An interesting fact is that the days are very long at this time of the year in New Zealand. Day light or sun rise is about 5:45 AM and dusk ends about 9:15 PM.
Footloose had a very comfortable, quiet but windy night at anchor and both Nina and I were able to recover from the lack of sleep the night before. The morning began in a very leisurely manner with breakfast of poached eggs, smoked salmon and blue cheese topped off with a cold glass of cranberry juice with the weather forecast playing repeatedly in the background over the VHF. As I listened, it suggested one of two options, namely remaining in Mercury Island until Wednesday or sailing to Shoal Bay at the Southern tip of Great Barrier Island today and then on Monday during a break in the weather making a short dash to an anchorage North of Port Fitzroy and then on Wednesday sailing 50 nautical miles back to Tutukaka.
The only concern with that plan was the forecast for Wednesday called for a Northerly flow backing mid day to the Northwest which would put the wind as always on our nose for half of the passage. The winds for today, Sunday were 10-12 knots out of the East backing to the North which was somewhat ideal but Tutukaka was 84 miles away. Our daily passage planning range for Footloose is 160 nm per day and that would put Tutukaka more than 12 hours away. Further, my sailing mentor Ted Gadelis, had on numerous occasions lectured me about going anywhere on sailboat with a hard timeline and so a Sunday passage was out of the question. Breakfast was completed about 8:45 AM to include the dishes and I was at the nav station putting way points into the computer for the twenty three nautical mile passage to Shoal Bay when Nina ask why don‘t we just go all the way to Tutukaka today? I gave her the party line and I assumed that would bring closure to that idea. It did not. The next question was what time was sunset and my response was 8.23 PM. If I had been more astute, I would have sensed the slippery slope I was now on, but I did not. I was foolish to think I could support my case with facts alone. I then said, the cruising guide said we should not enter Tutukaka harbor at night. The next question, was obvious and I had walked right into a velvet trap, when I heard Nina say, yes but what time is it dark? At that point, I picked up the phone and called the Tutukaka marina to ask two questions, specifically do you have a slip for us and what time does it get dark? The answer was yes and about 9:20 PM, respectively. After further discussions the agreement was that we would leave immediately for Shoal Bay with the understanding that if we arrive there prior to 1300 hours we would continue on to an anchorage North of Fitzroy. At that point there was no further discussion about going all the way to Tutukaka on Sunday. By 9:35 AM we were underway with a full main and 120 genoa. It was an ideal morning for a leisure sail and we were making 7+ knots without a care in the world. At 12:15 PM I had a decision to make because we were just passing Shoal Bay and were an hour ahead of schedule. Winds continued out of the East and we were routinely touching 8 knots and I saw no reason reason to stop and so our new destination was about 7 miles North of Port Fitzroy which was less than two hours away. In little less than an hour Pigeon Rock was on our port beam and Footloose was effortlessly rolling the miles up. It was clear we would reach Karaka Bay between 1330 and 1345 hours. We were now almost two hours ahead of plan. Tutukaka was now 50 miles away and as such, if we continue further North we would no longer be in the lee on Great Barrier Island and as such we would begin to see a wind shift to the North. As if I had written the script, the plot thickened because the staysail which we had put up about two hours ago was no longer pulling and within minutes the 120 was marginal as well as the wind had backed and my thought was we had no other option but to make for Karaka Bay. At this point, I started the engine with every intention of turning to starboard and making for the anchorage. The wind however decided to play with us as it clocked and freshened out of the Northeast and with the engine shut down and a course charge we were again doing 8.5 knots however now we were on the rumbline for Tutukaka with an estimated arrival at the pass of 8:23 PM. This was not my plan but incremental short term decisions had all but made the decision for us.
We were close hauled and, as such Footloose was a bit overpowered so we furled the staysail and in do doing we did not give up any speed but the environment on Footloose was much improved. At this point we were committed to Tutukaka without a backup plan. Over the next eight hours, the wind would continued to back and lose velocity and eventually we started the engine because the wind was almost be on the nose. With each wind shift, I would increase engine rpms to compensate for both the velocity and the direction. Normally, Footloose operates at 2500 but we would eventually have the rpms as high as 3400 and I was not at comfortable with the screaming shrill of the turbocharger. Just prior to dinner, I reduce the rpms back to 2700 and our projected arrival time was now between 9:15 and 9:30 and I began to evaluate alternate harbors either North or South of Tutukaka. It was clear that Tutukaka was the best anchorage and if we could not make it, then the options were clear, either anchor in an alternative harbor or turn North and sail all night to the Bay of Islands.
As it turned out, we arrived at Tutukaka at 8:30PM and most importantly I could make out the white transit in the distance. With a good visual on the transits, I placed two waypoints on the chart plotter to create a course because we still had to furled both the main and the Genoa. About 15 minutes later we began our approach into the harbor using only the white transit as the red one was no longer visible and my two waypoints. I had entered this harbor three weeks earlier but not a night and I am not to ashamed to say, I was very nervous and when Nina went to change the magnification of the chart plotter I pushed her hand out of the way and firmly said, do not do that now. For about five minutes I was tense, concerned that at any moment I would hear the keel bouncing off of the rocks that lined the entrance to the harbor. When we reached the green cardinal marker and I knew we were clear and I was relieved.
We were in the outer harbor and the anchorage was to our port so we turned South and slowly moved toward the anchor lights that were clearly visible. However, the majority of the boat, as many as ten to fifteen were not showing anchor lights and so I went forward to basically look for anchored vessels. We have two way head sets and so I just talked Nina into the anchorage where we found a spot and deployed the anchor. Normally, after I set the anchor I return to the cockpit and tell Nina, we are good but this time my comment was “we are set but I did not like the feel of it”. After thirty minutes we had not moved so I set the snubber and we both went to bed.
The plan was to get up early, and moved Footloose to the slip first thing in the morning. About an hour later, the anchor alarm went off and I jumped up, turned on the chart plotter and saw that the wind had picked up and Footloose had gone beyond the tight radius I had set. I went on deck, and looked at the other vessels and our position relative to theirs had changed a bit but, in my opinion this was the impact of the Footloose easing back on the anchor. I expanded the radius and after one more check of the anchored fleet I went back to bed. At 4:00 AM the alarm went off again and this time, it was clear that we had slipped. I did not want to wake Nina but while I could retrieve the anchor and reset it alone, there were too many boats in the anchorage with no lights, I needed another set of eyes. Nina had never anchored at night and was concerned so I placed a waypoint on the chart plotter and simply said steered straight for that point. I had placed the waypoint on our inbound track that way I knew nothing was there and when Footloose reached that point she stopped the boat and I deployed the anchored. And similar to the first, I did not like the feel of the chain as we backed down on the anchor. It was about 4:45 when we were done, and I told Nina to go back to bed and I would stay up. She declined and instead went below and made herself a pot of coffee and afterwards we both stood anchor watch for the few hours.
At about 7:45, I called the marina and ask if our slip was available now and it was and so I said we will be there in thirty minutes. David said he was alone in the office and had just started a board meeting but would try to get to the slip to take our lines. As we approached the slip Dave was not there and so Nina reluctantly began to get ready to jump onto the dock (not her favorite task) when suddenly Dave appeared, Nina was all teeth. Once the spring and stern lines were in place and secure, I thanked and shook Dave‘s hand and off he ran back to his meeting. We were done.
Upon, reflection, we should not have made this dash because there was nothing to be gained by it. Going into this harbor at night without even moonlight was a needless risk and I later learned the holding in the outer harbor is not good at all. Despite that, Nina, Footloose and I had prevailed and I relearned an old lesson and that is do not take a sailboat anywhere against a deadline. This lesson cost me nothing but two hours of sleep but the next time my answer will be no, I Hope.
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