6 weeks sailing in New Zealand: A sea trial

“In six weeks you can singlehandedly sail Kahu”, T.A. said to me. His infinite optimism keeps on surprising me. It is both encouraging as well as putting me under pressure from time to time: I should learn to navigate the boat on my own in just six weeks? We will see.

Six weeks was not only the duration of this applied “sailing course“ of mine. It was the amount of time we had to undergo a sea trial with S.V. Kahu: How would we deal with the recently bought boat? How would our Nanni engine and the sails keep up with gusts of 30 – 40 knots? Does the fibreglass hull remain as dry as the thorough knocking in our survey suggested? How long would both our two-litre gas bottles last? And above all, would we get along in such a tiny space?

Gloves hanging on the sail boat
Let´s do it. Let´s go sailing!

These questions need to be answered. After all, the six weeks should only be the beginning: In November 2017, Kahu would come with us on our circumnavigation of New Zealand.

Unlike T.A., whose veins rather consist of seawater instead of blood, I am a landlubber. Well, as a kid, I was in the sailing course at the Attersee for a week, I had a few more days of boat trips behind me, and I even sailed on Lake Victoria near Kampala in Uganda. However, this is nothing compared to a six-week sailing trip of two. Not to mention a 4,000 nautical-long circumnavigation of New Zealand, which lasts three weeks in the best case, but six months in ours.

T.A. after having caught a fish, surrounded by birds who want their share.
T.A. after having caught a fish, surrounded by birds who want their share. He indeed is part of nature.

In March this year, we set off with a lot of goals. Going from Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty to Tuhua (Mayor Island) then onto Slipper Island, Hahei and Whitiganga in the Coromandel; from Great Mercury to Great Barrier, then to Junction Islands, further on to the Mokohinaus, Poor Knights, Cape Brett and finally to the Bay of Islands for two weeks. From there we had to return to Auckland, where my plane to Austria departed.

For six weeks, all of this was our reality: Our life consisted of dreamy coves, in which we fell asleep while listening to bird chorus. We sailed through sunsets so cheesy, no Hollywood movie could have put them better in the scene. We dug a small hot pool on a remote offshore island beach to watch the sun go down over the ocean. T.A. caught fish, which we enjoyed on our little wooden table outside in the cockpit while sharing stories. During the night, the spectacle of the bioluminescent marine life entertained us. In the morning, we built a pillow nest on the deck to drink our coffee. And then there were all the small hikes to green hills and lighthouses, which provided the best views of our big blue backyard. We had all that to ourselves. Hard to believe, but until the Bay of Islands, we were usually the only people as far as we could see.

Eating in the cockpit of a sailing yacht out on the Pacific while sailing around in New Zealand
Everything tastes better out on the ocean.

Sounds like a romantic dream trip?

It was… sometimes. The reality of sailing hit us on our first leg to Tuhua. It was a prompt awakening: Our autopilot stopped working, and we had to accept that we had turned around a few times in a circle. This became restricting as we were not able to make long trips by night, and during long days were testing our seamanship, our arms went numb from standing on the tiller for hours. But that´s not all: In the Poor Knights, our anchor got fouled, and the next day, the weather turned and the swell was driven into the beam of Kahu quite a bit. It was the only time when seasickness literally struck us to the ground. Nevertheless, we were lucky in the misfortune, because even in such bad weather, dive trips come to the Poor Knights all the time. A call to “Diving Tutuka” was enough to get a dive tank for T.A. On the next calm day, he was able to dive the 40ish meters down, loosen and retrieve the anchor and free Kahu from the reef. We could finally continue sailing.

For some, it´s a dream come true. For me, Cathredral Cove will always be the place where I sank my iphone.
For some, it´s a dream come true. For me, Cathedral Cove will always be the place where I drowned my iPhone.

These were just two of the challenges we had to master. Not to mention the tropical storms, cyclones and strong gusts of wind, which forced us to stay put in protected bays for several days at least once a week. They were just as much on the agenda as the eternal search for the Internet. The fact that the latter was not even available in marinas – and/or even too slow for Facebook – was a bitter realization.

Yes, the six weeks were quite a sea trial.

The result? We certainly found a small but extremely robust companion in Kahu. At 6,3, T.A. cannot stand tall in the cabin, but other than that, it has a surprising feel of spaciousness and offers more space than other comparable yachts. We are fortunate that our engine has far more grant than most similar boats, 21 horsepower and three cylinders and is, therefore, stronger than the Raven´s usual 8-PS single-cylinder engine. We had plenty of water and gas for a couple of weeks, but we plan to have a water maker and a larger gas bottle on board for the circumnavigation (assuming we find the space). Apropos more: A new autopilot is just as much of a Must as a solar power system for extra capacity and a shower.

We have definitely learned from the six weeks. Not just as far as the equipment is concerned. Also in interpersonal matters: We certainly had disagreements, but neither T.A. nor I wanted to push the other overboard (I think). We have learned to simply take a break when we need our time. T.A. dives down to spear fish or goes out with the kayak. I usually meditate. But most of the time, these “fights” do not last long. It just does not make sense to pout for hours in the small space we are sharing. After all, we literally are in the same boat.

Oh, and if you would like to know whether I can sail Kahu singlehandedly after the six weeks: The answer is no. I would not dare to after this sea trial. I simply have too much respect for the Pacific Ocean.

T.A. sees it differently, of course. Rather optimistic, what else!?

Woman helming a sail yacht
Helming became one of my specialities.
If you want to know when I finally learn how to sail singlehandedly, stay tuned and Come Sail With Us. Our Nomad Ocean Project starts soon!

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