Sunday, June 29, 2008
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Well shipmates when I do my circumnavigation it will be in a boat of this or similar design.
This New Zealand built and owned yacht is the 'Cassandra'. She has a New Zealand sister ship 'Castanet' that was campaigned during the 1960's and was runner up to the famous 'Rainbow II' in the 1969 Sydney Hobart yacht race. She was designed by the Australian yacht designer Ron Swanson. The design is now over 40 years old and in those years this design has been proved both in ocean racing and in high latitude cruising. Her dimensions are approximately 30 feet over all, 24 feet on the water line, 9 foot beam with a 5 foot draft.
Cassandra and Castanet have two other famous sisters as well. One is the 'Cadence' which won the 1964? Sydney Hobart race and the 'Carronade' which completed a brave Cape Horn passage (again in the 1960s)which included a capsize in one of the most dangerous places for sailors on the planet.
One of the keys to the racing success of this design was its ability to maintain consistently good hull speeds in a wide range of conditions. The cruising success of this design is its sea kindly attributes, flush deck, long keel and its strong construction. Incorporated with good load carrying ability, good accommodation for its size, manageable sail area and good turn of speed it would be a good choice for an extended cruise - if you were looking for something small and relatively inexpensive.The Cape Horn passage is told in Des Kearns book 'World Wanderer - 100,000 miles Under Sail."
"On the 26th March, 1967, just 500 miles from Cape Horn we were awed by what we saw and heard 'beyond the common experience of men'......... Carronade was long past the point of no return and fast bringing up the latitude of the Cape. At the change of watch I remarked to Andy that the Southern Cross was directly overhead. Craning his neck to see it, he said quietly, "Yes we're a long way south." The barometer had been falling for three days without a change in the weather. We had been lucky till then but now silently scanned the weather horizon waiting for the contest to begin. The barometer stood at 28.6, a quarter of an inch from the end of the scale; we shook with uncertainty and tenseness - waiting for the unknown, men fear most. It happened quickly......... " - Des Kearns "World Wanderer - 100,000 miles Under Sail "
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Well Shipmates these old photographs tell a lot of stories and have a lot of associations in the annals of New Zealand nautical folklore. The old square rigger is the 'Rewa'. The gaff sloop is the Ngataki which I will refer to later. In the second photograph the year is late 1935 early 1936. I know this because the vessel to the right of the picture is the American Dwight Long's ketch 'Idle Hour' in which he did a great circumnavigation during the 1930's (see my book list). The launch alongside the Rewa looks to be a long lean Logan design of which there were many during that period and of which many remain. Being a romantic I would like it to be Harold Pickmere's 'Winsome' of Pickmere's Atlas fame - that would really complete the picture.
The archetype of nautical number eight wire though is none of the aforementioned skippers, this mantle in my mind rests on one Johnny Wray who built the gaff sloop 'Ngataki' in Auckland and to which the 'Rewa' had an important contribution.
You can read about this adventurer and free spirit in his book "South Sea Vagabonds". It is the story of a man who during the great depression of the 30's and after losing his job, (mainly for day dreaming about sailing the south seas) proceeds to build a yacht on a shoe string and the smell of an oily rag.
Those far off days were entirely different to today's quagmire of rules and regulations and compliances and red tape. It was a generally more rugged age, no life raft, SSB radio, EPIRB, GPS or an Orion search if you went missing. There was a strong imperative to make sure the blade of your wits and skills was keen.
During the late 1920's and 1930's kauri trees were still being logged and floated to the mills in big log booms. Often logs were lost in the process and they were found washed up all over the Hauraki Gulf . Johnny Wray and his friends found seven of these and towed them to Auckland and had them milled so he could build himself a boat.
In New Zealand the term "number eight fencing wire" is used to describe a "of course we can do it and we will do it through hard work, ingenuity, thinking outside the square and using available materials in new and novel ways" type of mentality. It is a legacy from times of colonial hardships.
Well Johnny Wray with very little in the way of money and other resources used this kind of thinking, in fact he actually used fencing wire in the construction of the Ngataki. Quoting from his book:
"My next problem was the question of fastening the timbers together and this I accomplished in a manner of which I am rather proud as it has since proved to be absolutely satisfactory. No bolts were used. The timbers were joined with large staple-shaped pieces of heavy fencing wire, which were driven through the wood and the ends hammered over"
And the Rewa? I hear you ask. Well shipmates, the Rewa had been bought by a man called Charlie Hanson, lock stock and barrel. Charlie lived ashore in a sort of nautical Nirvana. Listen to this:
"To anyone nautically minded his little home was a perfect delight. It was built largely from gear salvaged from the ship "in his front garden," as he called it. Lifebelts, binnacles, wheels; flags, shrouds, ropes, rails; in fact everything dear to the heart of a sailor was built into that little home. There was a library there that must have contained every nautical book ever published, a library that would have be the heart's desire of any true sea - lover. A perfect home for an old sailor."
It was from Charlie and the Rewa that Johnny got the mast, boom, rigging, assorted fittings and enough canvas to make the sails for the Ngataki. The price? - "a bag of flour, a bag of potatoes and a few other things" The serendipity of the Rewa and Charlie in the building of the Ngataki were most fortunate, for as Johnny Wray said, "You can't cut a sail out of a log."
The rest of the story of the Ngataki are well featured in Johnny's book. The South Sea Island cruises, the trans Tasman yacht racing, the capsize in a hurricane, searching for lost treasure on Savarov Island etc.
I think it is fitting to leave the last word to Johnny Wray from the preface to his book.
".... it is written for the man who works in a city office and dreams about sparkling blue waters and coconut palms and white sails bellying to the warm trade - winds. It will, perhaps, show him how it is possible to break away from the ties of civilisation, build himself a boat and sail in her whereever he wills. I was a dreamer once, but now my dreams have come true, and I am satisfied and happy"
An archetypal No 8 wire man, a man living intensely and creatively in the moment, day to day, hmmmm, I wonder....
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Mariner's home port is Whangarei. When you go north from here there are a few capes to round if you are making a coastal passage to the Bay of Islands. As you leave Whangarei harbour be careful of williwaws that can scream down off Bream Head and lay the boat flat if you don't keep a weather eye out.
The Bay of Islands is a good destination as it is a wonderful relatively sheltered cruising ground. It is extremely popular over the high summer months and it is not uncommon to see fleets of yachts like big flocks of birds rounding the cape in either direction.
If the wind is fresh and in the south westerly quarter the trip can be made in one long days sail for a 30 footer. But even if you can make it in a day it is better to cruise casually up the coast calling at the many sheltered and stunning anchorages on the way. Safe anchorages on the way up are Tutukaka, Whangaruru and Whangamumu. Whangamumu is where there is an old whaling station. I heard about this spot from my dad before I even came to Northland. He was in the navy during the war on a fast patrol boat. They would hunt down floating mines and sink them by trying to hit the spikes on the mines with 303 rifle fire or fill them full of holes to sink them.
Cape Brett is a dangerous place in all but settled weather and it is best to give it a wide berth in very strong winds or very calm periods (unless you have a very reliable motor). Even in moderate weather the currents around Piercy Island (known for its distinctive hole ) are strong and are to be avoided unless you know what you are doing. Having said that, many yachties including myself do make the passage between the cape and Piercy Isand. But I make the judgement as I approach the cape and always err on the side of caution. I had quite a bit of drama last Christmas with a dead calm, dead engine, fading light and a strong southward current set. I had gone about 2 nautical miles north to get clearance but when the wind died. I was in trouble. One trick in this situation with the engine down is to tie the dinghy alongside and start the outboard - which works even on big yachts in calm weather - but I didn't have an outboard. It was becoming touch and go as to whether I would get in the dinghy and try and tow us out of harms way with the oars when a slight breeze set in and we cleared. We ghosted into Russell at about 2am in the morning. Another lesson learnt.
Cape Brett has an automatic lighthouse on it which gives a powerful flash at night but again stay well out and give it a good clearance at night.
Once round the cape the Bay of Islands opens up, but don't be fooled, you still have a few miles to sail. You can break the passage at this point by going into Deep Water Cove where the old frigate Canterbury has been sunk as a dive attraction, or keep going on to Oke bay, a good anchorage in settled weather. For myself I usually keep going and try and reach Russell or Opua. After that it is a week or more of sailing around. Perhaps a trip up the KeriKeri river or up to Whangaroa - get yourself a nautical chart and have a look at the many beautiful anchorages available.
To get home again, its all the enjoyment, drama and delight again except you are going in the opposite direction. The usual prevailing south westerlies or summer sea breezes make the passage each way one where the minimum of tacking is required. Often its a fast and furious broad reach! yeeee haaa!
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
This is a recent photograph of the good ship Mariner dressed in her new colours after the completion of her 25 year refit. The black and white photo in the 'Header' box above was taken a few years back when the hull was dark blue. She was repainted because a dark colour attracts the heat far too much for a wooden boat in the heat of the far north of New Zealand. She is a 30 foot sloop. 24 feet on the waterline, 9 feet 8 inches beam and draws about 5 feet in cruising trim. She is constructed of two skins of heart kauri over one inch square stringers with a laminated backbone and many laminated frames. She can sleep four people but for any extended cruise 2 to 3 people is enough. I built her over a period of four years and launched her in 1979. I have been all around the coast of Northland in her and she has proved to be a fast and weatherly type.
Sailing is at the heart of what I love to do. It's not just the sailing itself which as an activity and sensation is to me poetry in motion, it is the associated peripheral things, which when gathered together make for a pleasing and enchanting whole.To steer her up the coast hard on the wind, at the tiller hour after hour thinking only of the relationship of the angle of the genoa jib to the eye of the wind and to exult in the way the boat cleaves herself through the waves; or to run downwind like smoke feeling her make use of each wave, is to be immersed in and aware of every interaction of the boat with its environment.To do this is to enter into a meditation of sorts, it is a way for me to be entirely in the present moment and I rejoice in that.For me, experiencing the many moods of the sea is a blessing. Each time it is as if I am experiencing it for the very first time. The wind, the waves, the sky all have an elemental cadence to them.
Watching a mirror like calm change to the spindrift blown spray of forty knots or more of wind and wave, and to sail through all this after reefing her well down and watching the destination grow slowly larger on a bright or hazy horizon, for me is being immersed in contentment itself.
Then the safe harbour, the snug anchorage, rowing ashore, pulling the trusty dinghy up on the beach. The walks along the beach and climbing a hill to look down at the boat now a toy anchored contentedly in the bay below.At night the meal shared, to lights reflected in varnished mahongony and the warm glow of conversation and camaraderie - and the stars. Not just any old stars - sailing stars, high, high, high stars clear and bright, bright, bright, away from the pollution of the city. The whole sweep of the milky way and the cosmos - and as the chill of the night comes, seeking the cosy haven below in a little cabin made for reflection, reading, meditation and contentment.
But you must remember this, the nuances of sailing are a lifes work, it is always a work in progress and it doesn't suit a plastic caravan mentality, for you see wooden yachts are living things and if you are very quiet and listen carefully they will reveal to you their secrets.