at the local supermarket. That would be enough of everything to get us back down the coast. The boat did have a shower but long daily showers on limited water were a luxury we had to forego. Swimming in the sea and a quick rinse off in fresh warm water became our accepted form of showering during extended cruises.
My objective on our first day was Whangaruru Harbour. This was where our former ‘little bit of paradise’ was located so we were keen to drop in and catch up with some of the people we had met during our camping days. This is 162km from home base, around 13 hours of cruising for us. In the week leading up to departure we had stocked the boat, topped up the fuel and water including an additional 100 litres in portable containers. I wanted to be sailing out of the marina by 6am so we would have to sacrifice a sleep-in on the first day of our holiday. The weather cooperated. There was a weather front approaching but the first day was looking perfect and so we left the marina in the dark and headed off towards the breaking dawn with Agnes feeling as though she was ‘full to the gunwales’.
That first day of the trip we enjoyed very pleasant conditions, largely on smooth seas and clear skies. There were very few other boats to be seen, we felt like we had the ocean to ourselves. We even had a near miss with a flying fish which swooped over the open cockpit we were sitting in at the time.
Seven hours into the trip and just off Whangarei Harbour we made the call to keep going. The remaining 6 hours were a struggle, the navigator abandoned her post feeling that sleep was more important than rocks. In fact her frame of mind had deteriorated considerably, she indicated that she really did not care if the boat sunk. Needless to say, that was the one and only 13 hour non-stop run we did (in a boat). After that I knew to keep the maximum trip to around 6-7 hours tops.
The weather front was due to roll through late the next day so we decided to stay for an additional night before pressing on. We met up with our friends from our section / camping days and enjoyed catching up with the local gossip.
Our next target was Whangamumu Bay. With steep hills surrounding the bay and a very narrow entrance, it is very sheltered and pretty. It also had a walking track over to the Bay of Islands on the other side of the hilly peninsula that rose steeply behind the Bay. This gave us an opportunity to get some much needed exercise while exploring an area we had never been able to visit by car. We met another couple on the track who were also anchored in the bay and were heading in the same direction as us and, would also be cruising for the same three weeks. Over the course of the cruise we would often see their boat and catch-up and share tales.
Another of the things that this trip taught us was how messy the sea can get around headlands. We struck this as we rounded Cape Brett to head into the Bay of Islands. Ruth had already assumed another role, that of CSO (Chief Safety Officer). When she appeared beside me with life jacket in hand I knew that she was out of her newly established comfort zone. There were not a lot of those occasions over our eight years, but heading around Cape Brett seemed to always occur with our life jackets on.
Most weather systems in New Zealand come from the West. As a result, the bulk of our windy conditions are from the Westerly quarter. The big ocean swells generated by these conditions hit the West Coast of the country while the East Coast, well especially the North Eastern coastline that we were traveling up, usually has fairly benign conditions. But, there are always exceptions. The north of the North Island sits in sub-tropical latitudes and is prone to be effected by storms of tropical origin. These ‘wander’ down from the nearby Pacific Islands, against the usual run-of-play for weather systems. They tend to pack very strong onshore easterly quarter winds, often accompanied by very heavy rain and can be unpredictable in their movement. Some will rush through while others will linger and wander. After 10 days of the benign weather patterns, a stroppy Pacific storm rolled in. The weather office said that we could expect 100km plus wind gusts and biblical rain.
So we went looking for a safe haven to hunker down. We found a bay (Otiao or Indigo) that fitted the bill; sheltered from the expected easterly winds and just enough water depth to allow us to ‘snuggle up’ fairly close to the shore line, even at low tide. The ‘holding’ was not great out in the Islands of the Bay. Anchors love mud but the bays around the islands of Ipipiri tend to have sandy bottoms, often covered in slippery sea grass. To counter the dodgy holding we would need to lay a lot more chain (‘warp’ in seafaring terms). There were a few other boats in Otiao Bay when we arrived but we found ‘our spot’ and set about getting ‘storm ready’. As the weather deteriorated the other boats left. Now this is when you have to decide if you have confidence in your own judgement or you will be a ‘sheep’ and follow the crowd. I prefer the former. I (theoretically) know what I am basing my judgement on, for all I know they may have been locals sensibly going back to the shelter of their marina. The CSO was giving me very doubting looks and was asking very hard questions about our safety. As this was our first big storm, I was struggling to argue from a position of experience and authority but I won her over in the end with my most convincing “we will be fine, trust me” statement. She was no fool though and in later adventures she would almost torture me to get answers to questions such as; are there any hills?, how far do we have to bike / walk?, will we be ok?, to mention a few.
While we were safe inside the islands, the weather reports told us that a big swell had developed out in the ‘open sea’. Our remaining days were ticking by and we would soon need to start heading south again but there was no way we could contemplate it in the current conditions.
Well the wind blew, the rain poured (we collected it in buckets) and we were confined in our bay and inside Agnes for the next few days. We did drag our anchor a little but the GPS indicated that the situation was not critical. Just as well we had a good supply of books on hand. When the rain finally eased the wind kept blowing, it was a real kill-joy.
On the day before our scheduled departure we met up with the couple we had chatted too back at Whangamumu. They were seasoned boaties and were also contemplating heading out the next day. While the swells were still a significant 3 to 4 metres (anything larger than dead flat was going to be big to us) the wind was forecast to drop to within our comfort zones. They assured us that the swells should not pose too many problems for us but to give Cape Brett a wide berth.
The winds can often drop right away at night only to start to puff again later in the morning. So we were going to leave as as soon as the sky started to lighten, our objective was Whangaruru Harbour, about 3 - 4 hours cruising. The alarm was set and in the pre-dawn gloom the next morning we quietly sat eating what felt like our last meal. We listened to the local conditions on the marine radio channel. The swells were still high but the wind was light so we decided to ‘go for it’.
Early dawn can make even the calmest sea look nasty so when we reluctantly left the calm of our Bay, the vista looked positively terrifying. Row upon row of what looked like menacing and moving ‘hills’ were stacked as far as the eye could see. Agnes strained to get up them - where is a lower gear when you need one? and would then race down the other side at speeds we had never experienced before. It was ‘white knuckle’ stuff, I was gripping the helm so hard I probably nearly ripped the wheel off it’s mounting. The CSO had us fully rigged up in life jackets and I think I saw her reading the instructions on the EPIRB (emergency locator beacon) which was not the confidence boost I needed from the crew. Cape Brett was looming and the advice of the previous day was echoing in my mind - give it a good offing. We had to alter our course once we got past the Cape which would put us ‘beam on’ (side of the boat) to the swells, being ‘beam on’ in choppy seas was not something we liked, would the boat roll over in these humungous seas.
We passed Cape Brett and kept heading east on a course that, unaltered, would eventually take us to Chile. I asked Ruth how she felt about a visit to that country but we agreed that fuel and supplies were not going to oblige. Then we thought we saw another boat, it was difficult to tell as it would only momentarily be visible when it rode the crest of a swell. “Yes it was, we are not alone”, I exclaimed gleefully. They had changed course and had not sunk and this gave us a great boost. We both sucked in our breath (why do we do that?) and swung the boat south. Now we were about to learn another valuable lesson. There were so many lessons to learn. These waves were big, very big, bigger than we wanted them to be, but, they were not breaking and therefore did not really pose a great threat to us. Being beam-on was actually better, the volume of each wave was such that the boat did not roll, it simply went up and down with each one that came through. Furthermore, as we were no longer facing the onslaught they did not look quite as menacing.
A couple of dolphins had obviously sensed our angst and started to frolic around the boat, they distracted us for some time and before we knew it, we had morphed into seasoned ‘sea dogs’. What had we been worried about, ‘piece of cake’ chortled the CSO. Needless to say, our intended destination of Whangaruru Harbour did not look like happy place to sail into in these conditions so we altered course for the next sheltered bay that we hoped would afford a less harrowing entry. We found one across the Bay, the anchor was dropped, the hard liquor broken out and nerves were settled. I tuned into the weather only to learn that the wind was going to rise again, at least for another two to three days, but at least it would be rainless. There was plenty of walking to do on-shore so we would ‘sit it out’.
Mimiwhangata was the area and it had a huge sweep of sandy beach at the head of the bay surrounded by conservation land. Better still, there were only a couple of other boats sheltering from the conditions so we had a blissful three days exploring what was largely a deserted area. Our acquaintances showed up the second day and we were able to regale the tales of our brave journey around the Cape. I am sure they were amused by our bulging eyes and Ruth’s description of the tsunami like waves we had battled. They had chosen to enter Whangaruru harbour, their story of how the swells were magnified by the narrow entrance made me thankful that the coward in me drove me towards sanctuary at Mimiwhagata, not our intended anchorage.
As we cruised south the weather steadily eased and by the last two days we were again in smooth conditions which held until we were just a few kilometers from our home marina when another expected weather front passed through. We battled a wind-against-tide sea that, while nothing like the huge swells we had seen earlier, produced very confused and challenging conditions. Shortly before the weather deteriorated we had spotted a small aluminium dinghy with four fisherman squeezed onboard. None were wearing life jackets which induced a bout of ‘tut tutting’ from the CSO. The next day we read that three fisherman had drowned in that same stretch of water on that same day. We wondered.
We had done it! It was not always pretty but in our own way we had done something these two ageing softies would have never contemplated a few years earlier. What next?
We very quickly discovered that boats and exercise are not exactly ‘bed-fellows’. You do a lot of sitting around on a boat and the sea air seems to fuel the appetite. Added to that, there is a tendency, when moored in an idyllic bay, to have a drink or two in hand as you listen to the sound of very little while watching the sun sink slowly below the horizon. Unless we made good on our promise to do plenty of walking while at these remote spots, our weight was not going to have a happy ending.
While it was easy to say we were going to do plenty of hiking / walking, I had a little history on the whole hiking thing that had tended to see me opt for gentler pursuits such as watching TV or reading books.
In my increasingly distant youth there had been two life influencing events that had pretty much steered me away from becoming a rugged outdoor pursuits type of guy. There was a third that turned me off unplanned and ‘seat of the pants’ travel but that is a later story.
The first episode was an encounter with Outward Bound School. My employer was prepared to invest in my (and their) future by sending me off on a month long character and team building boot camp. In retrospect, it was an amazing experience and, one that I was very privileged to be able to attend, but at the time it seemed like the nearest thing to hell a living person could experience. We were sent on multi-day expeditions that involved such activities as; scaling mountains with Sherpa like packs on our backs, getting all our gear soaked as we crossed rivers, sleeping rough and even on rocks, spending several nights confined on an island with only water as sustenance, carrying our kayaks over mountains not mention kayaking insane distances in the sea, and climbing up and abseiling down rock faces. In between, and sometimes during, these expeditions there was the running. Always running: along bush tracks, roads, cross country courses, you ran everywhere. By the time I finished I had made a vow to myself to think twice before ever doing that sort of thing again.
Well a few years later while visiting my parents, I received a phone call from a couple of old school chums. They were going to climb Mt Taranaki the next day, “I should go along”. I failed the ‘think twice test’ and foolishly agreed to join them. Now I was born, and lived for 17 years, in Stratford (New Zealand), called ‘The Mountain Town’. Stratford was on the lower slopes of Taranaki (Mt Egmont as it was then called) and, when you mentioned this fact to people from other parts of the country, they would usually ask, did you climb ‘The Mountain’? Well, here was my opportunity to be able to puff up my chest and say, “yes” when asked that in future.
I was not very fit at the time but my understanding was that the usual route up the northern slopes to the 2,518m (8,260ft) summit was not too difficult. What I learned as we drove to our starting point was that we not taking the usual route, we were heading up the harder eastern route and coming down via the easy route. What were these guys smoking? “Come on guys you go up the easy route and forget about hard routes”. And so we set out on a clear morning and with the summit looking a very long way up in the sky. The head needed to be tilted well back on the neck to see the said summit.
I am not that fussed about heights, especially when there is high risk of something untoward happening that may result in me heading down earlier, and quicker, than intended. When you are clinging to the side of a very steep mountain slope that has nothing but old and jagged lava and scoria under foot and, with no ropes attached between you and your fellow climbers, and nothing to stop your fall / slide for a couple of thousand feet, you get a really clear picture in your mind of what little chance of survival you would have. It was at that precise moment I decided that; should I survive the climb, it would be my last daring adventure. Reading books has a much higher rate of survival. For the record, 83 people have met their deaths on Mt Taranaki.
We were probably lucky that day and in the process I learned another valuable life lesson, from both of those episodes, participate in activities that you have control over and can opt out of when you feel you need to. I know part of the exercise for these activities is to challenge your own fears but sometimes, while undertaking an activity, there is a point where it is prudent to take note of your fears, they are usually a survival warning signal.
Anyway, getting back to the boating / hiking saga, we did start to set out on walks along tracks, roads, beaches. Initially exercise was the motivation but we started to realise that we were really enjoying these excursions. At first an hour or two walking would be our limit but this steadily increased to 4-5 hours and even all day walks. We would later extend these into multi-day walks with the longest to date being 10 days. We would discover all sorts of interesting things. When we started to travel a little more, walking became one of our preferred modes of transport, even when we had bags in tow. We only resort to public transport or a taxi should the distance be too great or the weather too foul. It is also the only way to discover urban areas. In a subway, bus or car, you miss so much detail, the detail that makes your visit to a town or city interesting. Sure we have visited sites such as the Acropolis but it was just a small part of that day’s broader discovery of Athens on foot.
Most of the islands we visited had walking tracks, some could keep you occupied all day while others were your daily exercise for one or two hours. One of our favourite shorter hikes was around Tiritiri Matangi Island (Tiri) not far from our home marina.
Most offshore islands in New Zealand had their natural bush cover cleared in the late 19th / early 20th centuries for conversion of the land to pastoral farming. The soil was often poor quality and together with the isolation of the islands, farming was soon found to be uneconomic. They were steadily abandoned or sold, sometimes to the Government who through the Department of Conservation and in conjunction with community groups, set about restoring them back to their natural state. On our walks we started to see the habitat restoration work that was being done and, Tiri Island was one of the more advanced in terms of the number of years that restoration work had been underway. Not only was the replanted bush well into the ‘canopy’ stage of development but rare and endangered native bird species had been re-introduced and in some case were quite abundant.
Interesting Pictures from our boat based hikes
Moturoa Island, further north, was another island that had significant restoration work underway but the birds had not, during our boating days, been introduced. In the Bay of Islands, the islands of Ipiriri were also starting to be restored and since moving to the Bay of Islands we have become involved in that work but more on that later.
In 2010, we decided to move up a gear and undertake our first multi-day walk. Harking back to those Outward Bound days, I was not interested in the heavy pack, rolled mat and sleeping bag type of walk but, one where I could sleep in a real bed, eat a hearty meal and even have a glass of wine at the end of the day. When I started trolling the Internet I found that this type of travel was now a growing option. You walk between remote but usually comfortable accommodation carrying only a day pack. Your full travel kit is transported to the next location by taxi or other vehicle. You get to walk on your own, at your own pace and even determine the distances covered each day. Although, these can be influenced quite a bit by the remoteness of the location which usually means there are very limited accommodation options.
We settled on walking the Queen Charlotte Track. At 71(ish)km, along mountainous tracks, it would be a challenge for us but we were reasonably confident that it was well within our growing walking capabilities. Our bags would be transported by water transport (there are few roads) and would be waiting for us when we arrived at our destination. I ran it past the navigator making sure to feature pictures of the great accommodation, nice comfy beds and emphasising the fact that she would only have to carry a teeny weeny day pack. I did not focus too much on the distances or that there were some fairly steep climbs and that, unfortunately, each evening’s accommodation was back down at sea level whereas the track predominantly ran along the mountain ridges necessitating a climb back out each morning. I had quite a bit of inside knowledge on the area, the Marlborough Sounds was where Outward Bound was located. I would be going back to deal with some skeletons in my ‘outdoor activity cupboard’. Upon seeing the beds, she gave it a resounding tick.
So in the spring we flew to Wellington and caught the ferry across to Picton which is located at the head of the Marlborough Sounds. We would be collected from our accommodation early the next morning to catch the boat transport out to the starting point, Ships Cove, which is located in the outer reaches of Queen Charlotte Sound.
We felt we had done a reasonable amount of preparation for this walk but within the first couple of hours we knew that our preparation was woefully short of what it needed to be. Our confidence was briefly boosted by an Australian couple who we met and who were totally unprepared, both in terms of fitness, gear and their understanding of the the terrain ahead. We suspected that they would not make it past the first day and did not see them again. I was given a further boost when we passed a team from Outward Bound who were looking a little worse for wear, it brought back some painful memories which were becoming all too real again. I was beginning to think that I may struggle to see the end of the day let alone the entire walk.
By the time we got to our first night’s accommodation I was hobbling with an old Outward Bound knee injury and Ruth was also finding the going tough. My leg had almost seized up but Ruth’s extensive first aid kit contained plenty of muscle rub and knee supports. After her expert patch up job, we were ready to hit the trail again the following morning. It was a slow start, but once the muscles warmed up we were feeling o.k. although the weather had decided to turn wet and very cold. Every now and then the tops of the hills would break out of the cloud to reveal that it was snowing a little higher up.
Fortunately, that day’s walk was the only one mainly near sea level so we did not have to venture closer to the snow.
The third day was the biggie, eight hours of walking that would take us to the highest point on the track. The day dawned clear and crisp and we headed out early. The estimated time for completing the walk was around eight hours, we decided to allow ourselves a little longer. There were about eight people who had disembarked from the boat on day 1, we saw very few of them on that long day and later found out most had gone by boat with their luggage.
That section of track was a great walk, the longest either of us had done in a single day and still remains at the limits of what we will contemplate in a day. Ruth was exhausted, so exhausted that she could not complete the form work required at our accommodation, the hand refused to control the pen and I was called in as backup. I also noticed that she was babbling a little incoherently and when we got her boots off, her feet looked more than a little worse for wear. Those damned boots were not proving to be very practical, too heavy for us.
I had to keep prodding Ruth during dinner to stop her from falling asleep and slumping onto her plate. She was not too impressed when I woke her the next morning. We had at the time of booking our accommodation decided to forgo the suggested rest day and take a shortish walk too a lodge that we had read quite a bit about. I don’t think Ruth really cared about that anymore but hey, we were booked there for the night so we needed to go. It was over in another ‘Sound’ so there were no practical alternatives to walking too it.
Now while we really appreciated the steep descent late on the day before, we were also too tired consider that we would have a steep climb back out. It had taken a lot of my persuasive skills to convince Ruth that it would not be that bad and we did not need to catch the bus up the short section of road to the track, the walk would warm us up. Well it certainly warmed us up but when we rejoined the track, it looked more like a stairway into the sky. The moan from Ruth startled the bird life in the nearby trees and left me under no illusions that I was on yet another warning.
It was just as well that it was a short walk because the gradient on the upward leg was the toughest we had encountered. Even more fortunately for me, Lochmara Lodge was worth making the effort to visit and when I triumphantly showed Ruth the pamphlet for the bush bath house, we were friends again. The bath was just brilliant and as a result we installed an outdoor bath at our little cottage.
We had met one of the ‘starting couples’ over dinner on that last night and agreed to walk with them on the final day. There were two other surviving couples, both from Australia as well, although after the first day only the men were still walking.
We had a boat to catch at the Outward Bound School so we did need to make sure that we would arrive in time. I was getting better at working out our walking pace and decided time was not going to be an issue. However, we had just started out when the two Australian gents ran past us, they were actually having a race. I think we were expected to compete, but having run along this bit of track 38 years earlier I was not in the least interested. By the time we arrived at our collection spot, they were extremely bored, having been sitting on the grass for several hours. They did not even bother to tell us who had won, New South Wales or Queensland. If you are going to walk in the wilderness enjoy it, running along uneven tracks is not enjoyable, apart from missing the stuff you should be taking the time to enjoy, there are plenty of things to trip on.
We made it, our first big walk. It had been challenging but by that last day we were feeling good, the bits of the body that had objected early in the walk had given up and decided to cooperate. We could have kept walking for more days. This was softies adventure at it’s best, you get to do the yards but take out the optional hard bits.
The Queen Charlotte Track Gallery
Agnes was giving us the escape valve we had hoped for but, despite what we would like to believe, the ‘winterless north’ is something of a fantasy of the people who live there or would like to live there.
In the first winter of ownership we had spent many winter weekends cruising areas of the Hauraki Gulf that we pretty much had to ourselves. The days were often pleasantly mild, especially in sheltered anchorages but the nights tended to be long and cold. Once the novelty wore off we were less drawn to the boat in winter other than for day excursions to nearby Tiri Island.
The spring, summer and autumn were entirely different and if the marine weather forecasts looked favourable we would head away to Kawau Island or Mahurangi which were around two hours cruising from our home base at Gulf Harbour.
An ‘expedition of discovery’ up the Mahurangi River
We tended to operate very conservatively when it came to our definition of ‘favourable weather conditions’. We had learn’t the hard way. 15knots in marine terms is an average wind speed so the gusts would be ranging between 10 to well over 20 knots. At 10 knots you started to get white caps and at 15knots the seas were getting uncomfortable in Agnes. We had encountered some pretty ugly seas at a forecast 20 knots and had a terrifying experience when we encountered a strong tidal current against a quite light breeze. On that occasion the navigator was seriously contemplating our abandon ship procedures but she did have a very low threshold when it came to sea conditions.
However, we came to the conclusion that 15knots would be our upper limit for wind speeds and that guide served us well but did cut the number of weekends that were favourable for our boating. With weekend cruises you always had to get back for work and unlike our longer cruising breaks you didn’t really have the options of ‘waiting-out’ any rough conditions.
We loved the Hauraki Gulf. It offered such wide and diverse cruising grounds, and with the exception of ‘The Barrier’ and the Cormandel Peninsula, the journey was never too long (at 7-8 knots boat speed) making many areas easy weekend and even day trip targets.
Our much hoped for objective of jumping on the boat on a Friday night and leaving our jobs and the pressures of big city life behind, were now firmly a reality. We could be sipping our wine in a sheltered and largely lonely anchorage well before the sun went down. In the morning we could head off for a walk around deserted island tracks. It was bliss.
The Hauraki Gulf
Our rental accommodation was working but we were also learning plenty of lessons on that front. Apart from being at the mercy of landlords who were happy to dispense with you when it suited them, our rental accommodation never really felt like home. While Agnes was to a large extent filling that gap, we could never bring ourselves to the point of actually living full-time on her. It probably would have detracted from the other great experiences we enjoyed on her.
We started to talk about buying a house but did not want to recommit in Auckland. That was not where we saw ourselves living out the sunset years of our life. It was a lovely area but was spoilt by the ever surging population and the lagging infrastructure which continued to fail to support that growth. The roads were clogged, public transport was wanting and commuting times were terrible and getting worse.
Ruth was keen to acquire a house and I was rapidly seeing her point of view. After some discussion we decided that there was probably a compromise that could work well for both our future and the rather itinerant lifestyle that we were starting to lead. A small house that required little maintenance and, importantly, no mortgage. We had also learned from our ‘little bit of paradise’ experience that while living in an isolated place is appealing - it is isolated and at some point in your dotage, is not going to be very practical. You were probably going to need to relocate to a more populous centre that had essential services.
We had been regular visitors to Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands - our first visit being back in 2001 when we spent a weekend looking a sections in the area. My sister, her husband and my mother had all moved to the town a few years later and were finding ourselves regular visitors to Kerikeri. It was a very attractive little town, well serviced and had a pretty good year round climate. In 2006 we started looking at property in the area again and spied some two bedroom cottages that might work. Barbara, my sister, popped around and had a look and confirmed that they could have potential so we decided to go up and take a look at them. There were four stand-alone cottages on the property and all were for sale, the landlord wanted out. We could see why, only 10 years old they were already dumps. It seemed that the motto for the type of renter that these places attracted was; if it was not yours, trash it. Despite their condition they did have potential so we put in an offer and were suddenly house owners again.
We weren’t intending to move to Kerikeri immediately so left the tenant in the house, let them finish the demolition job and in the meantime we could start thinking about how we would re-image it to something that would suit us.
The tenant stayed for another year and then decided that the house was too much of a dump and they needed something a little fresher - no doubt only to end up in a dump again a year later. We had no interest in renovating for another tenant to trash so decided to start the process of rebuilding our future home. A couple of weekends a month we would drive up to Kerikeri after work and slowly started to create the house we wanted. The outdoor area was first and then we moved indoors and completely gutted and then refurbished it and steadily started to furnish it. Our ageing rental furnishings would see us through to our departure from Auckland and then we would dispose of them.
The transformation process
The cottage had a floor area of 60 square metres. That poses a challenge when it comes to storage and as a result we started to seriously challenge ourselves with regard to everything we owned. If we did not use it regularly, it had to go. If it was not going to be used regularly it was not purchased. Our boating life had helped to teach us that your did not need many possessions to live a comfortable life. We didn’t need most of the stuff that we are told is essential to our happiness.
The renovations were carried out over winter weekends. We would leave Auckland around dawn on a Saturday and spend the weekend slaving away. But, it did turn into something of a labour of love, especially for Ruth. For me, DIY is not one of my strong points, something that I inherited from my father. I could saw a piece of timber in 100 different ways but rarely the way it needed to be sawn. I never had the right tool for the job and everything was more of a challenge that it seemed to be for others. However, I persevered and lived by my fathers motto - ‘a blind man would be happy’. Actually, the finished product looked very passable, I just didn’t rush to point out the little mishaps that stared me in the eye at every opportunity. Ruth took pity on me and patted me on the back in a sympathetic kind of way and telling me that I had done well. She can mask a smirk pretty well.
As the frequency of our visits increased the camp beds were eventually replaced by an air bed which was soon replaced by a real bed. The gardens grew like crazy in the sub tropical weather and after two years the transformation was largely complete. We installed irrigation in the small garden and in between visits and over the summer months when Agnes adventures were a priority, it largely looked after itself. We knew that leaving assets such as houses idle and not earning anything from them was not conventional thinking. But having worked hard to get it to how we wanted it, we were not about to let tenants loose on it. And besides, we loved going up and staying every opportunity we could, especially when the weather ruled out the Agnes option.
Ruth was right about the house. It gave us an anchor on shore and our choice has been perfect and allows us to wander away for long periods - a lock-up-and-leave that is alway great to return too.
By 2010 I was fancying myself as a bit of a latter day Captain Cook so I suggested to the navigator that we should circumnavigate something. Maybe the Hauraki Gulf, which, apart from many of the islands in the Gulf that had already fallen to our efforts at exploration, was about the only slightly more impressive entity that we would be capable of getting Agnes around. Impressed by the grand sound of the plan, it was approved by Ruth.
This was a surprise as our previous outing to Great Barrier Island in 2008 had ended with a long and uncomfortable voyage back to the mainland. For Ruth, the conditions were unacceptable with quite a bit of spray being generated by Agnes cruising into choppy head seas. For me, knowing Ruth was uncomfortable made me uncomfortable. Despite this, we found ourselves on Great Barrier Island (our second stop) for Christmas 2010. Christmas on ‘The Barrier’ is part of a lot of Auckland boaties cruising calendar.
Great Barrier Island is around 93km northeast of Auckland and is a favourite haunt of the populous boating fraternity in that city, especially over the Christmas - New Year holiday period. During our earlier visit in February 2008 the Island had been almost deserted but we knew it would be crowded this time.
We arrived before Christmas and found we were very much the ‘early birds’. We had the bays largely to ourselves for the several days up to and including Christmas day, the crowd did not arrive until Boxing Day.
Great Barrier Island
We had celebrated ‘Christmas’ with the family a week earlier so we were going to be rattling around a little on Christmas day itself. I had, prior to departure, suggested to Ruth that we climb Mount Hobson, the highest peak on Island. Why not do it on Christmas Day? Rather than sitting around eating too much food, as you do on Christmas Day, we could be burning off the calories gained that week earlier, by climbing the 621m peak. It kind of fitted in with the whole circumnavigation explorer thing that I had going on that cruise. Well 621m (2,037ft) is not exactly high for more hardened adventurers but for a couple of softies like us, it is a challenge. Furthermore, we were starting the climb at absolute sea level and that must count for something, another 1,000m?
Christmas morning dawned overcast but the forecast was for it to remain dry. Perfect, it would not be too hot for our ascent. We loaded up Bernie (the dinghy) with our boots and day packs, stocked the fridge with drinks for our return and headed off on our Christmas Day adventure. Surprisingly, we were not the only sad souls doing the walk that day. There was a party of around six from a visiting offshore ‘boutique’ cruise boat that we encountered not long after starting out. Some of them were in light sandals, we were not sure if they were under-prepared or we were over prepared in our hiking gear, which included those horrid boots from our Queen Charlotte Walk. Why do we humans have the propensity to forget things so quickly?
The climb proceeded without incident until we got to the last haul up to the summit. Some fool had gone and built thousands of steps in order to protect the breeding ground of a rare petrel. We do not like steps, especially when descending them in heavy boots, they put a lot of strain on the knees. When we finally got to the summit, we saw that there was an alternative route down, it was a little longer, but hopefully without those knee wrecking steps. After a quick bite to eat, on the windy summit, we set off down the mountain. A little way into the descent, you guessed it, we hit thousands of steps and, as you also guessed, this was not kind to our knees, especially Ruth’s knees. By the time the steps finally gave way to a standard walking track, Ruth was in agony. We spotted a new hut and wandered over to investigate and were greeted by a very interesting gentleman sporting a paua shell eye patch. He was very keen that we should join him in the hut but rightly or wrongly, I was having ‘Deliverance flashbacks’ and a quick glance at Ruth indicated that she was reliving scenes from the same movie, so we made some flimsy excuses and hobbled off as quick as we could.
The Christmas Hike
Ruth’s hobbling rapidly deteriorated into an unsteady shuffle. She found the only reasonably pain-free way she could get down the steeper slopes was backwards. Why had we chosen the longer route for the return journey? On the ascent, we could always see the bay that Agnes was moored in, now all we could see were mountains. The track finally levelled off as we approached a river, then it suddenly disappeared. Ruth moaned in disbelief about me leading her, very slowly, to a dead end. She was right, leadership was required and I had to muster my most convincing voice and deliver
the words “we are not lost”. Frankly I did not believe that myself but I told her to rest up while I scouted the river bank. The track would be found, probably on the other bank. Well, the fact that I am writing this story tells you that I was right and we did find the track again, and we finally made it back to the boat. What had taken three hours to climb took us six hours to descend. On return to Auckland, we ditched those heavy walking boots and now use lighter, but sturdy, walking shoes. We also purchased walking poles, which Ruth has found invaluable, they allow you to take the weight off the knees when the going gets a little steeper and they are great for stability when on slippery ground. Touch wood, since the ‘Hobson Affair’ we have not experienced problems with our knees and we have undertaken some reasonably strenuous walks since then.
It was on that circumnavigation that we also struck the most terrifying storm of our boating years. It was a few days after the ‘Mt Hobson affair’ and the weather forecast was not good. A weather front was going to bring gales to ‘The Barrier’. Now gale force winds can be exacerbated by steep hills which surrounded all bays on The Barrier. Everyone was talking about the approaching storm so we headed off to find a sheltered spot, it was like a gold rush except sheltered ‘parking spaces’ represented ‘the gold’. Again, we managed to nestle a little closer to shore but this shoreline was rocky and with big winds you don’t want to be too close to rocks lest you have a problem with dragging the anchor. A boat on rocks is not a happy ending.
We found a suitable position, let out extra anchor chain, and settled down to enjoy the last of the sunny weather before the front rolled in. We failed to take other storm precautions such as securing the dinghy and taking in canvas awnings. Our neighbours had also all let out extra chain and by late evening as the winds were starting to pick up, we could see that we were all swinging around on our anchors but well clear of each other. Then as darkness fell, what I can only call a total plonker, motored in between us and anchored. It was too dark for Ruth to give him any visible ‘evil eye’ and the storm was also starting to kick in.
The wind steadily strengthened until the gusts were causing the boat to shudder violently. Through the small port hole in our berth we could see the lights of the ‘interlopers’ boat getting perilously close to us. Ruth leaped out of bed and grabbed a large torch and started shining it into their boat. That did not bring a response so she tried flashing it on and off, a sort of signal lamp flashing “get up you fools”. This seemed to wake the residents of a boat on the other side of the ‘interlopers’ who also joined in, the bay was starting to resemble a discotheque. The sustained effort of the light attack from both sides finally had the effect and they came out to see what was going on. Conversation was impossible given the noise of the storm but they got the gist of what was required, man your boat in order to try and avoid a collision. There was no way anyone could shift positions in the dark given the ferocity of storm that was raging.
Ruth scuttled off to bed confident that I could handle the situation. I learned how long a night was when you were wide awake and doing nothing other than waiting for disaster to happen.
We survived; the ‘interlopers’ headed away at first light least they have to face the ‘wrath of Ruth’. They had obviously seen the manic eyes behind the torch the night before.
Bernie the dinghy had been trashed by the storm, he had taken to flying in the strong wind gusts, the oars had been ripped away from the boat and were missing, as was the seat. Bernie was floating upside down and still regularly taking flight, almost as if to show us what he had to put up with overnight. The canvas awning over the cockpit was in tact but had been jiggled around so much the poles holding it in place had damaged the vessel. The wind was still howling and worse still, it was going to change direction as the front passed through. That would place us in a dangerous on-shore wind situation. The trick was to determine when the front was passing through, something even weathermen seem unable to predict with any degree of certainty.
I called upon my significant ‘meteorological experience’ and when I thought that I had detected the beginning of a change in conditions, I suggested to Ruth that now was the time to make our move. She did give me a disbelieving look but was too tired to debate and I told her she was looking in the wrong direction to see the approaching weather. I told her to keep an eye on Bernie, lest he start flying again and actually succeed in gaining his freedom.
I lifted the anchor and got away from the nearby rocks while also avoiding the other vessels in the crowded anchorage. I should have questioned why it was still crowded.
Once clear of the bay and away from the shelter, we were hit by a passing squall. The wind seemed to be giving us its final ‘flick around the ear’. Ruth started yelling from the stern that Bernie was flying, very high, I looked around; the vision was of Ruth, the big game fisherman but with a dinghy thrashing around on the end of the line instead of a marlin. The waves were crashing over the bow, I could not leave the helm to help Ruth, Bernie would have to be cut loose if she could not bring him under control. As quickly as it hit, the squall passed and things started to ease off, Bernie landed back onto the sea behind us and we made our way to our new anchorage that would shelter us once the wind changed. It took an uncomfortable hour before it eventually obliged but when it did we retired for some much needed sleep.
Six years later while working on an island in the Bay of Islands, I heard a yachtie, who had joined us, recounting the terror of that same storm to my fellow workers.
We returned the next day to search for the missing oars and seat and actually found them. The oars were on the rocks while we found the seat floating near a jetty some distance away. While searching, we spotted someone’s dinghy up in the trees. We decided we were lucky.
Once normal summer weather resumed we headed on down the coast of the Island to Whangaparapara Harbour. The intention being top up our water tank at the jetty and use the Bay as a ‘springboard’ for our crossing to The Coromandel Peninsula.
There was a queue of boats at the jetty so I took Bernie into shore and spotted a water tap by a boat launching ramp. I would get our portable water containers, fill them at the tap and ferry them back to the boat. I could carry about 60 litres per trip so four trips should top up our supplies. Surprisingly, this was a quicker option although did require quite a bit more physical effort.
We were soon settling into a very pleasant anchorage in a remote spot further out in the Harbour. There were a few boats at anchor and people were swimming from their boats into shore. I though that looked like a great idea. Suddenly, Ruth overheard a conversation between two neighbouring boats. They appeared to be mates and were gutting the day’s fish catches on the stern of their boats. One of the wives had appeared on deck and was chastising them for bringing sharks around. Now SHARKS and swimming is not a great combination. Had they actually seen sharks or was it the possibility of them arriving that was being discussed? Suddenly there was a splash at the rear of the boat, Ruth screamed SHAAAARK and continued yelling it, trying to attract the attention of a swimmer nearby. Some people further in on the beach got the gist of what she was screaming and also tried to get the swimmers attention. He did not understand, the guy on the beach started playing charades, he put his hand on his back to try to mimic a shark fin and then started swaying like a drunk, I assume that he was meaning to look like a fish. It was highly amusing but totally unsuccessful. However, the swimmer was not dragged under the water in a frenzy of ‘Jaws’ like splashing so we assumed that it was either not a shark or it was content with the earlier fish offerings. We decided to cancel swimming to shore or swimming at all.
The weather was kind for the remainder of the circumnavigation, the only other drama occurred while the skipper was attempting to wash the boat down while anchored in a bay.
We had purchased a stainless steel bucket for such things as boat washing or, if unlucky, being sick into. We thought that stainless steel would withstand the harsh salt water conditions while offering a little more durability than the plastic variety.
There was not much of a foothold along the mid section of the decks on Agnes so washing this part of the boat, while anchored in a bay, was always a little challenging. Just as I was delicately balanced in this mid section, bucket in one hand and brush in the other, a boat whizzed past. Now boats generate a wake and wakes rock boats and rocking boats throw delicately balanced boat cleaners into the water. Taking a dip was not the problem, ensuring that I did not lose the navigators prized bucket was. I was gripping the bucket as if my life depended upon it as I hit the water. The problem was that the bucket quickly filled with sea water and started to act as a sinker dragging me under. What a choice, die trying to save the bucket or die at the hands of the navigator while explaining that it had sunk without me.
I put my legs into overdrive and managed to power my head above the water. The ridging along the deck was within reach of my free hand and mustering all the skills of a synchronised swimmer I somehow managed to lift my body and free arm high enough to grip that ridging and at the same time scream out to the navigator to help save the bucket. Another happy ending, the bucket was saved, the navigator was impressed with my dedication, a potential disaster turned into a winning result.
The gallery below is a selection of pictures from the remainder of the cruise, the longest and one of the more memorable upon Agnes.
After The Barrier
In late 2009 I had another silly idea, why not purchase some fold-up bicycles that we could take on the boat. If we were visiting places like Waiheke Island there were roads that we could then bike along. The bikes proved less practical than I thought and as a result they never did go on the boat with us. However, we did start riding them and in the process actually began to enjoy the odd bike ride.
Shortly after our walk of the Queen Charlotte Track we were talking to a couple who had just cycled the Otago Rail Trail in the South Island of New Zealand. It sounded like a lot of fun but as a multi-day ride it was going to be much further than we had ever ridden. Like the walk we had done, your luggage could be transported so it would be just you, the bike, water, snacks and the camera to transport. I made the booking for early Autumn in 2011, the ride would take four days and we would carry on to Queenstown and possibly walk part of the Routeburn Track while we were there. In the interim period we had experienced the ‘Mt Hobson Affair’ which had put a bit of a dampener on adventure but as the booking had been made, it was too late to pull out of our scheduled ride.
We had set out a crash course of training for the ride. We would get on our folding bikes and ride up and down the esplanade at Matakatia Beach where we happened to be living at the time. It was 500m along The Esplanade and we would try to ride 5km in a session. Like all of our adventure preparations while we were still working, it was never going to be enough physical preparation but it kept the neighbours amused and ticked the ‘mental preparation’ box.
At the end of March we headed off to Dunedin, caught up with old friends of Ruth’s and the next day jumped on the train up through the spectacular Taieri Gorge to Middlemarch where we would start our first day’s ride around mid-day. The train was full but when we disembarked at Middlemarch there appeared to be only one other couple who were biking the trail. Why would that be? My understanding was that this was a popular ride and I would have expected more riders. When we found the bike hire depot, they answered the question, “most riders go the other way, they ride with the prevailing wind that can get very boisterous” at times. “Ah” was my feeble response as Ruth shot me a rather life threatening look. When booking, it had seemed to me to make sense to ride in the direction of Queenstown rather than away from it but maybe we should have gone to Queenstown before the ride. Oh well, you learn from your mistakes.
Well my mistake actually turned out to be a ‘good mistake’ for a change. A weather front was due to pass through the area on that first afternoon followed by a strong, cold, southerly wind. A southerly wind meant that it would be on our backs. Fortunately, the first afternoon on the bikes was a short ride, although that short ride would still be the longest distance either of us had ever ridden on a bicycle in our lives. It was a paltry 27km which would later seem like nothing but at the time it was something of an unknown quantity.
The trail was flat which was important to both of us, all our ‘training’ had taken place on very flat roads. While it was a gravel surface, this did not pose any problems, the bikes we had been given handled the surface with ease. After about an hour’s riding I pointed back down the valley at a very dark cloud, the threatening weather front was rapidly going to turn into reality. Time to cycle with a little more purpose. The odd splatter of rain soon turned into a torrential downpour driven by an impressive wind but, a wind at our backs I pointed out to Ruth. We passed a steady stream of conformists who were cycling into the non-conformist wind, they looked miserable. We nodded knowingly as if we had some special insight into the fickleness of the weather in this part of the country. That is not to say that we were exactly feeling on top of the world, we were soaked but at least the effort of pedalling the bike was keeping us relatively warm. We passed the other couple who had set out before us, they were sheltering in a shed and were very cold. We suggested to them that the rain was showing no signs of easing, best keep moving rather than risk exposure by letting the cold overcome them.
We arrived at our destination in Hyde, poured the water out of our shoes and headed off for a hot shower. The roaring fire we passed looked like a good destination post shower. It was not the best start to cycling but apart from being a ‘little’ damp and cold, we had enjoyed our first ‘big’ bike ride.
The next day dawned clear and cold, there was even a dusting of fresh snow on the mountains. 46km today, another cycling distance record for us but after our ride of the previous afternoon I was confident. The only nagging doubt was the elevation, we would cycle up to 624m (2,024ft) and Ruth had insisted on there being no hills. To my relief, the climb was barely perceptible to the eye although you could feel it on the legs, constant pedalling was the order of the day but the absence of any obvious hills kept Ruth happy.
After a frosty start the next morning we passed the highest point of the ride with an actual slightly visible uphill ride. After that it was a breeze, the air warmed we had a fantastic days ride, ending in Ophir whose claim to fame was that of holding the dubious record of being New Zealand’s coldest place. We stayed in the local pub and the walls of the bar were plastered with news reports of that famous day when the mercury hit -21.6c. The locals were very proud of that record.
By the final day we were like seasoned cyclists laughing off the 40km distance as a doddle. After a cold and foggy first few hours the clouds cleared and we were treated to a stunning autumn day. We were sad to finally finish in Clyde. After a quick shower at the bike depot we walked off into town and finally caught the bus onto Queenstown. Before flying back to Auckland we were able to spend a day on the Routeburn track in Fiordland and that capped what had been a fabulous adventure. We enjoyed it so much that we started to talk about more ambitious adventures in the future.
Life continued to be very busy. Our work was forever demanding more than its fair share of our precious time and we had been busy redeveloping a small cottage that we acquired a year after Agnes. The property was in Kerikeri, around 2.5 hours drive north of Whangaparaoa. We were spending much of our free time working on that redevelopment and when it was finished it started to become a counter pull to Agnes, even when the weather was favourable for boating.
I had managed to negotiate a four day week and while my income dropped I noticed that the workload did not. I was now cramming my 50 hour weeks into four days. But with longer weekends we thought that it was time to shift Agnes to the far north so that we could spend time with both boat and house. So, our summer cruise of 2011/12 consisted of relocating Agnes to a marina in Whangaroa Harbour, about 30 minutes drive north of Kerikeri.
The manager of that marina was very pedantic about the exact length of Agnes relative to the size of the berth. While the previous marina had not bothered with the slight overage, this guy was having none of it and so we had to have a minor adjustment completed to allow the ‘duck board’ to fold up while we were in the marina. We were able to get Agnes into a boat shed but the
work was only completed the day before we were scheduled to leave. Agnes reeked of chemicals when we went out to provision her for the voyage. Unfortunately, the weather turned damp and we were unable to air her out and the first two days of the trip north were completed in intermittent rain and sloppy seas. The combination of fumes and sea conditions resulted in Ruth being very sea sick, the first time in our boating ventures. She was not happy and at one stage advised me very firmly that this was the LAST TIME she would undertake this voyage.
We had allowed two weeks for the trip. This included stops at Whangarei Harbour, Mimiwhangata and the Bay of Islands. It included another bumpy trip around Cape Brett, before we made the final journey up to Whangaroa. This final leg was new territory for us. The weather was uncooperative the whole way until our final few nights at Whangaroa. The trip marked a noticeable change in our love affair with Agnes. After 9,000 km of cruising we started to toy with the idea of new and different adventures.
I had turned sixty in July of 2012 and Ruth was scheduled to achieve the same milestone in January 2013, there was a party to plan, but more importantly, the transition of another decade reminded us that time was still moving on, it seemed at a quickening pace. We still figured that the more active pursuits we wanted to undertake probably needed to be scheduled to happen before we turned 70. If the body was still willing at that age in our lives we would consider ourselves to be in bonus territory. As always, nothing is guaranteed in life so we needed to continue to ‘seize the moment’ and get on with it.
After 10 years of pursuing our more adventurous approach to life we started to plan what would be the first big adventure that would quickly take us off on a different ‘road’ and into the first years where we no longer had full-time employment, or jobs as we had know them. We knew that this would also lead to a decision to sell Agnes. Without full time jobs, a boat was a luxury that we could no longer afford. However, we had not quite reached that point and we enjoyed more adventure in the far north of New Zealand. Furthermore, the market for launches was not in great shape post the Global Financial Crisis and we were not quite in a position to ditch the jobs.
Her new home in Whangaroa Harbour was a very special place. You could cruise on the harbour in any weather and we also enjoyed a couple of cruises down to the Bay of Islands which was only two, very pleasant, hours cruising away.
Time and the harsh conditions were taking their toll on Agnes. As mentioned earlier, our logic in getting a new boat was to ‘limit’ maintenance. I say limit because there is alway maintenance when a boat sits in the water 24x7. But increasingly we found ourselves spending time with Agnes in the marina. Keeping her in top condition required an increasing amount of effort. If we were going to spend more time pottering around on the boat then Whangaroa was a great place to do it but that was not really why we got the boat. We were at the beginning of a process that allow us to sell Agnes with no regrets.
To be continued... in the meantime follow our current activities on detours.co.nz