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by Rob Kellock - Kirwee - New Zealand


Humans have a high tendency with recounts to subtly alter the retelling to exaggerate the actual event or embellish it in some way.  In short, errors occur in recounts.  The simple game of Chinese whispers shows how radically a message can be changed through communication errors.  When the recount involves danger the temptation to alter the story to enhance the reader's opinion of the author is increased further.

This is why I have tried to retell this trip report as quickly as possible after it occurred, before the raw emotions of the fear have dissipated to be replaced with the satisfaction of having survived.  You may wonder what all the fuss was about having been in worse conditions, but I was in no doubt that I was in a life threatening situation and that is what I'm recounting in the hope that it might help somebody.  If not, I do hope it will at least, provide some entertaining reading. 

Thursday           10/11/11    12.30pm

Left home.

Thursday           10/11/11    03.00pm

Arrive at launching site at Duvachelle. Decide that launching site is too rocky so look for another site.

Thursday           10/11/11    04.30pm

Get on water at Takamatua in light SW of 5 knots with one reef.  Head into main harbour where SW 15 knots is blowing and there are regular white caps. There are no other boats on the harbour.  Beat up the harbour with multiple tacks until anchoring briefly under Akaroa light house next to rocky shoreline.  Several times during beating to windward, wonder at the sense in going to windward, knowing that the wind direction is forecast to change to strong NE during the night, but figure that my Philsboat will be able to handle beating back even if it takes all day so continue upwind.

Akaroa Trip

Thursday           10/11/11    06.30pm

After briefly sailing downwind through the moored keelers at Akaroa, the SW dies altogether and I  motor into a SW facing cove under steep cliffs that should protect me from the NE during the night.  Put out a folding grapnel stern anchor under the cliffs and using the motor, made sure it is secure and then threw out a bow Danforth in deep water. Tugged on that with the stern line and hoped it was secure, then made tea and went to bed after a beautiful sunset and dusk.  All light gone at 9.00pm.

Thursday           10/11/11    11.00pm

Hear the roar in the trees on the cliff top as the NE comes through.  Occasional gusts come down and move the boat around, but the cliff face means that they come from the SW not NE!  Hadn't thought of that.  Periodically check boat position during night.  It doesn't change, but seem to have much more slack in my anchor lines than I thought and boat moves around a lot.  From past experience know that leaving leeboard down stops boat from rocking, but have rudder and OB motor lifted. Don't get much sleep, but not surprised as I never sleep much on a one nighter.   A pair of Canada geese honk and fly around all night.

Cooking Tea

Rob did not take pictures during this trip but here are some photos taken during other trips.

Friday        11/11/11     08.00am

After a cold breakfast leave cove to beat back up harbour to Takamatua, expecting to get there at 10.00am.  Surprised by sail whipped about by NE rotor coming off cliff top and it takes quite a while to leave under sail in the flukey conditions.  When clear air is finally reached, again surprised as to how strong it is.  Thank goodness, I had taken the precaution of being fully reefed, before leaving.  Nevertheless elected to continue into the harbour.  Once in the main harbour discovered the NE was blowing between 25 – 30 knots with gusts of 35 – 40 knots.  Every wave was a white cap.  Fully reefed already I had to let the sail go on each gust. This was seriously scary!  Too frightened to attempt to turn back I continued into the middle of the harbour hoping it would be calmer on the other side. I had one near capsize and tried to sail on with thoughts of never seeing my children and wife again. I noticed that the Bear tape protecting the leech of my sail had torn open in a gust. Unfortunately the NE means that the western side of the harbour forms a lee shore and I was unable to identify Tikao Bay, even though I was in fact directly opposite it and it would have provided good shelter.  As conditions worsened further, I glanced back and realised that I was now making no progress to windward at all – I was being blown down the harbour!

Friday        11/11/11     09.30am

In a brief lull I leaped to the mast and pulled down the sail.  I started the outboard motor (I always run it briefly before leaving an anchorage to make sure that it is warm and fill the tank to the brim too) and pointing the boat directly into the wind headed up the harbour hoping to find Tikao Bay, which I mistakenly believed was further up the harbour than it was. I was relieved to see that my 2HP outboard motor was still capable to pushing me into the wind, but soon discovered that a deviation of more than 10 degrees off the wind would result in the boat being pushed downwind.  After having to turn downwind and sweep around a full 360 degrees using the downwind speed to get back on course, I felt that the only destination possible was the tip of Onawe Peninsula in the middle of the harbour.  As I kept bashing upwind, I worried that I might run out of petrol which could be disastrous and cursed that my life and my boat were totally in the hands of that piece of Japanese machinery running at full throttle behind me. Perhaps 750m from the relative safety of Onawe, I saw a whirlwind coming straight for me, the whipped up spume rising perhaps 30 ft into the air.  “If that hits me, what will it do?” I thought, but luckily it dissipated about 50 metres off my bow.

Pelorus Sound

Friday        11/11/11     10.00am

After reaching Onawe, I put out both my bow and stern anchors, refilled my petrol tank (about half of it had been used to motor 2 kms) and decided to check the weather forecast on my mobile phone.
Strong Wind Advisory - NE 20kt rising to 25kt gusting 35kt early morning then easing to 15kt in evening.

I was going to have to wait in this exposed anchorage for hours!  The NE was refracting around the western flank of Onawe with strong gusts of 20+ knots buffeting the boat. The bow was facing the wind and even with the stern anchor in place the boat sailed at anchor badly.  However, my holding was good and I wasn't prepared to reorient to a stern anchoring arrangement because I was close to rocks and my sheltered spot was only 100 ft long.  Conditions by now were at their worst out in the harbour with whitecaps everywhere.  The best I was able to do was put down the leeboard and rudder leaving the tiller locked.  This slowed down the sailing at anchor considerably, resulting in less of an arc, although the boat still heeled at the end of each swing.

Friday        11/11/11     11.30am

The Coastguard, or at least, somebody looking official in a launch, comes over from Takamatua to check me out.  I have no radio and frankly no way of being rescued. I'm so close to the rocky shore it would be dangerous for the launch to approach. The only way for me to get out of this situation would be to leave the boat and swim to shore which was less than 20 ft away. Not a lot of point doing that, so I waved, he waved back and returned to Akaroa.  The next few hours were awful.  I read until I felt sick, then listened to the radio for some human company (this is the guy who hates the inane babble of DJ's normally), talked to my wife on my cell phone several times, telling her not to do anything and that I would just have to wait for the weather to change.  By now, I knew that my anchoring spot while uncomfortable was secure and I would be safe until the conditions changed.  I checked my anchor lines a couple of times to make sure they weren't chafing.  The stern line was chafing very slightly, so I let out a little more scope.

Philsboat Construction

Friday        11/11/11     02:30pm

A Hectors dolphin surfaces right next to the boat.  That was cool.

Friday        11/11/11     03:30pm

The NE appears to have dropped to 18 knots.  I decide to go.  I motor straight across the harbour into the shelter of Takamatua Bay.  A bit of spray comes into the boat, but the passage is not frightening at all.  In Takamatua Bay, I pull the boat out and as I do so the NE picks up again.  I count my blessings.

Friday        11/11/11     05:30pm

On the drive home the NE is so strong I am concerned that the boat trailer might flip.  Opposite Gebbies Pass a strong gust moves the boat sideways on the trailer.

Friday        11/11/11     07:06pm

Arrive home.


  1. Be 100% certain about what the weather is likely to be when planning a trip.  I knew the isobaric weather map was a confused mix of highs and lows before leaving, but figured I would be OK.  For previous trips to unknown cruising grounds, I've always made sure that a strong high covered the country beforehand with settled weather for several days ahead likely. Philsboat doesn't sail well in winds exceeding 15 knots and anything above 20 knots becomes dangerous.
  2. Take a map of the area to be sailed with you.  I would have known exactly where Tikao Bay was if I had printed off a Google Earth map beforehand.
  3. Have some way of checking the forecast on the water.  I should have checked the weather forecast on my cell phone before leaving my Akaroa anchorage.
  4. Turn back as soon as you become uneasy.  Instead of continuing into the main harbour, I should have returned to my Akaroa anchorage immediately and thought about my options. For instance, I could have beached the boat in Akaroa, hitched a ride to Takamatua and brought the car and trailer back to Akaroa.
  5. Make sure you have excellent ground tackle.  If I hadn't been able to anchor securely, I would have been in all sorts of trouble.  Both my anchors are oversized for my boat.  Make sure yours are too.
  6. Always fill and test your outboard before going anywhere.  You never know when you might need it.  Others may say different, but in my experience, when the chips are down, its the outboard motor that gets me out of trouble.
  7. A cell phone is really not adequate.  A portable VHF radio is what's needed.  When the Coastguard launch approached, I had no way of communicating my situation to it other than to wave.  A two way conversation would have more useful to both of us.


Philsboat Capability

Was my Philsboat really up to this?  From a construction viewpoint, I think, yes.  The boat itself is quite rugged with its low seats reinforcing the ½ inch plywood bottom.  The only aspect of it's construction that concerns me is the mast foot. When building a mast foot make sure that the base of the mast jams in the foot and doesn't rest directly on the hull bottom, otherwise when pounding to weather under outboard power you could drive the mast base right through the hull.  At the end of this trip the mast was jammed in it's foot so tightly, I had trouble extracting it.

Queen Charlotte Sound

Likewise the leeboard, it's guards and the rudder and tiller arrangement are also quite strong and handled the conditions without problem.
Where Philsboat doesn't shine is that Birdwatcher cabin and it's lack of ballast. The theory of a high topsides guarding against capsize through self recovery is OK if you are day sailing with others and don't have much gear on board and the water is flat.  But in rough conditions, by yourself and with lots of gear that can shift, I would be much happier in a heavy ballasted boat that self rights automatically.  The penalty of high topsides is windage.  A similar sized boat with less windage would have been able to continue to weather when I was unable to.