Monthly Archives: December 2015

Happy New Year!

We planned to do New Year’s Eve with our friends on Macushla but when the wind was predicted to hit 30 kts just about prime celebration time we agreed to postpone the party so we could be on our own boats during a blow. Jack and I took the opportunity to have a long-delayed silver anniversary dinner. We were married August 28th, 1990, but when the date rolled around this year I was struggling with a bad back and then we were occupied with getting ourselves back on track and out of the red zone for cyclone season. Better late than never, we say. 

We enjoyed a meal that perfectly embodies our life on Escape Velocity. Our first course soup was made with chestnuts we bought in Martinique. That was followed by pasta from El Salvador with our last batch of pesto sauce that I made and froze in the Galapagos, and a salad of fresh New Zealand tomatoes and cucumbers. Dessert was rice pudding made with rice from Tonga flavored with rum and vanilla from French Polynesia. And to top it off, a 1999 Chateau Lafleur Pomerol from our friend Jeff in Pittsburgh that weathered the years of ocean miles just fine and we’re glad we saved it for this occasion. While we ate I saw that Jack was wearing a sweater he bought in St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, while we were on our epic winter road trip to find a boat.  

Our life is like this. We take with us a little bit of everywhere we’ve been. Each item in our pantry, fridge or freezer triggers a memory — walking through the dusty streets of Isabela, Galapagos, to find a few carrots here, a cabbage there, then post-dismasting discovering an abundance of fresh basil at the market in Santa Cruz and freezing a dozen or so batches of pesto sauce; hiring a driver in El Salvador who spoke no English to take us to the capital to provision at the big supermarkets where I was thrilled to find, among other things, a five pound bag of wild rice for $14; riding funky rental bikes in Huahine, Society Islands, and stopping at a front yard vanilla “plantation” where I bought a tiny bottle of extract. We don’t so much buy souvenirs as adapt our life to our surroundings. When I clean the boat I use a bucket we bought in Hiva Oa, Marquesas. The labels on the cleaning products are in Spanish or French and I remember where I bought each one. The paperbacks we read we pick up at the book exchanges we find anyplace cruising boats gather. Jack is acquiring a wardrobe of T-shirts and caps from everywhere we’ve been. 

None of this is unique among cruisers. We find what we need where we can, or learn to adapt or go without. We fall in love with local specialties like tostones in Costa Rica, or doubles in Trinidad, only to say goodbye to them forever when we leave. On the other hand we haven’t been anyplace where we didn’t find Doritos, Oreos, cornflakes or pizza. French Islands mean daily baguettes and croissants. You can find marmite and golden syrup anywhere the English ever called their own. Provisioning is always a learning experience. I just bought a bag of rolled oats and the package has a recipe for Anzac biscuits, which I had to look up. I’ll make some today while we’re boat bound in pouring rain and the oven will warm the cabin. 

We are global citizens, always eager for new experiences, always meeting new people. As long distance cruisers we don’t just tour the places we go, we actually live in them. We shop where the locals shop, eat what the locals eat, drink the local beer, and often pound the pavement looking for elusive parts or tradesmen so our magic carpets can take us to the next new place. We love it. 

All of this is to say we hope the coming year brings more of the same, and we wish you a year full of your heart’s desire, whatever that may be. And to my husband of 25+ years, I’m glad we’re sharing this incredible adventure. There’s no one in the world I’d rather be with.  



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Way up there

Mark and Sue of Macushla hosted us for a long catch-up happy hour and told us about the great hikes they’ve done around this bay. The most visible here is St. Paul’s Rock, which dominates our view. Our guide book advised that for the last bit there’s a chain to assist on the steep rocks. Frankly it didn’t sound like much fun to me, but if Sue, who also frequently wrestles with a pesky back, can do it I guess I can too. I neglected to factor in my fear of heights. 

We had one more day of good weather before we’d catch the edge of the predicted gale, so even though we would have liked a day of rest after our bumpy ride up here we headed to shore and started the walk.  


As soon as we turned away from the water the road kicked up to at least a 15% grade. I had to stop every 50 feet to catch my breath, and it was at that point we realized we’d left our carefully filled water bottles on the boat. 

“I can’t do it,” I told Jack. My heart was pounding out of my chest and we hadn’t even got to the trail yet. Finally the switchback road leveled out a little and we saw the beginning of the trail. Ah, good. We should be close now. But no. As we stepped out from under the trees the Rock looked unattainably distant.   


Our guide book said it was a 20 minute hike from this point. Right. We started up, negotiating two stiles over pasture fences, and then the trail kicked up in earnest. I paused every few feet of elevation to repeat my mantra: I’m parched, I’m exhausted and my back hurt. Jack kept tromping along but I had lost my will to go on. Jack pointed out that everyone we passed coming back down had bulging leg muscles, apparently used to this kind of thing. We are not.


As we gained elevation the views got better and better and frankly I was thinking this was good enough for me. We don’t have photos of the really steep bits of the trail because we were both often on all fours at a steep drop off and neither of us wanted to stop and pull the camera out. After a while I couldn’t look down and kept my attenton on my feet. We both agreed a trail like this would never exist in the US, or at least not without frequent dire warnings and guard rails.


Finally we made it to the rock itself. Now the hard part.   

The trail wound around and up another very steep climb to a cleft in the rock with a chain to assist in climbing the final bit. I took one look at that and sat down. “I can’t do it,” I said. “You go.” I was parched, exhausted and my back hurt. But more than that, and what the photos don’t convey, it was steep.  I have that height thing, you know.  


So Jack disappeared around the final switchback. I sat as two young women came down, then two young men went up. I’m an idiot, I thought, and started up the rocks. I got about six or eight feet up and got scared and came back down again. Sitting and waiting was fine, I thought. It’s a pretty good view. When Jack came down again I asked if he would go up again with me, and he said he would. I whimpered the whole time, scared to look down, as Jack gently encouraged me. And then I was up. There was a final short trail to the very summit and we were there. Wow.  



Going down was marginally easier than going up, and took just as long. Twenty minutes my ass.  

The best part was later, drinks in hand, watching the sun go down behind St. Paul’s Rock. Mark and Sue told us another climb, Duke’s Nose, is even tougher. Pass. 



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Predictably unpredicted 

It seemed prudent to get out of Dodge. A kind of perfect storm of reasons, coalescing into a major imperative to decamp from the Bay of Islands. First, the barometer was dropping like a stone. Second, we were determined to have a little company for New Year’s, and our old friends on Macushla were heading for the beautiful fiord-like Whangaroa Harbor, with its narrow entrance surrounded by high green hills, as great a hurricane hole as I’ve ever seen. Thirty five miles northwest of Opua and with benign conditions predicted as long as we make it before the low pressure trough hits. Anyone but the most pessimistic would announce problem solved. Easy peazy. We leave at first light tomorrow.

Moving day dawned sunny with a heavy dew on the deck, and soon we were steaming past Russell in a dead calm with the promise of a sailor’s wind out in the ocean.  


Coastal sailing features much to look at, but much to run into as well as countless decisions in the manor of “should we go around that outlying island or can we squeeze through without losing the bottom?” Marce was feeling quite lucky and I was more hesitant but as the day wore on and our wind didn’t show up so the shorter distance won out every time.   


When the wind finally showed up it was predictably unpredicted on the nose with an increasing intensity far beyond anything forecast. Shooting the gaps between rocks and the coast only funneled the nasty wind and exacerbated the nasty sea conditions. The mantra became just hang on it will be over soon, but with Marce’s tender back “soon” was really not soon enough. There were times when with both engines at full cruising power, pinching with our blade jib up, we were barely making a knot and a half. As we closed with what our chart plotter said was the incredibly narrow entrance to Whangaroa Harbor we counted no less than ten yachts all desperately seeking the same harbor of refuge at the same time. All it took was a lot of faith but once inside the 30 knot wind disappeared so we could drop the jib in relative calm.  


As we putted down the fiord it was like Shangri-La in here, you would never know what was going on out there. We found Macushla and dropped anchor in quiet Waitapu Bay under the shadow of mighty St Paul’s Rock which of course with any luck at all, we will summit tomorrow morning and take a picture of Escape Velocity from the top.
It’s good to be home.   


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Where’s the ice cream?

In the interest of broadening our horizons our crack planning team penciled in a deep thrust into the heart of the Bay of Islands. Like a spaceshot it was to be a two-stage campaign with Escape Velocity getting things started, threading the gap at Kent Passage, turning left at the Brothers, all the way up the estuary anchoring in the shallows off Walnut Island in Blacksmith’s Bay opposite a beautiful vineyard, where Cat Nip our faithful dink would take over running us Escapees all the way up the meandering, incredibly shallow creek they call the Kerikeri River. The goal was to find the Old Stone Store and perhaps a bit of shopping, assuming we could find Kerikeri.  


Winding our way up the river found Your hmbl. Skpr., normally endowed with nerves of steel, quite tense due to a number of factors like the shallow river bars that needed to be crossed over, not to mention the fact that the rest of the world finds it necessary to use the wrong colors on their navigational markers, and I was pretty sure that I forgot to put enough gas in Cat Nip’s tank.

Along the way we discovered Wairua, friends’ boat, last seen in Tahiti, tied up to pilings and alone for the holidays.   

With the water depth getting really thin the stately Old Stone Store and waterfall hove into view. The store is NZ’s oldest stone building dating from 1836.  


Yes that’s all very nice but if I know you, Escapees, you’re asking where’s the ice cream? It turns out it’s just around the corner but the town of Kerikeri, sadly, was miles away and uphill all the way. If you want Yours Truly’s opinion we should have stayed with the ice cream. It was the kind of thing where you’re sure that it couldn’t be much farther and what would it mean if you’re going to Kerikeri but just gave up without seeing Kerikeri? 

We should have just given up. It turns out that it was Sunday and most of the shops were closed. Saturday…Sunday, they’re all pretty much the same to us.  

Back at the dink, feet burning, I checked the gas tank. Strictly touch and go. There would be no tip-toeing around tied-up boats this time. Cat Nip was up on plane the whole way back to EV.
Sorry Wairua, yes that was me.

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The view of the back porch


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A different Christmas

We’ve only once before spent Christmas alone and that was while we were still in the States and could at least Skype our family. This year we find ourselves in a beautiful anchorage on Urupukapuka Island in the stunning Bay of Islands, New Zealand, with not another boat around. In the few days before Christmas the anchorage was abuzz with locals on vacation. Boats came and went; at one point there were 21 boats of all kinds surrounding us. But by Christmas Eve they had all left, home we guess, to be with family. 

When we awoke Chrismas morning I was feeling glum despite the view from the back porch and the joy we still feel at having made it across the Pacific to this holy grail of sailing destinations. As I started the laborious process of making our traditional German Apple pancake breakfast I burst into tears from missing Drew and Ericka, who always joined us for breakfast Christmas morning. Jack said to forget the elaborate breakfast, but I told him that keeping the traditions would be what made a lonely day bearable. And sure enough, by the time breakfast was ready my spirits had lifted. It didn’t hurt that it was the first sunny day we’ve had in a while and sunshine always puts a smile on our faces.   



After breakfast we dinghied ashore to hike the many trails that crisscross the island. We hiked for nearly four hours, up and down, over hill and dale, every summit offering another breathtaking vista.  





Even the way the trails meandered over the landscape was beautiful, and we stopped often to appreciate our destination from a distance. “These Kiwis really know how to make trails,” Jack said more than once.  

There are archaeological sites on this island, early Maori settlements, but they’ve been covered up after the research was done with only a placard to give the visitor an idea of what was once here. We both think they need to work on that.  


We started to flag by the end and we were glad to make it back down to the beach.  


Back aboard EV we called our Irish Christmas curry peeps in Pittsburgh, who were about to sit down to dinner.  


After a flurry of cooking Jack and I enjoyed our own curry dinner, and though we miss everyone Christmas turned out pretty good after all. We wish you all a happy day surrounded by people you love, and even if you can’t be with them we wish you peace and joy. And enough samosas to go around. 



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Naughty or nice

I can’t say that we’ve managed to acclimate ourselves to the temperature down here (too cold) or humidity (too rainy) but I think this picture of M. conning Escape Velocity while leaving Russell tells the tale.    

  We’re off for a spot of Island hopping in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands. There are so many anchorages that it’s hard to choose and we want to stage ourselves for Christmas but still hike up a few of the many trails that seem to crisscross these islands and of course take a picture of EV from hard-won heights. With that in mind, first up would be Waiwhapuku Bay which is a narrow passage sandwiched between Moturua and Motukiekie Islands, yes I know, these names, and I thought French Polynesia was tough.  

We’d heard that there were WWII installations still in place up on the heights but it was still a shock coming upon a pillbox in this beautiful natural setting.  

We crossed the island to Mangahawea Bay where this fellow took exception to my walking on his beach. He actually charged at me squawking bloody murder.  

 Back on our beach we ran into volunteers from the Island Song Project who are dedicated to returning these Islands back to their natural state, but who would really know what that is?  Part of their work is trapping the predators that have reduced the bird populations. 


 Communication is certainly back to its natural state, forcing us to hoist our last functioning iPhone up the mast on a flag halyard just so you can read this post.  

 Next up was an enticingly named Paradise Bay, not more than a few miles away. There are extensive hiking trails on Urupukapuka Island, the largest in the group, and we were surprised to find just one boat at anchor in this large beautiful bay. By evening, there were 19 boatloads of hardy, determined, exercise-crazed yachtsmen recreating in cold damp Paradise Bay with little more than a modest swimsuit for warmth. When we first arrived in NZ a local called it just one big outdoor adult playground. They are hardy souls, these Kiwis.

They don’t get carried away with holiday spirit down here and we find ours is flagging as well. In the meantime Saint Nick, whether I’ve been naughty or nice, I’ll be easy to spot. I’m the one under a pile of jackets.


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In the mood, a little

It’s been hard getting into the holiday spirit, what with most of our cruising friends either back home or scattered all over the many anchorages in a sudden and unexpected diaspora, and with our land-based friends and family so far away. Add to that a snow-free environment and it just doesn’t feel like Christmas. Last year we were back in Pittsburgh eating traditional Irish curry with our loved ones. Two years ago we were in Martinique eating curry with our friends from Flying Cloud. See a pattern? This year it’ll be curry onboard, but for just the two of us. The samosa filling is ready to go, the curry is made and we even strung solar lights in the cockpit. All we need is a parade. Luckily Russell had one planned and we met soon-to-be-ex-cruisers Pim and Hanneke for a couple of days of slow-poke wandering punctuated by beer and pizza, and capped off by the 8-1/2 minute parade. Thanks, Russell! And a sad goodbye to Pim and Hanneke.  




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The view from the back porch


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To the top of Russell

We explored a little more of Russell on a relatively warm day and hiked to Flagstaff Hill for a beautiful view over the harbor. 



We’re really enjoying the deciduous trees and the beautiful gardens everywhere we go.  



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