03/21/2011, Opua Marina
Michael, Bruce, Patty and Gloria enjoy a sunny sail in the Bay of Islands
After a week or more of glorious end of summer sunshine, the weather has turned. It is a wet and blustery Monday morning, a Vancouver style rainy start to the week. The boat is heeling at the dock, every so slightly as the easterly wind plays its tune through our rigging. It is still warm though, we throw a raincoat over our shorts and t-shirts to go anywhere, and we are still wearing sandals. Just like Vancouver, the rain is what makes this place lush and green, so you know sooner or later it has to come.
Last week we had two sets of visitors who enjoyed some pretty nice North Island weather with us. We arrived back to Opua ahead of the guests, and worked pretty much non stop on Paikea Mist in order to get her back in the water and in some shape for our company. We put her back into the water on Friday in time for the arrival of my sister Patty and husband Bruce on Sunday. We had a short but terrific visit with them. We took the car ferry across to visit the nearby historic village of Russell, where we enjoyed live entertainment while sipping brewskys on the outdoor patio of the oldest hotel in New Zealand. The next day we sailed out to Urapukapuka Island, where the water was warm enough for swimming and the hiking as awesome as ever. Next up were our friends Allan and Alison, from S/V Fly Aweigh. After a few more maintenance items were crossed off the four of us pushed off for a relaxing Bay of Island Cruise. On our way to our first anchorage we were greeted by 3 dolphins who swam with us all the way into the anchorage. Allan was even able to swim with them at the anchorage. They were very curious and playful and so exciting to watch.
This guy held onto our bow with his fin while smiling for the camera
Allan and Alison are now on their way back home after an amazing adventure across the Pacific, culminating in the successful sale of their boat in Australia and a camping trip around New Zealand. We will miss their cruising company, but look forward to them joining us at future destinations.
I can't get over the amount of maintenance work we have done since arriving here. In an effort to give you an idea of what goes into maintaining a well maintained, now ten year old boat I will try to list them. Before we left I really truly believed that we would be the exception to the whole adage about cruising is repairing your boat in exotic places. After all, our boat was so well maintained...how amusing...here's the list in no particular order...
Replaced Battens- one in SanDiego, all of them in NZ. We now have a back up set to store inside our boom.
Sails -checked and repaired for areas of wear and tear- San Diego and New Zealand- minor repairs only
Checked Freon in Refrigeration System-Freezer needed a boost
Complete overhaul of generator (800 hrs) Serviced and checked in Vancouver before we left, we noticed that it was overheating. The heat exchanger was clogged so badly it was replaced. Head gasket replaced. Much to my delight and enjoyment of the said yacht, in order to repair the generator, the entire saloon table, and bench seat it sits in has to be disassembled, making Paikea Mist a huge work zone, with the generator pulled out and sitting where the table ought to be. While it was out we had the base it sits in repainted (it was showing signs of rust) and we also replaced the engine mounts.
Good thing Michael knows his generators!
Engine Overhaul: Michael did a complete engine overhaul here in NZ. Again, the engine was serviced before we left Vancouver, and properly maintained over the course of our trip. Same conditions as above, although table and seats are still intact, thank goodness. Replaced all injectors, O-rings, and other bits and pieces. Motor runs smoother than ever now, no leaks (touch wood), but still our pesky white cloud is trailing us. So far no-one we have met has been able to solve this 'problem', although in Tonga another cruising boat radioed us to check whether we knew we had a trail of white exhaust. Hmmm, thanks for that.
Rigging- we had our rigging checked in Vancouver. On the crossing to the Marqueses we had to make emergency repair of the baby fore stay and one of the secondary stays on the spreaders. Michael repaired this while sailing using spare rigging material and clamps. Michael had the necessary parts shipped to Pappeete (marvellous thing the SSB radio is) where he did a proper repair. We had our rigging inspected here in NZ and replaced another secondary which was just beginning to show signs of failure. The rest of the rigging was given the A Okay. The guys here taught us a heck of a lot about rigging, tensioning and inspection which will be very helpful to us in the future. In retrospect, we don't feel the rig was really tuned well in Vancouver, despite assurances that all was well.
Anchor Windlass Repairs- We bought a brand new anchor windlass for the trip so that we would NOT have to worry about it breaking down. Ha! Ha! It is the style where the motor is mounted below the deck, so we mounted it the only place we could fit it, nestled into the corner of the top side of the anchor locker. As we arrived to Hiva Oa, the anchor windlass would not work! Michael discovered that the connections were corroded, and repaired it on the fly. We now try to remember to turn off the breaker when it is not in use. By Tonga the paint job on motor itself was beginning to flake and rust. Apparently they do not design these items to endure any exposure to a sea environment -DUH! Here in New Zealand with access to knowledge base and products, Michael took it all out and redid the paint coating, this time using materials which would withstand the conditions it was meant for! (Incredibly when we sent photos of the unit to the manufacturer the reply was that we had to install it somewhere where it wouldn't be exposed to moisture- go figure).
Water Maker membranes: Our water maker was on our boat when we bought it. Replacing water membranes as required was a dreadful job, due to the design of the system. In encouraging one of the brand new expensive membranes into place, Michael managed to damage it. Here in NZ we bit the bullet and had the membrane system replaced with a pressure vessel that is user friendly. We just made our first cup of water with the new membranes and it was delicious!
Inverter Failure- replaced in Mexico, at that time we installed a back up Battery Charger! Next....
Battery Charger- failed and replaced in New Zealand. Our friends on Visions of Johanna experienced a devastating fire in their engine room, which was deemed to be the result of a flaky battery charger.
Water Heater- replaced zinc rod (corroded beyond recognition), and serviced.
There are probably more items that we have left out, but I'm sure you get the picture. It is a constant battle to maintain and repair a cruising yacht. That's the simple truth. We are not alone in this fight, every boat we have met has had to do a long list of repair jobs along the way, even those that are brand new. And those exotic places don't always seem so exotic when your home is in a state of disrepair!
So it's a rainy Monday and Michael is working on soldering the last little electronic transistor onto the control panel (which was inadvertently damaged while repairing the generator) and then hopefully we have our generator back. I've been going through all of our stores and starting to provision for our trip back up to the South Pacific. We have decided that we will sail to Fiji, in order to be able to fly back home for our nieces wedding in June. Before that we hope to sail down to Great Barrier Island which lies to the west of Auckland to do some local cruising there too!
02/27/2011, Mt Cook National Park
Self photo of Michael and Gloria on our way up to the Mueller Hut, high above Mt. Cook Village
Through the night the glacier above our tent shifts and groans. We have pitched our tiny home under the canopy of the massive glaciers hanging over Mt. Cook National Park. All afternoon we have been watching in awe as the glacier releases huge avalanches, tons of snow tumbling off cliff sides as free as a waterfall.
The moaning continues and in the coldest hour the loudest of rumbles echoes across the flat glacial swept valley. I lay awake, Mother Nature is calling, literally, but I try to ignore the need to go! Finally I can't ignore it any longer, and I slip out of the tent to the ladies. The Milky Way sweeps above me, and the glacier is aglow. I want to stay out, enchanted so, but I dive back into the relative warmth of the tent instead. I pull the sleeping bag over my head in an unsuccessful effort to keep warm. Despite wearing several layers of clothing, it's freezing out here. Well, nearly so, and our sleeping bags are definitely not cut out to handle these temperatures. The thermometer reads just 4 degrees celsius over night. We struggle to keep ourselves warm, and I spend most of the night in a fetal position trying to trap my body heat into a small bundle.
The hour before sunrise is always the coldest. I've noticed this for quite some time. Out on the ocean, doing a crossing, I always take the early morning shift, so that I can see the sunrise. If it is going to be cold, this is the hour that you'll notice the need for extra layers and a hot cup of tea.
We spend the night in a fitful sleep, but despite the cold I somehow feel incredibly fortunate to be, again, in this spot at this time. Earlier in the day we drove the last 50 kilometers towards Mt. Aoraki, also known as Mt. Cook, in the beautiful sunshine. At 3754m or 12317 feet it is New Zealand's highest peak, and it is stunning to see it from afar. It's been rainy for the past few days - I've heard people here say the sky is crying for Christchurch. Maybe enough time has passed, who really knows, but the skies parted allowing us a breathtaking drive up to the foot of these magnificent mountains and glaciers. In all, three glaciers loom above Mt. Cook Village, and from our tent I can open the fly and look up at the impressive Mueller Glacier.
When we wake in the morning, I open the tent flap, expecting the wondrous view and am surprised to see a dense cold fog enveloping the valley. Cold and dank, my first urge is to roll up the tent and drive to sunshine. Michael packs up the tent, but instead of driving out of the valley softly persuades me with the idea that we can climb out of the fog on route to the Mueller Hut. Ah, this man I love so much knows me better than I do sometimes. I reluctantly get ready for the hike, hiking shoes on with poles in hand. As soon as we start walking, warmth starts to flow to my cold extremities. The climb is steep and unrelenting, step after step fashioned from huge railroad ties snagged into the side of the mountain. We hike the first ½ hour in the dense fog, looking for the top of its ceiling, aching for a view. Soon we start to see blue sky as the fog wafts thinner above us. Ever so slowly, we swim our way out of the fog, at times the vertigo is unsettling as I cast my glance towards the eerie foggy drop-offs. Step by step we pull the glaciers into closer range. We peel off layers as we march closer to the sun.
At Sealy Tarns, now in the full hot morning sun, we stop to take in the breathtaking reflections of the glacier on the small lake, and the sweeping views of the huge valley, lakes and river streams. Across the valley, the pinnacle of Mt. Aoraki looms, and to its left, cloud spills over a nearby mountain peak, over its glacier. Everything is in constant movement, the glaciers continue their creaks, groans and rumbles, snow and ice is released and falls, water collects in granite sluices, turning into thin waterfalls tumbling hundreds of feet into rivers and lakes below. And we are a tiny part of it all.
We continue on, upwards to the hut. As we climb, overnighters make the trek down with their backpacks and poles. In talking to them, it seems it may have been colder in the valley than on the mountain itself, but who knows. The vegetation becomes increasingly sparse, and we make our way up beside a large loose area of granite scree, careful with each foot hold. At times, boulders sit peacefully in the most unusual places, some as large as a small house. The rocks eventually become an earthy red brown sandstone, looking more like a barren moonscape, with boulders of all sizes thrown this way and that. Off in the distance, we see the Mueller Hut. Sitting at 6000' amongst this landscape she looks tiny. The hut was built by helicopter, 130 flights altogether. Inside she boasts a full kitchen, with propane stoves and drinking water, separate bunkrooms , a warden's office, and decks with benches emphasizing her views.
We sit out on the decks, basking in the warm sunshine, talking with Mary, the warden. Mary has chosen to spend an extra shift in the peacefulness of the hut. She knows that her home in Christchurch has sustained more damage in the recent quake. Her family and friends are safe, and the mountain is there, singing its song, healing the soul. As only mountains can do.
02/22/2011, Safe and sound, McLean Falls
Just wanted to let everybody know that we are well south of Christchurch, near Cathedral Caves and McLean Falls (1.5 hours east of Invecargill). We are following the news of the terrible earthquake and our hearts go out to the people of Christchurch and all of New Zealand as they face this latest trajedy.
02/17/2011, Ben Lombard Trail, above Queenstown
Gloria enjoys the view from the top
Couldn't resist adding this postcard perfect shot, overlooking the ranges around Queenstown. Queenstown is a very touristy place, but Michael and I figured out how to make the most of it without spending too much money. We gave up the tent over night and checked into a nice hotel room overlooking the lake, good value considering the view is an unobstructed one of the lake with the huge peaks surrounding it. We then took the Tiki trail up to the top of the Skyline Gondola (steep) and then continued on up the Ben Lombard Trail. As we set off late we were not able to do the entire hike, but did manage to get to this amazing view point high above Queenstown. We then hiked back down to the gondola and took it down the mountain for free. We gorged on Ferg Burgers, which are famous here in Queenstown. The place had a line up down the street, but the wait (20 minutes) was worth it- these burgers live up to their reputation, we could have easily split one for a full meal! In the morning we had a great run along the lakeside path here, it connects Queenstown all the way back to Frankton, again we didn't run all the way to Frankton either! We are soon going to pack up Sally ( Subaru Sally is the nickname we have given our car), and head toward Milford Sound, where in true form it is supposed to rain during our stay there! I'm pretty sure we can handle that considering the rainfalls we've experienced in our own Desolation Sound!
The tangled Tasman Sea
The Tasman Sea. Notions of wicked weather, high seas and endless seafaring drama come to mind. I watch as the tangle of Tasman dumps its frothy bundle of energy into its rock strewn foreshore. My mind plays out the immense drama of shipwrecks and past catastrophes. I even act out our own demise, playing out the scene in minute detail. Caught out at sea in a storm, swept onto these unfriendly shores, Paikea Mist comes to a unwelcome resting point teetering on the rocks. My eyes desperately search in the dark (it's always dark) for a passable path to the shore and up the vertical cliffs to safety.
But of course none of this is of concern as I lie in my cozy tent and listen to the roar of the Tasman, and the sound of the wind as it shakes itself through the tent. The night is raw; "chilly", a Kiwi might say, and I burrow myself into my sleeping bag, trying to cover my head as I dream on through the recent adventures we have encountered here.
I stand at the top of the cliff, about to drop off into the Waitomo Glowworm cave system which lies below us. Ready to, as my friend Alison muses: "boldly go where hundreds of people have gone before us". I hold the rope tight and put my faith into the harness system as I abseil down the 30 meter cliff. Yet as I slide down into the cave it matters not if thousands or even millions of people have been there ahead of me. I stand in the bottom of the cave, looking up the glistening wall, where lush green ferns grow as if by landscape design, and soft filtered sunlight shines through the bordering trees. The rock formation on the cliff is layered, offering perfect hand holds for the final climb up and out of the cave. Our guide takes us upriver, deep into one of the glowworm caverns. We lie on the cool rocks that line the river, on our backsides looking up into the glowworm magic where a miniature starry universe lies above us. I imagine piecing together an entirely new set of constellations, and life seems somehow simple and reduced. We stand up, under the low cave and shine our headlamps on the minute yet busy larvae above us. Each one has cast out several long beaded silk threads, which glisten from the ceiling above us. We watch patiently as a tiny glowworm larvae pulls up his long mucousy lines and reels in its morning meal- a fly was fooled by the glowing stars and flew right into the long tendrils of the glowworms night sky. Later we squiggled and wiggled our way through tiny crevices, exploring the more intimate features of the caves, and satisfied our adrenaline needs by bobbing on inner tubes down the rapids and jumping waterfalls of the underground river system. At its depths, 50 meters underground, we snacked on warm apple cider and chocolate and watched the steam come out of our mouths in the deep cool caves.
I pull my sleeping bag back up over my head, and my mind moves to the even chillier night we spent camping in Bleinheim, in the heart of white wine country- I can only imagine that they were close to making icewine that night. The next day we warmed ourselves up and hopped on some mountain bikes to tour the wineries, enjoying a fantastic meal at the Allan Scott winery along the way. In our down time, the campsite offered an exquisite setting, next to a small babbling river which tumbled endlessly by us. We were especially entertained by the mallards, who shot the rapids over and over again. At days end, the sun shook out its last rays and cast its golden orange hues on the fields across the creek. The scene was framed perfectly by wisps of clouds, as if placed whimsically by an Italian masters paint brush. One cloud fingered out into a wishbone high above the ridge, oh I thought, if clouds were wishes. The water swirling by made a soft soothing sound allowing my thoughts to drift and dangle; I followed the water in my minds eye , the river willfully winding its way through pastures and fields, down waterfalls , past homes and farmyards before eventually spilling itself into the ocean.
My mind turns back to the present, the wind slowly starts to die down, the Tasman relinquishes its furry, and I find myself slowly drifting into tomorrow.