Opua

Opua, New Zealand

November 30, 2017

 

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Tumbleweed is resting in what sounds like a lake of champagne, snapping shrimp are making a constant popping sound that calls to mind celebratory bubbly more than weird critters drifting in the dark. A nice welcome to Opua. Seven months after leaving La Paz, Mexico Douglas and I are both still a bit awed by the realization that we have been at sea the past half year, moving steadily across the Pacific Ocean. We have explored the islands of French Polynesia, visited Suwarrow of the Cook Islands, anchored at at Pago Pago in American Samoa before digging in deep for a two months in the Vava’u group in Tonga. So many great adventures over these past few months, excellent sailing, beautiful wild anchorages and making new friends. At this point it is all a high speed collision of visuals in my brain and will probably take some time to find order. It feels really good to be here, to be at rest for a bit and to collect ourselves.

Douglas on the last few miles of our passage. Flying the Q flag and about to drop the trys'l. That's New Zealand over his shoulder. Look - fog! Haven't seen that for awhile. 

Douglas on the last few miles of our passage. Flying the Q flag and about to drop the trys'l. That's New Zealand over his shoulder. Look - fog! Haven't seen that for awhile. 

The passage from Tonga to New Zealand was one among the finest we have had. We left Tonga on a perfect afternoon and had a day of ideal sailing, water as flat as a lake, broad reaching under a clear blue sky. We made our way south from Tapana through the Vava’u group, weaving our way through a collection of small islands with waters that shimmered electric through various shades of green and blue as they shallowed on to golden beaches. A magic sendoff.

Sailing from Tonga to Opua pretty much directly, on the rhumb line, took a little over 1200 miles and eight days. The first 6 days we had strong winds, 25 knots gusting to the low 30’s with fairly organized seas, swell running 2-3 meters, wind on the beam. Ideal conditions for Tumbleweed we sailed mostly with a double reefed genoa and a trys’l, making an average of 7.5 knots, near hull speed for us. It was thrilling sailing, the view from the cockpit was like seeing a massive battering ram slamming into the sea, large sprays of water hitting the foredeck and running back along the cabin top. I spent a great deal of time standing at the stern arch, an arm locked around the bars as we bashed along, feeling the impact of each wave as Tumbleweed would shudder and then gather up speed again, occasionally racing over 10 knots as we surfed down a wave.  30,000 pounds sliding with some grace down the face of a wave was very cool.

We had a near full moon waxing at the beginning of the trip and it was a friendly companion to the night watch. Rotating through our 3 hour shifts with the light of the moon shining on the sea, watching waves break in the distance made of silver by the moonlight was unforgettable. Nights we had cloud cover the moon would hide and dim for a while then come back unexpectedly, shining like a street light. It was bright enough to move about above deck without a headlight and nearly enough to read by.

Opua in the morning.

Opua in the morning.

It is 65 degrees, raining and blowing a gale outside today with winds in the 30’s gusting to 50. I am happy to be in New Zealand but feeling a little wistful for Tonga and the ability to hop overboard for a quick swim. There have been a handful of adjustments to getting used to being in New Zealand. Weather high on the list, also traffic, high population, grocery stores filled with all we desire. Most of it is great but there is a strong appeal to the slowed down island life in the south pacific.

 

Douglas flew back to the states to visit his father and I took the bus to Auckland with him. It was shocking to be in a place that with so many people and cars and what felt like chaos after so many months wandering around small outposts. We lived in Auckland for a few months about 15 years ago and kept pointing out the changes. The city has developed rapidly in those intervening years, cranes are busy on the skyline, traffic congests the city core, the sidewalks are dense with people dressed for business. Many neighborhoods have been transformed with restaurants, shopping, and corporate buildings. Feels very much like parts of Portland or Seattle. So many excellent looking coffee shops and restaurants. Downtown feels cosmopolitxan with a high mix of people from all areas of asia – South Asia, SE Asia and China, making for a diverse and lively restaurant scene. We had lunch at Mekong Baby, an outstanding Vietnamese joint on Ponsonby and dinner at Cassia, a dialed in restaurant serving next level Indian cuisine. Both meals were excellent, so much better than any place we have eaten in the past couple of years. The restaurant scene has exploded and become much more sophisticated than I remember from our last visit. As in Portland and Seattle, high design and refined cooking seem to be leading the scene.

Douglas will be gone through to start of the New Year, he’s only been gone two days and life aboard Tumbleweed feels so different. I am trying to not miss him yet, to work on a scale of some sort, so that I can miss him a little this week, a little more next week and so on until January. To start off missing him greatly at this point will not be sustainable.

View from Opua hill looking out to the Bay of Islands.

View from Opua hill looking out to the Bay of Islands.

 I’ll be working on various boat projects. There is a long list to tackle, nothing major thankfully, but plenty of small things we’ve put off waiting for New Zealand and easier access to parts and supplies. When we were in Auckland we wandered through a chandlery for 15 minutes and then fled, I think it was too overwhelming to have so much choice. And we wanted to make time for the excellent maritime museum. Highly recommend visiting the museum, quite the collection of history from life on the seas. From the immigrants who arrived by sea – Maori with their sea canoes, Europeans on various types of ships – to the contemporary racing scene – the yacht that won the America’s Cup is on display in a vast hall with all sorts of displays on various racing efforts. Super cool. There is also a section filled with sailing dinghies, some gorgeous classics included. The museum was not built when we were there last, it looks new and nicely done. High marks.

The bus ride from Opua to Auckland is about 4 hours and goes through mostly rural farm land on a two lane road. Opua is in the sticks, surrounded by small farms, with plenty of rolling green pastures, sheep, cows, horses. Pretty low key. No sign of the thousand acre mega farms I’m used to seeing back home. Maybe they are inland? On the south island? Do not exist?

The green, green hills of New Zealand. From our ride into Auckland. 

The green, green hills of New Zealand. From our ride into Auckland. 

We are still trying to figure out our next moves once Douglas returns from the states. Wellington is looking inviting and we are looking into making that our base. Summer should start kicking in here in a month or so and will make for nice sailing heading south. We plan to be based here for a year if we can make that work.

From the day we arrived. The water is mostly very still in the marina with the non-stop crackle of snapping shrimp it's a nice spot to be at rest for a bit. 

From the day we arrived. The water is mostly very still in the marina with the non-stop crackle of snapping shrimp it's a nice spot to be at rest for a bit. 

But for the next couple of months Opua is going to be a great base to work on boat projects and explore the area. We have visited Paihia a couple of times, it’s a small village about 10 minutes by car or 2 hours walk along the water. KeriKeri is the “Big” town about a half hour away and I’ll check that out soon. Russel is another small town nearby, a ferry ride away from Paihia, also on the list of places to visit, it was the original capitol of New Zealand and sounds interesting. Once the weather settles down I’ll put together the kayak and explore the bay.

 

 

Tonga

Tonga Blogpost

Neiafu, Vava'u, Kingdom of Tonga
October 22, 2017

The tourism season in Tonga is winding down. The anchorage in front of the village of Neiafu, once packed with around 75 yachts now has half or less as many. The outer anchorages are also lightly populated and the village itself feels like it is folding in on itself. Booking offices, dive companies, whale tours, a little boutique that sells nicely made crafts and clothes, all either have closed completely or are in the process of packing up and getting ready for the off season. Our conversations with other sailors is pretty much focused on what their plans are for sailing for New Zealand or in a few cases hauling their boats out to have them stored on the hard for the cyclone season.

We have spent almost two months in Tonga and have enjoyed being here. There are 61 islands all gathered together protected by an outer barrier of reef and islands, scattered southward of Neiafu the largest of the group. All these islands make for sheltered sailing and anchoring along sandy beaches, and stony shorelines, against islands all crazed with jungle growth. Coconut trees are abundant and mangroves trees cling to the rocks at the edge of most islands. The fragrance from the islands as we travel past can be a heady perfume of sweet jungle flowers, earth and decay. Intoxicating.

Most islands are unpopulated and where there is a village it tends to be rustic, with basic infrastructure, like the solar panels along the streets in Hunga, gifts from Japan. Otherwise, a couple dogs on the streets, fishermen tending nets and boats, women weaving palm fronds in the shade of a church. Neiafu is the main town with several small stores, a large fresh market, and all the basic services those of us out sailing need like diesel, butane, boat services and parts, all in a walkable village along one of the most sheltered harbors in the pacific.

That has been life in Tonga, an ebb and flow with visits to one of the islands, then back to town, mostly a week in a place. It's been a pretty good pattern. Mixed into that has been our preparation for sailing to New Zealand. Our intended passage window is approaching quickly, we plan to watch the weather for a good opening at the end of October. Sailing to New Zealand this time of year is complicated by weather forecasts that are really only accurate a few days out, after that there are all sorts of models but they tend to be open to variables after three or so days. We expect our passage to take around 10 days, we'll have a good sense of what we are getting ourselves into for the first few days, but as we get closer to New Zealand the weather will be in a new cycle. And of course close to New Zealand is where all the exciting weather happens.

One way to help break up the passage and improve our forecasting is to stop at Minerva Reef, about 400 miles from Tonga. The reef is an ocean oddity, rising out of the ocean in the middle of nowhere, providing sheltered anchorage and good snorkeling/diving. I talked with a sailor who had anchored there in 50 knot winds and gave it high ratings. Plan "A" is currently to make for Minerva and watch for weather developments in NZ, plan "B" is to head directly for NZ if we have favorable weather ahead.





Yesterday we left the mooring field at Neiafu and had an excellent sail to Tapana. The sun was out and the colors along the shore of all the little islands we passes were stunning. So many shades of turquoise, emerald and jade where the sea washes over reefs and up along the various shorelines, some little crescents of light sand, others sheer stone with jungle overhanging to a few feet above the water's edge - a ruler straight line of worn stone and clipped plants marking eons of high tides. Neiafu harbor is well protected and it isn't until we are out of the passage that we get a sense of the true winds. Yesterday was typical in that we unfurled the Genoa in 9 knots and over the next half hour watched the winds drop to 6 knots, pick up to 15 and soon settle at 18 gusting over 20, all a sweet downwind ride for a few miles until we jibed to port at Oto island and made our way south and around the southern end of Kapa island, where our pleasant beam reach switched to an exciting close haul as we made our way through the pass and for Tapana.

The Rabbits are on a mooring a couple of hundred yards away, it's pretty cool to think that we met them in Newport, OR last year and have been bumping into each other all over the pacific since then. It always makes us happy to find our way into a harbor and see Pino. Late in the afternoon Alex and Sarah on "Bob" arrived under sail and dropped anchor off our stern. Hats off to "Bob" for arriving in such style, it's always impressive to watch someone arrive to an anchorage, select their spot under sail and drop the main with confidence and kick the anchor off the bow.

There are several moorings here, a few are heavy duty "cyclone" strength. On these moorings a line connected to a float drops down to the sea bed and attaches to a large piece of metal, maybe an old engine block, from the heavy metal there run 8 long pieced of chain run out in every direction, at the end of each chain is a large anchor buried in the sand. If the winds pick up and a boat is pulled in one direction there will be resistance from several anchors if the first begins to drag. The moorings are well sheltered from all directions but west. To the east is the low lying Motuha that breaks any swell and cuts down most winds. To the west is Pangaimotu island, fairly high and wrapping around from the east, running westward with the build of the island to the north. To the south is Tapana island and it blocks any swell and most of the winds coming from that direction.

I've kayaked around Tapana a several times, it is beautiful and has only a couple homes in sight. There is a paella restaurant run by a Spanish couple and their beach has a few boats but otherwise the island appears left to nature. The eastern and southern shores were the most interesting to explore, with a few small sandy beaches and many small shelves of reef with coral up against the steep stone edge of the island.

Last week we were anchored out at Hunga lagoon, watching as another sailboat left the mooring. We were eying the boat and noticed they had a tiny radar reflector, there are all sorts of these devices on sailboats, usually up the mast, to help create a larger target for boats that might be scanning with radar - help the boats show up in the clutter of waves at sea. Douglas and I made a comment to each other about how such a small reflector probably doesn't do much good, certainly not as good as our fancy, high tech tri-lobe reflector. At which point Douglas leaned out of the cockpit, glancing up at the mast to take in our futuristic reflector, tilting his head to one side quizzically, then getting up, walking to the mast and staring upward, to where our fancy radar reflector used to be firmly bolted to its own platform and where it no longer was, for how long we have no idea. I climbed the mast to inspect the platform to see if there were signs of damage, perhaps the thing had been wrenched off by an albatross and there'd be bits of broken plastic? But no, it was cleanly gone, what ever sort of bolt system used to install it must have all dropped off, bounced off the deck and into the sea without us hearing a single thing. The lesson being not to question your neighbors undersized radar reflector, until you can confirm yours is still in place. Then, you can brag away.

It's been a year since we left California, we are looking forward to being in a place where we can source the parts we need for our various repairs and improvements. It has become a running joke, anything that isn't perfect we say we'll fix when we get to New Zealand, as though it is some Valhalla of answering all desires. Cheese! New Batteries! Kale! Delicious coffee! Thai Food! Hot Water! And a chorus line at the shore kicking up their legs and singing out "New Zealand"... I'm ready to do a tourist spot for the country focused on the needs of sailors. It is a common refrain among the sailors we meet. Ah the promised land. Of course, a day after landing and running through a grocery store, buying bags of ice and plugging into marina power we'll be staring off to the horizon crying about how we miss the gentle turquoise waters and remote anchorages of Tonga...

Last night we had a strong weather front move over Vava'u and we caught a large bucket of rainwater and watched lightening flickering across the sky. One blast was nearby and lit up Tumbleweed's interior but most were off in the distance and we couldn't hear the thunder. We met a sailor in Suwarrow who was struck by lightening in Panama and he went through the extensive list of every possible electrical device on his boat that was destroyed, extensive and sobering. He was able to replace or repair many systems but many of them were beyond his budget. It was a new yacht and his insurance had been cancelled not long before the strike.

With another week or so ahead before we sail for New Zealand I've been doing a mental inventory of our friends we've made crossing the pacific. Shindig, Pangaea, Magic, Tiger Beetle and Peregrine are either hauling out or anchoring in French Polynesia for the cyclone season. Zatara and Wiz have gone on to Australia, Wiz have bought a catamaran in Spain and will be heading for the med to cruise there for a while before sailing back this way. Zatara is looking at a cat in Florida. Several are "ahead" of us on the same plan to make for New Zealand, Alcyone arrived a couple days ago and had an a good trip with all sorts of weather, a couple other boats have left Vava'u and are in the Ha'apai group making their way to Tongatapu. Pino is still in Vava'u and we've been discussing weather and routing with them.

It's been a vibrant season and it's been an interesting group of people to travel with. We are looking forward to seeing many of them in New Zealand, and missing their company already. Since beginning this post we've seen the Rabbits head off for Minerva Reef. We are also watching what looks like a good weather window opening up in a few days, we are going to try to be ready for a Tuesday check out with maybe a Wednesday departure. It will at least get us in passage mode and get us focused on the final tasks we need to do to make us ready.


















 

Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz Island and Ventura

Santa Barbara - Santa Cruz Island - Ventura 

Ventura CA 

November 20, 2016

 

View from our slip in Santa Barbara

View from our slip in Santa Barbara

Tied up in quaint and quiet Ventura marina. We had an excellent sail over from Santa Cruz island a few days ago, steady 15 knots for most of the short trip. A glorious morning, full sun, large gentle swells to keep things interesting. The marina was pretty easy to navigate, though at near low tide there were several spots that left only a few feet under our keel. Once we settled into our slip and the tide hit its lowest point we had about 6 inches under the keel. The past month we’ve made our way from Santa Barbara to Ventura with a few nights spent anchored at Smuggler’s Cove off Santa Cruz Island. 

Looking east from Smuggler's Cove, Santa Cruz Island, to Anacapa Island and the almost super moon. 

Looking east from Smuggler's Cove, Santa Cruz Island, to Anacapa Island and the almost super moon. 

Santa Barbara was intended as a short stop to install our wind generator and solar panel. It was a classic lesson in how we continue to under estimate the time and complexity of boat projects. We had all the parts, we thought, and a clear plan for installation. Douglas had spent considerable time in the planning phase and working with E-Marine, where we bought all the parts for the project. In our minds it was as simple as clamping a few parts to our stern arch, running wires down through the stern arch, through the convenient areas under the cockpit coaming, to the quarter berth and wire in the control panel, a couple other small steps and we’d be wired into the battery bank making free electricity. 

The plan didn’t go as planned.  It was about two weeks of solid days working on the project, with I think 4 side trips to Santa Barbara proper, I abandoned my post twice to check out the amazing farmer’s market and felt slightly guilty until I realized as I walked into town that I hadn’t been out of the marina in days and only off the boat for the hour or so lunch break we took for fish tacos. 

But the project is completed, and the electricity we are getting from both the solar panel and the wind generator, although not much, is exactly what we wanted. We have a genset, an on board diesel generator, that we can run for 50 amps of power - that will run our refrigerator, and other high demand equipment, as well as charge up the batteries. We like to run it as little as possible, and can usually get by with running it for the fridge every couple of days or so for an hour. That doesn’t fully top off our batteries, and our AGM battery bank likes to be topped off regularly. With solar and wind we can keep pace with our daily use, running the chartplotter, lights and other small electrical devices, and still top off the batteries. 

Solar power had always been high on our list of projects for Tumbleweed, we just kept pushing it back waiting for prices to go down on hardware and for the technology to improve. It is the last of our intended projects for Tumbleweed, a major milestone for us. Future projects will be maintenance or repairs, replacements, etc. but we don’t have anything on the books of that sort. Which feels pretty good.  We ended up installing one 100 Watt solar panel, and a 75 amp wind turbine, with a second solar panel that could be, one day, daisy chained to the first and run through the same controller. 

Sunset at Santa Barbara

Sunset at Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara was a beautiful place to be stuck working on projects. We were at the eastern most end of the dock, looking out over the breakwater to the sea and to the east to the San Ynez mountains. The harbor dredging contraption is kept near there and is the home to hundreds of birds - pelicans, ducks, herons, gulls - including laughing gulls. The neighbors had raised a pair of mallards who had given a late season birth to a duckling. The experience was a  vibrant choir of fowl. In the mornings we’d wake to the sound of the mallards honking and bleating to be fed, in mid-thought we’d be interrupted by the maniacal laughter of a gull, walking down the dock in the evening we might startle a heron and off it would go with a thunderous, cranky rant of a call. Pelicans would skim the waters of the marina, egrets would stand still on the breakwater as evening fell, their pure white glowing off the darkening rocks. It was a mesmerizing place. In the evenings, usually for an hour or so, the winds would shift from the east and we would get a wave of eye watering air from the bird community. Hundreds of birds can be a beautiful sight, but also a pungent one. 

I give the Santa Barbara marina high marks for running a tight set up. They were near capacity for transient yachts when we arrived. The docks were clean and newer, and the marina staff were professional. Very few of the abandoned yachts that seem to be the scourge of almost all the marinas we visit. The boats that have been abandoned and sit there in the slip, rotting away, someone still paying the fees but never visiting the boat, keeping new folks from getting a slip and casting a sort of pall of doom over the vicinity of where they are tied up. In Santa Barbara they have a weird rule whereby the renter of a slip can sell their option to rent the space - which means that often times people selling a boat sell it with the option to rent their slip, people pay X for the boat, something else for the slip, then sell off the boat and and park their own yacht in the slip. There were slips listed for $100K…. for the right to rent the slip from the city. Bonkers.

Ken and Loretta Minor's Morning Song

Ken and Loretta Minor's Morning Song

Ken Minor

Ken Minor

We met a man who spent 28 years building a perfect wooden sailboat. Ken Minor built a Lyle Hess cutter, Morning Song. It is a stunning vessel, built by a perfectionist with the talent and patience to take boat building to another level.  Morning Song is named for the time in day he would spend at the beach in religious contemplation, and there is something sacred about her. Webster’s defines a vessel as “a person into whom some quality (as grace)is infused”, and though some might think it a stretch to think of a vessel as a person, sailors tend to acknowledge the spirit within their boats.  

Webb Chiles has written of how  he “loves to enter the monastery of the sea”,  Morning Song, with her perfect lines, trim almost spartan interior and glorious cabin brightwork has the feel of a space for contemplation. Running my hand over the interior’s woodwork I could grasp how a man would undertake the work of decades to be in the space of bringing such a vessel into the world.  

Morning Song is identical to Taliesin, designed by Lyle Hess for Lin and Larry Pardey and made famous in their books and articles. That small boat and the couple who sailed her launched a generation of dreamers and romantics to all points of the world. The story of building Taliesin is described in “Bull Canyon” and “Details of Classic Boat Construction”. I was struck by how spacious the cabin felt and how light worked into the interior through the deck mounted prisms and small port lights.  

I spent several hours over a couple of afternoons talking with Ken, part of the time on camera. At some point I’ll post a video of our conversation. I’m glad to have met him and Loretta. Inspiring people. A group is working at creating a full documentary on the building of Morning Song. They were funded through kickstarter and have a trailer for the film here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/morningsong/ken-minors-morning-song-the-film   I wish them luck. It would be cool to see this story as a film. 

Smuggler's Bay, Santa Cruz Island

Smuggler's Bay, Santa Cruz Island

From Santa Barbara we had a short sail over to Santa Cruz island. We dropped anchor at dusk, just as the moon rose over Anacapa island. It was the night before the full Super Moon, and the moon was massive and haunting, filtering through the various bands of color of dusk. Santa Cruz island is beautiful, barren, arid. The views from Smuggler’s cove are open, and we felt exposed, the winds died and the gentle swell was enough to keep us rolling about the time we were there. With no wind to keep us turned into the prevailing swell we would just bob back and forth. Occasionally a heavy swell would march through, tossing us from side to side, flipping plates or cups across the table, sending us lurching about, grasping for handholds, trying to balance whatever item was trying to escape what was once a level surface. 

From Santa Cruz island our plan had been to sail for Ensenada, check in there and start exploring Mexico. But in the course of a routine inspection of the engine Douglas realized that we had a small fuel leak in our fuel injector pump - specifically in a delivery valve. That shifted our plans, we’d rather deal with something as complicated as a fuel pump here in California where shipping is easy and we have access to people we’ve worked with in the past. An hour after tying up Douglas was working the phones and tracked down a solid diesel engine mechanic nearby. Steve, the mechanic, has been really helpful and talked us through a few diagnostic tests we could work through ourselves.  

We are pretty sure at this point that  the O ring on one of the valves needs to be replaced. Steve is dropping by tomorrow with a set, and is going to show us how to replace them, and give us a set of rings to replace the others if that is a problem down the road.   If all goes well we should be able to leave on Tuesday. We’ll see - our plans tend to take on a fuzzy edge when we are working on a project.

We hope to send out our next update from Mexico.