A Kiwi couple's cruising adventures on America's Great Loop and around the coast of New Zealand

Sunday, 2 March 2014

New Zealand's Baby ICW (episode #7)

The weather had improved further as we headed out of Toot for Marsden Cove. There was a gentle 10 kt Southerly of top of a 1 - 1.5 metre long, lazy rolling swell. Just after departure, Carolyn suggested that we go up the Whangarei Harbour to the marina at the Town Basin. This is a waterfront area adjacent to the CBD and has undergone extensive upgrading over the past few years to become a very attractive area, with shops, restaurants and bars aplenty and easy walking access to all inner city facilities. I had visited the Basin many, many times while travelling North during my business life, but we had never taken the time to cruise the additional 12NM from the Whangarei Harbour entrance as I considered it a waste of time and fuel. However, the more I thought about it, the more I figured that if anywhere was going to be reminiscent of the ICW, it would be the trip up the harbour and into the Hatea river and Town Basin.
The trip to Bream Head was comfortable and uneventful, and we were pleasantly surprised to turn into Bream Bay and find the sea had flattened off, giving us an easy ride down to Whangarei harbour. We cruised past the oil refinery, then Marsden Cove marina, and continued up the harbour towards the Basin. Here was the first reminder of the Loop - land on both sides of the boat and a narrow dredged channel up the middle marked with buoys and poles. The main differences were that the land was a lot higher on both sides, the dredged channel was a lot deeper (30ft instead of 6) and, if you meandered out of the channel, you would not run aground  with depths of 15-20ft instead of 1-2. However, further up the river began to twist and turn and past the port it got very ICW-like, with depths down to 4.5ft in one place. Mind you, it was low, but incoming, tide so we were in no danger of being stuck aground as the full tide was predicted at 3.1 metres (10ft) that day. The clincher for comparison, though, was when we got round the last bend before the Basin and came across a Bascule bridge. This bridge was opened in May last year and is the only Bascule bridge in the Southern Hemisphere - talk about nostalgia as we went underneath!. The bridge has a vertical clearance of 7.5 metres at MHWS (Mean High Water Spring) tide so we had no trouble getting underneath without it being raised.
We were given a berth in the marina on the courtesy dock, right outside Reva's restaurant which, again, was very reminiscent of many of the smaller marinas we stayed at on the Loop. The marina had great facilities, the management went out of their way to be helpful, and there was a large Pak n Save supermarket directly across the road where we could reprovision. We had already arranged that Charlie and Pauline would come and stay with us in Whangarei - this change made it 30 minutes closer for them and since they had done 400 miles with me when we took the boat from Florida to Savannah, I knew they would have to experience NZ's "Baby ICW" for themselves.

We stayed there for 2 enjoyable nights and I felt compelled to give them a good review on Active Captain, which I have been updating since before we did the Loop. If there are any Kiwi sailors reading this who don't know what Active Captain is, go to www.activecaptain.com and check it out. It is a "tripadvisor meets the RAYC coastal cruising handbook" and is an excellent interactive resource. It is extensively used in the USA and would be of great benefit to all boaties in NZ, if it becomes as popular here as it is there. AND IT IS FREE!!!! (so use it, folks)

It was grey and overcast when we left. Charlie and Pauline had agreed to come down the NZBICW with me, so Carolyn took their car down to meet us at Marsden Cove marina. We followed the advice of the Town Basin marina management (don't cut corners on the bends - and one in particular) and found much deeper water on the way down than we found in the shallow parts on the way up. It was still right on low tide, but we never saw less than 8ft. After a very pleasant trip down harbour and as we pulled into our allocated berth at Marsden Cove, I noticed something I had previously  known about, but forgotten - this marina has a LOCK!. The Marsden Cove complex of marina and residential canal development was built entirely on land, and then opened to the sea. When they built stage 2 of the residential canal system it was far enough inland that they needed to be able to control the flow of tide from that stage, out past the marina. So they put in a weir to keep the canal at a uniform level and this, of course, necessitated a lock for the resident's boats. As far as I'm aware it is the only lock in New Zealand and, even though it can't begin to compared with ones like the Coffeeville Lock and dam or the Kentucky locks with their 80-90ft lifts (and you wouldn't get ONE 200ft barge in it let alone a bunch of them), it is still a lock and yet another element to remind us of the Great Loop in microcosm - all in l'il ole Whangarei!!

The weather forecast was looking good for our trip across Bream Bay the following day, and for the last legs of out voyage home, but you can read about them in the next and last instalment.

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