Rapturous!

20 March 2021 | Mt. Cook Village
04 March 2021 | Queensland
24 February 2021 | Bay of Islands Marina, Opua
26 January 2021 | Bay of Islands marina, Opua
13 January 2021 | Marsden Cove Marina
26 December 2020
23 December 2020 | Otaio Bay
23 November 2020 | Opua Marina, NZ
20 November 2020 | 180 miles to Opua
19 November 2020 | 300 miles to Opua
16 November 2020
15 November 2020
14 November 2020
13 November 2020
12 November 2020
05 November 2020 | Port Denarau Marina, Fiji
22 October 2020 | Viti Levu, Fiji
18 October 2020 | Musket Cove, Fiji
06 October 2020 | Viti Levu, Fiji
28 September 2020 | Yasawas Islands

Escape to the South Island

20 March 2021 | Mt. Cook Village
Susan Wells
One of the many valleys in the Southern Alps

It was 10:00pm on Saturday night, the 27th of February, when we were startled awake by our phones alerting us to another lockdown in Auckland, this time for 7 days! A 21 year old boy with symptoms had taken himself in to be tested and then had gone to the gym, the supermarket and a fast food joint while he waited for the results. He tested positive. Taking no chances, the lockdown was declared after most people had retired for the night, set to begin at 6:00am the next morning. We had a flight the next day from Auckland to Wellington which would probably be canceled. Greg looked at me blearily and said, "We've got to go now or we wont be able to get around Auckland!" We were already all packed with our luggage in the car. We just needed to pack toiletries and lock up the boat. By 10:30 we were on the road.

Of course, it was raining and it seemed as if everyone in Auckland was fleeing North before the lockdown deadline while we were trying to get South of the city. We faced a long drive on wet, narrow roads with headlights blinding us expecting every moment to encounter a roadblock preventing us from transiting. If we got stopped we wouldn't make the reservation to hike the Milford Track. This track has been on our bucket list for over 20 years. We had to cancel once already last year when we realized in French Polynesia that we would not get to New Zealand in time. Once again, like we did in Chile getting back to the boat just in time and in Tahiti when we fled to Fiji without knowing whether New Zealand would let us in, COVID required us to make an instant decision based on incomplete information. We were determined to achieve this goal at all costs. And it ended up costing us a lot!

We arrived in Hamilton, comfortably south of Auckland at 3:30am, still in the rain. Since we hadn't stopped at all in the COVID positive region we felt safe. We pulled into a truck stop for two hours of sleep in the front seat of the car under the glaring lights of the gas station. Greg couldn't sleep. He was finding out if we could get a refund on our plane ticket and investigating what the penalty would be for not dropping off our rental car. Air New Zealand was wonderful. They gave us a credit for the full amount of the plane ticket to be used any time in the next year. The rental company was just the opposite. We were supposed to drop it off at the airport but then we would have been trapped in the city and would have had to stay there for at least 7 days. No! Our only recourse was to drive the rental car to Wellington, 325 miles so we could catch the ferry to the South Island the next day. The penalty was almost 3 times as much as the cost of the original 4 day rental contract. To add injury to insult Greg got a speeding ticket on the empty highway over the volcanic plateau. We arrived in Wellington in the mid afternoon and gratefully checked into the Travelodge for a well deserved nap.

We picked up our campervan in Picton as scheduled. It's about half the size of the boat and drives like a bus. While it has everything we need to be self-contained for several days, the systems are not as sophisticated and it is not as comfortable. However, it works. We took 3 days to get to Queenstown stopping in at Christchurch to see Peter and Banu on their boat Denise II on the way. Too rushed, but we had a schedule to keep and we will explore more after the hikes.

The Milford Track lived up to its reputation especially when it's done as a guided walk staying in the lodges at night and having someone else cook plentiful meals with wine or a beer at the end of the day. We were very lucky with the weather, experiencing the McKinnon Pass in clear, but cold, weather. It is 33.5 miles for 5 days but the main hiking is only three days. You walk into the U-shaped valley through old growth forests and wetlands. Then you climb 17 switchbacks up over the pass, and then knee-achingly down into the Milford Sound valley. Finally, you walk down the glacial valley again through forest and past hanging waterfalls to the sea. What struck me most is how empty the country is. There are no native mammals so no wildlife. No chipmunks or squirrels. It's eerie, like being in a ruined abbey. The introduced species are nocturnal so we never saw them except an occasional rabbit. This is a country of birds but they have been decimated by the invasive species. Even the Kea, the mountain parrots, are scarce. Check out the photos, below.

















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In my opinion, not shared by many, the Grand Traverse Routeburn Track was more interesting. Again we took the guided option with a smaller group and again, we had exceptional weather. Perhaps this was why I preferred the track. In bad weather all you see is cloud. Very seldom do you get to take pictures like this. Here a a short video clip at Harris saddle on the Routeburn courtesy of Martin Bird, one of our hiking companions on the trek:



Here are also some photo highlights of the trek:





















Along every track in New Zealand there are rectangular box traps to catch stoats or possums. Only occasionally have I seen or smelled a dead animal. Far more are killed on the roads. In the early morning, great Australasian Harrier Hawks come to grab the carcases often becoming road kill themselves.

We went to the Mt. Cook area recovering from the above mentioned treks. Instead of walking we took a helicopter flight to see the glaciers. Here is Mt. Cook in all her glory.























We will continue exploring the South Island until April 7 when we will return to the boat. The cabin sole should be finished and Rapture will be livable again looking beautiful with her new floor and new upholstery. There are still a few projects to complete but we should be able to do a little sailing before the winter rains begin.

We did one last note worthy hike in Wanaka. The trek up to Roy's peak; a 4200 feet vertical climb, but the views were amazing.









Check out more photos on this post in the gallery from our excursion of the South Island.

Earthquakes

04 March 2021 | Queensland
Susan Wells | Raining again
For those who are concerned, we are fine. We are on the South Island in Queenstown. The boat is in the Bay of Islands in Opua on the North Island but far enough into the Bay that the tsunami couldn't affect it.

There was a swarm of quakes, the first at 2:30 in the morning registering 7.3 near the East Cape of the North Island. The largest, registering 8.1 was in the Kermadec Island about 1000 miles North of NZ. That last one was supposed to trigger the tsunami but there were only mild wave surges. No damage has been reported from the quakes.

North Island Exploration

24 February 2021 | Bay of Islands Marina, Opua
Susan Wells
Mount Ngauruhoe from the crater wall of Tongariro
Our North Island trip started, of course, in Auckland. Every major road South from Northland goes through Auckland which is why, when there's a lockdown in New Zealand's biggest city, the whole North Island is affected. Auckland is all set up to host the America's Cup races. Each team competing has its own hangers next to the docks where the boats are pulled out of the water at night because not a speck of algy can settle on its hull to slow them down. We saw one boat, maybe 60 feet long, hanging from a crane having its hull power washed. This boat is much bigger than Rapture but it looked like a toy hanging in its cradle. Posters and bunting hang everywhere and TVs in bars and restaurants blare ads featuring the boats that fly. They are truly amazing. However, the pandemic has cramped the excitement. The expected crowds have not arrived. Between races, the hotels are almost empty. It was eerie at our Travelodge being the only guests on our floor. We could not find a coffee shop open at 7:30 in the morning. The traffic in the city was silent by 9:30pm. And then, four days after we left Auckland a family came down with Covid. These were the first community cases in New Zealand since August last year and it has had ripple effects throughout our trip.

After Auckland we drove to Hamilton where we absolutely had to visit Hobbiton. Again, it was not overrun by tourists; there were just 10 people on our tour bus. It is a lovely place, peaceful and bucolic and easy to visualize Frodo,Sam and the Sackville Bagginses running around. We also visited the Hamilton Gardens, highly recommended, and the Waitomo caves where we had just three of us in the group. Having the place almost to ourselves to marvel at the glow worm galaxies on the cave roof was just magical.


In the Surrealist section of the Hamilton Gardens





Frodo's hobbit hole

Perspective studies for the little Hobbits and Giant wizard

Outside the Green Dragon

The ale only come in half pints

Now was time for the big adventure. We met with John and Janet (from Tango) to climb the Tongariro Crossing trail. This trail is 19.4 km across an an active volcano steaming and smoking where the footage for Mount Doom was filmed. It's a day hike so no packs necessary and the trail is well maintained with steps and boardwalks. There are three parts to this hike. First the Devil's staircase 697 steps up the side of the volcano. From the top we could see the string of volcanos marching West tracing the hotspot on this edge of the tectonic plate. Then we walked across the crater surrounded by lumpy piles of pitch black lava where Sam and Frodo hid from the Orcks in the movie. The last part was sliding down the talus slope and then walking endlessly down switchback after switchback until we slipped gratefullly into the Podocarp forest at the base. It took us 8 hours to walk the twelve miles. We were relieved that we still can do this after all the sitting around on the boat. Normally it would be very crowded with large groups and a continuous stream of hikers strung along the whole trail but we experienced only one large group. All the hikers were going the same direction so we hardly noticed the company.


Greg with a ranger cut-out

Crossing the Central crater of Tongariro


Emerald Lakes
The Covid case in Auckland broke out just as we came off the mountain. John and Janet had to skedaddle back to Tango in Marsden Cove before the 3-day lockdown went into effect at midnight.Only the city was affected so we spent the time nursing our sore feet and muscles at a lovely Airbnb where Anne, the proprietor, made us a delicious home cooked roast chicken dinner with two huge bowls of vegetables (You know how you miss vegetables when you're traveling!) and visiting the open air geothermal features around Taupo. Day three was a long drive all the way over to the East coast to Lake Waikaremoana (Why-curry-moo-ana) for our next adventure.There was a front expected and we wanted to get there before the rain.

It started raining just as we showed up at the Holiday Park (camping/caravan park) after a windy, bumpy drive over mostly gravel roads. We'd booked into the Fisherman's cabin, a tiny one room hut with a microwave, an electric frying pan and a kettle. What more could you want? We nabbed a half dozen eggs at the local general store and cooked up a scrambled eggs on toast with Chipotle in Adobo sauce bought at a fancy import store in Hamilton. With a bottle of Chianti (corkscrew required) we were set for the night while the rain fell straight and heavy outside.

And it was still bucketing down the next morning. Rather than head out in the deluge, we changed our reservations to stay an extra night in the Fisherman's cottage. In normal times we would never have been able to get a vacancy at such short notice but once again, there was plenty of availability. We spent all day in our little hut, without internet, watching the rain and reading, gearing up for the climb the next day.

The trail starts by climbing 2000 feet in 5 miles. It was still drizzling and the mud was thick but most of the climb is through thick old growth forest, so we didn't have to deal with the wind or horizontal rain. This climb is made worthwhile by the magnificent views but all we saw was cloud. We enjoyed the huge trees covered with epiphytes and lichens and the gloomy tangle of undergrowth smelling of wet earth and humus. Bats are the only native mammals in New Zealand. Possums, for their fur and stoats to control rabbits, (and rats and cats and dogs) have been introduced and they are decimating the bird population. These old growth rain forests are habitat for rare Kiwis, flightless parrots and green pigeons but the rain was keeping most of the birds undercover so the forest was very quiet and still. The good part was that the trail was short and that there is the hut Panekire at the top. Well, the hut was dry at least, and had mattresses on the bunks. When we arrived, it was cold and dank with wet clothes hanging everywhere as people took shelter for the night. Fortunately, one of them was a hero and went out to find semi dry wood to start the fire. Soon, the hut warmed up and people started cooking on their camping stoves and talking to one another. Billy, the outdoorsman from Invercargill in the extreme South of New Zealand even produced gin and a plastic soda stream device to make tonic which he very kindly shared with us. After a dinner of reconstituted freeze-dried "food", we retreated to our warm sleeping bags to rest our sore muscles. With ear plugs, we were soon asleep.


The next day was downhill all the way. Fortunately, our knees held out but the toe nails took a beating again. It was only a three hour hike so we were the first to arrive at the lake level hut by lunch time. This hut was much cleaner and in better repair than Panekire. It had stopped raining and the sun was out. We spent the afternoon basking on the beach, watching the black swans and coots and sleeping in the quiet. People started arriving at around 4:00pm and immediately stripped off and went swimming. I really regretted not bringing a swimsuit. This time Greg performed fire duty and made everyone happy until bedtime.


Into the wild

Old growth forest

Our rewarding view from the Panekire Hut


What the view would have been like on a clearer day

The map showed that our next leg was 17km over flat terrain next to the lake. Huh! Not so much. The trail was a constant up and down over ridges with rocks and streams and muddy patches to negotiate. The big rivers had suspension bridges and the swamps had boardwalks but the infrastructure is starting to show wear. Although this is classified as a Great Walk, it is not maintained as well as some of the more famous hikes (that we will do on our South Island adventure in March), Being day three, our feet and shoulders were sore, but our packs were lighter as we ate through our supplies. The Waiharuru hut was awesome and (or because) it had a warden. He greeted arriving hikers and showed them around, enjoying the conversations and interactions. In the evening, he patrolled, looking out for Kiwi birds and showing anyone who was interested the nature in the area. The sleeping dormitory is separate from the dining shelter so it is much quieter except when people come back from dinner forgetting that someone might be sleeping. Earplugs are a necessity.


Suspension bridge over the river
Finally, we walked out early the next morning. We only had two hours to walk to meet the water taxi that would take us back to the Holiday Park where we had left our car. We were able to take a quick shower before driving to our next Airbnb in Napier where we found out that the lockdown in Auckland had been lifted because contact tracing and testing had discoved a cluster the high school. The whole high school was closed and all students told to self isolate. We treated ourselves to a late lunch at the Mission Winery, hence the need for a shower. After all the freeze dried food, the rich lamb chops and wine was delicious but a bit of a shock on the digestive system.

Our last stop was Wellington. What a great city. It is compact enough to walk to all the sights, including the National Te Papa museum and the botanical garden at the top of the funicular. On the last day, a new cluster of cases was discovered and we spent a nervous 24 hours wondering if Auckland would lockdown gain and cut us off from the boat. There's much more to discover and if we're not trapped in Northland, we will have that opportunity when we go through Wellington on the way to the South Island in March.

Check out the gallery for more pictures from this recent excursion away from Rapture

Refit

26 January 2021 | Bay of Islands marina, Opua
Susan Wells
Refit

Playtime over, we went back to refit in Opua. This is no fun. Imagine living in a remodel of the whole (tiny) house inside and out with the mess invading every space. There's no privacy; people are banging and sanding and spraying noxious chemicals that get on my herbs and fruit and potentially our lungs. The good news is that it is happening fast and in two weeks we leave for a road trip around the North Island so not much longer.

This round of refit is to the standing rigging, the brightwork, and the upholstery all at the same time. The mast had to be removed, the cushions in the salon are gone and we have to step carefully on the deck.










Pulling the Mast

If you can't beat them, join them. I uncrated the sailrite and sewed the cushions for the princess seat and next, I will repair the dinghy chaps.



Meanwhile, we walk in the hills, make short trips in our rental car to surrounding towns and watch the antics of the racing boats who have invaded the marina during race week.



In search of wine

13 January 2021 | Marsden Cove Marina
Susan Wells


After a lovely two weeks in the Bay of Island we came into Marsden Cove marina on New Year's Eve. Besides Fiji, New Zealand would be the first country to welcome in the New Year. Unlike most of the world, 2020 has not been bad for us but we join the majority in hoping that next year will be better.

Our ever supportive friends, John and Janet on Tango met us at the dock and caught our lines. How fabulous to have friends in foreign places. They not only caught our lines, but they invited us to a New Year's Eve dock party with folks they have known all through the lockdown, when no one was allowed to go anywhere. They have built a close community in the year they've been "stuck" in New Zealand. It's almost like home for them except, Iike all of us nomads, being unable to see family. It was a quiet relaxed party on a homebuilt "barge", drinking bubbly and eating great food. We didn't last long having just come in off the ocean. By 9:30pm, just half an hour after Cruisers' midnight, we were asleep.

Well, of course, no sooner do you reach dock, than you start fixing things. This time it was the windlass that needed servicing. Greg had not been able to take it apart and he prevailed upon the master engineer, John, to help him. Hmmm.... There was a reason he couldn't pull it apart. After a full day of banging , wrenching and blowtorching, they discovered that it had corroded and seized up completely, apparently because the parts had not been greased when they were installed. The whole machine, only 4 years old, will need to be replaced. But, not then because we were going wine tasting.

The four of us had planned a 5 day escape to Hawkes Bay, home to the best New Zealand red wines.It's an eight hour drive South with stops for breakfast at Eutopia, a Gaudi inspired cafe on the highway.



The word "highway is used advisedly. We travelled highway 1, a single lane, windy trail with frequent passing lanes. New Zealanders are renowned for being laid back and kind, but not behind a wheel. 20 km above the speed limit was normal and passing lanes became a race track when as many cars as would fit squeezed in front of the slower traffic on the left. John drove the whole way. We pulled into Napier at about 4:00pm and he announced that we would stop at the nearest "cellar door" - wine tasting room which happened to be Urban wineries right in the middle of town. This place looked like a San Francisco foodie haven decorated as a winery but as it turned out, their resident vintner is John Bish who specializes in Chardonnays. (We came for red wines, didn't we?) An hour later, we walked out, well satisfied, with two bottles of Fat and Sassy, a bright, buttery Chardonnay.

We had booked a farm stay B&B for the three nights. It was way off the beaten track, next to the Ngaruroro river and in the center of Gimblett Gravels terroir. Having done some research, we were happy to find that we were just a short drive to some famous (still to be discovered by us) wineries. The farmhouse was relatively new having been transplanted from Wellington 2 years previously. Our hosts were a young couple trying to make a go of a hay crop while working off the farm and hosting guests. Tough work and they were charming. The farm came with 3 dogs and 10 adorable 4-week-old puppies that won our hearts immediately.



Good thing we both live on boats. Despite the rural surroundings there was a very good outdoor pizza place and brewery nearby called God's Own Pizza with picnic benches set under the hops trellis.

The next day, I had found a great hiking trail. I thought we'd all benefit from a bit of exercise after being in the car all day. However, the drive to the trail head was an hour and a half, the last bit on gravel roads. John was not impressed. But it was so worth it. The hike was a steep hour and a half up, through forest and then across grassland ridges working out all the kinks and pizza in our bodies. As we reached the top of the ridge, the wind hit us making us all speculate as to its speed given that we had no sails, white caps or waves for clues. Our guesses ranged from 20 to 35 knots. Hmmm...it's harder on land.






On the way down we passed a Department of Conservation protected area surrounded by a fine wire mesh fence that was topped with a metal half pipe bolted to the fence. This protected area was a nesting area for the sea birds. The fence was to keep predators out. On our walks, we've seen evidence of a massive effort to eradicate invasive wildlife like stoats and possums as well as invasive plants. We have also anchored in bays that are "no-take" marine sanctuaries where no fishing or shellfish gathering is allowed. There is a strong environmental movement here which is refreshing after seeing the depredations in French Polynesia and Fiji that the Islanders can't afford to fix.

The day finished with a stop for wine tasting at Crab Farm wineries where we picked up a bottle of delicious pinotage, a typical South African cultivar. Finally we had dinner, after changing, at a fancy restaurant that specialized in locally raised free range beef and lamb and home grown vegetables with more wine. Oh dear, and the next day we would do it again.

We're used to waking up early, but you can't go wine tasting at 8:00am so we walked down through the farm to the river. The path is not clear but the dogs led us down, excited to frolic in the water and spray us with their shakes. On the way back we looked into an old shed where there was an ancient vehicle skeleton still with its cereal box size gas tank and wooden steering wheel. John claimed that it was a Model A frame and got dreamy-eyed at the thought of restoring it.

Now we could go wine tasting. The first vineyard was a commercial cooperative where we found a Esk Valley cab Sauv that went home with us. Lunch was at Oak Estate where the wines were forgettable but the whole grain bread was fresh and crusty. Finally, we headed for Craggy Range, not realizing that this was the place where celebrities arrived by helicopter and big weddings took place. Fortunately, we did not have reservations for a wine tasting (really?) so we drove to the top of Te Mata peak and watched rain storms sweep across the land.



It had been a busy day, but we needed to eat. Our hosts recommended one more winery that served food only two minutes drive from the farm. Hawkes Ridge is one of those hidden gems, originally an olive farm, serving pizza and unconventional wines. These guys didn't charge a tasting fee and served out 6 varieties of whites and reds including a tempranillo but their best part was their story. During the lockdown, Hawkes Ridge remained open in this rural area miles away from stores. They made pizza for pick-up by the locals, suspending tastings, leaving boxes on a table to provide contactless pick-up. Carolyn, the proprietor, who personally manned the tasting room, said she'd never made so many pizzas in her life and now her community comes after a hard day in the fields to get dinner, exchange gossip and maybe take a quick glass of warmth. Amazingly, Bob, her husband, had sailed on the Chesapeake Bay with a commander in the coastguard who is a colleague of John. It's a small world and perhaps COVID has made our connections even more precious. We came away with a fresh grassy olive oil and an eiswein Chardonnay that we will keep for a very special occasion when I finally make dessert - apple Tarte Tatin would be perfect.

Our time in Hawkes Bay was over, for now. The next day we drove back to Auckland where we had a chance to check out the venue for the America's Cup. None of the boats were in the dock so there was really nothing to see which is probably why we got a hotel room at such a reasonable price. This will be the closest we get to the spectacle. It's far better to watch the races on TV with close-ups and replays.

Our last day was returning to Marsden Cove. John and Janet had planned some surprises for us including a visit to a gannet colony and one last winery, Cooper's Creek, where we picked grape leaves with the promise to make home-made dolmas in appreciation of their showing us some highlights of this beautiful country. Thanks, guys.


A Christmas story

26 December 2020
Susan Wells
The wind has been howling for day or so as a cold front passed over. We've been hunkered down , reluctant to leave the boat
All sorts of things could happen. We could drag anchor or some other boat could crash into us. Unlikely, you say, but we watched it happen. A boat, motoring out of the anchorage at 8:30 in the morning, T boned another boat at anchor provoking a rude awakening. Ouch, Merry Christmas!

Today, started fine with barely a hum of the wind generator. Bright and early, Christmas morning we decided to unwrap nature's presents. We hopped into the dinghy to explore the coastline.



There was still a fetch (waves) from the previous days' blow spraying us with cold, salty water. It did not bode well for the 3:00pm dinghy ride across the bay for Christmas lunch. We had booked a Christmas lunch at a local resort meaning no need to return to light the roast. But first we had to dress for the occasion. Hot showers, oh, yeah! Please, no dousing on the way there, but just in case, I threw over my skirt and blouse, rainpants and a waterproof because that's the way you go out for dinner when you live on a boat.

Enter, civilization! Speedboats, kayaks, kids swimming, Christmas rock blasting, and the ferry from the mainland hadn't even arrived yet. Phew, stimulus overload! We retreated to a picnic bench on the beach for a quiet beer until the hoards had raided the buffet and the noise hushed as they settled to eat. Fortunately, the resort had provisioned well and there was no fear of running out of food: delicious roast beef, ham and chicken and copious greens. Accompanied by a bottle of prosecco it felt like Christmas.

Gently lubricated, we put-putted back to our boat. The sea was even calmer; we didn't need our waterproofs. Back on board, we, of course, checked the internet. Oh, dear, only bad news but it was still Christmas Eve in the home country. A few hours remained to wish the family well and browse the photos of past Christmases, missing our family and friends.






Vessel Name: Rapture
Vessel Make/Model: Caliber 40 LRC
Hailing Port: Berkeley, CA
Crew: Greg Newman, Susan Wells
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Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora Bora
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Photos of the boat, people and places in the Bay.
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Memorial Weekend 2017 Greg, Susan, Mike and Toni Spicer, Nick Spycher
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July 25 to August 15 San Franciso, Half Moon Bay, Monterey, Morro Bay, Cojo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz Island, Santa Rosa Island, Santa Barbara Island, Catalina.
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Created 23 August 2015
The Food Saver vacuum sealer is a really useful device. The aluminum packs contain a 2 person serving. They just need to be defrosted and thrown in the oven - no prep work required. We could bake all 3 at once, or the crew that is sleeping can bake theirs when they wake up.
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Created 24 June 2014
Memorial day cruise from San Fran down to Monterey, but we turned West at Santa Cruz for about 50 miles before tacking North for a direct beam reach back to San Fran.
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Created 18 June 2014
The second overnight cruise. San Fran North West to Pt. Reyes, then south cutting east to Pillar Point and back to San Fran.
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Created 18 June 2014
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