Stewart Island/Rakiura to Port Chalmers
New Zealand’s national anthem, ‘God Defend New Zealand’ entrenches Stewart Island/Rakiura as part of the nation’s three main islands, ‘Pacific triple star’. It’s a conservation Mecca co-existing with the southernmost least built permanent settlement in all of Polynesia.
Somewhere in-between Port Williams and Half Moon Bay, a rope went over the stern of the yacht and became entangled on the rudder. This called for Max to don on his full diving equipment and plonk into the water after we berthed at Oban, Stewart Island’s township. We took on fuel, had a wander, and prior to departure – had a visit by the local constabulary.
Poaching is an unfortunate reality around New Zealand’s coastal waters and Max hanging his wet suit up to dry in full view invited customary questioning. By now, the weather had cut up as anticipated and because it was howling straight into the harbour, a three hour sail around the island to the calmer side for overnight mooring warranted.
Thoughts to the upcoming continuous sailing to Christchurch had hesitation as the weather forecast was becoming incrementally extreme. We had been so lucky to not strike any inclement stuff since departing Milford yet, gale force were now words being echoed on the marine forecast weather report up the West Coast. Head winds for us reminisced nearly dying the last time, a positive was we were going to be on the right side of the island if needing to land fall.
The noise from a gust of wind and slight twang from a rope cord hitting the mast during the night every now and again broke the silence. And sometimes the sleep.
For most of the trip, I was Chef. At least my title had some reference to ‘chief’ being the chief cook and bottle washer. I was up early and making sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, cheese slices and stocking up snack bars. The days ahead with rough weather restricts being able to cook under normal circumstances – everyone has their limits y’know!
But, alas. Not remembering to re-fill with water resulted in delaying the departure by another day/night. We had to return to Oban to do so. It was fate because the comments being received from locals wasn’t positive to venture out into open waters in the weather conditions. We did though sail back around to the previous night’s calmer accommodation location.
Taking the dingy to shore, we walked 15-20 or so minutes over a hill back into Oban. Having a pub meal gave the Chef a night off and furthermore, it was ‘Quiz’ night at the local and so we entered. Needing extra head counts, we encouraged a lady Nurse visiting from Australia and to our benefit, the local constabulary officer from earlier in the day.
The quiz master was brilliant, a bloke dressed up as a woman or was it a woman with testicles? She is a local celebrity having appeared on television as being an island icon. She didn’t mix words either and when she barracked out “Shut the f..k up”, you sat at attention and took notice. Calling out an answer amongst the team slightly louder than usual resulted in having the mouth taped up by the quiz madam. Huh, where was the assistance from the cop I needed for the assault? Obviously she scared him too!
Our team scored within five places from the winning team, it was a great way to embrace the atmosphere that Stewart Island offered, albeit the wind furore blowing outdoors. The constable offered us a lift back over the hill for which we accepted, taking us on a guided tour to parts of the island we would not have experienced hadn’t we befriended him. To see a Kiwi in the wild was unbelievable – we exited the car and stood in total silence under the light of starts as the big basketball shaped bird with antenna beak approached us to peck at our feet under no pretence of fear.
The extra time on Stewart because of fate was rewarded and with that and we returned to the Chieftan.
Another stir at 3.00am – Max was up and with those words again, “Gotta Go”.
The wind had certainly abated although the sea had 2-3 metre swells. And so we did.
It wasn’t long after another spectacular sunrise that we struck 35+ knot head winds. It called for reefing the sail so as to give some steadfastness to sponge up the water leakage below. Sea sickness hit Max big time as we battered the open sea conditions.
The call to tack toward land versus maintaining the direct sail line approach was unanimous. Following the contour lines close to shore at a depth of 30-40 metres made sense and proved to be the best option we took to keep the nose pointing toward home. I managed some shut eye and as daylight faded, I relieved Joe at the helm for him to retire below and rest.
Given the conditions it was peaceful, only interrupted by me checking the GPS and depth gauge. A flash of white flying passed the dodger where I was taking shelter from the wind scared the daylights out of me, even though it was night. Don’t Albatross’s sleep?
I manned the yacht solo till about 1.30amish the following morning when Joe reappeared. I retired below to nod off in my clothes. It was cold. It was damp. I was exhausted.
Poking my head up to daylight, our path ventured was back out into open waters away from the Otago bite coast line – it was back on the direct line approach, back on the getting battered under the conditions. Conversation erupted as to whether the time frame estimation of having to be back sleeping in our own beds would be achieved – it was highly unlikely.
The decision to make for Port Chalmers to berth the yacht and disembark was tough on Max. He didn’t let it show even as he continued to display sea sickness symptoms with signs of dehydration. But it was the right one to make. It was mid-morning and by the time we moored up alongside a pontoon at Dunedin’s foreshore, taking two hours alone from the heads to the ropes being tied off, darkness had well and truly arrived.
And then in a show of sympathy for our yachting to be nearly over, the skies for the first time in all the hours sailed opened up and down poured the rain.
The following morning, we back tracked a little bit up the harbour to a yacht club and tied off the Chieftan to disembark for the last time. We returned to Christchurch by vehicle.
Max returned to Dunedin a week later and with another son Chris, they sailed the last bit from Port Chalmers to Monks Bay, Christchurch. I believe that you could not have got a better ending to bring home Max’s overall original goal – to sail from Waikawa Bay, down the West Coast to Stewart Island, then back up to Christchurch.
The last words …
Priorities change when we are faced with limited time to live life. What we take for granted as someday we’ll tick off, evaporates. We immediately focus either on exhausting what life is left doing stuff that should have been done while we have our health; or we spend what time is left fighting to stay alive; or we give up the fight.
Take the time to re-kindle your priorities in life and get chasing them, while you still have time.
Attitude is greatly shaped by influence and association. Don’t join the easy crowd; you won’t grow. Go where the expectations and the demands to perform beyond your comfort zone are high.
Ensure you associate with people who have an attitude for living life versus just existing.
As life is precious, so was this adventure’s association.
Cheers Max, Wayne, Joe, Jude, Kaye and BClaire.