Sun kissed for 31 days (part II)

12 January: Kahangaro, Cavalli Islands

South end of Kahangaro Island, Cavalli Islands

Departing from the idyllic Okahu Passage is not an easy thing, but we’ve been promised wonders in the Cavalli Island and the much praised Whangaroa harbour, so, as soon as we’re up, we hoist the sails to venture further up North, and when the Cavalli Islands are in sight, we see in Kahangaro Island, the quintessential miniature deserted island bound to satisfy our Robinson Crusoe desires. We can’t resist the sight of the tiny white sandy beach, surrounded by scenic rocks, ornamented with a few (non native) phoenix palm trees to complete the picture, and alter our course for a closer examination, even though it is not flagged as an anchorage on any of our charts. And, as it turns out, as soon as we drop anchor, I can see rocks behind us, beneath the surface that make me very uncomfortable and completely rule out my leaving Obelix to go ashore. I make the call to bugger off. Too bad for our Robinson Crusoe aspirations!

Papatara Bay, Cavalli Islands – where my heart nearly stopped

Instead we carry on to Papatara (Horsehoe) Bay, bigger, sheltered and lovely, except the sand is grey, and coarse, and there is already a zoom-zoom (my affectionate term for fizz boats) anchored there. Not the same free and adventurous feeling. Anyway, in no time Thomas is off exploring the underwater world to bring us lunch, so it won’t make much of a difference to him, and we’ve got a mission of our own: baking Kakahu Road cookies. A few batches to go through, in our tiny unevenly-temperature-regulated oven, before heading to the beach. Every now and then I pop my head out to see where Thomas’ got to. I can now see him a few hundred meters away from the boat, near a reef. All of a sudden I can see big arm movements. He waves at us frantically once. Then a second time, then nothing. I wait, but his body barely moves, I can’t see what’s going on. My brain starts wondering why he’s trying to get our attention, why he’s not clearer about his intentions, and wonder how would someone in trouble call for help from the water, what is happening that I cannot see. It has to be beneath the surface. My heart accelerates, I oscillate between panic and reason, nothing bad is happening, otherwise I would hear screams, or would I? But in doubt, I don’t want to be the wife who stayed behind, baking her cookies while her partner was in distress, getting attacked by a shark or something, alone in the water with no one else to call for help. So I resolve to rush to him, switch off the oven, jump in the dinghy with the boys, and off we go, my heart pumping faster than it ever has. When we get closer, I can see Thomas’ body lying at the surface, face down in the water, not moving, awful sight if you ask me, so I scream at the top of my lungs “THOMAS!”. His head suddenly lifts up, he seems surprised to see us. I explain to him trembling what went through my head, and he explains he’s chasing a fish hidden in the kelp, but a seagull keeps assaulting him for being too close to his nest, so he was just trying to scare it away… Pointless fright, now I need an uneventful afternoon to recover from it.

Owhatanga Bay, Whangaroa

The entrance in Whangaroa is as described on every blog, fjord-like, no more white sand and friendly beaches, instead, when turning North towards lane cove, we’re transported in a very different atmosphere, more mystic, almost hostile, with murky water, abrupt hills, covered with lush green forest and dark grey rocks erected like Easter Island statues. Indiana Jones is hiding nearby, I’m sure. We motor around before deciding to stay the night in Owhatanga Bay for its calm, peace, and prolonged sun light.

Being anchored in Owhatanga bay next to Rainbow II was a real honour, as Azur solemnly declared when I read out loud this classic old lady’s curriculum and how, with multiple races won during her 50-year tenure on the water, she was an iconic figure of New Zealand boating history.


13 January: Whangaroa marina, Whangaroa

Haiku #23

Azur’s complaining,
The rock’s too high for walking,
The view’s worth it though.


14 January: Whangaihe, Northland

What do you do when you spot an idyllic little bay tucked away and vacant, but you still have a little way to go to your next destination? You make a mental note and say, on our way back we’ll stop there. And if you’re lucky, sometimes you return indeed, to find the same little bay vacant all the same, waiting to be checked out and declared the greatest anchorage of the holidays (until dethroned by a new one).


15 January: Opito Bay, Bay of Islands

Haiku #24

Tina for dinner,
What a treat, and an honour,
Joy, smiles, and laughter.


16 January: Paihia / Roberton Island, Bay of Islands

Roberton Island Lagoon at semi-low tide

Deep Water Cove, Bay of Islands

Who said sailing was not a sport never practiced the art of acro-cooking, consisting in preparing dinner on Obelix sailing at 7 knots, leaning on a reasonable angle, wedged in the galley, legs spread wide against the cupboards so as to secure a standing position despite the jolts, rushing to get every handful of chopped veggies to the saucepan before they fly away everywhere, with a kitchen knife taking every opportunity to slide away on the other side of the workbench. My reward for practicing my sea legs with determination, if not poise, is a delicious meal followed by a gorgeous sunset.


17 January: Deep Water Cove to Kawau, sailing by night

Wakey, wakey, rise and shine, the menu of the morning is packed! We go onshore to stretch our legs on a portion of the Cape Brett track, until the kids decide it is enough, and we wrap up our Bay Of Islands visit with one last snorkeling session.

Then we’re off for our longest navigation to date on Obelix, an estimated 20 hours to cover 90-100 nautical miles and reach Kawau Island the next day at sunrise. Unless we change our mind and carry on to Tryphena despite the South-West announced for the rest of the week, which would make our return to Auckland a tad tricky. No, Kawau it is, or we can always decide later. The first part of the trip is quite exhilarating with 2 to 3 metre high swell and decent Northerly winds, the boat goes well, above 7 knots effortlessly. Clearing the Poor Knights on the East, we discover the hidden face of the island, which presents an intriguingly large black hole, like an open mouth in the rock, says Zephyr.

By then we’re heading straight towards fog and rain. We quickly close the cockpit to protect us from the elements and after a few showers with very poor visibility, it clears again and a magnificent rainbow forms behind us. The sun is slowly going down, time to get some supper, put the kids to bed, and start night watches. Thomas gets the first one. The conditions are not what you call comfortable, so unsurprisingly the boys struggle to fall asleep. Azur asks for a bucket just in case, and while Thomas gets a couple from the lazarette, (one for us too, just in case), I invite them to come back in the cockpit for a bit. I can hear from by bunk that Thomas treats them to a bedtime story in the dark wilderness. After which they settle more easily. The next morning when I ask them, they are enchanted by this experience and the opportunity to stay up late and navigate by night. According to Azur “It was really dark, and it was fun because we didn’t know where we were going”.

When my watch comes, it’s another story. I have barely closed an eye as it was so bumpy, I’m still exhausted from the day, in a bad mood and my stomach not quite as settled as I would like it to be. The wind has changed direction advises Thomas and we’re now sailing 5-6 knots upwind, which explains the creaking of the lines I heard when he trimmed the genoa. I quickly appreciate I’m not up for a couple of hours in these conditions on my own, so we agree to reduce the sail area, replacing the genoa by the stay sail, then putting the genoa back only a it furled, to manage our speed and stabilise the boat. He goes to bed and I’m trying to find a comfortable position to listen to podcasts (from the list recommended by Maria Popova in her post “9 podcasts for a fuller life”). I start with “The Secret History of Thoughts” and have to stop after a few minutes, as I realise that the gore images that run through my head, on hearing about someone’s dark and uncontrollable thoughts of stabbing his wife, are not going to help my unstable stomach. So I switch to one podcast on creativity, with interviews of Sting, Elisabeth Gilbert and Dame Gillian Lynn. It proves very inspiring, and I love listening to their life stories while staring at Orion’s belt outside, monitoring our course on the tablet from time to time. Nonetheless, the bucket in the corner of my eye is also trying to grab my attention and finally wins the battle. Fortunately I stay relatively operational. Azur wakes up at one point to go to the loo, undisturbed by the crazy movements of the boat, but he can’t fall back to sleep because of the croaking of the autopilot, so I take back the helm for an hour or so. Being at the helm by night doesn’t have the same calming effect as during daytime, I can’t see a thing, except black all around me, and white foam crashing against the hull, which is scarily hypnotic. I find it extremely difficult to focus, and at one point I get a fright looking at a light I hadn’t seen before, thinking it is a very close vessel, when it’s just a star, quite low on the horizon. And how paradoxical that I should deploy so much energy fighting the urge to doze off when on watch, and desperately trying to get some sleep when I’m off them. Still, each time I hear the sound of Thomas getting prepared down below, I celebrate in my head the imminent arrival of my saviour!


18 January: Bon Accord, Kawau Island

The sun rises without me witnessing it the next morning and taking my last watch when it is already daytime comes as a relief. The strong breeze is building up again. We’re almost there. I attempt a tack on my own to enter Kawau Bay but it wakes Thomas who comes to the rescue. We finally reach Schoolhouse Bay around 10 am, and although poorly sheltered, we stay there for a nap, and a dinghy mission to the pub (think togs and rain jacket, knowing we’re going to get drenched with the waves crashing on our small inflatable) to get a lunch and take a professional video call.

18-20 January: Burgess Bay, Kawau Island

On hearing about our arrival on Kawau, our Calypsoian friends invite us to meet them in their newly found paradise, and Kawau’s best kept secret: Burgess Bay. We stay there three nights, finally taking some time off sailing to relax, explore the beach, take shelter from the occasional shower under rocky caves, miss the visiting dolphins while taking a nap, meet seasoned sailors and listen to their stories, surf, see a shark fin while being towed by Dan’s dinghy trying to surf, promptly request to be helped out of the water, have a blind taste of three types of fish caught by Dan and Thomas on a spearfishing mission (rock cod, butterfish and snapper). And on the last morning, be the only boat left in the bay. Yoga on deck, skinny dip, pancakes, sails up, weighing anchor with bare hands. Our Robinson’s dream at last.


21 January: Mullet Bay, Motutapu

Calypso have left early, concerned the wind would drop, whereas this is not on our radar, we’ve taken the morning easy, and on the contrary the wind seems to rise way beyond forecast. And indeed, when we look at the now casting, after a rushed lunch in sub-optimal anchorage off Tiritiri Matangi (Fisherman’s Bay), it reads 37 knots peak. It feels adventurous, yet comfortable. Azur is sleeping, Zephyr is wedged in my favorite spot just above the companion way. I’m at the helm while Thomas is having a rest, the music is pumping with my singalong playlist in shuffle, and I can barely believe my ears when it plays, out of 96 songs, these three one right after the other: “Wind of change”, “Wonderful life” (which first line goes “Here I go, out to sea again”), and “Le vent” (“The Wind”). Serendipity, I like the sound of you!

When we arrive in Mullet Bay, a little cove which doesn’t leave room for many boats, we try to sneak in and anchor between the beach and the other two or three boats already there, but switching the engine off leaves us unconvinced. The wind whirls down the hill, we don’t feel sheltered enough, and we look at the rocks on our left with skepticism. Azur then pops his head out to assess the situation, he asks “Mum, is it high tide or low tide?” I advise the water is nearly fully in, so he carries on “Mmmh, these rocks might be an issue when we’re at low tide”. And we can only agree with his wise words so we leave once again. heading to Waiheke, Let’s slowly reconnect with civilisation we both agree.

On departing Mullet Bay, Thomas announces we’ve lost our dinghy. I immediately feel guilty imagining a knot not tied properly, but nope, the line is still there very much attached to Obelix, however there is nothing on the other end except the stainless steel buckle usually attached to the dinghy. A quick call to the Coastguard provides hope, as we’re told a dinghy corresponding to our description has just been found by the maritime police. We then ring the police, and get through their call centre, who know nothing, and after a lengthy phone conversation and the feeling nothing will ever come out of it, we call back the coastguards who pass our number to the maritime police, who send us an email, we look at the pictures of our supposed dinghy, it’s loading, suspense, suspense… That’s not it, not even close, not even warranting us pretending it is ours. We definitely lost our dinghy somewhere between Kawau and Rakino (in a video shot before passing the Rakino channel, I can see the dinghy is already missing), probably drifting towards Great Barrier by now.

21-23 January: Oneroa, Waiheke

Where have the three nights we stayed on Waiheke gone, I still wonder. We spend them slowing down even more, reducing to a bare minimum the number of daily activities, as if to retain the passing of time which inevitably draws our holidays to an end. A couple of picnics and dinner with friends. A visit to the library. A movie, Back to the future III, the last of the trilogy and it’s Sunday morning, time to go.


24 January: Back to Bayswater Marina

After 31 days away, being back at the marina at exactly two to two on Sunday, ready to jump in the car to get up the road to Julian’s birthday at 2pm, that’s what I call a meticulous timing.

Now we’re grounded for the next foreseeable future. A diesel leak that worsened throughout the summer got Thomas busy watching countless YouTube videos in an attempt to fix it. But when everything was back together, the engine wouldn’t start and the mechanics who paid us a visit last Saturday advised it wasn’t worth spending more time, effort and money on repairing an engine that didn’t compress well anyway. After nearly 45 years, it looks like our Perkins 4108 did its time and needs to be replaced… With the new lockdown just announced, what a timing!

Sun kissed for 31 days (part I)

Memories of bliss times on the water slowly recede, while the tide brings back the daily routine of land-bound life. Let my heart not sink but stay buoyant, by recalling the vivid impressions of heightened senses, absence of commitments, and communion with nature.

500 miles, 34 anchorages, 12 islands, 7 hikes, 1 night navigation, 1 lost dinghy, and countless encounters with marine life, and human beings in an exquisite summer cruise along the Hauraki Gulf and Northland, celebrated in images, haikus and prose.

24 December: Owhanake Bay, Waiheke Island

Haiku #1

Southwest spiraling
Christmas feast with friends missing
Morning skateboard stunts

25 December: Carey Bay, Waiheke Island

Haiku #2

Three whanau tahi
Frolicking in sea and sand.
Best holiday vibes!

26 December: Port Jackson, Coromandel

Haiku #3

Obelix and crew
Claiming the long sandy beach
Until the wind rose.

26 December: Colville channel

After the morning stillness which, determined to get to Great Barrier that day we had to disturb by the thrum of our engine, the breeze, although on the forecast, has taken us by surprise. Despite white caps proliferating on the water, our hair floating horizontally, and the impossibility to hear each other because of the whirling wind, we maintain our composure getting the dinghy back on deck to get away as soon as we can, taking two reefs in the main and opting for the stay sail. No sooner are we venturing in the open sea, that we hear the VHF calling ‘Obelix, Obelix, Obelix for Cirrus, we can see you!” What a pleasant surprise, and a relief. Someone knows we’re here, and the boat we distinguish in the distance, the only one, is sailed by friends and not pirates! I still look back regularly to make sure we take the untamed waves – that come crashing from behind – in a decent angle and don’t send the boat flip-flopping too much, but I’m afraid I miss a few times, and everything inside the cabin that can fall does so with a loud bang. No rest for my adrenal glands though, as if the wild waves were not enough, I soon find myself exclaiming “A whale!”, quickly followed by “Shit, a whale, what should I do?”. Which inspired the following haiku:

Haiku #4

Smooth whale back bobs up
ahead. Swiftly bearing away.
Adrenaline rush

No time to grab the camera, the boys just manage to pop their head in the cockpit to glimpse the shadow of the massive marine mammal swimming away on starboard. The rest of the trip is spent eyes glued to the tablet to monitor our speed which peaks above 9 knots at times, when I manage to get Obelix surfing the waves. An exhilarating feeling but tiring nonetheless. So much so that when we arrive in Whangaparapara, I formally request a break to flush the adrenaline from my system.

26 December: Whangaparapara, Great Barrier

Haiku #5

No track, only tombs.
Winds can’t you give us a break
We deserve a rest.

27 December: Smokehouse Bay, Great Barrier Island

Some things don’t change and just deliver on their promise, year after year. This is the case of Smokehouse Bay which Zephyr has been eagerly waiting for. We even manage to sneak in and secure the best anchorage, a stone’s throw from the beach.

Haiku #6

Ochre, teal promise
Pizza, shower, swing, shop and mates,
Social oasis.

Haiku #7

A view, two, or three,
Take my mind and breathe away.
Magnificent sea.

Barefoot hike on burning ground

New Year’s Eve in Smokehouse Bay

Haiku #8

Bis repetita
Of the past year’s favourite bit,
Friends dancing on deck.

Haiku #9

French new year’s greetings
After a short night sleeping,
Splash, pancakes, sails up.

Obelix, Katherine Bay

1 January: Miners Bay, Great Barrier Island

Haiku #10

Secluded, abrupt
Bay, fine for spearfishing and
new year’s beach clean-up.

2 January: Burgess Island, Mokohinaus

Haiku #11

Boil-ups and pebbles,
Lighthouse keepers worst nightmare,
Remote, grand and bare.

2 January: Smugglers Bay, Whangarei Heads

Haiku #12

Anchored in the dark
Awesome morning paradise,
Crystal clear water.

Haiku #13

Look in the water
Once. And soon you’ll become a
Serial snorkeler.

3 January: Parua Bay, Whangarei

Haiku #14

Maddening sand banks
Navigating up river,
Pfew! Pub for dinner.

4 January: Ngunguru, Northland

Haiku #15

Surfing dream inlet,
Rolling all night, right and left,
Most popular beach.

5 January: Tutukaka harbour, Northland

Tutukaka, la tête en bas

6 January: Poor Knights, Tutukaka

Haiku #16

Majestic arches
Myriad fish nibbling my hands
Black echoing cave

6 January: Mimiwhangata, Northland

Haiku #17

Morning skinny dip
Harvest of tuatuas,
Familiar feeling.

7 January: Whangaruru, Northland

Haiku #18

Grey misty morning,
Crepes and back to the future,
Not dwelling longer.

Hammerhead shark, Whangaruru estuary

8 January: Whangamumu, Northland

Haiku #19

Old whaling station,
Waterfall hike, bronze whaler,
Grilled fish for supper.

9 January: Okahu Passage, Bay of Islands

We are so thrilled by the beauty of the scenery when we arrive in Okahu Passage that we immediately call our respective mums to share our delight, and show them the idyllic sandy beach which we have almost to ourselves, the crystal clear water, the glittering sun, the fish and stingrays that swim around the boat, and the boys getting dressed for yet another snorkeling session. We have left Whangamumu at dawn, as per usual before a long navigation, so that we can have a few hours of peace before the boys wake up, enjoy the sunrise a cup of tea warming our hands, and arrive early-ish to our next destination. It is just about breakfast time and we’ve already filled our stomachs with cake. Ready to jump in. A morning routine to be repeated ad lib.

Haiku #20

Crystal clear water
I even see our anchor,
Puffer fish, stingrays.

9 January: Russell, Bay of Islands

What a welcoming committee when we arrive in Russell: We anchor next to Calypso, right before the start of the Tall Ship regatta, and just in time to have lunch with our friends Julia & Eric who are leaving Bay of Islands that day. And to top it off, we gather for dinner around a gigantic maori hāngi followed by a ball with live music, with hundreds of yachties, among whom we have the pleasure to count many friends, Bayswater school parents, ex-colleagues, ex-fellow Bulgarian choir singers, or people who helped us renovate Obelix back in Whangarei. Blessed serendipity. Highlights of that evening feature Zephyr standing up on Thomas shoulders, hands dyed purple, as he is picking mulberries from a tall tree, eating many in the process, distributing some to intrigued or skeptical people who are not sure they’re edible, and keeping the rest for the pavlova we’ve promised to have for dessert the next day, as a celebration of our arrival in Bay Of Islands.

10 January: Omakiwi Bay, Bay of Islands

Haiku #21

Retreating at night
To a much quieter bay,
Tranquility found.

11 January: Okahu Passage, Bay of Islands

What these three black dots at the surface of the water on the last picture? Thomas supervising the kids having a go at Dan’s “hubble-bubble”, a.k.a Hookah Diving System, which allows them to breath underwater without tanks. They loved it!

Haiku #22

Back in paradise,
Diving, sunbathing, shooting
A glorious sunset.