Firstly, Jo and I would like to thank everyone who has been so friendly and helpful during our first season at the Waikato Yacht Squadron, which we have thoroughly enjoyed. We have loved the sailing, the camaraderie and we now have a new group of friends.
After 20 years away from sailing (we used to be dinghy sailors at Napier) and now with reduced work commitments, we decided we had reached a stage in our lives where it might be time to go sailing again. Having lived in Raglan for the past 17 years, surfing has been the order of the day but the thought of cruising in the Hauraki Gulf had always held strong appeal. So last year we bought our Noelex 22, Hallelujah, jointly with a longstanding sailing friend from Napier.
There has been a lot to learn with a trailer yacht compared to a small sailing dinghy, like how to get it in and out of the water, but so far, so good. And of course Jo particularly likes the way we aren’t capsizing and ending up in the water all the time; which was once a regular event about which she has less fond memories than I do.
We didn’t initially intend to race Hallelujah, but with the WYS races being to various destinations in the Gulf, we thought this would be a great way for us to become familiar with where to go, the beacons, the rocks and so on. Not only has it been all of that and more, but we have also found the racing and the after match barbecues to be a whole lot of fun. Our Noelex was already named Hallelujah when we bought her, but this seemed very apt as we crossed the finish line of our first race after something like 6 hours sailing (2 being becalmed) at which point Jo exclaimed “Hallelujah we made it!”
It was back in January, after one of the big storms and floods, that I thought I should go and check on Hallelujah to make sure all was OK, which it was. I said to Jo that since I was going to Kawakawa Bay, maybe I should have a go at launching by myself, and if that succeeded I would then try a solo sail and perhaps stay somewhere overnight.
Launching fairly late in the day was pretty easy as the tide was high - the first challenge successfully completed. There was a moderate offshore breeze, so having motored out of the breakwater I then hoisted the mainsail and headed towards Ponui on a broad reach at a good speed. There was no need for the genoa and it would be one less thing for me to deal with when I tried to anchor.
It wasn’t long before I was around Sandspit Island and heading up the Waiheke Channel looking for a suitable spot to anchor for the night. I settled on North Harbour/Chamberlin Bay though I had never been in there before. But with around 50 other boats at anchor, I figured everyone else must be thinking it is a good place to spend the night. Having dropped the mainsail, I motored in past the larger yachts and launches to successfully anchor close to the front row. That’s one great thing about a trailer yacht - being able to anchor closer in than most others can.
I have to admit that my cooking skills are nothing short of terrible, but I celebrated my day’s sailing success by heating up some casserole for tea that Jo had pre-cooked for me. I only burnt some of it on the bottom of the saucepan, but there was enough to ensure that I didn’t need the burnt bits anyway.
Sitting in an anchorage full of boats watching people doing all sorts of crazy things can be quite enjoyable. As perhaps the smallest boat and most probably the least costly by a significant margin, I did wonder whether the people on boats that were clearly worth upwards of a quarter of a million dollars were having any more fun than I was. Sure you can get wherever you want to very quickly on a large fast launch, but what a sense of satisfaction and achievement there is in just using the wind and your wits to sail there. Sailing is also a welcome change from our fast-paced world and a much needed, forced slowdown for someone like me who has been a frenetic workaholic all my working life.
After a good night’s sleep at anchor, the forecast was for a light to moderate south-westerly, so I phoned Jo and said I would poke my head around the top of Waiheke and would most likely be away for another night.
I weighed anchor and sailed up past Hook’s Bay. Both sails up this time. I figured I should be able to get to Oneroa which held a lot of appeal as a destination as I will point out later on. So, for most of the day I had a really pleasant sail down the north side of Waiheke. I was checking all the headlands, Spray Rock and the various bays against the chart so I would have some idea of what they looked like when I next ventured down this coast. I arrived at Oneroa at about 4pm and anchored at the westward end of the beach about as close in as I dared to go. I counted 70 other boats there – lots more yachts and fewer launches here than at North Harbour, Ponui.
This was a very special time for me as I was anchored just below where my grandparents lived for 30 years, and where I had spent most of my school holidays. As a young child in the mid-1960s I was spellbound by all the yachts that sailed into this bay back then. At that age I had never even been on a yacht but I dreamt of one day sailing in here on my own boat, and today I was finally doing that – just 50 or so years later and solo! In fact the last time I had seen my grandparents’ place was way back in the late 1970s. I had never returned to see what their house looked like after they had left. Sitting in the cockpit I tried to work out which house on the hillside it was. This was a bit difficult with all the new houses, trees, and as I later discovered because the house had a few subsequent alterations.
My grandfather had been a dairy company engineer but, at the age of 60, something happened to his health and his doctor told him he had to quit his job and get some sea air or else he would be dead before long. So he and my grandmother rented a friend’s bach at Oneroa to help him recuperate.
They liked Oneroa so much that they bought a section to build on. This was in 1947 and it was a steeply sloping site on the hill up above the north-western end of the beach. My grandfather was very handy with tools and he built the house himself without electricity or running water. Being not long after World War 2, building materials were very limited and he even made/turned his own bolts from steel rods.
It took him two years to build the house and for the first year he and my grandmother lived on the site in a tent until they moved into the first stage of the building that became a sleepout and which we later called “the cabin”. It was no surprise that my grandfather had been a dairy company engineer when you looked at the roofwater tank system that was on multiple levels with all manner of intricate pipes, valves and pumps in the basement of the house. It looked like a dairy factory down there. Initially they generated electricity with a wind turbine, but a few years later an electricity cable was laid to Waiheke and everyone with wind turbines was required to remove them. How times have changed!
Oh and my grandparents continued to live there in good health until they were in their nineties. There was even a photo in the NZ Herald of my grandmother (a rather feisty but caring woman) at the age of 88 riding her pushbike down the red scoria road to the Oneroa Red Cross Hall where she spent much of her time.
As I say, I spent all my school holidays there for weeks at a time, even as a teenager studying for school exams, looking out over the boats in the bay. Now in January 2018 I had finally sailed in on our own little yacht and anchored at Oneroa. Pity I didn’t yet have a dinghy but I suppose I could swim ashore in the morning to go and find my grandparents’ former home.
As I was sitting in the cockpit in the evening light, having eaten another of my “scintillating heated up meals”, a guy came over in an inflatable dinghy from a nearby yacht. Seeing I was by myself, he and his partner had decided to invite me over for a drink. So a very pleasant evening was spent with Geoff and his partner on board their Allan Wright Marauder that was called Sidewinder. Geoff told me that as a child he had great memories sailing with his family in the Gulf in a Hartley 16, and he wanted his children to have the same experience, so after looking at lots of boats they had recently purchased Sidewinder. This was one of their first sailing trips and the kids were asleep in the for’ard cabin. I told Geoff about my grandparents’ home on the hill “just up there” and he said “well let’s go ashore in the morning and we can walk up to see it”.
And so we did in the morning, going ashore in Geoff’s inflatable dinghy. This was the first time I had walked up the track at the northwest end of the beach since the 1970s. The track was the same but also different. We went past the baches/houses that used to let us walk through their backyards as a short cut to the beach. And finally we reached 4 Karu Street, which my grandfather built.
Same but different
It was also the same but different. It now has a double garage, the malthoid roof replaced by colorsteel and the old asbestos duroc cladding has also been replaced. Otherwise it was pretty much the same. It is also now worth a lot more than when my family sold it for $49,000 soon after my grandparents died (the current rating valuation is $2.1 million).
And the view down to the bay where Hallelujah was anchored was much the same. There were the boatsheds we looked down onto, though one had now gone. And Hallelujah looked to be the smallest speck of a yacht compared to all the other much larger ones. But a very special yacht to me.
On the way back in Geoff’s inflatable I took some photos of Hallelujah from out on the water – otherwise hard to do when you don’t yet have a dinghy!
I bade farewell to Geoff and his family and sailed off around the headland, past Owhanake Bay, Matiatia and all the other places that now have mansions of houses on lifestyle blocks.
With just a light breeze, it was a full day’s sail back to Kawakawa Bay along the south side of Waiheke. Then successfully up the ramp and safely into the compound.
What started out as just a post-storm check of Hallelujah ended up being a great solo sailing expedition for me; a circumnavigation of Waiheke, a nostalgic first sail into Oneroa and a big adventure that I will never forget.