Monday, October 26, 2015


Lion New Zealand waits for her crew at the Viaduct Basin in Auckland.

My good friend David came with me on this adventure. He often crews for me on 'Mariner' (As pictured). He was a great addition to the Lion NZ crew. He winched his heart out all day on the coffee grinders and proved his cast iron stomach when he went below in 25 knots of wind as night fell, and as we lurched and crashed our way through the night to help prepare the evening meal. He thoroughly enjoyed himself (He got to helm Lion NZ over the finish line at Russell) and now wants to do an Auckland to Fiji race on Lion NZ! Good on you David, you are a real sailor.

Tooling around waiting for the start. David is one up from the bottom of the photo on the left.

The race has started and every bit of weight to windward helps. I am sitting fourth from the left in the photo. We all wore compulsory harnesses at night and when it got rough and life jackets all the time. (Hold that thought about the life jacket).

Off we go storming along with an inner stays'l set under the roller furling jib.

This was the closest we ever go to our nemesis the great 'Steinlager 2'. She was crewed by high school students from Kings College Auckland.

The large fleet of over 100 yachts left in three divisions. This is the first division that started at 9am.

The mighty trimaran 'Vodaphone' that was first boat to Russell in the Bay of Islands. She started as we all did on Saturday morning and was in Russell by 7.30pm Saturday evening. We arrived at 7.30 the next morning. She beat us by about 14 hours. To win like this (and counting the extra distance because of the amount of tacking) she must have been averaging about 18 knots all the way.

Steinlager 2 in all her glory with her huge ketch rig all powered up. She made a great sight on the harbour.
The gun has gone for our division, the last to depart. The small inner stays'l is being prepared for hoisting, North Head is the high point on the port side in the distance. As we took this point to port and headed up the coast we could see large numbers of spectators taking advantage of the elevation to get a good view of the start of the race.

'Steinlager 2' creeps away from us. Fundamentally a faster boat this was to be the pattern for the whole race. She finally beat us in by 4 hours.

The big downwind flyers enjoying the last of the westerly winds. It wasn't long before the direction of the wind changed dramatically.

A well known mark on the Waitemata harbour.

Heading north with Rangitoto Island disappearing in the distance.

Moving fast through the fleet with Whangaparoa Peninsula in the distance.

Passing Whangaparoa Peninsula. This blue yacht is a Cavalier 40, one of four owned and operated by the Royal NZ Navy. There were two navy yachts  in the race, one crewed by a party from the NZ Army. The navy crewed yacht won, very much I imagine to the huge relief all round of the navy.

Here I am in my life jacket; pleased to be part of it all, enjoying the sailing and the sun (Hold that thought about the life jacket).

Well on our way now with Kauwau Island in the distance. At this stage the we were still close reaching in a westerly wind.
One of the smaller yachts has some fun surfing on our wake as we pass.

Off the small harbour of Leigh and Omaha beach. On the horizon just to the left of yacht ahead of us is Bream Head and the entrance to Whangarei Harbour.

The Auckland yacht 'Anarchy' keeps pace with us off Leigh.

An emergency knife is kept taped to the boom vang on Lion NZ - just in case.

Game Changer! - The wind changed suddenly to the North and we caught up briefly with Steinlager 2. To windward of Steinlager 2 is Bream Head and to the right of this headland the entrance to Whangarei Harbour. This headland marks about the halfway point in the race up to Russell in the Bay of Islands. Part of the fleet continued directly to windward passing close to Bream Head, the rest headed out to sea.
To the left of Steinlarger is 'Sail Rock' a prominent and unlit rock right in the middle of Bream Bay. To the right is 'The Hen' (Taranga) Island. Steinlager 2 is heading out to sea on a very long tack that has her passing the Hen and Chicken Islands to seaward. We followed suit.

The wind veered to the North and began to strengthen. Here we are romping along at about 12 knots.

With the wind increasing Lion becomes overpowered, so in went the first reef.

Well heeled over and heading east at a great rate of knots.

Concerns about some cracks and flexing around the vang attachment to the boom.

With the wind still increasing, in goes the second reef.

Second reef going in. To the right the Northland coast is receding in the west as we head out to sea.

Well to the east of the Hen and Chicken Islands and heading back towards the Northland coast we watch as the sun sets into the west. It was a long, cold and very windy night. Luckily there was almost a full moon which meant that along with the moon the stars were very vivid and visible. I love being at sea at night and coincidentally when I arrived back I continued to read an article about a very famous yachtsman and first editor of the American Rudder magazine .......... who captures the enchantment of night sailing offshore thus:

"Except for the sound of bow treading down the overtaking wave, nothing was audible save for the faint rustle of the canvas - the song of a wind satisfied sail. Such a night puts into your being that life-love, that affection, nay passion, for existence that gives the earth enchantment, so that all things assume the aspect of immutability, when the soul in longing to share, cries out in ecstasy "Let me live forever". - Thomas Fleming Day.

Early morning and we have closed the coast. Piercy Island to the left, Cape Brett to the right.

Earlier in the morning I had an interesting round of fisticuffs with my life jacket. I am shipmates, susceptible to a bit of sea sickness. I was armed with sea sick pills but in the end didn't take them because they make me drowsy and I wanted to be fully conscious not only so as to be able to enjoy the trip but also for safety considerations - a half asleep crew is no crew at all. Well, early in the morning as the wind reached  new heights to coincide with the ever increasing rough seas I was seasick. I was lying on my side on the windward deck so I rolled over onto my stomach and pulled myself out under the life rails to be sick over the side. As I was doing so the little plastic ball on the air canister rip cord that inflates the life jacket got caught between the deck and the weight of my body. The life jacket inflated as if in slow motion and squashed me unceremoniously between the deck and the first wire in the life rails life lines! Bugger. LOL. It took some time to struggle my way out of this predicament, but with a big push and the twang of a very relieved overstretched life line wire I rolled back onto my prone deck position and tried to sleep with my head now elevated somewhat off the deck by the inflated jacket. Bloody Nora.

It was dark and windy and Lion NZ was fair belting through the night and I don't think anyone else noticed at all. BUT - As the day broke there I was, the only crew resplendent in a bright day glow coloured  INFLATED life jacket, all corpulent and bulbous, like the brilliant coloured markings on the fat fleshy arse of a baboon.  Later, one of the crew made the stunning observation that my life jacket had inflated. He said knowingly, "I see your life jacket is inflated".  Not wanting to sound like I looked - (A complete dork) I affected a deeper than usual manly voice and replied, ' Yeah, bloody new fangled technology, goes off when you least expect it".

Journeys end. On a mooring off Russell Bay of Islands with the onset of rain and more wind.

The formidable Vodaphone anchored with her crew no where to be seen (They were in the pub celebrating).
Saying farewell to Lion NZ. There were 22 crew on board on the trip. Less than half of the crew left Lion at Russell, so there were plenty of people left to crew her back to Auckland.

Up the Russell wharf gangplank and off to the Duke of Marlborough pub for some breakfast. Thank you Lion NZ , skippers and crew and the New Zealand Sailing Trust that keeps these boats up and sailing. Thanks for a stunning and memorable experience - We'll be back!


Ben said...

Good story. You certainly did not spare yourself.
Any trip next?

Alden Smith said...

Ben: David, my friend who went in this race with me is keen to do a Suva race on Lion NZ. I found out today that Steinlager 2 and Lion NZ race in ocean races to Suva, Fiji and also to Noumea, New Caledonia. It is easy enough to obtain a berth in these races but it is quite expensive. I would have to think very hard before committing to one of these races but I may give it some serious thought.

My main sailing priorities at the moment are getting the Starling into the water (I am working hard and are almost there) and getting the engine on Mariner sorted. I have some other ideas for Mariner that will make her easier to handle, so I will be working on those alterations after the engine work. It is entirely possible that in the future I could race Mariner in the Coastal Classic race when things are sorted.

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Fantastic - Steinlager was looking brilliant... reminds me that I must visit the grave of Sir Peter Blake again soon.. try to pop by once or twice a year as he's buried in the graveyard of the church where I got married....

Alden Smith said...

Yes Steve it was Fantastic - we all had a great time.

Sad about Sir Peter Blake - there will always be the 'Might have beens'. He was a great leader and an inspiration to competitive sailors all over the world.

Dan Gurney said...

Great story about the race. What a great experience. I love the quotation from Thomas Fleming Day. I hadn't read that before, but I do have a good idea about what he's talking about—those sublime moments at sea.

Too bad about life jacket misfire! That had to be embarrassing. But, I guess, on the whole, they're a good thing to have considering the alternative of not wearing one. I enjoyed this post.

Alden Smith said...

Thanks Dan. It was a good experience. Yes, T.F.Day does express well those moments that we all have from time to time especially when we engage with the natural world.

The life jacket misfire was interesting but not quite as embarrassing as I make out - the incident provided me with lots of ammunition for what is a bit of self deprecating Kiwi humour.

Charlotte Hawkins said...

Hahaha! I loved reading this Dad... I can just picture you in your inflated life jacket, hilarious!!!

Alden Smith said...

Charlotte, I am glad you enjoyed reading about the trip - it was a great adventure for your old dad. If the life jacket hadn't inflated accidently I just may have pulled the rip cord and inflated it anyway just to check if it worked or not - LOL! - Nah, just joking : > )