The DTC Club, more familiarly known to us as “Dad’s Army” consists of a ragtag group of Kiwi mates, who hold monthly “charter meetings” in an old cow shed to socialize and plan drinking trips, whoops, I mean fishing trips. They made camp aboard November Rain Saturday evening , well prepared for their annual march into battle against the great beasts of New Zealand’s Tasman sea, the elusive marlin. The 6 men loaded up our 56’ Sport-fishing Catamaran with MREs and fighting gear. Bacon and eggs pies, lasagna, crisps and bickies will sustain them, supplemented by my daily baking of cakes and puddings. The boat’s new fish bin freezer is chocka with beer and cocktail mixers, should anyone require hydration.
As usual, per Army protocol, something critical to their battleship conks out immediately before the launch of every annual trip. Two years ago, the ship’s batteries fizzled out in Tonga, and we were delayed while we waited for 3 marine batteries to be over-night air freighted from New Zealand. Last year, Tony had to mule a replacement chart plotter in his hand luggage with him to Vanuatu. Since we had just come off of a 1-year major refit, we thought we were good this time around. We have just about replaced everything on the boat, and anything we didn’t replace, because it was working fine… is now no longer not.
The 14 year-old auto-pilot system is playing up and Gaz has ordered a new one. He may be forced to steer manually if it fails completely. This is manageable and we soldier on… one of the tuna tube hi-flow pumps has suddenly stopped working and Tony is tasked with couriering one up to Whangaroa from Auckland. But now, the most stressing emergency is that the toilet’s macerator, (essentially a garbage disposal in-line with the toilet outflow) has shit itself. We simply cannot risk a week-long trip with 8 people and no toilet. Hanging butts over the side is dangerous in rough seas, not to mention unsightly and will scare away the fish, especially with this middle-aged crew.
A few frantic calls are made and the Gaz has located the appropriate model in Opua, a small town about an hour south of Whangaroa. Tony is rung at 4 pm and asked to back-track his route from Auckland to collect it, stressing him out as he tries to beat the traffic and the chandlery’s 5 pm closing time. Two hours later, he arrived to Whangaroa with the wrong part, though no fault of his own. Apparently, the store clerk had insisted that the manufacturer had changed the part number when Tony questioned her on the mismatched skew. Fortunately, the store was open on Sunday, so Gaz made an early morning 2-hour run to exchange parts with a more knowledgeable clerk. A quick 1/2 hour job and we are back in business, so everyone can do their business.
The first skirmish of the expedition was to wage war upon the cricket invasion that had overtaken the boat last week, when November Rain was on the hard stand. Dozens of the chirpers have hidden out in cupboards and towels, many have died, their crunchy bodies clogging up the scuppers and drains. A couple of the more cunning buggers have barricaded themselves in the flybridge drains and taunt us by singing insults.
We motored north in choppy seas and overcast skies to the Far North of New Zealand. Carefully chosen lures were towed and the men stand 1/2 hour watches over the lines, each taking their rotation in the striped marlin lottery. Brennan was on point when a small mako shark struck the port outrigger lure. The pandemonium begins and the guys do fair work of clearing the gear. After 10 minutes of fight by Brendan, Glenn leaders the fish to the side of the boat while Bobby retrieves the lure using the gaff, avoiding the nasty digit removers. The line is cut, releasing the mako to live another day.
From time to time, the monotony of trolling is broken by the sound of line zinging out on the chair rod. Lively skippies are winched in on the 24 kg chair rod, a dozen plus in total, our bait for the evening snapper fishing is secured. The rest is put on ice for later in the week.
Tom Bowling Bay is one of my most favorite places in New Zealand. It is a remote as you can get, the northernmost tip of the North Island, and offers both sheltered anchorage and amazing bottom fishing. The current was flowing, the bite was on and within minutes of dropping a line, I had the first snapper, about 12 lbs and the biggest of the evening. We all caught heaps of nice snapper as the sunset in front of us, keeping only enough for a feed.
We motored out of Tom Bowling Bay the next morning at 1 am. and rotated through one hour watches at the helm, arriving at the Middlesex Banks around 8 am. The weather was cooperating with light winds and calm seas. Unfortunately, the fish were not. We raised four marlin, had three strikes but no hookups. The general consensus on the VHF chatter was that the fish were not hungry due to the wide availability of fat bait fish around. The good news was that, despite the massive changes November Rain has undergone over the last year, we are still able to raise fish.
There is a theory, (scientific or folklore, I’m not sure), that some boats are naturally able to raise more fish than other boats. It may have to due to the frequency of the engines, the harmonics of the propellers or the amount of the wake the boat leaves behind. What ever it is, we had tinkered with all of it on November Rain by upsizing engines, props and hull length. Knowing that we could still attract fish was a huge relief, even with four dozen bananas on board.
Anchor was dropped at one of the two bays at the Three Kings Islands, and we spent a relatively comfortable night, except for particularly annoying unidentified item, knocking against the bulkhead behind my bunk with each side swell. The next morning, Gaz dispatched of another cricket in a flybridge drain by the boiling water boarding torture method.
We traveled back to the Middlesex the next morning for another round, this time at a more leisurely 4 am. By 8:30, there was a solid strike and a hook-up, although we never saw the fish jump. Most likely, it was just bill-wrapped and fell off the line just about the time that the boys had cleared the gear and Mike had harnessed himself in.
Two hours later, the starboard outrigger screamed off. The pandemonium was a bit more controlled this time, as the crew is becoming polished with the gear. A blue marlin jumped and splashed around on the surface while Glenn strapped into his harness. It was a good 1/2 hour fight before Tony grabbed the leader, took a wrap and started guiding the fish up on the starboard side. Unfortunately, the tip of the hook broke at the side of the boat, and the fish swam lazily off. On closer inspection, the swivel had also pulled straight, and would have broken clean if the hook hadn’t done so first. But since the leader was touched, the fish is considered a “caught” fish and Glenn took himself out of the rotation.
During all this action, another sport fisher, Pursuit, rocked up next to us to watch the action. Knowing that there were marlin around, they pitched out four live koheru baits, and immediately hooked up on all of them! Right next to us! Cheeky! In the end, they tagged three of the four. We started concentrating on catching some live bait. After some effort, we had two sorry-looking skippies to tow behind.
An hour after we started live baiting, Tony hooked into a really large striped marlin 140 kg+, which he had to the boat after 40 minutes. The fish had vomited up his stomach outside his body, a survival mechanism common to billfish. This adaptation allows the fish to expel any harmful contents of their stomach. The bright red reticulated mass looks gross, but the fish will eventually swallow it back down. There was quite a bit of thrashing around at the boat, and the bill took out a large chuck of our new fishing platform. (I wonder if we should just keep the boat builder/painters on retainer) Glenn leader the fish, Kerry tagged it and Brendan assisted with the hook removal, having to push the guts aside to find the corner of the jaw. High fives were passed out all around.
Not ten minutes later, Brendan hits the rotation lottery with a nice striped marlin, which took the Pakula Smokin Joe lure off the port outrigger. Glenn leadered and Bobby tagged the fish after 20 minutes of angling. The boys joke that the crickets must be good luck and a moratorium is placed on any further executions.
We had a strike on the Black Bart Blue Breakfast, one of our most consistent lures, always towed on the short corner. Mike grabbed the rod and got settled in his harness. The fish showed herself as a blue of good size, then took off, peeling out 800 meters of line before the line suddenly went slack. We all thought the nylon had snapped, and it was a relief to see the blue and green lumo color of the lure under the water as Mike reeled in the slack line.
It was a good day, with 3 fish caught out of 5 shots. The two other boat on the bank, Pursuit and Prime Time, also scored three fish each. The boys celebrated that night by copiously rehydrating and crooning along to a Creedence Clearwater CD, simultaneously in 6 different keys in full reverie.
After the second day at sea, the water maker and washing machine running simultaneously blew a hidden circuit breaker, which took another two days to locate. As Garry often reminds me, BOAT stands for Broken Or About To be. Water rationing was mandated, with about 600 liters to last the week for the 8 people on board. My load of wet laundry is held hostage by the electronically locked washing machine and cannot be unloaded until power is restored to the unit.
The weather turned to custard the following morning and we trolled our way back to North Cape in a following sea, stopping for a short jig along on the reef. Bobby pulled up a rat kingfish and a golden snapper, Mike, a kingy and Brendan snagged a barracuda and two kingies. Jigging is hard work, winding up 300-500 gram lures from 90 meters deep, as fast as you can, in a coordinated up-down lifting motion. I can usually only last 3 or 4 drops before giving it up and passing the rod to the next angler.
We rocked into Waikuku bay in the late afternoon. The snapper fishing was awesome, even with frozen skippy bait, and we all caught our limit, with several in the double-digit weight range. The largest ones, the breeders, were released. A really nice trevelli and a couple of king fish put up the good fight.
Red (Glenn) whipped up a scotch filet dinner, served with his famous “Tom Bowling Bay sauce” a coronary-inducing gravy choked with bacon and camembert cheese. Gaz managed to fire off a call to our marine sparky, Ryan, and they sorted out the water-maker power issue over the phone. We are officially off water rationing and the Captain has ordered us to shower away the two-day old funk.
It’s Thursday now and the marine forecast reports a cyclone heading towards New Zealand with predicted winds of 50 knots to arrive by Sunday evening. North Cape is already showing the leading edge of the storm. The plan is to troll south, along the coast to Cape Kari-Kari, where the forecast is calmer, and try our luck for marlin again. Garry isn’t holding his breath, as no marlin were tagged yesterday in the area, despite a flotilla of boats in a One Base fishing comp. A few skippies are caught along the way, insuring fresh bait for another round of snapper fishing in light showers. Card cheating and lying about fish rounded out the evening.
Friday, our last day, was spent trolling in calm seas north to Whangaroa with only a lone skippy to show for it. November Rain pulled into Whangaroa Harbour at 1 pm, and the boys cleared out their gear, save for one dingy mystery pillow, which no one would claim as their own. Perhaps we had a stowaway?
Garry nominated Brendan the DTC Trophy for the best angling for his marlin and mako catch. Prize giving will be awarded at the next club meeting.
It’s been a great trip boys! Hope to see you in Vanuatu or Cairns later in the coming year. Save some room in your bags for critical boat parts.