Thursday, December 31, 2015

HAPPY 2016

It is already 2016 in New Zealand and it is starting out on a wet and stormy day. Luckily the big rain didn't start until after 1 am when we made our way back to Astarte. Yup, we were actually still awake for bringing in the New Year and even managed to experience an hour of it before caving in to sleep. That was all thanks to our good friends Sandy and Rankin on "GypseaHeart" who had us over for a tasty dinner and a new game "Settlers of Catan." It is a board game and once set-up and learned, it was good fun. That, along with good food, interesting conversation, lots of laughs and the toasting with several bottles of bubbly and red wine, kept us awake passed the witching hour. There were a few fireworks (set off a tad too close to the boats with all that canvas!) but otherwise it was a relatively quiet night in the Whangarei harbor.

We made it back to Astarte in our dinghy just as the drizzle started and the wind picked up. The rain started in earnest soon after and the boat was quite noisy with the rain and wind. The wind was in just the right direction that being tied to a pile mooring (and not floating at anchor) our stern was facing in the waves hitting against the hull. Then big streams of rain would roll off the solar panel above our heads sounding like a gutter spout next to our heads.

The holidays were quiet with lots of errands and walking around in very nice weather. We still wait on our engine mechanic to come and give us his expert opinion. We have managed to get other projects done – the new side windows were installed (and not leaking yet on this rainy day). Our new cockpit cushions arrived before Christmas and Michael made new covers for them. We've been replacing pillows (finally sewing the Molas from Kuna Yala on them) and pans on the big sales around Christmas. Michael is also burning all our music CDs (and we have plenty) to MP3 format because our CDs were starting to disintegrate (and they said they would last forever!). We've also been cleaning out lockers and reorganizing some weight on the boat. We continue to try to get rid of stuff – but aren't so good at that. We've met some new folks – thanks to the Christmas cookie delivery tradition on Astarte – which meant that lots of cookie baking was being done.

Now we're in another year...we wish each of you a very healthy year...filled with happy times, some fun adventures and lots of love.
At 12/25/2015 5:11 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 35°43.54'S 174°19.74'E

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Thank you all for the many Christmas wishes. It is always great to get updates from our old "Class of 2012" passage friends and our newly made ones! Thanks. There are some new pictures (New Zealand 1) on the page – so take a look if your bored with all the Christmas activities that are around!

We thought we'd have some fun sharing a few of the differences between our traditional Christmas and the one we celebrate in NZ.

It is summer here – so the days are exceptionally long – sun up 0600 and its light until 2100 (9pm). That means the Christmas lights don't get to be enjoyed until late, so it's tough to enjoy them.

It's summer – so it's warm and the kiwis are all in tank tops and shorts (still chilly enough for us to don long pants and sometimes even sweatshirts!). No snow in sight unless they truck it in for a festival. The other day a truckload of chipped ice was brought to a parking lot for the kids to play in - of course the kids were barefoot and in sundresses!

We are in Whangarei and perhaps in Auckland it's different – but there is less Christmas commercialism and hype here. There are some decorations including a nice big tree in the Town Basin Marina and many boats (including Astarte) are decked out. But they tend to be the foreign flagged vessels.

If you want a turkey for Christmas be prepared to sell the gold jewelry to get one! They are NOT cheap! Thank goodness we do the British traditional feast aboard Astarte and get the large roast beef (beef is better priced in NZ). In fact, most people here prefer chicken to turkey and you can get a "festive roasting chicken" (that would be a large one) at a decent price.

Because it is summer, there are lovely fresh strawberries in the market along with many other fresh fruits and vegetables.

Santa is around – but here he is much thinner (these kiwis are avid sportsmen and hikers so much fitter). He also wears a much lighter (material wise) outfit...and still sweats a lot! Instead of candy canes - he gives out "lollies" (lollipops).

There are still the sales – and the after Christmas day sale (called Boxing Day) happens a day earlier than in the northern hemisphere. So we'll get the sales earlier!

Because we are on the other side of the dateline – today is already Christmas Eve day and tomorrow is Christmas. That means Santa starts here!

Merry Christmas all...from New Zealand.
At 12/13/2015 7:48 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 35°43.54'S 174°19.74'E

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

to all our family, friends and “unknown” blog readers

It is the time of year when our annual Christmas letter gets written...though it seems like yesterday that we just did it for 2014! That means it's time to reflect on what we accomplished in 2015. “Accomplished” may be a bit of an exaggeration of terms. In our life on a cruising sailboat we set our goals and destinations with the changing tides.

2015 started in Whangarei, New Zealand where we spent much of our southern hemisphere “cyclone season.” We celebrated the New Year aboard “Gypsea Heart” with some good friends toasting in the year with the bubbly. Then off to Auckland (with a few stops along the way) where we picked up our guests Kathryn and Mark who made their third trip to “Astarte.” We had a great time celebrating Kathryn's doctorate with sailing, hiking, microbrews, a winery stop and a magnum of champagne. They went off to the south island for more New Zealand adventures and we sailed back to Whangarei and a boat yard! There was plenty of boat work to be done on the good ship “Astarte.” Six years of full time cruising had taken the toll on some systems and it was simply time to do some major work and upgrades. The mast got pulled off, the bottom got scrubbed and painted, the hull got polished, a new cockpit floor was installed, new bilge pumps, new head stays, new water heater and many more big and small projects., “Air Mary” got retired and “Pukupuku” our new dinghy joined the crew. We met some new friends in the boat yard as well, so that made the time pass more quickly.

Post boat yard work, we tested the new stuff with a fabulous trip to Great Barrier Island. The boating part was great fun, the hiking was satisfying and the “land” car trip was more of an adventure than we bargained for – but has provided great stories.

In May, we waited for a weather window for the 1000 mile sail to Vanuatu. Vanuatu was devastated with Cyclone Pam (a Category five) in March – but we were encouraged to still go there and help with our tourist dollars as well as supplies and help we might be able to offer. We found the southern islands in the chain quite damaged by the cyclone yet the people remained positive and hard-working. Many cruising sailboats were doing lots of good work in the islands delivering aid in terms of supplies, doctoring or manpower. The fruit and vegetable gardens were devastated – yet the people remained generous with what they had. We provided what help and supplies we could. As we headed north in the island chain, the islands were less damaged. We made it to several of our favorite places from the previous year but also found many new places to visit. The highlight of the year was the Gaua traditional festival called the Lakona Bay Kastom Festival. This was three magical days of seeing the traditional dances, singing and customs of the country. The people of three villages put on this festival and it was very memorable.

Besides the Banks Island of Gaua, we managed to visit a few new islands and places. We anchored in the middle of an old crater in Lolowai on the island of Ambae. Then we made our way to Maewo, where we were only the fifth boat of the year at “Big Waters” waterfall bay and villages. Lonely Planet described this as “the eighth wonder of the world.” There we hiked up the “Big Waters” and Michael dove off a 12 plus meter portion of the waterfall. He lived to talk about it! (though his shoulder still remembers the death defying jump) We went further down Maewo Island to another bay called Asanvari where we saw another festival with amazing dancing and took some lovely hikes in this area.

We left Vanuatu after nearly four months and had a great passage to New Caledonia. We sorted an issue with the engine there (luckily an easier fix than we had thought) and cruised around some of the islands for a month. Our highlights were a long hike in the Bay of Prony area to Prony Village (once we found the trail) and the other was the stop at Mato Island – a beautiful reef rich anchorage with good snorkeling and a hill view that was outstanding.

We left New Caledonia and made the passage to New Zealand. This is a passage that always makes us nervous. The length is just long enough to get hit by at least one bad front/storm/ridge/squash zone or something ugly weather wise. You wait and wait and hope for a good weather window. We lucked out and waited long enough that we got what was said to be the best window the entire season. That meant we had a fast trip and sailed most of the way. We saw whales and a green flash sunset. We arrived a day earlier than we anticipated.

This season, like the ones in our past, was filled with special moments with old boating friends and the great fun of meeting many new folks. In Vanuatu and New Caledonia, we met many New Zealand, Australian and South African boaters with whom we enjoyed spending time and adventures. They taught us so many things from tying crown knots to “how to fish.” They pointed out great french bakeries and good hikes. We shared many a good evening meal and got some good recipes. Our hopes are that we will meet again at another group of islands or on land!

We did manage to get quite a few articles and photos published this year so that was fun and rewarding. We continue to enjoy that effort.

Now we celebrate the holiday season in Whangarei on a pile mooring in the Town Basin Marina. We are having to make a decision on our santa if you read our log...all we want for Christmas is a new 60 hp Yanmar or Beta Marine engine. We have “Astarte” all decked out with Christmas lights (for which we won a bottle a champagne). We'll enjoy our time with old friends and new ones and look forward to another year.

Merry Christmas to all and our very best wishes for a happy holiday season!

Peace on earth.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

More on the Passage to New Zealand

A few more highlights from the passage to NZ from New Caledonia. We did see some whales – less than two boat lengths away traveling in the opposite direction. There were at least two – and they were BIG. They stayed on the surface for a long time and then one displayed a nice fluke as he (or she) went deep. We still have to look more closely at the photos Michael got to try to identify what type they were.

We were also buzzed by the New Zealand Air Force "Orion" as we entered New Zealand waters. They flew very low – and it looked almost like a kamikaze attack. They got close enough to be able to read the boat name and then they called us on the radio by name. They asked a few questions and then flew off and buzzed the boat near us. They couldn't quite read that boat name so kept calling the "yellow hulled boat that we've just flown over." That made for some fun entertainment during the passage.

Now that we have been here, we are getting some boat projects completed and some keep getting put on hold. Unfortunately the mechanic we had all booked in advance had a death in his family the day before our appointment so we haven't seen him yet. That is holding up many of the other projects. After moving three times in the Town Basin Marina, we now think we are in our home spot for the rest of the month. We started in a slip for a few days, then moved to one pile mooring, then had to move to a different pile mooring. The boat is all dressed up in Christmas lights and looks quite festive. The lights are solar Christmas lights so when the sun is out all day – the lights stay on most of the night. Unfortunately, not many people can see our boat from the town basin because of where we are located. But we are enjoying the lights anyway.

There is also lots and lots of Christmas cookies being baked aboard – so the boat smells festive. It is a holiday tradition aboard and fun to share the goodies.

We like Whangarei quite a bit and we're doing lots of walking to the various shops as well as stops to see old friends. Its good exercise and we are helping the NZ economy buying lots of things. Hope everyone's enjoying the good parts of the holiday season and keeping the stress levels down.
At 11/30/2015 3:33 AM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 35°43.41'S 174°19.53'E

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