Thursday, June 19, 2008


Cape Brett And Piercy Island In Sight

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!


Katherine said...

I used to potter around from Jacks Bay in a little Eleven Plus when I was a teen... I remember the bioluminescence in the water, swimming amongst the buoys at night, sweeping my hand through the water to make the glow... Once catching 13 fish in an hour moored off a tiny island, just pulling them out, one after the other. Fires on the beach, first kiss, crayfishing, camping. Wonderful memories ...

Alden Smith said...

I don't know what an Eleven Plus is, I guess its a sailing dinghy of some sort.
Bioluminescence, isn't it wonderful. When you are sailing at night it is so vivid and absolutely stunning if you encounter dolphins! the trails under and around the boat are a wonder to behold, they look like the fiery trails of torpedoes - Now that would make a great painting!
And yes those memories of childhood, simple elemental things, always precious memories.

By the way I read a poem of yours on your OE blog - it is a very good poem, very good indeed.

Katherine said...

About 12 feet long, with tiller and a removable centreboard, a bit of a slug, but stable and loads of fun for a youngster ... Swallows and Amazons-type stuff... I used to always lose against OK's and Lasers, but I didn't mind.

Katherine said...

Oh and thanks for the poem praise - I refer to Oliver: a severely autistic relative who rarely smiles - but when he does it's as though the sun has come out.