November 26, 2007 - January 1, 2008



Passage to New Zealand -- 1200 miles in 6 and 1/2 days!

A Very, Very Expensive Breakdown

Scottish Sports: Throwing Big Heavy Stuff (And Then Dancing to Celebrate)


November 26 - November 30, 2007

And now we had to face the dangerous passage to New Zealand again.

As usual, we waited until everybody else had left -- we're just no good at being in a hurry. So we got to watch as all our friends suffered storms and misery. One group of almost 20 boats diverted to avoid a big storm -- at one point the fleet was actually fleeing back North! Then the storm change course and hit them anyway.

Many boats in that fleet suffered damage, and most took over two weeks to travel 1200 miles. Some of the sailors made up a song to the tune of "Charlie on the MTA" about "the fleet that might never arrive". They also wrote limericks about their professional weather advisor. We won't repeat those.

And most folks never took a shower the whole time. Wheew!

After we arrived in New Zealand, we visited Water Musik to hear the story firsthand.

Larry and Carmen, on "Water Musik" had their hydraulic steering system fail, their forestay break, and their fresh water tanks leak.

They hand steered with their emergency tiller for eight days, battling horrific conditions and getting really thirsty.

Handsteering for eight days took its toll

No wonder that a lot of cruisers sell their boats in New Zealand!

Meanwhile, we worked with two different weather routers to pick a weather window for ourselves. First one router said "go" and the other said "stay." We stayed, passing up a chance to race Tropical Cyclone "Guba" to New Zealand. Who wants to get sunk by something called "Guba?"

A few days later our routers reversed positions, the first saying "stay" and the other saying "go." We passed again.

At last, after nearly two weeks of waiting, we found a window we liked. And, incidentally, our routers finally agreed with each other.

December 1 - December 7, 2007

Passage To New Zealand

Getting off to a good start. Placid conditions made for nice start to the trip

We had gorgeous weather for the beginning of our trip -- its always nice to ease into a passage, allowing your body to acclimate to the rhythms and motion of the boat.

Wing and wing With the whisker pole to port, we set the sails for "wing and wing" -- a very efficient rig for downwind sailing. We toyed with hoisting a larger sail, but with the weather turning squally we played it conservative.

Active volcanic islands at the outer reaches of Tonga loomed ominously even in the daylight.

And at night, light from the molten craters reflected off the acrid sulfur clouds above. We couldn't see the reflections with our naked eyes, but we got a spectacular show through our night vision scope.

Volcanic islands belching smoke

Daman whips into a frenzy

Then, just a few days after we left, the weather gurus started calling for Tropical Cyclone "Damen" to follow us toward NZ.

So we gave up fishing, hoisted all the sail we could carry, and got ready for the race of our lives.

The next few days were intense but uneventful as Damen bobbed and weaved, but never did follow us. In the end Damen did some damage in Fiji, scored a near miss on Tonga and then blew apart. Meanwhile we made fast, steady progress to New Zealand. We were on track for a very fast passage.

1120 miles to the south of Tonga, we had our own weather issues. The wind had died off completely (down to 3-7 knots). The horizon started to look darker and darker. Storm curtain approaching

Beth was standing her morning watch, and getting a little sleepy. Then she looked at the latest high seas forecast and her heart jumped to her throat. Winds were predicted to accelerate from 3 to 40 knots in our area NOW! Beth decided we need to make a lot of serious preparations FAST and roused Ken from a deep slumber.

We don't wake the off watch unless the situation is extraordinary, so Ken knew we were in trouble. He woke with adrenaline pumping.

We just barely got the jib furled and the main set to the 3rd reef. We didn't have time to take down the whisker pole, but we thought it would be ok as long as we were on port tack (and the pole would be angled up, instead of down toward the water).

Then the weather hit us like a wall. As predicted, the wind soared from 3 knots to 40 knots in minutes. And for the next eight hours, we had one heck of a ride.

Angry seas

It didn't take long for the wind to generate awesome waves. We felt like we were in a washing machine.

But, even with waves breaking over the boat, our pilothouse kept us dry and warm.

Mountainous waves


Wind blown spume The wind blew at 35-40 knots for eight hours and topped out at 43 knots -- the most wind we've seen at sea, although still well short of a serious storm. Big wind


Ken enjoying the ride and hoping nothing broke We roared toward New Zealand. Surfing down a wave we clocked 19 knots!!! For the last eight hours of our trip we averaged 10+ knots of boat speed.

Opua Landfall

Land ho! Cape Brett's jagged rocks looked forbidding but they were a welcome sight -- we were almost there! Breathing a sigh of relief to see Cape Brett

We just made it to the dock at Opua as night fell at 8:00 p.m.. Fortunately the wind eased up as we docked the boat -- some other sailors who came in later had to battle 30 knot winds as they struggled to tie up at the quarantine dock.

Rocking and rolling in Opua

The weather was dreadful in Opua for several days, but we didn't care. We had made it -- 1200 nm in 6 1/2 days. We were thrilled!

During those last ballistic eight hours, we held our breath that nothing would break. Miraculously, the only damage was a paper towel holder that Beth had tried to use as a handhold. Who cares about the paper towels?  We made it!

An Expensive Breakdown: Our Cuben Fiber Sails Fail

Actually we did suffer another, very important breakdown, but this one had nothing to do with the weather. Our very expensive Cuben Fiber sails began to delaminate.

Our cuben fiber sail delamination These small bubbles spell the end of our sails. Once the material starts to break down like this, it's no longer strong enough to handle the demands we put on it.

We had expected these sails to last for our whole trip, but they failed after only four years of moderate use. We were astonished, as were all the sailmakers we consulted. The breakdown seems related to time, rather than use. Even our "code zero" sail -- which we practically never use -- has failed the same way.

Another cruiser had warned us last year about this problem. Their Cuben Fiber sails (right) went from small blisters like ours to this catastrophic failure in a very short time. Cuben fiber failure on our friend's boat

We don't fault our sailmaker, Shore Sails (now part of Quantum), since they didn't make this material. But we think that Cuben Fiber probably doesn't make sense for our type of cruising.

This will be the most expensive failure we've suffered to date. New high-tech sails cost about as much as a new car. A very nice new car. Oh well ... we didn't really need a new car anyway.

December 8 - December 14, 2007

Back Home in NZ

When the weather finally cleared, we spent a few days enjoying our return to New Zealand.

Des (at right with Beth) runs daily SSB radio nets for cruisers going to and from New Zealand. Des keeps track of everybody and relays weather reports. He really lit up when Beth thanked him with a big fat kiss! Appreciating Des


Weta in the wild We delighted in New Zealand's cool weather, interesting insect life, and lush vegetation. New life


Unusual mailbox designs It's hard not to fall in love with New Zealand!

December 15 - December 17, 2007

Last year we high-tailed it from Opua to Whangarei. This year we decided to take a more leisurely pace and explore a little of New Zealand by boat.

Urupukapuka Island

Urupukapuka Island in the Bay of Islands. We pretty much had the place to ourselves at the anchorage on the south side of the island. Eagle's Wings all by her Lonesome


Knee deep in grass The tall grass made hiking slow and difficult -- kind of like walking in deep snow. Tree twisted by the wind

Maybe it was the tall grass or maybe it was the big red flowers. But wow --for the first time in her life Beth had an allergic pollen reaction.

Oyster catcher foraging

This normally skittish oyster catcher did not take flight as we got closer -- the reason soon became apparent.

Can you find her egg in the picture on the right?

Well hidden egg

December 18 - December 23, 2007

Great Barrier Island

Many friends had raved about the beauty of the Great Barrier Island to the south so we decided to take a detour there on our way Whangarei.

Peeks on Hens and Chickens islands On our way to Great Barrior: Hen and Chickens Islands (left) poking mysteriously through the clouds. Dolphins frolicking off Cape Brett (right). Dolpin escort


At anchor in Great Barrier Island We wound our way into the protected waters of the Great Barrier Island and dropped anchor for a few days. Only a handful of other boats were there but we knew it couldn't last -- the Christmas holiday would soon bring big crowds.
Kiwi women are tough. This one pulled the anchor up by hand while the captain helpfully yelled advice. Heave ho!
After giving some advice, he DID lend a hand The captain comes forward to make sure she could hear his advice clearly.

Great Barrier Island has some challenging trails and we set off with the goal of reaching Mt Hobson, the tallest peak on the island.

Very carefully crossing a creek

We wore heavy waterproof boots to hike the rocky trails.

So imagine our shock when we saw bare footprints (right) in the mud!

That's a tough hombre!

Small footprints in the mud


Lush vegetation in this very damp climate A hard but beautiful trail. Lunch break

Breathtaking views from high up.

Breathtaking views Dramatic peaks Rugged terrain viewed from Mt. Hobson


VERY tiny swing bridge This was by far the skinniest swing bridge we'd ever seen. Max capacity: 1 person! We were glad we were small people.

We got fishing poles and tried our luck catching snapper near the anchorage.

We could hardly keep them off the hook -- here we have two that took the same piece of bait.

They were a bit smaller than our usual ocean catch -- in fact, too small to keep.

Wrestling up some dinner

December 24 - December 31, 2007

Riverside Marina

Sunrise on the Whangarei River Heading up the Whangarei River just after sunrise. Once we tied up, at our old home, Riverside Drive Marina, we'd stay put until we left again for the tropics next spring.

It was great to get back to Riverside Marina. We met up with some old friends and made new ones, too.

Bob with mininiature canon  

Bob, his wife, Caroline, and their young son, Odin, just returned from New Caledonia on their 50 year old wooden boat "Armorel".

Bob used to be a U.S. Navy Seal and is one very tough cookie. He carries this small cannon just in case.

Here's another tough cookie. Debrae used to work as a commercial fisher and diver in Alaska's frigid waters!

She offered advice about how to deal with polar bears when they get tangled in your fishing net. Yikes!

Turns out that she made those barefoot tracks we had seen earlier on Great Barrier Island.

Free spirit Debrae
Getting off to a proper start with freshly baked cookies

Beth made chocolate chip cookies for the crew of "Sirona", our neighbors at the dock.

These folks had just bought their boat two days earlier, and were already leaving for a six thousand mile passage to South America.

We figured they were going to need the cookies.

While the New Zealanders were still as friendly as we remembered, we saw some changes. A rise in gang activity and drug use (especially meth) has led to increased crime and vandalism.

New gang graffiti on bench along local trail

We started to see gang graffiti.

None of this was here last year.

Even the trees were victim of vandalism


Summertime fun Most of the New Zealand still has that small town innocence. We just hope it can survive the darker side of Western culture.

January 1, 2008

Scots Throwing Heavy Stuff

New Zealand's Scottish clans hold a sporting, musical, and dancing competition every year in the town of Waipu near Whangarei. We decided to check it out.

Young and old alike participate -- from big burly guys to wispy girls. They ALL were extremely serious. Miniature Scottish dancer


Stirring bagpipes

Each clan marched under their own banner.

Clan Wallace (right) sported the "Braveheart" look.

Scott from clan Wallace


Traditional Scottish sports pretty much all involve throwing something big and heavy.

Winding up for hammer throw The hammer throw (left) and stone throw (right). Stone throw


Winding up for throw Sheaf toss (really, a 12 lb sack of hay) using a pitchfork. Hoisting a bale of hay


Winding up for weight throw

Weight throw -- a heavy weight on the end of a chain.

We also figured out what Scottish men wear under their kilts. Gym shorts.

One more turn should do it

Patrick Hellier, the fellow shown in the two picturest above, has won the Heavyweight division at the Waipu Games 12 times! This year he scored 1sts in 7 out of 8 events. Wow!

The caber toss tops everything -- basically you have to throw a telephone pole.

Very carefully picking up pole

We decided not to participate.

Balancing act Flipping pole requires strength and precision Champion throw


The dancing really captivated Beth.

Dancing the fling Young girls in gorgeous costumes whose feet hardly touched the floor. Dancers showing grace and agility


  Sailors hornpipe Scores of events, lots of costume changes, but only one boy (right) in the whole thing. (That's a girl on the left.) The lone boy shows his Irish jig


Sword dance

Each dancer competed in a dizzingly number of events, making for a very tiring day.

By the end of it, the little dancers looked pretty dazed and exhausted -- but they didn't quit.

Giving it her all

Back to Reality

And now it's back to work. As usual we have a long list of boat projects ahead of us. But first we're leaving the beautiful New Zealand summer to visit the USA. In January...