Friday, 27 September 2013

Getting ready - 30/9

So we've spent the last few days with Garths dad Mike, getting the boat ready for another trip. There's still stuff from our apartment we had to sort through, and a lot of stuff that wasn't secured properly that ended up on the floor on the way up from Wellington. So there was a lot of mess and a lot of organizing, as well as a lot of fixing. I'm pretty sure Mike had forgotten how small the boat was, and having stuff everywhere makes it even smaller. In order to clean something you have to move a lot of stuff around first, so you have to create more mess in order to tidy something else. Which is daunting. It takes a long time and you don't make much progress, you just keep shifting things. Then when you want to get stuff out of the cupboards, all the boxes spew out and make even more mess. So looking around the boat at all the stuff is really overwhelming - we've finally gotten our heads around the fact that lots of stuff doesn't necessarily mean mess, but it takes a while for that to register when you're not used to it. Although in this case there was a lot of actual mess thrown in with the disorganisation. Mike's been a tremendous help and we've nearly gotten through it all, which is awesome! The boat is starting to feel more like our home now that everything is packed away and we've gotten rid of some stuff to make room. It's actually workable now, instead of just having junk piled everywhere. 

We had an exciting trip up the river to Whangerei, navigating at night and going under a very cool bridge that had to be raised. We also found out that the depth sounder is pretty accurate - it's about 10cm off though. We got stuck in the mud in the river, and had to wait ten minutes for the tide to come in and carry us away again. 

We had lots of things we wanted to fix before we left New Zealand, and lots of things we had to fix. I think we'll always have a list of projects we want to take on, and I doubt everything will ever be crossed off.

Our tricolour light broke on the way up, and we were running on our steaming lights which can light up the sails with the opposite light and be confusing. Garth went to fix them today and found that we had just been thrown around so much that the bulb had gotten loose. So we had lots of things like that to deal with - easy to fix but had to be done. 

We've had a bit of extra help - Mike called up an old friend of his in Whangerei, John, who came out to say hi and to give us a hand. He was really nice and even loaned us some tools to help get some of the work done. Garth installed a spare water bladder under the aft berth using John's hole saw, which made the job a million times easier. So he was a tremendous help and it was great having a friendly face around while we were in the midst of despair, surrounded by mess. 

The nice broker who sold us Heartbeat (not the mean one) stopped by to check in on us because he recognized the boat. It's really nice that he remembers his boats years after they're gone - one of the reasons we bought Heartbeat was because Sam seemed to genuinely love boats. Then he saved our lives by taking away all the junk we didnt know what to do with. We could actually see the floor! I think Mike's sanity returned once we could see the floor again. Then we had room to move around and finish all the work we were doing. So that was a massive help, and it was great to see another friendly face. He even took some pictures for us!

We fixed a lot of things - Garth and I installed a breather pipe on the water tank, to prevent a repeat of the drama we had on our delivery run. The water tank looked full, but half of it was full of air. We've been really careful since then, but a breather pipe is safer. Garth did a bit of sewing, repairing the rips we got in the dodger on the way up. We think the bit that ripped was old cotton thread instead of sail making stuff, so it's not surprising it broke. He made some neat little rope bags for the cockpit locker too, so that's all tidy, and put netting up in front of the open shelves. I love the netting, it makes our saloon look very serious! Garth also did some very pretty splicing on our new mooring rope, which he's pretty proud if.

I fixed our cockpit table almost on my own - it came loose from its screws on our trip up and has just been floating around the cockpit making a nuscience of itself. I sanded it back, filled it with epoxy, waited for it to dry, sanded it smooth and then re-drilled the holes. Fixed! I love that I know how to fix stuff like that now.

The last thing we had to fix for our cat 1 was the battery compartment. We had to wrap the batteries up in acid proof plastic in case they leak, which makes sense. But we spent 2 days wandering round town doing other errands and asking people where to get some, but nobody seemed to know. The hardware stores all sell it in bulk, but not in smaller pieces. I ended up walking for hours to find some, with no internet and no map and no idea what I was doing. Remember when I said I'd never go cruising without a push bike again? This still applies. 

Mike has been working hard to secure our engine case. It doesn't fit at all now we have a new engine, and it spent the whole trip up the coast tipped over on its side. It's all snug around the engine now, screwed on and tied down. He did a great job of it, and I don't think we'll have to worry about it again. 

Garth's uncle John showed up today to help us finish tidying the boat. Well, he showed up to go to Fiji and the cleaning was just a bonus we threw in. He was incredibly helpful, and we're pretty much ready to go. We're going through customs first thing in the morning, then no dry land for at least 12 days. 

Wish us luck! Hopefully you'll hear from us in about 10 - 14 days. You can follow us by the tracker in the 'where the hell are we' tab up the top of this blog, but please don't fret if it stops working for a while - it's amazing but it's a toy :)

Xxx Monique 

Monday, 23 September 2013


This is hard. And I say that having already known that on this trip we would have moments that we would look back on when we were old and think 'that was one of the hardest and scariest things I've ever done.' But this is hard. 

We left our anchorage in Hawkes bay after unwrapping our runaway rope from around the propellor. Well, Garth unwrapped it. He sent me down first, because he didn't want to get cold or wet, but for some reason after growing up near beaches I'm now scared of deep water. Maybe it's the sharks, or the rips, or the sense of impending doom that comes from living in Australia. Or perhaps just my mothers voice ringing in my ears telling me not to go out further than I can touch, but I don't like being out of my depth without a board or flotation device. So that and the fact that the water was so murky I couldn't see the side of the boat through the water meant I had to eventually give up, and Garth went in the next day when the visibility was better. Rope off, lesson learned. It's a lesson I would have preferred to learn in warmer waters, but at least we've nailed that one straight off the bat. 

The anchorage we stayed at was terrifying - it was the only place we could get to safely before the wind picked up, and it wasn't too bad that first night when we anchored under sail and got to bed at 4am. But the next night as we sat out the storm the waves were so rocky and the boat was tipping over so much that things were falling out from the top shelves and flying around the cabin while we tried to sleep. That was frightening. 

We had one day of lovely sailing when we left - really light winds, a bit of motoring, not much of a heel - we just idled along. I was on watch when the sun came up and we were just floating along at 3 knots while everything was peaceful and quiet - that was lovely. 

And then we spent the rest of that day tacking back and forth into head winds as we tried to get around East Cape. We were going back and forth and not making up much ground, which was horribly frustrating. 

Then as we got closer to the cape the wind started howling, and things got exciting again. We rounded the top and ducked in between the coast and East Island, then had to start heading out to sea because the wind was coming from an annoying direction. 

We got into rockier swells and the waves started breaking over the bow, throwing quite a lot of spray over us in the cockpit. Garth sent me downstairs to eat dinner out of the spray, which instantly made me feel ill. I went to grab a Piahia bomb, but the bag had disappeared and Garth couldn't remember where he had put it... So I cuddled up in the cockpit under a wet blanket as the rain started, preparing myself for a long, cold night of not being able to go inside. Now I welcome being cold and wet if that's the worst thing I have to worry about. 

I did the first shift, then we swapped and tacked back two hours later, realizing we'd hardly made up any ground. The boat really hates going upwind with the combination of sails we had up, but the wind was too strong to put up bigger ones. 

So it was my turn to sleep. I curled up in the rain on the low side, shivering as the night got colder. Just as I was starting to doze off, a giant wave came up into the cockpit and completely engulfed me. I don't mean there was a bit of spray. I mean an entire spa bath full of water got dumped on top of me, with force. That was unpleasant. That was also the last time I was dry for 4 days.

The weather only got worse from then on, with a continuous barrage of waves smacking against the boat and spraying everywhere. Every few minutes there was another rogue wave that would land on our heads and fill the cockpit again. We were so overpowered that the low side was completely under water, with our toerails way below the waterline. We were on such a lean that some of the waves just shot over us and went straight out the other side because the other side was straight down - if we hadn't been tethered on we could have very easily been washed overboard. So that's scary.

We had a few hours of that - constant waves landing on our heads, strong winds and tacking back and forth trying to make some headway but not really getting anywhere. The wind picked up to 40 knots and there was water everywhere - when I tried to sleep downstairs I thought the boat was just going to disintegrate with every crash and bang, because it was being thrown around so violently. I would look up at the companionway with every big wave that came over, and water was literally pouring inside through the cracks in the hatches. It was like a square waterfall, with water rushing down in a thin veil along the lines of the hatch. Let me be clear - the boat is pretty solid. It doesn't really leak. But there was so much water being dumped in such a small space at one time, it had to go down into the boat because it couldn't run off fast enough. After that we stopped doing shifts, probably because it was too wet to bother trying to sleep. There's definitely a big difference between 40 knots behind us and beating into 40 knot headwinds - wind feels a LOT stronger when you're facing the brunt of it head on. If we had been going downwind, it probably would have felt like a gentle breeze. 

I thought our rigging was going to get ripped off - everything was rattling and the boat was taking a beating, so we decided to try and anchor in Hicks Bay, just round the corner from East Cape. We spent a quiet two hours sitting together in the rain, with waves smashing us as we strained to see the light on top of the bay. We were trying really hard to stay as high as possible in order to make it without tacking, which made the sails continually flap in the wind as we went just a bit too far. It sounded like thunder. Both the wind and the rain were getting heavier as we were getting closer, and we could only just make the light out through the rain. 

As we got nearer Garth had to go downstairs out of the rain to follow the charts on his phone, although I don't think it's a coincidence that this was the last time his phone was working. I was steering into the wind and rain, straining to see the light as we got closer and closer to the cliffs we were trying to anchor next to. I had to throw all my weight on the wheel, turning it with both hands, and couldn't for the life of me keep the boat in a straight line. Garth was urgently screaming directions, leading me to believe that if I didn't keep the boat in a straight line to 5 degrees we were going to crash. 

I ripped my hood off to see better and my clothes got absolutely drenched inside and out. The rain was horizontal, and flying straight into my eyes with enough force to hurt. The light I was aiming for kept disappearing in the rain, and occasionally for a time I couldn't see anything so I would just hope that I was still steering in the right direction. My straggly hair was drenched, blowing around me like it was some kind of possessed sea monster, clinging to my face then being picked up by the wind to fly around for a while before sticking to my face again. I was pretty sure we were going to die, but didn't have any time to think about it - I was just trying to keep going towards the light. Every time Garth opened the hatch to yell directions at me through the rain, a torrent of water made it into the cabin. 

You know those deep sea fishing shows, where there's guys on deck struggling to pull up lines when giant waves smash into them from the side and they get washed across the deck, desperately trying to cling onto something for dear life? They're slipping and sliding all over the place, yelling at each other through the rain, they can't see anything and there's water bashing into them from all angles? That.

We had to get right up next to the cliffs to find the safe anchorage, all cuddly and close. Going near those cliffs in 40knot headwinds was the scariest thing I've ever done, especially considering I couldn't even see them. The light I'd been following turned out to be a boat with a much brighter light - the light on the cliffs was dull and constantly getting lost behind the rain. I couldn't even see the outline of the cliffs in the darkness, all I could do was squint into the night sky to try and keep enough water out of my eyes so i could follow the light.

I really wish I was exaggerating here, adding some artistic flair to make the story more interesting. But I'm really not. If anything I'm under emphasizing the danger of the situation - It's been a few days since we got onto dry land, so the urgency and the fear that were racing through us at the time have faded. 

We eventually got in next to the cliffs, and gave up pretty quickly. The wind was rising, we were being blown towards the rocks and the anchorage wasn't very protected. So we had to make the dissapointing decision to head back into the night, because we were safer in the middle of the ocean than right next to rocks in strong winds with an unknown amount of fuel left.

We continued on for a day or so in those conditions, freezing cold and wet. We didn't eat, barely slept and the entire boat was drenched. We were sleeping in wet blankets in the aft berth, and only just started to warm up before we had to swap shifts each time. My feet were numb for days. I wrapped them in a towel when I got into bed but it didn't help as much as I would have liked. I almost fell in the drink a few times because I couldn't feel the boat under my feet.

By the next night the rain had stopped and the wind was starting to ease. I was on watch huddled under a wet blanket when a ship came into view. I figured out what it was and where it was going pretty quickly, then went back to staring at the sky. I kept an eye on it and thought it was getting a little bit closer, then very quickly it went from being on the horizon to RIGHT next to me. It was a huge cargo ship, and it pulled up very close, going in the same direction. I called Garth, then visually lined it up with our boat and spent ages making sure we weren't on a collision course. We weren't about to crash and they seemed to be going parallel to us. But it was RIGHT there. I'm not sure if you've ever been close to a big cargo ship, but if you think of it in terms of fish this guy was a whale and we were a little bait fish. He wouldn't even bother opening his mouth to eat us, and we could easily get sucked inside his jaws as he swam past. 

Then he started flashing his lights at us. A big, bright spotlight on the top of his mast. He flashed 5 times, which generally means 'Wtf are you doing?!?' or 'maybe you shouldn't do that.' So that was disconcerting. Garth turned on the VHF, which was off to conserve power, and turned on our deck lights to make sure he knew where we were. He also tried to tell me that they were probably just turning. I'm assuming that's because he's forgotten all his light signals. Turning to starboard is 1, port is 2, operating engines astern is 3, and 5 flashes is definitely 'what on earth are you doing!?'

I should have put the rule into play that voids anything somebody half asleep is saying, because Garth told me not to radio them. Just as I was about to do it anyway, the ship turned and disappeared into the night really quickly. In the opposite direction. Which probably should have alarmed me, but I was so happy to not be run over I just calmed down, hooked the windvane steering back up, and tried to relax. Then an hour  later we heard somebody on the VHF calling Maritime Radio, but it was really crackly and half of it cut out. Then near the end of the transmission I heard 'Heartbeat.' Uhoh. 

We called up Maritime Radio and it turned out that our spot tracker had fallen down and stopped working around East Cape. So we had disappeared off the radar. Ian and Mike were so worried about us they contacted Maritime New Zealand and asked all ships to keep an eye out for us. Even in the middle of the ocean our parents still managed to track us down! I understand why they were worried though, the sea was rough, the wind was intense and it was a horrible ordeal. Unfortunately we just couldn't get to the spot tracker to reset it, which you have to do every day or so. So this is a notice to everyone - don't panic if the tracker stops working for a while! But you're allowed to worry about us around East Cape, which I only just found out is notoriously dangerous and well known around the world for being horrible. Eek!

We had probably one day of nice winds, although we were still beating into them. The miserable weather and freezing cold were lessened by a day of relaxing with music playing in the cockpit. Our darling Josh bought us cockpit speakers as a wedding gift, even though he'd already bought us a gift and he was a massive help with the wedding. Then like an angel he installed them in a southerly at night while he was sick, and Craig hooked them up for us. So we have music!

But then the next storm struck. Mother Nature obviously didn't care that we had only just gotten our first period of warmth in days, even though we weren't totally dry yet. I've learned a few things on this trip - one of them is that if you put wet weather gear on and then become completely immersed in water, the wet weather gear doesn't work. And then stays wet for days until it stops raining and the sun comes out. We had one day of no rain, but no sun or warmth to be seen. So everything was still wet and cold. The next storm only lasted one night, and the rain started just as we swapped shifts. There was really heavy rain and the sky was full of lightening - at one stage Garth poked his head down and said 'if I get struck by lightening, remember that I love you.' That was not as comforting as he had intended it to be. He stayed out in the rain for 6 hours, waiting for it to stop so I didn't have to get wet again. That is why I'm never letting him escape my clutches. 

We eventually made it to Whangarei, after one final day of sunshine and loveliness. I had been throwing up at one stage because we didn't eat for two or three days, so we welcomed the food and showers and warmth that came with dry land. We did 6 loads of washing and made a huge list of things that broke on the trip. I'll be happy if I never have another passage like that, and the whole thing was miserable and frightening. But once you're out there you can't do anything but sit in the rain shivering for two hours, then sleep for two hours, then do it again. You can't turn back or jump off. And no matter how horrible it is, once you're on dry land you forget very quickly about what a nightmare it was at sea, so don't think twice about doing it again. I am very, very glad to be leaving these cold and angry waters behind us for a warmer alternative, and hope the trip to Fiji isn't quite so eventful. 

We're planning on leaving as soon as the boat is fixed and the weather is good, most likely on Monday. Cross your fingers for us!

Xxx Monique

Monday, 16 September 2013

Off and away

So we're away! Finally. We've said our goodbyes to Wellington and are moving up the east coast to Whangarei, where we'll wait for a good weather window, pick up our babysitters and clear customs before heading to Fiji.

Wellington gave us a beautiful spring day on which to depart on, with a perfect weather forecast - we were going to have a southerly breeze of 15 - 25 knots up our backsides to push us quickly up the coast. That didn't happen. We had some decent wind at first, with 2 reefs in, but it quickly died and we had to motor for a while. Then after it picked up we were cruising under full sails which were quickly downgraded to a double reefed main and no headsail. 

The lovely breeze we were expecting never showed up and we were hit with about 50 knots from the south, maybe more, maybe less, but it was full on. It came up fast and caught us by surprise - we dumped the main, managing to wrap the halyard around every step, lazy jack and stay it could find whilst still attached to the sail. God knows how it did that. 

Then Garth tried to launch our smallest jib but it got caught up in the wind and started wrapping around everything so he had to make a split decision to cut the halyard to save the sail. He made the right choice. Todd and Dave, if you're reading this we're sorry for killing your rigging! We saved both halyard and sail though, and should be able to rethread it. It was only our tiny one for the spinnaker pole anyway so we'll be ok without it for a few days.

So we motored for a while, until we realized we could do 7 - 8 knots without the engine and with just bare poles. We were downwind surfing the waves, which would have helped our speed a lot, but that is just crazy. We never used to get up to 8 knots no matter how many sails we had up or where the wind was coming from, so there was a lot of wind. We did a night sail for a sailing course on a slightly smaller, lighter boat than this one and we were going 4 knots under bare poles when it was gusting at 50. So there was wind on Saturday.

We just hung on for the first day - cold, wet and tired. I had my head over the side on average once every half hour, trying to hold the wheel with my feet while Garth did everything else. That sucked. So I didn't eat anything for almost 2 days and was pretty sure I was in hell. I always get queasy on the first day and often sick, but never continuously for a whole day. I've learned 2 things for sure - never try to go downstairs to sleep for the first 2 days of a trip, and always start an offshore journey with a Piahia bomber regardless of the forecast. From now on for the next few years, if you're wondering what to get me for my birthday or Christmas, the answer will always be Piahia Bombers and sunscreen. I've managed to keep 2 down over the last 2 days and no more seasickness. Yet.

Other than the crazy wind and wanting to die it's been pretty uneventful. We haven't eaten much because of the effort eating requires - our last meal was baked beans straight out of the pan with one spoon between us and some bread to soak it up. We devoured it like animals and my wet weather gear is covered in baked bean remnants.

We rode a giant wave yesterday, in amonst all the huge swells. It crept up behind us when I was on watch and we ended up right on top of it as it broke. We went flying down with it for about 10 seconds. Which doesn't sound like much, but it was a giant wave and a freaking boat, not a surfboard. The bow cut through the water as we rode it, kicking up a huge spray evenly on each side. It was like watching a giant ship cut through the water as it chugs along at high speeds. It made so much noise Garth woke up thinking I had broken something. So that was pretty cool.

There's been dolphins and sunsets and such, and we are currently in calm water with hardly any swell. Which makes for pleasant sailing involving the autopilot, a beanbag and the stars. There's another front coming through, bigger than the last one, so we're finding an anchorage to wait it out. Which feels like cheating seeing as we're practicing for offshore passages and there wouldn't be a conveniently located bay to hide in offshore, but we've got lots of stuff to fix and it seems unnecessarily dangerous to willingly throw ourselves into a storm. It will also give us a chance to rescue our running backstay lines from the propshaft... an unfortunate incident that has led to a new rule - people just coming off watch and people just coming on are no longer allowed to make decisions by themselves, seeing as they're both half asleep. 

Garth was about to go to sleep when he mentioned we were dragging a line and that we should grab it when we launched the jib. I'd just opened my eyes and wasn't paying attention when he said he was going to start the engine instead about 5 mins later, which led to us cutting another line and temporarily losing use of the engine. It was a shitty old rope that we never use though, so not a big loss, but both Ian and our sailing instructor Nick would be disappointed in our seamanship skills with that one. I can't remember how many times we've been told not to drag lines. Hopefully a mistake we'll only make once!

I'm actually very grateful to have met Ian - his head is full of experience and knowledge, and he's thrown a lot of it our way. He got everything together for us in a very short time, and made sure our boat was safe. The last thing he did was come down to the dock to see us off, with presents no less. He wasn't happy with the way we had our anchor tied on, because it would be hard to release in an emergency. He ran off and came back with some turnbuckles, securing it tightly in a way that we could release it fast if we had to. Then the first thing we do is wrap a line around the engine, so pretty soon we'll have to anchor under sail, in the dark with no engine, and quickly. If he hadn't fixed it we might have been in trouble. 

Our tricolour light has a short in it somewhere, so we'll have to fix that up north. At the moment we're using the bicolour, which is lower down and looks awesome on the sails.

So we'll anchor in the northern part of Hawkes Bay for a day and fix everything while we wait for the crazy wind to pass, then be on our way again, hopefully with no more drama! I had a few dolphins circle me last night when I was on watch, then just stay by the boat near the cockpit for about half an hour. They did the same tonight, except it was a giant pod and they stayed for hours. Just hanging around keeping us company and leading us safely to our anchorage. It's nice to know we're not alone out here! 

Xxx Monique 

Category 1 is over! Friday 13th September

Now I know I said we were almost ready to go a week ago, but now we're actually almost ready to go. The new engine is all mounted and installed thanks to a lot of labour from Garth and a lot of help from Mike, a really nice engineer that Ian hooked us up with. He's been stopping by to check what Garth's done, then telling him what to do next and running off again. Which is exactly what we wanted, because it's cheaper and Garth gets to see how it all works. I'm not sure many mechanics would let us do it that way, so we were really grateful to him. Mike stayed and did all the really tricky stuff too, so we know the installation has been done right. 

Garth's dad ended up helping out with the engine a lot as well, which made a big difference to our timeframe - I think we might have had to just suck it up and wait until next year after the cyclone season if we'd had to deal with the broken engine situation on our own. He also organised a wind generator for us, because he's amazing. We knew it would be helpful on overcast days but didn't think we really needed it - and I still don't think we do. We could survive from solar power and turning the engine on occasionally and only having the fridge on for 10 mins a day with the engine. But oh my gosh it's amazing! We've had laptops plugged in, lights on, phones charging, speakers blaring and the fridge cranked to freezer temperatures to keep our meat frozen, and it's not making a dent on the amount of power that the windgen is producing in the Wellington winds.

We've also got 2 new solar panels that Ian got us an amazing deal on - our old one was 80watts, and now we've got 2x55watts. We installed 1 of them on an overcast day and our power went up to 12.7 volts by the afternoon then started dropping again. But we hadn't turned a single thing on all day - the house batteries were off and they still didnt fully charge. So we went and got the second one, mostly because 2 from Provedooring were almost the same price as 1 would be anywhere else, so we couldn't afford to change our minds later.

The deck is all painted, thanks to our wonderful friends Becca and Florent, and the boat is all set up with extra goodies thanks to Dale, Craig and Becca coming out nearly every night for a week and hooking a heap of stuff up for us. Dale and Craig slaved over everything electrical, installing our solar panels, windgen, speakers, more lights and brand new switchboard to replace our evil old fuses. Craig even put a car charger in the bow so I can plug my phone in from bed! I'm not really sure how much longer it would have taken without their help, but it would have been longer than the time it would take us to do all that because we don't know how to do it and we get overwhelmed and take even longer than normal people. 

Becca slaved away with me for 2 10 hour days cleaning out our apartment, and I'm ridiculously grateful for that - it would have taken me weeks. My darling friends Lisa and willow each spent a night with me packing it up as well, so I don't know what I would have done without all my friends. We had so much crap it literally didn't fit in the truck, so I don't know how we got it on the boat in the end. Meg and Cam helped us unpack all the food - the whole boat thing seems to be a big game of Tetris.

We got through our cat 1 inspection, barely. Everything went wrong from the start, with the exhaust pipe not being clamped tight enough and leaking everywhere, the chartplotter not being charged and the backup GPS taking forever to find a signal. But we didn't have much to fix in the end, and I should hope not with all the money we've spent on safety gear.

So we're celebrating with our adventure friends one last time tonight, before we take off tomorrow. I didn't get to say goodbye to everyone I wanted to, including Theresa and sunny at Provedooring - I've spent so much time there lately I'm definitely sad to be leaving. No more daily puppy kisses, which I'll miss especially.

Xxx Monique