Racing, Exploring, Maintaining


Having expended so much time and effort on getting ‘Sunstone’ in racing trim and relieved of some of her live-aboard cruising clobber, it was time to actually do something. New Zealand’s largest, though by no means most challenging race, is the Coastal Classic from Auckland to Russell in the Bay of Islands. To add to their list of round-the-world racing venues we were joined once again by John Curtis and Viv Worrall, as well as by Wayne Oliver who had sailed with us at Hamilton Island back in 2001. As so often the race was a broad reach, which is very much to the Kiwi taste for their light, down-wind orientated boats. During an extended light patch after the start we thought we would disgrace ourselves, but some heavier going later in the race, some lumpy seas near Cape Brett, and some beating near the finish brought us back to the middle of our class and a slightly more respectable position.



With a brisk westerly blowing straight into the anchorage at Russell, we were happy that we had brought the dinghy so that we could go round the corner to shelter, row ashore to the beach and walk across to the festivities in town. Because New Zealand were no longer in the Rugby World Cup the Race organisers were unmoved by pleas that the prize-giving should be moved to avoid a clash. Fortunately Vicky decided that she should put in an appearance while the rest of us stayed riveted to the TV watching South Africa trounce England. Vicky emerged from the prize-giving proudly bearing a prize – not for any particular achievement apart from her presence. The best prizes of the Race are spot prizes and hers was a 2HP Yamaha outboard. We were suitably impressed! A walk up Flag-Staff hill above the town gave us a panoramic view of the BOI (Bay of Islands).






With a few days before their flight to Nelson in the South Island we gave John and Viv a whirlwind tour of the Bay of Islands, coincidentally meeting up with our friend Terry, who runs Great Escape Yacht Charters in the BOI. To toughen them for their hikes further south we took them on an amble around Moturua Island. Unfortunately the amble turned out to be slightly more demanding than anticipated and a moment’s inattention left John with a strained and swollen ankle. Having no ice on board we strapped a cold beer to it – much to John’s frustration!





Despite John’s discomfort we did a swing around Piercy Island off Cape Brett and also managed to visit lovely Urupukapuka, where Viv and Vicky managed to get ashore and commune with the local sheep – a subject of interest to Viv as she and John keep a few at their home in Wiltshire.

We were pleased to see that unlike on our first visit to the BOI in 1999, quite a number of the foreign cruising boats which had arrived from the Pacific Islands were actually getting out to do some cruising, rather than merely sitting at the moorings in Opua.



We had travelled up and down the coast between the BOI and Auckland several times but made very few stops on the way. This time we were determined to extend our range and so stopped in at Tutukaka, where we were delighted by the antics of two extremely playful dolphins.

The following day we followed a route close inshore to Bream Head and then up the River to Whangarei. This is not a trip to be undertaken lightly, as the town is a good 15 miles up-river, which is heavily tidal. In addition, at the southern entrance is Marsden Point, New Zealand’s only refinery, with all the usual tasteful architecture and olfactory delights.



The River winds through extensive sand and mud flats and in its upper reaches is so shallow that we were warned not to attempt to reach the town basin until at least half tide. Whangarei has a reputation for rain, but we were fortunate to arrive on a sunny day. Though crowded the basin is  attractive – more so than the town. The CBD had been somewhat beautified since our last visit by an abbreviated pedestrian precinct, but in general the town leaves a markedly industrial impression, with street after street of warehouses. This is sad given the attractiveness of the surrounding countryside and the fact that it is the major centre for the whole of Northland. We had thought that Whangarei might be one of the areas to consider as our base in New Zealand, but our visit confirmed that it was not.





A long day’s sail took us back to North Cove, Kawau Island. We knew that Lin and Larry Pardey had established a base there, the ‘Mickey Mouse Boatyard’, but thought that they would probably still be in North America in late October. We discovered our error when Lin rowed out and invited us to use their mooring and to come to dinner. Their beautiful little cottage looks out over the Cove and the dock below. Larry’s latest restoration project, the New Zealand Classic yacht ‘little’ ‘Thelma’ lay alongside, though on the big spring tides she took on a somewhat undignified heel at low water. We had just missed meeting Lin and Larry in BC in 2003, so it was a pleasure to catch up and compare notes on our cruising experiences.




Back in Auckland, we took the opportunity of a break in our somewhat feverish schedule (for us) to drive over the Coromandel to Whangamata. We thought this a fairly unlikely spot for a ‘base camp’, but wanted to check it out and drive through some of the beautiful Coromandel scenery to do so. It was unlikely, with a heavily barred river entrance and a marina not yet constructed and a good way from even starting. The town itself was very much a beach resort, heaving with surfers in summer and full of ‘dead’ holiday ‘baches’ (New Zealand cottages) in winter. Not for us.

By way of compensation, back in the city we visited the excellent maritime museum, which gives coverage not only to New Zealand’s maritime history, but also to that of the Pacific Islands and their remarkable contribution to the design of sailing vessels.





As well over a year had passed since our last antifouling in South Africa, some attention to ‘Sunstone’s’ bottom was well overdue. We hauled out at the very efficient Westpark Marina and were delighted to find that apart from the odd spline there was really very little to do. We even had time to socialise when David Mitchell (RCC) kindly took us to dinner and introduced us to several other RCC members – as well as sharing with us life on the hard and the pleasures of antifouling, in his case, bright red.




As punctuation to our stay in Auckland, like many local yachties and visitors, we irregularly go rum racing with the Stewart 34’s on Thursday evenings. These weekly events are ruled by the amazing Bill Miller, who is still an active and competitive sailor, though he is now over 80. His energy and enthusiasm have been the keystone on which much of the success of the Stewarts as a class has been based. He rules the Thursday racing with an iron hand – around the rum bottle, as you can see below!


The Stewart 34s are a remarkable class. They were far ahead of their time when designed in the late 50’s with a high aspect fin keel and a flat-bottomed bulb. They have a spade rudder and can spin on a six pence. For many years they were used for match racing competitions. Many see them as the training ground which produced so many New Zealand sailors who have now achieved international fame, such as Russell Coutts and Chris Dickson. They are still very competitive in fleet, handicap sailing and as a class have some of the closest competition on the Harbour in their weekly, Monday evening, windward-leewards. Our cruising friend George Backhus is writing a history of the class – which inevitably involves a good deal of research over glasses of rum!