Archive for November, 2009

Great Barrier Island

Lat: 36 18.086′ S
Lon: 175 21.989′ E

We had plenty of wind on our way to Great Barrier Island. Some good sized seas built up, but we were going with them, which makes all the difference. After sailing by Poor Knights Islands, we passed right between Sugarloaf Rock and High Peak Rocks. I have no idea what sugarloaf means, but it was apparently popular when English geographical names were getting dished out here in NZ, as there’s no shortage of sugarloaf features.

DSC_0207 Sugarloaf rock to starboard

We generally never ever come into a new place at night. It’s a common rule among sailors as there are just too many hazards that aren’t on the charts (mooring buoys, anchored boats, etc) or are charted poorly, or have been added since the chart was made. However, we were making such good time that we were going to get in at 1:30 am, a couple of hours before moonset. With the bright moonlight and the selection of a protected cove off of an open, deep bay to anchor in, we decided to give it a shot. Of course, right as we started to enter the mouth of the bay the moon went behind thick clouds and we noticed that there was a light fog in the bay. The light from the 800,000 candle power spotlight we were going to use as our "headlight" just reflected off of the moisture in the air instead of letting us see what was in the water ahead. Luckily, the wind was blowing the fog into the opposite reaches of the bay, so it cleared up a bit as we motored into Nagle Cove. We managed to anchor in a safe place with only one close call with a mooring buoy.

The next morning we woke up to the sound of sheep that were grazing on the hillside. Great Barrier is a rugged, verdant island with large, calm bays surrounded by towering ridge lines. The mountains are generally covered with a variety of trees, but some have been cleared for grazing and are a bright, rolling green among the darker green of the forest. Small steep-sided rocky islands are spread along its western coast. After breakfast we did a bit of work, topping off the water in the batteries and troubleshooting the nav lights. They drew over 20 amps when I had turned them on the night before (shorted out somewhere, really need to add a fuse) and so we sailed with anchor and steaming lights on instead. The problem turned out to be a short in the red port light that toasted the wiring and melted part of the plastic packaging. It may or may not be repairable, so we’re short one of our nav lights for tonight’s sail.

DSC_0208What 20 amps looks like the next day

Next we motored over to Forestry Bay, which is a small, quiet bay next to the "metropolitan" Port Fitzroy bay and started work on the steering. It’s been on the list for a while and we were hoping to work on it later, but the wheel was making a loud squeaking sound most of the way down and it was getting hard to turn, which is hard on the autopilot (our most valuable piece of gear aside from GPS). We debated disconnecting the wheel and just using the autopilot (attached to the rudder quadrant) and the emergency tiller or just hand steering the last 24 hours, but decided to have a go at servicing the steering instead. Unfortunately, servicing the steering wasn’t really a high priority for the boat designer. The pieces I needed to get to were basically at the top of a narrow, arm-length, chimney-like shaft with a greasy chain hanging down in the top half of it. Driving out the locking pin just wasn’t going to happen without cutting an access hole under the compass, so I settled instead for a couple hours work in getting the wheel and hub off. The aluminum hub really didn’t want to let go of the stainless shaft and key. For any boaters out there, PB Blaster works wonders, but any stainless/aluminum interfaces really need to be coated with something like Tef-Gel or Duralak to have any hope of coming apart in the future. Luckily, all the banging, PB Blaster, and WD-40, as well as some dry lubricant sprayed into the shaft/bearing crack seemed to do well enough for now. The squeaking stopped and it’s much easier to turn the wheel.

DSC_0221 In the midst of several frustrating hours trying to disassemble the steering

After all that fun, we headed ashore for a nice tramp (hike) to a waterfall on one of the many tracks (trails) here on the island. The NZ DoC (Department of Conservation) is really second to none in terms of the number and quality of tracks they maintain throughout the country. This one gave us a nice walk through the forest and eventually lead to Port Fitzroy. Even though the NZ anchorages book we found made it sound almost like a major metro, none of the three "restaurants" were open on Sunday and the general store was already closed, so we had to settle for a nice walk back to the boat and a great pasta dinner at sunset. With the cold nights here, we’ve started closing up the boat before Lauren cooks dinner so that the heat from the stove warms the boat up enough to make it comfortable until we dive under the blankets.

DSC_0234 Small waterfall along the verdant track

This morning we got up early and headed out through Man O’ War passage to sail the last 100 nm or so to Tauranga. NZ does have some incredible cruising grounds (the anchorage guide we bought lists 400 mainland and island anchorages just between North Cape and East Cape), but coastal cruising takes a bit of getting used to. There are land and boat traffic hazards to avoid, crayfish (lobster) traps to dodge, changing weather to keep track of, and tides and landfalls to time appropriately. Aside from the self-sufficiency aspects, it really does seem more challenging to coastal cruise (especially an area with shoals and reefs) than to make a tradewind ocean passage. The other big difference is that quite surprisingly, I’ve had connectivity for my Blackberry (now loaded with an NZ sim card) the whole way! The simple life is nice, but as Lauren will attest, I do love my Blackberry.

DSC_0254 The early morning view back into Man ‘O’ War passage

DSC_0263 We were sailing so slowly that these birds didn’t bother to move until we were pretty close

DSC_0274 The white dots on the hillside are hundreds of birds

On The Move

Lat: 35 17.640 S
Lon: 174 27.640 E

Friday morning it looked like our favorable winds were coming in early, so we decided to head out toward Tauranga. We finished up several repairs we’d started earlier, and made some more calls back to family in the US. Since it’s Thanksgiving there, they were gathering together and it was great to hear their voices, especially my cousin Heidi, who’s expecting a baby girl in a week (we’re proud of you guys). Lauren even got to see her Grandma on Skype, which definitely made her a bit homesick. Thanksgiving is usually my favorite holiday, with all the great food and family. Phone calls and Skype aren’t quite the same, but at least we’re in the land of the supermarket, so things on the food front are becoming much more diverse and interesting. We even have brown rice, which was impossible to find for the last several months.

Once we finally finished preparations we weighed anchor and headed out under sail without ever using the engine. That was a first for us and was sort of fun. We had one engine on just in case, but were able to get underway without using it. The boat had a couple signs of not being used for a while; the roller furler was seized up and took a while to free, and a couple of winches are having issues. Lauren serviced all of them before we left, but it’s been a year and they’ve seen a lot of use. Once we finally tacked down the channel and out into the Bay of Islands, the wind started to die on us, so we decided to spend the night anchored at Roberton Island. Roberton Island is where Captain Cook first landed here in the Bay of Islands and is a beautiful spot with two high ends connected by an isthmus with a nice rock and shell beach. After anchoring, we went ashore and climbed the path to a lookout over the bay that was the site of a Maori pa (hilltop fortification) back in Cook’s day. There weren’t any visible remains, but the view was great.

DSC_0127  The dink on the beach at Roberton IslandDSC_0161

Pura Vida from the hillside trail

DSC_0141 The view from the hilltop

This morning we tried sailing off the anchor again, but there just wasn’t enough wind in the anchorage so we eventually motored to the east tip of the island before sailing behind several small islands and out into the bay. We had lots of wind as we rounded Cape Brett and sailed past Piercy Rock (Cook named the rock, which looks like it has a hole pierced through it, after an Endeavour sailor named Piercy). We’re headed to Tauranga with a planned stop at Great Barrier Island, which is giving us a nice downwind sail. The sun finally came out after an overcast morning, making for ideal sailing, even if it is a little cool.

DSC_0197 The famed Piercy Rock, just off of Cape Brett (people actually pay a lot of money to go through the hole on a big cigarette boat)

Virtually every boat we’ve met along our Pacific crossing has showed up in Opua. A couple opted for Australia, but all of the others are here. Just as I was typing this, we heard Dave on the South African Wharram cat Dragon calling customs for arrival check-in. The most interesting arrival we saw was a 70 year-old single hander on a 36-foot boat. He was clearly having trouble putting one foot in front of the other and we learned that he had just arrived after being 44 days offshore from Raiatea direct to Opua. We didn’t get the full story, but it’s no wonder his landlegs were slow in coming. We still aren’t fully adjusted ourselves. We’d rather be at a beautiful, quiet anchorage than tied to a dock in town. Seeing "fashion" again is taking a bit of an adjustment as well. Aside from a few American honeymooners in Bora Bora and some Kiwi tourists in Aitutaki, we haven’t really been around westerners our age for a while. Going into town at night wearing some warm clothes we dug out of our berth and a foul weather jacket to keep warm makes a funny contrast with the fashionably dressed backpackers and tourists. Atoll wardrobes (shorts, t-shirt, and flip-flops with that distinctive Salvation Army flair) don’t seem to be in high demand here.

Off the Dock

It was a treat to spend some time in Auckland with my friend, Mel. Over ten years may have passed since we last saw each other, but she’s still the same ol’ Mel. She even used one of the phrases that I always considered to be one of her trademarks: “I just can’t be bothered” (meaning: I don’t have time or energy to deal with that.) It was fun to meet her flight attendant friends as well. Even though they have spent time in many of the Pacific islands that we visited, they were still very interested in my lifestyle and our experiences aboard Pura Vida. It had been a long time since I had socialized with land-dwellers, and I forgot how utterly foreign our way of life is to some of them.

mel and mom Mel and her mom, Wynn

In contrast, life in the city seemed pretty foreign to me. Riding in the backseat on the highway while Mel’s flat-mate frequently changed lanes was surprisingly disconcerting considering that I used to drive the same way. The next day I went to the mall downtown to buy a new cell phone. I felt a little out of place in the hub of consumerism, as I haven’t spent money on much of anything besides food and drink in several months. Naturally, I found my way to the food court…wow! So many choices! I settled for some mix-and-match Japanese sushi take-away, and it was like nothing I’ve ever tasted. One of the creative and tasty items was a triangle of fish, egg, vegetables, and wasabi compressed together.

I was pleased to get back to see Dallas, and after a couple of days away, even happy to be back on the boat. It seems like we’ve been in a state of transition since we arrived in NZ, but after a week, we finally felt in a position to get off the dock, motor a couple of miles, and drop anchor outside the quaint little town of Russell. It’s funny….the marina used to feel like the place to be due to its close proximity to hot showers and restaurants, but at the moment, it feels much better to be out on our own surrounded by aquamarine water.

This also seems to have rejuvenated us in terms of boat maintenance. Dallas and I put in a full day on Wednesday. I cleaned up the galley and helped him to re-bed (use adhesive to re-attach) and bolt a transom step, a through-hull for the starboard forward bilge (probably the source of the many gallons of water that we took on), and the mounts for the broken bimini. Dallas also learned to splice (braid rope back into itself) while rigging up a new painter and anchor for the dinghy.

splice Dallas was pleased with his new dinghy painter

We headed into town around 8:00 p.m. The town of Russell was very much as it was described in the cruising guide–up-scale, romantic, colonial. Nearly everything was closed except for a few of the up-scale restaurants and the Swordfish Club. We stopped in for a glass of local wine (NZ has tasty, inexpensive wine!) and gazed in disbelief at the photos of the enormous fish that various anglers have literally pulled out of the nearby bays. One of the most memorable replicas on the wall was of a 1,016 lb blue marlin! I still don’t quite comprehend how they manage to get these behemoths on the boat.

marlin “Old Blue”

Today is Thanksgiving for us (tomorrow for those of you back in the States). We have spent much of the day talking about and ordering things for the boat, but we’ve observed the very worthwhile traditions of phoning family and eating lots of food. We weren’t able to find our new friend Ants to treat him to a meal and give thanks for his hospitality, so it has been just the two of us, but it seems like it’s not quantity but quality that’s important when it comes to holiday company.

thanksgiving Thanksgiving dinner aboard—fake meatloaf, scalloped potatoes, salad, and pumpkin pie

I wrote in a recent blog that our next step would be to haul out the boat, but we’ve changed our minds. We are going to head straight to the marina in Tauranga in order to get settled in before Dallas starts work on Dec. 1. There is a weather window for setting sail down the coast on Saturday, so hopefully we will have a chance to stop at one or two idyllic, uninhabited islands along the way.

Where East Meets West

After a week of getting reacclimated to the world of the landlubbers while docked in Opua, I decided I was ready to venture out to Auckland. About a quarter of NZ’s 4+ million inhabitants reside here, so it is quite a change from the little villages in which we’ve spent the last 6 months. I just arrived, so I’m still experiencing a bit of a culture shock. Everyone and everything seem to be moving really fast. The advantages of the city are already apparent, though, as I’m sitting here with the best cup of coffee I’ve had in months using the blazing-fast internet. I’m awaiting the arrival of my Kiwi friend Mel, who I haven’t seen for 11 years! She and I met in Germany when I was there working as an au pair many moons ago, and we really hit it off. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to catch up with her in person and help her celebrate her birthday today.


Wes and Tiff also made their way to Auckland this morning to catch their flights back home. Tiff has been counting the days until she is able to see her family, and now she can finally stop counting. She has lived most of her life within a few blocks radius of her family, so she has been quite a trooper coming all this way!

The City of Sails (as viewed from the bus)

The City of Sails (as viewed from the bus)


 So we are now in the Eastern hemisphere, but I could swear today that I am back in the West. Granted the Maori culture is prevalent in certain areas of NZ such as up in the Bay of Islands where we met Ants, but here in the city (so far) there is a distinct absence of anything remotely resembling Maori or even Asian heritage (although the population is very diverse). With the skyscrapers and strip malls, it seems like an American city. It’s already having an influence on me…I keep thinking about how I need to get back to work! I found a couple of interesting leads in the newspapers, so we’ll see…

Dallas is holding down the multihulled fort for a couple of days back in Opua. When I return, we will most likely move the boat to a boatyard to get hauled out and take care of some of the major tasks on the boat maintenance list such as the “bottom job” (sanding and repainting the hulls), repairing the starboard trampoline, and having the bow inspected and potentially repaired by a professional. (There was damage to the stainless steel plate and base of the roller furler as a result of pounding into the waves.) In the meantime, he is working on the multitude of minor repairs and taking time out now and then to explore the Northland. Yesterday, for example, Ants came by the boat and took Dallas out pig hunting in the woods! Ants has a couple of very big and mean but well-trained dogs that do the actual killing of the pigs, but alas, Dallas didn’t have a chance to see them in action yesterday. Interestingly, Dallas learned that the NZ Department of Conservation is in the process of poisoning all of the large animals such as the pigs in the area in an effort to restore the original habitat of the area (i.e., primarily birds and fish). Obviously, this places the government at odds with many of the locals such as Ants who rely on the pigs for sustenance, but somehow I think that Ants will always find a way to get by.

Ashore in Opua

We had plenty of time to stretch our legs on Tuesday morning, walking up and down the arrival dock waiting on the customs/immigration folks to arrive and clear us in. They finally arrived around 10:00 a.m. and were gone no more than an hour later. It was definitely a more thorough process than we’ve experienced before (with the exception of the Honduran Navy’s search for contraband in tiny Swan Island), but it wasn’t as nerve-wracking as other cruisers had made it out to be. The three female officials were not at all imposing or threatening, although the woman in charge of inspecting the bottom of the boat for growth (using an underwater camera) appeared pretty stern initially. By the end, everyone was smiling, and they walked away with nothing but some dried beans and one of Tiff’s wooden masks from Tonga that had some wood-boring insects in it. (It was returned to us the same day after a pesticide treatment.) They do take biosecurity very seriously here, but it seems that they have good reason to work so hard to preserve the awesome natural beauty of the environment.

DSC_0915 Green mountains of the Northland

We opted to take a spot on the dock rather than picking up a mooring so that we could take full advantage of the land-based amenities. Once settled, the first order of business, naturally, was to find something to eat and shower. We settled for a quick lunch from the general store here (there’s only one restaurant, and it’s pretty pricey) and headed to the showers. (As usual, I feel the need  to go into some detail about my experience.) First off, the water pressure was excellent, and yes, it was HOT! However, you have to pay $1 NZ (about $0.75 US) for every 4 minutes of hot water, so I didn’t spend a luxurious hour soaking up the hot water, as I would have liked. In fact, I only spent $3. I guess I’m so cheap that even hot-shower-deprivation can’t bring me to put a high price on a shower. Even so, I walked out feeling clean and refreshed, and my husband hardly recognized me with my hair down and my "Western" clothes. (We tend to dress purely for comfort when off-shore.)

DSC_0934 Settled in among large neighbors on the boatyard dock

That afternoon, Dallas was already attacking his boat maintenance to-do list. There are quite a few marine services located here by the marina, and he stopped in to speak to a mechanic about the port engine’s oil pressure problem. An hour later, a mechanic came by with an oil pressure gauge, but wouldn’t you know it, the problem (the oil pressure alarm sounding when the engine is at idle) didn’t occur when they actually wanted it to, so we’ll have to take the boat out into the bay in the next few days in hopes that the mechanic can observe the problem once the engine has warmed up and the oil is more viscous (I just confirmed that this is in fact a word).

That night Wes and Tiff rode the bikes to Paihia, 7 kilometers away. Dallas was tired, but the money we just received from his brother Tim for our just-made-landfall dinner was burning a hole in our pocket, so he mustered up a second wind, and we made our way to the nearby restaurant. Unfortunately, it was closed, so we had no choice but to start off walking to Paihia. (We could have returned to the boat for a home-cooked meal of course, but neither of us considered that very seriously.) The walk along the windy road into the rolling, forest-lined hills was beautiful, but it was getting dark and there wasn’t much of a sidewalk, so we were relieved to come across a tavern serving pizza just a couple of kilometers from the marina. We walked into the middle of Quiz Night, so all of the tables were full of Kiwis intently examining the question on the screen and whispering to their teammates about the possible answers. We located an empty loveseat by the wall and learned the answer to questions such as "How many tries did so-and-so score in last week’s rugby match?" while enjoying a cold beer–I opted for a locally brewed draft, while Dallas enjoyed his first Guinness in almost a year.

DSC_0916 Paihia from a distance

After the quiz ended around 10 p.m., everyone cleared out quickly except for us and a couple of locals, one of whom was a very animated local guy named Anz. He had a fairly light complexion and later explained that he was the "white sheep" of his Maori family, most of whom have browner skin. He wore baggy cotton pants tucked into tall fishing boots, which seem to be the footwear of choice here in the Bay of Islands. We enjoyed "yarning" with Anz and taking in his funny Kiwi expressions such as "sweet-az!" (cool).

Even though we are now in a 1st world country, people like Anz take advantage of the abundant natural resources, hunting or fishing or collecting shellfish and oysters to feed their families. Anz was quite proud of the plentiful food, social services, and natural beauty of his country as well as his subsistence lifestyle and was surprised to find on his travels through the States that no one, not even the Native Americans, relied on hunting as a means of survival anymore. Anyway, we hope to see Anz again while we are in the area, and I plan to take him up on his offer to introduce me to local delicacies such as pink abalone (shellfish).

Wednesday was occupied by boat projects (e.g., repairing a broken step on the transom and re-installing the indoor VHF receiver) and catching up with cruisers who just arrived such as our friends on S/V Anima and S/V Marionette. However, Dallas and I took in some natural beauty surreptitiously on our walk to the Yamaha store to get a new propeller for the dinghy’s outboard engine. As the friendly Kiwi who gave us directions informed us, "You just follow the railroad tracks till you get to a wee bridge, then there’s a wee dirt road." It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, the tracks and road were lined with wildflowers, and the indigenous birds accompanied us with their unique sounds. I suggested to Dallas that whether we decide to spend the cyclone season in Tauranga, Whangarei, or Auckland (it’s still a bit up in the air), it would be nice to take time each day to avail ourselves of the local scenery.

We have to make time for such things, because there is plenty to do on the boat. As my dad said while skyping yesterday, "I didn’t realize the ocean was so hard on boats!" You can say that again. After bailing several gallons of water out of the forward starboard bilge this morning, Dallas is regretting pushing the boat harder than usual so that we could get here a day earlier, but hindsight is always 20-20. Hopefully he will feel as though he’s accomplished some major boat repairs before he starts work in a couple of weeks.

DSC_0979 Back in the bilge

We recently learned that Wes is going to return to TX to work during the cyclone season rather than trying to find work here. He and Tiff will be on the same flight back on Nov. 23. That leaves Dallas and I to try to create some semblance of Thanksgiving, just the two of us, here on the other side of the world. Maybe we can introduce some Kiwis such as Anz to pumpkin pie.