Well, Great Barrier Island was not all what we were hoping for and after sticking the nose of Footloose into the next two harbors further South, we said, let‘s just go to Mercury Island which was about thirty five miles South of Kaiarara Bay. And as Jackie Gleason would alway say, “And Away We Go”.
Once again, we were motor sailing but it was a gorgeous day and the passage was uneventful. We were constantly looking for whales but saw nothing as the outline of Mercury Island continue to loom larger on the horizon and take on a defined form as the hours went bye.
But there was one silver lining in the passage that took us totally by surprise. During the entire five days we were on Great Barrier Island, we had no and I mean zero WiFi. But wonders of all wonders, in the middle of nowhere we had three and four bars coming from the New Zealand mainland. Upon reflection, that might tell you volumes about Great Barrier Island. WiFi twenty miles offshore and nothing on Great Barrier Island. To be fair, the island is trying to position itself as an ecological hotbed and in truth it is green, but that is it, it is green.
About 1530 hours we are taking in a gorgeous sandy beach with one sailboat lying at anchor. Inasmuch as that did not offer any protection against a Nor’ Easter, we opted to anchor a bit North of the beach which afforded a better protection in an equally beautiful but smaller harbor. By 1620 hours the covers for the dodger wind shield and the binnacle as well as the anchor snubber were all in place. Dinner was somewhat special because we had salad, steamed cauliflower and grilled chicken served with jerk and Maroccan seasoning and a nice but unspectacular chardonnay from our host country. The jerk was for yours truly and Nina had the Maroccan seasoned chicken. Quite decadent you might say but we are just cooking for two so why not have what you truly want.
As far as protein is concerned, we generally package the fish in vacuum sealed freezer bags with four eight ounce pieces of fish or chicken in each bag. We can and have carried as many as forty bags of fish and or chicken in the freezer if we are making a long passage. However, since we will be vacationing away from Footloose for almost two months at the end of this cruise we have only five bags in the freezer plus two whole lobsters. We then, each day about noon remove one bag from the freezer and place it in the sink to thaw in preparation for that evening´s meal. We grill or sear the entire package but have for dinner only two of the four portions (unless I am really hungry) with the remaining two portions destined for our meal the following evening. Sometimes, we might even have two cooked meals in the fridge as it relates to the protein for a day because we have opted to not have the same item two consecutive days in a row. As a general rule, we only eat fish with an occasional meal of chicken every seven to ten days. After dinner, we watched a movie and consumed two medium sized bags of potato chips, set the anchor alarm and were in bed by 10:00 PM.
The Northern end of Mercury Island is very much unlike Great Barrier Island in that it is relatively flat and is devoid of heavy tree cover. This is ideal for the sheep and cattle station that occupies this area and the contrast between the Northern and Southern ends is both beautiful and quite striking. Therefore, the next morning after breakfast, Nina went ashore to take pictures of the animals and background nature and to walk along the beach and pathways that are available to visitors.
Again, this island is privately owned and so visitors are restricted to these trails as is the case throughout most of New Zealand. However, during the calving and shearing seasons, no visitors are allowed on the island. While Nina was ashore communing with nature and “my animals” as she refers to them, I checked on the weather, made a few small repairs, played bridge online and simply enjoyed the quiet of the harbor and Footloose.
The weather based on my evaluation was going to become an issue as the winds from the Northeast were forecast to strengthen to 40 knots. We were reasonably well protected and I had generally decided to remain where we were even though the anchorage at the Southern end of the island would have afforded us even better protection. This decision was in fact influenced by a saying that I inherited from from Edwin, our former Engineering Officer which was “ if it is good enough, let good enough do you”, and so Footloose spent the remainder of the second day and night riding comfortably on 95’ of chain with Northeast winds between 25 to 30 knots overnight. The third day brought cloudy skies and and escalating winds out of the Northeast but nothing approaching 40 knots. As I said, I was operating on the good enough philosophy but at 1550 hours, Nina proved that she did not share that bit of sage wisdom when she said she wanted to go to Peach Grove Bay at the Southern end of Mercury Island. My opinion was that we were holding well and I saw little reason to move Footloose in these conditions but the Admiral prevailed and by 1616 hours Footloose was heading South in 25-30 knot winds and 2-4 foot seas. Peach Grove was only four nautical miles away so at about 1640 hours we reached the Southern end of Mercury and I now altered course to the East. Almost immediately I knew moving was a mistake because we had sailed into a 4-6 foot Easterly swell and Footloose was popping up and down like a bottle in the Atlantic. Immediately, Nina also realized that these swells would compromise the anchorage and said she said we could return to our previously “very quiet anchorage” (my words not hers) if I thought it was best. At that point my stubborn streak took over and basically I said we were not going back now. The bay has a bit of a fish hook to its contour and I could see that the swells were not as severe well inside the bay as they were in open water. As we continued deeper into the bay itself, we noticed a small swift boat anchored well into the harbor and very tight against the Northeastern contour of the bay. As predicted the swells were significantly less there taking on more of a rolling action. The winds however abated from 30-35 knots to about 15-20 knots as a result of tucking in close under the Eastern wall of the bay. Our first attempt to set the anchor failed but the subsequent effort proved successful and we were good with 225‘ of chain in 20‘ feet of water. We had anchored near low tide and I was concerned that the scope at high tide would not be sufficient with less chain in place. I squared Footloose away and set a very tight anchor watch radius while Nina prepared dinner. When we went to bed, there were two things perfectly clear, namely that sleeping in the forward berth was not going to be fun and someone, me had to monitor the anchor watch. So while Nina slept, perhaps more correctly attempted to sleep in the main saloon on the port side double berth, I slept with the IPAD in the forward berth. In truth, I was under no false illusions about getting a good nights sleep but my concern about the anchor’s ability to prevail in these conditions warranted added caution.
As it turned out, the anchor prevailed, but neither of us got a decent nights sleep and immediately after breakfast we made our way back to the the previous harbor to spend the fourth and what became our final night on Mercury Island. There was no question that Peach Grove and the bay immediately West of there were prettier than any of our previous anchorages but that was absolutely no interest in going ashore given the swells, the cold and losing another night of sleep. By noon, Footloose was again at anchor on the Western side of Mercury Island and based on the weather forecast I envisioned that we might be there for four more days awaiting a decent window to proceed North.
Tutukaka by dusk
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