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March 2011 – From New Zealand

Posted by on March 11, 2011

Dear Friends:
Tawera may be handsome, but she isn’t the prettiest boat in the New Zealand Classic Fleet. On the other hand, every time we raced Taleisin or Thelma(the 115 year old Bailey cutter Larry rescued from

a state of neglect) among these ageless beauties [See March 2006 and subsequent 2006 to 2010 January newsletters for more on lovely Thelma], though my eye would be drawn to the lovingly restored gaffers from the turn of the century, my ears would always be drawn to 50 foot long, Tawera. At anchor before the start, on the way to the start line, as racing commenced and especially when the fleet again lay at anchor and apré race events began, laughter seemed to ring constantly from this well maintained and aggressively sailed 70 year old sloop.

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The towns on New Zealand’s South Island are all relatively small. Nelson must be one of the more charming ones. This is Main Street at mid-day. (The effects of the Christchurch earthquake were not felt within 300 miles of Nelson.)

Last Easter, during the regatta at our home on Kawau Island, the frivolity of her eight-man crew was on high pitch. When the barbeque lit up on our back deck I teased Mike Mahoney, Tawera’s owner saying, “How do you get such a fun crew together?” His answer stuck in my mind and sprang out this summer when Larry and I made a firm commitment to see more of New Zealand. Mike said, “Come down to the Nelson Regatta in January and sail with me, you’ll get your answer. Great racing, beautiful spot and loads of fun. We Irish call it ‘good craic’.”

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Tawera has been racing since the day she was launched in 1939, that’s the same year as Larry was launched.

In late January, we got Taleisin absolutely ready for a summer cruise, minus the fresh food, then set off for a week of South Island delights to be ended with three days of racing on board Tawera. (We definitely wanted to be back for the Mahurangi Regatta which we intended to use as the kick off for Taleisin’s meanderings.)
The first thing I noticed as we headed toward Nelson was how simple and elegant flying can be without all the security hassles of international destinations. For internal flights here in New Zealand there are no inspections to pass, no scanners. It’s little different than boarding an intercity bus, arrive 30 minutes early – climb on board and go.

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Classic or not, the tactics Eric and Mike used on the start line were definitely aggressive. We were second over the line.

It was 21 years since we’d sailed Taleisin through the Marlborough Sounds at the north of New Zealand’s south island. The rugged, exceptionally steep mountains lining these glacier carved fiords create spectacular Foehn winds. Dry downward gusts of 60 even 85 knots threw spray hundreds of feet into the air in anchorages where we usually had to creep close to shore to find depths less than a hundred feet. We’d found the sailing challenging, the views often spectacular, the people particularly rugged and interesting. Now, driving a rented car along the twisty narrow roads to see the same spots from land, we realized how isolated these fiords truly are. But the welcome, from the friends we’d made back then was as warm as anyone could wish. As we headed back toward Nelson to become “crew” I was already thinking of reasons to come back and rejoin Olive Stewart for a more serious look around her favorite “top of the South Island” spots.

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I had the driest position on the rail, right aft where I could be ready to jump (climb) quickly.

I don’t think of myself as a competitive person, just one who likes sailing. Larry and I have rarely raced on other peoples boats as “just crew” sans the responsibilities of skipper and first mate. I expected to feel laid back and relaxed. But from the moment we joined Mike and the seven other men who’d taken time away to sail in the sun warmed waters of Golden Bay, every thought turned to getting the boat moving and keeping it moving. Mike’s older brother Eric is a well known Auckland yachting skipper. He has often helmed on Tawera. Like all older brothers, Eric definitely had control of the situation. Mike worked the foredeck and managed crew, assigning Larry to the cockpit to handle the running backstays, be a winch-tailer and grab the helm if necessary. Invited me to help in any way I could but mainly just be a rail hugger, camera snapper. But that lasted for five minutes. “Can someone monitor the radio?” That’s a job for me I realized, no one would miss my weight on the rail while I climbed below for a few minutes. Handheld VHF in pocket, back on the rail. “Anyone checked the starting sequence?” I jumped below and found the race instructions. Now I was really part of the action. Go-fer, back up to the mast halyard adjuster, food and water boy, I began to wonder if I had bit off more than I expected. Tawera, compared to Taleisin, is big. I often talked of climbing out of Taleisin’s companionway. Now I learned what climb really means as we bashed to windward in 30 knots, heeled over at 25 degrees. Adding to the challenge was Tawera’s complete lack of lifelines, cabin top handrails and all the additions that make “modern” boats far more cluttered, but definitely easier to get around on. But, as I gathered an impressive array of black and blue marks on hips, thighs and calves, I found the reason there is so much laughter from this ship. It’s owner, the crew he invites along, all love this boat and the privilege of being out on the water truly playing.

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Not a bad place to have lunch, comfortable seating with feet over the rail, backs against the cabinside. Wouldn’t have wanted to do it for more than a few hours at a time. Day racing can be fun!

The beautiful mountains surrounding Golden Bay, the camaraderie on board and among the highly varied fleet, the hard sailing which left us all wet and salty, sun burned and wind blown, what a contrast from cruising. Then there was amazing barbeque when the second days racing took us across to Torrent Bay to anchor for the night. Local fisherman had brought in enough fresh scallops to feed at least a dozen to every crew members from 40 odd boats, then there were fresh greenlip mussels, squid rings, a whole slowly roasted pig all done right on the sand in a well sheltered bay reachable only by boat.

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When the big nylon asymmetrical got torn, Larry and I set to work patching it. You can see the handsome woodwork inside Tawera.

Our race back to Nelson saw the wind just forward of the beam, slowly rising from 15 to 25 knots, Tawera often topping 10 knots with an asymmetrical kite and full mainsail, in-jokes uniting a crew that now seemed to work with quiet, comfortable precision. “That was perfect sailing,” Larry announced as we crossed the finish line, “Glad we flew down here.” That evening added the final touch that makes us sure we want to head back to Nelson again. Seventeen of us, the crew, some of their partners and friends, all came together at the local Boatshed Café after hearing the race results at the Nelson Sailing Club. The chef, not quite prepared for such a large late night group (we got there after 9 PM) suggested we forget the menu and have what ever he felt like cooking up (Chef’s choice.) Each course he presented seemed better, the local wines sparkled and in the pauses between, John Rawson – mainsheet trimmer supreme – pulled out one or the other of his harmonicas to play the blues. Now I know why the crew of Tawera always seems to have more fun…they work darned hard at it.

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And that’s Mike Mahoney, making sure the crew enjoys life on board Tawera.

Next newsletter I’ll tell about the three natural disasters that caused the first ever cancellation of the famous Mahurangi regatta and almost brought New Zealand to a standstill. But right now I have to wrap this up and pack because tomorrow we head for the USA to do seminars on the west coast and introduce my new book, Bull Canyon, a Boatbuilder, a Writer and other Wildlife. Boy am I excited!

Hope we meet up with some of you in the next weeks.

Lin and Larry

Lin’s New book, Bull Canyon will not be available in book stores until the end of April, but pre-release copies can be had through this website. See the Press Release for more information and to order online!
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Tawera, elegant and headed for the start line at last years Mahurangi Regatta.

9 Responses to March 2011 – From New Zealand

  1. Jim Plante

    As I sit here at my desk, waiting for spring to arrive in the American Midwest, I see above my desk a portrait of a famous J-Boat Velsheda taken in 1934 racing in Cowes. When I look at Tawera, the lines are so similar. What elegant an powerful boats they are!!! It’s great to know that both of these boats are still racing today. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  2. Jim Plante

    As I sit here at my desk, waiting for spring to arrive in the American Midwest, I see above my desk a portrait of a famous J-Boat Velsheda taken in 1934 racing in Cowes. When I look at Tawera, the lines are so similar. What elegant and powerful boats they are!!! It’s great to know that both of these boats are still racing today. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  3. dlancast

    Dear Lin and Larry,

    I have been following you dear folks since 1980 and had the pleasure of meeting you both at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Show several years ago. You continue to inspire me as we all age gracefully. Your zeal and positive attitude about life and its beauty just adds to who and what you both are to me. May God give you both many, many more wonderful years as you touch more lives.

    I never sailed over the horizon, but have built a Phil Bolger “Old Shoe” to sail on nearby lakes here in Bellingham, Washington. Its been a total joy now in my retirement.

    Fairwinds and Smooth Seas to you both.

    Best regards,

    Dennis Lancaster
    dllbjl@comcast.net

  4. Shane

    What a gorgeous ship! Amongst other things, thanks to you guy’s I am really starting to appreciate classic boats. Hopefully I might yet get to sail mine to NZ and see some of these lovely ships and the coastline firsthand.

    Thanks,

    Shane Ross
    Newcastle NSW Australia

  5. alex hercule

    What a great story!
    That weekend sounded like heaven.

    I am coming down to meet you in Sausalito next week. Im leaving from Montreal, Canada.

    Safe trip til then.

    Alex Hercule

  6. chsunspirit

    ch….sunspirit , here….Just finished Bull Canyon….and sent for a copy of Hull Construction…..am in the midst of a 38′ Block Island Boat project….Has Larry considered finishing his Boatbuilding Duology….with the finishing touches??? Has there been any efforts in that regard….or will we have to rely upon Bud McIntosh’s….Building a Wooden Boat…Certainly NOT a bad option….I have my third copy….because the Boatshop doesn’t All-ways keep out the weather!!!! ;-D from New England..Cape Cod…South Wellfleet…..Blackfish Creek…Paine Hollow….light!ly……ch and deb

  7. Bruce Raymond

    Aloha!

    I just joined your website. I live on Kauai and I love to sail. Two of my sons went down to NZ to surf and came back with wonderful stories of friendly people and great pictures. I have heard so much about the Bay of Islands and it is on my places to visit wish list.

    Aloha Nui Loa,
    Bruce Raymond

  8. Bruce Raymond

    I love to sail and I am a lifetime member of the Nawiliwili Yacht Club. It is a very small club but we have a great time playing in the warm Hawaiian waters.

    I just turned 64 and still dream of world cruising. I’ve been watching and reading your U-tube messages about storm tactics. I’ve heard so many stories of nightmares at sea. Your tactics have been reassuring.

    I’m interested in finding out more about living in NZ. I heard NZ is strict about Americans my age retiring or living in NZ. Can you shed some light on the subject?

    Bruce

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