Sunday, May 14, 2017

Shake Down

We have learned that after any significant work is done, it is imperative to have a shake down cruise so we can identify any issues before leaving the area.  So, on our 200 mile round trip from Whangarei to Auckland and back, when we discovered a problem with the propeller shaft seal that had just been replaced, we scheduled a return to the boatyard to sort things out.  We entered Whangarei Heads with 20 knots blowing against a 4-5 knot ebb current in the channel.  

The boisterous conditions did not deter a school or large porpoises that escorted Moonshadow from 2 miles outside of Whangarei Heads all the way to our anchorage at Urquharts Bay.  The entire way these playful friends were jumping, doing back flips, and splashing water onto our foredeck.

The next morning, after a 1.5 hour ride up the river, Moonshadow was ready for her brief time out of the water for a quick fix.  We were down below gathering sunnies and flip flops when the TraveLift pulled Moonshadow out of the water and over to the edge of the pier.  The unfamiliar and unnatural sounds of the straps taking the full strain of our home were loud and seemed a bit rude for such a pretty lady.  When you look at a Marine TraveLift for the first time, it seems like a terrible idea.  Surely you can’t seriously think this silly contraption will lift a big heavy yacht without something breaking just at the worst possible time.  But in reality, this is the state of the art machine for lifting boats, and you see them in boatyards all over the world.  

By contrast, John’s first exposure to the art of hauling yachts was back in the sixties when his father had Mystere, a 40 foot Newport ketch, hauled in Honolulu.  Way back then, boats were wedged into a steel and wooden cradle that creaked and groaned as it was winched up a pair of railroad tracks sloping from the boatyard down into the water.  In the center of the yard the boats in their cradles came to rest on a turn-table which swiveled around until aligned with one of a dozen tracks radiating out from the center.  From there the whole lot was nudged off onto a track where all the fun work could begin.  There is nothing terribly natural about taking a boat out of the water, but it must be done.

But back in the water our home seems like the most natural thing in the world.  Just ask our friends the porpoises who discover simpatico swimming alongside Moonshadow.

Soon enough, after an overnight stop in Tutukaka harbor, we were rounding the jagged rocks of Cape Brent.  Just around this cape is the Bay of Islands.  

The invincible rocky cape reminds us of the enduring "Land’s End"
at Cabo San Lucas

Land's End - Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Once anchored in a cove at the island of Motorua, we realized why the Bay of Islands is renown for cruising.

There are scores of snug little anchorages among dozens of islands, that are unspoiled and beautiful.

Even on a cloudy, overcast day, the rocky cliffs and outcrops...

…and rugged islands, all remind of why we venture on.

Across a small sound created by two islands is a private residence with evergreens that look like they must be artificial props from a movie set.  The regularity of the symmetrical limbs seemed too perfect to be real.  

The next day broke out clear and sunny, perfect for a hike.

The tracks (we call them trails, but here, they're "tracks" - tomato/tomaahto) are well maintained with several climbs, sometimes through shady woods...

...which lead to high ground with views worthy of the effort.

The tracks then plunge down into fertile valleys with an ever-present song in the limbs overhead from the hundreds of bird species making a comeback to the islands thanks to efforts of the local conservationists.

After a welcome descent, the track breaks out onto another amazing and deserted anchorage.  Our track repeated the aforementioned up-down business a half dozen times - enough to convince us we’d earned a cool beer back aboard Moonshadow.

After a few days in the Bay of Islands followed by a wonderful day ashore in the lovely little town of Russell, we brought Moonshadow into the marina at Opua, where we'd arrived from Fiji last October.

Since our October arrival, the marina has been busily adding several new docks and many of them were filled with cruisers who, like us, are waiting for the perfect weather window for departure to places all over the South Pacific.  Some are headed East to Tahiti, some West to Australia, but most are interested in sailing North to either Tonga or Fiji.  We are returning to Fiji.

But that weather window was anything but perfect.  In fact it was more like an iron door that was closed tight.  

That's because not one, but two tropical cyclones were brewing up in the islands where most cruisers had set their sights.  

Cyclone Donna grew to a Category 5 as it wandered around Vanuatu and New Caledonia.... 

...while TC Ella, a Cat 2, was happy to sit and spin north of Fiji

Call us old fashioned, but we kind of have a rule that we won't leave a safe harbor to sail into hurricanes.  That has worked out well so far.  So well that we are applying the same rule for Cyclones.  The thing about weather windows in New Zealand is there's always another one, just around the corner.  About every 7 or 8 days a new weather system comes rolling across the country offering a new chance to get things just right for a passage.

So before sailing off, we've had time to jump in a car hired from the Rent-A-Dent in Opua and catch up on the progress of Autumn in New Zealand.  With the cold temperatures we'd recently had, the Autumn colors in May are full on.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Worlds Apart

We know.  It's been a long time since we've posted to our blog.  What can we say?  We've been busy!  Not all of our time has been spent sitting on the balcony in Solana Beach, watching sunsets and thinking about Moonshadow so far away over the horizon.   But some was.

When we weren't doing that, we were visiting family...

...and old friends.

After so long away, there's nothing like a reunion with the people we treasure.
The grandkids are growing so fast.  Soon Deb will be the shortest person in the family again.

No offense to grand parents (and parents) everywhere, but our grand kids are just the cutest and most adorable ever,  aren't they?

Somehow, part of the responsibility of being a grand parent involves putting up the new house lamps while the thirty-somethings hold the beer.  It's all good though...just keeping in good practice for fixing boats!
One thing keeping us away from Moonshadow after the holidays was John's scheduled eye surgery. With two weeks recovery apiece, the two surgeries consumed all of February.  But the whole process was over soon and now our captain has amazing 20/20 vision and is able to read without glasses!

But when the photo above was taken, instead of joy, there was sadness.  We had just gotten news that another of John's high school friends, Don Wood, was in the fight of his life. John felt blessed to be in San Diego at this moment when Don was flown from his Hawaii home to Scripps Hospital in La Jolla making it possible to visit. But Don had cancer that had gone undetected long enough there was nothing the hospital could do. 

RIP Donny, and say hi to Jamie.

The only good thing to come from this was the opportunity to reunite with John's high school friends Tammi, Tom and Gary who we hadn't seen since... well, Jamie's memorial.  We all vowed to keep closer in the future.

Speaking of reunions, John had an opportunity to spend an evening with some other old friends when San Diego Yacht Club held a Commodore's dinner that featured the latest edition to the San Diego Maritime Museum, San Salvador, a replica of the ship that sailed into San Diego Harbor way back in 1542.  

She would have carried a crew of 80!

After cocktails aboard San Salvador at the SDYC guest dock, Ray Ashley, President of the San Diego Maritime Museum, presented a fascinating dinner slide show, speaking about the construction of this unique vessel and the various ways in which she is used as an educational tool at the museum.  At the dinner was Rowena Carlson, a marine scientist, and ocean voyager aboard her Cal 40 Nozomi.  The reunion part has to do with the fact that 45 years ago, Ray, Rowena and John all taught sailing at Jack Dorsee Sailboats on Harbor Island.  Just some crazy kids.

That was all happening before Deb and John were married, an event that we celebrated on March 9 at the Chart House.  Our 43rd.  All dressed up for date night, we hardly recognized each other!  

(John is the one who is no longer wearing glasses)

With departure for New Zealand fast approaching, there was just time for one more dinner, this time with John's brother Steve, his wife Wendy, and Deb's father Ed.  It was our last chance to express our gratitude to all of them.  Steve and Wendy agreed to watch our beloved yellow lab, Casey when we left to go cruising.  It all made sense because they have a beautiful ranch with lots of room for dogs. Besides, Casey was twelve then, and we all knew big dogs don't live very long.  That was five years ago!  Casey turned seventeen two months ago... who knew?!  And Ed provided us living quarters on his couches between house/pet sitting gigs at the beach.  Ed was a great sport putting up with our luggage and comings and goings.

John arrived in New Zealand a week ahead of Debbie to do all the prep for getting Moonshadow back in the water and habitable before her arrival.  

 The only trouble with that plan was that it was more like three weeks' work.  

 But when Deb arrived she rolled up her sleeves and soon
Moonshadow was ready for her shake-down cruise.  

But first we had to load some cargo... 

It was our new Force 10 stove/oven.  As with most marine items over 30 years old, parts were getting hard to find so we were happy to locate a brand new Force 10 with the exact same dimensions.  The new oven keeps correct temperatures so we no longer ruin meals learning the correct timing.

While in Whangarei, we learned that our sweet Casey's life had come to an end. Seventeen years is a long time for any dog, but especially so for the larger breeds. Casey's second life at Steve and Wendy's ranch was dog heaven, where we knew she was happy with her new job providing unconditional love for her new family. We will always miss her.

Goodbyes are always hard, and it was time to say good bye to Whangarei, a really lovely town in northern New Zealand, about 15 miles up a tidal river.

But with goodbye comes adventure.  Finally!  The dock lines and fenders have been stowed.  Moonshadow is under weigh!

Deb's smiling, even in her thermal underwear, fleece and foulies.

On our way to Great Barrier Island, we saw this salty old gaff-rigged schooner,
headed the other way. 

She has been sailing out here so long, she is plotted on the chart...
...and named Sail Rock!

The grey sky and clouds eventually parted bringing on a warm sunny day.
Deb worships warmth and sunshine.

With the foulies stowed away there were big smiles all around! 

 Anchor down in Kiwiriki Bay at Great Barrier Islands, and surrounded by stunning beauty.

One needn't look far to see some amazing natural beauty here.

Beauty everywhere!

Evidently, if you want to be a tree here, you need to be intrepid...

...or stubborn.

We weren't alone.  It's always a welcome sight to find porpoises sharing their home with us.

While at Great Barrier Island, urgent bulletins on our VHF radio told us of a weather anomaly some forecasters refer to as a "bolter".  Cyclone Cook was determined to escape the tropical latitudes and had her sights on New Zealand where yachties come to escape cyclones.

The forecast track had her passing just east of Great Barrier (where we were) with storm force winds, but the warnings said if she were to track a bit west, we could expect 80 knots.  Did they say eighty?

We relocated Moonshadow to the center of little Kiwiriki Bay and put out 300 feet of chain.  We backed down on our huge Rocna anchor at 1800 RPM for 10 minutes and got the spare anchor and rode on deck flaked out and ready to go over the side. Next we braided the spinnaker halyards around the roller furling genoa; likewise with the furled staysail; tied nylon sail gaskets around the mainsail cover;  stripped all the remaining canvas, cushions, and other loose items on deck.  Finally we made sure the rum was within easy reach and waited.  

We were in a very safe place, anchored in a bay within a bay with high terrain on all sides, but what really saved us was the more easterly track Cyclone Cook eventually followed.  We never saw more than 20 knots wind, but when she made landfall in the Bay of Plenty, gusts were clocked at 110 knots.  

With that drama behind us, we moved on, passing through the narrow Man of War Passage, this time heading for Auckland, an easy day sail away.

We feel it is a good omen having these friends keeping us company.

Speaking of friends, George and Merima Backhus greeted us with champagne at the West Haven Marina in Auckland. Auckland has been very good to George.  So good that George has called Auckland home for something like 20 years.  And George has been very good to us.  Always an email or phone call away, George has been Moonshadow's living, breathing owner's manual and knowledge base.  When we get in trouble and we need to phone a friend, we call George.  We were delighted to finally be reunited after nearly five years.  Our short time in Auckland will always be remembered by the margaritas, lamb rack, wine, green lip muscles, and sore cheeks (from laughing and smiling) with Merima and George.

From Auckland we hired a car and embarked on a five day road trip stopping in the Hawkes Bay region famous for it's vineyards.  And beautiful yachtie women!

We guessed correctly that the County Hotel in Napier would be a lovely stop for two nights.  This old building was once the Hawkes Bay County administration building and one of only a handful of buildings to survive a devastating earth quake in 1931.

We were pleasantly surprised by the staff and elegant rooms, but didn't expect the many delightful touches, like the complementary tray of port and crystal glasses set out in an upstairs parlor for after dinner enjoyment. 

Our mission on this road trip was to arrive in Wellington in time for a concert at the Opera House there.  On stage that night, our hero Jimmy Buffet. Some time back, Jimmy had booked a performance in Auckland, but had to cancel the New Zealand tour due to injuries he sustained when he fell off a stage in Australia.  Jimmy has a fascination with Mark Twain, who influenced some of his song writing, so when he learned that Mark Twain had performed on stage at the Opera House in Wellington he decided that would be the setting for his return.  The concert was acoustical and intimate, unlike any previous Parrot Head gathering we'd seen.  Still our hero.

As the son of a son of a sailor, Jimmy Buffet attracts yachties wherever he plays.  Two of them were Kurt Boyle and his daughter Paris.  When he heard we'd be attending, George encouraged us to look up Kurt, who was also attending the concert.  Kurt is part of the Moo Crew, having sailed with George on three oceans, Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic.  Kurt's love of Moonshadow eventually led him to buy a Deerfoot 72 named Wakaroa, which he sails out of Auckland.  We had a delightful dinner with Kurt and Paris before the concert, then said goodbye as we entered the opera house.  New friends we'll hope to meet in another anchorage somewhere down the road a bit.  With yachtie friends you never know...

Following a different route heading north from Wellington, we stopped at the Waitomo Orchard Bed and Breakfast.  Here is the view from our door.

Waitomo is famous for it's extensive limestone caves, within which can be found glow worms.  The tiny worms spin sticky silk threads, like spider webs, that hang vertically from the cave ceiling.  They worms glow to attract and catch insects looking for daylight to escape the caves. The stalagmites and stalactites are even more impressive when you learn that they grow about half an inch in 100 years.

Back in Auckland we had some new projects to take care of.  The idea of a "shake down" cruise is to discover problems while we're around facilities that can help with repairs.  We're really good at discovering problems and Auckland is very good at solving them.

But these chores are best done in a place like Auckland where at the end of the day we can reward our hard work with an excellent meal at any one of hundreds of fine restaurants, then have a lovely stroll home taking in the sights. 

Finally, we found ourselves waving good bye to Auckland's amazing harbor.

Moonshadow has one more visit to the boat yard in Whangarei where we will address a leaking propeller shaft seal.  This was "fixed" during our haul out there, but something wasn't right so another day on the Travel-lift is on our calendar.  On our way north, we stopped at Kawau Island (pronounced cow-wow) and entered the large Bon Accord Harbour.

On our way into the bay, who do you suppose we should meet departing the anchorage?  Kurt Boyle and his wife aboard Wakaroa.  What are the odds of that?  Pity we hadn't arrived a day sooner.  No worries - another day, another bay.

Stockyard Bay, where we anchored, can get 2-300 boats on a busy weekend in the summer, but we enjoyed a quiet evening among just a hand full of visiting yachts.

On those busy summer weekends, Dave and Robin, managers of the restaurant at the Kawau Boating Club can have their hands full serving drinks and making their famous hamburgers.  But this night they had time to tell us about their experience returning to NZ after living in Italy, looking for a place to live, and winding up with new careers running things here.

Looking around, we realized Robin and Dave could have done considerably worse.

The WX is forecasting northerlies 25 knots gusting 35 today and becoming 30 gusting to 45 knots tonight so we've decided to stay another day here where we are well protected.  There are always chores aboard a cruising boat, but they're easier when surrounded by a beautiful setting like Kawau.

On today's list: organize the courtesy flags.  Since we'll be returning to Fiji in a week or two (or three, or four - weather has a big say in this), we think we'll retire the Fiji courtesy flag we flew last year.  It survived over 50 knots when a tropical depression descended upon Moonshadow in Musket Cove.

We've added a section along the right column of our blog page showing flags of the various countries and US States we've visited so far.  This season we'll add these to the list.  In order: New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Australia.

Soon we'll be posting pictures with lots of turquoise colored water and people in skimpy clothing.

Till then, just imagine someplace like this: