Come Along with S.V. Scream - 5 new articles
I first met Steve on the radio. His was the voice attached to Dignity; always first to answer, always keen to help, always up for a chat. When we finally met in person, and I could put a human name to him, I think we talked about batteries. Then he invited us to go snorkelling with stingrays.
It seems fitting that one of the highlights of our cruising adventure happened on our first of many outings with Steve. Dignity would be a regular companion to Scream on the South Pacific leg of our trip, and Steve and Helen became great friends to us both. They saved our bacon on a few occasions, but more than that, we shared uncountable meals, drinks and great conversations.
Steve was one of those people with a seemingly unbounded spirit. His generosity with his time, expertise and sense of adventure was inspirational. Those who were lucky enough to have met him found our lives greatly enriched by his presence; his genuine exuberance was infectious.
He was smart. He was knowledgable. More than all that, he was buckets of fun.
Scream spent the first night of our Christmas holiday in Port Gore. We had intended to travel all of the way from Wellington to Guard’s Bay, but despite a wonderful and long day flying our cruising chute we weren’t traveling fast enough to make the distance before dark. We had a lot of bottom growth slowing us down, but honestly there just wasn’t much wind and we received little current assistance traveling through Cook Straight with the tide.
The windward side of Cape Jackson was becalmed, so we were quite surprised to find 15-20 knots of wind blowing out of Port Gore. It took about an hour to motor against this into Waimatete Bay. If we had been a little smarter we could have used this wind to our benefit and arrived in Guard’s Bay only a little later than we got to our anchorage at Waimatete. We tucked as deep into Waimatete as we dared, still in 20m well past the 17.1m marked on NZ chart 615.
We spent the night under the cliffs, with northerly back eddies gusting at us at 20 knots, despite the 15 knot southerly forecast.
Port Gore is scenic and unspoiled. There are tall cliffs and hills with native brush and birds. There is no sign of humanity, and no cell service. VHF signal was quite weak tucked into our anchorage.
We left early the next day. The northerly gusts lasted all night, but once we were in the western half of Port Gore we were becalmed, and saw variable 5 knots for the rest of the day.
In short, we recommend avoiding anchoring in Port Gore.
Scream spent two crazy weeks in Pelorus Sound, part of the Marlborough Sounds of New Zealand’s south island. We anchored in seven places along Pelorus’ 380 km of shoreline, which will get their own posts.
Crossing Cook Straight
Our friends on Clara Katherine have this amusing book entitled, My Dream to Cross Cook Straight Or Bust. I don’t recommend the book but I appreciate the sentiment.
Cook Straight is, without question, one of the most dangerous waterways in the world. Like the Columbia River Bar, Cook Straight’s reputation is inflated as the high volume of traffic inherently causes a high number of shipwrecks. Objectively, few waterways have currents as strong as Cook Straight, and fewer still funnel the roaring fourties.
Still, living in Wellington we can’t fail to know what is going on in Cook Straight. Most weeks there are one or two days of calm weather, along with one day each of moderate northerly and southerly breeze. We were prepared to wait but found fair winds and following seas on the days that suited our calendar schedule. We sailed north to the South island (yes, travelling from one island to the other across Cook Straight involves going the opposite direction you would expect) with 10-15 knots of South Easterly. Our return trip had 10 knot northerlies interspaced with calms.
We’ve been impressed by charts in the first world. Most of New Zealand’s charts have been at least as accurate as our ability to measure to them. We were quite surprised to find that the charts in Pelorus Sound are littered with inaccuracies. In general, the coves in Pelorus sound are 5m to 10m deeper than charted. Add 2-3m of tide and you’re typically in 20m where the 5m contour is supposed to be. Often the contours on the charts are twice as far from land as the ought to be. For example:
I agree that this is nit-picking. But the last time we detected a single error in one of our charts we were in the third world.
There is only a single cruising guide for the Marlborough Sounds. We were rather disappointed in it. It is one of the guides that predates computers and uses hand drawn charts. Unfortunately its quaint, nostalgic qualities are its strengths. The description that it provided for most of our anchorages differed significantly from our impressions. Its discussion of the tides in Cook Straight also did not align well with our experiences.
I’ve just laid out two very strong negatives. If neither the charts nor the cruising guides are reliable, how can a boat the safely operated in the Marborough Sounds? Well, the charts overstate the shoals, so the waters that are shown to be shoal free are safe to navigate. So the problem is that the anchorages are much smaller than depicted, often to the point of being unsuitable for even a single keel boat. You just have to allow time to move on to another anchorage.
There is this story that makes the rounds that Marborough Sounds have better weather than Wellington. If our experience is anything to go by, then this statement is simply untrue. The high hills seem to have no effect on the wind strength. In most of our anchorages we were subjected to winds stronger than forecast for the Abel forecast area, even though we have in the past been good at picking anchorages that provided wind shelter. More troublesome, in several of our anchorages, particularly Chance Bay, the wind funnelled from a completely different direction at water level than what the clouds and forecast led us to believe was the true wind direction. Storm-force gusts are difficult enough at anchor without an unexpected lee shore and a mile of extra fetch. In general expect winds stronger than Abel but weaker than Cook when in the sounds. Do not plan to receive any wind shelter.
The sounds are liberally littered with mussel farms with a peppering of fish farms. These aquaculture facilities crowd some anchorages into non-existence, and detract from the area’s natural beauty. Though the forestry practises on land don’t help either.
I can recall several people suggesting that Marlborough Sounds are one of the world’s best cruising grounds. With that expectation I am not surprised to be profoundly disappointed. Frankly, they are no better than the Bay of Islands or the Hauraki Gulf. If you find yourself in Wellington with a boat, then by all means visit the sounds. But don’t sail to New Zealand to see them.
Community is important for my happiness. There have been times in my life when I didn’t know my neighbours and a helping hand was far away. I think that a lot of people who live in cities feel that way. Too many people get mixed up in cults and other nonsense in their search for community. I have been privileged enough to fall in with a different group.
So this wonderful community forms. We band together to help each other out, and we socialize when times are good. Crews that need help get it and we all feel good about being part of the community. The winds blow us from port to port. We make new friends and reunite with old ones. When I’m in trouble in a strange port, a word on the VHF radio brings a knowledgable voice and typically a squadron of helpers. And there is always an opportunity to repay past kindness with my own hands.
The people in the places that you visit are usually very welcoming. Remote places treat visitors like gifts. They are happy to meet you. Often you can help each other out. Machines in remote places sit broken for long periods for the lack of the simple tools and materials that any moderately well prepared boat keeps aboard at all times. A bolt, a screwdriver, or a short length of wire can work miracles for people who don’t have them handy.
Even in cities, the cruising community can help out. I have my current employment partly due to getting to know people on the docks.
Especially if you’re isolated from your neighbours, cruising is a great way to join a strong and welcoming community. Go boating. I’m glad that I did.
One of the challenges of being a cruiser is understanding that because places differ with time, your experience of them may not be representative. It is hard not to form a negative opinion of an anchorage if the weather was lousy for the only night that you were only there. You can understand that it isn’t fair or even intelligent, but you have to acknowledge that you tend to form opinions based on insufficient information.
Calm waters in Cook Straight.
Understanding that, I still have to say that Wellington isn’t as windy as it is made out to be. We haven’t had force 4 winds in the ten days since we returned from our vacation in Canada. In contrast, we had 15 days at Great Barrier Island last summer during which the wind strength never dropped below force 6, at was mostly force 8.
A typical, calm day at the docks.
If you look at historical data, Wellington has an average wind speed of 15 knots with a 71% chance of Beaufort 4 or higher. That arguably makes this city windier than anywhere in BC, including Solander Island, where Environment Canada perpetually predicts Gale (Beaufort 7) force winds.
So while I understand that we had bad luck at Great Barrier and I am enjoying the good weather now, I’d like to pass along the idea that for wind speed time makes a much bigger difference than place. Alaska is consistently colder than Florida, especially in winter. But no where has that level of consistency in wind speed.