After 16 days at sea we finally arrived in Coffs Harbour on Thursday 3 June 2021. To say that it has been an eventful passage would be an understatement. What should have been a passage of 6 to 8 days turned into a passage of 16 days. During the passage we lost both sails and the auto-pilot. You can read the full story here.
We are however still stuck on the boat. We are required to have negative Covid-19 tests before we can leave the boat and the tests were done on Friday. It is now Saturday morning and we are still waiting for the test results. Until we get the test results the owner is also not allowed onto the boat. Hopefully we will get the test results in the next few hours and we can finally get off this boat. It is one of those experiences that, having done once, I have no desire to do again.
I wonder how the owner feels about the delivery. During the course of the passage the genoa was ripped to shreds, the auto-pilot stopped working, the mainsail became jammed and wont unfurl, the bracket holding the wind-vane lost a vital bolt, the topping lift snapped and an unknown part fell off the boat and landed on the deck.
As planned, Geoff arrives on Tuesday 11 May and immediately gets to work getting to know the boat. On Tuesday morning it still looks like we have a weather window for a departure on Thursday, Friday or Saturday. By Tuesday afternoon the weather has turned and there is some nasty weather developing in the south. In now looks unlikely that we will have a weather window for the next 10 days.
Growing oysters is really big business in New Zealand and there is a large oyster farm in the Bay of Islands. There is a great deal of activity every day with the fishermen taking the small oysters to the farm and bringing the spat and fully grown oysters in. It is a complicated time consuming process which explains the exorbitant restaurant prices.
These baby oysters are going back to the farm where they will remain for about 12 months before being harvested.
While we are waiting for the weather window, I leave Geoff and Dean on the boat while I return to Auckland to spend some time with my family.
With Dean and I on the boat and Geoff still stuck in Sydney, everyone was very glad when New Zealand again opened the border with New South Wales from midnight on Sunday 9 May. Estelle is at the Bay of Islands Marina and Geoff should arrive here on Tuesday morning.
The Bay of Islands Marina is a launching pad for boats going west to Australia and east to the Islands, predominantly Fiji. There are a number of overseas boats stuck at the Marina all waiting for the world to get Covid-19 under control so that they can continue with their travels. Estelle has been stuck at the Bay of Islands Marina since late 2019 and the owners are keen to not spend another winter in New Zealand and I can’t say I blame them.
Estelle was previously a charter boat in Croatia before the current owners bought her. She is certainly a stunning boat with a huge amount of space inside and in the cockpit.
The weather window for a departure to Australia was however closing and it was unclear when the next weather window would open. The owner had contacted two ‘weather routers’ (I was not even aware of their existence but all the serious cruisers use them extensively) and they were not sure what the weather was going to do. The models seemed to suggest different things and there was a possibility that a low pressure system could form off New Zealand in the next few days. We do not want to sail with a low pressure system forming as that would make the passage very difficult. They suggested we wait a few days to see how the weather developed and for the models to agree.
Life has a way of dealing unexpected surprises. Out of the blue I received an email from Geoff Tapper (the Skipper who helped us get Great Escape from Adelaide to Lake Macquarie) asking if I would be interested in crewing on a yacht delivery from the Bay of Islands in New Zealand to Coffs Harbour in Australia. I needed to be ready to leave in a few days as the weather window for sailing from New Zealand to Australia was closing.
The yacht is a 45’ Beneteau named ‘Estelle’ and the family who owned her had sailed her from the Mediterranean to New Zealand prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. They wanted to get the boat to Australia but couldn’t do so themselves. The travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia had opened and I suspect this was an ideal opportunity to get a delivery Skipper to sail the boat to Australia. The next few days were a whirlwind trying to get ready for an ocean crossing at very short notice.
To complicate matters, the travel bubble only applies to air travel between New Zealand and Australia and we needed authorisation from New South Wales health department to sail back to Australia in the travel bubble. NSW health gave us authorisation on condition that we have a Covid-19 test on arrival in Coffs Harbour and that we isolate on the boat until the test results came in.
It was an ideal opportunity for me to see my daughter in Auckland. It has been almost 2 years since I last saw her. It is now Thursday 6 May and I am writing this first part of the blog post from a deserted Sydney airport. I have travelled through Sydney airport on many occasions and it is normally a bustling, vibrant and very busy airport. Prior to the pandemic, 1 000 international tourists arrived at Sydney airport every hour.
The airport is eerily quiet, all of the shops are closed and most have even removed their stock. There are a few restaurants open but even the McDonald’s is closed. This is when it hits home how bad the pandemic is. Australia relies heavily on international tourists and it is only because the Australian government (like so many other governments around the world) have simply thrown billions of dollars at the economy that it hasn’t collapsed. How long they can continue to do remains to be seen.
Sailing from New Zealand to Australia in the middle of May is far from ideal. The best time seems to be January to March when the weather is settled. There are many horror stories of trips that have gone really badly and the Tasman Sea is not be taken lightly.
As the crow flies, the distance between the Bay of Islands and Coffs Harbour is about 1 100 miles. Given that we are sailing across, we have no idea what distance we will cover or how long it will take. Geoff seems to think about 6 to 8 days but that seem optimistic to me. Fortunately there are three of us doing the trip which makes it easier. Eight days of 4 hours on and 4 hours off with only 2 on board would be quite challenging and if something happened to either of us it could get very difficult. That said, many couples do it every year.
The weather forecast (www.marineweather.co.nz) looks fairly good for next week. There is a high pressure system over New Zealand right now resulting in the weather being very settled. The forecast is for some rain and fair winds for next week. The night time temperatures will be very cold.
The plan was for Geoff and Dean (the other crew member who is flying in from Melbourne) to arrive in Auckland on Friday 7 May. We would then all take the bus from Auckland to the Bay of Islands on Friday evening. Saturday would be spent getting to know the boat and provisioning and we would leave on Sunday 9 May. That would give us enough time to get to Coffs Harbour before the end of May.
My flight left Sydney at 11H40 and was scheduled to arrive in Auckland at 16H30. I was flying with Air New Zealand which is an airline I try and avoid. True to form, Air New Zealand were late in departing, ran out of food and even managed to run out of passenger arrival cards. How hard can it be to get things right when there are only a few flights every day?
By the time we arrived in Auckland at 17H00 the New Zealand government had announced that they were closing the border with New South Wales from midnight on Thursday. There had been two cases of Covid-19 in New South Wales where the source was unknown and that was enough to cause the New Zealand health authorities to close the border. The border with New South Wales would be closed for at least 48 hours which meant that Geoff could not leave on Friday.
Everything is now up in the air and we will only be able to make decisions once the border between New Zealand and New South Wales re-opens.
Every time we make travel plans in the pandemic we are rolling the dice – we cannot complain if it goes against us.
One of the things we enjoy doing is visiting fish markets. We have been to a few around the world with Pike Place Fish Market being one of our favourites. Pike Place Fish Market is world famous for the throwing of the fish. The Sydney Fish Market is second only to the Opera House when it comes to attracting tourists. Over 13 500 tonnes of seafood pass through the market each year and 1 000 crates of seafood (roughly 20 000kg) are auctioned every hour during the weekday wholesale auctions.
It is normally a bustling place with lots of overseas tourists but with the Australian borders closed it was fairly quiet. There is an abundance of lobster available now that China has banned the import of Australian lobster. The lobster fishermen are now getting A$25/kg as opposed to the A$80/kg before the ban. It’s a great time to be eating lobster!
The New South Wales government has, as a way of stimulating the local hospitality industry, given every adult in New South Wales four A$25 ‘Dine & Discovery’ vouchers. These vouchers can be used at participating restaurants and tourism companies. Doyles are a participating restaurant and so we decided to spoil ourselves with a seafood platter for two for lunch. One of the vouchers would cover half the cost. Not quite lobster, but a feast never-the-less.