Sunday, March 24, 2013

Keepin it Easy on Waiheke Island

It only really sank in how long it's been since I've written anything when I finally slowed down after my brother left. He took off from Waiheke two weeks ago and I've been hopping around anchorages here ever since. I'm not going to lie, it feels pretty good to be relatively stationary.

Ardea took us on a glorious tour of Great Barrier Island. We hit at least a dozen anchorages on the whole of the west coast, climbed the highest peak, hiked to the hot springs, which were too hot to touch in some places, much less to engage in any sort of prolonged bathing. One of the highlights was Smokehouse Bay, where a Kiwi fellow left the land and money for some facilities in one small bay. There are several large fish smokers, concrete basins with hand-crank washing fixtures, and a couple of baths, one indoors and one outdoors. The baths could be filled with piping hot water as long as one makes a little fire in the nearby iron stove. On top of it all, there was an excellent cockle beach nearby; cockles are a type of clam that burrow in shallow, sandy areas. We went at low tide with our friend Al and came back with heaps of them.

Mmmmm. Cockles and boxed wine...
A Tuerto mission to the mussel farms...

Was a shame Chuck brought the same Topsiders as I have.
 It was such a tough time figuring out whose were whose.

Ardea in Tryphena Bay at Great Barrier.
Coromandel Penninsula in the background.

Kauri, the famous NZ hardwood, rises
above the falls on GBI.

Hiking to the hot springs.
We spent around two weeks out there. Dianna left from Port Fitzroy and Charlie and I continued South, eventually jumping from Barrier to Colville Harbor on the Coromandel Peninsula, where we met some comical characters enjoying their vacation double-wides on the beach at Otautu Bay. It made for a pretty hilarious night.

We moseyed on down the Penninsula to Coromandel Town, where we met some more fine folk and spent several days. It's a nice town there, like Sausilito or Fairfax except more country, whatever that means to you. We rented a car there and explored the east coast of the Coromandel. We had a few hikes, tried to get a little surf, and ended the day at Hot Water Beach. There are hotsprings at one end of the beach that you can access by digging a hole in the sand at low tide. If you hit the right spot, the hole will backfill with super hot water. It was pretty righteous, sitting with the waves splashing into the sandy hot tubs scattered about. There were lots of people, but it didn't matter.

Finally we sailed over to Waiheke Island and visited Jon and Nia at the winery that they've been employed with for a few months. A day or two later, Chuck took off, and I had no further plans nor excuses for avoiding them. Still, I've had Jon and Nia, Claus and Tim, and new friends to hang out with. Chittick came up for a visit, too, and we reminisced and went kiteboarding and drank plenty of beers. It was a grand old time, but we both agreed we miss America. Still, I'll keep fishing and scallop diving and living it up the sailor way right up until it's time to leave.

On that, after much deliberation, I assure you, I decided to put Ardea on TradeMe, the kiwi sort of eBay deal, and head back to California. I thought about sailing back via the southern route to Tahiti then Hawaii, or heading to Fiji or Australia, but then I'd just as soon go back and start again. And, yeah, I've got three-foot-syndrome, but it's not just about getting a bigger boat in California. I'm getting pretty damned close to ten-thousand miles over ground on this little boat and the most consistent thing I felt about it all was how much I'd like to be studying the sea; will I someday sail myself to remote research locations? Can't know for sure, but I think I'll have a go at making something like that happen. In any case, I'm far from finished sailing and I feel I can start again with all the wisdom I've gained on this trip and have a much easier time of it. Mexico? Well that's pretty damned close by now, isn't it?

In some ways it seems ridiculous to leave Ardea now. After all we've been through and after all the work I've put into her, I'm sort of only just finally settled in. I mean that boat is pretty much dialed in. I know how to run it and I know everything that's good and bad and squirrely and quirky and everything else. I know exactly what I've got and I can fix any of it. So what's my rationale? Shit, it seems like I'm still sort of working on it. This whole thing has been challenging. Even up to now, trying to sell the boat, I'm learning every day. And that's exactly what I wanted. Sailing back to the tropics is very, very tempting, but I feel like I would like something to do once I get there, aside from all of the obvious and, admittedly, enjoyable activities that I've been doing for the entirety of this endless summer. So, anyway, it's back home with this sailor, looking for new challenges, with some new ideas, some new goals and, before too long, I'm sure, a new boat.

I'll be back in the Bay in a month or so, looking for some work and starting to figure out how to get to graduate school. I'm pretty excited for some change, though the thought of parting with this boat that has been so good to me brings me great sadness.

This site will stay up and there's a lot of things I'd like to share up here. I'll post from time to time, especially once I'm back in California and can do some video editing and use high-speed internet. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from whoever is out there and reading about this little adventure. This blog has been around for a little over a year and has 25,000 hits from mainly the U.S., but also several countries in Asia, lots of hits from the Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Australia, India, F.P., NZ, Russia, France, Lithuania... okay, only six hits from Lithuania, but still, it's pretty crazy to me.

At some point I'm sure I'll go back and read all of this blabber, as it will be interesting to see how it evolved. My mental space has probably been more apparent than I may have realized while writing, and it has changed so much throughout the vicissitudes of seafaring. It is still strange for me to think about that knowing that I post this stuff where anybody can read it, and it's probably pretty clear that I've become more comfortable with that over time. In any case, for those who read this or any of my rambles, whether one line or every line, thanks for your patience. For the minority who like the long, wordy stories, I may well have a yarn or two left. For now, though, I'll share a short verse that has always inspired me and leave you with some photos of beautiful New Zealand.

I read this in a National Geographic years ago. It was written by C. Day Lewis.

Those Himalayas of the mind
Are not so easily possessed
There's more than precipice and storm
Between you and your Everest

Threatened brown teals at Great Barrier Island.

Pilot whales breaching just off the bow
 near Whangaparapara Bay, GBI.

Trekking the fjord lands of South Island.

Along the Routeburn Track, South Island

Routeburn Flats Campsite, South Island.

Not a bad view...

Routeburn Track- approaching the Divide.

Lake Howden, Routeburn Track, South Island.

View from Mount Hobson, Great Barrier Island.

Dolphins in Whangaparapara Bay, GBI.

Ardea sails on.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Worth all the while

Only a quick update as the Internet is poor. Ardea is cruising again! Even the fact of lousy overpriced internet is a boon to me as I feel like a free outdoorsman again since leaving the brackish basin of Whangarei. Though the mangrove-lined shores there certainly brought me nostalgia of my swamp-studying days in Panama, little could compare to the majesty of the natural landscapes we've seen in the last three weeks.

First, a trip to the fjord lands of the South Island where Charlie, Dianna and I hiked the Routeburn track and camped among the alpine parrots and massive fruit doves, drank the pure mountain water and soaked in views of high-altitude lakes, snow-capped peaks, and the unique and spectacular flora and fauna of New Zealand.

Then we returned to Ardea, spent a day finishing up projects and provisioning and started a three-days meander to the coast from the long and winding channel that ends at Whangarei Town Basin. We dove for scallops and saw glorious dorid nudibranchs with bright yellow gill-like plumes wafting in the current. I have been no less than mesmerized by the abundance and variety of life in the cold water here. The rocky intertidal and mud flats are the most obvious, but a snorkel and mask reveal the amazing world of kelp forests and the vast plains of the benthos. Molluscs and crustaceans seem to dominate, but much more is there as well. The discarded shells of dead scallops might house dozens of invertebrate species ranging across many phyla. Really, one doesn't have to look too closely to be impressed.

After Dianna set the at-anchor fishing record in pulling up three red snappers at once using a jig rig and some old salted tuna (from a yellow-fin in Mexico... my how the time flies), we headed off to Great Barrier Island, 45 miles offshore. We had a brief stop at Taranga Island for lunch but the holding was poor. We sailed past sundown and anchored in beautiful Katherine Bay.

We spent three or four days there enjoying clear water full of life, fine beaches and views of native scrub and forest along the surrounding hillsides. The weather has been warm amd sunny, the NZ sun still nuclear.

We moved to Port Fitzroy and enjoyed one of my favorite cruiser outings, the waterfall hike. Dianna departed today leaving Chuck and I, and Ardea, of course. We will move to Smokehouse Bay after this foray with the interweb and enjoy an old fish-smoking facility converted to wood-fired bathhouses for the use of passing sailors.  Perhaps there was a consensus at some stage on this Island that we all need a bath (we bathed at the waterfall, though!).

Pictures to come some time.



Saturday, February 2, 2013

Play Time

It has been a pretty solid couple of weeks since I returned to the southern hemisphere. My boat work is complete, or at least to that stage of near-completion that seems never to be surpassed; Xeno's paradox at work. It was as all that boat work is: frustrating, exhausting, invigorating, challenging, rewarding... a roller coaster in many ways. But it went, and Ardea has masts again. The cockpit is strong and supported far better than before. The main mast step has been replaced along with the plank beneath it. I also ended up fabricating an arched piece to support the timbers that hold up the main mast on the interior of the cabin. It is bolted into the bulkhead and, though it eats up a little bit of headroom, it should provide some added support for the deck there where the main mast is stepped.

New support beam. Needs varnish, but it's in.

Main mast step before.
Main step after. Original half-dollar back in. A kiwi
two-dollar coin went under the mizzen, chosen
for it's heron on the tails side.

Re-stepping the masts was a bit more exciting than I would have hoped. As usual, I let it all come down to crunch time. I had the crane coming at 1600 and by 1400 was ready for the masts to go on, except for the wicked mess all over deck and cabin as well as the fact that I couldn't start the engine to move to the crane slip. I had removed the primary fuel filter back when I was demolishing the forward part of the cockpit as it was bolted to the interior. In order to take it off, I had to remove four screws thus detaching the plastic bowl from the upper filter element. I had two hours before the crane was to arrive and thus the big money clock began to tick, but I only could find three of those screws. I tried to jury-rig it but couldn't get a seal. I tried to run the engine with the bleed nut on the secondary filter open to avoid pulling air to the injectors, but no luck after a few minutes eating up whatever fuel was already in the downstream portion of the delivery system. I just couldn't get any fuel pressure. So, with the help of neighboring sailors (more on that later), we pulled Ardea bit by bit to the working slip.

Already in a hectic frame of mind, I was given another stressful curveball when the main mast settled onto its step. The aft lower shrouds wouldn't reach their chainplates. It was such a shame to have that moment of truth fall through. I couldn't believe it, actually. I knew I had increased the thickness of the timber beneath the aluminum mast step, but I had checked the turnbuckle screws and thought I could accommodate it. I realized later that I had replaced Ardea's rigging back in 2011 with the deck compressed, and the new set-up not only had a thicker piece of timber, but had the deck brought back up. Woops.

Cockpit ready for paint. I failed to photograph it
with the step in as things were getting a little hectic
around then.

We shackled the toggles to the chainplates and moved on. The mizzen went in without a hitch. Finally, crane and rigger left, their pockets full, as I sat lamenting my mistake though happy no less to have sticks again. We pulled Ardea back to a normal berth and I set about cleaning and winding down.

The next day, thankfully, I was able to get all of the rigging in without having to use any shackles. Once I tensioned the backstay, the aft lowers reached fine, though there is not a lot of turnbuckle screw left over. I think time helped the problem as well, since the bedding compound wasn't set when the sticks went in, so I gained a little vertical space on having saved bedding the steps until only a few hours before stepping the masts. Now the rig is tuned and looking good. The genoa is back on the furler, the booms are on. And, I've cleaned and cleaned until my space is starting to look liveable again.

I've opted not to sail to Auckland because the weather is bad and it is just too big of a rush and I've been working too much to have the energy to single-hand the coast in the rain. Ardea is back on a pile mooring in Whangarei. I will take the bus down to meet Charlie and Dianna in the morning and we'll crash for a night on Cap's Tres with my Spanish friends before flying to Queenstown for some trekking in the fjord lands. In a week, we'll be back. After a couple of days of finishing up some projects and taking on provisions, we'll take off. On the list are Waiheke Island, Great Barrier Island, Poor Knight's Island, and Doubtless Bay to the North. We'll see how it works out... I'll be back on the cruiser's clock and Chuck and D will soon discover how easy it is to while away the time at a fine anchorage eating fresh snapper and kingfish and scallops. Surely it's those thoughts that keep one motivated on the long days in the yard.

This is the second time on this trip that I have been in a boat yard, the last being in La Paz, BCS, Mexico. Though very different experiences in many ways, they were both wonderful parts of this whole boat-ownership thing. It's tough to be there gutting your vessel and working and bleeding cash, but I have always found wonderful people in the yards, and I owe them a great debt of gratitude. This time around, my endless thanks go to Len, captain of the schooner Mary Harrigan. Len became not only a dear friend, providing a reliable source of moral support, but also lent me a great deal of help. He has a workshop that any tinkering soul would envy just a few minutes up the road from the yard and he saved me countless hours of sanding and hacking by letting me use and teaching me techniques with his planer, router, band-saw, and so on. Len was the founder and owner of a business in the States called Stoney Point Decoys years ago; his skills as a craftsman, which so benefit him as the owner of a classic wooden schooner, were honed first as he hand-carved and painted bird-hunting decoys and later as he designed and built machines for their manufacture. I felt a keen sense of pride as I hand-planed my main-mast support with the very plane with which he built his first wooden duck, in spite of the prevailing opinion that he couldn't possibly succeed with such a business. He saved me a lot of grief and was good company in those tired evenings when beer can't get down the gullet fast enough and sailing stories are all that one wants to hear; when reminiscing is the only seafaring possible as long as the vessel is under the knife.

Len's long-time Kiwi friend, Mark Webbey, is another upstanding character. He is a boat-builder and craftsman by trade and, though he made it clear that he disapproved of plastic boats, it was very nice to have him give my new cockpit design a once-over. Both he and Len gave freely of their off-cuts of hardwood, which is also dearly appreciated by this ever-poorer sailor.

New mizzen support design. I think I'm
the only person that can decipher that.

But there's more. I wallow in the small-worldness and the next-level coincidences that seem to continue to grace the open mind. After a few days in the yard, a boat named Chesapeake pulled in next to me, her port of call none other than Berkeley, California. The first boat from Berkeley I've seen since leaving, and excellent neighbors for my time there. Not long after that, another boat pulled in a few slips over (and this is a small boatyard!). It's name: Chautauqua. I asked, of course, and indeed it is named for the small lake fifty miles or so southwest of Buffalo, New York. The lake that I have visited with my family nearly every year of my life. The place in which my siblings and I, who moved around a fair deal as kids, found a sense of grounding, that continues to be our place of sanctuary. Yes, indeed, these folks were from that small place in the world. They had cruised the oceans on the current Chautauqua, but the first Chautauqua they owned was moored in Bemus Point, the village that my family has called home for generations. It seems so hard to believe...

My short time in Whangarei has been full of positive interactions, of new and wonderful people. I sit now quite happy with the renewed state of my vessel, and though I will continue to work on her, I could not be more excited to be a cruiser again, a vagabond and a wanderer. I am asked often what are my long-term plans and I still don't really know. Cyclone season ends in April along with my visa. I don't know where I'll go, where I'll work, what I'll do. I've got a few leads, though, and I feel quite certain that things will work out just fine.

Just needs a little paint when the sun comes out.

Pretty much done.

Monday, January 28, 2013


I wouldn't say I've got a predisposition toward big projects, but it does seem I'm a bit above average at this stage as compared to the rest of the offshore cohort. That blasted engine business a few months ago is what started it all. Now it's the cockpit decking. The latter is not nearly so bad, though, for a number of reasons. I've had the masts off for ten days now and I am well on my way to finishing. Here's the scoop:

After nearly ten-thousand miles of offshore sailing, the mizzen mast, which sits on the cockpit deck just aft of the cabin-house, compressed the decking substantially. The cockpit well- the rectangular area that makes up the lowest part of the cockpit- had begun to separate from the decking. The deck was angling in toward the mizzen. It is a problem that is rampant on Mariners, as the deck in the cockpit was not supported well enough in the original design. On Ardea, the problem got worse and worse with time. In Tonga, I began to notice that the lower shrouds on the mizzen had lost a great deal of their tension, indicating that the mast was moving, albeit very slowly, toward the point of crashing through the deck and into the engine.

Note the sagging. Also the separation to port.

It worried me a great deal for many miles. I was careful with my sail area and tried to keep the pressure off as much as I could. I knew the problem needed to be addressed, but I wasn't quite sure how bad it would be and how I would go about repairing it until I started ripping out the cockpit decking underneath the mizzen.

Easily breaking through to my galley cubby.

I pulled out teak and rotten plywood and support beams until I ended up with this:

The aft beam, about an inch and a quarter wide,
was all that supported the king plank.

Then came time to build it back up again. I used a couple of borrowed car jacks to bring the cockpit well back up to the original level and put in new runners to support it. I then ran a few new beams to support the deck on port, which had been failing due to rotten wood as well.

All of that was very easy. I used two-part epoxy with silica filler to glue in each new piece before screwing it all together. It was only a matter of replacing what had been there before with new, stronger wood.

Then I had to come up with a way to support the deck under the mizzen. The old design had nothing to support the aft portion of the deck except a single athwartships beam; nothing extended to the hull and there was no bulkhead in place for that purpose. So, I ran a couple of good strong hardwood beams down to the thick epoxied engine mounts. I bolted them to the engine mounts and screwed them into the new forward panel of the cockpit well. That ended up being the most challenging part simply because it was so difficult to drill the holes for lack of space; I borrowed a right-angle drill from Len the schooner captain and then ended up buying several 3/8ths inch bits which I cut to various sizes with my angle grinder. That way, starting with the shortest bit, I could drill in some; I took the bit out and put the next one in the partial-hole, fit the drill chuck around it, tightened, and kept at it. Eventually, I had my bolt-holes. Pain in the neck, but so it goes.

Starboard vertical support bolts into engine mount
runners with two 3/8s in stainless bolts.
Then I ran a beam athwartships on top of the new supports after slotting them at the top to carry it. The latter provided new support for the king board- the large piece of wood that sits directly beneath the mizzen step. Incidentally, the piece I got for the king board is a gorgeous bit of timber called purple heart. Shame to cover it up, but I'm glad to know it's down there.

Got my little galley shelf re-built.

That pretty purple heart. 

From there it was simply a matter of laying new plywood decking. I opted not to put teak back in; it costs about $75 per square foot and, though it looks good when it's new, it just ends up being problematic. It's tendency to leak is what led to all of the aforementioned rot in the first place.

More deck removed to port. Plywood added to create
overlap with new decking (for waterproofing).

Instead, I will lay a layer of fiberglass, paint with liquid polyurethane deck paint and put the mast-step back on. It looks a little funny since much of the cockpit deck is still teak, but eventually that will be removed as it inevitably fails. For now, Ardea's cockpit will be two-tone, though the mast and propane housing hide much of that. In the end, cosmetics comes second to functionality.

Tomorrow, a bit of fiberglass and some sanding,
and we'll call it a done deal.
What seemed an overwhelming project for a few quick seconds was in the end pretty straight-forward. I was lucky to meet a few nice people that lent me some tools and some off-cuts of hardwood, so it was actually quite a cheap project as well. In the end, not a whole lot was needed. The timbers, a sheet of plywood, a hand saw, a sander (I used a manual block and an electric sander), an angle grinder (for making flush those pesky brass screws that are in those beams to stay), epoxy, silica filler (glue powder in Kiwi), some fiberglass cloth, and a lot of fasteners. It took about ten days of not-that-hard-working work, though I accomplished a number of side projects in the mean time (fixed the lazarette cover with some of the harvested teak, fixed the settee table, fixed one of the interior hatch covers, got all the rust stains off the deck, cleaned, cleaned, cleaned). It's been productive.


After. Oxalic Acid. It's the stuff.

I've got a week left over. Time to dive into the next project. It never ends, but it's great to be knocking things off the list at a good clip. It won't be long before I can cast off these blasted dock lines and find I'm floating again in tranquility at Great Barrier Island or somewhere- wherever- else.

Friday, January 18, 2013

That escalated quickly.

Scallops and Horse Mussels.
I briefly considered bailing and heading back for another day of indolence in the bay at Urupukapuka, but when I looked astern the island itself, as well as the pass through the rocks at the margin of Bay of Islands, had been engulfed in fog. The same dreary clouds were moving to obscure Cape Brett off my starboard bow as I pummeled forward through a nasty chop against a thirty knots breeze. I stayed at the wheel working the waves and spilling the heavy gusts, wearing all my foulies, trying to keep warm. Saltbreaker fought the same battle just ahead of me.

 Bay of Islands.

It was Friday, the seventh of December. I had a flight out of Auckland the coming Monday and a fair bit of coast to cover between Bay of Islands and Whangarei in the mean time. The forecasts had been nasty for days- fifty knots in the Hauraki Gulf, easing slightly to the North. We awoke that morning to a relatively decent forecast, though. As we were weighing anchors, the sun was out in the sheltered bay. It was the first phase in what would be a day of remarkably varied conditions. It would seem the Pacific would send a smorgasbord of her finest as we hauled down the coast.

From Cape Brett, I eased the sheets and shot like a rocket downhill under half jib. The chop was short-period and steep, and Ardea was hitting nine knots regularly. She even kept up with Saltbreaker. For a while at least. The sun departed in clouds, then reappeared. The wind got stronger, then lightened up, then stiffened again. Rain came and went. At one stage, as I careened South in twenty-five knots under full jib and a close-reefed mizzen, I looked astern to see a massive and veritably gnarly squall line. I didn't quite believe it at first, but watched the pace of the clouds for a moment and then quickly doused the mizzen and reefed the jib. It hit me with a freezing rain and thirty-five knots. I got on the radio to warn Saltbreaker, but they were a mile or two ahead of me and never got the squall. It seemed the weather had something different for everyone. We agreed, though, that this was excellent sailing. We were having a phenomenal time.

We continued down toward Bream Head, the point around which lay Whangerei. Saltbreaker saw the passing of the front, the wind suddenly changing from northwest to southwest though losing little of its power. For me, though only a few miles away, the front passed with less excitement. In fact, before long, I was becalmed. I laughed to myself at the irony of seeing such a range, a taste of nearly everything the Pacific had mustered over the last ten months. Soon the wind kicked up again. About twenty miles north of Bream Head, we tuned into the vhf weather broadcast (how convenient!) and heard fifty knots still licked points southward. It was early afternoon. We made the decision to head toward Tutukaka and save the last push to Whangerei for Sunday, when the winds would moderate.

This proved a fortuitous choice with this lovely cove like a head of broccoli, small covelets branching out separated by an incomplete isthmus, a few rocks or a sand spit. We anchored in one of the covelets and raved with excitement about the day. We were wind-licked and salty. It was a familiar and fine feeling. It felt like we'd been out on the Bay. Our response was Pavlovian, for we knew there was no greater cap to such a day as a pint and pub food. We piled into Tuerto and scooted across a few broccoli branches towards a marina and the small town, er, village, of Tutukaka. The water was shallow and the Johnson scraped a few times reminding me of the outgoing tide.

In town we found the restaurant, which was under the hotel, which was also the apartment building, which housed the business and the grocery store. Low and behold we soon found friends among the sole other party at the establishment who piled into Tuerto for a tour of our boats whilst we gathered the necessary items for a night on the town. Whangarei, that is. Still at least a half-day's sail away, the city was nontheless a mere twenty-minute drive. Our detour, though pushing me ever-closer to my deadline, was vindicated by the blessing of some great new friends. We spent the following day hanging out in Tutukaka as the weather eased.

On Sunday, Alex and Nick left Saltbreaker at anchor in Tutukaka and boarded Ardea along with our friends Nikki and Carrie. For the first time in a while, I would head out for a day sail with friends and a couple boxes of beer. We beat into a headwind most of the day but the sun was warm and noone complained. It was a long mixture of sailing and motoring up the channel to Whangarei Town Basin, but we made it at dusk. I tied Ardea up to a pile mooring twenty-two hours before my flight was to take off in Auckland.

Bream Head.

The next morning I sorted everything out and moved Ardea to the mooring at which she would spend the next month. I put my fishing equipment, my outboard and all the other valuable pulpit ornaments down below, packed my bags and caught the bus. Naturally, since I sailed to the land of wind, there were a handful of yachties I happened to know on the bus come South from Bay of Islands. I languished in this last fruit of the glorious lifestyle I had led for almost a year.

California. What a place. In a blink my trip Stateside flew by. It was good, in a word. I ate and drank and laughed and lamented. I met my nephew, Cameron, and carried him proudly in the suspenders of my overalls. I enjoyed the great company of my family and a good many friends. I flew East to New York and was so affected by the cold that I forgot the smell of diesel. It was good to be home, if crazy and overwhelming and intense.

I made it back to Auckland and, after crashing on Only Child with John and Nia and Alex for a few nights, reunited with Ardea in Whangarei. I brought her across the basin to a boatyard and pulled the masts off yesterday. Then things really started to get interesting. It is day two of my time tied to this dock next to a boat at which an altercation led to the incarceration of no less than four souls last night. With hammer and chisel I have progressively dismantled with emotional distress as though I were performing surgery on my own child. I have nearly finished the utter destruction of the forward portion of Ardea's cockpit decking and well.  Tomorrow, perhaps, I will begin to build her back again. That boat yards are places of great character and of great characters holds true in the southern hemisphere thus far.

Uhhhh. Moral support welcome.

With any luck, I'll have Ardea put back together again within two weeks, but, as the affable captain of the gaff-rigged wooden schooner on hard-stand nearby says, “Predictions are difficult. Especially regarding the future.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What next?

The morning after we arrived in Urupukapuka, we piled into Tuerto and motored just over a mile across the channel to the mainland, landing on a beach at a town called Rawiki ('w' pronounced 'v') and joking that that had been our most dangerous crossing, though Tuerto was doing well since his latest patch and only suffered a few slow leaks. We pulled the dinghy up, tied the painter to a tree and walked up to the road. There were a few houses lining the road at the base of the small cove, but nothing stirred. Up the street, we saw a man with a hard-hat walk past a fence toward a house with scaffolding on the front. We walked up and asked one of the construction workers if he knew where to find the trail to Cape Brett. He said, “Oh,” and got slowly up from kneeling. He walked towards us wiping his gloved hands together contemplatively and we all had the feeling he was about to describe whatever long, winding journey to the trail-head to which we had subjected ourselves.

Our boats anchored off the beach at center-right.

“Well,” he pointed along the road to our right, “you walk up the road that way about fifty-yards and there's some stairs. That's the start of the trail.”

“Oh, alright, guess we should have explored a bit more. Thanks. Take 'er easy.”

“Sure thing.”

The Kleemans along the path.
At the base of the stairs I sat down and put my boots on. It had been a long time since I had worn my hiking boots and wool socks with them, but in a few hours, I would be very glad to have them. The trail on which we set out was immediately challenging. We had estimated from a map that it was about 10 km each way to Cape Brett, which forms the southern limit of Bay of Islands. We weren't too far off, though it ended up coming out to about 16 km each way. The real kicker, though, was the elevation changes. The ridge that formed the Cape was long and vertically winding. We all quickly realized what sort of physical condition we were in. It wasn't so much the cardiovascular aspect of things, but the climbs. Oh, there were many steep climbs. The most heart-breaking part was knowing that it would be no less demanding on the return trip. Nevertheless, we pushed on and made it to the furthest peak. We could have followed the trail down toward the water where there was apparently a DOC cabin, but we didn't have the time if we were going to get back in daylight. We ate lunch and rested. The coast was remarkable from that spot, the ocean in a state of quiet beauty. The clouds had been converging and descending, though, and it dawned on us in a mildly serious manner that we were facing our already exhausted bodies with another six hours of grueling hiking with the threat of rain and darkness. Our quadriceps had been wobbly at the end of the out-trip, so we figured the way back would be slower. We estimated arriving to Tuerto at about twenty-two-hundred hours and we joked at the irony of having sailed across the Pacific on little sailboats to die of hypothermia on a day hike. It was indeed difficult, at times painful, but we actually made really good time and managed to get it all the way back to Tuerto, drink hot chocolate from the Kleeman's camp stove and dinghy back to the boats before dark.

Alex naps at the peak.

In spite of the physical over-exertion, it was an amazing hike. The trail was beautiful, laden with forests and shrubs and small swaths of grasslands. The views, when available from certain perches and points, were stunning of little untouched beaches and remote coves, cliffs with myriad birds whose cries seemed to carry for miles and miles, and the Pacific. Still there, unconquered, abiding, graciously accommodating some of our friends.

It's hard to look out at the Ocean and consider being through, even if only for now. I've run through just about every scenario for what to do at this stage and at one time or another pledged allegiance to each of them. I was close to putting Ardea on the market even before I arrived. Take what I can get for her and move on. Then I thought I'd like to have some time to sail here, especially with my brother coming for a visit. So I put it off thinking I could put her on the market when I got here and see what happens, as it's unlikely to unfold quickly. But then, what if it does? Could I give her up? What price can you put on this? She's beat up. It's been a long ride. She needs bottom paint and deck work and some new timbers to support the masts. Who would I be if I sold her in this condition? Like most, I cringe at the thought of someone taking her in planning to fix her up but then letting her crumble away. (You can't do that! That's my boat!--Not any more.) In some ways, though, she'll always be my boat.

There's a great deal of talk nowadays about what the hell next? Nobody seems to have it figured out all the way. A lot of us talk about the possibility of selling our boats- “getting out”- but we try not to talk like that in front of them. The boats, that is. They're alive, you know? Moitessier was right about that. We all know how much time and effort and money goes into them. But we love them in a very powerful way. We love what they represent and the freedom they bring. We are drawn to the satisfaction of passage-making, to the oneness with the sea. We can be drawn away in our minds, though, from those things. Especially if we focus on the list. The goddamned list. We talk about it with disdain all the time, we scorn the cycle of maintenance. Fix one thing and another breaks. Equipment always in a state of flux. Something always on the way in, something always on the way out. Never. Ending. I watch the cabin roof under the main-mast step leaking water in the rain, the compression getting worse over the last three-thousand ocean miles. It wears on my mind and sometimes I want out. We all get this way.

Then we think about what it would be like to go back to life-without-a-boat. What would we do with our time? How would we get around? Where would we live? Would we stop always watching the weather? Would we lose touch? Because right now the environment is us and our boat and the sea and the sky. There are no dividing lines, it is all one and the same. We have learned to melt into nature, not trod upon it as though it were a foreign place. And with that has come a feeling of truth and of being alive. There is an acute realness in ocean sailing that pervades the mind. Everything is happening now. This is the only reality you get and it is your actions and your free will that will make everything okay or not. That is the notion entirely. No time-outs, no breaks. It's not as though every moment is dangerous or that you are constantly making life-or-death decisions. Not at all. But there is a feeling that you are free because the whole of your imminent reality is up to you. It's not always easy but that, too, is part of the attraction. And it's addicting, in a way. It's an attractive alternative to various degrees of feeling like a cog turning with little control over the causes or effects in life. Sometimes in life as a cruiser I feel exhausted by hyper-vigilance like a reef fish- don't get eaten!- and other times I feel nothing but tranquility flooding my veins, but whatever I feel, it is real and true. That is what one sees in the eyes of a sailor, the experience of that truth lies in the distant gaze, in the salty whiskers or on the wind-chapped cheeks. And when the sailor reflects on that in his mind, there are usually few words, only an understanding among those who know. So when the sailor sits on his bar-stool and watches as the bubbles rise endlessly in his ale, his mind might be back on passage, in a simpler place, dreaming fondly of even the scary times, when life was two-hundred square-feet of wood, plastic, nylon, iron, steel and brass- and canvas- and a long negotiation with the entire world was a few days keeping the nose down the waves and whipping along in a big swell watching for squalls and eating when you can.

So what would I do if I got rid of my boat? It seems pretty clear that sooner or later I would buy another one and start again on some version of a voyage, trying to hold on to the inner peace that comes with seafaring in the interim. Eventually, I'll have to, of course. I've got no qualms with that. But I've overwhelmed myself by over-thinking it all. Alas, after nearly two weeks in New Zealand, the only conclusion I can be comfortable with is to fix my boat. I've got to get her another sixty miles to Whangerei, where I'll leave her for my trip home. When I get back, I've got about three weeks before I have visitors and I am hoping to reinforce both mast-steps, put a new round of anti-fouling on the bottom, and tune up the old diesel. With those projects done, I can happily cruise for the rest of the summer knowing the rig has renewed strength and that due diligence has been followed with regard to the hull and auxiliary power. It will cost me more than will be made up for in whatever price I eventually sell her for, but I will feel better about everything if I do it. She'll be a safer boat, too, and, since she is and will always be, at least in part, a reflection of me, I'd like to keep her proud.

As a corollary, I will need to earn some money at some stage. I would really like to find work in biology, in keeping with my passion for life sciences, and remain open to working here in New Zealand or leaving for California at the end of the summer. Right now, it is difficult to say what route I will eventually take, but it need not be said, for my reality remains simple. I must get myself and my boat to Whangerei within four days. There's a deep low over the South Island and a trough extending over the North Island, so the winds are gusty and strong, the sea choppy on the coast and the fog thick. I'll wait at this anchorage today and see how the weather develops. Tomorrow, I may make for Cape Brett and start heading south, with the option of cutting into shelter should the conditions prove untenable. Worst case scenario, the trough should pass early Saturday and I will eek in by Sunday afternoon and get to my plane in Auckland by Monday evening. For now, that's all there is.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Settling In.

For several days I lay anchored in front of the small tourist town of Paihia, just three miles down-channel from where I had checked in at Opua. It was one of the multitude of anchorages in the Bay of Islands, many near towns, many secluded, many on islands, many on the mainland. Yet, perhaps because it was the first available anchorage leaving Opua that sat directly in front of a town, a small crowd of young cruisers developed. I met three new boats: Privateer, Evangeline and Obelisk, and with them enjoyed the good life with old friends Saltbreaker and Only Child, whom I had met in Niue. Eventually, a German boat, Kira, also crewed by the under-thirty-five crowd, pulled in, and Matt from Gypsy Blues, Falcon from Beau Soleil, and Johanne from Lay Lady Lay all came around. Word of “Youth Sailing Meetings” circulated the vhf airwaves around seventeen-hundred. We remarked that there might not be such a large group of young ocean sailors anywhere else in the world. When we weren't fumbling about the crowded decks of someone's sailboat, we took slowly the changes that came with arrival.

I, for one, did a shocking amount of sitting around. I allowed myself to sleep in- with good reason, though, since I was a man on the brink for a few days there with fatigue. I went to shore most every day, but never for long unless (without meaning to so thoroughly illustrate a pattern) it was for a party. I went jogging, trying to bring my knees back to where they were before the slow decline in rigorous physical activity since FP. With that, I made my way along a trail through the location at which a treaty was signed between the Maori and the Pakeha (Europeans), a treaty that remains in dispute today. That took me past Hururu Falls and back into town, at which stage I was barely walking. I got a good start on the re-introduction of exercise into my life, though, and not a moment too soon. My knees, who have a history of insubordination, were becoming a nuisance. Incidentally, relentless exercise and lots of stretching are the only way I know to bring them up to snuff. It appears to be working pretty well. I realized at one point that rolling my i.t. bands would help, so that I accomplished dockside lying side-to a powdered-milk can. I crushed the can quite a bit, but it definitely helped.

The eating, it must be stated, has been spectacular since landfall, though I didn't go out to a restaurant more than once, to my surprise. I talked about going to some places harboring particularly sought after foods, like a Thai restaurant, but always just ended up cooking with some subset of the aforementioned group. We're used to cooking and it's a great pleasure to do so with the now vast array of choices. There was a weekly farmer's market in Paihia as well, which provided, among other things, Haas avocados and fine cheese for the menu. If we didn't cook, we were at a party to celebrate the six-year circumnavigation of Moon-walker, a local boat just returned home and with whom just about everybody in Northland is friends.

The last of these I attended was on my final night in Paihia. I serendipitously caught a ride with John and Nea from Only Child and we went inland to the hills of Keri Keri. We ate incredible food (the seafood has changed, but is not less satisfying or abundant than it was in the tropics) and enjoyed yet again the company of cruisers, except that this time we were at a house overlooking vast green hillsides, wooded with pines to the west and some sprawling deciduous trees to the east. It was beautiful and stunning and and the air was fresh. The ocean was nowhere in view, couldn't be heard. We agreed, though, that New Zealand was pretty alright.

The next morning, I pulled the hook and headed out. It was a glorious day and I had a fine sail in a fresh breeze. In fine spirits, I happily sat on deck and rigged up some lures; I threw trolling lines out with a renewed energy about my boat. Of course, I was only moving six miles to Roberton Island, but it was a big jump mentally. I was enjoying the water immensely, though, so I sailed right past the anchorage and around the bay for a bit hoping for a fish. When I pulled up, Saltbreaker was anchored along with a few other boats. I went ashore and took a walk up to the peak. The amount of vegetation recognizable from home was remarkable. It truly could have been Point Reyes for the climate and the vegetation, though as far as conspecifics I'm pretty much exclusively referring to the suite of non-native plants of European origin that adorn in abundance the hillsides of both California and Northland.

The trail to the top gave way to stairs which led to basically a wooden deck with a bench built overlooking the island and the surroundings. Bay of Islands is beautiful. On a clear day like that one, you could see everywhere. Little islands of incredible variety in size, shape and color scattered across gorgeous green water and the mainland, that bigger island, visible to the horizon with rolling hills and a rugged coastline. From the top I could see Ardea at anchor and I knew all of the boats in the anchorage; I felt once again that feeling that nothing much has changed, a feeling that seems intermittent with one of an altered reality.

When I got down again John, Alex and Nick were in the water diving for molluscs. I got on my wetsuit and jumped in to see what I could bag for dinner. The water was cold and we soon learned that the scallops and oysters we sought would rarely be found at less than ten meters depth. Still, we were all proud of our tropical training, and we had all become proficient free-divers. After ten or fifteen dives, though, scouring a bottom that is even colder than the surface and fighting the buoyancy of the wetsuit, we had reached our limit. Even so, we all managed to grab a few things and had a fine collection of scallops and oysters for dinner. Thus continued our sudden switch to a largely molluscan diet.

A front clearing over Bay of Islands.

The next day continued much the same. Only Child left for Whangerei and, in the afternoon, Saltbreaker and Ardea journeyed a harrowing six miles further to a new anchorage on Urupukapuka Island. The cove was a DOC (Dept. of Conservation) campsite and there were dozens of tents ashore. A large group of high school students was on a trip and most of the others were paddlers kayaking around the Bay of Islands and camping out. We wondered if we were like RV people to them, since there was such a large population of local sailboats and there was no longer any novelty even for non-sailors in seeing one at anchor or under way. We were doing little differently from before, we just happened to be in closer proximity to people who weren't living like vagabonds, who weren't bound by the sea, but who were otherwise very similar to us; there was notably little to distinguish us, really, except that we felt that we knew what it feels like to really be free. The contrast, though surely noticed only by ourselves, felt sometimes stark.

At anchor of Urupukapuka.

We went to shore and chatted to some more of the fine people that seemed to make up the Kiwi populace and walked up the grassy hills to catch a view of the setting sun and the cold bay we were coming to love quite well. We ate dinner- fresh-made pasta with two kinds of oysters and a side of bacon-wrapped scallops- played some cards and crashed.