Saturday, March 30, 2013

We Still Have Brain Cells!

Happy Easter to all. It is already Easter here in the Southern Hemisphere, but unfortunately the Easter Bunny has failed to make a hop to Astarte. So no chocolate bunny ears to bite off or marshmallow "peeps" to munch.

We continue to sand, clean, varnish on a daily basis and are S-L-O-W-L-Y getting the interior done bit by bit. Because it is a small boat and we have so much stuff aboard, it takes a long time to get a section organized to varnish. We have to empty everything and find homes for all this displaced "stuff." The bottom line is that once we are putting on the coats of varnish, there is no place to sit in the salon area. So we either have to climb in the berth to read after dinner or find something to do.

After varnishing, we often get off the boat to get away from the fumes as well as to avoid hitting any areas that are still tacky. One evening, we decided to go to the Opua Cruising Club to escape the varnish fumes, which we were certain are killing the precious few brain cells we still have. It happened to be "Quiz Night" at the club and we decided to take the challenge. The way it works is that teams of four people (each paying $2 to enter) answer questions, on paper, in seven different categories. Ten questions per category are asked. You can pick two "categories" as your "jokers" and you get double points for each correct answer in those categories. We teamed up with another American boat, "Radiance." We named our team "Rad Art" (for Radiance and Astarte – we thought Rad Ass may be inappropriate!)

The first category (which was a secret category – so you couldn't make it your "joker" category) was "Denizens of the Deep. You got a sheet with ten pictures and you had to identify the crittters. We thought we'd rock in this category – but were stumped by the New Zealand fish like Tarakihi, Hapuku, Parore. Also the Sea Hare baffled us (we guessed Nudibranch!) But of the teams, we got five right and all the other teams only managed three. Then the next category was "what happened on this day?" This was definitely not our strong suit. As the only "Yank" team, we were threatened by the "Schoolmarm-like" quizmistress with not only not getting points, but losing extra points, if we didn't get a few answers right. That was the hint that a few of the dates were "American" events. We managed to get a few right, but missed the Sir Edmond Hillary Mt. Everest climb and the first person to reach Antarctica (as well as several others). Then it was on to the "Potluck" category and we were still not doing "great." Our two joker categories were "Food and Wine" and "The Big Screen" (one of our team-mates said it was her strong suit). In our two categories we scored big getting nine of the ten in each. The last category was "Sports and Recreation" and we also got nine right – missing the cricket question. In the end – team "Rad Art" came in first! We were awarded drink coupons each as our prize!

It was a fun evening away from fumes and in comfortable chairs with entertainment thrown in to boot!

It is a long four day weekend in New Zealand and everyone seems to be using their boats. There has been a steady departure from the marina starting on Thursday evening. The marina has been emptied out of the local boats. It's nice that here in NZ, it seems people really use their boats and enjoy being out on the water.

Tonight, we'll go into the Cruising Club for Easter dinner. The galley got its first coat of varnish today – and we don't want to muck it up.

Don't eat all your chocolate in one sitting!

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Opunga and Opua

The Bay of Islands is a lovely setting. Lots of islands and anchorages to choose from depending on wind direction. We settled into Orakawa for a few days and then the wind shifted west than south than east so we jumped over a bay and ended up in Opunga. This is a popular anchorage for protection in easterlies and we were entertained daily by the comings and goings of lots of boats. A few stayed for a few days and others came and went daily. Meanwhile, aboard Astarte, we were sanding, cleaning, varnishing, and cleaning some more. Varnishing an interior is difficult at anytime – but when trying to live aboard at the same time it is a big challenge. But we have gotten some good systems in place now and wake up and dust, sand, dust again, clean and then varnish. The next morning the routine repeats itself. We are tackling sections at a time and getting on anywhere from three to six coats of varnish – depending on the usage of the area. It is looking quite nice.

After the varnishing routine, we are also getting some brass polished (can't put up tarnished brass with all this new varnish!) After time in Orakawa then Opunga, we made our way back to the Opua Marina. We are now toed up at the "breakwater" dock and Michael is tackling the Perkins 4-108 engine oil leaks. He ordered (and we got) new gaskets that he will replace. He is doing most of the work himself with a little help from a mechanic for the last lining up. We continue to varnish as well. But we do have decent (though costly) access to internet – so there are NEW PHOTOS! posted.

The other good news – the Opua General Store has ice cream! We treat ourselves to a cone when we need to escape the boat varnish fumes. Our new mainsail is scheduled to be delivered on Thursday; a rigging inspection is also scheduled for Thursday and we are waiting for some advice on the repair of the autopilot mount.

While we have internet, we are also downloading all the forms we need for travel to Fiji and will start watching the weather patterns. It is cooling down here – so fall is coming to New Zealand.

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Whangaruru Trek and then Back to BOI

After launching the dinghy and rowing to shore in Puriri Bay in Whangaruru, we met some friendly (like they all seem to be) New Zealanders, Chris and Jill who were camping on shore. They handed us a map and told us which way to go for a nice trek. They suggested the version that takes you by the coast and then back to "the camp." They did this tramp yesterday and would do the other half today. So we set off and didn't follow the instructions immediately and ended up climbing up a nice hill and down the backside to get to the trail. It would have been easier following the road! Then we found the orange markers and headed on our way. It was a great day for a walk and we trekked on. We ran into some more friendly folks who asked, "Do you know what you're in for?" Hmmmmm. We chatted with them a bit and they continued in the opposite direction (they did look hot and tired) and we moved onward. The views were wonderful and we walked through all types of landscape – fields, marshy grasses, low forest and rocky outcroppings. The trail was well maintained (more on that later!)

Then we saw them. The steps. Lots and lots of steps. The trail had steps placed on the steep parts with wooden slat fronts and filled with dirt. We climbed and climbed and when we thought we were done we'd walk on the trail for a bit to come upon even more steps. It was quite the workout. At one point the trail came to a crossroads and we kept going forward. We realized that we were now on the "other half" of the trail. And of course we had more steps! Then we started our descent. There were NO steps on this side of the trail and it was perhaps even more difficult than the steps as the trail. The trail had washed out a bit and was steep with scree to make the walking a bit slick and challenging. And we were getting tired. But we trekked on and made it back to the camp. Along the way we saw a favorite bird, the fantail, which is a little very curious critter who gets close. Michael also found some very strange "stick bugs" that looked just like twigs (but twigs that moved).

We stopped for our packed lunch and though we groaned and moaned about the ups and downs of the trail – we did enjoy it! Upon we return, Jill and Chris had already completed their trek and we told them we had done the whole trail. They invited us for a beer but we talked them into coming back to Astarte (Barbara's plot to not have to row back herself) for a beer. Jill also needed an egg for her fish fry-up...they had caught a good number of snapper. Chris gave Michael some good fishing advice. We enjoyed our time aboard with them and learned more about New Zealand.

The next morning, we headed off for the Bay of Islands (BOI). There was the possibility of a nasty bit of weather coming in over the weekend and through the early part of the week and we wanted to get nestled in someplace to wait it out. The predictions were for 25 -30 knots of wind with changing directions as the front would pass - starting from the northeast and working its way around to the southwest.

We had a motor sail trip as the wind was on the nose and there wasn't quite enough to keep the sails filled with the rolly seas. We went between Cape Brett and the big rock (that has the "hole in the wall" - a giant hole in the rock that boats takes tourists through). We came into Orokawa Bay, behind the Orokawa Peninsula, which is protected from most directions. We put out lots of anchor chain and settled in for the blow.

It has been windy all morning with a fair amount of rain. Not good varnishing weather so we will tackle other boat projects We continue to watch the barometer drop (it dropped more than 11 millibars in less than 12 hours) and watch the entertainment as boats come and go – though not many are on the move.

It will be a wet, windy few days.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fish On...But What Is It?

We left Urquhart Bay this morning and would let the wind decide what direction we would head once out of the Whangarei River area. The wind pointed us towards Whangaruru Bay, about 35 miles away. It was a motor sail with not much wind and then around 1100 we were able to shut off the engine and have a close reach sail the rest of the way. Just as we were nearing Whangaruru, a New Zealand Customs boat came nearby and asked us lots of questions, but didn't board us. They are incredibly polite and friendly officials here and we had everything in order so there were no issues on our end either. We chatted awhile and they asked if we had any luck fishing (as we were dragging a line). We said no but probably because we were going too slow and dragging a lure that the fish didn't like.

Soon after the customs boat left, zing! The fishing line started to whirl off the reel and Michael (who was doing the fishing today) pulled in and landed a pretty nice sized fish. But we had no idea what it was. It was a dark grey on top and lighter towards the lower part of its body. He had a very forked caudal fin and a long, low dorsal with two distinct sections. His mouth was large but he didn't have sharp teeth, rather several rows of small rough "teeth" in lines. Michael cleaned it, filleted it and cooked it for dinner and it was quite tasty – only we still didn't have any idea what it was.

After some research with all our New Zealand books, brochures and even a glance at the internet – we have determined that he caught a "Kahawai." Luckily there was no size restriction on them and you can take them. The best way to prep them though is to bleed them first (which we didn't do). But it was still tasty and had a nice texture and color. Fresh limes would have been nice!

We enjoyed our fish dinner at anchor in Puriri Bay in Whangaruru Harbour. There is a Department of Conservation campground on shore – and there are supposed to be some nice treks around the area. We'll do some exploring tomorrow.

While at Urquharts, we did manage to get some more varnishing completed – five coats on the entryway, handrails and pole and several coats on the wall under the stairs. We are slowly getting the interior down – but will take a few days to enjoy this new area before we tackle another part of the boat. There is a "storm" off the Tasman that should bring some unpleasant weather this way perhaps by the end of the weekend, so we'll find a nice place that's protected and settle in. But for now, we'll enjoy Whangaruru.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Urquhart Bay

We made it only as far as Urquhart Bay at the mouth of the entrance to Whangarei and seemed to have settled here. The scenery is lovely (as long as you don't look across the river to the refinery) and we have enjoyed some treks. One day we walked a trail that took us past some World War II gun emplacements and lookouts, around the big hill to Smugglers' Cove on the other side and back. A very pleasant two hour walk through some varied areas with great views. The following day we walked to Taurinika – a small town nearby in search of bread. It was along a winding road past several pretty bays. There we found a "dairy" (that's 7-11 or convenience store in NZ english) with bread. It was probably a 7 kilometer walk.

We have also restarted the varnishing – tackling some very worn areas. We sand / clean / varnish and clean-up and re-start the process the next morning. The activity in the bay is also fun to watch. Many of the locals launch their smaller boats with tractors from the beach. We watch the fishermen, the divers (it seems we are in a hot spot for scallops) and the boaters enjoying the water. Today we had to wake up some local boaters as they anchored their boat and went below...and after a few hours, their boat was dragging into ours. Many folks here don't seem to back down on their anchor.

There are lots of interesting birds in the area as well. On our walk, we saw the "pukeko" (Porphyrio porphyrio). His is quite a large bird with shiny black feathers touched with bright blues and greens, a large red beak and long red legs. It runs really fast, but it also is a strong flyer. We enjoy the fantails which are a pretty bird and very curious – almost landing on your head. At night we believe we hear some kiwis and the "Morepork," the indigenous owl. There are supposed to be some bats – but we haven't spotted them yet.

The weather hasn't been cooperating with getting us to Great Barrier Island. We want to sail the 45 miles and not motor into the wind and seas. But unfortunately we've had steady 15 knot southeasterlies – and that's the direction we want to go towards. So we'll enjoy this little hideaway and continue getting the varnishing and other projects done. It's pleasant. Sorry no internet here though – so no skype or photos!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Afloat Again After 13 Days!

Thirteen days at Docklands 5 Boatyard in Whangarei, New Zealand got Astarte all spiffed up. She has several new coats of bottom paint (Hempel), (which meant sanding it all first and than putting on three full coats plus a four in a few spots!) a newly cleaned and waxed hull, thru-hulls cleaned, painted and maintained, centerboard checked out and greased, rudder determined not to have a problem, new mirrors to replace the old (and we do look better!), decks cleaned, cockpit table re-painted, dinghy patches put on, bilges de-oiled and oil issue to be tracked later, and salon table and interior steps completely stripped and re-varnished and ten cabinet doors newly varnished. And we did all the work, except pressure washing the bottom, ourselves! And we are tired but feel good about accomplishing so much ourselves. It also saved a lot of money doing all the work ourselves.

Besides the work, living aboard "on the hard" is difficult. You have to climb up and down a steep ladder to go to the bathroom, do your dishes, shower, do laundry, and get in and out of the boat for all your projects. Because we thought we had a rudder issue, we were raised several additional feet on the stands in case we had to remove the rudder. So that made the climb that much more difficult. Carrying the dishes, laundry and varnishing projects and all the paint and supplies up and down the ladder was quite a work-out. We just considered it part of the Astarte weight loss program. Step training times ten!

The yard is also in an industrial area so there were no quick restaurants or shops near-by. So we had to do all our own cooking and cleaning up as a result...but that also saved us some money. Michael walked his shoe tread off hunting down bits and pieces to try to fix the hot water heater (no luck) and pick up paint, varnish, sandpaper, filters, dinghy repair glue etc. Barbara took a few hikes to the grocery store. Once to surprise Michael with a birthday event. She got help from Doug in the yard to get some beer and she bought sausages and snacks for a Friday Night (March 1st) Sausage Sizzle – a traditional NZ feast! She invited folks working in the yard and it was a fun birthday evening.

There were lots of birthdays to celebrate while here. Matt on "Superted V" had one as well (March 4th) and we made up a big pot roast dinner to share with him and Jean as well as Stefan and Sue from "Charlotte of Lymington." Stefan's birthday was Tuesday, March 5th. So lots of March babies. The yard has a nice area for cooking with two barbeques and a full kitchen that anyone can use. We took full advantage of it several nights (including the pot roast dinner for six). The fun part of the kitchen was also meeting a few of the local fishermen who have their boats in the yard. "Crash" was quite interesting though a tad difficult to understand with a strong NZ accent and "Keith Richards" slur. He and Ron (another boater in the yard and expert diver and fisherman) provided lots of advice on local fishing.

We did enjoy dinner out one night in town as we had won a gift certificate at a Whangarei Marine Promotions event so we thought we'd use it. It was a $50 certificate but like most things in NZ – it was a spendier establishment so we had to throw in additional dollars for our night out. It was fun though as we met our friends Bob and Anne from Charisma and got to celebrate their engagement!

A skin cancer check-up was also in order as there is a good clinic here. It wasn't inexpensive, but it was certainly worth doing after four years in the tropics. Several spots got "frozen" off and Mchael had "brain freeze" by the time he was done. But all is good and we have to be even better with hats and sunscreen!

Astarte spent the last night "in the sling" so we could get the centerboard dropped and painted. Then Doug launched us early Tuesday morning – though we were concerned the water was too low. But Doug knows his stuff! As we left the sling and headed down river, the engine temperature started to go up quickly. We dropped the anchor, shut off the engine and Michael went in search of the problem. All the thru-hulls were open, the strainer was clean and water was getting to the engine. It was an impeller issue that Michael went on to replace and we were back underway. The good news about the stop was that we were in an easy place to drop the anchor and it allowed the tide to come in a bit more as were heading through some very shallow areas with less than five feet under the keel.

We anchored near the mouth of the river in a lovely bay. The plan is to stay here a few days and get things put away and cleaned up from the yard. The yard is so dusty and dirty – the interior of the boat is a mess. Plus we still have lots to store and re-organize. It rained quite hard last night after we were nicely anchored and had a hamburger and salad dinner. It also got quite windy as the front passed overhead. But we held good and it was nice to be back "on the hook." The rain was nice to wash off the decks more and give the solar panels and rigging a good washing after the yard dirt.

It was a successful maintenance stop and satisfying. It was nice to have our friends Jean and Matt in the yard for some of the time. We wish them good luck with their bottom paint job re-do. Now, we get to take a few days to do small put-away and cleaning projects, nap a bit, take a trek in the park and then head off for more exploring.

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