September 2, 2017 – How Far? – #42

Sailing Canoe - My Dad loved his sailing canoe so much that he eventually bought a second 'portable' one, pictured here. Note: no wind at all - safest conditions!
Sailing Canoe – My Dad loved his sailing canoe so much that he eventually bought a second ‘portable’ one, pictured here. Note: no wind at all – safest conditions!

I was hooked on sailing at the age of eight. It was my father’s fault, really. Dad always had an interesting notion of ‘romantic.’ For him, romantic meant overlooking even the most obvious of faults, which he certainly did when it came to the family’s first sailing vessel. In retrospect, I can clearly see how the course of my life changed on a scorchingly hot and windless day at the end of July in 1975.

I was exhausted from accompanying my father on his last day in the office before our family vacation, and he was, undoubtedly, exhausted by me. We were driving along a dirty, six lane highway in a shockingly nondescript commercial district offering such uninspiring wares as used tires, auto parts and the like. It’s the kind of place where everything is paved so there’s always more parking than customers. The false wind of the car moving through the sun-baked air was the only relief we had from the relentless heat. We almost missed it. In fact, I was in a heat-and-boredom-induced daze until Dad slammed on the brakes, nearly bringing our dusty green family wagon into a four-wheeled skid before wrestling the car into submission. I looked questioningly at him and relaxed a bit when I saw that his face was filled with joy and wonder, like a man who had just seen his very thoughts materialize in real life. I followed his gaze toward the reason for our sudden turn. There in an empty parking lot, sitting on an old sawhorse and a rusty barrel was a used, seventeen-foot sailing canoe, dusty green as if purpose-built to match our family wagon. One glance at my father’s face told me all I needed to know; he was hopelessly in love with this dubious craft which, to him, shimmered in that parking lot like a holy grail. There was almost no negotiation – we paid up ($350 if I remember right) and hefted the canoe directly onto the roof of our car. By the next day we were on our way to New York State’s Adirondack mountains for our annual camping trip.


Hanalei Baybow - Classic view from Hanalei Bay anchorage
Hanalei Baybow – Classic view from Hanalei Bay anchorage
Batuligans - On final departure from Hanalei Bay.
Batuligans – On final departure from Hanalei Bay.
Napili Coast - A glance down Kauai's beautiful coastline as we head north.
Napili Coast – A glance down Kauai’s beautiful coastline as we head north.

As a sailing vessel the canoe is, at the very best, a sketchy compromise. Although the slender shape slips through the water beautifully, the canoe, by design, offers almost no lateral stability, form stability, or even much leverage to counteract the heeling force of the wind. Bolted to our canoe’s slender gunwales were pivoting aluminum sideboards which had to be lifted by remote lines to allow the boat to tack. The mast step was fiberglassed in after-the-fact, and the mast brace was also bolted on. These supported a lanteen rig that looked as if it might have been lifted from an unsuspecting Sunfish during a midnight raid. To pilot the craft we’d sit deep in the hull to keep the center of gravity low, steering over one shoulder via a shaky, bolted-on rudder assembly.

So light and sleek was this vessel that she would skim along the water at the faintest hint of a breeze, but she was so tender that things could get intense very quickly, even in moderate winds. Sailing our canoe in whitecaps was practically a suicide mission. Beauty, speed and danger; it was perfect! So it was that there, on the bark-colored waters of Nick’s Lake and Brown’s Tract Ponds, I became a sailor for life. From that point onward I would do almost anything to taste of the magic of using the wind to travel.


Departing Kauai - A look over the stern as we head for the mainland.
Departing Kauai – A look over the stern as we head for the mainland.
Sun Screen - Sean (aka Buddy) has perfected application of 100% sunscreen for the last of the tropical rays.
Sun Screen – Sean (aka Buddy) has perfected application of 100% sunscreen for the last of the tropical rays.

One of the first lessons I learned is that sailing to windward is like money in the bank. If the wind comes up, or if something breaks, it is always easier to return to your starting place by sailing downwind. Years of windsurfing and kiteboarding in extreme conditions reinforced this approach; always sail upwind first. And so, when Batu arrived in New Zealand, some 12,000 nautical miles downwind from our starting place in the Pacific Northwest, I felt a little desperate, as if I’d just maxed out all our credit cards.

For the Batu crew, our advanced knowledge of New Zealand was vague, encompassed by Lord of the Rings snapshots of misty mountains, rolling shire-lands and fearsome looking Maori performing the Haka with tongues extended and eyes bugged out (a scary and confusing business). After six months in that remote land, we saw all that, and more. We learned about the landscape, the people, and the origins of the Haka. Our explorations through the islands of the South Pacific were life-changing, our visit to New Zealand was incredible, but in truth when we turned around and looked toward the Pacific Northwest, our position at 35 S by 174 E seemed more than half a world away from home. We knew that we would have to string together three long, challenging ocean passages to close the loop and make it home.


North Pac High - A shockingly calm ocean. Less large trash than expected here, but a LOT of very small plastic chunks - NOT GOOD.
North Pac High – A shockingly calm ocean near the Pacific Gyre. Less large trash than expected here, but a LOT of very small plastic chunks – NOT GOOD.
Westerlies - We picked up the Westerlies at around 44 degrees North.
Westerlies – We picked up the Westerlies at around 44 degrees North.
Top of the Stick - Sarah (aka Bear) is our pre-passage rigging inspector while Sean hoists.
Top of the Stick – Sarah (aka Bear) is our pre-passage rigging inspector while Sean hoists.

Preparing for a three to four week ocean passage is an interesting process. It takes a lot of planning and weather analysis to pick the right weather pattern, but even then, you can only ‘see’ a few days or perhaps a week ahead. Beyond that, even the most accurate forecast models are simply plausible fiction. Essentially, you put yourself a thousand miles from land, then adapt to the weather you get. To help with this process we occasionally worked with professional weather routers, but the experience was often frustrating and our satisfaction ranged from grudging acceptance to utter disappointment. If not for weather advice from our good friend Steve Wrye we would have been ‘up a creek.’ Nearly every day while on passage Steve gave us a weather rundown, helping us figure out where we needed to be and what weather was coming at us. As a highly experienced offshore sailor, Steve knew exactly what we were going through when conditions were tough, and what we needed to do to get where we were going. We affectionately refer to him as ‘Saint Stephen, the patron saint of sailors.’ In addition to Steve we had a huge host of loving friends and family plugging for us and checking regularly on our progress. Your love and encouragement buoyed our spirits and kept us going even when things got really tough. For all of this, we are so grateful!


Well-traveled Bears - Both of these bears have some serious ocean miles.
Well-traveled Bears – Both of these bears have some serious ocean miles.
Wear & Tear - Looking tired. I often hit the wall around passage day 18 - 20.
Wear & Tear – Looking tired. I often hit the wall around passage day 18 – 20, which may account for having conversations with past versions of myself.

The bottom line is that, after four months of long ocean passages, the Batuligans arrived safely back to the mainland USA on August 31. In the midst of a swirling, undulating mess of low and high pressures moving across the North Pacific, we somehow sailed the last week of our passage from Hanalei Bay to Astoria in a surprisingly pleasant patch of light to moderate wind. 21 days out of Hawaii we sailed over the Columbia River bar on a flood tide with the golden light of the last day of August setting behind us.

Our approach to the coast and bar crossing was a magical time. We were greeted by a pod of Pacific White-sided Dolphins, and a couple of humpback whales. But, in a surreal twist of the space-time continuum, while crossing the threshold between sea and land I was able to chat with Eight year-old me, and the Departing me from two years ago. In some distant way, this voyage answered a question silently asked by that eight year old boy skimming across the riffled Adirondak waters in a sailing canoe. ‘How far will the wind carry you? Far indeed; this far, and beyond.’ To the Departing me I spoke of subtler things; of a deepening understanding of myself and of the world. I surprised that me by not feeling immensely proud, or even especially accomplished, but simply feeling grateful and humbled by completing this voyage and returning home safely. Although closing the loop was sweet, in truth, we went to experience the voyage and not to accomplish the goal.

There on the docks to greet us when we set foot on land was our beloved Granny with salty sea captain and my seagoing mentor Chuck Shuster and family; it was an incredibly gratifying end to our last major passage.


Crossing the Bar - Clatsop Spit & Cape Disappointment to the West as we ride the flood tide to Astoria.
Crossing the Bar – Clatsop Spit & Cape Disappointment to the West as we ride the flood tide to Astoria.
Home at Last! - Washed in  magic, we prepare to furl the sails and enter the Port of Astoria.
Home at Last! – Washed in magic, we prepare to furl the sails and enter the Port of Astoria.

July 15, 2017 – I Wonder… – #41

Dawn Series 15 - Looking East toward the dawning of a new day
Dawn Series 15 – Looking East toward the dawning of a new day

The Batu Crew is back in the USA. What a change! After a mostly pleasant 21-day, passage from Tahiti, we made landfall in Hilo, on Hawaii’s Big Island. Hilo is proudly funky, sporting resurrected buildings from the 1890’s and an ambiance ranging from whaling port, to hippie hide-away. It’s quirky, casual, small-town feeling put us at ease and truly felt like a homecoming. For the first time since becoming internationally aware I found myself feeling somewhat proud to be an American and happy to be home. Despite it’s problems and it’s dubious executive branch (I’m still in denial – someone tell me Donald Trump isn’t really the President), the United States really does have something cool going on.


Departing Tahiti - Our stars & stripes showing
Departing Tahiti – Our stars & stripes showing
Tahiti Rearview - The island is silhouetted in the distance as we sail NNE toward the equator
Tahiti Rearview – The island is silhouetted in the distance as we sail NNE toward the equator
Bear On Watch - Sarah 'keeping an eye on things' while on watch
Bear On Watch – Sarah ‘keeping an eye on things’ while on watch

Compared to our last passage from New Zealand, this one was a piece of cake. Most of the sailing was close or beam reaching in warm, steady, moderate breezes. The skies were generally pleasant, the water decidedly clear and blue. We sailed for most of the 2568 nautical miles, only motoring through the turbulent ITCZ (about 350 miles). Batu was on starboard tack nearly the entire way. We arrived with gooseneck barnacles, which always clamp onto the trailing sections during a long passage, only on the boat’s port side. After dragging a very attractive lure through nearly 2000 miles of ocean without a nibble we were beginning to wonder if all the fish had departed for parts unknown when a beautifully iridescent mahi mahi proved otherwise. Another mahi followed suit a couple days later, so with the freezer well stocked with fish, we decided to leave the others in peace. Although still not easy, if all passages were this pleasant, there would be a lot more sailors!


Prepare for Boarding - Although we are particularly difficult for birds to board, many try
Prepare for Boarding – Although we are particularly difficult for birds to board, many try
Northbound - About 8.5 latitudinal seconds after crossing the equator at about 144 30'W
Northbound – About 8.5 latitudinal seconds after crossing the equator at about 144 30’W
Approaching Hilo - Batu motors the last couple of miles as the wind backs off entering Hilo Bay
Approaching Hilo – Batu motors the last couple of miles as the wind backs off entering Hilo Bay
Checked In! - Batuligans officially back in the USA (fair warning)
Checked In! – Batuligans officially back in the USA (fair warning)

Because of our imminent return to land-based life, on this passage I found myself reflecting on what we’ve experienced and what we’d carry with us from our voyaging. One thing we sought, and certainly found, in the voyaging life was a sense of wonder about the world. It seems a small thing, but perhaps above anything else, it’s this feeling I most want to hold on to.

Sometime past the 0400 watch change I find myself standing on the aft deck staring mouth-agape at a tapestry of stars so rich and bright and clear it’s as if I am seeing it for the first time. During this passage the moon sets early, leaving the bright stars a dark stage all to themselves. The infinite abyss exists on our very doorstep and yet, perhaps because it makes us a bit uncomfortable, we so rarely look upon it. Batu’s motion sways and pitches as she follows the rhythm of the ocean, slicing powerfully through the night. Beneath us the dark water parts in a flurry of bioluminescent sparks, leaving a brief glowing trail astern as the only evidence of our having been there. In contemplation, I realize the abyss lies below us too. The water in this part of the ocean is well over 20,000 feet deep, seamount peaks rising up to a depth of 5300 meters, (about 17,000 feet) beneath us. Sailing effortlessly through this abyssal dome it’s nearly impossible NOT to have a sense of awe and wonder about the world. We are so small; our trials meaningless to all but ourselves.

Yesterday we found ourselves to be the point of interest for a pod of 6 -8 False Killer Whales. “What is a false killer whale?” you may ask, and rightly so. We had no idea what they were at the time – a mix between whale and dolphin – a 15 – 20 foot long ‘wolfin’ with whale-ish snout and dolphin-ish dorsal fin. Although their appearance was amazing, I was perhaps most intrigued by their curiosity and intelligence. Honestly, I think they felt the same about me. It was very clear that they were curious to check us out, repeatedly swimming up to the stern where we were looking over, and under the boat to see the propellor turning lazily. One swam aft to carefully inspect our fishing lure from all angles. You could almost see her shaking her head in amazement “…silly humans.” It was a cross-species lifestyle portal. I’m not sure which of us was more filled with wonder, but I’m certain the feeling was mutual.


Dawn Series 12 - Another start to a beautiful trade wind day
Dawn Series 12 – Another start to a beautiful trade wind day
Dawn Series 10 - Red sun in the morning
Dawn Series 10 – Red sun in the morning
Dawn Series 9 - Sizable swell rolling as we clear the ITCZ
Dawn Series 9 – Sizable swell rolling as we clear the ITCZ
Dawn Series 7 - A spooky, semi-wet dawn as we move through squalls in the ITCZ
Dawn Series 7 – A spooky, semi-wet dawn as we move through squalls in the ITCZ

As we approach our inevitable return to land life – work, school, busy-ness – I wonder if we will be able to hold on to moments like these; magical, life-Polaroid moments that fill us with a sense of awe about the world and our place in it. Although I myself am too guarded about offering spiritual allegiance to any organized religion, I’ve always felt that religion’s major benefit is the nurturing of awe and wonder. No matter how you get there, it’s an enormously humbling and powerful thing to see one’s true place in the cosmos. Naturally too, I wonder what direction our paths will take us. What twists and turns are in store? Will we find new and better ways to live our lives? Or will we slip, all too easily, into comfortable old habits and thought patterns leading eventually to the same well-worn hobbit holes of life?

A bit later, standing on the aft deck staring thoughtfully into the dual abyss of ocean and sky, the pinking of dawn indicates the start of a new day and I find myself filled with hope and wonder to discover what it will bring. Note to self: should you find yourself in a hobbit hole, go find something awesome to wonder at! The mere fact that the future is unwritten is a beacon of hope.


Dawn Series 17  -Awe & wonder
Dawn Series 17 -Awe & wonder
Dawn Series 20 - Just wow....
Dawn Series 20 – Just wow….

Although we were very happy in Hilo, our weather checks indicated a tropical storm brewing off of Mexico and forecast to strengthen to major hurricane strength. A hurricane is something awesome to wonder about. The storm is tracking straight for Hawaii and, unfortunately, Hilo is a really bad place to be in heavy weather, so we scrapped previous plans and made the 2-day hop directly to Honolulu. At the moment we’re in a slip in the Ala Wai Boat Basin, on Oahu’s Waikiki Beach. Although lovely, and a good place to be in a storm, it’s as touristy as you can get. Nonetheless, we’re finding our way around and looking for a good weather window for our next passage back to the mainland. The storm that brought us here appears to be dissipating a bit, but if that were not the case, it might have been too late to move if we had waited in Hilo. Luck favors the prepared! We will make every effort to post again before departing. In the meantime, we happily anticipate catching up with friends and family!


Diamond Head - Rounding Diamond Head we sail into Honolulu on Oahu's South shore
Diamond Head – Rounding Diamond Head we sail into Honolulu on Oahu’s South shore
Green Gecko - A gorgeous green gecko attempts to blend into his Hawaiian surroundings
Green Gecko – A gorgeous green gecko attempts to blend into his Hawaiian surroundings
Dawn Series 16 - Trade wind clouds dot the sky from the ENE
Dawn Series 16 – Trade wind clouds dot the sky from the ENE
Dawn Series 14 - A new day
Dawn Series 14 – A new day

June 14, 2017 – Northbound – #40

At the Docks - Marina de Papeete, out home away from home
At the Docks – Marina de Papeete, our home away from home

Our time in Tahiti has passed quickly – quite a different experience from the last time we were here when it felt like we were stuck in cement. Although this stay has been only three weeks, we’ve accomplished a lot including washing away the stress and weariness of our previous passage from New Zealand.

While in Tahiti we discovered that our packing gland, a compacted joint preventing water from coming into the boat at the propeller shaft, was in need of new flax packing. We’ve covered over 15,000 miles since we last did the work during a haul-out in Mexico. Replacing the flax packing requires completely opening the packing gland for at least a couple of hours, so we researched haul-out options and were quoted $1783 USD to haul out and complete the labor. With some timely advice from cruising friends (s/v Enough) we decided to do the work while in the water, and naturally, ourselves. The key to this trick, we discovered, is to plug the stern tube from the outside of the boat. We used modeling clay, which kept the stream of incoming seawater to a light trickle once the packing joint was completely open. On some boats the packing gland is very accessible, but in Batu it happens to be one of the most difficult places in the boat to reach. Nonetheless, the profound desire to avoid spending $1783 made the cost (2.5 hours, several liters of sweat, and a couple nicely bruised ribs) worthwhile. I breathed a huge, (and somewhat painful) sigh of relief when the job was finished!

So our torn sails and dodger panels have been repaired, our oils changed, our fuels replenished, our spare parts and provisions restocked. Now we have our sights set toward the North: Hawaii, and then the US mainland. If all goes according to plan, the next passage should cover about 2650 nautical miles, taking us across the equator to the 50th state. Although there are regular squalls, and the remote possibility of an early season hurricane traveling out from Central America to greet us back to the Northern Hemisphere, we hope for relatively steady trade winds and significantly less drama on this passage. Fingers crossed.

Athough our aged InReach device is acting up a bit, we still post up position “dots” approximately hourly while underway, so anyone interested can map our progress at our Map Share . (Link – https://share.delorme.com/svBATU). The map is also visible at the bottom of our “About Us” page (Link – http://thevoyaginglife.com/index.php/about-us/).


Papeete Waterfront - A lovely park lines the harbor in Tahiti
Papeete Waterfront – A lovely park lines the harbor in Tahiti
Downtown Tahiti - We've grown quite used to, and fond of this view
Downtown Tahiti – We’ve grown quite used to, and fond of this view

June 2, 2017 – Still Alive! – #39

Landfall Tahiti - Just imagine the scent of plumeria in the air as we approach this magnificent island jewel - wow!
Landfall Tahiti – Just imagine the scent of plumeria in the air as we approach this magnificent island jewel – wow!

This morning the soft, damp air of Tahiti breathes over my skin. It’s hot. Hot enough that, at only nine AM, I’ve already been swimming once and will hop in again soon if the wind doesn’t fill in to cool things off – maybe even if it does. Batu is anchored in the shimmering turquoise waters of Cooks Bay, Moorea. Although we’ve been in Tahiti for a full week making repairs, provisioning, and preparing for our next passage, in some ways it feels like we’ve just arrived. The past week is a blur of sail repairs, oil changes, countless runs to chandleries, grocery stores, parts providers and other shops. Yesterday we finally left the city of Papeete and made the fifteen mile crossing to lovely Moorea to relax.


Cooks Bay Anchorage - Just inside the reef, we look toward the open bay
Cooks Bay Anchorage – Just inside the reef, we look toward the open bay
The Island of Moorea - Beconing us back westward
The Island of Moorea – Beconing us back westward
Proud Dad - Sean and Sarah have grown up so much over the last two years
Proud Dad – Sean and Sarah have grown up so much over the last two years

This morning’s sultry air reminds me of our passage from New Zealand, well, the last part anyhow. At least fifty miles Southwest of Tahiti we could smell the faint, sweet smell of flowers on the air. Almost literally, we could have followed our noses to the source. Once we made landfall I could still discern that distinct, flowery smell all around us. One of the things I love most about voyaging is the delight in little things like this. After a week in Tahiti that beautiful scent simply becomes part of the landscape – hard to discern.

The tropical transition was especially pleasant for us given the challenge of the passage from New Zealand. Our twenty-day, 2470 nautical mile passage was not an easy one, but then again, we weren’t expecting easy. The first week we tracked ENE from Opua through grey, desolate waters at the fringe of the Southern Ocean. We departed NZ following the passage of an upper level low, so the seas were rough enough that we didn’t even fish, although we saw many shearwaters and a couple of giant albatross fishing happily. We kept pushing hard, curving ENE of the Kermadec Islands to dodge the worst of a powerful extra-tropical low pressure system which crossed our path about ten days in. Although we’d had strong winds earlier in the passage, this is where things got interesting.


Cape Brett - Leaving New Zealand's Bay of Islands and the Cape Brett lighthouse
Cape Brett – Leaving New Zealand’s Bay of Islands and the Cape Brett lighthouse
Hole in the Rock - Just off Cape Brett, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Hole in the Rock – Just off Cape Brett, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Passage Dawn - Looking East across the Southern Ocean
Passage Dawn – Looking East across the Southern Ocean

Around dark, after about twelve hours of sailing close hauled in 20 – 30 kts, the winds increased to 30 – 40, and then to 30 – 50+ kts. The seas were easily 5 – 6m high and breaking, making it unwise for us to heave-to, a common strategy for sitting tight in foul weather. Consequently, we ran before the storm on a deep broad reach with our main sail triple-reefed and a small bit of Yankee out for balance. Batu sailed at a safe 6 – 8 kts in these tough conditions and we hand-steered to assist the wind vane in keeping us on course. I was thankful that we didn’t need to consider running a drogue astern, which we were prepared to do if the seas got worse. The storm blew for about 12 hours and peaked for 3 – 4 hours, at times shaking Batu like a doggie chew toy. The masthead anemometer read 53 kts several times and, during the peak gusts, we had the surreal experience of the storm “going overhead,” the wind lifting off the water, shaking the rig but leaving the cockpit almost calm save for the sound and vibration of fifty knots screaming through the rigging. About 4:30 am, the wind dropped and switched to Westerly. The seas remained big and messy (in fact, it probably looked worse during daylight) but the wind was a much more manageable speed and direction.

After the gale we were pretty wrung out, and over several days we limped our way into the trade wind belt above 25 deg. S. We sailed just a few miles West of the island of Rimitara as the wind and seas settled into a more-or-less predictable trade wind pattern. We arrived in the tropics during a northerly shift in the SE trades, so we motorsailed the last few days in order to make Tahiti. Over the passage we sailed about 60% of the miles with winds at, or ahead of, the beam. We arrived with  2 torn sails, several broken plates and dishes, a partially parted halyard, a spinnaker sheet that I cut from the propellor during a mid-ocean swim and quite a few other ripped, torn, broken and spent pieces of gear. Nearly everything – including us – was wet, salty and in need of a good rinse after being almost continually awash during the passage. We had a wonderful sail, but it sure wasn’t easy.


Torn Mainsail - One of many passage casualties
Torn Mainsail – One of many passage casualties
Cooks Bay - The lovely tropical weather has softened our memories of the difficult passage
Cooks Bay – The lovely tropical weather has softened our memories of the difficult passage

A few things on the plus side: 1) we’re still alive!, 2) it could have been much worse, and our passage time was good, 3) Walter “the Wonderful Westerbeke”, as we’ve dubbed our original engine, performed like a champ and seriously earned the full-day spa treatment he received upon arrival in Tahiti, 4) we’ve found the niche for our Air-X wind generator! Strong apparent winds work best – during several days of dismal solar power the wind gen had us topped up on power with an extra 80 – 100 amp hours each day! We’ve never had that kind of power sailing downwind.

So now that we’re rinsed & mended, cleaned & repaired, we’re resting and regenerating for our next big passage from Tahiti to Hawaii. We plan to depart in a week or two, around mid-June, and will keep posting updates as possible.


Dawn - Another beautiful dawn while underway in large seas
Dawn – Another beautiful dawn while underway in large seas

May 4, 2017 – Dot on the Move – #38

Tattered Flag - With only 35% of our tattered NZ courtesy flag remaining, we figure it's time to roll
Tattered Flag – With only 35% of our NZ courtesy flag remaining, we figure it’s time to roll

Hard to believe we’ve been in New Zealand for nearly six months. For the last six weeks we’ve been focused on preparing Batu and her crew for passagemaking once again.

In addition to boat projects, we’ve been carefully watching the weather patterns and trying to find a workable slot for our passage to Tahiti.  One thing is for sure, the weather, and the forecasts, change quickly here. I keep hoping to find a good window and press  “freeze frame,” but haven’t got that sorted yet. Nonetheless, with chilly temps and more frequent rains, the time to depart is approaching.

Perhaps our biggest stress in departing was selling our car, Fern. She was looking so good after her “for sale” wash & vacuum. Fern was so pleased with herself that she decided to take a slow moving dive into a fence and munch her front fender, a bit like a dog rolling in the first mud puddle (or worse) right after a bath. Anyhow, it took some sorting, but in the end, we managed to find a good home for her where she will be well appreciated. We loved her, but sadly, Fern was not a good financial investment in the end.

After weeks of searching for the perfect weather window, I’ve decided that, if it does exist, it certainly doesn’t last for a month. In the end, we’ve settled for what I think will at least be a workable one. Although a late-season tropical depression is swirling over Vanuatu about 1200nm north of us, the south pacific ridge has been rising to a latitude that, we hope, will give us decent winds. Since the forecasts beyond a few days out are merely fiction, I suppose we’ll just have to get what we get and not throw a fit. Fingers crossed. We plan to depart on Thursday, May 4, behind a small low.

Our dot’s on the move and, I am thankful because I love to sail.  We hope to cover the 2250 – 2500nm passage in the next three to four weeks, and we’ll try to post updates once we arrive.

 

March 30, 2017 – Touring New Zealand, part 3 – #37

Entrance to Queen Charlotte Sound - A rather rugged welcome to the South Island
Entrance to Queen Charlotte Sound – A rather rugged welcome to the South Island

Following are some highlights from our driving tour of New Zealand’s South Island. For North Island Highlights, see our previous post, #36.

SOUTH ISLAND HIGHLIGHTS

Marlboro – Our South Island driving tour took us from the ferry landing at Picton, south and west through the Marlboro wine region and the Wairau Valley. Since wine tasting is not exactly a kid-oriented family activity, we simply enjoyed the scenery while driving through these wide open valleys, but it was not hard to notice mile after mile of lush vineyards and boutique wineries. Small, classy cafes and B&B’s dot the map here. I could imagine a romantic week spent touring this area in the right circumstances.


Missing Vineyards - Although a bit past the vineyard section of our drive, this photo conveys the idea
Missing Vineyards – A bit past the vineyard section of our drive, this photo conveys the idea

Hokitika – From the Marlboro region, we headed toward the scenic West coast towns of Westport, Greymouth and Hokitika. Here the narrow, mountainous road skirts the rugged, rocky coastline much like Northern California, except giant tree ferns, a bit like palm trees, pop up where they can grab a foothold. The views are staggering as the road marches southward toward the snow-capped Southern Alps towering in the distance. We enjoyed a roadside stop at the pancake rocks of Hokitika, where we saw arches and blowholes formed by the relentless seas acting on limestone layered like stacks of pancakes.


Hokitika - A very cool view point along the rugged West Coast
Hokitika – A very cool view point along the rugged West Coast
Pancake Rocks - Batuligans near Hokitika's Pancake Rocks
Pancake Rocks – Batuligans near Hokitika’s Pancake Rocks

The Gates of Haast – Haast is a small, west coast town at the foot of the Southern Alps. We found this place notable for two things. First, Haast is home to the most aggressive sand flies anywhere in New Zealand. Having sampled nearly all of them, we can testify that this is no small achievement. Viscous, biting creatures, sand flies frequently leave large, itchy welts that can take a week or more to heal. Second, about 20km from the town itself are the Gates of Haast, a place where the road crosses a swift-moving mountain stream on one of New Zealand’s finest rickety one-lane bridges. The sheer scale of the rocks, the power and clarity of the running water made this one of our favorite stops.


Gates of Haast - Beautiful mountain water rushes quickly past some very heavy chunks of rock
Gates of Haast – Beautiful mountain water rushes quickly past some very heavy chunks of rock
Haast Bridge - One lane and wonderful
Haast Bridge – One lane and wonderful

Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers – These glaciers are beautiful, and easy for non-mountaineers to access. An moderate one-hour ‘bush walk’ from the car park brought us to the base of the Franz Joseph glacier. This was a unique opportunity to see the forces of the glacier working up close. The stratified blue ice field hung precariously above us, just 750m away. Turbulent water, tinted blue-gray by glacial ‘flour,’ cascaded all around us in a frigid run-off. Definitely worth a stop.


Franz Joseph - The glacier towers over this valley. Our hike leads nearly up to the base
Franz Joseph – The glacier towers ahead. Our hike leads nearly up to the base of the glacier
Highly Instructive - Sarah at the Franz Joseph Visitor Center
Highly Instructive – Sarah at the Franz Joseph Visitor Center
Cascades Abound - The nearby waterfalls are too numerous to count
Cascades Abound – The nearby waterfalls are too numerous to count
Top of the Trail - Karen stands at the top of the trail, about 750m from the glacier
Top of the Trail – Karen stands at the top of the trail, about 750m from the glacier

Wanaka – The quaint lakeside town of Wanaka was a turning point for us. Torrential rains and strong winds battered the North Island while we toured the South Island in relative peace. However, with the threat of wet, windy weather in the forecast, we decided to skip a visit to the scenic Milford Sound region and head straight for Christchurch. There’s nothing fun about packing up tents in the rain. During our visit, Wanaka was inundated with 35,000 additional visitors due to the annual A&P show (agricultural & pastoral). Any other weekend, this would be a wonderful place to stop and explore a bit.


Rainy Day - But the scenery is still spectacular!
Rainy Day – But the scenery is still spectacular! This was an hour west of Wanaka

Christchurch – Compared to the mountainous west coast, the landscape of the Canterbury region is wide open and relatively flat, about the only place in New Zealand where the roads are nearly straight. As the jump-off point for scientific expeditions to Antarctica, Christchurch is inextricably associated with that frozen continent. Thanks to her experience researching stratospheric ozone with NOAA, Karen’s strong connections to Antarctica drew us to Christchurch’s Antarctic Museum. Despite it’s dumbed down, edu-tainment approach, we enjoyed the museum. Highlights included riding in an actual Hagglund track-driven vehicle, and the opportunity to see native New Zealand penguins. The museum acts as a penguin sanctuary for injured birds who can’t survive in the wild. We heard many disappointed stories from friends who’d attempted to see wild penguins, so we were thankful to see them up close here.

Aoraki (Mt. Cook) – The sight of snow-capped Aoraki towering over a stunningly blue lake is one I had really hoped to see. It’s classic New Zealand, rugged and incredibly beautiful, the stuff of glossy postcards, and National Geographic center folds. Unfortunately, timing is critical, and our’s wasn’t good for this postcard view. Low clouds hovered just overhead, spitting rain at us in random spurts that only served to break the monotony of the otherwise steady drizzle. Nonetheless, we were still stunned by the cerulean blue color of the surrounding lakes & streams. The water is clear, but somehow appears remarkably blue from glacial ‘flour’ (fine silt). If I hadn’t seen it myself on a rainy day, I would assume the color was enhanced in Photoshop.

Hanmer Springs – The small, quaint town of Hanmer Springs is nestled into a well-forested area two hours north of Christchurch and the main draw here are the thermal pools. This is a fully developed thermal pool Mecca with numerous therapeutic soaking pools of various minerals and temperatures. To round out the family appeal they also offer several multi-story waterslides and a lazy river. As you might imagine, this stop was a big hit with our water-oriented family. The cold, rainy weather kept the crowds away so we more-or-less owned the waterslides, running seven or eight flights back up to the top as soon as we reached the end. Great for families, this would also fit perfectly into a romantic wine tour, as it’s not far from the Marlboro area.

What We Didn’t See – You can never see it all, and we skipped a lot! To my way of thinking this means we have plenty of incentive to visit again, and that’s a good thing. Tops on the list of missed sights are Abel Tasman National Park, Marlboro & Doubtful Sound, Queenstown, Invercargil (in particular I would like to have seen the ‘tributes to the gods of speed’ from the excellent movie The World’s Fastest Indian), Stewart Island, Dunedin, and Kaikoura (recently earthquake-damaged).

So with most of the sightseeing over, now we buckle down again and focus on the serious work of preparing ourselves and Batu for the difficult passages to come. We plan to leave New Zealand on the first good weather window after April 15. The weather is extremely volatile in these parts, so we’ll be weighing many factors into our decision, and we’ll do our best to keep posting updates.


 

Happy Pup - Nothing like a few cold nights in a tent to make you feel alive!
Happy Pup – Nothing like a few cold nights in a tent to make you feel alive!
Sean & Sarah - Happy to be "on tour"
Sean & Sarah – Happy to be “on tour”
Misty Mountains - It's no wonder director Peter Jackson filmed the Hobbit & Lord of the Rings movies here
Misty Mountains – It’s no wonder director Peter Jackson filmed the Hobbit & Lord of the Rings movies here
Leaving the South Island on the Interislander ferry, and another 30 knot day!
Leaving the South Island on the Interislander ferry, and another 30 knot day!

 

March 30, 2017 – Touring New Zealand, part 2 – #36

Surveying the Seascape - Peter overlooking the Tasman Sea at Opononi
Surveying the Seascape – Peter overlooking the Tasman Sea at Opononi

Following are some highlights from our Driving tour of New Zealand’s North Island. For South Island highlights see the following post, #37. For a more general overview and crew perspectives see the previous post, #35.

NORTH ISLAND HIGHLIGHTS

Matauri Bay – An easy one-hour drive north from Opua, Matauri Bay is sparsely populated and serene in it’s natural beauty. We came to visit the Rainbow Warrior Memorial, and we were not disappointed. The Rainbow Warrior was a ship owned by the Greenpeace organization and used, among other things, to protest nuclear testing in the Pacific, specifically the French nuclear tests on Moruroa atol in the Tuamotus. On July 10, 1985 the ship was bombed and sunk in Auckland Harbor by the French government to prevent further protests. The agents who carried out the attack were convicted, but despite international protests, the French government continued to test nuclear devices on Moruroa for another ten years, finally ending in 1996. Find out more about the sobering true story of the Rainbow Warrior at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinking_of_the_Rainbow_Warrior


Rainbow Warrior Memorial - Overlooking Matauri Bay, this serene location demands contemplation
Rainbow Warrior Memorial – Overlooking Matauri Bay, this serene location demands contemplation

Cape Reinga – Nearly the northernmost point New Zealand, Cape Reinga (pronounced Ray-EN-ga) holds a special place in Maori legend as the gateway to the spirit world. Looking out from this precipitous point, it’s not hard to understand why. Occasional rays of sunlight peak weakly through through thick, dark, boiling clouds like hope struggling against darkness. Winds swirl and lash the place from most points of the compass. Below, the turbulent waters roil violently like opposing armies at the point where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman sea. Literally and figuratively, there can be no better place for a lighthouse.

Nearby, the towering Te Paki sand dunes provide the perfect counter-point to the spiritual weight of Cape Reinga:  sand boarding! This is an awesome, must-do activity for adrenaline junkies! Extremely large sand dunes + boogie board = serious fun. Trudging for vertical will test your lungs and legs, but the adrenaline rush is enough to keep you climbing way past the point of exhaustion. We did laps here for at least four hours.


Cape Reinga  - Overlooking the place where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea
Cape Reinga – Overlooking the place where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea
Sandboarding at TePaki - This is some serious fun for anyone interested in adrenaline
Sandboarding at TePaki – This is some serious fun for anyone interested in adrenaline

Ahipara – This small town on the Northwest coast is home to several famous point breaks that bring surfers from around the world for perfect long, fast barrels. The day we were there the surf was approximately six inches high but absolutely perfect. If only I were an ant. Seriously though, with a SW swell, the surf setup couldn’t be more perfect. Otherwise, the golden sand is great for castles.

Waitangi – Waitangi is the site of the Treaty signed between the British crown and over 500 Maori Chiefs on February 6, 1840.  Only 10 minutes from Opua, this site features an excellent (but somewhat expensive) museum dedicated to the spirit of the treaty. Living nearby, we were able to attend the Waitangi Day celebrations on February 6, which were not only inspirational, but also free. The NZ Navy were in attendance with two modern warships complete with twenty-one gun cannon salutes. There were also tall sailing ships, and hundreds of Maori chanting while paddling huge traditional Waka or war canoes. Having anchored Batu directly off the Treaty grounds, we were right in the middle of the action. Ashore, there were dance and singing performances, arts & crafts, and foods of all sorts. Imagine ‘Fourth of July’ meets Cirque de Soleil…it was quite an experience.


Waitangi Waka - One of eight traditional Waka paddled during Waiting Day celebrations
Waitangi Waka – One of eight traditional Waka paddled during Waiting Day celebrations
Polynesian Dancers - Members of Auckland-based Cook Island Dance team perform at Waiting
Polynesian Dancers – Members of Auckland-based Cook Island Dance team perform

Discussing the Treaty brings me to an interesting, possibly contentious, point about New Zealand. Certainly there have been many breaches of the treaty. Overall, the Maori have fared only marginally better than other indigenous peoples overtaken by western culture. But as an outside observer, I’ve been impressed by how integrated the two cultures are here. Although predominantly western, I sense respect for the Maori culture and a feeling of responsibility to preserve it. By my estimation it is at least a refreshing attempt at integration rather than cultural bulldozing.

Kauri trees – Giant Kauri trees, found only in New Zealand, have historically dominated the landscape here. Over-zealous logging has made old Kauri trees difficult to find, but these trees are certainly a sight to see. Most “Top 10″ lists will send visitors to the giant Te Matua Ngahere (the Father of the Forest) and Tane Mahuta in the Waipoua Forest. While we found these enormous trees impressive, the sites were also touristy. For us, the best place to experience the solemn power of these trees is in the groves of Northland’s Puketi and Omahuta Forests. Great ‘bush walks’ (hikes as they are called here).

Kiwis – In marketing, gift shops and the spoken language, kiwis are everywhere. In reality, this flightless, nocturnal bird is extremely reclusive. Even for professional researchers, it’s nearly impossible to see one in the wild. We found the best place to see wild-ish kiwis was at Kiwi North, a museum, and kiwi breeding sanctuary near Whangarei. Here you can watch a pair of these mysterious birds living in a carefully controlled, simulated environment – very cool.


Stuffed Kiwi - Greeting entrants at Kiwi North, this stuffed kiwi is over 100 years old and still very lifelike
Stuffed Kiwi – This stuffed kiwi is over 100 years old and still very lifelike

Auckland – There are plenty of things to do in ‘the City of Sails’, but given our brief timeframe and general bias toward more natural sites, we spent the day in Auckland’s excellent Maritime Museum. We found the exhibits fascinating. There was outstanding coverage of America’s Cup and Vendee Globe sailboat racing as well as an entire floor on sailing legend Sir Peter Blake. Definitely worth a stop.


City of Sails - Approaching Auckland's cosmopolitan skyline
City of Sails – Approaching Auckland’s cosmopolitan skyline

Rotorua – The Rotorua area, about two and a half hours south of Auckland, is famous for geothermal activity. Natural hot springs, bubbling mud pits and steaming sulphur vents are scattered all around a 50km radius. While a few hot springs are public, most sites are privately owned and involve a substantial entry fee. We decided to splurge on a visit to Wai-o-Tapu, and we were not disappointed. The range of colors in the thermal pools there was utterly surreal, almost like looking at another planet.

One sight that was not unique during our tour was that of sheep dotted among rolling green pastures. There are a few sheep museums around the country, but we decided to visit the Agrodome near Rotorua to learn a bit more about sheep and wool. Although seriously touristy, the show was an interesting live demonstration and gave us a hands-on feel for the attributes of nineteen varieties of sheep, and the skills of the sheepdogs herding them.


Champagne Pool Pallet - Striking colors make this pool at Wai-o-tapu an artist's dream
Champagne Pool Pallet – Striking colors make this pool at Wai-o-tapu an artist’s dream

Selection of Sheep - Peter enjoying the company of several sheep from the show at the Agrodome
Selection of Sheep – Peter enjoying the company of several sheep from the show at the Agrodome

Wellington – The city of Wellington is nestled into a natural harbor at the Southern tip of the North Island. Despite being the capital city, it has a comfortable, homey feeling and would be a fun place to explore if given more time. We had two days in Wellington, and spent both of them at Te Papa, the national museum. Not only is the museum free, but the exhibits are outstanding, successfully conveying an intimate understanding of the subject matter for all ages and types of people. As someone who has experience staging exhibits, I was awestruck by the modernity and skill of the presentation as much as by the material itself. Two thumbs way up!

Wellington harbor provides excellent shelter for the large Interislander ferries which are the most common way to cross the blustery Cook Strait separating North and South Islands. While only 25km across at it’s narrowest, the Strait is regarded as one of the more dangerous patches of water in the world due to fierce currents and extremely strong winds. Crossing it was an interesting experience for us. We had rough conditions with 3 – 4m seas and heavy 35 knot winds during both crossings. However, despite the seasick passengers all around us, we had dumb smiles plastered on our faces due to the sheer ease of ‘sailing’ on a 22,000 ton vessel nearly 600 ft in length. The three-hour ferry crossing was an attraction in itself.


 

Ferries, I DO Believe! - Driving aboard the Interislander, bound for the South Island
Ferries, I DO Believe! – Driving aboard the Interislander, bound for the South Island

South Island Highlights are found in the following post, Touring New Zealand, part 3 – #37.


 

Whangarei Head - Looking northward toward Whangarei Head
Whangarei Head – Looking northward toward Whangarei Head

March 17, 2017 – Touring New Zealand, part 1 – #35

Touring! - Fuzz-Fuzz is stoked to hit the road
Touring! – Fuzz-Fuzz is stoked to hit the road

After our haul-out, time slipped away mercilessly as we embraced a domesticity we’d not experienced since our time in Mexico. It can be so comfortable to simply stay put for a while. After uncertainty and stress, there’s something therapeutic in having a schedule. Sometimes this is exactly what we need, other times it can feel like a hardening of the arteries.

Despite great conditions for solar power, we were experiencing shockingly poor performance from our one-year old solar system, prompting us to replace all four 100w panels. Two panels proved completely dead, the other two produced about enough power to light a flea circus, dimly. Despite the unexpected cost, the new panels should save a lot of diesel, not to mention daily engine hours needed to keep our electrical system topped up. Reduced longevity is one of the problems with the thin, flexible panels that our setup requires. Hard panels last longer, but are delicate and require more space.


Fern - The Batuligans with Fern, our faithful four-wheeled friend
Fern – The Batuligans with Fern, our faithful four-wheeled friend
Solitary - This solitary tree provides much-needed shade in a contemplative place
Solitary – This solitary tree provides much-needed shade in a contemplative place

We did make a few surgical strikes to explore the North Island, but the bulk of our February was spent on projects, planning, and initiating new homeschool curricula for the kids. While trying to figure out school requirements, Karen encountered a surprising lack of enthusiasm from the high school guidance counselor in our home town, but eventually found an engaged Vice Principal to confirm the standards. Sean is now enrolled in an accredited high school program through University of Nebraska which should allow him to have a complete transcript, regardless of where he chooses to go in the future.


Whangarei - A quick trip to this cool city
Whangarei – A quick trip to this cool city
Cool Blues - I'll leave identification of this to someone more horticulturally inclined
Cool Blues – I’ll leave identification of this to someone more horticulturally inclined
Southern Alps - One of many incredible sights available when you hit the road
Southern Alps – One of many incredible sights available when you hit the road

As February rolled into March, we almost grudgingly relinquished our short-lived domesticity, giving up our comfy beds, home cooking, and regular swims at the community pool for exploration and adventure on the open road. Despite previous reports, we found the costs to explore NZ by car to be fairly high. The cost of petrol at around USD$8/gal didn’t help, but perhaps the biggest surprise to us was the cost of camping. Holiday parks, found almost everywhere, typically offer camping facilities ranging from bunk-type cabins to basic tent sites. Most have restrooms, showers and even community kitchen facilities, making them the most economical option. However, the cost for a basic tent site ranged from NZ$48 – $122/night, which seemed pretty steep to us. Consequently, we kept our land tour short. We were able to make several North Island excursions from Opua, with just an occasional overnight. When we finally did hit the road, we didn’t languish, driving a loop from Opua to Wanaka in the South Island and back in about twelve days, averaging about four+ hours of driving each day.


Cape Reinga Lighthouse - We're much closer to the South Pole than we are to home
Cape Reinga Lighthouse – We’re much closer to the South Pole than we are to home
Tailgate Camping - aka "Glamping" out of the back of Fern at one of many holiday parks
Tailgate Camping – aka “Glamping” out of the back of Fern at one of many holiday parks

CREW PERSPECTIVES

Here are a few thoughts about our exploration from the crew:

Peter: Karen, what sticks in your mind most about our tour?
Karen: Not one single place, but just an overwhelming feeling of awe at the beauty of all the places where we looked out over the water: Matauri Bay where we looked out over the Rainbow Warrior, the bluff [at Opononi] on the way down to Dargaville [looking west at the Tasman Sea], Crossing the Cook Straight, the look-out [at Hokitika] on the South Island where we saw the pancake rocks. All of it.
Peter: Wow, anything else?
Karen: I like the sheep too.


Matauri Bay Overlook - A beautiful view!
Matauri Bay Overlook – A beautiful view!
Happy Pastures - A common sight!
Happy Pastures – A common sight!

Peter: Sarah, what sticks in your mind the most?

Sarah: The Penguins.
Peter: At the Antactic exhibit [in Christchurch]?
Sarah: (Nods & smiles.)
Peter: Why?
Sarah: Because they swam really fast and were so graceful under water.


Penguin Crossing - We think it is highly unlikely to see penguins crossing the road, but you never know
Penguin Crossing – We think it is highly unlikely to see penguins crossing the road, but you never know

Peter: Sean, what were your favorite parts of our tour?

Sean: The Gates of Haast.
Peter: Yeah, why?
Sean: Because it was awesome.
Peter: Anything else?
Sean: I liked the water there…and it was cool out.


Gates of Haast - Sean & Sarah checking the glacial runoff
Gates of Haast – Sean & Sarah checking the glacial runoff
One Lane Bridge - A very common sight when touring New Zealand
One Lane Bridge – A very common sight when touring New Zealand

My hope has always been to share what I consider to be the most valuable spoils of our travels: our perspectives. That said, it’s nearly impossible to cover the highlights of our journey without a bit of travelogue. For those interested in touring New Zealand, the next two posts are for you. If not, hopefully you’ll enjoy some of the photos.


Waiotapu Geyser - Part of the tour at Waiotapu, near Rotorua
Waiotapu Geyser – Part of the tour at Waiotapu, near Rotorua
Nelson Lakes - Beautiful clear lakes in the South Island. This one filled with freshwater eels
Nelson Lakes – Beautiful clear lakes in the South Island. This one filled with freshwater eels
Champagne Pool - Geothermal activity near Rotorua
Champagne Pool – Geothermal activity near Rotorua
Road Trip! - What an amazing country to see from the road
Road Trip! – What an amazing country to see from the road

January 31, 2017 – What’s Next? – #34

The Sling - Opua's TravelLift awaits to transform our boat into a waterfront condo
The Sling – Opua’s TravelLift awaits to transform our boat into a waterfront condo

Seriously, if you ever hear me say the words “just a quick haulout” again, please smack some sense into me. Our seventeen days on the hard could have been much worse, but it was also not exactly the luxury yacht experience. I had intended to replace the bottom paint, do a few other small projects, and splash a week or so later. But of course, once you start poking around things always come up. In the end we spent about ten days sanding, grinding & filling small blisters, plus fairing the keel and propeller strut before even applying any paint. It has been about five years since we addressed any blisters, so it was time. Once the blisters were ground out, epoxied (3-4 times) and wet sanded, we covered the bottom with several layers of primer and two coats of International Ultra 2 hard epoxy bottom paint. Not my first choice, at least the International is available around the world. The same can not be said of our previous Z-Spar bottom paint, which is not available in New Zealand.


Applying Primer - After many layers of epoxy and sanding, it's good to finally paint!
Applying Primer – After many layers of epoxy and sanding, it’s good to finally paint!
Crew Help - It's also good to have some help from the crew
Crew Help – It’s also good to have some help from the crew

While on the hard, we somehow managed VIP yard placement. We were positioned front and center on clean asphalt, directly next to the bathrooms and community kitchen with a great view of the bay. Nonetheless, every chore such as bathroom access, washing dishes, and working on the boat meant scurrying up and down a fifteen foot ladder, so the term VIP might be a stretch. We decided to tackle stripping the varnish off of our teak. This is a big job, but easier done on a scaffolding than bobbing in the dinghy with an electrical heat gun. After acid-washing & polishing the hull, we applied new vinyl lettering for Batu and added an Indonesian turtle graphic. We also reamed out bushings, cleaned and rebuilt the self-steering wind vane. For good measure, we re-marked the anchor chain, cleaned and lubricated all through-hulls and installed an intake scoop on the engine raw water. All of these projects are necessary and important, so we’re glad to have them completed.


Red Paint - Applying the first coat of red. Also note the stylie new turtle!
Red Paint – Applying the first coat of red. Also note the stylie new turtle!
Sweet Thirteen - Sarah contemplates her teenage years
Sweet Thirteen – Sarah contemplates her teenage years

Time passes quickly when you’re immersed in projects, so on January 27th when Batu’s hull was set gently back in the water we hadn’t given even a moment’s thought to what would come next. We emerged from the Travel-lift slings blinking into the early morning sunlight, muscles tired and aching from the physical work, merely glad for Batu to feel like a boat again. We followed the rays of the sun East into the Bay of Islands and nestled in a cozy anchorage at Otaio Bay off of Urupukapuka (pronounced OO-roo-POO-ka-POO-ka) island. Here, at last, we found a taste of the luxury yacht experience; a three-day weekend at the height of Summer! Long naps, leisurely sails, and scenic hikes helped us recooperate.


Ready to Splash - Batu chomping at the bit to hit the water...softly
Ready to Splash – Batu chomping at the bit to hit the water…softly

So, what’s next for the Batuligans? We’ve known since we began this voyage that we’d need to go back to work at some point, and that time is approaching. I’m currently revamping my resume and applying to a few New Zealand leads. With my experience in product development, sourcing and manufacturing plus creative marketing and sales at the international level, I’m hoping to find a position or contract work with some expanding businesses. Karen is looking forward to continuing her nursing career. Regardless of work options, we’ve decided to plot a course back to the US once the cyclone season is over. This is a long, difficult journey that will take many months to complete, but we think we’re up to the challenge.

After the downwind sleigh ride of the coconut milk run through the South Pacific, most boats return to the islands, some boats continue Westward through Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, but many boats are listed for sale in Australia or New Zealand. Although this might sound like an appealing option, we agreed at the outset that the journey would mean more to us if we returned under sail. Consequently, our plan involves three month-long passages and about 8000 nautical miles of travel through difficult wind & sea conditions. We plan to leave New Zealand between April 15 and May 15, and hope to return to the US sometime around September, 2017.

Up next, some perspectives from the Batu Crew from our exploration of New Zealand.


Not All Work - Taking a break from work after the haulout
Not All Work – Taking a break from work after the haulout
Back on Board - Tired, but happy to be a boat again
Back on Board – Tired, but happy to be a boat again

December 27, 2016 – Sweet Corn & Pahutukawa Christmas – #33

Opua From Mooring - A morning view from our mooring near Tapu Point
Opua From Mooring – A morning view from our mooring near Tapu Point

Ah Christmas time…the holiday season naturally brings to mind warm sunny days, balmy breezes, birds chirping, and colorful flowers blooming in early summer splendor. Sarcastic? Yes, sorry. Even after six weeks here in New Zealand, my lifetime of Northern-hemisphere influences still have me turned on my head. Nothing drove this home more, perhaps, than our Christmas Eve dinner with fresh, sweet corn from a roadside stand. I’m taking about the ‘good stuff,’  succulent, chin-dripping mouthfuls of buttery sweet corn on the cob. Rather than Christmas tradition, my brain invariably connects corn on the cob with huge mid-Summer gatherings at the family cottage on Canandaigua Lake.  Despite the disorienting fact that the austral Christmas falls in mid-Summer, we managed to carry out the rest of our Christmas traditions dutifully, with a very modest gift exchange, eggs benedict on Christmas morning, and a serious smoked mussel chowder for dinner. Few things feel more like home, perhaps, than a full, happy tummy. To round out the cultural diversity we had a Mexican Train domino marathon well into the wee hours.


Pahutukawa - The lovely Pahutukawa tree blooms shockingly red and green around Christmas
Pahutukawa – The lovely Pahutukawa tree blooms shockingly red and green around Christmas
Purple Wow - Flowers & trees, like this Purple Jacaranda, bloom everywhere
Purple Wow – Flowers & trees, like this Purple Jacaranda, bloom everywhere

As we move into the New Year, the trees and flowers are blooming everywhere, including purple Jacarandas and the striking Pahutukawa tree (pronounced PA-hoo-too-COW-a), informally known as New Zealand’s ‘Christmas tree.’ It’s brilliant red blossoms and vivid green leaves are everywhere. To our pleasant surprise, we’ve also found local ripe bananas, oranges, apples, pears and avocados plentiful. I’m definitely warming to the idea of a fresh-produce holiday season!

Our plans were to spend just a couple weeks here in the Bay of Islands before moving South to Whangarei (pronounced FAHN-ga-rey), but just before departure we lucked into a long-term mooring here in Opua. This means we have a safe, inexpensive place to leave the boat while we explore other parts of the country. With that decision made, Opua is now our base of operations. We really like it here in Northland’s beautiful Bay of Islands.


Russell Waterfront - The quaint town of Russell is just around the corner from us
Russell Waterfront – The quaint town of Russell is just around the corner from us
Rainbow Falls - Located in nearby Kerikeri
Rainbow Falls – Located in nearby Kerikeri
Da Goods - Sarah with some the spoils from exploring. This is a small kiddie cone!
Da Goods – Sarah with some the spoils from exploring. This is a small kiddie cone!

Nearly every place we’ve been in the past year could be thoroughly explored without a car, but New Zealand isn’t like that. Within a couple weeks of arrival we found a well-used Volvo XC wagon to help with errands and exploration of the country by land. After our time aboard it didn’t seem right to go voyaging in a nameless vehicle, so we have christened the car “Fern” after the frequently used silver fern symbol of NZ (pronounced EN-zed).

English is spoken here, but many place names, signs and notices are also in the native Maori which frequently leaves us sputtering. It’s an excellent opportunity to advance our spoken language skills. Let me give you a few nearby examples: Hookianga (pronounced HOO-key-AHN-ga), Matauri (pronounced ma-TAO-ree), Waipukurau (pronounced WHY-poo-koo-RA-oo), Kawakawa (pronounced COW-a-COW-a), and Waikikamukau (pronounced – no I’m not joking – WHY-keek-a-MOO-cow). In fact, most places on the North Island are named with Maori words. We’ve also found it’s not a complete certainty that people will understand our English. Occasionally folks will wrinkle their noses, look puzzled and ask us to repeat apparently simple statements because our strange “yank” accents throw them off. We try to fit in, but our’ kiwi’ still comes off a bit contrived: “Yeeah mate! Cheers! Good-on-ya.”

Despite the favorable exchange rate NZD$1.00 = USD$0.75, we’ve found life in New Zealand to be fairly expensive. Gasoline (“petrol”) prices are $2 – $2.25/ liter, which translates to around USD$8.00/gallon, and grocery costs stack up quickly for our family due to shockingly small container sizes. Kiwis seem to have firmly refused any forms of “American excess,” including packaging in anything but the daintiest 2 – 3 serving sizes. Reinforcing this position, after careful market research Costco apparently bailed on plans to expand into NZ, deciding that the market was not open to bulk packaging.


The Stone House - Exploring an historical attraction in nearby Kerikeri
The Stone House – Exploring an historical attraction in nearby Kerikeri

We have many projects in the works since Batu is scheduled for haul-out on January 11. More on that in following posts, but in the meantime, we are tentatively starting to explore the North Island by car. I say “tentatively” because New Zealand roads are…different. This is not just about driving on the left. Although seemingly daunting, driving on the left hasn’t been too difficult to embrace since cars here are arranged with the driver’s side toward the center of the road. By “different” I mean narrow, curvy and hilly. Even when a straight path would be possible, most roads are shockingly serpentine with very narrow lanes and almost no shoulder. Presumably to reduce road costs, many bridges are only one lane, forcing frequent stops to allow oncoming traffic through. I myself could be called somewhat heavy-footed, but I’ve found Kiwi drivers to be surprisingly aggressive: often bumper-riding and occasionally passing blindly, if only to end up behind a line of slow moving campers. For me, this is an excellent excuse to practice calm breathing and focused relaxation techniques. I’m getting a lot of practice.

Ahh, but the scenery. Although the aforementioned driver has little time for viewing anything other than narrow, curving roads and white knuckles, the rest of the crew is transfixed by an endless panorama of rolling green hills, forests and pastures dotted with cows, sheep or occasionally deer, and peppered periodically by the rambling stream, shimmering lake or sweeping ocean vista. Northern New Zealand, also called Aotearoa (pronounced AH-o-TAY-a-ROW-a), is a pastoral artist’s dream.


Happy Pastures - A common sight!
Happy Pastures – A common sight!
The Fellas - The boys resting after some strenuous land hikes
The Fellas – The boys resting after some strenuous land hikes

All in all, I’d say the Batu Crew is still adapting to the many aspects of New Zealand which seem familiar, but also also strangely upside down and backward for a native top-sider. We’ll work to keep the posts coming as we explore this amazing place.


Tree Fern - Frequently found in the woods, these are commonly called Weki
Tree Fern – Frequently found in the woods, these are commonly called Weki
Dargaville Overlook - Surveying the landscape from this West coast town
Dargaville Overlook – Surveying the landscape from this West coast town