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A Wander to Wanaka    


from a V.P.’s prospective

Since it was decided at the 2008 Nationals a group of islanders from the north had been looking forward to and planning all year their invasion of the southern lake on the mainland.  At last it was happening…

We left Auckland on the 10th of January enroute to Napier to spend a few days with my parents before teaming up with the Napier chapter.  I loaded The Rigging Shop on top of Adrenalin Express and borrowed Dad’s Holden Olympic to tow them with John Marshall as co-pilot.  Tom Cat and Chaos got lashed up and Dr Don and John Lindsay with Jane joined the beginning of our small convoy with Maureen’s Holden Ute.  We left Napier soon after 6am on Tuesday 13th January and arrived in Wellington and parked next to Signs at Work and Wet Nuts an hour before our 1pm sailing.  The Bluebridge Ferry crossing was uneventful but somehow the breeze from the port quarter was not enough to make up the 5minute late departure, infact somehow it contributed to us arriving nearly an hour late and it was after     5pm><”:     before we disembarked.

Don had an acquaintance, Ray Phillips, he wished us to stop in, meet and have a beer with at the Pub at Springcreek.  Ray was busy in the kitchen so we downed a handle of brown nectar brewed by those gorgeous girls in Mangatainoka……… and carried on south.  By now we were running a bit behind schedule for our 9pm BBQ and bed stop at Rob and Mandy Carpenter’s North Loburn deer farm north west of Christchurch.  We’d fuelled up on the way to Wellington so drove through Blenheim  intending to fill up further south but weren’t too concerned as we probably had just about enough to get there.

There’s not a great many major towns south of Blenheim and of those that did have gas stations none where open that evening.  We carried on ever hopeful but getting more and more concerned but our fuel computer was telling us we should just make it to Rob’s place and after that we didn’t care as by now we had a major thirst on for a rum and that was all that mattered.  About 50km north of Amberley we got a call from Don and John requesting that they lead the fleet as their fuel gauge was sitting hard on empty.  We pulled over and waited for them to roar past then followed and found them 2 kms up the road.  Bugger! That rum had only been half an hour away.

It was about 9.30 and getting dark and we were in the middle of no where with no cell phone coverage.

Don decided our best bet was to siphon Graham’s fuel tank as he had filled up further south than us so figured he had the most fuel.  So all we needed was a length of hose.  Ofcourse none of us had any so Don started dismantling John’s Ute and ended up with the radiator overflow hose down Graham’s tank but unfortunately no amount of sucking produced any petrol.  We deducted that modern cars must have anti siphon baffles in their tanks these days….double bugger!!  A bit of head scratching and non conducive ideas and it was finally decided that Graham would go in search of petrol but was instructed to first unhitch his trailer.  This was to ensure that he came back again!  Don suggested that John and I continue on and get the party started at Rob’s as there was nothing much else we could do.  Suited us so off we went.

About 5kms up the road there was a wee café tucked up off the main road and we found that Graham had obtained 10 lts from the proprietor there.  Excellent news!

We made it to Amberley about 20mins later and managed to fill up just as the gas station was closing for the night.  Fortunately the young lady told us of another 24 hour one further down the road so we phoned up the afterguard and told them. 

We got to Rob’s at 10.30 and managed to get a head start on the Rum before the others rolled up about 20 mins later.  It was a bit late for a Barbie so Rob fried up some steaks on the stove and we had a great salad and spuds lots more rum and some Sicilian red wine that Don had found in his trailer box.  I’m not sure that the latter was the best thing for the author as the next morning one was feeling decidedly seedy with a blinding headache (which wasn’t helped by the Maximus’ car alarm going off at 5am outside our bedroom window) and had to have a wee spit…first time in years and a little embarrassing!

We had our toast and tea, some of us more slowly than the others…,and thanked Rob very, very much for putting us all up and looking after us.  He’d actually been in the middle of his holidays at Akaroa with his family and had driven all the way home just to host us for the night so we felt a bit bad that we’d only been able to get on the piss with him for a couple of hours before we all crashed.  Anyway we all blamed Johnny Lindsay as it was all his fault for running out of gas and that made us feel a bit better.

We left Nth Loburn at about 0830 and started our 6 hour trek south stopping to take photos of the Rakaia river and Fairlie for fuel and lunch at a place that we won’t ever again.  I kept Ken up to date with our progress and he’d txt us to say that Fairlie had “the best” coffee but he neglected to say in which establishment, so ofcourse we chose the wrong one.

Graham was always tending to lag behind a bit, unless Tom was driving, and we tried various ways to remedy this as  John and Don were hell bent on impressing Jane with their progress we often lost sight of the “look after each other” in the convoy theme.  We tried following close to Jane which seemed the natural thing to do as she was the closest thing female in the convey (she sounded nice so we visualised her being so too) and at times got so far ahead of Graham we had to stop and wait for him to catch up.  This didn’t make him drive any faster.  We tried tailgating him so he could get a sniff of Jane and keep up.  This didn’t make him drive any faster either.  So in the end we often found ourselves splitting the difference and losing sight of Jane ahead and Graham behind.

We all safely arrived in Wanaka at about 4.30 and were met by Ken with a very welcome round of cold brewski’s at the club.  The sun was shining and it was great to be there!  We unhitched our trailers, offloaded the cats and after Dave, Pat, Brian and Trevor turned up we headed up the road to the house Ken had organised for us.  The original house organised had fallen through and at short notice the owners of this particular holiday home had been approached and assured that there would be 4 very responsible people staying there and they’d have no worries and find the place tidier than they’d last left it.

We arrived a couple of minutes after John and Don to find a dead Thrush covered in shards of glass below a broken bedroom window.  Don gleefully advised us that Johnny Lindsay had vandalised the place within seconds of arriving before he’d even been inside!  John tried to have us believe that the Thrush had just done it but the Thrush was found to be just a tad too stiff to have been able to have been the culprit….”well then, it must have hit it and weakened the glass earlier”….possibly..?…

We spent the next 15 minutes picking up trillions of bits of glass amongst the driveway gravel and learnt that what had really happened was John had got out of the car and thought blimey it’s hot, the window’s are barely open, must be like a furnace inside (or thoughts to that effect) and yanked open the window.  Unfortunately he chose the corner that did not have the security stay on it..!!..   Fortunately Chris the Neighbour had been a jolly good bastard and stocked the fridge with beer so we all collapsed in the lounge and toasted the bloody useless bastard!!

It was decided that as we were all too buggered to go shopping and cook tea we were to meet Trev and Brian and their betrothed at a bar in town. Tom and Graham were also there.  It was a busy upmarkety sort of place but we grabbed the last big table sat down and waited, it was about 7.30 by then and we waited a bit longer, then a bit longer for some service.  John M got up and asked the waiter how long did we need to wait and was told the kitchen was overloaded and no orders would be taken for at least 20 mins. 

Too much for 4 hungry knackered buggers like us so we left the others to peruse the overly expensive menu and went in search for food elsewhere.  Actually Don had headed off to the supermarket to buy breakfast a few minutes earlier so we thought we’d catch him up and get some cold meats and salad and go home to eat.  However upon nearing the supermarket we came across Don retreating empty handed as apparently as he tried to go through the doors some lunatic started doing an impersonation of cutting his throat then waving his arms around like a windmill in a force 9 gale muttering something about closing.  Don tried to point out that there were still truck loads of people inside and that he only wanted a packet of cornflakes and would be out of there again before most of the others but to no avail.

We’d met our first Wanaka wanka.  In fairness to Wanaka though he was also the last and everyone else we meet were very friendly and hospitable and we had a fantastic time there.  Wanaka’s a fantastic town and it was great to be there again but at a time when there was less snow than there was then on the hills.  The weather was mostly kind to us apart from the next couple of days when it cooled down a bit and we had a shower or two, there was even a dusting of fresh snow on the hills overnight.

The next day was Thursday.  John Lindsay found the local glazier and brought the new window home but whist screwing the security stay back onto the frame with a screw that was a knats cock too long…!#@%!!  The next day he got another pane, fitted it, closed the window and vowed never to open another one again, ever

Thursday was also the Club’s first of the two twilight series races, Friday being the second.  Two races each evening starting at 6pm.  Wet Nuts was first followed by The Rigging Shop and in the second race The Rigging Shop was first. 

On Friday there was a bit more breeze and The Rigging Shop was leading approaching the top mark for the first time of 3 laps, then BaNg, SpLaSh, bugger my trapeze harness hook sheared off, so off back to the club to find a spare and be ready for the next and last race.

Whilst hanging around waiting for the first race to finish (there were lots of other local boats slower than the A’s) a nasty looking black cloud started moving off the hills and down the lake towards us with rain and a possibly lots more wind.  It looked a bit ominous and a few others decided to sit out the last race as they didn’t want to trash their boat before the nationals started.  I was umming and arring and with a DNF in a 4 race series there was no way I could come anywhere so there didn’t seem a lot of point risking damage and going out.  Then Ken came ashore too so I thought right that’s it and pulled my sail down and packed up.  When I next looked round Ken had relaunched.  Apparently it had been pointed out to him that it was not a good look having the coach of the opti fleet cowering ashore whilst his fledglings were still out on the water.

The final race got underway but instead of there being too much wind there was barely enough!  The results were later posted and the race committee had decided to allow a drop, so only 3 had to count!  This was a surprise to everyone.  It also meant that had The Rigging Shop done even ordinary in the final race we would have won and as it turned out even with only finishing 2 races we still came 3rd!  Never mind we were down there to have fun rather than race seriously (yeah right!).

The next day, Saturday was the “Round the Island Race”.  The island being a smallish and skinny sort of shape which was more or less directly to windward, didn’t cause much of a wind shadow and made, actually, a very good top mark.  It was a 3 lap course in about up to 10 knots of wind which took 2 hours and made for some very close racing with positions regularly changing.  It was in fact far better than we had envisaged it to be and those that didn’t bother to do it missed out on some excellent pre Nationals practise.

After the race the Napier contingent and I headed out to Hawea with the two kite buggies as Ken had said there was a good stretch of road that might suit our purpose.  Up to now we’d been using them on a field up the road a bit but the wind there wasn’t very clean both wind wise and as I found out soil wise also.  Before my turn on the 3 wheeled buggy I thought I’d have a go at flying the kite to get used to it.  The 5 metre kite can sure turn on a bit of power in the puffs and I was soon getting dragged across the grass trying to tame it.  When I finally came to a stop I was heard uttering the words “oh shit !!” as I was literally covered in doggy poo.  We figured a pack of Great Danes had all crapped in the same spot and run off just before we’d arrived as it was very fresh and lots of it.  Don remarked that he’d noticed a distinct acceleration as I slid though it !!

None of the roads appeared ideal as we drove towards a very white capped lake Hawea, mainly because they were full of cyclists competing in the Wanaka Triathlon. During this drive I received a phone call from the club to inform me that my boat had been attacked by a Tornado mast that was lost control of as it was being lowered.

We gave Ken a call to see if he was still at the club  and could report on the extent of damage but he was at home and instead invited us around to his place for a wine, impossible to decline such an invite as his Tit Hill Pinot is legendary.  Besides we were all eager to see his estate and Shirl whom we’d not seen since the Nats in Napier 2 years prior.  Ken’s house is steeped in history having been built by his great great grandfather in the 18th century and not been occupied since his uncle vacated it in the late 50’s.  It was pretty run down when Ken started rebuilding it in the 90’s. The roof had caved in due to the destruction of a wall caused apparently by sheep eating it !  It seems as though there was something in the clay that the bricks were made of that the sheep found appetising enough to eat the wall away !!

After a wee wine and a natter we headed back to the club for the Twilight and Round Island prize giving.  The club did a great job and there were prizes for virtually everyone.

Sunday was a day off so some of us went to Queenstown.  Don, John and Jane piled into our car and we set off.  Jane got into a bit of a tizz after John Marshall tried mounting her on the dash board.  She was a bit of a rebel girl and made it known that she preferred Ute’s to Wagons.  Holding her out the window whilst we careered along towards Cardrona at speed did little to help and it wasn’t until Don spent a bit of time in the backseat fiddling with her that she regained her friendly spirit and started talking to us again.  We arrived at Queenstown all happy and went up the Gondola, had lunch and Luge races, the weather was perfect and we had a great view of the lake from up there.

On the way back to Wanaka our fuel computer said we only just had enough to make it so we thought we’d fill up along the way, perhaps at Arrowtown but we didn’t seem to come across any gas stations so we crossed our fingers and kept going driving as conservatively as possible.  As we climbed the crown range though the computer showed us guzzling gas so fast that we actually had none left before we even got to the top.  Hmmmm….I started having visions of the 4 of us pushing a heavy car up a very steep windy road and doubted whether there was a hope in hell of it being possible.  Jane was no use to us, infact she felt our best option was to commit suicide and constantly kept telling us to turn right now!! When ever there was a steep cliff to our right.  I think she was still a bit rattled from her experiences earlier in the day.

Fortunately we managed to get over the hill with the engine still purring and coasted most of the way back to Wanaka somehow making fuel all the way.  We’d left Queenstown with 90 kms of fuel and by the time we got back to Wanaka we had 65 kms left???  The trip’s about 80k’s.  Maybe Jane was interfacing with the car’s computer and screwing with us.

Monday was our weigh in and registration day.  A set of cattle scales had been rustled up from somewhere and we commenced weighing boats.  It soon became evident that things weren’t quite right, possibly due to the higher altitude or low barometric pressure I couldn’t say but I for one certainly had no complaints as for the first time in its life The Rigging Shop was down to weight, for a couple of seconds anyway then the scales decided on 75.5kg.  Others were not so fortunate and found their boats well under weight and Murray ordered them off to the local sports shop to buy more lead.  After all the boats were weighed it was agreed that the scales must be under reading by about 2 – 2 1/2 kgs and they needed to be calibrated, so a big bucket was found into which was poured 75 litres of water with a measuring jug.  It was then decided that everybody’s weights would be increased by 2 kgs.  Some people still had to add weight but not so much.  There were about 4 new sails being used in the regatta but we secretly decided amongst ourselves that we’d let Murray win the series thus sparing him the responsibility of measuring them.

Monday was also our practise day and I seem to remember we all had a pretty good sail in up to 15 kts of breeze except for Pat.  Pat had dropped Impacts mast earlier in the day to check it and found it’s hook was tearing its way southward so whilst Pat headed off to get a flat welded to the top of the hook, like all the newer ones have, Tom brought his boat building skills to the for and reinforced the top of the mast.

Tuesday I think we got 3 races away in breeze from 2 – 15 kts.  By now we were realising that the lake was largely unsussable, Ken had been giving us a few tips and some of us even followed him around the course in the misguided belief that he knew what he was doing.  Sometimes it paid off but generally it didn’t and we soon learnt that no matter which way you went up the course you had about a 50% chance of getting it right.  Ken admitted later that in the 25 years he’d been sailing there he still found it frustratingly unpredictable.  I think that during the regatta there were as many tip outs to windward than to leeward due to unexpected 90 degree wind shifts or sudden wind switch offs.  John Marshal had a bad start to the regatta after getting becalmed at the bottom mark and at one point coming last then finishing 12th and in the 2nd race his Magic Marine harness ejected its hook into the lake whilst he was wiring causing a swim and a subsequent 7th.  Bruce Jolly, sailing “Bucket’s” boat Assassin broke his mast in the first race during a tip out, fortunately one of us had taken a spare so we rigged him up and got him back out the next day.

Wednesday was a windy one and I think we managed to get one race away at 1100 before it got too much.  Murray, Ken and I had a good tussle right up to the final approach.  I gybed away from the left side into more wind and left the opposition in my wake I then made a fatal mistake by being in front with no one to follow and had this mindset that we were finishing at the bottom of the course between the gates.  We’d finished here in the last race yesterday when they shortened the course in a dying breeze.  When I next looked back I saw the fleet converging on the real start And finish line.  Ken and Murray were still struggling with next to no wind whilst most of the rest of the fleet came in from the middle of the lake and pipped them at the line!  I turned around and tacked back to finish 9th feeling rather sick. I felt even sicker when the finishing committee said if I’d gybed back earlier I’d have won easily.  Still, I’d come down to Wanaka for a fun time, hadn’t I ?  It was also nice to share the first places around a bit too, 6 different people got a first out of the 8 races.

It was decided to start the race on Thursday an hour earlier to try to get some sailing in before it got too windy.  The first race was pretty full on especially up around the top mark where it was gusting well into the 20’s as the wind whistled around the point.  More than one boat flipped attempting a gybe.  John Marshal and Dave Aarons did very well in this race but poor Graham struggled and pulled out for a rest.  The second race was slightly less challenging but still very gusty and The Rigging Shop finally prevailed and had it’s moment of glory on the finish line !

Friday we were scheduled to have another early start but she was honking out there and the patrol boat had big problems laying the top marks in 100m of water and have them stay put in that breeze.  In the end it was agreed to just have the one top mark that seemed to be holding and off we went.  Very squally and shifty and gusting 25 + at the top mark at times.  It was quite choppy too and difficult to stay in touch with the side of the boat.  I ended up wiring quite high not only to stop from being swept off the hull but also to create a bit of weight on my feet for traction.  Bearing away at the top mark was exhilarating to say the least and finding a lull to gybe in was next to impossible but somehow some of us managed with out swimming.  Trevor was getting quite proficient at pitch poling, having lost his $1,200 glasses yesterday he had a go at breaking his rudderstock in the first race today. 

The second race was pretty much the same as the first in that we were glad when it was over!  We certainly had some exhilarating rides off the wind!  I was quite pleased just to have survived !  I got a 3rd behind John Marshall and Murray in the 1st and despite getting ahead of Murray a couple of times in the second race I wasn’t prepared to push to the limit and risk an already risky chance of tipping over, so was quite content with a 2nd.

Graham pulled out at the beginning of the first race and sat out the second as it was all just a bit much for him (I think secretly we were all a bit envious and felt like doing the same).  But full credit to him as although the results don’t show it he was still up the front a lot in the races, even some of the windy ones before he pulled out he’d be right up there.  I’ve often sat behind him on the wind in past windy races shaking my head in disbelief wondering how someone over 10 kg lighter and only ½ my height can hold their boat down and go so fast !  John Lindsay sat out the last race too, something to do with his age and buggered body I think he said.  Pat and some of the local boys pulled the plug too.  There had been rather a lot of swimming going on amongst the rest of the fleet and some people were understandable all puckered out !

Finally time to pack up and get changed for the sit down dinner and prize giving.  The clubs’ commodore Chris Conroy, his committee and Ken had done a top-notch job of running the regatta and we all appreciated the huge amount of work that went into keeping us organised and entertained.  The dinner, catered for by The Albert Town Tavern, was delicious and the prize giving was fantastic.  A lot of thought had gone into it and I was pleasantly surprised to have received a trophy as I’d only managed 4th, however this wasn’t a “place” trophy it was “The Black Cat” trophy for the person who had the worst luck and it must have been a hard decision as there were a few of us, for instance - John Lindsay: running out of gas, breaking two windows (and a wine glass at the end of the evening !); Trevor losing his Glasses and breaking his rudderstock;  Bruce: Breaking “bucket’s” mast.

Anyway, I was very honoured to receive The Black Cat Trophy as compensation for my doggy poo incident, Harness hook breaking and Tornado mast shattering my starbord hull (not too much damage, fortunately Fossils are Tuff). 

I was also pleased for Tom to have come second.  He almost didn’t come at all but Graham got him at a moment of weakness and he changed his mind but I got the impression that he felt he’d made a mistake as once on the trip down he started to realise how much time and money it was all going to be costing and he’d left behind his daughter to turn one without him.  When we stopped off at Lake Pukaki he asked if it was anything like Lake Wanaka and he wasn’t very impressed when we explained how big the race area was to be, surrounded by high hills etc.  “I’ve come all this way for that !” he remarked.  However, I think by the end of the regatta he was pleased he had come, as were we all.

Wanaka Yacht club, as a regatta venue is hard to beat.  The wind may not be as clean as we’re used to and luck rather than skill did prevail at times, however the club was very friendly, never ran out of Brewski beer (despite us drinking more in one week than they’d previously sold in 2 years, so we were told – thanks Ken for all those trips to the brewery before racing in the mornings) and it was just awesome having the start/finish area on “Expert Point” right outside the club, it made an awesome lookout for spectators who could follow the whole race from there with Brendan, the race officer and co. giving a blow by blow commentary.

It was also great to catch up with other members of the Mainland Chapter whom some of us hadn’t met before or seen since the worlds in ’04, namely Peter Kerr, Chris Riley, Greg Clark, Mark Davidson and Bruce Jolly

Saturday the 24th was heading home day and we headed off at about 8am.  John’s wife Karen had joined us for the last few days as John’s brother was having his 50th in Wanaka and had taken it upon herself to clean the whole house the day before which saved us all a heap of time and stress.  We took a different route north to Christchurch, where we were to spend the night at Murray and Christine’s’ house, via the Benmore and Waitaki power stations then up SH 1 through Timaru. 

This trip wasn’t without its incidents.  Early on in the piece we missed a turn off and Jane started to get a bit uppity about it and demanded we turn around.  We all pulled over and consulted the maps and felt that we were on the right road and as Jane hadn’t made it clear that we were supposed to have turned off somewhere earlier we decided to carry on.  A couple more miles up the road and Don phoned us to say that Jane was getting hysterical and things were getting a bit tense in their car.  We stopped and checked maps again and decided she could be right so then had to turn around on rather a narrow road.  This little escapade didn’t help our fuel reserves.  On the bases of Don’s memory there was supposed to have been a gas station 113 kms out of Wanaka where we would all fill up.  We never found it and were down to our last 14 kms worth when we made it to Omarama.

The Benmore dam was quite spectacular.  It’s the southern most power station that can supply the North Is.  The weather was awesome and allowed some spectacular photos to be taken but thank goodness for air con as it was a hot one.

We made a brief stop in Ashburton to visit one of Don’s old flatmates from Uni days, also a Dr. but he was out at a wedding so we fished out some cold Tuis and sat in his driveway and got some training in for the night ahead at Murray’s.  All the empties were then lined up outside the front door, as Don said his mate would appreciate that !

We arrived at Murray’s around 4, sunk a couple more cold ones then headed off to his factory for a tour.  Very impressive and we learnt that he actually made a bit more than just the electric blankets that John Lindsay thought he did.  We also found “The Chocolate” hidden away behind some racks.  Tom spent most of the couple of hours we were there chipping away at it with hammer and chisel.  Back to a BBQ then a demo of the new home theatre.  Boy! I didn’t think they made screens that big and if the house hadn’t have been built so long ago with heart timber it would have shaken itself to bits!!

Off again at about 8.30 to catch the 1430 ferry.  We stopped in Spring Creek again and this time met Ray Phillips who did turn out to be the person I thought sounded familiar who used to own a Lidgard 35 call White Pointer in Auckland back in the 90’s..  Had lunch and a beer then off to the ferry.  The crossing was a bit breezier than the last and we spent a wee bit of time on the foredeck as we approached Wellington standing at 45 degrees and watching an 11 yr old boy repeatedly running and trying to hurl himself over the windward railing only to be blown back across the deck.  When he got tired of that he’d sit down on the updraft coming up over the side of the deck.

We bid goodbye to Tom and Graham and headed up to Paraparaumu beach and had Kentucky chook for tea at Hamish’s place whilst he downloaded the photos out of Don’s camera.  We then followed the red Ute back to Napier arriving at about 2300, spent a couple of nights with my parents then back to Auckland – “no more normality back to reality” as the Eminem song goes.

If someone had asked me, before I went, if I’d likely go again I would have said no, this is a once in a lifetime trip.  Ask me now and I’ll not hesitate to say “Yes, when?!”

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