The forecast for Friday 17th March was more of the same – building to 20 knots from the SE and easing again in the evening. As I was heading towards the Mercury Islands to the south east, this meant another day of sailing head on into the wind, not the preferred conditions for cruising! I was up early, hoping to catch some snapper at the turn of the light (sunrise), at a secret spot that Elliott had told me about towards the entrance of the harbour. I didn't have much bait, only one squid that had been spat out by one of the kawahi that Dad had caught a few days earlier, and as Honey drifted over the secret fishing grounds I dropped the fishing line and caught a snapper on the first drop! It wasn't a big one, but it just made the 30cm size limit and it had eaten my one squid, so it would need to do for the very tasty breakfast I had in mind. I pulled into Taylors Bay, filleted cooked and ate the fish and readied Honey for the sail down to the Mercury Islands.
Honey and I sailed out of Tryphena leaving just before 9am and south away from Great Barrier Island into the Colville Channel. The winds were blowing at 20 knots from the SE, and on a tight reach we headed towards Port Charles at the end of the Cormandel Peninsula. With 2m seas we bashed our way across the Colville Channel, and when we were about two thirds of the way across the winds veered more towards the east just as they had the previous day. This meant that by maintaining a tight reach we were able to adjust our heading towards the Hole in the Wall, the passage that separates the Mercury Islands from the Coromandel main land, and avoid a series of monotonous tacks to reach Great Mercury Island. Leaving the Colville Channel behind and Cuvier Island several miles to the east, we sailed down the north east of the Coromandel coast, tacking in towards White Beach as the seas eased in the lee of the Mercury Islands. White Beach as its name suggests is a long white sandy beach, and I dropped anchor about 200m offshore at about 4.45pm, happy to have reached my first stop in the Coromandel!
|Sunset on my first evening in the Mercury Islands|
Saturday morning dawned a beautiful calm and hot sunny day, although the wind was forecast to pick up to about 15 knots from the SW around midday. I jumped onto my paddle board to go ashore to explore what I could of the island, paddling through crystal clear waters, so clear that I could easily see Honey's anchor about 5-6m below the surface! Walking to the north end of the beach, I then made my way along the gravel road past Parapara Bay and on up the hill towards Huruhi Harbour, the only real all weather anchorage in the Mercury Islands. Great Mercury Island is a private island, owned by Michael Fay and David Richwhite, which is now pest free. The owners received DOC funding to rid pests from the island, and as a result it has been opened up to to public access, with the exception of the forestry and working farm areas. The island is beautiful, with a mix of hills, steep white cliffs and wonderful rock formations. Keeping my eye on Honey from a distance, I made my way back down to the beach and for a swim to cool off. No sooner had I paddle boarded back to Honey, when the wind blew up to 20 knots from the SW. Being on a lee shore, I quickly hauled up the anchor and headed out of White Beach to go around the top of the island in search of shelter on the west side. The waters around the Mercury Islands are dotted with rocks and reefs, and with the winds very gusty and a forecast for a later change to the SE I decided not to risk picking my way through the rocks to enter Coralie Bay, instead opting to return back the way I had just come, dropping anchor in one of the northern bays to have lunch. The bay had a rocky bottom and was not a suitable overnight anchorage, and soon after 4pm I upped anchor and headed back towards White Beach, planning to anchor in Huruhi Harbour. It appeared that everyone had that idea, and as I sailed past I could see yachts and fishing boats amassed at the entrance to harbour. Instead I made my way to the south end of White Beach, in a quiet spot away from any other boats and settled on a spot to the east of Pukekoromiko Point, which provided shelter from the brunt of the SW winds. Within half an hour a dozen other boats had anchored either side of me, so I figured I had picked a suitable spot to anchor for the night!
|View into Huhuri Harbour|
|Interesting rocks on Great Mercury Island|
|View into Rocky Bay on the west side of the island|
After a relaxing morning aboard Honey, I upped anchor and headed in towards Huruhi Harbour. The forecast was for a change to light northerly winds in the evening, and most of the boats had vacated the harbour, presumably heading back to their permanent moorings on the Coromandel mainland with the end of the weekend approaching. Owen and Emma from Dulcinea (who I had met in Opua) were in the harbour, and I set Honey's anchor between them and the very expensive luxury accommodation that lines the western edge of the harbour entrance. Owen and Emma were making their way towards Tauranga, and like me were hoping for a good weather window to sail south to the Sounds. They were planning to head to Tauranga in one hop leaving early the next morning, whilst I was keen to take my time and explore a bit of the coastline. I spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing, swimming, exploring the inner shallow part of the harbour, and chasing stingrays on my paddle board!
I heard Dulcinea up anchor early the next morning, and after some guests were whisked away from their accommodation by helicopter, I too upped anchor sailing past Peachgrove Bay before heading south to the Hole in the Wall. Sailing just inside of Old Man Rock, it was a gentle 10 knots until I passed Needle Rock and the south west picked up to 20 knots running out of Mercury Bay. I considered stopping at Hot Water Beach to soak in the hot springs, but it was high tide and the springs can only be found two hours either side of low tide. With a westerly swell running and little shelter I wasn't planning on anchoring at Hot Water Beach overnight, so I carried on down the coast a few miles to Tapuaetahi Bay, or Boat Harbour. This is a lovely small sheltered cove with a stunning view out to the Aldermen Islands due east, and tucking in behind a reef I was able to escape the dying westerly swell.
|Sunrise in Boat Harbour|
|Honey moored in Boat Harbour|
|Wind picking up off Slipper Island|
|Coastguard towing the small speedboat|
The small speed boat was towed out of the bay by Coastguard soon after sunrise the next day. Nobody had been found in or around the speed boat, and the authorities at this point were unsure who the boat belonged to or how many people were aboard. Needless to say there were frequent messages via VHF that day (and the following days) to be vigilant and keep watch for any sign of a person in the water in the area south east of Mayor Island. When I sailed south from Mayor Island shortly before 9.30am there were several helicopters in search mode, but I saw nothing of interest as I made my way towards Tauranga. There was a gentle 15 knot SW blowing which died out as Mount Maunganui, a prominent landmark in the approach to Tauranga, came into stark view. I had let Ian and Rhonda (who I had met in Whangaroa) know that I was arriving into Tauranga and they sailed out to meet me in Adijo, and escort me into their harbour! Honey and I motor sailed into the harbour behind Adijo, taking care to follow the channel and not cut across the middle and get stranded on the mud flats as some boats have done. Ian and Rhonda had kindly arranged a berth for Honey for the night at Tauranga Marina, and with Honey safely moored and locked up, I joined them for some nibbles and then to watch the start of the Wednesday night yacht racing at the Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club. It was the last Wednesday night race of the summer season and there was a good turn-out, which Ian and Rhonda said was the norm for this active club. That night I was staying with Jo and Rich near Te Puke and on their way home Ian and Rhonda dropped me at Paengaroa where I was met by Jo who took me back to the farm house and her three rowdy boys! After dinner, the boys going to bed and a catch up with Jo, I checked the weather forecast before bed to see if there was likely to be a gap in the weather to set sail for Gisborne within the next few days. The only gap I could see was for the next day, leaving by 10.30am so as not to fight the incoming tide, and if I didn't take it I may be stuck for the next 10 days! My tentative plan to stay a few days with Jo was out the window, as we hurried to bed with plans for an early start the next morning.
|Adijo sailing towards me in approach to Mt Maunganui and Tauranga|