Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Circuit break in Whangarei

It's the middle of February, and we're stalled in a marina just outside Whangarei. Hardly over the doorstep. For many boaties (read Aucklanders), Whangarei isn't on the cruising map. Few follow the channel markers through the sandbanks up the river to the Town Basin, a favourite long-term refuge for  international cruisers who love Whangarei for its myriad marine services.  Rather, Whangarei Heads is a waypoint on the journey to and from the Bay of Islands, somewhere safe to stop overnight, probably in Urquhart Bay, tucked just inside the heads, and then move on again at first light.

Easy sailing from Great Barrier to Whangarei Heads

Urquhart Bay (and below)

Looking up the harbour towards Marsden Point and beyond 

We might have done the same after coming into Urquhart's from Great Barrier, though we quickly recognised this anchorage as the gem our friends on Galactic have spoken of. We were prepared to believe them even before a couple of guys who were diving for scallops not far from where we'd dropped the anchor in 10 m gallantly gave us a few of their extras before they headed home. How good is that? As good as the big loop walk around the headland, past derelict gun emplacements and ancient pohutakawas to Smuggler's Bay which has to be one of the most beautiful beaches we know of.

From bucket to table - Urquhart's scallops

Smuggler's Bay is impossibly romantic (and below)

Natives of the area - pukekos

At the beginning of last week, the weather had finally come good i.e it had "settled", and was begging to be enjoyed. But we had had a date with a travel lift in Port Whangarei.

Port Whangarei's new boatyard

We'd discovered the day before we left Westhaven marina that all boats heading to the Bay of Islands from Auckland this summer needed to have a clean bottom  - and be able to prove it. The villain in the piece is a marine invader called the Mediterranean fan worm which is apparently rampant in the Waitemata harbour but has yet to infest waters north of Whangarei (supposedly). The Northland councils think they can fence it off and have decreed that boat owners from the polluted south should have anti-fouled their vessel no longer than six months before they arrive in northern waters, or have lifted and pressure washed within the past month...and be able to show the relevant receipts. Huh?

This is NOT Enki -  what fan worm looks like, from government website

Surely Westhaven marina could have posted such information on the gates of the pontoons. It was only by chance that we picked up a government fan worm edict on the counter of the marina office as we paying our bill. New Zealand's biosecurity is tough, and we don't object to that, but if you're going to make regulations (and we hear the fan worm ban has been strictly applied this season, with boats being randomly dived on in marinas and in anchorages in the north), then get the word out where it needs to be heard. In Auckland's biggest marina, for example. We checked on the cruiser's website Noonsite - nothing there. We'll make sure it is very soon.

We had Enki lifted and washed at Port Whangarei, and guess what? No sign of Mediterranean fan worm. "The cleanest boat I've seen in a long time," the water blasting guy commented. Ah well. At least she'll go faster. And we've got the bit of paper.

The Micron 66 applied in April 2015 in Curacao has performed well

From Marsden Cove marina, we called an electrician to fix the freezer which we'd discovered wasn't working after we'd loaded it up with meat for several weeks' cruising. We've put that behind us, but let's just say that the vacuum packer (bought in the Canaries in anticipation of catching more fish than we could eat or freeze) came in handy.

The freezer job wasn't complicated. A loose connection, it turns out.

While the electrician was packing up his kit, Alex asked him about an anomaly he'd noticed in the charging system. Perhaps he wishes he hadn't asked, though it isn't in his make-up to ignore a potential problem. After four days of checking and re-checking connections and batteries and chargers, no-one  - least of all the professionals, it seems to me - is any the wiser, but I guess we won't be leaving port unless Alex is satisfied with the situation.

Whangarei Town Basin life (and below)

While this has been happening, bad weather has blown in for a few days.  If Saturday morning is fined as forecast, I'll be torn between getting on our way or going into Whangarei for the luscious produce at the Growers' Market again. We met Marce and Jack at the market last Saturday - Escape Velocity is parked in the Town Basin between the piles as are many many other overseas cruising yachts. It was a thrill to be with them again. We'd left them behind in Bora Bora in September, fully expecting to see them in Tonga soon after, but by the time they reached Tonga we were on our way to NZ. And then back to Sydney.

Marce and Jack at the Whangarei Growers' Market (and below)

Smuggler's Bay
After the market we drove Marce and Jack out to Whangarei Heads so they could see what we'd seen. If we could only show our friends all the places in New Zealand that have given us pleasure over the years, but everyone travels at their own pace. They're busy getting Escape Velocity ready to be lifted tomorrow. There's work to be done.

So they didn't come out with us to see Martha and Bryce's new rural venture. The Ferns are done with boating. They've circumnavigated, and now they are onto another project. They're digging, building and will soon be planting kiwifruit.  They're game, very game.

Martha and Bryce's best paddock, from the top (where Martha wants to site a house)

You start with a barn, tools and willing labour

Home for the Ferns, for this winter...

Plenty of room to store boat parts - Silver Fern's huge canoe-style boom

Bryce's biggest toy - Martha drives the digger too

Did anyone mention that it has rained a lot this summer?

The barn doubles as an entertainment space

You can take the girl out of Boston but....

Their boat, Silver Fern, is parked in Marsden Cove for the time being,  and in due course will go up for sale. Rhombus is in here too. She too has circumnavigated - Annette and John Lee and baby Tui are moving onto a dairy farm soon.  Gonzalo flew in briefly from France to say goodbye to Kazaio which sold before he had even put her on the market. There's a real end-of-the-road feeling about Whangarei in that regard. This is where a lot of people hop off. It'd be a smart place to buy a boat, I reckon.

Tui was born in the Caribbean, a cruisy baby - she's nearly one now. 

And for us, it's probably the last time we'll feel like cruisers. Part of the tribe. In April and May, those going on will head up to Fiji or Tonga, having prepared their boats over the summer months for further passage-making. It's good be amongst them for a few days longer.

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