At sea


After their unfortunate encounter with the Maori on the 18th and 19th, Tasman's expedition sheltered from foul weather not far from Murderer's Bay, from 21 to 26 December. Their anchorage was to the east of the Rangitoto Islands, off the coast of D'Urville Island.


This drawing shows the Heemskerck and Zeehaen sitting at anchor in "Abel Tasman's Bay" in New Zealand. 

Tasman and his men sat at anchor unable to move due to the storm coming from the North West. They lowered their yards to the decks to sit it out. The storm was so fierce that on the Heemskerck they put down a second anchor and ran out more cable. The Zeehaen followed suit when their first anchor started to slip.

They named where they sat at anchor “Abel Tasman’s Bay”.

While they were no longer exposed to the danger of the lee shore, they were by no means out of trouble and now they were even more trapped than before.
Previously, to escape, they needed the wind to come from anywhere except the west. Any wind direction from North East, via East round to the South East would allow them a westerly exit, but now any passage to the west was blocked by D’Urville Island. Now they needed to first go northwards past Stephens Island and then try to go West. Now they didn’t need just a favourable wind direction, they needed one followed by another.

As they sat there, they realised that they were not alone. They were sheltering from the storm in the lee of Rangitoto Islands, themselves just off D’Urville Island, and they knew there were people there because they saw smoke.

The Barber Surgeon Hendrik Haelbos wrote that after leaving Golden Bay Tasman “found himself then surrounded by land” (this was the morning they discovered they were against the lee shore) and that he “was tossed at anchor by hard storm before a coast, where he saw much smoke rise”

As they sat there at anchor unable to move, they were being watched. It is most likely that the watchers were Ngati Tumatakokiri too, the same tribe as they had met in Golden Bay, as D’Urville Island was also a part of their range.

In the appalling weather Tasman didn’t attempt to go ashore, and the Ngati Tumatakokiri didn’t go out to them either.

From information given in Tasman’s journal we can estimate the position of this anchorage fairly accurately.

“the said island was north-north-west of us, then dropped our anchor behind a number of cliffs in 33 fathom”

<p>A satellite image from google maps rotated to the same orientation as the Abel Tasman Bay drawing annotated with key landmarks</p>

A satellite image from google maps rotated to the same orientation as the Abel Tasman Bay drawing annotated with key landmarks

Tasman’s ships lay south-south-east of Stephens Island where the depth was approximately 60m and where they were in the lee of some cliffs.

These three criteria are satisfied in only a very small area, and comparison of Isaac Gilsemans drawing to a modern map allows us to identify some of the features in his drawing.

While Isaac Gilsemans recorded what he could actually see, Pilot Major Visscher, the navigator and chart maker, drew something that he suspected to was there, but didn’t see.

On 23rd December Tasman recorded that; “since the tide was running from the south-east there was likely to be a passage through, so that perhaps it would be best, as soon as wind and weather should permit, to investigate this point and see whether we could get fresh water there”

A passage

Among the three copies of the journal that still exist there are two charts, and they are not quite the same. One is in the completed ‘State Archives’ copy of the journal, and the other is the partially complete ‘Huijdecoper’ copy. These two charts are mostly similar, but differ in an important detail; the ‘Huijdecoper’ chart, which was drawn by Visscher personally, indicates an opening between the North Island and South Island of New Zealand corresponding to what we now know as Cook Strait. The State Archives copy of the chart shows the land there as continuous.

Had they known for certain that there was passage there, and that it opened into the South Sea and not a large inland sea, then they could has used this exit in any westerly wind. But there was uncertainty, and with that came risk. If the tidal flow was not from the ocean, but from a large body of water, an inland sea, then the difficulty of escape would re-double.

<p>A comparison of the South Taranaki Bight area in the Visscher chart, and the chart in the State Archives copy</p>

A comparison of the South Taranaki Bight area in the Visscher chart, and the chart in the State Archives copy

We don’t know for certain why there is this difference in the documents, but equally the men on board the two ships did not know for certain whether or not there was a passage through to the ocean either.

The journal notes that they might investigate it should “wind and weather should permit “. But as events unfolded, that opportunity didn’t arise.

On December 25th 1642, even though they were half the world away from home they still remembered Christmas. The Sailor’s journal records:

“against noon the master came with the merchant of the Zeehaen on board our ship as guests to the commander. There were also two pigs killed for the crew, and the commander ordered, besides the ration, a tankard of wine to be given to every mess, as it was the time of the fair.”
Tasman’s journal for that day notes that the storm had eased, and they prepared to get under sail again, re-raising their years, and taking in some of their anchor line.

“In the morning we reset our tops and sailyards, but out at sea things looked still so gloomy that we did not venture to weigh our anchor. Towards evening it fell a calm so that we took in part of our cable.”
To escape the trap of the lee shore they needed to first round Stephens Island to their NNW, then they could resume their efforts to tack out of the bight. Once clear of Stephens Island, any wind direction except west would permit this.

In the darkness, before dawn on 26th December, the wind gave them an opportunity to escape, and they took it immediately.

“In the morning, two hours before day, we got the wind east-north-east with a light breeze. We weighed anchor and set sail, steered our course to northward, intending to sail northward round this land; at daybreak it began to drizzle, the wind went round to the south-east, and afterwards to the south as far as the south-west, with a stiff breeze. We had soundings in 60 fathom, and set our course by the wind to westward.”
They started moving while it was still dark. The wind from ENE allowed them a NNW path toward Stephens Island, then, having rounded the island the wind turned to a stiff south wester. Sailing hard on the wind they set a North West course, and headed out into the Tasman Sea.

Tasman had escaped.

<p>Visschers map until December 26&nbsp;</p>

Visschers map until December 26