By now a significant percentage of boaters will have laid their boats up for the winter hibernation period, ‘winterising’ their boat, motor and trailer and generally resigning themselves’ to life without a boat for a few months. Yeah right, winterising is what they should have done but the reality for most is they will in fact have just chucked a cover of sorts over their pride and joy or indeed hidden it away in the back of a shed or yard somewhere, leaving it to fester away in a veritable sea of encrusted salt.
For the more astute boater however they will have come to terms with the fact that yes summer boating is done and dusted but with a bit of a change of mindset, the winter boating period is just beginning. In most areas granted the climate can be decidedly cooler as you search for calmer inland waterways perhaps, but the reality is that some of the most settled conditions manifest at this time of year. Naturally you wouldn’t venture outdoors if it was blowing a gale, but pick your days right, pick your location right, and there is no earthly reason why the enjoyment factor cannot prevail – 365 days of the year!
I mentioned earlier the words ‘mind-set’ and certainly while the attitude toward sea conditions remains the same regardless, the ideology is conversely tipped on its head 110% when you consider other influencing aspects such as location and weather. Let us first look at the ‘location’ side of things. At this time of the year a more ‘reliable’ sea state prevails, the further inland you go. But I don’t like fresh-water fishing I hear you say. What a shame, stay at home then, or alternatively why not try further up into the estuaries of your favourite fishing areas for while your (saltwater) fishing may not be quite as prolific as it would be further out to sea, what is the saying we hear so often – the worst day out on the ‘briny’ will always be way better than the best day at your office or work-place!
Subscribing to the above theory then, why not change your winter ‘mind-set’ dramatically and indeed give trout-fishing a go, take advantage of the myriad of inland rivers, lakes and waterways that invariably are close at hand whatever part of the country you may live in. It may even change the way you think for I have known more than a few saltwater-dedicated fishermen who wouldn’t have given you tuppence for trout fishing, who now do nothing but fresh-water fishing! Naturally it means a change of ‘gear’ completely – from rods to reels, line and lures – but surely you can convince ‘her indoors’ that it is an investment for the future (next year too!).
The biggie then, after deciding on your location, is coping with the weather, or to put it another way, the weather temperature. In this day and age wet-weather gear is very lightweight and very efficient at keeping the weather on the outside, so a set
of leggings and jacket is a must. No need to spend a fortune but at the same time remember that you pay for what you get, when it comes to anything to do with the sea. If it is somewhere really cold then you would also need to investigate and expand your wardrobe somewhat, maybe including a set of thermal underwear, a beanie or balaclava, and some thick socks.
Writing the above paragraph reminds me in fact of a previous ‘winter’ boating experience I will relate to you all – if nothing else but to confirm it has all been done before. It was the end of an offshore powerboat race season and the two owners of the race team I managed at the time, decided they would shout the team, including the sponsor, to a ‘thank you’ boy’s weekend on Lake Taupo, aboard a launch one of the team principals owned at the time. You can imagine our ‘joy’ when informed of this May expedition immediately in the shadow of Mount Ruapehu – seemingly one of the coldest regions in New Zealand at that time of year.
Needless to say we ‘rugged up’ well, but nothing could have properly prepared us for our 9-00pm arrival in down-town Taupo. The trip down was interesting enough on its own, towing a million-tonne beautifully restored 24-foot Mason Clipper from Auckland to Taupo, but launching it was another thing. You guessed it, my hand literally stuck to the bow rail which being stainless steel, had dropped to well below zero (degrees Celsius) in temperature. Gee this weekend was going to be fun!
Winter Boating and Crisp Mornings
On one of those typically magnificent still, crisp, moon-lit Taupo nights, the trip around to Jerusalem Bay was a piece of cake. We duly anchored and got down to some serious ‘training’ for the rest of the weekend, wading through a ‘sponsored’ rum or two. Snug as hell during the night, as you would be with five adults in a Mason Clipper, what we were confronted with the next morning was a setting, a scene, that was almost beyond belief. We had died and gone to heaven for it was tranquillity personified, tied up in our secluded bay.
The sun was out, the day was quickly warming up – it didn’t get any better than this, at a time of the year when most people have locked their boats away for winter! It’s Easy…. and Enjoyable. We let off a few clay-bird rounds, did a little fishing, did a little sight-seeing, went ashore and explored the local habitat, had a few more social ‘drinkies’ – and along the way had one hell of a good weekend away. Yes outside it was certainly cooler at night, a hell of a lot cooler actually, but with all the right gear inside the boat we sat around the table playing pontoon, had a few more ‘bevies’ and plenty of laughs – and even managed to get a couple of hours sleep once I had cleaned everyone out of their hard-earned money.
Now if we could tow a significant sized boat like that half-way down the island then surely you and the family, or alternatively you and a couple of mates, could easily do the same. For us then and for you in the future, it is simply all about organisation, and having the right gear; and of course, the inclination (a leave pass from her indoors) to go boating all year round.
The other massive plus out of this exercise is of course, regardless of whether it be Taupo, Rotorua, Rotoiti, Waikaremoana, Tarawera, Rerewhakaaitu, Ferry, Wanaka, Hawea, Wakatipu (Queenstown), Te Anau, Manapouri, Hawea, Pukaki, Ohau, Tekapo, Brunner, Kaniere,
Coleridge or any of the other plethora of Lakes throughout both the North and South Islands – you are running in fresh water! All your mechanicals get a good flush out with fresh water and facets such as canopies, clears, zips, domes and all exterior fittings – get a good dousing at the same time, thereby removing the season-long build- up of encrusted salt – in a most efficient and user-friendly fashion!
Winter Boating destination – Fiordland’s Doubtful Sound
If you are not fussed one way or the other about a flush-out with fresh water then the more sheltered spots in ‘salt-water’ areas
like The Bay of Islands, Whangaroa, the Hokianga and Kaipara Harbours, Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, Wellington Harbour, the Picton Sounds (you could spend a lifetime in this region and not see it all), the Nelson Lakes, Akaroa Harbour, Lake Ellesmere and Milford Sound to name but a very few from the vast selection – would certainly keep you well occupied in your particular region, during the winter months.
Winter Boating – Take the Right Gear
I mentioned earlier that winter boating is all about organisation, and having the right gear. The organisation part is easy; it doesn’t matter really whether it is winter or summer for either way you still need to logistically prepare for any boating ‘expedition’. What is different, sometimes dramatically different, is the gear you might take in your boat so as to combat the cooler conditions you are sure to have to adjust to. And I don’t mean that in an onerous way either for like anything, if you go prepared with all the right gear then it becomes a veritable ‘walk in the park’ when you do it.
Setting your boat up with all the right winter gear can impinge on the original budget somewhat, but bear in mind that you are now going to use your boat for 12 months of the year, not eight. The very first thing I would insist on would be a good canopy and with this a set
of clears – that would fully enclose/seal your aft cockpit area. Your cabin is only so big, so the cockpit becomes your living area, and indeed invariably always your cooking area also. Even if you are going out overnight, you still need a feature such as this, to remove the chill factor from the equation, when underway.
On our trip to Taupo we had five husky guys all ‘heavy breathing’ in the relatively confined space of the cockpit, so while we were awake there was no real need for a heater. If however it is just you and a mate or indeed you and the family, a heater is always a wee little luxury that goes down well in the middle of winter. You have the choice of diesel, electric, kerosene and white spirit versions in all shapes and sizes so as I say, there is no excuse for being cold.
Depending on the size of your boat and of course how carried away you wanted to get, a dehumidifier can be a great asset also. Again using our Taupo trip as an example, with all that warmth on the inside and the frigid night air on the outside the potential for those sleeping against the cabin side – to wake up in the morning with a decidedly wet sleeping bag (caused by all the condensation) – was very real. We were fine, because even back then, the boat was fitted with a dehumidifier.
Winter Boating Means You Have to Eat Well Too
I will assume that if you get enough use out of your boat during the summer months then your boat will be fitted with adequate cooking as well as refrigeration requirements. If it isn’t, then don’t skimp on these because it is nice to eat well, while you are away even for a weekend; tinned baked beans only appease the appetite for so long, and wear a bit thin after a while! The whole point of the exercise is to be enjoying the scenery, fishing or just relaxing, at a more relaxed pace than if it was summer time and you were trying to pack a lot more into a single day.
One item you may not have given much consideration to, but one that is a hell of a lot more impacting in winter than it is in summer – is the sleeping arrangements. That blow-up mattress or paper-thin ‘liquorice strap’ you used to sleep on may be fine in the warmer climates but come winter time it will not cut the mustard – you need a suitable ‘dense’ mattress that will hold the heat. Bedding is easy, I always prefer a duvet rather than a whole bunch of blankets – again because it is denser and as such stays warmer.
The cost is really not too onerous so far, and that is precisely the way it should be for the majority of the warmth you will require, should come from appropriate clothing you bring in your kit bag. Another wee hint here, take a couple of changes of clothes, because in the cooler weather if clothes do get wet, they don’t dry anywhere near as quickly. I always subscribe too, to the message ringing in my ears still to
this day, from my dear old mum – warm feet and a warm head and your whole body will always be warm. Therefore, as I said earlier hats, beanies, balaclavas, whatever, are a must-have item as are thick woollen socks – and a woollen jersey. Even wet woollen gear is infinitely superior to cotton, nylon or polyester examples. I like to wear dive boots in the winter too; sure they hustle a bit after you peel your socks of, but at least your feet are warm. Centre console boats are not the best to keep you warm in the winter.
A decent set of wet-weather gear is a must too, leggings as well as a jacket. The better brands ‘breath’ a bit, so they aren’t such a sweat-box when you wear them for extended periods. Many people wear certainly a jacket all the time, for the whole point of this gear is obviously first and foremost to keep the water out, but perhaps more importantly it reduces the chill factor from the wind. The only other item of apparel you might need, and it is only for the more adventurous, is a wet suit. You never know when you might need to leap overboard to retrieve and item or clear something that is fouled. Or, you might be one of those hardy types who like to take advantage of the prevailing more settled autumn and winter boating conditions, to have a water-ski or wake-board session. Whatever, a good thick suit will certainly take all the pain out of a leap over the side! Be prepared, and I’ll see you on the water this winter!