By Frank Bates - Auckland, New Zealand

The origins of the Mahurangi Regatta are lost in the mists of time, but an early reference to this event dates back to New Years Day in 1858, when a resident of the Mahurangi recorded the event in his diary.

There are not many events in this country that can be traced back that far.

(Click here for more information about Mahurangi and the Regatta).

It has recently become a very popular day out, and attracts large numbers of boats and people to this beautiful area.

We first attended the regatta in 2006, when we had only owned our Pathfinder Varuna for a couple of weeks, and it was a very nervous pair of would-be sailors who rigged and launched her at Scott's Landing that day. As we backed her down the ramp, a bearded gentleman stepped up, shook my hand and introduced himself as John Welsford.

This year we decided we would sail up from Auckland, and we set out on Thursday morning to give ourselves a couple of days to get there. (See a map of our trip at the bottom of this page).



Sailing up the Rangitoto Channel


click thumbnails for larger views

It was another fine sunny day, with a little bit of cloud and a light South West wind that was forecast to rise to 15 knots in the afternoon. We sailed slowly up the Rangitoto Channel in a fickle breeze, and eventually decided we would motor over to the northern tip of Rangitoto for an early lunch ashore near the lighthouse while we waited for the afternoon breezes to arrive. As we motored through the channel behind the lighthouse the wind started to pick up a little, so we returned to wind power and carried on, setting a course for the Whangaparaoa Passage about 10 miles to the north.

It was a quiet day on the water, and as the clouds burnt off, we baked in the sun and tried to sit in the shadow of the sail. I trailed a spinner out behind, hoping to pick up a fish for our dinner. In the early afternoon the wind dropped right off again so Barb got out our lunch of chicken legs and salad. When we finished eating we were surprised to find a small hammerhead shark cruising around the boat which cleaned up the bones as we dropped them over the side. It was about 4 foot long and was the first of 7 of these that we spotted during the day.

 During the morning the wind had been shifting around towards the Southeast as predicted; but when we got near the Whangaparoa Passage it turned into a light northerly, which certainly hadn't featured in the forecast. This was right on the nose, so we started the motor again and proceeded through the two mile wide channel between Tiritiri Matangi Island and the Whangaparaoa Peninsular. Once through the passage, the wind settled down to a light north-easter, and we set course for the mouth of the Mahurangi River 8 miles off. The sun was beating down, the sailing slow and it was looking like it could be a long afternoon ahead of us. When we spotted lots of birds working and fish splashing about half a mile to the north of our course we decided to go and investigate to see if we could catch something for dinner. We spent the next hour or so with Barb sailing the boat backwards and forwards through the workup, and me fishing. It was a big workup but I only managed to catch several small kahawai and a little snapper, nothing worth keeping. We gave up the fishing when a small petrel dived on the line and got it caught around tits flight feathers. By the time we had freed the bird and let it go unharmed, we realised that the wind had strengthened quite a bit, and we then had a brisk and refreshing sail for the remaining few miles. It had risen to close to twenty knots by the time we passed Saddle Island and entered the river mouth, and we were ready for a break. We stopped at Scotts Landing, a beautiful little shallow bay a mile or so up the estuary, brewed a coffee and then went ashore to stretch our legs and decide where we would spend the night.

The wind was now blowing hard, and although it was comming off the land we decided that Scotts Landing was not going to be sheltered enough for a restful night, so motored a bit further up the river, and eventually tucked into a little muddy bay on the northern shore of the estuary near Grants Island.

Scotts Landing

We anchored there and got the tent up, the beds made up and dinner cooked. As the sun set we sat back and relaxed after a great days sailing.

Near Grants Island, Mahurangi

The next morning the wind was still very strong. We had a phone call from Blair, who was hoping to sail up to join us from Auckland in his Navigator Jaunty, and was interested to find out what the weather was doing where we were. The wind was blowing a steady 20 knots in Auckland, and with the prediction of 30 knots later in the day he was in two minds what to do.  Since he bought Jaunty nearly a year ago, he has not had much chance to sail her; his job means he spends much of the time overseas. He was all packed up and raring to go, but it wasn't looking promising. We discussed his options and decided that his best bet would be to wait a while and see what happened.

We had a fairly leisurely start to the day, and then, leaving the tent up, motored up the estuary and into the Mahurangi River itself, headed for the town of Warkworth a few miles upstream looking for a late breakfast in one of the cafes there.

The incoming tide was perfect for this trip which takes you up a narrow winding channel through mangroves and bush covered hills to the upper tidal reaches of the river. We have been to Warkworth many times by road (it is on the main highway north from Auckland) but never by water. The town has built landing docks all along the river frontage and apart from the minor irritation of duck s**t all over them, it is a great place to call in. Lots of cafe's and restaurants to choose from.

Mahurangi River, leaving Warkworth

By the time we had had our brunch, and motored back down the river there were whitecaps in the estuary and we were having some difficulty keeping Varuna on track with the windage of the tent to contend with. We headed back towards Scotts Landing to take stock. The bay there was a bit more sheltered this morning, and as we prepared to go ashore Peter Sewell rowed up in his dinghy and invited us aboard Ripple for a cuppa.

Sally, a good friend of ours was crewing aboard this lovely 40 year old replica of an 1890's coastal trading ketch. Tied up behind Ripple was Peters beautiful 'Silver Tern'.

Ripple and Silver Tern

We had a quiet day around the bay, which was slowly filling up as more boats arrived for the following day's regatta. In the early evening we got another phone call. It was Blair again, he had decided to set out a bit later in the morning when the weather appeared to be a bit more settled, sailing up along the coast north of Auckland, which would provide many places where he could find shelter if the weather deteriorated. He found the conditions were OK to continue, but encountered some tough sailing around the Whangaparaoa Passage and across the open water from there to the Mahurangi.  When he called he was near Saddle Island, and very much looking forward to getting into shelter after a long and hard days sailing. He was soon in the bay and rafted up alongside us, very happy to get his hands on a hot coffee and some dinner.

Regatta day dawned fine, with a fair breeze blowing. We went ashore briefly first thing in the morning. There were two Welsford boats being launched, a Rogue and a Golden Bay. Back aboard, we had a bacon and egg breakfast, with Jaunty rafted up alongside. The regatta was being held at Sullivans Bay on the other side of the estuary, so after breakfast we set off under mizzen and jib to sail across there. When we arrived at Sullivans, there was a bit of wave action on the beach, so we anchored a little way off the beach  and then went ashore to see who was about and what was happening.

Sullivans Bay

We soon ran into John Welsford again, Chuck & Sandra Leinweber of Duckworks fame, Dave Perrillo, Paul Groom and lots of other people, all enjoying the sunshine and the boats. We entered the Te Haupa Trophy race which was to start at 1:30. The race course was from Sullivans Bay, out through the mouth of the estuary, around Saddle Island then back to a mark off Scotts Point and back to the finish line at Sullivans Bay. Other races were also held over the same course, for Frostbites, traditional boats, modern classics, launches and so on, with the larger boats doing two circuits. Chuck and Dave joined me on Varuna for the race, Blair sailed Jaunty with a friend crewing, and John Welsford joined John and Caroline Leathwick on their Navigator Hau tai. There were several other Welsford boats racing, the Rogue and Golden Bay among them. It was a great experience to be racing alongside and amongst boats ranging from A class keelers to  classic yachts and launches, and a host of other assorted craft.

Here is a video of a big keeler overtaking Varuna

The wind was a bit patchy at times, but we all had a ball, with little races within races developing as everyone tried to beat the boats around them. Jaunty and Varuna proved to be well matched, and swapped the lead several times in our private battle before Varuna finally crossed the line ahead; the positions were later reversed in the handicap results however. John on the other Navigator cleared away from us off the line and beat us both by a country mile. As we crossed the finish line the launch race was also finishing; some of the launches nearly a hundred years old were a very impressive sight as they thundered over the line. Back on the beach a program of races and other activities were also proving popular. The tug-of-war was fiercly contested and turned into a bit of a marathon. A 'no oars' dinghy race was popular, as well as a blindfold race and many other novelty events.

In the late afternoon we crossed back to Scotts Landing where a large marquee had been erected near the beach for the Saturday night prizegiving and party. The  Te Haupa Trophy was taken out by Peter Sewell in his beautiful Norse inspired faering 'Silver Tern'. The organisers provided hamburgers for dinner, and a much needed cold beer after another long hot day. Later on the Prohibition Big Band started up, and the party was soon in full swing. We pushed offshore a hundred metres or so later on and got ready for another night aboard, and we very entertained by the drunken antics of the many dinghy loads of partygoers returning to their boats further out in the bay as the evening wound down. It had been quite a day.

Scotts Landing at dawn

I was awake early next morning, and waded ashore for a quiet wander around. I came across Marcus camped on the lawn near the marquee in his Golden Bay 'Riha', he was still fast asleep under his little boom tent in what must be one of the smallest camp-cruisers around.

Marcus asleep under his boom tent

He joined us later aboard Varuna for a breakfast coffee. Sally swam over from Ripple to say good morning, and Blair joined us again for breakfast.

We decided we would set off back towards Auckland, sailing in company with Jaunty; the forecast SW 15 knot wind promising to make the 8 miles across to Army Bay a pleasant sail. Our idea was to have a quiet day, anchor in Army Bay that night, and then sail the rest of the way back to Auckland the following day. Another sunny day in what has seemed like an endless summer so far.

We left the bay and sailed down the estuary in company with Jaunty and in a rising breeze set off for Army Bay. We both had VHF radios so were able to keep in touch. When we arrived at Army Bay I estimated we were maybe an hour ahead of Jaunty, but he arrived about 15 or 20 minutes after we did. I realised I had been deceived because Jaunty was such a tiny looking sail in a very wide expanse of water and looked to be much further off than she actually was. Blair had had some problems with weather helm which were soon corrected when he noticed his rudder was not locked completely down. We anchored together off the beach at Army Bay. There was quite a lot of wave action on the beach and the wind was hitting us from two directions, across the narrow peninsular and along the coast. Added to this was some swell from the NE, so this was not going to be a good place for a restful night. As we brewed a cup of coffee we discussed our options.

We decided we would continue on, through the Whangaparaoa Passage and then upwind along the south coast of the peninsular to Stillwater, or possibly to one of Aucklansds East Coast Bays. This would involve a trip of about 12 miles, with an upwind beat of around 6 miles to Stillwater. It was still quite early in the afternoon and a grand day for sailing.

We set off a few minutes behind Jaunty, and sailed around the expanse of rocks and reefs north of Army Bay, then on a long tack through the passage. We started out on this leg wearing T-shirts, but before we had gone far the wind started to rise, and we began  to encounter a short steep chop that had Varuna shovelling the occasional bucket full of water over the bow and all over us. We were soon reaching for our waterproof jackets and by the time we were ready to tack again we were very glad to have them on. The wind continued to rise and soon the bowsprit was pointing skywards one moment, and then plumeting into the trough of the next wave a moment later. We tacked too early, and the outgoing tide carried us back towards the headland we were trying to round, the next pair of tacks were not much better and it seemed to take forever to get out of the rough area at the southern end of the passage. When we did, the waves moderated a little, but the wind was now gusting very strongly, and the  bailing wench was busy. Varuna as usual handled the conditions magnificently, but we were approaching the edge of our comfort zone. Jaunty was still ahead of us whenever we crossed tacks, and looking very small and vulnerable as we tacked towards our destination. We took one long tack away from the peninsular, and crossed much closer to Jaunty on the next one. I thought we had done well, until later when Blair told us he had shipped a lot of water over the gunwhale, and had stopped to bail out and put in a reef. As the day died we got closer to the mouth of the Weiti River on which Stillwater is located, the wind started to drop a bit and the waves died down. We were very happy to be able to heave to and drop the sails alongside Jaunty when we reached the river mouth, and we motored together into the peace and calm of the river. A mile or two upstream we pulled in and went ashore on the boatramp near the Stillwater Boat Club. It was 8pm and there were a few members having a drink on the balcony at the club. I wandered over and asked if there was any chance of getting a meal. What a great welcome we got there. Half an hour later we had the boats tied up for the night at the club's loading pontoon, I had a cold beer in my hand, and we were all tucking into superb fillet steaks with mushrooms, salad and chips. They were a bit apologetic that that was the only meal available at that time of night, but we would have been happy with baked beans on toast.

It was then back to the boats to dry them out a bit and set up for the night. We didn't need too much rocking to get to sleep.

Jaunty and Varuna at Stillwater, after a long hard day

The next morning we were up early. Daybreak at Stillwater

Blair took Jaunty up the river to explore, while we packed up and chatted with the locals.

It looked like another great day ahead, and we left about 10 o'clock for the last leg back to Auckland. It was Monday and the Auckland Anniversary Day public holiday. The harbour comes alive on this day every year with the Anniversary Day Regatta.

Heading home

We had about 10 miles to sail down the East Coast Bays, and with an off-shore SW wind rising to 15 knot later forecast, were looking forward to a nice close reach to finish the trip, with plenty of other boats for company. We spent some time at the start taking photo's of each others boats sailing (it's always hard to get shots of your own boat under way). We then settled back to enjoy the morning, and very pleasant it turned out to be.  The wind freshened a bit around mid-day, and by the time we got to Blairs destination it was blowing quite hard again. We left Blair to it, and continued on for the last couple of miles of our trip alone. We ended up having another quite busy sail, the wind was reported as gusting to near 30 knots at Bean Rock as we got close to North Head. The strong wind and all the regatta traffic, as well as the spectator boats and large ferries, meant we had our hands quite full again. We were finally ashore and packed up by about 4pm, and off towards home after another great trip. 

Photo op
Click the image at right for a full Google map with the routes from this article.

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