Trip on Share Delight starting 2009-01-01 in BSAMar11

Sailing from Auckland, NZ – report by Carol Watson

Having injured my knee sailing out of Gibraltar last February and finding that it still curtailed my movements considerably on the Round the Island Race in June, I was keen to get back on the water. So, what better opportunity would there be than during a 3-week trip to NZ visiting friends south of Auckland in January and February?

Having chartered A Man & A Boat on my last trip 4 years ago out of Auckland’s Westhaven Marina – something that cost almost as much as the air fare but well worth it, having just done my Comp Crew and being in the middle of my Day Skipper Theory - I decided to contact the same Mike, co-owner of Gulfwind Sailing to see what he had available. As it happened, all he had that suited my dates was a Beginners Course. However, with my confidence having taken a bit of a hammering last year, I decided that I was happy to put up with all the Absolute Beginners’ stuff in order to back out on to the water in a leisurely, no-expectations kind of way.

As it turned out, I was the only person booked on, which couldn’t have been better. Other added bonuses and adventures during those 2 days, and the immediate aftermath would include an America’s Cup maiden voyage, meeting Sailing Royalty and dodging NZ’s very own Tropical Cyclone Wilma.

Share Delight is a 34-foot Farr 1020 - with tiller steering – oh joy, by far my preferred way of steering, not least because you can sit down, and I’m all in favour of that!

So, on a gloriously sunny morning in January (sorry everyone), with a gentle Force 2-3, we motored through Westhaven Marina into Auckland Harbour, past the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron’s Clubhouse with its desolately-empty safe on show at the top of the stairs, that not so long ago housed the America’s Cup – a poignant sight that, not too surprisingly, seems to niggle away at all Kiwi sailors like a sore that won’t heal. Even I felt galvanized, having been shown the Cup in all its glory 4 years ago.

We raised the sails and made our way towards Hauraki Bay, used last year as an off-shore harbour to store yachts from the same Marina as they rode out the tsunami surge after the Samoan earthquake. We sailed past ship-yards building everything from small craft to 3-masted tall ships and of course the next America’s Cup offering, ferry terminals, multi-story cruise liners decked with flags that looked more like a washing line and the container port (in fact, a smaller version of the Solent) to Mission Bay where, after doing some lazy tacking decided it was time to anchor up for lunch.

And what a treat unfolded in front of us – the debut sail of NZ’s Oracle AC45 catamaran, a scaled-down version of its AC72 with its fixed-wing mainsail (check). According to the Auckland Herald it “will do more than 30 knots in the right conditions”. So out came the bins to watch its first trials and even though it was only heading out towards the clear water of Haraki Bay, the accompanying flotilla of ribs looked like they were already going full-pelt to keep up. Apparently, at some point during those 2 days, it achieved 28 knots.

To say the journey back was uneventful doesn’t do it justice - it was simply a gloriously effortless sail back along Auckland’s stunning Harbourside, back to the marina for beers – little knowing what lay ahead!

As a result of a misunderstanding, I found myself that night without accommodation, so was very kindly invited by Mike to stay at his place, meet his wife, Sheryl and have a barbie on the verandah (sigh – just remember, this was January)….

So, after several bevies in the RNZYS bar – where I have to say, it was great to be able to say to people, when introduced that I came from Bristol, England “you know, as in ‘Shipshape & Bristol Fashion’” we headed back to that verandah.

But the treats weren’t over for the day. Sheryl turned out to be Sailing Royalty, having been on the winning Women’s boat, Brightstowe, in the 1994 Sydney-to-Hobart Race – something she said was one of the hardest things she has ever done despite doing significant amounts of long-distance racing with Mike out into the Pacific and taken part in far-too-many-to-mention races in the Harbour.

The following day the weather had changed dramatically. Tropical Cyclone Wilma was already forecast to arrive late that evening – the only one of the 3 cyclones during my trip to affect NZ that hadn’t come via Queensland. Given the time of its anticipated arrival, though, we decided that we could still go out for 3-4 hours, with 2 reefs in, and use the strengthening winds to do far more tacking just outside the Marina, close to the very impressive Harbour Bridge (a far larger and more impressive sight than Sydney’s). We lasted 2 hours. The strengthening winds suggested, rightly, that Wilma had decided to arrive early, so we decided to call it a day. Mooring, and packing up the boat, in hindsight did me the world of good because you just had to get on with it – and fast.

Mike then dropped me off at the Ferry Terminal, from where a rather bumpy crossing got me across the bay to Waiheke Island to meet up with my friends for the Bank Holiday Weekend. We sat out the Cyclone that night by battening down the hatches, using towels to mop up the water coming in, playing cards and opening yet more bottles of cava. We awoke the following morning to find out that a house had been washed away down a hillside, roads were blocked and much of a newly-opened Sculpture Park at the neighbouring vineyard had also been washed away. But Kiwis are fab. The Top Twins’ open-air concert still went ahead that evening at that same vineyard despite the still-strong winds, our taxi driver found another route to another Sculpture park, the sun came out – and that hat clip from my sailing gear became invaluable as it meant I didn’t lose my favourite battered old sunhat on several occasions.

I would heartily recommend sailing with Mike – a former banker who’s decided to retire early and follow his dream. Share Delight is, as her name suggests, a Sheer Delight to sail – and NZ is a sailor’s paradise – so important is it to Kiwis that the Boat Launch sites are listed in the Auckland telephone directory before the schools – and no, the list isn’t alphabetical.