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New Zealand Interludes

The Picton Castle has been along the coast of North Island of New Zealand for a spell now. It has been interesting and different for us to sail along the coast this way. And very pleasant and delightful too.

After sailing from Australia through gales in the Tasman Sea and into Auckland for a Tall Ships gathering and then along the beautiful east coast of North Island and Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand, the Picton Castle put into Port Marsden or Northport at the mouth of the Whangerei River pretty high up on the east coast. Big 10 foot tides made the gangway to the quarterdeck something to look after but as is the norm, we managed.

Our object was to get near the small town of Waipu. In the 1850s, 900 hundred folk sailed from Nova Scotia in ships they had built themselves to settle in Waipu. They had been living in Pictou and St Ann’s Bay, Cape Breton. They needed a new place with better potential for agriculture so they sailed halfway around the world to do so. Seems to me they could found a nice cove on the SW shore of Nova Scotia on in Annapolis valley, but no, sail far they must. They sailed in seven ships, two of which, apart from being built of wood instead of steel, were barques very much like our own Picton Castle.

There certainly is a Nova Scotian feel to the area, and the people and institutions. For example, their Legion Hall could be set up in Nova Scotia and both inside and out would feel right at home. The museum is full of images of shipbuilding in Lunenburg, Mi’kmaq crafts and other artifacts from Nova Scotia. There are even souvenier Schooner Bluenose plates in the museum.

The Waipu area is quite lovely, with bucolic, rolling green fields and hills, patches of woods, plenty cows and sheep on paddocks of what look like small farms. Crew all got time off to look about. The town of Waipu is small with a couple pleasant spots to hang out. We had a nice reception at Waipu Museum. A lovely ‘potluck’ affair where we presented the folks with gifts and proclamations from former Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter recognizing the remarkable connection Waipu has with our province.

We moored at Port Marsden or Northport, a modern deep-water marine facility where as many as two or three large ocean-going container ships or bulk carriers are discharging or loading at any given time. And as in Nova Scotia, lumber and pulp is a principle product. The weather has been warm and fair. As an international port there was all sorts of security check ins we needed to do.

We had set aside this time to get some basic ships work done (been a long, wet, hardworking year in the South Pacific) and to do some concentrated instruction in this type of work – this was mostly just standard ship’s maintenance with a couple high points. Here is what we did: of course, like every white ship we spot painted topsides. Did some minor sail repair. We sent down main upper topsail parral drum for repairs, prepped and primed the fore topsail yards, oiled and tarred aloft, sent down main and fore royal yards for overhaul as well as for the practice of teaching how a seaman gets yards up and down the safe old way. We took SSB radio out for inspection and repair and got it sorted and in tip-top shape, carried out in-depth workshops in prepping and paint, not as simple as it sounds, rigging workshops in parceling and serving wire rigging, send all hands off in the longboat several times sailing around the bay and, quite a treat, all hands got to go on trips with the two super modern tugs docking the big ships at Port Marsden. Very interesting this was.

On Friday November 15 we steamed the seven miles up the pretty fjord-like river past endless cow paddocks and hills to Whangerei (pronounced “funga-ray” – why don’t they just spell it that way?) and tied up at Port Nikau near to the main town. This was an old industrial dock with a couple laid up French tugboats awaiting delivery to New Caledonia, and a well-worn old 100′ wooden scow schooner, dating from 1902 we are told – a big rebuild to come and nothing 5 to 10 million dollars could not fix. A very historic New Zealand built ship, we hope she can be saved and sailed again. Auckland has a couple scows that have been restored. There was some sort of Portuguese research vessel tied up when we arrived, ARTICO, painted all red and buff. Looked like a big long-liner but no sign of fishing gear. The crew wearing hard-hats and reflective vests convinced us this was some sort of government vessel.

Flatter landscape up here and lower land, it seems a bit more desolate than down by Waipu. A long walk to town through light industry and warehouses along a broad lonely boulevard. Here we held open ship days over the weekend for the sons and daughters of Nova Scotia to come see a ship from the ‘old country’ much like what brought their forebears to these shores. We had a warm turn out. The Picton Castle here in this part of New Zealand caused a lot of interest and excitement.

Then we had a big all day sailmaking instruction workshop with all hands and laid out two storm sailsof #4 cotton duck on the dock, an upper topsail and a foretopmast staysail, just now getting them seamed up with the machine on the hatch. I hope to do a second layout using the marks we had made in chalk on the dock (much, much easier this way). All hands pretty into this sailmaking teaching.

We are also rebuilding our 1975 6-cylinder port LISTER generator. This we do every ten years or so and is an interesting job for the right gang, and of course, a good training exercise. Alex the Engineer is doing a great job on this and Pania is Alex’s assistant in this. Some tarring and deck oiling as well. All focsle steel got chipped and prepped, as it has been a wet year, this has been a while coming but good now. We met a guy here who used to have a Lunenburg built schooner at one point. Quite a long way from home, as are we.

After a bit longer than we would have liked alongside (but we had to shop, get gas bottles inspected and refilled and get our LISTER bits and such) we steamed down river and anchored off Parua Bay, near the mouth of this river on the northern side. Here we plan to spend maybe two or three days in this very pretty spot. It looked lovely and peaceful as we passed it on the way up. A great spot to sail the longboat. Get some more sailmaking done and maybe go fishing a little.

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