It was a bit spooky sailing out of Milford at midnight without a moon. We had our inbound tracks on the chartplotter to follow, but it’s pretty amazing how disorienting darkness can be, even for feeling whether to turn to port or starboard to follow a line. Also with the steep granite walls, we didn’t feel 100% confident in our GPS. Diana went to the bow, and I stepped away from the helm to try to orient myself every few minutes, as we moved cautiously down the fiord. Though the GPS did seem to have a decent idea about where we were, it was also reassuring to have radar confirming the distance to the rock walls on either side. But what helped me relax most at the helm, was when Diana shouted that the dolphins had come to escort us out. I leaned over the rail and could just see and hear them splashing off our port headed for the bow. It was hard not to feel like they’d showed up intentionally to reassure us.
One of the many challenges of the passage from Milford up around Cape Farewell into the Cook Strait, is that there is only one place you might possibly stop, but that requires negotiating a river bar entrance at Westport (just north of Cape Foulwind!), which is safe only in decent weather. Otherwise, it’s a solid three day run (if you keep your speed up), which just barely fits into the cycle of weather shifting from South to North. The weather window that presented itself to us seemed pretty typical, catching the end of a southerly, motoring and motor-sailing through variable winds in a race to meet the Cape with relatively light winds rather than the usual NW or SE gale.Leaving sooner, we’d have had more wind to sail with, but we’d risk arriving too early for the switch of winds at Cape Farewell.
Diana took the first watch just after 2 AM after we cleared the hazards on the north side of the entrance to Milford and could head more directly north. “Really cold, icy hands,” she wrote in the margins of the logbook. “Overcast skies heading further out to clear Arawua Point/Big Bay Bluff.” Just after sunrise on my watch, I got a glimpse of the mountains south of Mt Aspiring, which reminded me of Wyatt’s 100 mile run the length Aspiring National Park. I wondered if he could have seen the Tasman Sea from any of those lofty ridge lines he traversed?
Also in the logbook, I see a lot of scribbles in these notes about fuel rates, and estimates of actual fuel burned for miles ‘made good.’ Allora carries 190 gallons full which is more than enough for the distance as long as the weather is reasonably cooperative, but it makes a difference if you’re burning 1.5 gallons/hour or pushing the engine and burning 2.5 gallons/hour. The extra gallon doesn’t double your speed. People better at the maths would probably be able to calculate exactly what fuel rate is most efficient. I settled upon 1.6 or 1.7 as an nice compromise of efficiency, speed (to make our date at Cape Farewell) and comfort.
We had rain. We had current steadily set against us. We had dolphins streak by in the night leaving comet trails in the bioluminescence. We fussed about the wind, almost-but-not-quite-enough to sail, ever creeping up on the nose. We almost lost a batten in the mainsail. Then later, Otto, our autopilot made a sudden decision to turn hard to starboard out of nowhere. The switch for the high pressure pump on the watermaker heated up and set off the smoke alarm (naturally at night-while I was off watch). We saw no other boats besides the occasional fishing boat working closer to shore. We caught a glimpse of Aoraki (Mt Cook) at sunset, and at Cape Foulwind a couple of seal lions waved as we passed by.
On the last night, as seems to be a theme lately, Diana drew the toughest watch of the passage. There was just no way to completely avoid a patch of heavy winds slated to meet us as we approached the Cape, straight on the nose. We tried to time it for the least possible, but Poseidon wasn’t going to let us off feeling too clever. For her whole watch, Allora slammed into 20 knots on the bow clawing her way up the last bit of coast to Cape Farewell. Finally, after calling Farewell Maritime radio to try to find out whether it was generally considered advisable to cut the corner at Kahurangi shoals (which they weren’t really able to commit to), we decided it probably wasn’t, so we slogged on. Diana went off watch and very soon after, we were able to fall off the wind. Just five degrees made a big difference. Pretty soon we were motor-sailing and by Diana’s last sunrise watch she was able to shut the engine off and sail along Farewell Spit, an amazing 25km sandbank off the northwestern corner of the South Island at the opening of Cook Strait. The winds were light but sweet. Finally! ~MS
The run outside between Caswell and George Sounds is around 14 miles. We left early to try to beat some forecast rain and gusty NW winds, and almost made it. The rain started just as we made our turn in. Diana logged the max wind at 27.2 knots, then went down and crossed it out to a revised 29 knots. By the time the wind had blasted us another two miles down the sound, Diana had crossed that out to record 42 knots. Looking on the chart with the wind howling behind us, we were concerned if Anchorage Cove would be able to offer any shelter from this angle of wind, even though it’s listed as an ‘all-weather anchorage.’ We worried it might be too gusty to safely negotiate the narrow spot between the river bar and small rocky island. We decided to poke in and check it out if we could. Right away the wind dropped into the low twenties then the teens, which still felt like a lot to try getting into the tight spot where fishermen had set up a line we could theoretically side tie to. The rain hammered down as Diana watched from the bow for shallow rocks off the island and I maneuvered Allora in, ready to back out if we needed. Despite whitecaps just outside, the winds this close to the little island dropped to near zero and Allora was able to hover effortlessly while Diana (in the kayak) quickly tied lines on the bow and stern, getting absolutely soaked in the process. It was a kind of a crazy feeling, the sudden stillness and security of that spot with gusts in the forties not half a mile away. We wouldn’t have guessed even from a couple hundred yards out that it was worth chancing. ~MS
a big fish lived here
under this rock
in this sound
70 meters of water
down down down
finning the murky fathoms
there must be something it is like to be
a big fish
broad tail to the tide
jaw slowly moving, gills filtering
oxygen and salt from darkness
listening to the strange whirr of a prop churning distantly overhead
scent in the current
vibrations of much younger, much smaller, more foolish fish
everyone makes mistakes
joy to the world!
big fish on!
the breathless mystery of something deep
that unremitting pull of an invisible line
uncompromising bite and stick and metal barb
is there hoping it might break free
what is it like
to be another’s flesh and dinner?
exhausted thrashing on the surface
searing bright light and fierce dryness
the gaseous, ethereal world
where white birds like cherubs flitter and follow
where albatross glide like shadows of another understanding
what is it like, big fish?
now that two men hold you in firm hands
knife wielding hands
is this the dance?
waves surge against the rocks
seaweed starfish worms green saltwater alive
o’ fish shaped wave
these men call you big fish
men who came to find things to take
big trees all in a row
is there something it is like
to be a man holding a gray dead fish
for a picture
flesh stripped from her ancient bones ~MS
My favorite of Diana’s photographs from Fiordland are the “abstracts,” which she discovers by looking in a very careful, unique way, at the tidal line along the rocks, that magical transitional space between the hidden world underwater and the green, vibrant life-on-fire world above. Bare stone, stained and painted with time and color, bent and reflected by the still, secret, freshwater shimmering over the tide, the infinite, creative capacity of nature. Diana uses framing to share this vision, to point out Nature’s mastery of abstract art. It’s no surprise (and no accident) that these images feel so profoundly connected to her mosaic work. Most of the time these photographic expeditions are her solo meditations, which she shares with me when she gets back to Allora (after hours in the kayak!). But I’ve also been with her, paddling Namo gently into position, sitting right next to her, appreciating the wholeness of a beautiful place but without quite seeing what she is seeing. These images, for me, represent a particular (and particularly magical) collaboration between Diana and this very, very special world we are navigating in Fiordland.~MS
Something happened when the twenty North American Wapiti Roosevelt gifted to New Zealand in 1905 found their way into the heart of Fiordland’s steep and impenetrable wilderness. Maybe there’s a perfectly rational scientific explanation (maybe it has something to do with crossing breeding with Red Deer?). They got a bit smaller than the fat and happy elk of Yellowstone (which certainly makes good sense given the dense rainforest) but they also changed their tune, no longer bugling with that iconic, haunting call that resonates across the frosty parklands, lodgepole forests and granite peaks of the Rockies. Our visit to Daag coincided with height of the “roar.” It’s a sound that does not “belong,” but also feels so fitting, as though giving voice to the thick ferny jungle of that unpeopled wilderness. Deep, guttural, plaintive and haunting (in their own way) – their roars echo across the still water and ridiculously precipitous canyon walls. You can hear individual stags make their way up and down the steep shore, and we paddled Namo as stealthily as we could manage along the shore hoping for a glimpse, and though they often seemed very close, we never saw them. We could only imagine their antlered heads tilted back, belly’s trembling as they gave voice to the wilderness.~MS
Although Spanish moss grows on trees, it is not a parasite. It doesn’t put down roots in the tree it grows on, nor does it take nutrients from it. The plant thrives on rain and fog, sunlight, and airborne or waterborne dust and debris.
Known for it’s friendly, ‘cheet cheet’ call and it’s crazy flying antics, the Fantail or Pīwakawaka often follows another animal (and people) to capture insects. Time and time again, though, they acted as guides; when we were off track in the woods, they’d appear, chirping energetically, as if to say, ‘no … not that way, THIS way!!’ I learned to always follow them!
Some fungi fun: I haven’t had the time to research ID’s on most of these, so write me if you know and are keen to share?!
It seems to be an autumn thing that massive schools of Kahawai, Kingfish, and other predators chase the baitfish up to the heads of the sounds and gleefully spend their days slashing and crashing and feasting upon them. It starts at dawn and continues until dark. At completely unpredictable moments the water will suddenly boil with feeding fish only to disappear within a few moments. The first Kahawai I caught was with a spinning rig, which is well suited for frantic Hail Mary casts into the abyss. I will admit that catching that fish was closer to an accident than anything premeditated. One fish nearly chased the lure right into the boat. As we traveled through the fiords, the fairly constant surface action was nearly impossible to ignore, and sometimes the predators would use the boat to trap the bait and Allora would find herself at the center of the melee. Finally, at the head of Daag Sound I couldn’t stand it anymore; I rigged my 8 weight and propped it next to the dinghy ready to go at the next irresistible provocation. What ensued was pure madness. The fish would pop up, I would zoom over with the outboard roaring, then kill it as I coasted in, frantically start casting and get maybe one quick retrieve before the fish disappeared. As I zigged and zagged across the fiord, I’m probably lucky that we were certainly the only people then in Daag Sound so that no one arrived with white straight jacket and concerned expressions to intervene. Back and forth I dashed, tangling myself in my line, frustrated at the utter futility of stripping the fly back with the dinghy still moving forward. Once every tenth attempt, everything would work out, I’d even get in a second or third cast, and manage to get my fly to move fast enough to get some attention, and a slash maybe, a miss and back to the frantic game. I was exhausted and my shoulder was on fire by the time all of the crazy variables aligned and a willing fish slammed my fly and headed straight for the bottom of the Sound. The seriously outsized strength of that fish made me instantly regret picking my lighter 8 weight over my sturdy 9. In fact, I was pretty sure I was going to break the rod. What a relief it was to release that fish and release myself from any future notion of fly fishing for Kahawai. A River Runs Through It, it was not. ~MS
Dusky is the longest and most extensive fiord in Fiordland at nearly 24 miles in length. Named ‘Dusky’ after Captain Cook’s evening sail by in 1770, and ‘Tamatea’ after the renown Māori explorer who spent much time there. He’s also known for the coining the longest name of a place near Hawke’s Bay ‘Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu,’ so I’m glad I didn’t have to work that into our logbook! ~DS
Inner Luncheon Cove on Anchor Island, Dusky Sound
We are anchored in an 18th century naturalist’s illustration. The Kākā, subtly colored parrots, russet and carmine, gray and mossy green, chatter in mobs back and forth. Fur seals and their pups bawl and rumble along the densely wooded shore, draped on rocks, sunning just out of the vivid green tide, or hidden mysteriously in the forest. Rays and Broadnose Sevengill sharks patrol the shallows. Bellbirds chime and Wood Pigeons dive and soar in mating displays, wind whirring in their wings. The water is supernaturally still after the tumult and breaking swell of Broke Adrift Passage, and the long motor up the easing blue Pacific around Cape Providence. The scale of the world is abruptly more intimate. Captain Cook dined on crayfish here in 1773. He left behind a recipe for brewing beer from the bark of Rimu trees, molasses and yeast. The island is also predator free, and refuge to the rare ground parrot, the Kākāpō, once thought to be extinct – rediscovered in Port Pegasus, Stewart Island by Rodney Russ, a sailor/explorer we met in Christchurch.
A chance to sit on the bow and meditate outside, to the constant music of birds, “Here and now boys, here and now.”
The dearth of sandflies and still air made for a pleasant barbecue, cooking up fillets of the Albacore tuna we caught on our way into Dusky.
The trails on Anchor Island are named and well marked, though oddly, do not seem to clearly indicate which of the many paths lead to the lake (just a kilometer or two away). We weren’t very far along the “wrong” trail when a mob of Kaka settled noisly into the trees over our heads. We sat still and waited and they ventured closer and closer, sailing back and forth, gnawing at the branches with their strong beaks and then landed a few feet away, turning their heads upside down for a curious closer look. A South Island Robin/Kakaruai (re-introduced in 2002) also hopped over to say hello, as they do, finally summoning the courage to peck at the bottom of my shoe. ~MS
Fanny Cove, Dusky Sound
It was still when we arrived after the move from Anchor Island. Along the way we enjoyed the company of some of Dusky Sound’s residence Bottlenose dolphins, and stopped for a closer look at a waterfall, a hundred feet of depth under Allora’s keel a boat length or less from shore. We ate some bread that Diana pulled from the oven just as we entered the broad cove and thought about our plan for anchoring. The forecast was for twenty-five to thirty knots of northerly on the outside (a little less than the full Pusygar gale which prevails three hundred days out of a year), but all the models showed much less fifteen miles inland form the open sea. Still with the wind and williwas, we didn’t really know what we might get. The dramatic cove with the huge granite wall of Perpendicular Peak at the head is much bigger than in looks on the chart. The opposite of intimate Luncheon cove. We dropped in 60 feet of water and laid out all of our 100 meters of chain at a shallow angle along the shoreline, still sitting in thirty feet of water but with rocky shallows close by. Our first line would not really hold us off, and we ran a second as the wind came up and it was clear that the topography of cove seemed to twist the north wind with just a hint of west in it to solid west, coming at Allora from the port side and pushing us toward shore. The cove is big enough for a reasonable bit of fetch too, but the water on the east side is just too deep. Already worn out from setting the first two lines we debated putting out a second anchor from our midships cleat, but we worried about dealing with picking it back up if things got rough and we hand to move. We finally settled on putting out a third shore line using forty feet of chain to tie around a rock and pulled that up tight. By then the wind was pushing us with gusts of 18 knots. It went against every sailor instinct to be holding off a lee shore this way, but as long as our lines held it would take some mighty force indeed to drag 100 meters of chain and an anchor uphill. A power boat came in, and poked around on the east side and dropped anchor along the east side which we thought was too deep and we briefly wondered if we’d read the situation wrong (having no advice in our books about where to anchor in this broad open cove). But then they sent a dinghy over and we recognized the driver as he approached. Junate! from Hokey Pokey, a catamaran we knew from Papeete and the Gambier! We shared a brief excited catch-up about the last three years before he headed back. They’d also decided that it was too deep to anchor on the more protected east side and were zooming off (as only a power boat may) to find a mooring in another cove, much too far away for us to make before dark. And we were left alone with the wind, checking our shorelines and worrying how much more the night would bring. Just before dark the wind gusted to the mid twenties and Allora settled back about fifteen feet closer to shore than she had been. Our starboard shoreline went momentarily slack and the depth rose to twenty five feet. It began to rain.We donned foulies and went on deck ready to take more drastic action if it turned out that our anchor was actually not holding. We tightened up the breast line chained to the rock to pull us out into deeper water, and checked the GPS. We finally decided that the low tide had allowed some slack in our chain which the gusts shook out and we were holding fine. We made sure the dishes were away and everything was ship shape for the night, just in case, and then the wind quit completely, the rain settled in gently. In the middle of the night we woke up to an amazing stillness, just the finest pitter patter of rain. Light from a still nearly full moon softly lit the stunning granite faces that guard the entrance to the cove and the fine rain softened their reflection in the still water. It felt like a big reassuring landscape hug for a wonderful, still, uneventful night of sleep. ~MS
Seaforth River, Dusky Sound
It took us three tries to get the anchor to hold in Shark Cove. Communication from bow (Diana) to the helm (Marcus) is always a bit challenging (West Marine sells headsets called “marriage savers”). The view is different, too. We did alright for the first couple of attempted sets, but both got a little impatient and grumpy by the third. It held, and we were finally tied up, but tired and neither of us feeling great about how the teamwork had held up. There’s a lot at stake — sudden weather switches, unpredictable williwaws make it crucial to get this right. Every couple of days we get another chance to see if we can improve on our mutual desire to work together.
We got a little of a late start for the longish dinghy ride over to Supper Cove where the Seaforth River enters the Sound. It’s reported to hold brown trout! The Dusky trail slopes along the banks, through mud puddles and a podocarp forest of magnificent rimu, kahikatea, miro, mataī and tōtara trees. The river tumbles off some boulders and then flattens like a lake for several kilometers. Tea stained with tannins, spotting fish (the only way to fish in New Zealand) was tough. Ultimately we didn’t see any, though a few rocks got some very intense attention.~MS We took Namo over to the next bay, Supper Cove, to be able to hike on the Dusky Track. It’s an advanced tramper track – 84km one way, but we just did 6km and found it muddy but heavenly (not bushwhacking).
While Wet Jacket Arm and Breaksea Sound are still part of the Dusky/Tamatea Complex, I’ve broken them up, if for no other reason than my own sanity, so I can feel a sense of progression, ha! ~DS
My first series of thoughts were about the precariousness of our situation, and how much we depend on our engine, despite being a sailboat. What in the world would Captain Cook do? We had arrived at the entrance to Preservation Inlet a couple of hours too early, despite our attempts to slow Allora down. No wind but a big southwest swell colliding with a northerly chop was making g