Back in the First World (Auckland)

After five months of cruising in “the boonies,” re-entry into civilization is a bit of a shocker. It is great to be back “home” in Auckland, but it may take us awhile to catch our breath and adjust from “island time” to the pace of a big city.

We’ve parked Moonshadow in her previous home at Orams Marine in Westhaven. This puts us close to the marine industry hub and the America’s Cup Basin. Even though the next America’s Cup is a year away, there is plenty of buzz as some of the syndicates arrive in town to train during the southern hemisphere summer.

Our first week back in town whizzed by.  Getting back on our feet here has kept us busy, but it was a successful week. I managed to get us settled and plugged into a marina berth, a phone line installed, cellular phone reactivated, long-distance program setup, a good second-hand car purchased and insured, and caught up with lots of friends. I even managed to squeeze in a few yacht races.

While Cate is catching up with her family and friends and evaluating job options, I am starting to whittle away at “the list.” This is a seemingly endless list of things to repair, replace, service, paint, fabricate, acquire, research, clean, polish, mend or update. The list never quite shrinks to nothing, but it does begin to grow very quickly as soon as we leave civilization to go cruising. I am pleased to report that it contains no major projects this year, just loads of small ones.

The highlight of my week is always the Ponsonby Cruising Club’s Thursday evening “rum race.” It is always keenly competitive racing, albeit on low-tech boats, mostly Stewart 34’s, which have reached almost a cult status around Auckland. The Stewart 34 was designed more than 40 years ago, and while not as aesthetically and ergonomically advanced as the new generation of match racing boats, performs amazingly well. The owners are a hearty bunch that take no prisoners on the race course (for them, sailing is a full contact sport) and then share warm friendships in the yacht club afterwards. “The Ponce” puts on a great steak dinner for about US $5, which is well attended. The attendees are full of stories, jokes and lots of laughs.

One of the great things about Auckland is that yachting and yacht racing is available to anyone. Anyone who wishes to crew can get a ride. There are always enough yachts and it doesn’t cost anything to participate.

We had planned to race Moonshadow in the annual Coastal Classic race from Auckland north to Russell in the Bay of Islands. This race is by far New Zealand’s largest regular yachting event. The 119-mile race up the coast is held each year on Labour Weekend. The race begins on Friday morning and most yachts finish before the prize giving and party at the Duke of Marlborough Pub in Russell on Saturday evening. And what a party it is!

The weather forecast for this year’s race was northerly winds ranging from 25 to 40 knots-a real gear buster. We decided to give it a miss, and instead I went out to watch the start on a power boat skippered by a friend of mine. Some 250 boats crossed the start line and began beating and bashing up the coast. It is always quite a spectacle to see that many boats on the harbor, all heading in the same direction. Thousands of people dotted the shoreline, catching the massive start from any place where they could get a view.

The wind was as forecast, and more than a third of the fleet retired from the race before the finish. Broken gear, ripped sails, seasickness or just plain good judgment prevailed and 90 yachts pulled into safe harbors somewhere along the course. Line honors went to a catamaran from New Caledonia that completed the course in about 12 hours.

Instead of the Coastal Classic, we opted for a shorter race to Waiheke Island, sponsored by the Ponsonby Cruising Club, on Saturday. Our NewCal to New Zealand crew, Graham Jones and I did the race double-handed. In spite of a slow start and very light air for the first few miles, we managed to thread our way through the fleet and captured line honors by a good margin. Winds were 3 to 19 knots, mostly on the beam and we were on port tack for the entire race.  Now, that’s our kind of race!

The fleet finished and anchored in a lovely little spot called Putiki Bay on the southwest side of Waiheke Island, twelve miles from downtown Auckland. Prize giving was on a nice grassy knoll just above the beach, followed by a Kiwi sausage barbeque.

Graham and I took advantage of the long weekend and fair weather and spent a couple of days at Waiheke enjoying some coastal walks and a bit of wine tasting at a few of the local wineries. The sail home was nearly perfect: 15 knots on the beam. As it should be!

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