June 20, 2018
Opua, New Zealand
Winter has arrived at the north island of New Zealand. Mornings with frost, bees no longer skim pohutaukawa blossoms, the cat tails have died back and are now a sea of brown along the trail to Kawakawa. Mushrooms poke out from the underbrush, some knobby scarred up looking puffballs, and the occasional flashy Amanitas, their bright red caps dotted with white blobs. The mass exodus of sailors that leave New Zealand for the tropical islands to the north has almost run its course. There are a few boats in Opua intending to head out with the next weather window. Tumbleweed among them.
Opua has been a calm, low key place to catch up after our crossing of the pacific. Douglas went back to the states for several months shortly after we arrived and I stayed with Tumbleweed. I covered a lot of miles on the local trails, often with what became known as the Opua Walkers Club - Jill, Katie and Miriam. Summer here was glorious. I had a quick visit to the US to help Douglas with moving his father to a new home and selling the old house. It was a massive undertaking for Douglas but also gave him some quality time to spend with his Pop.
We haven’t been sailing but have undertaken a long list of boat projects. Some things I think worth pointing out for others making long sea voyages. We added a 220 volt charger system shortly after Douglas returned from the states. That lets us charge our battery bank from shore power. As a 110V boat with one small solar panel, we were forced to run our generator every couple of days. It was pretty straightforward to install, we used a Victron charger and have been really pleased with the set up. Highly recommend for folks leaving US waters.
Solar power has long been on our list to upgrade and we added several panels, taking us from 135w to 625w, we are wired to take another panel and at some point will probably add one that we can set out on the deck when anchored. To add real estate for two of the panels, and to give us some protection from the tropical sun, we added a Bimini over the cockpit. A canvas cover that required a bit of stainless steel work. We designed it so that the whole system can be taken down if needed - the solar panels unzip from the canvas, the canvas unzips from the frame, and the frame can be unbolted from the existing stern arch and dodger frame. We’ve been really happy with the set up so far and give high marks to Dean at Total Engineering for his help and great craftsmanship, and to Malcom at Opua Canvas for his work on the canvas.
Sailing short handed means there often we are often sailing single handed. While one is off watch and sleeping the other does their best to manage sail trim, keeping a look out, reefing, tacking, etc without waking the other. The staysail has long been a trouble spot to manage single handedly. The Genoa is on a furler system and can roll and unroll, like a window blind, to reef, but the staysail was “hanked on” meaning a series of small piston shackles sewn to the sail are snapped around a steel cable (the stays’l stay) that runs from the deck to a point about 2/3 up the mast. To hoist the sail someone needs to go forward, prepare the sail - it’s usually lashed to the deck - then hoist the halyard from the mast while the other crew manages the sail’s sheets (the control lines for the sail) from the cockpit. In reality it meant we used that sail very little because it meant having both of us on hand, and it has no reef points, so it was an all or nothing sail. We changed that out to a furling system as well and so can control it from the cockpit without having to wake the off watch crew. We stayed with Schaefer for the furler, that is what we have for the Genoa and it has been solid so far.
Refrigeration has been the leading power hog on board. We had a 110v cold plate system that required running the generator or being plugged directly to shore power. It was noisy, and weighed a lot, the cold plate itself was around 50 pounds. We switched that out to a 12v system. We can run it off our solar panels, it is nearly silent, freed up a lot of space in the fridge and under the quarter berth where the massive compressor used to live. While we were in the midst of that project I was thinking about the differences of boat life vs land life and what a poignant reminder something as seeming simple as a replacing refrigerator could be. On land when we’ve replaced the refrigerator we’d ask friends what they had, what they liked, look online for some reviews, drive out to an appliance joint to kick the tires, pick it out and have it dropped off the next day. They’d haul away the old one and we’d be making ice and cooling orange juice in minutes. For Tumbleweed’s new fridge we did extensive research on which system, which cooling style, what size…whoa, there are a lot of choices…A technician came out and gave us some installation advice, and took out our old coolant from the line for proper disposal. We switched to ice in the fridge box. Removal of the compressor and motor went fairly quickly, and so did removing the massive, 50 pound cooling block. Installing the cooling tubes was a bit of drama - they are several feet in length of thin walled copper pre-loaded with coolant. They needed to be carefully unwound, then threaded through the fridge, gently bent on a generous radius and run from a spot behind the port settee aft, through the galley, behind a hanging locker and into the space under the quarter berth. For days we had all the lockers and hatches along that path open, cleared and accessible. It was pretty crazy living for a while. Overhead panels down to give us access to wiring, hatches emptied and contents stacked along the cabin sole….I felt nostalgic for a giant appliance store more than once.
Before arriving at Opua we spent six months on the move, mostly at anchor, often in remote spots, and with long passages at sea. It has felt abrupt and a bit, well, weird, to be be in one spot for so long. The walks out in the forests, along the mangroves and waterways, have been powerful, humming with positive energy. Watching the passing seasons as the plants arced from lush greenery, blossoming, vibrating with bees and insects, then fading, slumping into decay and winter, has been wonderful part of being in one place for so long. There were many mornings I spent mesmerized by herons as they hunted in the mangroves, and watched the Pukekos strut around like awkward chickens, or bees covering the brilliant red flowers of the pōhutukawa trees. Most mornings I would head out early, trying to spend a couple hours on the trails, usually as the sun was about to clear the horizon, lately in fog.
But it is winter, our visas run out in a few weeks, the north beckons. We intend to sail for Fiji in the next couple of days and from there to the Marshall Islands where we’ll spend the coming cyclone season. After that we will aim for Japan. A new rule has gone into effect in Japan clearing the way for recreational sailors, making it much easier to clear in and out of small ports, basically dropping what was an onerous bureaucratic system of closed and open ports, requiring extensive pre-planning and approvals. Makes traveling there much more appealing.
Those are the plans of the moment and we’re finding them pretty exciting. We’ve missed sailing, the rush of being at sea, or under sail on our way to a new destination. We’ll be updating through farkwar.com while on passage and will post an update when we’ve arrived in Fiji.