12th February, At sea, towards Sydney, Australia
Yesterday, we docked in the small harbour at Picton on schedule. Our voyage from Wellington was a short one, it is only 44 miles from the pilot station off Wellington to the pilot station for Picton, consequently we steamed at a very slow speed of 8 knots to make Picton pilot for 0600. Picton lies on the tip of the South Island of New Zealand. It is nestled away inside one of the many fjords on the northern coast and we transit 20 miles down Queen Charlotte Sound to get there.
Initially embarking our pilot in darkness, the light improves as we wind our way south-west. It reminds me of British Columbia, steep-sided mountains covered with trees, with sandy coves interspersing the rocky hillside. It is obviously a boating Mecca, small boats and yachts are anchored in each of them.
Ninety minutes after embarking the pilot, we are approaching the dock. It is shorter than the Amsterdam and our stern extends 40 meters out from the end of it, however the prevailing winds come from directly astern, so our moorings can cope.
It is, unusually, a maiden call for the Amsterdam and shortly after docking I have a plaque exchange with the mayor and the port’s General Manager.
I have been invited to visit the Omaka Air Museum and being an aircraft fanatic, willingly accept. Omaka is in the hinterland, approximately 20 miles away from the port and the surrounding area is a vast expanse of vineyards, for this is one of the biggest (and best) areas in New Zealand winegrowers. We pass mile upon mile of grape-growing areas, some with easily recognisable names, Cloudy Bay, an excellent wine which we have on board, being one of them.
The museum is the brainchild of Peter Jackson, the well-known director of such epic films as the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, unbeknownst to me he is fanatical about aircraft and must have spent millions conceiving this wonder. As we drive into the car park, we are greeted with the sight of a ‘Stuka’ or Junkers 88 dive-bomber and a Hawker ‘Hurricane’, strangely with Russian insignia, however it is explained that they flew them as part of Britain’s lend-lease during WWII.
It is not until one enters the vast ‘hangar’ that one realises the enormity of the enterprise. Each exhibit is separated from the next by high bulkheads, so that one never knows what to expect when rounding the next corner. All the aircraft are vintage, pre-WWI and WWI. Parts of Blieriot’s aircraft, the first to fly the English channel, to Baron von Richtofen’s (the Red Baron) Fokker tri-plane. Not only are the aircraft a marvel to behold, but Jackson made use of his special effects gurus and each exhibit is a marvel to behold; a British aircraft crash-landed in a tree, the pilot standing in the snow, (masses of Epsom salts!), talking to his German opponent, while soldiers look on; Australian soldiers who shot down the Red Baron, surrounding his crashed aircraft, stripping away souvenirs (and his boots), the list is endless and words can’t describe the scenes, perhaps the photos will help
We are now crossing the Tasman Sea, a notorious stretch of water which can get extremely rough; however, the weather gods are looking down on us and seas are low, albeit we have a long swell, coming no doubt, from a far-distant storm to the south of us.
Jonathan Mercer is Amsterdam’s captain.