March 31, 2012
Otago Yacht Club: 45 52'.31S 170 31'.61E
This overnight passage was destined to be a nail biter regardless of how benign the weather might be. We would sail across the notorious Foveaux Strait and up the southeastern tip of the South Island, make our way thirteen miles up the channel into Dunedin and enter the very shallow Otago Yacht Club at high water.
At 0755 on March 22 the anchor was up and we were heading out of Paterson Inlet with a boat speed of 7.8 knots but only making 5.6 knots against the tide. That went on for two hours until we were outside. Early in the day the wind was variable in the single digits but at 1400 it shifted W and increased to 11 knots, then 18, and by 1700 it was 25-30 knots. It remained that way, with gusts over 40, until early the next morning when it shifted W then N and dropped to 8-12 knots.
The swells were moderate and coming from both the N and W creating short, bouncy seas. Clouds obscured the sky and it was cold night and day. Multiple layers, hats and gloves kept us warm during our four hour watches in the cockpit. Tenaya scooted along at 8-9 knots SOG with a boat speed over 10 several times. That's really fast for our girl and me! Jim was on a mission to get this leg behind us and reach Dunedin before the wind turned northerly. We made exceptional time and had to slow down to reach the entrance of the channel after dawn.
There was plenty of time to get to the Otago Yacht Club as high water wasn't until after 1700. At 0800, just outside the breakwater, I called Otago Harbor Control to let them know we were entering and advise them of our intentions. He said we could tie up at the emergency berth behind the fuel berth at Carey's Bay in Port Chalmers to wait for higher water. Perfect, we needed fuel anyway.
It didn't occur to us to explore Port Chalmers at the time. With mobile service for the first time in months, my phone quickly attached itself to my left ear. Jim took the opportunity to replace the VHF radio speaker in the cockpit which had been acting up since we left Opua. He'd had a replacement sent to Meri of Bluff Fisherman's Radio who sent it over to Stewart Island. Have we mentioned how helpful she is, and how much we appreciate her skeds?
It was another hour to the yacht club so I called Harbour Control to ask if we could leave at 1515. He said the LPG tanker Astrid was coming up the channel and if we could maintain 10 knots then we could go up ahead of her. If not, he'd call us when she'd passed. He called at 1540 and we left shortly thereafter.
As we motored the last six miles the wind increased. By the time we reached Green Mark number 63 where we were to make sure we had the leading marks lined up before entering the narrow, shallow, silted-up entrance of the Otago Yacht Club, we had a 30 knot cross wind. That was a bit unsettling.
Kevin, the manager, said it is absolutely imperative that the leading marks be located (the far one being hard to see among the trees) and lined up perfectly to enter, then round the bend to port as close as possible to the row of yachts before proceeding down the fairway to the wharf. On our first attempt we were blown down too quickly to recover.
As the water shallowed Jim turned Tenaya around and beat back to the safety of the channel where he took a deep breath and prepared for another go. This time we lined up early and blew just right to made it in and down to the wharf where Kevin and two others were waiting to catch our lines. We rafted up to Omeo and ran our long lines out across the water fore and aft for added safety in all directions. Tenaya draws 2 meters and at low water our depth sounder read 1.9 meters so, although we didn't feel it, we were most likely sitting on the silty bottom.
New Zealand's first city dates back to 1865. Dunedin was founded by Scottish settlers and is known as the "Edinburgh of the South". The two cities share a similar climate, street names and some architectural details. A Scottish influence remains in the language as a small woman is apt to be called a "wee lass".
The University of Otago, established in 1871, was the first university in the country. With over 25,000 students these days there is a creative arts scene and a lively nightlife in the city. Indeed, on our first outing we came across a group of mates partying on a wall in the middle of the river at midday. We thought they were dressed rather strangely and I asked if I could take their picture. They eagerly acquiesced and we chatted for a few minutes. Some were from Dunedin and the others from Christchurch.
A little further along we saw a street cordoned off and filled with college kids in costumes. Turns out we'd stumbled upon the annual Hyde Street Keg Party. One Saturday each year the students of the University of Otago and the Polytech University get together and have a huge street party. Each house dresses in a certain theme. We saw smurfs, Pancho Villas, some animals and a lot of unidentifiable yet festive garb. Fun was buzzing in the air!
Hills surround both sides of the 22 km. long channel with the Otago Peninsula on the southeast. The city center is at the head of the harbour anchored by the Octagon, a pretty green space bordered by modern and historic buildings containing restaurants, bars, shops, banks and offices. The Municipal Chambers (1880) and St. Paul's Cathedral (1919) are fine examples of old world architecture. Suburbs sprawl up into the hills in all directions. Further inland is Central Otago where gold was found in 1861 setting off a gold rush with Dunedin as the main port. The city continued to grow in size, wealth and importance.
The safe harbor here has been important since the Maori settled and named the area Otepoti. It means "the place beyond which one cannot go" as this was as far south as their wakas (canoes) could safely travel. European settlers later established two working ports, a small one in the heart of town and one which became a container port at Port Chalmers halfway up the channel.
John, owner of the boat we are tied to, took us for a ride around town and up to signal Hill where we had a fabulous view of Dunedin. Embedded in a monument at the summit is a slab of rock on which Edinburgh Castle was built, a tribute to the connection between the two cities. We also saw Baldwin Street, the "world's steepest street" as verified by the Guinness Book of Records with a gradient of 19 degrees.
John built Omeo himself including the brass winches and port moldings. Check out the end of his boom below.
Because we're Americans he thought we would enjoy seeing pictures of his 1934 Indian outboard. Motorcycles yes, but outboard engines? News to us. Apparently they were not made for long. He even had the instructions for how to work the newfangled outboard which, by the way, still runs.
The prettiest building in town is the Dunedin Railway Station. It was built in 1906 on reclaimed swampland. The foyer is covered with tiles made by Royal Doulton, the floor a mosaic with a picture of a locomotive in the center. Upstairs, approaching trains are pictured in stained glass windows at each end. Natural light streams through their headlights making them shine.
After the opening of the Panama canal in 1914 ships didn't need to travel this far south so Auckland and Whangarei, on the North Island, became the main ports for ships from the UK and Europe. Rail service continued to be important on the South Island. Roads were very bad in Central Otago and increased rail service seemed to offer the best means of improving transport and improving communications.
The Otago Central Railway ran from the South Island Main Trunk near Dunedin inland 235 kilometers through stations in Middlemarch, Ranfurly, Omakau, Alexandra and Cromwell. The first section opened in 1889 and the line was not completed until 1921.
When the gold rush fizzled in Central Otago people turned to agricultural and pastoral endeavors. Hundreds of thousands of head of livestock and thousands of tons of farm produce and fruit were sent to Dunedin by rail.
A transport license protected the railway from road competition for many years but eventually good roads were built and the line was closed in 1990. The Taieri Gorge Railway had become a tourist attraction which the mayor and people of Dunedin did not want to lose. All joined together to raise $1.2 million in 1990 allowing continued operation to Middlemarch.
Now the Central Otago Rail Trail covers the remaining 150 km. to Clyde. The tracks have been removed and a pleasant cycling/walking route has revived the old stations with charming cafes, rustic buildings and interesting points of interest. We rode it last year and had a marvelous time.
In the heart of Dunedin is the modern Otago Museum with wonderful displays of fossils, artifacts and natural history in the gallery titled Southern Land, Southern People. There is also an interactive science center for kids and a butterfly enclosure. We were greatly entertained by all of it.
Wool from the large merino sheep is used to produce soft, strong, warm, non-smelly Icebreaker garments. We each bought tee shirts last year and loved them. My base layer wardrobe has steadily increased as we've spent more time on the South Island. The pieces are not cheap but well worth the investment on a cold, wet day ... and I've been a polypro/capilene fan for years.
Jim had been worrying about leaving the Otago Yacht Club since we arrived. When the time came the morning of March 30 he was concerned that we may not have enough water under the keel even at high water. It was a neaps tide instead of the higher springs tide we came in on. Kevin thought we should wait a few days for springs but Jim really wanted to take advantage of this weather window.
Remember, our draft is 2 meters. A depth of 2.9 meters showed on the gauge at the wharf and it was about 30 minutes before high water so Jim figured it was now or never. I untied the lines holding us on to Omeo and he eased away. Immediately the depth shallowed and continued as he turned Tenaya around in the narrow fairway.
When the gauge showed less than 2 meters he gave her plenty of power and plowed through the silty bottom. Like coming in, we hugged the row of yachts now on starboard. With even less water under our keel we went out to line up the leading marks and make our way back out to the channel. As they were now behind us, I faced backwards while Jim looked ahead on the helm. When we were lined up perfectly I told Jim to go. "Really?" "Yes. Go. Now." So he did as I continued to guide him keeping the marks aligned. Once out in the channel he said it had gotten down to 1.7. Guess we buffed the bottom of the keel a little.
We were supposed to call Otago Harbour Control before we left to advise them of our intentions but we had heard on the radio that the LPG tanker Astrid was coming up the channel. We were afraid they would make us wait until she passed and we would miss our chance to get out of the marina so I called once we were out. He said to be aware of Astrid coming and I replied that we were hugging the starboard side and would pull out of the channel when she approached.
There is a narrow section where the channel passes between two islands near Port Chalmers. Monarch, a tourist boat in front of us, called Astrid to say they would pull out there and wait for her to pass. Harbour Control came on to tell the tanker to be aware of a yacht still in the channel. Substitute the word "gnat" for yacht and you'll know the inference his statement had. Slightly wounded, I immediately call Harbour Control and said we would stay town-side of the islands until Astrid passed at which time we'd pull out of the channel. When Astrid did pass, all on board the big ship waved enthusiastically to us.
During the overnight passage to Akaroa, near Christchurch, a ship appeared on AIS that was to pass within 1.5 miles of us. Guess who? Astrid. She was on her way to Fiji.