Friday, April 20, 2018

Dunedin and South

From Oamaru we headed a short distance to a larger city, Dunedin. Dunedin is the seventh largest city in NZ. It is known for its Scottish heritage and nicknamed "The Edinburgh of the South." The name Dunedin is a derivation of the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, "Dun Eideann."

It is a charming place with great architecture and our Airbnb accomodations fit the bill. We stayed in what was the servants quarter for a larger house – refitted in a very artsy and comfortable apartment. It was (of course) up a hill – so we got our workout. We enjoyed doing a lot of walking around the city – following both walking tour guides that took us past many beautiful and historic buildings, including the Edwardian train station. This is supposedly the most photographed building in all of NZ (how they figure that out is questionable becuase we would guess the Sky Tower would win that prize) – but nonetheless it is pretty magnificent.

We also did a nice trek around a park not far from the city center – it was around a resevoir and quite pretty.

From Dunedin we headed to Invercargill on our way to Stewart Island. This was to be a pit stop to our trip across the rough waters. We had the advantage of knowing (at least by voice - via the ham radio) some folks who lived in nearby Bluff. Trevor and Norma were kind enough to meet us in Invercargill for lunch and then took us on a great tour of the place. We stopped at a museum that breeds the ancient NZ tuatara. This is a lizard-like reptile that remains unchanged for 220 million years. One of the largest and eldest inhabitants of this breeding zone is the patriach, Henry who is 115 years old. The museum is unfortunately closed because of the fear of earthquakes, but the tuatara can be viewed in their large glass enclosures in the back. We went through some lovely parks. The highlight though was the hardware store. The E. Hayes Hardware store is a working hardware store with just about every possible tool made by man...but it is also a museum with old motorcycles, cars, trucks, tools and engines on display amongst the items for sale. They have an ingenious, cobbled together, homemade, working internal combustion engine put together with unconventional parts. For example, a hospital urinal for exhaust; a pressure cooker for a fuel tank; a mason jar for lube oil sump and a wooden one by two for control arm...and it works. Trevor got the owner to start it for us! The star of the exhibit is the Burt Munro old Indian motorcycle – the star of the movie, "The World's Fastest Indian" starring Anthony Hopkins. The Indian motorcycle set landspeed records on the salt flats of Utah and is in the museum along with other old Indians driven by Munro and motorcycles of all types and classes, many very old.

The next day, we went to Bluff so Michael could have one last call on "Tony's Net" the ham radio net he participated in regularly. We did this at Trevor and Norma's home and it was fun to hear the voices from Trish (of Gulf Harbour Radio), Carl, Gary, John, Dave, Sergio and Christian. Good propagation made it a fun to hear everyone from Tasmania, Harvey Bay, Australia, Auckland, Bay of Islands and elsewhere. Felt like being back on Astarte!

After the net we were to catch the ferry to Stewart Island. There was a gale force wind blowing and big clouds so we expected a rough ride. Unfortunately, the weather was SO BAD, they actually cancelled the ferry – something that is rarely done. We checked on air flights to Stewart and they even cancelled them! The prediction was for it to continue to get worse for the next few days. So we reluctantly decided to cancel the trip. This was something we did with great disappointment as this was what we most wanted to do . We were booked for three days on the island, but all three days looked to be too bad.

Instead, we scrambled to find a place to stay and headed to Caitlins. That will be the next chapter.


Friday, April 13, 2018

South Island Stage Three

The hail storms and rain continued on and off as we left Christchurch in the rental car – a Toyota Corolla. Our destination was about 225 kilometers south to Oamaru. Michael is getting good at driving on the left and going 100 km (about 62 mph). The roads are pretty curvy and mostly single lane roads with regular passing lanes.

Oamaru is an interesting town. It has a Victorian heritage and has the largest collection of well-maintained Victorian buildings still standing in any NZ town. A whole section of the village looks like you've stepped back in time. The buildings now house respectable pubs in lieu of the former brothels; art galleries instead of wool storage; and chic cafes rather than whiskey warehouses. Penguins are another main attraction in Oamaru. You can watch the Little Blue Penguins come ashore right at the beach in town (from bleachers for a $10 admission) or go down the coast a bit to a DOC (Department of Conservation) track and watch the yellow eyed penguin come ashore at no cost other than a short walk. Because we saw many Little Blues on the North Island swimming in their natural environment, we chose to seek out the "Yellow Eyed Penguins." Plus the DOC option just seemed more our style. You have to get there a few hours before sunset to see the critters swim ashore and waddle up the beach. Of course, we have been here for some of the coldest April weather the island has seen in decades and the afternoon we went was mighty windy and very cold. We stood out in the cold wind for a few hours waiting. Finally we saw two on the beach. They are quite a bit larger than their "Little Blue" relatives and spent some time preening and waddling about. We were pretty far from them as they get freaked by people and will often not come out of the water if they sense humans.

We went to a local pub (former brothel) for a warm meal after the adventure. Then we headed back to our room for the night hoping to warm up. The room was quite a unique feature itself. It's called the Bookbinder's Retreat and is indeed owned by a bookbinder. It is an old Victorian cabin built in 1909 or thereabouts. The main house was built even earlier. The retreat felt like a step back in time. All the furnishings fit the era. The sinks were copper, there was an old woodstove and ink wells, hand bound books, and antiques were throughout the small space. It was set in a beautiful garden overlooking the valley and ocean. Unfortunately the weather didn't allow us to sit out in the gazebo and enjoy the surroundings. It was mighty cold and keeping the wood stove burning was critical in staying warm.

The next day we took a nice walk along the harbour (saw a fur seal on a boat launch area) and took in the "Steampunk" Museum. Steampunk is another attraction in Oamaru. In fact it holds the Guinness Book of World Records for having the largest gathering of steampunks in the world – a record just garnered in 2016. A steampunk must be dressed in Victorian wear with at least one "steampunk gadget" on show.

So what exactly is "steampunk?" The word itself didn't come into use until the 1980s. It is a mix of the old and future. Machines created for one thing but re-imagined as something totally different and futuristic. For example an old steam train engine may become a futuristic alien driven tank. Think of the works of HG Wells and Jules Verne who in Victorian times had visions of the future with weird ships for under the seas or time machines. The steampunk movement was kick-started by science fiction works and now incorporates fashion, art, theater, movies, music, and more. Goggles and helmet style hats are part of the wardrobe and a multimedia mix of sound and sight make up the no holds barred style. The museum in Oamaru is in an old grain elevator built in 1883 – the tallest elevator building in New Zealand at the time. The museum is a funky place with a steam train engine modified to steampunk proportions in the front; a zeppelin creation hanging ion the side and inside a collection of weird and wacky items like the Metagallactic Pipe Organ – a pipe organ redesigned to play unique sounds with every organ key you hit. There is a room you enter that is quite magical filled with mirrors, lights and hanging ornaments and synchronized with music. On the outside of the building are giant metal flies and a Victorian man sitting on the roof fishing. It was a fun stop on a cold rainy day – in fact the day added to the overall feel of the strange place.

Oamaru architecture is also noted for the old white limestone quarried from the area that was used for the buildings. There is also one of the few remaining curved wooden piers ever built. It is in disrepair with hopes of repairing it at some point in the future. The man who owns the "Bookbinder's Retreat" has a shop in the Victorian area of town where he does bookbinding the old fashioned way.

We enjoyed our few days in this interesting spot – but would have loved it more if it was sunnier and warmer.

Next stop: Dunedin.



Thursday, April 12, 2018

South Island: East Coast to West Coast

After two nights in Christchurch, we caught the NZ Rail to head to the other side of the island. The train route is called the "TranzAlpine," aptly named because it crosses the mountain range called the Southern Alps. It was a gray and chilly morning when we left...not the best for a sightseeing train ride.

The train is very comfortable with large viewing windows, a cafe car and a viewing car (an outside venue for picture taking. It was very full for the trip which first takes you over lots and lots and lots of the Canterbury Plains – the largest area of food and dairy production in New Zealand. Lots of cows, some sheep, deer (for venison) and even alpacas were seen on the trip across the plains. Slowly the train started its ascent through the mountains. Though cold and drizzly, the many gorges from mountain rivers were deep and awe inspiring...especially from the train going over narrow cuts and bridges. Looking straight down just a few feet away was kind of "exciting."

We stopped at "Arthur's Pass," one of the cuts through the mountain range. The stories of how these passes were surveyed and then made are the tales of explorers. The train provides a great audio commentary throughout the trip giving a good history lesson.

Once over the pass, the sky started to clear after going through an eight kilometer tunnel. Which, when opened, was the 8th longest in the world. Now it is 45th. They added three engines to the train as a safety measure when going through the tunnel. Because of the narrow tunnel and rock dust that kicks up even at a very slow pace, they close the viewing car and cafe car for this portion of the trip.

Once through it was nice to see the sun, as we passed Lake Brunner, several rivers, mining sites and made our way by a changing scenery on this side of the range. We made it to Greymouth, our destination and final stop for this train.

Greymouth is a small mining and lumbering town. Though both industries have declined, with mining being pretty much over. That also means that the port here, used for delivering those two products is not active. It is right on the Tasman Sea, at 42 degrees south. Even on calm days, the seas seemed rough.

Greymouth is now more of a tourist town with lots of hotels and motels and little shops. We stayed at Sceniclands Motel and it was very nice – just a few blocks away to the water. Bronwyn, the hotel manager was exceedingly helpful and suggested a place to get a less expensive rental car along with a few things to see and do. We did end up renting a car for the few days we were there and made our way up to "Pancake Rocks." These are named for the rock formations that look like stacks of pancakes. It was a beautiful walk and the views were great. If tide was higher or the seas rougher, we would have been treated to a magnificent show of water through the many blowholes in the rocks. Our day was sunny and the seas calm and tide was at its lowest. Oh well...it was pretty impressive nonetheless.

The highlight of our visit to Greymouth, was a trek at the DOC "Wood Creek" reserve. This was a slow drive over some gravelly and hilly roads to get back into the area that few locals seemed to even know about. Bronwyn at the hotel suggested it. The trek itself wasn't very long but it was very interesting. This was a gold mining area so the park had many man-made sluices, tunnels and gorges. Caves and tunnels could be seen everywhere in the bush and there were deep and very narrow, straight gorges built by hand piling stone upon stone. Now these stones are covered in moss and greenery. The whole area just drips in dampness. As with all DOC areas we've been to, this one is very well maintained. Lots of bridges and steps help in getting around the trail. We went into a very long tunnel where you could still see the pick marks that helped carve the tunnel out of the rock. Plus it was great to see some fantail birds and ground birds – wetas.

A brewery tour was also in order as one of the small craft style breweries is in Greymouth – Monteiths. The deal was great – you pay for the tour but get to drink as much beer as the tour costs!

We left Greymouth on a very dismal day – gale force winds, cold temps and rain – all coming from the southwest (aka Antarctica). Unfortunately the train station has a very tiny inside waiting room so we found a coffee shop and then the library as a waiting area!

The trip back over the mountains was very different from the one heading west. Same route but a dramatically changed landscape. Snow had hit the mountains. It was still snowing in areas as we made our way through the Southern Alps. It was beautiful to see and the train was empty enough – we could each have window seats! Even the Canterbury Plains were getting snow – something that is not seen often and had never happened in April (or so we were told).

Upon arrival back in Christchurch, it was still very very cold and wet. Throughout the night and into the next morning there were consistent hail storms and lots of wind. Auckland on the North Island had serious damage – in fact closing the airport for several hours with 150 km winds.

Next leg – the drive begins heading further south.



Sunday, April 8, 2018

South Island Adventure


After two weeks back in Whangarei on the North Island of New Zealand sorting our treasures from our Astarte life and adventures, we have made our way to the South Island. Our time in Whangarei was busy getting the packing done but then we enjoyed time with friends and even a steam train ride! We stayed in our first “airbnb” accommodation and were quite happy with the apartment we chose. It was a bit sad to leave one of our favorite places but time to move on.

We landed (via Auckland) in Christchurch on the eastern coast. Christchurch was devastated by earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. It was the second greatest natural disaster in New Zealand's history. Killing 186 people and destroying many homes and buildings, the city shows the scars of this event. Construction sites abound and this is seven years after the event. Many historic buildings are still being shored up by massive steadying beams and the cracks on the rock walls and structures remain visible.

We spent a full day exploring the city via trolley, foot, bus and even gondola. Right after earthquakes, the city cheered itself up with community art projects that popped up in unlikely sites. Sides of buildings were covered with murals; empty spaces were filled with impromptu colorful, creative and even crazy installations of sculpture made from found objects; and, performance art popped up. This gave the city a new flavor.

We went to the art museum, botanical garden, history museum, “cardboard” cathedral (Transitional Cathedral built in 11 months to house the main Anglican Church that was destroyed by the earthquakes). It is called the “cardboard” cathedral because some of the beams are made from cardboard. We saw an interesting tribute “185 chairs” - one of the gap filling art pieces – but quite powerful. There are 185 chairs of every shape and size, all painted white on 185 square meters of grass. This represents the 185 people who died in the quake from all walks of life on grass which represents the new beginnings. Quite moving.

We then took the local bus to a gondola about 20 minutes outside the city. This was a fun ride to see the city and the ocean from above. (It was the first time Michael didn't make me climb up a hill and I arrived at the top without a red face!) The plains of Canterbury are quite flat with series of hills and the view let us sea the ocean to the east. It was beautiful to get a 360 view of the area from on-high.

The botanical gardens were beautiful even in fall. So we enjoyed a stroll through the well maintained and varied rose gardens, large trees, river walk, grass areas and conservatories. We lucked out with a warm (even hot) sunny day for our Christchurch exploration. The trolley was a fun way to get about the city – you could hop on and off at the various stops. They were historic old cars with knowledgeable conductors and drivers that pointed out the highlights (and some lower-lights).

After a full day in the city, we downsized our baggage to make the trip via the “Tranzalpine Train” across the island.

The adventure saga will continue...

Monday, February 5, 2018

Big Changes for Astarte and Crew

There hasn't been a log entry for a long time. Why? Because there have been big changes afoot (or afloat) aboard Astarte and for the crew.

When we arrived in New Zealand in November 2017, we made a huge decision. We decided it was time to take on a new adventure. We had nine years of the full time cruising life aboard a very good yacht. Astarte took very good care of us and we enjoyed our time on our floating home. After a really rough trip from Fiji to New Zealand and looking ahead to some big expenses aboard (new standing rigging), we decided it was time to move off the water and come up with something new in our lives.

We put Astarte on the market. Pricing her to sell quickly – that is exactly what happened...much quicker than we had anticipated. The new owner is a resident of New Zealand that we had met several years ago and again this past year in Fiji. He already owned a boat, but was looking for something slightly larger and the Moody brand was on his list.

We reconnected and made a deal. He gets a great boat, well-equipped at a great price. We got a good buyer who was easy to deal with and fair and honest in all dealings. We are happy that Astarte is being handed over to someone who will care for her and continue to sail her. We think he'll keep the name.

So we are officially homeless. Yes, we still have a house in Florida, but that is currently rented. Barbara left New Zealand in December to head to the Boston area to help care for her mother and spend some time with her. Michael had to deal with all the sorting out of what to keep, what to sell, what to give away and what stays aboard. After nine years – even in a small space – it was amazing what how much stuff we had! We got a small storage unit in New Zealand and started boxing up stuff. Where it will go is still up in the air.

Last weekend, there was a big nautical flea market in Whangarei that Michael took a lot of stuff to. The hospice thrift store has been the beneficiary of many, many bags and boxes of stuff; and fellow boating friends have benefited from bargains or gifts.

We've enjoyed our time aboard. We've been to nearly 30 countries aboard Astarte – some multiple times. We have met incredible people aboard other boats and in villages and towns. We have experienced music and dance and cultures from incredible places. We've made lifelong friends.

It has been a great run (or sail) and we will have a lifetime of good memories. What next? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

EXTREMELY GLAD TO HAVE ARRIVED

We are back in New Zealand. This was our ninth passage to or from NZ. Number nine will go down in Astarte history as the worse passage yet.

We left on Thursday, November 2 just after noon from Vuda Point Marina. We sailed, then motor sailed until we cleared out of the Navola Passage reef. We finally were able to sail but seas were extremely rough in 18-22 knot SSE winds. Day one we made 120 miles and were eating seasick meds like candy.

Day Two: Not having much fun with winds picking up to 22-28 knots SSE. We were hard on the wind much of the time so we would bang incessantly into the 2 meter sea swell and wind waves. Progress was only 115 uncomfortable miles in cloudy weather. The only good news is that it is still warm.

Day Three: a better day (or we were finally getting our sea legs back). The seas settled some and the wind was down to 15-20 knots with more east in the direction so more of a beam reach – less crashing into the waves. We made good progress, the sun was out and we ate something other than seasick pills. Day three was 120 mile day. Still warm outside.

Day Four: Watching the low start to form off NZ. Changed or destination to Opua instead of Marsden Cove to save 30 miles. We need to get into NZ by Saturday morning or get hammered by the big bad low. Luckily we still have a good easterly component to the wind and the seas have remained more settled so we are making 6 plus knots most of the time and even seeing 7 knots on occasion. Go fast. That's the goal. 135 mile day.

Day Five: 125 mile day – motor sailing and sailing and motor sailing and sailing. Engine on. Engine off. Engine on. Added fuel to tank with relatively flat seas – but still an adventure offshore. The weather is getting cooler at night but the sun is nice. We can't motor the whole way – not enough fuel. But still trying to maintain 5.5 knots to get in ahead of the storm.

Day Six: Lots of engine time but making good progress. We are hopeful that we can get in before the low. Lots of help and support from weather guru David of Gulf Harbour Radio. He and Patricia are being very encouraging and sending us lots of e-mail weather info. Made 130 miles.

Day Seven: Winds have died making slow progress against bigger seas. Add to that a current of probably 1 to 1.5 knots against us. We need to get miles under the keel to make it to Opua. By late day, the winds are building quickly along with the seas. David's late evening forecast is not good. "Can you get to Opua by Friday?" That's 190 miles to go in one day – in great conditions not a task that Astarte has ever accomplished. In these conditions simply impossible. The low has sped up.

Day Eight: We can't beat the low...we are just about in it. Seas are now easily 3 meters along with chop from all directions. Winds are well over 20 knots and very southerly. We can't make much progress and we are tired and the boat is getting pounded by the seas and wind. We make the decision to "heave to" or "forereach" as best as we can. Astarte is not an easy boat to heave to and get her bow into the wind and seas. We can slow her down to about 1.5 to 2 knots, but end up with the seas more on the beam than is desirable. We spend several hours trying to get the best and safest ride we can. Progress is stopped – and we start slowly heading more west. Winds are a steady 35-40 with higher gusts. Not happy campers.

Day Nine: Friday is bad and Saturday is worse. We are taking a lot of waves on deck and into the cockpit. Thank goodness for the wind curtains Michael built last season. A game changer. The winds are now 40 plus steadily and occasionally at 50. Around 0230 we take a huge wave over the side that just about knocks the boat over. Michael is on watch. The cockpit is full of water. Barbara is thrown out of bed below and everything is everywhere. She gets to the deck to make sure Michael is still aboard (we are living in our life vests and buckled in when in the cockpit.) Luckily he is there. But the bimini (cockpit shade) which has very sturdy stainless tubing has been torn and the actual stainless tubing has been badly twisted. It is flapping in the breeze. Our wind instruments no longer are working – neither direction nor wind speed. The wind generator has started when in the off position and burnt itself out (sounding like a helicopter landing aboard in the process). We look back and also see that the solar vent in the aft cabin hatch is also missing so we manage to quickly cover that hole before too much water gets below decks. We can't wait for daylight. Luckily it is only a few hours away. We manage to get lines around the bimini to keep it and the two attached solar panels from taking flight in its weakened state. We deal with the flapping canvas after daylight. It is exhausting and frightening. The winds and waves don't seem to be settling at all and we continue to take water over the sides. Add to that the chill factor – we are now at 33 degrees and it is downright cold. We are layered up but as clothes get wet, we have to change.

Day Ten: Just waiting in the awful weather for it to pass. Finally we turn back on course and start to make our way back south and east. The promised south westerlies never materialize so we sail, motor sail, tack, sail, tack...etc. The wind dies a bit and we even see some sun. We change our course back to the original destination of Marsden/Whangarei. No need to go to Opua now.

Day Eleven: We are now rechecking our fuel and counting hours, miles and wondering of we can make it. We decide to put the last 20 liters from deck into the tank. But for safety sake we also tack back and forth until we are less than 60 miles away. It is like staying in place. We can barely make a mile an hour toward our destination. We finally turn the engine on and motor sail into the Hatea River. We have notified customs multiple times about changes on our destination and arrival time.

At 1810 (6:10 pm) we tie up to the Q dick in Marsden Cove. As we enter the marina we are greeted from the docks by friends from "Avalon" and "Barefoot" which was really nice. We called customs to let them know we were tied up and they told us they would come at 0800 the next morning - "get some rest." That was great. We could clean ourselves, the boat and get a good night sleep before the formalities. We ate a great meal, opened a bottle of wine and went to bed early. We made a huge breakfast the next morning to use up some bacon and some eggs before having to give them to the biosecurity officer – so that was treat as well.

By 1030 we were all cleared in with customs and biosecurity. They are very efficient and do it in a polite, friendly way. We had planned to stay in Marsden but had the opportunity to get some estimators aboard the next morning so we motored up the river to Whangarei Marina.
We are now on D dock. Ready for hot showers and another good night's sleep.

We broke our cardinal rule of booking plane tickets in advance of being in the country from which you will be departing. We tell everyone not to do it … and we did. Rookie mistake. We paid the price. By saving a few dollars by booking tickets earlier, we ended up taking a weather window that was bad. Now we'll spending more on repairs than a later booked ticket would have cost. When will we learn to take our own advice!

We are glad this trip is over. The new bimini we put on in May is trashed so that needs to be replaced along with the stainless frame. We have electronics to replace. We have fiberglass repairs to make. A wind generator needs to be repaired (hopefully it can be). We need a new solar vent for the aft cabin hatch and some side hatches to reseal or replace.

Thanks to all our friends who sent notes of encouragement (though we didn't see them until we got in) and for all the help and "watches" from Gulf Harbour Radio, YIT, and Tony's Maritime Net. We are safe. Astarte is a magnificent vessel that kept us safe through some very nasty weather. The damage we got was not structural to the hull or rig. She stayed wonderfully dry below decks. After all that water, there was very little in the bilges. We're grateful for such a hearty boat.

We made it – it just wasn't fun.
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At 11/13/2017 7:42 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 35°50.21'S 174°28.12'E

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

LEAVING FIJI TODAY

Keep your fingers and toes crossed for us. We have decided to take off from Vuda Point Marina today to make the trip south to New Zealand. It is not a great weather window – so we are rolling the dice a bit. So as much positive thoughts, prayers and help will be much appreciated. Two different weather models show two different scenarios and our weather guru David has warned us off a bit as well – but if we don't go today, we fear we'll have to wait another week or ten days to leave. That then may force us into a worse scenario of having to go in something even worse.

We ALWAYS tell people, when on a boat, never book plane tickets before you are in the country from which you are departing. We have broken our own rule and have plane tickets from NZ booked.

So we will take our chances and hope for the best. We can always heave to and wait for something to pass if it becomes untenable. We have lots of food aboard that we may end up giving to biosecurity in NZ because it will probably be a good weight loss passage. Lots of seasick pills and no dinner!

Wish us luck...off after we clear customs. At least we're not leaving on a Friday!

Thursday, November 2, 2017
Vuda Marina: The Waiting Room
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At 11/2/2017 2:41 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 17°50.12'S 177°16.40'E

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