Thursday, March 14, 2013

Southern Stars

It's a starry night in the Aucklands, with no moon.

Alisa and I met when we were living in Fairbanks, Alaska, at 64° North, where the northern lights are a regular part of life during the dark months. But neither of us have ever seen the aurora australis, and we're aware that this might be a chance.

We also got to see the Auckland Islands themselves this afternoon, as the driving mist lifted and gave us our first clear view about the place since we arrived, a day and a half before. The islands at this end of the archipelago are low, and heavily forested near the shore. If there's a little mist they could be islands in the Bering Sea, but when the view clears they suddenly look quite different.

This morning we motored a few miles across Port Ross, to the premier wildlife anchorage at Enderby Island. We anchored easily enough, but I couldn't get excited about the conditions for going ashore. Getting to these islands, and operating here, require us to relax our standards for what constitutes reasonable conditions for doing things, and it may just be that the passage and our first day in the Aucklands had made me tired of relaxed standards. So we stayed on board. Just as well, as the tide came up and let the swell in through the two passes to the southwest of us and soon the waves were washing far up the beach - it wouldn't have been a time to try to get back to the boat in the inflatable.

We did get ashore at Enderby on our first day here, one adult and one child going at a time to meet our permit's requirement that someone always be on board the mothership. What a place to end the passage. The bay is wide, with low hills above the beach to make a tableaux for the wildlife wandering around. New Zealand sea lions breed only in the Aucklands, and though most of them are gone from the beach for the season, a pair of males faced off in the water and made a perfunctory display of aggression for our benefit. New Zealand sea lions are apparently known for wandering far from the water, and every now and then an individual would come lumbering down from the hills, with a shambling gait just a little like a bear's. And there were skuas on the beach that refused to move aside when approached by curious children, and yellow-eyed penguins looking grumpy as they molted, surrounded by rings of feathers, and GIANT PETRELS, which breed here and are about the place in pretty good numbers. I have a soft spot for prehistoric-seeming animals (the dinosaur call of yellow-tailed black cockatoos makes them my favorite Australian bird), and giant petrels look very much like a rough draft for a seabird, something that was put together long long ago and never improved upon much.

So after not getting ashore today we motored through gale-force winds back to the lovely sheltered anchorage at Erebus Cove, where there was a settlement of 300 people for the briefest time 160 years ago, and where now the continuous thickets of rata trees look from the water like they have been undisturbed since the dawn of time. And it was here at Erebus that Alisa discovered oil gurgling out from around one of the head bolts on the engine. I was aware that oil had started leaking from it during the passage down here from Bluff, but I had never watched it while the engine was running. So now we get to wonder if the whole head gasket is shot, and what else is leaking out of sight. This is a pretty poor place to be wondering about your engine, and we have agreed that in the future we'll have the cover off the main and the halyard on the sail any time that we're motoring between anchorages.

More soon...

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