Christmas 2002 in a Navigator dinghy

It has been a long long time since I have ventured out into the wide wide world at Christmas. Everywhere you go there are people cluttering the joint up and more than a few drivers seem to have been given a death wish for Christmas that year. So I stick close to house and home and do my boating later. Mind you for most of my working life Christmas has just been another day on shift.

But now with no shifts to keep and a good little boat available all that can change, Wairua was good and ready for a long sail, My friend Jo was prepared to put her life in my hands with quite a substantial sail required both ways a trip to Kawau looked a good prospect.

* In the end due to some sick dogs this was more a New Year story…

Our friends were setting up camp on Motuora Island south of Kawau Island (see map) so we would have some company.  Andy has a 24ft ship’s lifeboat in which he loads up all the goods for a month long stay (with three sons that is a lot of goods). Sue takes the car up to Sullivans on the Mahurangi which is about 30 minutes steaming from Motuora. They can then go to town for more supplies or head for hospital which is good planning considering the number of mishaps three growing boys seem to have.

Along with a group of 4x4/boating friends they made a block booking on Motuora including the former worker’s hut with power kitchen and shower to be used as a group camp base. The scene was set.

You have not lived until you have sailed to Kawau and to do it in a 14 foot 9 boat would be an adventure given the fickle nature of the Hauraki Gulf. It is pretty traditional for Auckland boating folks to load up the launch or yacht and head for the joys of Kawau Bay.

They normally take plenty of food, children and the boat too of course. Some anchorages up there have so many boats in them at this time of your you really have to be into the crowd scene to get any fun.

I came across Andy and Cariad on his way to Motuora a week before Christmas.A

He had just spent four frantic weeks on the hard getting his ex lifeboat cleaned up for the journey.

Our adventure.

In the weeks prior to departure I had taken Wairua out in all sorts of weather and given it a serious gear test.  All seemed to be well andready for the adventure.

I would still be setting out with a full safety fit out, VHF radio, GPS, flares, bailers, fire extinguisher, two cellphones, lifejackets and all the trimmings. I know my Navigator is a well found boat too.

I keep watch with Coastguard and lodge a TR.  At the other end Andy had his trusty lifeboat would be keeping regular skeds on the cellphone

This is not an unusual journey and I can think of four people straight off who have done it., Chris in Windsong, Mike and Judy in Waiata, John Welsford in all sorts of boats, and Driagg.

I grabbed my trusty logbooks and records from my sea kayaking days. To a degree the carefully considered lists of essentials still worked but what was missing was the discipline to leave it behind if you can’t justify it. Unless you are going to lug your gear up an incline on your back packing when you go camping in a boat can qualify you for membership of a cargo cult.

Having performed the ritual cleansing of ‘33% of what is here gets left behind’ four times I seemed to have a manageable pile of gear selected which had to go into the boat.


The story about me discovering this yacht design and the building process is for another day.

You have  a lot of places to put things in a Navigator and they come with a compulsion to make sure they are full. There is storage on either side of the cockpit (I actually changed those to give me more leg room),  across the back of the cockpit. The way I built Wairua is different to the plan to make compartments either side of the centrecase. There is another in the front of ford cockpit and in the forepeak..

We had five days sailing and camping to do and we had to be self sufficient . When the boat floated off the trailer I was quite relieved that she was only about half a plank deeper in the water. Our original departure date was the 29th December but a sick dog put paid to that, and the 30th too.  [on reflection we would eventually make the decision to move from the Navigator to a bigger boat based on our need to take our dogs with us].

Gone was the prospect of a down hill ride to Motuora. The wind had now swung round to put it right on the nose. We were up at 5am to launch for a 7am departure. I figured I would have three hours sailing  before the tide changed at Tiri Passage and we would not have any wind against tide problems.

During the night the wind had come up and was around the 15-20 knots. There was quite a cross swell coming from the Northeaster at about 45 degrees to the wind when we pushed off for a look and see it was not at all certain we would carry on. But the extra weight in the boat made her feel really comfortable and there were plenty of options to head up an inlet for the night if the early going got too bad.

Whangaparaoa in the distance was our first obstacle on our sail up to Kawau Bay for Christmas.

The first board was a long one to the dip about the middle of the picture. As the crow flies (if we had crpws around here any that is) in a straight line its 15nm to Motuora but in a boat of course you have to sail around the Whangaparaoa Peninsula through a rough bit of water formed by Tiri Tiri Matangi Island which makes it about 28nm.  It is on record that some have tried the straight line version.This bit of the world is where you will you will watch the America’s Cup racing on TV.

This is our home turf. Sailing here for us is calculated not so much by the wind direction but the wave action.

I had to decide between putting one long board up to Whangaparaoa and tacking up the smoother water in the lee of the land to the passage. Or the alternative a series of tacks out in rougher water and tide. I chose the former and giving the boat a bit of ease we were soon rocketing along on a fairly dry ride considering.  All those Christmas puddings and 10 pairs of socks Jo packed came in handy and the boat had a nice comfortable feel to it. We enjoyed that first board especially when the sun came out. It took just on two hours and the shortish tacks up the peninsular proved good value for sight seeing. But the bottom was falling out of the wind and just on rounding the corner into the passage the arse fell out of it completely.  After an hour tacking back and fro I put aside hope of getting to Motuora under sail alone and started Egbert the Evinrude and we were flying along.  Jo was having a wee nap by this time and I therefore have no witness to the next event.

About 50 metres ahead of the boat the water suddenly boiled and the body of a very large shark rolled itself over and back down. My first thoughts were killer whales but the realisation that the upper body was not black and the belly white and grey put that one out of the way. I have this lingering memory of this huge belly with an anus the size of a manhole cover. I have no idea why that stuck in my mind.

Seconds later there was a second appearance of the shark, a pause and then a huge sunfish lept bodily out of the water to fall with a giant splash on its side and disappear.I consider myself a reasonable observer of size and distance and my thought was that the shark was about the same length as my boat. As for the sunfish, curtains for certain I am told. Yum yum food to the sharks, especially Makos. Wow!!!!!!!!!!

Bronze whalers grow to four metres. This is the common large shark of our waters and the one responsible for many shark sightings about North Island beaches south to Cook Strait. Its usual colour is a dark metallic bronze above, becoming brighter on the sides. The long tail lobe, erect dorsal fin and long pectoral fin are easily seen features. Its teeth are small, flat, triangular blades. In Australia this shark has a reputation as a man- eater, but this is not the case in New Zealand. Comes into northern harbours to breed in the summer months and is often encountered by anglers at this time. A powerful fighter, these fish will sometimes jump clear of the water.

By now Egbert the useless Evinrude, just out of having a check up at the shop, decided it was time to have a holiday. Fortunately we now had a a breeze which, the according to Coastguard weather station on the Tiri was just it over our stern at an average of 3 knots.  Mmmmm I suppose but who cares about details.

Soon we were on a reach and the breeze was filling and we were making five and a bit knots. We were keeping up with the bigger boats which is always nice for the ego. Eventually we parted company, we for the southern end of Motuora and they to the cluttered anchorages of Kawau. We had a few cellphone calls to say they could see us coming and wouldn’t say we swept around the bottom of Motuora but we had enough breeze to give all of the campers what was apparently a very pretty sight. I closed my watch with Coast Guard with 28 nautical miles sailed. I had been on the helm for nearly 7 hours and was in dire need of a serious stretch. In no time we had set up our campsite and were stretching our legs with a walk up the hill to see the view. The weather was now perfect and it was going to stay that way for a while. I have to say this is the time to store away the memory of lugging all the gear from the boat to the campsite. We could obviously have gotten away with a hell of a lot less stuff.

Jo Jo doing her happy camper bit.

We cleaned the boat, and then met our fellow campers. There were about 80 people camped here. But there was plenty of room and for us this camp was only a base, we would be sailing during the day.

Our first meal of the trip which was not a big deal. From experience I prepare and freeze the first couple of days of main meals before I leave.This was New Years Eve and at sunset we moved over to the party gathering by the hut.

It was going to be a dry one for me, I like a tipple but never take any away on my boats on this sort of trip you never know when you might have to shift your boat. It was suggested I accept donations because Wairua was going to dry out just after dark and would be high and dry until just before dawn next day. I humbly accepted a tumber or two from my friends.

Left: Looking down on the camping ground at Motuora.

Lower left is the ranger’s house (soon to be demolished). Vista from left: Mullet Point, Motutara Island, Moturekareka Island, Motuketekete Island and in the background Kawau Island.

[Speaking to Andy since I put this back on the web he tells me the buildings are still there. 31 Oct 2016]

When a small hammerhead was landed by the fishermen the kids came in their droves. Good story to tell when the time comes to go back to school. Fish abound in this area and there was always fresh fish (some of it freshly smoked) on the table at meal times.

Note…I can remember from my days on the Ocean Star towing barges around here. On a calm sunny day you could see Hammerheads in their thousands basking near the surface.

Left Wairua sitting happily at anchor just off our campsite.

At the bottom of the tide I was able to walk out and stow the sails. Made for a really comfortable nights sleep knowing she was high and dry for most of the night. The timing of the tides was just about perfect for our comings and goings over our holiday.

The old worker’s dwelling on Motuora is often booked by yachties and kayakers. Five bucks per head per night with toilet, shower, stove and bunks it makes an ideal winter base camp. The group of campers (about 8 families) we went up to meet with had booked it for their headquarters.

I have fond memories of this place from the days when I worked out in the Maritime Park. It used to have the biggest frying pan I ever saw. You could fit a couple of dozen eggs in at one time, testiment to day when a man and his workmates put in a good day’s healthy hard work. Sadly following a policy I have never been able to comprehend both this dwelling and the ranger’s house WAS to be demolished by the Department of Conservation that year to return the island to its natural state. ‘HULLO’ what substance are you people on? This hut is part of our island heritage. [ITS STILL THERE]

Next morning dawned clear and bright with just a faint breeze. We had our day bags packed and quietly slipped away as soon as the boat floated. I had a feeling there would be some faces absent around the campsite today, especially a group adjacent to ours who might just be missing as well tomorrow . I had decided to take Jo over to Mahurangi and it was a pleasant although slow sail over. When you have worked at sea you don’t miss too much and as we approached the entrance I spied the familiar configuration of a Navigator Yawl a long way inside harbour.

SAIL HO! Starboard watch to the tops, standby to tack. I laid off a course to intercept the other vessel and from time to time yawed the boat to show them my sail configuration my colours. Sure enough the distant Navigator computed that we were a relative and the intercept was now a certainty. It was not too long before I was able to see enough of the other boat to decide that it was Chris Peard in Windsong. Windsong is the only other Navigator I have ever been in. Chris was kind enough to take me for a sail in his boat about 9 months after I started building Wairua. We have tried many times to have a sail together but apart from a few minutes in company on Lake Rotoiti for the Woodenboat event the arrangements never worked out.

Windsong with Chris on the helm, Annette on mainsheets, Byron on whale spottin and the girls Sarah and Helen working on their suntans on a calm bay of Mahurangi.We sailed around each other for a while and with the breeze dropping decided to head into what is called Big Bay for a spot of lunch. Egbert the Evinrude would not start so Windsong did tugboat duty for the last couple of hundred metres.

Nice beach and one I have wanted to go to for many years. It is very exposed and today the swell was making it difficult to anchor out. But in time we were all sorted out and lunch was being consumed.

Anchored just beyond the ground swell break at Big Bay. That’s Te Hapua Island (also known as the Saddle) off Mahurangi in the middleground and Whangaparaoa Peninsular way off in the background.

The breeze was now filling in and it was time to go sailing. Not much arranged except we both seemed to know it would be a test of each others boats to windward and we are bth competitive. In the light Wairua was moving very well and it came as a big shock when the breeze filled in and suddenly I was getting well and truly hosed down.

I was going slower and lower big time. When you try and make a boat go fast you tense up and generally do not get a good result. ‘Tell me to lighten up every so often” I said to Joan and commenced experimenting. Looking at his sail shape I soon realised that I had everything sheeted in too hard and flat.  A boat like this likes a bit of easeto get the power and before long I had the mainsail leech working and we were up and away. Windsong had left us for dog tucker by now and it was time to get serious.

Nice breeze out here although you never can tell that from a photograph. Windsong is a light boat compared to Wairua but Chris, Annette and three kids against Jo Jo and I was probably balanced the boats out.

Waiata was a gate prize at the Auckland Boat Show and had been professionally built. Waiata’s sails are now about four years old. Mine on the other hand are only one season old but when the breeze came up he had the legs on me until I got my sail trim properly sorted. Windsong moved on from Chris and Annettes ownership as things do when you have a growing family, something. Chris tells me he still misses that boat.

At that point I regained an edge in boatspeed again. Must be thinking my tongue is sticking out. Sailing with a another boat especialluy one similar to your own makes you work a little harder on your boat speed and pointing angles.

Sailing on your own you think you are going fine but it is often not the case. One of the reasons the Americas Cuppers know you cannot challenge with a one boat campaign. It has to be testing boat against boat. I am not going racing but I do want to get the best performance out of Wairua.

Huey where the hell are you going to send the wind from next? Out in Kawau Bay lay the black shape of the Spirit of New Zealand sail training ship at anchor. Coming down wind at me on port tack were two of her small lugsail rigged sailing gigs. I was cranking up to climb out of their way on starboard tack with not a lot of options left hoping their instructor was going to wake up soon. In their own good time they bore away giving me my water, Christmas being a time of forgiving I chopped them off my best naval salute. All of the little lifejacketed charges sat staring straight ahead like they were being transported to a labour camp and the officers were inspecting the ends of their elevated noses and not a finger moved in reply.

Times have changed. I did some time as the mate on the Spirit of Adventure, SONZ’s predecessor and back then the kids (and the instructors’s) relished the interface with other mariners. Enough of the future fund managers and tax inspectors, I now have a decent breeze and am easing sheets for the run around the end of the point towards home. I have a steady 7.7 knots on the GPS but the only problem is I want to slow down so I can talk to Chris who has been left behind a bit.

But sadly it was time for a parting of the ways, me back to Motouroa and Chris and family back to Mahurangi, the trailer and return to Auckland. I rounded Wairua up and sat on my mizzen until we could talk. Bloody enjoyed that mate! Chris offers me some cold beer but I decline his kind offer. Harden up and away we go spray flying. The wind has gone around and is blowing straight onshore. We are being watched as we tear headlong for the beach at Motuora. People love an accident don’t they? Bloody hard luck my friends, these Navigators have a jump jet mode. You sail straight at the beach, plate up, rudder downhaul off. You let go your jib sheets and mainsheets and haul the mizzen in tight. The boat gently comes up into the wind and backs up to the sand and you casually leap into ankle deep water and wander up to hold the forestay so your crew can exit the boat too.

Well you do if you have non skidded your decks, with a glossy paint job you can end up flat on your arse on the sand, but that is not the fault of the boat. In no time flat all the sails are stowed, we take our day bags and I have the compulsory swim to take the pick out for the overnight anchorage. Good feeling after a day on the water like that.

A good feed, some good laughs with friends, an hour or so counting satellites and shooting stars and a good nights sleep. More days of sunshine, swimming, too much food, sail and sleeping when you want until at last it is all over. Before Christmas I had exchanged emails with John and Carol on Coastal Rover but was unable to make contact with them on VHF.  John reported later that he had seen my sails on the other side of the bay at one stage but meeting up was not supposed to happen I guess. Another day.

We were fortunate that John W,  a bank manager had to go back to town for the tennis (his bank was the sponsor of the tennis) and graciously offered us the use of their tent for the night. That meant we could pack our boat at low tide and have a really easy departure in the morning. And it was going to be a great morning too with the prospect of a tail wind all the way home. Come dawn and don’t you know it, the wind has gone right round.  Some time around 8am we slid out of the bay with our many friends waving farewell.  We seem to have quite a bit more freeboard or we have left something behind. There is tons of space in the lockers too. No all is in order we have just consumed most of our food. What was crudely known in sea kayaking days as unpacking through your bum. Yesterday’s sail is going to have a long term benefit, I am now about 25% more efficient to windward in a breeze than before and on a long trip that time saved totals up.

It’s one long board to Whangaparoa followed by some short tacking up the shore line out of the tide to Wellington Rock where I can put in another decent board before easing sheets to run home. The tide is going out and the tidal stream is strong. There is another optiojn to put in a tack back out to sea and use the tide to get a good shot at the next board. I see a few keelers up ahead doing that but decide my original course of action is the best one for a small boat. There is still quite a chop and a small boat does not always have the boat speed to get far enough advanced for the next board out in the tidal stream. Sideways tends to always be sideways away from the destination for us.It did not take too much effort to get around the end of the peninuslar, Just four tacks.  A bunch of drunks in a Reactor which from the state of the boot topping does not get out much and was only here because it has been stolen is wandering around ignorant of the Rule of the Road. They avoided my steely glare and headed off I know not where.

Even though we are sadly homeward bound it’s turned out to be a beautiful day. Reclining back beam reaching and munching Moro bars as we slid downhill to home and our three dogs, two cats and a hot shower.We pass between Oracle and Alinghi with their two boats out tuning up for their LV Cup final to select the challenger for the Americas Cup.  Away out to sea Team New Zealand has their two boats doing the same thing as the defender. The noise of the running rigging and sheets on winches from these boats is just awesom

e and more than anything demonstrates that the boats are sailed by dedicated athletes.

Castor Bay our homeport is as usual in summer cluttered up with cars parked in the trailer spaces blocking access to the beach where I haul out. The council inspectors are too busy driving around looking for dog owners who have might have taken their dog’s onto the beach before 7pm instead of handing out $60 fines to beachgoers too lazy or self important to park in the proper carparking spaces allocated them.

We were home in about 5 and a half hours and it had been a lovely sail. I stowed all of the gear and bagged our valuables before putting the pick out. ReToo much clutter on the ramp to think of putting Wairua back on the trailer. She would be safe there until later in the evening when the crowds would be gone.

I could recover her in peace and pay proper homage to an excellent little boat and the end of our holiday. Wairua swung happily in the gentle breeze as we walked up the hill to greet the chums and put some hydro electric energy to good use.

Two days to clean up the boat, before going back to work.

And just in time because the next day the weather turned really bad and we sadly missed out being there when most of the tents were blown down.  The strong winds caused boats to drag anchors and some exciting times were had in the middle of the night doing boat recoveries

Journeys end, the holiday is over, 108 nautical miles under our keel. Not a lot on paper but huge in my memories.


Cariad, a GRP ships lifeboat built by Viking Marine in Scandanavia. Built to survey she is as solid as you can get.

24ft with 8.25 ft beam drawing 3.5 feet Aircooled Petter BS 16.4 hp diesel. You are thankful for ear plugs. In fact you need really need to take two packets and put a whole packet in each ear

Andy discovered Cariad in Tauranga and with some mates steamed her up to Auckland over about 5 days.Economical on fuel but having to go to the dentist put the fillings back in cost a few dollars. Andy McGaw has had some great times with her very basic cuddy cabin and two simple bunks [like you were in jail]. Plenty good enough shelter for sleeping and cooking over many days of fishing in really bad weather Andy says. The boat has moved on and is up around the Mahurangi Harbour somewhere.  She is really solid and regardless of your rights under the Collision Regulations you should YIELD.

Yours aye DJR