The World's Best Mooring
You can rest easy now; the debate is over. The best mooring on the planet is in New Zealand's Bay of Islands at 35˚ 18' S, 174° 7' E. What, you think yours is better? Tell us why and win a party!
Changes for the Good
Opua is a place that’s improved with development.
Before the opening of the marina in the 1990s, sailors who wanted to clear in with officials had to tie up to the old pier, whose pilings were intended for commercial craft, not sailboats. Although some visiting yachts remained at anchor off the Opua Cruising Club, when I arrived here, I didn’t. As soon as formalities were over, I left and went three miles back north to anchor off the town of Russell.
Now the marina’s outer breakwater is perhaps the world’s easiest-to-approach quarantine dock. And the marina and shore businesses provide welcomed services, even to those of us on moorings or out at anchor: showers, laundry, a pleasant café, and several wireless Internet connections that reach my mooring, albeit with a special antenna. Everything you need is here, except an A.T.M.
The Bay of Islands is like a funnel whose seven-mile-wide mouth is open to the northeast, between Cape Wiwiki and Cape Brett, and whose spout is bent 60 degrees to the south, between the towns of Paihia and Russell. Opua is at the tip of that spout, and my mooring is, for me—I’m someone who enjoys a bit of distance from land—perfectly situated near the center of the basin, which is usually as smooth as the landlocked lake it resembles. Points overlap a mile to the north, so the circle of green hills seems continuous.
Hills are important to those of us who live some of the time in the flatlands, as I do, in a suburb of Chicago where there isn’t a hill within 50 miles. In a little while, I’ll row ashore and walk up and down those hills the four miles to Paihia to shop and have lunch. An inexpensive taxi service is available during the summer, but I walk because I like the trek over three seriously steep hills and valleys.
One can follow a trail along the water’s edge or take the inland road. My favorite route follows the road for the first two hills and then, if the tide’s out, the water’s edge around the last. Either way, I walk beside fern forests, whose sweet and spicy smells vary so that I could know where I am with my eyes closed, and enjoy spectacular views of the bay, from near or on high.
I like to use my aging body. Walking, climbing hills, rowing, hauling water, working on the boat: Mooring life is a good life.
I take the quiet and pure air on my mooring for granted.
A few hundred people live on the hillsides around Opua. A couple of thousand are in Paihia. Another thousand live across the bay around Russell. The economy is based on tourism, farming, and fishing. There’s no industry within at least 50 miles, maybe more than 100. There aren’t even any through roads around the Opua basin. There’s only one on each shore leading to the car ferry, half a mile north of my mooring. At night, the darkness to the east is broken by the lights of fewer than a dozen homes.
I stop writing and listen.
The flag flaps. Water ripples. Then a tern screeches like a rusty old hinge.
One of the pleasures of life on my mooring is an evening drink on deck, usually accompanied by music on the cockpit speakers.
My mooring is on the edge of the mooring field, and on Wednesdays and Fridays during the summer, entertainment is provided by Opua Cruising Club races. The start line is 100 yards north of me.
When I don’t have races to watch, I have birds: terns, cormorants—shags, to New Zealanders—gulls, ducks, gannets. The ducks beg; the gulls squabble and steal; the gannets hunt honorably.
The setting sun is often spectacular. Many evenings, it turns the world gold. The mountain to the east. The sky. The water. The Hawke of Tuonela and all the other boats.
I’d always rather be on a mooring or at anchor than in a marina, and I only take Hawke to the shore when I need work to be done.
I fill jerricans with water at the Opua Cruising Club dinghy dock, then row them back out. I fill the occasional jerrican with diesel at the fuel dock. The Hawke of Tuonela herself hasn’t been to a fuel dock since 2003.
I row those jerricans in the latest of half a dozen Avon Redstart inflatables that I’ve owned over the decades. I recall that the very first cost $250 new. (All figures are in U.S. currency.) I have no experience of using an outboard on an inflatable, but if you want to row, Avon’s oarlocks are the best.
This is the first Redstart I’ve bought since Avon was taken over by Zodiac. Fortunately, the basic design has remained little changed. On the plus side, Avon now includes floorboards in the base price, which I like, and the outboard bracket, which to me is irrelevant. However, the quality of the fabric and construction seem to me less strong than before. The Redstart is still my dinghy of choice, but this one shows more wear after three years than did previous versions I’ve owned.
I also own a small rigid dinghy for the last row in before I fly back to the United States and the first row out when I return. I’d say that this vessel rows like a pig, but that’d be an insult to pigs. Its virtues are that it cost $65, is light enough for me to pick up and carry on my shoulder to and from the marina dinghy rack, and can be locked to that rack, as an inflatable can’t be.
In many, if not most, harbors, I’m the only rower. Not in Opua. While those using outboards here are in the majority, a lot of other people row here, even occasionally another American.