Vendetta in Fiordland – Part 2

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Here’s Paul’s write-up of the second part of Vendetta’s epic Fiordland trip. The first part can be found here.

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The 3rd of February was crew change day. We motored from Cooper’s Island to Supper Cove for the transfer.  The weather forecast was awesome for helicopter sightseeing so the crew were up for a special treat.  Conny, John, Bridget and Owen were leaving Vendetta and Christine, Sherwin and Brenda were joining.  I, the skipper was staying put but there was a promise of new supplies from the incoming crew.

Supper Cove crew change

The incoming crew looked gobsmacked from the chopper flight and the outgoing crew looked ready to be gobsmacked.  Soon Vendetta was home to new crew ready to holiday and we quickly slipped the mooring line and headed out.  Our remaining time in Dusky Sound was limited so highlights were going to be the name of the game.  That afternoon we set out for Pickersgill Harbour which is a not to be missed anchorage…. extremely sheltered,very close to the hard stuff and full of history.

Every evening we joined the roll call of Bluff Fisherman’s radio on the SSB.  Mere from Bluff Fisherman’s does a fantastic job of checking who is about, that they are all OK and there are no dramas to report.  Of course in Dusky if you don’t call in somebody else will already have spotted your boat and will have advised Mere of your whereabouts. Mere is a great source of information about moorings, water sources etc.

After a couple days in Pickersgill we sailed up Acheron Passage to Stick Cove at the seaward end of Wet Jacket Arm.  This is a fantastic anchorage;  extremely sheltered, very picturesque and there is another great waterfall.  It is unfortunately in a marine reserve which disrupted the usual supply of dinner protein but we had to make a start on all that pasta on board anyway.  The weather had decided to go a bit rainy, great for waterfalls and keeping the sandflies at bay but when it rains in Fiordland it is impressive rain.

Vendetta heading up Acheron Passage in the rain

A weather window had opened up for Vendetta to head up to Doubtful Sound.  We spent one more night in Dusky at Sunday Cove where we picked up water.  Vendetta had a romping sail up the coast towards Doubtful with a 25 knot south westerly behind us and a 2-3m swell.  Once into Doubtful Sound the wind dropped to nothing and Blanket Bay was selected as the anchorage of choice.  Once again we anchored just opposite the Blanket Bay Hotel.  Blanket Bay appears to be a quite a popular anchorage with the fishing folk which is excellent news for the yachtie.  Once again we were the lucky recipient of fresh crayfish all in exchange for a bit of a chat. This cray was fairly large and made an honest attempt to remove Sherwin’s finger.  There was hurried action from the skipper to prevent blood on the deck.

Blanket Bay and the Hotel on the right

The next day we motored to Precipice Cove for the night and then the following day to Crooked Arm.  Crooked Arm has stunning scenery, and a rarity in Fiordland, significant native bird life.  We anchored in Haulashore Cove and then set off on a bush walk across the ridge to Dagg Sound.  The bush is thick and green down here and the tracks barely walked.  Of course it is pretty damp underfoot.  The bugs of course are pretty thick too.

Motoring down Crooked Arm

Motoring out of Crooked Arm the following morning we were surrounded by massive pod of dolphins who did some very cool tricks leaping out of the water as if they were escapees from Marineland Napier.  We also did a brief motor up Hall Arm which is quite similar to Crooked Arm.  Lots more kayakers around this end of Doubtful Sound.

Onwards to Deep Cove with the primary objective to refuel. There is a good refuelling facility at Deep Cove at the main wharf but like most wharfs down here it isn’t particularly suited to cruising yachts and fastidious skippers.  Billy at the Outdoor Education Centre, who looks after the diesel, also rents out moorings.  We picked up one of these and set out catching dinner.  The moorings are up close to the tailrace exit so there is good current here which seems to make for successful fishing also.

We dropped off Brenda the next morning at the beach to catch the Real Journeys bus back to Manapouri then home.  A weather wind had also opened up for Vendetta to head further north.  Leaving Thompson Sound and heading out we made way for an incoming cruise ship.  Quickly after this the wind went from about five knots to 35-40 knots piling out of the Sound.  With full main up things were slightly hairy but conditions soon died back.  Caswell Sound became the destination.

Caswell is another high sided sound.  We anchored in the all weather anchorage opposite Still Water River. This is a deep water anchorage.  About 25-30m of water and as with most of the anchorages the local fishermen have already set up sternline attached to a buoy.  The fishing here was interesting.  Quite a few cod but difficult to land as the local shark population would bite off the body while the cod was being hauled in. A little frustrating.

From Caswell we headed to George Sound. Our plan had been to anchor up in Alice Falls but as we were finding the closer we got to Milford the more numerous the number of cruising yachts was becoming.  The mooring was taken but the view of Alice Falls was worth the visit anyway.  We anchored in South West Arm next to the typically friendly fishermen.  They quickly delivered a newspaper and stopped for a chat.  Again the anchorage was extremely sheltered.  However the danger of anchoring next to a fishing boat is that they leave at 4am.

Alice Falls

With the weather outlook looking unsettled we left the next day for Milford Sound.  The breeze was typically SW and fairly light.  Swell size down in Fiordland commonly appears to be 2-3m from the SW.  However there also seems to be a cross swell from the NW which in the lighter breeze can make those prone to seasickness a little worse off.

At the entrance to Milford Sound we were met by a flotilla of tourist boats following the circuit around the Sound.   Milford is spectacular but its slopes are not bush clad like most of the other sounds.  Deep Water Basin was our destination for our last crew change.  There were weather reports of cyclone Gita on the way so probably a good place to get shelter.

Milford Sound

Milford however is not a great place for cruising yachts.  Diesel is available, at a price, but there are few anchorages and the moorings are for commercial vessels and are in regular use.  We managed to borrow moorings jumping off when the owner vessel arrived but this meant staying on board for large amounts of time.  There are quite a few other yachts about however so its a fairly social place for boaties.

Our plan had been to see Sherwin off for his bus back to Queenstown and on the same day our two return crew

Deep Water Basin

would join us.  Cyclone Gita however was to play her part.  We would have to wait until she passed through and our return crew decided that they wouldn’t be able to wait till she passed.  Therefore the task for the return trip was with Christine and me.

Vendetta was itching to get back out on the ocean. We carefully watched the passage of the cyclone and searched for the developing weather window after she passed.

Cloud displays at sea

We needed three to four days to get back at least to Nelson.  We left early Thursday morning, setting ourselves up for two handed sailing.  We would be relying on our trusty autopilot “Abel” to give us some breaks from the wheel. The weather turned out to be SW winds dead behind us with swells varying from 2 to 5m.  Not particularly suitable for steady autopilot sailing.  We put a preventer on the main to minimise the impacts of crash gybes and settled in catching some impressive cloud displays.

The view from the sea of South Westland is impressive.  The coastline is mountainous in the south becoming wide expansive beaches as one sails further north.  Albatross are constant companions and dolphins often show up to keep the boat company. Night time views of the sky are fantastic.

Cascade Point from the sea

Due to the wind direction we found ourselves about 50 miles offshore approaching Westport. Our weather window for Cook Strait was closing so we made a concerted effort to close the gap to Cape Farewell. Approaching the Cape on Saturday the wind had been a steady 15 knots.  During the day the SW kept picking up and the 2-3m ocean swells began to take on a nasty tone.  The wind was now gusting 40 knots and the opposing current to the swells was causing the swells to break.  Not a great place to be but the Cape had to be rounded.  We took a couple of breaking swells over the stern and did one large broach down a breaking wave but Vendetta carried the conditions well.

Following seas at Cape Farewell

After rounding the Cape the waves dropped but the wind continued as we sailed down the length of Farewell Spit.  Our plan was to round and head for Torrent Bay.  We rounded the spit at about midnight and made Torrent Bay at 3.30am. We hadn’t had much sleep for 3-4 days and to be honest before leaving Fiordland I hadn’t had much sleep in any case.  A good sleep was had in Torrent Bay.

With the starter motor on the engine playing up and the forecast for Cook Strait not good for the next 4 days we headed for Nelson Marina.  Safely tied up in the marina we had the chance look back over our Fiordland travels.

It is a challenging location to sail to. The weather was generally kind to us but has to rain to make waterfalls.  Care is required finding a weather window to get down there, no reasonable shelter is available if the weather turns bad on the passage down or on the return.  However the anchorages in Fiordland (and as recommended in the Fiordland cruising guide) are generally great.  Take all the provisions that are going to be required unless others are going to bring it in for you.  Diesel can be an issue.  It is available in Milford and Doubtful but nowhere else unless you come upon a refuelling ship refuelling fishing boats.  Bluff Fishermans Radio can probably provide information on this one.  Take plenty of propane.

Thanks to all the crew who joined Vendetta on the voyage.

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