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By Richard Schmidt - Wellington, New Zealand

Marlborough Sounds, N.Z.

Day One

Everyone in Wellington knows where the Bluebridge ferry terminal is. You can see cars lined up ready to board whenever you stroll along the waterfront. But, a boat on a trailer without a car is said to be 'freight' and Sunday morning had us wandering around a rather unusual bit of the harbour looking for the Bluebridge freight terminal. Eventually, someone took pity on us and took us between a never ending lane of containers to the right place – about 50 ft from the passenger terminal!

Within a few minutes Bootstrap was on the ferry and strapped down with a huge set of chains. Then the wharfies found out that I didn't have a paid up ticket. They made me stand outside in the cold until someone arrived to open the freight office.

I had Mike from Soundstorage organized to tow Bootstrap to the launching ramp and I was impressed with his service. We found my nephew Ralph strolling down the road with a huge pack on his back.

Within a few minutes of arriving at the launch ramp, Mike had Bootstrap dumped in the water. My first set of clothes was wet when I had to jump for the panther. With a “see you on Saturday”, he dashed of to pick up another boat. As we still had the trailer light board with us, I ended up running after him in my sea boots shouting like mad. Luckily Mike stopped to wash off the trailer and I quickly stashed it in his car.

After rigging and a quick lunch at the town wharf, we motored out into the bay and hit a strong headwind and a strong chop. Although we made progress, the motor was battling. It was not very pleasant. Ralph asked: “Can we sail her?” This floored me as I hadn't thought of that!

We raised the reefed main and set off beating into wind. We were totally overpowered in some of the gusts and water was everywhere, but it was far more fun than pretending to be a power boat. We arrived at Flipper Bay.

Flipper Bay is a lovely spot with native forest crowding down to the waters edge. The bay has a few tiny patches of beach with the water dropping deeply away. Albert and two pet canaries live there on a Blue thirty footer. Like many lonely people, he talks far too much when he can find suitable victims.

He also has a heart of gold and bent over backwards to help us. He was darting about setting out stern and anchor lines all the time talking ten to the dozen. He then sat there in his tiny canoe watching with fascination as we set up tent for the first time. Managing the long wiggly tent poles from inside the boat was as bit of a struggle, but it was soon up and looking very snug.

With Albert shouting advice, we then had our first attempt at climbing from Bootstrap’s bow into Slipper, our rather wobbly skin and frame canoe. You have to swing your body out over the centre of Slipper so that she doesn’t tip over. There were lots of wobbles, but we never capsized.

We popped over for tea in his yacht and were introduced to the mysteries of the marine forecast. I was intrigued to find a tiny wood burning stove keeping the interior snug and warm.

Afterwards, back to Bootstrap, we fired up the LPG cooker and after a nice meal and a bottle of Merlot we went to bed. A few purpose made boards across the foot well provided more than enough for sleeping bags and mats.
Of course, the access to the toilet could be found by standing on the transom and holding onto the mizzen. It was lovely to lie in the gently rocking boat and hear the waves quietly splashing against her hull.

Day Two

We sailed up Mistletoe Bay getting our first real impressions of the Sounds. A disappointment in that every small cove is stuffed with private wharfs and baches. There is very little public access. At the end of Mistletoe Bay is an old DOC campsite, now in private hands and full of school kids having fun.

We followed a path up through a beach forest up to a lookout point that offered views of Keneperu and Queen Charlotte Sounds. We went back to Flipper Bay for the night and made our first attempt at fishing, using biltong (raw dried meat) as bait. Within a few minutes I caught a very small blue cod, which like all the other fish on the trip, was thrown back.

Day Three

We awoke to Albert bobbing alongside us in his tiny canoe telling us the weather report. The forecast was a strong northerly, rain for today and a southerly tomorrow. After packing up, and with a friendly wave from Albert, we sailed to Ships Cove.

It was great sailing. The wind was picking up, but there was no swell. Ralph and I perched on the rail like canaries while Bootstrap steamed along. Ships Cove is a very sheltered bay with houses on one side and lots of moorings on the other. In the summer I’m sure it’s packed, but now there was only a handful of boats.

Although Ships Cove looked a safe place for the night, we wanted to check out the next inlet where there is a walk over to the Keneperu Sounds. With the rain starting and the wind picking up, we left the sails furled and used the motor. Coming around the point the wind increased and the rain came down in sheets.

At some point I tried sailing under mizzen and jib and we ended up on beams end within seconds. The jib sheets then pulled out through their fairleads and proceeded to tie themselves into a tremendous knot. It took quite a fight for Ralph to get the jib furled and everything sorted out.

At times we could hardly make any progress against the wind and rain, even though the throttle was pointing to “bunny”. It’s a horrible feeling when you are a few feet from some rocks with minimal steerage and the boat is no longer moving. After a while sanity prevailed and we decided to head back to Ships Cove, but first we needed to top up the engine's petrol.

We managed to find some shelter against a bank and dropped the anchor. After pouring petrol all over the motor, (my normal way of filling the engine tank), I had a blond moment and decided to have a pee. While standing there all exposed, Ralph let up a cry and I woke up to the fact that the boat was swinging around the anchor onto the shore. There was a mad scramble to get the engine started (without a rope around its propeller) and move us away. Just to add mischief, the anchor got stuck – fun and games!

Heading back downwind under mizzen and engine was not without its moments. A few times the boat swung around to windward in a slow broach. Just before we got to safety, Slipper our tender, decided to capsize and almost sink.

Between gusts, we managed to drag her nose onto the boat and get most of the water out before flipping her over again. We were very pleased to safely snuggle into the end corner of Ships Cove, put up the tent and start the drying out process.

That night it rained buckets with the odd gust flattening the tent. Two of the tent poles cracked but we managed to hold out for the night.

Day Four

After that terrible night it was great to wake up to sunshine and a gentle westerly breeze. We missed the marine forecast (no Albert here), so I managed to get hold of a friend Metservice for a very accurate forecast.

The long awaited southerly would be coming through during the night, but the westerly storms were over. Taking advantage of the weather, we set out to get as far as possible towards the Cook Straight.
Hopefully, we could find somewhere to stay for the night where you didn't feel like you were camping on somebody’s back lawn. The weather was perfect. A light westerly was blowing down the sound giving us a pleasant reach.
We passed “Faith”, a beautiful classic motor cruiser, with a huge school of dolphins playing in her wake. It gave me a thrill when I saw the owner of this historic boat bothering to take a photo of little Bootstrap! Ralph tried to make a lure using a bottle top and a hook or two. It looked pretty good to me, but it didn't fool the fish.
Still it passed the time as we chugged along. Eventually we saw a DOC campsite on Brunie Island. The book The Cruising Guide didn't recommend the anchoring there, but with a southerly expected, Bootstrap should be safe for the night.
Ralph was keen to try out his new tent, so we used Slipper to ferry our stuff to the beach and set up camp. Setting the anchors took ages as the holding is very bad, but having Slipper to move anchors helped us no end. It is nerve wracking to lift an anchor in a wobbly canoe, but throwing it out again is even more scary!
We had a very pleasant evening watching the sun set, sipping wine and preparing a meal. It was beef and mushroom risotto with a white wine sauce. It beats the standard hiking food! While I was slaving over a hot LPG stove, Ralph was fishing – luckily we didn't have to rely on this skill for food.
As high tide was at 8pm, we beached Bootstrap and went to bed knowing that she would be safe out of the water while the dreaded cold front came through.

Day Five

We awoke to a chilly morning with Bootstrap almost afloat. With the tide high we gave her a push or two and she was away again. It was fun and games as we set out some anchor lines.
My second anchor is a grapple, which is worse than useless, but with Ralph darting about in Slipper, and me using the motor to keep Bootstrap from blowing back onto the shore, we managed.
A few hours later the wind dropped (or perhaps it stopped raining) and we set out under jib and mizzen. The strong southerly had us chugging along at a comfortable and very respectable speed.
We ended up having lunch at Mint Bay and we spent a few hours exploring Endeavor Inlet. The Southerly had built up a fair swell at the head of Endeavor making it an interesting trip back to Mint Bay for the night.
The wind was dropping fast, so we could shake the reef out of the main and power through the waves – a very wet ride but great fun.
Mint Bay was another lovely place to spend the night. It had a beach, bush and a view! Ralph was all for bashing down some undergrowth and setting up his tent, but we ended up sleeping on the boat again.

Day Six

It was Good Friday and time for us to start heading back towards Picton. As the wind was westerly, I was expecting to beat the entire way back. After an hour or so, the wind dropped off completely. While I had a nap, Ralph got the fishing rod out.

Eventually, we motored over to a small beach and spent some time exploring. I caught a small fish which swallowed the hook. When we finally freed it, the stupid fish rolled over and slowly sunk to the bottom. I felt terrible and we soon left 'Murder Bay'.

As a light Easterly wind had picked up, we had an easy time running up the Sound. We were amazed at the amount of traffic. Boats of all descriptions were everywhere. Of course it was perfect weather at the beginning of a long weekend, but I shudder to think what it must be like over the Christmas break.

Our original idea was to sail back to Flipper Bay, which would put us about two hours from Picton and the ferry. Just opposite Picton we saw a small bay. It had a slightly broken pier, a small path to a real basic back (which was unlocked) and lots of native bush. It looked a great place and we decided to spend the night there.

With a stern line, a line to a tree on either side of the bay and an anchor line, we figured that Bootstrap wasn't going anywhere. Just as well, as soon after dark a swell developed and, with the backwash from the sides of the bay, we had a very bumpy night.

Day Seven

After packing up, we had an easy sail back to Picton. We soon had Bootstrap unrigged and tucked away into a small corner of the public wharf.

While strolling about we saw Faith and I invited ourselves on board. We ended up sitting in her delightful lounge chatting to Jim the owner. What an amazing history the boat has and I wish them well for the future – Doubtful Sounds is calling, I believe.

The pickup worked fine with Mike's wife waiting for us with our trailer. She soon had us out the water and on the ferry. We found some hot showers and managed to scrap of the worst of the dirt. A surprising strong wind was blowing in the Cook Straight considering that there was almost no wind in the sounds.

All in all, it was a great holiday. Ralph, who is an American Park Ranger, was great fun to be with. He was always calm, but keen. I am already thinking about what I could do better next time and where I could go. Anyone interested in a trip to Lake Waikaremoana?

What I learned

  • You can’t have too much rope. We had two 50m anchor lines and about another 30m of bits and pieces, but could have done with much more.
  • Sailing is more fun that motoring. By a mile!
  • At times reading a book is a much better idea than sailing!
  • Learn how to tie a bowline. I must have tied a dozen a day.
  • A motor was essential. The wind in the bays is extremely changeable and trying to sail in it would have driven us mad.
  • A tender was also essential. We used Slipper to lay out anchors, go to the toilet, fish and generally have fun.
  • Stay in your wet gear until its bed time.
  • Good wet gear is great!
  • We took far too much clothing, but not enough wine.
  • Marine forecasts are a help. Speaking to my forecaster friend was much better!
  • The Bluebridge ferry had hot showers!
  • Five litres of petrol was more than enough.
  • A Navigator is a wonderful boat for a trip like this.
  • We could have done with more time spent in the outer Sounds.
  • The Cruising Guide was essential, along with some good maps.

More photos can be found here.

*****

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