Great Mercury Island

Had the boat home for some usual maintenance chores. I decided that before I take her back up to the compound for the summer sailing season I really should tow her somewhere new to explore.

A quick google earth search and Great Mercury islands was the chosen destination. I haven’t been since I did a lap on a cray boat when I was 10 years old. All I really remembered was it had lots of crayfish.

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I text my mate Shaun who has the skinny on the scallop situation and he replies offering a voucher for a half price dive course! well that’s a no brainer and the timing is good. Dive course completed on Sunday, boat hooked up and being towed towards Whitianga on Wednesday. No point mucking around with these things.

The initial plan was to launch at Kuaotunu but after some advice on crew.org forum I changed to Whitianga. This was excellent advice as the ramps not so great and the scenery between Whitianga and the Mercs is stunning as promised! Thanks fellas.

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Paul and I arrived after mid day and went about setting up the boat. The ramp area is a bit tricky as the outgoing tide was hauling. The plan was to launch on the down current side, turn the boat and motor out before the current washed us into the wharf only meters away. It wasn’t pretty but we got out ok and turned down current to exit the harbour. Outside it was a bit windy so we raised the main with one reef and didn’t feel the need for a jib.

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Two dolphins came by and checked us out, They where huge and looked angry, all scarred up and covered in tattoos’ one even had a knife, “don’t make eye contact I called to Paul”. We crossed Mercury bay in good time going directly down wind, rounded the point and started planning where to drop anchor for the night. The wind was suitable for sheltering in against the coast somewhere south of Opito bay. That was good for me because I wanted to dive Opito before crossing to the islands.

We identified the dreaded Sunk rock and made a point of not finding out how it got that name. By this time its nearly dark and the wind has increased to “quite windy” So we poked our bow into a little nook called Cray fish bay, Its barely big enough to swing a Pack horse but it was offering reasonable shelter and darkness was increasing. Down went the anchor and some rope was let out, not enough to make me comfortable but the “bay” limited the amount of swing room.

We settled in for dinner and a drink, I was still unhappy with the situation, the rocks where close and almost all around us. No room for anchor drag and a wind change would make things worse. Outside just 100m clear of the shelter the wind was howling and picking up water and throwing it into the air like a reverse rain storm! (later reports from another boat in the area stated there where 50 knot gusts).

I crawled into my bunk and lay nervously listening and waiting for the anchor to break out. The wind was swirling around a bit and pulling on anchor and moving us around a bit. I’m running the plan through my head of how I will get the motor started and what else Ill need to do if it happens. Paul on the other hand was the opposite, happy as to have the sails down and be finished sailing in the breezy conditions. It was a complete contrast and we probably thought each other were crazy. I know I’d rather be doing what a yachts made to do vs being anchored in a rocky fish bowl with no room for a mistake.

Paul snored away blissfully whilst I occasionally tolerated it because I had no chance of getting any sleep, sitting up every 20mins looking out to see if we had moved more than an inch. To make things worse the wind started coming around and pushing us towards the rocky beach only meters away. The tide came in and I had to let out anchor rope so it wouldn’t pull off the bottom.  Luckily the wind had reduced considerably. By about 2am either the wind had settled enough or I was to tired to care and I fell asleep. Waking occasionally to tell Paul to shut up and using the opportunity to check again that we hadn’t moved.

I served the crew coffee in bed. (treat your minions well and they will pull the anchor all day).

Next morning was an absolute cracker, virtually no wind and a beautiful day. I rowed round the little bay in Marshmellow, the water was so clear I contemplated putting on my snorkel and seeing how this bay got its name. The bay appears bigger than I’m making it sound but you can’t see the rocks near the boat.

We motored around to Opito and I jumped in with a tank, my first scallop dive with a tank proved a flop. I got about 6 scallops from a whole tank of air.

Oh well hoist the sails and off to Great Mercs we go. We wanted fish for tea and thanks to Paul we had no bait. “we will catch a Kahawai” he said ” we don’t need to take bait”. I told him about the Kahawai rule: when you don’t want one they are everywhere, when you need one they don’t exist. “No, No” Paul said, we will catch one easy….. we dragged that lure almost everywhere and didn’t catch or see a single Kahawai!

The coastline on the East side is just stunning, I had to have a look under water so we pulled in close and I jumped in with my snorkel to look around. I scored two crays for an entrée (1 for the minion) and off we headed to Coralie bay. What an awesome place Coralie is! and only two other boats to share it with. We anchored in close sheltered as best we could from the Westerley breeze. I was so happy and relieved to find a decent anchorage I had no trouble relaxing with a beersie and exploring the area.

A couple minutes after this photo, when we got to the top. The boat on the right, the furthest boat out cranked up their bag pipes and filled the bay….. no the entire Island with the sound of Scotland! It was incredibly loud. I initially thought it was a loud speaker, but later found it was indeed actual bag pipes. I said to Paul we may have a problem if that continues into the night. Plus I wouldn’t be able to hear Paul’s snoring.

Next day we had to be round the other side to meet Shaun by 11, so we motored into the wind and around the northern tip and sailed downwind to find him. Lucky for me he had bought an extra tank I could use, so we both scuba dived for some scallops. This time it was better and we both managed to get a good feed. After mucking around a bit we headed in to find home bay to see if we could stay there the night.

We tucked into a spot with just enough water to stay afloat at the bottom of the tide. Their wasn’t much room in close to the protection of the hills and out of the current. Being in a trailer yachts has its advantages. We had settled in with a cold drink to help us open the scallops for dinner. We had ate sooo many scallops the last few where a struggle.

The shells and off cuts went over board and soon attracted a bunch of stingrays of different varieties. They entertained us while they hoovered up all scraps. Even a seal was hunting in the shallows nearby providing a unique insight into the speed they poses! It was chasing what I assume is small fish, by swimming at full pace in very shallow water, it was quite impressive.

Next morning it was a little grey out and threatened to rain. The wind forecast was predicting headwinds on the return trip tomorrow so we decided to head for Whitianga and perhaps home before that happened.

When scuba diving at Opito I didn’t quite have enough weight and didn’t have anymore. I decided to improvise and make my famous pancakes for breakfast, that should fix the problem for today’s dive.

We motored out in the grey haze and I wondered if I should put on my wet weather gear. It was good giving the outboard a good run, I usually prefer sailing but it’s the first proper use this season so time to blast out the cobwebs. Even though it was early morning, a bit cold, grey and some would say miserable, I was keen for another cray snorkel before leaving. We found a likely looking spot that wasn’t to affected by the westerly wind and chop. When I asked Paul if he is coming he did Not hesitate to decline. We probably thought each other crazy.

I wasted no time suiting up and jumping in. At first it was a bit baron looking but I soon came across a good patch and managed to catch 4. Well I did have a 5th but it escaped, my catch bag hangs off my float and the little clip that keeps it closed is broken. I had been tying a knot for security but it was proving difficult to undo while holding a cray. So this time I didn’t bother tying the knot. It didn’t take him long I dived down and back up once and it was gone!

After a crayfish each for morning tea (keep minion fed) Paul raised the anchor and we moved to a scallop area for a tank dive before heading homeward. The scallops don’t move much and don’t hide very well, they where easy to gather compared to the free dive crays.

I was feeling pretty good about myself from a pretty successful mornings hunting and gathering, satisfying the inner cave man. All we needed now was some fish, maybe Paul is planning on catching that kahawai for bait on the homeward stretch? Like a good minion he pulled the anchor again (with only a little whining) and we sailed out of the bay and headed back towards the ramp.

Conditions where near perfect, flat seas, light downwind breeze. We rigged a basic preventer line (rope that stops the boom from violently swing to other side accidentally) and wing on winged our way southwards.

We threaded our way between the many boats anchored fishing along the coastline and into Mercury bay. “Where’s the Kahawai Paul?” Paul had to go and sit up the front and think about what he had done….

Coming in towards the harbour we dropped sails and and continued on the motor. The tide was dropping and nearing mid tide, I was concerned with the speed of the current in the channel. Apparently it can get quite fast and with only 8hp available I didn’t know if we would get in or not. Turns out the Yamaha didn’t even break a sweat and we cruised back into Whitianga with no trouble at all.

Paul tied us to the pontoon like a pro, the current was cranking and we could only come in bow first facing up current. We soon had Corvina back on the trailer, mast down packed up and hit the road for the journey back to Hamilton.

Night circumnavigation-Waiheke

Late Saturday morning I text Paul and asked if he was feeling crazy. Instant reply comes back confirming such.

I thought a night-time lap of Waiheke Island would be a good idea, We missed out on doing the Gulf classic so this should make up for it. A loose plan was made, Paul would pick me up in the afternoon and we would take the Catalina 7.

Instead of rushing around getting my things together I had a sleep, I had been doing night shifts and decided that I might need to be awake a lot later on so it made sense. Eventually Paul turned up and I chucked my gear in the Paj, as we backed out I remembered the key to the yacht hatch lock was inside the house. But unfortunately so was the house keys. Thinking quickly I remembered the spare “yacht key” was in the garage and that was luckily unlocked.

We headed off towards Kawakawa bay, Stopped at Wendy’s to fuel up for the mission ahead. On the way to the ramp Paul helped me remember that I had also forgotten the Gas bottle! Oh well no hot drinks or food it’s not the end of the world. As Paul was mocking me for being so forgetful he said what next the motor….. OH ummm yeh good point!

I thought gee lucky the boat is already up there, I would’ve forgotten that too! While I was making excuses for the amnesia, Paul came up with a solid plan. Take the outboard off his Moonraker 23, which is a 4 stroke so also take his fuel tank.

We got to the compound at Kawakawa bay and used Paul’s key to get in, yes I forgot mine. I used my spare “yacht key” to get into the cabin.

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We loaded up, pillaged Pauls boat for anything else I managed to leave behind and launched the boat.

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We motored out, raised the sails and shut the outboard off. The sun was just going down and the breeze was nice 10-12 knots from the NE. We decided the best plan was keeping Waiheke to port so headed close hauled out into the firth keeping all of the islands to our port.

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As the sun set we sorted out our safety gear and torches and anything else that we could possibly require. I said we should call up Coast guard radio to register the trip report (TR). As always I held the mic and thought about what I would say before calling them.You learn the radio talk if  you do radio operator license. Its easy and cheap, I did mine online with an Ipad through Coast guard boating education and I can recommend it. It is actually illegal to operate a VHF radio without this qualification unless it’s an emergency.

“Coast guard radio, coast guard radio, this is Corvina, Zulu Mike Xray 2137 over”.

“Trip report, leaving Kawakawa bay, 2 POB, destination Kawakawa bay” ??? oh wait that won’t make much sense will it???

Paul and I chatted about it then decided to just explain what we are doing and let them worry about the TR details. I called up Coast guard radio and explained it, The operator offered an alternative to a TR, He said we could do a SAR watch. This is where you make times you will call them to say everything is good.

If you don’t call, they will make attempts to call you and if unsuccessful an all out “Search And Rescue” mission will be launched. The operator made double sure that we understood the serious implications of such a watch and made sure we understood and agreed. We gratefully accepted and scheduled our first call for 3 hours later.

We got far enough north of Waiheke to be able to tack west and clear the island. The wind was now slightly behind us and we sped up heading towards HoruHoru rock (Gannet) a few miles away.

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We closed in on The rock, as we discussed which side we should pass all of a sudden Paul’s face changes as he stares into the darkness unable to speak. Shit I though we are about to run into the bloody rock!

Turns out a pod of dolphins had come in at full speed all lit up by the luminescence! It looked amazing, they darted in and out completely illuminated from head to tail, You could see the streaks of light from 10m out as they darted around the boat.

We had turns at going to the bow as they swam as close as possible to the hull in the bow wash. I layed on deck almost within touching distance, they would roll over on their side and look up at me as if they understood what they where looking at, I’m  not sure they did but it felt good thinking that.

I snapped off some photos, below is my best photo…..Don’t adjust your screen that is it.

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We where getting closer to the rocks and I still hadn’t figured out what side to go. Paul pointed out an island and said that’s the rock, it was way to high to be some rock. I explained it was obviously an optical illusion and that it was a distant large island way over towards Auckland.

5 mins later Paul made me have another look at my distant island, it was indeed the actual HoruHoru rock and it was indeed very close to us! ok let’s make a turn like right now and go around that.

I got a photo of the rock, it’s actually a lot bigger than I had anticipated.It should be renamed the title is misleading. Again don’t adjust you screen that is the photo. Night photos with a phone are not my speciality.

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We continued on with our speedy down wind sail, calling up at our pre scheduled times and having a chat with our guardian radio operators. They sounded genuinely interested in our little adventure and it was great sharing the enthusiasm with them each call as we updated our position and let them know how it was going.

The leg across the top of Waiheke was going really well,the wind had increased to 15 plus knots and a small swell had developed. We surfed down the waves watching the dimmed plotter for a top speed each surge. We had turns at having a kip. Paul said wake me up when we get to the channel between Waiheke and Motuihe. I had every intention of doing that because the chart shows its pretty rocky and I’ve never been through there and he had. I didn’t see any other boats out, not even a commercial boat. The ocean was ours.

We sailed down the channel with one eye on the depth sounder, one eye on the chart plotter, one eye on the nav markers and one eye on the many reefs.

Auckland came into view and I was stoked to see the Auckland skyline all lit up. I managed a slightly better night-time photo this time. If you use your imagination you can see the sky tower.

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We turned east and made our way along the southern end of Waiheke on the home stretch. The wind was still from the NE and blowing well. At around 4am the wind increased and some drizzle came in, Considering the forecast expected rain most of the night we had been pretty lucky. I put my jacket on and swapped with Paul for his turn catching a few winks.

As I sailed across the southern end of the Waiheke channel the wind whipped up strongly, funneling its way down the channel and smacking into us and making it pretty choppy. I had to wake Paul and ask for some help. We where way over canvassed and needed to do something. We made a rule that we wont go on deck alone during the darkness. Paul jumped up and dropped the jib, this made it far easier to handle. Paul jumped back below and I continued across the channel towards Sand spit passage. Paul suggested cutting across on a more direct route to the ramp but I was to chicken to attempt that shallow area in the dark.

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The sun came up as we where nearly at the spot when it went down the night before.

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I called in our final scheduled radio call at 6am and thanked them greatly, we are lucky to have such a valuable safety service available to allow us to have such adventures. I think all boaties should join the Coast Guard, for the yearly fee you really do get a lot of value. They are a charity so maybe this weekend instead of putting 20 on the chiefs, send it their way…

https://www.coastguard.org.nz/make_a_donation_site_info.html

I was absolutely stuffed getting back to the ramp, what an epic trip it was. I had a ball and enjoyed every second, Night time sailing is awesome and a must do. Just take a better camera and remember to bring the outboard, and gas bottle, and keys…….

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