Catch the breeze, says the brochure. What a great idea as an antidote to our computerised, modulated, motorised world. That is the allure of sailing, the simple aspect of harnessing the wind, moving across the sea, stopping when and where you please.
Next weekend is Auckland Anniversary Weekend, when the city celebrates its maritime beauty and heritage with regattas and sailing displays. On Sunday, January 27, a fleet of heritage vessels will be berthed in the Viaduct Harbour from late afternoon until Monday morning and will be lit up in Mediterranean style on the Sunday evening. On Anniversary Day, the Monday, the Harbour will host one of the largest single-day regattas in the world. A vast array of vessels will be on show from vantage points such as North Head and Michael Joseph Savage Memorial Park in Orakei.
Some Aucklanders are fortunate to own or have access to private yachts. The rest of us can take advantage of sailing charters that range in duration from an hour or two to overnight.
To get an idea of what it's like to dump routine on a wharf and sail away for a short time, we do catch "the breeze", the English translation of Te Aura, Maire Burns and Phil Judd's luxury catamaran based out of Waiheke Island.
Today, a westerly is blowing 20 knots as we motor away from Matiatia. The head sail is quickly on a furler, the main sail is hoisted and we're sailing. Phil is on the helm and Maire and daughter Hana are crewing as we pass the homes of the rich and a few famous, making our way around to Oneroa and Palm Beach.
Phil and Maire's background is in hospitality. They ran the Currach Irish Pub on Great Barrier Island, and Phil did a lot of charter sailing around Turkey's Aegean coast.
"This combines all our loves," says Maire, "sailing, food and hospitality."
Phil rates Waiheke just as appealing as the Aegean, and far less crowded on the water."Waiheke is as beautiful with lots of little bays. There's always somewhere to go."
It's one of those little bays we settle on for a lunch top, anchoring off Hakaimango Pt, where we are treated like kings with a platter of breads, oysters, salmon dip with dill, Greek olives, spicy herb spread with cashews and cranberries, marinated sirloin in mild chili sauce, and a choice of lemon tart and brownies.
Some of Te Aura's bookings are spontaneous, others Maire emails back and forth to suss out what her clients want.
Also popular are their twilight cruises, when they sail past Cable Bay and Mudbrick vineyards and guests enjoy wine tastings on board.
"We tailor-make our charters. Some people want to have the sailing experience, others want to find a nice cove and have food and wine. Or they may want to go snorkelling."
One memorable sailing included a wannabe groom popping the question on board."He was going to propose on Motuihe," explains Phil, "but a rainbow came out while we were sailing and he couldn't wait. Fortunately she said yes or it could have been a very tense trip back."
Contact: islandsailing.co.nz, (09) 372 3241 or 027 695 1241. Have a look here
Numbers: Can take five overnight and 16 on day trip
Price: Adults, three hours from $95
Pick up: Mainly Matiatia but can come to Viaduct Harbour
Harbour sailing and racing
A familiar sight on the Waitemata is the blue-and-white striped sails of the Pride of Auckland Yachts, a fleet of four 50ft monohull sailing yachts designed by Alan Wright and operated by Explore NZ.
Punters can choose from a harbour cruise (with or without lunch), a dinner cruise or a Waiheke sailing experience. The yachts are also available for private charters.
Passengers get a buzz out of sailing under the Auckland Harbour Bridge, appreciating the mass of the structure viewed from the water.
Passengers can try their luck at the Viaduct ticket booth to see if there is space available on the next cruise. You just need flat-soled shoes, a warm jacket and preferably a camera. And there is also the option of helping to sail the boat, even if you have no sailing experience.
The most popular option is the dinner cruise on which catering is provided by Kermadec restaurant.
Another option from Explore NZ is sailing on an America's Cup yacht such as NZL41. The two-hour sailing experience is $160 for adults, $115 for children. The three-hour match-racing trips are $210 and $180 when wannabe racing sailors can take the helm, try
their hand at grinding or just enjoy the ride.
Contact: 0800 EXPLORE, explorenz.co.nz
Numbers: Up to 18 for Pride of Auckland, minimum numbers apply for racing experience
Prices: Start from $75 for 1.5 hours
Pick up: Viaduct Harbour
A touch of nostalgia
If style rather than speed is your preferred mode of travel, and you love classic boats, you will enjoy the sleek schooner Arcturus, which offers a touch of nostalgia on its sailings on the Harbour and out to the Gulf.
This John G Alden-designed vessel was launched in the United States in 1930 and was at one time owned by American army commander General George Patton, who sailed the schooner to Hawaii and back in its early years. It later spent time on the west coast of America, and at one stage was owned by an "Oscar" Kelly, which skipper Bruce Dunlop thinks may have been an alias for Hollywood actor Gene Kelly. After those glory days the schooner fell into a disrepair. Fortunately, it was transported to Auckland for a major refit to restore the teak decks and mahogany interior.
Now this fine classic vessel does trips out of the Viaduct, starting from two-hour Harbour sails and ranging further to Waiheke Island, the Bay of Islands and the Coromandel. It cruises rather elegantly at 8 knots under full sail with Bruce at the helm, a Kiwi with 35 years' sailing experience.
Popular reasons for chartering the schooner are family reunions, work parties and even the scattering of loved ones' ashes. You can also take part in seamanship and sailing training.
Bruce says Arcturus offers people a chance to reconnect with nature. Sailing may seem foreign to landlubbers but he reminds us that many of our ancestors came to New Zealand by boat.
Bruce says the allure of this vessel is its history. "There are not many schooners in New Zealand. The boat is beautiful to sail on. And it can take you to places you can't normally go, we find great little anchorages."
There's also the option of joining the Dreaming at Sea charters when the boat's owner, New Mexico-based Jungian analyst BarryWilliams, visits New Zealand and ventures out to Great Barrier, the Coromandel or the Bay of Islands to run sessions on dreams.
Contact: Call Bruce Dunlop on 027 477 9023, classicboatcharter.com
Numbers: Up to 15 people on a day sailing; overnight trips sleep up to six
Price: Two-hour harbour cruises (minimum of 6) $96 per person
Pick up: Viaduct Harbour
One of the most affordable ways to get on the water in Auckland is an hour-long Harbour sail on the Ted Ashby flat bottomed scow. It heads out from the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum at the Viaduct, Wednesdays to Sundays. Aucklanders get free admission to the museum. A sail on the Ted Ashby costs $12 for adults and $6 for children, with up to 48 people on board. There's usually the opportunity to try your hand at crewing. Take something warmin case there's a cool breeze on the water.
Contact: (09) 373 0800, maritimemuseum.co.nz
Numbers: Up to 48
Pick up: Viaduct Harbour
Sailing is in his blood, says Mike Taylor, whose charter yacht's name, Generation 5, recognises that he is the fifth generation of his family to own and sail boats.
"I love sailing. The moment you turn the engine off and start sailing, that's magic. It's addictive."
That love of sailing motivates Mike and Christy Ralphs to take people out in their keeler, teaching them the basics of sailing, or simply allowing them to enjoy time on the water, stopping for a bite to eat and perhaps swimming off the yacht's landing platform while they anchor near one of the Hauraki Gulf islands.
"We've had guests aged from 13 to 85," says Mike, who offers a half or full day sail leaving from Bayswater, downtown Auckland or Matiatia. The keeler sails around the harbour or further out on the Gulf, depending on the weather conditions, prevailing winds and tides. Mike limits the charters to six. "It's more intimate, more hands-on and less a cattle-in-the-yard type of experience."
He says the 11.3m Jeanneau Sun Fast 36 is rated one of the country's safest vessels by Maritime New Zealand. "All people need is a camera, hat, sunglasses, layered clothing and soft-soled shoes." There are no bare feet, no Jandals and no alcohol. "We have an adventure and it's safe. It's all about the fun.
"I have an entry in my sailing log from a passenger saying this is the best day of their life. It's great to be able to read that.We have the best sailing playground in the world. You can go out on a Wednesday and there's no one else around."
Christy and Mike have witnessed poignant moments, such as a keen sailor in his mid-80s who brought his two daughters along."He wanted to go sailing and I think it was probably his last time," says Mike. They've also had their fair share of proposals on board, something they can relate to as they met on the Spirit of New Zealand and later married on the three masted barquentine.
Contact: Mike Taylor, gosailing.co.nz or (09) 372 2220
Numbers: Four is ideal, maximum of six
Pick up: Bayswater, Downtown, Matiatia
Prices: Vary, a half-day exclusive is $475 for four people