Monday, March 19, 2007

Sailing to the Mercury's

After the depressing weather forecasts over the preceding few days we decided that we could go ahead with our planned 'boy's' trip to the Mercury Islands off the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. So on Tuesday the 14th we met on the boat, a Chico 42, and had a final discussion about the trip.

Supper was Chinese take-aways, followed by a few hours of shut-eye. 0100 hours we were up and preparation for the sail started; engine warmed up, coffee on the boil and a double reef in the main. Into the pitch of the night we slowly slipped out of Westhaven Marina with 20 kts of wind whipping up the sea around us. This was not a night for the faint hearted.

Almost immediately we were in amongst the container ships, that had been held up by the same storms, making the most of the weather window. Slowly we made our way around these behemoths, out through the Rangitoto Channel and into the heaving Hauraki Gulf. Ahead lay the treacherous Colville Channel.

0600 and with the predawn lightening of the sky we passed Channel Island, 30kts wind and a very rough sea catching us on the quarter. Through the channel we ground our way and watched a slow and spectacular dawn over Cuvier Island. With this we were able to alter course to the south and onto Great Mercury Island.

1200 we were at the entrance to the alluring Coralie Bay (shown above), until now a mark on the chart, a description in the pilot guide. Slowly we motored past the rock 'awash at low tide' and on into the bay, past the submerged rocks on the starboard and finally to our anchorage out of the wind.

Spectacular scenery surrounded us. Long white beaches, hills covered in dense pine plantations and massive cliffs of the palest white rock. Paradise found. After a brief snooze we went ashore and found a friendly notice welcoming us to the Island and inviting us to explore the farmlands, but to stay out of the forest.

Later, a brief dive landed four sizable crays for the pot followed by a wholesome sleep. Dawn brought us a day of clear blue skies and light winds. So we hauled up the main, unfurled the heads'le and set course south. Slowly we wound our way out through the Mercury Islands, the 'Hole in the Wall' passage and onto Cathedral Cove.

Here we anchored and went ashore amongst the tourists catching the last of summers sun. A brisk walk up to the car park and back worked up a sweat, which we cooled off with a swim back to the boat. As evening approached we set course south again to find a hidden bay past Hot Water Beach - Tapuaetahi Bay - which we had to ourselves for the night.

The next morning we aimed north again with the intention of returning the Coralie Bay, but worsening forecasts of 30kts, gusting 40, changed our minds. We would have to get home sooner than we had hoped and needed to cross the Colville Channel again and spend the night on Great Barrier Island. The day was long and hard and eventually at dusk we entered the scenic harbour at Whangaparapara Bay.

To escape the winds we left Whangaparapara Harbour at 0600 the next morning and set off to cross the dangerous Colville Channel again and headed down to the east end of Waiheke Island. The seas were much calmer than expected and we made good time to Waiheke, arriving there at lunch time. Here we sheltered in Man O' War bay for the night, tired but satisfied sailors.

The last leg was back to Auckland with 30kts - gusting 40 - from the SW again the predicted winds. With three reefs in the main and a well reefed heads'le we beat into the wind, the final curtain to 5 days of sailing in heavy weather in a well found yacht.

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