September 2nd 2020 saw Karin flying from Auckland to South Africa to fulfil her long stated intention to attend her daughter’s wedding towards the end of that month. After years of close quarters and 24/7 companionship, I knew that being alone would be a huge adjustment but I was determined to make the best of it, as I knew with the conservative Kiwi approach to Covid, that Karin wouldn’t be back for a very long time.
In preparation I had been sailing and anchoring Moondust on my own for the previous few weeks and by now had it well organised, apart from using the very powerful, light weather gennaker. So with the wind pumping a solid 20-25 knots down Half Moon Bay, near Auckland, I pulled the line I had rigged from the fore deck to the engine throttles, up anchored and set sail.
Sailing peacefully down that river I shoved the loneliness aside and focused on my sense of freedom. Not in any negative sense, but rather the realisation that this was one of those rare times in life when what I did was entirely up to me. Since birth my life had largely been scripted by parents, school and university curricula, military commitments, career and family. All of these contributing to the rich tapestry of my life; but in the immediate future, where I went and what I did each day was akin to having a blank sheet of paper, mine alone to embroider or leave blank.
With my 70th birthday rolling around in a few months, I was determined to fill the days with as much challenge, stimulation, interest and fun as I could muster. Energised by this, I spotted a delightful bay on Motuihe Island a few miles away and on the spur of the moment I dropped the hook and spent my first night alone, rocking to the gentle Pacific swell under a brilliant canopy of stars.
Now nine months later, looking back, I take stock. Karin, contrary to her expectations of a 2021 New Year return, has still not been able to get back to New Zealand. She has, however, enjoyed being with her family and friends near Cape Town and resuming her former job as editor for Tracks4Africa. We miss each other hugely and both feel that it is now high time to link up.
In the meanwhile, I was keen to explore the northern section of the east coast of North Island (known as Northland to Kiwis) as thoroughly as I could, spending time in every one of the many possible anchorages that make cruising this area so pleasing. This convoluted coastline provides refuge from the variable and sometimes harsh winds, making sailing here pleasant and interesting; when a wind-shift exposes one anchorage then it’s time to sail on. In this way I was surprised to discover from Moondust’s log that I have sailed about 1600 km over this period, all of that in convenient daytime hops.
As always I used the engines sparsely, relishing the fact that Moondust is a sailing boat. The motors are mainly used either to embed or help raise the anchor, which has been a common occurrence, considering that Moondust hasn’t stayed in the confines of a marina in over 1200 nights since leaving Cape Town’s Royal Cape Yacht Club.
As Karin was the communications expert on Moondust, her departure meant that I had to up my game in that area. Firstly, I needed a new phone with decent battery life and plenty of internal memory. Indeed, today, there is usually internet access of some sort available, even in far flung parts of the world, so a good cell phone is an essential piece of equipment, enabling one to use the many useful apps available. These can provide tidal, weather, time zone, language translation and vessel location information as well as an anchor alarm, navigation programs plus the usual communication tools. I was also keen to reinstate and use the high frequency single side band radio after its repair.
Building a social network
My efforts to get to know as many cruisers as possible have established a network of good friends. To meet up with them was simply a matter of choosing the direction in which it’s most pleasant to sail and then search the Marine Traffic app to see which of my friends were anchored in that direction. Once, as I was sailing down the river from Opua, I got a message from a friend in Sweden who happened to be looking at Marine Traffic and saw Moondust on the move. He messaged me asking if I was on my way to Fiji!
Sailing down to Gulf Harbour to collect the high frequency marine radio, I entered Omaha Cove to find that Peter and Jo were anchored there on Three Little Birds. Over an evening sundowner they told me of the Covid ‘Orphans’ Christmas Party which was to take place at an anchorage nearby. The next day, whilst sailing past Kawau Island, I heard a vessel calling Moondust and discovered it was Gaylene on Saltheart 2 who wanted to let me know of this same gathering. Then on Christmas day, a few days later, 16 sailors gathered on Saltheart 2 and enjoyed feasting, anecdotes and merriment.
Exploring on foot
New Zealand is blessed with an abundance of fine walks and hikes, many along manicured trails, which encouraged me to walk as often as possible.
Doing so I was reminded that I used to run as a youngster and so, building up slowly with plenty of stretching, I was able to gain a semblance of fitness once again and was surprised to see from my hiking app, that I have tramped or trotted 700 odd km. This includes many shopping expeditions, walking being my default mode of transport.
When I have exhausted the local hiking routes, or the weather turned adverse, then it was time to set sail. Most alternative anchorages along this coast are within 12 hours sailing of each other. However, if the wind direction is favourable but light, then either more speed or longer days are required. With this in mind, I experimented with the gennaker and worked out how to safely use this beautiful sail, controlling it from the foredeck.
The need to re-provision was another reason to move on, although Moondust had been well supplied with staples as we were planning to leave for Fiji in July 2020. Of the fresh groceries, onions, apples, cabbage and carrots last well on board and surprisingly, lettuce if stored in a brown paper bag inside a plastic bag in the fridge can last for a month. Bean and lentil sprouts are a great source of fresh greens and I can stay out of shops for months using these.
From time to time other needs would arise which necessitate a detour past civilisation for mechanical items or, as happened just prior to Xmas, a problem tooth which started throbbing at Great Barrier Island.
Aiming for a dentist in Whangarei, a light weather window opened up for the 80km passage, which had me up at 05:00. Sailing under gennaker I had only covered 25km by lunch time and found myself at the Mokohinau Islands, just to the north west of Great Barrier Island. These are extremely picturesque and had been on my ‘to visit’ list, however, unless one is prepared to motor, they’re not easy to get to; you need enough breeze to reach there by sail and yet have the ocean calm enough to put the hook down in the rather exposed anchorages.
The lack of wind on this occasion made it possible and at 14:30 I pulled in to a quiet bay beneath the lighthouse high up on the hill above and spent an interesting afternoon exploring by dinghy and ashore.
Just prior to leaving internet range I asked some Dutch friends to send me the latest weather information which indicated that a light breeze that night would die at midday next, so when I awoke at 03:00 the following morning and went on deck to find a gentle zephyr, I set sail through the narrow passage between two islands that I had scouted by dinghy the previous afternoon. By afternoon I had managed to get within 18 km of Whangarei where the wind died just long enough for me to catch a fat red snapper for my dinner, before it rose again and allowed me to sail with the tide the extra 18 km up the Hatea River to Kissing Point, thus ending a long, but successful day.