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

Sunday, 31 January 2016

What a drag

After a week at home recovering from the Barrier debacle, we decided to give it another go as the weather was forecast to turn better. We invited Aunty Lyn along for a week or so cruising around Waiheke and, as the tail end of Cyclone Una trailed down the East Coast of the North Island forecast to produce 25-35 NE winds, we opted for remaining on the the S side of the island until they blew over. We spent the first night in Putiki Bay, one of our favourites on this side. It is a large but shallow bay with good holding on a mud bottom and sheltered from all winds except due SW. It is not particularly popular with other boaties due to the large number of local moorings and the lack of sandy beaches, but we have anchored there dozens of times without incident. A couple of our G Pier friends were also anchored there adjacent to us, and the first night they dined aboard with us. In preparation for the stronger winds the next day I had let out 25 metres of chain, although we were anchored in only 4 metres of water.

The next morning the wind picked up to the forecast NE 25/35 and we danced around as normal but, after an hour or two it seemed that we were further from our friends than we had been the night before. A couple of hours later it was obvious that we had moved so we lifted the anchor to reposition and found a large plastic bag full of mud wrapped around the anchor shank. Aha!!!! a good reason for not holding! We returned to our original anchoring spot and reset but within an hour it was obvious we had shifted again. We tried another spot nearer the beach and in slightly shallower water - same thing! As it was late in the day, we shifted over to the other side of the bay, which seemed to have more shelter and anchored there. I set the iPad to track us and by dusk we had dragged back around 50 metres. However as the rate was so slow and we had a lot of clear space behind us and the wind was supposed to drop, we remained where we were for the night. Sure enough, I checked in the morning and we had dragged a further 50 metres

Fortunately, the forecast was now for light winds for the next 4-5 days so we continued on down to the "bottom end" of Waiheke and into Man O War Bay - another one of our favourites (lots of mussels on the wharf piles for mussel fritters). We dropped anchor and heaved a sigh of relief as I felt it dig in and pull the boat up hard. We spent an incident free night in light winds and departed the next day for a days fishing. On retrieval, we found the anchor well embedded and had to drive over it to break free of the bottom - quite a common occurrence with this ground tackle.

After a moderately successful trip, we returned to Man O War and dropped anchor in roughly the same place as we had left that morning. The anchor would not bed. We tried again - same thing. We shifted a little and tried again - no luck. On the fifth attempt the anchor finally dug in, but with nowhere near the same ferocity as the previous night. About now I remembered that we had had trouble anchoring and holding the bottom at the Barrier as well, and I had put this down to the strong and blustery wind conditions over there. I then came to the realisation that all these problems had surfaced since our tangle with Taurus on New Years Day and our ground tackle, that had never let us down before even in extreme conditions, was now unreliable - and there had to be a reason!

The following day was windless and flat calm, so we pulled up the anchor (which came up far too easily for my liking) and travelled out to deep water so I could examine it. We pulled it onto the deck and, sighting down the shank, we could see that it was no longer straight, but slightly curved. Obviously when Taurus first hooked our anchor chain and pulled us out of the bottom, the sideways pressure on the shank had caused it to bend, and this had been enough for the anchor to no longer set properly. We swapped the anchor for the 35lb Delta that had come with the boat, but rarely (if ever) used - it still had the "made in China" sticker on bottom of the flukes. Curiously, it also came with a galvanised swivel attached to the shank with what appeared to be a non removable clevis pin. I already had a swivel on the chain, but could see no way to get the other one off, so I attached it to the chain with a standard shackle. Although grossly undersized for the boat I figured this anchor would probably be more reliable than the damaged 48.5lb SS plough, particularly since only light winds were forecast for the rest of our stay out.

We stayed out another 3 days using the Delta in a number of different anchorages, although in much lighter winds, without any setting or dragging issues. Ironically, we spent our last night back in Putiki Bay in  the same spot that we had dragged on our second day out. When I came to pull the anchor up I was horrified to see that the clevis holding the swivel to the anchor shank was halfway out, and the anchor was about to fall off. Fortunately I managed to get it  fully home and lashed to the forward cleat without the pin falling out completely.

At first I thought it had sheared off, but when I removed the shackle and inspected it, I found that there was no means of locking the clevis to the swivel. There was a hole through it for a split pin, but the shaft of the clevis only came flush to the outside of the swivel so the hole for the pin was inside it. Furthermore, I am sure that the outside end of the clevis was galvanised over, making me think it had been welded in place and therefore non-removable. It would appear that it was only held in place by the "interference fit" of a cut off section of split pin

Spooky eh!

Well, we're safe and sound back home again and I have been looking around for a replacement anchor. Amazon still sell the one that I got in Kenosha, albeit $50 more than I paid in 2012, but won't ship to NZ (mind you imagine the shipping cost of a 48.5lb anchor to here). The local equivalent SS plough is a tad under $6000, so its out of the question. After researching them out, I have decided to go for the new Vulcan anchor, from the makers of the famous Rocna. According to the website, it is as reliable as the Rocna and was  designed to fit into boats with bowsprits (or "anchor platforms" as they call them) such as Loopy Kiwi. They also have available full size templates on their website so you can make up a cardboard cutout and see if it will fit. This is the one for the 25kg (55lb) anchor that I intend to fit.

Weird looking huh! I'll let you know how it works out.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

El Nino and the Barrier

Great Barrier Island is a large island at the entrance to the Hauraki Gulf, approximately 40NM from Auckland City. It is a popular destination for boaties in summer as its most visited harbour , the fiord-like Port Fitzroy, is well sheltered, deep and provides good anchorages for many boats. The downside to the "Barrier", as it is commonly known, is that you have to cross the Colville or Craddock Channels to get there. Both of these Channels are subject to strong currents and, under adverse conditions such as wind against tide, even relatively light winds can turn them into washing machines. Many overseas visitors report that some of the worst seas they encounter on their trans-Pacific voyagers, are near the Barrier.

Our son, Adam, lives on Great Barrier at Tryphena, the largest population area of the islands 750-odd inhabitants. There is a regular ferry service from Auckland City, but Tryphena Harbour is exposed to winds from S through to NW and there are very few sheltered anchorages from winds in these directions that haven't been taken over by local moorings. However we had committed to joining him to celebrate Christmas day and departed on the 18th December with the intention of spending the next 2 months cruising the Barrier, the East Coast of Coromandel to Mercury Bay and returning to Auckland via Coromandel Township and the "Bottom end" of Waiheke - these destinations are shown in red circles on the following map

As the entire world knows, we are currently in a Global "El Nino" weather pattern. In NZ, this usually manifests itself as "windy and dry" in the South island, and very windy and wet in the North - so we were a little sceptical on how well our plans would pan out. It was blowing SW when we departed, around 15-20kts, but when we arrived at Oneroa, our first overnight anchorage, this picked up to 25-30kts remaining through the next day as well. The following day we moved to the bottom end of Waiheke (5NM closer to Tryphena) to wait for a weather window for a safe crossing. We tried fishing but it was too blustery to drift fish,which is the only method I have found works in the particular place we were. On the second morning, we were greeted by a pod of around 12 dolphins that came in for breakfast and cavorted around us for over an hour.

After 2 days of gusty SW winds we got a lull on the 23rd which according to the forecast, would be the last opportunity to cross before Boxing day, at least. It turned out to be a pleasant voyage and we pulled into Tryphena around midday. The following day, Christmas eve, was awful with the winds gusting 35kts from the SE, which causes a nasty beam-on roll to set up from the Colville Channel. Christmas day started out the same, but moderated once we went ashore to enjoy Adam's excellent 5 course Degustation lunch with all the trimmings. The roll was still there when we returned, so we moved to a small bay around the corner and had a comfortable night.

The next few days were forecast to be 10 - 15 kts, so we used the opportunity to scamper up to Port Fitzroy in superb conditions, where we were joined by Adam and Peter for a few days of calm, sunny weather, and caught up with friends from our marina - Chrissy and Bob on "Taurus".

Heading up from Tryphena

The "Broken Islands"

Looking back towards Tryphena

The tip of the Coromandel Peninsular

Through the Broken Islands

Approaching Man O War Passage

Port Fitzroy

Warrens Bay

Our G Pier Friends - Taurus

Kiwiriki Bay

Although it doesn't really show in the pics, there were a LOT of boats in Fitzroy, and every night, every anchorage was full. Not such a problem in light conditions, but on the day before New Years Eve, the first Gale warning was issued by MetService - E35-50kts. This had many boats crowding into sheltered bays and we took up anchorage in Warrens Bay amongst about 50 others. The first strong winds and torrential rain hit around 10pm and by midnight were howling way in excess of 50 knots. 2 yachts (sailboats) nearby began to drag anchor and had to relocate. I had set the track feature on the iPad Navionics app, and it had drawn a "smiley face" as the boat swung through an arc on the anchor. I knew that as long as the icon signifying the boat was on the smile, we were still holding anchor, and this it did while I sat watch until dawn. By then the wind had eased to around 40kts and I figured if we hadn't dragged by then we wouldn't now, so I went below to get some sleep. A few moments later I heard a roar of engines nearby and got up to find Taurus driving furiously against a howling gale of over 60kts trying to get  his anchor up as another sailboat had dragged back against him.  To maintain steerage he had to motor forward with his anchor still partly deployed and his anchor dropped over my chain and caught on it. Suddenly he was alongside, then behind, but tethered to our bowsprit and his chain running under our hull, endangering our props, shafts, rudders and underwater exhausts. To avoid absolute calamity required extracting his 33kg (75lb) Rocna anchor with a 50cm (15") blade from over our anchor chain. All the while 50ft of chain and 19 tonne of Taurus were trying to keep it there. I could only reach it by lying prone on the bowsprit, hanging over the side and lifting it towards me. I got it on the second try - I don't know how - but I had the bruises on my chest, arms and lower body for a week afterwards to prove it wasn't easy. Here's a pic of the track on the iPad showing the saga as it unfolded. The smiley mouth is the overnight track and the zigzag is where Taurus pulled us out and we swung around trying to get uncoupled. Finally, we got away, retrieved our anchor and got the hell outa there.

From New Years Day, boats began to leave the Barrier. We stayed on in the hope that the weather would moderate - it didn't! After 3 more Gale warnings and uncomfortable days and nights where you couldn't leave your boat, or go for a swim we decided that enough was enough and left on 6th January for home at 5.45pm. The wind was supposed to be easing to E10kts, but crossing the Colville Channel it was gusting 25 giving a lumpy 2m (7ft) beam sea with the occasional 2.5m (9ft). Part way out we decided that our usual 9kt cruise was too uncomfortable so we picked it up to 17kts and cut the crossing time in half. Originally we intended to stop over at an outlying island for the night, but as we got closer we decided the marina was a better idea and arrived home at 10pm.

There's the route.....we stayed on the boat 2 more days at the marina before coming home for a break. In the 21 days we were out, there were 3 days where the wind was below 10kts. There were 3 days where it was above 50. The rest were between 15 and 45, with the majority above 20. Since we have been at home the weather has not improved.

El Nino sucks