Friday, May 31, 2013

Day 4 - Shake Rattle and Roll

We are on the trailing edge of a large and slow moving low pressure system that lies about halfway between Fiji and New Zealand. Boats ahead of us (most of the fleet) reported winds of 30-40 knots and 3-4 meter seas. Being late to the party has its advantages and we are experiencing lighter winds of 25 knots and smaller seas below and to the left of the low.

That being said, Ladybug is being tossed around like a play thing by short, close spaced 2.5 to 3 meter seas. She is rolling regularly through 20-30 degrees with buckets of water drenching our uphill side and an unnerving close-up view of ocean out the downhill port lights. We have only a quarter of our small jib rolled out and I lashed down the triple reefed main a few hours ago. Surfing sideways down the swells we are hitting GPS speeds in double digits and averaging about 6 knots. It is remarkable how little sail (maybe 100 square feet) is needed to push 10 tons of boat along in 25 knots of wind!

Life below is predictably difficult, but I am very glad for our reliable windvane gear that is steering Ladybug on something approaching a beam reach. Hand steering in these rough seas would be tiring indeed. Below, even the simple acts of typing a blog entry, using the bathroom, or chopping up veggies and cheese for lunch are fraught with difficulty. An analogy for using the toilet would be to try using a porta-pottie, strapped to the back of an ill-tempered rodeo bronco - ughhh.

Our position at 3pm was 30 56 S 175 14 E. We sailed 128 NMs in 24 hours and made good 119.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Day 3 - Preparing for gales

It has been a day of light winds and flapping sails. We motored for much of the morning when the wind vanished completely. The boat got a nice clean-off in a couple of showers and the rainbows framed by black squall clouds were quite beautiful. Until a half hour ago we had been sailing under full main and jib - something we do surprisingly rarely in the open ocean where there is often more wind than we need. The boats ahead of us are reporting much more wind, so we will be reefing down soon, no doubt.

Rani was a bit cranky when I woke up this morning after a chilly watch, but cheered herself up by making parathas (stuffed flat breads) taking advantage of the flat conditions. Later we prepared for a gale that is forecast to arrive tomorrow by rigging our jack lines and retrieving our personal harnesses from the lockers. We also took out the life raft from its locker under the V-berth and Rani made up a 'ditch bag' full of survival gear in case we have to leave in a hurry. We hope to see no more than 20-30 knot as we should be on the edge of the low, but it is too early to tell for sure.

Our position today at 3pm was 32 54S 175 12E. We sailed/motored 90 nautical miles in the previous 24 hours and of those 85 were towards our way-point off Astolabe Reef.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Day Two - placid but noisy!

As the sun went down last night so did the wind but it was pretty sailing under the moonlight and stars with good visuals on the commercial traffic nearby. It felt strange to be on night watch again, scanning the horizon for lights and ufo's ( unidentified floating objects ).I resisted the urge to call Chris to verify my "read" on a couple of large ships passing a mile or two off Ladybug. As they passed safely to north and south I put away my binoculars and smoothed out the worry lines.

This morning was quite placid and we burnt some diesel for six hours. We know that there will be a low following us in a few days and want to get as far away from NZ as possible. Other boats checking into the Drifters Net this morning also reported motoring in light winds. Only the guys nearing Fiji are getting the 30 Knot winds and 6 metre seas. One of the boats had two knock-downs two days ago during the worst of the high winds, which we sat out in the river at Whangarei.

This afternoon the roller furler jammed, so we were glad we had calm conditions to fix the problem. The worm set screws in the drum had backed out, causing the foil to ride up and we could not furl/unfurl after a few turns. Chris manually unrolled the jib around the forestay to take it down. We found some chafe at the top of the jib halyard, so while Chris reset the screws, I cut off the chafed area and re-seized it. It was good to feel useful. Just as we raised the jib, the wind came up, so we are now sailing again in 4-5 Knots from the SW.

There is a lot of low cumulus cloud cover over us but the pressure is quite high at 1032. It feels like an oppressive sort of day. My solution was to cook a hearty lentil and vegetable soup, with beetroot, carrots, tomato, onion and potato. We also enjoyed a crunchy salad with fresh greens from Jo's garden and some delicious local feta cheese.

Our progress during the last 24 hours from 3pm to 3pm was 104nm, 96nm made good. Our position is 34 21S 174 49E. Please join us in our prayers for a wee bit more wind this evening.

Off to Fiji

The windy wet weather has finally passed over and a high is settling in over the north island. We checked out of New Zealand at Marsden Cover and departed around 3 pm in the wake of a dozen other cruisers who are bound also for Fiji as well as New Caledonia. It is currently very dark under an intense starry sky and we are passing the Poor Knights islands - a marine preserve north of Whangarei. The boat is rolling along in a light swell and we are making about 4.5 to 5 knots under reefed main and jib.

We managed to re-assemble the autopilot mount, which had delaminated in only a year. The new mount is sealed with multiple layers of epoxy. I painted a coat of primer on the sheer stripe but had no opportunity to do the red coats, so Ladybug is all cream and white with no name on her aft end yet. We also found an engine stop cable to replace the seized one, but again there was no dry period to install this so the string running through a ring zip-tied to an exhaust hose will do for now! Also, our Pactor modem is acting up, so do not be surprised if there is a large gap in blog updates and emails.

Our position at 9pm NZ time was 35 28 S 174 47 E.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Meeting interesting people

One of the joys of this lifestyle is meeting interesting people along the way. Last night, we had the pleasure to meet up again with friends on "Barefoot" whom we last saw in Tonga. Barefoot is an attractive aluminum boat of about 40 feet. Designed by Greek designer, Angelo Lavranos (who coincidentally lives near here), "Barefoot" was built in Gibsons, B.C., just across the water from Vancouver. Her owners, David and Roslyn are charming and highly experienced cruisers. They like to follow the path less trodden and have just returned from a three month circumnavigation of New Zealand. They sailed as far as Stewart Island, well below the south island, and spent weeks poking around the fjords on the west coast. David fitted out the interior of this boat, doing all the carpentry, wiring, etc. Such a project is not for the faint of heart. It took David four years of hard work, but the results are stunning. The boat is lovely below, finished in a warm figured African mahogany and David's attention to detail is evident everywhere. Even the wiring harnesses, hidden away behind the electrical panel are works of art.

Just before we met up with Barefoot, a woman rowed over to thank us for going to the aid of the schooner that had dragged the night before. She arrived in a little yellow punt and told us she was off the small junk-rigged boat, "Fantail", anchored just upstream of Ladybug. Apparently she and her partner had been on board the junk when they noticed "Rat Bag" heading down the river on her own. Her partner had rowed out into the dark and stormy night to re-anchor the schooner. We got to talking about boats and, because her boat was junk rigged, I mentioned the book "Voyaging on a Small Income" by Annie Hill and asked if she had heard of it. She said, "I am Annie Hill".

Now "Voyaging on a Small Income" is the closest thing to a bible for the type of cruising we do and I felt like I was in the presence of a true guru. We had a good chat about about cruising, Nova Scotia (which she has visited 6 times), and what had brought her to New Zealand. And of course I asked her to sign my copy of her book. Much water has passed under her boat's keels since she wrote the book back in 1993, and we look forward to hearing more when we visit her and her partner for drinks tomorrow on Fantail.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Wet and windy

This time last year we had just arrived in the Tuamotus. Sunshine, clear water, corals, coconuts, and tropical fish, strolling along palm lined beaches. It all seems like a dream now as we huddle under blankets, while anchored in the river at Whangerei. The wind howls in the rigging and rain patters on the coach roof. We curse ourselves for not leaving earlier, but family comes first.

We did have a bit of excitement last night when "Rat Bag", a classic wooden topsail schooner dragged past us heading down the river in a rain squall. I ran on deck and fired the air horn to notify her owners if they were on board. A voice yelled back that he knew that the boat was dragging, but it was not his boat and he could not figure out how to work the anchor windlass. I yelled across that we would help and Rani turned on the engine and we hauled up the anchor. Getting underway was no easy feat in 30 knots of wind with a strong current added in. We motored down to the schooner, which by this time had stopped dragging, having narrowly missed a channel marker. The fellow on board was a friend of the owner who lived nearby and had gone out to see if the boat was ok. Luck was on the owner's side both for having such a friend and for the direction in which "Rat Bag" had dragged, for it appears that her anchor had caught around the same starboard channel buoy that she had narrowly missed.

At this time of year, system after system swirls over the north island of New Zealand, bringing strong northeast winds, which back to strong southwest ones. We will likely leave on the back of one of these lows and run before the wind, north to sunshine and calm seas.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Back in the water

We splashed a couple of days ago with new bottom paint, polished propeller, and new zincs. Due to the rain we did not have time to finish painting the sheer stripe.

There was an area on the skeg (the appendage that secures the rudder under the water) where water had got in below the outer laminate. I peeled this off, dried it out, and relaminated a layer of mat with epoxy and then another layer of thickened epoxy to even things out.

We are currently back in McLeod Bay on a mooring waiting for a weather window and finishing up last minute projects.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A few recent pictures

I thought I would pop a few pics up for a change.

The first is of my little three year old niece Claire whom I visited in Vancouver along with my brother, his wife, and my parents.

My adorable niece, Claire

I visited Sidney on the way back to Vancouver from Victoria.

Public art in Sidney, BC.

Ladybug has been on a mooring in front of this house in McLeod Bay since January.

The new house/yoga retreat that our cruising friends Jo and Rob Woollacott {s/v Blue Moon} are building at McLeod Bay. Rob worked 12 hour days with a local builder to erect this building . It took them just six weeks to get her to this stage {building on a foundation/lower level they had previously constructed}. Wow!
Jo and Rob at Ocean Beach, near Whangarei Heads
Ladybug with sanded and primed bottom. Hauled out at Dockland 5

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Those of you who own larger boats already know how much 'fun' a haul-out can be. You get to play with dangerous substances in a dusty boat yard full of toxic noise and air. At night you retreat up a ladder into your boat, where you can no longer use the wash room or drain water down the sink. Needless to say one wants to limit the days spent in such a position.

I arrived early on Monday after motoring from McLeod Bay the day before and anchoring a kilometer down the river. The boat was hauled out promptly at eight thirty on a large travel-lift. They used only two of their six straps to lift Ladybug and place her gently in a strong steel cradle. I was glad to see how robust the cradle was because we had heard that a friend's boat had collapsed with considerable damage when the supports buckled under her.

In the last two days I have sanded the bottom and applied primer to the bare spots and a coat of paint - 2 coats over the primed spots. The bottom was quite fouled with slime and some coral and barnacles but a good power washing took most of this off. I also cleaned and polished the propeller in the hope that it will be less attractive to growth if it is nice and shiny. Other projects under way include painting the sheer stripe and resealing and painting the ice box/refrigerator.

It is time to climb down the ladder and get to work...

Friday, May 10, 2013

Back on Ladybug

I am back on our boat After 42 hours of elapsed travel - flying to Los Angeles, Tahiti, and Auckland, then buses into Auckland city center and on to Whangarei, car to McLeod Bay, and rowboat to Ladybug. The last legs of the journey were a bit tiring as I staggered around with two heavy backpacks and a light one, trying to find bus terminals and buying groceries for a few days isolated on the boat.

Have you ever tried to go shopping wearing three backpacks? I know a little of what homeless people feel now as I pushed my shopping cart, piled high with the packs around the aisles of a crowded supermarket. Later I waited with my packs and groceries on a park bench for my friend Jo to finish work, so I could drive with her out to McLeod Bay. It was dark now and I was seated near the town basin marina in Whangarei. Groups of cruisers walked by, the families avoiding this stranger seated on a bench with all his possessions. One mother, passing nearby, explained to her children about some people being less fortunate than others. I could only smile.

Ladybug had weathered a month of sun and rain and even a storm bringing sixty to seventy knot winds to the bay. Jo and Rob, on the hill above, had a fence blow over during the storm, but the only sign of this on board Ladybug was a few books on the floor and empty water containers in strange places. One port light showed signs of having leaked a little, but the computer fan and dorade vents combined to keep the interior clean smelling and almost entirely free of mildew. In a wet, climate, this is a real concern when leaving a boat completely shut up for so long.

I will sail up the river on Sunday and haul out first thing on Monday. Rani will join me when she returns from her niece Sandy's wedding in the UK. As I type this, I can see my breath, for it is now winter in New Zealand. Most of our friends have sailed for Fiji, although I talked with Craig on 'Gato Go' yesterday who plans to sail within a week. I look forward to joining them there in a few weeks.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Cruising under sail is not that expensive until you stop

I often tell people that our lifestyle is not that expensive, so long as we are on the boat, cruising and anchoring at night. All this changes when one enters a port where the temptations are many. Add to that the  need to paint and repair the boat every couple of years and an airfare or two half way round the world, and this whole thing does not look like such a bargain.

I am heading back to the boat today, flying out of Vancouver to Los Angeles and then across the Pacific via Papeete, Tahiti, to Auckland. What took 8 months last year on Ladybug is compressed into a long day. In my bags are spare parts and replacement clothing and shoes to last us for another year or two, hopefully.

We bought an AIS equipped VHF radio so that if I sail Ladybug home on my own, next year, Rani will have some peace of mind. The AIS system provides a warning when commercial shipping is within a certain distance of our boat and sounds an alarm if a collision is possible. Most commercial ships are now equipped with AIS transceivers by law. We held off on buying one of these units because they used to be expensive and required a separate VHF antenna or a splitter. Standard Horizon now makes one for under $350 including the mail-in rebate - with free shipping out of Ontario.

We ordered a new membrane for our water maker. These are quite cheap in the US ($160), but not easy to find in Canada and very expensive in NZ ($450). Ours is a 21 inch long 2.5 inch wide membrane that should allow us to make about 25 liters of nice fresh water per hour. The two old membranes were installed in 2003 and were producing water that was slightly too salty to taste good. I will remove one membrane and pressure vessel from the system to keep things simple and improve the overall water quality. From what I have gleaned from manufacturer's specs, having a second 21 inch membrane in series with the first, yields only 6 liters more per hour at the low flow rate achieved by our electric pump. It also increases the dissolved solids by maybe 15 percent, plus you have the extra membrane cost and the complexity of high pressure (800 psi) plumbing.

The membrane had a tortuous journey from California, via my friend Kurt's house in Northern California and then by 'First Class' USPS mail (which I discovered has NO standard of service!). The membrane took a couple of days to make it to Kurt's house and three weeks to get to Richmond BC from there. If you do plan on using USPS for a parcel from the US to Canada, probably go up a level and pay for tracking and guaranteed delivery within a finite time.

We also purchased an Olympus 820 underwater/tough camera to replace our aging and quirky Canon point and shoot. We hope to take some underwater snaps in Fiji, where the corals are reputed to be even better than Tonga. This model is discontinued, but on sale now at Futureshop and Best Buy and seems like a lot of camera for the money.

Our final large purchase is an 11.6 inch notebook that is just a hair bigger and a lot faster than the netbook we bought a few years ago for Rani. My 5 year old 7 inch netbook has a quirky keyboard and sometimes refuses to turn on, so we thought it would be prudent to have two decent small computers since we now rely on them as our primary chart source. This new computer is fast enough to process our home movies from the Sony videocam and I produced the penguin video on the blog using it. Our old netbooks could not even display the videos from the videocam, let alone edit them.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Visualization of our crossing from Mexico to Marquesas

My friend, Lars Grammel, who recently completed his Phd in Computer Science at UVic, made a visualization of our crossing from Mexico to Hiva Oa in the Marquesas that you can find here. It consists of a map of the Pacific on which each day of our crossing is shown as a circle. If you click on the circle a web page will open with the corresponding blog entry. Note that this works in Chrome browsers and in the later versions of Safari, but there is currently a problem viewing this in IE and other browsers.