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Log of the Argonaut
Camping New Zealand style
02/22/2009, South Island

Holiday Parks: The NZ version of a camping/RV park is a big improvement on those in the States. Not as much privacy but they're complete with internet/TV lounges, full kitchens with microwaves, spas and real showers. Plus, they are several in every town! They're more tourist camps than wilderness camps. They're great for travel on the cheap.

New Zealand is a rural country. Half the people live in a handful of cities and the rest of the four million peeps are spread throughout an area smaller than California. So far I've seen more cattle than sheep but that might change here on the South Island, Besides livestock, they do a lot of farming. Every vegetable that'll grow, hops, apples, grapes (wineries) beets... Beets. They put beets in your hamburger instead of a pickle. Not half bad, either!

As we're in a new place almost every day, I'm not going to do an in depth blog. We're on the north end of the South Island, heading south; Museums, hiking, local artists... all on the agenda. Check the picture captions for locations.

Hell Fire & Brimstone
02/19/2009, North Island

To quote "The Waimangu geothermal system is the newest on the planet, created entirely within written history, erupting first in 1886, splitting mount Tarawera across the summit and many kilometers to the south. Within the system is the world's largest hot water spring - Fryingpan Lake.

The Jade colored water in Inferno Crater rises and falls 12 meters in response to subteranean pressure. Since the 1886 eruption, the Waimangu geyser blasted into existence in 1900. Fryingpan Lake was formed in 1917 and the last major event was in 1974 as the result of "Hydroelectric tinkering" that caused extensive steam vents and bubbling mud pits.

The former Hot Springs Spa is now a museum; the grounds home to Lawn Bowling courts and a Croquet Club. Lawn Bowling reminds me of watching paint dry. Not nearly as exciting as Croquet. Perhaps on par (pun intended) with Golf?

The next day we hiked the several kilometers of trails through the area, surprised by the lack of barriers to the various boiling hazards. Must be a shortage of personal injury attorneys in NZ is all I can say. I highly reccomend the area to anyone visiting here. enjoy the pics

On the road south
El Capitan
02/17/2009, Auckland

Pulled out of Whangarei southbound for Auckland. Finally on the road!
Called Leigh (Aussie sailor we met in Samoa) as we approached Auckland.

"Sup?" I ask.
"Sailing Mi Querida in the Classic Yacht Regatta this weekend. I'm seriously short of crew. Come on by for a barbie and a coldie. Bunk on the boat and race with me Friday."

Well, duh... sailing 101: Cold beer, racing, and a free flop. We were all over it.

Friday was a serious weather change; from hot and humid to blowing the oysters off the rocks. The New Zealand America's Cup boats are racing for the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series - It's down to Team Oracle and Team Alinghi - and we got to sail through their race course on the way to our start in the Classic Yacht Regatta! This is Holy ground for a sailor. Berthed in Viaduct Harbor, racing next door to the America's Cup boys and a big barbie on the Qyay after the race. All hands on deck!

It was blowing steady high twenties with gusts in the mid thirties before we finished. Leigh is a liveaboard sailor so he's racing his
home. We placed DFL (You figure it out) Friday, but he managed to pull out a fifth overall for the three days.

We hopped the Inter-Island ferry back to Bayswater and slept in the van in the carpark that night. Next morning dawned with rain but it cleared the farther south we drove. Next stop: Rotorua

The Before

"Not all those that wander are lost"
J.R.R Tolkien

Cricket... The game, not the bug. Today we watched Women's Cricket, Australia vs New Zealand, at the Whangarei Oval. I'm not sure I'll ever be a fan, but it was a cultural event. Now, if the game was only half as long....

We drove to Opua thursday to stay with friends who delivered a sixty two foot Nordhavn from Fiji to New Zealand for the new owner. Mark Soverl of Soverl 33 fame. The Nordhavn is a nice boat, but I'm not willing to trade in the ol' Argonaut just yet. Meanwhile, we're outfitting a little Toyota diesel van for a campinng drive-about of the South Island. You can find Holiday Parks, and Backpacker Hotels all over both islands.

Back to the before:
We left Seattle in 2006, bound for the San Francisco Bay with friends Paul and Chris aboard; arriving at the St Francis Yacht Club eleven days later. Three of those days were spent waiting for weather in Crescent City We had two gales two decent days sailing and untold miles of motoring in dead calm.

Nothing about the trip was remotely reminicent of the stories and legends we'd heard about this coast. "Go out a hundred or more miles" There are tankers and crab pots thick as mine fields." Beware of Cape Mendecino." "Blah, blah, blah.""I call B.S, on all of it. We motored around Mendecino. August isn't crab season. We saw three ships and one tug with tow (lots of fishing boats but they're lit up like a Vegas casino) and there is no point at all in going out a hundred miles. If the wind is a big southerly... don't go! I will admit that Mendecino is a crap shoot and as a nasty reputation. When in doubt, ask local fishermen. They all said to go around as close in as you dare, after midnight. We did and it was a pond.

After a day and night to recoup at the St. Francis Yacht Club... hard to find a nicer place to do it... We moved Argonaut to Alameda so we could finish the refit for Mexico. Alameda is a great place. If you're dying for a city fix, the passenger ferry will drop you off right at the S.F. Warf. Oakland and the Bay Area B.A.R.T. are just across one of two bridges connecting the island to Oakland. It was November before we headed South to escape being winter-bound in California.

Monterey was a beautiful overnight sail with a gorgeous full moon. Cloud shadows on the moonlit ocean are one of those magnificent moments on the midnight watch that you remember forever. Only the addition of Dolphins frolicking in the bow wave can improve the experience. It was a Postcard kind of night.

Leaving Monterey for Santa Barbara took a fortuitous turn when we were forced into Morro Bay ahead of a brewing Santa Ana. It was another great experience in a long list of great experiences. Everyone in town is friendly and helpful. "Welcome to Morro Bay. do you need a ride... want to borrow my car... the best place to eat is...." Friendlier people are hard to find.

Bidding a sad farewell, we sailed in calm seas around Point Conception; the (Cape Horn of the Pacific) for Santa Barbara. You guessed it; another top of the list kind of place. The marina is cheap and Santa Barbara is right up there, elbowing for room in my top ten best places on the West Coast.

We hated to leave, but the season is slipping away and there are a thousand miles to go. We had to skip through some of the rest of SoCal to get to San Diego for final prep for the jump down the Baja to Cabo. We did stay several days at the Muni dock in Marina del Rey. It was cheap and right on the doorstep of the city. Some movie company was shooting what looked like a really bad Soap Opera in the next slip. It was a hoot to watch and we ducked every time the camera panned around in our direction. Film at eleven? Catalina was the next to last stop. Had to go there... just because it's there.

San Diego was our last stop in Los Estados Unidos. Again, the Muni dock is cheap. $10 a day for a week and $20 a day for the second. It's hard to find a place to park your car for that! Sailed for Ensenada 11/27/2006.

Most boats check in to Mexico at Ensenada. The process has been streamlined considerably from the old "Banana Republic" style paperwork nightmare.

The second day out of Ensenada, anchored in the little bay of San Quentin, we were greeted by a brown smudge on the southern horizon. The red flags didn't register and within hours we were full in the teeth of a Santa Ana. The brown smudge was dirt being ripped off the land and blown seaward at high velocity.

I thought the land would provide a lee, but the waves were eight feet and three seconds apart a quarter mile off the beach. They were so steep you could see the rising sun through them. we spent the next several hours bashing into them but decided to turn and make a run for it when the lulls between gusts were thirty five knots! We had plenty of sea romm so we just let 'er rip downwind with just a hanky sized jib up; the windvane steering flawlessly.

When things were back in control, the scene was really quite beautiful. The wind was tearing off the wavetops in mini-whirlwinds creating little rainbows as far as you could see. Suddenly an enormous pod of Dolphins surrounded Argonaut; leaping out of the vertical wave faces and surfing wildly down the waves with us, to break off in the trough and circle around for another ride.

It was a pretty wild ride but I decided that if the Dolphins thought it was a hoot... I did too. The wind continued at full gale for twelve hours before slowly subsiding as we approached Cedros Island the next morning.

This blog is under construction. To be cont.

How long?
Lollygagger: Sunny seventies

"How long?" We'll be in New Zealand about six months. Opua is a gorgeous spot, but the basic services are spread out over several towns and there is alsoa shortage of yacht repair facilities. An overnight sail south + two hours up river brought Argonaut to the town of Whangarei (Whong-ga-ray) wherewe can more easily whittle down the list of boat projects.

First on the list is a new mainsail. The old one is twenty years old and like most of us of a certain age - is getting a little baggy and wrinkled. The quote I recieved was a shocker. It was so reasonable I had to hide my glee at the risk of seeing the price suddenly escalate.
Wages in New Zealand are low by US standards and the Kiwi dollar is fifty eight cents to our buck. All told, the cost of living is a lot lower than I expected, especially after the pillaging we suffered in French Polynesia! Holy... #*%&#!!!

I think that the Kiwis are finally living down their near legendary reputation for serving blah cuisine. What you can't find here, though, is a good burger joint. Other than that, the meat and fish is terrific. Far ahead of the flavoured cardboard and smelly fish found in US markets. Produce is also top quality... and cheap! I've been going crazy in the galley. Mussels, rack of lamb, Snapper... Yum.

We just bought a van for exploring farther afield in the coming two months. Used vehicles are dirt cheap and I'm getting the hang of driving on the other side of the road. It was really tense for the first few days. I still turn on the wipers every time I go for the turn signals, but that just warns everyone that I'm a Yank behind the wheel!

I'll try to update the blog weekly from now on. We have a new camera and will be taking the van on a big road trip next month.

El Capitan
12/23/2008, Whangarei, New Zealand

Aotearoa: Land of theLong White Cloud

New Zealand at last! Well, we're finally here; the end of the middle of our South Pacific voyage. Time to explore a new country and renew ourselves and do some maintenance on the boat.

We left the Vava'u group in the Kingdom of Tonga November 13 at 0950. Typically, the great Easterly that sped us along for the first twenty four hours died to a zephyr and we were forced to motorsail off and on all the way to Minerva. Using this much fuel this early in the trip wasn't in the plan as we need to save all we can for the final leg to New Zealand. Ah well, at least the moon was full.

We arrived at Minerva Reef 0930 on 11/18. Minerva Reef is fabulous. Not because of any scenic beauty but simply for what and where it is; a shallow Lagoon encircled by a nearly submerged circular coral reef in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean! Seeing fourteen boats serenely anchored in the middle of the ocean is a crazy sight. The reef rises from the ocean floor of six to eight thousand feet to an almost sheer reef wall forming a coral ring three miles across and a few feet above sea level. The effect is surreal.

We could see the anchor hit bottom and watch it dig in some forty feet below asthe chain paid out along the bottom. The water in the Tuamotus was clear but this is almost transparent! The lobster here are reputed to be the size of poodles but the tides weren't cooperating so we settled for a fishing expedition the next morning. The dinghy was quickly inflated and launched. I loaded the Wind Dancer crew (Dad Chris and kids Grant and Grace) aboard little Sancho and headed for the pass towing a four inc Rapala. We didn't get half way through when the pole bent in a tight arc and the reel started singing. After a brief struggle, a nice Trevally surrendered; providing dinner for the two boats.

With the evening meal in the cooler we took the kids snorkeling near some nearby coral heads. I stayed in the dinghy while Chris and the kids donned their gear and hit the water. A few minutes later Grant's head pops up with a startled look and the cry of "Shark!" Grace needed no encouragement getting back in the dinghy; nearly overturning it in her haste to leave the lagoon to the toothy local gang. I said something about an "itty-bitty Reef Shark" and Chris replied: "Yeah, about two meters." I don't care how docile they are supposed to be. A seven foot shark gets my attention.

The wind was up the next two days. It was a great sailing breeze but we had to wait for a system farther south to clear the route. The lagoon was too choppy for dinghy rides so we just hung-out; The downside to waiting for the low to pass is the lack of wind behind it as the high pressure behind it fills in. The consolation prize was getting to New Zealand without a spanking from the weather gods.

We finally weighed anchor on 11/24 at 1100 in the company of Eagles Wings. Wind Dancer, Free Spirit and Xcaliber. The initial 15 to 20 knots leaving Minerva stayed with us, providing fast sailing in slight seas for two days before going light and coming at us from every direction; making frustrating going. They finally backed from a brisk Easterly (ideal) through North and settled into the Southwest at twenty to twenty five knots for the final twenty four hours. Wet and bumpy but better than a gale... or worse.

The Cape Brett light appeared in the pre-dawn of December 3 and we tied up to the Q dock before eight. Check-in was painless. The Kiwi officials are quick and efficient checking in the four boats on the dock before lunch. Other than the usual no-no's like eggs, chicken, etc., they were only interested in the Arizona weed seeds stuck in the netting of our tent. Refugees from our last road trip in the States before leaving Mexico.

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