january 7 2005 : gulf harbor marina, whangaparaoa, new zealand
Happy New Year! We’re back on the boat after a great trip home. It’s been nearly a month already since we updated the site. I guess there wasn’t much to report on back home. We were busy doing the same things that most of you were over the holidays like visiting with friends and going to holiday parties. During our trip home we got a chance to meet a lot of new people who have been following us along. We had a lot of fun and we hope you did too.
So what was the number one most asked question while we were there? The answer: “Have you had any rough seas or storms?” We were actually surprised at how many people asked us this because if we had run into any really bad weather out here we would be telling you all about it. But it sounded to me like people weren’t really sure if I was telling it like it is, or if I was sugar coating it. Well so you all know, we haven’t been sugar coating things, we just really have had good weather so far. Highest wind speed recorded in the first 15 months was 42 knots I believe, and that only lasted about 30 seconds. Within 15 minutes we were flying the screecher with only about 5 knots of wind. The worst sustained weather we had was on our way to the Galapagos when we turned to Colombia. And even that wasn’t really that bad (20-25 knots for 48 hours), but it just happened to be right on the nose combined with a strong current. Overall I would guess that our average wind speed for the entire trip so far would be somewhere around 8-10 knots. And as a little side note, our average speed on passages of over two days was only four knots.
Second most asked question was what was our favorite place so far. The answer to that one is still the Galapagos Islands. We really liked the people and the town of Puerto Ayora and we loved the cruise we took to see all the wildlife there on the islands. It’s one of those stops that we will definitely return to someday, probably once we have kids of our own.
As I’m sure you all know, on Boxing Day, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean sent a tsunami racing across the water and devastated many of the countries in it’s path. So far over 150,000 people are confirmed dead and from the sounds of it that number will continue to climb as diseases begin to spread. Our plan had Ali and I anchored in Phuket, Thailand for Christmas next year. A lot of you have asked us if this will affect our plans, and a few of you have even warned us that it would be foolish to visit the affected areas. Well the answer as of right now is that we don’t plan to change our itinerary. We will be sailing in Australia through August of this year and will reevaluate things at that time. I have a feeling that with the help of nearly every country in the world, the affected countries such as Indonesia and Thailand will be able to return to normal sooner than most of us can imagine after such a terrible tragedy. I think that it will be an amazing place to be one year later.
So yesterday morning, after 20 hours of traveling, we got back to the boat. The first thing we had to do was find a ladder so we could get on. We did a quick inspection and were pleasantly surprised at how clean things were. Ali made the bed and we crashed from 10 a.m. to 2. We managed to crawl out of bed and head over to the café to grab a quick snack and by 6 p.m. we were back in bed. Ali just made a wonderful breakfast of Ramen noodles. We have almost nothing to eat on the boat, but still have Ramen that has been with us since Sam’s Club in Florida. We also tried to start the car yesterday, but not surprisingly the battery was dead. The project for today is to get her running again.
The boat looks pretty good. The bottom below the waterline is pretty much completed, the keels look and feel a million times stronger, and all that’s left now is to finish filling a few delaminated areas above the waterline before putting her in the shed next week to get painted. We are really excited to be done with all of this. Nothing new from the builder lately, I’ll let you know more real soon.
One other thing I wanted to mention was New Zealand customs. New Zealand is notoriously strict as far as their customs officers are concerned. Because they are essentially a small island country with a fragile ecosystem they try extremely hard to keep things (mainly plants and animals) out of their country. So while we weren’t trying to bring anything like that into their country we still had to look pretty suspicious as foreigners bringing in three big cardboard boxes as our luggage. Even stranger still would have been the contents of those boxes.
We hardly had any clothes, we had hundreds of dollars worth of boat supplies (mostly new thru-hull fittings), three laptop computers (we just got a new one because one of ours has been becoming very unreliable), 100 DVDs (Ali’s sister had been recording t.v. shows for us for months, along with a whole bunch of movies), and about 20 books and 40 magazines (a few months of cruising mags and Toni’s subscription to People). Not exactly your typical tourists luggage. But as we approached the officer who would decide our fate, he just looked down at the boxes and asked, “Do you know everything that’s in those?” “Yes, sir.” “Okay then, have a good day.”
january 11 2005 : gulf harbor marina
The past couple of days have been absolutely beautiful here. Which figures because for 90% of the locals yesterday was their first day back to work in three weeks. Basically everybody shuts down their businesses in New Zealand from right before Christmas until the second or third week of January. From what we have heard from every single person since we have gotten back is what terrible weather they have had here this year. Essentially their summer hasn’t even begun. But it seems to be coming around now, and that means of course that Ali and I can’t seem to get any work done, and instead spend our days looking for anything to do but work on the boat. So yesterday and today we took off early in the mornings and didn’t come back until we knew everybody would have gone home from work.
Yesterday we set out to get our tans back. November in New Zealand, followed by five weeks back in the U.S. in the middle of winter did not bode well for the color of our skin. So we hit the beach for a while and then bummed around town and checked out our favorite secondhand bookshop. Today we headed into Auckland and went to the zoo. After two hours of that we had decided that the Auckland Zoo is basically an exact duplicate of every single other zoo we have ever been to in our lives, and therefore wasn’t all that exciting. After we left Ali made me promise to her that next time she wanted to go to the zoo I wouldn’t take her.
january 15 2005 : gulf harbor marina
We’ve been spending the last few days staying as far away from the boat as possible because the guys have been putting the finishing touches on her, which included a lot of sanding and fairing of the bottom. Which of course means a lot of noise and a lot of dust. Luckily the weather has been beautiful here this week, mid 70′s and sunny most of the time. It looks like the boat will go into the shed on Tuesday to be painted. That means we will be leaving Tuesday as well, since we can’t live on the boat while it’s being painted. We plan to spend the two weeks continuing our travels of the North Island. Still lots to see, and Pete has even offered me his surfboard which was nice. After the boat’s done, we’ll head back, get her back in the water and spend a few days getting things straightened out again before leaving, by car, for the South Island for a few weeks. So a lot of land travel coming up this month. Should be a great trip.
january 18 2005 : driving around the north island, new zealand
Yesterday the boat finally made it into the shed for painting. The final touches! It’s been out of the water now for nearly three months so we’re really excited for it all to be over with. She went in a day early though, so the North Island road trip got underway on Monday evening instead.
We drove south Monday night for a couple of hours until we hit a roadblock and were told there was an accident which had the entire road shut down. The detour was at least an extra hour, so we turned around and found a place to stay in the small town we were in.
The place we stayed was actually the upstairs of an old, but still functioning bar. The way the rooms were decorated made me feel like a little kid again when we would spend the weekends at my grandpa’s farm. The furniture was so old that I’m sure some people would call it antique. I’m pretty sure that this had more to do with the owners not updating the place in 30 years than it did with an intentional attempt at antique styling. But anyway, the rooms were very clean and we had the whole building to ourselves. The bathrooms were down the hall and were really clean as well. And best of all was the price of $45 (about $30 USD).
We headed out early with the intention of driving to Waihi Beach, which was supposed to be a nice little surf town and from looking at our maps I didn’t think we had been there yet. When we got there though, we realized we had been through there before, and there were virtually no waves. So we hopped back in the car and continued driving around the Bay of Plenty. In the afternoon we reached Mt. Maunganui which is the town we stayed in before when I rented the surfboard. So we swung through here again to see what the surf was like and found it was actually pretty good. There were literally hundreds of kids out surfing. Right now they are on summer holiday until February 2. The nice thing about this beach though is that the surf breaks for a couple of miles and no matter how many people are out you can find an area that isn’t too crowded. I once again managed to catch a handful of waves but I’m still waiting for that magic moment when the whole thing just clicks and getting up on the board becomes automatic.
Later in the afternoon we pulled into a nice little town called Whakatani (pronounced F#*k a tahnee). We pulled into a house that said Backpackers Lodging out front and a nice lady showed us the last room they had available which was a nice room out behind the main house and had its own bathroom and kitchenette. Obviously we have no use for a kitchenette, we barely use the one on the boat, but having our own bathroom was a plus. The room was $60 ($45 USD). My point with telling you all about the rooms is to show how cheap traveling around NZ can be. There are tons of little places like these to stay in. And these are peak season rates. One thing about NZ though, is that if you are looking for that big expensive resort with the swimming pool and the beach, this is the wrong place. We haven’t seen one place like that anywhere in NZ. This is definitely a country that caters to the traveler on a budget.
One thing that has been on my mind that I wanted to mention is how strange the Kiwis are with their ketchup. In all fast food restaurants you have to ask them for ketchup and they usually reach under the counter and grab you one little packet. After a little begging they will hand over a couple more though. But in other restaurants and take-away places they actually charge you for these tiny little containers of ketchup. The containers are the size of those little plastic jelly containers you get at breakfast, and they cost 30 cents.
So here is a country who has this mad fetish for chips (french fries to us in the States), only charges about $2 for a huge bag of them, but then you have to pay another $1 in order to have enough ketchup for them. You’d think there was a major ketchup shortage or something.
The other thing we always find amusing is how at all fast food restaurants they keep everything behind the counter. If you want ketchup, salt, pepper, a plastic fork, anything, you have to ask them for it. Back home this is something we only saw in downtown Chicago fast food places. And there it was because of the large amount of homeless people who would make a meal out of ketchup packets and salt. But here in NZ where we have yet to see anybody who looks homeless we just don’t get it. Who are they hiding these things from?! Well, I think I’ve covered enough ground on the topic of ketchup.
january 19 2005 : driving around
After stopping in town this morning for our fix of coffee we hit the road with our only destination being somewhere along the Bay of Plenty’s east coast. Judging by the map it looked to be about, ohhhh, I’d say four inches away. That seemed about right for a mid-afternoon arrival in some small town. About an hour out of town we drove by a great looking, virtually deserted stretch of beach. So we stopped there to surf and bum around for a while. My surfing was a slight improvement over yesterday, but when a ten-year-old girl showed up and started catching waves, my ego took a bit of a hit.
Back on the road the coastal drive around the Bay of Plenty had some beautiful views. But the roads were a lot curvier and mountainous than I had thought they would be and by 3 o’clock, which is the time we like to start finding a place to stay for the night, we realized that we weren’t anywhere near where we thought we’d be. We busted out the guidebook to see what was around us and quickly realized there was nothing. There were towns listed on the map, but we’d drive along and there wouldn’t be anything there. We hadn’t even realize we had driven through the town until we saw the signs for the next town. Eventually we did find a little town, meaning a gas station and a motel, called Waihau Bay. They had two rooms left so we took the room with the view of nothing and called it a night.
I also wanted to tell you all what an amazing Volvo mechanic I have become. The stereo in our car only picked up stations when you were very near Auckland but couldn’t get anything anywhere else. So the other day before we left I decided to check all the engine fluids. The oil was good, but the coolant was completely gone and so was the power steering fluid. We stopped on our way out of town and I filled both of them up. And wouldn’t you know it, the stereo works great all over the island now. Bet you would have never thought to top off the power steering fluid in order to fix your FM reception would you?
Another random thought concerning New Zealand. Apparently this new fangled thing called a single handled faucet hasn’t found its way to New Zealand yet. You know how the kitchen and bathroom sinks usually have a single faucet in which the hot and cold water combine to become just the right temperature before pouring out? Well here in New Zealand they like to do things the old fashioned way.
Every single sink in the country is designed with a separate hot water faucet and cold water faucet. And if that weren’t bad enough, they are always located on opposite sides of the sink. Essentially making it impossible to ever have warm water. We can either have cold or scalding, that’s it. And worst of all they are all designed so that the faucet just barely clears the edge of the sink, so that when we wash our hands we have to rub them against the sides of the sink. Anyway, that’s one of those things that Ali and I have been talking about nearly every day for three months now. I know, we need to get a life.
january 20 2005 : driving around
Today was one of those days when you just wonder what else could go wrong. We got an early start this morning with the intention of driving to a town called Tolaga Bay. The guidebook made it sound like a nice little town with a good surf beach, a few restaurants and some nice places to stay. We took off and within fifteen minutes I had driven past two gas stations. But I still had half a tank and figured we’d see plenty more. Well two hours later the needle was on E and I was starting to put us in neutral while coasting down hills. But with a few miles worth of gas left we found a station and were good to go again.
A little while later we rolled in to Tolaga Bay. First stop was to find a nice little place to grab a snack and get Ali a coffee. The first restaurant we came to was So and So’s Home Cookin’. We walked in and found that the coffee machine was actually a little dust covered vending machine. Guess we can’t expect them to home cook their coffee. So we wandered down the street to the only other café in town and were told their coffee machine was out of order. We walked back outside, looked left, looked right, and realized that was it for this town. There was an old dilapidated building calling itself a hotel, and not much else.
It was still pretty early though so we decided to press on to Gisborne which is a much bigger town and was supposed to have a great beach for beginners to surf. But before leaving Tolaga Bay we had to make a stop at the town’s tourist attraction which is, “The longest wharf in the Southern Hemisphere!” The wharf was long, at 660 meters (about 7 football fields), and it was a nice little walk out to the end. The story was that it was built that far out so that it would be beyond the surf and bigger ships would be able to call in at it. It was completed in 1929 after which most of the ships that came there delivered supplies for the road construction that was going on nearby. And within ten years the wharf was basically unused because of the new road. Kind of a bummer for the big boosters of the wharf project I would imagine.
So I know so far the only thing that has gone wrong is that we couldn’t get a coffee in around 150 miles of driving. Not exactly worth crying about. A little while later we made it to Gisborne and found it was a great town with a bustling main street and some great looking beaches. We quickly found a place to stay for the night at the Flying Nun Backpackers Lodge. We unpacked most of our stuff and headed for the beach.
Out in the parking lot the car just barely started though, and I started to wonder about the life of our battery. At the beach I of course pulled right into a parking spot and shut the car off. Then I remembered the windows were down so I turned the key back on and knew that the battery was dead. I turned the key and got nothing. So much for today’s surf.
We walked back down the street towards the main street with the intention of buying a new battery. Not two blocks down the road we walk up to this place with the name Benson Brothers, Auto Electrical and Battery Specialists. I couldn’t believe our luck. We walked in and the guy gave us a ride back to the car, gave us a jump, and told us he’d meet us back at the shop. So we go there and he tests a couple things and quickly determines that it is the alternator, not the battery. He pulls out the alternator brushes, at least I think that’s what they are, and replaces them within 10 minutes. He tells us the battery should charge for another hour, so we go have lunch and when we come back the car is ready to roll again. And all this for about $50 NZ. Nice. Turns out that we were pretty lucky with that whole thing. He told us it could have happened at pretty much any time, even while we were driving. And where we had been driving all morning there was hardly anything around and definitely not an auto battery shop.
We decided we’d had enough fun for today and we were just going to go to a movie in town and relax. But first we stopped back at our room to drop off the surfboard. We got there and couldn’t get our room unlocked. So we got the manager and she tried another key. It didn’t work either. She ends up having to call a locksmith, so we left the board in her office and headed to the movie. We’re watching the movie and the reel breaks halfway through. No, just kidding, the movie went fine, and when we got back to our room the lock was fixed and our surfboard was in the room. So after all that I guess it wasn’t all that bad, it was actually kind of humorous. I’m not religious by any means, but maybe staying in this old church tonight will help out with our plans for tomorrow.
january 22 2005 : driving around
Yesterday we spent the day driving around and ended up back in Rotorua, the smelly town we visited back in November. We spent the night at Cactus Jack’s where we got the worst nights sleep ever. The walls were paper thin and there was plenty of partying going on around the building. But we woke up early today to get picked up for Sledging. Sledging is a relatively new extreme sport over here in New Zealand, and I gather the rest of the world. We didn’t know it at the time, but apparently on the t.v. show The Amazing Race, one of the contestants challenges while they were in New Zealand was to go Sledging. And as it turns out, the guys who would be taking us down the river were the same guys who took the contestants.
Anyway, sledging is basically white-water rafting, but without a raft. Instead you get a little plastic sled type thing that is about 3 feet long. You hold these little handlebars and lay your arms and upper body on the sledge while you fly down through the rapids. You also wear a pretty thick wetsuit, flippers, and a full face hockey helmet. The rapids we rode today were mainly Class 3 with one gnarly section of Class 4+. If you know anything about rafting, you know that 4+ is pretty damn big. That section dropped three stories in about 50 yards and called The Chute.
We didn’t know anything about sledging before we signed up for this and so we were pretty surprised when on the way to the river they handed out the guestbooks that previous riders had signed. Nearly every entry talked about this being the scariest thing they had ever done, worse than skydiving and bungy jumping. And we thought we were just going out for a little fun on the river.
We started out by floating for a couple hundred yards in which the guides showed us the moves that we would need to know and within minutes we were hitting our first set of Class 3 rapids. At the bottom of that first section we all turned into an eddy to catch our breath and take stock. The next section was the Class 4+ and before we hit them they wanted to make sure everybody was ready. Clearly the first section scared the hell out of some people.
There were seven guys and two girls in our group and after the first section three guys backed out and decided to walk around the next section. Personally I didn’t think it was scary and either did Ali, although the first thing out of her mouth was, “I don’t like this.” But she’s a trooper and I knew she would ride it out. So we took off and hit the Class 4+. Ali stuck close to the guide up front and was whisked right through even though you could hardly see a thing with these huge waves washing right over your head the whole way. I was towards the back and somehow got way to far over to the left and spent my trip down the rapids smashing into the rocky wall. But the sledge did its job and protected me from getting banged up. After that there were a couple more Class 3 rapids and then a nice slow drift down to the pick up site. All in all it was a pretty exciting and different experience, though not nearly as scary as its made out to be. Then again, as Ali pointed out, that’s exactly what I said about skydiving.
january 24 2005 : driving around
Spent the last couple of days in Taupo enjoying Lake Taupo. It was a nice change to go swimming in freshwater again. We pretty much just hung out walking around the town and laying out along the lake. We also made a quick trip to the Huka Falls just outside of town which was pretty impressive.
Today we drove south to the Tongariro National Park. The drive down took us along the Desert Road, which was not exactly desert, but it was about as desolate as New Zealand gets I guess. We also drove up Mt. Ruapehu which last erupted in 1995. At the top of the road was a ski resort that had a couple of chair lifts open so we could ride them up and actually get high enough on the mountain to be in the snow again. So in 24 hours we went from 80 degrees on the beach, to snow and about 45 degrees in the mountains. Tonight we are just hanging out in the small ski town of National Park. Nice original name huh?
january 27 2005 : gulf harbor marina, whangaparaoa, new zealand
Yesterday morning we woke up early and headed out to go do some Black Water Rafting. It sounded cool in the brochure. You put on wetsuits and go rafting along underwater rivers running through caves. Along the way you get to go off a small waterfall or two, as well as see the famous Waitomo Glow Worms.
So after dressing up in our Telletubbies outfits we were herded aboard a bus and to the caves. When we got there we found that the rafts were actually old tire inner tubes. That pretty much tipped me off that we were in for a pretty boring ride. The caves themselves were okay, the glow worms were pretty cool too. Turns out they aren’t actually worms, they’re some sort of maggot. But what they do is spin these little webs at the top of the caves and hang there, apparently to catch bugs or something.
Anyway, they glow this bright blue/green color for some reason, and because of the pitch black of the cave, it kind of feels like you are in outer space staring at millions of far off stars. Of course, this loses its initial appeal after about a minute and the rest of the time you are climbing over rocks from one small pool of water to the next. It was okay, but I think we need just a little element of danger in our trips for them to be really fun.
Beautiful weather again. Driving down the road we stopped to watch some dogs rounding up sheep. There were six dogs and one old guy farmer on his four wheeler giving them directions.
So after that we headed home. We had talked to the painters the day before and they told us they were ahead of schedule and Bum would be out of the shed Wednesday instead of Friday. Cool. When we got there we were stoked to see our boat sitting outside and actually SHINING for the first time. The paint job looked incredible.
So today we spent doing lots of work. All the thru-hulls need to be put back in, which in my opinion ranks second behind changing the toilet hoses, as the worst job on the boat. Ali has about a million small projects on her very detailed list. And this afternoon the riggers came over and we all put the mast back up. She actually looks like a sailboat again.
When the riggers came over today, one of them was putting the wind speed indicator and the antennas and stuff back on the mast. He asked Ali for the Windex, or at least to us that’s what it sounded like he said. So obedient Ali, thinking he wanted to clean the mast went and grabbed him the Windex and a roll of paper towels. She came out of the boat and went to hand them to him, and you should have seen the look on his face before he burst out laughing. Priceless. Turns out he meant wind-x, a plastic thingamabobby that goes on top of the mast and shows you the wind direction. A manual wind direction indicator I guess. We just use the one on the cockpit controls that shows us a nice picture of the boat with a needle on it that indicates the wind direction. Who wants to look straight up at the top of the mast?
I can’t remember if I mentioned this or not, but a few weeks back we were in Auckland and we got a parking ticket. It was a pay and display area, and our receipt showed we were paid until 11:38 a.m., but the ticket said it was issued at 11:22 a.m. Of course it was after noon when we got back to the car and discovered it, but that was beside the point. So when we got home that day, Ali wrote a quick little note telling them they were wrong and she shoved the ticket in the envelope and sent it off to the city. Anyway, we get our mail yesterday, and what do we find? That’s right, a letter from the city saying that “…although the infringement notice was correctly issued by the parking officer, I feel that due to the circumstances stated in your explanation this matter should be cancelled. Payment is therefore not required.” I couldn’t believe it. In fact I’m sure that I laughed at Ali for even attempting to get them to fix it. Saved us $40!
january 30 2005 : gulf harbor marina
We’ve finally begun putting the boat back together again. Over the course of the last three days we’ve managed to get 14 out of 15 thru-hulls back in and all the corresponding lines hooked up. The 15th thru-hull has me completely perplexed. It is in a space so inaccessible that I really have no idea of how to get it back on. It is for the depth finder and is located in a bilge in the head which is 5 inches by 8 inches wide. But the real problem is that it is actually forward of the opening and underneath the floor. I have poured through my toolboxes looking for any tool suitable for the job of tightening the nut but haven’t come up with any ideas. I think I’ll wait until Tuesday (Monday is a holiday, Auckland’s Anniversary) and ask a couple of the guys around the boat yard for suggestions.
You might wonder how I got it off in the first place. Well that was easy, I just took a big screwdriver and a hammer and pounded the plastic nut until it broke. Then I called a Raymarine dealer and asked for a new one, which they graciously gave us for free. Then I just put it out of my mind for two months. A well executed plan, until this weekend. But I’m pretty thrilled to have all the rest of them done and now am just a little nervous about being put back in the water and finding out if they are all sealed properly. Man would it be nice to have a dry boat for the first time since we bought her. Other projects have been getting the trampolines fixed, the wiring from the mast hooked up again, installing the stanchions and lifelines, etc., etc.
We also received a request from Charter Cats, the builders of the boat, for an invoice of our repair costs. We have our fingers crossed that this might mean they finally intend to help us out with the costs of all these repairs. We’ll be keeping you all posted, believe me.