New Zealand - Second Time

JJMoon Diary
Barry and Margaret Wilmshurst
Mon 3 Nov 2008 09:46
We arrived back on to Opua's quarantine berth at 0030 on Thursday 26th, and very quiet it was too.  Not a lot goes on in northern New Zealand just after midnight so we were not so full of excitement as we were last year.  Nevertheless we were conscious that we had had a wonderful season up in the islands and it felt great to be "home" and in familiar surroundings.  We had a good cup of tea.
It was even better in the morning.  Everyone, from Gary the lugubrious Customs officer, Mike from MAFF through the marina office staff to the various tradesmen and chandlers seemed delighted to see us.  The chandlers seemed particularly pleased that we were back; we could see their cash registers whirring in their eyes.  Within a few hours we had recovered our car, renewed our AA subscription, opened a New Zealand bank account and instigated opening moves with various engineers, sailmakers, electricians, electronics wizards, upholsterers and car mechanics.  There should not be so much to do this year but now is a fairly slack time for the local businesses and we want to get on to their schedules.  We have spent part of the past week researching bits and pieces on the wish list.  Mags has returned to church and yoga and we have had some good meals in the local restaurant and the Opua Cruising Club.  We spent Friday evening at the club with Tom and Vicky Jackson from Sunstone, currently perhaps the best known of British cruising couples through their prolific articles in the yachting press about adventurous life on their beautiful, varnished 40ft Sparkman and Stephens ocean racer from the 1960s.
Sunstone - a beautiful boat
Sunstone, a beautiful varnished 40ft Sparkman and Stephens ocean racer from the 1960s owned by Vicky and Tom Jackson
The passage down from Noumea was easier than some; we had moderate to light headwinds all the way and did a good deal of motoring and motor-sailing.  Some boats opted to call in at Norfolk Island to rest in one of the bays for a night or two but we decided to do the whole passage in one hop - once we were on our way we did not fancy relaxing and then having to get keyed up for another four days.  About half way, on a long tack west to east we passed about twenty miles north of the island and we could hear VHF radio chat from the boats in the bay.   We suddenly became aware of a station calling "sailing vessel passing north of Norfolk Island".  Could it be us, twenty miles away?  It was.  Wildwatch could see us on the horizon and would we kindly keep a good look-out for some whales that had been seen in our area?  We readily agreed to do so but, given our record, it was no surprise when the whales failed to materialise.  Immediately after this exchange Norfolk Island Customs came up.  Were we intending to call in?  Would we give them our details?  Twenty Miles?  There is no hiding place!
We had our usual trouble with water in the boat; this time it came from inside.  Due to an amateur plumbing mistake the water tank let go - twice - depositing 350 litres of fresh water into the bilge each time.  Another fine mess!  The bilge pumps and water-maker did some extra work and we were soon topped up.  Another small problem arose when one of the fuel tank senders failed and we couldn't tell how much fuel we had left.  This was a bit unsettling as we did not want to find ourselves in a flat calm a hundred miles out with no fuel.  We managed to resolve that one too.
New Zealand officials at ports of entry are correct but generally easy to deal with.  In Opua they even take responsibility for handing each incoming boat a basket of little marketing goodies and a binder with details of the local businesses.  Still, it is a bit different from what we are used to in Europe.  The first thing we noticed, as soon as we had crossed the Atlantic, was that nobody would let you in unless you had a formal clearance document from your previous port.  Whether boats would actually be turned back out to sea without it I don't know, but every immigration official seems to put great store by this piece of paper.  A greater nuisance in this part of the world is food that might be contaminated with bugs or bacteria.  The rules vary from country to country and it isn't obvious before you arrive what will be taken off you.  Honey is a certainty.  Apparently bees can easily be infected with serious disease and all honey will be confiscated without fail.  We understand that in Australia you cannot even cross state boundaries with a pot of honey.  An additional problem is tit-for-tat retaliation between countries.  New Zealand has banned something from New Caledonia and in return no New Zealand capsicum is allowed in by the French.  Or it might be the other way round.  The business can be quite distressing.  Food in New Zealand is very good, particularly the meat and there is a temptation to stock up before leaving.  We heard of one boat last April which arrived in Noumea to have a large freezerful confiscated.  The woman was seen on the marina pontoon in tears.  We are old hands now and made sure that our stocks were running low when we arrived.  Mike from MAFF is an amiable man but he was not too busy early on Thursday morning and he gave us a thorough going over, looking into all lockers that Mags owned up to containing food.  We didn't lose too much and he took our accumulated rubbish ashore with him so we parted with a smile and a handshake.  In smaller countries things are not always so straightforward.  The word among yachties is that some officials take confiscated food straight home to their wives.  These libellous rumours remain unconfirmed.
The rescued and the rescuersIn the last few days we have heard a sad tale (with heroic overtones) pertinent to the paragraph in the last blog about the dangers of coral.  Assiduous readers will remember the yacht Timella and her crew, our story of towing them into Bora Bora with engine trouble last year and the false alarm during their passage to Rarotonga when a full scale search and rescue operation was instigated unnecessarily.  Timella's crew left the boat in the Cook Islands and flew to Australia where skipper Cameron soon found a job.  Sadly, the couple split up and Sharon and Lewis returned to Scotland.  This year Cameron returned to Rarotonga to collect the boat and, while there, he found a new crew.  On Sunday 12th October they ran on to a small submerged reef about twenty miles south of Viti Levu, Fiji's largest island.  Timella was wrecked, her dinghy was holed and her crew were in the water for several hours.  The Fijian authorities tried hard but never managed to find sufficient fuel to mount a rescue attempt.  Fortunately the mayday call was heard by an American couple with two small children anchored in a lagoon about twelve miles away.  With invaluable help from the New Zealand High Commission in Fiji and the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand they carried out a very courageous and skilful rescue.  We were sad indeed to read about the loss of Timella and, perhaps because we know the boat and its skipper quite well, we find the blow-by-blow account of the rescue by Maurice and Sophie Conti about the most dramatic piece of yachting writing we have read.  It can be found with a good press report, a short account by one of Timella's crew and some pictures from the Southland Times at the links below.  You will not be disappointed; if we have done nothing else in these blogs but introduce you to this rescue account, it will have been worthwhile!  Open the press report and find the further link to Maurice Conti's detailed log a little way down on the right.  The incident started with further engine trouble on Timella and in trying to carry out repairs Cameron was badly scalded.  It is still not clear how they found themselves on the reef, which is surrounded by deep water and is seven miles from the nearest point of danger; perhaps they were distracted by Cameron's injuries.
 Story Link: Skipper slams Fijian inaction           A summary of the incident
 Story Link: Log of an ocean rescue                 We found this account riveting       
Next Saturday we are going to leave all this excitement behind and return to Europe for six weeks.  We are returning to New Zealand via Perth where we are greatly looking forward to spending Christmas with Ross and Sue from Y-Not and their family.  We hope to be back in Opua about the turn of the year.  Best wishes and Happy Christmas!