Our Ever-Changing Backyard--Sailing with Scoots

27 April 2020 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
22 March 2020 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
16 December 2019 | Opua, New Zealand
25 November 2019 | On passage from Fiji to New Zealand
21 November 2019 | On passage from Fiji to New Zealand
19 November 2019 | On passage from Fiji to New Zealand
14 October 2019 | Savusavu, Fiji
27 July 2019 | Tavoro Waterfalls, Taveuni Island, Fiji
15 July 2019 | Viani Bay
23 June 2019 | En route to Savusavu, Fiji, from N. Minerva Reef
20 June 2019 | North Minerva Reef
17 June 2019 | In the ocean, NE of New Zealand
14 June 2019 | In the ocean, NE of New Zealand
13 June 2019 | In the ocean, NE of New Zealand

Bubble Life

27 April 2020 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
Vandy Shrader
Hello – or as they say here in New Zealand – Kia ora!

I thought I'd give you an update on our “lockdown passage,” here in Whangarei.

To recap: earlier this year, New Zealand's government, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, took decisive action, choosing to “go hard and go early,” to deal with the growing threat of Covid-19. During February and March, as the virus began to spread around the world, the PM and her Cabinet imposed successively more stringent restrictions on movement, culminating in a complete lockdown (Level 4 of a four-level response plan) on March 25. When announcing the details of each new set of restrictions, PM Ardern adopted a refreshingly transparent and science-based approach, presenting the data that made the restrictions necessary, acknowledging the difficulties and sacrifices that would accompany them, and expressing empathy and solidarity with her fellow citizens during these extraordinary times. At the end of every update, news conference, or Facebook video chat, she thanks all of us for making the sacrifices that are helping to slow the spread of the virus, and she urges us to “Be safe” and “Be kind.”

Active Covid-19 cases in New Zealand

In my last blog, I wrote how happy I was to be here. I'm still happy to be here. Very happy.

Also in my last blog post, I shared how we cruisers were wondering how NZ Immigration would deal with our visas, but I was confident that they would “enact a reasonable policy.” In fact, they did. A few days after I posted the blog, NZ Immigration announced that they would automatically extend all visitor visas until September 25, which they have done. This has eased our minds considerably. We still don't know when we might leave New Zealand, but we won't have to worry about it until September.

September being the beginning of springtime, we'll most likely be spending the winter here. Fortunately, we have a stash of winter clothes that we keep for our Christmas trips to the States, and SCOOTS has a nice little diesel fireplace that keeps her cabin quite cozy. So we're all set.

With all of the Pacific Island nations closed to visitors, we have no place to sail to; and if we did leave New Zealand, we wouldn't be allowed to come back here at the end of the year. It's an interesting time to be a nomad. In fact, you might say that our cruising life is more “no” than “nomadic” lately. But that's all right. As we've learned since we began our cruising life, sometimes you're moving and sometimes you're staying put. Right now, we're staying put. All these conditions will certainly evolve over the next few months, and our plans will evolve along with them, but for now, our voyaging has ground to a halt.

Like many of you who are in lockdown, we've adjusted to this new normal. Our world (our "bubble" as it's known here) now includes only SCOOTS; the dock to which she's tied; the marina building that houses the showers, bathroom, and laundry; and an area near the marina where we're allowed to take a walk. Thankfully, we have a large supermarket across the street. Crossing the street has never been faster or easier than during the lockdown. Though we've done a few small boat projects, we've mostly been spending our time doing things we enjoy, and the days have passed quickly. Eric has been playing a lot of electric bass and programming his Raspberry Pi. I've been reading and geeking out on the rapidly-changing science around the coronavirus.

Since we're not supposed to wander as far from the marina as the woods are, I've really missed birdwatching there. But I've made do: I take daily notes of all the birds I can see from SCOOTS, and during our walks, I created and shared a “treasure hunt” of some of the local birds that people might encounter on their walks, and I've begun feeding the gulls, doves, and sparrows on shore, and the ducks on the river, essentially bringing the birds to me.

I'm so appreciative of the technology that allows us to video chat with our kids, to keep up to date with what's going on in the world, to find inspiring things that make us feel good, or funny things that make us laugh, and to keep in touch with everyone we care about, especially when we can't be in touch physically.

True to our reputation for being a sociable bunch, several cruisers have enacted different ways of allowing us yachties to continue to communicate with each other during the lockdown, including local Facebook groups, a daily VHF radio net, and weekly Zoom-enabled “virtual happy hours.” We also holler to each other from our boats, or to friends who pass by during their exercise walks on the trail along the river.

Since our marina wasn't designated as an “essential business,” the staff hasn't been allowed to be here since the lockdown began, almost five weeks ago. Before the lockdown, Eric, and our friend, Dave, from the boat Rewa, volunteered for a couple of jobs to help keep things running smoothly while the staff were working from home. Eric has been acting as the “parcel director,” collecting parcels from the couriers and making sure they get to their recipients. Dave took on the task of collecting the coins from the washers, dryers, and showers, and, after thoroughly washing them (he calls it “money laundering”), distributes them into small ziplocks that yachties can purchase. Everyone's been pitching in and things have been going really well.

The results of money laundering

We celebrated Eric's birthday, on March 31, during the lockdown. Instead of the fun party we would have had in a “normal” year, this year, our cruiser friends who are sharing the long dock sang “Happy Birthday” to Eric and toasted him from the lockdown-appropriate distance of their own boats.

Our Level 4 lockdown required all but essential businesses to close; here in New Zealand, restaurants weren't considered essential, though I hear that they were in some other countries. But changes are coming today, when New Zealand moves to a Level 3 lockdown. Under Level 3, physical distancing requirements are still in force, but restaurants are allowed to offer take-away meals. Yippee! Another change I'm looking forward to in Level 3, is being allowed to venture farther from home, so I can finally go back to the woods for some birdwatching. But I'll keep feeding the birds close to home, too!

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, during these weird and extraordinary times, I wish you the best, and remind you to Be Safe, and Be Kind.

A good place

22 March 2020 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
Vandy Shrader
It's amazing how quickly things have changed.

Two weeks ago, the biggest question Eric and I were considering was, "should we spend some time cruising in New Caledonia, in addition to Fiji?"

Now, the big question is "what happens when our visas expire?"

I thought I'd check in, during this time of coronavirus mayhem, to let you know how the crew of SCOOTS is doing, and where we are in the world.

We're doing fine, and we're in a good place.

Wherever SCOOTS happens to be, is home. Right now, home is Whangarei, New Zealand. We're happy to be here. The autumn weather is nice; many of our friends are here; there are plenty of things to do; the store shelves are fully stocked, there's plenty of toilet paper; Kiwis are friendly, and New Zealand is beautiful.

We typically hang out here until May or June, when the weather starts to get annoyingly cold, and then sail up to the Pacific Islands to enjoy winter in the tropics. This year, things might be a bit more complicated, as New Zealand, Australia, and most of the Pacific Islands have shut their borders to visitors indefinitely as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

It's a good thing that we like it here, because we may end up staying longer than we'd planned. How much longer? We don't know.

We're happy here and we're better off than those cruisers who were overseas when the borders were closed, and now can't get back to their boats in NZ; or the ones who'd planned to sail across the Pacific this year and discovered as they were preparing to leave that there was no longer any place to make landfall in the South Pacific; or the ones who left before the restrictions were enacted and upon arriving in French Polynesia after several weeks at sea were told that they had two options: (1) find a place to leave your boat and fly home, or (2) fuel up, reprovision, and sail away.

It's a complicated time to be a nomad.

We're flexible; we could live with scratching our plans to sail to the islands and instead spend some extra time in New Zealand. But in a few months, our visas will expire. What's going to happen then, if the Islands are still closed to visitors? At the moment, we don't know.

This question has been a hot topic every time two or more cruisers gather. Nobody thinks we'll be deported. We're all hopeful that NZ Immigration officials, recognizing the unusual circumstances of the times, will enact a reasonable policy that will allow us to stay until we can sail away. Time will tell.

Hopefully, we won't have to find out. Hopefully, the restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic will be able to be relaxed before our visas expire. This would be a good thing. Not just for us, but for humanity as a whole.

Wherever you are, we wish you the best.

Catching up - Arriving in Opua

16 December 2019 | Opua, New Zealand
Vandy Shrader
Hi there.

My friend, Alison, very gently alerted me to the fact that I had neglected to update our Sailblog after Nov. 25, leaving everyone hanging, with SCOOTS still more than 100 miles from her destination at Opua, NZ. Sorry about that!

We are, in fact in New Zealand now, having arrived in Opua on Nov. 27. We enjoyed a week there, before sailing SCOOTS south to the Town Basin Marina in Whangarei, where she spends her summers.

Since I posted to Yachts in Transit every day during our passage, I'll include those updates here, to catch everyone on up the last day or so of our passage, and our first few days back in NZ.

November 27

Making great time toward Opua in lovely conditions. Blue skies with no clouds except for a Long White Cloud over NZ.

We arrived at Opua today at 3:15pm...9 days, 3 hours after leaving Fiji. We motorsailed for our last night, cruising along over smooth seas at 8-9 knots, making great time. Our friends, Annie & Liam on the boat, Gone With the Wind, who had arrived from Fiji last week, pulled up their anchor at Urupukapuka Island to come sail into the marina with us.

Annie and Liam on Gone With the Wind

We cleared in with Customs, Immigration, and Biosecurity within a half hour, and then moved to our slip in the marina. Annie & Liam were there to catch our lines and welcome us back to NZ. After celebratory drinks and a good dinner at the Opua Yacht Club, we're ready for bed. Ah, the luxury of being able to sleep more than 3 hours at a stretch!

November 28

With SCOOTS tucked into a slip in the Bay of Islands Marina, Eric and I enjoyed the opportunity to sleep all night, though Eric woke up for a little while during his usual watch time, and I dreamed about sailing on passage all night. This morning, we've begun the process of cleaning up and settling in - doing some laundry, washing all the dried salt from SCOOTS (no we didn't have those tequila shots with hull salt), topping up our NZ phone all figuring highly - and taking care of some things we'd been planning to do, once arriving in New Zealand.

To begin these tasks, Roger from North Sails has already been by to measure SCOOTS for a new Code 0 sail (after being repaired by Roger a couple of years ago, and providing propulsion for the two years that he predicted it had left in it, the original Code 0 blew out spectacularly on our way to Fiji last June, and is now really, really done.)

We're both still swaying a bit - funny, we never noticed how much the land moved before - reacquainting our leg muscles with that thing called "walking," enjoying the sounds of gulls and tuis, happy to be back in the country that most feels like home to us.

I've included some photos that Eric took while I was feeding some of the “chocolate-colored shearwaters,” which allowed me to figure out that these weren't shearwaters after all, but were Black Petrels.

I'm sure that we did we did see some chocolate-colored shearwaters while we were farther out at sea, but these weren't them.

He also got photos of the Wandering Albatrosses that flew over.

I Spy Something Blue...

25 November 2019 | On passage from Fiji to New Zealand
I Spy Something Blue...

We�'re in the eighth day of what�'s usually a seven-day passage for us, and which will probably end up being a nine-day
passage. That�'s what happens, when you go a couple hundred miles west of the rhumb line: you have to tack back. We
knew that would happen, but decided when we left, that it was worth it to us, to have a nice nine-day passage, rather
than a sucky shorter passage. Or to wait around in Fiji to see whether that cyclone that was in the forecast would hit us
or not.

When we left, one of the models showed it making a direct hit on Fiji sometime this week. Since then, it has gone from
being an imaginary cyclone to a real cyclone �- Cyclone Rita, to be specific. It�'s taken aim at the island nation of
Vanuatu, about 600 miles west of Fiji, and is predicted to fizzle out in a couple of days. So our friends who chose to
stay behind in Fiji, hoping that the cyclone wouldn�'t come, and waiting for a better weather window, may just receive
that. Good on �'em. I hope they have a great passage. As for us, you may recall that our hurricane plan is RUN. So we
did. And it�'s been quite a nice passage, so far.

Out here, about 190 miles north of New Zealand, the sun is shining and we have blue skies above us. In fact, every day
of our passage so far has been sunny and blue, every night starry and clear �- except for yesterday, which was cloudy.
If we�'re going to be out here for a couple of extra days, it�'s good that the weather is nice. The seas have also settled
down, and are undulating slowly, like an expansive blue plain.

Every inch of SCOOTS�' exterior is covered in a thick layer of salt. Friends of ours, on arrival after a particularly
splashy passage, have a tradition of having a shot of tequila along with a dash of sea salt swiped from the hull. It�'s a fun
idea; we might do that when we get to Opua.

About a half dozen large, chocolate-brown shearwaters are flying zigzag patterns behind SCOOTS, scanning her wake
for tidbits. I may have thrown them some pieces of meat. I was going to tell you which species I think this is, but on
consulting my bird book I just discovered that there are four or five large, chocolate-brown shearwaters native to NZ,
so I�'m just going to leave it at that. An albatross also showed up for a slow, regal fly-by, the C5 to the shearwaters�'
C130. So I�'ve gotten to see my albatross.

We�'re in what I�'m calling Phase 3 of our passage: tacking back to NZ. You may recall that Phase 1 was: sailing SW to
stay ahead of the Low that was rolling in from the east, but not so far west that it would take forever to get back; a time
of some angst (on my part), partially relieved by obsessively studying the forecasts, trying to figure out where that point
was. Phase 2 was: squash zones; sailing in higher winds and seas; lots of heeling, pounding, seawater washing over the
deck. Each Phase is taking about three days. Phase 1 and Phase 3 have had comfortable sailing conditions; Phase 2,
not so much.

When I last wrote, I described the conditions during our first day of squash zone sailing. The next two days were
similar. We did end up far enough west, when the Low made its closest point of approach, that we never saw more
than 22 knots of true wind, or more than 29 knots of apparent wind. The seas never rose above about 8 feet, were
about 8 seconds apart, and most were rolling rather than breaking. The meter-high wind waves, however, added some
chaos to the mix, coming at us at a higher frequency, bouncing SCOOTS around a bit.

Yesterday we entered Phase 3. The wind slowly eased down through the teens to the less than 5 knots that it is now,
where it will remain for the next couple days. The seas have also slowly abated, taking on that slow, low, rolling that I
mentioned. After days and days of sailing, we fired up Yanmar the Magnificent yesterday. He�'ll provide most of our
propulsion from now on, until we tie up at the Customs dock in Opua, hopefully tomorrow evening.

When we were scanning the horizon for traffic yesterday afternoon, we spotted a sail about a mile away. This would be
only the second boat we�'d seen on our passage, the other being a cargo ship several days earlier. Our call on VHF
was answered by the boat�'s skipper, who told us that it was s/v Taliesin, Lin and Larry Pardey�'s second boat, which
they had sold. He was tacking to NZ as well, having left Tonga two weeks earlier. In case you�'re not familiar with Lin
and Larry, they spent decades sailing all over the world in their first boat, s/v Seraffyn, and later, s/v Taliesin. They
shared their adventures in several interesting and entertaining books, books that have been instrumental in recruiting
many people into the cruising life, yours truly included. Though we had no intention of cruising �"their�" way, which was
quite minimalistic - Seraffyn had no head (yes, they did �"bucket and chuck it�" for years), nor engine, and I believe that
Taliesin has a head, but is also engineless �- we were drawn to the mobile, self-sufficient, out-in-nature, exploratory life
that they described.

I made a roast chicken yesterday, an early Thanksgiving dinner for us. We have a tradition of eating a Thanksgiving
meal on this passage, except for last year, when we had Thanksgiving in Fiji. Since we�'ll have to surrender all our meat
and produce to the Biosecurity officials in Opua, I decided that we�'d better eat it sooner rather than later. Along with
some peas and carrots, I also made something like a cranberry sauce, out of dried cranberries (try getting fresh ones in
Fiji!), that I soaked in orange juice, and then cooked for a little while, adding sugar and spices. We were happy with
the result! And, the conditions on this first day of Phase 3 were reasonable enough that we were able to enjoy our meal
at the cockpit table, rather than holding our plates (or bowls) in our laps, for the first time on this passage.

Eric just reminded me that our bodies are going to have to start making their own body heat again, something they
haven�'t had to do, during our last six months in the tropics. He�'s right, of course. It�'s 68 degrees in the cabin, and
we�'ve been sleeping under a comforter for the past three nights!

I�'ll leave you now, with today�'s Numbers at Noon:
31 57S/173 44E
Course: 172T
Speed: 6.7 kn motorsailing
Wind: 2.9 kn from the NE
Seas: <1m
Miles gone: 1104NM (the rhumb line distance from Denarau to the Opua Approach is 1040 NM)
Miles to go: 188.6NM

We are looking to arrive at the Customs dock in Opua at about 7pm tomorrow.
Cheers, Vandy

Halfway there...maybe

21 November 2019 | On passage from Fiji to New Zealand
Hello again. We're just entering our fifth day of sailing from Fiji to New Zealand. I'm only posting to Sailblogs every other day because the motion of the
boat isn't particularly conducive to sitting inside staring at letters on a computer screen for very long. I am posting a short update to YIT every day , so if
you get a hankering to see where we are and what we're up to more often than every other day, you can pop over there. www.yit.co.nz

Since I last posted to the blog, we had one more day and night of absolutely lovely sailing, and then we entered the squash zone that I talked about.
We've been in the squash zone for about a day now, with perhaps another day of it to go. What it looks and feels like is...we have wind from 16-25
knots, from the SSE, and the waves have built to about 2.5 meters (about 8 feet), also from the SSE. We are going SSW so SCOOTS is still hard on the
wind. Every now and then, SCOOTS goes off the top of a wave, banging down hard into the trough behind it, or plows into a wave, instead of sliding
over it, bringing a cascade of water washing over the deck. Inside, as well as under our hard dodger in the forward part of the cockpit, we're cozy and
dry. Every once in awhile, though, it's as if some guy tosses a bucketful of water across the aft part of the cockpit, dousing everything aft of the dodger.

SCOOTS is well-equipped for these conditions, with two reefing points (places to shorten her mainsail) and a staysail (a headsail that's smaller than our
genoa jib), and a sturdy, streamlined construction. Yesterday, when the wind and seas rose, we swapped the staysail for the genoa, and pulled the main
down into the second reef. That kept the ride pretty comfortable for the rest of the day and night. This morning, hoping to make more headway to the
south, we pulled the mainsail up into the first reef. Less comfortable, more speed.

Given the conditions, we're pretty satisfied with our progress. We've made some headway to the south, and we've come far enough west to dodge the
most intense wind and waves of the Low. This is good, but in doing that, we've sailed by New Zealand. Yes, we're now west of New Zealand. While
this is a bit annoying, it's not a problem, really. We'll just have to tack at some point, and start sailing SE. According to the forecasts, it looks like a good
time to do that would be sometime on Sunday (today is Friday), as the wind is predicted to be coming straight out of the south by then, so sailing SE
would be another close reach. Hopefully not as close as our reaches have been for the past four days.

Two days ago, a tropicbird flew near SCOOTS for awhile. These are one of my favorite kinds of seabirds, and I almost never see them anymore, since
they're very rare in Fiji and not native to New Zealand. About once per passage, one does a fly-by, and it makes my day.

The Numbers
24 37S/174 11E
Course 218T
Speed 7.0 kn
Wind 16 knots SSE
Sea 1.5m SSE
Temp 81F
Weather Sunny
Bar 1014mb
Miles gone 462

26 28S/172 35E
Course 210T
Speed 6.5kn
Wind 16-21kn SSE
Sea 2.5m swell + 1m wind waves SSE
Temp 76F
Weather Sunny
Bar 1018mb
Miles gone 606
Bar 1018

Hello from the South Pacific - It's always about the weather

19 November 2019 | On passage from Fiji to New Zealand
Hello from the South Pacific!
We�'re on our way from Fiji to New Zealand. We left Port Denarau noon local time on Monday, so we�'ve
been at sea for two days now. The weather is sunny and warm, very nice. If you�'d like to follow along,
look for SCOOTS at Yachts in Transit (www.yit.co.nz <http://www.yit.co.nz/>). I�'ll be sending daily

We took a weather window that I would describe as �"the best that we would get for awhile, considering
the circumstances.�" I like to wait for an optimum weather window, but this year, my hand has been forced
by the forecast of an early season tropical storm that may in fact become a cyclone and will either impact
Fiji or Vanuatu sometime next week.

Rather than hanging around in Fiji to see whether or not it was visited by a tropical storm next week, and
then wait another week or two (into December now), for another weather window to (hopefully) develop,
we took what we had and we�'re making it work. This fits nicely with our tried-and-true hurricane plan:
RUN, rather than hide.

So here�'s what we�'ve got: The players in our passage weather are a High pressure system between us and
NZ (this is good), and a big, nasty Low forming well to the east of us that�'s going to move a little bit
towards us on Friday or Saturday as we sail southwest toward NZ (this is bad), but is not going to come all
the way to where we are (this is good). What it is going to to do, as it moves in our direction, is press on
the isobars of our High to make them squish together, creating what is aptly called a �"squash zone,�" where
the wind is stronger than it would otherwise be. And also, in this case, it will cause these strong winds to
blow from the south, which is basically the direction that we want to be going.

But, we saw that if we left last Monday, the forecast for the first three days called for light to moderate
wind, and reasonable seas, which would give us time to get south, and then head more west away from the
big, nasty Low as it moved toward us.

So that�'s what we�'ve been doing for the past two days...heading as much south as we can. We�'re on a
tight reach, which means pointing SCOOTS close to the wind (in this case we�'ve been sailing between 35
and 45 degrees off the wind) while keeping her speed up. She�'s been doing great, and while we�'re heeled
over a bit, the ride�'s pretty comfortable at the moment. Almost no water over the bow at all.

We expect to enter the squash zone sometime tomorrow, which means 20-25 knot winds and probably
some higher seas for a day or so. This may slow our southern progress, but if it does that�'s okay. We�'ll put
in some more west and keep going. West is away from the Low.

The winds should start to ease late Saturday or early Sunday, as the Low moves off toward the east and
the squash zone relaxes. Then, we�'ll figure out our best course to Opua.

Yesterday, while we were out doing some odd jobs on deck, a small private jet flew towards us from the
SW (nothing in that direction for like a thousand miles), and began to circle us. At first we thought it was
cool, and we waved. But on the third time around, it began to get a little creepy. We were relieved when
they finally headed toward Fiji.

Here are the numbers for yesterday and today, in case anyone�'s keeping track.
11/19/2019 �- 24 hours
20 02�'S/176 48�'E
Course: 194* True
Speed: 6.4 knots motorsailing
Wind: 5 knots SE
Waves: <1m SE
Water temp: 78F
Air temp: 85F
Sunny with a few cumulus clouds.
Bar 1011mb
Miles gone: 146
Miles to Opua: 912
No fish or squid on deck.

11/20/2019 �- 48 hours
22 09�'S/175 45�'E
Course 211* True
Speed: 7.4 knots mainsail and jib
Wind: 12 kn SE
Waves: <1m SE
Air temp: 83F
Sunny with almost no clouds.
Bar 1011
Miles gone last 24 hrs: 143; Miles total: 289
Miles to Opua: 769
No fish or squid on deck.
Vessel Name: SCOOTS
Vessel Make/Model: Able Apogee 50
Hailing Port: San Francisco, CA
Crew: Eric and Vandy Shrader
About: We've been living aboard full time since September 2014. We sailed to Mexico with the 2014 Baja Haha and had fun exploring Mexico until April 2016, when we turned SCOOTS west and headed to the South Pacific. Since 2016, we've been spending our winters in Fiji and our summers in New Zealand.
SCOOTS's Photos - Aunuu
Photo 6 of 31 | Back To Album
Prev   Next
Added 13 October 2016