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Date: 31 Mar 2012 13:14:13
Title: 36 37.43S 174 47.28E - Safely Tied up in Gulf Harbour

On leaving the Mercury Islands we couldn't believe our luck to find that for the 3rd day running the wind was going to be from the southeast, giving another downwind passage. So it was the two genoas up again and we were making 7- 8kts in a wind of 20kts. The forecast was for the winds to increase during the day to 25k, gusting 35kts. Not what we wanted to hear, but the forecast for the next few days, with the big tropical storm coming down, is far worse, giving 25 to 30kts, gusting to over 40kts. The forecasters still can't make up their minds on which direction this storm will take, but it looks like the winds will start increasing on Sunday night and go higher on Monday and Tuesday. They're also predicting 70mm of rain during Tuesday, so it's going to be both windy and soggy! An added complication is that in addition to the low pressure system coming down from the tropics, another low is forming in the Tasman sea and also heading for New Zealand at about the same time. If these weather systems combine over New Zealand, it could be quite a storm.
 
On going through the Colville Channel, the wind increased to a steady 30kts and the seas started to churn - short, sharp and confused - lumpy would be an understatement! With a just a scrap of sail up we were continuing to make 7 - 8kts and there was always the concern that one of the rogue waves might find its way on board. Despite the conditions, it was a pretty comfortable ride most of the time, but cross seas every now and again caused a significant roll, first one way and then back the other. These are the moments when you're glad you spent the time tying everything down. However, once halfway across the Hauraki Gulf the wind dropped back to 20kts and the seas calmed down, so up went more sail and we maintained 6 - 7kts. The last 3 days have been a good re-introduction to ocean sailing. We never expected to use poles, but have used them every day. So lots of good practice.
 
Gulf Harbour is on the mainland and not far from Auckland. It's relatively new and one of the biggest marinas in New Zealand, having 1000+ berths. It's also very well sheltered, so a good place to be (we hope!) when the wind and rain comes next week. We're hoping to stay here for a week or so before continuing further north. In the last 3 days we've covered 130 miles and this is about half way to the Bay of Islands. Another good reason for leaving Tauranga when we did, is the potential for yet another fall-out from the Rena. The forecasters are predicting the swell will increase next week from the normal figure of 1.5 - 2 metres to over 6 metres. If the winds and seas give what's left of the Rena a real bashing, there could be more containers afloat in the Bay of Plenty and possibly more oil. This could block any passage north for some time.  (In the last 3 days we haven't seen any debris from the Rena. However, most of the time the seas were quite rough and in these conditions we could easily have passed close to a container not seen it.) 
 
  
Passing the Channel Island, going through the Colville Passage to reach the Hauraki Gulf. From this point
on, the conditions started to deteriorate.
 
White water as Aurora B ploughs through the short sharp seas.
 
Channel Island in the distance - high winds and quite rough seas.
 
Cape Colville - marking the northern end of the Coromandel Peninsular.
 
Just before reaching Gulf harbour you pass Tiritiri Island, with the lighthouse on top. The island is a
wildlife sanctuary where indigenous species that are failing to survive in the wild (due to introduced rats and stoats)
have been successfully reintroduced.
 

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