Up the River

Saturday 4th February 2017

Motoring up a narrow river was certainly novel for us after over a year of the open sea. We had one eye on the fantastic landscape that slipped closely by either side of us, while the other was firmly and anxiously on the depth gauge.

Motoring down the Mahurangi River

Wednesday morning we said a final farewell to Gulf Harbour. It hadn’t been our favourite spot, we seemed to have been plagued by cold SW winds for most of our stay that had whistled into the cockpit and kept us often huddled below and our berths location would have been a complete disaster without the use of Ricks sister’s car. But having been there since the middle of November it had come to feel like home, our boating neighbours have been great as always, full of friendly advice and generous with offers of help, it has been useful to be relatively close to a big city and all that brings with it and of course was a safe and secure spot to leave Raya while we were back in the UK.

And it did feel great to be out at sea again especially as the day was bright, warm and sunny. There was little wind and what there was, was not in a great direction but we were unworried, we had decided to use the two hour trip as a sea trial for the newly refurbished engine. It certainly sounded great, smooth and quiet – hooray.

Robertson’s yard, where Raya will be for the next few weeks, have a mooring bouy at the entrance to the Mahurangi river, we picked it up and relaxed. Conrad would be joining us tomorrow to pilot us the final few miles up the river on the midday tide. We were surrounded by rolling hills, holiday homes were scattered through the woodland, each with fantastic views, many with inviting seating areas and steep steps leading down to rickety jetties. Flocks of White Fronted Terns fed on the obviously plentiful fish and Australasian Gannets, looking rather like large, white, ungainly ducks, drifted by contentedly on the tide.

For us this same tide was at first rather disconcerting. When at anchor or on a mooring buoy in the absence of any significant current, the normal situation for us in a bay or nontidal harbour, the boat swings to windward, so we are use to the wind coming over the bows. However being in a river estuary with significant tides the currents are strong, so along with all the other boats we swung with the cycles of the tides, it felt odd to have the wind often hitting us on the beam.

At 11.30 the next day Conrad was dropped at the boat and took the helm. We motored up the rapidly narrowing river surrounded by reedbeds and now hidden by the high water, lethal mud banks. At its shallowest the depth gauge read only 0.3m under our keel. We held our breath anxiously but Conrad confidently pushed on winding down the narrow central channel. With a sigh of relief we arrived at the boatyard and Raya was safely lifted from the water and chocked securely ready to be cleaned, antifouled and polished.

Raya being hauled out at Robertson’s Boatyard

Rick spent the next morning discussing a myriad of other jobs to be done, amongst other things hopefully  we will return to a working fridge and freezer, a regalvanised anchor and chain, replaced seals on a leaky electric winch motor and staysail furler, a couple of new stopcocks and a retuned rig.

Shuddering at the potential cost and a little worried about leaving while all this is going on, we packed our bags and waved goodbye. We have a busy three weeks ahead, first stop Rotorua.

Enroute to Rotorua, a cup of tea with a view.

Oyster Cleaners and Oyster Catchers

Monday 30th Jan 2017

Saturday morning we sat, slightly envious, watching a mass exodus of boats from the marina, boats big and small, sail and motor, classic and modern. The weather has finally improved and this is a long weekend here and everyone is heading out to the islands. Except for us, while the rest of Aukland plays we are cleaning mould from curtain rails, removing a years worth of bacon fat from the kitchen fan, tracing leaks behind a cupboard and joy of joys pulling apart a slow flushing toilet. Such is the truth behind the glamorous life of living on a yacht.

These jobs would be horrible enough under any circumstances but being on a boat everything is impossible to get at, we contort our bodies to reach into unreachable corners and twist and turn to get ourselves into far too small spaces. Happily the combination of Ricks knowledge of the boat and his screwdriver skills, with my joint flexibility and polishing talents means we now have a very clean boat, well half a very clean boat, the delights of the forward heads and cabins are yet to be tackled.

(Warning photo below not for the squeamish)

Urine and sea water combine to calcify the pipes – lovely.


When not cleaning and fixing, we are trying to take advantage of having the use of a car for a few more days. We have been getting a few heavy transporting jobs done, gas cylinders have been refilled, repeated visits to the chandlers have taken place and our provisions store cupboards are partially restocked.

Rick has revarnished the cockpit table and directors chairs, while I have spent hours booking a succession of B&Bs and hotels throughout New Zealand for our trip South. A surprisingly difficult job but now complete, except for the very last night that has so far defeated me.

Yesterday to get away from the boat for an hour or so we walked five minutes around the corner to the beach. It’s an interesting spot, nobody else seems to visit, it’s not a place to sunbathe or swim. There is a combination of fascinating geology – flat slabs of sandstone and siltstone that run down to the beach from layered corroded cliffs and huge fallen trees that have been left high and dry by the demise of there footings.

dsc_0689

Rocky beach a short walk from Gulf Harbour

The remains of a pier run out to sea from an old disused pathway that is lined by an overgrown garden bank resplendent in blue agapanthus and flaming orange kniphofia. Oyster catches, red footed gulls and cormorants enjoy the isolation.

dsc_0658-2

Oyster Catcher

Tomorow is our last day in Gulf Harbour as Wednesday we sail up to Mahurangi Bay to await our pilot, who will help us up the river to Robertsons Boatyard where Raya will be lifted out. The logistics of moving both boat and car are quite complicated, I haven’t driven for over a year so my part in the procedure could be quite challenging, an exciting few days ahead of us.

Conspicuous Consumption 

HAPPY NEW YEAR

Wednesday 11th January

As 2017 begins our thoughts are returning to this years cruising plans – they are all very exciting. When we return to New Zealand we will be taking a road trip around the South Island, followed by a couple of months cruising the Hauraki Gulf and the Bay of Islands, then we sail back into the Pacific to enjoy Fiji and New Caledonia before dipping back out for the next cyclone season by sailing across to Australia.

But first we have a week left in the UK to enjoy, it has been fantastic to see everyone and having seemingly just said hello, we are now beginning on a round of goodbyes. We have to admit that living out of suitcases with a new bed to sleep in each night is becoming a bit tiring, the fantastic food that we have been cooked has caused our waistlines to increase substantially and Heaven knows what state our poor alcohol soaked livers are in.

The pressure is on, we have loads of things to still fit in, plenty more people to see and meals to eat, business to attend to and things to buy. With the demise of the value of Sterling in the last six months, we found everything in NZ to be very expensive, so while still in the UK we have embarked on a bit of a shopping frenzy. After 18 months at sea we need to stock back up on quite a few things and everything seems cheaper and, being more familliar with suppliers, easier to get here. Packing it all into four bags however, daily, becomes a greater challenge. Amongst other things to squeeze in, we have a huge roll of charts covering the Western Pacific, packs of hinges from Oyster, replacement burns dressings, watermaker spares, a years supply of contact lenses and vitally, two bottles of Rick’s favourite single malt.

One purchase, a new laptop, is causing much frustration. I am trying my best to disentangle it from all the preset auto updates, helpful targeted advertising and millions of different account passwords but it seems one is not allowed to be data frugal in this day and age. Does it not know that soon it will be without any connection to the internet at all!

On top of that the main reasons for a new computer is to attempt to download and organise the 9000 or so photos we have blocking up my ipad and to set up charting software that can be overlaid on top of google earth to help us navigate through the more remote Pacific islands. Both tasks require my full attention, attention that is continually (and rather too easily) pulled towards another cup of tea/glass of wine accompanied by friendly chatter.

Sparkling winters day in Hythe

When we have a moment, in an attempt to mitigate some of the calories we are eating, we are trying to take some excercise, joining our hosts on many and varied walks. Our walking boots have taken us everywhere from muddy fields, to rural lanes and sea front promenades, the only problem is each walk seems to inevitably end at a pub for lunch.

I think it is time to get back to Raya.

 

Full Up

While Jonathan was onboard he shot lots of film, from inside the cockpit, up the mast and racing along side us in the dingy. He has created a fantastic short video of our sail from Bonaire to the San Blas, you can find it here – 

https://vimeo.com/155366014. The password is RAYA.

We have had a very busy week preparing for our passage to Galapagos and meeting with old friends. One of the great things we are discovering about this trip is how many of our friends are managing to join us. We first met Peter and Junko during our stay in Japan, then we were all posted to Sweden together, they now live in Florida. Panama is part of Peter’s professional patch so they and thier girls came to see us for the weekend. We returned to the old town for dinner. What a difference from last week, after the Carnaval holiday, Panama City has come to life. The streets are full of traffic, the restaurants and bars busting at the seams and the shopping malls bustling, the old town felt young and vibrant.

Rick and Junko, dinner in the old town

Raya is also rather full, full of fuel, full of water, full of food. We are moored on the most seaward of berthsin the marina, so getting everything to the boat is a real challenge, a ten minute trek along rickety, rocking wooden pontoons, but we are almost there, every locker is jam packed and the fridge and freezer overflowing. We are unsure how good the provisioning opportunities will be over the next few months, so we are taking advantage of the large and relatively cheap supermarkets here. The cupboards are full of tins of tomatoes, beans, corn, tuna…… Behind and below the seats we have long life bread, stocks of tea bags, coffee, flour, ketchup……. the shelves are full of fruit, biscuits, nuts…….. And every nook and cranny has a bottle of wine, can of coke or case of beer.

We hear the alcohol in French Polynesia is expensive

Penny and Stephen have arrived and we set sail tomorrow for the Las Perlas Islands, a group of small islands that lie about 30 miles off the Panamanian coast. To enter the Galapagos your hull has to be completely clean. If they find so much as a barnacle lurking in some crevice, they send you twenty miles offshore to clean it, not something we fancy. So we are stopping at these islands, where hopefully the water will be calm and clear, to take a look and ensure the diver that we paid to give us a clean up has done a good enough job. Then it’s off to Isla San Cristobal the first island on our Galapagos adventure.

OMG! We are off across the Atlantic 

I am sitting here luxuriating in the stillness, we leave tomorrow and for the next two to three weeks my life will be lived on a moving platform. We are eager to get going, we have been sitting n the marina for long enough, the Caribbean beckons.
ARC World continues to defy description. We have made dozens of new friends, partied every night and fretted over everything from which route to take to when or whether to change the bed sheets. Getting anywhere takes ages as you continually bump into people all on a similar mission. The pontoon is full to bursting with people rushing here or there, boxes of groceries, delivery boys, and pieces of boats. It is crazy just how much activity is still going on on the boats. We have a guy from Oyster dangling 23m up our mast, opposite they are attaching a spinnaker pole and next door but one awaits a new boom!

  
  S pontoon 

The team from Oyster do a brilliant job pre ARC, they come to each boat and spend three or four hours checking through everything with a fine toothcomb and when they find a problem they help fix it. Raya thankfully and after all the money spent on the refit, expectedly, is still in good condition. They did however find a small problem at the top of the mast, a fitting had been left with a rough edge and this over the six months we have been at sea has chafed our spinnaker halyard (halyards are the ropes that pull sails up). As we are about to fly our coloured sail this could have proved problematic and Oyster have kindly been sorting it out for us.

 Further peace of mind came in the form of Andy from Stella Maris (our refit team) who stayed on board and helped us with the pre-trip checks as well. We really can’t be leaving feeling any safer than we are.

  
  Andy at the top of the mast. 

Our crew, Eric and Hartmut, have arrived so team Raya is now complete. Eric is a long time friend and Harmut an old work colleague, they have been signed up for almost a year and are both excited and working hard. All the fruit and veg arrived this afternoon and had to be washed to remove the chance of cockroach eggs being carried onboard. Rick and I returned from the skippers briefing to find the crew knee deep in apples and potatoes and Raya resembling a grocery store.

  
  Just part of the fruit and veg order 

Stowing all the food has been a challenge and I’m still not sure whether we have far too much or not enough. Both Eric and Hartmut appear to be big eaters so I rushed out and did another last minute shop. I have pre cooked half a dozen meals for the days when we don’t feel like cooking and have ingredients to knock up something exotic if we fancy it, we have tons of fruit, emergency tins and bags full of chocolate. It is possible our supplies won’t just get us to St Lucia but will get us right the way through Christmas too!

The forecast looks good as there is a stable high pressure over the Azores which has caused the trade winds to set in. The forecast is for NE winds F4-5, if that’s how the conditions are it will be perfect for us, our already heavy bulk, now full with food, fuel and water will need plenty of wind to get going.

Whilst at sea I will try to post a few blogs but as we will be sending via our satellite phone I won’t be able to send photos. If there is anything other than blue sea and more blue sea I’ll post the pictures when I reach St Lucia. Fingers crossed for a whale sighting.

Busy busy

It is Friday the 13th and our destination was the village of Terror, this is not an ARC trip for the superstitious. As we wind up the steep narrow roads our coach seemingly oblivious to the oncoming traffic the name becomes more and more literal. I was on my way to help plant trees with a group of other ARC participants joining for the morning a project to reforest a section of Grand Canaria. The Canaries despite its volcanoes and large areas of urbanisation is in fact a bio diversity World hot spot and I was doing my tiny bit to help keep it that way.

It was great to be surrounded by green instead of the concrete of the marina and despite the mist the views were good. However my tiny bit turned out to be extremely hard work, the planting area was at the top of a very steep hill and we were then presented with a cross between a hoe and a pick axe. One aching body later I had managed to plant six or seven trees and as a group we managed 190 between us.

  
 

On Sunday we went on a friends boat to see the start of the ARC+. It was nice to get out of the marina and get some fresh air and to wish our friends, old and new, fair winds as they headed off to the Cape Verdi Islands. 

The start line of ARC+

Their departure immediately seemed to put the pressure on the rest of us and now everyone is busy busy here in Las Palmas.

We have taken Raya for a run to test her engines. We ploughed up and down the shore taking the revs up as high as they would go and the good news was – no bubbles in the coolant. We have been to lectures on everything from managing emergencies at sea to provisioning, cooked the first few meals for the freezer, worked down the long list of stuff to check on the boat, done two more big shops and continued to party most evenings.

Tuesday we “dressed the boat overall” this means flying a string of the International signal flags from the front of the boat to the top of the mast and down to the stern. All boats are asked to do it to add to the overall feeling of celebration in the marina. Each flag represents a different number or letter and often has a further meaning, for instance the blue and white A flag means ‘diver below please keep clear’ or the yellow Q flag means ‘this boat is healthy can I clear into port’. I had spent a concentrated afternoon in Lanzarote stringing them carefully together being especially vigilant to make sure they were all in the specified order and would all appear the right way up. Looking at some of the other boats there seems to be some debate as to which way up is correct, but the overall effect is very colourful.

  

Flags are not the only thing to be hauled to the top of the mast this week, yesterday I attempted to get Rick up to check our rigging. We had practiced it a few months ago using the winch on the bow, but this time decided to try with one of the electric winches in the cockpit. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake as the angle of the line entering the winch which we thought would be just about OK, turned out not to be and instead of flowing seamlessly around it tangled up. So there we were the winched jammed and Rick hanging about ten meters above the deck, after a moments panic all was well, luckily he had rigged a safety line and with the help of a friend he was easily dropped back down to earth. Lessons learnt and to ensure we got straight back on the horse, I winched him back up by hand much more controlled but a lot harder work!

All the boats have been lent a yellow brick transmitter that will transmit our location right accross the Atlantic – our AIS can only locate us to within about 50 miles of a beacon most of which are on land. If you would like to follow us and the rest of the fleet you can do at – http://www.worldcruising.com/arc/eventfleetviewer.aspx
Make sure to select ARC 2015, not ARC+ 2015. 

ARC World

Saturday 7th November 

The tension at the far end of our pontoon is palpable. The ARC + which crosses the Atlantic via the Cape Verdi Islands, leaves tomorrow. It is not just the bustle of supermarket deliveries of last minute provisions or the practicing of man overboard routines or even the raising and lowering of a multitude of shapes and sizes of sails as they are checked and double checked. It’s something more subtle, the tone of a voice, the determined stride up the pontoon, the concentrated expressions. For them suddenly the time has come to get serious, the partying is finished.

For the rest of us on the traditional ARC, sailing straight from Las Palmas to St Lucia, things are just beginning. We watch on, trying to pick up tips for our departure on the 22nd November.

It is difficult to quite explain our pre-rally world here, a mass of people living cheek by jowl, the boats are crammed in, moored just a fender (8ins) apart. All busying ourselves with making sure we get can our boats and crew through the 2-3 week journey ahead, safely, well fed and as efficiently as possible. We are all making friends fast, everyone chatting to everyone else, mostly complete strangers, but with this huge event in common.

Our flight finally left Heathrow three hours late and we arrived back at the marina at 4am on Tuesday morning. Thankfully Rene, a local guy who offers a long list of services to the influx of ARC boats, was there to pick us up, our luggage arrived including our sail and Raya was exactly as we had left her. After a few hours sleep we woke to blue skies and a social whirl, any hope of having a break from the relentless eating and drinking of our three weeks break at home we soon realised was in vain. We have reunited with people we had met en route during the summer, met people we had only previously chatted to through our blogs or on Facebook and made new friends of all the people moored near us. Each night we end up on one boat or another having a glass of wine, swapping tales of our trips down and discussing worries and solutions regarding the preparations ahead.

Provisioning is a common topic of conversation, what and how much we think we need, where best to buy it, who delivers most promptly, where to put it all once it arrives?

 

Provisioning trip no 1

 
You need friends around, everybody helping each other out. Apparently our dingy had to be rescued a couple of times while we were away as there has been some very heavy downpours. We left it tucked under the bow of the boat to allow access to the stern by the engine guys that needed to get on and off the boat carry equipment. We discovered however that it wasn’t just above water that it had had problems, the bottom was completely encrusted with barnacles, so Thursday we drove it around to the local beach and spent a hard couple of hours getting it clean again.

As you walk down the pontoon you notice crews sitting sheepishly on deck sourounded by life jackets, first aid kits and boxes of flares. The World Cruising Club who organise the ARC has very strict safety standards and before you can leave on any of their rallies, you have to pass a safety equipment test. We had ours yesterday, it feels a bit like an exam as the safety officer quizzes you and inspects your boat. Raya of course having crossed the Atlantic and circumnavigated the globe with the WCC before has already been through all this and we inherited a lot of the required equipment when we bought her, the remainder we sorted out before we left Southampton. We were relieved to pass with flying colours, everything in place except for a bit of missing reflective tape.

We ticked off a couple of other things that have been hanging over us for a while. We have been unable,  in Spain, to fill our Propane gas bottles that we use for cooking and we have been eking out the little gas we had for months now. So we were very happy when Rene again came up trumps, returning both full yesterday. If we weren’t trying so hard to return our waistlines to some vestige of their former selves I would celebrate by baking a cake.

The engine whisperer informs us the engine is now in tiptop condition, we plan to take Raya out for a test run on Monday and fingers crossed the coolant problem will have been finally eliminated.

And yes, drum roll please, the freezer appears to be fixed! All we need now is to find time between the full itinerary of seminars and social events to fill it back up.

ARC Itinerary week 1

Rain!

Monday we had a heavy downpour, unbelievably it is the first rain we have had since leaving three months ago (sorry UK friends I know you’ve just had a very wet day), it was quite a novelty. As the squall moved in, high winds swirled around the bay causing chaos as the anchor ballet fell to bits. Every boat in the crowded anchorage had a mind of its own and a wet half hour was spent fending off. The catamaran beside us was affected particularly badly , the poor guys onboard working hard not to hit us or the cliffs close on their other side. As we haven’t been in port for a while Raya was pleased for the fresh water soaking and in between guarding our flanks we gave her a good wash down. 

I am trying to build in a bit more excercise to my days, besides the casual swim to the beach or snorkeling, at anchor I am swimming circuits around the boat. This eliminates the risk from passing motorized mad people and depending on conditions, gives me a gentle or if it’s rough or the boat is swinging, a good work out. I am also doing a half hour of palates a few times a week. How often depends on it being calm enough to make it possible and quiet enough for me to feel comfortable waving my legs about on the very public bows of the boat. Wednesday morning was perfect, satin smooth sea and just a few boats spread well out in the large anchorage. As I looked about during my stretches, it occurred to me how the view from my mat, normally the sweaty reflection of myself and my classmates in the mirror of the fitness studio, has improved some what.

View from the pilates mat

After we dropped Eric and Roz Saturday we spent a couple of days hopping between bays along the south coast of Menorca we had a bit of wind and it was great to be sailing more than motoring. There were plenty of very beautiful and unspoilt coves that I’m sure are delightful out of season but in August they were heaving with yachts, it was just too crowded for us and so after one more night we moved on. Tuesday evening found us back in Cala Pinar – shaggy eagle bay, on the very northern tip of Mallorca, a convenient stopping point before our sail to the Spanish mainland the next day.

It’s now Thursday afternoon and we arrived early this morning in Sant Carles de la Rapita on the coast of mainland Spain where Raya will be coming out of the water for a couple of days. We are having three coats of anti-foul applied to the hull, a first step in the preparations for the bigger adventures to come. Hopefully it will keep us weed and banicle free until we reach New Zealand in just over a years time. Stella Maris our refit guys from the UK have a partnership here and have negotiated us a very good price, so it seemed worth the detour and we plan to take advantage of our location for a few non-boat days with a trip to Barcelona.

The twenty hour crossing from Mallorca, started with zero wind, a bit annoying as we had planned the crossing a day or two early to take advantage of the forecasted perfect sailing conditions. However as the sunset and just as we finished being scathing of meteorologists weather forecasting abilities the wind suddenly picked up and we were soon flying along in a F4 on a beam reach. 

Sunset enroute to the mainland

It was a very dark night and as I came on watch around 1am I felt completely disorientated, there was no moon and cloud obscured most of the stars and disappointingly the promised meteor shower. It took the lights of another boat in the distance, about an hour in, before I really felt comfortable that I was being an effective look out. Rick still has yet to master the art of sleeping during nights at sea, the weight of responsibility lying heavy on his shoulders, not to mention the heat below making for very sweaty conditions. 

So today is a rest day, tomorrow back to reality and top of the agenda is the cleaning of our rather smelly grey tanks, the tanks through which our waste water from the showers etc runs, delightful.

Slipped the lines, off around the world

This afternoon at 1.30pm we slipped our lines and set off around the World! The first leg might be quite a modest affair, just three hours out into the Solent and across to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. But every adventure has to start somewhere and we can now say we have visited our first island.

The storms of last week faded away Thursday allowing the last minute preparations to resume. Paul from Dolphin Sails arrived with our large awning, especially designed to give us plenty of shade when at anchor or in a marina in the sunshine. (If you are interested you can see us at Dolphin Sails Facebook page where they have posted some photos.) Harry from the Rig Shop came to have a last tweak of our rig and we finally finished stowing all the spares. We had a last minute panic when we discovered a gas leak, but Rick managed a repair just in time for our departure.

Another delay bonus was that we were around to see Rachael when she came to pick up my car yesterday and Matt joined us for lunch. Both are looking forward to joining us at the end of June and it seemed fitting that the four of us were together just before we departed.

Rick woke on this momentous morning to a pair of red feet above his head, there was a large black and white bird standing on our cabin hatch. He not only had red feet but a long narrow red beak too, it was an oyster catcher and we felt that his visit must be a good omen at the beginning of this adventure aboard our Oyster 56.

We waved a farewell to Shamrock Quay as Rick navigated down the river and I dashed around the deck putting away the mooring lines and fenders. Before we knew it we had left. Southampton water and the Solent were extremely busy, at one point we were dodging two huge tankers and their accompanying tugs, hundreds of sailing boats, a good number of motor craft and a handful of maniac jet skiers. Most of the traffic was returning to Southampton and Portsmouth, we relished the thought that everyone was going back to their home ports because it’s work tomorrow, in our direction we were leaving it all behind.

We arrived in Yarmouth at about four and headed straight for the fuel dock, we filled our tanks with 1400 litres of diesel and took a deep breath as we handed over the credit card. But this will last us quite a few months and we are now set to take advantage of the weather window of the next couple of days and get ourselves down the South Coast to Plymouth.

We are on our way!