Stepping out of your Comfort Zone!

Further Afield, Marlborough Sounds NZ.

What beckons, over the horizon?

When you talk to visiting cruisers about New Zealand, it’s not uncommon to hear comments like “Best Cruising Grounds outside the Tropics, bar none.” You just need to look at our Local Boating mags to see the beauty of New Zealand Cruising, take the article this month on the Marlborough Sounds. If that doesn’t get your cruising juices flowing and your taste buds humming then the sofa is probably as far as you’ll get.

It’s embarrassing, visiting boats often get to see more of New Zealand’s beauty in one visit here than most Kiwi sailors see in a lifetime. They return from their cruise around Godzone, getting ready to head off over the horizon yet again expounding the beauty of our cruising, many of them having been as far as Stewart Island.

Let’s face it, we’re in a unique position. Not only do we have cruising grounds like the Marlborough Sounds, Nelson Bay, Fiordland, Stewart Island and Banks Peninsula in the South Island, we also have Mana and the Kapiti Coast, Wellington and  the entire east coast of the North Island from Gisborne North right on our door step.

Step back from there and draw a circle around the South West pacific and within a surprisingly small  distance (approx 1200 miles) you have cruising grounds like Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, the entire east coast of Australia as far south as Tasmania. Yikes, you could cruise forever.

There’s not a lot of difference between cruising around Fiji, for example, than cruising the Northland coast. Well, that’s not quite true. The water is 10 degrees warmer, it’s crystal clear, there’s white sand with turquoise water lapping at it everywhere you look and trade wind breezes gently swaying the palm trees. But from a sailing perspective any one with an ounce of nouse and a reasonable dollop of seamanship can cruise the Mamanutha’s  off Nadi on Fiji’s western side just as easily as any of New Zealand’s cruising areas.

So what is it that keeps us in our own area and what’s the visiting cruiser got that we’re missing? Looking at the cruising guides and reading the articles we can see the attraction, the great anchorages, the walks, the scenery and the great people we will undoubtedly meet. It’s getting there that’s the problem. We know we can cruise the areas we’re looking at, that doesn’t really phase us. It’s the fact that we’re going to have to climb out of our comfort zone in order to get there, that’s the kicker. In the back of many a willing cruisers mind is the thought that the Wairarapa Coast, Cook Straight or worse a passage to the islands conjures up images of dragons and demons and old square riggers falling off the end of the world.

 From long experience I can assure you it’s not the case. In fact in many instances boredom is more likely. The last time I came through Cook Straight and up the Wairarapa Coast I had to motor the whole way. It was mill pond flat and the breeze only kicked in off Gisborne.

The visiting cruiser has already knocked down the first barrier. Most have now been cruising for years, have many thousands of miles of ocean under their keel and have set their boats up for the job. They’re comfort zone now, is cruising, no matter where it is. The second thing they have is time. Time is a luxury and not many can afford it, but it’s one thing that should go on you’re A list if you want to do extended cruising.

Time still trips up the experienced cruiser. I have seen more damage to boats and crew done by skippers that were pushed for time than any other single factor. It may have been something as simple as needing to be somewhere to pick up crew or guests that put the pressure on or the fact that you only have X time for your cruise, a bad choice made for the wrong reasons can put you in jeopardy.

Last year in Vanuatu we had a lovely, leisurely sail south through the island group, stopping and waiting for weather when required and making sure we were in a sheltered spot if the forecast was a bit off.  The last hop though, from Epi, to the main port of Vila on the island of Efate is one of the longer ones and can be out and out difficult if the trades are in the south east and blowing, which they were at the time.

With time up our sleeve we cruised around the lee of Epi to an anchorage on the south coast, where we spent some time swimming with turtles and a Dugong. This would give us a better angle and things to do while we waited for the winds to back and ease as the high pressure weather system moved east. One cruising boat though, was on a mission. They had to get to Vila to pick up friends and left early, raising more than a few eyebrows. Worse again, they left direct from the western anchorage which tightened their angle and put them hard on the wind.

Before they were outside of VHF range they were already unhappy campers. When we caught up with them in Havana Harbour, just north of Vila, two days later, the Admiral and guests were staying in a hotel while the skipper put the boat back together again.  When guests come to visit us on Windflower they come with the knowledge they are likely going to have to come to us. In this instance the guests could have flown into Epi, the airstrip is right next to the bay we were all anchored in. I’m sure swimming with the Dugong would have more than made up for it and the flight up would have been a lot cheaper than a hotel, not to mention the damage to the boat or the confidence of the crew.

Getting around New Zealand is not much different. Take the Wairarapa Coast as an example. You will quite often hear a Gale warning for Castle Point and Cape Palliser and it’s renown as a fairly inhospitable coast. But like even Antartica there are times when the weathers just perfect to sail there. It’s about 150 miles from Napier to Cape Palliser so doable in 24 hrs. It’s not hard to find a weather window suitable, it may take time, but check the cruising guides to see what effects the land has on forecast wind direction and strength as part of your preparation.

Yachting New Zealand have recently made available their Safety Manual and Inspectors checklist on their web site. These are a great reference for anyone looking to head around the coast or offshore. If you were entered in a Coastal Race around the same coast you would need to have your boat inspected and certified as up to Cat 2, for an offshore passage Cat 1. Look at these as being the benchmark if you are intending to do extended cruising and get to know your local Safety gear specialist and pick his brains too.

Where you cruise will depend on how you set up your boat. The further south you intend to head will have an influence on how you set your boat up and the gear you take. For coastal, particularly if night passage making is required you will be sailing close to the coast and with other boats and ships in close proximity. Make sure your navigation skills are up to it and you’re capable of working off a chart as well as electronic aids, jeez that sounds nasty. A radar may be something to add to your wish list as would an AIS. While you’re at it with the water clarity in NZ an Interphase forward looking sonar may reduce stress levels going through the tighter spots. 

Your best insurance too while you’re cruising is a good anchor set up, don’t skimp here. Put on a good all round anchor, sized slightly bigger than the specs say and plenty of tested chain. If you’re a smaller boat chain and rope are fine but 80 to 100m is the right amount to carry. Lastly, make sure what you’re pulling it all up with is going to do the job, remember you’ll be anchoring often over an extended period and not all the places you stop will have a conveniently shallow anchorage. Last year on Windflower I estimate the windlass pulled in over ten kilometers of chain.

If you’re looking to head offshore then Cat 1 is a requirement. The passages are longer and you’re going to be out of sight of land for an extended period. This can have a psychological effect on some and it’s a good idea to “try before you buy”. Go as crew on another skippers boat on a passage up to, or back from the tropics, you’ll gain experience that will be of benefit when it comes to your own Cat 1 and if it’s not you’re cup of tea, you haven’t spent time and money setting your own boat up for nothing. 

Whatever you choose to do, take your time and enjoy your cruise, it’s a life changing experience and well worth the effort.