Monthly Archives: November 2015

In like Flynn

We woke up to a chilly and dreary Saturday morning surrounded by boats awaiting Customs and Biosecurity clearance on the quarantine dock. Our friends Mark and Sue were just behind us and we four hugged each other in celebratory delight that we’ve come so far across many difficult sea miles to this side of the planet. For Mark and Sue New Zealand represents halfway around from their home and starting point in England. And for Allison and Jeff on Saraoni, another of the boats we arrived with, New Zealand buckles the belt on their nine year circumnavigation. Saraoni tied up to the dock with all their country courtesy flags flying and we took them some Minerva Reef macaroons by way of congratulations. 

We were visited about 8 o’clock by Brian, the young Biosecurity officer. He had us dump our fresh eggs and remaining produce along with our trash into a heavy duty body bag. He let Jack keep his few remaining Johnsonville brats because they are American and therefore safe. And in the end he didn’t take our last bits of French cheese, although I’m a little sick of Emmenthaler and looking forward to more variety in that department. I used up the Roquefort on our pizza the night before. 

Brian also wanted to see any handicrafts we bought, looking for insect infestations. We showed him the few baskets and wooden bowls we acquired, and after a quick look around in random cabinets and the bilge, we were granted clearance. No muss no fuss; service with a smile.

Next came Customs and more forms to fill out. By 10 o’clock we were officially granted entry into New Zealand for 90 days. Escape Velocity is allowed to stay for two years. Jack and I will need to apply for a visa extension in Auckland. 

We called the jam-packed marina to see if they had room for us because we wanted to tie up and chill for a few days after such a hectic cruising season. The only berth left that would accommodate us was on the commercial wharf nearly in the pathway of the frequent car ferry that crosses the bay. “We’ll take it,” we said and before long we were secure and tidied up. 

We made plans with the other boats to meet for happy hour but as the time grew closer I suddenly hit the wall. All the months of stress and activity caught up with me and my legs nearly buckled with exhaustion. I told Jack to go on without me and went home to sleep the sleep of the sailor who no longer has to stand watch in a few hours. I know I missed a great welcome party but even days later I’m still grinning with joy and amazement that we made it all the way to New Zealand in just over a year after getting re-rigged. We’re so proud of ourselves, so happy with our dear Escape Velocity, so delighted to have plenty of time to explore this beautiful country. 

But first, more sleep. 

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It’s good to be home

After being blown out of Minerva Reef in a froth of wind and waves, we few, nearly the last of the class of 2015, headed southwest for Kiwi Land, home of the silver fern and the long white cloud. We were all so sure we would be taking a pasting somewhere along this passage, known for its frequent nasty weather, that we had only rolled out what we call the “logo reef” which exposes barely enough sail to just show our Manta graphic at the very head of our mainsail. We all had our strategies for dealing with too much wind and waves, some of us were more cautious than others but we felt that seven knots was fast enough in these conditions. Having lost a mast will do that to you.

After a day and a half that nasty trough had blown itself out and somehow the morning Magellan SSB net found all five of us roughly in a line spread out over about thirty miles of South Pacific Ocean. With fronts and troughs, feel free to insert your preferred arcane descriptive weather related terms here, rumbling off New Zealand every four days or so, conventional wisdom says that you want to leave at the tail end of an uncomfortable front so that the front that you inevitably run into isn’t too bad, just as one arrives in New Zealand. So I feel we can tick that box. Sailing in fairly close proximity to several sailboats all heading for the same destination made me a little apprehensive but I found Macushla’s green masthead nav light, twinkling over on the horizon, somehow reassuring. 

Day after day we Escapees found ourselves sailing full and by or even motor-sailing in blue skies and flat seas searching for more wind while zig-zagging around the Pacific’s meandering but powerful currents. Ironic that our morning Magellan Net became a version of a “where’s the beef” kind of thing. 

I saw the long white cloud appear and before long I had the pleasure of calling out,”Land Ho!” as Whale Rock, a rocky spire, pierced the clouds and then Black Rock and Rangiate Island slowly revealed themselves. Opua, the Bay of Islands, was dead ahead.  

 Marce made me slow up because we had heard that our cheese, which was destined for a celebratory or Thanksgiving pizza, might be confiscated so we had no intention of showing up while the authorities were still open for business. Our chart plotter refused to read the New Zealand chart compact flash card so I had to make do with the iPad to navigate us up the Veronica Channel. There’s nothing like a little last minute drama to make you feel right at home. I fear it’s becoming a habit. 

Quarantine at the Opua Marina is a curved floating dock isolated by water and a fence from the actual marina, so when we pulled up at 1800 hrs. there was no one to help with the docklines but we managed to corral Escape Velocity in the stiff current and wind. Marce had to jump for the dock and had a turn around one of the few cleats just in time before things got pear shaped. In ones and twos boats began to arrive, to the extent that I spent the next few hours dreaming of pizza and helping late arrivals tie up to the quarantine dock.    

 Marce held the pizza and soon the dock was filled, nuts to butts with sailboats of all descriptions, with the lone exception a small spot right behind us. In the morning our friends Mark and Sue on Macushla were tucked in there.  

 We never heard a thing. Could it have been the serious pizza pig-out or that last bottle of decent wine?

It’s good to be home.

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Pinch me

We’re still enjoying a dream passage to New Zealand, one that’s destined to become legend, not just to those of us who are sailing it but for the weather watchers, too. After a few days of very light winds today we have a perfect 10-12 knots aft of the beam with a favorable current. You can’t ask for anything more than that. It’s nearly 4 o’clock on American Thanksgiving Day and with only about 140 miles to go to the Customs dock in Opua we have much to be thankful for.

Our families are gathering in clusters here and there and we wish them all a day of love and laughter and good food prepared and enjoyed together. We will miss, as we have since we’ve been cruising, my sister’s pies and the ceremonial distribution of the coveted jars of Dave’s homemade pickles and Nancy’s homemade jam. We just opened our last jar of Nancy’s blueberry jam, our favorite, and swooned over the taste of summer in the temperate mid-Atlantic states.

We’re upside down in seasons now and it’s taking some getting used to. I’ve spent much of my life at about 40 degrees north latitude and late November has always been one of my favorite times of the year. The sun gets low in the sky, the days are short, the air smells of wood smoke and leaf clutter and bread in the oven. It’s a time for hearty soup simmering on the stove, for turnips and parsnips and chestnuts, for cozy sweaters, for brisk bike rides on frozen river trails, for warming the house with good friends on a chilly evening.

We’re now at about 33 degrees south latitude and heading southward. The sky is still light at 9 o’clock and the air is warm enough for t-shirts all day. When we arrive in New Zealand I’ll find asparagus and spring peas instead of root vegetables and winter squashes. It’s November on the calendar but May in my head. Still, we’ll warm the boat with good friends and enjoy our good fortune to be living this life of perpetual adventure and discovery.

We’re thankful for our family and friends, for our comfort and safety aboard EV, for each other, and for all of you who share our journey. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Those crazy Canadians

In the middle of the ocean, about five hundred miles from New Zealand, Oceanna pulled up beside us and Greg told us over the radio to watch his “extreme ocean shower.” He ran to the bow, did a somersault into the water between the hulls, the boat sailed over him and he grabbed a trailing line and climbed back aboard at the stern. What!? He did it three times; the second two I got on video. Both boats were moving pretty quickly at the time, too.

Kaycee told me later he did it buck naked for Pim and Hanneke on Nelly Rose. When I asked Greg why we didn’t rate the nude version he said, “You have to be Dutch for that!”

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Moseying southward

Jack woke me at six this morning and said we needed to get more sail up. We raised the mainsail all the way — a rare thing on an ocean passage — and we are now sailing full and by. I love that term. It means all sails up and drawing. We’re in light winds, making steady progress. Our forecast shows the winds abandoning us and we’ll have to motor when it does. This stretch of ocean is prone to frequent fronts marching along with some regularity and we have a window now with nothing threatening until the end of the week. We want to get safely into port before any nastiness crops up, and for that we don’t have the luxury of waiting for more wind. So as soon as our average boat speed drops below 5kts we’ll fire up an engine and forge ahead. Luckily the seas have settled down quite a bit and it’s no longer a gymnastic exercise to cross the bridge deck to get a cup of tea.

We have three other boats within about 30 miles of us. We’re just trying to keep up.

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Check that windspeed

As promised, a blow passed over us on Friday afternoon and everyone hunkered down on their own boats to keep watch. Even Greg from Oceanna took a day off from fishing. The reports varied as to what we could expect but the wind only went briefly into the 30s and we felt snug and secure on our well-buried anchor. While the wind was building Jack could still do little projects on the boat and I made passage food and baked bread but as the wind grew stronger it got a little bumpy onboard so we settled in and watched Part I of No Direction Home, the Bob Dylan documentary. By 7 o’clock the worst of it had passed and we got the boat ready for sea and made an early night of it.

Saturday still held residual big and lumpy seas and winds a little higher than we like to start out in, but all the skippers agreed with the weather experts that despite an uncomfortable first day, we might be looking at the best opportunity this season to make an unscathed voyage to the Land of the Long White Cloud. We sure hope so. This is our last passage on this leg of our Pacific journey and we’re looking forward to a relaxing six months in New Zealand.  

   
Jack just made a sandwich, an activity that I think resulted in some bruising and much cursing in the rowdy conditions. I’m wisely staying put for as long as I can. The wind and seas will eventually moderate but not for hours yet. I’m going to put the headphones on and listen to music. Wake me when it’s over.

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Is this a life, or what?

The morning after our beach bonfire Nicki from Karie-L made an excited announcement on the radio that they’d just speared a large fish right from the deck of their boat. A little while later she dinghied over to offer Jack a piece of it. How’s that for home delivery? We don’t fish and I don’t eat fish, but Jack is always grateful whenever someone else’s bounty spills over to him.

Greg from Oceanna went out to the reef to fish as usual, and stopped by EV on the way to give us some fresh coconut from all the nuts he’d husked the night before to fuel the bonfire, and I gave him a thumb drive with some books I’d told him about. Jack worked on a few boat projects and I spent much of the day peeling, grating and toasting the coconut, with a few hours off for a visit with Mark and Sue from Macushla. Later in the afternoon Greg came by again with a huge lobster for Jack’s birthday. The birthday isn’t for a few days but it’s likely we’ll be at sea again by then, and tomorrow our expected nasty weather moves in and we’ll all be boatbound minding our anchors.

Jack was delighted with the unexpected gift but had no clue what to do with a whole lobster. I’m no help, never having eaten one in my life and not so interested in the cooking of it either. Greg talked Jack through the process, then in an act of supreme kindness, actually cut the tail off for him and dumped the rest, handing Jack a perfect lobster tail ready to be cooked.  

   
After parboiling then grilling, our birthday boy sat down to his favorite — and very rare — birthday dinner.  

   
Seriously, keep this in mind. We’re in the middle of the ocean, inside a reef, with no land in hundreds of miles. And Jack gets fresh fish and a lobster for his birthday from generous fishing friends anchored nearby.

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We five

There were just four boats inside North Minerva Reef when we entered, including some old friends. When we heard there was a beach party organizing, we just knew Oceanna’s Kaycee and Greg were at the bottom of it. They seem to be running a traveling world cabaret tour of mayhem and fun. The only problem I could see was that there’s no beach. Those two put the energizer bunny to shame so you just have to believe that they’ve somehow found a spot of sand somewhere that dries out at low tide. We just didn’t know where this “beach” was.

At the appointed hour, with the sun just getting low we piled into Catnip along with your major beach party requirements; old magazines for burning, a couple of beers for drinking, and something to nibble on. Marce thought she’d heard Greg say it’s over to the right of the lighthouse so we cranked up Catnip and headed out across the anchorage, which has to be a couple of miles wide, looking for…we didn’t know what. We soon found it, a dinghy traveling at high velocity towing a wakeboarder. Greg always travels at full throttle so we figured it had to be them. We caught up as they beached Marie (their dink) on a spit of coral sand 3 meters by 8, just beginning to dry out.  

  This party has a built-in time limitation as the tide would soon be coming back in so Greg started furiously chopping coconuts for the husks to start a fire, with a short break for competitive juggling.   

     
 It gets really, really dark, really, really fast out here but we were rewarded with a spectacular sunset. It was Photo Op Central for everyone.  

    
   
Our toes started to get wet on the incoming tide as our beach disappeared and in near total darkness we headed out toward our twinkling anchor lights way off in the distance. Macushla had the foresight to bring along a flashlight or torch as they say, so I tucked in behind them nestled in the middle of the vee formed by their wake. It was then that I noticed things flashing by in the water! Finally I realized that in near total darkness, with no moon, lit only by a few stars, I was looking at the bottom of the lagoon 70 feet down.

What a night.

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Hello from the Pacific Ocean

At low tide this tiny strip of sand offered up the perfect spot for a beach party. North Minerva Reef.

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Knock knock. Who’s there?

We finished our usual post passage tidy up and were down below when we heard the unmistakable reach-the-back-of-theatre voice of Allison from Saraoni anchored about 200 feet away from us. “Escape Velocity, you brought the heat on the entire anchorage!” We ran outside to find an airplane overhead. Let me reiterate that we are anchored in the lagoon of a mid-ocean reef about 250 miles from the nearest land, a place Jack and I had just been wondering who had jurisdiction, if anyone. Huh, we thought. We don’t often see planes anymore, which is probably hard to imagine when you live in civilization.   

  We went back to our business but the VHF radio crackled to life and a voice called, “All vessels in North Minerva Reef, please switch to channel 6 and identify yourselves by boat name.” It was the New Zealand Navy in an Orion search and rescue plane. Well, that answers our question about jurisdiction, I thought. And then hard on the heels of that thought another, dreaded thought crept into my mind. Is there serious weather coming and are they going to tell us to leave the reef? We had just settled in and the idea of going back out there was not appealing in the least.  

 We changed the channel on the radio and of the five boats at anchor, three of us answered with our boat names. The crews of the other two were together on one boat and apparently didn’t have the radio on. The Navy guy asked the names of the other two boats and we told him. Then he went one by one and asked us a list of questions. Boat name, last port, date of departure, destination port and expected arrival, port of registration, hailing port, registration number, name of captain, number of people on board, whether we had any animals or weapons on board. We all answered very business-like, following marine radio protocol.  

 All this time the plane was circling the reef, making dramatic banking turns and flying so close sometimes that twice I had to wait until he passed us before answering the questions. “You’re very loud,” I said at one point.

By the time he finished with the three of us that initially answered his hail the other two crews noticed what was up and got on the radio. The last boat to answer was Oceanna, the catamaran with the two young and fun-loving Canadians who’d organized the beach bocce tournament with coconuts months ago in the Marquesas. The skipper, Greg, answered the call, then exclaimed, “It’s so cool to see you up there!” There was a long pause, then a deadpan reply, “It’s nice to see you too.”

Greg answered all the questions on ports and people and weapons and animals, and at the end, when the officer thanked him Greg asked, in his inimitable surfer dude voice, “Did you see my backflip off the back of the boat?!” Another, longer pause, during which Jack and I nearly doubled over with laughter. We hadn’t been watching Oceanna but we could well imagine Greg timing some kind of perfect performance for the plane at just the right moment. Then the deadpan voice came back. “We did. It was pretty spectacular. We got it on video.”

“Awesome!” said Greg. And with that the plane signed off, wishing us a safe passage, and was gone.

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