Our Next 30 Years

21 April 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ
19 April 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ
16 April 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ
15 April 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ
14 April 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ
09 April 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ
01 April 2017 | Kiakoura, NZ
25 March 2017 | Te Anau, NZ
18 March 2017 | Wellington, NZ
30 November 2016 | Bay of Islands Marina, Opua, New Zealand
26 November 2016 | Bay of Islands Marina, Opua, New Zealand
05 November 2016 | Bay of Islands Marina, Opua, New Zealand
13 October 2016 | 35 18.8'S:174 07.3'E, Bay of Islands Q-Dock
12 October 2016 | 33 14.4'S:175 07.7'E, Inside NZ EEZ
11 October 2016 | 31 48.4'S:175 59.8'E, Open water
10 October 2016 | 29 55.3'S:176 46.1'E, Open water
09 October 2016 | 24 54.2'S:177 50.6'E, Open water
07 October 2016 | 24 54.2'S:177 50.6'E, Open water
06 October 2016 | 24 54.2'S:177 50.6'E, Open water
06 October 2016 | 23 13.7'S:177 09.0'E, Open water

FullCircle Looks Like a Sailboat Again!

21 April 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ
When we pulled the boat out of the water the end of last year, we also took the mast down so that the boat could go undercover inside the BlueFix Boatworks boatshed. With the mast down the boat kind of looses its identify of a sailboat. Now that the boat is back in the water, the mast is back up and FullCircle has her identity back as a sailboat vs a motorboat (or as they say in NZ a yacht vs a launch). The mast stepping day was delayed a bit due to Cyclone Cook, but we had a nice blue sky morning and little wind to get the job done. Just like when we took the mast down, the boat was tied along side the wharf for this ceremony. Hoisting the mast up and setting it down on the boat looks a lot scarier than it really is, and Paul from NZ Yacht Services made it all look easy - no drama.

While the mast was down we end-for-ended a few halyards, rebedded one of the sheaves that I had installed up in the air that wasn’t exactly flush, and fixed the main halyard sheave pin so it would not rotate when the sheave turned. We also replaced the Maretron WSO100 weather station that had failed (Maretron refurbished our unit so we didn’t have to buy a new one). With the mast down we also took the opportunity to polish it (its an anodized aluminum mast). It had been 5 years since it was last cleaned and polished and was in pretty good condition actually. Paul gave us the tip of also polishing the VHF antenna to improve its efficiency. The polish of choice here seems to be Prism, and we have been very happy with how well it works on the aluminum and stainless steel. No other issues were identified with the in depth inspection of the mast and rigging while it was down.

With the mast back standing the rig was “tuned”. Paul recommended going a touch tighter on the rig tension to make sure the Harken furler headstay foil didn’t sag too much. He explained that these units tend to break at the joins when the rig is too loose. This happened to us several years ago, but we never got an explanation of why.

I am now busy putting all the turning blocks back in place, running halyards, etc so that we can put the sails back on the boat - then we will not just look like a sailboat, but we will actually be able to sail!

(Thanks to Bridget Gifford for the picture!)

Better Now Than Later ….

19 April 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ
The other night we had a critical piece of cruising gear fail on us. It highlighted (once again) the importance of preventive maintenance and operational checks before heading "out there". It seems that it is so easy to take equipment for granted - it worked the last time I used it, why shouldn’t it work the next time? The marine environment is brutal, and takes its toll on everything. I’ve talked before about the approach of fixing things when they break vs practicing an approach of regular preventive maintenance. Part of the challenge of a preventive maintenance program is knowing the typical lifetimes of your equipment, and what to look for that is an indicator that something needs to be replaced and/or serviced. That is part of the learning curve for each of those critical pieces of equipment. Part of our annual checks as we are getting ready for a new cruising season is to go through an operational check with the equipment to make sure it is working as it should. Such was the case the other night when I set up the portable BBQ (7 year old Weber Baby-Q) so we could grill some chicken.

While the grill lit off just fine (it is gas-fired), it never really came up to temperature, and we had to settle for cooking the chicken in the oven (a Plan B is always good with critical gear). The next day as I checked out the failed equipment, I realized that had I been properly inspecting the stainless steel burner tube, I would have spotted the numerous clogged holes (gas jets). And, if I had lifted the aluminum GrillGrates that I cook on and inspected the cast iron grating beneath them, I surely would have noticed that it was “oxidizing” at a noticeable rate, raining down on the burner tube. But I didn’t. Instead, I just saw a well used (and loved) Weber Baby-Q grill, whose porcelain-covered aluminum body and plastic feet and handles were in otherwise fine working condition in the marine environment.

I cleaned off the “oxidation” from the grating and opened up all the jets in the burner tube. While not at 100%, it should hold us until I can get a replacement burner tube and grating (not spares currently kept on-board). Thank heavens we discovered the failure now while we can still do something about it - I couldn’t imagine trying to go through a cruising season without the BBQ!

While We Were Away …

16 April 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ
While we were back home catching up with family (and learning Tai Chi) in Austin, FullCircle was out of the water and sitting in the BlueFix Boatworks shed. Prior to leaving we had identified a number of things to have done while we were away. The list included 1) removing and repairing the stbd motor damaged when seawater shorted out the motor controllers, 2) replacing the battery banks (both 12VDC house batteries and the 144VDC propulsion batteries), 3) replacing the standoffs for the sailing hardware, 4) applying new non-skid on the decks, 5) adding a stiffener in each hull, 6) repainting the outside ceiling of the coachroof (over the backporch, 7) fine tuning the aft hatch closure to reduce water coming in during heavy seas, 8) repairing the NN3D Black Box that failed on our return trip from Fiji, and 9) repairing a window seal that had failed from an earlier leak. Brad and Charlotte from BlueFix and Ben from Mckay saw to it that everything was taken care of.

Repairing the damaged stbd motor was our top priority. Ben took care of things on this side of the world while Matt (our original systems integrator for the propulsion system) worked closely with Homewood Industries (the motor manufacturer) to see that the motor got repaired in a timely manner in the US. I want to emphasize that the damaged motor was not any kind of design or manufacturing flaw. But everyone recognized that without their help we could not get the boat functioning again. They could not have been better to have supporting us.

We knew from our tests at the beginning of last years cruising season that we would likely want to replace our batteries for this season. The tests we ran confirmed that, so we had to make a decision as to the replacement batteries. While we considered the new lithium technology, ultimately we choose to stay with what we knew - our Discover AGM batteries. While the lifetime costs of the lithium batteries may be equal or less than the AGMs, the initial investment is substantially greater (2-3X) for the lithium technology once you consider the batteries, battery management system, and replacement chargers, etc. The Discover batteries had performed quite well for us, especially given the abuse they received.

At the end of our first cruising season it was apparent that the hardwood standoffs that had been used to mount the solar panels and sailing hardware to the decks were failing. We replaced the solar panel standoffs after the first season. We limped along trying to put band-aides on the others until finally last year we replaced the standoff for the self-tacking jib track. BlueFix did a very cost effective job of molding a new standoff, so this year we replaced the standoffs for all the other sailing hardware. Wow, what a difference - they look great, and are structurally very sound.

The original non-skid was failing (the grit was coming off) in some places and was badly stained in others. Since the boat was a) going to be inside the shed for all the other work and b) the standoffs for the deck hardware were being replaced, it seemed like it was a good time to have this done (see how that logic works?). The boat looks brand new with the new non-skid on the deck!

Last year when I had Brad assess the boat to make sure that the hull was sound after our Pacific crossing, he concluded that everything was in good shape, but recommended adding a stiffening piece in each hull along an otherwise long unsupported section of the hull. He felt that since the bulkheads at the front and back of the hull sections had been cut back significantly for the doorways, adding these stiffeners would be a good thing for the long term stiffness of the boat. They did a great job of adding these with minimal impact to the wall covering and flooring. It would be hard to tell that they had been added if you didn’t know otherwise.

The textured paint on the underside of our coachroof over the backporch had begun to fail (chipping areas growing larger and larger). This old textured paint was removed and a non-textured flat paint applied to reduce glare. It looks great.

Last year they made some improvements to our aft locker hatch covers to try and prevent water from leaking into the lockers in heavy seas. While the changes were certainly improvements, we still had significant amounts of water get into the lockers in the 4-5m seas we encountered going to Fiji. After looking at the situation from inside the lockers (yes, I made Cindy get in the locker while I threw buckets of water at the hatch cover), we discovered that we needed to add a “dam” across the rear of the locker to promote a tighter fit with the hatch cover. Hopefully this will solve our problem for the future.

Our NN3D BB (black box) chart plotter gave us a blue screen last year on the return trip from Fiji to NZ. Interestingly we had a number of other cruisers have to replace or repair their 5 year old chart plotters during the season as well. The culprit for us turned out to be a bad video card. These systems have much shorter life-times than I would like to see - built-in obsolescence is alive and well in the marine electronics industry!

During our first season we had some water leaks around our large fixed windows. Over time we were able to address these leaks. Unfortunately some damage was done by the water that only became evident last year. Brad was able to isolate the problem area, but we determined that to properly fix the issue required removing and re-bedding the window. Since the window was not leaking at that time we decided to put this repair off for some future time. With the boat out of the water and inside the shed, now was the time to get this issue out of the way. With all of the rain we have had since splashing the boat it is clear that the window is bedded well with no leaks!

This was obviously a big list of items to have addressed while we were gone. Brad, Charlotte and Ben spent time with us prior to our going back to Austin to define exactly what we wanted to do, what was important to us, etc. Estimates were provided for the work and a schedule established to have the work done prior to our return. Along the way Charlotte provided me weekly updates, we talked by phone as necessary and they provided pictures as the work progressed. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel being able to work with these guys. Not only are they technically competent, skilled craftsmen, but they truly care about customer service.

A bonus from our decision to haul the boat was the fact that 1) the dollars we would have spent on having the boat in the marina berth was used instead to pay for work performed on the boat, and 2) we avoided having to haul the boat to have the bottom re done. Other cruisers and locals as well have been amazed at how bad the marine growth has been the last several years. They do not allow you to dive on your boat to clean the bottom in the Bay of Islands, so your only real option is to haul the boat to have the bottom cleaned. The growth has been so bad that most people have to repaint. That was one thing I was happy to avoid doing this season!

Something New to Keep Us Nimble - Tai Chi

15 April 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ
Last year I made a decision that I wanted to look into Tai Chi as something to do in my “spare” time. I had seen people gracefully going through the movements during my many trips to San Francisco and briefly in movies (The Intern comes to mind), but I had never had the opportunity to take a class. When we returned to Austin this past year for the Holidays, I looked around and was pleased to find a class that met nearby our house. I found that they had a free introductory beginners class each week and checked it out. While I quickly realized that my "form" in no way resembled the grace of those I had watched, and that I could hardly repeat, let alone remember a move that was demonstrated for me three times by the instructor, I found it both relaxing and fun. I immediately had a whole new appreciation watching our grand-daughter at her dance recitals as she and her young group of dancers followed along with their instructor!

I signed up as a member of Taoist Tai Chi Society of Texas (an international organization), and continued attending the introductory classes until a new beginners class started the first of the year. Cindy decided to go with me and attend a class just to see what it was like, and decided that she also wanted to participate and become a member. For those of you unfamiliar with Tai Chi, while it was at one time a martial art, today it is also a series of movements for physical (health) conditioning and meditation. I was amazed at the numerous health benefits from practicing Tai Chi. A set consists of 108 movements. Additionally there are Foundation Exercises that can be performed. Learning is through observation and following along and watching others. New participants are given a place of honor in the middle of the group, not so the others can watch you fumbling along, but so you can easily watch and follow them. I quickly realized that we were not going to come anywhere close to learning the entire 108 moves (taught over a four month period), so I set a goal of learning the first 17 so that while on the boat we would have something to do, along with the foundation exercises. When we left to return to the boat, we had learned the first 35 moves!

While there are Taoist Tai Chi classes here in NZ, unfortunately, there are none nearby. That said, Cindy and I have been pretty good about finding time 3-4 days a week to practice the movements we know and perform the exercises. This usually means being outside in the evenings and fighting off the sand flies - which can be challenging while doing the movements. And, doing it on a dock can certainly place a premium inducement to not loose your balance. We did have the opportunity to join in a Tai Chi class in Tauranga. We didn’t really appreciate how much we missed being able to participate with a class, so this was a treat. The folks in Tauranga reminded us of our group of people in Austin that we enjoyed so much.

Hopefully by the time we return to Austin next November we will not have picked up too many bad habits, and we will be able to finish learning the entire set. We really are thankful for our classmates and instructors in Austin for their patience in teaching us and being so friendly. We miss doing Tai Chi with you guys!

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together ....

14 April 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ
We arrived back “home” in Opua late afternoon April 9, with the boat scheduled to get splashed the morning of April 11. That gave me a day to do all the “little things” on my standing list for when the boat is out of the water, as well as for Cindy and I to load all our “stuff” aboard that returned with us from Austin, and the “stuff” that went with us land touring. We also did a quick check of our “repaired” stbd motor to confirm that we had both Port and Stbd motors available for maneuvering. Late afternoon the Bluefix Boatworks staff came on-board for a whirlwind clean-up. The next morning when we arrived they were back at it, and the boat trailer was in place loading us up. As the boat pulled out of the shed, the water hoses came on for a quick wash down top to bottom. Because of the tight quarters the boat was backed the entire way to the boat ramp - no small feat! The launch went just the way you want it - no issues. FullCircle looks so much better in the water - where it belongs!

A quick check of the bilges showed that the water was where it was supposed to be - outside the boat. Before leaving the dock, there were several things I wanted to do. First I wanted to do the dock side test on the repaired motor, and I wanted to make sure the genset was operational. Our first “oops” occurred when I tried to run the genset without opening the fuel supply and return line. In my defense, I had never closed these valves before when we laid up the boat - but I must have this time! Apparently when the genset runs out of fuel the speed slows down to the point where the oil pressure falls and then the system turns off giving an oil pressure fault. I confirmed that we had oil and no leaks. I turned to the folks at SeaPower for help and as we talked through things I realized that while I had confirmed that the raw water valves were open, I had never checked the fuel lines! After bleeding air out of the fuel lines we did finally get the genset running again. I won’t do that again (at least not any time soon). The next oops came when we ran the repaired stbd motor up at the dock. What we found was that the two motors that comprise the one big motor were not working together - one was doing most all of the work. A quick check of the motor controllers showed that they were not set up the same, but we had been told that they were correct as sent from the vendor. After conferring with the System Integrator, we confirmed that both were suppose to be set the same (which they weren’t).

We were able to get off the dock at the launch ramp and over to our assigned berth on one of the new docks and get all settled in. This was a good thing because out to the NE Cyclone Cook was on its way to visit NZ. The rains arrived that night after Cindy had gone to bed. The good news is that in Opua, we only saw two days of rain, and no strong winds. The storm made landfall in the Coromandel Peninsula, well south of us, with 70kt winds and far more rain than what we saw. The only real bad news for us was that we missed our originally scheduled day to stand the mast. All in all things went very well thanks to the hard work from our good friends at BlueFix Boatworks! As they say, timing is everything and we got the boat back in the water the one day in the week when it didn’t rain.

All Good Things ...

09 April 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ
Our drive north to Blenheim went better than expected, but it was still the longest drive of our trip. We had the Daylight Savings time change (fall back) working for us, so that made for an early start. Blenheim is in the Marlborough Wine Region. We had driven through the west side of this area when we arrived in Picton and left for Abel Tasman. Since we weren’t able to enjoy the wine due to the drive, we were looking forward to enjoying a bit of the wine country on this return trip. Our accommodations (St Leonards Cottages) were outstanding. The area was an old sheep station that had been converted to cottages - all in the middle of vineyards today. From the trees, to the gardens and fruit trees, and the farm animals it was fabulous walking around the grounds.

Unfortunately, the remnants of Cyclone Debbie were approaching NZ after slamming the Gold Coast of Australia, and we knew our good weather was about to change. The good news was that even with the spitting rain, cold, wind and no sun, we could enjoy what we had planned for the day! Since we didn’t want to start the wine tasting until at least noon (we are light weights), we spent the morning at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Center. The air field here is the second oldest in NZ, and a group of aviation enthusiasts wanted to exhibit their restored aircraft. Sir Peter Jackson heard about their efforts and approached them to see if they would be interested in including his private collection of WWI aircraft. He brought the creativity of his movie production studio and the genius of the Weta Workshop to the table, and the exhibits certainly reflect it. I walked into the exhibit and my mouth dropped. This was really special. After a great lunch - and lots of wine tasting - we finished the day off at the Makana Chocolate Shop!

I was concerned about the weather for our crossing of the Cook Straits, but while the winds were starting up, the rain was light and the sea-state wasn’t too bad. I would have hated to have been on the ferry the next day, with the gale warnings and heavy rains that were forecast! We knew what to expect dealing with all of our “stuff” and it went a lot easier transferring to and from the rental cars than the first time. The weather forecasts were looking grim for the SW coast of the North Island - which was exactly where we were headed! Half-way to Whanganui they started reporting that SH4 was closed due to flooding. Luckily we were not going to enter the city on SH4! That night we received an email from friends who were in Wellington saying they were delaying their trip to Whanganui because there were reports of people being evacuated due to the flooding?

Due to the forecast for increasing rains on the west coast of the North Island, we changed our plans and moved back towards the east coast. One of our possible routes was closed due to flooded roads, so we back-tracked a bit and took an alternate route. Rivers were swollen, and there were areas where “slips” blocked part of a lane, but we had no real problems reaching Rotorua - a geothermal area. Although the day was a wash-out, we enjoyed meeting up with friends from SV Good As Gold and enjoying lunch and ice-cream. And, since we were in a renown geothermal area, we took a mineral bath. Overnight rains were torrential! We continued on to Taranga, with a quick stop at Okere Falls, which after two days of rain was awesome. This is normally a rafting area, but not with the water flowing like this! Once in Taranga we treated ourselves to a Tai Chi class (more on this later), and a walk up Mount Maunganui - well we made it halfway or so before the wind and rain sent us scrambling back down. Even with the overcast, the views were impressive. That evening we got to catch-up and have dinner with a friend from SV Oceanna.

The next day brought us blue skies and warm temperatures as we took off for the Caramandel Penensula. We had a great walk to Cathedral Cove. The last 10 meters was a mess from the rains, and the Park Rangers eventually decided that they needed to close the track. Luckily this was after we had the opportunity to do the walk. The cliffs and rock structures were stunning. It would have been a great place to paddleboard or kayak, if we had the opportunity. Along the way we also stopped off at Stingray Bay and got to see several swimming in the water close to shore. Eventually we made our way to Thames for the night. Saturday markets are always fun in NZ and Thames did not disappoint. Cindy did her best to keep everyone in business, but eventually we left for Whangarei. Unfortunately the rains returned, but we made the best of it and were able to see friends from SV Whistler and have dinner with friends from SV Good As Gold.

After a tour of the Catham National Clock Museum, and a walk between rain showers to Whangarei Falls we were back in the car and on our way “home” to Opua in the beautiful Bay of Islands. Our first month back to NZ has been a fun one, but now our focus turns from land touring to getting the boat back in the water - and ready for our voyage to Fiji.
Vessel Name: Full Circle
Vessel Make/Model: 50' cruising catamaran designed by Garry Lidgard
Hailing Port: Austin, Texas
Crew: David and Cindy Balfour
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S/V FullCircle

Who: David and Cindy Balfour
Port: Austin, Texas