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Old 09-01-2021, 13:57   #1
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Stuck in New Zealand due to Covid? Visit the Chatham Islands!

Chatham Islands are located about 350 nm east of Christchurch. Even though they are east of the International Dateline (44S 176W) they are on the same day as the rest of Nee Zealand, albeit 45 minutes ahead. This conceived our idea of celebrating the New Year in the first place on earth to see the new day!

From Auckland itís about 700 nm SE, with turning marks around the Coromandel Peninsula and East Cape. Consider it an offshore passage and have HF or satellite comms as the weather once you round East Cape comes from the Southern Ocean and you are essentially in open ocean.

Chatham Island is an incredible place - part of New Zealand but absolutely distinct (not unlike Newfoundland vis a vis the rest of Canada). They refer to the mainland as New Zealand and refer to themselves as Wekas, not Kiwis (same sort of bird though). Waitangi is the main town on Chatham Island and the anchorage is well protected from W, S, and E winds. Most of the islandís charter fishing and commercial crayfish fishing boats are moored there, protected by a large wharf for the infrequent supply ships. In a strong N or NW blow you can move to several protected bays on the north side of the main bay. The main anchorage beside the mooring field is in 3-5m of water in goopy sand/mud.

We stayed only 4 days at Chatham Island, but because of the wind situation left on the evening of New Years Eve - so missed the big New Yearís party and band at The Den, Waitangiís only stand-alone part-time bar. We did our first watch change over an hour and 45 minutes early and had our own New Years celebration and bubbles.

2-3 weeks would be a reasonable amount of time to explore the main island and take the opportunity of changing weather to visit Pitt Island and other anchorages. Swimming, if youíre not deterred by the 13 degree water, is not safe due to sharks. There is a commercial diving operation and they carry rifles and underwater flares.

Waitangi has all the usual services and shops, but due to the remoteness and small population (about 600 people total live in the Chathams) supplies are short. There is no cell service, but you can buy wifi access from the Hotel Chatham. I donít know whether water is available at the big wharf.

The Hotel Chatham is on the waterfront at Waitangi and really nice and very friendly - we were able to join an existing tour group for one day of guided touring and rented one of their 4WDs for another day. The island has a fascinating history and is completely different from anywhere else in New Zealand. The Moriori history is very interesting and a dramatic contrast to the culture of the Maori, despite both peopleís having originally arrived from Raiatea.

There are several more exposed anchorages along the north and south coasts, but depend on settled weather. Most of the land is privately owned and there isnít much traffic on the roads. People are very friendly and donít see many yachts.

Pitt Island is the other island with permanent population (only 20 or so people). Due to the rough weather we didnít get an opportunity to get down there.

Definitely worth a visit if youíre in New Zealand.
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Old 09-01-2021, 16:56   #2
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Re: Stuck in New Zealand due to Covid? Visit the Chatham Islands!

I was unsure what to think after reading this. Somehow FxyKty has been able to make sailing to the Chathams look like a good idea.

I would offer a word of caution and ask people to re-read all the weather related comments before rushing to this unique experience. I agree the Chathams is an experience you will remember for a long time. The Croon family who seem to own most of Waitangi provide well for visitors. But if you are stuck in NZ and want to brave the roaring forties then I would say try the Marlborough Sounds first. Getting blown out of anchorages there is good practice for the Chathams.
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Old 11-01-2021, 20:52   #3
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Re: Stuck in New Zealand due to Covid? Visit the Chatham Islands!

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Originally Posted by john manning View Post
I was unsure what to think after reading this. Somehow FxyKty has been able to make sailing to the Chathams look like a good idea.



I would offer a word of caution and ask people to re-read all the weather related comments before rushing to this unique experience. I agree the Chathams is an experience you will remember for a long time. The Croon family who seem to own most of Waitangi provide well for visitors. But if you are stuck in NZ and want to brave the roaring forties then I would say try the Marlborough Sounds first. Getting blown out of anchorages there is good practice for the Chathams.

We sailed direct from Auckland to Chatham Island, which was a passage in three parts. 4 days (3d 22h to be exact berth to anchorage) and 717nm sailed distance overall.

First, transiting the Hauraki Gulf and out via the Colville Channel. Local backyard and either NE (on the nose) or SW generally. We timed it for a sustained NE and had almost N of 20 knots, so it was a fast close reach.

Second, the quasi coastal/offshore from Colville Channel to East Cape. Almost 200nm, ending up near 25nm offshore to be well outside of Ranfurly Bank (notorious shallow spot and horrendous mixed seas). Breeze went NE to 25 knots and we had fast close rhumb line reaching with moderate SE swell (in the nose) and quite high wind waves, so a bit bumpy. Reefed down to keep maximum speed down to avoid big leaps off the tops. Maximum distance 50nm from shore, so not really full off shore despite only able to use satellite comms to get the weather. Two full days to get to this point, well within the original forecast and routing.

Third part is the remaining 320nm (rhumb line) SSE leg and is truly offshore as by the time youíre at Chatham Island youíre over 400nm from the South Island coast. By now the origin forecast is getting long in the tooth, and the primary weather starts coming from the S and SW, rather the W further north. The next twelve hours, as the wind clocked to the SSW, was the most uncomfortable that weíve experienced on our boat so far. Not big seas, but swells and waves coming from NE, SE, S and SW. My wife had some schadenfreude as I vomited for the first and second times ever on our boat (she unfortunately does suffer with sea sickness).

New forecasts now showed the new SSW wind is here to stay and to build, or drop out completely. We used PredictWind and the 6 routing models all showed quite different routes. In the end we stayed hard on the wind for the rest of the passage, bouncing between first and second reef and jib and staysail as the breeze went up and down.

We ended up having to make a couple of tacks for a total of 20nm on port tack to clear the reefs and rocks to the north of Chatham Island; otherwise starboard tack for two days.

It is very cool to make a landfall early in the morning and to approach a new place as the day progresses. It really felt as though we should have flown a Q flag and expected clearance procedures as it was only a day less than our last passage to Fiji and felt almost as distant and foreign on approach.

One thing I forgot to mention in my earlier post is that cray pots are set in up to 50m of water, so the entire coastline is peppered with bouys, often much further than youíd expect. We caught and moved one trap a few hundred metres before we were able to back up and drop the line off our skeg.

The anchorage at Waitangi is pretty secure with a good bottom and mostly sand if the worst were to happen. NW winds (the exposed direction) are relatively rare and as long as you keep daily track of the forecast (and talk to the local cray fishers) you probably wonít be caught out. But as JM points out, it is a relatively small island surrounded by a very big ocean.
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