On the third day of our tour, we went out to sea on the first of several scheduled pelagic trips. About 2/3 of the New Zealand field guide is seabirds, so us land-folks had a lot to learn. One of the goals of this trip was to see the New Zealand Storm-Petrel, recently rediscovered by our guides after being believed extinct for 150 years.
The day started out well, with excellent weather on the Hauraki Gulf, and great views of all the birds we hoped to see. Cameras were clicking and storm-petrels were flitting over the ocean, trying for the bits of fish we were throwing overboard. We had lunch, then headed out toward Little Barrier Island to see another beautiful bird, the Grey Ternlet.
After watching them roosting on some small rocky islands far offshore, we headed back. Had we gone all the way in at that point, everything would have been fine :) Instead we made one more stop to throw the last of the fish overboard and look at birds… and then the batteries went dead. A look at the batteries indicated that the previous user of this boat had linked up the spares in parallel to the main batteries (probably because HIS batteries went dead), draining all of them.
Some of us were a bit green by now, as the swells had been rising ever higher. Our skipper checked in with the harbormaster, and for a while they tried to find a nearby boat to offer assistance – but no luck. We were just too far out. The owner of this boat was nowhere to be found (it had been rented due to the unavailability of the usual boat for maintenance).
The only recourse was for the skipper to radio his own maintenance crew and have them bring him out another battery and jumper cables – necessitating a bit of a drive for them, locating another vessel, fueling it up, and getting it out to where we were. Fortunately, he was able to make all these arrangements before transmitter power was lost. Unfortunately, it would be 5 hours before they finally reached us.
There was a bit of anxiety toward the end, because we could hear the crew and the harbormaster transmitting, but could not transmit our own coordinates, and we were drifting to the NE (out to sea) with the current. And the swells were getting higher, and at least one person was actively sick and a couple others not too far from it. Then it started to look like it might get dark. Of course we did have flares, and the crew could figure out our probable location from the drift, so we were never really in danger, though sick and hungry.
After they found us and brought a battery on board, the ride home was almost the worst part. For whatever reason, the skipper was in a big hurry and the swells were really high. We were being lifted off our seats and slammed back down, things were flying off the tables, and there was about 3 hours of that before finally reaching the harbor around midnight.
We did have about 80 sightings of the New Zealand Storm-Petrel, more than any trip before us. And we are among maybe 500 people the world over to have seen it. But this was definitely not the way to see it :) Better luck to all who come after!