May 13 - June 9, 2010


* The Containership Eagle's Wings

* Waiting For Weather

* Life Goes On All Around Us

* Hope For the Best, Plan For The Worst


May 13 - June 9, 2010

Containership Eagle's Wings

At first, all we had for tsunami-wracked Niuatoputapu were a solar panel and big lead-acid battery for the clinic that our friend Tracy had organized. We wanted more than that, but it's hard to buy for 1000 people.

Ken with solar panel, lashed down for sea.

Using the generous donations from other cruisers (arranged by Tracy) as well as our own funds, we went out and bought some stuff. We got 8 nice shovels for farming, 2 axes, 10 machetes, 10 hand saws, 10 hammers, lots of aluminum foil, about 20 lbs of nails, 15 wind-up LED flashlights (no batteries needed!), about 20 kitchen knives, a bunch of vegetable seeds, 20 ten-liter jerry jugs for water, some fish hooks, about 50 reading glasses, 50 drinking cups, 20 cans of corned beef (considered an exotic delicacy), and some other supplies for the clinic.

Wind-up LED lights...

It was tough buying stuff -- normally we don't compromise on quality, but here, if we spent half as much per item we could buy twice as many. On the other hand these things had to stand up to getting used by Tongans. Mostly we bought good stuff. Tongans are big people.

Anyway, that took care of about 180 people, which only left 820 to go.

While we busy buying and stowing all this stuff, we missed the only weather window for leaving New Zealand in the entire month of May -- more about that in a bit. But, while we were stuck here, waiting for weather, a kind of fishes and loaves thing happened.

First a Dutch cruiser named Han (from Esperanza) climbed on his bicycle, went to the local Red Cross and got them to contribute boxes of used school books and used prescription glasses. Then he went to Woolworth's, a local supermarket, and got piles of donated canned food supplies. Including special treats like Spam!

Han and Beth proudly display some of the supplies going to Niuatoputapu.

Then Jack and Marcia on "Tracen J." went out and bought 20 large plastic buckets. And Dave and Mary on Kismet contributed 50 brand-new stainless steel, serrated steak knives. (There's no steak on Niuatoputapu, but sharp, high quality knives are immensely useful.) And Susanne on Kaumoana donated a very nice, large stainless steel mixing bowl. Sharron at the Town Basin Marina gave us some clothing and other items for the children.

Next, Keini (a Niua girl who married a cruiser and now lives in NZ), came by with some friends and gave us a whole pile of stuff -- a kerosene camp stove and some frying pans for her mother, and lots of dishes, pots, pans, cloth, sewing supplies, as well as a bunch of diving goggles, t-shirts, and other odds and ends for general distribution.

Keini (second from left) with friends, bearing gifts.

Then Ray Roberts, who runs the marina here, donated a bunch of used lines, some used diesel jerry jugs, plastic dishes, a lantern, and a collection of hand tools. And Duncan and Maria on Sea Topaz gave us a pile of used lines from their boat. (Islanders need line to tie their horses and goats.)

Then Ray came back again and donated two huge boxes full of really nice copper bottomed pots and pans, lots of plastic containers, and loads of linens and towels.

Anyway, at this point EW was getting a bit full.

Suitcases and bins brimming with items at left. More supplies to stow at right.

Before we decided to do this supply mission, we thought EW didn't have room for one more screwdriver. Now we're thinking we'd better go soon, or we'll draw too much water to get down the river.

The Tough Part

And here's a problem we haven't solved yet -- how do we distribute this stuff? When Ken was just out of college, he worked for a very smart guy who told him that giving stuff away was the hardest thing in the world. A market transaction between two people -- who each get something they want -- that's easy. Everybody's happy, and people who don't take part don't care, because they could get in on it if they wanted to pay.

Now try giving stuff away! Everybody thinks their neighbor got more, so they're mad at the neighbor and at you. And if you try to hire help, you get bribery and corruption, since the guy who controls the goodies can extract kickbacks. This is why foreign aid doesn't work very well.

Anyway, we don't have much of a plan, except to spend a lot of time talking to people and visiting before we start handing stuff out -- so that we'll know something about who suffered the biggest losses. We have a few contacts on the island who should be helpful. After we've done a little targeted giving, we'll let each of the three villages divide most of the stuff up however they want.

And we'll hope that all those axes and machetes don't get used on the neighbors. Or us.

Waiting For Weather

Getting in and out of New Zealand is just never easy.

New Zealand sits on the edge of the Southern Ocean, where fierce storms circle the globe with no land at all to stop them. When they get below the Tasman Sea, between Australia and NZ, these storms draw bitterly cold air from Antarctica and throw it against the hot air masses coming from the Australian Outback -- a desert about the size of the lower 48 states. This collision then draws in warm, moist air which has just traveled 5000 miles in the trade winds across the South Pacific tropics. Sometimes you can even mix in a tropical cyclone.

The result is almost as bad as putting Republicans and Democrats in the same room.

Recent barometer readings. At left, series of lows; at right a very deep low.

Anyway, this year so far, there has been one great weather window for leaving, on May 2nd. We wanted to be ready for that window -- Ken was going around telling everyone we would be ready to leave by "the beginning of May."

It's now June 8th, and we should be ready almost any day.

But it doesn't matter, because, once we missed that May 2 window, there's been nothing else. At one point the weather charts showed nothing but gale-force Northerlies for days. (Kind of tough on a sailboat going North.) We told our friends that soon all of the air would end up at the South Pole, and we wouldn't be able to breathe.

Sometimes we feel like chickens sitting here for weeks. But we've seen several boats leave, only to come back as the conditions deteriorated. We had two sets of friends come back in and sell their boats this year, following failed passages out of NZ.

And just a few days ago a Dutch couple was rescued about 70 miles off New Zealand after their boat was rolled and dismasted.

So we're patient. There are bold sailors and there are old sailors. But there are no old, bold sailors.

Never Ending Boat Work

And, of course, we keep working on the boat all the time. We could talk for days about all the little changes and improvements and fixes we've made, but we won't, at least not in this update. Here are two little ones.

What do you think? Did our dorade cowls need changing?

UV is really tough on the pvc dorade vent covers. Plus Beth got a little too enthusiastic cleaning them, and used a cleaner which attacked the plastic on the cowls. We had to replace the whole lot (see the nice white covers in back).

And here's the kind of stuff that brings down masts...

Notice the crack at the weld on the right side of the ring. This hefty ring held our old flexible staysail furler in place.

Meanwhile Life Goes On All Around Us

We confess to spending too much time with our heads in the boat, stowing, working on boat projects, reading on the internet. But just outside our boat, the river is full of life. Here's just a small sample.

At the left, a kingfisher eats a mud crab. A pied stilt hunts at right.


A white-faced heron and another kingfisher.


And then there are the feral geese "Braveheart" and "Squeaky" (named by some fellow cruisers) who are a fixture at the marina. They are inseparable and very cute.


Kiwi kids know how to have a good time...

Hope For The Best, Plan For The Worst

Finally, here's a bit of disaster planning. Most boats carry some means of cutting away their shrouds (the wires that support and tension the mast). If a sailboat gets rolled by a wave, the mast will usually break off. But it will remain attached by the shrouds, and will pound against the hull. Either you cut it free or, eventually, you sink. (Or you have a steel boat, in which case you do neither.)

Some boats plan to use hacksaws. But we challenge anybody to cut a 12 millimeter stainless wire rope with a hacksaw. Let alone 9 of them. (Counting forestays and the backstay.)

Some boats carry bolt cutters. But even really big bolt cutters require both hands, and a lot of strength to cut that kind of wire. Often you have to put one handle on the deck and throw your weight up and down on the other handle. Try doing that in the kind of conditions that will roll a sailboat! Try doing that if you're Beth, and weigh less than the bolt cutters.

More realistically, you can plan to pull out the cotter pins with pliers, then punch out the clevis pins with a hammer and punch. Except that you now need three tools, both hands and a lot of time. In conditions where you have to crawl on your belly just to stay on the boat.

Anyway, here's our solution: the "Toolova Shootit", a German gizmo that uses a blank 22 cartridge to fire a cutting blade against the shroud.
Here's Beth, about to cut a bit of rigging wire. Note that "Squeaky" and "Braveheart" are very interested, since they hope to ship out as riggers some day. Also they hope that this process will involve something to eat.
  And the result...

That's it for a while, unless the weather keeps us here for another month. Our next post will probably come from Fiji, because there's no internet in Niuatoputapu. Hopefully the weather will give us a break soon. We've got a long (1500nm) voyage ahead of us.