Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Party in Pahia

We were happily invited to the "Moonwalker" welcome home party last night in the town of Pahia. "Moonwalker is a catamaran that has just completed a seven year circumnavigation with Russell, Corine and the relatively recent addition of Brisa (a two year old). As one card said, they left with two and came back with three! They are from this area so the party was a great mix of locals, cruising friends and family. It was a potluck/barbie with lots of cold brews. The small, very lovely home was packed and luckily the weather held so everyone congregated on the patio.
It was a great feast and we met so many interesting local boat skippers, fishing charterers and boaters. A Maori family also came that are friends of Russell's and Corine's and they did a very moving Maori greeting. The young 13 year old did the greeting and his father translated – it was very spiritual about the earth, ancestors and the gathering. Then they did a song and the traditional "haka." The Maori's greet each other with a forehead to forehead/nose to nose greeting (Hongi) as well, and it was very nice to see this family greet the folks they knew in this way. The 13 year old was an interesting mix of Maori and "typical" 13-year old. Dressed in a baseball hat on backwards, shorts and t-shirt, he then did this Maori greeting in the native language and it was very well spoken. We are sorry we forgot our camera but it will remain a lovely memory.
The party was great fun and it was nice to mix with some local folks as well as see some cruisers we hadn't yet run into since getting here. Our friends Irene and Chris from "Cuttyhunk" who also are home after their completed circumnavigation drove up for the party. There was this group of New Zealanders who circumnavigated and have completed their trip in about the same time frame. They also started the "Drifters" radio net in the Mediterranean and that was the radio net that Michael became a "net controller" for here in the Pacific. We took a picture of the gang of net controllers (well we took it with someone else's camera so we hope to get a copy."
We had several nice sunny days and today it is raining and gray again. We are hoping the boat mechanic shows up today (Bone's was found) – but we still haven't heard from them. We may head into Kerikeri this afternoon with Mike and Karen.
We've now been in NZ two weeks already – and still lots to get done.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

An Outing to Russell

Sunday was a sunny day and the perfect opportunity to take a day off from boat projects and explore a bit. We drove to Pahia, the nearby town with Mike and Karen from Chapter Two and then took a ferry to the island town of Russell. This is a really pretty and quaint little resort town – the first capital of NZ. The ferry ride is a quick trip and took us past our friend's anchored boat, Superted V. They left for the anchorage of Russell earlier in the day. We hiked up a steep hill to the "flagstaff" which has quite a history – being put up multiple times and then cut down by warring Maori's who did not want the Brits ashore. The view from this vantage point was wonderful. We had a great lunch of fish and chips and beer and enjoyed walking around the waterfront past pretty houses with great gardens and white picket fences. We stopped by the oldest church in NZ and an interesting graveyard with some very old graves of Maori chiefs as well as British sailors.
It was a great day and for Michael, it was his first view out of Opua. The sun has come out and we've been able to open the boat up finally and start drying it out. On Monday, we were back to boat projects and have managed to get a few more completed. Michael got the new autopilot control panel hooked up and it seems to work. We have the boom back on the boat albeit without the car to pull our the mainsail. The new "wheels" for that are now having to be machined, so we are still waiting to complete that project. But a few of the boom rebuilds are completed. We ordered our mainsail but are still waiting to get the final measurement on that (plus hand over some money). We did move out of the expensive boat slip today and moved to a less expensive part of the marina – so we have to now dinghy back and forth from the showers, laundry, and boating facilities – but it will save us some dollars.
The mechanics, Kim and Bones, have to return to finish the engine tachometer and ignition panel and when we moved the boat today, there is an idle issue that will need to be looked at as well. But there is a problem as Bones seems to have disappeared. Literally. Nobody can find him. His mom is worried sick and all his friends are driving the roads hoping he didn't crash. He's a nice guy and we hope he is found safe and sound.
We are getting anxious to get out and explore the islands in this area called the "Bay of Islands" and see some of the amazing area. We want to find a good spot to anchor before the holidays and settle in. This is a really popular spot with folks from Auckland who boat up here for several weeks and we hear it gets quite crowded in the favorite anchorages.
But that will happen hopefully soon. For now, boat projects. But there are some new photos up of Thanksgiving, the trip to Russell and the mast removal on Chapter Two. More later.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Summer in NZ

It's supposed to be summer here in New Zealand – but we haven't seen the sun yet!  Though it looks like today we might get lucky!    It's been quite chilly, damp, rainy and very foggy. We realized we have a shortage of warm clothes.  Long pants and long sleeved shirts, sweaters and jackets are at a premium aboard Astarte.  We keep wearing the same things – but luckily there is a laundry here.  The locals say "any day now" for summer to kick in.  It'll be nice to open the boat up and get it really dried out. 

The town of Opua where we are now at the marina is just a "boat" town.  There are a few large marinas, several chandleries (boat stuff stores), lots of repair facilities for engines, refrigeration, electronics etc., marine insurance shops, boat yards, rigging shops and well, just about everything boat related.  Add a small general store with bakery, a hairdresser, coffee shop and a few sailing clubs and you have Opua.  The nearest town is 8 kilometers away – with a bank, grocery store, gas station and more restaurants and shops and the still bigger town of Kerikeri is even a bit further with hardware stores and more.  You need a car to get there but we are quite lucky that several of our friends have either bought or borrowed vehicles.

We have been getting through some of the projects aboard.  Though with every step forward, there are two steps back.  The part we had made for the steering has been built and with one small "rebuild" on it – it seems to work.  Unfortunately, the steering cables we ordered are still two weeks away.  The wheels for the boom car are still not all found – so there is a delay there as well. 

Yesterday, we helped Mike and Karen on Chapter Two take their boat (an Island Packet)  to a dock to have their mast removed.  It was interesting to watch that happen.  That's a big, expensive project.  So we are not alone in our repair and spending mode.  As we were returning by the Q dock with their now de-masted boat, everyone was asking if the dismasting happened offshore.

Many boats have been arriving daily to the Q dock to check in and we've seen torn sails and tired people.  It's nice to be the one's here already!  The customs and biosecurity people have been busy.  They have been using  the search dog most days.  We didn't have the pooch aboard our boat. 

Hopefully we'll take Sunday off and take a ferry to Russell (a nearby island) and stroll around there for the day. 

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from the Southern Hemisphere

We were some of the first in the world to celebrate Thanksgiving this year. We had our feast yesterday (which was Thursday here). We joined about 70 other boaters for a traditional Thanksgiving feast at the Opua Cruising Club. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, carrots, peas, cranberry sauce and gravy were on the menu. All the cruisers brought a dessert to share as well, so we had plenty of pies, brownies, cakes and cookies for after the meal. On our table of ten we had a very international crowd of our good friends. We shared our thanks and our meal with Brits, Jean and Matt from "Superted V," and Karen and Mike from "Chapter Two," our Dutch friends Monique and JanBart from "Victory," and Japanese pals Yoshi and Miyumi from "Gaku." We represented the Yanks at the table.

We wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving and want you to know how thankful we are to each of you for the love, care and support you've shown us through the years. Knowing we have family and friends to share our adventure with and who are there for us every step of the way means a lot to us. So a heartfelt "thanks" to each of you.

Thanksgiving is a special day set aside to remember what we are so grateful for, and after our "boisterous" trip across the ocean recently, we are thankful for many things: Family and friends first and foremost. A good ship like Astarte to take care of us. The opportunity to explore so many wonderful places on the planet. The chance to meet people from all over the world. Adventures that are sometimes hair-raising, but always memorable. Checkmarks on the bucket list. Our health. Each other. And the chance to do what we are doing. We know we are incredibly lucky and are grateful everyday for our lifestyle. Thanksgiving is just a day to express it!

Cheers to all of you - we raise a glass in your honor and thank you most sincerely.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Repairs in New Zealand

Astarte took good care of us on our trip from Tonga to New Zealand…now it's our turn to take good care of her. She handled the waves, wind and changing conditions with grace. Now, settled into a slip in the Opua Marina, she gets some respite from the ordeal (as do we).

The maintenance list is lengthy - so buy stock in NZ because the local economy will have a spike! So here is the list of projects underway aboard the good ship Astarte.

Steering repairs: We lost the steering about 100 miles off New Zealand. The cable came off the quadrant and the steering wheel could do 360 degree turns. So after a good fix by Michael off shore, we got into the Q dock and then the boat slip and now it is all taken apart. Our good friend Matt from "Superted V" came by and kibitzed with Michael and offered some good advice (and a drawing for a repair). A new bit will be manufactured that will hopefully solve the problem. That part request is now at the machine shop to be made. The steering cables which we had ordered prior to arriving here aren't in yet - but when they get here - we'll re-do the entire system. It will be a big project and Michael will tackle it himself.

Autopilot repair: It's only money! That's the way to repair things. The control panel for our auto pilot was on its last legs. The screen was unreadable; the beeps stopped beeping when you changed course and it was beeping on its own for no apparent reason. After so much dousing with salt water - it's no wonder. So after many conversations with the Raymarine folks, Michael was told that he could get a new control panel and just plug it in. So for hundreds of our favorite dollars - we ordered one. It arrived and surprise! It's not a match. The hole sizes are different; the plugs are different; the connectors are different… why can't these manufacturers tell you the truth? So with a brand new piece of equipment, Michael has to cut and resolder wires. Ouch!

Mainsail Car Repair: Our mainsail has been hard to pull out and get in because of a car that is old and worn and not running smoothly. It is integrated into the boom and requires the boom ends to be taken off so it can be removed. But of course, that's not that easy as the boom ends are riveted on- not screwed on (leaving us "screwed"). So we took the boom off and walked it to the rigging shop up the ramp and they have drilled out the rivets, taken the car off and are hunting out the six wheels needed to rebuild it. (Three have been located so far). They also replaced the line inside the boom for the topping lift and the line for the mainsail outhaul.

Rig Check: After the weather, waves and crashing we endured, the rig needs a thorough check. The forestay seems a bit loose. So we will get a highly recommended rigger down to do a rigging check and tightening.

Mainsail Replacement: We have been meeting with sailmakers over the last week and getting prices and recommendations for a new mainsail. We knew we needed one and after this trip we definitely know we need one. Ours is quite old and has pretty much lost all its shape. So we have met with several local sailmakers and will order it by week's end. It will take several months to get. A big expense but it will make Astarte handle much better.

Engine Repairs: New engine mounts have been installed already (thank you big brother Richard for delivering the mounts to Tahiti!). Three of the four were bad so this was a good thing to get done and may finally eliminate the vibration we had. We'll see when we finally get it out of the slip. Plus, the mechanics found a water leak that is solved and tightened up several spots that may mitigate some of the oil leaks (it is an old Perkins after all!) Bones and Kim , the mechanics, also will help Michael rebuild the control panel for the engine (which also took too many douses of salt water). So a new panel with ignition switch, oil pressure gauge and tach will be installed). So that is all underway and moving ahead. The screeching noise that we heard was luckily only a mis-sized belt on the alternator - so the correct sizes have been purchased and the belt replaced. Luckily it wasn't the water pump! We do need to reorder some more engine bits as spares - having gone through many over the last three plus years.

Bits and pieces: Then there are all those little things that need a quick fix. Leaky hatches, leaky floors, restocking shelves and major cleaning. Luckily there is a laundry here and we have done loads and loads of wash. Mattress pads that got soaked and blankets that were salt watered have all gone through the wash cycles and dryer. It has been pretty damp outside with a steady drizzle, harder rain, fog or chill - that we were grateful for dryers! We continue to clean the interior and exterior of the boat.

We haven't seen much of NZ yet nor enjoyed the lovely hikes around this area. The goal is simply to get the priority boat projects done while in the slip and then get out of the marina to save some money and finish the rest of the jobs completed at anchor or while exploring the Bay of Islands.

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Welcome to the Southern Ocean

That was what a Kiwi friend said to us on the "Drifters' Radio Net" one morning. And the ocean welcomed us by throwing just about everything at us – including rocks! We had some of the greatest sailing we've ever experienced. We had a flat drift. We had the largest and scariest seas we've ever seen. We've had high winds and no winds. We had wind from every direction – but more often than not – not the right direction. We got sun and rain. We got good off-watch sleep, no sleep, or thrown out of the bunk. We broke Astarte records for our fastest day (most miles) and our slowest. It was a real experience.

So here's a recap of our trip from Tonga to New Zealand. You can check out the passage on the "where are we" page and see the track. The first three days were either really slow or great sailing in about the right direction (but we already wrote about that).
At about day three, our friends on "Superted" and "Victory" were now ahead of us and pointing much better to stay closer to the rhumb line. We were doing okay and it was comfortable. Astarte had a "personal best" for miles covered in one day. It felt good to be moving quickly through this ocean.

Then, the weather reports started to get more troubling. And we started to see it in the sky and the changing sea conditions. The swell got larger and larger. The winds picked up. We have entered the "squash zone." This is a zone you never want to be in. It is the place that is squished between two weather systems. In this case a very large low and a very large high. Things like isobars get very close together and that means big winds. Big winds mean big seas. And that's what we experienced. We continued on as the conditions worsened. We were past Minerva Reef having chosen not to stop there due to the weather reports. Winds were a steady 30 knots plus and the seas had built to between six and seven meters (16 to 21 feet). The seas were also breaking – so we would get giant waves over the decks. This is where the "rocks" were thrown at us. There was a lot of pumice floating in the water. This is volcanic rock that is very light and actually floats. It comes from underwater volcanoes that have been in the area and we had seen lots of pumice on the beaches. And we saw lots and lots of it in patches as we were sailing. The waves would pick up these rocks and toss them onto the boat – sometimes hitting us in the cockpit. We also got a flying fish flung into the cockpit – almost landing on Michael's lap. Astarte rode these waves and the accelerating winds quite well – but it was a scary time. In fact, at this point, we heard the New Zealand RCC (Rescue Coordination Center) airplane "Orion" on the VHF radio responding to a "Mayday" call. We heard the boat "Adventure Bound" mentioned and thought they were the ones in trouble – we know this boat with Bruce and Marcel. We could only hear one side of the radio transmission – the airplane. Then we figured out that it was a boat called "Windigo" that was in trouble and our friends were the closest boat in the area to help. So they were sent to the sinking boat – 38 miles away and in even rougher conditions than we were experiencing. It took them 18 hours to make that trip with giant following wind and waves. We at this point, chose to "heave to." For non-sailors, this is a maneuver that puts the boat in one position with the wheel hard over one way and the sails set in the opposing position so the boat stays still. It creates a strange "slick" in the water that actually makes the waves almost disappear as they approach the boat. We couldn't get the "perfect" heave to – as the boat was still forereaching (making some forward momentum (at about 2.6 knots). So it wasn't perfect , but it did seem to be a safer thing to do through the night than challenging these large seas and heavy wind in the dark. It was a wet night with the occasional wave still crashing into us – throwing us out of our bunks- but it was much more settled. But it also meant we were not making any headway. We had hoped this "zone" would pass quickly. It did not. After sunup we listened to weather, got an update on the "Windigo/Adventure Bound" rescue and chose to start to move the boat again and try to get out of this system.

Add to the big wind and large seas – cold and wet weather. If it wasn't the waves of salt water soaking us as they crashed into the boat, it was the downpours. At least that was fresh water. Below decks looked like a laundry room as we'd try to get wet clothes dried before the next watch (that wouldn't happen!) Our trawler lamp was on constantly as our "heater" and did manage to keep the boat a bit warmer. Barbara's rain pants were totally non-water proof at this point so she'd outfit herself in trash bags to try to keep dry and warm. It was quite a sight – a real "bag lady! But without those – she'd run out of dry clothes before long!

It was slow going with all our sails seriously reefed (shortened/made as small as possible). But, we made it through the weather and things started to settle again. The winds stayed quite strong and the seas were now a more reasonable three to four meters (still big but they seemed quite good at the time!) The bad part was that we could not make any southwest progress at this point. We went well past the course line and counted on changing wind directions. After the storm, the wind died. It was a flat sea and dead calm. Barbara baked peanut butter cookies (we'd have to give up our peanut butter once in NZ so we thought we'd use it!). It was a beautiful sunny day so we hung out all our wet clothes to dry. We watched jelly fish of various varieties in the water and these amazing petrel birds that were incredible fliers – doing barrel rolls and riding the winds and waves. We drifted and kept getting quite far east of the line to Opua. Then we got a few degrees shift and could make some southward momentum. We still waited for the predicted wind never came.

The wind started to pick up again. Now we head south but we were now too far east of the line and at some point we would have to make some more westerly headway which meant right into the wind and seas.

The weather reports started again – this time a front approaching. Try to get in by Wednesday the weather gurus all said. But we were still far enough out with wind in the wrong direction to make that seem less and less likely. Astarte(and especiallly us) does not like to bang right into seas – and these were now a steep wave (1.5 meters) with very little room between them. It was slow going.

It is now Wednesday night, we won't make it in before the next front hits. The winds build again to 20 plus knots steady and gusts to 30. The seas build but nothing like before. We can't get west! So at about 8:20 pm (2020), we turn on the engine. We ride the waves pretty well and make some progress in the right direction – albeit slowly.

Then, the boat does a 360 turn on its own under autopilot, The sails backfilll and Barbara, who's on watch, gets the boat off autopilot and grabs the wheel. Only the wheel doesn't react. In fact you can turn it totally around and around and around. The steering has broken. Great! "Michael, we have a problem." He comes up and indeed the steering does not work with the wheel. But luckily the autopilot can still steer the boat (it is connected directly to the quadrant). We will hope the autopilot which has also been hicupping a bit – will hold up. The equipment has all been under a lot of stress in the seas and wind.
We now have less than 50 miles to go – and land is in sight and daylight is coming. We make it into the bay where it is still very windy but much flatter in the protected water. We unload the lazarette and Michael fixes the steering – at least temporarily – to get us into the dock. Luckily the customs "Q" dock (quarantine) is a long dock and not many boats are on it. Our friends from Morning Cloud(and finishing a seven year circumnavigation) who arrived at midnight are there and offer to help us by grabbing lines. We have the emergency tiller ready in case we have to resort to that. And our anchor ready to drop as well.

Thursday, November 15 – 1:30 pm: We make it to the dock and tie up. We try to get the boat ready for the customs and biosecurity inspection. This is where lots of paperwork is filled out and certain food products/shells/artifacts etc. are removed from the boat. It all goes smoothly and we are left with more foodstuffs than we anticipated. They take our popcorn, honey, eggs, some mayo, dried beans, onions, garlic and we pass inspection. Then customs/immigration comes aboard for more paperwork...and we're stamped into the country. Now we must leave the Q dock and find a home. It is close to 4 pm and we contact the Opua Marina and get a spot. We need a rest.

We have arrived. The boat has some broken bits but we are not hurt and the boat still floats. As we talk to others – we feel lucky. Many had ripped sails, broken port holes, torn canvas and lots of water aboard. Some folks were also hurt with head injuries, back injuries and even a broken hip. So in the end we feel lucky. We are still together and have another checkmark on the bucket list. But this one was hard-earned.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

What a Trip!!!

We have safely arrived in Opua New Zealand. It was an adventurous trip. We are cleared into the country with very friendly and efficient officials. A more detailed entry will follow but we wanted to send a quick note that all is well aboard Astarte. We are tired and glad to be here. Astarte took good care of us and now we have to do some caring for her. Lots of friends are here and we were warmly welcomed yesterday. It felt good. We slept solidly last night tied up to a dock at the Opua Marina.

More later.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Day Three to NZ

We are into the third travel day to NZ, but have less than 200 miles under our belt. The first two days provided either some great sailing or some annoying drifting. The good news is that the seas are quite comfortable so far – and we are now on a reach – Astarte's favorite point of sail. We had some downwind sailing in very light wind yesterday so we even tried our drifter (a type of sail for you non-sailors). But the winds were even too light to keep that light sail filled – so we doused it and drifted for several hours.

Then the weather reports started to come in about a nasty low forming somewhere out there. It seems the weather authorities from various continents can't agree on where. At one point, we thought it best to turn around and head back...and then another report came in and said it would be worse back in Tonga where some predictions have it forming. The anchorage we thought about heading towards would not be a good place. So we chose instead to continue onward. So send all those good thoughts our way...

We have made good time in the last day and that seems key – making some southing and some westing. Its a beautiful sunny day and we are enjoying one of those fabulous sailing days.

To track where we are – remember to go to the "where are we" page. Michael updates those positions more often than we write logs while underway. So you can track our progress.

We are traveling with our friends aboard "Superted" and "Victory" - but they are much larger and faster boats – so after a few days they will be well ahead of us! We have lots of contact with other boats as well on the various radio nets. Plus, there is still enough of a nice moon to get some light in the late night.

All is well aboard.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

New Zealand Bound

We're off! But not very fast! We left this morning, Friday, November 2 to make our way to Opua, New Zealand. We may (but more likely will not) stop at Minerva Reef. We had planned on leaving tomorrow – but a weather forecast this morning encouraged us to get going sooner to get ahead of some bad weather predicted for Fiji starting on Wednesday. This low will move southeast and potentially cross our path – so we hope to get more miles behind us in the hopes of missing it entirely or at least minimizing its impact. We had been prepping the boat over the last week – and felt very ready to go with only the last deck preps and below decks storage. We had done a lot of cooking in advance; a good deal of packing and storing of bits and pieces; and, cleaned most of the bottom.

So we raised the anchor from the very lovely island of Nomukuiki where we had spent several very enjoyable days. There was a beautiful beach, some nice snorkeling and the good company of our friends. More on that stop later (including the trick or treaters we had on Halloween!) – but for now we just wanted to let everyone know we are underway.

We hope everyone survived the horrible Hurricane Sandy/Nor'easter combo in the states. Now we hope for weather much more sedate – with just enough wind to keep our progress ahead of the storms.