The Marlborough Sounds


The sounds are a maze of inlets and islets which were once valleys formed by ice at the end of the last ice age. Sea levels rose and flooded those valleys and left this drowned valley system with a coastline of more than 1000km.


Cook arrived here in 1770 but was more than a hundred years later than Abel Tasman who was here in 1642. The Maori were here much earlier of course.

P1010842I’ve been pottering around, anchoring off trees, eating shell fish and fishing in the Scottish mist. Temperatures have got down to 4 degrees, but are mostly above 15 degrees in the daytime.

P1010836I’ve spent a lot of time on the rig and with the help of Geoff, Geoff and the ‘Young Fella’ have replaced my inner forestay, put on new running backstays and put on a new ‘Traveller System’. This is all part of making Siren Song sail into the wind better (and strengthening her for the storm tactics that I use).

All in all it’s been a gentle week with lots of maintenance and eating. I’m looking forward to getting moving towards the next adventure.

I really only have a month left before it will be time to head back to sunny Sydney and my fantastic wife.


The Mighty Cook Strait

P1010732Cook Strait has always been in the back of my mind as somewhere that needs to be sailed. Stories from friends returning from holidays to New Zealand always talked of being sea sick and blown off their feet on the way from the North Island to the South Island. Naturally this would peak anyones interest.

Contrary to popular opinion, I didn’t want to see Cook Strait at its worst, I didn’t even want to see it when its bad (at least not whilst I’m in a small boat). After consulting the Tidal Atlas, Tide tables, Mana Cruising Club Guide and The Cook Strait Mariner’s Weather Handbook for a few hours I had a plan. I then asked a few locals who felt that the real tidal gate wasn’t Tory Channel (the narrow entrance on the South Island side), but the bubbly bits at Cape Sinclair, I changed the plan to leave an hour later (bonus). There were two other boats attempting the 7 hour crossing on the same day and we’d all be leaving at a similar time.

P1010770In the end, the wind was light, the waves small, and the sun shone most of the way across. After putting in a TR (Transit Report) to ‘All ships’ 10 minutes from the entrance to Tory Channel, I had to wait for two passenger ferries to exit before I could go in. This was a little nerve wracking as the tide can run at 7 knots and my engine can only push Sirens’ Song at 5 knots. Theoretically I could have been pushed away until the next tide change. In reality there was plenty of room to eddy hop inside the passage and all was well.
P1010749I motored on to Missionary Bay to try to escape the forecast 30 knot Southerly winds that were due for the next couple of days. The next morning Henri and Max (who were in a junk rigged boat crossing at the same time as me) arrived and picked up a club mooring in the bay.

The wind and weather did come in (the tail end of Hurricane Pam), but all was well in the fairly snug bay.
P1010773The next day I sailed with Henri and Max to Picton (about 3 hours away) so that Max could get the ferry back home to Windy Welli. Sailing a junk rig was certainly an eye opener, with reefing being very simple, but sailing to windward being a bit tricky. We had gusts of what I thought at the time were 30 knots, but I’m tempted to think they were more now. The hills create a huge funnelling effect and there is quite a bit of current through the sounds.

Over the next few weeks I’ll have a play around here and see what the crack is – I’ve already been anchoring CLOSE to shore to keep out of the wind, with a tight line from the back of the boat tied round a tree whilst the wind hits the water not 10 m in front of the boat. There are tonnes of mussels to eat, and I caught 6 fish last night in 1/2 an hour – happy days.


Running away and Groundhog Day

When I wrote last I was planning on going to the Chatham Islands (about 500 miles off the coast). I had a favourable weather window and the boat was repaired and ready to go. On the Saturday night I did a final download of the weather Grib files and checked to make sure everything was good to go. Fortunately I checked the weather for the following week and this is what I saw…

IMG_0203The map shows a tropical cyclone on the way that would hit the Chathams in a week. As Dick Grillo suggested, getting off the boat and leaving her to defend herself would be the sensible option in that weather. I decided to run as far south as I could instead to be on the safe side. The storm is now a category 5 with winds of 170 mph and is expected to hit the Chathams on Monday – I am so glad I spotted it and didn’t go out there.

So I left Napier heading for Wellington. The coast is notorious for its onshore winds and lack of shelter so it was an all-or-nothing endeavour. 10 hours into the trip, on my usual evening engine check I discovered the Heat Exchanger mount had sheered again on the other side…P1010695

I felt it was essential to have the engine as back up as I was rounding Cape Palliser that is notorious for wind against tide bumpy bits and there was 30 knot winds scheduled for my arrival at Wellinton heads (again very tidal).

Rather than turn back I decided to do as good a repair as I could manage and carry on. I manufactured an angle bracket from metal I had on board and sorted it out there and then – it took 2 hours in the bouncy conditions.


Cape Palliser turned out to be a huge surprise with Ben Nevis sized mountains rolling into the sea. The walking (tramping to kiwi’s) looked fabulous with 3 multi day ridge walks visible from the boat.


This was my second night out and it had been two days since I had slept more than 20 minutes in one sitting so the company of Albatros and the two sea lions was much appreciated. The sight of a sea lion toying with live fish and throwing them in the air was amazing but a little macabre.

P1010710It was another 3 am arrival into the marina. It had an odd set up of poles sticking out of the water in the form of pile moorings and because I wasn’t thinking straight, I slalomed between them to get to a berth. A couple on the boat next door (Mike and Barbara) met me the next morning and helped me find an engineer (Dave), who welded me up a super strong bracket that day and I was fully mobile again.

Ivor Levin, a long time friend from Scotland happened to be in Wellington on a course, so that night we ended up in Lower Hutt drinking beers and telling lies… happy days!


Engine Gremlins

P1010650I’m tied against the pontoon in Napier with 20kn of wind (30 odd outside the harbour) giving a 15 degree list on Sirens’ Song. I love being tucked up cosy on windy days, reading a book and getting my laundry done.

P1010638The week started out with so much promise (finally heading for Cook Straight), but has ended on a bit of a downer due to gremlins in my engine…

Before rounding East Cape (imaginatively named because it is the easternmost point of NZ), I had found some coolant liquid in my drip tray below the engine. It was one of the reasons I delayed rounding the cape until favourable tides and winds. I thought I had sorted it by cutting off the end of a slightly delaminated hose and re attaching it, but NO.

Next thing, the engine note changed so I did a thorough inspection and found a loose bolt on the engine mount. I felt around underneath and decided that shims had deteriorated so jacked the engine up with my bench clamp (on its side and mounted on a soon to be ruined nice piece of teak). I then fashioned 6 half shims out of aluminium labels and inserted them under the engine block and tightened it all down. The engine was still making a racket (obviously not aligned) so I jacked it up again, removed the shims and tightened down the engine mount bolt – this seemed to work. The nearest port was Gisborne (about 100 miles away) so I pulled in there for repairs.

My heat exchanger was holed (that was the real source of the leak) so I decided to braise that, re-weld the engine mount for the exchanger and sort out the engine alignment. The guys at Harbour Marine in Gisborne sorted this all out for me quick sharp for a very reasonable fee.

I got on my way again, on a tight weather forecast for getting to Wellington before 35 knot winds arrived. The trip should have taken 2-3 days. After a 6.30 am start with light winds and motoring all day, I turned off the engine for some peace over dinner. I am in the habit of usually doing an engine check every time I start the engine – I start at the top and work my way down:

Glass fuel filter bowl – clear; Oil engine cap – clean; Injector heads – dry and tight; Belt – tight and no dust; water pump – no leaks; coolant drain – no drips; salt water filter – clean no drips; stern tube – clean, occasional drip…what’s that….my newly welded exchanger bracket had sheared in two – there was a sharp edge rubbing on the gearbox and the exchanger was kinking a pipe it was sagging so much…


This was bad news, more delays. I turned around and sailed into the wind and back on myself towards Napier whilst doing a supportive repair. Eta was 2am so I called ahead and booked a berth at the council pier.

With a tired and fuzzy head at 2.30am I tied bow to the wall with lines out to two piles. I sat and had a glass of wine feeling a little beat but having enjoyed the pilotage and night sail through to the harbour. I LOVE coming into somewhere completely new, and I LOVE doing it at night, so I was strangely happy but pissed off at the same time.

Napier has turned out to be a fabulous place with the guy refusing money after welding my bracket – I’ll buy him beers tonight. I have moved over to the yacht club pontoon where the staff are so so friendly. There’s laundry and a bar and there are great little pub/restaurants just round the corner.

Next step is to leave on Sunday I think (weather gods willing). Keep an eye on the tracker on this site to see where I end up as I might be out of signal for a while.