Archive for April, 2011

The Rugby Players of Suva

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Fijians love rugby and we love to watch them play even though we don’t understand a thing about it. This is what we’ve learned so far…

A guy on the sideline tries to throw the bladder to a mate out on the field who is hoisted into the air by his shorts and lots of helping hands on his thighs and crotch. We call this the Flying Wedgie.

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The opposing guys do the same thing and one of them ends up with the ball. We call this the Chicken Fight.

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Then the ball goes way down to the ground from these great heights and into the well known Scrum.

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Suddenly it wobbles out on to the grass with a shocking lack of interest from the Scrumming men who continue to crush each other as hard as possible. Eventually it gets scooped up.

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Then there’s some old fashioned running and the occasional kick towards the goal posts.

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And the whole thing starts over.

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Chicken fights, wedgies, headbutts, running and kicking… what’s new is really old. Again we learn that people are the same all over the world.

18°09.00′S 178°29.50′E 30-Apr-11 10:30 UTC

A Slow Boat to Suva

Friday, April 29th, 2011

After a week in the anchorage we thought it would be fun to take a little voyage across the Koro Sea on the overnight ferry to Suva. There’s nothing like a boat trip to break up the monotony of life on a mooring. The salt air, the romance of ancient maritime traditions, a sturdy German ferry built in 1970, how could we resist?

We splurged for the occasion and booked a cabin for the overnight passage.  Once aboard we began some immediate schooling in commercial marine practice, an area where K thought he had seen everything. We noticed right away that the Westerland had been re-fit with some interesting design details, like the plate glass bulkhead on our state room.

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This feature helped to remind us that we are way richer than the other 500 passengers who travel as deck cargo, and much older than we used to be when we used to travel as deck cargo. It also provided the majority with a view of the good life, which made us feel rather obnoxious, really. Happily there was a retro-fit curtain, our air conditioner kept the window nice and frosty for privacy, and when we closed our eyes to sleep through the passage we were able to forget where we were, which helped salve our feelings of guilt.

The other side of the space had a sliding glass door that bisected an escape hatch.

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This was just as well because throughout the night the deck cargo folks would dog and undog the hatch to check its function. S slept in her clothes and K was repeatedly teased by the expectation of feeding time.

We had a great view of the stern ramp and spent hours watching the deck department press-fit cargo trucks into the vehicle deck.

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Then the last one was secured for sea with a 3 inch hawser on the mooring capstans.

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In the morning the forwards trucks backed off and the backwards trucks drove forwards with their Ro-Ro cargos of lumber, goats, and straight-jacketed geese riding precariously in a cardboard box on top of it all.

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This box of geese went for a bit of a road trip before the driver remembered to secure them. They could have been damaged in transit. Always check your load!

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Our peculiar routing included a bonus 1.5-hour bus ride from a  ferry terminal in the jungle to the bustling port city of Suva. We heard a lot of great things about this bus trip from the ticket agent and our friend Aseri at the marina. Everyone agreed that the road was really good, paved even, and the rural scenery was pleasant.

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So we crammed into the very back seat of the 3rd bus, where we sat with some over-jolly young Fijian lads and took some snaps out the window….

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Eventually we got to the outskirts of Suva where a great many buses comingle in a hive of commuting Fijians.   A local young man sitting next to us on the bus took pity on us as we sat patiently waiting to see where we were being taken.  Unasked, he made some calls on his cell phone to find out where our hotel was and helpfully told us when we should get off.  Then he was gone in a cloud of diesel exhaust before we could learn his name.  We found our hotel just half a block away.

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18°05.00′S 178°39.00′E 29-Apr-11 10:30 UTC

Savusavu

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

We’ve been really busy in Savusavu since we arrived a week ago. It all started because we accidently giggled at the biosecurity clearance agent as he stick-paddled back to the dock when his outboard motor died. It’s hard to say why this was funny, outboards are a ridiculous idea that we’ve all fallen victim to, but there is something charming about a federal official stick-paddling back to the office after clearing you into the country.

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But we violated the first rule of boat-folk: Never laugh at a sad guy in a dinghy (though he actually looked quite happy as he paddled). Five minutes later as we were sacked out on the settees under the cabin fans we heard our inflatable dinghy let out an incredibly loud, long, pathetic shriek :  EEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! The blazing tropical sun had overpressured the airfloor and burst a weak seam.  Soon after, another seam in the left tube went. Our trusty old blow up boat was exploding, seam by seam, in front of our eyes.

As usual, the first set of patches didn’t work, just as threatened in the glue directions… “don’t use in temperatures over 80° F and humidity above 60%” and “apply only in an air conditioned environment.”  In Savusavu that would mean gluing up the dinghy in the lobby of the WestPac Bank – if you cared to swim it in to the beach, carry it to town and test the limits of this very hospitable society. Perhaps they would have taken pity on us as the gringos who try their ATM cards every day only to get little slips of paper confirming the denial of their bank cards due, we found out through a very expensive phone call, to a new ATM services contractor at Capital One.  This was seriously affecting our shopping and there was lots of cool stuff in town that K could not play with unless he bought.

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We accepted our humiliating punishment for dinghy pride and paddled back and forth barely afloat on one dinghy tube for several days while we waited for the temperature to dip below 95° in the shade and the monsoonal rains to give us a break.  In the meantime we found a plywood vendor and built a set of back-up dinghy floor boards in between downpours (out came the circular saw, the jig saw, the hole saw, the router, Great Grandpa’s plane…).

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It took several days, this place generates some big rain.

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And the big rain generates high humidity, which settles on consumer electronics that are salty from 9 days of vigorous offshore work.  One by one they began to die. First to go was the LCD on a camera. The next morning it was the laptop keyboard, or to be exact, the keys on the keyboard that made up half of our login password. We enjoy field stripping our electronics as much as anyone, but spending a couple of hours, or half a day, puzzling over the best way to yank apart microscopic ribbon cable connectors can wreak havoc with other fun things on the schedule, like breaking off half the bolts in the steering pedestal, fiberglassing in the cockpit locker and redesigning bits of the self-steering system in the far corners of a space the size of a sidewalk mailbox with the temperature of a sauna.

It’s really hard to explain what we’ve been doing in the stern of this boat and how unpleasant it can be. If you re-wrote the hotbox punishment scene from Cool Hand Luke to include some activities inside the hotbox like grinding itchy fiberglass and performing blindfolded swiss watch repairs with your face pressed into a greasy steering cable while supporting your full weight on a single rib, you might be pretty close. All we wanted are a couple of alternate control line runs for the windvane. It always sounds so easy at the start.

But it helps to be in a beautiful place when you stagger out of the hot-box, mourning your loss of longevity at a rate of 500:1 for each minute you spent in the extreme physical stress of the cockpit locker in the tropics. Waitui Marina is actually not very beautiful in a stylish sense but we love the tin roof with its 20 year old pink paint job that matches the sunset.

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We also like the collection of tenants. There’s a meat packer, a laundry, a dive shop, a “yacht club,” and a curry shop where you can eat lunch for 4 USD and meet Gigi the owner’s granddaughter who greets you with a big smile, plays in the rain, eats curry with her hands and skips wherever she goes.

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The Waitui mooring field is managed by Americans Michael and Kendra, famous for their years in the Pacific on a Downeast 38 and the founders of Bebi Electronics, purveyors of LED replacement lights.  Michael has a cool nesting aluminum dinghy….

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Savusavu rates near the top of our list for scenic populated anchorages.

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On one side we have a palmy island with mangroves and a view across Savusavu Bay.

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The other side is a moving picture of amphibious Fijians and geothermal steam rising from the black beaches.

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The sun sets among thunderstorms every night behind the ferry Suliven, as a parade of bats migrate silently overhead.

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After a week of sweaty heroics, the camera is fixed, the laptop has an external keyboard, there’s a dinghy on order from NZ, the old one has held air for 3 days, the steering pedestal has been dismantled, examined, oiled, and drilled and tapped with new bolts, the heads have been caulked, we have new fiberglass foundations for a redundant set of self-steering blocks, and the new ATM cards are “in the mail.”  Time to have some fun.

16°46.69′S 179°19.84′E 26-Apr-11 10:30 UTC

NZ to Fiji

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

We made landfall tonight at 0200 and now we motor into the Koro Sea with Great Astrolabe Reef 55 nm to port and Matuku Island just visible to starboard in the blue light of a full moon. The entry to these waters is also guarded by an uncharted reef south of Matuku which S carefully noted on the chart plotter with a liberal sprinkling of sinking ship symbols.

It’s a relief to be across the last 1000 nm with its notorious threatening tropical lows and the sloppy seas of its boisterous sub-tropical highs.  These high pressure systems are really the way in and out of New Zealand though, and so it was that we set out toward a monstrous system of  rain and squalls and one big swirling storm, flying down like a red eyed dragon from the northwest to intercept our course.

It’s not clear to us where “Tropical Disturbance” falls in the hierarchy of tropical trouble but we did find it disturbing when the forecast began to include this term after we had been sailing north for a day. Our cunning plan on departure was to aim for the tail of  this beast and “hit ‘em where they ain’t”  but we slowed down for a day or two just to make sure that this thing would not turn on us.

Two days out of NZ the beast had crossed our track several hundred miles to the north and was slithering off the southeast leaving us to deal with a rearguard of squalls and a running head-sea.

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Up went the staysail, out came the 3nd reef on the jib and we sailed at great speed through the sort of uncomfortable sea that only Albatrosses enjoy.

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We love these big birds with their six foot wingspans and their determined but seemingly purposeless soaring through the troughs. S wants to know where they keep their feet. K is pretty sure they don’t have any.

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There was very little else to see. Several hundred miles north of NZ, a small swallow stopped and took a breather under the dodger for about 5 minutes before setting off again heading upwind against 20 knots.  We put out a saucer of water for him in case he came back, but though we saw him again the next day, he didn’t stop in.  The flying fish reappeared  flying through the night at alarming altitudes to ricochet off the rig, leaving blue scales and the strong smell of impacted flying fish in hidden places.

One day S saw a stick.

Khamseen thrives in these conditions. We’ve seen more than a few waves roll under the keel but it’s still fun to see this boat sail up to a wave the size of a house, crawl up the steep side, slide down the backside on her belly and still keep all the tea in your mug. In this heavy-ish weather, life revolves around sleeping and eating. We left with two whole legs of lamb. K brothed the bones in the pressure cooker and then made lamb curry everyday for about a week. There was lamb butter curry, lamb korma, banana coconut lamb curry, lamb vindaloo and a Jordanian  lamb maklouba (just for variety). The sea state was at “No Baking” so we did without our naan.

Our final days in Opua were delightful. First there was the discounted legs of lamb. Then our friends Michele and Bernie, who live with their two girls Lola and Jana on Momo, let us borrow their car for an expedition to the big supermarket in the town of Kerikeri. It was a great day out with lots of shopping and a nice shawarma lunch in an Israeli cafe.  Then we kept the kids up too late at the boring old yacht club where adults talked on and on about boats after a hard day of school.

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The next day we met up again with the Momo crew and the local syndicate of the Bubblegum Mafia for crepes and coffee.

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Some of us were on high alert with the impending visit of a dental nurse and were carrying a toothbrush and toothpaste in our shirt pockets at all times.

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Others of us were just pleased to have a whole locker converted into a single occupancy aviary.

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We’ll miss our Opua friends.  We’ll also miss our anchor spot next to Hawke of Tuonela with front row seats on an endless parade of vessels in this bay.

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Like the chick magnet Glyn Bird with its lusty ancient diesel on the daily social outing of young locals…

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and the folks from Zephyrus launching their sweet nesting two-part dinghy.

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19°46.12′S 179°29.07′E 17-Apr-11 07:00 UTC

The Worried Skipper (a poem, not us)

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

“I hates to think of dyin’,” says the skipper to the mate;
“Starvation, shipwrecks, heart disease, I loathe to contemplate.
I hates to think of vanities And all the crimes they lead to.”
“Then,” says the mate,
With looks sedate,
“Ye doesn’t really need to.”

“It fills me breast with sorrer,” says the skipper with a sigh,
“To conjer up the happy days what careless has slipped by.
I hates to contemplate the day I ups and left me Mary.”
“Then,” says the mate,
“Why contemplate,
If it ain’t necessary?”

“Suppose that this here vessel,” says the skipper with a groan,
“Should lose ‘er bearin’s, run away, and hump upon a stone.
Suppose she’d shiver and go down, when save ourselves we couldn’t.”
The mate replies,
“Oh, blow me eyes!
Suppose ag’in, she shouldn’t?”

“The chances is agin’ us,” says the skipper in dismay;
“If fate don’t kill us out and out, it gits us all some day.
So many perish of old age, the death rate must be fearful.”
“Well,” says the mate
“At any rate,
we might as well die cheerful.”

“I read in them statistic books,” the nervous skipper cries,
“That every minute by the clock some feller up and dies;
I wonder what disease they gits that kills in such a hurry.”
The mate he winks
and says “I thinks
they mostly dies of worry.”

“Of certain things,” the skipper sighs, “me conscience won’t be rid,
And all the wicked things I done I sure should not have did.
The wrinkles on me inmost soul compel me oft to shiver.”
“Yer soul’s first rate,”
Observes the mate,
“The trouble’s with yer liver.”

Wallace Irwin

26°30.68′S 177°23.69′E 14-Apr-11 06:48 UTC

A Way Home

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

As one of our favorite songs goes, “there’s more than one way home.” As we considered how the heck we were going to sail Khamseen back to Seattle attractive options seemed surprisingly limited. The north- and south-easterly trade winds that pushed us nicely along through the tropics last year would definitely provide some unpleasant sailing if we tried to go against them back the way we came.

One famous cruising route guru recommends heading straight east from New Zealand, reaping the benefits of the favorable mid-latitude winds, before sweeping north through the Austral Islands of French Polynesia, on to Tahiti, then up to Hawaii, before hooking up over the summertime North Pacific High pressure system that’ll be waiting for us off the U.S. west coast (not much wind in the High) and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Here’s a plot of what that looks like:

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The thing we don’t like about this route is the first leg, which along with its promise of wind also comes the promise of at least one gale. Many boats report having been treated to several, as low pressure systems march one after another across the southern mid-latitudes.  It’s autumn down here after all. We’ve already had a taste of these gales as we hunkered down on the Coromandel.  We couldn’t help thinking there must be another way.

So we consulted our friends Garth and Wendy who have years of experience sailing around the Pacific. Garth suggested we head north from New Zealand, island hop through Fiji, Tuvalu, and Kiribati up to the Marshall Islands, then over to Midway Island, and on to the Pacific Northwest.  That sounded like a splendid idea.

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We knew we’d need a permit to stop at Midway, which is part of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument created a few years ago, so we started our permit application process last summer.  Unfortunately we quickly hit a budget-related snag. Long story short, we’re not going to Midway. In fact, they warned us not to even think about stopping there unless we plunked down about $4k for a vessel tracking system. They helpfully offer three types of government-approved systems to choose from, but each would wind up costing us a couple of months of cruising budget.  Never mind that there are low-cost alternatives, the then-President only okayed those three. We’d also need a rat inspection, a haul out for bottom cleaning, and an agreement not to use our dinghy which they say is too small. And all for the one week they would allow us to stay – um, no thanks America, you have the stingiest bureaucracy in the Pacific.

But we really like the idea of going up through island chains we haven’t seen yet, and making the big jump from the Marshalls to British Columbia is doable, so that’s still our plan.  We’ll just be sure to steer well clear of forbidden Midway.  Something like this:

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Comparing them, both routes are about 7,000 nm long and would take us about 60 days on passage. So while Keb’ Mo’s right, “there ain’t no right way, ain’t no wrong,” there is one way that pretty much guarantees we’ll have our dupas handed to us by Mother Nature, and another that’s more scenic and that might just let us off a little easy.

It looks like its time to go. We have 2 legs of lamb and a few other groceries (about $700 NZ worth). We sail for Fiji.

35°18.70′S 174°07.54′E 09-Apr-11 06:45 UTC

Return to the Bay of Islands

Monday, April 4th, 2011

The timing for our return to the Bay of Islands was clearly fortunate as we currently cling to the bottom of Urupukapuka Bay with our claws out in 36 kts of wind that swoops down from the bluffs around us.

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Though we regret leaving Great Barrier, we know that more time farther south would have cost us a good week of waiting for reasonable conditions to make it back to Opua.

At the end of our fast upwind day we arrived in Deep Water Cove, which is really not that deep.  Among the endearing enigmas of this country – which include kiwi fruit imported from Italy, and referring to a meal after lunch and before bed where one might have chops and parsnips as “tea” – anything over 30 ft is considered deep.

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We spent a pleasant night during which the last of the mosquitoes were discharged to perdition.  In the morning we were invited aboard Savarna for coffee and met some nice people from Nelson who had backpacked in Alaska as youngsters and knew the illegal hiring practices of salmon canneries in Valdez. K was nostalgic.  We took a quick trip ashore, where wild begonias grow from the rocky cliffside,

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and hiked up to the nearby ridge where we finally saw a Tui bird (he was too jumpy to have his picture taken).   But we hurried back to Khamseen to move for the weather. It’s not hard to move smartly when the sunny sky is suddenly scored by a long dark cloud coming down, knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door. This cloud stretched all the way to Tonga.

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So we left the rookery rocks of this new species of heavily-beaked beach chicken,

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and wandered past islets and through skinny passes towards Urupukapuka Bay.

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The sheep dotted pastures on high bluffs around the bay reminded us that the larder was getting low and the fishing has been bad – or at least the keeping has been bad even when the catching was alright.

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So we ate the last of our Mexican lentils in a beanless country and watched yet another squall roll out of the endless Pacific and across these cheeky islands.

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35°13.30′S 174°14.30′E 4-Apr-11 05:30 UTC 

The Mosquitoes of The Mokohinaus

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

You’d think twenty-five miles offshore would be far enough to avoid bugs, yet we found the mosquitoes of the Mokohinau Islands are competing well with sheep for the largest biomass between Seattle and Dunedin.  The islands in this cluster are a wonderland of micro-bays, pinnacles, caves, tiny passes and octopus gardens. The attraction is magnified by fickle winds and open ocean swells crashing into the rocks making the most interesting spots hazardous, untenable and mysterious.

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We were disappointed to have to admit to ourselves that we have the wrong boat to explore places like this. But we have the perfect boat to take on a metric ton of poor, tired and hungry mosquitoes who had been waiting a very long time for a boat without local knowledge to come and anchor at their preferred port of embarkation. We fled at first light after a night of wholesale mosquitocide including a chemical barrage of patchouli incense which disoriented the mosquitoes, reminded S of grad school, and made K feel even more like a hippy.

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The utter slaughter would take another full 48 hours of relentless bloody killing. Carcasses covered the deck and the blood had to be washed overboard with the fire hoses. Or so it seemed at the worst.

Khamseen sailed fast to the north, so fast that we failed to stop for the night because we passed our intended night harbor at lunchtime.  It would have been a record upwind day if we were the types to keep such records. Our records are notoriously unkempt, K got bored just thinking about it, so we satisfied ourselves with the goal to sail just low enough at a fine pace to clear Cape Brett in the Bay of Islands 50 miles away.

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In the way of these things, we were met by a great squall within sight of the Cape.

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The wind backed 20 degrees and put us into a tacking duel with this spinning cell as sunset approached.

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There was a deluge and then a calm, and these were more than enough to prompt the unsatisfactory but expeditious decision to motor without grace through the pass between Cape Brett and Motukokako Island (or “Hole in the Wall”) to make our anchorage.

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Then out came the sun and illuminated S. Grace was restored.

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35°55.50′S 175°06.70′E 3-Apr-11 05:00 UTC

Great Barrier Island

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

The bays of Port FitzRoy were blessedly calm. It’s been a rare thing for us to have a truly calm anchorage and we could have stayed in Port FitzRoy for at least a month.

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Great Barrier Island is ideal in so many ways it’s hard to come to terms with the shortness of our stay. The whole island is off the grid. The village of Port FitzRoy has a general store with post boxes, a medical clinic (no shoes required, even for staff), a boat house, library, a dive shed, and an information kiosk. These buildings are all wired to the generator at the general store. Houses outside the village are on solar, wind, and small generators.  They also have an impressive recycling program.

We spotted our dreamy, dream property a couple hundred feet aft of our transom. It was a classic little cottage with solar panels, wind generator, rain catchments, a big garden, a dock, and a boathouse.  Dang.

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A large fraction of the population spend their mornings outside the general store welcomed by the wagging tail and friendly scrutiny of a beagle mix in a work truck.

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We met a couple of circumnavigators in their 80s who were still sailing their home built 40 ft kauri-wood sloop. They had just popped over from Waiheke for a Port FitzRoy meat pie. Peggy confessed that she feels like more of a passenger these days.

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Other salty codgers were practicing their singlehanded mark roundings.

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Great Barrier attracts an intrepid collection of sailors. We spent an evening with Joy and Charles, who took their six (!) kids cruising to Tonga a couple years back on a boat smaller than ours.  Our jaws dropped as they told us the tale of losing their boat (but keeping all of their kids safe) when they went airborne off a wave in a mid-winter gale and imploded the main bulkheads, 350 nm north of NZ, on the way home from Tonga.   They were dismasted but then picked up by the French navy.  The boat was unsalvageable, so Charles was forced to scuttle his own boat as the French videotaped the process to prove they had no hand in it. “The French do not sink New Zealand boats,” they told him – official policy following the internationally condemned sinking of the Rainbow Warrior by French commandos in the Bay of Islands.   Now they own Vingilot, a roomy Cavalier 45 centercockpit with a beautiful blond interior.

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The island is really known for miles and miles of ferny hiking trails. We did stop the boat projects long enough to explore one of them that led us to a gorgeous but chilly series of waterfalls and swimming holes.  After testing the waters neither one of us braved the chill.

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But having learned our lesson in the Coromandel, we could not let rare favorable weather pass us by so we quickly hauled anchor one afternoon and struck out for the north. We slipped past the Needles with fine sailing weather but it forced us to add Great Barrier Island to our long list of kiss and run places deserving more time.

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36°10.70′S 175°20.60′E 2-Apr-11 02:30 UTC

Escape from Coromandel

Friday, April 1st, 2011

We loved the Coromandel Peninsula. It began with an attractive expectation of remote ruggedness that is often overlooked in the the company of Auckland its sophisticated winery islands. We’ll miss the pastoral anchorages in the full moon,

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… abundant sea-run Kahawai with their fatal attraction to the White Nylon Feather.

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and how about another look at that huge plate of steak-eggs?

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But after making about four trips up to the north end of the Peninsula only to be chased back down by weather it was a relief to sail past the point Cape Colville with a meager 25 kts of wind.

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And so it was that after a quick and rolly trip across the Hauraki Gulf – with S hogging all the helming duties to keep her stomach in check –  we approached the toothy peaks and islets of Great Barrier Island.

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The island is largely undeveloped with large protected areas.

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We threaded our way through about 50 islets and aimed for the narrow channel into the sunken valley system of Port FitzRoy.

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Many of the islands were remarkably pest free so K hid out down below until we had safely passed.

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These anchorages are absolutely bullet proof, protected from all points which is really what you need in this swirly part of the world.

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So while cyclones like “Bune” might be spinning out of the tropics between us and Fiji, we sleep like babies and spend our days knocking out still more projects in anticipation of the upcoming offshore legs as we wait for the end of cyclone season.

 

36°10.36′S 175°21.53′E 1-Apr-11 02:30 UTC