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Finally, let's go cruising

From 1 to 10 October 2021, Yachting New Zealand is joining Steering the Course: a worldwide festival to encourage women into sailing. Here's a story from my foray into boat ownership. I say: Go for it.

My so-called three-week haulout extended from early September until just before Christmas, but finally every job on Fistful of Dollars, my Raven 26, was ticked off the list.

There was one final drama when I changed the oil in the gearbox and wondered why it was milky like cocoa instead of black like espresso. The engineer knew why. “It’s got water in it,” he said. “Best thing is to throw the gearbox over the side and see if it floats.” Oh ha. Ha.

It didn’t float but he kindly replaced the gearbox after hours and showed me how to change its oil. Then, with three friends onboard, Fistful of Dollars was off on a 10-day cruise.

One of the best parts of owning a yacht is the mateship with other boats. We were a ragged flotilla of four: El Nido, Quandary, Windrush and Fistful of Dollars. We were all relative newcomers to boat ownership; all the boats were low budget and we all had our dramas, but between us we solved them. My boat was the biggest, a mighty ship at 26ft, and tended to be the mother ship, which meant it hosted most of the parties and got stuck with most of the rubbish.

My crew were relatively new to sailing but, more importantly, they were supportive and didn’t fault me if I got it wrong. We just muddled our way through together. After working on so many aspects of the boat, I knew it a lot better than I had four months before. As we sailed through Man O War Passage, I felt so proud that I had skippered my own yacht 60 miles from Auckland and navigated my way to Great Barrier Island with my trusty hand-bearing compass. Sorry, kids, but GPS wasn't even invented back then.

My pride disappeared when I opened the engine compartment to do my evening check and discovered oil. Everywhere.

I made a call on the VHF radio and heard of a guy that cruised around Great Barrier in a boat that included a workshop. He diagnosed the problem instantly. I’d replaced the oil filter on my engine, but it had been a tad deeper in height than the previous filter and, as the engine vibrated, the filter had knocked against part of the engine to incur a tiny split. He told me to order a replacement oil filter from Auckland.

Without an operating engine, we got lots of practice sailing on and off the anchor. We dropped the sail too soon, then we dropped it too late, then we nailed it every time.

From Port Fitzroy, we sailed to Whangaparapara, then over to Coromandel and the bottom end of Waiheke before heading back to the mooring at Okahu Bay. For the last leg, the weather was horrendous. As we passed Bean Rock, the Nowcast service broadcast: Av-er-age: three…five. Peak: four…niner.

I hated it, but apart from making lousy headway into the wind, Fistful of Dollars handled it just fine. Later, I discovered a blade sail which had been stowed in the forepeak the whole time. From then on, in stormy weather I put up that sail and it made my world right again.

We picked up the mooring at Okahu Bay but were wary of rowing ashore in the conditions, so we stayed on the boat for five hours and ate the rest of the food. We are still friends and we still talk about that cruise to Great Barrier Island.

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