I think when I signed up as “Director of Racing for the VM2 Sailing Team”, I had visions of me hanging out in yacht clubs dotted around New Zealand, surrounded by gorgeous salty sailors, flirting, drinking wine, sharing tall tales of adventures on the high seas, directing my shore crew team to run various errands… All glamorous-like you know?
Well funnily enough it hasn’t quite worked out like that – so far anyway.
It all started in Auckland, where the heavens had opened for the first time in months and it was pouring with torrential rain. I squelched my way down the marina finger to cast off the lines of High Voltage and wave farewell to my dear friends Victoria & Emily who were about to embark on an epic adventure.
Naomi, Craig, Camilla and I had flown north for the weekend to support our friends who were sailing Vic’s yacht High Voltage in the Short Handed Sailing Association NZ, Round North Island Yacht Race.
We waved them off at Bayswater marina, and headed for North Head – a fabulous spot for viewing both the start line and the first few tacks of leg 1 – from Auckland north to Mangonui. Well it would have been a fantastic spot had it not been hosing down with rain. We scrambled in to one of the historic military tunnels to shelter from the rain while we waited for the race to start. I got my first bump in the dark when Camilla jumped out from one of the side tunnels in the pitch black and shouted “BOO!!” I fair screamed the place down and jumped about a metre in the air!
My screams must have helped clear the clouds away and thankfully the skies cleared and we had a fabulous view out over the harbour watching the #RNI2020 race start.
Little did I know that it wouldn’t be the first bump in the dark to play havoc with my nerves that weekend…
As the girls sailed north, the shore crew drove up in the rental car. We arrived about 7pm in Mangonui, just in time for fish & chips, and a few drinks with our friends from one of the other race yachts Blink while watching the sun go down.
I checked the tracker a couple of times in the night to see how the girls were going, all seemed well until my phone beeped right in my ear at 5am. “Steering gone, get help!”
Something had clearly gone bump in the night on High Voltage. Comms were sparse with short texts from the sat phone, but we managed to gather that they’d hit something, had no steering, the boat was ok, they were ok, didn’t have VHF coverage, but something was wrong and they needed help.
The shore crew sprang in to action. After a quick discussion, I got on the phone to the amazing team at the RCCNZ and had a chat about our options. They contacted the Bay of Islands Coastguard and police who took over dealing with our issue.
I sent an email out to the family members to keep them in the loop with what was going on, and posted an update on Facebook with what info we’d had. I figured that as everyone was waking up and checking the tracker they’d freak out when they saw the boat stopped and heading the wrong way!
One of the other yachts in the race – Duty Free, very kindly stood by while the girls rigged up a system to control the steering (They get a time adjustment on their results so as not to penalise them from suspending racing during the leg).
With Coastguard from the Bay Of Islands on the way to assist, we packed up our motel and started driving towards Opua, just as some of the race leaders were starting to cross the finish line just outside our motel window. (Great views of the finish line by the way at the Mangonui Motel!)
Meanwhile one of the shore crew – Camilla had come down with a bad case of ‘Camillavirus’ and had lost her voice completely. The shore crew had an hour or so drive South to the Bay of Islands. You really could not pick a better spot to have an issue. At 8am I was on the phone to Bay Of Islands Marina in Opua, they’d organised an emergency haulout for 11am (on a Sunday no less). We’d spoken to some other friends who’d recommended boat builders in the area to come and help. Messages of support and advice were coming in thick and fast on social media. We had some accommodation nearby pencilled in, the code for the marina showers, and we even had time to sit on a waterfront cafe in Paihia for a much needed coffee and muffin before the girls arrived.
Coastguard did an amazing job of delivering High Voltage on to the work pontoon at the marina – despite the swiftly flowing tide. We got the girls off the boat and manoeuvred her on to the slings for the haulout.
Thank goodness the rudder was still in tact when she came out of the water, but the marks on the keel and rudder from a collision with something were concerning. The boat builder and engineer came down. They took the rudder out, inspected everything and put it all back together again, declaring High Voltage safe and up to the required Cat 2 safety standard.
Vic spoke to SSANZ RNI2020 race control and they go the go ahead to withdraw from leg 1, but they could re-join leg 2 so long as they had the required rest period. They had to stay on shore, but High Voltage needed to get to Mangonui – about 50 miles away.
The shore crew jumped back in to action, Craig & I jumped on board and headed north. Naomi and Camilla taking care of the girls driving them north to do the socialising at the yacht club, making sure they were all fed, showered and off to bed early. It all worked out perfectly! I got some fabulous champagne sailing on High Voltage, got to eat some of Naomi’s fantastic toasted sandwiches and the girls got some rest and socialising at the club with the other sailors.
Everything was going along really nicely until the sun went down. It is really quite difficult getting in to unfamiliar harbours in the dark, especially when you think you are about to get abducted by aliens along the way!
The star-link satellites flew overhead just as we were trying to navigate around various reefs in Doubtless Bay. I had absolutely no idea what they were, and was quite sure we were about to be beamed up to some space ship or something. I got yet another fright for the weekend!
We made it safely in to Mangonui Harbour about 10.30pm, and tried to pick a nice spot to anchor amongst the 37 other racing yachts, and not in the middle of the narrow channel, and also trying to think about the possible wind and tide changes overnight.
We’d done a reasonable job of that until about 4.30am, when we got another bump in the night as High Voltage gently nudged in to a neighbouring boat swinging in the tide. We flew out of our bunks pulled up the anchor and re-set a bit further away.
As the sun came up, we refuelled the boat, washed the decks, tidied everything up, got the girls back on board, lifted the anchor, helped rig the boat, and then jumped off again, leaving Vic & Emily to do their final preparation for the race.
The shore crew then scrambled to the top of the hill to watch the start of leg 2.
Team shore crew headed back to Auckland and flew home to Christchurch for a rest back at work, while the girls sail all the way around the top of the North Island and then south down the West Coast to Wellington. ETA Friday afternoon – when we fly back to Wellington to do it all over again!
Thanks heaps to my amazing team Naomi, Camilla & Craig who all played a huge part in supporting the sailors this weekend. To the Mangonui Motel who took extra special care of us, even doing our washing, to the Bay Adventurer Backpackers who put up with all our chopping and changing, to the Mangonui Cruising Club for their great hospitality, Coastguard Bay of Islands the amazing after hours service at Bay Of Islands Marina – Opua, to the team at SSANZ for all their amazing help, advice and support, to everyone who posted lots of kind words of support on our Facebook page, and to the people I was sitting next to on the plane putting up with my snoring on the flight home.
Despite the drama we all had a blast. In fact we’ve decided Team Shore Crew are available for hire for any future yachting events.
I’ll let you know how it all goes this weekend!