Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A house, a dog, and a job (sort of)

Ladybug is secured to her new mooring, kindly lent to us by friends of Jo and Rob. She is very close to the mooring we used last year and is right in Mcleod Bay in front of Jo and Rob's house.

Last week after the tropical depression had passed, Jos and Logan who live up the hill from Jo and Rob asked me to house and dog sit while they went down to Auckland to buy a sailboat. So for an evening I had the use of a large house and the responsibility of looking after Max - an affectionate shaggy dog. I have been working with Rob now for a few weeks on their house/B&B - tiling, putting up deck railings, painting, and installing flooring, and putting in a kitchen. It occurred to me last week that I have gone in one stroke from being a carefree 'bachelor' sailor  to having a house, a dog, and a job.

Next week I plan to go for a last sail out to Great Barrier Island to stretch my legs and work on the mandatory stuff that needs doing to Ladybug before we leave her for 9 months. The main project is to rebed the windows. This was last done in Mexico when we bought the boat and this time I plan to remove the windows completely to ensure a perfect seal. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Ex-Cyclone June

When they downgrade a cyclone to a tropical depression, it does not sound too bad, right? The remains of a cyclone June are currently passing over the north island and I must say I am still pretty impressed by the wind strength. Yesterday we had near gale force winds and gusts into the 40's due to funneling of the wind through a mountain gap nearby. I was firmly attached to a mooring with little fetch for the waves to build in, but even so 10 ton Ladybug was tossed on her ear a few times and the wind was strong enough to tear the tops off the waves and flatten everything out into a sheet of horizontal foam.

Today the eye passed over and it was calm with a few patches of blue sky. The NZ met service however was warning of 45 knot winds with higher gusts possible from the North and West, so I motored across to Munro  Bay, which Rob had assured me would have OK shelter in these directions. Well the wind has arrived and is bending around the corner from the SW with a sloppy swell to match. I just popped up on deck with my little anemometer and measured a higher speed than I have ever seen on this instrument - 44 knots in one gust with sustained 35 knots for a while. And I am out of the worst of it!

Sometimes I wish I had a nice little house, well anchored to a piece of dirt, preferably inland.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Single Handing from Maitai Bay to Whangarei Heads

Single handed coastal sailing provides plenty of challenge and interesting experiences. This three day cruise from Maitai Bay down to Whangarei Heads (Mcleod Bay) was no exception. The trip began in very light airs. I hoisted the anchor early Saturday and drifted slowly out close hauled with a light ebb tide helping. Melody followed and together we used the faint and shifting breezes to find our way to the mouth of the bay and around the corner into open water.

I said farewell to Melody via VHF radio and laid a course down the coast that would take me just outside the Cavalli Islands. The winds remained light, freshening to near 10 knots for a while but dying away entirely toward midnight. I took advantage of the peaceful motion to work on re-stitching the small jib.

Sailing off the anchor - photo taken by Roz (sv Melody)

Near midnight, I leaned over the side with a flashlight and watched in fascination as thousands of jelly fish and other strange globules and strings of jelly drifted past. At times the jelly fish, mostly about 6-10 cms wide, were so closely packed, there was barely space between them. That night the wind was shifty and irregular. I slept for 15-30 minutes at a time, setting a timer to wake me and leaving the AIS alarm on.

The next morning, the wind returned and I was soon bowling along with a reefed main and a partially furled jib. The seas were smooth so I took the opportunity to scrape and sand the teak cap rails and to lay a coat of Cetol on the windward rail. Near noon the wind died. In the silence, broken only by the light gurgle of the bow wave, I was startled by what sounded like someone letting the air out of a huge balloon. I rushed on deck in time to see the fin of a large whale disappearing into the black water. Half a minute later the whale breathed again and I saw it was a mature humpback on a reciprocal course to Ladybug.

By mid-afternoon it was clear I would not make it to Whangarei Heads before dark and that there would be a rapidly ebbing tide to block my entry into the estuary. I gybed and ran in toward Tutukaka. I have wanted to visit Tutukaka for more than a year - the name alone enticing me. However, the entrance to this bay is very narrow and I had been warned that there is not much room to anchor inside because of moored boats and a marina. I ran in under full main and jib, carefully lining myself up with the 100 meter wide entrance. Three power boats came zooming past just as I reached the narrows, tossing Ladybug in their wakes.

To a car driver, 100 meters may seem like a parking lot, but when you are running in under sail with tidal currents and wakes tossing you around and surf breaking on the rocks on both sides, 100 meters feels like you are squeezing through a doorway. As a single hander, you need to be in three places at once - on the bow watching for rocks, at the helm steering, and down below looking at the chart. I do enjoy a challenge, but there was more than once on this trip when I wished I had Rani with me!

I made it through the gap without a problem and found that the anchorage inside already had a half dozen boats anchored just outside a line of moored boats. I rounded up into the wind and dropped the hook so that I would fall back well clear of the anchored boats, backing the mainsail to help bury the anchor. The maneuver went without a hitch for a change. I made a light supper and dropped off to an early sleep.

This morning the weather forecast promised a nice offshore westerly breeze and I left the anchorage downwind under sail with full main and a little jib. My single handing skills were tested again just after I cleared the narrow entrance. I was sweeping up from yesterday's teak scraping when I dropped the plastic dustpan over the side. Great - a chance to practice my 'pan overboard' maneuver. I rolled in the jib, gybed the main and ran downwind on the bobbing pan. As the pan reached the bows, I left the tiller to look after itself and was just able to lean over the side and grab the pan as it went by, legs wrapped around a stanchion and narrowly avoiding falling over the side. I let out a victory giggle and inwardly admonished myself for risking the boat to save a $3 dustpan. If I had fallen over, the boat would likely have continued onto the rocks, which lay only a few hundred meters downwind.

The wind gradually gathered strength as I reached down the beach-lined coast toward Bream Head. By the time I was off Ocean Beach it was coming in gusts of 15-20 knots and I had two reefs in the main and half the jib put away. I cleared Bream Head and found a nasty chop on the other side - typical conditions for this entrance. Sand banks line the approaches and the wind howls across the low land at the estuary mouth.

Beating across the bay, I tacked and ran directly up the channel, taking the occasional wave over the bow. An oil tanker with accompanying tug came around the corner, having just left the refinery that lies across the river from Mcleod Bay. I turned and ran outside the marked channel, passing the tanker just as the tug was pushing its stern over to make a last turn out of the narrow fairway. Only a few small fishing boats were out in the estuary mouth as I beat the last mile up to Mcleod Bay, coming to anchor off the public jetty.

I plan to stay here a week and help my friends Jo and Rob with their house projects before heading out again, possibly to Great Barrier Island.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Communications on a Cruising Sailboat

One of the biggest changes since many how-to cruising books were written is the communications revolution brought about by wireless networks, satellite phones, and the Internet. Single side band radio, long distance telephone calls, and post restante mail pick-up used to be the only options for long range communications. Now we have satellite phones that provide voice calls and internet access anywhere on the globe (at a price). SSB radio can be used with a special modem or most recently with modem emulation in software to send and receive emails. This works within a few thousand miles of a base station, so while coverage is not worldwide it is pretty good. Access is free for HAM operators and nominal (via Sailmail) for non-HAMs and we use this method of email access, to post blog entries, and stay in touch in case of urgent messages from our families.

Until last year, we had always used wifi access (802.11) for all our internet and email access when coastal cruising or in harbours . This changed in Fiji where we found wifi coverage to be poor and discovered that access via cellphone networks was actually quite reasonable and fast. In Fiji, a Vodaphone dongle and 1 GB of access cost us only about $20 Canadian. In New Zealand the same thing came to twice that with data top-ups costing at least twice as much as in Fiji, too. Despite the higher prices, 3G cellular access for web browsing and email makes sense for a cruiser. Here in New Zealand, the cost per month amounts to about $15-20 Canadian for 1.5 GBs - enough to provide daily email access, some light web surfing, and a couple of skype calls a week. I am currently sailing along 8 miles offshore and can still access a signal while underway to post this blog entry. Magic! 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Sailing to Maitai Bay

My friends on Melody proposed a 20 mile sail to Maitai Bay - a scenic beach-lined cove well to the north of Whangaroa. The wind was light and fluky as I pulled up anchor and I ghosted out under main alone, gybing several times as the wind deflected among the hills that hem in this anchorage. Squally black clouds had me tucking in an extra reef, but I had to pull this out in order to slip out the pass against a flooding tide. Once outside the wind filled in and I was just able to point for my destination up the coast.

An hour later the scene had changed completely. The wind began to rise steadily to 10 then 15 then 20 knots. I furled in 4 rolls of jib and still the wind rose to 25 gusting at times to 35 and more. This was some of the heaviest upwind sailing I have experienced (as cruisers we usually try to avoid strong headwinds). I had to run off to roll in more jib and then set the wind vane to steer 10 degrees off a close haul to reduce the pounding.

Passing Doubtless Bay the waves began to build and an odd one would wash over the deck and cover the spray hood. Melody had tacked earlier and was running freer and closer to the coast and I envied their position. I hurriedly placed an old towel under the spray hood to soak up water that leaks through under the hood coaming when the going gets this rough. Now I was helping the windvane in the gusts, steering with the tiller between my legs and taking cover behind the spray hood. An occasional gust would lay Ladybug on her side, submerging the decks in running green water. The worst of these had water pouring out of the kitchen sink faucet because the water tank under the settee was higher than the counter for a few seconds.

I overshot Maitai in order to lay the bay on the next tack. Coming up to a mile off Cape Karikari, I went about and bore away south down the peninsula. Close in to the land the waves were less, but the wind was even more erratic, howling over the headlands and sweeping through the low spots. I took great care to avoid a rock that lies in isolation on the approaches and furled in the jib just off Maitai Bay. I was tempted to sail in, completing what would have been my 11th straight passage under sail, but I wimped out when I thought of beating back and forth into the rock lined bay in which three boats were already anchored. I started the motor. The wind was so strong that while I was furling in the last of the jib, the old stitching tore loose along about two meters of the UV protection strip (I am procrastinating by writing this blog entry - restitching the sail by hand is a job I dislike).

I will stay here a couple of days before returning south to Whangarei where I have promised my friends Jo and Rob that I will help out with finishing their new house/B & B/spa.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Back in Russell

There is a tall ships race in Russell each year and this year everyone was allowed to race. I tagged along on the side lines and took a couple of pictures. Fantail is Annie Hill's little junk rigged boat and she was neck and neck with Dolphin of Leith, a tiny century old gaff cutter that just crossed the Pacific. For those of you thinking of sailing off across oceans but a little short on cash - Annie Hill's book, Voyaging on a Small Income, although a little dated is good reading. You can find out more at her blog. For info on Dolphin of Leith, another inspiring story of voyaging on a shoestring, you can visit their facebook page. Dolphin was on passage from Tonga while we were crossing from Fiji but had a more benign crossing. And yes - she could do with, and is going to get, a new mainsail in New Zealand.

Fantail and Dolphin beat into a choppy sea off Russell

I was interested to watch the junk rigged boats in this race because I am attracted by the rig's practicality and have considered using this rig on a future boat. Less than stellar upwind performance is something often mentioned by critics and I am afraid that this is a legitimate issue based on watching the three junk rigged boats in this race. However, they seemed to be able to hold their own with the traditional gaff rigged boats and are good performers off the wind.

Our friend Mike from Picara has spent the last several months working on the classic motor cruiser - Lady Crossley. She was one of the finish line vessels for the race and is shown below getting in position as the first boats approach.

Lady Crossley - acres of gleaming varnish and a mirror finish on her hull.