Our Next 30 Years

04 June 2018 | Bay of Islands Marina, Opua, New Zealand
27 May 2018 | 35 18.9'S:174 07.2'E, Bay of Islands Marina, Opua, NZ
23 May 2018 | Bay of Islands Marina, Opua, New Zealand
04 May 2018 | Bay of Islands Marina, Opua, NZ
22 April 2018 | Bay of Islands Marina, Opua, NZ
14 April 2018 | Bay of Islands Marina, Opua, NZ
16 February 2018 | Austin, Texas
30 November 2017 | Austin, Texas
04 November 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ
02 November 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ
28 October 2017 | 35 18.8'S:174 07.3'E, Q-Dock, Bay of Islands Marina, Opua, NZ
26 October 2017 | 32 50.1'S:174 35.0'E,
25 October 2017 | 31 16.8'S:174 32.7'E, 30 deg South Benchmark
24 October 2017 | 29 45.9'S:174 35.8'E, 30 deg South Benchmark
23 October 2017 | 28 04.2'S:176 12.3'E, South Fiji Basin
22 October 2017 | 25 53.2'S:175 41.1'E, South Fiji Basin
21 October 2017 | 22 50.4'S:175 32.4'E, South Fiji Basin
20 October 2017 | 20 05.3'S:176 08.9'E, SW Fiji Waters
19 October 2017 | Port Denarau Marina, Denarau, Viti Levu, Fiji
11 October 2017 | Vuda Point Marina, Viti Levu, Fiji

Still Waiting …..

04 June 2018 | Bay of Islands Marina, Opua, New Zealand
Unfortunately we are not seeing the typical weather patterns that we want to see for a passage north. This season it seems that we are seeing dominate lows - both coming off the Tasman and Tropical lows from the islands - rather than the dominant Highs. The result is squally conditions and confusion as to how these systems will move across our route. And when there is confusion I am going to sit tight, rather than risk getting caught in the middle of one of those systems. So that is what we are doing currently. Boats that left earlier in the week encountered high winds and seas in what was advertised as a “Nordhaven” crossing (meaning that they would be motoring in light to no winds). This weekend, the Auckland to Noumea (New Caledonia) Race start was postponed a day to let a passing Low from the Tasman clear, but it hasn’t cleared out yet and is battering the fleet with 35kt headwinds and heavy seas. Some of the boats have pulled into the Bay of Islands to let the the weather subside before continuing. I’ve just reviewed the situation again with our weather router and the weather window we were watching for the end of the week looks to be falling apart due to yet another Tropical Low influencing the weather south of the islands. So it looks like we will be sitting here in Opua another week, hoping that this weather pattern breaks and starts to look more “typical”. The good news is that the heater is working well, and between it, our dehumidifier, good books and movies, and of course the good company, Cindy and I are enduring the cold and rainy conditions.

Test Post

27 May 2018 | 35 18.9'S:174 07.2'E, Bay of Islands Marina, Opua, NZ
This is a Test Post for the 2018 Cruising Season using the XGate Iridium Satellite Connection. Currently waiting on a low pressure system moving off the coast of Australia to clear our route.

Bay of Islands Cruising

23 May 2018 | Bay of Islands Marina, Opua, New Zealand
Unfortunately, the Bay of Islands has only been where we sail to at the end of our cruising season and where depart from at the beginning of our cruising season. We are always in a hurry to either put the boat away so we can get home for the holidays or get all of the boat maintenance chores done so we can depart for the islands. While we have been able to go out and do day sails (sea-trials to make sure everything is working properly before we leave), this is the first year we have actually spent the night at anchor at a few of the many anchorages.

The islands that give the Bay of Islands their name have numerous bays - some large and some small to choose from depending upon the wind and swell. We enjoyed Pipi Bay in Moturua Island and Urupukapuka Bay in Urupukapuka Island. We got to see a pod of porpoises off Twin Lagoon in Roberton Island playing around another boat. The boat was stopped and the person on-board was leaning over splashing the water and the porpoises were coming up to him - amazing to watch.

As we approached Pipi Bay I realized we were looking at a catamaran drying out on the beach at low tide. The next morning the cat had floated and was gone. We had several other boats in the Bay with us including our good friends on SV Toccata. I used our anchorage in Pipi Bay to commission our water maker. We replaced the membranes this year since our product water quality had risen from 200ppm to around 550ppm TDS. While drinking water guidelines would say it is safe to drink the performance of the membranes were clearly deteriorating and so we choose to change them out before it got worse. I didn’t want to commission the system in the muddy marina water so the clear waters of this anchorage were perfect. We were happy to see product water between 150 and 200ppm TDS!

The next morning we motored over to Urupukapuka Bay, where we found a beautiful sand beach with no one else in the anchorage. By the end of the afternoon a half dozen boats had joined us. We launched the dinghy and went to shore to go for a hike along several of the many tracks that are maintained by local conservation groups. In addition to other hikers, we shared the tracks with sheep.

Depending on when we get a suitable weather window north, you can bet that we will try and get back out in the Bay of Islands and see more of these beautiful cruising grounds.

Busy Bees

04 May 2018 | Bay of Islands Marina, Opua, NZ
The docks are very busy here at the Bay of Islands Marina, as boats prepare to head north to the islands for another cruising season. Just like us, many cruisers had work done while they were away visiting their home on the dirt, or land touring around New Zealand. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a number of both planned and unplanned projects still to be finished. Here is an overview of the projects that have been keeping us busy before heading off to Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

When we returned to Texas in November we had made arrangements for a number of things to be done on the boat. First, we planned to have the bottom redone. In 2015 we had identified that the epoxy barrier coat was not adhering well in places on the bottom. Patch jobs were done so that new bottom paint could be applied. Last year we decided to try and get one more year out of the paint and existing bottom. Over the course of the cruising season last year we had a few more places show up where the epoxy barrier coat came off, so we knew it was time to bite the bullet and have the complete job done this year. (I have to add that one of the reasons that we choose to proceed was the confidence that I had in BlueFix performing the work!) BlueFix Boat Yard removed all the bottom paint and epoxy barrier coat back to the fiberglass. They inspected the bottom and patched fiberglass where needed before fairing. Interprotect epoxy barrier coat was then added, and finally the bottom paint (Sea Hawk BioCop). When we got back and saw the bottom it was stunning, and we were even more pleased when we noticed an increase in boat speed while motoring as well. The other job we had done by BlueFix and McKay Electric was an upgrade to the ventilation system for our motors. Our electric motors are air cooled and while the original ventilation system worked fine in the Pacific NW and Alaska, we have noticed in the tropics that if we have to motor for extended periods we need to be mindful of the ventilation in the motor compartments. After some calculations, discussions, and feedback from the suppliers, we installed two 7” “plastic, sealed radiator fans” on both motor compartments through a dorade style box venting from the motor compartment into the rudder compartment. We opened up vents at the face of the motor compartments for incoming air and two large vents as exhausts out of our aft cross-beam into the backporch for the additional airflow. The fans are connected to “smart” relays that are programmed to allow one fan in both compartment to run when the motors are “on” and a second fan to run when the motors are run at higher amps. That way both fans only come on when that motor is seeing higher amperage. We will see how this system performs over this next cruising season.

We also had one of those “unplanned” projects, eg an unwelcome surprise. When the yard was removing the rudders to fair the bottom, they discovered severe corrosion of the rudder shafts. The culprit was that the rudder posts had not been bonded (long story). The good news in this story is that we found out about the problem this way rather than having a rudder break underway (I can list at least a dozen examples of this kind of failure that I am aware of). We now have new rudder posts and they are properly bonded!

We also made arrangements for a new North 3Di jib, after our laminated jib came apart progressively over the course of last year. I will say it again, our experience is that laminated sails don’t last cruising in the tropics! (To be fair the jib did last 1 more season than the main.) I’ve continued to watch as cruisers get to NZ and are faced with replacing their laminated sails. It was also time to replace our canvas, so we have gotten a new Stack Pack to cover the mainsail, a set of chaps for the dinghy (we should have put these on when the dinghy was brand new to extend the life of the dinghy!), and a sun shade that covers the entire back porch (we have used everything from bed sheets to printed fabric from French Polynesia).

The Genset has hit 1500hrs of use and it was time to service the fuel injectors. The Genset also got a new starter battery after our old one went dead while we were gone (the breaker that allows it to be trickle-charged was found in the off position when we returned).

One job that I have not gotten to yet (as I write this) is replacing the membranes in the water maker. Last season the product water (what we drink) had a higher TDS (salt) than prior years. The levels were still below acceptable standards, just not what we had been producing. After troubleshooting and discussing with the vendor we came to the conclusion that it was time to change the membranes. The two new membranes flew with us as checked luggage from the US. As we sit here I know of at least two other boats trying to get their water makers operational before leaving for the islands. Another “surprise” upon our return was that the accumulator tank for the freshwater system had failed. I was told that on cruising boats that a 5 year lifetime for an accumulator tank is the norm. The good news was that we were able to get one locally. Why does it seem that 5 years is the average lifetime for everything on a cruising boat?

As they say, cruising is all about repairing your boat in exotic places!

Lot’s of Traffic Getting to the Dock…

22 April 2018 | Bay of Islands Marina, Opua, NZ
It’s always a show when big boats go in or come out of the water at the ramp in Opua (or for that matter any where). That said, perhaps one of the most amazing thing is watching the boat be backed around all the twists and turns, and cars parked along the route from the boatyard to the ramp. Since we had done this before, both Cindy and I were rather relaxed and just let the guys do their thing. Our launch went fine. Unfortunately the catamaran hauling out after us had more drama as a crosswind came up after we got in the water.

Once we were in the water I did a quick check to make sure that the water was staying outside the boat - everything was good. I then began the process of starting up the systems so we could bring the boat around to our assigned berth. Last year when I started the Genset, I forgot to open the fuel valves and learned that the Genset wouldn’t run without fuel! This year I made sure that I didn’t do that again. However when I turned on the Genset display panel it came on initially and then went blank? I tried again and the same thing happened. I re-checked the electrical breakers and found that the breaker that should have been on while we were away to provide a trickle charge to the Genset starter battery was OFF. A quick check of the starter battery with the meter confirmed that we had a very discharged battery. The guys from the boat yard quickly found a battery and jumper cables. The Genset started up - and after a minute sputtered and died! I checked the fuel valves again, confirming that they were on - they were. I assumed that over time the fuel line had gotten some air in it and we had developed an air lock. After running the fuel polishing system to prime the fuel lines, we tried again - but by this time the battery was dead. So we hooked up to shore power and charged the battery while we got lunch. Finally we got the Genset started, just in time for slack tide so we could motor over to our berth.

So why do we need the Genset you ask to power the boat over to the berth? Actually, we don’t, we can do it on propulsion battery power alone. However, we have an interlock in the system that prevents the 144VDC system from energizing if the Genset controls/display unit AND the associated fire suppression system control unit is not energized. Both of those units get their power from the Genset battery. Since that battery was discharged I did not want to chance leaving the dock without the Genset on and charging the battery, just in case the charge on the battery gave out and shut down the propulsion system.

The moral to the story is that when you shut the boat down for extended periods of time something always is going to jump up and bite you!

Time Travel

14 April 2018 | Bay of Islands Marina, Opua, NZ
Cindy and I took a leap into the future (crossed the International Dateline) last week as we traveled back to New Zealand to begin our 2018 cruising season. It is always interesting when we make this trip, because the Customs people in Opua always say we don't need a one-way travel authorization into the country, yet the airline Agents say they are not allowed to let us fly into the country without a documented way out. Luckily we had the same Agent in Austin that we did the year before and she remembered us, so that all went smoothly. She even let us check our extra luggage for no extra fees! Once in San Francisco, the Gate Agent finally accepted that we would be leaving NZ via our own boat, but she then started through a list of questions that became quite funny at times, eg what was Cindy's crew position on the boat, etc. After finally getting past all of those questions they informed us that since our Itinerary had us entering Australia, we needed to have our Australian entry visas. They were not concerned that we we going to Vanuatu and New Caledonia, but we needed to have the Australian entry visas now or we could not board our flight for NZ. The Agent then explained that she would take care of things for us and wave the $50 per person charge. Fifteen minutes later we had our Australian entry visas and were allowed to board our flight.

It is wonderful to be back in Opua and see our cruising friends. FullCircle is in great shape and we are scheduled to put her back in the water on Wednesday. Until then Cindy and I are taking it easy and letting our bodies catch up with the time travel.
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