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 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.