Monday, December 26, 2011

Bay of Islands; hiking, birthday and Christmas

The Bay of Island continues to be great fun; lots of uphill hikes, beautiful vistas, fish catching, sunny sailing and loads of hanging out with family and friends.

Cape Brett light house and hiking trail

the hiking has been some of the beswt I've ever had!

Ca and his first deep sea tuna!

Beach combers

Britannia at anchor

My favorite tree

New Zealand coast, north island

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New Zealand, Bay of Islands

After a week in the marina it was nice to get back out; off the dock and on the hook. The days have been rainier than what we would have liked, but it didn't keep us from exploring the beautiful islands in the bay and along the coast. Locals say that the weather has been cooler and wetter than normal. It feels like winter in Northern California to us; which is nice, because I haven't fully warmed up to the idea of Christmas in the summer.

We spent lots of time hiking the many well groomed trails of Roberton & Urupukapuka Islands and Whangamumu Harbor. We've even been able to go for a couple good runs (boy are we out of shape!)I've been crazy for collecting shells and little beach pebbles for beading projects. Krister brother, Janus, has been fishing and finding his sea legs. He's also the leader in finding shiny abalone shells. And Rick, his step-dad, has been enthusiastically reading Lonely Planet guide books and planning our car trip through the South Island. Krister's other brother, Forrest, will be joining us soon to do the car trip with us. When the boys fly home, my mom and cousin fly in, so it looks like we'll be staying busy visiting with famliy through January.

It's been interesting to have visitors aboard, to see through thier eyes how we first felt about sailing and Britannia. Fun to see how much we've learned and changed this cruising season. We used to think "oh we'll just fix that later" or "the quick and easy way is good enough." Well, like Karma, it all comes around in the end. Krister and I have come to embrace that whatever we put off will need to be done eventually so it might as well be sooner than later. To our surprise we've also become quite competent sailors. High winds and swell don't scare us like they used to do. We know what to expect when the weather forecasts 25 knots and 2 meter seas. We've learned ways to prepare and make ourselves more comfotable in rough weather; put in the reef, secure everything below deck, made meals before leaving the anchorage, pump the stinky galley sink, close the thru-hull in the head, have foulies and clothes ready in easy to reach places... and never leave before Amanda's ready ;)

So things are good... photos are coming...
Happy Holidays to all our friends and famliy!

Friday, November 25, 2011

The passage of cascading failures and the wrong wind

From Tonga to New Zealand

Maybe we should have taken the signs more seriously. I mean, sailors as a group are superstitious, and we are sailors now...
Two days before our crew, Joe, arrived I was on deck enjoying my lunch and I casually looked over at the port shroud I was sitting next to and noticed that 2 strands of the cable had corroded and popped out of the swadge. OH shit. Krister and Lauren from Piko spent the next few hours rigging a suitable patch.

Fixing the shroud in the Opua marina

Then there were the little things; the weather window didn't look great, the angel in the head fell onto the floor (after 10 months of sailing I was surprised and thought it odd). It was pouring rain so we took advantage of the chance to fill our water tanks before leaving. Unfortunately as we attempted to fill the tea kettle from the deck water, its lid went over board.
The morning we were to leave, the galley sink burst, flooding the floor. Joe and Krister ran out to the hardware store, and re-plumbed the drain with a concoction of 4200 (that's boat glue). It didn't feel right, but as I watched Piko sail away from us, a sinking feeling came over me. We were one of the last boats left in Vavau, and the last of our friend's boats was leaving...

So we left too... (Yes, we win the lemming award) We had wind right on the nose (to the non-sailor that means a rough ride and lots of water over the deck and in the cockpit) and Britannia handled it better than her crew. It was the first time I actually got sick from sea sickness. It wasn't Joe's first time, but even with the Dramamine he still lost his lunch. Then we discovered that Britannia's bilge isn't what it should be... and then there was water everywhere.

The bilge float switch, being underwater decided it would be a good time to fail. So at a 35 degree heel Krister pulled up the soggy floor boards (which caused the veneer to separate from the board) and replaced the butt splice and re-wired it. Good thing he's a fast fixer. Joe was bailing water down the drain and I was on the emergency hand pump. (We're still drying things out a week later) After that I thought it would be nice not to be on such a severe heel so we reefed down to our third reef point, but somehow in the the process our mainsail tore. Bummer.

The next day, still splashing and bashing I smelled something aweful and toxic. What could it be?! We had to evacuate the cabin before we got too light headed. We each took turns going below, turning on fans airing things out and looking for the source. Finally we pulled up another floor board and saw red. Like a slaughter- there were blobs of red floating and stuck all over the bilge. Apparently the red engine spray paint can had corroded in the previous day's saltwater flood and exploded out of reach behind our starboard water tank.

Then finally one night, the wind died. Piko was within VHF range and called to say they were going to motor through it; strong westerlies were forecasted and it would behoove us all to make landfall before they showed up. So we fired up the iron sail... 8 minutes later there was a chuck-chug and she died. Some how water had gotten into the fuel line. Uh-oh... We drained over a quart of water off the fuel filter and went for the hail mary play; the one where you throttle up and pray she starts again. And she did!

Draining water from the fuel filter underway in the night

At some point our main cooking sauce pan went over board- making anything more than a one pot meal impossible to cook. Good thing we like ramen noodles! We also discovered that the auto pilot steering to the wind loses control when we key the mic for the VHF radio. Funny we never noticed it before. The flag halyard came down with our radar reflector. Our tri-color mast-head navigation light went out. But through it all, the crew remained pretty positive. Joe said, "I heard there's always something broken on boats, I thought that's how sailing was..." and "You guys weren't freaking out so I figured we were okay." It's true, we were never in real danger, just uncomfortable, wet and on bit on edge.

The crew in good spirits

Krister and Joe enjoying the sunshine and calm

Always keep in mind that everything ends eventually. I was on watch 2 am- 6am; about 60 miles out when I first caught the scent of sweet clover- ahhh land. The sun rise was so beautiful I almost cried! It was so good, that it was worth waking Krister after only 2 hours of sleep. The wind died and we motored the last 20 miles into port. Dolphins accompanied us, Krister's family called on the handheld radio to welcome us as they watched us come in and things just kept getting better...

Sunrise before landfall in New Zealand

For those cruisers wondering, the customs and agriculture agents were fairly efficient, and they took all the things they said they would... beans, sprouts, honey, wild rice, and fresh foods. Joe helped out by eating most of it before they came aboard... carrots and popcorn for breakfast? Great!

Raising the Q flag

So we made it! Safe in the slip, with all the fresh water we want, hot showers a short walk up the dock, a fully stocked chandlery, shops in town, and our friends right next door. We celebrated with a huge Thanksgiving feast. After months of food variety deprivation, it was everything I hoped it could be... corn on the cob, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, salad, stuffing, gravy, cranberry jelly, chicken (no turkey would fit into the boat ovens), apple tart, pumpkin pie, chocolate balls... and wine! Thanks to Rick & Janus, the crews of Piko, Shalimar, Architeuthis, Krujeli.

Our Feast!

Thanksgiving on Piko

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

We made it!

We arrived safely in Opua, New Zealand yesterday morning. Lots to say, but I'm going to take my time, get caught up on sleep, and enjoy a Thanksgiving feast first.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Heading South

Well it's time to get back out there again. We've been in Tonga longer than anywhere else on our trip so far- 2 months! The town of Neiafu is slowly closing down. The end of the cruising season means there are less and less boats around and on the radio, shorter business hours and limited services. Our crew, Joe, arrived safely earlier this week and we're anxious to get going. We checked out of Tonga this morning, did our provisioning, and as I write this, Krister is preparing the boat for making way. The weather window looks wet, but doable...

The passage should be about 10 days, putting us into Opua, New Zealand mid- month. I'm looking forward to seeing friends and family, some fast internet and delicious eats!

Best to all!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

More on Tonga...

(Additional photos as promised)

Sunset and storm clouds


Our little Britannia

Waves crashing on the coral

The blue blue waters of Vavau

Nieafu, the main town in Vavau, Tonga

A crabby crab we walked by on the beach

Blue star fish are everywhere here!

Sorry guys... I wanted to post more, but the internet just came to a screeching halt. I hope this posts and I can add more next time.
All's still well in Tonga. Krister's delivery is going well and he'll be back soon.

Pigs searching for food on the beach at low tide (anchorage 25)

Birds diving for fish

Beautiful anchorage

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tonga-tastic; What we've been doing all month

Britannia under a colorful rainbow after a squall

So you may have noticed we've slowed down quite a bit. Tonga has plenty to keep us busy- of course I'm playing it fast and loose with the word "busy." It maybe better to say that we're not bored yet. Krister and I have tried to balance playing, fun times with work and boat projects. Here's the quick run down of what's been going on with us and Britannia in Vavau, Tonga.

• Sailing; lots of it. Fabulous wind, fabulous weather, and over 30 anchorages all within a day's sail. Racing Friday nights on Piko with friends and in the Vavau Regatta (We took dead last in the Boot and Rally Race).

Friday night racing on Piko with Adam and Eve

• Snorkeling; colorful coral gardens, diving into lava tube caves, free diving, swimming over to visit friends, and of course checking the anchor.

Tonga's rocky, blow-hole filled coast; not a place for swimming or boats!

• Beach Days; thin strips of white sand beach to search for treasured seashells, read books, walk, and sometimes even sleep.

A day at the (most perfect) beach.

Walking another of Vavau's white sand beaches

• Sun-downers and Pot-lucks; there's alway something going on. We're thankful for the wonderful group of cruisers that always have a story to tell, advice to share, and something delicious to drink and eat.

Celebrating Rob's Birthday (and Blue Moon's 25th)

Cruising couples from Dillagaf, Britannia, Architeuthis, and Shalimar

• Boat work; never-ending cleaning, resealed the leaky portholes, tested and stowed the para-anchor and drogue, fixed the furling line, replaced sheared-off transmission bolts, cleaned the winches, created a rainwater catchment system, loads of laundry washed and wrung by hand, organized the provisions and lockers, garbage duty and we still have more on the list.

Birds on Britannia's bow kept me company on laundry day

• Sight seeing; Swallows cave, Mariner's cave, blow holes, sink holes, whale watching, jungle hiking, and going to the market.

The amazing blue water of Swallow's Cave

A dinghy full of explorers

Taking a walk

Tongan basket weaving

Vavau's market

• And there's never enough time spent on listening to the rain, watching the sun set, playing guitar, beading jewlery, knitting (yeah it's starting to get cool here at night), staring at the wall, and drinking coffee.

The latest news is that due to unforeseen circumstances, Krister will be helping to deliver Dillagaf to New Zealand along with Lauren-boy from Piko. The boys fly to Nukalofa on Monday and are hoping to hit a good weather window on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Lauren-girl and I will be on mooring balls at Ano beach taking care of our boats and getting ready for our own passages. Krister's friend, Joe, is joining us on November 5th to crew on Britannia. With Krister doing two passages back to back, we'll be lucky to have him along. Krister and Lauren should return the first week of November. Although we'll probably have to skip the Hapai group, we'll still be basically on schedule; arriving in Opua, New Zealand mid-month.

Still loving it! Life is good!

Happy Birthday Kathie!

Congratulations Convivia!

And Happy Halloween to all :)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Nothing Short of Amazing; Whales

What you've seen so far on our blog has been interesting right? Maybe you've been imagining what it's like to travel like this... living vicariously? You may have even experienced a sailing trip similar to ours, but until you've done it yourself, you'll never be able to comprehend the experience of swimming with humpback whales. Even now I wonder if it really happened.

We booked a whale watching tour with Dive Vavau for Thursday along with Piko, Dilligaf, and Eden. The morning started early and we were all a bit groggy still as we embarked. The day was sunny and warm, the water calm and blue. The wind from the speeding power boat blew across my face helping me to wake up. The group chatted with the guides; asking questions about whale behavior, what we might expect to see, and life in Tonga. After about an hour we spotted a couple spouts. Then we waited. Paul, our guide, timed them to see if we should hang around- 10 minutes passed, then 18. He said they we're probably sleeping and wouldn't be back to the surface for a while. (Whales sleep with 1/2 their brain at a time so they can surface to breathe). We moved on.

We passed beautiful anchorages that we decided to go back and visit, asked about surf spots, and where to find good beaches. Being accustom to the pace of a sail boat, it was fun just to motor around, to be able to see so much in such a small about of time. Things aboard were pretty mellow- just hanging out with a bunch of friends sight seeing.

Then the guides spotted another set of whales. We got closer. They recognized the mother and her calf from their excursion the day before. The momma whale had a distinct humped and hooked dorsal fin. Paul began to time them. Just four minutes later they resurfaced. All of a sudden, a chain of events were set in motion that changed us all. The first group (Piko and Dilligaf) were told to get ready. We were all so excited.

Tonga is one of the only places in the world where you are able to get into the water and swim with humpback whales. They migrate here from Antarctica to mate and give birth (gestation is about 10-12 months). While they're here, they fast, sing, and mate, while the calves eat and eat. The mothers lose almost 1/3 of their original body weight. The males sing a song that changes every year- one distinct to their geographic group. How they know what to sing, who starts the song, and may other behaviors are unknown to us. Intrigued?

The first group slipped into the water and swam the short distance over to the whales. After about 15 minutes they came back and we exchanged places. I don't know how to explain the magic of it all. For a half hour we watched, fascinated. The calf cuddled under its mother's pectoral fin, surfaced to breathe, and even got curious enough to swim over to check us out. Luckily, our friends on Eden are excellent underwater photographers. They say a picture is worth 1000 words; and in this case the pictures are priceless. Each group swam with them twice. Dive Vavau limits the number of people in the water at a time and the amount of time spent with a whale to 1 1/2 hours so as not to disrupt the calves feeding and their normal routine. We moved on. A whale breach right in front of the boat and disappeared. We spotted a couple more, but didn't get into the water again. Sometimes the whales are not in the mood to hang out with tourists. It was a perfect day and we all returned to the dock in an excited daze. What a surreal experience.

The largest living creature I've ever seen, less than 10 feet away from me; docile, peaceful, beautiful- so similar to us and yet so different.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Passage to Tonga and many firsts

We've just arrived in Vavau, Tonga after our most boisterous passage yet. We had 15-18 foot seas with sustained winds of 25 knots gusting to 35- and Krister says the squall that gave us our first pooping knocked us at 40. Pooping sounds messier than it really is- it just means we had a wave break into the cockpit with enough green water to fill it 6 inches. The real mess was bestowed upon us by our hick-hiking booby birdie friend that I named Albert. He settled upon our solar panel and rode with us for several hours- until we were within sight of land. While there, he squeezed out a few juicy, milky treats that splattered our companion way and into the nav station and galley. It's alright though- I loved having him around.

Albert our boobie buddy

The crossing from the Cook Islands to Tonga gave us many "firsts." Our first boobie, our first sail change underway, our first pooping, my first time across the dateline (yes we are living in tomorrow now), and in the middle of the night, the first time we had to change course to avoid a collision at sea. Fortunately for us, the boat we were on a collision course with was Piko, and as Lauren and I debated how we should alter course, Krister took the wheel and tacked behind them. I had no idea how close we came to each other until I saw their stern light swing swiftly to our port side.

Tall following seas

Our yankee-cut jib used for heavy winds

To our delight, our radio traffic woke Barb on What Cha Gonna Do (Who we thought were long gone to Fiji, but have actually been waiting here for better weather.) And so, at 2 in the morning, Krister woke from his off watch nap, giggling with happiness to talk with Barb and make plans to catch up with them as soon as possible.

We arrived at dawn and cleared through customs, immigration, agriculture and health quickly and easily. Finding an anchorage was much more difficult. We eventually settled on picking up a mooring ball for $13 Tongan (like $8 US). There are several boats here, some waiting for better weather, and some waiting for the regatta, which we are joining too. We'll be racing on Piko, trying to pick up a few pointers from Lauren, the racing pro.

The town is lovely and everyone is very friendly. It kinda reminds me of La Paz Mexico, very cruiser freindly. Happy hour is about to start, and even though the internet is painfully slow, at least we have each other and a cold beer.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Britannia Med-moored in Rarotanga

Hey everybody!

We've been having our fill of Indian food, less expensive beer and hot showers. Yesterday we rented scooters with Piko and hit the pavement. It's quite a trip driving on the left-hand side of the road- even for me the south-paw. The speed- that's 50km/h was exhilerating after spending most our time traveling sailboat speed (5-7 knots/hr). On our way around the island we checked out a few beaches, stopped by Hinano's cafe and gardens, filled our bags and bike with provisions (Ramen noodles are very important to us) and finally pulled the hog up to the Roadhouse bar for a beer.

It's a Dumb and Dumber moment

This boy is crazy for Ramen noodles

And of course we found another great hike! It makes me so happy to get out into the rich jungley vegetation, get my sweat on, and get a great view. Thanks to WGD, we met a few locals that make our day extra special. Ron and his wife Gyna and their daughter Rongyna showed us around- kept us on track and added a bit of local knowledge to our trek.

Our friends from Piko hiking along with us.

Look up! There's the "needle" we sweated to see.

Can you see the trail?

Great view!

Refreshing waterfall at the end of the "needle" hike.

Our Aussie friend Ron helped us navigate the wild Rarotongan trails.

We also met the queen's granddaughter, Hinano. She runs a cafe with the world's best cheesecake with acres of beautiful gardens surrounding it. It's like going to the spa; it's just so peaceful and relaxing there. She lives right across the street and and let us lounge around her backyard (private lagoon beach) for the afternoon.

Hinano's gardens

Beach day!

Just chillin' after a long slow passage

Prehistoric plants huh?

Another day gone, but not forgotten!

It's been a lot of fun, but it's time to go!
We'll write again when we reach Tonga!