It was bound to happen. After doing this for a while, sooner or later it has to be inevitable (right?) that there would be a post with no title.
Because—between rain storms—we painted the bottom of the boat blue, I thought about calling it “Boatyard Blues.” I also thought about calling it “Boat of Many Colors” because before the final two coats of blue ablative anti-foul paint, we put on two coats of gray (silver-ish) primer/sealer, followed by a bright red, hard, anti-foul “indicator” coat.
The purpose of the indicator coat is, if you start to see red on the boat bottom, it’s time to repaint the blue. We had the bottom wiped and scraped and scrubbed so many times on the way down here that we were afraid there wasn’t much anti-fouling paint left. So we power sanded the bottom and, at $200 to $300 per gallon, and one to two gallons per coat, and three different types of bottom paint, we spent our cash stash and painted, painted, painted.
We also worked on a permanent fix to the water that finds its way inside the rudder, gave up, and kicked that can down the road again (mainly because it’s going to take some time to dry out all the water that’s already in there). Since our boot stripe (just above the water line) pretty much peeled off somewhere between Mexico and Tonga, we also completely sanded the rest of that thing off, put primer on, and repainted it. And we had a machine shop make more of the special bolts, including spares this time, that hold the bracket on the rudder for the self-steering system. We know these bolts are only temporary. They are highly susceptible to crevice corrosion. We planned to have the bolts made out of silicon bronze instead of stainless steel, but we were talked out of that by someone who knows more about the steering system than we do. Someday, back home, we’ll find a permanent solution.
We didn’t even get to half our boatyard wish list, but living for more than three weeks on a boat propped up by sticks on dry land in an industrial work zone, and climbing up and down a ladder all day, gets old in a hurry. We didn’t plan to be here three weeks, but we also didn’t plan on all these rain storms, including the former cyclone Fehi. Now they are warning about the potential for a bigger and stronger cyclone Gita.
The fun part of all this was, each time we put a different color on the bottom we’d get lots of compliments on how nice it looked: “Wow, I like the silver.” Then we’d paint it a different color.
Several days ago Edd from the boat Windrose said, “Interesting concept of summer here.” Edd is from California. But even by Seattle standards, the last three weeks have been frustratingly wet and stormy. In one storm we had steady winds of over 40 knots, with higher gusts. That’s a major winter storm in Seattle, bringing down trees and power lines. It was scary just to walk down the dock. The gusts were almost strong enough to knock me off into the water. Unlike at home, where storms tend to last several hours, here they seem to last for days. The first storm ended and the sun came out and it was hot for a few days, but then another storm came. The second storm had slightly less wind (30 knots), but much higher quantities of rain. I’m absolutely sure that we got more rain in three days here than Seattle gets in a whole summer. It was the second storm that was the most worrisome for us. We had a scheduled haulout, and the predictions, even five days in advance, were for the wind and rain to continue until the exact hour of our haulout.
New Zealand has apparently privatized its weather service. I don’t know how the business model works, but MetService.com forecasts are free for non-commercial use. They also seem to be accurate. They have enough weather radars to cover the entire country, satellite images, and wind and rain forecasts going out five days. We couldn’t find anything like that in French Polynesia, which probably was the place with the least available weather forecasts, although they did broadcast periodic weather reports in French.
We could probably deal with the rain, but a 30 knot gusting wind, coming from the north, would make it difficult to get out of the slip, turned in the right direction, and then get backed into the travel lift. A little too much close-quarter maneuvering. The tidal current already surprised us the day we went into the slip, so that would be an added factor. Although, as luck would have it, when we checked the tide predictions it turned out that we just happened to have been scheduled for slack tide.
Just the haulout itself, even under perfect conditions, would have its concerns. They gave us little “S” stickers to put on the hull to show the lift operator where to put the straps. In past haulouts (we’ve done all previous haulouts with this boat in Port Townsend) the boatyard has determined where to place the straps prior to actually picking it up. I wasn’t real comfortable with them placing the responsibility onto us. I mean, what do we know about operating a travel lift? But if something went wrong they could say they were just following our instructions.
The boat Sky Blue Eyes was hauled several days before us. I asked them what they thought about the stickers, and they said that their boat, a Hunter, came from the factory with strap placement arrows already painted on the hull. Okay then. We brought along a photo showing Mysticeti in the lift at Port Townsend. The problem is, the lift there had three straps, all tied together with a horizontal strap low down on each side. They also hauled us once with just two straps, but our picture of that was not from a good angle to show strap placement. Also, at that time we had no masts, rigging or bowsprit, and we were turned around in the opposite direction in the lift. Not really a good comparison.
The forward strap has to go where the hull slopes upward to the bow, and that is the problem. The strap can slip up that slope, letting the boat drop down. The lift here only has two straps. More weight would be on that angled strap. It was suggested by the yard manager that we put the forward strap back far enough that it would still be on the flat part at the bottom of the keel. But that would put both straps in the rear half of the boat. We thought the forward strap would have to be on the slope, and tied strongly to the other strap.
The day of the haulout was still gusting with heavy rain. It looked like the wind direction had changed slightly to the worst possible angle to make it as difficult as possible to get the bow to swing around, against the wind, in order to go forward out of the marina. As a worst case backup plan, the marina has a large inflatable that can be used as a tugboat to help nudge the bow in the right direction. But the woman who operates it would have to come out from the marina office into the rain and wind. We didn’t really want to ask her to do that.
An hour before our scheduled time, the rain had stopped. The wind died down to fifteen knots. It was slack tide. After all that worry and stress, we backed out of the slip and turned the bow to point in the right direction without a hint of difficulty. We went out and looped about a bit, killing time. We moved fenders and dock lines to the other side of the boat in anticipation of tying to a waiting pier near the haulout slip, but then didn’t need to do that anyway.
As we arrived at the haulout, the lift operators were ready and were lowering the straps into the water. I could see there was no horizontal strap. We swung the boat around and managed to get the stern just inside the pilings, which are completely protected by tall, floating tubular roller fenders that provide pivot points to rub against. Now we wanted the wind to catch the bow and bring it around a little, but, just as predicted by MetService, the wind completely died at that moment. But it didn’t matter, we were in far enough that the lift guys could grab the boat with their boat hooks and pull us into place.
We told the lift operator that the straps needed to be tied together. “No worries, Mate.” Except that we had to tie them ourselves, using our own dock lines, much higher up than we wanted which gave the forward strap a lot more freedom to slip. Not exactly like they do things in Port Townsend, but in the end it all worked out okay. They pressure washed the hull and blocked up the boat while we went for lunch—with beer.
Now if the rain, which has started up again, would just quit so we could paint, we could get this whole thing over with and take off in the car to see New Zealand.
I learned a long time ago that if the years seem to be passing too quickly, it’s time to try something different. A year ago we spent Christmas in La Paz, Mexico after sailing down the entire coast of the continental United States and Baja California. That was different enough from a normal Christmas then, but now even that seems so long ago and far away.
With Julie’s brother and nephew being joined here by his wife and other son, we ended up with a completely different experience than even what we were already having. The extra help, knowledge and moral support, meant we could tackle a few things I might’ve been reluctant to try myself. As a result, our non-functioning oven is now functioning again. The starter motor, which has been acting up at times, including on the crossing from Tonga, was removed, disassembled, inspected, contacts cleaned and, hopefully, will be more reliable now. We have a new alternator, and will carry the old one as a spare. We have new binoculars to replace the ones that fell apart in Bora Bora, a new goose neck pin for the main boom, and a lot of input and feedback on several other projects. Combined with a new tablet computer to fill in for the laptop that failed in the Marquesas, and our own car, it was almost like Christmas. I say “almost like” because we find it hard to feel like Christmas when it’s summer and the sun is still up well into the evening. Holiday decorations just don’t look right in the sunshine. Maybe that’s why we seem to have seen so few.
This is prime vacation time for New Zealanders. Everything is crowded, including the marina and the marina parking lot. Normally we wouldn’t care about a parking lot except that now we find ourselves worrying about finding a place to park our car. We lost a hubcap already, and likely need a brake job. Gas is terribly expensive, and our credit cards don’t work at unattended gas stations. Mobility is nice, but owning a car can be a hassle.
Having family here meant we actually went out and acted like tourists. We explored the far north end of New Zealand, took a miles-long bus ride on a beach, saw huge sand dunes, took a ferry ride to the historic town of Russell, visited a limestone cave with a ceiling covered by bio-luminescent glow-worms, and even went to the top of the Sky Tower in Auckland.
As nice as the Opua marina is, we do need to get around. A van offers trips a few days a week to Paihia for grocery runs at the supermarket, and cars can be rented easily with a phone call. We took advantage of both the van and the rental cars more than once. We drove to Whangarei to check out a boatyard and see if there was a better place to keep the boat near there. On another trip we drove all the way to Auckland to pick up Julie’s brother and nephew at the airport. On both trips we spent the night at backpacker hostels. On the return trip from Auckland we stopped at Avis to pick up a rental car for Julie’s brother, and the battery in our rent-a-dent died. Fortunately, Avis had a jump starter.
For real mobility, and to save us from going broke on rental car charges, we decided we needed our own car. So we bought one.
Shopping for and buying a car in a foreign country—with left-side driving, no less—was never on my bucket list (or any to-do list), but it became something of a priority once we got here, considering our ambitious plans for the next few months. Of course, once it rose to the top priority, used cars for sale seemed to mysteriously become scarce. We searched internet postings, used car lots, message boards and car auction sites all the way to Auckland. The cars we were willing to gamble on always seemed to get sold just before we could get to them. Finally, we just happened to see an ad for this car posted on the laundry room board. We jumped on it.
After we called the seller, he offered to drive it over to the marina so we could have a look. As soon as we met him, people seemed to come out of nowhere to ask if the car was for sale. They opened doors, walked around looking at the tires, asking questions. Only after we said (loudly) that we’d take it and started filling out a transfer of ownership form, did they concede and go back to whatever they had been doing before.
The next morning we went to two ATMs in Paihia with three different bankcards in order to withdraw enough cash, then we met the seller again and completed the deal. The post office handled the registration transfer. For licensing and insurance purposes, the marina address is now our “permament residence” in New Zealand. The woman at the post office knew exactly what address we wanted to use, as she had done “a few” before.
It ended up being an easy process. Next up is a trip to town to see Star Wars.
We plan to stay in New Zealand for the cyclone season, which is five or six months. Whether or not we keep the boat in Opua the whole time we don’t know yet. We planned for at least a month in the marina and a month in the boatyard for rudder repair and bottom paint, but we don’t know which boatyard yet, or exactly when. We may move the boat south to Whangerei where there are more boatyards to choose from, but that requires sailing back out in the ocean. Not high on our list right now, especially with the currently wet and stormy weather. They say the nice weather starts in January so we shouldn’t expect to get anything done between Christmas and February when businesses close for vacation.
When given a choice I tend to prefer shiny new things and the Bay of Islands Marina is as new as things come. The section we are in, H dock, just opened this year. They’re still putting in the lawns. Just about every boat service you’d want is located right here, including: sail maker; mechanic; canvas shop; ship chandleries; stainless fabrication; fiberglass repair; electrical workshop; cafes; general store; laundry; even an insurance agent where you can buy the $5 million NZ personal liability policy that the marina requires. And for those who are looking to unload their boat and fly back home, there’s a boat broker.
The cruiser’s lounge is second to none with Wi-Fi, television, cushy chairs, sofas and bean bag chairs (bean bag chairs, like from the 70’s!), a large conference room table convenient for spreading out, and even a separate “quiet” computer room.
During our customs check-in the biosecurity inspector confiscated our popcorn and a few other things, but otherwise went pretty easy on us. We were worried about the boat bottom and any invasive species we might’ve picked up since scraping the barnacles off in Tonga. We’d heard they sometimes stick a camera under the boat to see what’s there, but the officer just looked at the waterline and what he could see of the rudder and thought it looked good.
The only hiccup we had was getting from the customs dock to our slip. The wind and an unexpectedly strong tidal current made it difficult to bring the bow around and into the slip. Sometimes we really do envy the boats with bow thrusters. But soon a small crowd had gathered on the pier to shout encouragement and take our lines, as well as welcome us to New Zealand.
We’ve had little down time so far. The Bay of Islands Cruising Association and Opua Cruising Club have been putting on a two-week welcome which started with a New Zealand orientation and continues with seminars on various topics, barbecues, pizzas and van trips to town. We’re tired just from that. We’ve also managed to start cleaning out the boat, figure out who sells which bakery goodies, and have removed the sails and given them to the sail maker for repair. We’ve also been discussing where we want to visit and what we want to do while here. The time is going to pass quickly.