Southampton to Pin Mill
Sea Bear arrived back in the UK at Southampton docks and was unloaded from the ships deck into the water. Stepping aboard I motored the short distance to the marina. Here I set about preparing her for sea again.
Re fitting the running rigging, bending on the sails, refitting the canvas work, up the mast to refit the wind instrument and lazy jacks, generally checking things over and a bit of cleaning and all the other odd jobs that needed doing.
After several days of bad weather, gales, high winds grey cloudy skies and rain, which kept me marina bound, at last the weather looked to be improving. I was up and away from Ocean Village by 05.55 to catch the ebb down Southampton water. I skirted the edge of the channel on the mainland side to keep clear of ferries and the like. Calm at first but a light breeze from NW sprang up so up went the main & yankee. It was fairly busy passing Portsmouth with both IOW and Normandy Ferries but was able to keep clear easily. Past the Horse Sand Fort and I set a course for the start of the Looe channel. I was now catching the flood up the channel which I was able to carry almost all the way to Newhaven where I entered the harbour and tied alongside the visitors pontoon. A long but satisfying day, 63 miles 12 hours.
A later start next day as I waited for the tide, My sister who lives nearby visited in the morning and we had a socially distant re-union, nice to meet up after being away for over a year and a half. I slipped away just after 10.00. I passed the notable landmark of Beachy Head and then I passed inshore of the Royal Sovereign Shoals. Off Hastings I hove-to to chat to a 40’ Motor cruiser who had put out a Pan Pan with engine failure. Assured myself they were OK, weather was fine, they had an anchor down and were quite content to wait for an arranged tow back to Bournemouth, so I carried on. Past Dungeness and so to Dover. Tricky to enter the marina of the inner harbour with the sun sun low and on my eyes. 56 miles 10 hrs
Next morning I had a grandstand view of the Border Force doing their thing with what turned out to be a record number (over 180) of illegal immigrants crossing the channel in rubber dinghies. Again waiting for the tide for an afternoon departure for the short hop up the coast to Ramsgate. 15 miles
An early start from Ramsgate the next day to catch the tide up past North Foreland and then catch the ebb across the estuary. I decided on the route up past the Tongue Deepwater anchorage then through Foulgers Gat through the London Array wind farm. Strange this to be sailing between the wind pylons. Thence up the Black Deep and across the Sunk, across the Gunfleet sands and so to the Medusa channel up to Harwich and so up the Orwell to pick up Sea Bear’s new mooring at Pin Mill. 48 miles 10 hrs.
So now I can look forward to exploring an area steeped in yacthing history which is new to me.
The Covid 19 epidemic has forced many sailors and cruisers with hard choices, with lockdowns, closed ports & borders and a ban on sailing having an effect. Some have been stuck in one place unable to move, others for example those in the Caribbean have been faced with a difficult choice either to remain where they are and risk being caught up in the hurricane season or to make the trip back to Europe. My friend Thom for example, not allowed ashore in Antigua headed for home. He is currently in the Azores where he is receiving food and support from Peter Cafe Sport in Horta, but he is not allowed ashore. He awaits better weather to head off for the remaining leg back to the UK. Others have been mauled by bad weather in the Atlantic, two arriving in the Azores having being dismasted.
Others have just had to stay put. I have friends who have had to cancel their sailing plans for the year and remain either in New Zealand or Australia.
I consider myself as one of the lucky ones really. Yes I was stuck in lockdown in New Zealand, but it wasn’t a bad place to be stuck at all and the government there took early and effective action to both limit the spread and effect of the pandemic. Indeed as a write this (5th June) they have had no new cases of infection there for 14 days.
I made my hard choice actually some time before the pandemic truly hit. I had been single handing for 5 years and the past season cruising amongst the Pacific islands I had been thinking of giving up on single handed long distance cruising for a while. There were number of reasons for this, some personal and some practical. Don’t get me wrong I still loved sailing and exploring, particularly in the Pacific and did this mean giving up on my circumnavigation, but somehow it felt time for change.
I considered a number of options included selling up or keeping the boat in NZ, but in the end I decided on shipping Sea Bear back to the UK and I had actually set this in motion before lockdown happened.
Originally shipping date had been for March but this gradually slipped to May.
I was posed with a number of difficulties. Shipping was from Auckland, Sea Bear was in Whangarei 100 miles away. Sailing was not allowed under lockdown and was enforced. Marinas were closed. If Sea Bear was shipped I would have nowhere to live. There were no commercial flights from NZ to UK. I faced being stuck and homeless. To cancel or postpone shipping would have meant losing my substantial deposit
For a while these difficulties seemed insurmountable and caused considerable stress and worry. However quite suddenly and in the space of a week they were all solved. I was granted permission to sail to Auckland, a marina agreed I could stay there and the final piece of the jigsaw I was offered a repatriation flight back to the UK.
So preparations all made, and with mixed feelings, midday high tide on 28th April saw me slip the mooring lines at Riverside Marina, say farewell to my friends there and head off down river bound for Auckland. I was on a fairly tight schedule with just 3 days before my flight out so I decided to push through the 90 mile passage non-stop. Apart from a bit of wind over tide nastiness at the mouth of the river, conditions were pretty good. Sun & clouds with a S-SE breeze about 15 knots, though of course here that wind is blowing straight from the Antarctic so is cold. Later the wind picked up a bit so reefed the main and yankee. The forecast dropping off the wind happened around 1 am and then died completely, time for the engine. Entering Auckland harbour around 9am, the police launch arrived alongside for a chat but were quite happy, I had already phoned them earlier to notify them I was arriving. Soon I was making fast in Bayswater marina in my allotted berth.
There were quite a few live-aboards on the pontoon, all very friendly and we had some suitably social distanced conversations.
I was pretty busy for the next days, preparing Sea Bear for shipping, stripping off the sails, canvas work and running rigging and clearing out the food lockers and other such stuff.
My last problem was that my flight was before the loading date for Sea Bear. The agent suggested someone to help but Steve, a live-aboard a few boats from me offered to deliver Sea Bear to the mv Minervagracht for me. I gratefully accepted and I knew I would be leaving Sea Bear in a safe pair of hands.
Flying out was a bit weird, I’d booked a shuttle service to pick me up from the marina, I was the only passenger. Auckland airport was pretty much deserted. Our temperatures were checked before check in and again on 2 hour stop-over in Hong Kong where we were held in effective quarantine. It was a Heathrow that the shambles started and after disembarking we were held for a long wait in a corridor before passport control – not passport control mind where they had laid out queuing lines with provision for social distancing but in this corridor where they allowed passengers from flights from USA and India to pile up and try and push past. It was a bloody shambles. Hell what was I coming back to?
I hired to car to get back home so avoiding public transport and the flog across London with luggage, tube, trains etc and not much more expensive than outrageous railway prices, I didn’t even know if any trains were running. Very strange to drive along an almost deserted M25 and M1. So back home and adjusting to life ashore in the midst of badly managed pandemic in a country with the second worst death rate in the world. World class don’t make me laugh – top of the list for incompetence and mismanagement.
Sea Bear is due back in UK at the beginning of July.
Lockdown in New Zealand
By now I had planned to be back home in UK but I found myself trapped in NZ with the lockdown.
Corona virus pandemic was starting to grip the world and the NZ government was taking early and tough measures, announcing self quarantine measure for arrivals in NZ and soon following up with a ban on non New Zealanders arriving in the country. At this stage there was only a handful of cases in NZ and with the testing programme they knew that all the cases were people who had come to NZ from infected areas. As soon as there were two cases that they thought might be from community transfer they announced a level 4 lockdown. All cafes & resteraunts and shops apart from supermarkets closed and all business to close. Everyone to stay at home in their own bubble and with no non-essential travel, allowed out only to go to the supermarket and for local exercise.
Although the British govt was urging all Brits to return home, this was impossible – there were no flights and almost all the transfer hubs for flights had closed.
The morning of the lockdown (25th March), was eerily quiet, gone where the sounds of work in the boatyard, traffic on the roads very light and very few people on foot.
The Hatea loop, a 4.2km cycle and walk way that loops from the Town Basin and canopy bridge and down one side of the river crosses the Te Matau a Pohe bridge (fishook in Maori) and back up the other side, normally very popular and busy, was virtually deserted.
As well as the Hatea loop, I am lucky that right on my doorstep is the Parihaka Scenic Reserve. Parihaka is an eroded volcanic cone 241m high and there are 3 tracks up it. From the top there are marvellous panoramic views over the town & harbour and right down the estuary to Whangarei Heads. My favourite is the Ross track, from the end of the tarmac, the track follows the stream ascending by the side of a small waterfall by a wooden staircase. The track carries on up through the native bush and there are a number of Kauri trees. Opposite the largest of these is a handy bench for contemplation. I generally push on preferring a non stop ascent. Sometimes I stop in descent when I generally take it slower anyway to ease the creakey knees, legacy of a lifetime of bashing up and down the mountains.
The other tracks start by following the Hatea river, there is a boardwalk through a mangrove swamp then up through the woods before branching up the hillside. Near the top of the Dobbie track are the remains of a Maori fortifications (a Pa site).
It is a good circuit to ascend and descend by different tracks and switch ways up to add to the variety.
My other form of exercise is on the bike, a folding Brompton. A couple of circuits of the loop or taking the 10km Onerhai cycleway/walkway which leads to the Waimahanga walkway, a track following the estuary and partly the course of an old railway line.
All in all it’s not to bad being stuck here in Whangarei, I am probably better off (and safer) here than in the UK at the moment. I was looking forward to being back home and catching up with every one, I am missing my family & friends back in UK. The future is full of uncertainty but others are in a worse situation than me and my thoughts go out to them.