Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Voor Ben Mijn Nederlandse Vriend (3) - Voyage Into the South Pacific (1970)

Ben, (As an aside to my postings about the Ngataki but in reference to Oranges : > ) ----- In 1970 I made a voyage into the Pacific from Whangarei on the 36 foot Bermudian sloop 'Nessie 2'. I was 19 years old. At that time I was living in my home town of Christchurch in the South Island. In my own way I like to think of this introduction to Whangarei and the beautiful Northland coast where I have now lived for the last 40 years as the future casting its shadow backwards, as a portent of things unseen, a time and destiny yet to come. In the above photograph you can see Bream Head on the right hand side as we roar out into the Pacific in a brisk south west wind. We were headed for Tahiti but were caught in a gale which damaged some of the boats rigging. Instead we headed north towards Fiji visiting the Kermadec Islands of which Raoul or 'Sunday Island' as it is named in Johnny Wrays book is the largest and the only one where a landing from the sea is possible. All of these photographs have been taken off old photographic slides I took - looking at the processed photographs I can see that I should have wiped the dust off them before I took them for processing at the camera shop!!!
Nessie 2 on the grid at Smiths Boatyard in Whangarei before we left. The boatyard was owned and run by my Uncle Claude and his sons. Note on the stern the self steering wind vane. The rudder of this wind vane was also damaged so we had to steer the boat by hand (four hour watches, I remember them well!!).
L'Esperance Rock is the southernmost of the Kermadec chain of islands which include  Macauley, Curtis and Raoul (Sunday) Island. Raoul Island at the time we visited had personnel who manned the meteorological weather station. Raul Island is an active volcano and a few years earlier the island was evacuated because of an eruption. 
This is the first anchorage on Raoul Island. When I took this photograph we had moved around to the southern anchorage and come ashore again. We (Three adults) rowed ashore through this surf in an 8 foot dinghy (madness really) - if the surf had got up when we were ashore we wouldn't have been able to get back on board the boat.
Here is Nessie 2 anchored in the deep water anchorage on the southern side. This anchorage was sheltered in North winds - but if it had come to blow hard from the south we would have had to got on board quickly and cleared out.
The landing area was slightly dodgy. We had to wait for a good surge in the sea swell then leap ashore out of the dinghy. The man with the box (must have been beer!) is Coln Wright the owner skipper of the Nessie 2. The others are from the meteorological station. The man on the left, slightly older than me I remembered from Aranui High School - both of us off on youthful adventures.
A flying fox that was used by those on the island to get stores up from sea level. We had to clamber up a steep rocky track. Nessie 2 tugs quietly at her anchor.
The old red Bedford truck at the top of the track. The man on the right is my Uncle Claude, the other member of the Nessie crew.
The meteorological station house was on the northeast side of the island. The island was run as a small farm with vegetable gardens, cows, chickens and orchards making the island fairly self sufficient.
Mail and newspapers were dropped from time to time by a New Zealand Air Force Orion aircraft. I took this photo of a drop before we moved to the southern anchorage. Later when ashore we witnessed another drop (very exciting as the Orion flew very, very low) I was surprised to see that they dropped the mail in a long plastic canister without a parachute. There was great black humour for the drop we witnessed because amongst the mail and newspapers were some packets of condoms - the joke being there were no women on the island - the mind boggles.
The sign says "Radio ZME The Voice of the Kermadecs" which is reference to the Raoul Island contact SSB Radio rather than a radio station that plays music. The Nessie crew left to right - Claude Smith (my uncle), Colin Wright and myself.
The Raoul Island crew with Claude on the left, Colin on the right. They were a great bunch of guys, very friendly and hospitable. They were getting to the end of their year long stint and were waiting to be relieved by the next crew who would be bought to the island by a New Zealand Navy Frigate.
Raoul Island humour complete with its own parking meter - The sign says " Welcome To Raoul Is - The Village of SNAFU - Go Slow This Is A One Hearse Town." SNAFU is an old World War 2 acronym the troops used which translated means 'Situation Normal All Fucked Up' - a relevant metaphor for life then, as it is now from time to time on this mad planet we live on.
Moi mongst the Raoul Island orange grove. It is from this very orchard that Johnny Wray and his crew gathered their oranges. I had this photograph taken for my father who had 3 copies of Johnny Wrays 'South Sea Vagabonds' and often talked about Raoul Island and its oranges - so this one on my Blog is for you Dad : > )
As we left Raoul Island we sailed back past our old anchorage and the beach where we first landed. On the right of the photo are a couple of guys writing a farewell message on the beach. Unfortunately even when I climbed the rigging to get a better view I couldn't make out the message - probably 'Bon Voyage' or something similar.
Raoul Island disappears on the horizon. The red and white object lashed onto the stern railing is the wind vane rudder that broke in the storm. Claude later fixed this in Fiji and we used it on the way to the New Hebrides (As Vanuatu is now called), but it broke again in rough conditions when returning to New Zealand from New Caledonia - which meant we had to stand watches and steer the boat again - something I didn't really mind because I enjoyed wonderful seascapes and sea life during the day and stars and often phosphorescence at night (The phosphorescence from the tracks of dolphins at night diving around and under the yacht like rockets was something to behold).

Shipmates, here I am on board the Nessie 2 in Suva, Fiji. The words on my shirt read "Prospector". This shirt belonged to my dad and it was on the Yacht "Prospector" that he sailed in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. "Prospector" was built by my cousin (Crew mate Uncle Claudes son Alan) and bought by dads friend Ron Lloyd after I showed him a photograph of "Prospector" (which was for sale at the time) when I returned from my very first visit to Whangarei in 1965. So when you include my Grandfather Bertrand Sutton who built a Tahiti Ketch in Christchurch you can see that so far as sailing is concerned there have been huge influences - some would say I didn't stand a chance, LOL, but frankly I don't feel I would want it any other way.

... And Shipmates, on this voyage in 1970 we were thwarted from our goal of reaching Tahiti by damage received in a rather strong gale - Unfinished business I say Shipmates, unfinished business.


Ben said...

Quite an opportunity for a 19 year old. Nice trip: Raoul island, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.
The difficult landing possibilities on Sunday island are well described bij Johnny Wray. He landed the first time as you did at the northern beach while the 8 foot dingy capsized.
How was the navigation carried out at that time?
The end of your blog is promising: unfinished business!

Alden Smith said...

Yes, big opportunity, I gave up my first year University Education to go and don't regret it. I had the money to be able to go because I had been working already for a year - (which today would be called a 'Gap' year) So my year in the Pacific could I guess be called a Gap Year Number Two - When I came back to NZ I went to Teachers Training College.

The navigation was done by Sextant and Sight Reduction Tables - The Skipper Colin was good at this job. We had no life raft or EPIRB (EPIRB not invented then) or long range Radio Telephone (there was no requirement for this gear at in the 1970s. BUT, what we did have was a very very strongly built and capable yacht.

Many yachts these days have all the fancy, legally required gear to get their 'Category 1' Offshore certificate but the yachts themselves leave a lot to be desired in terms of design suitability for total self reliance at sea (especially in storm conditions) and in terms of their construction and strength.

As for 'Unfinished business' :>) --- the saying goes "Nothings over until the old sailors sung his last sea shanty"