Archive for the ‘New Zealand 2011/2012’ Category

About Time to Blow this Popsicle Stand

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Beach at Mimiwhangata

The leaves are falling off the trees and there’s woodsmoke in the air. Sure signs that I’ve stayed in New Zealand too long. Cyclone season officially ended a week ago. There was one mediocre weather window last week. Another one will be opening up Wednesday evening or Thursday. It doesn’t look that great, but I’m anxious to get Bodhran back up to the tropics. I have all four of my blankets on my bed. I’m going to have to start adding sleeping bags if I don’t leave soon.

Rick had to fly home to take care of some business, so I’ve spent most of the last month cruising solo. After spending just over a month waiting for Asus to replace a fried motherboard on my new laptop, I finally made it down the Hatea River and out of Whangarei about a month ago. The forecast had been for 35 knot southwesterlies and it was no time to leave, but I was anxious to be underway again. So I moved halfway down the river and hid in the nook off Parua bay for a few days. Once the wind settled a bit, I had a beautiful sunny downwind sail up to Mimi-whangata where I spent almost a week hiking, taking pics, and getting some painting done on Bodhran. After an abysmal March, it was the best little bit of sunny weather that I’ve had all (austral) summer.


More Mimiwhangata

Me at Mimiwhangata

I’d wanted to move up to Whangamumu after that, but the forecast was calling for northeast winds to fill in. I decided to make it around Cape Brett and into the Bay of Islands before they did. Two days later I found myself back in civilization anchored off Opua. I set out walking around trying to find out about a weekly music session that Dave on Sidewinder had told me about. Of course it’s just a bunch of guys playing at a house up on the hill and there’s nothing posted about it. Fortunately this Scottish ex-pat, Rachael, recognized me as I was walking by the Opua Community Hall. She’d seen me playing at the Irish Pub down in Whangarei and invited me up to the house jam on Friday night. It always amazes me when these coincidences occur.

Pic a French catamaran took of Bodhran near Cape Brett

The next day (Friday), I ended up meeting a couple of woofers ( woofing = working on organic farms, a cheap way of traveling where you trade labor for room and board ) in the marina parking lot. Dave, from Wales, is a guitar player and aspiring sailor. His partner Kerttu, from Estonia, was really keen on getting out sailing as well. After a few rounds of beers out on Bodhran I invited them up to the music night that I was going to and to head out into the islands for a few days afterward.

Dave and Kerttu on Urupukapuka Island

It was a lot of fun having a couple of people really psyched on sailing on board. Kerttu, Dave and I spent 5 days out in the Bay, sailing, hiking, fishing and playing some music. They had to get moving on and I wanted to go to the music night again, so Thursday morning we went back in to Opua and they hitched their way to Kawakawa. The weather was looking like it would be good for the following week and I really enjoyed having some crew with me. So I moved up to Paihia, the tourist hub for the Bay of Islands. I put up a flyer offering free day sails at 3 of the backpackers (hostels). As I was walking around town, I saw an interesting looking tattoo parlor and decided that it was time to add to my Maori tattoo. The artists weren’t in, but I set up an appointment the next day.

I had two tattoos on my leg. One from Huihine in the Society Islands and the other from Whangarei. They are both pretty meaningful to me, but they didn’t fit together well. I asked Lani, the tattoo artist to tie the two together. I told him about my father passing this last year and my new energy and exuberance with my diet and life changes. He ended up embellishing the original Maori tattoo to fit the style of my Tahitian turtle and added a Maori guardian figure and a new lifeline between the two original pieces to tie it all together. I’m really happy with the result. I’m sure that my Mom is shuddering a bit as she reads this, but I’ve now got half of my lower leg done. I’d like to eventually fill the whole lower leg with different tats from Polynesia, but we’ll see. I’d forgotten how much they hurt and I probably won’t be ready for another one for a while.

Lani plying his trade

Can’t get the whole picture in one shot these days, but this is the new bit

My flyers at the backpackers ended up getting 4 responses, but I only got two of them out sailing. The day after getting my leg done, I took a couple of young Scots, Mercedes and James out to the Black Rocks on a beautiful downwind run. We weaved our way through the rocks to a nice little anchorage where we stopped to get a little fishing in. We caught a few snapper, but only one keeper. We were only 5 miles out of Paihia, so I pulled up the hook an hour before sunset thinking we’d be back in plenty of time. Of course the wind was blowing 30 right on the nose by the time we got around the rocks and back into the bay. To make matters worse, the tide was ebbing. Fortunately I know the Bay well enough to be comfortable sailing back in the dark. We bashed into a good head sea for an hour until the sun went down and the wind went with it. It took us another two hours to tack our way under a ¾ moon into the anchorage off Paihia while taking a slug off a bottle of scotch on each tack to keep hypothermia at bay.

James and Mercedes sailing by the Black Rocks

I’ve met up with Mercedes a few times since our sail. She’s done some work on delivery crews and aspires to get into cruising and ocean racing. I’ve really enjoyed having some fresh, enthusiastic people around the last few weeks. Mercy’s excitement for sailing and eagerness to learn is hard to resist, so I’ve invited her to sail with me up to Fiji. I’ve never taken on crew that I didn’t know before, but I’ve got a good feeling and I’m sure it’ll work out well.

Rick made it up here a couple of days ago. We’ve both been finishing up our pre-departure maintenance and getting ready to leave. Hopefully the window will open this week and my next blog post will be coming from Savusavu, Fiji. It’ll probably take 10-14 days depending on weather and whether we decide to stop off at Minerva Reef on the way.

Music Night in Opua

Saturday, April 28th, 2012


Slipping away from the halo of Bodhran’s new LED spreader lights, I notice the muddled glow of bio-luminescence and silty river water with each dip of the oar. The stars are out and the wind is calm as I weave through the maze of anchored and moored boats off Opua marina. The bio-luminescence is the best I’ve seen in a while. Fish dart and are chased by bigger fish. Glowing swirls mark my last few strokes and fade into oblivion. My guitar case on my back weighed down by an nights worth of beer hindering my stroke, but the new dinghy rows with ease and I slip like a ghost into the marina.

It’s 8:30 on a Friday night and an eerie silence blankets the night. The laundry is dark and empty. The marina cafe, which normally has live music on Friday nights, is locked and closed. I tie off the painter at the dinghy dock and start making my way through the marina towards the ferry dock. A low passed today. The wind will shift southwest with it’s passing opening up a window for the boats heading north to Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. About 50 boats are signed up with the Island Cruising Association rally and half again more are leaving on their own in the next few days. I expected beers and wine in cockpits as people say their goodbyes and finish last minute chores. Instead the marina is cool and still like a graveyard in the middle of the night. I continue on until the rumble of the Opua ferry breaks the silence. Voices begin to drift down the hill. At least 2 other people are still awake or maybe someone’s just got their TV turned up too loud.

The R Tucker Thompson’s rig on the public wharf in Opua

The heart of Opua, the general store and ferry dock

Henry and Rachel are waiting for me at the Opua Community Hall. We flip on our headlamps and set up down the narrow, winding trail cut into the bank above the high tide line. We talk of Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands. Destinations past and destinations yet to come. Two bays down from where we started, we follow a driveway up the steep hill from the water. Henry points out the peculiar post holes running at an angle across the cement. Turns out that the owner of one of the houses on the water built his driveway across the property line and his neighbor decided to punch holes in the cement and sinks some wooden posts to prevent it’s use. The posts have since all been cut off at ground level. We veer off the paved drive and up a dirt road for a couple hundred feet before climbing up some steep steps cut into the clay bank. We wind our way up a slippery trail using saplings like monkey bars as we try to keep our footing. We’re surrounded by posh weekend homes, seldom used by their owners 100 miles to the south in Auckland, but you’d think we were in the bush far away from the world. I scramble around a retaining wall, past an old airstream trailer and finally find what may be the only life in Opua.

Trailhead to the beach walk from Opua to Pahia:

The destination this evening is around the far point:

Mike has been building his house for years, mainly out of reclaimed materials. It’ll probably never be finished, but he holds a music night every Friday night and apparently has been doing so for the last 15 years. The musicians vary. There are a few other foreign cruisers, but in general it’s an eccentric local scene. Besides Rachel, a Scottish acupuncturist who sailed in with Henry from Australia, There’s no one else here below 50, and not many under 60. The music ranges from 60’s rock, jazz standards, British folk and even some funk. Now that I’m here, country and American folk have been thrown into the mix. It’s guitar heavy, but there’s a couple of drums, and upright base, a flute, and a couple of harmonicas. There’s even a local variation of a washtub base using a tea box.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have music!

I’ve spent a combined total of 3-4 months in the bay of Islands since 2010 when I first came up here. I can’t believe that I haven’t met up with these guys until now. I’ve been twice and I think that I’ll be here one more week before taking off for Fiji myself. Rick just flew back from the states and has some projects to do down in Whangarei before sailing Guava up here. A number of friends have left for the tropics already, but have run into some unfortunate weather. The last 3 weeks while I’ve been making my way from Whangarei up to the Bay have been some of the nicest in New Zealand this year. So I’m in no great hurry to leave.

March in Whangarei

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

The marina staff trying to clear a log jam forming in front of Conner’s boat.

Well I’ve been back in Whangarei for over a week now and very little’s got done. My computer is down in Auckland waiting for parts and the weather is just atrocious. We had 50 knot winds and heavy, heavy rain all day yesterday, but it’s not supposed to be much better for a week yet. All the rain raised the level of the river and floated tons of logs and debris down river. There’s so much crap in the water that they had to shut down the marina until they can clean it out. It’s just too dangerous to maneuver a boat through here right now.

I have got some work done on the boat. I’ve been carrying around a makeshift dodger for the last 6 years, but it never really worked. Water would go over the top between the dodger and my awning and what water didn’t go over the top rolled down into the companionway. So I sewed a zipper and some extra fabric in between the awning and the dodger and also sewed a skirt into the bottom or the dodger and now have some functioning rain protection. It’s still not great, but I can at least leave my companionway open in moderate rain. I’ve also fixed my bow pulpit. The bases had cracked from all the stress of the years, so I had a shop make up 4 new feet and weld them on in place of the old bases.

The latest configuration of my franken-dodger:

I’ve got a few hikes in as well. The weather was good enough the other day to make the 8 mile trek up to Whangarei Falls and back. I’ve also make a couple of trips up to the top of Mount Parihaki.

Rope swing over a bend in the Hatea River:

Trail along the Hatea River. It’s one of the great things about hiking in Northern New Zealand. It always looks like you could be attacked by a Velcro-raptor at any time:

Whangarei Falls:

Over the last few days, what I’ve really got into is relief carving. Rob Grennan, on of the captains at Western Towboat, got me into it a bit last summer when I was home working, but I’ve been so busy with working on Bodhran that I haven’t really had any time to pick it up. Well the last 3 days of rain had me carving with a vengeance. I’ve finished a rosewood compass rose that I started on the tug Pacific, and now have made a koru and a turtle out of an piece of teak that was once part of my companionway stairs. There’s a dip in my cabin top that doesn’t have any headliner covering it on the inside. I’ve been thinking of doing something with it for years. Now I think that I’m going to cover it with these carved wood tiles that I’ve been making. It should keep me busy for many more rainy days to come.

Here’s the rosewood compass rose. This is my first attempt carving from scratch

Teak koru that I based off a necklace that I saw:

Sketch for the turtle that I drew based on my Tahitian turtle tattoo:

Here’s the turtle roughed out:

And here’s the finished turtle:

I wanted to install the radar and do some painting while I was in town, but the weather just hasn’t permitted it. Still I’m stuck in Whangarei until they fix my computer. Afterwards I’ll be heading up to the Bay of Islands to get ready to jump back up to the tropics by the end of next month.

Great Barrier Island 2012

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Quiet night by myself back in Town Basin after 3 weeks with house guests

I’m back by myself on old Bodhran after 3 fun filled weeks with boat guests. Delaware Johnny and his girlfried Sarah quit their jobs in Franz Josef last month, packed up the car and drove on up for some adventure on the high seas. So we spent about $300 on meat, veggies and plenty of booze and took of for Great Barrier Island.

Seriously we had another cart full of food, but this one was more photogenic:

Barrier is a 110 square mile island 62 miles NE of Auckland with enough bays, beaches and hiking trails to keep you occupied for months. The sail down from Whangerei is more like 50 miles and was as pleasant and uneventful as you could wish. Especially as Johnny and Sarah both had popped some Dramamine and dozed most of the way during the 9 hour sail from Urquhart Bay to Port Fitzroy.

A gale was forecast for the next day, so after taking a short hike and collecting some cockles at Bush’s Beach at low tide, we settled in for the evening. I think we were into about the 3rd episode of Breaking Bad, when I heard voice from outside. To my surprise, Ricky was standing there in his skiff. I hadn’t expected him until the weather cleared up, but apparently he threw caution to the wind and single handed Guava Jelly down from Tutukaka in 40+ knot winds to come and hang out.

Guava Jelly

I’ll put up some pics, but for the next 2 weeks, we fell into pretty pleasant, but repetitive routine. When the weather was good, we’d hike. When we were low on food, we’d fish or collect mussels and cockles. When the weather turned bad, we found a good bay and tucked our heads down until it passed. During the 3 weeks at Barrier, we had 3 gales pass us by, one with forecasts that were calling for over 100 knots, but we never saw more than the mid 40s. In general the weather’s been pretty poor down here this year. By some accounts it’s the worst Summer in 50 years. So we definitely had some rainy days hanging out on the boat, but with some good company, lots of booze and an endless supply of seafood, we all had a pretty good trip.

Of course there should be pics here, but I just don’t take pics of bad weather

We did do a few notable things out at Barrier. First we (mostly Johnny) made up some ratlines up the starboard side of Bodhran’s mast. We spliced eyes on either end of a ½ piece of nylon and then lashed them to the lower shrouds using seine twine. They make a great viewing platfor for finding rocks and reefs and I’ve jumped off them a couple of times, but the rope is a bit tough to stand on with bare feet.

Johnny lashing up ratlines:

The finished product, with some tails that still need to be cut off

We also hiked up to the top of Mt Hobson again this year. Johnny and Sarah decided to spent the night in the Mt Heale hut just down the other side. The hike was quite a milestone for me. I was seriously sucking wind at the end of the hike last year. This year I made it up to the top in half the time, drank some beers and whiskey at the top, came down the other side and was none the worse for wear after getting back to Bodhran. It’s a really good feeling to see the progress that I’ve made healthwise in the last year.

View back down the trail to the boats in the distance 2/3rds of the way up to HobsonJohnnySarahJasonHobson

The crew at the top of Hobson

Another view from the top

A good deal of time was also spent out at Smokehouse Bay again. Of course we went there for the hot, wood fired showers, BBQ for cooking our mussels and cockles and just a good place to hang out with other cruisers and play music. But this year we actually used the smokers too. We had sailed down to Whangaparapara to change things up a bit and ended up catching 4 good sized Kahawai. They’re a local pelagic fish that, to me, has a similar taste to tuna. We tried them first as shashimi, then pan fried with salt and pepper and then with a ginger soy marinade, but all the Kiwis were telling us that they were best smoked. So we cured 4 fillets overnight in salt and brown sugar and put them in the smoker for 5 hours. It was my first time smoking fish, and we probably used too much salt, but it turned out pretty damn well.

Me and my first fish caught on my new deep sea rod

Johnny concentrating very hard on not losing his fish:

Johnny and another Kahawai

Smoking Kahawai at Smokehouse Bay:

On March 4th, my friend Amber flew up from Christchurch to meet us. We were going to try to make it back to the mainland to pick her up, but the westerly gales had kept us pretty well pinned out at Barrier. So she caught a little hop from Auckland out to the island to meet us. Public transportation from the airport to where Bodhran was was a bit challanging, but eventually we got together and went back to Kaiarara Bay for a pizza and pan fried mussle feed before hiking up to Cooper’s Castle the next day. Tiffany and I had done Cooper’s Castle a couple of years ago and it was quite the death march. This time around, once again, I smoked it. Not to beat a dead horse, but it feels good to be in shape. It was also nice to get onto a less developed trail. The route up to Mt Hobson has over 2000 stairs that have been put in place over the last few years to handle erosion, but the Cooper’s Castle track was still a nice, steep muddy trail that dissappears every once in a w to Whangarei and it’s continued to rain for the last 3 days. Johnny and Sarah have made their way over thile and keeps you on your toes. The view from the top was once again magnificent and good ole Rick had cold beers in coozies ready to go when we got to the top.

Amber, Sarah, Johnny and Rick putting my new cockpit table to use

Rick and I on the way up to Cooper’s Castle

Rick and Amber atop Cooper’s Castle

Johnny and Sarah returning with the days bounty after not going hiking with us:

The next day had a forecast for 15-25 knot southeasterlies and all 3 of my crew members needed to get back. So we took advantage of the tailwind and had another great sail back to Urquhart Bay at the mouth of the Hatea river. Then the rain set in. It was a wet and cold sail the next day the rest of the way upo Brisbane where Sarah’s got a job lined up and Johnny’s got a work visa. Amber is back down to Christchurch and now I’m sitting in the rain trying to figure out what to do. I’ve got a lot more projects and a lot of possible destinations to consider. Rick and I would like to buddy boat up to Fiji and beyond, but I’m still not sure exactly what my cruising plans have in store. I’m sure I’ll let everyone know when I figure it out. For now, my computer crapped out on me out at the Barrier and I’ve mailed it down to Auckland to get repaired. So I’m in Whangarei until they get it back to me.

Amber steering us around Busby Head and into the Hatea River

In the meantime my good friend Beth is having some serious health problems back home and has been flown from Bosie out to OHSU in Portland. Which kinda puts my little problems with weather and where/if I’m going to leave the boat to go to work, into perspective.

Here’s a little video of Bodhran sailing down to Whangaparapara that Rick took:

Poor Knights

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Beautiful morning in Whangarei, with Bodhran back in the water and not leaking

So I left off on the last post waiting for a haul out to replace my new shaft seal. The guys at Dockland 5 (the best yard ever) were able to pull me out in the mid-afternoon and leave me in the slings all night while I pulled my engine so that I could take out the shaft and replace the seal. It turns out that it was just the clamp at the back of the seal that had deformed and was not sealing properly. So I was still able to use my nice new dripless shaft seal and not put the stuffing box back in. Unfortunately about 9pm that night after I had just spent over an hour aligning my engine, I realized that I hadn’t put the prop on yet. I had to pull the engine again to get the shaft out to make room in front of the rudder to slide the prop on. To make matters worse, I made the same mistake a week earlier when I put the engine back in the boat the first time. Oops.

My new shaft seal all cleaned up and ready to go back in

I awoke at 6:30am to the rumble of the travel lift firing up after a short 6 hour night. By 7:30 Bodhran was back in the water and tied up in Town Basin while I ran a few errands before heading out cruising. I borrowed my buddy Mike’s van to run out to Kamo where I traded my old frozen up 3.5hp Nissan outboard for a used Tohatsu 5hp. Along with the new 2.7m skiff I picked up this made for a pretty serious upgrade from my old setup. I would have liked to test it out a bit, but the tide was already ebbing and I wanted to get downriver. So two days after my first attempt I took off back down the Hatea River trying to get Bodhran back out to the Pacific Ocean.

I made it down to Urquharts Bay at the mouth of the river without incident and anchored up for the night. I slipped my nice new 7.5′ oars through the oar locks and took my new inflatable out for an inaugural half mile row across the bay. She didn’t track nearly as well as my old Avon, but I get a lot more power out of the big oars, and it’s a much dryer ride. I’m still a little torn. My old skiff was a lot better quality, but I’m tired of having a wet butt every time I go anywhere.

I needed to decompress a bit after all the engine stress of the last few days, so I donned my goofy looking 5 finger toe shoes and took off to hike the loop trail out to Busby head. I’d never been ashore in Urquharts before, and I’ve certainly been missing out. I’m going to have to go back later this year and hike some of the bigger trails.

Me out at Busby Head

Old gun emplacement with Urquharts bay in the background:

5 fingers shoes. I love these things. They’re so light it’s like going barefoot and after dragging my skiff through the mud and hiking for 2 hours I had nary a blister or hotspot to be found:

The next morning, I took off north to search for my buddies Christian and Rick on Guava Jelly. They’d been up in the Bay of Islands, but were on their way South. I took off north calling on the VHF every hour, but after a 7 hour motor in light winds, I pulled into Mimiwhangata bay and called it a night. The next morning, I took off again, and checked for the boys in Whangaruru to no avail. I thought about staying there to do some more hiking and to dig pipis, but decided to try Whangamumu 12 miles up the coast. I reached Guava Jelly when I was about half way there. They’d spent the night in Whangamumu and were on their way out to the Poor Knights Islands. So I turned hard to starboard and set course to the Knights. There was light wind out of the north and I was finally able to get Bodhran sailing again for the first time in almost a year.

Spinnaker run to the Poor Knights:

The Poor Knights Islands are a world heritage dive site, one of Jacque Cousteau’s favorites. Unfortunately the islands don’t have any protected anchorages. The cliffs are steep and drop off to depths impossible to anchor in. There are only a few places where it’s possible to anchor, but the bottoms are rocky with big pinnacles that rise up to tangle your anchor chain. So you can only visit the islands in calm weather. We had a forecast of light and variable winds for the next 3 days. So this seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit.

Guava Jelly with the Poor Knights in the background

Bodhran and Guava Jelly met up just north of the island and proceed to scout a few anchorages before settling on Sandager’s Reef about halfway up the west side. I actually found a sandy patch and was able to set my anchor pretty well. Rick ended up having to anchor in some rocks not too far away. There was a confused swell refracting off the cliff faces around us, but it seemed like we were pretty well set for the night. After having some beers on Guava and catching up, we settled in for the night. The wind died completely with the setting of the sun, which ended up spelling the doom of our chances of getting any sleep that night. As the boats bobbed around with the swell, the anchor chains wrapped around the rocks restricting our respective swing radius’s until at 3:30am when Rick and I were so close that we could have reached out and shook hands with his bow roller threatening to take out my windvane. So I motored forward on my anchor, pulling up chain as I went until it was free of the rocks, while Rick and Christian got Guava Jelly’s anchor up and motored off to find another anchorage in the middle of the night. Good planning paid off for Rick. He’d scouted another anchorage earlier in the day and had a bread crumb trail to follow on his GPS.

Bodhran in front of a 27m tall arch at the south end of the knights. If the swell wasn’t so big, I could have driven through.

The next morning after coffee and breakfast, I put the new 5 horse on my skiff and was giddy with delight when I throttled up and was quickly able to get up on a plane even in the confused chop allowing me to cover the mile down to where Guava was anchored just moments. After waking up the boys, we took off for a dinghy ride through the world’s biggest sea cave (by volume, Sea Lions Caves in Oregon are the longest.) Afterwards, we slipped into the water to do some of the best snorkeling I’ve ever done.

Rick and Christian in front of Rikoriko Cave:

Christian herding a school of fish:

Rick doing a bit of free diving:

The Poor Knights have been a marine reserve since 1981 and the quantity and diversity of the fish are like nothing I’d ever seen before. Within a minute of sliding into the water, I was swimming through a school of large school of blue maumau. It seemed that everywhere you turned there was another huge school of fish, just swimming around like you weren’t even there. We went through a couple of caves, and swam through an arch with almost zero visibility due to all krill in the water. When the surge would come into the arch, big pink plumes of krill would come streaming out as all the little crustaceans were blown out with the water.

Fish under Guava Jelly’s keel

Rick standing on his keel:

In all we got 3 good snorkels in before taking off on the third day to head back over to Tutukaka. I couldn’t really take another night anchored out there, and Christian was anxious to get back to Whangarei to do some work on his boat Irie. He left Irie on the hard 2 years ago and has been working with Linblad Expeditions. Unfortunately, Irie’s not going back in the water this year, but hopefully she’ll still be in good shape when he’s ready to sail her north next year.

I’ve still got a lot of work to do to Bodhran and Rick’s got some projects to do on Guava, so we’ll be hanging out here for a couple of days before taking off to where ever the winds blows us next.

Here’s 3 videos I threw up on youtube:
Sailing to Poor Knights, even though I say it’s Barrier in the video:

Motoring to Rikoriko Cave:

Snorkeling the Knights